HALF A YEAR, SIX MONTHS, 182 DAYS…

t has been six months since we got that knock on the door telling us the unbelievable news that we would never see Teagan again. She is gone. It has been 182 days since we read the media reports that our bright, beautiful, full-of-life, 8-year-old Teagan’s lifeless body was found in the trunk of a car.

How do you process that? I still don’t know the answer. I think it’s fair to say none of us know how to process this. Our hearts and minds are simply not capable of understanding some things.

It has been half a year since we went into shock and were swirled into a disorienting mess of talking to police investigators, grief councillors, and funeral directors. Time had no meaning in the days and weeks following December 10, 2014. In some ways, it still doesn’t.

We talk about striving towards our “new normal”. That is really our only goal for our family. We have to because our boys need that, we need that, and Teagan would want that. Within this journey, we have started Teagan’s Voice. We have shared our stories, we have opened up our family photo albums, and we have even shared the attacks we have endured. This has not been easy, at times it has not been comfortable. But, we have decided to do this because we know there are so many other kids just like Teagan who desperately need a voice. Teagan needed a voice.

We want everyone to know Teagan and to fully understand what the world has lost. We want everyone to understand how this happened. We want everyone to think differently about taking action in another child’s life when they have that gut feeling that something isn’t right, that the child might be in danger or maybe they are being abused or are in an unhealthy environment. We want a child’s right to a safe home to be a priority for our lawmakers, our courts, our child protection organizations, and our citizens. That really doesn’t seem like a lot to ask.

I’m not going to pretend that this is easy, that taking this action during a period of complicated and overwhelming grief is something that comes naturally. It doesn’t and frankly, it’s not always pretty. But, we do it because we know that it is the right thing to do. We do it because we know that we have mobilized a community of people who can and will make important changes to protect children. We are doing this because our family needs to do something bigger in Teagan’s name to ensure her legacy is so much more than being the 8-year-old who was murdered by the woman people call her mother. We want Teagan to be able to help other kids. That would make her so very proud.

This has been a difficult six months, which goes without saying. I’m not sure that the next six months will be any easier, nor am I sure about the six months after that. But, we have a community that supports us and a community that supports the mission of Teagan’s Voice. We are very grateful for this support, we are humbled by it, and we are motivated to keep going even through the difficult days and weeks we have had and inevitably will have as we continue to move forward.

Thank you for learning about our daughter, our family, and our struggle. Thank you for taking an interest. Thank you for taking action. Thank you for donating, for volunteering, for planning and hosting events in Teagan’s name. Thank you for caring about protecting children. Thank you

What’s in a Name?

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet.” -Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

What’s in a name? With Mother’s Day around the corner, this has been top of mind as I try to use conventional labels to describe who I was to Teagan and who she was to me. I have always talked about my three kids. In most conversations, I wouldn’t point out that Teagan was my stepdaughter, she was simply my daughter. We didn’t use the term stepbrother, stepmother, stepfather in our house. We were just brothers, sister, kids, mom, and dad. But, since Teagan’s death I have struggled as I feel that I have to describe her as my stepdaughter, given that she was murdered by her biological mother. It leaves me confused and angry.

What is a “Mother”? There is a simple definition: a woman in relation to a child or children to whom she has given birth. But, society has given this word a more complex meaning. A mother is a woman who is caring, selfless, loves unconditionally, and provides safety and security. A mother regularly sacrifices her own needs for those of her children. She teaches her children everything from the ABC’s and table manners to positive self-image and excellence. In doing this, she instills confidence, independence, motivation, and good in her children. So, perhaps giving birth to a child has less to do with being a mother than the simple definition would allow.

The word “Mother” has become a loaded and uncomfortable word for me. It seems that our society has idealized, romanticized, glorified and even prioritized the importance of the relationship between a mother and her children over that of a father. When I hear this word now, it seems self-righteous. It leaves us with the idea that a mother could never do harm, could never be evil, could never be selfish, could never abuse, neglect or even murder her child. In the weeks following Teagan’s murder, there was an article published in a small paper that described Teagan’s murderer, Lisa Batstone, as the “greatest mother in the world”. The same paper refused to print an alternative point of view. Why? Perhaps because it doesn’t fit the definition and when you see a made-for-Facebook smile on a woman with her arm around her child, there is simply no way that you could think that “mother” could do harm to anyone.

I also don’t identify with the term “Mother”. I have been mom, mommy, a single-mom, a step-mom, a working mom, a stay-at-home mom, and Stephnami. No, that’s not a spelling mistake – that is what Teagan called me. She had plenty of nicknames for me, “little-miss-fruits-and-vegetables” and “Steph-mommy” were a couple of my favourites. But, Teagan regularly called me Stephnami. It’s a long story as to how she came up with it (it’s a blend of Stephanie and tsunami). Teagan’s biological mother (Lisa) had tried to control my relationship with Teagan in a variety of ways including dictating what she would call me. Teagan wasn’t allowed to call me mom. She wasn’t allowed to call me her step-mom because Lisa had a negative association with that term. So, Lisa decided that Teagan would call me her “bonus-mom”. As was so often the case with Teagan, she chose to define her own relationships, in her own way, without upsetting or offending anyone. And so, I became Teagan’s Stephnami.

My role as Stephnami was the biggest responsibility of my life. It is the role that has taught me the most about who I am and who I want to be. Along the way, this made me a better person and a better mom. Being Stephnami meant that I had to be what, in my opinion, was the primary positive female role model in Teagan’s life. I didn’t believe her biological mother was capable of providing this for Teagan and that meant I had a huge responsibility to instill the values that Teagan’s dad and I believe are most important for girls. I wanted Teagan to understand that a woman can gain much success and personal satisfaction from both her career and her family without sacrificing either. I wanted her to understand that taking care of her health and wellness should be one of the biggest priorities in her life. I wanted Teagan to understand that beauty is nothing without intelligence and depth of character. I wanted Teagan to love learning and to be curious about the world around her. Most of all, I wanted Teagan to know how much I loved her, her brothers and her Daddy.

As I look back, Teagan gave me many signals that she was watching closely. She would specifically call me to tell me that she had scored 100% on this week’s spelling test or that she had tried a new vegetable and actually liked it! She visited my office and told us that it was the highlight of her trip (I can’t imagine visiting a government office in Ottawa could be that exciting). She met some of my colleagues, many of whom are strong, beautiful women with careers and children of their own. She took it all in. My mom often visited when Teagan was with us. On one of her visits, she had the kids create a scrapbook of their family. They went through magazines and cut out pictures that they thought represented all the people in their family. Teagan found two women running while pushing baby strollers – this was her Stephnami and Auntie Ali. She found a picture of a mom and daughter playing on a beach – this was her and Stephnami. She found her Stephnami in a picture of a businesswoman and another in a rather glamorous shot of a woman in a very beautiful flowing dress posing on a chaise lounge (this was the depiction that got the most chuckles from everyone who knows me). She thought of me how I wanted her to think of herself.

In the process of becoming Teagan’s Stephnami, I learned so much. I learned that every child requires very different parenting priorities. I learned to parent with more understanding and compassion. I learned to listen with my ears, but also with my heart. I learned that my own perspective within each and every situation had to be broadened. I learned, more than ever, that every time your child enters a room, they need to see that love and excitement in your eyes. Teagan taught me to be a better mom.

On this Mother’s Day, the first since the passing of our Teagan, I will find comfort in the loving arms of my own Mom. I will hug my boys tighter and make sure they know how much they are loved and how appreciated and loved I feel. That’s what Teagan would have wanted for her Stephnami. And, then, I will visit my daughter’s grave. I will cry and connect and she will be with me guiding me through, as she always tends to be.

So, am I Teagan Batstone’s “Mother”? Not by definition. I didn’t give birth to her, but I am the one who had to lay her to rest. I am Teagan’s Stephnami. By any other name would smell as sweet

My Last Day with Teagan

You just never actually know when the last time you will be with someone might be. In this case, I never could have guessed that my last time I would ever see my beautiful daughter Teagan would be the morning of December 8th, 2014. As it turns out it was one of the most ordinary days that Teagan and I ever had in Vancouver. When I look back on it now I would not change a single moment, as it was really just perfect.

As background, our family happily went to great lengths to ensure Teagan understood and more importantly felt like she was part of our family. Both she and her brothers knew that there were no favourites and that everybody was equal in our household. Our youngest Jack would likely disagree but we all love him for that. As for Teagie-Bear, we did a variety of things to close the distance from Ottawa to Vancouver…

Every week we would have a family webcam. Technology allowed us to stay close all year and in some cases the webcam would last 2-3 hours.
Every month I would spend a weekend in Vancouver with Teagan. We loved staying at the Hyatt downtown and our standard itinerary included swimming, Granville Island, Science Centre and of course White Spot.
Every quarter Teagan would spend 2-3 weeks in our Ottawa home where she had a fully stocked bedroom – the largest bedroom of the kids as her older brother reminded us often.
Every year we would all travel to Vancouver to spend a week on Teagan’s home turf. That way she could show her brothers her favourite spots, her school and meet her friends etc.

Then we opportunistically took advantage of chances to be together like visiting Saskatchewan last fall for harvest, having a quick phone call or, relevant to this story, a quick one night visit when I happened to be in Vancouver on business. I had just spent a weekend with Teagan in late November in Vancouver but had to be back in town on business shortly afterward. The week prior I had been in Orlando for a trade show so by the time I landed on December 7th I was feeling pretty bagged but anytime I got to see Teagan adrenal kicked in. Because this was going to be a short visit and Teagan had her first appointment to get braces the next day we stayed out in Surrey close to her dentist, as opposed to the Hyatt where we spent 90% of our visits. I was supposed to get her at 11am but, as was fairly common, Teagan’s biological Mother booked something during my time so they did not arrive until about 2pm.

Nevertheless, I was just excited to see Teagan and with her Christmas visit only a few weeks away I really did not care. I was checked in and waiting in the lobby when they arrived in the car Teagan would be found dead in only 72 hours later. I met them in the parking lot and Teagan showed me some pictures on Lisa’s phone. I loved the big hug and kiss I got each time Teagan greeted me. As we walked into the Sheraton Teagan noticed my shoes (which I had just bought in Florida) and said, “Daddy I really like those new shoes – they work for our visit but I bet you could wear them to work too!”. Such a typical Teagan thing – always making you feel better about yourself.

Once we got to our room I asked Teagan what she wanted to do and, of no shock to anyone who knows her, she said go swimming. We decided to do a quick webcam to say Hi to everyone in Ottawa so we did that for 15 minutes. What I really wanted to do was take her to the mall nearby and get a read on what she really wanted for Christmas, so I told her we should go the Mall first for a snack. She agreed and off we went hand in hand for the short 2-block walk. I loved the simple conversations we would have about her friends, school and what was going on with her brothers – she asked me to tell her Jack stories over and over again. Once in the mall, we hit the food court to stick with my script and she had Orange Julius and a hot dog. Of course, ketchup ended up everywhere and she spent time explaining to me why the original Orange Julius was much better than the strawberry and how maybe next time we should go to A&W for the root beer.

With that out of the way, I guided her to a few kids stores but once inside she spent all her time explaining and showing me the things we should get for her brothers. I did manage to pry a few ideas out in the Lego store but for the most part, I learned less than I had hoped. So then I figured I would just take her to ‘Justice’, which was one of her favourite clothing stores. What could go wrong? Here she spent all her time explaining the clothes we should like to buy for Stephanie. Teagan was just so empathetic it literally seeped out of her pores. Chuckling to myself I said let’s go to Purdy’s to get you a little treat for later. Even then while in Purdy’s we ended up buying her eventual killer a Christmas present (chocolate snowman & card).

With our shopping complete we headed back to the Sheraton for the moment Teagan had been waiting for for…the POOL! We got ourselves dressed, which as usual ended up with Teagan half dressed in a mangled attempt to put on her suit asking me to “Just fix it Daddy”. We headed down in the elevator and then to the outdoor heated pool. When we arrived the pool cover was on and I could literally see disappointment flood my baby girl’s body. Relief was quick as I showed her how to remove the cover and my Daddy-fixes-stuff status was having a very good day. It was strange in that she usually was very active in the pool and we would do play-acting of many dramatic moments. In recent months it was shark training with her as the teacher and me as the bad shark student. However, this time she mostly just floated around the pool with her arms around my neck talking about all the things she wanted to do with Stewart and Jack when she got to Ottawa.

We headed back to the room and were actually stopped by a hotel staff member who said she reminded her of her own daughter and told me how happy Teagan looked. And she did as she was skipping down the hallway when she stopped us. The next big decision was dinner and we decided on room service – we both ordered kids meals with Teagan getting the usual ‘mac & cheese’ and a grilled cheese for me. It was so fun as we both just ate parts of each meal while we watched some kids TV. We finished the night by crawling into bed and reading her National Geographic Kids magazine on my IPAD.

As usual, I woke up with Teagan wrapped around me in the morning, which was just the best way for a Dad to wake up – in the loving arms of his daughter with the sound of her breathing gently filling the air in the room. After getting ready for work there was the usual gong show of me trying to do her hair after her bath. It was more important on this morning as Teagan had her Christmas concert rehearsal that day. I managed an OK job and Teagan reminded me (as she always did) that Stephanie did a much better job. She looked gorgeous and I so badly wish I had taken a photo that morning. In fact, I have no pictures of Teagan that weekend…. because I had just seen her and would again in two weeks I guess it just was not on my mind. About my only regret of that night.

We then had a quick breakfast at the McDonald’s beside the hotel, which was always the Hotcakes plus her eating a good portion of my bagel. At the dentist, Teags was getting her spacers put in which is a very short process but any trip to a dentist is scary for a kid. I distinctly remember feeling so proud of her and simply loving holding her hand as they went in. Every time she squeezed my hand I felt so fulfilled as a father.

With that complete, it was off to the grocery store to pick up lunch and snacks for school. We picked up the usual and as was always the case I started to miss her the as we left the store…. which Teags referred to as me getting “huggy”. Then it was the short drive to school where I had to sign her in at the office before walking her to the classroom door. I remember giving her a quick kiss on the head and watching her walk into the classroom. She looked back, gave me one last little smirk and gave me the little motions with her arm of getting going…I never saw her again.

 

Perspective

My guess is that normally when you see a blog post by the CEO of a 3D augmented reality company titled ‘Perspective’ you expect content like this (thank you Wikipedia)…

Perspective (from Latin: perspicere to see through) in the graphic arts is an approximate representation, on a flat surface (such as paper), of an image as it is seen by the eye. The two most characteristic features of perspective are that objects are smaller as their distance from the observer increases; and that they are foreshortened, meaning that an object’s dimensions along the line of sight are shorter than its dimensions across the line of sight.

But in my life perspective has taken on a far different meaning since December 10, 2014. A day that I now refer to as my own 9\11 – the day everything changed for our family. Simultaneously my perspective was forever altered and my heart crushed. As a parent, outliving your children is one of your greatest fears…not seeing your child finish grade 3 is beyond words. Having your child found dead in the trunk of a car – debilitating.

Over the course of my life perspective has had different meanings. As a young athlete, it involved learning the meaning of “role players” and suffering the harsh reality of being very good yet still not good enough. In college, it meant understanding that I had to make decisions about what I did with my time not simply do what I wanted. It was about whether I should focus on what I was already good at or focus on becoming good at something that looked to have more long-term value.

In the early stages of career, it was accepting that you have to earn your way up the ranks regardless of your potential. I remember being somewhat horrified when it became clear that rising to the top did not involve fairness nor was it a linear progression. How did that guy get to be a VP? Why did everyone at the top go to the same school? Why don’t they consider this factor in decisions? As the CEO of NGRAIN people no doubt ask some of those questions about me! I don’t resent that and in fact love talking to our young team members to help share the contrast of my perspective then versus now.

Over the last few years, the perspective I was really trying to groom in my personal development was understanding the balance between great technical innovations and business operations. No technology or strategy is valuable or likely to be successful without dogged persistence, value propositions, good marketing, distribution and all that other MBA stuff. That seemed to really matter in November and now it seems so insignificant! Or does it?

On December 10, 2014, my beautiful, innocent and loving 8-year-old daughter was murdered by her biological mother. So what do you do in this situation? What does work mean? What does perspective really mean? For every person, it would be different but I think there are two specific themes that I hope my colleagues can take away from this terrible event…

  1. Career and Family are not mutually exclusive – my relationship with Teagan was enhanced by my career as she loved my work ethic and being a part of NGRAIN. I was not sure that would be the case when she was born but it certainly became true. That has emboldened me to make sure her brothers are also closely attached to the work I do, who I do it with and most importantly why I do it.
  2. Every Day Matters – we all have good days and bad days, hard days and easy days but in the end everyday matters and creates memories. Each day is called the ‘present’ because that exactly what it is – a gift you wake up to each morning. Do not waste it because who you are able to share it with changes over time and is often beyond your control.

My hope with this post is that some of you can share in my experience without having to suffer such an unimaginable loss in the process. That is Teagan Batstone’s gift to you.