It was a week before court and the foster parents called my daughter to ask if they could take my grandson to get his first haircut. She immediately began to cry. Elliott was only 3 months old when he was ripped from his mother’s arms. She had one Valentine’s Day and one Easter with him but every other first, she had lost due to the CPS investigation. She missed his first time crawling, his first steps, his first tooth, his first Halloween, his first Christmas, and the list goes on and on. You know how many firsts happen in the first year of a child’s life! But this, this first could wait!
Apparently, the foster family had to gain permission from the worker and the mother before altering his appearance. My daughter would not give hers unless she was present. Instead, she offered to have one of her visits to be used for her to take him to get his first haircut. THIS WAS NOT ALLOWED!!!! She was not allowed to have his haircut!
So, she decided that it simply would not be done! Now, my little blonde haired baby boy has hair so light that he looked nearly bald regardless of the strands that laid over his ears so we figured that he would be just fine until he came home.
A few weeks later, he was back in his family’s arms and we kinda enjoyed seeing his little wisps blow as we walked with him along the beach. He still had a little while before it would be necessary to cut it so we waited and held on to the anticipation of his “first” in the same way that we would have naturally anticipated his first steps had the system not robbed us of that moment.
Today, was the day! Today, my grandson received his first haircut with his mommy standing by his side and his Gigi reassuring him while snapping every possible photo possible. This was OUR first and today will forever be embedded into the story of our lives!
When they take all they can, do not give them anymore!
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’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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
Boys at the Park
Girls at the Park
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.
Boxes don’t stop lunch!
Because the dew was dry!
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).
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.
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.
A sting comes abruptly. There is rarely any warning outside of the gradually increasing buzzing sound that could either reflect the closening of the little insect or a shift in the wind that is carrying with it the sounds of the world around. Most often, one assumes that the noises are at a distance and continue on about their conversations or soaking in the beauty of the outdoors. Then, all at once, a pain so shocking and excruciating stops you in your track as the bee, who gave its own life to bring you this pain, takes a look at its victim and retreats leaving a part of it with you.
In much the same way, we heard the buzzing of the CPS workers around us but believed that the sense of uncertainty was simply carried over by the wind from the case they were building against my grandson’s father. Never did we imagine that the threat was so real or so close. We knew the bees were in our yard but thought that they were there to pollinate and make our yard, our lives, more complete by protecting the children.
Yet, it what seemed like a frozen moment in time, we felt the sting. We looked in the face of the bees that were willing to give up their own humanity to leave us with a hole in our heart where they had placed their stinger. We pulled the stinger and watched our lives slowly seep out of the wound that they had left. We felt our breathing slow as our souls reacted to the poison that had infested the very roots of our family tree.
We watched as the hive celebrated the accomplishments of its members. We watched as the queen gave honors over the fallen in the name of the mission. We watched in horror as others flew from the hive to have other families meet the same fate.
Love, for the record, is a powerful treatment for a sting. Family is an amazing insecticide. Prayer can make a hive fall from its tree. We can shake CPS. We can heal from the sting. We can bring back the humanity.
The hole is still there. The wound is a reminder. My grandchildren are home, but we will not forget that the threat to all families continues.
Until every sting has been healed and every stinger removed,
Have you ever wondered why when we move to a new home we use disposable packing supplies but when we go on a trip we use luggage? My thoughts on this are that, when we move, we plan on staying in that location but when we travel we value our possessions enough to keep them safe until we return home. When we move, we do not need to return the items to the bags and boxes because we will not be leaving. We will not be returning. We are at our “home” and this is where our belongings belong. This is where they will stay. We move them from the bags and boxes into a more permanent storage such as a dresser or closet and do away with the disposable items that remind us of the process of packing. We are done with that process and expect to settle securely into this new setting. When we travel, we may enjoy our different destinations but we always know that we will be putting our items back into our luggage and returning to the home that we know.
When we move, we do not need to return the items to the bags and boxes because we will not be leaving. We will not be returning. We are at our “home” and this is where our belongings belong. This is where they will stay. We move them from the bags and boxes into a more permanent storage such as a dresser or closet and do away with the disposable items that remind us of the process of packing. We are done with that process and expect to settle securely into this new setting. When we travel, we may enjoy our different destinations but we always know that we will be putting our items back into our luggage and returning to the home that we know.
When we travel, we may enjoy our different destinations but we always know that we will be putting our items back into our luggage and returning to the home that we know. Our luggage is as much a part of our travels as it is of our home. We remember our home and where the luggage will be stored until our next adventure. We may even dream of staying in that beach house forever but we see our luggage and know that home and the life we have built is waiting on us. So we hold onto our luggage until we return.
One of the ways that the foster care system begins the process of alienation is the very method of transporting the children’s belongings from their home to their temporary residence. How many of you have been told to throw a few things into a trash bag? How many of you dropped off some items in Walmart bags or grocery store bags? How many simply had time to pack a diaper bag as the workers placed your child into a strange vehicle to go to a strange home?
When the children arrive, the bags are tossed out and the children see their items being put into more permanent storage and no longer see any resemblance of their home. There is nothing to remind them that they will be going home. There is nothing to state that this is a temporary placement and that they soon will be returning home. There is nothing to say that it is okay to be comfortable and even, if possible, to have some good days while they are there, but that it is important to always remember that they have a home and life waiting for them once the CPS case is over. They have to know that their belongings belong at home with them and their family and they cannot know this if they cannot envision how their belongings will be returned.
They have to know that their belongings belong at home with them and their family and they cannot know this if they cannot envision how their belongings will be returned. Their disposable luggage has been disposed of just as the system wants them to believe has happened to their life before placement. But we, their family members, are not disposable. We are their permanency. We are their life before, during, and after this whirlwind that is called child protective services.
We are their luggage! We are their way home!
We must serve as a reminder to them that their lives are there waiting for them. For us, we chose to buy luggage as a reminder for ourselves that they would come home. We packed these bags with plenty of items for our move the moment that they were returned to us. We often re-sorted the items and changed them out based on their growth and the season. But we always knew and we never let them doubt!
I have read articles that talk about the inhumanity of dropping off children with trash bags as if they are homeless, unwanted, and unworthy. I have read about programs that are intended to help with this issue. We are currently looking into these programs to find out more about the avenues for assisting as well as to find additional research that will foster additional support for this critical but often overlooked aspect of foster care. I will keep you posted on our findings and hopefully, we can work together to minimize the stress on these children until we can find a way to truly reform this broken system.
Until we can bring them home, let’s remind them that they have one!