By Paula Beth Grossman
Photo provided by family.
And a woman who held a babe against her bosom said,
Gibran, "On Children," from The Prophet
WHEN I WAS pregnant with my daughter Reesa my husband fell in love with someone he met in an AOL chat room. In those days, that was something you would see on the Jerry Springer show, not something that happened in real life. My ex-husband came from a wealthy family; they paid for his legal bills. From the beginning he made it clear that his goal was to gain custody of Justin and Reesa, born just 22 months apart.
I was a stay-at-home mom. My days were filled with trips to the playground and Happy Meals. I had not worked in years because my husband and I had made a decision that a mother should stay at home with her children if it is possible. Since I didn't work I had no money for decent legal representation and I lost everything in the divorce. I lost the house, and many of my possessions.
I also lost my children. I was never deemed an unfit mother. However, the judge thought it would be best for the kids to live with their father since he had a job and I did not. Never mind that I gave up my job to take care of them. I was out of money to fight so we settled on joint custody and outlined a liberal visitation schedule.
I began to rebuild my life. Even though I was shell-shocked I managed to find a good job and started attending college. As I prepared to visit my children for the following Thanksgiving holiday, I received a phone call. My ex-husband was illegally removing the children from the state and moving across the country to live with his Internet lover who by now had divorced her husband. It was many months before I heard from them again. He knew that my hands were tied because the only way to stop him was to retain a lawyer. He knew I did not have the money to do that.
It was many months before I heard from the children again. They were so little. Justin was four and Reesa was two. Justin would ask for new pictures of me every time I would speak to him. He told me that every time he left my picture out on his dresser his daddy would tell him that aliens stole the picture. Justin still had very strong memories of me. I remember once he started singing a song to me that I quickly recognized from the radio. In his little 4-year-old voice he sang softly:
"Your love is like a river,
Soon after that the children disappeared again. Several years ago I got a phone call from my ex-husband saying he would allow me to see my children. Joyfully I arranged to meet them at a hotel near their new home. My heart sunk when their new stepmother who had never met me walked right past me with them. Justin and Reesa did not even recognize me anymore. Yet as soon as I screamed across the hotel lobby, "Justin, Reesa its mommy!" they came running and my heart was filled the most happiness I have ever felt. We had a wonderful weekend together and I took many pictures of them playing. I am grateful for the memories I have been able to capture along the way.
Shortly after that visit, Justin and Reesa disappeared. My letters went unanswered. My former in-laws claimed to not know where they were. I have never given up hope and after two years of not hearing anything, with the help of many friends I found my children just last week in a far away city in the midwest. Today I received their school reports and I was moved beyond what words can express. The comments made me laugh. So much time has passed. Justin whose vocabulary was always ahead of his developmental age has lots of remarks from his teachers about what a joy he is and, by the way, he talks too much! And little Reesa has a sparkling personality and a great sense of humor. Their school principal told me they are beautiful and special children.
The hardest part of this long ordeal has been trying to understand why this had to happen. There is a part of me that finds comfort in the Buddhist concept that we all pick our parents for the lessons we will learn from them. I am honored that Justin and Reesa picked me to be their mother. I wish with all my heart that I could be there for them as a true mother should be. Sometimes I think about the concept of karma and how we carry it from lifetime to lifetime. I try to understand that as painful as it is for me that perhaps they are no different than I am --even children have their own karma to live out.
I am doing everything I can to find a lawyer so that I can speak with and see my children. I still dont have the phone number to where I can call them. It has been over two years since I heard their voices. It has been difficult to find help because every attorney wants as much as a $10,000 retainer to work on the case. There are laws to protect against this. For example, the Parental Kidnapping Act, and there are laws against "Interference of Custody." These are civil offenses only enforceable with an attorney's help. Still, I have faith that somewhere out there is someone decent. Somewhere there is an attorney that will find it in his heart to reunite a mother with her sacred children.
I wonder if Justin and Reesa will mind if I read them their favorite book from years ago when I see them. "When you give a mouse a cookie, he will probably ask for a glass of milk." Then I will tuck them safely into bed and know that they will be there in the morning for me to tickle and kiss.
I love you Justin and Reesa. Bigger than the sky and to the moon and back.++