(picture of Marlie was taken by our very talented photographer niece Bethany Hope)
This year has been the hardest we have ever handled as a family, since Marshall and I got married 17 years ago.
I have mentioned before about our struggles with our daughter's behavior. We believe she experienced trauma as an infant and possibly in utero, prior to us bringing her home from Ethiopia. Her Psychiatrist explained to us that not all areas of her brain have developed at the same rate, despite the fact that she is very, very smart. One of the ways that played out this year was lack of impulse control, resulting in violent rages aimed at her brothers and myself. Normally that might not be so devastating with a petite 7 year old, but she had four years of martial arts training and was using her punches and kicks (and biting and scratching) during her rages. It got to the point where the episodes were daily, the boys and I were shell shocked and covered in bruises. We were a family in crisis.
In May, my sister and her family offered to have our daughter come to live with them for the summer, where she could get more individualized attention and Psychiatric and Psychological treatment in an environment where there would not be other minors. (My sister's kids are both adults) Despite the damage and trauma in our family, there is still a lot of love between all three kids, and these pictures were taken the day before our daughter left, and the day she left, respectively.
Two days after our daughter arrived in Chicago, an anonymous call from Chicago was made to Los Angeles Child Protective Services, accusing us of neglect of our daughter. We believe the call was made by the clinic where my sister tried to seek Psychiatric care for Marlie, though since the call was "anonymous" we do not have proof. Exactly one week after our daughter left, we had a surprise visit from a CPS Social Worker at our front door. As we knew we had nothing to hide, we let the Social Worker in the house. We have since learned that was a poor decision on our part. If a Social Worker from CPS ever arrives at your house, do NOT allow them inside the home. Instead, get their card and call a lawyer. Once the Social Worker gained entrance in our house, she was not concerned about our daughter who was in Chicago, but rather focused on our boys. We provided names and numbers of all the professionals in our life (Psychiatrist, Pediatrician, Dentist, etc.). Despite all of them enthusiastically supporting us as parents, the Social Worker returned with her own health care professional to inspect the boys. I was told point blank that I had to stop homeschooling. (which I did not) Both boys were interviewed individually on more than one occasion (though the boys described their experiences as "interrogations" rather than interviews) Marshall and I were not allowed to be in their presence, and the boys were not allowed to be interviewed together. Both boys said they felt severely pressured, repeatedly, to admit to being sexually abused, which they have not been. Several things were said by the Social Worker during her visits that made both boys (and us) believe there was a very real possibility the boys would be removed from our home. One of the things she said was that if our daughter returned to the home and hurt the boys, the boys would be removed. This was terrifying and traumatizing to us all. Some of the complaints the Social Worker made about us were: homeschooling, feeding the boys Pop Tarts for breakfast and clutter in the home. Despite complying with them 100%, we felt we were being bullied and harassed, so we contacted HSLDA, which provides legal defense for homeschooling families. Even with a lawyer, things that were demanded of us were physical evaluations of Marshall and I, by our doctor, who had to write letters stating that we are physically capable of parenting our sons, as well as a letter from our Family Therapist stating our mental competency as parents. Later there was a demand for a 3rd interview with our boys, but our lawyer refused, as did Marshall and I due to the trauma the last two interviews caused them. Instead we were asked to get another letter from our doctor stating what medications Marshall and I were on, and the doses of each medication. In the end we consented to the Social Worker checking out the boys, in our presence, in our driveway, with no interview. She agreed. The four of us have been severely traumatized by this experience, especially the boys, and we are now in Family Therapy trying to heal from this experience. Despite having a very competent lawyer, this investigation dragged on for FIVE months, only to have our case finally closed and no action taken against us. Our lawyer informed us that our experience with CPS was unfortunately very common, especially in Los Angeles County, and we could take legal action against them if we so choose, however it would be very costly and we do not want to put our boys through any more than they have had already been put through.
These are devastating pictures for me to look at and share, but it shows the pain that the four of us were going through during the CPS investigation.
We were hoping to have the summer to heal from the violence that had been in the home, only to find ourselves in even more of a family crisis with the CPS investigation. Daily meltdowns from our boys were common. We did several mini vacations just to get away and try to heal and nurture each other as a family. Marshall and I did several 1:1 "dates" with each of the boys and have tried to spend as much time together as a foursome as possible.
After consulting with my sister, we made a decision to let our daughter stay in Chicago for the school year. Things that contributed to this decision were the fact that her school district is among the top in the country, as well as our concerns that one summer away would not be enough to break the cycle of violence, especially since our daughter was exhibiting many of the same behaviors at my sister's house. For staying in touch with her, we have been FaceTime'ing. We also bought her a cell phone on our family plan so she can talk on the phone with us whenever she wants.
The absence of our daughter also added to the stress of our family. Despite the violent environment in our house before our daughter flew to Chicago, we still have missed her very much and had a terrible time adjusting to her absence, as we still are. Unfortunately we don't know much about how our daughter is doing in therapy and school, other than what our daughter has told us herself. This experience has been very rough on the relationship between my sister and myself. We do know that she is in a very loving environment and that my sister and her family are very dedicated to helping Marlie and have showered her with love and affection. We will be flying to Chicago to spend her birthday (Christmas Eve) and Christmas with her and are very much looking forward to seeing her as we miss her so much. We don't know what is best for our daughter in the long run, or what is best for our sons. These are decisions we will have to make as they come, after much prayer.
As if we weren't under enough stress this year, the IRS put a tax lien on our house, which was a mistake on the part of the IRS. After some time and many conversations with the IRS, our accountant was able to get it sorted out and the tax lien was removed.
Marshall's debit card number was stolen from a device he used to pay for something, and $1000 was cleaned out of our bank account in a matter of hours. Thankfully our bank's fraud department was alerted and the money was returned, but still not a fun experience to go through.
Last October (technically 2012) I was hospitalized for 4 days as a result of severe vomiting and severe bleeding from my no-no hole. (Lovely picture I painted for you, huh? Want to see pictures of my colonoscopy? Kidding. I do have them, but I'm not posting them.) I was diagnosed as having Acute Colitis. (this happened 3 weeks after the violence with our daughter started in the home) When I never fully recovered, I had many more tests, another colonoscopy, endoscopy and blood tests to find out what was going on. The Specialists and our Family Internist agreed that I now have stress-induced Severe IBS. (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) This sadly is not something controlled by diet but rather by the amount of stress I am feeling and how I am managing the stress. So I plan to live the rest of my life stress-free. (just seeing if you are still paying attention) This has played a big part in how our year has gone, directly related to the amount of stress we have been under. I've named my colon, "Bob the Douchebag Dragon" so I have something to blame when I'm feeling awful. "Yeah, Bob is really being a jerk today." "Bob hates me." "I hate Bob." "Bob is an a-hole." I realize this may make me sound a little crazy but it helps me to be able to complain about Bob rather than repeatedly using the term "my colon". Ewww.
Also last October the owner of the Kung Fu school my kids attended moved to Colorado and the school closed. We made the decision to get rid of our fancy Ethan Allen furniture in the living room since we never used the room and turned it into a home dojo so they could continue to train under the Kung Fu Master. I even found purple mats!
Despite the many challenges this year, there were some highlights...
Marshall and I celebrated our 17th wedding anniversary. A couple of months later when his parents came in town for a visit, we got away for a 3 day vacation, the first time we have had a kid-free vacation in years. It was wonderful!
Seamus had a birthday and turned 9 this year. There was about a month where Seamus existed only in his Ironman suit, which was pretty darn funny, especially in public.
We got a new kitten this year. For those of you counting, that makes our current cat count: SEVEN. Only six are inside the house. (as if that makes it any better) Our new kitten is of a fairly new breed of cat called, "The Highlander". We named him "Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod". And for short, we call him "Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod". And of course there can be only one. We reserved him back in April when he was 4 days old, so little did the breeder know at the time that he would end up being the best of the litter. She very grudgingly told us that when we picked him up. Ha! (she would never have sold him if she had known) The "Highlander" breed are known for having ears that curl back, polydactyl paws (extra toes) and a bob tail.
The very next morning, the entire cat "pack" was well aware there was an addition to the family.
Once he was big enough to introduce to the other cats, it only took a couple of days before he was fully integrated into the cat pack.
Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod is truly a very loving, purr-box of a kitty that is very silly and is right at home with the rest of the cats. We're lucky they all get along so well. Often we will find all six of them on the couch with us in the evenings.
Our breeder asked us to submit a photo of him to see if he would get accepted into the 2014 "Highlander" breed Calendar. You are now looking at "Mr. August". (picture by Marshall)
We were able to do our yearly trip to Yosemite this Fall, which we scheduled the day the park re-opened. Marshall of course took fancy pictures with his fancy camera, but these are the favorite ones I took with my iPhone.
Hey anyone can take a picture of a deer, but can everyone take a picture like this?
Last week Haven and Seamus endured a 5 hour Kung Fu test at our house, with the two of them, Sensei Trenton and Master Jack. At the end of the very grueling test, Seamus earned his red belt in Kung Fu, and Haven is now a black belt in Kung Fu! I am very, very proud of them both.
Next week Marlie turns 8 and Haven turns 14! Now it is time for me to end this thorough report of our most challenging year. We are very much hoping 2014 will be an improvement over 2013.
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year to all of you!