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This is one of those things that is hard to talk about, especially out here in public like this, but that should be talked about, both for my own sake and for the potential sake of anyone else who might someday be in a similar situation sooner than they're sittin' here thinkin' (as Arlo Guthrie would say).


See, when you're a parent, and you and your spouse are also quite open about being queer and being interested in various sorts of political activism, and you take your goddamn meds and are thus officially crazy, and you don't play expected patriarchial social roles, there are certain things that, alas, have to be regarded as very real possibilities. Things like people deciding that you're abusing your kids, or that claiming you abuse your kids would be great for the lulz, and calling CPS and/or the cops.

This happened last winter, three times, in relatively quick succession. Along with that, we also had to deal with local code enforcement and the utility company temporarily deciding that our house was not habitable as-is. We were incredibly lucky to have friends who were willing and able to take us in, which made it all much less hellish than it easily could have been. Still, this is nobody's idea of a good time.

It all began when my husband needed to call for an appointment to get a refill for his Lamictal. He didn't realize that our then 13-month-old was capable of getting things off of the dining room table, or that the bottle of pills he had just counted was not quite closed properly. As you can guess, she was, and it wasn't, and the expected emergency occurred. That was when he called 911, and the fire chief was the first responder, and he discovered that our heating system was vented improperly and leaking carbon monoxide, and that our wiring (which honestly *was* next on the list of Things To Fix In The House) was a potential fire hazard.

The paramedics took Tori to the hospital, friends took Alex (4-year-old big sister) to their house, and the police took John for questioning. John had no problem with this, until his ability to read upside down caused him to notice that the officer was taking notes on a pad of paper that said "by my signature, I agree that I am waiving my right to remain silent" and other such things. He stopped talking. I was at the hospital for a couple of hours before the police finally relented and allowed him to join me. Meanwhile, an officer (possibly the same one) also questioned Alex at our friend's house, without our knowledge or consent, and utterly terrified her. I'm still furious whenever I think about someone having done that to my kid.

The paramedics (and probably the nasty cop) also called CPS, which I actually completely understood. Our housing was in question, and unfortunately, there are just enough cases of parents with mental illnesses much less well-controlled than John's who engage in Munchausen-by-proxy by giving large doses of anticonvulsants to their small children, which cause seizures when so given. (Yes, Tori had a seizure. I think she had two, actually. Scared hell out of everyone.)

A couple of CPS workers asked the various and sundry to-be-expected questions, which was scary but OK. No, there is no domestic violence. No, John does NOT generally just leave medication around - we do have a place where it is normally kept that is inaccessible to the kids. No, he does not have a general thing about counting his pills - this was specifically to call for a refill. And yes, he does regularly take his meds, and I do regularly take mine even though this is still pretty new to me. Yes, John is their primary caregiver and yes, he has my COMPLETE trust where our children are concerned. Yes, it's OK if you want to talk to our therapist, our family doctor, and Alex's teacher and principal. Yes, we do have a reliable support network of friends. And no, we don't have an "illegal fireplace" - huh? (Apparently our heater was mis-described as a fireplace. *confused*)

(I suppose this is where I should point out that I work for the Office of Children and Family Services, and that my immediate supervisor used to be a CPS caseworker. This was helpful in some ways but scary in others, because an indicated report could very well have meant I lost my job along with everything else. I'm also a social work student, just to make it even scarier.)

Being in the Pediatric ICU with Tori was...an experience. Tori came out of the sedation they had given her to stop the seizures very obviously herself, and upset that there was a heart rate monitor on the thumb she wanted to suck. She also wanted to get down and crawl/walk around and couldn't do it because "the floor is too dirty." They were afraid she would vomit, so they tried to get her to take a bottle of Pedialyte before giving her any actual food, and she would suck on the Pedialyte bottle and then push it away with this incredibly disgusted, "Why don't YOU drink it, then?" glare. And then, when they finally were willing to have her eat food, I didn't cut it into small enough pieces, and while the doctor wanted to get us out so that they'd have the bed free, we had to wait until CPS said it was OK to leave. (We also ended up sneaking Alex in very briefly, despite a no-kids-in-PICU thing, because Alex was convinced that the whole thing was her fault (because, you see, Tori is "MY baby-sister-Tori!" and Alex is a very protective big sister) and scared that Tori was a lot sicker than she actually was.)

CPS finally gave the OK for us to leave so that we could crash on someone else's air mattress, because National Grid had shut off our gas and electric due to the CO leak and code violations. They were supposedly going to come look at the house we were staying at that night, but never did. A caseworker DID come to the friends' house that we stayed at for the longer-term, confirmed that everyone had a basic safe place to sleep, talked to John and the kids for a little while, and that was that for the time being.

We tried here and there to do work in our house, John more so than I - this being winter, and there being no electricity, and my being employed during daylight hours made that the general way of things. And always the balancing act between trying to get work done so we could go home, trying to give especially Alex the time and attention she needed given how traumatic this was for her, trying to be considerate and friendly in the space we were staying in, and trying to just live day-to-day life so that nothing ELSE fell apart. And, for me at least, generally feeling like I fell terribly, terribly short in all of those regards.

Meanwhile, we heard from the CPS worker, who wanted to know if we could all please come in and talk with her in her office at our earliest convenience? This seemed legitimate on the surface, since I had yet to speak with our assigned caseworker and I knew that I needed to, but I was also aware that (generic details given here, some of you know or can guess the full story) an online group of people that included my husband had become the target of some particularly nasty harassment. Among other things, someone's employer was called with a bunch of absurdity about, "Do you know that one of your employees is distributing kiddie porn? You might want to see if this is happening at work before you get arrested, too." John was one of the few people in that group who was known to have small children, so in his/our case, the harassment took the form of a forged chat log faxed to CPS claiming to be of John attempting to solicit buyers of obscene photographs of Alex because of being "a little short on cash". Which, um, NO. Fortunately, the forgery was so poorly done that we could easily point out several ways in which it was an obvious forgery. And Alex got to be questioned about her knowledge of personal safety, to which the CPS workers let us know what a lovely, bright, engaging little girl she is.

So this was just one more piece of stress to deal with. Not because there was even the slightest hint of truth to any of it, but because due to the nature of the report, it HAD to be reported to the police, and there was the fear that either the friends we were staying with would get scared/offended/whatever and kick us out or the same creepy cop that questioned John originally would get his hands on this and find some way to frame some kind of case against John for $DEITY-knows-what.

Eventually, student aid disbursements showed up, we gave up trying to DIY the problem and hired contractors, and we got our power on and got to get back in our house. Of course, not long after that, we were having dinner at Applebee's when Alex had a screaming meltdown for reasons I can't remember. John carried her out of the restaurant, under one arm. He carries her that way so that she can't kick him in the groin, which she has done in the midst of tantrum-throwing in the past. When we got home, there was a Colonie Police vehicle waiting for us (weird, because we live in Cohoes). Apparently "several witnesses" at the Applebee's alleged witnessing John "abusing" Alex and claimed to have it on tape. He talked to John, talked to me, looked at the sleepy and obviously-not-beaten-up Alex, and satisfied himself that we were just parents doing what parents should do.

Also eventually, the CPS worker came to see John and the girls back in our house, satisfied herself that all was well, said that it seemed like we were doing a lot of good with a bad situation, and that she was planning to close the case unfounded. (The determination letters took their sweet old time to show up - fortunately, in the course of my job, I found out that the hold-up was a bureaucratic one. Specifically, the State Central Registry had overrun its paper budget, and was waiting for approval to order more paper.)

So...all's well that ends well? Everything's OK?

I wish it was. The thing is, I'm not OK. Mostly, I'm not OK because, in the month and a half before all this happened, I had made a lot of really kick-ass positive changes for myself. I was hitting the pool every morning, which was making a world of difference with the bad leg. I was on meds (Strattera for inattentive-type ADD; naprosyn for the horrible leg pain) for the first time and they really seemed to be helping. I was even sticking to a diet and that seemed to be going very well. I was liking LJ Idol, liking one of my classes, and bouncing back after a bad midterm in my other class. Life was AMAZING, I was golden, I hadn't had it so good in YEARS...

And then the thing that I had always held as a back-of-mind fear since becoming a parent happened. Something went wrong that brought CPS in. And between that, and the fact that, awesome as it was to have friends that let us stay, we were still sleeping in someone else's house, AND the fact that nonsense about our alleged participation in a child porn ring came up on the first page of Google results for my first and last name for months after...I felt as though not only privacy, but the option of privacy, had been completely stripped away. I woke up almost every day, and still wake up most days, feeling like I'm in that horrible dream of needing to take a final exam for a class I never took, and by the way I'm naked!

Mostly now, I can't shake the feeling that the second I genuinely get past this and move on, either it's going to happen again or something worse is going to happen in its place. And I don't want to go through it again. I don't want my kids to go through it again. I don't want my friends (who truly went above and beyond on multiple occasions) to go through it again.

My therapist says, "Yeah, so? It's not like they would've taken your kids, because you're obviously a good parent!" And sure, I am - most of the time, like most parents. And, except at the very beginning, I wasn't really afraid that CPS would be taking our kids - I know enough about which kids end up in care and why to know that this really didn't rate.

I know all that, intellectually. Emotionally, it's still not there.

It's a little bit closer, though. The individual that I believe was behind the harassment was recently arrested for an unrelated reason, which helps with the closure, with the putting-this-behind-me-for-real. I'm not OK yet - but I'm starting to have a clearer memory of what OK, and better-than-OK, looked like and felt like, and I can see a point, probably not that far away, when I'll be there.

Not yet, but soon. I'll be back.

Comments

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
bosssio
Jun. 24th, 2010 08:53 pm (UTC)
Honestly, I suspect you have some PTSD going on from all of this. The entire situation has been horribly traumatic for you, and it is totally understandable for you to still be jumpy - after all, your FAMILY was at stake and there was very little in your control.

Oh, and your therapist should go fuck himself. I don't care if he is right. The threat that CPS has in our lives as parents - especially with all the biases and prejudices you are also dealing with - and the fact that to take your kids is to take part of your soul - that your emotional reaction is totally understandable.

I know I don't know you but {hug}. You'll be back. It just will take a while. And that is okay.
(Deleted comment)
saraus
Jun. 26th, 2010 04:37 am (UTC)
Glad to see things are better for you guys.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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