SMACK. I remember the tingling sensation on my cheek and how astonished I was about the loudness a flat hand landing on my face could cause. Smacking wasn’t one of my mother’s preferred educational measures, but in this particular case she made an exception and put in all her fears and anger and frustration.
My brother and I had been playing hide and seek all afternoon. When we hid in the trunk of my grandpa’s car, we thought it would be fun to wait for the grown-ups to realise we were gone. And see if they would find us.
It wasn’t long until we heard grandma calling for us. My mother and grandpa joined in shortly after. It must have been around dinnertime; we were due for our baths and although the tone in their voices was becoming more and more desperate, we decided to make them look for us a little longer. After what seemed like an eternity to me, we opened the trunk and TAH-DAH, there we were. The smack followed promptly.
I must have been four years old at the time. A few weeks earlier, my mum had stormed into my father’s apartment – where my brother and I were living back then – and accompanied by an enormous row with my father, had dragged us out of the flat. I remember being happy about this sudden change. I had missed my mum. There wasn’t anything in particular I didn’t like about my dad. I just wanted my mummy. Later, much later, I found out that her sudden change of heart to recuperate her children was caused by finding out she was pregnant and my dad not wanting to add another child to this on and off relationship. She must have realised that it was over.
My parents had been divorced when I was about a year old. They just never separated properly. They kept on seeing each other and seeing other people. They moved from Austria (where I was born) to Germany (where my mother’s family is from), to finally settle down in two different cities. The question of where and with whom we should live didn’t seem to have popped up until the day of the row.
In my memories, this is the day when everything changed. We weren’t allowed to see our dad anymore. Everything dad was bad. Mentioning him was only tolerated to bitch about him. And my fraternal grandparents were cut out completely, too. My mum tried to get as much negative information about my dad out of us as possible. Only to use it later in meetings with social services, lawyers and judges. A single night out on his behalf without a babysitter for us was interpreted into child neglect. One smack became aggressive behaviour. And a very permissive education (the same education my mother used to preach) was the basis for an alleged child abuse.
My mother had been sick with worry my father would take us back to Austria. She wouldn’t have had any chance of getting us back quickly enough before judges would decide we had settled in and another move would do us more harm than good. She was fighting with all measures, fair and unfair, to get the official ‘right to determine the place of residence’ for her children. (Note: This was before the Hague Convention about child abduction was in place.)
In the meantime, I went mute. I stopped speaking, as the events took their courses. The more the respective social services workers, lawyers and judges probed into me, the less I spoke. I was five years old.
Finally, my father broke down. With the threat of being officially alleged of child abuse, he agreed to give us up for adoption, into the hands of my stepfather, who is a chapter all by himself and by no means the kind of guy you should entrust with raising your children.
I last saw my father when I was about six years old, in the office of a German social worker. He was crying.
Like so many other children, I was caught in the middle. My mum only fought for herself. As soon as she had us, she got on with her life. My dad gave up the fight. I will never get rid of the feeling that he gave up on me.
Today I have neither contact with my mum nor with my dad. In this fight, there were only losers.
This post is part of the Save One Mammy campaign. Mammy is fighting for the permission to leave Ireland together with her English-born daughter and return home to England; something her estranged husband is trying to prevent by all means and for seemingly egotistical reasons only. Parental alienation, unfair hearings and a clear and blatant violation of every EU citizen’s right to free movement are just a few of the hurdles she has to overcome. Please help us to raise awareness and visit her blog to support her in her campaign.