Finding my Voice

Life has really thrown me some curve balls lately. I found myself shutting down, avoiding talking to my family and friends, and feeling angry it seemed all of the time. I am a therapist, I knew what I needed to do, but I was failing at following my own advise. It is in times like these that I really miss my grandfather. He always seemed to have the answers, a perspective that enabled me to take a breath and feel that everything would be okay. About  two weeks ago, after concern was raised by my family members and a not so gentle confrontation by my wonderful spouse, I realized I needed to start taking my own advise and snap out of it. I was only one of many people in my family going through this very difficult time. I needed to begin to take care of myself so that I could be there for all of them also. They needed me. Step one was to start doing things that help me de-stress. I got back into genealogy, found time to work with and ride my horses and decided that I needed to write. I listen to people all day and help guide them in finding solutions to some of life’s most difficult situations. Now I myself was faced one of those difficult, beyond words, situations. So what is a therapist to do? I decided to use writing as my outlet. Writing is something I encourage my clients to add to their “tool box” of coping skills. So here I am ready to embark on this journey and share my thought with whoever will listen. Blue Lake 2

Hope, Grief and Trepidation: Fitting feelings for these Days of Awe

Today is Rosh Hashanah it is the first day of the new year in the Jewish calendar. It is the celebration of the creation story. In the beginning there was chaos and darkness covered the earth. And G-d said let there be light and there was light. Darkness and chaos were a pre-condition for light to enter the world. Out of chaos and darkness may we let there be light.

It’s been over a year since I wrote. I thought about writing so many times in the past year and just didn’t have the energy to put words to paper. But it’s time. So much has happened in the last year in our lives and in the world it’s really unfathomable. Last night in our breakout session for Rosh Hashanah, our deep dive discussions, we talked about what we’re grateful for. The gratefulness spilled forth easily, time spent at home, working from home, getting out into nature, an increase in communication with our family members, learning new skills like Zoom. It’s an important shift, we so easily fall into the negativity and fear, at times letting it engulf us.

Let there be light, to not just be the light but to let there be light. Reflect the light that is all around us. That has not been an easy thing to do. The world has been ravaged by plague, fire, wind, drought, chaos. But out of chaos and darkness can come light. We need to let there be light. We can use our social media to spread light balancing out the darkness. Think of dark times in our lives when we needed light and someone brought us light and we let there be light, we soaked it in like the sun soaking in as we lay back on the pier, eyes closed breathing it deep into our soul. Last night I sat bent with grief for the loss of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the grief for this great loss for our country and the concern I have for the uncertainty of the direction it may go.

April of 2017 was one of my darkest times. I felt the chaos and darkness engulf me threatening to drown me in the depths. Somehow I clung to my lifeline and managed to come up into the light gasping and broken but alive. I felt the swirling darkness, closed my eyes and went to my place of light, remembering Blue Lake, laying on the pier feeling the sun soak through me, listening to the waves lap along the shore. The light enveloped me at those times. My grandparents fill those memories with joy and unconditional love. It is those memories that brought light and pushed out the darkness at those most difficult times. I saw a different side of my parents at Blue Lake, they let in the light when we were together at the lake. As an adult and a parent I now recognize that everyday life is filled with struggles and dark times and letting there be light takes work and at times feels like an impossible task. Making memories with my kids and my grandkids is the highest priority. I will strive to be the light for them as my grandparents were for me.

My son is now a senior at university. He is an amazing resilient human who I am immensely proud of. He has persevered through experiences that would break almost anybody. We had the blessing of being able to include him in the celebration of his sister’s graduation from NAU with her masters degree this summer. He was included, that to be is letting there be light. His niece is shy and hid behind her mom when he said hello, that is to be expected, she doesn’t know him. With this new year my hope is to see the changes we would like to have in our lives and our family come to fruition. My hope for our country is that We choose a leader who is compassionate and fights for the rights of all people, Americans as well as people all around the world. This pandemic has really made it clear that we are all connected from coast to coast from country to country. We are all experiencing the same thing at the same time. A renewed cry for civil rights and the movement to end oppression has erupted around the world, it is our chance to move this whole world forward. Out of darkness and chaos, let there be light. Blessings for this New Year and health and prosperity to everyone.

Collateral Damage

It’s a gorgeous day in Arizona the highs only in the low 80s, unheard of for the end of May. I’m driving to go get lunch and call to check in on my son. His sister will be here next Sunday from Japan. She is here for the summer to attend grad school at NAU. I ask him if he put the trip home on his schedule for the week. He tells me he needs to talk about it in group tonight. His probation officer won’t approve the travel yet. I ask him if this is because of the way we have handled “exchanges” when he goes to have dinner with his sister and brother in law and he tells me yes it is. His probation officer tells him we should drop him off somewhere and then meet my daughter to pick up the kids. That way there is no way for his niece or nephew to see their uncle. We had been meeting in the parking lot and “exchanging” kids and then walking to our separate restaurants and meeting back afterwards. We kept a distance and he never had contact with them. No hugs or high fives from uncle. That isn’t enough. Apparently our son needs to be erased from his niece and nephews lives. They should forget he even exists.

I start to get upset and ask if his “counselor” really believes that he is a danger to them, if he really believes that he would harm them. He gets frustrated with me because I’m getting emotional on the phone. “ This isn’t helping me mom” he says.

My brother is getting married this September at our house and my son is trying to get permission to attend his uncles wedding. He says that he needs to develop a safety plan with his “counselor” so he can handle the situation. What safety concerns are there? He has never been a risk to harm his nieces or nephews or any other children for that matter. The three thousand dollar risk assessment that we paid for on request of the prosecutor confirms his low risk status.

I tell him to call me tonight after group and say goodbye. The tears well up and begin to stream down my cheeks. They want him erased from the family. What about our rights as family members to the pursuit of happiness? We are collateral damage.

Looking for a Fresh Start

A quiet young man, just 21 years old sits with his grandmother at a support group meeting. I have seen them each time I have attended. I haven’t had the chance yet to talk to them but I was given permission to share a bit of his story.  At 17 he met a girl at a social function. She was 14. They began dating and after several months he thought he was in love. He turned 18 but at that time she would not be 15 for several months. He was arrested and charged with sexual misconduct with a minor. As with my sons case he was facing a mandatory minimum sentence and the offense was classified as dangerous crimes against children. This brave young man was set to speak at the Arizona Legislature a few weeks ago on a bill that would begin to give juvenile and youthful offenders a second chance at a productive, successful life. He didn’t get the chance to speak. Here is his statement.

                                              Ryan B.

When I was 17 I met a 14 year old girl at a mutual friends birthday party. We began talking and hanging out as friends then it wasn’t long before I’d asked her to be my girlfriend. We were dating for about 4 months before I turned 18 and I know that that’s not very long at all but within those 4 months I was convinced that I was in love with this girl. I’m now 21 years old and because of decisions I made at 17 and 18 years old I will be on the registry for the rest of my life with no way of ever being able to clear my name from it. I will be a felon for the rest of my life as well. The charge I was given was sexual conduct with a minor 14 years or younger which is a class 2 dcac felony and comes with the same minimum maximum and presumptive sentence when punishable under ars 13-705 as any persons over 18 that attempted to murder their victim in the first degree. Whereas if she had been 15 prior to me turning 18 under section 13-405 I would have been charged with a class 6 felony. There was 7 months between me turning 18 and her turning 15 which basically means that had things happened 7 months after I had turned 18 I would have been charged with significantly less of an offense. Finding jobs or careers that do not involve fast food, working at a restaurant, doing construction, or working at a factory or warehouse is seemingly impossible. Even after I’ve successfully completed my probation, I can never really have a normal life again. I will forever have the stigma of Sex Offender attached to my name as reminder of my past. The feeling that I get in my stomach when I think about living the rest of my life this way is crippling. To think that anywhere I go, whether its somewhere else within the state of Arizona or going to a different state entirely I will have to register and have the potential of having flyers sent out to my neighbors. All I pray for all day, every night, and every morning that I wake up is that one day I’ll wake up with a fresh start.

How an 18 year old honor student and Eagle Scout ended up a “sex offender”.

The Facts

He was 18 and in his last semester of his senior year of high school (2017) when he started talking to a girl on Hot or Not.

Hot or Not is an App and it separates adults 18 and over from users under 18.

Hot or Not can be connected to Facebook and if a user signs in with their Facebook account it uses the demographic information provided in the Facebook account to assign the user as over or under 18. As a just turned 18 year old he was on the adult site. The App is supposed to migrate your account to the proper age group once you turn 18. She had lied about her age on Facebook and was in the 18 and up user group.

They then started talking on SnapChat. SnapChat does not separate age groups. She sent him photos and videos of a sexual nature and he sent her photos.

He believed she was 18, as she had been on the adult site on Hot or Not. While on Snapchat she said she was not 18 but in high school. He thought she was 16-17 year old. 

She invited him over in the middle of the night on a weekend. He went to her house and went in through her bedroom window. They were watching a show and eventually got undressed. They did not have sex.  They were lying in bed kissing when her dad started pounding on her door and the dog was barking.  He hid in the closet. Eventually he came out because the dog was going crazy and her dad was screaming at her. Her dad started screaming at him and then left the room.  He was afraid her dad would do something to him. He went back through the window and left.

Two months later detectives came to his high school and pulled him from class and took him to the police station. He was arrested for sexual misconduct with a minor and sexual abuse. He found out that day that she was Under the age of 15 and that in Arizona when a victim is under the age of 15 it elevates the charge to dangerous crimes against children. With a mandatory minimum 25 years on one count and 12 years on the other he was looking at 37 years.

Outside the police station while picking up his backpack from the detective one of the detectives told us that he had seen on her phone that she had done the same thing to several other young men  

During her interview when asked what she would like to happen to him she stated “nothing” we both are at fault.

After a year of waiting he accepted a plea of two counts of child abuse with sexual motivation. He is on probation for 20 years with sex offender terms. Registering as a sex offender is deferred by the judge but the threat hangs over him.

Mother’s Day

C2DF0B2E-3137-434F-9D62-B2FC02CA28D5Mother’s Day. Some of my favorite memories of my mom are memories of Blue Lake. Going downtown to the 5 and Dime to pick out a trinket, or watching them making fudge at the candy shop. My favorite was milk chocolate and mini marshmallows. Sun bathing on the pier or raft and swimming in the clear water. We all gathered at the big cabin in the evening and played Yahtzee or cards. Time spent together as a family is precious. My greatest joys are my kids and grandkids. What I really wanted this Mother’s Day was to be able to have all of my children and grandkids gather together and celebrate. I have been robbed of that joy because the state treats consensual teenage sexual activity as a felony. It is insane that my son is not allowed around his nieces and nephews because he made a stupid decision that many teenagers make. He drew the short stick. And now the rest of us are holding short sticks as well. I want a future where my son has a future. I want him to have a loving relationship and experience the joy of having children. Those precious memories made together as a family. I will fight for him. I will fight for the future grandchildren I pray I am not deprived of. I will fight to keep my family together. 

Treading Water

I sit on the pier watching the tow rope slowly skip across the water as the slack comes out, at the last second I yell hit it! I’m popped of the end of the pier and for a split second I sink in the water to my waist and then I am up speeding across the water. The spray of the water hits my face and I shake my head. I lean back and to the right and shoot up over the wake into the choppy water. I feel like I’m flying. I lean left and race across the wake to the other side but land off balance and crash into the water. I am alone in the middle of the deep lake. It’s dark water so different from the crystal clear water that laps at the shore. The boat circles back and I struggle to get my ski under me. I panic as the rope comes around, what if I miss it? I’m alone in the deep dark water. A comforting voice tells me it’s okay he’ll bring it back around if I miss it. I won’t sink down to the depths, lost forever.

Depression pulls you down, you feel alone and lost. Family and friends and their voice telling you I’ll bring it back around for you, I’m here for you, those voices bring hope.

A few months ago my son moved two hours south to live near campus, his first time living away from home. He has tackled a full course load of challenging classes, a job and doing his own cooking and laundry. We were excited for him and he was excited to finally be moving forward. Excitement faded and the reality of being on his own has brought challenges. The biggest challenge for him has been the development of episodes of significant depression. He told us about his struggles a couple months ago when he was home for a weekend. He told us about how hard it has been getting up every morning and that he would sleep through his alarms. He told us that he has had a hard time accepting invitations to be social and has found himself isolating alone in his apartment. He was in the middle of the lake feeling lost and alone. He needed that rope brought to him by his family to pull him up. Morning phone calls and outreach is shining light into the darkness. A challenge to us as a family is that we are not able to all pull around him as much as we all would like. Come the new year I have one focus and that is family reunification. Family reunification is more than reuniting a member of the family with their immediate family members. A family reaches far wider than that. The impact of separation effects every member. The loss of relationship and bond is detrimental to each and every member. Family reunification is about relationship building and strength building. It provides the support that is needed to be a successful part of society. That is what we should all want and care about. My son needs the support of his siblings. However the ability to strengthen and nurture that relationship is restricted because his siblings have children. In this specific case there is no need to fear that these children are in any danger whatsoever. One size does not fit all. Our family is torn apart and I want to put it back together again.

Pebbles in the water

And the next chapter begins.

I remember walking barefoot at the waters edge peering through the crystal water, the colorful pebbles perfectly arranged by nature when one would catch my eye. I would reach into the cool water and pick it up examining it closely and putting it into my collection. Once out of the water that same pebble would transform as it dried, loosing the brightness of the colors originally seen through the lens of the water. Through the immense challenges over the past year I felt the loss of brightness in my life. But submerge the pebble again and it is once again transformed, the colors unveiled by its partnership with the element of water.

At the end of the last chapter I had lost the brightness. Although I wasn’t alone I often felt detached, out of my element. I am ready to shake off the grayness of the past year and exchange it for some brightness. It’s time to find out how to move forward.

The first challenge of this new chapter is to test the water, ask questions and discover what challenges there will inevitably be for our now 19 year old son and the rest of the family. How will he be treated when he tries to find a place to live near the college campus? Will he be able to get a job? When will he finally be able to be part of the whole family?

Family support is so important and the system that is in place doesn’t address the differences with a case like his, a statutory crime due only to an age difference of less than 5 years versus a case of explicit sexual abuse. He is certainly not a threat to his nieces and nephews or the children at McDonald’s or out on a hike. The one size fits all program is unfairly restrictive, negatively impacting family relationships. There has to be a better way.

This chapter will be the beginning of a focus on bringing out the brightness and working for meaningful change.

Forged in the Fire

I sit in the car just a mile away from the college campus where my son is taking his first final has his first semester. Since August he is driving the hour and a half each direction three sometimes four days a week but today I decided that he should be able to relax before his first final so I got behind the driver seat and drove him down. I feel the strength in me emerging after these past eight months of stress. I know I will be stronger after all of this as well almost every other member of my family. We have all been thrown into the fire together. For myself I didn’t know if I could handle the flames. I have been forged in the fire.

It’s beyond comprehension that my now 19-year-old son will live his life as a convicted felon. How does it make sense that normal sexual exploration even though impulsive can be a crime? In1900 my grandmother was born. In 1915 a few months shy of her 15th birthday she married my grandfather who was eight years older than her. She was 14 he was 22. They had 11 children and we’re married until my grandfather died in the 1940s. Today my grandfather would be committing a felony because he fell for my grandmother. I’m not saying 14-year-olds should be getting married in this day and age. Times have changed. But an 18-year-old, especially one who is still just a senior in high school should not be charged with a felony because he had a sexual interest in a girl who was a few years younger than he was. Especially given that the girl misrepresented her age from the beginning. 18 and even 19-year-olds are not 30 or 40-year-old predators like Roy Moore. They should not be subjected to the same laws and sentences as an older individual who has an unnatural attraction to minors.

The shortest day of the year has come and gone. We gathered around the flicker of flames that brought the light back into our homes. Let us hope that as the light gradually returns day by day into the world that the coming year will bring strength, understanding and compassion in addition to peace and joy for those who’s year has had little of either.

The Illusion of Normality

In order to survive this situation we have created an illusion of normality. We go to work, we spend time with each other, we go to the movies and go out for dinner. It feels like normal life. But occasionally or often a crack appears on the surface of that illusion, a glitch like in the show Westworld, where reality comes crashing in on us. The illusion disintegrates and we’re faced with the reality of a child who is hurting, who comes to us saying he doesn’t know why he should go on living, what difference does it make? Afraid he will be alone his whole life and whose friends seem to have abandoned him. Seeing him in this much pain hurts me to my core. I know his life holds so much promise no matter what the outcome of the situation. He can’t see past how he’s feeling today and just can’t see that it will get better. We try to carefully pick up the pieces and put them back together but the wounds are deep and the scars tender.

Lisa Ling did a great show about this issue on “This is Life”. What is happening across the country when teens, many still in high school are charged as if they are 40 year old predators, is tragic for society. The laws need to change. Teens need to be educated on the realities of what can happen. Abstinence cannot be the only thing taught because it’s not the only choice teens are making. They need information about the consequences of all possible choices. If we don’t give them that information we are failing them.

For now we wait for the ripple to be just a beautiful change in the surface of a clear lake that reflects a blue sky and a calm feeling that all is well in the world.

Recharge Required

In early 2016 my husband and I started to plan our 30th anniversary trip to Europe. I remember talking about the best time of year to go. We were wavering between April and September. How grateful I am now that we chose September. Had we chosen April it’s very likely that we would have been overseas when our son was arrested. Small miracles lead us to close one door and open another. I was determined to go and set my mind to arranging support for him including attending a court hearing that was thankfully postponed. For weeks before we left my husband kept expressing concern that he would be able to handle us being gone. I had faith and had arranged support to be there for him in our absence. The trip was a welcome relief and a re-charge for both of us. We were able to let go and just enjoy ourselves knowing that our family and friends had everything under control at home. I am so grateful for everyone who pitched in holding down the ranch including our son so that we could go on our much needed trip. I was running on empty and knew I needed to recharge. Along our journey we both traced one branch of our family tree and walked in their footsteps. The hardships that sent my Irish family to North America and the gratefulness that brought much of my husbands family to the United States before WWII while many of those who stayed were murdered including some family members. We are strong people and that strength will see us through this trying time. On the trip I started to read a book called “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson. I am moved by the stories of the people who the justice system has failed. There is a lot about the presumption of guilt in their stories. I haven’t finished it yet but when I do I’ll tell you my thoughts about what I have read. So life seems to have settled into a routine. It’s not normal but it feels good. Three days a week our son drives two hours each way to go to college in a town to the south. It’s a long drive for such a young adult to make so often. Twelve hours of time that he could be spending studying, family time or having a social life are spent behind the wheel. His passion for learning is bringing back the kid I know and who can at times drive me crazy as he excitedly tells us about his classes. His thirst for knowledge and pursuit of his education was what kept me fighting for him when others doubted it could still happen. In the end, education and knowledge are things that can’t be taken away.