Wild Potato Chip Bags….

“Don’t be afraid to walk alone.  Don’t be afraid to like it.”
~John Mayer

In a couple of weeks, I’ll be heading out for my annual trek on the Appalachian Trail.

If you’ve been following the news of late, you might have heard a lot about the trail recently.  Sadly, two hikers were attacked on a section in Virginia this past Saturday.  One of the victims, a 43-year-old military veteran named Robert S. Sanchez, was killed.

Deaths along the trail are rare, and killings even rarer; two to three million people from all over the world, hike all or part of the trail annually, yet Saturday’s murder was only the 10th in the last 45 years.

And yes, I understand that’s of small comfort to those who know and love the victims.

My heart breaks for them and their family and friends.  And it breaks for the trail too.  I know that probably sounds strange, but there is just something about taking a long walk on a dirt path that’s so very good for the soul.

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I’ve been section hiking the trail for the last 5 years.  Not continuously, of course, but in sections.

There are a few ways one can endeavor to hike the trail.  You can thru-hike….which means you start at either the northern or southern end and go all the way….2,190 miles through 14 states, stopping at intervals to resupply, shower, wash clothes, etc.

You could slack pack….which is a thru-hike with a twist.  Slack packers carry a small backpack with a day’s worth of supplies.  They hike (some run) a bunch of miles from a designated starting point to a designated stop on the trail, where a car is waiting to transport the hiker to a meal and a bed….and then back to the trail to pick up where she left off, and repeat….day after day….until completed.

Or, you can section-hike the trail….like me, completing chunks of the trail over a series of backpacking trips until you’ve pieced all the sections together and completed the whole thing….it can take years.

No matter how you experience it though, it’s an experience worth having.  I love the trail.

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Sunset, Mt. Killington Summit, Vermont

I love the people you meet on the trail….fellow hikers and wanderers from all walks of life; the ridge runners, caretakers and the people who live along the trail and are often eager to provide a little trail magic to those who amble past.

Like, the cookie lady who leaves out plates of fresh baked cookies for passing hikers.

And Jim Tabor, a trail maintainer in Pennsylvania who leaves hand-carved, wooden spoons along the trail.

And the caretakers at Upper Goose Pond cabin in Massachusetts who make pancakes every morning for hikers who stay the night.

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Upper Goose Pond Cabin, Massachusetts

I love that you can feel totally comfortable taking food from a stranger you meet on the trail….or bunking down next to one in a tent or a shelter.

I love snuggling up in my sleeping bag at night….cozy in the confines of my tent….reading by the light of my headlamp….or simply lying there and listening to the varied sounds of the woods at night.

I love how people are happy to connect and share a bit about themselves and their own journey’s around pots of trail food and campfires.

I love how, inevitably, the conversation almost always turns to gear and pack weight and how I learn something new from a fellow hiker every time I venture out.

I love the huge sense of accomplishment I feel after conquering a particularly difficult section of trail….and how grounded and centered and confident I feel from having lived for days in the wilderness carrying everything I needed to survive on my back.

I love that I miss it when I leave it.

I love the natural beauty of the trail, its history and the stories of the many unique individuals who have hiked it.

People like Earl Shaffer, a World War II veteran, who, in 1948, told friends he was going to “walk off the war” and became the first known person to thru-hike the trail from end to end.  His journey has inspired dozens of other military veterans struggling with PTSD.

Emma “Grandma” Gatewood was the first woman to thru-hike the trail solo in 1955….at the age of 67 and wearing a pair of Keds sneakers.

At the time of her journey, Emma was divorced, having survived a 33 year marriage, during which she was often savagely beaten.  She later said that when her husband became violent, she would run from the house into the woods, where she found peace and solitude.

One day, she told her grown children she was going for a walk….and then she completed the AT.

She hiked the trail again five years later at the age of 72….and again at the age of 75.  She was the first to hike the trail three times.

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Emma “Grandma” Gatewood

In 1990, Bill Irwin was the first blind person to hike the trail.  He relied solely on his guide dog, Orient, as he ascended mountains and forded rivers.  A recovering alcoholic who turned to religion in his sobriety, Mr. Irwin once said the first bible verse he learned was from Corinthians: “For we walk by faith, not by sight.”   Not long after, he decided that an AT hike would serve as a powerful example of living his faith.

In 2016, a group of 40 thru-hikers carried a pair of size 13 boots known simply as “Paul’s Boots,” the entire length of the trail.  Each hiker carried the boots for hundreds of miles before passing them off to the next hiker waiting to take Paul along on the walk.

Paul was an Australian who had dreamed of hiking the trail, but never got the chance.  He died of a heart-attack in July, 2015 at the age of 53; leaving behind a packed backpack and three pairs of polished hiking boots.

His wife wrote a letter to Paul’s favorite podcast, “Dirtbag Diaries” hoping that perhaps someone might be able to take a pair of Paul’s boots out onto the trail, just for a picture, but the trail community did far more than that.

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Paul’s Boots on the top of Mt. Katahdin, Maine. End of the trail.

I don’t know that I will ever attempt a thru-hike.  I’m not sure it’s my style. I earned my trail name, Mosey (yes, we take on trail names which are typically bestowed upon us by another hiker), because that’s the way I hike the trail.  I mosey.

It’s not unusual for me to plan my hikes based on a campsite I want stay at, or a particularly beautiful overlook where I might like to hang-out for an afternoon and read a book, bird-watch, or just simply sit awhile.

One afternoon, I was sitting on a large rock in a small river, soaking my feet, reading a book and having some lunch, when a thru-hiker I had been crossing paths with off and on for days stopped and said, “You really do just mosey along, don’t ya?  That’s your trail name, kiddo, Mosey.”    

I’m not concerned with crushing the big miles.  I’m not racing the change in seasons.  I have the luxury of time on my hikes and so I try and absorb every step of it.

But don’t get me wrong.  Thru-hikers are beasts!  It takes a significant amount of grit and fortitude to tough it out and that, in and of itself, is it’s own special journey.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to complete a section with my dad.  He filled a chunk of my childhood with memories of long hikes in state parks, canoe trips down winding rivers, bike rides along abandoned railroad beds, fishing from small, tucked away ponds only my dad seemed to know about, long drives on rural, country roads, camping and boating.

It was from my dad that I developed a deep love, appreciation and respect for the outdoors.

“Never do this.”  My dad would often to say to my brother and I as he stooped to pick up a discarded wrapper, bottle, or can tossed along a trail.  “Never litter.”

“Why?” My brother and I would ask when we were young.

“Because….it turns wild.”  My dad would say.  “Haven’t you ever come across a wild potato chip bag?”

“No!”  My brother and I would exclaim, wide-eyed.  “What do they do?”  

“Ooh, they are vicious!”  My dad would say.

Thanks to my dad, over the years, the outdoors became a peaceful sanctuary and a trusted friend, where I love to disappear as often as possible with a book in hand….or my husband and our little one in tow….to spend hours happily embraced by the woods or a mountain….exploring a new trail, rock-hopping across a stream, or just quietly sitting and watching as my son explores the abundance of rocks and trees and sticks and flowers.

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Since the terrible tragedy that occurred this past Saturday, I have been getting dozens of texts and social media tags from concerned family and friends with links to the articles.

“Are you still going this year?”  They ask.  “Aren’t you afraid?”

And the answer is, “Yes, I’m still going and no, I’m not afraid.”

It has saddened and frustrated me to hear and read the commentary from people who are shouting things like, “Well, of course this happened!  They were out in the WOODS, with STRANGERS!”  

When, in reality, it was among the safest places they could be.

Safer than getting into an Uber.

Safer than walking through a major city.

Safer than attending any large scale public event (concerts, movies, marathons, etc.)

Safer than going for a jog through most neighborhoods….

What happened is not a reflection of the trail or the hiking community, and it would be a shame if it scared people away from the experience, but I don’t think it will.

I think now, more than ever, those of us who love the trail and are drawn to the adventure, will hike on.

What a waste it would be if we didn’t.

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Happy Mother’s Day….

“God could not be everywhere.  Therefore, he created mothers.
~Rudyard Kipling.

Until I actually became a mother, my relationship with Mother’s Day was a complicated one.  My parents divorced when I was very young and in the years that followed, my dad felt no obligation to ensure my brother and I had something to give to our mother for the holiday.

My parents had a terrible marriage and an even worse divorce, so its possible this was an intended malicious act on his part, or it may have been something he didn’t realize he was supposed to do.  Regardless, the slight wasn’t lost on my mother.

It wasn’t that my brother and I had nothing to present to her.  There was always a school created craft.  Also, as we got a little older, my brother and I used to pay special attention to the neighborhood curbside trash and yard sales for treasures we thought she might like.

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This is pretty much what my brother looked like in the 80’s

We brought home things like second-hand wallets, old bottles of perfume and umbrella’s.  Sometimes, we’d scrape-up enough loose change and walk to the Hallmark store in town to pick out a small magnet or a mini-figurine.

Sometimes, we would pick flowers from garden beds throughout town and attempt to fashion a bouquet.  We also made her breakfast in bed, which usually consisted of a loaf of soggy french toast, cereal, pop-tarts and whatever beverage was on-hand.

If my mother ever appreciated our efforts, it was lost in her anger at my father for his failure to help us purchase more suitable gifts.  She would rant and rave, call him and leave screeching messages on his answering machine and grill my brother and I about what he’d purchased for our step-mother.

She would cry and tell us how badly her feelings had been hurt, how sad she felt at not having anything to open, how hard she worked and how she deserved more.  The day would be lost to her disappointment.

The weight of it all was not something we should have been expected to help carry.  We were just little kids.  But, carry it we did.  Every approaching holiday would leave me feeling crippled with dread and anxiety.  I worried endlessly about how we were going to be able to provide my mother with enough to make her happy.

As I got older and eventually began earning money of my own, it became easier to get through these events, but I would still spend weeks worrying that I hadn’t gotten enough, or the exact right thing.  I also knew that no matter what, my mother would want to compare it to whatever had been purchased for my step-mother.

When I reached adulthood, Mother’s Day began to take on a feeling of dreaded obligation, rather than a feeling of joy at celebrating the woman who had given birth to me.  When my relationship with my mother came to a final end, I was relieved not to have to deal with the pressures and unrealistic expectations.  It became just another day.

When I became a step-mother, I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to feel about Mother’s Day.  In the beginning, it continued to feel like just another day.  I felt no maternal stirrings for my step-children, so I had no emotional connection to Mother’s Day.  I was not their mother.  I’m still not their mother, but I am something.

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Being a step-parent is the most complex and complicated relationship I’ve ever been a part of.  I know that not everyone’s circumstances are the same, but in my case, the biological mother of my step-children pretty much hates me.

Even though we’ve not once had a single conversation in the more than 10 years I’ve been around, and though I had nothing to do with the demise of her marriage, I seem to be symbolic of something she can’t handle.  As for what that might be, I can only speculate.

When I embarked on the journey of step-parenting, I was without great expectations.  I knew we wouldn’t love each other right away.  I expected there would be feelings of jealousy and resentment on their part and mine.  I knew there would be loyalty conflicts and lines drawn and hurt feelings.  I didn’t push.

I let them get to know me and I got to know them.  When their mother’s negative commentary seeped into our household, I refused to become what I knew she wanted me to be.

Overtime, I think the kids slowly began to see the motives behind what they were hearing versus what they were seeing.  Not that this caused them to love their mother any less and like me any more, but I think they began to form their own opinions and to open themselves up to a growing relationship with me.

I like to think I’ve been a positive influence.  When I first met the kids, they were often paralyzed by any new experience, whether it be trying a new food, visiting a new place, or trying a new activity.  It seemed they believed the world was fraught with danger.

Little by little, I worked to crack that shell.  I took them rock climbing and hiking and camping while patiently and continually reassuring them that they would, in fact, not plummet to the earth and die, get lost and starve, be kidnapped and eaten by hillbillies and/or obtain some type of biological disease carried by random woodland creatures.

I introduced new foods, my dad taught them to fish, I sought out fun and interesting places to visit, coaxed them onto their first plane ride, taught them to golf and tried to teach them to ski.  My step-son is now obsessed, but my step-daughter is still afraid that she will crash, head first into a tree….on the treeless bunny slopes.  We’re working on it.

But still, I’ve often said that if my step-children grow-up and do amazing things, some will say it happened despite my presence in their lives.  If they grow-up and become serial killers, it will be all my fault.

As the years have passed and our relationships with one another have continued to evolve and seek definition, I’ve continued to have no expectations of recognition on Mother’s Day.

In part, I’m sure it’s to save myself from hurt feelings, but at the same time, I know I am not their mother and if the day holds an exclusive meaning for them, I would never seek to intrude.

With that being said, I’ve not gone without it.  At some point, they began getting me a card and a small gift.  The card typically has the word “Step” written by one of them in front of the word “Mom” anywhere it’s printed on the card.  I’ve never viewed it as a negative, only as a boundary.  I am their step-mom.  It’s not the same as being their mom.  I like the distinction.

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My husband has always insisted he has not influenced the kids to acknowledge me on Mother’s Day, but I’ve always suspected he may have planted the seed.

However, one year, when my step-son was ten, he presented me with a school craft he’d made.  It was a long piece of construction paper that included a picture of himself holding a giant sunflower.  Underneath the photo, it said, “Happy Mother’s Day” and printed below was a list of things he loved about me.

I’m not a particularly emotional person, but when he gave it to me, I’ll admit that I thought my heart might burst.  I thanked him and told him it was the best gift I’d ever been given and I meant it.  Later, I took it to my room and cried.  Then I framed it and hung it.

Then, I became a mom in the traditional sense of the word and I still don’t want or expect grandiose gestures for Mother’s Day.  I just want to enjoy a quiet, simple day with my little family.

My own son always presents me with a handmade craft and I always cherish it.  More importantly though, he knows that I cherish it.  He know’s it enough and that he is enough.

All this week, I’ve been reading the various editorials written about the all the different kinds of mom’s out there.  The harried and frazzled, the mother’s who have lost children, the women who have lost their mother’s, the foster and adoptive mom’s and the all the other women who stepped in and took on the role of a mother when they were needed most.

I’ve laughed, sympathized, felt sad.  Mostly though, I’ve felt grateful.  And that is truly the best gift of all.

I hope all you moms out there get what you need this Mother’s Day too.

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Some People Have Family Home Video’s. I Have 500+ Pages of Police Reports and Body-Cam Video….

“Does anyone else hear banjo’s?” ~Me

Life has been weird.

A year and a half ago, my brother and I, along with our respective significant others, entered into a legal battle with our mother, who I haven’t spoken to in more than ten years.  Our fight was over my niece, Lele; the child of my middle brother.

The case has now mostly concluded, if you’d like to read about that hillbilly drama, click here:  The Legal System Sucks or, just scroll down to my prior post.

But if you’d like the Reader’s Digest version, the long and the short of it is this, my brother and I are now the proud parents of a seven year old.

Over the course of the last year and a half, my time has largely revolved around the case.        Every day, there was new evidence to review, conversations to be had with our attorneys and a near daily deluge of new issues created by mother, all of which had to be addressed and managed.

Essentially, my mother didn’t have a respectable case to put on, so her strategy was to attempt to drain me financially; to rob my family of our financial future….and let’s just say the court allowed her to do it.

Meanwhile, we did our best to stay on the high road.  We accumulated our evidence and prepared to present our case.

In an effort to help minimize some of the mounting legal fees, I did a lot of the administrative work for our attorney’s.  I indexed transcripts from various hearings and depositions.  I created detailed timelines and summarized dozens of records, from police reports, to more than 40 hours of jail/prison calls.

It was mentally exhausting.  But it’s done now and so it’s time to box this mess up and carry on.  Which, is sort of a metaphor for the first 30-odd years of my life.

I’ve spent a lot of time in therapy dissecting my childhood and adolescence and early adulthood.  I’ve tried 1:1 therapy and group therapy.  I’ve had both male and female therapists and I’ve tried a few psychiatrists/psychologists as well.  But I’ve never been able to connect to counseling.

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I couldn’t understand the incessant need to draw parallels between my “trauma past” and my present.  I already knew about those parallels.

I had crappy communication skills and when I fought, I fought to win.  I spewed mean things, like really mean things that were intended to cut to the emotional quick.  I brought bombs to verbal debates.  

And yeah….I did it, because it’s all I knew.  I never learned the art of resolving conflict without drawing blood and/or causing permanent emotional trauma.

I knew that the way I responded to life wasn’t healthy or productive.  I knew right from wrong.  I never felt good about myself in the aftermath of a blow-out with someone I cared about.

So, self-reflection, got it.


As I got older, I stopped trying to hide my past and I became pretty open about my experiences, regardless of the audience.

You might talk about your idyllic upbringing on a maple syrup farm in Vermont and gush about how much you’ve come to cherish your relationship with your mother while we’re out to brunch for the first time….I might (most definitely will) talk about how my family got kicked out of church when I was a kid and that time my mom hit me so hard in the face, I saw actual stars.

So, ability to talk about it….check!


I could acknowledge that crappy things happened to me, but that in the grand scheme of things, I was still a person of privilege.

Perspective?  Yup.


I have sat with it.  I’ve acknowledged it.  I’ve mourned it.  I’ve felt all of the feelings for it.  I’ve analyzed it, accepted it, honored it….all the stuff.

I didn’t need to keep talking about it.  I needed to know what I was supposed to do with it.  I had been carrying around this load of emotional garbage for so long, I honestly didn’t know how to function without it.  And it was fucking shit up.

It was making me ugly and mean and jaded and really, just an asshole, but not the kind of asshole people like.

What I needed to know and what NOBODY told me in all the talking and talking and talking….was that I could just let it go.  That I could cut the shit, and stop being such a jerk, and just choose to be happy.

The revelation came after a rough session in couples counseling with my husband.  So, maybe therapy was helpful after all.  But, I don’t know, I think the Aha! was born more out of annoyance than therapeutic progress.

Anyway, I was talking to our therapist about something specific that was triggering me in our marriage.  A slight I felt was real.  And it was.

I wanted, desperately, for her to understand that this was a feeling I was having that was relevant to the present and not deeply rooted in my past.  But she wasn’t having it.  As I was word vomiting she said to me, “He’s not your mother.”  

And all hell broke loose.  Out of me.  It’s possible I levitated.  I got up and left, declaring I was done.

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From there, I did exactly what I always did.  I ran and took my garbage with me.  I disappeared from my life and my husband and into myself and my garbage.  I waged a war in my head with everyone until I was exhausted.

And then, something clicked.  My feelings and thoughts mattered.  I knew this.  But no one could hear me through the filter of my garbage.

And that wasn’t going to change until I made peace with it and let it go.

So I did.

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Of course, it’s a lot easier said than done.  It requires taking a giant leap of faith into life; over and over again.  And sometimes, it’s scary and it’s hard.  Especially when you know you’re showing up without any of the tools you’re supposed to have.  It’s kind of like bursting into a crowded room, naked.  But the alternative, is not showing up at all.

And I wanted to show up.  I was married to a really great guy, like truly THE BEST, who was trying so damn hard to understand me and show up for me, even when I made it nearly impossible.

We had started a family of our own.  I was a mother and I worried every single minute that I would mess it up.

I believed I would ruin everything.  I knew I would self-sabotage and drive my life into the ground and there would be no coming back from it.  I didn’t want that, of course I didn’t, but I couldn’t figure out how to exist among the mess.

Forever, I had been trying to figure out how to live and behave and communicate through and/or around the garbage.  I had been waiting and listening and even asking for instructions on how to do that.  I thought that’s what therapy was for.  To teach me how to live like a normal person, but within the confines of my dysfunction.  I don’t even know if that makes sense.

It never occurred to me that I could just pack it up and put it away.  Yes, it’s still a part of my story, but I don’t have to lug it around.  And there is so much power in that.

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I have managed to break the cycles of abuse and dysfunction and addiction that I grew-up with.  I decided it wasn’t the way I wanted to live, and then I set about figuring out how to live the life I wanted.

Simply put, I decided to be happy.  And I think it’s the best way to honor the part of me that spent way too many years being afraid.

I read once, that “happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed.  Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace and gratitude.”

I don’t know about all that.  I certainly don’t love every minute and I’m not always willing to extend grace, but I am grateful AF.  Because, I have a lot to be grateful for.

So while I’d like to sit in self-righteous indignation for a little while longer (I never said I was perfect), I’m going to pack this stuff up too and let it go.  The question is though, where do I put it?  Not metaphorically.  I mean literally.

Should I tuck away the body cam videos with our collection of home movies?  You know, so that we can all gather together someday and reminisce while we watch my son blow out his first birthday candles….and then watch my mom stand on the front lawn, barefoot on a cold December day, the remnants of Halloween decorations and that one, cracked, plastic Santa that’s been there since 2001, visible in the background, while she tells a police officer she suspects one of my brothers of throwing a brick through the back window of her car….only, the brick isn’t anywhere to be found, until she magically discovers it lying at an angle that makes it obvious it was either planted, or it’s just part of the neighbors landscaping.

Would the police and court records related to the all those calls about dogs running at large and a missing ferret, go with the old mementos I saved from my first fur baby?

FYI on the ferret, I hope he made it out of there.  Or, I hope he was at least a meal for one of the pets starving to death in that house.  I’m not sure which I hope for more.

Do the various cards and letters I’ve saved over the years, go with the stacks of JPay communications I subpoenaed from two different correctional facilities?  (JPay is prison email, if you don’t know….and really, if you are going to follow me here, you’re going to have to learn my language).

You know, I think I’ll just leave it all in a nondescript box to collect dust in the deepest recesses of our basement and hope it’s one of those things the kids just arbitrarily dump off at Goodwill or something, after I’m dead.

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I Blame Ohio Child Protective Services & The Court of Common Pleas….among others

“Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?”
~The Joker, Batman

It’s been a minute since I’ve last been here.

Some of you might be thinking….huh, I hadn’t noticed.  

But to those of you who did,….I BLAME OHIO CHILD PROTECTIVE SERVICES AND THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS (And yes, I blame them all in shouty capitals), for my lack of output.

Here’s why:

Thanksgiving weekend, 2017,  I got a call from my brother Allan in Ohio.

“I just found out that Lele has missed over twenty days of school.  I’m so fucking pissed.  We have to do something.”

Lele is our niece.  She is the daughter of another brother, Tyler, who has a long history of substance abuse, gang affiliation and other criminal activities.

Lele’s mom, Dee, has had her own struggles and a complicated backstory.  She gave birth to Lele when she was sixteen and a month later, her own mother was evicted from their home and Dee was abandoned with a newborn and nowhere to go.

I imagine that being a teen parent is hard.  Hell, being a grown-up parent is hard.  But for Dee and Tyler, it was about a million times more difficult.  Not just because they were rootless with a newborn baby, but because within weeks of her birth, Lele was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis.

CF is a hereditary, incurable, life-threatening disease that affects the lungs and digestive system. The disease requires strict adherence to a treatment plan that includes a lifetime of fistfuls of medications, multiple daily breathing treatments and chest PT.

After the eviction, Tyler, Dee and Lele lived briefly with my mother, which is the literal equivalent, of living in hell.

From there, they stayed with my brother Allan for a few months before finally settling into an apartment of their own when Lele was about six months old.

They had been in the apartment for less than a month, when Tyler was arrested for violating a restraining order our mother had against him….a restraining order she helped him violate, by picking him up at his apartment, so that he could come to her house and do drugs and get drunk in her garage with our youngest brother.  Because….family bonding time is important, obviously.

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Tyler got caught, because he and my mother got into a booze/drug fueled fight and the police were called.  Naturally, the two of them fled the scene.

But my mother is a narc.  After first lying to the police, who weren’t buying it….and I assume under a threat to her own freedom….she sold Tyler down the river and he was arrested.

In the midst of all this, Lele developed a rare, CF related infection and had to be hospitalized.   It was serious and scary.

So of course, my mother took the opportunity to make matters worse, by calling Child Protective services for about the eleventy-billionth time, and reporting Dee for a host of fabricated neglect claims.

The eventual outcome was that Dee was required to move out of her apartment and in with her aunt, where Lele would also be required to go and live after she was released from the hospital.

Lele and Dee lived with her aunt for the next three years and Lele thrived there.  Then, in early winter, 2015, Dee decided she was ready to move into her own place.  She didn’t make it a year before my mother drove her to a literal nervous breakdown.

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She inundated Dee with abusive and vile text messages and phone calls and threats….there were hundreds of them, (and that’s no exaggeration) a day, to the point that Dee’s body and mind began to break down under the siege.

Recognizing that she was losing her grip, Dee left Lele with her aunt and checked herself into the hospital.

When my mother figured this out, she took Tyler, Lele’s dad….who was fresh out jail and rehab….to court where he filed for emergency custody of his daughter and got it.

At the time, Tyler had an apartment in a neighborhood where the odds of being the victim of a drive-by shooting, were greater than the odds of not.

During her stays on the corner of Crack and Bone Thugs in Harmony, Lele witnessed multiple fist fights between her dad and his various on-again, off-again roommates.

One of her regular babysitters, was a registered sex-offender.

She witnessed one of her dad’s girlfriends slit her own throat in front of her.

And she got struck in the chest by a firework, lit by one of her dad’s best buddies, which caused third degree burns across her chest.

After a few months of a sick kid cramping his style, Tyler packed up his vaping supplies, bottles of Old English, dime bags and roach clips and moved back in with our mother.

Then, things went from bad, to worse.  If you can believe that’s even possible.

Tyler set up a pharmaceuticals business in the garage where he cooked up K2 in the dirty pots and pans he pilfered from our mother’s kitchen.  While Lele was a witness and also a victim, of my mother’s rage.

She saw my mother banging down doors, screaming obscenities (including at her), hitting people (including her) and breaking things.

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She took baths and brushed her teeth in a bathroom where a sick cat often vomited in the sink and no one bothered to clean it up.  NOT IT!

And she played around the dog shit and piss that littered the carpeting throughout the house.

She ate her meals at a table where the leftovers from previous meals were left to grow fur for weeks.

Her medications and the various components for her nebulizer, that are supposed to be kept sterilized, were strewn about the kitchen that was riddled with old food and garbage and filth.

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When tensions between my mother and Tyler came to a head, my mother evicted him.  But Tyler still had custody of his daughter.  So, he and Dee made the decision to again leave Lele with Dee’s aunt.

This time, it was my mother who filed for emergency custody of Lele and she got it, despite being denied at least two other times.

At the first emergency custody hearing, my mother lied about everything from Lele’s background to her medical history.

Of course, Magistrate Massengill (it’s fitting, trust me) who heard the case wouldn’t have necessarily known she was lying.  Neither Dee nor Tyler were present.  None of us knew about the hearing, so no one was there to refute anything she said.

But Massengill did know that when Tyler obtained custody of Lele a year or so prior….following Dee’s nervous breakdown….that it was agreed upon between Tyler and Dee, that my mother would be less of a presence in Lele’s life.

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This should have been a red flag.  But my mother was granted emergency custody anyway….without anyone even bothering to verify that the story she was telling was the truth.

From there, my mother drove to the aunts house to claim her stolen prize; taking Lele from a home my mother knew was clean and safe, back to her hovel that often served as a flop house for a revolving door of drug addicts and derelicts.

A home where the police had been called literally HUNDREDS of times.  For things like….my mother chopping up her lawn furniture with an ax in the midst of a domestic dispute with my step-dad.

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After a few additional hearings, during which my mother continued to lie….she was granted permanent custody.

And throughout the entire process, there were no checks and balances in place, that I have been able to identify, designed to ensure that Lele was going to a home where she would be safe.

There were no requirements that my mother call witnesses, or provide documents that supported the story she was telling.

There were no third party social workers assigned to investigate her claims.  No one did a home visit.  No one talked to other family members.  No one bothered to talk to Lele.

No one bothered to check police records, or consult with Child Protective services to see if there were any on-going, or past investigations related to Lele’s care.

OR, more importantly, whether my mother had any history of child abuse allegations….which she does.

Nope.  My mother just waltzed in there, spewed a bunch of bull-shit and walked out of there with a kid and an order for child support payments.  Cha-Ching!

And that’s how easy it is to “legally” steal a kid in the state of Ohio.

Had anyone bothered to do any amount of background checking, or even just a quick Google search, they would have found, that among MANY other things, my mother is a big, fat liar.

A woman who, just a few months prior, had been banned by a municipal court judge, from ever owning a dog again.

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That’s right folks!  She isn’t allowed to own a dog.  EVER.  But a kid with a terminal illness?  Eh, no problem.

Allan and I talked regularly about calling the Ohio Department of Child Endangerment Services, I mean Protective Services (honest mistake) for Lele, but we knew, thanks to our own wretched childhoods, that they wouldn’t actually do anything….because they don’t like to get involved until it’s time to exhume the body.

Seriously, it’s always the same story.  “There just wasn’t enough evidence.”  

Or, “Our case loads were too full.”  

We send people to death row based purely on circumstantial evidence, but when it comes to child abuse it’s like, “Yeah, it’s true the mom said those two broken legs and that black eye and those cigarette burns happened when little Destiny fell off the bike she didn’t have, but what could we do?

So, when Allan called to tell me that Lele had missed more than twenty days of school, barely three months into the school year, I thought, “tale as old as time.”

And then, I reminded him that if we called the authorities and told them what we knew, that our mother would find out who called….and then, not only would she never allow us to see Lele again, but she would have us permanently silenced by someone willing to accept a WIC voucher as payment.

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But, I guess we were feeling a bit ballsy at the end of the chat, because we decided Allan should at least try and speak to the principal at Lele’s school.

He knew her well enough, because he and his partner often did school pick-up and drop-off.  They were also the stand-ins at father-daughter events at Lele’s school, because Tyler usually had warrants and so wasn’t allowed on school property.

Of course, the principal couldn’t tell him anything, but she did listen.  And then she shared the information with the school’s social worker, who made a call to Child Protective Services.

When the social worker showed up to my mother’s house, she wasn’t home.  She’d checked herself into the hospital….which is where she likes to go when the authorities are closing in.

And while she was away trying to swindle some good prescription drugs out of the hospital staff, she left Lele in the care of Tyler….who had recently moved back in and was busy making dabs in the garage….and her husband, my step-dad; a non-compliant and blind diabetic, who, after serving twenty-years of time with my mother, has lost the will to live.

The social worker left her card with whoever answered the door, truly, it could have been anyone….and Allan and I were ultimately able to get the information and give her a call.

Fast forward to today….my brother and I are now the proud parents of a daughter.

Which means that someone out there from my adolescence, probably one of my elementary school teachers, just won a bet on how my life would turn out.

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But it didn’t happen overnight.  It took a year and a half and nearly $200k to pry my niece from the clutches of Satan’s chief lieutenant.  And no, I did not just happen to have that money lying around for a rainy day custody dispute.

When we started the process, I had no idea what we were truly in for.  I figured that if you tell the truth and you do all the right things, you have nothing to worry about.  But that’s a load of crap.

Once my mother knew we were behind the coup to free our niece, she did the following:

  1.  Got my brother Allan fired from his job.

  2. Accused him of sexually molesting Lele….and then going so far as to subject her (at six years old) to an internal forensic examination.  And just in case in you are wondering, my niece was clear, repeatedly, that no such abuse had ever occurred.  Even the medical professionals and a detective who interviewed my niece extensively, were like, “yeah, this didn’t happen.” And my mother was like, “peek in there anyway.”

  3. Got Allan kicked off the Board of Directors for the local chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, where he had volunteered his time since Lele was an infant and helped to raise tens of thousands of dollars for CF research.

  4. Made multiple phone calls, often as an anonymous tipster, to accuse Allan of molesting and endagering, not just Lele, but our other two nieces as well….one of whom was a newborn at the time.

  5. Accused him of verbally assaulting her and threatening her in the parking lot at Lele’s school during a court ordered visitation exchange.  Good thing there are security camera’s covering that parking lot.

  6. Accused me of attempting to bride witnesses, including Lele’s dad, by offering money and housing if they would agree to lie on my behalf.

  7. Lied at every single hearing and throughout her deposition, all under oath.

And you know what the consequences were for all the harassment and lying and deflecting and squandering of resources?  Nothing.  At least not for the liar.

But for us, it cost THOUSANDS in additional legal fees in order to protect and defend ourselves.

My brother had to obtain a protection order against our mother, which didn’t matter, because she repeatedly violated it.

I guess the way it works, is that unless the violator is clutching your still beating heart in their hands, while making snow angels in your blood, the protection order is really just a piece of paper that means nothing.

Early on in the case, Child Protective Services bailed out, leaving us to duke this out in the Court of Common Pleas on our own.  Thanks for nothing, assholes!

And as the case progressed, and the legal fees mounted, and my mother continued to create barriers toward progress and lie without consequence, I came to understand why no one ever stepped up for me when I was a kid.  Ah…I’m healed.

We had six days of trial scheduled.  Our attorneys spent hours preparing.

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We subpoenaed something like 30 witnesses, all of whom had to be served and then organized and scheduled to appear on specific days and times.

We had over 500 copies of police reports and body cam video’s.

We had more than 10,000 pages of medical records.

We had transcripts from prior hearings, the deposition transcripts and hundreds of text messages and photographs.

We had copies of jail/prison communications between Tyler and my mother (because yeah, he was incarcerated shortly after the case got underway) and all the audio of their phone calls….including a call in which my mother could be heard both screaming, and then hitting Lele while she cried in the background.

We showed up on the first day ready to present our case.

My mother’s free lawyer, Melanoma McChiclet-Teeth, an ambulance chaser with no family law experience she suckered into representing her pro-bono, showed up with a yellow legal pad and a bag of shit, aka, his client.

We never got a trial though.  Instead, we arrived to find out, as is apparently typical, that the court was double booked and we were in second place.

While we waited, we were encouraged to try and figure it out on our own.  As if we hadn’t already been trying to do that.  For a year and a half.  With no resolution.

But, we did ultimately settle under pressure from the court.  My mother caved and we agreed to a resolution we were happy with, but not until the end of court on the second day.

We never got the opportunity to present any of our evidence.  Our mother never had to answer for the things that she did.

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And we never got to bring to light all the ways in which the system failed Lele.  It took my mother only three trips to court and virtually no real evidence, to obtain custody of her.   But it took a year and a half and nearly everything we had, to free her.  That is shameful.

At one point, I commented to someone that I was disappointed in Child Protective Services and their lack of action.  She said, “What Lele has been through is bad.  There’s no doubt about it.  But it’s not as bad as a lot of the other cases we have to deal with.”

And that makes me so sad.

But I am glad that Lele won’t be one of those kids who falls between the cracks in the system because she just wasn’t being abused enough.  

Now that it’s mostly over, I’ve got to deal with some pretty heavy feelings of resentment and anger, because what’s been taken from my family and me, can’t ever be repaid.

I’m angry for all the once in a lifetime moments I missed out on in my own son’s life, while traveling back and forth for court while my mother found shady new ways to drag it all out.

I’m angry about the ways the court system and law enforcement allowed my mother to abuse us throughout this process.

I’m angry about the occasional snide comments made by Magistrate Massengill about the size of my house….OBJECTION!  Relevance, your honorable asshole?

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And, I’m angry about the significantly disproportionate way in which fees were allocated among the parties (I paid the bulk of everything), which was based on nothing other than   a household income number.  A number that did not take into account cost of living differences, or a detailed accounting of household expenses.

My husband and I are frugal savers.  The only debt we carry is mortgage related.

And the “big house” the magistrate was so found of commenting on, is a fixer upper that was built in 1731 and purchased for about half the market value for homes in our community, due to the extensive renovations it required and still does.  

My mother on the other hand likes to accumulate massive amounts of credit card and other debt and then file for bankruptcy.

She refuses to work a job that doesn’t pay under the table, or isn’t tip based….and not because she lacks the education or ability, but because it’s the only way she can make sure she qualifies for as much government assistance as possible.

So it was a particularly bitter pill to swallow when the court allowed her to steal from me too….especially given that I did nothing to cause any of what was happening to be necessary.

No good deed goes unpunished.

As for Lele, despite everything she’s been through, she remains an incredilby upbeat and positive and sweet and compassionate kid.

She’s insightful and smart and funny and silly and FULL of energy and life.  And she isn’t afraid to give her love her away, despite all the many ways her love has been rejected by those who should have cherished it most.

She’s got a small army of people now who are committed to helping her heal, adjust and grow and thrive and she will.  Because….“though she but little, she is fierce.”