Saturday, September 3, 2011

My Family's Close Encounter With Child Protective Services, Part Two

Fast forward to three days later. I was at school, doing something i very rarely did, which was using a school restroom. I knew of kids who left class to hang out in there for extended periods of time. I never quite understood the allure. The girls' bathrooms were odorous and gave the appearance of being cleaned only when the custodians had time to kill. I hated to speculate about the state of cleanliness of the boys' room. I typically withheld whatever call of nature that beckoned me until I got home. As a sufferer of irritable bowel syndrome, this was sometimes a tricky proposition, but in the instances the chronic condition crept up during the school day, I usually pled sick. This allowed me to use the nurse's office bathroom while I waited to be picked up. While the nurse's office facilities probably wouldn't have met the standards of anyone with even a mild case of OCD, I usually didn't feel as though I might have contracted syphilis just from breathing the air inside the room.

That day my friend had brought a 12-ounce Hawaiian Punch in her lunch. Hawaiian Punch was a treat I rarely got, so I gladly traded away my entire lunch for that one can of red sugary stuff that probably didn't contain a single ingredient indigenous to Hawaii. I quickly downed the twelve ounces of fluid, and soon realized that my bladder wasn't going to hold until I could make it home at the end of the day. I considered claiming to be sick just to use the nurse's restroom, but if anyone in the office insisted on calling one of my parents to pick me up because I had claimed to have been sick, I would have been busted. Either of my parents could spot a malingerer a mile away. I braced myself and entered the dreaded girls' room, wondering if could possibly hold my breath for the duration of my time in there.

One thing that has always been incomprehensible to me is that there are other children who did not share my distaste for school restrooms. One of these off-kilter creatures was a girl I'll call Shelly Bleidermuth , which is neither her actual first nor last name, but very close on both counts. One of Shelly Bleidermuth's hobbies was climbing atop the partitions between the individual stalls to spy on girls who were in the stalls. That day I was wearing a pair of pink twill overalls, necessitating my removal of them further than if they had been mere pants. As I stood to pull up my overalls and underwear, unaware that Shelly had a full view of me and of the Mardi Gras bead-induced welts and bruises, which now ranged in color from red to purple to blue and even yellow, I was startled when she shreiked, "Alexis's got shingles." She ran from the bathroom, shrieking her news to anyone and everyone who would listen, all the way to the office. Why she thought they were shingles, or why she'd even heard of shingles, was a complete enigma.

One would think an office staff at a busy elementary school would have better things to do than to listen to and investigate the claims of an obviously disturbed and perverted fifth-grade bully who used her recess time to peak at whatever nine- and ten-year-old nudity she could find. At the very least, the staff should have been more concerned with Shelly's actions than with whatever skin abnormality I may have possessed. It must have been a slow day in the office. Apparently no one had been caught flooding toilets, trying to sneak off campus, or trying to peak into the staff lounge.

The half-wits in the office called me in. They demanded a view of my nude body, which I refused to grant them. Had the school nurse been there, I probably would have conceded, but our school shared a nurse with several campuses, and I wasn't about to undress in front of a secretary or whatever other school employee who insisted on it. Eventually the school vice-principal tried to call my mother, who was at in court because of some sort of special-education litigation related to her job at the time. The only parent available was my father. He was working that day at a hospital roughly ninety minutes away. It was almost two-thirty by the time he arrived. He told the secretary that he would check the situation out, but that he didn't see any reason I should have to expose private body parts to virtual strangers when I had already been traumatized enough by the fifth-grade bully. He took me home. On the way home, he asked me what was going on. I copped to the crime of having hidden Matthew's Mardi Gras beads under me during the trip from las Vegas to the San Joaquin Valley. He took a look at the bruises when we got home. The skin wasn't broken, so he didn't think any treatment was necessary. He said he might have considered whacking me, but he really couldn't when I'd already hurt my bottom far more than he would ever hurt it. I didn't have any homework, so he let me watch TV. He called the school with his conclusions, and he told my mom when she got home at about 5:30. We thought nothing more of it.

The next morning, as my mom was getting into her car and my dad was pushing us out the door to get into his car, a woman and a man showed up on our doorstep. My mom couldn't see their badges from the driveway and though they were Jehovah's Witnesses; she was grateful to have a legitimate excuse to escape and to force my dad to deal with them, as she was scheduled for the witness stand that day and might have been found in contempt of court had she been late.

My dad answered the door, looked at the badges the man and woman displayed, and let them into our house. They informed him that they were investigating claims that a child who lived at the residence named Alexis had been subjected to abuse recently. My dad looked at the ceiling and sighed. I tried to run out the back door, but my dad caught me by the shoulder. "This is Alexis," he told them.

The man asked me why I had started to run. I told him it was because I was afraid of having to take my clothes off in front of them. The man and woman wanted to question me away from the presence of my dad. I was afraid that they would take my clothes off of me once they got me away from him, so I said no and held tightly to the banister at the bottom of the stairs. My dad pried my hands from the banister and carried me upstairs to the den, inviting them in. He walked out of the den and closed the door, leaving me inside with them.

The lady asked me about the marks on my bottom and how they had gotten there. I told them all about the trip from Las Vegas, leaving out the part about my mother using swear words. The man said, "You actually expect us to believe that you got those marks from sitting on beads."

I said yes, that was how it had happened.

The lady said I needed to find the beads to show them to her. She accompained me as I went into Matthew's room and retrieved the beads. (The day before, when I confessed everything, my dad had made me produce the beads and give them to Matthew.) The woman looked at the beads and said that they would still need to see the marks on my skin. I hollered for my dad at the top of my lungs. A compromise was reached that the lady would look at the marks with my dad present. Under heavy protest, I took my leggings off. The lady examined the marks on my legs, then held the beads next to them. it was clearly a direct match. Then she said she needed to see the marks on my bottom as well. I held tightly to my underwear. my dad offered me money to cooperate. I said no. He offered me more money and said it was going to happen with or without my cooperation, so I took the money and relented. The lady agreed that those marks as well were a match with the beads.

Then the man and woman asked my dad how they could know for certain that I hadn't been hit with the beads as opposed to merely sitting on them. One of my dad's undergraduate majors was physics. He explained that if I had been struck with the chains, the loop pattern on my thighs would likely have had a different shape, and that the person holding the chain of beads would've held one end, so I would not have had loop marks from each end of the chain, one on each thigh and another on each side of my bottom. He pointed out that the slight blurring of bead marks on my skin was more consistent with my squirming while seated on the uncomfortable beads than with being hit multiple times, He also pointed out that the two chains had different sized beads, giving me different-sized bruises on my left and right sides. It would have been unlikely that a person would hit me on one side with one strand of beads, then hit me on the other side with another strand. The man and woman thought momentarily, then seemed to buy his explanation.

They left their cards with him in the event that he needed to contact them. I'm not sure why they thought he would want to contact them.

It was almost 10:00 by the time the CPS workers finished their investigation and departed. My dad had called to say he wouldn't be at work that day. My brother and I got into Dad's car. We were surprised when my dad stopped and parked directly in front of a video store. He said that we probably wouldn't be able to concentrate on school work anyway, so he let us each choose a video. We ordered pizza for lunch, and he even let us drink soda with it.

When my mom came home, she was upset - not so much at the school for reporting us, as she herself was and still is a mandated reporter and understands that the school is under heavy obligation to report anything suspicious at all in terms of possible child abuse. Her irritation was more in the direction of how thoroughly they investigated my case, and how often they won't even check out real cases of physical or sexual abuse of a child when evidence is far more compelling than the evidence against my parents. She said that the problem is susally that CPS workers wouldn't get off their butts if they knew a child's life were in danger at that precise second if it happened to be coffee break time.

I assume my CPS case must have been closed. We never ever heard from them again, except for once when the man who had been at our house called to ask my dad's expertise as to whther a skin wound could have been inflicted in the way a child said it had. My dad looked at the photos and the evidence and said that in his opinion, according to the laws of physics, the wound could not possibly have happened in the way the child said.
My dad heard through the grapevine that the parents were never even contacted by CPS. My mom said that's the way it usually works.


  1. I'm happy things worked out in your family's favor. It really is a shame that sometimes the wrong people get a full investigation, while others just get a knock at the door.

  2. My mom says in some reslly obvious cases, CPS has dropped the ball. They've questioned really little kids with suspicious injuries in front of their parents. Even in my case, if anyone in power really believed my parents inflicted those marks on me, I should've been questioned at school first without my parents' knowledge, and the school nurse probably should've been called to help me to feel comfottable with the level of body exposure that was required. If there had been anything to report about my parents, I would have been far more likely to disclose it if my parents didn't yet even know I was being questioned, and with the prence of another adult I trusted. In some cases with which my mom has been involved in reporting, a child has told of sexual abuse in situations when school personnel have suspected something strange with the child's envirenment for a very long time. Then later, when CPS gets around to questioning the child, it's often done so brusquely or callously that the kid gets scared and changes his or her story. Then CPS drops the case as though it's a hot potato.

    In a case where suspicions have existed for a considerable time, and the child has finally told an authority something that a physical examination would either confirm or deny, the physical exam should be done, even if the child needs to be sedated in order to make it happen or to minimize the trauma to the child. I can say this knowing how much I'd hate it if I were the kid involved, but rescuing someone may requre a level of discomfort.

    Both my parents are mandated reporters, but my mom has dealth with reporting abuse more than my dad has. My dad's repoting has generally happened when he was working ER shifts, and an injury to a child occurred that physical evidence suggests could not have happened the way the parent said it happened.

    My parents say that, while the school district personnel might have handled a few things differently, it was appropriate for them to have contacted CPS in my case. She thinks, had the CPS wrokers been a bit smarter, they should have asked me more specifid questions. Even successful passage if high school physics should have given the investigaors sufficient knowledge to confirm my story. A child without a father who majored in physics isn't necessarily the norm in CPS cases. My case may have been decided before a judge and jury, with a possible separation between my parents and me for months beofre the trial, if my parents' eudcational history had been more typical.

    My parents don't fault the school for making the report, and they fault the investigators on;y for being a bit clueless about a little girl's concern with nudity on front of strangers. A lot of other solutions existed besides one of the investigators restraining me while the other ripped my clothing off, which was the initial way they wanted to proceed. Had my dad not been there to offer another plan, my clothing would have been forcibly removed by strangers.

    My parents were also concerned about Sharon Seedwell. They thought that a ten-year-old girl hanfinf out in school restrooms, repeatedly climbing stall walls to view other students in various stages of undress was strange enough behavior to have raised a red flag or two. Even if school prsonnel didn't wish to report or investigate what was going on with her, they should gave, at the very least, done more to keep her her from terrorizing other little girls in the bathrooms.I wonder where Sharon Seedwell is know and what she is doing to occupy her spare time.

    My mom still says CPS in California is far more likely to fail to act when action is warranted than to overact in given situations. She says that in general, the account of the overly zealous CPS worker is a myth.

  3. I'm glad everything worked out in the end, and you weren't too traumatized by having to undress in front of strangers. That wasn't very well thought out of them.
    I love that your parents bribe you with money even at that age.

  4. Amelia, the main reson my dad bribed me with money on that particular occasion was that A) he couldn't very well threaten to beat me in the presence of cPS; and B) he knew, even if cPS wasn't there, that he couldn't smack a bottom that was pretty messed up with bruises from sitting on the beads. Mt dad's m.O. was threaten to whack whenever feasible; offer money at all other times. My mom was the opposite: bribe first, if that didn't work, then spank. Both used time outs on a daily basis as well. I spent as much time in their den as I spent in any other room of the house despite the fact that there was nothing in there for me.

  5. HAHAHA!!! How funny! It's good to have a plan, I'll have to figure out my stances on discipline quite soon. Probably I should have already if we're being honest.