My mother’s triumph – exhumation & burial of Prince Paul of Yugoslavia

“The arc of the moral universe bends slowly towards justice” – Martin Luther King Jr.

This beautiful quote epitomizes my grandfather, Prince Paul of Yugoslavia’s life. He has finally been vindicated, 35 years since his death, thanks to my mother’s 25-year struggle to clear his name.

This October, the Serbian government agreed to honor him as head of state, by giving him an official burial. His body had to be brought back from Switzerland, accompanied by his wife, Princess Olga and their son, Prince Nicholas.

The new president’s advisor, Oliver Antic, happened to be the lawyer who headed Mom’s legal team during the rehabilitation process last December. It was Oliver’s speech that that convinced the judges to overturn a 70-year verdict that falsely branded my grandfather a war criminal, traitor & Nazi sympathizer.

Now he was being brought home a hero.

On September 26th, I flew to Lausanne, Switzerland, with my mother, to witness the exhumation of our predecessors.

It was a mystery to me as to why they were all buried in Lausanne, as Nicky had died in a car accident in England in 1954, and my grandparents had both died in Paris – Paul in 1976 & Olga in 1997.

In a way, it was ironic that they had ended up in Switzerland, as Paul’s vision as leader of his country was to establish a neutral Yugoslavia during WW2  – the Switzerland of Eastern Europe.  Tragically, this plan was thwarted at the final hour and in 1941, he and his family were sent into exile at gunpoint, never to return to Yugoslavia. My mother was 4 at the time.

As we drove towards Lausanne, three magnificent, vibrant rainbows chased us down the highway – I saw it as a heavenly welcome from the three souls who we were coming to greet.

Upon our arrival, the Prefect of Police asked Mom if she thought we needed security. Apparently word had gotten out about the exhumation and there was concern that there could be some volatile anti-Serb factions who might protest, or worse, cause us bodily harm. Geez!

Mr. Poletti, the head of the funeral home, gave us brochures of his cemetery. This was no ordinary resting place, it was star-studded with the rich and famous – notables such as Coco Chanel, and the inventor of the bikini were buried there! Mom had a pang of regret. “What if they didn’t want to be moved from this beautiful place?!” I had to agree with her, it was the most pictoresque cemetery I had ever seen.

There was quite a large crowd, with a lot press in attendance – thankfully no terrorists! – who had gathered to witness this unusual, if not slightly macabre  event. I was feeling fine until I saw the open gravesite where they had dug up the coffins. Ugh! They had left them in the ground, all lined up. It was the creepiest image – so Halloween! I could have been on the set of a vampire movie!

The outer wooden coffins had disintegrated, leaving the dilapidated lead coffins with giant golden crosses on them. One coffin was intact, the 2 others showed more signs of wear and tear.

A crane lifted the caskets one at a time, out of the muddy grave. My grandfather’s coffin almost flew into a bush as the crane lurched violently. We all gasped. I wondered if this was his way of signaling that he was ready to leave!

We were asked if we wanted to view the remains in the caskets, as they had to be transferred into new coffins in order to travel across Europe. My mother did not. On the other hand, both my brother and I were curious.

After all, how often does one get the chance to see ones dead grandparents and to meet an uncle who died before I was ever born?

We went into the mortuary to watch them open the caskets. I was immediately struck by the pungent odor – it was almost unbearable. We saw my uncle Nicky first. We were all in shock. My mother – who did come to see in the end – almost fainted. She hadn’t seen her brother since she was 16. His body had been perfectly preserved. It looked like an Egyptian mummy. Hands crossed, fingers looked eerily alive. Visible were dark strands of hair across his forehead and his black wool jacket, almost intact. I put my scarf over my nose, trying not to inhale.

I had anticipated an innocuous pile of bones. Not entire bodies. My grandfather was completely decomposed down to the skeleton. I could see his spine, he was all black and his skull and spinal column were exposed. My grandmother, on the other hand, was quite well preserved. Not as well as Nicky, but I could clearly see the pattern on the fabric of the dress she was buried in – blue leaves on a white background.

I was curious as to why my uncle was so intact, considering he had died so long ago. What I learned was that burial techniques had changed over the years. They use to seal the bodies completely in lead, creating a vacuum – which prevented them from decomposing. Now, they opt for faster decay by leaving openings for air to get in. I guess overpopulation didn’t use to be an issue!

There were several dignitaries in attendance, including government officials who had flown in from Belgrade. The Serbian Ambassador to Switzerland, Mr. Protic,  told me that he had met Mom when she first came to Belgrade in 1988 – when it was still Communist Yugoslavia. She was trying to get a book published telling the truth about her father, and it was very difficult – actually it was illegal in those days. No one would touch it. Eventually, in 1989, she found one publisher who was brave enough to translate the manuscript. The Ambassador not only wrote the forward, but travelled with her through Yugoslavia promoting the book.

On October 4th, back in Belgrade, Mom and I were driven to the Serbian/Croatian frontier by a police escort to meet the bodies. We draped Paul’s casket with the Serbian flag, put wreaths on the coffins and kissed them, according to Orthodox tradition.

Oliver Antic told me that, coincidentally, he was related to Milan Antic – who had been my grandfather’s most loyal supporter and minister. Milan had spent 16 years in jail after he refused to denounce Paul. In his words, “Life is not worth living if you have to sacrifice your personal dignity.” His daughter Olga, was one of the guests at the burial.  She confided how hard it had been visiting her father in jail during her entire childhood. Sadly, he died shortly after he was released.

I thought of how history had come full circle, and how connected many of the players were. Oliver said that Milan Antic appointed his grandfather – another Antic – as Chief of security for King Alexander I – Unfortunately, he no longer held that position in 1934, when the King was brutally assassinated. As a result of that fateful event, Paul, my grandfather, became the Regent.

Oliver said, “I feel like my own cousin is coming home.”

We followed the convoy into Belgrade, to the church of the Archangel Michael. The police had closed all the streets for our arrival. The Patriarch was waiting for us at the entrance of the church, as well as the President, the Prime Minister, many Ambassadors from around the world and many family members.

I was wearing a little diamond and pearl cross necklace that my grandmother had given me many years ago. I imagined that she had most likely worn the cross in this exact location.

The Presidents’ guards brought the caskets and lay them on the same rug that my grandparents had stood on during their wedding ceremony, on October 22, 1923, almost 100 years ago, in this same church.

The bodies remained in the church until the following evening, with a constant stream of people coming to pay their respects.

Every time I looked over at the coffins, I was overcome by emotion. Presidential guards lined up in either side of Paul’s coffin, with guards in Serbian national costume flanking the other 2 coffins. The priests performed a final liturgy to send them off to their final resting place. It was a beautiful ceremony.

Oliver stood behind me with tears in his eyes, “At last, Paul is happy.”

In the evening, the bodies were moved, again by police escort, to a town outside of Belgrade called Oplenatz – to the Karageorgevic family crypt.

We walked outside the church, and were swarmed by the crowd. A priest grabbed my arm, “I was the one who placed Paul’s body in the sarcophagus at the time of his death in Paris.”

It seemed like everyone who had been connected to him in any way, had come to pay their respects.

The following day, on October 6th, we drove by bus to Oplenatz, for the burial.

The choir was exquisite, truly celestial. And Bishop Irene’s sermon was deeply moving. “”For only one who has experienced beauty in tragedy…only he maintains true nobility with which to enact the deeds of a true knight of faith.”

The President arrived towards the end of the ceremony and made a speech. It was miraculous to think that my grandfather, a man who had been condemned and vilified, was now being heralded as a hero and visionary. My mother translated some of the Presidents’ words, “Paul had been maligned by the Communists long enough, it was now time to change the history books in schools.” Afterwards, I complimented him. “That was wonderful.” He gave me a smirk, “But you didn’t understand anything I said!” True, his speech was in Serbian, but it wasn’t complete BS. I knew he was honoring my grandparents, and, most importantly, re-writing history for the country.

We then followed the coffins into the underground crypt where the bodies were going to be buried. They were placed opposite Paul’s father, Prince Arsen.

We barely had enough time to get back to Belgrade to freshen up before we had to turn around and drive up to the White Palace for a reception in Paul’s honor. About 100 friends and family had flown in from around the world to attend the events. My mother escorted all her friends up into her mother’s bedroom, the room where she was born. This was the palace that her father had built. Her first home. The last place she and her parents had been before they were sent into exile.

Today, the palace had been transformed into a place of celebration, instead of a symbol for the great injustice that had befallen my family. Closure at last. Our family legacy restored. I thank you, Mom, with all my heart.

My father who art in heaven, pt 2

About 20 years ago, I had a sort of vision, that at my father’s deathbed, our whole relationship would make sense and that he would reveal himself at a soul level. Even though I had dismissed this as wishful thinking at the time, I could see how that was now happening.

Dad had been on the verge of being expelled from his nursing home for his shenanigans, and then, in a strange twist of fate, his physical health took a turn for the worse. His heart almost expired and my younger sister and I, who were co-guardians, had to opt to install a pacemaker. After that, he began making frequent trips to the hospital. He became combative – again – refusing to take his meds, and lost a dramatic amount of weight. The facility decided that he was too frail to be discharged. Instead, we prepared to call in hospice care.

My eldest daughter, India, made our reservations, and without realizing it, ironically chose Father’s Day for us to fly to see him in Palm Beach. She had been the only one of my children who hadn’t seen him in his latest incarnation as ‘cute, fuzzy Grandpa’.

Although Dad was born Jewish, he had told me that he had never practiced Judaism, or any other religion, for that matter, that he considered all religions hocus pocus.  Dad used to say, “I believe in the God of Love!” – but I had a sneaky suspicion that there was more to the story of his faith then met the eye.

The Chaplain from hospice called me to discuss the denomination of Dad’s last rites. I wasn’t sure what we should do. Following a hunch, I asked him to say the ‘Shema’ to Dad – which is the most traditional Hebrew prayer – just to see Dad’s reaction. Sure enough, the Chaplain said that Dad knew the prayer and had said it with him. After 90 years, he still knew it perfectly! After hearing that, I made an executive decision to give him a Jewish send off. But when I tried to say to Shema with him over the phone, he still pretended he didn’t know what I was saying. He was maddening!

India and I showed up to the nursing home early Monday morning. Dad’s paranoia was back, full force. The nurse warned me that he had been afraid that I was coming to kill him. As soon as I walked in room, he whispered conspiratorially to me, that his aide was the one trying to kill him.

soothed him, “Dad, your aide, Lowell (actually Lowell was the aide who had been fired, after Dad had managed to slip by him and had been willingly abducted – twice – from the nursing home by greedy kidnappers – but Dad called all the subsequent aides Lowell) is actually an undercover policeman that I hired to protect you!” That seemed to calm him for a moment.

My heart sank, I had told India that she would get to see the “new Dad”, but he was gone. Managing my father’s mood swings was exhausting and took Herculean patience. I sat with him, quietly, resorting to my meditation skills, and waited, hoping for his ranting to subside.

Suddenly, he grabbed my arm, “I know what’s happening to me – I know that I’m dying and I’m afraid! Please hold me in your arms, don’t leave me a for a minute – promise me!”

I was stunned, “Of course, I promise!” Oh, my god, he knows he’s dying. In spite of the dementia, somehow he knew.

For the remainder of the day, he repeated this pattern, showering my daughter and me with love, between bouts of paranoia. It was as if he was making up for lost time, trying to heal as much as possible with us before he slipped into oblivion. He kept telling us how beautiful we were and special. “No two people have touched my heart like both of you!” He told us to treasure every day, and reminded us how blessed we were. “You don’t know how lucky you both are.” Over and over again. And we shed a lifetime of tears together.

My father was terrified of dying. I stroked his head; trying to soothe him, “Don’t be afraid, you are going to experience more love than you could ever imagine. His response – classic Dad, “It’s easy for you to say! You’re not the one who is dying!” He had a point.

On Tuesday morning, when we returned to his room, he was lying still in his bed. His face looked eerily translucent and radiated light. He looked decades younger. The room felt thick with spirit. It was almost intoxicating. Dad never spoke again, he was only able to shake or nod his head. Sporadically, he would reach with his hand and try to call out towards someone or something that I could not see. I chose to believe that he was seeing angels and dead loved ones who had come to accompany him on his journey back home.

I scrambled to call family members to let them know he was on his way out. I dialed my mother on Skype, (Mom was wife #2) holding the computer up, close to his face, so that they could say goodbye to each other. She told him that she had a dream recently, where he had come to her as a beautiful, radiant 16-year old boy. She had seen his true beauty; she had seen his radiant soul. He smiled.

The following day, I brought him a picture of his mother, and I asked him if he was ready to forgive her. He shook his head.

“Dad, honestly, not even on your deathbed?”

I wondered what that woman had done to him. He had always told us that he hated her, but had never said why. He was SO secretive!

I felt so sad for him. “Dad, whatever she did to you must have been terrible. I am so sorry.” Not wanting to make the same mistake, I asked him for his forgiveness, and I, in turn, forgave him.

I asked him to be my bridge to heaven, my connection to the other side. “We could work together as a team!”

I sang the Shema to him in Hebrew – I am a terrible singer, but somehow, it didn’t sound so bad. I had been inspired to study Judaism and Kabala for the past 2 years – now I understood why – it was probably to help my father transition.

I called in a Cantor to sing the traditional prayers and then I asked her to sing him some Jewish wedding songs. Dad seemed to come back to life and looked like he was trying to sing along. She told me that it was rather unconventional to sing wedding songs during someone’s penultimate hours, but I insisted – That would have been Dad’s sense of humor – he wouldn’t have wanted a gloomy send off! Besides, his imminent transition was a marriage of sorts – that of his soul reuniting with its Source.

Truthfully, Dad was married practically his entire life, until the last couple of years, when he had discovered that his 5th wife, 51 years his junior, had a terrible gambling habit, so he divorced her!

Finally, on Friday night, at 10:15pm, Dad left his body. The last time I saw him alive, I leant over instinctively, and whispered the Shema twice in his left ear – I don’t know what made me do that, but, later, I found out that this is exactly what you are supposed to do, right before someone of the Jewish faith dies.

My one regret is that I wasn’t in the room with him when he took his last breath. When I saw his lifeless body, I felt a surge of grief sweep through me that I thought would split me in half. It felt like a part of me was gone.

I held vigil until they came to take his body away, with my hand on his left arm, feeling the warmth slowly leave his body.

I wondered what his journey here on earth might have been about, what his deeper purpose might have been? Maybe he had come to earth to collect and contain as much darkness as humanly possible – or maybe more – which is why he went so crazy – so as to take it with him to be transmuted and redeemed back into the light of Source.

Maybe he was willing to sacrifice all his relationships in order to provide this service to humanity – like a giant dredger. (Only 1 other of his 5 children showed up to say goodbye).

Slowly, the memory of my father as a tyrant dissolved. I could barely even remember his challenging personality.

In this new light, I was able to honor his heroic struggle.

On Monday morning, I went out to sea with members of my family.

I held his ashes in my lap. They were still warm. I was surprised at how heavy they were.

Dad’s last wishes were to be cremated and for his ashes to be scattered into the ocean. Apparently, it was the ocean in South Hampton he wanted, not Palm Beach, oops! – I just hope the current took him up there.

As I lead the others in The Lord’s Prayer, the words took on a whole new meaning and felt so intimate, “Our Father, Who Art in Heaven…” I could feel him. He had kept his promise. He was my anchor to the other side. He was my bridge to heaven.

I felt, and still feel, a visceral connection to his soul. It felt as strong and tangible as an umbilical cord extending from my solar plexus up towards heaven.

As the boat turned back to shore, India noticed that Dad’s ashes formed a huge turquoise circle, literally 12 feet in diameter, in the dark water. Fish started jumping everywhere.  It looked like a giant heavenly portal.

After Dad died, I received an email from my older half-sister. She recalled Dad reuniting with the family in Brooklyn each year, to celebrate the High Holy Days. So, he had practiced Judaism after all for the 1st 40 years of his life! But why had he renounced it all? I discovered the answer when I was cleaning his house. I found a folder with old newspaper clippings and read an incendiary article about his divorce with his 1st wife. It had been a traumatic time in Dad’s life, and he had lost custody of his children. Then I understood what might have happened. I could hear his voice, “Any God that would allow my children to be taken from me, is no God of mine.” And he closed a chapter of his life. Then he married my mother, who was European royalty, and created a brand new persona.

Finally, after wrestling with a lifetime of demons, my father is finally at peace. And I feel so blessed. I feel a depth of connection to his soul that is profound and meaningful. Somehow, I have been able to nurture the brief encounter with my ‘real’ father. I have held the loving healthy aspect of him in my heart, and allowed it to permeate the entire memory of our lifetime together.

I have a loving father, and he is in heaven.

my father who art in heaven – part 1

My father, Howard Oxenberg, passed away 2 years ago, on June 25, 2010, a month short of his 91st b’day.  This is a chronicle of the last 6 months of his life. He was one of the most challenging people that I have ever met. He was a great teacher, in retrospect, but his methods were definitely adversarial, not warm and fuzzy. I resented him for making it so hard to love him. My whole life, I longed for closeness with him, I longed for the key to open his heart. I felt a deep sadness that this seemed unlikely. After all, he was the first one to tell me that you couldn’t teach an old dog new tricks. To make matters worse, he now suffered from dementia and severe paranoia, so the idea that I would be able to connect with him in any meaningful way, seemed absolutely hopeless.

Dad had always been an enigma to me – and if you asked his 5 children to describe him – even the ones who he insisted weren’t his (even though they were!) – each would have painted a completely different picture. The information he told each of his children never matched, and it was always interesting to compare data – if we ever got the chance – because often that information was so inflammatory that it had a tendency to polarize all of us against each other. Dad could be Machiavellian!

In January 2010, I started to split my time between California and Florida. My father’s condition was deteriorating and my younger sister Ashley was at a loss. She asked for my help. I had him admitted to a hospital after he had a dangerous seizure. I discovered that he was being treated by different doctors for various conditions and none of the physicians had any idea what the other ones were prescribing – so as a result, he was taking a dangerous cocktail of medicines. Viagra being at the top of the list. Dad! Honestly! I had to give the urologist a serious scolding for even contemplating giving him any more! This was Dad’s personality, he was very secretive and didn’t like the left hand knowing what the right hand was doing.

While he was under observation of the hospital, I got a call from a very concerned physician who felt that my father was suffering from severe grandiosity. “Apparently, your father believes that he was married to a princess?”

“Well, actually, that is accurate.”

“And that he knew the Queen of England and most of the members of the European Royal families?”

“Hmm, actually, he is telling the truth about that as well.”

“And that one of his children is a Kennedy?”

“Hmm, well there was a rumor about that.” I decided not to elaborate. (I’ll save that story for when my mother gives me the green light!) The doctor probably thought that our entire family was suffering from delusions of grandeur!

The following day, Dad had a severe outburst and became violent. He was admitted to a mental institution.

The upside of being sent to “a cuckoo’s nest” – as Dad called it- was that he was finally diagnosed, at 90 years old, with bi-polar disorder. I had my suspicions for over a decade that his volatility might be more than mere eccentricity –  it was bittersweet to have confirmation. I could only imagine how much he must have suffered his whole life with an undiagnosed mental illness.

The symptoms of bi-polar symptoms and dementia can be very similar. The doctors prescribed medication for him – finally the right ones – and the experience reminded me of that film Awakenings. This was the first time that I could truthfully say that I was grateful for pharmaceuticals, because whatever they put him on, it allowed my father’s authentic personality to emerge. After a lifetime of struggle and confusion, I finally had the father I had always dreamed of. This new dad, who I like to remember as my real Dad, might have been the sweetest man I have ever met in my life. He was kind and patient and loving, and he communicated with a level of self-awareness I never thought possible. The belligerent, repetitive rants had been replaced with introspective conversations about his newly identified alter ego, whom he aptly named, “Mr. Bi-polar.”

I went to visit him in the lockdown unit, and found him dressed in a neon-orange polar fleece jacket with lime green pants. This was Lily Pulitzer on steroids! Had Dad gone color-blind now that he could see beneath the surface?! The color combination was startling – most especially because he had always prided himself on his style, and for appearing on various best-dressed lists!

After slurping down some revolting synthetic hospital concoctions, he brought me over to a very elderly lady who lay in a gurney, “I’d like you to meet one of the most beautiful people I have ever met. This is real beauty – from the inside!” The lady smiled a toothless grin. I stifled tears. If you knew my father, you would know that this was a miracle. My father hated everything about old age and most of all the way old people looked. He would never even consider dating a woman half his age. In fact, he had only married women who were 26 years old (5 times- the last wife was 51 years his junior!) – regardless of how old he was – I was stunned. He now had the ability to recognize inner beauty – he could SEE – truly see. This ability was something that had eluded him his entire life. He continued, excited, “You’re not going to believe it! We went to the same high school in Brooklyn! What are the chances? A billion to one!” I had to admit, it was an extraordinary coincidence, for them to reunite in a nut house in Florida!

From the onset of the dementia, my father’s daily mantra had been, “Get me out of here! I want to go home!” – regardless of where he was, he was plagued by a perpetual restlessness. The truth was, that his desire to constantly flee was a metaphor for his inner condition. He wasn’t at home either in his mind or his failing body, and he could no longer find access to the person that had been his ‘home’, his safe haven – his whole life. He had become a stranger to himself.

But it wasn’t so simple to get him out of the mental hospital. Now, that he was a ward of the state, the hospital had the right to keep him locked up until they deemed he was well enough to be released. Of course, Dad wanted to go home. But Dad had evicted all the nurses we had hired for him and his home was not habitable. The house was infested with rats and mold. In fact, I had discovered a rats’ nest inside the couch in his living room. (I shudder thinking about that couch!) That was the couch that my family and I spent hours sitting on, over several decades, a captive audience for Dad’s endless rants that we dared not interrupt.

Apparently, Dad knew about the rats, because when I confronted him with this news, he told me that did not want to have the rats removed – he said they were his friends!

Those rodents had been surviving on a rich diet of pistachio nuts, which Dad always left in a bowl on the coffee table – didn’t he ever wonder who kept emptying bowl after bowl of nuts? I found thousands of shells inside the rotten upholstery of his furniture!

The institution would only discharge him was if he was admitted to a facility with fulltime care. This could prove to be a problem, because most nursing homes wanted well-behaved inmates, not ones with mental illnesses with Dad’s oppositional history. After a nail-biting interview, Dad charmed his way into the only 5-star nursing home in Palm Beach!

When we drove up to the Inn at La Posada, Dad exclaimed, “This place is a masterpiece!” We marveled and pointed out that the street was in fact called, Masterpiece Way! For the first few days, he was a model patient. He was so grateful to be out the nuthouse!

Unfortunately, this good behavior did not last. The problem was that Dad soon forgot that he had ever been locked up in a mental home! He soon became belligerent again and refused to take the medication that had allowed him a semblance of short-lived normalcy. He was back to his old ways.

The nursing home admitted him on one condition – that we hire a fulltime aide/bodyguard to watch him 24/7. Even so, he managed to trick his aide, in 2 daring Bonnie and Clyde getaways – which cost the bewildered aide his job. I got frantic calls from the facility – he had been kidnapped. The police had to be dispatched. Dad had gone through his address book and called random people to help him escape. He said he was being held against his will and had bribed them with the lure of a $1million reward to rescue him. We pleaded with the facility to let him stay but they warned us that he needed to be locked back up in an institution. He was too big of a risk.

It was hard to explain to my concerned children that people kept stealing Grandpa Howard!

(to be continued)

The institution would only discharge him was if he was admitted to a facility with fulltime care. This could prove to be a problem, because most nursing homes wanted well-behaved inmates, not ones with mental illnesses with Dad’s oppositional history. After a nail-biting interview, Dad charmed the only 5-star nursing home in Palm Beach!

When we drove up to the Inn at La Posada, Dad exclaimed, “This place is a masterpiece!” We marveled and pointed out that the street was in fact called, Masterpiece Way! For the first few days, he was a model patient. He was so grateful to be out the nuthouse! Unfortunately, this good behavior did not last. The problem was that Dad soon forgot that he had ever been locked up in a mental home! He soon became belligerent again and refused to take the medication that had allowed him a semblance of short-lived normalcy. He was back to his old ways.

The nursing home admitted him on one condition – that we hire a fulltime aide/bodyguard to watch him 24/7. Even so, he managed to trick his aide, in 2 daring Bonnie and Clyde getaways – which cost the bewildered aide his job. I got frantic calls from the facility – he had been kidnapped. The police had to be dispatched. Dad had gone through his address book and called random people to help him escape. He said he was being held against his will and had bribed them with the lure of a $1million reward to rescue him. We pleaded with the facility to let him stay but they warned us that he needed to be locked back up in an institution. He was too big of a risk.

It was hard to explain to my concerned children that people kept stealing Grandpa Howard!

(to be continued)

casper’s schedule

This morning, our 10-year-old Maya, decided that my husband – her Dad, Casper, needed a schedule. She ascertained, that after his brief absence from home, he needed guidelines if he was going to survive the tiny anarchists (mainly her!)  who occupied our home.

This had been a tough re-entry!

He returned home last night, all buoyed from his experience at work, excited to see the children, having missed us all terribly.

He had only been gone for 2 ½ weeks – but, somehow, in the short amount of time he had spent on location, filming, he seemed to have forgotten that no one at home listened to him!

Literally within hours, 4 impudent, obstinate girls, literally, took him down. He was forced to retreat to his massage chair in the corner of the den.

Having read John Gray’s book, Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus, I understood that it was good for men to have a cave to ruminate in, however our home was not big enough to accommodate a cave, so Casper had to content himself with a corner – And his corner didn’t seem to be providing the solace that he needed to regroup!

On top of that, I had zealously implemented a whole new parenting technique – with incentives and privileges – which he had not been completely brought up to speed on. He let me know that he wasn’t that impressed by my strategy –  from his perspective,  it didn’t seem to be working so well.

While he had been absent, I had sat the girls down and told them that they would earn an allowance in exchange for a clean room and a made bed every morning. It meant $5 week, $1 a day on weekdays and no monitoring on weekends. The little ones, Maya and Celeste, had been pretty good, and there was a definite improvement in the tidiness of their room.  But my teenager, Grace, who had tasted the spoils of modeling jobs and commercials, could not be motivated by a $5 bounty – she had been ruined!

And, as for the 20-year-old, I’d had to negotiate expensive incentives like tanks of gas and plane tickets!

As far as the incentive system, I had to admit, that we were on shaky ground – they had lost their luster, as the girls had figured out how to outsmart me and reap the rewards of their privileges without having earned them. Crafty little stinkers!

My system was quite simple – in addition to their allowance, they could earn points that equaled in value ½ hour of computer, video and TV time.

For some of the less appetizing chores, I had to pay a ridiculous surcharge – I allocated a full point for each individual dog turd, but, still, the garden remained littered with nuggets.

I also discovered, much to my chagrin, that the girls were still sneaking TV and computer time in their rooms. I tried to outsmart them by hiding the electronics, the remote controls, and unplugging the TV. I was amazed at how many plugs and cords came and went from their TV, I felt like I was unhooking it from life support – but no matter how confusing it looked to me, my girls could hot wire that TV in no time at all.

And, soon I would hear the high-pitch of chipmunks and other cartoon characters blaring from their room again!

The purpose of this parenting technique was two-fold – to help me not lose my temper when they wouldn’t comply, and to help them learn cause and effect. And, I have to say, that my part was definitely working. Maybe because I was no longer engaged in a power struggle, instead, I was having fun finding ways to outwit them at every turn!

I would advise them to go to bed when I thought it was an appropriate time, but if they didn’t listen, which they invariably didn’t, I wouldn’t yell at them to get back into bed. Instead, I let them know, that if they were cranky, overtired and late for school, that I would accompany them into the Principal’s office and explain to him the reason for their tardiness.

For some reason that was inexplicable to me, Maya was terrified of visiting the Principal’s office. It was strange, as she was pretty much fearless about everything, and had no problem defying authority at home. But, for as long as I could play the Principal card, I would!

And, so far, miraculously, they had not been late for school. In fact, Celeste, who had circles under her eyes a couple of mornings, actually figured out that she perhaps needed a little more sleep and opted to go to bed earlier all by herself. This was not such a bad thing!

However, the night that Casper came home, the girls were overexcited, I’m sure because they had missed him, and wanted his attention. Well, they certainly got his attention, but it wasn’t the most benevolent!

SO, before he drove them off to school this morning, Maya penned a schedule for her Dad– this was his guideline for a sane life!

Casper’s schedule~

7:45am – Drop kids off

9:00am – Gym

11:00am – shower off & snack & potty

12:00pm – scream into a pillow

12:05pm – lunch

12:50pm – computer or TV

1:45pm – do something

2:00pm – get ready to pick up kids

2:45pm – pick Maya & Celeste up and at 3:00pm p/u Grace

4:00pm – Help w/ homework

Thank goodness for our children – We think we have it all together until they remind us exactly where we don’t!

“Time reveals truth”

On Monday December 12, 2011, my grandfather H.R.H Prince Paul, Regent of Yugoslavia from 1934 to 1941, was cleared on all counts of war crimes, by the High Court of Serbia. This is a victory for my grandfather and for Serbia – A moment in time, where the light of truth has overturned the condemning distortions of history.

Winston Churchill said that history would be kind to him because he would write it. Well, the opposite was true for my grandfather. His reputation was cruelly destroyed by those who believed, “It is the right of a great power to sacrifice a smaller, neutral state for the sake of ultimate victory” – Winston Churchill again – and who unfortunately had the power to write Paul’s history – Until this past week…

Finally, Paul has been vindicated, his honor restored – 70 years after being branded a traitor and a Nazi collaborator.  It seems tragic to me that he will never bask in his own redemption or benefit from knowing that his legacy has been restored. The stigma of these hideous accusations haunted him until the day he died in Paris in 1976.

I wonder how he would feel knowing that his country, Yugoslavia, the country he fought so hard to protect and preserve, the country he was never allowed to set foot in after his exile in 1941, has ceased to exist. A touch of irony, it seems to me.

My mother, Princess Elizabeth is the force behind restoring her father’s legacy. She first returned to Belgrade, Serbia in 1987, the first member of the royal family to do so, and has dedicated the past 20 years of her life to clearing her father’s name. She ran for Presidency in 2004 and my eldest daughter India and I went to help her campaign – she came in 6th out of 16 candidates.

Her battle against the culmination of generations of communist propaganda etched against her father has paid off. After years of disseminating and propagating the facts that had been hidden for so long, the veils of delusion are beginning to loosen their stranglehold.

Her long-time quest will have been fulfilled when Paul, his wife Olga and their son Nicholas’ bodies are exhumed in Switzerland and brought back for an official burial in Serbia.

Mom said she felt both happy and sad – I wondered if it was perhaps because her father couldn’t be here with her – to witness this triumph – this reversal of misfortune. She had succeeded where he had felt hopeless.

“Time reveals truth” was a quote by Seneca I chose as Paul’s dialogue  – in the script titled Royal Exile that my husband and I recently wrote. The dialogue was wishful thinking at the time, but now, truth imitates art.

We added dialogue to a pivotal scene between Paul and Hitler, during a 5-hour secret meeting at Hitler’s retreat at Berchtesgaden.

The rest of the dialogue in the scene we transcribed from Paul’s letters, and it was chilling to imagine the actual words being spoken by one of history’s most malevolent figures. This meeting was Paul’s last attempt to negotiate to save his country from being annihilated by the Germans during WW2. According to him, it was the most frightening moment of his life, and he feared, perhaps his last.

Winston Churchill decided that Paul’s policy of neutrality did not suit his needs. He wanted Yugoslavia to invade Germany unprovoked. Paul’s answer,

“Great, then send me troops and reinforcements and we will fight by your side!” Churchill’s reply, “I can’t send any military support, but know that you shall go down in history on the winning side.”

For most men, this might have been a tempting offer, but not for Paul. He knew that this was suicide for his country; they were poorly armed and could never withstand the German war machine. His conscience wouldn’t allow him to sacrifice his people.

Paul refused to attack, predicting that they would be overrun by the Nazis within a week.

The British covertly funded a coup d’etat and Paul was arrested. He was given the choice to abdicate at gunpoint or he and his entire family would be executed. They were given 4 hours to leave the country. My mother was 4-years-old at the time and remembers the horrific events of their exodus. No country would take them and eventually they were sent to Kenya under British house arrest, for the remainder for the war.

Within days of Paul’s departure, Hitler launched Operation Punishment, and as he predicted, Yugoslavia lay in ruins, and over a million countrymen lost their lives. Paul never recovered.

In his memoirs, Churchill later commented that the one thing he regretted was his harsh treatment of Prince Paul.

Now, 70 years later, he is finally being recognized as a peacemaker, visionary and a national hero. He has been exonerated.

If you would like to know more about Paul, you can go to our film, Royal Exile’s website.