Cover image for They are my children, too : a mother's struggle for her sons
They are my children, too : a mother's struggle for her sons
Meyer, Catherine (Catherine Laylle)
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : PublicAffairs, [1999]

Physical Description:
xvii, 333 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HV6604.G42 M495 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



This is the story of the suffering and determination of one woman fighting for her children - and of the inadequacy of current international laws against child abduction to protect either parents or children against the occurrence of this tragedy. In the process of pleading internationally for the right to be with her children, Meyer met and married Christopher Meyer, now British Ambassador to the United States, providing a happy turn-of-events - if not quite a happy ending - to this story.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

A failed marriage to an erratic, controlling man plunges Meyer into the world of international child abduction and custody laws. After what was to be a routine vacation to Germany in 1994, their father refused to return the children to their London home and set in motion a long-planned, surreptitious change of custody of the two young boys. Meyer's dreams of a multicultural upbringing for her sons suddenly became a nightmare of legal arguments about the Hague Convention and the intractable local laws of Verden, Germany, where her husband's family of lawyers and judges hold great influence. As the case dragged on, Meyer faced the prospect of permanent estrangement from her sons, who were being told their mother was inattentive and negligent because she continued her career in international banking and finance. This is a heart-breaking story of child abduction by a parent. Meyer is actively involved in lobbying for international laws against child abduction. Shapiro intersperses two painful stories of custody battles with the history of Western concepts of family and parental responsibility. He examines the apparent abandonment of a baby girl by a teenaged mother, Gina Pellagrino. She resurfaces when the child is four months old and adopted by a stable childless couple that had been on Connecticut's adoption list for years. Shapiro also explores the troubling case of the Melton family, separated after 19 of their children were found living in appalling filth and neglect in an impoverished Chicago neighborhood. Shapiro weighs the rights of birth parents against those of abused and abandoned children. He examines the works of a broad range of experts from social workers, including Jane Addams, to psychologists, including Anna Freud. Shapiro also scrutinizes the inadequacies of overburdened social welfare bureaucracies and courts in rendering Solomonic decisions about what's best for children. --Vanessa Bush

Publisher's Weekly Review

Now the wife of Christopher Meyer, British ambassador to the U.S., the author has attracted media attention to her four-year struggle to regain access to her two sons. The author contends that in 1994, her former husband, Hans-Peter Volkmann, a German doctor, violated a legal separation agreement by refusing to return nine-year-old Alexander and seven-year-old Constantin to their London home after they spent a six-week holiday with him in Germany. Meyer's account details the roadblocks she met in German courts often staffed by judges she felt were more sympathetic to the children's German father than to her, a British citizen of French and Russian extraction. Meyer was initially able to obtain court orders for the return of her children, but she claims that Volkmann hid the boys until a higher German court upheld his appeal on the grounds that it was in the children's best interests to remain in Germany. She also details the agreements Volkmann apparently made and broke for her court-ordered visits to her sons. According to Meyer, her ex-husband brainwashed their sons into thinking that their mother had abandoned them. Although the trauma Meyer has suffered as a parent is indisputably intense, her defensive descriptions of the early marital disagreements she had with Volkmann are unnecessary and do little to illuminate her tragic situation. In the end, though, the author makes a strong case for enforcement of the Hague Convention on Child Abduction, which prohibits kidnapping across frontiers. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One Cri de Coeur My heart is filled It is filled with nothing but pain This is my last scene of our life together     In our London home, the three of us were packing in Alexander and Constantin's bedroom. A few hours later my sons would be leaving for their summer holiday in Germany to stay with their father. Little did we know then that this would be the end of our happy and peaceful existence. Little did we know that this would be the very last day we would be free to talk, free to cuddle, and free to love.     "You won't touch anything, Mummy? Promise. I have cleared my desk and arranged my toys the way I want them for when I get back."     Alexander was always so meticulous. His collection of tube tickets was neatly held together with a rubber band in one drawer, his stamps in another, and on the shelf above, small boxes containing his secret treasures and souvenirs were tidily stacked. Everything had its special place, and no one, not even his younger brother Constantin, was allowed to disturb the private domain of his desk. In the large cupboard, his Legos were laid out very precisely, like a theater. On one shelf, he had arranged his medieval knights, shields and spears in hand, ready to venture forth on their next crusade. On the shelf beneath, pirate ships encircled a lone island, ready for imminent attack. The display was so carefully planned that the models looked almost real.     My Alexander: partly a serious boy and yet still partly a demanding baby. By nature, he was less levelheaded and even-tempered than Constantin. He was full of mischief, often given to embroidering the truth with his vivid imagination; he could be capricious sometimes, torn between the real world and fantasy.     But fate would throw him prematurely into adulthood. His father and I had separated when he was six and a half, and since then we have lived in different countries. His daddy stayed in Germany, and the three of us moved back to London, where he had been born. Living without a man around, he gradually assumed that role for himself. I never imposed it on him. In my eyes, he was still so tiny and vulnerable. But he cherished this new status, and at times he would almost take charge and be protective of me. Today was such a day.     "Do we still have time? We won't miss the plane?"     "There's plenty of time. We don't have to leave for another hour."     "And, Mummy, don't forget to buy the exercise books I need for the beginning of term. Here's the list from school."     He spoke to me in French, as he always did, French being his and Constantin's mother tongue. Both children had always attended French schools, but they were also fluent in German and would automatically speak to their father in it. It was wonderful to hear them switching so easily from one language to the other. Alexander was particularly gifted, and his English, too, was perfect now. English offered many fun expressions, which he loved to mix up, sometimes with a Rastafarian accent that he imitated well and that always made Constantin and me laugh.     Both my sons were the perfect image of the new Europe. Brought up in London, with a German father and a French mother, they had, and still have, three passports and are trilingual. In a future Europe, this background would surely give them tremendous advantages. I was thrilled that they had this chance and terribly proud that both of them could rise to the challenge. Even given the opportunity, not all children are so adept at languages!     As I was packing their last items, I fell into thinking how lonely the next six weeks would be without them. I knew how much I would miss their cheerful voices, the constant to-ing and fro-ing and rampaging about the house. Without them, the house was always so silent: no one to greet me with a shower of kisses in the mornings. This is the harsh price of a broken marriage: schooldays with Mummy and most of the holidays with Daddy. But watching Alexander pack his rucksack, I realized that he was already halfway into his German forest.     "I think I've packed everything--my magnifying glass, my swimsuit, my goggles, and a few toys."     Alexander loved going to Germany, exploring the woods and the bird life, examining the insects under his magnifying glass. Alexander is an explorer, and his lively interest and curiosity were always a delight to watch. Verden had become a second retreat, offering him an assortment of mysteries to discover. He had two lives--one there, one here in London--and each offered its thrills, even though he was occasionally torn between them.     Alexander was, I think, the more complex of my two sons. Not a difficult child, but apprehensive and sometimes restless. He was a funny mix of tender emotion and anxiety, a will to please and obstinacy. Somehow I was always slightly worried about him and wondered whether he would eventually be at peace with himself. Alexander saw life as full of complications.     Constantin, on the other hand, was the steady and predictable one. He was even-tempered--almost never moody. At school he was exceptionally competent and at the top of his class; he did his homework without protest, was good at sports, and was popular with his schoolmates. Constantin had a calm, cheerful, robust disposition. This made him more independent and self-confident than Alexander.     But if Alexander and Constantin were so different, they were very compatible. One observed the world with solicitude, the other with serenity. One was already longing for peaceful country walks, the other looking forward to his return to London.     "Mummy, when are we coming back?"     Constantin had not packed a thing. Packing was boring, and besides, a holiday in the countryside did not hold the same fascination for him. It was just something that could not be bypassed, but soon he'd be back with his mummy and on holiday with her.     "Where are we going to go? To Valérie's, like last summer?"     "I am not saying. It's a surprise."     "Oh, Mummy!"     "If I tell you, it won't be a surprise."     I had arranged a trip to the theme park Alton Towers. The thought of their excited little faces as they discovered what the surprise was made me smile in anticipation. Little did I know that this was never to be. Little did I know that day--July 6, 1994--what a tragic turn our lives were about to take.     Had I had the slightest inkling of what was going to be inflicted on them, I would never have let them go. I would have protected them, protected their peace and, above all, their freedom. I never realized, never imagined ... and because I was so naive, their lives have become a monstrous charade.     How can I ever explain to them the injustice of the law, the injustice of life, when it is they who are paying the ultimate price? How can I ever make them understand that they have become the victims of a bitter intra-European dispute when it is so far removed from their reality--two small, vulnerable boys who have no idea about justice or politics? How can I ever make them realize that they have been used as two puppets, that they have been denied their own mother, in order to make a point?     All day and all night, I dwell on the images of my children, the boys they were and the dark shadows of the two little prisoners they have become. I can feel their warmth close to my body, remembering how we used to read our ritual bedtime stories snuggling together in my bed. How many nights have I heard Constantin's calls, which woke me with a start, cold perspiration dripping on my face. Sometimes he felt so close I could almost feel him touching me. At other times his voice was far away, lost in a fog. These calls were the most agonizing because they were calls of despair.     With Alexander, I could only ever sense his silence and his fear. I only saw him confused and angry, a black cloud around him. I know that it is Alexander who is suffering more. It is he who is carrying the weight of remorse and guilt on his tiny shoulders. But there is no guilt to carry. It is not of his doing. He is only a tool. Alexander is the older, the more emotionally vulnerable, and this is why he was the one who was most used. If only I could take him in my arms, take away the pain and the enormous burden. If only I could speak to him, comfort him....     "Mummy, let me carry the suitcase, it's too heavy for you."     How protective of me he was that day. Maybe in his young mind he is protecting me even now. Alexander was leaving. Constantin was just chugging along behind. He sat behind me in the car, his arms around my shoulders, his cheek against mine.     "When did you say we were coming back?" Constantin asked.     "In six weeks, Tini."     In the two and a half years we had been in London, they had made this trip many times, at Easter, at Christmas, and in the summer. Yet this time Constantin was set to endure it calmly, while Alexander was marching blindly on, driven inexorably by fate.     At the airport, the stewardess came to pick them up, attaching a British Airways folder around their necks containing their passports and plane tickets.     "Mummy, will you put the old one in my cupboard, please?" This was another of Alexander's collections. "The others are in the cupboard on the right."     Alexander always needed reference points and organization. This side of his character touched me. Tini, bolstered by his self-assurance, didn't need any extra organization around him. Life was already in crystalline order in his head.     Their departure to Germany was symbolic. I remember every detail, every word we said, every expression on their little faces. This was my last image of their freedom, the last time I could truly share my emotions with them, and they could share theirs with me, before an impenetrable wall would cruelly separate them from the world and from me, their mother.     Alexander was so grown-up that day, so solicitous in his responsibility as elder brother. He dutifully took Constantin by the hand and gave me their last instruction:     "And don't forget to buy the Legos."     This was another ritual of ours. A present would always be waiting for them on their return, and this morning they had each marked an "A" and a "C" next to the Legos they had chosen in the brightly colored catalog.     "Mummy, you won't be sad without us. We will be back soon, remember."     I felt tearful as Alexander hugged and kissed me good-bye, but I smiled.     "Of course I will be a bit sad, but as you say, it won't be long, and you will have fun in Verden and on the island of Juist."     Constantin was sad that day. He hardly spoke, but kissed me desperately instead. His arms were still tight around my neck when the stewardess interrupted us:     "Come on, time to leave."     Tini extricated himself from my arms. I stood up from kneeling on the floor, and he just walked away, led by Alexander, without turning back. Constantin never showed his intimate feelings, but I had never seen him so dispirited. It was precisely because he did not turn around that I realized how deeply upset he was. Now, looking back, I know he had a premonition, even before I did.     Alexander turned around, waving, blowing kisses at me, and calling, "Bye-bye, Mummy. Be good."     And there they were, two very small boys, each with his rucksack on his back, disappearing amid the crowd of adults into the transit area. They looked so vulnerable. Suddenly, I had an overwhelming desire to stop them, and I almost called out:     "Stop! Don't go. You can't go!"     Yet I told myself that it was irrational. In no time they would be back, and we would be off on our holiday together. Besides, their father would have been hysterical on the telephone:     "Are you mad? Why aren't the boys here? I need them as much as you do."     Was it a premonition? My younger son was experiencing the same, strange feeling. But, like Constantin, I could not show my emotions in public. Like him, I complied with the form, head high, ready to face reality. I said nothing but could not contain the tears in my eyes as I watched him walk away, proud and strong. Even from the back of his fragile little neck, I could tell that my Tini was biting his lip and sighing resolutely.     Alexander stopped at the last corner and blew a final kiss, then suddenly they both vanished, swallowed into the crowd of travelers.     This was my last image of them.     They were stepping into a trap their father had set. My little birds would be transformed into puppets on a string, controlled by their father's hands. They would be taught to fear their mother, to wipe all thoughts of her from their minds. Caught in this never-ending nightmare, I am no longer the woman I was: I have lost my sense of reserve and can no longer hide my feelings. I am in despair. Privacy no longer has any importance. I don't care who witnesses my emotions. All I care about is justice for my sons.     I am their mother. I am the one who gave birth to them, carried them inside my womb, feeling them grow inside my body as an intrinsic part of me. I could feel their kicks grow stronger by the day, already sensing their different identities. I fed them, cuddled them, calmed their fears.... Since the day I gave birth to them, my life has been devoted to them. How can I go on living when a part of me has been torn away?     But I will never abandon them. I will never be dragged into self-pity and resignation. I will stay strong and composed, otherwise I will never be able to release them.     My own mother wrote to them, "The years pass, and we pray that God will reunite us before we vanish from this earth. Hope is the last thing to die."     Hope has also become my only solace, my only resource. This is the story of a mother whose life relies on hope. A mother who cannot even talk to her sons, who has been wiped out of their existence. I do not know when they will be free again or when they will be able to read this book, but deep in their hearts they must know that I have not abandoned them, as I know they have not abandoned me. A mother cannot be rubbed out like a spelling mistake.     How deep and unquestioning a child's love is! No one can love so freely and so unreservedly, yet only a mother's love is boundless. This is what "they" are trying to eradicate. The only way this can happen is through systematic manipulation, because my children have always loved me, and because I am their mother.     "They" are a small-minded, bigoted, close-knit community in the heart of Europe, in a small provincial town in Lower Saxony in Germany. "They" are by no means typical of Germans in general, let me hasten to add. "They" would not have mattered at all had they not categorized me as a "foreign mother"--for them an unpardonable sin. Their xenophobia, which encouraged my husband to abduct my children when I had custody of them and then to refuse me all access, should alarm every citizen of the so-called civilized societies.     The story I have to tell is an outrageous one. Confronted by a wall of nationalism, corruption, and legal loopholes, I have used every avenue available to me: the media, embassies, European institutions. I have fought in England, France, Germany, and now even in the United States. So far, no politician, no senior official, no diplomat, no judge has been able to help me obtain the rights due to a mother. A German province and its courts have been allowed to victimize me as if the so-called new Europe did not exist.     I will not, cannot, remain silent before such a barbaric injustice. My only concession is not to name them, because above all I want this book to be published in Germany where my sons are living, a land that forms a part of the tapestry of Europe, a land that must review its system of justice in cases of child abduction.     We are citizens of a democratic society, and I want to see my children grow up in this free world. No one should be allowed to deny us the freedom to love and speak. No one should be allowed to separate a mother from her children in the name of a nationality.     I want everyone to hear my call. Alexander and Constantin are my sons. They were only nine and seven when they were abducted, and they are unaware of what has been done to them. Even their photographs of me have been destroyed, their mother tongue has been forgotten, and London has been erased from their minds. These are the lengths to which they have been manipulated, the extent of the wickedness perpetrated on them.     This book is like a bottle tossed into the sea. It will float away and, someday, reach my children. Only then will they finally know the true facts and understand how in spite of the justice and decency in which I naively believed, we are being kept forcibly apart. Only then will they realize how cruelly and unnecessarily we were separated and how this book is the only way I have left to communicate my undying love for them. Copyright © 1999 Catherine Meyer. All rights reserved.