Cyber Kidnapped

Cyber Kidnapped

WO Cyber Kidnap ARTBy Becki Melchione

“Someone is using photos of your babies and claiming that they’re hers. I thought that you should know,” the comment on my blog stated, “she did the same thing to me.” I clicked on the embedded link to Facebook and someone named Melany Lucia.  Right there, on my screen, were my daughters whisked away, “Ready for a trip to Rhode Island,” according to her caption.  Sitting at the table in our Baltimore apartment, I stared at my photo of my daughters on her timeline. Who would do such a thing? Who was this woman? Why would she steal a photo of someone else’s children and post them as her own?

I had kept a blog of my twins’ first months for all of our long-distance friends and family to see.  I thought I was being careful, not including full names or location information.  From this way of sharing our first moments with our newborns, Melany had stolen four photographs of Olivia and Madison. The images themselves were no different than what any other parent of twins would take, two swaddled babes sleeping, two bright faces side by side smiling, two sitting in their double stroller.

As a new and exhausted mom, I was just getting used to the amount of attention twins attract.  To say people notice twins is an understatement.  Grandma-types smile and coo, teenage girls squeal “how cute,” and middle-aged fathers flash a knowing smile, almost every time I leave my home with my sky-eyed babies.  Maybe because twins are unusual.  Maybe because people desire the type of bond they have, one that begins months before their entrance into the world and lasts a lifetime. Or maybe because stories still abound about twins speaking in their own language and having a telepathic connection to each other.

I’m not sure what the attraction is. At first, I thought that the curiosity and adoration that Olivia and Maddy inspire was harmless fun.  But there have been incidents that put me on guard.  Some people run up, camera stuck out like a weapon and take a shot.  The first time it happened was at a big bash that our apartment building throws at the beginning of summer.  A young guy appeared out of nowhere, snapped a couple of photos, and took off before we could even react.  “What was that?” I turned to my husband Luc.

“Probably just someone taking publicity pics,” he responded. That the photographer hadn’t asked permission was odd, but I shrugged it off at the time.  It’s not like he tried to touch them.

A few weeks later, at an art festival downtown, a complete stranger who looked to be a little drunk or high, walked up to me, Luc, and our daughters in their our double stroller.

“Can I hold one?” she slurred.

“What?” Luc blurted, like he hadn’t heard correctly.

“Can I hold…”

Once he processed what she was asking, Luc responded with an emphatic, “No.”

“Why not?  You got two.  You can watch me the whole time,” she reached out to grab Maddy’s hand.

“NO,” Luc repeated louder, moving to stand between the stroller and the woman.

“I’ll sit right on the curb there,” she persisted.

“How many times do I have to say ‘NO’?” he said loud enough for passersby to turn and look.

We walked away quickly, not looking back.  “You know, you have to be very careful with the girls.  Don’t let them out of your sight for a second. Someone might want to steal them,” Luc  worried, anxious about the intentions of strangers.  Over-dramatic as usual, I thought.  He hadn’t seen as many of the smiles, winks and good wishes that the girls inspired in complete strangers as I had.

Then someone cyber-stole our girls.

Melany had posted, between risqué selfies of a pretty woman in black bras and tight white tank tops, curled blonde hair and caked on make-up, photos of a three or four year old girl, my twins, and a couple of disturbing images of a newborn with a breathing tube and what seemed like too many wires attached to her.  I raced through reading the first screen. Relationship status: Single. Lives in New Bedford, MA. No employment information.  Born on January 1, 1990. Who the hell would post this?  Who would believe that she had the time with four children under four?  Not a real mother, not like this.  She must be crazy.

A noise from the twins’ bedroom ripped my attention from the computer screen.  If I didn’t get Olivia before her moans turned to cries, she’d wake Maddy too.  I shut my laptop, tiptoed into their room, and saw my Olivia’s wide eyes through the crib rails.  I scooped her up and held her a bit too close.

The minute both Olivia and Maddy were safe in their cribs for the night, I returned to the demented world of Melany Lucia.  She claimed all four children were hers, that the last was born premature and remained in the hospital.  Between visits to the hospital, she said that she was taking day trips to the beach and going out dancing.

One entry turned my anger into fury. “Ella is dead. I don’t know what to do,” she wrote under another photo of my daughters.  My body grew hot, my hands shaking, my chest constricting.  I clicked the picture to see the responses, six likes and a couple of comments, all by men of various ages and races.  “So sorry for your loss,” some idiot in a baseball cap wrote. “Luc, come see this! Someone stole Olivia and Maddy’s photos and is posting them as her own kids. And look, she killed Maddy!”  He read the page, made a quick judgment,  “She’s obviously disturbed, but it’s just a picture. Don’t worry about it,” and walked away.

But I couldn’t let it go.  At that moment, all I needed to do for the safety of my daughters was to get to the bottom of this, of who she was and what her intentions were.  I combed through all of her posts.  Her account was less than a year old.  All of her friends were men.  She posted about being single, going out, having trouble paying her rent, taking “her” kids to the doctor and hospital what seemed like way too often.  “PM me” she’d written a few times to men who commented on her posts about needing money. That’s it! She must be trying to get money out of them, I figured, somewhat relieved that her intentions weren’t worse.

Stories of kidnapping, sexual and physical abuse milled about the foggy anger in my head. They didn’t come into focus though, because for me, those thoughts were impossible to even consider. One thought beaconed in my mind: I didn’t want my daughters’ photos there.  Who knew where it might lead? Into the hands and mind of a pedophile?

Facebook recommends reporting any offensive images as well as contacting the poster directly.  I reported the images, but none of the four options —  It’s annoying or not interesting; I’m in this photo and I don’t like it; I don’t think it should be on Facebook; It’s spam — accurately described my problem. There wasn’t a button for “Someone stole these photos of my child” or even “Someone is posting my photos as their own” and no place for notes to explain why a picture of a couple of babies was offensive.  Furious at the woman, at Facebook and at the whole internet for making this too easy, I messaged her: “REMOVE THE PHOTOS OF MY DAUGHTERS IMMEDIATELY!”

Her response? She blocked me so I could no longer see her page.  Feeling helpless, I turned to my Moms of Multiples’ (MOMs) Facebook group and asked for advice.  One mom suggested shaming her in the comments; another mom suggested having as many people as possible flag the children’s images. So I declared war, enlisting troops, over thirty moms from my MOMS group, to report the photos of my daughters.  It was really all I could do when she stole my family and my only recourse was waiting for Facebook to do something about it.  If not for the real life Olivia and Madison needing me, I would have spent countless late night hours tracing her digital trail, planning my revenge.

After two days of changing my passwords and increasing my privacy settings on every social media account I had, in between feedings and diaper changes and play time, Facebook notified me that it removed the photos I reported.  After posting this update and asking for confirmation, my army of moms reported that Facebook also deleted all of the other photos of cyber-stolen children from the grip of this woman. Although the whole episode took place over a few days, the powerlessness of the situation permeated every second of every one of those sixty-six hours.

With the rescue of my daughters’ photos confirmed, I didn’t feel the relief I expected.  In its place was an awareness of a vulnerability that I’m still unable to fully comprehend and a glimpse into the level of vigilance that I will need to keep my children safe.  Social media has made it easier for my in-laws in California to see my daughters’ first day of school and friends from London to Buenos Aires to hear their singing, but its downside is exposure to the unknown. I like to think that I’m building the foundation of a loving and trusting mother-child relationship that will help protect them from the harm others may want to cause them. But in cyber-space, I am out of my league.  There, I already failed when photos meant for loved ones were hijacked and I unwittingly aided in my daughters’ cyber-kidnapping.

Last time I checked with my husband’s login, Melany Lucia’s Facebook account no longer existed.  Maybe whoever Melany was simply created a new account with a different name.  She might still be using my daughters’ photos.

Author’s note: When this happened, almost two years ago, no one I spoke with had even heard of baby role play, or cyber-kidnapping, as I called it. Now I’m thankful that awareness is being raised as a result of a handful of stories that have cast light on this dark part of the Internet.

Becki Melchione is a writer living in the Philadelphia area with her husband and twin daughters. Although they’re only toddlers, Becki’s mom instinct tells her that neither will be allowed a Facebook, Instagram or any other social media account until they’re in college.



The Other Mother

The Other Mother

By Stacy Lewis

Screen Shot 2014-11-18 at 5.12.48 PMThe teacher is describing boxes—heart-shaped, circle, and square. She explains how to cut the clay, flatten it, shape and assemble it, and how to put on the finishing touches. She talks about slabs, scoring, coils, and slip. I keep my eyes on her while helping Orlando manipulate his own little clay clump. He is showing his work to his friend Ellery, whisper-yelling questions to me, and ignoring the teacher.

This is the first day of our family clay class. My son Orlando is four and a half. I notice that the older kids do most of the work themselves while the younger kids tend to assist and embellish the work of their parents. Orlando is making clay flowers, and I am rolling out the sides of our heart-shaped box when our attention, and everyone else’s, turns to the little boy and the mother sitting to our right.

“The teacher said that it would be too difficult to make a star!” The mother slams down her rolling pin.

Tears spring into her son’s eyes. “But I want to make a star.”

I go back to my own rolling pin and listen to the mother and the teacher suggest putting star shapes on a square box or creating hanging stars or cutting out star shapes from the box or anything but a star box. But by now the boy wants nothing but a star box.

The mother stands up and starts push-pulling her son to the back corner of the studio. He shuffles his six-year-old self in front of her with his head down and his feet dragging, and eventually they disappear around the corner. We hear him continue to tearfully plead his case. We hear the mother hissing at him to stop insisting on a star, to stop whining, to stop being difficult, to just stop.

When they come back, they proceed to make a star-shaped box. The mother is making the template and with each mistake either of them makes, she says things like, “See, I told you it wouldn’t work! Now you’re messing it up. We don’t have enough time! Get your hands off, stop touching it, I’ll do it!”

Everyone can hear her and everyone, including the teacher—everyone, including me—looks away.

*   *   *

A few days later, I talk with Ellery’s mom, Heidi, about the other mother. Heidi had been in a previous session with the mother and her son, and she had felt terribly anxious around them. We both felt disturbed by how she berated him, and saddened to see the boy alternately apathetic, agitated, crestfallen. We wanted to help him. The mother didn’t seem to realize how she sounded. Should we talk directly to her about it? Bring it up with the teacher? What if we made her angrier, and she took her anger out on her son?

In the midst of our indignation over the mother’s behavior, however, another thought crept in. I admitted to Heidi that I, too, had lost my temper over spilled paints, squished figs, or one too many stray Legos. I had, much to my shame, used my words in ways that diminished both my dignity and my son’s. Heidi insisted I was a good mother. But, I ventured, what if the other mother was stressed, and the class was bringing out the worst in her? What if we could help her? We decided that we would try it—to connect with the child and the mother.

At the next class, I introduced myself to the other mother and asked, “What was your name again?” She breathed out a soft “Thank you” and gave me her name. I asked her son his name, too, and made comments on his work—”Wow, what great ears your dragon has!”—or smiled at him when he caught my eye.

After that class, the other mother made efforts to connect with me and Orlando, by sharing tools and sitting next to us. And yet, her angry actions continued—she bossed her son, sighed with exasperation over his slowness, grabbed tools from his hands—and I shrank away. I didn’t have the guts to do it. Maybe Heidi was right. How could I really make a difference in their lives? I decided it would be best to stay out of it.

Then, toward the end of one class, I went straight into it—but not as I had expected to. Orlando wanted to play with his friend Ellery, but she was still absorbed in her project. He was doing anything and everything to get her attention, though Ellery and her mom and I kept explaining that she didn’t want to play. Yet neither of us grown-ups stopped what we were doing to help redirect or stop him.

Finally, Orlando took his wet, goopy paint brush and plopped it into her hair. And that was it.

I stood up and took Orlando around the corner. I squatted down in front of him, pulled him toward me by the shoulders, and whisper-threatened:

“We will never come back to class if you don’t leave Ellery alone.” The embarrassment I had felt about his behavior had already rocketed into shame—my own. He shifted his shoulders and kept his eyes down. I tugged at him again. “You are making it impossible to get anything done in this class!” He turned away from me, and I grabbed him, “You aren’t listening!” I felt a sudden hot drive to stamp out the source of my stress—all of my energy was concentrated on obliterating my discomfort, and I could see myself, just as I could see that other mother, aiming herself at her child.

And then I saw my child, standing before me, small and sound with a contained anger of his own.

I let go.

I closed my eyes, turned my head away, and exhaled. How had shame railroaded me into acting even more shamefully? When I opened my eyes, I was startled to see someone from another class standing nearby. I quickly stood up, leaving behind those hot, uncomfortable moments, and blindly turned Orlando back toward the class. I don’t know if that person, or anybody else, heard or saw me. I didn’t make eye contact as I walked back to our table.

It seems almost everyone turns a blind eye.

*   *   *

At a doctor’s office once, a receptionist came over and leaned down to help me when I was clearly becoming impatient and frustrated by my over-tired toddler’s attempts to explore the contents of the garbage can. She made a joke—”It’s always the garbage!”—gave me a smile, offered a toy to my son, and sat down right next to us for a minute or two.

Then there was the time someone in the parking lot of the grocery store offered to take my cart back, freeing me to unload my child into the car along with the bags. Her offer was really a small gesture, yet to me at the time it seemed wondrously thoughtful.

There have been times when family members or friends have swooped in to engage Orlando in a new activity when the interaction between us became charged, when I was too tired to deal with cascades of bathwater over the side of the bathtub or was feeling exasperated by his hyperactivity and disregard for decorum.

All these examples have something very basic in common: The people who intervened simply saw that I had my hands full, figuratively and literally, and they acted without judgment.

It had seemed so straightforward when Heidi and I laid out our similar plan: Let’s help ease the tension between the parent and child by connecting with each of them. We would intervene in a way that was helpful rather than critical. Yet the reality proved far more impenetrable. Why had I been at such a loss to offer that other mother and her son a hand? Was it because the other mother seemed so mean? So unaware of her censorious tone and pinched face? Was it because of the taboo against intruding on someone else’s parenting? Or because deep down I wanted nothing to do with her and her pain?

Not long ago, I read an article by psychologist Jeanne Denney that hit home on this topic. In “The Ritual, Tribal Abandonment of Mothers,” she writes:

I have a picture in my mind that will probably never leave until the day I develop dementia. It is a scene from when my children were young. I happened to be in a mall without them. I saw a mother with a baby in a stroller and a two year old in full tantrum running for the escalator. It was one of those scenes full of pathos, wherein a mother just has to “miraculate” some kind of response out of simple desperation. We all saw it. That is when I heard two women in front of me talking. One said: “I remember those days.” And the other one, probably in inner recoil from [the] memory of her own abandonment, coolly responded, “Yeah … I’m glad those days are over.” I remember feeling in that disengaged assessment the perfect expression of the ritual, tribal abandonment of mothers. … [T]here, in public, witnessing hearts did not extend out in compassion. Kind hearts did not listen to a silent plea for understanding, holding, and help. In my mind there is no better way to help children than learning this adult act of silent holding and loving witness for their parents.

I think about when I was squatting down with my own son in the corner of the clay studio, or any of the times I have borne down unfairly on my child, and I can barely stand the thought of someone interrupting us. Like the second mother in Denney’s example, part of me wants to believe that by ignoring the pain, we can make it less painful. Yet another part of me knows there is something powerful and healing about not ignoring. There is something less literal than instructing and more gentle than intruding and it begins with a compassionate gaze.

*   *   *

After the class in which I pulled Orlando aside, I realized that I was stressed during clay class, and that it was bringing out the worst in me. I was overwhelmed by all the details, clumsy with the clay, experiencing afternoon blood sugar crashes, and bothered by what I saw as Orlando’s inattention. I figured I had a choice: change my response or change the circumstances (or some combination thereof). So my husband, Rom, finished the class with Orlando, and I stayed home with our one-year-old, Mica. No one was getting yelled at, at least not in our family; at least not in our family during clay class.

I didn’t quit because of the other mother, though I have questioned myself about that. I think of her and her son as a window onto my son and me, but I also think of them as their own two people in the world. I think of the connections between all of us that are simultaneously undeniable yet unrealized.

At the time, I thought that I didn’t have the guts to reach her, or that I needed to know all the details of her private constellation of stress before really making a difference. But now I realize that I did know something. I knew that simply asking her name helped her shed some of the stress she was under. Our eyes met, for just that one second, and I saw her clearly.

At the time, it wasn’t enough to push me out of my comfort zone toward a place where I could be of real service. But now I feel compelled to keep going. Now I offer a hand to the pregnant woman with bags of groceries. Now when I see a dad and daughter in excruciating negotiation over a second ice cream cone, with the daughter beginning to screech and the dad beginning to clench, I try not to run away inside. I try to acknowledge that I’ve been there, too. I’ve been there, too.

What if I had persisted in my small gestures of ease and kindness toward the other mother and her son? What if I had continued to stay near, silently telling them, “I see you”? Not in a creepy way, like, I see you, and you better behave. But in this way:, I see you, because I see myself.

What if I had told her: “There is no other mother”?

Author’s Note: I began this piece eighteen months ago, just as I was beginning to come to terms with my own first serious bouts of parental impatience and anger. I had always been drawn to and inspired by respectful parenting and was deeply troubled to find myself talking to my young sons in ways I knew I didn’t believe in.

Being in clay class with the other mother showed me both who I thought I would never be and who I feared I was becoming. It is only now, after a certain amount of my own healing, that I can imagine opening myself to that other mother, and holding her experience alongside my own.

Stacy Lewis lives in Seattle with her husband and children. She is a Hakomi therapist and teacher, a homeschooling mama, a walker of woods and neighborhoods, and a lover of the beach. She has a blog at

Brain, Child (Summer 2009)

On Shame and Parenting

On Shame and Parenting

onshameand parenting

I did for them everything I believed a good mother would do for her children and clenched my teeth and prayed it was enough, or right, or that at the very least they would be OK in spite of the depth of my brokenness.


On the first day of sixth grade, I entered the school cafeteria for lunch. It was huge, noisy, and smelled like early-puberty sweat and sour milk. The kids were talking, all of them, and I knew they didn’t want me. All the evidence of this was generated by my own guts, which hunched and lurched under their burden of shame. I went to the library and read books during my lunch period for most of my 3 years in middle school.

Later, a girl with a lumpy blonde ponytail and electric blue eyeshadow said, “Why don’t you just kill yourself? Nobody even likes you so why do you bother?” I knew she was right.

Of the raw materials from which loneliness may be built, shame is the most robust. It is the bedrock foundation on which a lifetime of loneliness is best erected. My structure of loneliness was large and strong, a carefully tended prison. I sought evidence to justify its continued existence and rarely left it.

When I was grown, but barely, I met a man. He said he would have me, as a favor. My job would be to tend the shame, to use it to make myself worthy of him. My gratitude for his occasional visits to my isolated world would help me deserve him.

In quick succession came two babies, howling and burning with the rarest human perfection and they seemed to me like a new breed, something different on planet earth, people of flesh, yes, but also of starlight and the night desert and mystery.

The man, entranced, looked into the small, dimpled face of our first child and asked, “Do you think our parents felt like this about us?” The question startled me, made me question all my carefully maintained assumptions about myself and my place in this world.

Alas, a moment of clarity, however piercing, is rarely enough to change the course of an emotional life, so I parented from the place of shame-grown loneliness that was the only home I knew.

My babies were so magnificent, do you see? A mistake of the universe, to give these small, fleshy bits of perfection to a mother so unworthy, a cosmic gaffe that dazzled me with my great good fortune and terrified me because I knew I would ruin them. I would be the person who exploded The Pieta or shredded The Starry Night.

From this emotional place, I mothered those children. I washed their diapers and hung them on a line to dry and kissed them and fed them oatmeal from a yellow plastic spoon. I loved them loved them loved them.

Except…do you know this about shame? It makes life into playacting and my love for my children was as real as mountains and gravity, but I was shaky in the middle of myself. Worse than shaky; I was ephemeral and not quite real. I did for them everything I believed a good mother would do for her children and clenched my teeth and prayed it was enough, or right, or that at the very least they would be OK in spite of the depth of my brokenness.

When the man who said he would have me as a favor began to hate our lives together, he said I will take these babies. No judge would let someone like you keep children! I’ll take them and you will never see them! And I cried and cried because of course, of course he would have them. Of course anyone could see I should not be their mother. Of course I was not worthy.

Except everyone has limits, even one as demoralized as I was. Unable to act in any meaningful way on my own behalf, I began to wish for a solid reason to leave the man who said he would have me as a favor. I prayed he would cheat or hit so I could propel myself out and away.

The man and I danced around each other during the final year we were married, each hoping the other would leave, each waiting for the other to offer a good enough excuse to move on. If I cast my mind back to the feelings of that dark, strange time, they are filled with fear for our children, and fear of being away from them. I was afraid he would take them away from me, even though I knew he couldn’t. All fear, a black and red haze of dread, and the ever-present loneliness and self-loathing. The inside of my head was filled with a relentless drumbeat of How could I? How could I have children with this man? How could I be so selfish as to want out? How dare I?

How does a mind change? How do feelings, well entrenched and carefully tended over a lifetime, transform? I can only guess. Maybe God whispered in my ear. Maybe my anger grew until it was strong enough to out-shout my shame. Maybe I began to believe in some tiny corner of myself that I was born with all the innate value with which my perfect children were born. Maybe all three.

Or maybe none of those. Maybe I just got sick to death of being treated like crap. Whatever the reason, when he came to me on the final day and shouted, “I don’t love you. You disgust me! I’m leaving,” I said, “Fine. Go.”

The next day, I was putting clean sheets away in the drawer in the hall. My kids were playing in some unorganized way, jumping and giggling and horsing around, and I was knocked back by an understanding. I never have to let anyone treat me like that again. I am done with that. I sat down hard on the floor of the hall between the kids’ bedrooms and started to cry. The children were there, worried. “Mommy, what’s wrong? Do you have a ya ya? Where’s your ya ya? I’ll kiss it for you!” chattered my son while my daughter kissed my face and brought me tissues.

“Happy tears!” I said. “Sometimes grown ups are weird and they cry when they’re happy. Isn’t that funny?” They agreed that it was very funny, and we laughed, and we sang a song, and when we got up off the floor I put my wedding ring in a box and never looked at it again.


Photo by Scott Boruchov