When we first got the kids, they were rough. They fought and screamed. They stole and lied. They had boundless energy they didn’t know how to control. All thier lives, they had bounced around between parents and in and out of foster care. At one point all three had lived with the biodad of the two youngest children, but after a few months when things got too tough, the oldest was sent away. Eventually they were all taken away and sent back to biomom and then again to foster care.
The angel foster mom kept them for much longer than she was supposed to because she knew they needed stability. She was able to get them into therapy and onto medication. When they came to us, they were housebroken, and heartbroken. They didn’t know what life held in store for them, they only knew a gypsy lifestyle and pain.
I promised that was over. I promised that our house was a safe place and a permanent place. When they lashed out and said they wanted to leave, I lashed back that I loved them and this was their home forever. I promised that no-matter what, they had a home and they would grow up in our town.
Now the promise is broken. Despite my promises I couldn’t keep the littles safe from the oldest and I couldn’t save him from his own self destructive choices. On Monday we have our first court date for the assault charges against my oldest grandson. On Monday he faces the judge with a public defender by his side. Juvenile Justice is willing to work with us. Oldest’s biodad and stepmom are working hard to make sure they can take him into their home, but that is a hope, not a reality. They have created a wonderful stable home and they have developed a good relationship with him over the past four years that he didn’t have before he moved here.
Only the state’s attorney and a judge will make the final decision, and then the other state has to accept him into their juvenile justice system. He will have a record, he will have consequences, we are just hoping those consequences can be met, while he is being supported by someone who loves him. His father will have the extra financial burden and responsibility to make sure he gets to his therapy and meets the requirements of his sentencing.
His deceptively sweet personality hides his rage. His compliance and willingness to help makes me forget his dark side. Instead I see a stretched out little boy. I see an almost six foot child who yearns for a forever home. He understands that he is in very deep trouble, but he cannot fathom how far the charges will reach into his life. When we speak of the crime, his eyes glaze over and he shuts himself off from me.
I don’t know if he can be rehabilitated. I don’t know for sure that some day he won’t make the horrible choice to take his own life or someone else’s life. Will he make the choice to prove us wrong and turn his life around, or will he use the anger inside him to lash out at the world. I am an educated woman, but I still believe in the goodness of people. I cannot fathom the darkness of his heart or the depth of the pain in his life which put it there. I can understand the premise of his actions, I can logically explain what I believe to be his motives, but only he knows for sure.
I do know that he has friends here, and was making plans to be in the high school marching band. I know that he had friends in Scouts and wanted to help other kids. I know he has frequently helped a friend with her son who has severe autism. I know it will be good for him to be with his father.
my heart is breaking. I made a promise to always love and protect them and I failed. I made a promise that he would always have a home with me and now I have to break it. My dear friend Arthur says he hates when parents promise children they will always be with them and they will always be safe, because we never know what is going to happen and if something terrible happens, the child sees a broken promise and the adult feels his/her own anguish, plus the anguish of the child. I hate proving him right.
Its just a regular day in the house of chaos. It is field trip day for one, field day for another. I haven’t lost any more weight in two days, but I’ve been on plan for a whole week now. Its a Friday (which is always good). We’ve got two soccer games, an Eagle project to help with, a swim class to get to and DH has a meeting all day on Saturday, and I’m just now trying to figure out the logistics. It’ll work out.. it always does.
I won a bottle of wine yesterday and a bookstore gift card in our Teacher Appreciation Week prize drawing, Girlie will be home in exactly one week and this weekend is Mothers day. Its crazy terrible busy and wonderful all at the same time. There is nothing too spectacular about this day, but at the same time everything is spectacular about it. I hope everyone has a day as blessed as mine.
It used to be easy (and cheap) to buy Mother’s Day Cards. It was just my mother ..one card (two if I bought one from the kids to send to her) now, we have disjointed extended families. The littles of course want to send one to their mom, and other grandmothers and to the amazing foster mom and the oldest grandson asked for one for his step-mom. I used to get internally bitchy about sending cards out to all these women….why should I send them to people who aren’t in their lives? They aren’t the ones wiping tears and working on book reports. I’m the one up all night sweating over the glue gun to make President Taft’s head stay on his styrofoam body. Then I changed my thinking and looked at the positives they added to my little’s lives.
I know my stepdaughter, the bio-mom has made some HUGE mistakes, but she is still their mother. She has been calling once a week for the last few months, she tries to remember activities, and to encourage them to do well in school. She speaks well of the bio dads and extended family members. In reality, she will never be the mother they dream about, or see in movies, but she is there as the dream and she is making an effort to stay in their lives. The kids need to have the dream. They have started to forget all the bad days, they know they are with us forever, but they still want to know that she is out there and loves them and they love her.
Both of the paternal grandmothers stay caught up on the kids lives. They enjoy visits with them when they visit with the Dads, send birthday cards and checks at Christmas, they both have many grandchildren. One keeps up regularly on Facebook, commenting on pictures and activities, the other sends old fashioned letters and cards. They have also shaped the children in good and positive ways.
The step-moms are both lovely women. I get along with one easier than the other, because she has a wicked sense of humor and she is pretty down to earth. Although they have only known the children for a couple years, they both have spent weekends and vacations with them. They enable the kids to be part of the fathers’ worlds so they also need to be thanked.
The foster mom gave up ten months of her life to help “housebreak” my wild children . Ok, they weren’t wild, but she got them fresh from the drama and all full of PTSD and ADHD, she got them into counseling and adjusted the medications to help them sleep and focus in school. She was their lifesaver when no one else could help them. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t thank God for the love and patience she showed to the kids and to the system while we worked together to get them up here to MD .
So, this morning we had a card signing assembly line. One mom, two Nanas, another Grandmother, the foster mom and one step mom. .. little notes were written with x’s and o’s and the kids signed their full names.. just in case someone forgot. I will rush out after work to send them out, so they can get there in time, with pictures enclosed for the ones not on Facebook.
I was talking with a few other kinshippers/foster parents about the downfall of these “Holidays” they are made up and sold such a HUGELY commercial level, its impossible to ignore. There isn’t a day for them to just focus on who they live with right now. I can’t be angry at the kids wanting to send cards to all the people who have mothered them over the years, its good for them to think about all those people in the world who love them. Kids in non-traditional households have so many problems fitting in, getting to take part in this Hallmark holiday is one gift I can give them. I let them make the arts and crafts in school to send to the Mom. I let them trace hands and paste xeroxed poems to construction paper hearts. For a little bit they can feel like the other kids in the class and they don’t have to explain where they live and who they live with. They know I’m cool with it and won’t have my feelings hurt.
My blessing out of all of this? For the fourth straight year, I will get surrounded in my bed by a gaggle of children, grinning from ear to ear with runny scrambled eggs and flowers picked from the garden. They may forget to wash their gym uniforms, leave homework at school and somehow miss the laundry hamper when they toss dirty underwear in the general direction, but they are, for better or for worse, my people, big and little.
Since most of my posts lately have been riddled with angst and self torment, I thought I’d just put out there that life in the house of crazy people is good sometimes too. I don’t know what makes it so right, or so good .. and goodness knows it could still go horribly horribly wrong, but overall, I am at peace today. I do spend hours awake in the night wondering about the minutia that gets in the way of fun, but some days even the crazy neighbors, the passive aggressive Facebook posts, the damn dogs and cranky pre-teens can’t get me down.
Last week, we had a day when our morning was filled with the usual craziness, lunches to be made, dogs to be walked a cranky pre-teen to scold, it was picture day.. OH YEAH, and I had to have my cholesterol checked, so I couldn’t have coffee until after 830!!! The day was set to go wrong, but somehow, it didn’t. NONE of my pants fit comfortably, but my hair came out nice, so I was ok. The nurse doing my blood work, had to poke a couple times, but I was still in and out of the dr’s office in less than 15 minutes. This meant I had time to drop off the kids and run to MC D’s to get breakfast AND TWO LARGE COFFEES! 🙂
Just in case you don’t know this, if a school secretary begs for one of your coffees, you don’t ever say no, so I had gave one up, but I still was ok. My husband , my darling wonderful husband, brought me another cup of coffee… and lunch! We had a lovely lunch amidst the clutter of my office. We chatted about the kids and our plans and spring break. It was wonderful and so very necessary. Just to have a neutral place to sit and talk was refreshing.
that was one day last week.. this morning was the day the dogs ate the sandwiches (which of course used the last six slices of bread) .. it was raining and there was an email from a teacher regarding 3’s behavior in class lately. Oy.. it was still ok. The sun is coming out and the trees are glowing with beauty (and pollen) If I can give one piece of advice to young families starting out (or to Kinshippers dealing with another set of kids to raise, when we thought we were done! ) ..
.. embrace the crazy, laugh at the silly things you have to juggle and smile through the tears. Hang onto your faith. There will be years when the it feels like the snows will never stop and winter will last FOREEEEVER!!!!! But eventually, the sun comes back out and the ground dries up and you move forward. Maybe not on the path you thought, but on a new path. A really cool path with people you love and who have been through the long dark winter with you and came out to embrace the sun with you.
Here’s one of my favorite essays a dear professor shared in Grad school… it applies to so many of our lives. This may not be the place I planned to live, but I kinda like it anyway.
WELCOME TO HOLLAND
Emily Perl Kingsley.
c1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley. All rights reserved
I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability – to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It’s like this……
When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.
After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.”
“Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”
But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.
The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a different place.
So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.
It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around…. and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills….and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.
But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy… and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”
And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away… because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.
But… if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things … about Holland.
“Grandma, Dad wants to know if we can stay a few more days“…Grandboy asked on Easter Sunday.
SIGH.. this is exactly the kind of thing I never had to deal with before.. visitation. I’ve been blessed with a good husband and never imagined that I would have to share my children’s holidays with someone else, let alone work out the logistics and angst that go along with it. My stepdaughters were older when my husband and I got together. We had a few hiccups, but they were old enough to say when they wanted to come and when they wanted to go. We worked hard to be agreeable because it was good for the girls. I agreed to let the littles start seeing their fathers again because I believed it was in their best interest.
I forgot for a while that there was a reason Social Services placed the children with us. I forgot there were two sides to the littles’ stories. They have a mother who made poor choices and went down the wrong path, but they also have a father who made choices just as poor. He says he is clean and sober now, and he probably is, but it hasn’t been that long since he was living in a motel and steady work is not something is known for.
After the two youngest had been with Bio-dad for a week, they want to stay longer. I get it, they miss him and life hanging out watching TV on vacation is super. I suspected there were other ulterior motives, but the claim was to visit with a distant uncle who is dying, and to see an older half sister who wanted to spend time with them.
Gently I explained that they couldn’t, they had school and soccer and scouts and commitments. Plus, I missed them and needed them to come home. They asked again, just in case, but I let them down gently. Inside, I was seething. I hate when parents put kids in the middle of stuff. I hate when people manipulate kids to make themselves look better. I had to be the bad guy and remind them that school is important. When my ex-son-in-law got on the phone, I tried to be cordial. I had to reexplain that they had to come home on the day he promised he would bring them home. He began to hem and haw about the drive, the schedule, the cost of gas. I sighed, my peaceful quiet Easter afternoon was shot. I offered to meet him halfway.. 2 1/2 hours away from my house. 3 hours away from his. I hung up and sulked for the rest of the afternoon. I was angry at him, but I was more angry at myself.
I was angry because I allowed myself to be conned into believing that he would stand by his word. He promised if I let him visit with the kids, he would bring them all the way back without a problem. If I left them in North Carolina for the two extra days (my original plan was to pick them up on Friday evening as I drove north from GA) he would drive them home the day after Easter.
So, instead, I put on my Good Grandma the savior hat and agreed to drive halfway to get them. In order to make sure the kids got home early enough to shower and get prepared for the next day, I took a half day off from work and headed south to get my little people back. I’m going to confess it didn’t go well. I was not the patient loving person I know I can be. I had the 2 1/2 hour drive alone to be angry and to get angrier. The result was an ugly confrontation of reality TV show proportions.
When they pulled into the parking lot of our meeting place (15 minutes late of course) I sent the kids to the bathroom with their stepmother and I turned on the bio-dad with a vengeance. He stood half a foot taller, greying in his beard stretching from his long card ride, smiling at me. Until I started in, then he stopped smiling. I scolded him for putting the children in the middle. (he denied ever telling them to ask, but later both kids confirmed that he had told them to ask me) I reminded him that he gets to see the children at my convenience and with my discretion and if he pulled any “punk crap” like that again, he would not get to see them. As he tried to argue with me and stomp away, my voice got louder.
I railed against his poor parenting skills. I told him that he needed to support his children and be involved in their lives on a regular basis or he didn’t need to be in their lives at all. He stormed off, ranting that I couldn’t do it. (I can) and I had no right to say that (I totally do) He threatened legal action. I told him he either called his children once a week from now on on a schedule they can count on, or he wouldn’t talk to them again. I was like a pittbull momma, ready to go into the fight to protect these kids.
I drove away with sobbing children. I was feeling very much the ridiculous Jerry Springer guest. I couldn’t believe I acted like that, but I guess I had finally had enough of his empty promises to these kids. As we drove I offered snacks and drinks and let them have quiet time. About half way home we started talking about dinner. Grandgirl was hungry but boy wouldn’t talk to me. I reminded my heartbroken 12 year old grandson that I love him and we were going to our home, I wasn’t an enemy set out to ruin his life.
I apologized for yelling at his dad in front of them, I told him I was yelling at his dad because I want his Dad to do more for them. They deserved to hear from their Dad at least once a week. (but Grandma”, he defended “he works so much, he doesn’t have time time to call us”.) I told him that sometimes adults need a kick in the behind a little to get back on the right track. (wise little man made the connection to when his father was drinking and on drugs and had to find Jesus to get off)
I later received a very angry email the next day. I was called controlling , there were threats to hire a lawyer and get full custody. Unfortunately, they forget that supporting a child is more than having money taken out of your pay check. Its checking the online grades, calling your children on a regular basis. Keeping in touch and keeping up to date on activities and events. In this digital age, there is no reason a far-away parent can’t be part of his child’s life. If they make the effort that is.
Being called controlling is nothing new to me. I am a total control freak, I know this and I accept it as a personality trait. Most people let me have my way, because, after all, it is the right way and they enjoy not having to take responsibility for something. (like uuuuh, I dunno.. THEIR KIDS) I plan and control large group events, small outings and family gatherings.. its what I do best. I do have to take extra steps to ensure the safety and well being of these children who were placed in my care, which may seem like controlling, but is really more protection.
Now, let’s just forget for a moment that they couldn’t afford the gas money to drive from NC to MD and back and that DSS decided the kids were better off being permanently placed with us rather than with either one of their biological parents. Once upon a time, we had hoped the parents would pull it together enough to have custody. We had hoped that he would choose to raise these two children along with his new baby. Sadly, his threat seems a little hollow after all that time. It seems like a hollow statement for someone who is too busy to call his kids once a week. It seems hollow to someone who spells his daughter’s name wrong. It seems hollow for someone who knew his children were first in danger at home with their mother and then placed in foster care, but never acted.
For the safety and well being of these children, I will be a bad guy. I will insist they go to school and wear helmets and use good manners. I will be the controlling person who gets them to bed on time and keeps up with their doctor’s appointments and shots. I will take them to church every week and pray with them at dinner every night. I will check their homework, their practice schedules and their play dates with friends as long as I am physically able to do it. I will even put their parents on a phone schedule and hold them to it. God put these children in my life as a blessing. I will do everything in my power to keep them happy and safe, even if that means keeping them away from people promise them the moon.
I had two very quiet weekends. The week between was full of hilarity, teen-girl screeching and eating my weight in amazing southern food. But the weekends were quiet. Very quiet.
The first weekend was my yearly silent retreat. If you have never done an Ignatian Retreat (Jesuits) , it is amazing… especially for someone like me who insists on chatting with little old ladies and grabbing random babies off the street and talking to them. There are no hello’s in the hallway, no need for small talk at dinner, you use the silence to find your own way without the hassle of all the noise of daily life. It was, as always, a wonderful reflective retreat which helped me center on God and know what is truly important in my life. I spent much of the time walking, sleeping and praying and the rest reading and taking pictures.
Then I took 13 middle school girls five women and one dad to Savannah GA (which for those of you who don’t know is Girl Scout Mecca) for a week of sight seeing, bonding and eating. (not a single silent moment in all of the five and half days we were gone… even the night time was full of noises thanks to some very mysterious noises in the old house)
After 12 hours of driving back to Maryland on Friday, I collapsed into bed with my darling husband for a few hours before he left and took my son to the Outer Banks in NC for a few days of fishing. The littles were all at the respective bio-dad’s houses so that left me alone with the dogs. ALONE… blissfully, amazingly ALONE. I don’t remember the last time I had the house to myself for more than an hour or so, it was a very lovely experience. It was also weird. I missed my little people. (after the first day of sleeping in the recliner for hours) and my son and my husband.
Before you get tooo jealous, I should let you know that I had been gone for over a week and the house was a wreck. I still had six hundred loads of laundry to do, a pile of junk on the kitchen table that needed to be organized, floors to be washed and dishes to be put away, but I had it all on my own time. The dogs needed some tending and walking, but mostly they were in my lap dreaming of carelessly watched pizza.
In my head I had planned a weekend of going to the gym, organizing my office and cleaning out the flower beds. In reality, I spent most of the weekend watching girl movies from the recliner. Easter Mass on Sunday morning was delightful, but lonely without my entourage. I didn’t have anyone to take care of, so I was a little adrift.
Even getting up and out of the house this morning was difficult. I didn’t have anyone to prod along, I didn’t have my high schooler to drag out of bed, or my middle school boys to hustle out the door. There were no breakfasts or lunches to be made, no forms to sign, no reminders to be yelled up the stairs. Not having my granddaughter around for the last hour before I left for work was lonely. I realized as much as they make me crazy I need them to keep me centered in my own life. God sure knew what he was doing when he gifted me with these kids. 🙂
so for two weeks, I haven’t written, one in part because girlie was home and gave me time to breathe (and she downloaded Candy Crush on my new Iphone, so I’m a little obsessed) and two, because thinking about our life has turned into a whole different drama and I’ve been given so much information and advice, I am still trying to piece together a good plan.
My husband and I now have two new counselors (a psychiatrist and a social worker) on our team with the recommendation for at least one more, but possibly two so that everyone has a say and support. We also have a CPS agent and a youth detective added in with a potential advocate and judge throwing information at us. PTSD is a hard disease, harder still when you are a fourteen year old boy who makse a series of bad choices which then creates more drama and hardship. It is hard on the child who has it and hard on the family who is trying to support it. The problem with having a team to help us work on the issues surrounding my grandchildren, is that we have heard several dissenting positions.
One counselor says, do not abandon the child, do not cast him out, he already has abandonment issues and trust issues, he needs to know unconditional love. You can work through this and let him have the stability he needs.
The other counselor says, lets find him a different placement for the good of the family, for the safety of all, he needs more than you can give.
We have siblings who want to love him, but can’t understand why he would want to hurt them. We have extended family who thinks we are the saviors for the children and tell us to have faith and to ask God for more help. Then there’s the media with news stories on people who just one day snap and create horror and carnage in the blink of an eye. We wonder and pray, which is true for this child? We still aren’t sure if he has the capacity for empathy, or if he is just so unable to handle emotions he stopped having them. This boy who is unfailingly polite and willing to do any chore I ask is hard to understand. . .. is he so helpful/polite because he wants to please and be accepted, or because he is a chameleon and just plays a game so that he can get by in life?
Knowing which path to take is hard. There are pitfalls and angst facing us on every path. I feel as if we have to hurry and make a decision, just to get through the heart ache, but if we rush our decision, we may regret it later. So, we are taking a nice week long spring break with family and friends while the grandkids go to visit their respective dads through the Easter Holiday. The psychiatrist told us she would need a couple of weeks to gather the necessary resources and time for a full evaluation and we get a very much needed breather from the drama which has ensnared us.
In May he will start a group for adolescents with rage issues.. and this too is controversial. Will he get new ideas from the kids in the group? These will be children I probably would do everything in my power to keep him away from, but now, he is being grouped with them. He IS one of them. Will this label send him to a new place in his own heart? A badge of honor he feels he needs to live up to, or will it be a cross to bear for his life? Will he face the world as a victim, a bully, or a hero?
This boy, this broken, little boy, who towers over me and needs to be loved unconditionally has broken my heart. He has shaken my belief in my own ability to trust the goodness in children. This boy, who looks more like a man every day still has so much growing and maturing to do and we have to decide if we can help him grow into a good and honest member of our family or if we send him to others to try to lead him out of the dark place he has created in his heart.