I'd Go to Jail For My Kids
Last winter, a judge sentenced me to 120 days in county jail if I didn't let my children see their grandfather. The dates, times, and circumstances of these visits were determined by a "visitation-time expeditor," someone who stated -- before she'd ever met me or talked to my two kids -- that in her opinion, the children's best interests would be served if I were incarcerated.
Before you picture me as a drunken-driving, welfare-frauding mama, let me clarify. I live in a modest house with my two kids, 7 and 9, and my husband, Jack, a teacher. His 10-year-old daughter from his previous marriage visits regularly. We have a plaque in our family room that says "Thou Shalt Not Postpone Joy," which to us means, among other things, that it's good to dance if the music moves you. I'm my son's Scout troop leader. I consider myself a law-abiding citizen, but more important -- and perhaps this is my downfall -- a good mom.
The one strike against us is that we aren't considered an intact family -- defined as a biological mother and biological father living under the same roof as their kids. I certainly don't consider us a "broken" family. But my previous marriage was: The children's biological father, Lee, hasn't seen the kids since they were toddlers. I don't even know where he is. By divorcing and starting over with a man who treats my children as his own, I've made it possible to give my kids a childhood.
But because I'm divorced from my kids' father, the law made it easier for my ex-husband's father to sue for grandparent visitation, which he did, a little over four years ago. Now what was once grief over lost love and a failed marriage has oxidized into rust that tarnishes every aspect of our daily lives.
Secrets from my first marriage
After I'd been married to Lee for six months, one of his sisters visited us and told us that their brother sexually abused her from the time she was 6 until she was 13. As we worked through the shock, Lee began to wonder: Did this brother "learn" his abusive behavior from their dad?
Then Lee shared his own secret. "When I was five, my dad used to teach me how to shower. I remember that he used to hold me upside down by the ankles in the shower. Even then, it felt wrong."
Years went by. Ellen couldn't bring herself to tell her parents what had happened, nor could Lee talk to his father, Rob, about his memories. Their mother died before our son, Shawn, was born; Claire was born two years after that.
Unable to confront his father, and guilt-stricken because he hadn't protected his sister, Lee retreated emotionally.
He was drinking now, more than he'd ever done before. When his dad asked to visit, Lee told him he wasn't allowed on our property. He warned me to keep our babies away from his dad. He said his dad was a dangerous man.
I felt trapped inside this family tragedy. I couldn't reveal their secret, because it wasn't mine to tell. I couldn't join forces with my husband, because my father-in-law held the mortgage on our house, and thus had the upper hand.
To keep the peace, I'd bring the children to see their grandfather whenever I traveled to his city. I always kept a close watch, afraid that as soon as I left the room, Rob's awkward horseplay with Shawn would turn into abuse.
The names and identifying details of the people involved in this court case have been changed.