Reflecting on our Evacuation: Time with Family when Everything Else is Uncertain

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Irma’s uncertain path

As many of you know, we recently evacuated from the state of Florida due to Hurricane Irma with four toddlers in tote. YES!! Four toddlers and three adults were loaded up at 11pm with a tank of gas, a pack of diapers, and whatever laundry had been folded on the table but not yet put away. Sippy cups, blankies, and Lamby were placed in each of their car seats while my mother, Ashley, and myself found places to squeeze in a few belongings around the children’s necessities. We had no idea how long we would be gone or what, if anything, we would come home to, but we knew that there was too much risk involved to not head north until Irma had passed.

gloria and braxton
Gloria and Braxton

Gloria and Braxton’s parents (my son and his ex-fiance, Chelsea), were both needed at work and made plans for their own safety should the storm hit our town with a vengeance. They both agreed that the children would be safer with us and signed medical release paperwork should there be an emergency while we were away. This was a hard decision for them not knowing the extent of the evacuation but, as parents, we are often forced to make such decisions in the best interest of our children.

The drive to our house in West Virginia, on a normal day, takes just under ten hours. Of course, there was nothing normal about this day. Not only did we have four toddlers, but the traffic was very busy due to other evacuees. Granted, we were wise enough to go ahead and leave out on Thursday before the mandatory evacuations completely flooded the interstates because we did not want to find ourselves sitting in traffic for hours on end hearing “I need to potty” or “I need another cuppie.” So, once the kids were asleep and I finished up my work for the night, we took the printed directions for side roads that my son had worked out just in case GPS failed with the storm, and we began our journey that would inevitably take just over fifteen hours.

I took the first leg of the drive. The back roads were nice and easy to drive but there were few stops along the route. We had plenty of gas and the children were quiet so I managed a nearly five-hour run before our first stop. On a side note, this was NOT by choice. At three and a half hours into the drive, I was the one looking for a “potty stop!” but, as I stated, there were NO STOPS! No gas stations were open. No restaurants were found. No twenty-four hour McDonald’s could be noticed.

walmart

Finally, at about four and a half hours into the drive, I saw the blue lights of Walmart and thought “this next sneeze will not get me! YES!” I pulled into the parking lot that seemed a little empty for a Walmart but I assumed this was because of the small size of the town. My mother and I stepped out and started walking to the door. Here, an employee who was reporting to work informed us that they opened at SIX!!! I did not even know that there were still Walmarts that were not twenty-four hours!

Defeated, I climbed back into the driver’s seat and focused on the next twenty-seven miles until we were to hit the interstate. I MADE IT (BTW)! We found a Waffle House just off of the first exit and I have never been so happy! Okay, maybe that is a bit of a stretch, but I’m sure you get the point.

waffle house

So, here we were at 4am in a Waffle House with four toddlers who have been cooped up in the van all night. They ate, stirred our coffee with their waffles, popped a couple of creamers onto the table, and played music with the utensils. Finally, once they had eaten, Ashley put a dollar in the jukebox and the nearly empty restaurant became the stage for one of their infamous dance parties! The servers were great and even the few other guests applauded their moves!

Moving forward a few hours, we found ourselves at a rest area with dozens of other Florida vehicles. I was amazed at how everyone was wishing each other well and speaking as if they were a family. I guess that is the one positive thing about disasters; they bring people together. No one minded what year model of car someone exited, no one cared what clothing they had made their escape in, and no one seemed to mind the messy hair that everyone was sporting. Instead, everyone was legitimately thankful that one another had made it out of Irma’s path.

We arrived in West Virginia just after 3pm the following day. My youngest son, who had been up the night before with his band and/or working (do we really know what 18-year-olds do?), had not seen our messages that we were arriving. However, he quickly opened the door and helped to bring in his nieces and nephews, made us some coffee, and gave his mama a hug! We got to see our doggies that he has been watching until we clear our property in Florida, and we had some time to catch up.

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Picture from my son’s band on their recent tour

However, if you have read any of our CPS posts, then you know that we are terrified to be in West Virginia. Although there is plenty of room for everyone in the house and my son was super excited to have us all visit, we also all knew that being in the state is dangerous. My grandson’s abuser has not yet been convicted and his family court case is still ongoing. Our dismissal from the case keeps us from knowing any details so we thought it best to not take any chances and went to my father’s home across the state line into Virginia.

At this point, the children were not happy about getting back into the van and, keep in mind, my mother was with us on this trip. Do not get me wrong, my mother, father, and stepmother carry themselves very well and have NEVER allowed any of their past differences to interfere with the wellbeing and safety of their children or grandchildren. But, we also do not put anyone in our family in a situation that may be uncomfortable even in the slightest if it is at all possible.

We all grew up in this small town in Virginia. I have often spoken of my friend Heather from my childhood and how her mother was my own mother’s best friend in high school. Just before Heather’s recent medical scare in August, her grandmother, Peanut, passed away leaving Sharon (her mother) and Heather at a loss. My mother and Sharon, due to the way life happens, had not spent any time to speak of together for many years. Yet, when mom called her to tell her where we were and what was happening, Sharon opened up her late mother’s house and had my mother to stay with her there. Sharon had to leave the next day to stay the week at the hospital with Heather (who is recovering nicely), and yet she insisted that my mother use the house as her own. Simply amazing!

me n heather
Heather and I on a girls’ trip a few years back

For the first few days, my mother stayed at Peanut’s and Ashley and I kept the kids at my father’s house. We had a wonderful visit. The children ate apples straight from the trees. They fed cows through the fence and watched the deer come down from the hills. They slid through across the hardwood floors and fed every leftover crumb to their dog at every meal. They really got to spend time with a side of their family that they rarely got to see due to location and the year lost to CPS. It was great for everyone involved. For myself, I had time to really talk to my father. As I have said before, it was impossible for me to explain our case as it happened because of the embarrassment. It was difficult to debunk the myths even to the man who had known me my entire life. But we had this time now. We got to know each other through our understanding of what occurred and found strength and pride in the return of our family. I could not thank Irma enough for making these moments happen.

During our stay there, we would take the kids out to the park in my small town to play and stopped by to see mom at Peanut’s house. The kids had a blast with the five dogs there and my mother told me that she and spoken with Sharon and taken on the task of helping her to sort through some things while she was away. She had also taken on the task of helping Heather’s dad to remove some kitchen cabinets so that they could remodel the flooring. This meant packing up everything that Peanut had collected in the kitchen during her 94 years of life. We are nothing if not musketeers so, we went back to my father’s house that night. Thanked them for their hospitality. Spent one more night and left for Peanut’s the next day. We had work to do!

Box after box, photo after photo, memory after memory, I was so thankful that I was there and that another generation was getting to feel just how much this house felt like home. You know how when you are at someone else’s house there is always a worry that the kids might break something or get ahold of something to play with that has sentimental value? Here, in this home, I did not have that fear. You see, this is also my family. This is also my home. We dumped out boxes of old toys and the children took turns with cookie cutters and letter magnets each day until the dew would dry enough that they could climb hills and chase dogs. They “worked” around the boxes and enjoyed “helping” to fill them. They ate well, slept well, and played well. NO ONE could ask for more out of four toddlers in a “strange” place.

So Heather called me crying on the Tuesday. She and her mother were very grateful for our work at the house and did not realize just how grateful we were to be there. My response was simple, upstairs, on a mirror above the fireplace, there was a photo of my oldest son as he crossed the stage at his high school graduation. You do not get more family than that. I was not boxing up “her” grandmother’s stuff, I was boxing up “our” grandmother’s belongings. With that, she said that she could not bear the idea that Clarabelle was not going to have a party on her birthday because of the storm. I informed her that we had a party planned when we got home and her presents were already there. Heather, being the stubborn emotional woman that I love dearly, would not take no for an answer. Wednesday afternoon, on Clarabelle’s third birthday, Heather had her dad to bring a cake and ice cream. We ran out and grabbed a present, laid a blanket outside in the sun, and had a birthday party filled with love and puppies! Tomorrow, I will post pictures of her princess party in Florida, but I believe the makeshift party in Virginia will be the one that she remembers the most! (Thank you, my friend).

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Cake from Aunt Heather

 

We finally got the call that the power and water were back on at our home in Florida but the roads were still flooded and the traffic was pretty backed up with trucks heading to Southern Florida so we decided to wait a few more days. We visited my son, Zach at the park just at the Virginia/ West Virginia line and did a little bit of necessary shopping. We continued to pack boxes, visit with friends and family, and spend time with the babies. It was a peaceful time during one of the more chaotic time periods in Florida. I cannot say enough how thankful I am to have been able to evacuate.

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Power Lines in front of our house

The trip home was long but not because of traffic. I believe that we were squeezing in every moment of time on the road that we could. We stopped frequently at restaurants with play areas and rest stops with lots of open grass. We laughed and just enjoyed the fact that we were safe and together.

So many people lost so much during the hurricane. I hope that everyone also took some time to consider who they have in their lives. It is so easy to get caught up in belongings and certainly, some things are necessary. But please, look around you, look to your past, look to your present, and consider just how far your presence on this earth has spread its value.

And I think to myself, what a wonderful world!

“Gigi”

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How 9/11 Shaped our Lives

I was twenty-three years old with three children and recently separated from my ex-husband. Sitting in my first home of my own, a small three bedroom single wide in rural Virginia, I looked around at the suit cases packed for my “separation celebration.” We were going on our first cruise! My children, 2, 4, and 6 at the time, were starting to stir out of their rooms and pitter patter down the hallway when my phone rang. It was my mother and I was sure she was going to tell me that she was on her way as we were leaving that day from my house to make the drive to Miami, Fl. All I heard, instead of the excited squeal that I expected, was a somber “turn on the TV.”

I remember collapsing. I remember pulling my children close and sitting down on the floor in front of the television unaware of their stares as they watched their mother sob in fear. They, of course, were unaware what those images on the screen meant to their world but I could not imagine the world beyond that very moment.  Everything was over and all I could do was take in these last moments with my children in my arms.

Then it hit me. If this would be their last moments, what kind of mother would allow them to be spent in fear and uncertainty? What kind of mother would I be if I allowed a group of terrorists to take away the last smiles on their faces? No, I would not allow this. I would not be a victim nor would I allow my children to be victimized.

I called my mother back and said to come on and bring her suitcase. When she arrived, we sat for a moment and knew what we should do. I spoke with my father who thought it was a bad idea to go on with our plans and, perhaps he could have been right, but my decision that day made all the difference for my family.

That day, we made a decision to live. We live cautiously, but never scared. We boarded that boat on September 13, 2001, and we set the tone for our lives ever since. Eleven cruises later and I cannot say that I have ever learned more in three days than I did that maiden voyage.

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I learned that there is more to the world than what we see in our daily lives.

I learned that fear keeps us from seeing the most beautiful places, experiencing the most beautiful moments, and connecting with the most beautiful people.

I learned that my children need my strength in order to find their own.

I learned that the ocean is large enough to hold every hope and every dream.

I learned that there it is possible for people from all around the world, even in the face of such events, to come together and enjoy the beauty of the world.

I learned that wars are fought in politics not people.

I learned that everything in life must be learned and that this cannot occur without experiences.

Most of all, I learned that we can all live in fear, as the terrorists wanted, or we can continue to win every day that we choose to experience life.

To those who lost their lives that day, we owe it to you to continue to win!

“Gigi”

 

Preparing for Irma: When to Make a Decision with Children

We are in North Central Florida. Our area is deemed a low flood zone and has a very rare history of hurricane impact. The long term residents here chuckle at the overly long lines at Walmart and complain that they simply cannot get through to get their basics without regard to the storm. However, the number of different projections are flagging a bit of concern even among these individuals. So we all sit and watch, wait for updates, and consider the levels of our stockpiles of water and canned food.

Last night, my mother and I ran out to Walmart for diapers as our attempts to potty train are still an ongoing process. The shelves were nearly empty. We found one pack of diapers that would fit the children and two packs of wipes! SERIOUSLY PEOPLE? The governor, in his statement to call the entire state under a state of emergency, said to take what you need for three days and no more. This is what the long term residents were talking about.

We get so caught up in what could happen to us that we forget about other people. Irma is still days away and yet we are already feeling its effects. It is not the wind or the rain that we must fear, it is the reckless behaviors of others.

Granted, I am not saying that the storm is not scary. Irma is HUGE and will bring destruction wherever it hits. I am not saying that we are not worried. But we have enough water and food. We have three vehicles filled with gas and car seats secured in each. We have our hurricane kits and candles. But those things are not for our everyday use. Those things stay put away for an emergency. Going to Walmart for our basic needs should not leave us realizing just how little others think about other people in such a time.

With that said, I met a man yesterday while picking up pool noodles at the Dollar Store. He was purchasing two cases of water and asked me if I needed one of them. I was floored! Of course, I told him that we had plenty and thanked him for the gesture. He continued to tell me that he was on his way to Okeechobee Fl to pick up his camper but he knew many of the people there were not going to evacuate so he was taking as much water to them as he could but did not want to leave anyone without. What a concept!

When I asked him about his plans, he stated that he would return to this area and use well water. When he saw that I had pool noodles, he realized that I had children under my care and said it is different with children though. With children, you do not consider a stockpile at home but rather consider a place to go. He said if you need to use a stockpile, then it is not safe for children. If there is a risk that you will not be able to get out, then do so before that risk manifests.

Tomorrow, we will cross over into Georgia to buy our basic needs such as diapers and wipes. Then, as Irma makes landfall, we will make a decision based on her path. If there is any concern, we will make it an adventure and let you all know where we head.

Stay safe and look out for one another. We are all we got!

“Gigi”

Blogging Journey Day 18: To New Friends

I believe that this was the primary reason for beginning this blog, to know that we are not alone and to let others know the same. Life is hard but it is so worth it and much more enjoyable when we have others to walk beside. So, thank you for being by our side.

WOW! I never would have guessed that only 18 days into this journey that we would have had a day yesterday with over 500 views reaching more than 1700 views to date. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for letting us know that we are not on this journey alone.

I believe that this was the primary reason for beginning this blog, to know that we are not alone and to let others know the same. Life is hard but it is so worth it and much more enjoyable when we have others to walk beside. So, thank you for being by our side.

There are so many different avenues that we discuss because there are so many different aspects of our lives that we feel others may also be encountering. A lot of our views have been related to our CPS case and I pray that we are providing a sense of hope for those who are going through this and a greater awareness to those who continue to believe the assumptions about CPS. Ashley has opened up about her relationship with Mikey and has found support from other men and women who have a significant other serving in the armed forces. There is a great pride for their loved ones but also a loneliness that can be lessened through these friendships. Ashley has also been able to connect with other mothers to discuss tips and swap stories. I have met countless of other families of children with Down’s Syndrome and we have been able to discuss the beauty of celebrating every milestone. You all have celebrated my Gloria’s birthday with us, prayed for my dear friend Heather as she nearly lost her life and underwent amputation. You have tagged along to the beach and heard the wisdom of my granddaughter, Clarabelle. There are so many journeys to come and more details to provide. We look forward to continuing to meet others and grow as a community who will overcome all obstacles together!

Together, we are better!

“Gigi”

Save Yourself: Your Children will Need you When they Return from Foster Care

If we would have entered that courtroom having forgotten who we were as a family, then we would not have been able to portray this to the judge. If we had entered that courtroom looking defeated, then we would have been defeated.

Many years ago, we were called the “boat people,” because every time we went into the local thrift store we were looking for attire for our next cruise. This was just our thing to do. Vacationing is a way of life and so many people would ask how we were able to afford this. Well, the first clue is that we were called this in the local thrift store. I mean, seriously, when were we ever gonna wear those dresses again? Vacationing defined us. People were always asking about this trip or that location and we did this on minimal income.

When the girls turned 6 months old (the youngest allowed on a cruise ship), yep, you guessed it, we were boarding in Miami! It was the perfect trip as we convoyed three vehicles from West Virginia to enjoy this milestone, this entrance into the family addiction to vacationing.

In March of 2017, we were approaching the one year mark on our CPS case. The house was empty and our momentum was beginning to decline. The lawyers had told us to stop looking for any other explanations in the case and to just use everything that we had done to show our side in court. The court date was approaching and idle time began to take its toll.

Then, we remembered who we are and how much of “us” the case had taken. We spent time with the children that week at our visits, packed up the van, and my mother (Nanny), my daughter (Ashley), and I made the drive to Port Canaveral to board a ship.

WHAT!!!! People were quick to ask if we had lost our minds. “Won’t this look bad in your case?” “How can you have fun while the children are going through this?” “How can you afford this with all of the legal fees and associated costs?” “This is soooo irresponsible.”

In short, our response was, “we had no choice.”

If we would have entered that courtroom having forgotten who we were as a family, then we would not have been able to portray this to the judge. If we had entered that courtroom looking defeated, then we would have been defeated. We had spent nearly a year looking through medical files, legal cases, attending visits, attending doctor appointments, sitting up at night crying in the silence. This had drained our very spirits and, when there was no more research to do, we felt hopeless.

So, we found ourselves again. We found our strength. We took a moment to remember how important it is to enjoy each moment of our lives and the people who are in them. We laughed. We cried. We stared out into the horizon and envisioned what was just on the other side.

When we came home, we approached that horizon. We entered that courtroom claiming that our family would be returned. And they were!

CPS takes everything that they can from you. They not only alienate you from your children but also from your very being, your soul until there is nothing left of you to fight for. Hold on to who you are because, WHEN your children come home, they are going to need that person to be there!

 

You are Important Too!

“Gigi”

Beach Day!

Earlier in the week, I posted about how my beach trips have changed since having children and I said that I would update you guys on our day.

Well, we get to the beach and it took 3 of us to tote the toys, the bags, and the tent down to a spot on the beach. We get just about to the sand and I hear Clarabelle behind me shout ” mommy, you Have to pick bubby up, the sand is always hot!” I tell her that he will be fine because he has shoes on. “No, he doesn’t mommy!”

This kid walked out of his shoes. So I had to carry him plus the very heavy bags I had down to our spot and walk myself back to find the missing shoes. Thankfully, the man heard Clarabelle scold me for not carrying Elliott had walked around looking for the missing shoes that were about 30ft away from each other. When I got to the parking lot I saw him down by my car waving the shoes in the air laughing.

After thanking him and who I assume was his wife, I get back down to the beach and spray the kids down with sunscreen.

Now, my kids love to play a little game called “see how fast you can cover every square inch of my body in sand.” They’re pros at this game. They even dabble in taste testing the sand, only to turn around and complain that there is sand in their mouth. Then fast forward through the next 2hours of  Clarabelle shouting “THERE’S SAND IN MY BUTT, It’s IN MY BUTT MOMMY!” 

We went wave hopping and we all laughed so much with anticipation of each oncoming wave, and then even harder when one would crash onto their bellies.

And then nap time rolled around. Clarabelle naps sometimes, but Elliott is a real mess if he doesn’t take his. So the tent comes into play. He curls up in there, the wind caused a perfect cool breeze through the openings, and he fell right to sleep.


How perfect is napping on the beach?

We all play in the sand and the water for a while longer. Right after Elliott wakes up, there is a shark sighting (Scary!!). So we go ahead and pack up head home, and recap on a perfect beach day ❤️

-A.

My kids love McDonald’s nuggets, and that’s okay!


As parents, we try so hard to be like those “instagram moms.” You know the ones I’m talking about! That one mom who always seems to have her stuff together, house is always spotless, kids are always dressed to perfection with neatly styled hair and somehow manages to get them to eat ricotta stuffed mushrooms with balsamic glaze at dinner time.

Now, I don’t know about you guys, but I envy those mothers. I’d be lying if I said my children have never eaten popsicles at breakfast and still had on their pajamas while they ate cake for dinner.

There is one habit that we all know and love and probably try our hardest to avoid..

The drive-thru. 

We’ve read the articles and heard every bad thing anyone can say about the horrors of fast food. That Instagram mom who probably fed her kids fresh, organic, hand made baby food? She has probably whipped through those horrid places a time or two.

I mean come on, you’ve been stuck in traffic and it’s a half hour past lunch time. The kids are screaming that they’re hungry and you’re still 20 minutes away from home.

If your toddlers are anything like mine, they automatically recognize those giant Golden Arches. Two words are shouted when they come into sight: “CHICKEN NUGGETS!” Let me tell you, my daughter usually eats like a bird and absolutely loves fruits and vegetables. But this child, this little, tiny, 3 year old child can put away more chicken nuggets than a grown man. She gets so excited when I pop open that box!

They’re just so easy! Cool ’em down, pass ’em back, repeat. And come on, who could possibly resist the crunchy goodness that is the chicken nugget. No matter what you hear, what you read, you can’t resist the taste!

So to you, Instagram mom, I solute you!

And to you, drive-thru mom, I feel you!

None of us are perfect at this crazy thing we call parenting. But at least we’re doing our best. And if your best is drive-thru nuggets in the car and not chicken tetrazzini? Then that’s okay too!

-A.