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

Respite.

desperate-for-respite

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.

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