Hard to imagine that three women could so badly mistake an underwear crease for a scratch, but they did. Perhaps the nurses convinced the teacher that is what it was. The teacher was genuinely concerned about skin break down which can occur when a person sits in a wheelchair for long periods of time and knees together. The way she chose to deal with, or, rather, not deal with the information, is what set this dark farce into motion. She told the two women, "handle this for me." What she had intended was for one of them to call me and tell me what they thought needed to be addressed, sooner rather than later. What one of them did was contact the Department of Children and Family Services instead.
And, so, on the afternoon of Thursday, March 25, 2010, I came this close to losing my children. And possibly my freedom. Given the location of the alleged scratch, it's likely that the assumption was made that this was no run-of-the-mill abuse but likely sexual abuse. At least that is what comes to mind when I put scratch and labia together. The investigator made it really graphic. "Some people use utensils." I wonder if I looked as horrified as I felt. I think I gasped. I felt vaguely nauseated.
I was disturbed that anyone could even begin to entertain that thought about me They wouldn't, if they knew me. Even a little. They wouldn't if they knew how much I love Kid O. They wouldn't if they knew how she is the child of my heart. Now, granted, abusing someone and loving someone is not mutually exclusive. But I would wager that people who abuse their own children don't really love them, but that gets into deep psychological and emotional territory that I can only hazard a guess at. I am only qualified to talk about me and my feelings.
I won't lie to anyone. There have been times when taking care of Kid O have felt as if it's a soul crushing experience. There are times when I feel the resentment rise inside of me. But when I stop thinking about it as caregiving and more in terms of doing something for someone I love, that attitude softens considerably. There are times when this feels like drudgery, and, if I am not careful, I can start to feel burnt out. When I am more able to accept things, then there can be moments of joy and love and affection. More than that. Great good humor.
Kid O has a wicked sense of humor. If a person looks in her eyes, they see more than her humanity. They see her capacity to express much mirth. Her laugh is infectious. I can forgive her just about anything, over and over and over again. When I think about Kid O's laughter, I cannot imagine being separated from that mischievous sprite. Or from my magical younger daughter, Kid Q.
That Thursday evening my husband and one of his sisters examined Kid O, because, naturally, we took this very seriously. They were perplexed as to what was being reported. My sister in-law said to us that all she could see was a crease. The following morning the pediatrician and I saw the same thing: a pull up crease. And, what I didn't realize, but in that moment, I was exonerated. Also what I didn't know until a month later, was that I was the only one being investigated. The person making the allegations had never considered that my husband would do his share of the care. Just as well that it hadn't occurred to her, given the circumstances. When I mentioned that to the investigator she said, "Isn't that a girly thing?" I am thinking, what if we had been divorced and he had part time custody? What would he do then? Or worst case scenario, he'd entirely be a single dad. Or what if Kid O had been a boy? Would it be awkward for me to care for him?
Essentially then much ado about a crease that was presumed to be a scratch. How is it that three professionals could not tell the difference between a crease and a scratch? A crease is reddish but flat. A scratch is bumpy, reddish, probably scabby and definitely inflamed. The only description that was accurate was length and width. Purely a superficial resemblance. A perplexing conclusion, assuming that the report was not made with malicious intent.
What is still jarring is how quickly things can change from a OK day to a really horrible nightmare. Because reports can be made anonymously, there is no such thing as a heads up. No way to mentally prepare. There is a sharp rap at the door. No time to pick up the house. No time to tell Kid Q to put on some clothes. Suddenly I have a woman in my house towering over me, tapping her finger at the report and insisting I take Kid O to the pediatrician RIGHT NOW. I explain that by the time I get the carseats back in the car the pediatrician's office would be closed. Then she insists I have to take Kid O to the ER. I tell her I am not going to take her to the ER for a scratch. Then I say that even if I wanted to, what, indicating Kid Q, would I do with her? I look up and see that Kid Q is wearing nothing but underpants, and is dancing about with a unicorn on top of her head. I am wincing, but I have since been told that Kid Q being so at ease and friendly may have been what saved my sorry ass.
There's a joke in there somewhere. Take a seat. Have you heard the one about...