Understanding Needs: Toddler Talk

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.

May we always Meet the Needs of Children

“Gigi”

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Why didn’t they have to go? Questions from a former foster child

As you know, my granddaughter and grandson were removed from our home for just shy of a year due to a CPS investigation that was later dismissed. The children were returned home as if the case never happened and we began to put our lives back together. As the family had purchased property in Florida prior to the case and had intended to relocate, my son had made this move during the year of CPS involvement in order to get my other two grandchildren settled and allow Gloria to access better options for therapy related to DS.

For this reason, I was away from all four of my grandbabies for the majority of that year which also meant that they were away from their cousins. This was heartbreaking but we worked tirelessly to make sure that they were aware of one another. We taught Clarabelle and Elliott sign language just as Gloria’s therapists in Florida were teaching her and her brother. We knew that, eventually, they would all be together again and, now they are!

It never dawned on me that the distance between her home in West Virginia and the home of her foster parents was processed in the same way as the distance from our home in West Virginia to Florida. But, apparently, Clarabelle believed that her cousins had somehow been physically closer to me during that period and was holding some form of resentment that manifested last week.

You see, we had tried to encourage positive memories of that year and gradually replace any bad memories with new happy ones with her family. We never elaborated on the context of the case, we held back our tears during visits, and we did not allow the children to hear any negative words about the people involved in the case.

Even in my post, I try to not reflect negatively because, although I do harbor many negative emotions about that year and the events that took place, I do not believe that negative outbursts will not help anyone to heal. We did not start the blog to add to the negativity of these cases but rather to bring hope in light of so many negative emotions that people encounter in life. I also know that these children will mirror my actions, my emotions, and my beliefs. I have a responsibility to them and I refuse to let them down.

So, instead of talking about our time apart, we discuss our visits and the fun things that we did. Each week when we go to the library, we talk about how we have always went to the library. This replaces the notion of the “visits at the library” with a sense of normalcy that foster care strips away from children. When we do crafts, we talk about crafts that we did during that year. When we play with playdough, we talk about how we went to the store to buy shoes for our playdough statues that we had made. It is our hope that this is what they will remember from that year as we place moments in the context of her normal life.

With that stated, the ugly side of that year came out when I spoke to her about the possibility of seeing her former foster parents. Now, for many reasons I will not elaborate on the response in a public forum nor will I go into details as to why I made the inquiry. This post is not about that. Instead, it is about the perception of time and space that children use to form their emotions and reactions to situations.

Shortly after our discussion, I put the girls in the bathtub. Now, Clarabelle and Gloria typically laugh and play together all day. Bathtime becomes a field of splashing and dumping water on each other followed by giggles. On this night, however, I notice that Clarabelle is not playing and when Gloria dumps the first cup of water, Clarabelle shoves her away.

Hmmmm. This was odd but I had not put it together yet. I assumed she was tired and went ahead with the business of bathing the girls. The next day, Clarabelle sat on her uncle’s lap and wet herself. She then did the same to her stepdad. This beat all I had ever seen. I could not fathom what was going on. So, I did what we are known to do. I grabbed a cup of coffee and we went outside to chat about the world a bit.

“You know that you are the big girl here, right?”

“Yeah, but I want to be a baby.”

“Why? Babies don’t get to drink coffee!” (before you judge she gets cooled down hot chocolate for coffee time)

“I know. But babies get their Gigi all the time.”

Ahhhh…the lightbulb was starting to flicker but had not quite switched on!

If you recall, Gloria is a work in progress on potty training because of DS and the boys both find humor in peeing on the floor on their way to the potty (yes, this occurs more than I would care to state. Thank God for my Swiffer!). However, Clarabelle has been fully potty trained for quite some time.

“You get lots of Gigi time because you are a big girl.”

“But Gloria Ann and Braxton got more time. Why didn’t they have to go away?”

“Gloria and Braxton were in Florida, Clarabelle. You know they did not stay at Gigi’s house, right?”

“They didn’t? When I was with (FM) and (FF)? You did not keep them either?”

“No baby, Gigi used all of her time to bring you home because I love you.”

“Me too, Gigi!”

 

You see, the events that happen are experienced in the perception of the individual. Not everyone remembers or reflects on something in the same way. I wonder how long she has thought that I had chosen her cousins over her. Maybe the idea just popped in her head because I only asked her the question and not them. Maybe the reminder of the events sent her little mind into a state of fear and uncertainty.  Hell, it did the same to me. But regardless, we will continue to answer her questions and pray that she will be allowed to fully heal from these events.

 

To understand an experience, one must see it through the eyes of others.

“Gigi”

We Got the First Haircut!!! (Regardless of how many firsts we lost)

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!

“Gigi”

Yes, You Will Always be a Princess! Happy Birthday, Clarabelle!

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First and foremost, guys, isn’t she beautiful?

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.

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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!!!!!happy.jpg

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!

“Gigi”

Trashbags: What this “luggage” means to foster children

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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!

“Gigi”