Just Happy to Be! (The grandbaby without a “category”)

So, I was sifting through all of our blog posts, categories, and tags, and realized how rarely I discuss my youngest grandbaby, Braxton. (Isn’t he adorable BTW?)!!! Now, I have mentioned him in a few stories which mostly include the trouble that he gets into with his cousin, but I do not think he gets his fair shake on here. Of course, there is a reason behind this. You see, Clarabelle and Elliott suffered through foster care with Elliott having suffered through physical abuse by his father (conviction pending). So the two of them take up the CPS category. Clarabelle is far more vocal than any of the children and serves as an excellent muse for my toddler talks under the category out of the mouths of babes. Gloria Ann has Downs Syndrome and so she also gets her own category where I brag about her achievements and milestones. However, Braxton generally just falls into the family stories as one of the four.

Hmmm…. why is that? I mean, he definitely does not just “fall into place” through the day. He is rambunctious, needy, clingy, funny, and wide open. He does not just want attention, he demands it and takes it when necessary. He loves to eat (usually everybody’s food unless they hurry) and, at this very moment, is working desperately to wake up the other children from naptime (BRB)! But there is no wild story to tell. Chelsea, his mother, had a pretty easy pregnancy with him. Labor and delivery went as smooth as possible. He doesn’t really get sick. He sleeps through the night. He plays on his own and is beginning to get more and more vocal. He knows a few signs (more, eat, please), holds hands in parking lots or to cross the street, and is overall a well behaved and happy boy.

I guess I am just trying to say that there is something beautiful about watching him as such a carefree child. He is exactly the way that he is supposed to be without worry and without some big story that necessitates a separate category. He is Braxton Scott and he is a breath of fresh air in a complicated world!

It is okay to celebrate normalcy. Hell, that is a category on its own!

“Gigi”

 

Know the Players in your CPS Case (An insider’s guide on who to trust)

Ok, so “players” usually refers to a game and this is real life for you. I get that! But, for these people, you and your children are just pawns in an elaborate game of Monopoly that involves real money. When we began our case, we did not know who was who or who to trust (stretching this term) and even more important, who to focus on. I mean, you have played Monopoly, right? The game is much easier won if you have loose allies. Someone to trade with during the game. In the end, you still try to take them out but you both got to play a bit longer because of this alliance. The problem is, if you choose the wrong person to “buddy” with, they may try to take you out of the game early. They may actually trade you the wrong piece of property by steering your attention elsewhere. Quite frankly, they might cheat!

With that said, I am going to give you a list of the people involved in our case (obviously with no names) and explain their role in us eventually getting Park Place and Boardwalk (aka the children home)

  1. The CPS Investigator: In our case, we had 2. The first one was in the state where the injury occurred and the second was in the state in which we lived. The first one met us at the hospital. Talked to the family and released the children to my daughter with paperwork to protect her and the children from the father until we returned home. We thought this was over at that point. However, Investigator A transferred the case to Investigator B because of the interstate jurisdiction laws. Investigator B met with my daughter and mother once they returned home (I stayed behind one extra day due to previous plans and the belief that everything was settled). Investigator B had my daughter sign a “protection plan.” She assumed this was a protective order and never filed a DVP (this later caused major issues). Make no assumptions and do not trust any paperwork from the investigator. (Side note: unlike many cases, we did not encounter any falsification from the investigator in the final court but I hear that this occurs often. So, be cordial and polite but hold your trust on this one.)
  2. District Attorney or ADA: I did not even know that the DA would be involved in family court but they represent the state so there they were. We never spoke to the ADA in our case. She never met the children. She never entered our home. She had no history other than the case files. She had one motive which was to “win” a case. I do not know if it is possible to gain access to this player. She is kinda like the banker who does not see the property but only the winnings. These cases are not the primary function of the ADA and therefore they appear to be very robotic. Be personable when directing responses in court. It will show the difference between the “law” and the human factor in the eyes of the judge.
  3. Court Appointed Attorneys: In our case, there were three to begin with to include my daughter’s, mine, and the father’s attorneys. To begin with, it was clear that these cases are just kinda their passage to other cases meaning, they did not choose these cases because of a true belief that they can or should win. My daughter opted to pay an attorney outside of the county simply to break up the “good ole boy’s club.” However, even this paid lawyer was not essential to our case. The lawyers chose to practice law but they did not choose to take on so many appointments because CPS overloads them. They are overloaded! Do your part. Show them how serious you are. Do some of the research. Let them know you are a team. Trade some property and form the alliance. This may not be easy and I know a lot of people will tell you that this is pointless. But, I am telling you from experience, your lawyer does not have the time to allocate to win your case but they still want to win. Help them to win!
  4. Ongoing Social Worker: When our case was transferred from the investigator to the ongoing worker, we believed that this was a step forward. However, this is a typical process and does not mean you are out of the woods. It means that the state believes that they have collected enough evidence to keep your children. The role of the ongoing worker is to establish the services and help to facilitate reunification. We NEVER spoke to this worker outside of the courthouse or MDT meetings! NEVER! She spoke to the foster parents a few times and saw the children. She communicated with the provider for supervised visitations. But she never spoke to us. And we tried! She formed a good relationship with the foster parents and we were sure that she was pushing for them to keep the children. However, she did not speak during the hearing. She did not testify. She was present but did not speak for or against us. She was just there. I guess, throughout the entire case, she was just there. I believe, if you are placed on an improvement plan, the ongoing worker should be one of your closest allies. You should do everything in your power to befriend them. However, in our case, there was no services required other than visitation until dismissal so this was not necessary. I know many people have a lot of negative things to say about their ongoing worker but we really did not encounter ours often enough to speak either way. I am only including this on the list as a way to let new families know about the different parties that will be involved.
  5. The GAL: This individual is essential to your case. The GAL is responsible for representing the “best interest” of your children. In his eyes, you must be the “best interest.” I do not care if you live by the belief that you have nothing to prove to anyone because you are an amazing parent (this is probably true) but to the GAL you have EVERYTHING to prove! We see so many cases of abuse in foster care but, unfortunately, we also see cases of abuse by bio families once the children have been returned home. The GAL is aware of this possibility and will err on the side of caution to protect themselves and the children. I understand that this may be an unwelcomed assertion at this point, but it is the absolute truth. If the GAL thinks that there is the slightest possibility that the children will be harmed if they recommend that the children be returned home, then they will not make this recommendation! With that said, the judge almost always goes along with the recommendations of the GAL so, put on your best mommy/daddy face. Be polite. Be sincere. Don’t trade property just give it to this one! Invite them to visits. Encourage them to know you and your children. Even if they do not come, make them feel welcome. Talk to them. Every chance you get. Show them how important your children are to you. But, I will say this because of other people’s reports, be careful. This is an ally NOT a friend! If you are depressed, anxious, having mental health issues etc. this is not the person to tell. Do not give them any information that would make them question your ability to parent!
  6. Supervised visitation providers: Okay, so I have spoken about our excellent relationship with ours but this is not the experience of all people. If you go to your visits and feel as if you are being judged….. YOU ARE! This is their JOB! They will write down everything! If you raise your voice, if you are on your phone, if you appear tired, sick, or bored…IT WILL BE IN YOUR FILE!!! Do not believe that, because they are in their laptop or phone, that they are not watching. They are emailing, taking notes, and, yes, JUDGING! With this said, these are the only people who you will have constant contact with. These are the ones who will really know you. These are the people who are traveling with your children and trying to calm them if they are upset at the end. These are your best chance at a true ally in your case. If they make a recommendation, FOLLOW IT! If they show a concern, ADDRESS IT! Let them know that all you want to do is be the best parent you can be for your children! Do not be scared or distant but do be cautious. Do not tell them personal information that could be used to make you look bad. Even if not intended negatively, they are required to put this in your file. Be cordial, respectful, and kind. Be diligent in your parenting and genuine in expressing your concerns.
  7. The Foster Parents: There are many different settings that your children may be placed in. Most of the time, they will be placed with foster parents. The foster parents are rarely involved with the actual court case. They do not generally testify or appear in court. However, they do speak to the GAL, investigator, and ongoing workers. They do have your children for holidays, birthdays, doctors, milestones, bedtimes, bathtimes….you know….they have your children. So, as far as the court case is concerned, they do not play a crucial role but as far as your ability to maintain a relationship with your children through the case, they can make or break these options. You are jealous. You are angry. You are hurt. I get that. Trust me. We lost one of every single holiday. But, being mean will get you nowhere! I have had many negative comments because of a previous blog showing compassion for the foster parents but understand that everyone is being lied to and yes, they may have what you deserve but they did not actually take them from you. If possible, have a working relationship with the foster parents. This will show your true concern for the children’s best interest. Eventually, you will have your children home and they will no longer be a concern so do not mistake this relationship as a friendship. But, for now, do what you have to do to spend every possible moment with your children.
  8. The Judge: This is the key player. This is the little guy with the funny eyeglasses that owns the game of monopoly. This is not the banker. This is the BANK! Regardless of the recommendations, the statements, the reports, the witnesses, the truth, the judge makes the decision that determines whether or not you maintain the right to parent YOUR children! Do not disrespect the judge! Do not appear disrespectful to the judge! This is the one moment in your life that you are being judged and this is the person doing the judging. The judge is scary (I literally was shaking) but he or she is a person. They may look as if they are just a part of the courtroom but know that they have a family and a life outside of that room. Talk to them like a person. Show them who you are as a parent. But remember, they have read what everyone else has written. You have to prove the reports are wrong. You have EVERYTHING to prove!

Okay, so now that you know the key players and how they can affect your case, do not stop researching. Learn everything you can about each person. I remember one time we had a visit with a doctor during the case and he was discussing his credentials. I said “you also like cats.” The look on his face was priceless when I told him I had checked his facebook to see if there were any negative reviews. He said he had never had anyone research him before and my answer was simple, “if you are going to be involved in the care of my grandson, then I am going to make sure that I can trust you.”

Be diligent in your case. These are YOUR children!

We did not choose to play the game but we can choose to win it!

“Gigi”

And just like that, I am 40

Yesterday, I was 29 years old. I cannot remember a time in my life that I was older or younger than 29. It has just always been my age and I never considered changing it. I mean, it is MY age so I should be able to call it whatever I want, right? You really should see the look on people’s faces when I would say that I am 29 with four grandchildren and 3 adult children! Ha! I sure had them all fooled, didn’t I?

But, you know, I really have no idea why I felt the need to say 29. I don’t really remember anything spectacular happening during my real time spent as a 29-year-old. It was just another year. I am not embarrassed by my achievements or my experiences that I have had. I am proud to have 3 adult children and 4 grandchildren. In short, I am pretty proud of my 40 years on this earth and look forward to many more ahead.

Why do we feel the need to hide behind socially constructed labels? When did aging becoming something to be ashamed of rather than something to elicit respect? And what on earth made us so obsessed with being in our 20s? I mean, really, the 20s are hard! I watch my own children trying to figure out the world around them. I would not voluntarily experience that decade over and over again! Forty is nice. I am

Forty is nice. I am comfortable with where I am in my life. I have an excellent job that allows me to work from home. I have a beautiful family. I have known loss and therefore I have learned to appreciate. I am healthy, active, and educated. Life is good. Forty is good!

So, with that stated, today I aged 11 years! Today, I proudly entered the 40s club!

Cheers!

“Gigi”

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”

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

3.jpg

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.

2

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”