“The opportunity to step away from everything and take a break is something that should not be squandered.” ~ Harper Reed
The last few months have been stressful – physically, mentally, legally, financially, and personally. With legal matters behind us we can move ahead and start living without the stress of wondering what “could” happen.
In January I received three children on an emergency safety plan – they were living in a home with no utilities and no food. School attendance was erratic, grades were failing and the parent in the home . . . well to say there are mental health issues is a kindness to her. How I was chosen to receive the children was a fluke, a necessity at the time as I’m not a registered foster parent. In the first month, the oldest aged out of the system and is now residing in an apartment close by where he can develop his own life after taking on the role of a responsible parent when their mother didn’t. He’s close enough to still have daily contact with his siblings, but not be financially responsible for their needs – which is a difficult adjustment for them as they are used to turning to him for spending money, and now they are learning to come to me.
The younger two are a year apart in age and had never been apart for any length of time. Academics was not highly encouraged in their world. School was an afterthought on most days, and providing clothing that fit was not a big deal or a priority. Hand-me-downs from nearby family members were the norm, whether they fit or not. While the state agency attempted to find family to take the kids, we buckled down to a life with boundaries and expectations and they did not disappoint. Within the first three weeks – grades started coming up and school attendance was perfect. Clothing was purchased that fit –, shoes, socks, underwear, coats. Meals have been a struggle – while we have food in the house (the fridge is packed) they still are cautious about whether they can eat what’s there.
In 6 weeks we went from quiet, downcast eyes and mumbles to clear, full-on eye contact, answers, humor, laughter, and grades in the A’s and B’s. And then there was track. Having never played organized sports, my (new) daughter decided to give it a go. While she wasn’t a runner, she learned to throw shotput and discus. There was even a smattering of conversations about future plans – fire academy, basketball, veterinarian school. Surprisingly the acts of achievement and success have spawned a desire to learn and do more – all three of my kids have decided to do Summer Virtual Academy to get a high school credit out of the way. Two are doing summer tutoring thru the school to get caught up in English. One has signed up for two dual enrollment credits thru the local University. Both girls are doing summer weights as both are on the track team, there are volleyball and basketball tryouts coming up for all three kids. Summer jobs – waitressing, lawncare and one who hasn’t decided what she can do yet.
Dealing with state agencies is never easy, and in this case there were some harrowing moments where we weren’t sure what would happen – they filed for custody, I filed for interventional temporary custody and got it at the last moment. Then it was a 6-week wait to find out what the judge would decide. We dealt with attorneys and caseworkers and home visits, and financial reviews and interviews with neighbors, co-workers, family members and friends. Thank God for teachers and school resource officers who wrote letters of support. A process that can drag on for months, took only 6 weeks and thanks to the mother not showing up for court – within 5 minutes I not only had permanent custody, but the state agency relinquished any oversight which was unheard of.
Moments that brought me to tears and made me so thankful that I could step in:
- When the oldest brother came home from work one evening and the kids ran to the table – he had gotten his free meal from work and brought it home with him. Even though we had eaten dinner earlier, they sat and watched him eat. Later he shared with me that he purposely got his free meal right before he left and would bring it home and they would split it three ways because it was all the food they had.
- I had purchased winter coats for the kids as they had none and we went to Missouri for a weekend when there was snow. (It was their first time playing in significant snow fall and they loved it!) When we arrived home, one of the boys had put his coat on one morning and was running his hand down the front and mentioned how much he liked his coat. I asked if it was warm enough and he replied, “Oh yeah! But that’s not why I like it so much. When I put it on, it makes me feel like I’m SOMEBODY.”
- The youngest brother had a teacher that he thought absolutely hated him. The first letter I received outlining the changes in the children was from this same teacher and he had nothing but glowing remarks to describe this boy and the changes he had noticed in the short time he’d been with me. I shared the letter with him when he got home from school and he was shocked that this teacher had so many good things to say about him — absolutely shocked.
- Family members of these children and friends of their mothers — all who had done nothing to step in and help the situation — messaged these kids daily and blamed them for their mothers’ mental illness. Literally cursing them and making vile comments as well as telling them that I’d get tired of them and kick them out.
- Meeting with their teachers, counselors, and coaches and seeing the excitement on their faces that a parent was actually attending a school event for them.
- Because I was not a registered foster parent for the state, I was not entitled to, nor did I receive any monetary assistance to help with the kids expenses. Mom received SSI benefits for the children the entire time I had them and not once offered to help with expenses. I never asked for money, but two friends on separate occasions would send gifts of funds to help pay for mattresses and bedding, or clothes and food.
We can now take a deep breath, take a break and focus on finding our path as a larger family with individual bents and hopes and dreams.