This one is a sensitive topic for most and I know I will receive a lot of flack for this article. One thing to remember while reading this is that this is based off of an intimate point of view of one particular child and not based off of an objective overview along an impersonal set of data. In other words, what I write about today will be about only one victim of neglect and a personal story about the ongoing struggles this child faces every day. A complete book might eventually follow but this journey is long from over with.
I came into the picture only a couple years ago, long after the severe neglect took its toll. The young boy, Will, had issues but not enough to deem as worrisome or even noticeable to outsiders. Issues such as Will's motor skills were far behind where they should have been for an eight year old boy. This in and of itself isn't an alarm for any particular child protective agency to get involved, most young kids have difficulty with some things along their various development stages. After all, we have to remember that as the law requires, he was alive, attended school, had a bed to sleep on and was fed occasionally. No one could argue with those basic needs, ergo there really wasn't an issue.
Will couldn't use silverware though, he struggled to grasp a spoon and keep food in its curve as he brought the utensil up to his mouth. A fork was out of the question, sometimes attempting to grasp it like someone would a hair brush and stab at the food until it stuck to the tines, then precariously hover over the mangled mess to clamp onto the food with his teeth in order to rip off a chunk. Eventually, after a few minutes of fighting, all food was subject to being grabbed with his fingers and torn off in bite-sized chunks with his teeth. Then, what you would eventually expect, after licking the food debris off of his fingers, Will would wipe his hands on his shirt. If it were a big mess, he would wipe his mouth on his sleeve. As you might have guessed, Will's palate was limited to bagged munchies such as chips, cookies, candy, and dry cereal, with occasionally a bigger meal such as pizza or kid's meal from a fast food joint; and washed down with either soda, Kool-Aid or energy drinks. Will refused to eat anything else he wasn't familiar with. What made the situation worse was that Will had a long, ambiguous, ever modified list of "food allergies" which coincidentally coincided with the foods he didn't want to eat at that time. Miraculously, the allergy to the food he had would magically disappear when the allergen had a candy or chocolate coating. At first this was taken very serious under my watch and I tried very hard to cook healthy dishes he would not only eat but could eat without an allergic reaction, however, after walking in on him chowing down on a Snickers candy bar he had hid in his bedroom without so much as a sneeze or wheeze, I was convinced he was full of bull!
In school, Will was labeled as "Developmentally Delayed." When I came into his life, he spoke with a thick Elmer Fudd speech impediment with a very limited vocabulary. He didn't understand most spoken concepts and struggled to follow verbal or written instructions. Will could read at a kindergarten level but his understanding of the text came mostly from the pictures on the page. It was obvious that he was spoken at, otherwise ignored and put in front of an electronic babysitter, which was rather contrary from what I had observed at his father's house. He couldn't add nor subtract numbers and could barely write his name. One question came to my mind was, "did this child have a mental disability?" According to his father, whom I started to casually date - No - Will was perfectly fine in the mental acuity department; and I offended Will's father for suggesting such.
The crux of the situation was the gigantic attitude problem which Will's father adamantly denied and made constant excuses for. Will would throw fits and passive-aggressive tantrums, or the occasionally drama episodes full of whimpers and crocodile tears when he didn't get his way. According to Will's father, Will had severe anxiety, which was a blanket explanation for Will's naivety, ineptitude, rudeness, disobedience, uncouth episodes, explosive temper tantrums, lack of manners, struggles with motor skills, limited menu choices, random food allergy choices, lack of hygiene, and general bad behavior. What I actually observed, however, was Will suffered from lack of discipline or boundaries; his behaviors exacerbated by a lack of attention, support, validation, affection and love.
Whose To Blame?
I didn't understand the dynamic at first. Objectively, I saw a loving, doting, caring father who wanted to be with his son; a father who was overly protective and made every moment count for the few hours he got to see him each month. He was a father who would go out of his way for his son, no matter what. His son was his life, his world, his everything and he wouldn't be afraid to show it. Paradoxically, when I first met Will he was wearing filthy, worn clothes which were a size too small for him. His jeans were so tight that it made his stomach hurt if he wore them for any length of time. Will's shoes were beyond tattered - almost unwearable - and a size too small. Will's hygiene consisted of a dip in the apartment's pool when his body odor exceeded tolerable. His toothbrush remained dry and covered in dust and cobwebs. Will had kept his shoes on all day every day because his athlete's foot made his feet stink to the point that he could clear a building if he removed them. This dichotomous interaction was very confusing for me at first and it wasn't until many months passed by until someone pointed out to me that Will's father was nothing more than a Disney Dad. Looking deeply into the father-son bond I realized that Mr. Disney Dad was vaguely aware of a small person living in his apartment for a few days out of the month. The love and devotion was there, it just wasn't a true father-son relationship where Will could depend on a father figure for boundaries, discipline, security, and mentoring. Instead, Mr. Disney Dad was just Will's buddy, whom, after getting to understand the dynamic better, was viewed by Will as just another guy that his mom used to let live with them for a couple years.
Now you might point the fingers directly at Mr. Disney Dad, however, Mother Dear had full custody of Will and had full decision making authority of Will's health, welfare and education. This is where the true story unfolds and for readers who got this far into this story, this is where the actual plot twist comes in. It is time to don a blanket on, maybe fix a warm beverage and cook up some popcorn, and get a Kleenex box handy. This will be an emotional journey.
I never actually met Mother Dear. I had seen her a couple dozen times, each for a brief minute or two, but I tried to stay out of Mr. Disney Dad and Mother Dear's business as best as I could for as long as I could. After all, as Child Protective Services would so eloquently say, the boy is dressed, fed, and is alive- no need to worry. Still, the stories, even if half true would make anyone and everyone with any heart angry at the whole system. I am having difficulty finding a place to start the story so I will just start here:
Mother Dear spaced her four children out perfectly, either accidentally or strategically - in the end it doesn't matter, so that she could live comfortably off of welfare for several decades without having to actually be legally employed. At the time I met Will, Mother Dear was going on close to 15 years without being gainfully employed, and if all went smoothly, she wouldn't have to seek work for another 11 years or better. However, she worked odd "jobs" (under the table) to trade for services, such as an oil change or groceries. More often she would use sob stories to get gullible people with bleeding hearts to give her the things she needed, such as donate a car when her old one was totaled and she had to spend her settlement check on a brand new TV, surround sound, and gaming system because her old one was a couple years old. Like a pro, she knew how to use people and work the system to her advantage. She received around $800 in food stamps per month, lived in a 4-bed, 2.5-bath townhouse for less than $300 per month on Section 8; and for a short time from what I understood, she received free money from the state for being unemployed with children of fathers in prison. Then for income she gladly collected child support and charged her two oldest minor children rent to cover her necessary expenses such as her cell phone, Netflix, Hulu, Starbucks, salon appointments, fashion accessories, and tattoos. She also was involved in a shoplifting ring for a time until Mr. Disney Dad called it in, which Mother Dear played the victim card which she used to weasel her way out of further investigation.
By this time, Will had already been exposed to the criminal activity and, like his three siblings, started pilfering himself. I had several items in my household go missing, as well as a string of teachers, friends, and even family members who all had things disappear inexplicably. It started to crash down on Will when he mysteriously ended up with, rather got caught in possession of, the exact toy his classmate reported missing the day before.
Mother Dear couldn't care less about any of her children. When Mother Dear's oldest child couldn't keep a job to pay her rent Mother Dear kicked him out of her house, then she immediately upped her daughter's portion of the rent to cover the loss. Without hesitation, Mother Dear purposely sabotaged her daughter's education and career goals in order to keep her in the house and pay rent longer.
Meanwhile, Mother Dear also did a number on her two younger boys. The middle son had been infantilized severely, and from what I understood of the situation, to the point that he still wore diapers because he would wet himself. Normally I wouldn't believe the stories to be true, however Mr. Disney Dad mentioned that when he was married to Mother Dear, Will's brother would constantly have accidents and soil himself. Will complained to me constantly about having to go home and sleep in the urine soaked sheets in the bed which he and his brother shared. As I got to know Will, his stories made it sound like the two boys were locked in their bedroom together except to come out for school. When I tried to ask questions to find out more details, Will told me that he couldn't talk about it. It wasn't after the third call to Child Protective Services that Will got his own bed to sleep in.
Will had his own string of issues, counting them would be a daunting task. Will's health was very poor as well as his hygiene was atrocious. He had severe athlete's foot and his teeth were severely decayed. He too was extremely infantilized, however even more so neglected than his older siblings. Yet Will was strangely on a bunch of different medications, none of which had a reasonable explanation for the prescription. I had questioned Mr. Disney Dad why he needed the strange concoction of medication but his response was either, "I don't know," or "His mother took him to the doctor again." Then one day it dawned on me that Mother Dear had Munchausen by Proxy, a weird psychological disorder where she was purposely fabricating the sickness of her child. So why? What exactly was happening? Was she intentionally drugging her children to keep them quiet while locked in their bedroom? Was it an ego thing? Was it an attention thing? Was it a control thing? Was it a free money thing? Whatever it was, Will loved to take medicine and would sneak double or even triple doses of the medicine which had been prescribed to him for ailments he didn't have. This was not only dangerous, but could have been deadly. However, gullible Mr. Disney Dad agreed with Mother Dear that the doctor's prescription was necessary, after all, who argues with a doctor?
The Rent-a-Friend Joke
Will had gone into therapy at the request of Mr. Disney Dad because of ongoing behavioral problems. Mother Dear held all the cards, however, and therefore called all the shots. Even though she was hesitant about putting Will into therapy, she knew she could easily cover up all the abuse by dictating when, where, and how the sessions went. She chose a therapist within walking distance from Will's school. The therapist was a young, single lady working her first job out of college as a counselor for the welfare patients, mostly living in the city slums in the local neighborhood. The building itself was dilapidated, shabby, and extremely outdated. Mother Dear knew that Mr. Disney Dad wouldn't have time each week to make the 23 mile commute back and forth from work to make it to Will's sessions and that Mr. Disney Dad would entrust her to make those important discussions in lieu of his absence.
Mother Dear figured out that she could completely manipulate the young counselor into agreeing to family therapy. Plus, by scheduling it in the middle of the school day, she could sleep in, take her children to therapy around mid-morning, and then drop them off at school afterwords - perfect! That way Mother Dear could be reimbursed for mileage for her children and by sitting in the therapy sessions she could also cover up her tracks by dictating everything that was said in each session. Her scam worked like a charm. Mother Dear had the therapist wrapped around her little finger and completely convinced that, not only she was a hard working mother trying her very best to raise four children all by herself, but that Will was having difficulty with his anger because Will had an abusive, alcoholic, drug addicted father with severe anger issues. Bam! Now Mr. Disney Dad, oblivious to what was going on, was immediately cut out of the therapy goings-on completely.
Will came to me crying one afternoon about how his therapist didn't believe him. Now, I knew Will was a pathological liar and so I took his first couple sentences with a grain of salt, but then he said something which made my ears perk right up and my stomach turn into knots. Will had started to tell the counselor during one of the "family therapy" sessions about the time his brother beat him with a baseball bat and before Will could finish the story, Mother Dear interrupted him and told the counselor that it was a "foam bat" and that the boys were just playing around. Will said that the counselor asked him why he felt that he needed to make up such stories and chided him saying that those type of stories could get his brother in serious trouble. Then Will continued to tell me that when he got home his mom punished him for saying something that he was not supposed to. From the exterior, a person could brush off those words. However, the formation of the sentence just didn't sit well with me.
Later, in private, I brought this up with Mr. Disney Dad. I started to say that Will told his counselor that his brother beat him with a baseball bat. Without hesitation, Mr. Disney Dad exclaimed, "The Louisville Slugger that sits behind the front door?" This made my heart pound faster. I continued telling him that according to Will, his mom told the counselor that it was a foam bat and they were just playing. Mr. Disney Dad flung cuss words around for a few seconds and then said, "I know exactly which bat he is talking about!" I took a couple of deep breaths and told Mr. Disney Dad that Will told me about how he was punished by Mother Dear for saying something that he was not supposed to in therapy.
The Light Bulb
It took a total of two and a half years to convince Mr. Disney Dad to fight for custody of his son. He didn't want to admit that there were problems with Will, nor Mother Dear was all that bad: not only was his son three to four years behind in academics and had begun to show a nefarious view of morals, but also suffered gravely in health and overall general well being. Will's therapy was not working and consequently started to think violent and morbid thoughts which ended up with me second guessing my personal interactions with him. Thus I started to back off my relationship with both Mr. Disney Dad and Will.
What made it difficult was Mr. Disney Dad also lived a bachelor lifestyle and full custody of his son would impede on his freedoms. For a time he blamed everyone else and everything else for all the shortfalls and missteps in Will's life. Our relationship was rocky at this point and there were several months which I completely stepped out of the picture. Not only did all of this drama add to the mess and prolong the inevitable but it actually made things worse as time progressed.
Winter turned into summer and quickly winter again. Finally Will's long list of "allergies" were actually tested at the Children's Hospital, not surprisingly all turned out to be negative. However, shortly afterwords, Will became sick with some sort of "virus" which lasted for months and months on end. Will seemed to get better but then would get sick again. The pattern seemed to go like this: Will would arrive in Mr. Disney Dad's care running a fever, guttural cough, very lethargic, sleepy, stomach ache, sometimes headache would accompany a sore throat, and always carrying a bag full of pill bottles, bubble packs, liquid medicines, and nasal sprays with an itinerary when to take what and how much of each dose. Mr. Disney Dad would put the "medicine" up for the evening, give Will some warm tea, and by the next morning Will would feel a lot better; however, it was just in time for him to go back into Mother Dear's care again. The cycle literally continued on for countless of months. It reached a point that Will was convinced that he needed his "pills" to function and I had caught him on several occasions sneaking extra doses of his medicine, which that behavior was extremely concerning.
I am not sure what exactly convinced Mr. Disney Dad to finally take Mother Dear to court. Perhaps it was the all the dental appointments to yank Will's rotten teeth out? Perhaps it was the prescription medication Will was eating like candy? Perhaps it was the fact that Will couldn't write a complete sentence or add simple numbers together. Perhaps it was the fight with the rent-a-friend and the drama which ensued from that. Whatever it was, Mr. Disney Dad filed paperwork for partial custody of Will (notice I said "partial custody").
If I ever get around writing a book I will go into details about the ridiculous amount of nonsense the entire process was and all the mistakes, the time, effort, and paperwork that went into it. Just know that Mr. Disney Dad was still in denial about everything and thus made careless mistakes the entire way through the court process; Mother Dear was more concerned about getting caught with her pants down around her ankles than about Will's welfare and intentionally made the court case very arduous to navigate through. Meanwhile, in the shadows along the sidelines, Mother Dear covered up her criminal tracks with delicate precision, even draining her bank accounts down from several thousand dollars to merely pennies to put on the persona of being the struggling mother of four she had claimed to be. When it came to evidence against her, Mother Dear had that figured out as well: she bought off Will's love and silence with some Pokemon cards and a new pair of jeans. This was attention he had never received from her before. Will told his father in a long-winded discussion about why the court case was happening and why Will should come forward about things, "I am my mom's favorite."
The results of the final hearing was 50/50 custody with Sunday to Sunday drop off and pick up. Mother Dear was told to get a job since her court paperwork showed her to be unemployed, then child support was reduced to reflect the new custody arrangement. Despite all the gains he had made, Mr. Disney Dad felt utterly defeated. The worst hour of that day happened in the late evening when Will had called his father to tell him how much he hated him and that he couldn't trust him any longer. Mr. Disney Dad cried himself to sleep.
Will's attitude was nasty at the this point. Whatever Mother Dear told Will throughout this entire process, it had a lasting affect on Will's psyche. Mr. Disney Dad had enrolled Will into a better, more affluent school just a couple miles from his house. Mother Dear and Mr. Disney Dad fought about it for some time and came to a sort of liquid agreement which somewhat state that if she still had control over dental and medical Will could be enrolled in a better school.
Will should have been held back but the school counselors, staff, and teachers came together and figured out a plan to help Will advance from a third grade education to at least a seventh grade education level by eighth grade. It sounded like a reasonable plan and Mr. Disney Dad was onboard. Mother Dear put on her faux mother persona and made it look like Mr. Disney Dad was to blame for everything, again she was the struggling single mother of four children. The entire education plan for Will looked attainable enough and so it was adopted and put into play.
There was only one problem no one took into account: Will's behavior! Will was taught that school was not important, stealing was okay, manipulation got you what you wanted, and that verbally abusing someone made you feel powerful. Needless to say the child was a complete mess and entered sixth grade with the biggest attitude anyone had ever seen. Mr. Disney Dad didn't help the situation by switching from Mickey Mouse ears to Goofy ears when Will turned on the crocodile tears and blamed everyone else for his mistakes.
What's more, Mother Dear quickly went back to her old ways; except her daughter decided that her mother charged too much rent and so a few weeks after her high-school graduation she moved in with her boyfriend for less than half the price she was paying her mother. This under-the-table pay reduction forced Mother Dear to find an actual part time job, careful not to exceed a certain amount of hours lest she lose a percentage of her welfare benefits. However, Mother Dear's absence created a heap of problems for Will and his brother whom still resided in the house together. Will's brother, who is both physically and verbally abusive towards Will, was left in charge when she was at work.
Eventually, Mother Dear's daughter turned nineteen which reduced Mother Dear's food stamp benefits while inversely increasing her percentage of the Section 8 rent. This created a domino effect which made Mother Dear chose between keeping her Netflix and Hulu accounts, her internet, and her cell phone service. She also was forced to reduce the amount of upscale shops, salons and tattoo parlor visits she made. Will didn't notice the shift in money his mother went through, although she did blame him for the reduction in child support she received. This resulted in Will becoming extremely angry with his father for not paying his mother enough money.
At Mr. Disney Dad's house, Will started to amalgamate into his new lifestyle. Will had actual shoes to wear which didn't hurt his feet, socks without holes in them, pants which he didn't need to lay on the floor to button up, and brand new dress shirts. Will had to learn how to take a proper shower and brush his teeth. Will had to adjust to a set bedtime routine every night before his newly mandated bedtime, something that he had never had before. For the first six months, Will fought with Mr. Disney Dad on everything and anything, sometimes winning because the boundaries and rules were fuzzy, or just completely absent.
For Mr. Disney Dad, it was a tough transition into a new schedule, a new program, a new school, and a new lifestyle. He kept asking why his son didn't know how to do things; very basic or simple things like eating with silverware or buttoning up a nice shirt. Will, in many ways was like a three-year-old child, which was caused by the infantilization he endured for the previous eleven years. Then in a lot of ways, Will acted like a feral child which was obviously caused by the years of extreme neglect. Will had to be taught the basics as if he just arrived from the depths of the Amazon, such as how to speak properly, how to interact with people, basic manners like please and thank you, appropriate personal space, how to treat people, and how to follow directions.
As anyone could guess, Will didn't do well in sixth grade. In fact, it was recommended that he take a few classes during summer school. That's where this story concludes itself right now, with a text from Will to his father begging to him to reconsider summer school,
"Hey is there any way that we can do packs cause
know I have be at summer school at 2pm till 6pm so
plz if you call it off i pousie that i will all 3 and 4s
With a sigh, Mr. Disney Dad removed his Mickey Mouse ears, set them aside for the moment and gently said, "No, this is exactly why you need summer school."