For Forty-five Days, He Was My Little Man

For Forty-five Days, He Was My Little Man

Two children delivered to our door; she was one, and he was seven. His ruffled sun-blonde hair, huge smile, and immediate connection inspired hope. Her strawberry hair, wide blue eyes, and a shy smile had my heart from the get-go. Their dad was over twenty years their mom's senior and an alcoholic, often incarcerated or in rehabilitation facilities. Mom had an IQ slightly higher than the seven-year-old. The situation at home required their removal. He suffered from attachment disorder and several other problems; he took the prescribed medication and attended counseling. She was only a baby and still required evaluation. 

Once in our care, we learned they would have a sibling. Mom was pregnant again. We cared for the children the nine months of Mom's pregnancy; the caseworkers told us that when the baby came, he or she would immediately be removed and placed in our care. The department of social services felt it was in the best interest of the children to pursue termination of parental rights, and they broached the topic of adoption with my husband and me. One reason we'd entered the world of foster care was the possibility of adopting a child; we each had two children from our first marriages, but due to health problems, having another child was a danger to my life and possibly the baby's life as well. 

Mom gave birth to a boy. Boy 2 came to us straight from the hospital. Tiny, squalling bundle of love, his features strongly resembled his siblings, and he was adorable. We'd turned my office into a nursery. We bought a ton of baby clothes, blankets, pacifiers, bottles, diapers, and wipes. Assembled a crib, bassinet, changing table, baby swing, portable crib, stroller - you know - the endless list of things that people expecting babies buy. For the first few weeks, I kept the bassinet next to my bed. My youngest child was eleven-years-old; it had been a while since I'd had to get up for late-night feedings; I was a little anxious.  It turned out boy 2 was colicky and needed near-constant attention; we had to switch his formula three times, and it didn't help; I was awake all night long. He'd only sleep if I sat up and held him with his head on my shoulder. Sometimes, sitting him in his swing and letting it rock gently would help him sleep for an hour or two. Exhausted by the second week, I asked my husband to take Friday night or Saturday night shifts so I could rest, but Little Man wanted me. I'd lay there and listen to him cry and cry. When my husband couldn't get him to stop, I'd go and pick him up and settle him down. Our four children, plus baby's siblings and one other child in care at the time needed me during the day. I wouldn't have given up baby, though; my heartstrings were bound to that boy as though I'd given birth to him. 

By week number three, we'd received the bad news. There would be a hearing because Mom and Dad were fighting the removal of the baby and wanted him returned home. The department of social services contacted us and told us that they would battle against this happening. We continued to pray they would not return the baby to a situation that his older siblings couldn't face. How did it make any sense? Why would they send him home? It wouldn't happen. It couldn't happen. We loved this child, and our children had bonded with him, all the children had; they enjoyed holding him, helping feed him and bathe him, and pushing him in his stroller. They all loved him. 

The hearing came and went, and we received a phone call from the caseworker. It happened. Of all the idiotic decisions that a judge had ever made, this particular judge ordered the baby returned to his parents. The basis for her decision? The well-thought-out, logical reason for her judgment? "Just because they abused their first two children, doesn't mean they'll abuse their third one." Can you wrap your mind around this? But don't worry, they set 'safeguards' in place. Mom and Dad were mandated to parenting and anger management classes. They would begin visits with the baby for the next three weeks until finally, the baby would return home permanently after they met their requirements.

Baby went to Mom and Dad two afternoons a week for visits. Two afternoons tore from my soul every week welcoming baby home with strip checks and examining every inch of him for problems. The day came closer and closer, the day they'd take him permanently. I cried every night as he fussed and cried. What would they do when he couldn't sleep at night? Would they know how to comfort him? Would they leave him crying? Would it make them angry? What would it do to him when he cried, and I wasn't there - when it wasn't me who picked him up and rubbed my cheek against his and stroked his back while I rocked him? It was killing me slowly; I couldn't sleep, even if he did; I just wanted to hold him. 

Then the day arrived, 45 days after I first held him. I'd gotten him up early that morning; I fed him, bathed him, and dressed him. He fell asleep in my arms, and I breathed the smell of his hair, stared at his face and memorized how peaceful he looked. The doorbell rang, and I buckled him into his car seat. All my children were in school, and my husband was at work; the younger kids in care were all at appointments; I'd purposely scheduled the pick up during that time. Our transport worker was an incredibly nice woman who'd we'd worked with for a long time; she and I couldn't make eye contact. I held the car seat; she took the handle and firmly rested her hand on my shoulder for a moment. She buckled baby into the backseat of her car, and she drove away. Slumped on the landing in my garage, I wailed; my heart would never recover.

In An Instant

Has anyone watched this new American documentary television series, In An Instant, that airs on the ABC channel? I watched this riveting program over the weekend. It premiered on March 6th, but I hadn't seen any previews for the new series and had missed any prior episodes. Ordinary people recall dramatic life-changing moments. "It can happen to anyone, anywhere, and at any time—in an instant, a person's life can be forever altered, and that moment will eventually define who you are."

The specific show I watched was about a woman who married, and soon her fairy tale evaporated to reveal the monster that was her husband. It gave the story directly from her and also contained dramatizations reenacting the whole thing. The woman gained the courage to leave her husband after her children were born, and he warned her she would regret it, sooner or later. She tried to fight him through the courts, but he still gained joint custody of their daughters. He continued to be abusive, even after they divorced, and she remarried. Acrimonious and sometimes violent scenes would play out in front of their girls when they exchanged custody of them for their father's visitation periods. Some years later, she made the mistake of letting her guard down, which cost her dearly. She entered his house when picking up her kids. He struck her, bound her hands, covered her head with duct tape, beat her in the head nearly to death with a baseball bat, stuffed her half-naked in a trash can, filled the can with snow, and then left her in a storage locker, dead .... or so he thought.

My husband watched this show with me, and he said, "Nobody expected her to be alive. Can you imagine going through something like that?"
Sadly, and disturbingly, yes - I can, and I have. It lurks in the back of my mind still, even after being remarried for eight years. I slept on my living room sofa, which I pushed up against my locked front door, chained and secured by two deadbolts. I did that for over a year. My sons were seven and two at that time. Their father showed up at two or three in the morning and banged on outer walls and rattled the windows. He destroyed property and screamed obscenities at the top of his lungs, and he hit the front door over and over like a battering ram. He was arrested twice. He even went as far the last time as ripping the phone wires from the outside of the house so I couldn't call for help - forcing me to buy one of those disposable cell phones for the first time in case of emergencies. 

I went to court, terrified and alone. My family lives in different states; all moved away before my second son was born. The judge that day got on quite well with my now ex-husband. He was cleaned up and sober and made pleas for me to reconcile for the sake of the children. He just wanted to keep his family together; he told the court. He also insinuated I only wanted him out of the house in favor of another man; his jealousy made him do these things, and he regretted his actions. He and the judge discussed his profession. He was a glassblower, producing quartz semi-conductors and huge tubes for different types of computers and machines. The judge went so far as to joke with him about how much beer one of these giant tubes could hold. Haha. He's an alcoholic, I thought. Great joke.

I wanted a restraining order, a permanent one. I'd only been granted a temporary one. I thought it would be a simple matter, given the police-reports. I was wrong. The judge turned his eyes upon me like I was the villain in the situation. I was so overwhelmed, I couldn't even speak. I could only shake my head when he opened his mouth and told me, "You need to stop the nonsense. File for a divorce if that's what you want." Then he dropped the restraining order. I continued to shake my head. "What is it? DO you have something to say?" he finally asked.

"You have no idea; you just have no clue what you are doing," I answered. I suppose I was lucky not to have landed myself in trouble.

It wasn't long before the police arrested him again. He threatened to kill me with a screwdriver in front of my boys. This time, he was also charged with endangering the welfare of the children. He called and begged me to drop the charges. I told him the truth; I couldn't. Even his attorney contacted me and said alcohol abuse made him threaten me, but he would get help, and he couldn't support the children from a jail cell. He wanted me to "put in a good word," so to speak. I didn't.

Well, guess what - he didn't support his children. He didn't spend much time in jail that stint. He paid fines, entered some programs, and promised to be good. However, his behavior deteriorated as time passed, the quality of his work did as well, and he lost his job. He was arrested again for driving while intoxicated, resisted arrest, and fought with officers. He also told them he would kill his wife because he knew she'd reported his driving drunk (I didn't have any idea;) it was all her fault he'd landed in jail again. The officers brought a copy of this report to me, and I added it to the pile. I ended up having to leave the only home my children had known and start over. The police told me that as long as he had never lived at the address, he had fewer rights than he did where a 'marital home' was concerned. I was sad, a little relieved, but still scared enough that I always kept doors and windows locked and couldn't go to bed at night until I checked them all twice.

When I went into court for the divorce - which was signed by the same judge who dropped the restraining order: I bet he felt like a schmuck - I used these reports. He ended up with no visitation for a while and had limited supervised visitation for some time later when he had fulfilled another series of alcohol and attitude rehabilitation programs. That didn't last either. He ended up abandoning any interest in his children, remarrying another woman, and starting a new family. He moved to a different state, but I was still terrified of him. Once he started a new job, and after several years of not paying any child support, the child support enforcement agency tracked him down. They wanted him to provide health insurance for my children if available to him since I was self-employed and couldn't provide them with it. They also wanted to investigate his ability to pay child support.

The nightmare started again. I received phone calls all hours of the day and night, telling me to drop the child support case. He earned sixty-five thousand dollars a year, and I was making twenty-five thousand dollars a year, supporting the two kids myself. My children deserved to have financial support from him, if nothing else. I blocked his phone numbers and reported the calls to the police. It turned out that he revealed his true self to wife #2 and she also divorced him. He lost another job and fell off the map.

I only glossed over my situation. I won't go into the physical, emotional, and verbal attacks I endured over the years. I still keep doors and windows locked. I am always looking over my shoulder, and I am ever vigilant. It doesn't go away. When watching that show, I thought, Why? Why? Why would you go inside that man's house alone when you were so afraid of him? Why would you expose yourself to that kind of danger? If you are in a similar situation, please arrange for a neutral drop off and pick up point at a public place, maybe even ask for a friend or relative to do the exchange for you. If you suffer abuse, don't wait to report it thinking it will get better or that it's not that bad. It can escalate gradually -or in an instant.

In An Instant: I liked it, and I am now planning to watch online those episodes I missed. First, a grizzly bear attack when a father and daughter are hiking through a national park. I saw the bear roaring with his giant teeth showing. Thrills of anticipation; terrifying, I bet.

Nature versus Nurture: Can Good Parents Have Bad Kids?

This subject fascinates me. 'There is no such thing as bad children - only bad parents' had long been the mantra of child experts. I'm sure we're all familiar with studies showing how children raised in a violent and abusive home can turn into less than stellar citizens. Poor, neglectful, or lazy parenting has been blamed for children's bad behavior, from toddlers' temper tantrums to bullying when they grow older. When you see a child acting out in the mall or grocery store, what is your automatic response? Do you look to the parent, judge them, their appearance, and the way they react to the child's behavior? Do you question what they must have done to produce a child that acts that way?

Do you believe children are a product of their environment and not pre-decided by nature? In an article in The New York Times, respected psychiatrist Dr. Richard Friedman admitted that his profession is beginning to accept that some children are born toxic. When children are born to loving, responsible parents who provide for their needs, but they still meander off course, they could be bad seeds. Psychologists recognize temperamental differences in babies from birth, and as not every baby will grow to be a genius, neither will they all form 'nice' personalities. Even though trained professionals see all children as intrinsically good until influenced by outside sources, that theory has challengers.

The notion that some children might be the bad seeds of decent parents — is hard to take. Seemingly a negative approach, it violates a prevailing social belief that people have nearly limitless potential for change and self-improvement. A child's bad behavior does not necessarily stem from poor parenting or an impoverished environment. It is a hard-wired genetic trait and character component that circumstances can not shape; this doesn't necessarily mean the children will be psychopaths or hard criminals or that they suffer from any brand of mental illness. Some children are born with less empathy and understanding; they care much less about their actions' consequences and the effects on other people.

I struggle with the idea, I mean, I've always wanted to believe that if you raise a child with love and boundaries that child has to grow up well-adjusted, right? With nurturing, any child has limitless possibilities. We'd be amazed when a child raised in an abusive or neglectful home with limited resources becomes successful as an individual, has a loving spousal relationship, and produces healthy, happy children of their own. So, was it something in that child's genetic makeup that propelled them beyond the negative influences? What about parents who have multiple children, and some are 'normal' and others are not? 

Our involvement in the foster care system brought us many troubled teenagers; my husband and I tried to view them all as unique individuals, but give them the same love and security, a home. Sometimes the children responded well, and sometimes they didn't. A boy lived with us from the time he was eleven until he was almost thirteen, but we had to request his removal because once 'bigger' than me, he became threatening and aggressive when he didn't get his way. We struggled with this decision and continued as long as we could, but safety took precedence; we had four children of our own, and two other siblings in care at that time. We'd made him a member of our family, our school, our community. He'd joined the football team; we'd encouraged him and attended his games, celebrated his birthday and holidays, and we just plain loved him. That's what tends to happen when you take a child into your home. Yet, it wasn't enough. Even with therapists, teachers, counselors, and social workers trying to help him see that we provided him a home and a family, and it was in his best interest to 'alter' his bad behaviors, he did not. It was a form of rejection. He came from a neglectful, possibly abusive home and had six siblings scattered between relatives and some also in the foster care system. Was this the reason he rejected us? Or was it hard-wired into his genetic code? Guilt and regret filled us, and this wasn't our biological child; I can't imagine how we'd feel if one of our children had treated us the way he had. I have read stories about families that have a child who feels no connection to them, abuses, and threatens family members with no guilt or remorse. The parents claim they are at their wits' end and don't understand it. Without excusing bad parents, maybe there is a grain of truth in the idea that not all people are born good?

Are You Raising "Nice" Children?

I have been reading interesting articles and debates on this topic. Popular research states children are not born simply good or bad and we should never give up on them. They need adults who will help them become caring, respectful, and responsible for their communities at every stage of their childhood. 

Do you worry more about your child's happiness than if they are kind and compassionate to others? Do you teach empathy for others? Do you celebrate your child's success, awards, sports, or academic achievements more than when they are a caring community member? 

I strongly believe in teaching my children that being kind is the most important thing. I did not try to force them to like or get along with every person they met or had to deal with. However, they were taught they must be respectful, tolerant, and nice. In reality, there will always be people you don't like, and who don't like you. I hope that my children will not act negatively against people that they are not drawn to as friends. 

We have had several occasions when other children treated ours unkindly. They have been bullied or teased. They have risen above it, in most situations. Long conversations about why these "mean" kids may act that way and treat others the way they do bring a different viewpoint. Our kids managed to feel sympathy for the bully. Isn't it true that the child who needs love the most will ask for it in the most unloving of ways?

There have been physical altercations when someone has physically attacked one of my children, and he acted in defense. Luckily, that diffused the situation and the bully backed down and didn't bother him anymore. I'm not sure it always works that way. I'm afraid to condone any violence, worried that it will escalate the situation. I advise walking away whenever possible. In that particular instance, the boy had my son in had a headlock, so he couldn't get away. 

I am glad that our local schools promote good character traits as well as sports and academic achievements. Monthly, semi-annual, and end of the year awards are given out to students who portray good character traits: responsibility, respect, citizenship, kindness & empathy, perseverance, self-discipline & empowerment, diversity & tolerance, cooperation, honesty & fairness, and pride. 

Trading Reviews - Why I Don't

  I have been approached by other authors and asked if I would like to swap a review for a review. I have come across several groups who do the same thing. One of the reasons I don't participate in these review exchanges is that it changes the experience for me. I am an avid reader and I write a lot of book reviews. I do have a lot of requests for reviews. I sort through them, picking out the ones I would truly be interested in reading and believe I will enjoy. I also scan free book downloads and the library website for things I would like. I read and review them. I don't want it to feel like pressure or work. It is supposed to be fun. 
  I also don't want to feel pressured to withhold my absolute honest opinion. I am a nice person. I don't enjoy giving less than stellar reviews. I am truly thrilled when I can give a 5-star review because the book really blew me away. I will always give an honest review. I try to point out something positive, even if I felt the book just wasn't for me, or I didn't enjoy it for whatever reason.
  I want to believe in others' reviews of my book. I don't want to question a 5-star review, wondering if that shiny boon was given in hopes that I would reciprocate. I want someone to experience my book in a natural sequence. It catches their attention in some way, they read the description, maybe check the reviews, and then decide to read it because they feel they would enjoy it. If they do enjoy it, or not, I want their honest opinion reflected in stars, and hopefully, a well-written review explaining their feelings. To me, an honest 2 is better than a fake 5. I put it out there for the world to judge, hoping that it is liked and willing to accept it if it isn't - I want the opinion to be real, and deserved. When I see a book that has all positive reviews it makes me suspicious. Maybe it is just me. I also feel betrayed and angry when I see rave reviews only to download and read something, and figure out they were sugar-coated at best, and outright lies at the worst.