These are times when Deborah Cassilly wonders how she will explain to her four children why she and their father, Patrick, were accused of sexually abusing other children.
But her biggest concern right now is what she will say to her children, ages 3 to 6, when they ask why some parents won't allow them to play with their children.
"I don't even understand how it happened, how am I supposed to explain it to them?" the 30-year-old Cassilly said, referring to accusations that surfaced in 1987 that children were sexually abused at a day care center she operated. "(Our children) are a very important reason why we're glad this case is behind us."
Last week, what seemedto be the end of a nightmare came for the Cassillys: A $500 million civil suit against the couple and two former teachers was dropped by the parents of four children who said the youngsters were physically and sexually abused while attending the center.
Now that the suit against them has been dropped, the Cassillys are beginning what they hope is a healing process from the four years they've spent in the limelight because of a swirl of accusations that children were abused at the Bo Peep Day Nursery the couple owned in the 100 block of Hickory Ave. in Bel Air.
The Cassillys' license for day care was revokedand the state shut down the day care center in 1989.
Meanwhile, the four children listed as victims in the suit have undergone psychological therapy during the last four years, but continue to experienceproblems resulting from the alleged abuse at Bo Peep, said Nevett Steele Jr., one of the attorneys for the parents who filed the suit.
"We've seen re-occurring problems with the children," Steele said. "It's no doubt in my mind that the children are victims."
The Cassillys say they plan to stay in Harford County.
It won't be easy. The couple says the allegations have cost them their livelihood, home, acquaintances and reputations.
When walking down a street in Bel Air, Deborah Cassilly said, she often finds people giving her an accusing stare. She said she and her husband have been labeled criminals and child abusers, although never criminally charged.
"I think we lost a lot of faith in people," she said. "It has been very hard on us. We are the victims. Our lives have been shattered."
Deborah Cassilly's 70-year-old mother Sherrie Smith, with eight children and 25 grandchildren, says she, too, has felt the sting of the allegations.
Smith said someone in a passing car several months ago shouted at her, calling her a "child abuser," as she walked down a street.
Steele said his clients have been the object of similar treatment. They've been shouted at by strangers and received crank telephone calls.
Meanwhile, the Cassillys have leased out to St. Margaret's Church the Victorian house in Bel Air that once served as the day care centerand their home.
The couple had bought another home, but were forced to sell it to pay for legal fees during the state's administrativeproceedings against the day care center. The Cassillys and their children now live with Deborah Cassilly's parents in Bel Air.
PatrickCassilly, 32, quit his job as a car salesman three years ago to concentrate on fighting the allegations. He now works for his father-in-law's hardware store in Jarrettsville.
Deborah Cassilly is now studying accounting at Loyola College in Baltimore.
As for the children who were allegedly abused, now 7 and 8 years old, Steele says they suffer from low self-esteem, sleeplessness and depression. They sometimes perform poorly in school and get into arguments with other children, Steele said.
Steele believes the children will continue to need therapy throughout much of their lives.
"You also have a danger, if the child doesn't get the kind of therapy they need, of the child abusing their own children," said Steele, who has represented the families for four years.
The Cassillys purchased the day care center in 1987. At its peak, about 150 children a year attended Bo Peep.
The state closed the center in November 1989. An investigation by the Baltimore County State's Attorney did not find evidence to supportcriminal charges.
Patrick Cassilly, who has never spoken with reporters about the case until last week, said he is angered by media coverage of the suit.
He's particularly bitter that newspapers and television reports on the case tied his name to the accusations of sexual abuse but did not include the names of his accusers.
"I'd verymuch like to move on with my life and not see my name in a newspaperagain," he said. "I don't think the truth was covered at all. If I sound bitter, I am bitter."
Attorneys for the families said the parents have run out of money to pursue the suit, although they maintainthat they have enough evidence to support their claims.
Deborah Cassilly contended that the parents simply did not have enough evidence to convince a jury of wrongdoing at Bo Peep. She challenged the parents to show their evidence, including a videotape the parents claimed existed, depicting incidents of abuse at Bo Peep.
She said the parents offered to settle the suit for $300,000 several months ago andlater for $225,000. Both offers were rejected by the Cassillys.
For now, the couple is uncertain how much they will have to pay in legal fees until their insurance company determines how much of the costit will cover.
Cassilly said that part of her wanted the case to go to trial so she and her husband could be vindicated. However, she said she didn't want the children to be forced to testify.
"They are as much a victim as I am," Cassilly said. "Not of me, but of the system."