You might think I’m referring to Adele’s now-popular song. But actually, it’s the old Todd Rundgren song that keeps replaying itself in my head: “Hello, it’s me. I’ve thought about us for a long, long time….”
This is an open letter, of sorts, to my former sister-in-law. In July of 2010 my then-sister-in-law moved she, my brother and the kids, then ages 3 and 5, from the United States to New Zealand for what was to be a family cultural experience for up to three years. Six months later, she moved out of their home and placed a travel restriction through the New Zealand courts prohibiting the removal of the children from New Zealand. My brother was devastated, as was our whole family.
Through the divorce proceedings, we learned she and her NZ business partner began an affair at least a year prior to the move. Our entire family was deceived with this so-called cultural experience. It now appears that, all along, her plan was to leave America and retain the children in New Zealand.
I’ve often wondered over the past five years, if you just wanted to get divorced, why didn’t you do it in America? Then I’ve thought, well, if your plan was to alienate the children from their father, and their entire family on both sides, then this was probably your best move.
We’ve spent the last five years quietly trying to work with the courts to bring the children home. I’ve also learned that my brother’s children, my niece and nephew, are among thousands of children from America prevented from returning home in situations just like ours. When divorce, or abduction, crosses international boundaries there are tragic consequences. And there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t reflect on how crazy it is that the last 5 years have been tied up in court proceedings to bring American children home to America.
So, that brings me back to the song…”hello, it’s me.” Because it’s important to me, as the song goes, that you know you are free. But, unfortunately, my niece and nephew aren’t. We believe that American kids should be allowed to grow up in America. But we know that you may elect to stay in New Zealand because you are free to choose. The children should be free to travel. Yesterday was my niece’s birthday. The fifth one she’s spent unable to celebrate with any family besides just you, and my brother if he has visitation. We now have a new goal. It’s what we hope is a gift to the kids, not just for my niece’s birthday, but one that will last a lifetime. Ready? Here it is:
It is our goal for these two children, to grow up healthy, well-adjusted, with free and total access to all family members, whether in New Zealand or America. That’s, in fact, what my niece asked for the last time she and my brother talked about what she wanted, more than anything else. She said; “Daddy, what if there were a door that could go between New Zealand and America?” He encouraged her to say more, and responded “anytime, right?” And she smiled and said, “Yes. Anytime. Back and forth. To see and be with everyone I love.”
So, to my former sister-in-law, that is why my brother filed a U.N. complaint against the country of New Zealand. My complaint, however, is with you. If there was one thing I could say to you it would be this: your actions of retaining the kids, refusal of communicating or co-parenting with their dad, and lack of empathy for the children’s familial relationships is hurting them deeply. These are scars that last a lifetime. There is no going back to replay life – no going back to let them experience family vacations, family birthday parties, a cousin at a soccer game, a day out to lunch with an aunt, a story on a grandparent’s lap, a last hug & good-bye to a grandfather, or that feeling of looking across the room, seeing your family, and knowing you are loved.
For my niece and nephew, we will not give up. We will move forward in a positive direction, knowing that we will eventually establish a residential schedule that allows my niece that wonderful vision, that amazing gift, of an open door— and, one day, allows her to be free to choose, like you are.
-Your Former Sister-in-law.