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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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.

One week left.

In one week Bug will leave us to go onto his next journey. We will love and snuggle as much as we can possible squeeze into these last precious days.

While we will do our best to celebrate all that we have experienced and learned from our time with him, we will also be hurting. Please hold space in your hearts for us in the next couple weeks if you can spare some.

This I know.

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I sat in the chair that my Grandfather rocked me as a child and sang the lullaby I can most easily recall from my Grandmother. Feeding him, rocking him, and adding another young soul to the history of that chair, is important. It validates my experience, that when I rock future babies, infants or teenagers or grown adults or if my adult child rocks me, I can recall the love that is forever built into that chair. This I know.

I realized that I will not get much longer with this little baby. That my heart and soul will forever be changed by him, but that this is one of the few times I have left with him to do this very thing. This I know.

When I sing the same lullaby I will recall his coo. His contagious smile. I will remember his aura that commanded me to be present. To be 100% mindful of tending to his exact need. This I know.

I watched as the sun set behind the mountain and the skies turned to dusk. The birds flocked to their trees for the night, the bats came out for their nightly hunt. In a little over a month’s time the air will get more crisp. The leaves will start to get their autumn colors. He will be gone. This I know. 

The seasons will shift. My heart will heal. Love is forever. This I know.

Phone call with bio mom.

The meeting was scheduled for June 26th. I was instructed to go to the DCF office where we would have a call with Bug’s bio mom and I would meet this unknown cousin. I asked what I was supposed to talk with his bio mom about and what the meeting would be like. No response.

So I show up to the meeting, only after panicking and making a plan of talking points with my best friend. I realized I didn’t know what in the world I would say to the woman whose baby I love so dearly.  Armed with talking points, I went to DCF where I waited a really long time. The social workers came out like a whirlwind and we went into a conference room quickly. I noticed the cousin was not in attendance and then they were dialing Bug’s bio mom before I even sat down.

The social worker whispered sternly “first names only!”. And then the bio mom picked up.

Before I could get my feet underneath me in the insanity that I found myself in, bio mom was angrily telling them off. Because they hadn’t given her an update in over a month. A MONTH. They hadn’t even contacted her to tell her he was okay. She demanded visits with him (as she should since her rights have not been terminated). They cut her off and were rude, just rude. She got upset by this (obviously).

Before I knew what I was doing, I leaned over and slowly took the phone from the social worker. Clearly they have never gotten the memo about kindness or deescalation. They looked at me, appalled that I had the balls to take her phone (to be honest, so was I).

“Hey mama, I’m one of the foster parents, let’s just chat you and me. Can I tell you about him? Can I tell you about his smile and how he sleeps?”

Of course, she started crying right away. She instantly was more calm and I gave her detail after detail about him. The social workers tried to interject at one point and I shushed them and told them it was not their turn to talk.

I told her how he sleeps, how he smiles. I told her how much he weighs and how much he is eating. I told her how loved he is everywhere he goes. She thanked me for taking care of him and for loving him. I was floored by her thanking me. I had painted her to be something that she is most definitely not. She is just a mama that needs help. And I have so much kindness and concern in my heart for her.

I was then shooed out of the conference room and they continued their yell fest with her.

No cousin. No discussion. Just in and then out.

Maybe kinship. Maybe not.

3 Months.jpgThe end of June marked 3 months of Bug being with us. He can hold his head up like a champ now, he coos and smiles, and laughs. When he really smiles he scrunches his nose up and there is a nose crease right in between his eyebrows. He loves repetition and I play the “goo goo gotcha” type games and make ridiculous sounds and noises I never thought I would find myself doing. Anything to hear his giggle and to see him happy. He physical symptoms of the NAS have improved dramatically.

Early to mid-June DCF informed us that there was a kinship placement identified. Surprise to us since they told us they had explored kinship already and we should expect this placement to last at least a year or longer. Turns out not so much. So next came the really awfulness of the unknown. They kept trying to get us to “make a plan” and “figure out a transition”. They also laid the guilt trip on us THICK. And I mean THICK. Every moment they get, they like to tell us how “hard it will be for him the longer he is with us”. After I got over my whimpers and wounds, I kicked into action.

I told them to do their job. They need to come up with the plan. They need to offer options. And I reminded them that we are not responsible for why he is in care, nor are we responsible for any additional “hardship”. I did not use drugs while pregnant. I did not go to jail. I am not the social worker that didn’t explore kinship options.

This random cousin, that we do not know the name of or have contact info for, doesn’t have daycare set up, nor is she even licensed yet. What exactly would you like us to do?

I also told them that Bug now knows that the world can provide for him and that his needs can be met. This is a significant thing that our 4 year old did not get as a baby and we will struggle for a LONG time (perhaps forever) trying to address that neglect. I told DCF that this is indeed the exact reason that babies are placed with foster families. So that they can learn that the world, although a scary place, can indeed keep them safe and provide for them. It is okay for him to get attached. If he knows he is loved and can attach, we are doing things right. Having loved and lost is hard, but never having attachment is near impossible to fix. BELIEVE ME.

So here we are. A month later. No update. No info whatsoever. No idea.

So we carry on…