Guardians of a Dysfunctional Family

I would say today was bittersweet, but I like dark chocolate, so I can’t. It was more like being handed a giant box of grief as a reward for over two years of round the clock volunteer work.

The guardianship was granted.

In the same breath the court informed us that we would have to drive the girls to and from their father’s house for visitation. He literally lives 500 miles away, and we have now been ordered to drive to and from the filthy city he moved to so he can see them.

It felt like, “Congratulations on being a stellar human being. You’ll need to step that up about 50 notches now.”

Of course the first and most obvious argument is why, if he’s so interested in being part of their lives, do we have to go to him?  But you can’t ask the judge that question when the opposition has stretched the court’s patience to the breaking point. 

In 30 minutes we said a sum total of about 10 sentences. The rest of the time was monopolized by completely useless bantering between the father and the judge about the fact that his opposition was not enough to keep the judge from granting our petition for guardianship.
It was an emotional morning, but I waited until the courtroom cleared to burst into tears. Spike held me and said it was going to be alright. I held him and told him it was going to be alright. We only ate half our lunch. How could the court make us do this? 

We thought having the petition granted would quell the issues, but now we’re responsible for getting the father to compromise with us about visitation. Why won’t the court just decide? Why put us all through this? He won’t negotiate with us. He’s placed the blame for his whole damn life at our door. He can’t see anything past his rage.

We had the bailiff join us in the hall while we were trying to work out visitation, since the father was literally raising his angry, shaking fist in fury over the fact that we had to discuss it at all. He wouldn’t talk about anything except his anger.

Thankfully the bailiff turned out to be part-chaplain (seemed like) and  talked the father down from the enraged ledge he was teetering on.

This is why people give up. Dealing with this kind of pure insanity is the reason people lose faith in humanity. If we were dealing with anything else I’ve ever been given to take care of – a pet, a home, every last dime in my bank accounts – I would have given it up today.

But it isn’t just money or a dog I like. It’s the lives of two girls whose father is more concerned about righting all his past mistakes than about what’s truly best for the kids.

They Grow Up So Fast

It’s a common thing for people to say, but what they don’t tell you is that it can all happen in a matter of two weeks! Our older goddaughter is 12 now. She started junior high on August 24th, and announced her list of boys “crushing on her” three days later. She got her first visit from Aunt Flo (TMI probably, but it’s a major milestone in a girl’s life!) on August 30th, and I took her out to dinner that night to celebrate.

We talked that night about the kids she met during her first week at school and the boys that like her. I asked her if she like anyone, and she said no, but I kept the conversation going. “So what happens when a boy likes you and you like him?” Standard, pre-teen answer: “I don’t know.”

“Well, what would you want to happen?”

“I don’t know. We get together?”

“And then what?”

“I don’t know. Go to Jamba Juice?”

“And then what?”

“I don’t know. This is embarrassing.”

I remember being boy crazy at 12, but there wasn’t a lot of reciprocity. There were only eight kids in my class at a small, K-8, private, Christian school. By the time we had hormones, we’d spent so much time together we were more like siblings. I didn’t go to my first dance until freshman homecoming. In contrast, our 12-year-old is in a school of 1,000 kids her age. It’s glaringly different from the time I spent in junior high.

We bought her a new dress for her first dance this past Thursday and summarily denied her permission to post videos from the dance on YouTube that night. She got in trouble for being home late the next day (it was only a few minutes, but it was the first time we let her go alone) from a neighbor’s house, and later we found out she was there without any adults. Consequently, she’s not allowed to go over there for a week.

Side note: Why the hell are parents allowing their 11 and 12-year-olds to be on social media sites!? The EULAs for all the majors – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. – say kids under 13 are not allowed because they’re unable to comply with the COPPA laws! Keep your freakin’ kids off the internet until they’re older! We in our 30s forget those things weren’t available until we were in high school. We had MySpace and Yahoo and MSN instant messengers, but we couldn’t tag a picture of ourselves in a specific location for any creeper to find us! It took some effort then. Now it’s stupid-easy! There are 50,000 predators online looking for easy targets (Child Rescue Network).

I bought the girls The Care and Keeping of You last summer and reading through it was a lifesaver when it came to talking to them about important care-taking topics. There’s a second, more sensitive, advanced book that I’ve decided to walk through with our 12-year-old, and all I can do is pray for the wisdom to keep the conversation easy, open, and honest. Her sister is only 16 months younger. Between social media and the polarization of genders in the last 20 years, creating a paradigm of freedom and expression is going to be the crowning achievement of raising these girls. There are too many ways to keep secrets and feel ashamed. They have to be able to talk to me about things they see and hear and experience. And I have to be able to shepherd them.

I’m not allowed to be a bad parent.

That’s another thing they don’t tell Foster parents and Legal Guardians. Bio parents are allowed to screw up themselves and their kids and people just say, “It’s hard to be a parent.” But if you’re raising someone else’s kids, you have a to be a pro. It’s like being an estate manager. You’re allowed to go bankrupt if it’s your house, and people say, “Times are tough.” But if you fail to properly steward someone else’s assets, you can be charged with criminal intent!

Asking questions seems to be the most effective method way to parent. I wanted to send her to a nunnery at dinner last week when she answered, “I don’t know. We get together?” I think I stayed cool. I asked her again yesterday about what happens when a boy likes her and she likes him, and I got the same response:

“I don’t know.”

“It’s okay if you don’t want to talk about it right now – if you feel like it’s embarrassing. But if you’re not ready to talk about it, then you’re probably not ready to ‘get together’ with anyone and start dating.”

All the while I’m thinking, “Oh dear God, why am I talking to my 12-year-old about dating!? How did this happen!? She was a baby… yesterday! Now I’m explaining hormones and personal hygiene when you’re on your period and why we’re going to wait a while to use tampons. And I have to talk about it like it’s the most natural thing. She has to know that it’s normal. She has to not be ashamed of talking about it. How the hell do I do this!? What words do I use? The world is changed and I have to protect her, but how much do I say? She’s just a child!”

But she isn’t anymore. Is she?

Taking the Night Off

  

I’ve declared a glass of red wine and no homework tonight for me! I’ll tackle the 12 pages of papers and 8 hours of reading I need to do this weekend. I usually spend Thursday nights at a friend’s house, drinking decaf coffee and catching up on life; otherwise I would never see her or the other friend I meet there.

The three of us are completely maxed out at the moment. One of them is an adjunct professor and she’s in a doctorate program. The other is a nurse, has four kids, two of whom she’s recently adopted, and her husband is in a doctorate program. They’ve become my sounding boards over the last few years. I don’t know what I would do without them. Between their crazy lives and mine, we have plenty of empathy to go around.

Here’s something I’ve been thinking about: I chose this crazy life of constant activity, so why not own it? Why complain about being busy, when really, I chose to do everything I’m doing. No one forced me to go back to school. No one is poking me with a cattle prod at work telling me to be awesome. No one would judge me if I just did a simple birthday party for the girls instead of the elaborately planned days I put together at least a month ahead of time. No one would think less of me if I didn’t get straight-As.

I’m this great on purpose, so I’ve stopped complaining about how busy I am, and I’ve started sharing the joy of my full and happy life. I’m healthy enough to keep up with it. My mind is buzzing with intellectual ideas. My relationship with the girls has never been better. Spike and I are doing an incredible job supporting each other (seriously, I don’t know what I’d do without him). Life is stellar! But nothing!

I could talk about how I’d love to have a self-cleaning house, but that’s really just another point of productive pride for me. I can be this awesome, and keep the house from looking like a catastrophe… most of the time. This week is a joke since our new plumbing sprang a leak. I’m sitting in the living room listening to the whirr of the carpet restoration fan (#thankgodwerent). My desk and its piles of books are pulled away from the wall. All the activity of the week can be told in the items strewn about the couches and tables. I’m not cleaning tonight, though. I’m writing. It’s taking some willpower, but I’m doing it!

Have I mentioned I’m an early-riser now? Our older goddaughter decided she wanted to be in choir and orchestra this year, so she starts school at 6:45. My alarm goes off at 5:45, which has never happened more than one day at a time in all my life. The truly awesome part about it though is that I work 7 am to 4 pm. The extra hour in the evenings to skip traffic, spend time with the family, and run errands is definitely contributing to my happiness factor. It’s also giving me an hour at work every morning with absolutely no interruptions. My stress levels have fallen out of sight! Who knew? Going to bed at 10:30 is weird for me, though. I don’t know when I’m going to get used to yawning at 9:00.

That about does it. I’ve run out of steam. Thank you for your comments and encouragements and thoughts. Here’s to you and your superb writing! I think about you all often.

School and Entrepreneur Ramblings

I’ve spent morning noon and night on the computer now for weeks, but seldom does a day go by that I don’t wish I could be blogging. I realized tonight that I have this little baby Acer laptop with Windows XP that I’ve barely ever used, but would be perfect for blogging in bed. I miss writing for fun, but not enough to continue to sit at my desk after a full day of work and a full night of school.

Continue reading School and Entrepreneur Ramblings

Hug A Saint

“I’m just glad you’re here,” my Writing comforts me. I’ve stopped apologizing for absences. The Words don’t criticize me, so why should I be chastised? My heart is heavy, so I’m here. I don’t know what to Pray, so I wait. I know He’s here, and the Peace lets me take a deep breath. My pulse slows. I exhale and close my eyes briefly to shut out the lights, but my mind whirls in every direction until I open my eyes again. The Words will find a focus where my mind hears only chaos.

“What is it?” my Words ask. My hands are steady, but my chest is tight. Fourteen days. Will the countdowns end? Am I strong enough to endure it with a degree of grace?

The problem with being branded a saint is that people expect that it’s easy to just keep living like one. They’re uncomfortable with the idea that it’s hard, as if only certain people can do great things; as if only certain people can be exceptional and it’s easy for them.

With a single decision a person can alter the course of their life. Many only think of that concept in terms of ruining their lives, ending up in jail, or in the gutter. But a single decision can permanently alter your path in a positive, uphill direction as well. If you pull a kid out of the street or you decide to work as a paramedic, you could be branded a hero.

But it isn’t easy. Your saints are faking if they pretend it is. It isn’t glamorous. The thoughts a saint has are not always admirable. They’re human, make no mistake. But the more admired they become, the more pressure they feel to hide what doesn’t belong in the picture. They see the look in people’s eyes when they voice their insecurities, and they slowly retreat to take a more powerful stance. “I don’t know how I’m going to get through this,” transforms into, “Everything happens for a reason.”

Their friends raise them higher. They’re acquaintances deify their very existence. And the saint starts believing their own catch-phrases. They forget they’re capable of fear. They deny themselves the need for true human connection. They encourage others in their struggles, but never seek out a listening ear for themselves. Their lives become a living encouragement, and frighteningly capable of toppling the faith of others if they fail to live up to all the expectations.

The thing is, no one quite knows how to communicate with heroes. Congratulations abound, but unless another hero comes along who understands, no one has quite the right things to say. “Wow, that’s amazing!” needs am empathetic counterpart: “Do you feel safe? Can I call to check on you tomorrow? I can stay if you don’t want to be alone. I can listen if you want to talk about it.”

It’s hard to find that friend when everyone believes heroes and saints are born, not raised; destined, not determined. “Do not grow weary in doing good,” I remember, but what an admonition. Where are the people who give rest to those travelers?

Organic Organization

As proud as I am of the way I’ve been able to digitally organize myself at work, the last month has shown me that my home life was in need of a much more tangible system. I wanted to use rulers and highlighters and pens and notebooks. I wanted to see color and handwriting and sketches. I loved the Bullet Journal system, but the suggested level of detail was too intense for my purposes. I wanted to chronicle my life, but not down to the most minute detail.

Continue reading Organic Organization

Daughters Will Love Like You Do

Father and Daughter Dance by emanuelmelo | DeviantArt.com

May 19th is over. The judge approved the continuance, so I have a new date to wait for. June 30th. We were granted Temporary Guardianship until then. As promised in his barrage of harassing text messages over the last few weeks, the girls’ dad was there. It’s standard procedure for the judge to order visitation, but without a completed report she limited it considerably, thankfully. She told us to let him see the girls for one hour this afternoon.

I felt terrible springing the surprise visit on the girls right after they got out of school, but they took it in stride. We met him and his tag-along girlfriend (New Mommy choice) at a public place. Neither of them looked at us or spoke a word to us all day. We have housed and tutored and spoiled and loved those girls like our own children for two years, and he pretended we were invisible. Better than engaging in a fight, I guess, but really? In my mind, not looking someone in the eye just screams shame and guilt and cowardice.

One hour. Before we got there I told the girls if they were uncomfortable they could let me know by asking if I could get them some french fries. We sat in the booth next to theirs for one hour and listened to low voices. Thankfully, they were okay. No requests for french fries. I periodically poked my head around the corner to let the younger one know I was still right there.

The girls told me after that he told them a “funny” story about one time when the neighbor kids decided it would be fun to throw kitchen knives at a board on the floor. Then the game escalated and they thought it would be funny to throw knives at each other. Hysterical. “Where [the hell!] were the parents?” I asked one of the girls who was laughing, retelling the story. “Oh, they were drinking beer in the next room.”

You don’t have to have maternal feelings to see how screwed up that is. First, that he would tell them of that story as part of the “good ol’ days.” Second, that he encouraged the girls to think it was funny. Thirdly… do I need a third point? Every protective bone in my body is screaming.

Their mom, who we have a signed, private custody agreement with, said he was very harsh with them when they were little, which caused a lot of their early fights. “He would say or do something and I’d say no and stop it, then… yeah.” Her words.

She ran away from him once with the kids and he tracked her down by filing a bogus protection order. He knew that the court would require her to be personally served, so he gave the sheriff the address of a friend who knew where she was. The friend gave the address to the sheriff, and the proof of service that the asshole got back had the address where she was living, the battered women’s shelter. She was supposed to be safe there.

These are only a few examples of the dozens of stories I’ve heard about him over the years. Every fiber of my being says, “No! Stay away. You’re a liability. You abandoned them, by every legal and moral definition of the word. You should not be allowed to raise them just because your pride is hurt.” He had absolutely no expressed interest in having the girls live with him until he found out that we were seeking Legal Guardianship. Now suddenly he’s “Father of the Year,” come to right every wrong of the past by harassing the tar out of us, the court, and anyone else who might not agree with him.

He doesn’t understand that he’s only hurting everyone involved. The girls are happy, content, healthy, safe. They’re getting a stellar education. Both of them talk about going to college.

IN a 2010 study by researchers at the University of Chicago, only 6 percent of former foster youths had earned a two- or four-year degree by age 24. Those not in college may be in jail; 34 percent who had left foster care at age 17 or 18 reported being arrested by age 19. (New York Times, 2013)

Their dad checked himself into a mental hospital four years ago, told the staff there that the girls’ mother was dead, and he didn’t have any friends the girls could stay with while he was in a psyche hold. The truth was that he had filed another bogus, emergency police report to have their mother forcibly removed from the house two months prior, and Spike, his only friend, lived ten minutes down the road.

The girls went into foster care. After having multiple “no contact” orders issued against him for harassing the case workers, the foster parents, and the social workers, their dad moved across the country with a new girlfriend. Spike helped their mom find a place to live and get back on her feet. And she got them out of foster care.

Who the hell lets that happen to their children and still, four years later, doesn’t see how horrifying it was?

This is an ugly business. And I’m not an ugly person. God, show me justice. Please.

Blood [of Battle] is Thicker than Water [of the Womb]

droplettes by erupt | DeviantArt.com

Do you ever feel like you’re bleeding all over everyone?

I’m anxious about tomorrow. I’m desperately trying not to be, but the desperation is coming out in casually conversing with people about what we’re be up against. It’s not helping. I’m trying to make light of an issue that isn’t light. It isn’t casual. As soon as the gravity of the situation hits them, I watch them back-pedal, stop listening, and try to end the conversation.

“Oh, sorry! Did I get blood on your shoes? Sorry, let me see if I can clean that up for you. I can’t believe I bled on you. That’s so inconsiderate!”

Clearly, I need an outlet, and the world around me is proving to be a pathetic sounding board. I don’t know where to start, or if this is the right place, but I’ll be at the courthouse in less than twelve hours, and there are many many unknowns. I keep telling myself not to worry about tomorrow. It will bring enough trouble of its own. But I keep thinking there’s something I might be able to prepare for.

There isn’t.

I’ve filed all the paperwork. I’ve got all my copies ready to go. I even have court clothes picked out. Check. Check. Check! I’ve been working toward this day since last summer, and the most disheartening thing is that it won’t be over tomorrow. We might sit in the waiting room all. day. long. just to hear what we already know: the court investigator has filed a motion for a continuance.

We’re not related to the girls. Their parents live in two different states and have only had a half-dozen points of contacts with the girls in the last two years. Their father is a menace. Their mother has a hard time following-through. It’s complicated. A social worker was assigned to the case two weeks ago to complete the investigation and give their recommendation to the court. Social workers are busy. No surprise there. The investigation isn’t done. They haven’t even called us yet.

This level of stress doesn’t get a resolution tomorrow. It gets a pat on the head and told to keep waiting.

How the hell am I supposed to sleep?

“Praying that the court does what’s best for the girls.” It sounds encouraging doesn’t it? But when it’s delivered to me from a friend, it really feels under-handed. Her three natural-born children are sleeping soundly in their beds. No one is fighting to take them from her. She doesn’t know what this is like. She doesn’t understand what it feels like to have to convince a court of law that you’re a better parent than someone else. It’s not an argument I ever thought I’d be in, especially not with someone I’ve been trying to avoid since I was eleven years old.

I knew the girls’ dad when I was a kid. I kept my distance. Even then I knew his kind of instability was not something I wanted to be around. Talk about bleeding all over people. His insecurities and issues were out for the world to see at a very early age. My friends steered clear too, and now no one will listen to him. No one will take him seriously. No one will stand up for him. No one believes he’s right to fight us on this, not even his own mother.

She will be at the hearing tomorrow too. One, big, happy, dysfunctional, volatile family. God help us.

I Am Their Guardian

Morning Coffee by wagn18 | DeviantArt.com

The house is still asleep, but I’ve already started the second load of this weekend’s laundry. The kitchen is returned to its neutral state, after carrying evidence of fun night with family. The ticket stubs from our night at the ball park are filed away with the rest of our memories. The kids’ excellent progress reports are signed and ready to go back to their teachers. The dates for field trips and activities are added to calendars from reminders in my in-basket. The couch is finally holding the last load of laundry from last weekend, neatly folded in four stacks. The dining room proudly displays a Lego Friends Dolphin Cruiser box, which one of the girls saved her own allowance to buy. My digital picture frame happily displays two years of snapshots from our many days of “Going on a venture!” as we like to say. My planner sits next to me, open to ideas about the next birthday party I’m planning.

From all accounts, I appear to be a mother. But I didn’t carry the little souls that rest peacefully down the hall from me. I mailed the Mother’s Day card they signed to another state last week. The recipient of that card is their mother. She is the one who entrusted them to us. She is the one they wish was there to hold them when they’re hurting. She is the one they miss on their birthdays.

I am the one that makes sure their school t-shirt is clean on the right day. I am the one that reminds them to brush their teeth. I am the one that takes them to volunteer at the animal shelter. I am the one that reads to them before bed.

I am their teacher, their counselor. I am their confidante. I am the one that attempts to make up for all the ways adults have let them down. I am the one that reassures them that they are not abandoned. I am the one that prays for positive, loving contact from their biological family. I am their defender, their protector.

I am their guardian.

If God is for Us

300 | Warner Bros.

Scripture says different things to me at different times in my life. I don’t know how many times I’ve read the eighth chapter of Romans, but today it reminded me that God is sovereign and He is with me.

… we are children of God

… the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 

… the Spirit helps us… For we do not know what to pray for… but the Spirit himself intercedes for us… And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit… And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose…

If God is for us, who can be against us? … Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? … Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?…

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us… (Romans 8:16-37)

Being falsely accused on the level that we have faced these past few days screams so much injustice in my face that it’s taking a tremendous amount of willpower to keep from being severely defensive.

It isn’t a simple misunderstanding that could be cleared up with a few clarifications. They’re pure lies – fictions without any basis in reality, meant to discredit us in the Legal Guardianship case. I’m afraid. No one who knows us believes the lies, but will the court believe it? God, let them have discernment. Let the facts speak.

“Faith, my love,” He whispers. “I have given you a shield of faith. Know that I Am with you. Know that I will win the battle. Believe that there is nothing to fear. I have called you to this purpose. I will work all things for good.”

“He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday.” (Psalm 37:6)

Sixteen days left. God, let it be over then. Please.