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.

20180513_112346

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.

20180513_101350

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.

20180513_102815.jpg

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.

Advertisements

We fostered a 17 year old for two weeks.

img_6079

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.

carters-mall-of-america-interior-1

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.

Tflag

Lullaby Prayer for Tomorrow

13450069_10210036778134858_4053303749792487138_nAs the news of the Orlando shooting starting streaming in from all sources, I found myself trying to fake a smile to my little and the tower of blocks he had built. “Great job, buddy!” as I choked back tears mourning the loss of my soul family. That night, I rocked him before bed and listened to his concerns about the dark and whatever phobias had crept in during that moment. I hummed a little song for him, and also for me, because I couldn’t trust my voice and words to be strong enough.

I thought about all the fear ahead for him. When he finds out that he is targeted for the color of his skin. When he finds out that his moms are targeted for the person that they love. When he finds out that people would rather keep their rights to their guns and their hobby of shooting or hunting or [often false perception of] protection than see him alive, or his moms, or any of his school friends. When he finds out it only takes 38 minutes to walk out of a gun shop with an AR-15.

I was overcome with despair realizing that although a parent can never protect their child from all harms, I found myself realizing just how dangerous this country has become, and even more so for minorities and vulnerable populations. I realized that besides a little vote of my own–there is absolutely nothing I can do.

My voice trailing off as he fell asleep in my arms, I found myself hoping that I would get to see him happy in a career, married one day and maybe have kids of his own.

Then I stopped short when I realized I actually just hope to see him through his childhood.

Or even through tomorrow.