Do not give up! If you are facing this holiday season without your children, know that our hearts are with you and that the view on the other side is not only beautiful but also reachable!
We thought we were in a never-ending nightmare. We felt the depth of the gorge and saw the height of the mountains that we were determined to climb. We questioned the view from the top and wondered about what would come on the other side if we were to ever make it out of the valley.
I know many of you feel this now. The holidays are overwhelming for your children or grandchildren, for any number of reasons either real or false reports, are dreaming of sugar plums in a bed that is not their own. For those of you who have not experienced this, imagine the emptiness of a stocking on Christmas morning because there is no child to shriek with excitement. Imagine seeing other parents urge their children to sit on Santa’s lap and wondering if your own is scared or excited. The magnitude of this cannot easily be portrayed but I am here to tell you that the view from atop that mountain, what lies beyond the valley, is beautiful!
I mean, look at this smile!
They tried to tell me, in the valley, that this smile would not be over that ridge! But on a Friday night at a local Christmas tree lighting, Chase and Marshall from Paw Patrol told them that they were wrong. She smiles and I smile!
But wait, they also said that my daughter would never smile again and that she would no longer get “mommy moments” but they were wrong.
Of course, they did not count on me snapping a quick photo while the children made banana pudding with their mommy! They did not know that, on the other side of that seemingly insurmountable mountain, my daughter would smile again!
In fact, they did not count on library craft mornings or ice cream afternoons!
But the smiles are real and so is the view! Do not give up! If you are facing this holiday season without your children, know that our hearts are with you and that the view on the other side is not only beautiful but also reachable!
Okay, I know on #48 I stated that we do not attend church. I am not changing that statement but please know that this does not mean that we do not pray. In fact, I was raised in a Pentecostal church and know that when 2 or more come in accord our prayers are heard. With 592 followers, I only ask that one of you that follow our blog say this prayer with me.
Dear heavenly father, tomorrow is a test of our faith. We must have faith in a system that once failed not only us but all members of this family. We ask for a peaceful transition. We ask for the love for the children to supersede the feelings of anger and entitlement. We ask for God to be there so that all parties recognize the that He, not man, paves the way to peace. We pray that our family will be safe and that everyone will turn to His guidance in approaching this day. In Jesus’s name, we pray…Amen and Amen
I cannot provide more details than this but I hope, that on faith, you will speak these words with us tonight.
From my grandchildren and I, thank you for joining us on our journey and our prayer!
Look at these four! How blessed am I!?!? I was in the kitchen getting lunch ready and the four children were being very quiet. Scary, huh?! But they were not fighting. They were not destroying the house. They were not into any type of mischief. Nope, they were sitting together doing the one thing that their English major Gigi has prayed that they would love to do….Reading!
All four of them were huddled around a book and taking turns pointing to the pictures to give their own rendition of the story either through words or sounds. It was 101 Dalmations so there was a lot of barking followed by a few “oh no’s” from Elliott who has recently been explosive with his imagination and everything that looks a little scary is met with this expression. (He brought me a toy spider this morning saying “oh no!” and then chased me with it. Remember, I HATE spiders!!!)
Anyway, the words and sounds were not nearly as important as was the fact that they were all together (something we once thought would never happen again) and they were enjoying a book together by taking turns and sharing. It is amazing what togetherness does for cousins. It helps them to grow, learn, and form true emotional bonds. It brings them comfort and joy in a way that no other relationships can. It strengthens their sense of self and forms their sense of citizenry.
Every day, I get to sneak a little peek into their world. Truly, how blessed am I?!
While sitting at my computer, I can anticipate Clarabelle needing to use “Gigi’s bathroom” at least 3 times per hour so that she may enter the room and say “sooooo, what’s up?” I smile and ask what’s up with her and she toddles off to the bathroom only to repeat the conversation as she finishes and exits the room. It’s a thing we do.
So, anyway, today she enters, does her little exchange, and goes into the bathroom. I hear “Gigi, I need you.”
I jump up from my computer and open the bathroom door. She seems just fine. She is adjusting her pants as she pulls them up and so I asked, “what do you need?”
“You,” she responded.
“What do you need me to do?”
“Nothing,” she smiled, hugged me, and said, “sooooo, what’s up?” She then toddled off to the living room.
I stood there for a minute and reflected on this odd exchange. She did not need me to do anything. She just needed me. What an amazing concept!
During the year that the children were in foster care, I remember going to eat at Cracker Barrell with my son, Zach, one Sunday afternoon. Across the room from us, I looked up and saw them! My heart dropped. I wanted so badly to go to them but I was afraid. I didn’t know the rules about these things. I did not know how the foster parents would act. I did not know if it would cause a scene. The ache of being so close and yet unable to reach them was unbearable! It was like drowning just below the surface of the water where you can see the way out but you are held down so as to not be able to gasp in the air that is just above you.
Before we left, I took a deep breath and approached the table. I spoke cordially to the foster parents and their family and then turned my attention to the children. I was happy to see them. I wanted to stay in that moment. But I knew I had to be brief. As I leaned down to tell them by, Clarabelle stated, in the same matter of fact tone that she had in the bathroom today, “But, Gigi, I need you and Elliott needs you, too.” I held back the tears. I wanted to meet that need. I wanted to be with them every moment of every day to help teach them and guide them through life. I wanted to tell her that I was trying so hard to bring them home. I wanted to take them from their high chairs and run as far away from the nightmare that we were living as possible. But, instead, I looked in her sweet face and said, “I know, baby, Gigi needs you and your brother, too. But I have to go now so I can keep working to bring you home.”
After a few more times of her stating that she needed me, I turned and the tears fell.
It was a terrible feeling to know that I could not give her what she needed. But, in the same breath, it was a beautiful thing to know that she did then and still now knows that our needs are essential to our wellbeing and those needs include being with one another.
A child does not need a fancy home or an abundance of “things.” They need love, time, and attention.
Oh, how I dreaded the holidays last year. It was absolutely painful to view all of the decorations in the stores and lining the houses on the streets. I did not want to feel that way, (I had always loved every silly tradition) but I could not help it. Nothing was the same. The grandchildren were not home. My oldest son had moved to Florida. My daughter was unable to form a smile without her children. My youngest son could not find a way to make it better. It was a miserable time!
Generally, every holiday gets a whole month. I know. That’s extreme but we have a lot of traditions and I do not intend to miss a single one this year! Today is the kickoff for Halloween and we certainly enjoyed ourselves!
My advice to everyone, do not take a single moment for granted! During the last year, we managed to do holiday crafts and implement a few traditions into our visits. But, I tell ya, there is nothing better than having them “home for the holidays.”
I mean, yes, she is physically the epitome of beauty (perhaps a little biased here) but, if you have read any of our “Toddler Talks” then you know she is beautiful from somewhere within. She has the ability to see the world through the eyes of a child as well as the eyes of someone who could easily have been shattered by the adult world but chose to not let this smudge on her life define her. She is the inspiration that I hope everyone takes from the CPS stories that we tell because, yes, they stole her, tried to remove her concept of family, and tried to teach her that the world is an ugly place, but she refuses to hold on to those lessons. She turned three on 9/13/2017 but, today, since we had been evacuated for Hurricane Irma, we celebrated her birthday at home with family. Today, we celebrated the ability to do so!
You see, last year, we celebrated at the local bowling alley under the watchful eye of her foster parents. Granted, we were there. We brought the cake and the food. Her mom, Ashley, had carefully ironed on the patch of the number 2 onto her birthday outfit. We brought gifts. We brought love. We brought a birthday to remember (but we try to forget). Her face looked a bit sadder than usual. Her demeanor, by this point, was slowly slipping away. Her awareness of what was going on in her world was taking over her innocence.
Of course, she is home now. She is no longer monitored for her actions. We are no longer monitored in our ability to love her. She can now smile! AND SHE DOES!!!!!
Clarice Isabelle (AKA her “Princess Name”) was born on 9/13/2014 with eyes wide open and ready to take on the world. In her three short years, she has endured more than most people will in a lifetime. And yet, she lights up the room with a love for life that we could all stand to learn from. Just as royalty, she may be a little spoiled (oops) but she sees the world for what it is….a place that needs more love and laughter. And, just like a true princess, she does her part to make this a reality. So, yes, Clarabelle, you will always be a princess. You will always have the wisdom that comes from hardships and the heart to make a difference. You will always be Clarabelle!
Happy Birthday, my sweet girl.
May you always be strong but never again have to prove it!
I have spent a great deal of time with older members of my hometown this week. Keep in mind, that this is a generation of retired miners, farmers, and generally Appalachian good ole’ boys who love their momma’s, Jesus, and trucks and I mean that in the most positive manner. These people who helped to shape who I am are honest, hardworking men and women who have never harmed another person. They are good people. They bring casseroles when someone dies and help to shovel each other’s driveways simply because they finished their own a bit faster. They sit with the sick and care for the young. I am super blessed to have been raised in a hometown that emphasized so many strong values in my upbringing. However, I am not here to be raised at this point. In fact, I am here having raised my own children and now helping to raise my grandchildren. I am now part of the older generation yet I see something that they cannot.
Having left home and traveled, I realize that not all communities are as frozen in time as is my hometown. They raise children to become mirror images of themselves which, regarding the basic concept of taking care of one another, is not the worst thing that one could say about Appalachian living. The issue is that these small communities are afraid of change. They sit around the table and try to find ways to prevent change but the fact is that we cannot. Change happens.
While discussing the differences between how I view the world and how I am “supposed” to view the world based on my childhood teachings, I quickly realized just how much I had learned after childhood. You see, people believe that they are to raise their children based strictly on the values that they had when they were children. Now, I am not speaking of religious values or ideologies but rather on the way that they assigned values to other people or objects in their environment. The problem with this philosophy is that our children, our grandchildren, will not grow up in the same society.
I always said that I was not raising children but rather that I was raising adults who would function in the world outside of their childhood. In order to do this, I had to anticipate what that world would look like. Slang words or stereotypes that may have been acceptable in my grandparents’ young adulthood were certainly not acceptable during mine and the same would be true for my children and grandchildren. We are not raising children who need to survive in OUR society but rather who must survive in THEIRS.
I realize that we are parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. I realize that this means that we are likely not psychics! We cannot know exactly what their society will look like but we can be certain that it will be different from our own and that this is okay. This is expected. This will be their time! So, instead of teaching children what your grandparents thought of same-sex marriages, teach your children tolerance and acceptance. Instead of telling your grandchildren about the racial division in your high school days, talk to them about the importance of unity. Instead of highlighting all of the negative characteristics that you were taught about a certain gender, ethnicity, or even socioeconomic status, teach about lifting up one another and the importance of all members of society succeeding.
We do not have to teach these things with a specific characteristic in mind. In fact, it is better than we do not. We do not have to remove history but rather focus on the future. We do not have to teach through words but rather we should speak through actions because, if we are lucky, we will still be around to watch our children and grandchildren flourish in their society and know that we gave them the foundation to do so.
We do not design the world for our children. We prepare our children for their world.
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,
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.
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!