Wednesday, August 19, 2015

For Forty-five Days, He Was My Little Man

Two children delivered to our door; she was one, and he was seven. His ruffled sun-blonde hair, huge smile, and immediate connection inspired hope. Her strawberry hair, wide blue eyes, and shy smile had my heart from the get-go. Dad was over twenty years Mom's senior and an alcoholic who was often in jail or rehabilitation facilities. Mom had an IQ slightly higher than the seven-year-old. The situation at home required their removal. He suffered from attachment disorder and several other problems for which he was prescribed medication and counseling. She was only a baby and still being evaluated. 

After being placed in our care, we learned they would have a sibling. Mom was pregnant again. We cared for the children the nine months of Mom's pregnancy; the caseworkers told us that when the baby was born, he or she would immediately be removed and placed in our care. The department of social services felt it was in the best interest of the children to pursue termination of parental rights. The topic of adoption was broached with my husband and me. One of the reasons we'd entered the world of foster care was the possibility of adopting a child. We both had two boys from our first marriages, but due to my own health problems, having another child was a danger to my life and possibly the baby's life as well. 

Mom gave birth to a boy. Boy 2 was delivered to us straight from the hospital. Tiny squalling bundle of love, his features strongly resembled his siblings, and he was adorable. We'd turned my office into a nursery. We bought a ton of baby clothes, blankets, pacifiers, bottles, diapers, and wipes. Assembled a crib, bassinet, changing table,  baby swing, portable crib, stroller - you know - the endless list of things that people who are expecting babies buy. The first few weeks, I kept the bassinet next to my bed, because it had been a while since I'd had to get up for the middle of the night feedings. I was a little anxious, to be honest with you. My youngest was eleven-years-old at the time. It turned out boy 2 was colicky and needed near constant attention. We had to switch his formula three times, and it didn't seem to help. I was awake all night long. He'd usually only sleep if I sat up and held him with his head on my shoulder. Sometimes, sitting him in his swing and letting it rock gently would help him sleep for an hour or two. I was exhausted by the second week. My husband started taking Friday night or Saturday night shifts to try to help me get some rest, but Little Man wanted me. I'd lay there and listen to him cry and cry. When my husband couldn't get him to stop, I'd go and pick him up and settle him down. I had my four children, plus baby's siblings and one other child in care at the time who needed me during the day. I wouldn't have given up baby, though; my heart strings were bound to that boy as if I'd given birth to him. 

By week number three, we'd received the bad news. There would be a hearing because Mom and Dad were fighting the removal of the baby and wanted him returned home. The department of social services contacted us and told us that they would battle against this happening. We continued to pray they would not return the baby to a situation that his older siblings couldn't face. How did it make any sense? Why would they send him home? It wouldn't happen. It couldn't happen. We continued to love this child, and our children bonded with him, all the children in the house bonded with him. They all enjoyed holding him, helping to feed him and bathe him, push him in his stroller. They all loved him. 

The hearing came and went, and we received a phone call from the caseworker. It happened. Of all the idiotic decisions that a judge had ever made, this particular judge ordered the baby returned to his parents. The basis for her decision? The well-thought-out, logical reason for her judgment? "Just because the first two children were abused doesn't mean the third one will be abused." Can you wrap your mind around this? But don't worry, they set 'safeguards' in place. Mom and Dad were mandated to parenting and anger management classes. They would begin visits with the baby for the next three weeks until finally the baby would be returned home permanently after they met their requirements.

Baby went to Mom and Dad two afternoons a week for visits. Two afternoons tore from my soul every week welcoming baby home with strip checks and examining every inch of him for problems. The day came closer and closer, the day they'd take him permanently. I cried every night as he fussed and cried. What would they do when he couldn't sleep at night? Would they know how to comfort him? Would they simply leave him crying? Would it make them angry? What would it do to him when he cried, and I wasn't there - when it wasn't me who picked him up and rubbed my cheek against his and stroked his back while I rocked him? It was killing me slowly. I couldn't sleep even if he did. I just wanted to hold him. 

Then the day arrived, 45 days after I first held him. I fed him, bathed him, and dressed him. I'd gotten him up early that morning. He fell asleep in my arms, and I breathed in the smell of his hair, stared at his face for hours to memorize how peaceful he looked. The doorbell rang, and I buckled him into his car seat. All my children were in school, and my husband was at work. Younger kids in care were all at appointments. I had purposely scheduled the pick up during that time. The transport worker was an incredibly nice woman who'd we'd worked with for a long time. She and I couldn't make eye contact. I held out the car seat; she took hold of the handle, and simply rested her hand on my shoulder for a moment. I watched her buckle baby into the backseat of her car, and she drove away. I slumped onto the landing in my garage and wailed. My heart would never recover. 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Aging Gracefully?

So, several years ago, I had a sledding accident and messed up my neck. When I say sledding, something awesome comes to mind - like a snowmobile. I am sooo not that cool. I am talking about a sled of the blow-up inner tube variety. We had ten children sledding, our children, our foster children, and a friend of one of my sons. The teenagers who were there before us had built a ramp for their snowboards. My son and his friend were on a giant double tube; they went first, and they hit that ramp. The tube flew out from under them as they sailed through the air, and I was totally freaking out because their bodies twisted and flipped like rag dolls. My son, who was much bigger than his friend, landed on top of his friend who was face down in the snow. I ran down the hill as my husband picked them up and brushed them off. I wanted to check for broken bones, but the boys wanted to go again. Uh, no. No more ramp! We moved over on the top of the hill.
My older kids helped the younger ones back up the hill after my husband caught them at the bottom, and I held the youngests' sleds until it was their turn to go down the hill. I decided that it would be easier if I sat on one, and held the other two. My footing slipped, and down the hill I went. I quickly released the other sleds and tried to hold on for dear life, but I was awkwardly seated and the sled spun around backwards so I couldn't even see where I was going. Yay! The little kids thought it was great. Mom was going down the hill. Not good. That ramp I mentioned previously - I hit it. Not the thrilling jump in the air the boys experienced. I hit it going backwards. My head stuck into the pile of snow, and it went in so far that it removed the sunglasses right off my face. The kids were stunned. My husband rushed over to see if I was okay. Truth was I couldn't even get up. I couldn't move my neck. But I laughed. I had my husband dig my sunglasses out of the snowbank and put them back on me so the kids wouldn't see me cry. I didn't want to alarm them. Besides, it was kind of funny, my body sticking out of that ramp, and my head was inside. If it wasn't for the fact that I couldn't turn my head for three months afterward, it would have been funnier. Still, I have limited range of motion to the left side. Sometimes when I move my shoulder the bones in my neck pop. If only I were as flexible as those boys who survived the ramp.
I have broken parts of my left ankle and foot three different occasions, and I have to wear a brace sometimes. That is a "funny" story for another day. Yesterday, I aggravated that ankle while exercising and have to wear my brace.  Plus, I am wearing an elbow brace because I have 'writer's elbow' - more commonly known as tennis elbow. So, this morning I wake up with the neck pain. Neck, ankle and elbow this week. I am really not that old, but when seen in public, I look like I may have been in an auto accident. LOL. I try to eat well, and exercise. I don't smoke, and I drink alcohol in moderation. But, I am having a hard time looking and feeling my best. All these aches and pains - it does not feel like I am aging gracefully.

Monday, March 23, 2015

In An Instant

Has anyone watched this new American documentary television series, In An Instant, that airs on the ABC channel? I watched this program over the weekend and was riveted. It premiered on March 6th, but I hadn't seen any previews for the new series and had missed any prior episodes. Ordinary people recall dramatic life-changing moments. "It can happen to anyone, anywhere, and at any time—in an instant, a person’s life can be forever altered and that moment will eventually define who you are."

The specific show I watched was about a woman who married and soon her fairy tale evaporated to clearly reveal the monster that was her husband. It gave the story directly from her, and also contained dramatizations reenacting the whole thing. The woman gained courage to leave her husband after her children were born. She made the choice for them, and he warned her she would regret it, sooner or later. She tried to fight him through the courts, but he still gained joint custody of their daughters. He continued to be abusive, even after they were divorced and she was remarried. Acrimonious and sometimes violent scenes would play out in front of their girls when they exchanged custody of them for their father's visitation periods. Some years later, she made the mistake of letting her guard down, and it cost her dearly. She entered his house when picking up her kids. He struck her, bound her hands, covered her head with duct tape, beat her in the head nearly to death with a baseball bat, stuffed her half naked in a trash can, filled the can with snow, and then left her in a storage locker, dead .... or so he thought.

My husband watched this show with me and he said, "Nobody expected her to be alive. Can you imagine going through something like that?"
Sadly, and disturbingly, yes - I can and I have. It lurks in the back of my mind still, even after being remarried for eight years. I slept on my living room sofa, which I pushed up against my front door that was locked, chained, and secured by two dead bolts. I did that for over a year. My sons were seven and two at that time. Their father would show up at the house at two or three in the morning, and bang on all the outside walls of the house and rattle the windows. He would destroy property, and scream obscenities at the top of his lungs, and he would hit the front door over and over like a battering ram. He was arrested for doing this twice. He even went as far the last time as ripping the phone wires from the outside of the house so I couldn't call for help - forcing me to buy one of those disposable cell phones for the first time in case of emergencies. 

I went to court terrified and alone. My family lives in different states, all moved away before my second son was born. The judge that day got on quite well with my now ex-husband. He was cleaned up and sober, and made pleas for me to reconcile, for the sake of the children. He just wanted to keep his family together, he told the court. He also insinuated I only wanted him out of the house in favor of another man, and really it was just jealousy that made him do these things and he regretted his actions. He and the judge discussed his profession. He was a glass blower, producing quartz semi-conductors and very large tubes for different types of computers and machines. The judge went so far as to joke with him about how much beer one of these giant tubes could hold. Haha. He's an alcoholic, I thought. Great joke.

I wanted a restraining order, a permanent one. I had only been granted a temporary. I thought it would be a simple matter given the police-reports. I was wrong. The judge turned his eyes upon me like I was the villain in the situation. I was so overwhelmed, I couldn't even speak. I could only shake my head when he opened his mouth and told me, "You need to stop the nonsense. File for a divorce if that's what you want." Then he dropped the restraining order. I continued to shake my head. "What is it? DO you have something to say?" he finally asked.

"You have no idea, you just have no clue what you are doing," I answered. I suppose I was lucky not to have landed myself in trouble.

It wasn't long before he was arrested again. He threatened to kill me with a screw driver in front of my boys. This time, he was also charged with endangering the welfare of the children. He called and begged me to drop the charges. I told him the truth, I couldn't. Even his attorney contacted me and said that it was alcohol abuse that made him threaten me and that he was going to get help; it would be best if he was not locked up because he couldn't support the children from a jail cell. He wanted me to "put in a good word" so to speak. I didn't.

Well, guess what - he didn't support his children. He didn't spend much time in jail that stint. He paid fines, entered some programs and promised to be good. However, his behavior deteriorated as time passed, the quality of his work did as well and he lost his job. He was arrested again for driving while intoxicated, resisted arrest, fought with officers and also told them he was going to kill his wife because he knew that she reported he was driving drunk (I didn't have any idea) and it was all her fault that he was in jail again. The officers brought a copy of this report to me and I added it to the pile. I ended up having to leave the only home my children had known and start over. The police told me that as long as he had never lived at the address, he had less rights than he did where a 'marital home' was concerned. I was sad, a little relieved, but still scared enough that I always kept doors and windows locked and couldn't go to bed at night until I checked them all twice.

When I went in to court for the divorce-which was signed by the same judge who dropped the restraining order: I bet he felt like a schmuck-I used these reports and he ended up with no visitation at all, and had limited supervised visitation for a period of time later when he had fulfilled another series of alcohol and attitude rehabilitation programs. That didn't last either. He ended up abandoning any interest in his children, remarrying another woman and starting a new family. He moved to a different state, but I was still terrified of him. Once he started a new job, and after several years of not paying any child support, the child support enforcement agency tracked him down. They wanted him to provide health insurance for my children if it was available to him since I was self-employed and couldn't provide them with it. They also wanted to investigate his ability to pay child support.

This is when the nightmare started again. I received phone calls all hours of the day and night telling me to drop the child support case. He was making sixty-five thousand dollars a year and I was making twenty-five thousand dollars a year, supporting the two kids myself. My children deserved to have financial support from him if nothing else. I blocked his phone numbers and reported the calls to the police. It turned out that he revealed his true self to wife #2 and she also divorced him. He lost another job and fell off the map.

I only glossed over my situation. I won't go into the physical, emotional an verbal attacks I endured over the years. I still keep doors and windows locked. I am always looking over my shoulder, and I am always vigilant. It doesn't go away. When watching that show I thought, why? why? why? would you go inside that man's house alone when you were so afraid of him? Why would you expose yourself to that kind of danger? Please, if you are in a similar situation - arrange for a neutral drop off and pick up point at a public place, maybe even ask for a friend or relative to do the exchange for you. If you are suffering abuse, don't wait to report it thinking it will get better, or that it's not that bad. It can escalate gradually -or in an instant.

In An Instant: I liked it, and I am now planning to watch online those episodes I missed. First, a grizzly bear attack when a father and daughter are hiking through a national park. I saw the bear roaring with his giant teeth showing. Thrills of anticipation. It is going to be terrifying, I bet.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Nature versus Nurture: Can Good Parents Have Bad Kids?


I am fascinated by this subject. 'There is no such thing as bad children - only bad parents' had long been the mantra of child experts. I'm sure we're all familiar with studies showing how children raised in a violent and abusive home can turn out to be less than stellar citizens. Poor, neglectful, or lazy parenting has been blamed for children behaving badly, from toddler temper tantrums to bullying when they are older. When you see a child acting out in the mall, or grocery store, what is your automatic response? Do you look to the parent, judge them, their appearance and the way they react to the child's behavior? Do you question what they must have done to produce a child that acts that way?

Do you believe children are a product of their environment and not pre-decided by nature? In an article in The New York Times, respected psychiatrist Dr. Richard Friedman admitted that his profession is beginning to accept that some children are just born toxic. When children are born into loving homes with parents who are responsible and provide for their needs, but still go off course, it could be that they are just bad seeds. Psychologists recognize there are temperamental differences in babies from birth, and just as not every baby will grow to be a genius, neither will they all form 'nice' personalities. Even though professionals were trained to see all children as intrinsically good until influenced by outside sources that theory is being challenged.

The notion that some children might be the bad seeds of more or less decent parents — is hard to take. Seemingly a negative approach, it violates a prevailing social belief that people have a nearly limitless potential for change and self-improvement. A child's bad behavior does not necessarily stem from poor parenting or an impoverished environment, it is simply a hard-wired genetic trait and character component that cannot be shaped by the best of circumstances. This doesn't necessarily mean the children will grow up to be psychopaths or hard criminals or that they suffer from any brand of mental illness. There are children who are born with less empathy and understanding of people and who care much less about the consequences of their actions and the effects on other people.

I struggle with the idea, I mean, I've always wanted to believe that if you raise a child with love and boundaries that child has to grow up well-adjusted, right? With nurturing any child has limitless possibilities. We'd be amazed when a child raised in an abusive or neglectful home with limited resources becomes successful as an individual, has a loving relationship with a spouse and produces healthy, happy children of their own. So, was it something in that child's genetic make up that prevented them from being influenced negatively? What about parents who have multiple children, and some are 'normal' and others are not? I have four siblings, three brothers and a sister. My sister and I are definitely more alike than we are similar to our brothers. Don't get me wrong, my brothers are not bad people. However, they have always been much less likely to care about the consequences of their actions than my sister and me. All raised in the same home, and yet while growing up my brothers were always in trouble, giving the parents grief. I say growing up, even though they are forty-one, thirty-nine, and thirty-eight and still get off the tracks now and then.

Being involved with the foster care system, and many troubled teenagers, my husband and I tried to see them all as unique individuals, but give them the same love and security, a home. Sometimes the children responded well, and sometimes they didn't. We had a boy live with us from the time he was eleven, until he was almost thirteen and had to be removed because once he was 'bigger' than me he became threatening and aggressive when he didn't get his way. We struggled with this decision, and continued as long as we could, but my personal safety had to come before trying to help the child. We had four children of our own, and two other siblings in care at that time. We'd made him a member of our family, our school, our community. He joined the football team, we encouraged him and went to watch his games. We celebrated his birthday and holidays, and we just plain loved him. I mean, that's what tends to happen when you take a child into your home. Yet, it wasn't enough. Even with therapists, teachers, counselors, social workers and the most support we could receive also trying to help him see that we were providing him with a home and a family, and it was in his best interest to 'alter' his bad behaviors, he did not. It was a form of rejection. He came from a neglectful home, possibly abusive, with six siblings scattered between relatives and some also in the foster care system. Was this the reason he rejected us? Or was it hard-wired into his genetic code? Guilt and regret filled us, and this wasn't our biological child. I can't imagine how we'd feel if one of our own children treated us the way he did. I have been reading stories about families that have a child who feels no connection to them, abuses and threatens family members with no guilt or remorse. The parents claim they are at their wits end and don't understand it. I don't want to excuse bad parents, but maybe there is a grain of truth in the idea that not all people are born good?

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Am I Lazy?

Yes, I see that ceiling fan is collecting dust, there's lint on the carpet (and if I look closely enough, I'm sure I'll find a gazillion dog hairs,) the breakfast dishes are still in the sink, and that bathroom sink refuses to clean itself. But, I've written 5,000 words this week. So, do I feel like I'm lazy, neglectful? In the past, all those things would have bothered me; I wouldn't be able to do anything else until everything was clean and in order. Now, I do my best to ignore it. Oh, it will get done, but in my time. If I want to accomplish any of my personal goals, such as creating time for writing, those other things will have to wait. In the end, a little dust on the furniture doesn't mean much. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Are You Raising "Nice" Children?

I have been reading interesting articles and debates on this topic. Popular research states, “Children are not born simply good or bad and we should never give up on them. They need adults who will help them become caring, respectful, and responsible for their communities at every stage of their childhood.” ~ (https://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=8991749938849366142#editor/target=post;postID=2888719131736933430)

Do you worry more about your child's happiness than if they are kind and compassionate to others? Do you teach empathy for others? Do you celebrate your child's success, awards, sports or academic achievements more than when they are a caring community member? 

I strongly believe in teaching my children that being kind is the most important thing. I did not try to force them to like or get along with every person they met or had to deal with. However, they were taught they must be respectful, tolerant, and nice. In reality, there will always be people you don't like, and who don't like you. I hope that my children will not act negatively against people that they are not drawn to as friends. 

We have had several occasions when other children treated ours unkindly. They have been bullied, or teased. They have risen above it, in most situations. Long conversations about why these "mean" kids may act that way, and treat others the way they do brought a different view point. Our kids managed to feel sympathy for the bully. Isn't it true that the child who needs love the most will ask for it in the most unloving of ways?

There have been physical altercations when some one has physically attacked one of my children, and he acted in defense. Luckily, that diffused the situation and the bully backed down and didn't bother him anymore. I'm not sure it always works that way. I'm afraid to condone any violence, worried that it will escalate the situation. I advise walking away whenever possible. In that particular instance, the boy had my son in had a headlock, so he couldn't get away. 

I am glad that our local schools promote good character traits as well as sports and academic achievements. There are monthly, semi annual, and end of the year awards given out to students who portray good character traits: responsibility, respect, citizenship, kindness & empathy, perseverance, self-discipline & empowerment, diversity & tolerance, cooperation, honesty & fairness, and pride. 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Holiday Hangover

The end of 2014 is approaching and we have very strange weather here in NY. My son was outside playing basketball the last few days. Sadly, we did not have a white Christmas. It has been a busy few months and I am trying to get back into a semblance of a routine, but still have to get through New Years this week. Holidays always have me spinning in circles. On the up side it means more time with my husband and family we don't see often enough. Sadly, we lost my father-in-law just before Thanksgiving, so this season has been bittersweet.