Mother’s Day Part 2: Cake in a Basement

We turned down a dirt road in a neighborhood where basketball hoops were old and worn, the silence of no children out on a beautiful spring day was deafening, and the lack of tending to gardens and homes was painfully obvious. The GPS said we had arrived and a woman came out in an all black robe with a clipboard when we pulled in.

My gut check told me this was a terrible idea so I texted the address to my boss knowing that if we went missing she would come find me.

We got out of the car and were quickly introduced to the robe lady and then told that she would not try to keep track between the two of us because it is “too confusing”. She told us we should go around the back of the house because that is where Q is. I couldn’t help but wonder if people would think I was a lunatic for going around to some back of a house after they found my body. We went anyway.

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We were led down a stairwell into the basement where they keep her. When we walked into the living space, the stench of poverty hit me so hard I stopped in my tracks. If you have ever worked in human services, I think you know this smell. I can’t quite figure out the exact way to describe it but I think it’s a combination between stale air, cigarettes, kool-aid, and general cheap products.

The “apartment” (if you can call it that) had two living spaces: a 20180513_101319 kitchen/dining space and a living/sleeping space. The windows were typical basement windows that are at the ceiling about 5 inches tall. It’s not up to fire code by any standards and to be clear, if there was an emergency, anyone living in that space would surely die.

When we went into the living space Q was hiding in the  corner behind TVs (there were two, one placed right in front of the other) playing with cords. She went back throughout our visit to play with the cords and outlets.

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She was not excited but rather had a very flat response without affect (which we expected). There weren’t any hugs but rather us trying to pretend like we had just seen her the day before type of “hey! we brought some things for you” type of engagement. We sat the bag of clothes that we had brought on the couch and told her we brought her magazine. We asked if we could read it together. So we sat awkwardly on the squeaky, sagging couch reading through the magazine page by page as if it were any other day.

Her energy was strange. This was not the child we knew.

At one point she went back and forth to the fridge to show us items like the tub of margarine and generic jelly named “jelly”. She ate chunks of the margarine with her hands. The staff member brought her a cake to show us that Q had decorated. At 10 in the morning she proceeded to sit on the couch and eat the candies and cake with her hands throughout our entire visit.

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She was a feral child.

I asked her the last time she had a hug and she let me know it was from us. Back in March when she was at the hospital. Because of policies and procedures, staff cannot hug, which mean that this 5 year old that has severe attachment and neglect history is continuing not to get the physical attention she will need in order to heal.  Let’s remember that her biological mother left her in her car seat for so long that Q’s muscles atrophied. We asked if we could hug her and she slowly said yes. We hugged her. We sang our special songs to her.

The program is teetering on the line of conversion therapy. They will not acknowledge her gender identity as being a girl. They have decided that her gender identity has been constructed simply from us. Never mind that we are the Muck Boot, Carhartt type of gals and we met Q who was demanding nail polish, dresses, and that she wants to be a girl in the most self-confident way possible. We never encouraged this. We just validated whatever her experience was and whatever way she wanted to express this. Of course, what would they know, they have no interest in learning about Q’s history or about us. We had to remind them that Q’s trauma and neglect is something we did not cause.

At this point Q is surviving. She is not thriving. She will not heal in this environment.

The way that this placement has been handled by DCF and the courts is not great to say the least. Believe me when I tell you, there is nothing that can be done. It’s out of our hands.

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Mother’s Day Part 1: Hospital Parking Lots

After our January episode detailed in my previous blog, Q went to a crisis stabilization program for a week. When she returned we had two weeks of stability. After that, it was a fight for our lives. This picks up where we are now. 

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We last saw Q on March 16th when she had an emergency referral to a statewide mental health stabilization program. In type that sounds like it was a streamlined referral but fighting for months to get someone to notice her was anything but streamlined. The way we finally got noticed involved injury to respite providers, Q hanging a cat, a police escort, and myself making a dramatic scene in the Emergency Room saying that I couldn’t do it anymore and asking if someone would like to evaluate my mental stability. A show indeed. We finally got DCF to agree to take her into their custody so that they could do some work. We could not go on any more. If I ever wondered what my breaking point looked like, I found it.

She was referred to a high-level facility 5 hours a way for their short term program for youth experiencing mental crisis and in need of stabilization. It is typically 11 days but because she was so unstable, she stayed for 6 weeks. Finally, someone noticed. The medical team there acknowledged we were in fact not crazy and they do not know how we lasted as long as we did. They diagnosed her with what seemed like everything possible.  PTSD, Oppositional Defiance Disorder, Reactive Attachment Disorder, ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Fetal Drug Exposure, Psychosis. I’m sure there is one that I missed or one that they missed. It’s all a mess so I don’t know that one less or more would be noticed.

Two weeks ago she was discharged and sent to a residential facility because no one felt it was safe enough for her to be in a home environment. There was only one place in the state that would take her because of her young age. Being 5 doesn’t exactly fit into any of the residential models that are available in the state. So they are creating one for her. The place has been terrible so far and the Court is not pleased with the placement. We can only hope a better placement can be developed.

On Mother’s Day we drove for 2 hours to visit with Q in the first time in two months.  We stopped at Walmart to pick up a few pairs of clothes for her as we assumed she would have grown out of everything since we last saw her. Afterwards we discovered all of the bathrooms were out of order in Walmart and the ones in nearby stores. Awkward timing. But a two hour drive and a shopping trip left an emergent need for a bathroom visit before going into unknown territory.  We ended up rushing into a hospital and finding a bathroom. It smelled like bleach and I felt the secondary panic of hospital bathrooms subside.

I found myself on Mother’s Day removing tags, matching small child-sized socks, and folding the clothes nicely in a hospital parking lot and waiting for it to be time to drive to the residential facility.  I couldn’t help but notice that the weather was perfect for Mother’s Day and I hoped most people were not experiencing the kind of anxiety and heartache that I was. We passed restaurants that had signs out advertising for Mother’s Day brunch and specials. The parking lots were packed with cars and families were smiling and visiting on their way into gorge themselves on a feasts and conversation. I wondered what I would order. I wondered if I would ever have a Mother’s Day like that. I wondered if this visit would be my last. I wondered if I would ever buy clothes for her again. I wondered how long we could go on like this.

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Respite.

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Sunday, the day after Calling the Crisis Team, they called us for our planned check-in call. They had found a respite provider! Some clarifying questions around her being transgender (ugh) and the caller told me she needed to let them know this info and that the respite provider would call me to make a plan for pickup. We felt hopeful and packed a bag for her.

10 minutes later the crisis worker called back. After hearing the information I provided about her being trans they no longer wanted to take her. Fuck. The worker said she would keep trying. She knew we needed it and had planned on continuing to try.

About 30 minutes later she called back. Some magical person had said yes. So we waited for the crisis worker to arrive to collect her. Nothing can quite prepare you for what happens when a crisis worker comes to collect your child for respite. I’ve read blogs about how traumatized children respond, or rather don’t respond. Everything is true.

Worker arrived. Q was most concerned with the fact that she wasn’t able to continue watching TV. We handed her an overnight bag and then Q asked the worker how long of a drive it would be. That’s all she wanted to know.

Off she went. No resistance. No feelings. No emotion. Just got her boots on without any other questions and left.

We got one whole afternoon and night of feeling safe. We went out to eat.  We slept without our door locked. We woke up to an alarm instead of screaming or Q climbing on top of the stair landing or jumping from the windowsill.

For one morning I just drank coffee and watched the wood stove in silence.

She is back now. Things have been touch and go today but we are walking on eggshells. We got word that the referral to the crisis stabilization program for the most extreme circumstances has been accepted. They are full now so she is on a waiting list. Hopefully in the next few days she will go. For now, we wait, provide loads of food, and try to zone her out in front of the TV. Our house is like a psych ward from the movies or a prison…maybe both.

Calling the Crisis Team

crisis-prSaturday, the episode started at 8am. Violence, aggression, verbal attacks, anything and everything that she could say and do she did. She went from room to room destroying things and using them as weapons. She figured out how to take the bar that you hang clothes on in a closet. She threw that at us. She took her clothes off. She ripped things into a million pieces all over the floor.  Coloring pages and drawings of us as a family– once proudly displayed on the fridge, now remains of yet another manic and violent episode.

We contacted the crisis line. People always say do that. We did. The first person on the adult line told us to just “put her in a hold and she will tire out”. We had. She doesn’t tire out. We had done everything that we have been trained over and over to do. 5.5 hours is long enough to manage this episode. After I was a royal pain he finally got a child crisis worker to connect with me. She was wonderful and tried to find an emergency respite placement but of course, the weather was so horrific between the icy conditions, flooded roads, and few respite options — it just couldn’t happen.

In the meantime while the crisis worker was trying to find some help for us, Q threw her body into the walls. She punched, kicked, assaulted items and us. She growled and spit like a rabid dog. She made herself bleed, played with the blood, soiled herself. The crisis line said it was bad enough that they wanted us to call the police. That they could at least help get to the ER and the crisis team could take it from there.

I did. I shakenly called the police with the screaming in the background. They said no. They said it wasn’t their problem. That the crisis line can deal with it. I told them she was a danger to herself and others. That we couldn’t keep going like this. They said no.

They said no.

Bleeding, covered in her own urine, smashing item after item, coming after me with the metal pole, ripping things to shreds… the police said no.

The crisis line worker said she would come. So she dug herself out during a blizzard condition and slowly (1.5 hours later) made her way. She was appalled the police wouldn’t help. She called her supervisor. They knew we were maxed and multiple people worked on getting to us. And every day for the last few weeks has been some version of this. We told our support team earlier this week that we couldn’t keep going like this.

The crisis worker arrived. She was incredible. She arrived to a scene that words can’t describe fully. She was able to bring the crisis level down just a bit, assess Q, and then give us a moment to regulate ourselves. She apologized that there wasn’t a respite, she knew we needed it, she knew there wasn’t an option to help us. She promised that she would work on it and have someone call us the next morning. She knows we can’t keep her safe and that we are also not safe. Everyone knows.

With a big deep breath we sent her on her way, waited out the rest of the evening and prayed that the next morning we would get a call that they found respite.

We fostered a 17 year old for two weeks.

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We had a 17 year old foster youth for two weeks in October. We didn’t share this news with many folks because sometimes my good ol’ gut does some great intuition checks. I knew it was destined for a flaming mess. We still said yes. Sometimes, you just have say yes to give things a try. I believe in taking chances on people sometimes. It has to feel right. We also denied this youth a year ago when DCF reached out to us and here she was coming back around and we were being asked again. It felt like we had to take a chance.

Result: Did not go well.

Okay, that may be too simplistic, but truthfully the first week was wonderful as challenging as that may have been. She wanted to participate, she wanted to be loved. She was demanding and arrogant which was to be expected. We got her connected to a pediatrician (she hadn’t been in years), a dentist (she had 5 cavities identified more than a year ago that were never tended to and had ACTUAL HOLES IN HER TEETH), a support group (literally had never been to any support group). All in two weeks. All being told, we are pretty damn good at this stuff if I do say so myself.

What we did not expect was her being transphobic and homophobic. You may say this happens from time to time so why were we so surprised by this? Because she was transgender herself (hence why we said yes to begin with). It was a fascinating train wreck to witness. She completely rejected the identity of being trans or being part of the LGBTQ community and yet she most certainly was not receiving the support she needed in order to navigate complex identity issues in a school or settings with other providers. She was offensive about our own LGBTQ identities including our daughter. She flat out refused to call her by she/her pronouns. Terrible, fascinating, perplexing. All those things and then some. Odd.

But she smoked. And she would do anything, absolutely ANYTHING, to get cigarettes. She had some language around quitting so we got her to a pediatrician to get some patches prescribed. Low and behold she loved cigarettes themselves more than anything as well. Of course this turned into doing outrageous things to get them.

One Saturday, we had an outing and it went well. Well enough for her to self-sabotage. That was enough goodness for her. She was done. And she sure made sure of it. We ended up kicking her out of the house. Literally. As I huddled with my 5 year old in the bathroom calling the police I realized this may not have gone well. The police came and removed her from the property and that was that.

Since then we have moved on quite well. Q has done pretty good all things considered. Q actually still just misses Bug more than anything and this has somehow gone a bit unnoticed in her world.

Needless to say we are all set on the fostering front. At least for a long long time. I think as far as developing our family goes we would prefer to try for more permanent placements. Perhaps we can revisit this fostering thing in the future.

Perhaps not.

The Dress.

We let her wear girl clothes at home for a long time before we did it publicly.  This was my compromise to her pleas and begging to be a girl. That lasted for over a year. A year! What message does that send about self acceptance? It sends a message of shame is what it does. Sometimes our best intentions as parents, are just not good enough. I can’t kick myself anymore for it but for a while I felt guilty and just truly sorry I let it go on for that long.

After we wrote the coming out letter, I took Q for a walk and finally told her that we let everyone know she is now a girl. That she doesn’t have to pretend to be a boy anymore. She smiled a huge smile and said, “really mommy, really!?”. I nodded, gulped, and stuttered when I said, “yes sweetie, really”.  She was content and happy. She paused and had one simple question.

 “Can we buy a dress?”

For my dress hating self, this was not going to be easy. I took a deep breath and started my journey of better acceptance of my kid.

The next day we went to the store. I had approximately 8.5 panic attacks on the way there. We walked in, Q holding my hand, and she looked up at me searching for approval of which “side” she should go on. The boys side or the girls side? I nodded nudged her along to the girls side. Soon we were swimming in pinks, purples, teals, and cheery yellows. I wanted to vomit, but glad that I did not.

She sifted through each and every dress to find the perfect one. She found it and then promptly found 10 others. After intense 4 year old negotiation, we settled on 3.

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My kid is transgender.

In April, we came out publicly that our kiddo is transgender. Little man, as referred to in this blog, is now known as she/her pronouns and I will give her a new reference on this blog as just Q. I didn’t feel compelled to write about it because my writing was drawn to the experience of fostering Bug. Over the next few weeks I will work on putting my experiences from the transitioning experience with Q into words. Of course at some point I’ll get the courage to write my final experience about saying good bye to Bug. I haven’t yet found that courage though.

This was our public coming out letter from April:


Dear friends and family, 

We are writing this letter in advocacy for our family. We have thought long and hard as to how to broach the subject, and we feel that it is best to be done in an honest and heartfelt letter. This is certainly nothing new, but just finally time to put it out in the open!

The moment Q was placed with us, he began to verbalize the conflict he had with the way he identified. As we were getting to know this precious child, everything was new to us obviously. We let things unfold as they needed to without putting pressure or much thought. After all we had plenty of things to learn and do as we worked on finalizing the adoption.

He came to us with painted nails. He was notorious for sneaking into nail polish at his previous foster homes. He would constantly talk about makeup. And that child has quite the affinity for ruffles, pink, and princesses. For those that know us well, this is most definitely not an influence from us. Despite my deep-seeded feminist dislike of princesses…they cannot be stopped. This is all Q.

Truth be told, even though we are also part of the LGBTQ “family”. We had hoped it wasn’t true. I’m embarrassed to say that I prayed it wasn’t. Despite our desires for this to be a phase, we cannot ignore this anymore. Q has verbally expressed consistently, that he wants to be a girl. When asked what he wants to be when he grows up he says a girl, a mom, etc. He always has. I used to whisper to him when he was barely awake in the night asking him if he was a boy or girl, and he always said “girl”. We brushed it off quite frequently, telling ourselves that he was just gender-nonconforming, and that it was only a slight possibility he was actually transgender. Not because we are against transgender folks but because we have deep concerns that this added layer on top of the already complex identity would be too much for Q to bare later in life. With time, energy, research, and consultation with professionals and LGBTQ advocates—we realize the errors of our ways. We know that this is Q’s journey. And as much as we know that being in the LGBTQ world has its challenges, and the journey can be bumpy—we value that our experience is our own. And so it must be this way for Q as well.

Lately things have shifted to be more urgent. Sadness has consumed Q as his desires to be a girl have been increasing. He steals things from girls at school, and recently froze up at the doctor’s office when a nurse referred to him as a boy. His body froze, he was enveloped with sadness, and he said he did not like that.

From here on, unless otherwise informed, please refer to Q as her/she/girl. We support our child and whatever her journey. Our main goal is for her to be safe, happy, know she is loved, and play!! If you have questions or concerns, you are welcome to ask us directly. Under no circumstance may you ask Q your questions or continue to refer to Q as a boy. We understand this takes time and mistakes will happen (we are certainly still learning) but intentionally calling Q by he/his/boy references will not be tolerated. Talk to Q about Paw Patrol, dancing, spaghetti, or milking the goats if you are at a loss.

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