Making Sense of Diversity: Toddler Talk

ant

So yesterday, Clarabelle and I were sitting on the back porch just chatting away when she reaches over to pick up a toy and notices that there is an ant crawling across it. Her first reaction was to shake it off of the toy but then she stopped as she watched it crawling around to place itself back on the top and said, “it wants to play with me!”

Of course, I told her we do not play with ants or any types of bugs and this through her for a loop with her nearly three-year-old obsession with the word “WHY.” I explained that bugs do not play like people do and that it is best to just leave them alone. This was met with “WHY” to which I responded, some bugs have germs and some bugs bite. This was met, again, with “WHY” to which I responded that bugs are just different than us. This, stopped her in her tracks as she took the role of explaining that “everyone is different so who can I play with?”

Uhmmmmm, kids do not see different as bad! I repeat, kids do not see different as bad!

They learn this from us. Kids do not believe that someone or something being different should stop them from being friends or playing together. Kids do not know understand that grownups had to make a word (diversity) to understand that differences are a good thing.

Just play!

“Gigi”

 

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Hold your Apologies: What not to say to the family of a Child with Down’s Syndrome

gloria 2
First Day of School!!!

Can you imagine, you are holding what you believe to be the most perfect child in the world. She has blonde hair like her mother, hazel eyes like her father, and the cutest little dimple on her chin. Now, the lady in the next room also has her “perfect” child and recognizes that your baby does not have brown curls like her new bundle of joy… “Oh, I am so sorry,” she says! SORRY FOR WHAT? Sorry because your child is different from hers? Sorry that she believes her baby to be superior to yours due to one characteristic? Sorry because she does not understand having a child with blonde hair?

Can you imagine how you would feel? Immediately you would jump to defend your precious new gift or perhaps you would be so shocked that you could not even find the words to say. Are there even words to say? To need to apologize, one would have to have done something wrong. In order to empathize, one would have to have experienced something similar. To need either of these responses, there would need to be something wrong!!!

Of course, this situation would not happen in the newness of a labor and delivery wing so I will go beyond the color of their hair. Moving forward, let’s look at high school graduation. The little blonde girl graduates at the top of her class while the brown haired baby with perfect curls finishes her high school career among the middle range of her classmates. While the blonde may deserve congratulations for her hard work, the brunette would not expect sympathy. She completed her studies and did so respectfully. How would you feel, if someone offered sympathy because your child was “just average?”

What about glasses? Braces? Stuttering? Speech difficulties? A freckle? Birth mark? Do you apologize to the parents of these children? Do you say, “I am so sorry that your child is different than mine?” Do you say, “I’m sorry that your child has less the ‘perfect’ traits?”

Of course, you don’t because that would not be NICE! That would not be ACCEPTABLE!

When my granddaughter was born, we all stood around the nursery noting every little finger, every little toe, every cry, every smile just as the other families did for their new additions. We were elated that she would soon come into our home and brighten our lives forever. We prayed together when she was on oxygen. We leaned on one another when they mentioned flying her to a larger hospital. We waited together to hear the doctors tell us that she was going to be okay. And she is! She is better than okay. She continues every day to laugh and learn, grown and amaze us. She is PERFECT!

Yet, for some reason, when one of the family says, “she has Down’s” the immediate response, without exemption is “Oh, I’m sorry…” and we want to yell “WHY?” We are not sorry that your child has blue eyes or straight hair. We are not sorry that your child has freckles. We are not sorry that every time your child learns something new the whole family does not celebrate. We are not sorry that your child’s first steps or clearance from a heart doctor did not send you straight to the bakery to pick out a cake. Instead, we are thankful that your child is perfect in your eyes and would like for you to know that Gloria is perfect in ours.

 Happy Birthday, Gloria! 

A Race To The Finish Line 

There is nothing wrong with her. She is in excellent health and is moving along the developmental chart at a steady pace. The pace may not be the same of your child, but your child’s pace is not at the same pace as someone else’s child. And they are NOT SORRY!

I get it, you may not know what to say. You may have heard scary things about Down’s Syndrome. You may think that this is some form of life threatening situation and that your heart felt “I’m sorry,” refers to the inevitable loss of her ability to have any quality of life. I get it. You do not know about it so maybe your apology is for your lack of awareness. I do not know a thing about raising a child with red hair. I have no clue about freckles and sensitive skin. But I am not sorry for the parents who have children with red hair because this is a beautiful characteristic of their perfect child. I feel no need to stare or apologize but, if I really felt the need, I would ask respectful and caring questions like, “what brand of sunscreen do you use to protect his/her beautiful skin tone?” or “what type of conditioner makes their hair shine like that?” I could even accept questions like, “Do you have extra health care concerns because of this characteristic?”

To apologize to a parent because of a single characteristic that makes their child unique or special is not only disrespectful but also hurtful. Families of children with Down’s Syndrome are simply families with children. Please think before you speak and, if you cannot compliment or ask a question tastefully, then please just smile.

 

Normal is unattainable for anyone! Special is in our DNA!

“Gigi”

CPS Stole My Peace Of Mind. 


Have you ever had that weird feeling that you just can’t shake? Like someone is watching your every move?

We talk about how scary going through the process of a CPS case is. We discuss the feelings we had during the last year and a half of our lives. Supervised visits? Talk about someone breathing down your neck! Which is especially horrifying when you know you haven’t done anything wrong. When you can’t even change your child’s diaper without someone standing directly behind you, watching your every movement.. that’s enough to make you feel like the lowest person in the world.

But what happens after?

After the case is won.

When the “congratulations” slowly stop.

When the kids are tucked safely in their beds every night, one room over.

When you get to go back to making snack plates and cleaning up spilled cereal.

I’ll tell you what happens. At least for me. Every. Single. Fall, smashed finger, bump, bruise, or skinned knee, causes an overwhelming amount of fear and paranoia. Enough to make even someone with an iron stomach feel like throwing up.

Every time my children walk into the store with a bruise on their shin I find myself searching the crowd for wandering eyes. Anyone who could possibly notice (while it may be something so small that only I  can see) and report it.

Every time there is a knock at my door I am petrified to open it.

Every time I’m at the mall or take the kids to McDonald’s I can point out who is on a supervised visit and my heart aches for those families.

Not a day goes by that I’m not scared.

Not a day goes by that I’m not thankful to have my children home with me.

Not a day goes by that I don’t pray for the families going through what I did.

CPS stole my peace of mind. Because of this system, I can no longer feel 100% at ease in my own life. But the babies are home. And that’s all that really matters in my world.

-A.

Still your Children: Supporting your child during out of home placement.

support

In our experience, the state looks at removing children from single mothers in a low socioeconomic status group as a double benefit. To them, the mothers are not only unable to provide for their children but also have difficulties in providing for their own basic needs. After all, single mothers do not have access to the funds that the workers and foster parents have. SHOW THEM THAT THEY ARE WRONG! By all means necessary.

We all know that, regardless of our situations, we can, have, and will provide for the needs of our children. My grandchildren, I am certain just as your own children and grandchildren, were fed, clothed, received medical care, and had an abundance of love and toys. They were NEVER without having their needs or wants met in their mother’s care.

So often, on social media sites and personal blogs, I have read people talking about how much money the state and foster care parents receive while trying to steal the children from these families. This is true and I am not negating this claim. But, before you encountered the system, did you sit around and say “someone else has more money so they can provide for my children?” OF COURSE NOT!

We do not provide for our children simply to be allowed to be the ones to tuck them in at night. We do not provide for our children so that others will tell us we are doing a great job. We provide for our children because we love them and desire to make certain that their needs are met. We provide for our children because, just as it is our God given right to parent, it is also our God given responsibility to do so.

You are angry at the system. You may be angry at the worker or the foster parent. Your lawyer may have dropped the ball or the judge may not have listened. Your service providers may not comply with the court orders and you may have lost a job or missed hours of work due to this injustice. But you are not angry with you children and, even if you were, you would still provide for them because you LOVE them!

In some cases, the court orders support from the parents. While this may anger you further, DO NOT MISS A PAYMENT AND GO BEYOND IT! If, as was in our case support is not ordered, DO NOT TAKE THIS AS TIME OFF FROM  YOUR RESPONSIBILITY! These are YOUR children and YOUR responsibility.

It WILL make a difference in your case and the way that the judge

views you as a parent.

We do not want to have to prove that we can and will provide for our children. This should just be understood. But we are not dealing with a normal situation. We are dealing with a war against our families and all ammunition must be utilized to bring your children home.

For us, we decided to make the visits easier on the children. When it was time to leave each visit, we would make a big deal about their gift bags that they could take “home” with them. These bags always included a small toy such as stickers or a book, a drink, individual lunches, some sort of fruit, a snack, and a Hershey kiss. Occasionally the bags would include hygiene items such as shampoo, new tooth brushes, or detangler spray. Do not get me wrong, this got expensive as we would not have bought all of the individually packaged items if the children were home as it would not be necessary. But we wanted to make sure that each day they knew that their mommy was providing for their needs. As a bonus, the foster mother noted that this made it much easier on her and the visitation provider commented on her notes each day what was brought for the children.

But most importantly, during the year that they tried to take this away from her, my daughter was able to feel like a mother!

This is a hard journey and this is just one other tip that helped us along our path to reunification. I pray that your journey finds the same ending. Please feel free to ask any questions about the bags or support that we provided and to share with others who may be going through this hell. I was once told that, once you are in the system, the only way out is through it. I hope these tips make your path through it a bit more endurable.

They may take your children, but they cannot take away your love for them!

“Gigi”

The Lost Art of Cousinry

cousins

To watch these four, sitting in an empty baby pool eating ring pops on a lazy afternoon seemed to be a pipe dream only a few short months ago. As many of you know by now, two of the children were removed to foster care and the potential for them to ever have this bond was greatly diminished. However, this is not the focus of this discussion. Instead, I want to focus on how amazing it is that the instant they were returned, when the grownups were still stressing as to how to make the transition comfortable for the children, the four cousins immediately knew how important they were to one another. There was no coaching or explaining. We did not have to introduce them. We did not have to stand over them. They were and had always been cousins and no amount of distance or difficulties could break this natural bond, this natural friendship, this natural and automatic love for one another.

I think back on my own childhood and my slew of cousins that lived both near and far. I was so very blessed to have a few of them very close and always available for whatever stunt I had decided to pull (maybe they were not so lucky). Other cousins were not as available but always up to swap stories when family functions would bring us all together and believe me, my family could throw some family functions. From Sunday dinners (alternating between grandmothers) to family vacations where more of us squeezed into a single hotel room than the fire marshall could have counted but “why have to move rooms to talk?” We would make “pallets” on the floor with the extra blankets and giggle all night long.

On school vacations, I would head off to my grandmother’s house in the mountains and could look forward to long days on the big rock where my cousins and I would bellow out whatever new trendy song one of us was prepared to teach to the others. There was never a weird sense of uncertainty as we approached one another regardless of how long it had been since we had talked. We did not have social media to stay up to date on each other’s lives so we actually sat down and talked and listened to one another. Hell, many of my cousins did not have home phones that I could call to chat with when a major event occurred. Nope, we had to wait and tell our tales on the big rock. And we did. Boy, could we ever tell some tales? The best ones were the ones that we told to keep each other out of trouble. Yeah, we may have rarely seen one another but cousins were always the best alibis!

The bond between cousins does not change. It was my cousin, Amanda, who helped me with my children when they were young. It was my cousin, Cindy, who took me into her home with my three children following my divorce. Neither of them minded how long it had been since we had talked, it was just natural. It was my cousin, Becky, who sat with me when Scott passed away and listened about the CPS case long into the night along with her sister, Elizabeth’s daughter who had attended on behalf of her mother. There are so many other stories and so many other cousins. My life has been shaped and saved by them more times than I could ever express.

Of course, this is a rarity these days. I know my own children did not have that experience due to divorce and relocation. I know that my grandchildren almost lost that experience due to the conditions of the CPS case. It makes me wonder, what happens to these kids when they become adults and look for a familiar face to share a tale with on the big rock? Why do we no longer huddle up in a hotel room with our family and giggle all night? Why do we forget the importance of extended family and cousins simply because the immediate family seems to be the only recognized unit?

Why have we lost the art of cousinry?

“Gigi”

Judging a Book by its Cover: What to wear to family court.

When you are faced with an angry bear, you make yourself look bigger but you do not approach or attack!

book

I do not know exactly what element of our CPS case worked in our favor or how our collective efforts came together to result in the return of my grandchildren. I do know, however, what steps we took and, if one of these helped us, it is possible that it could help others as well.

The first court appearance was only days after the children were removed. We had been blind sided. We felt as if the entire world was against us and that even those who knew us somehow saw us differently because of the storm that had been cast over our family. We knew everyone was judging us and still believed that our words, our character, our sincerity were what was to be judged.

Know this: EVERY THING IS JUDGED!

We entered the first court room with tears in our eyes, dresses that we pulled from the back of our closet, and a nervous composure. My daughter, only 19 at the time, wore a nice black dress that was age appropriate in length but slightly showed a tattoo on her thigh. My shirt and skirt were spring colors with the top being a nice purple tank top and the skirt being long and flowy. We were jewelry that complimented our attire and, in any other situation, we felt as if we looked appropriate and respectable. Looking around at others, we could tell that we had at least tried to dress to impress but in the end, looking back, we fell short.

After much research, I looked back on our attire that day and found that, like most things in a CPS case, if only we had known then perhaps we could have made it out of the storm much sooner. Yet, again, it seems as if there are no stories of people making it out. Few tips are available. Most of what I found was related to general family court and not CPS cases. I spent days before the next scheduled court which was months later researching appearances in court. One statement that I recall from all of the research opened up my eyes and made me aware of the severity of this choice.

While I cannot recall the exact statement or location, the primary concept was that we dress to impress for first dates, job interviews, and family photos. We dress to be judged in all areas of life except for the one time that we are ACTUALLY BEING JUDGED!!!

At this point in the court case, we had already secured a private attorney for my daughter and spent countless dollars at supervised visits. Our budget was beginning to laugh at us as we desperately tried to hold on to our home and our future plans with the children. But we took this advice seriously. We would not walk into that court room any less than ready to be judged.

We looked at color schemes, suggested lengths, hair styles, shoe recommendations, and even make up tips and off we went to the mall. Please keep in mind that my daughter, at this point, is 20 but I saw a transformation in her age beyond the months of victimization at the hands of the system. This aged her spirit. This aged her self-identity. This aged her very confidence. This is where the system messed up. It gave her just enough time to get gain a strength that I have never seen before.

She did not look for attire that showed her youthful spirit but rather attire that showed her dedication to her children and respect for the power that the court had over her. Please note, respect for the power of the court is not the same as respect for the system. You must recognize how much power these people have.

When you are faced with an angry bear, you make yourself look bigger but you do not approach or attack!

No open toe shoes.

No patterns.

Do not wear all black.

Do not wear jewelry other than a wedding band.

No heels over 3 inches.

No tank tops.

No shorts or capris.

Avoid pockets that may cause fidgeting.

Minimal makeup (this is not a night club)

Hair neat and clean (again, not a night club)

Wear something to make you feel confident.

Wear something that makes you appear serious but approachable.

The next court date, we appeared in our thoroughly thought out attire. I wore grey slacks with a grey and white shirt accompanied by a long open sweater and black loafers (we even joked that we bought trouser socks). I felt the long sweater added a bit of confidence to the attire as grey borderlines on black and I did not want to go against this rule even slightly. Ashely wore a pant suit with a short blazer. An orange blouse with an attached tie offset the black of the suit. She wore boot heels that were 3 inches as she feels more confident in heels. All total, our new attire costs approximately $200 which may seem minimal unless you are caught in what seems to be an endless court battle.  With our confident attire, we made a few smiles to the workers and judge just before the DA announced a request for continuance which was granted. Three more weeks of waiting!

With our hearts crushed again, we returned home to continue to hurry up and wait. Then it hit us. Three weeks was not enough time for the judge to forget what we wore and so we had to consider another similar outfit. We wondered what was the point. It was clear that this was going to continue no matter what we did. Our hearts sank and our wallets plummeted. But we pulled ourselves up again. The judge had spoken harshly to the abusive father in the case who had worn all black from shoes to tie but had smiled at us as we entered and exited the court room.

Maybe, just maybe, our research was helping!

We returned to the mall. Literally, we were on our phones checking the balance on each card and determining which one we should swipe for which items as no card could cover the costs entirely. We decided that we could reuse the pant suit and pants from the previous dates but purchased new shirts. Ashley selected a pastel shirt while I opted for a black and grey shirt with a minimal pattern to offset the colors. The shoes remained the same. We had our hair cut and (with a box from Walmart) made certain that the color was as close to our natural color as possible. We put on a touch of foundation and powder to smooth our complexion and used chapstick to create a clean complexion. We entered the court room on April 13, 2017 with both fear and confidence. Then, as the long day came to a close, the sweetest words that could ever be spoken in such a case echoed across the court room and my daughter and I were dismissed from the case. An MDT meeting was scheduled to arrange for the return of the children (I will discuss this meeting in a later post).

 

Again, I do not know what worked for us. People always asked how we made it out without an improvement period or years of services. The answer is that we do not know. What I do know is that we researched everything and often came up with more questions than answers so we decided to put together what we did in hopes that someone else who is searching, researching, and praying their way through this situation will have a bit more guidance than we found along our way.

 

Every detail matters when every detailed is judged!

“Gigi”

 

 

 

Behind The Scenes of My CPS Case. 


April 16, 2016.

That date will forever be burned into my mind. I knew there was something wrong, but I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t know until the Doctor came in the room, told me that my son’s femur was broken and asked that my fiancé leave the room and not come back in until CPS was notified.

Flashback to the night before when 19 of my closest family and friends along with all of our newborns and toddlers were having the time of our lives at a big cabin in Gatlinburg. Everything was perfect. The kids were all being good, the parents got to relax a little. Perfect. 

A couple of weeks go by of me consoling my hurt 3 month old, trying to figure out how the man I was about to marry could do such a thing, and having interviews with my case worker who, at one point, told me that this would be the first case she ever had that she wasn’t filing on the mother for failure to protect.

April 28, 2016

Let me tell you. That was a picture perfect morning. Clarabelle was playing in her pool. Elliott was in his swing on the porch with us. The sun was warm and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Then we went inside to make some fruit pizza. We ate and laughed so much that day.

Nap time came around and I had Elliott laying on the couch with my hand on him. Trying to get him comfortable enough to sleep. When I hear a knock on the door. A police officer, my case worker, and another woman was standing at my door. They inform me that they would be removing the children from my home and putting them in foster care with my (now) ex fiancé’s parents and asked me to gather their things.

I wake my mother up with the scariest news either one of us had ever received. And we go back to talk to them. A few heated words and a supervisor call later I walked down my driveway to take my car seats out and put them in the case worker’s car.

With tears in my eyes and an aching in my chest like I’ve never felt before, I gathered my children’s things, hugged them both tighter than I had ever hugged them, put them in a stranger’s vehicle, and watched them drive away.

The next year of my life was filled with supervised visitations, having Christmas in the meeting room at a Hardee’s, postponed court dates, MDT meetings, and a whole lot of tears.

Hearing my daughter ask “mommy why can’t I come home with you?” Was one of the most heartbreaking things I have ever heard. Mommy didn’t have the answer. I didn’t know why I couldn’t have my children back. I hadn’t done anything wrong.

I missed my son’s first steps. I only saw them later through a Facebook video message. I missed his first Christmas, Halloween, Thanksgiving, first tooth.. All of it.

After a whole year of looking for answers and coming up empty every time, we finally got in front of a judge. This was the first time outside of the preliminary hearing that a judge was going to give a ruling. The first time in a year. 

After hours of testimonies and being belittled by the most “sacred” of all systems, it was finally time. The judge set the date for Chris’ termination hearing, dismissed my mother off the case, and turned to me.

This was it. 

I sat there with my heart in my throat going through every emotion possible.

That’s when the most beautiful words rang out of his mouth like a harp played by an angel. “You have done nothing wrong here. You are dismissed off of this case and your children will return home to you.”

I have never cried so hard in my life. A year of depression, fear, and confusion rushed out of me. We went home, packed our van, went to the MDT to sign papers granting me full custody, and I picked up my children. For the first time in a year, I was a mother again. I didn’t have someone watching my every move. They were my babies again.

We left West Virginia, headed south to the sunshine state, and never looked back.

-A.