Real Life

Monster child to mum: How I turned my life around

The Kiwi problem kid’s happy ending

Twenty years ago, little Wairarapa schoolgirl Maroeska Van Beek was publicly labelled a “demon child”. “To hell and back: We thought our daughter was possessed,” said our headline in Woman’s Day on September 30, 1996.

Photos show a sweet-faced seven-year-old girl posing with her parents, Stephen and Jodi Van Beek, and baby brother Stephen junior. “Maroeska Van Beek may have the face of an angel but until a while ago, her parents thought she was possessed by the devil,” reads the story. “She was a monster,” her stepfather Stephen told us.

Maroeska’s parents had gone public in a desperate plea for help. Despite the intervention of doctors, therapists and psychiatrists, the Masterton couple couldn’t control Maroeska’s violent temper and wild mood swings.

She was eventually diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), but not before the label “Kiwi Monster Child” had caught on. “If you give a child a label, it sticks,” says Maroeska, who is now 27. “I was labelled a monster and I became one.”

But 20 years after the headlines, Maroeska has proved her critics wrong. The little blonde girl, who many thought was destined for crime and hardship, has turned her life around for her own children.

“I had my son at 17 and he saved me,” reveals Maroeska, who is now happily married and a mum to Adarsh, 10, Monique, four, and Hollie, who turns one in December.

Also, after struggling at school and dropping out at 14, Maroeska is now studying to become a teacher aide.“Things started off pretty rough, but I’ve turned out OK,” she smiles. “I’m proud of who I am today.”

Maroeska says she has few memories before the age of 10. The original Woman’s Day story reveals her birth father went to prison when she was just a baby. Despite putting her mum Jodi and stepfather Stephen “through sheer hell”, Maroeska says her parents are still her biggest supporters. “People presume I must hate my parents for saying those things,” she tells. “They always did their best for me – but they were desperate.”

Although Maroeska has blank spots in her memory, she can still recall the red mist that came down as a child. She knows she ripped up mattresses, smashed lights, and told her parents she would cut off her brother Stephen’s legs and arms. By then, her parents had a second son, Ricco, and began to fear for their little boy’s safety.

“I remember getting so frustrated, I would almost black out,” she recalls. “Afterwards, I couldn’t remember anything.” Medicated from the age of five, doctors tried everything from Ritalin to sleeping pills, sedatives and Prozac.

Maroeska was sent to a boarding school for troubled children, went through various foster homes and ended up in juvenile detention. A repeat runaway, she was just 12 years old when she was first locked up in a police cell.

At 13, she met her first husband, who was a decade older. They married when Maroeska was 16, and despite being told her polycystic ovary syndrome would make it impossible to conceive, Adarsh was born a year later.

“Becoming a mother made me grow up,” she explains. “My biggest fear was losing my kids to the system. I wasn’t going to let that happen.” Her first marriage ended when Adarsh was two, and Maroeska and her son moved in with her parents. “That was a really hard time, but my mum got me through. Despite everything I’ve put her through, she’s still my best friend.”

Maroeska jokes that her second child, Monique, is her “karma”. While Adarsh was a calm baby, Monique was “full on”. Recognising similar traits, Maroeska now fears for her daughter’s future. “I didn’t want her to start school and be told she was a useless waste of space, like I was.”

For that reason, Maroeska is having Monique assessed at Child & Adolescent Mental Health Service, and says she is relieved that times have changed and there is more support for kids with needs. Her youngest, Hollie, was also diagnosed with bilateral hearing loss when she was a couple of months old – an inherited condition from Maroeska’s husband, Quentin Clark, 35, a forestry worker.

The adorable tot is learning sign language and her mother hopes “it will not hold Hollie back from a full and happy life”. Maroeska still takes medication and gets frustrated at times, but she can control it. Occasionally, she has a flick through the dog-eared 1996 issue of Woman’s Day, which has been stored at her mum’s house. “I look and think, ‘Oh, my goodness, was I really like that?’”

But the story is a good reminder of just how far she has come. “I want people to know that whatever label you are given, or however bad life can be, there is always a happy ending.”

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