par-ent (per’ ent) n. 1. One who begets, gives birth to, or nurtures and raises a child; a father or mother.2. An ancestor; a progenitor.3. An organism that produces or generates offspring.( The Free Dictionary)
“An organism that produces or generates offspring” – I like that noun definition of the word ‘parent.’ It shouldn’t be the only way to define the word but it’s a valid definition. It’s the way the courts should view the biological creators of the pitiful, damaged and precious offspring cluttering up our foster care system.
While in the midst of adoption and waiting for our child, our social worker convinced us to keep foster children. It was a heart wrenching experience. Two little girls were placed with us who experienced every kind of neglect you can imagine. The abuse included physical and sexual by both the mother and her many boyfriends. Ashley was 5 years old, just about to turn 6. Jennifer had just turned 3. Two precious little souls. Lost. Because our court system couldn’t find a dictionary that contained the full definition of the word parent.
The girls were precious. But they were a handful. Nightmares that contained scenes from the Hellraiser movies. Food stuffed in toys, shoes, pockets and play purses. Knives and scissors tucked under pillows. Missing silverware, mostly knives. Stealing small items like candy and gum from stores. Feces spread over the bathroom walls after every supervised visit with the birthmother. Crying jags that could last for hours. Precocious behavior. Gorging themselves at mealtime.
I read back what I’ve written and I wonder why in the world we wanted to adopt them. Handful seems like such a mild word to describe them if you just look at the difficult times. But there were so many good times. The laughter that would finally appear a day or two after a visit with the birthmom. The sense of pride when good behavior was recognized and rewarded. The cuddles and giggles. The sweet way that Ashley took care of Jennifer – a little mommy at age 5. The way Jennifer idolized her big sister. Taking them to parks, The Nutcracker, even the mall merry-go-round was such a treat to them. They took nothing for granted. They soaked in every experience with relish.
At that time in my life, while my music tastes were broad, I typically only listened to alternative rock and classical. Ashley, on the other hand, at age 6, LOVED country and pop. Suddenly I was listening to “Achy Breaky Heart” by Billy Ray Cyrus and Whitney Houston’s rendition of Dolly Parton’s song “I Will Always Love You.” One of Ashley’s favorite songs was “Save the Best for Last” by Vanessa Williams. One day, while running errands, the song came on the car radio. Ashley squealed, “Turn it up, Mommy!” We sang together at the top of our lungs. But we were almost home and the song wasn’t even half over. I kept driving. Ashley said, “Mommy! You missed our street.” I told her I thought she’d want to finish singing the song. “Oh, Mommy” was all she could say. I looked in the rearview mirror and she was crying. I was worried – afraid I’d done something wrong. (Our lives were so different now: creating structure, daily schedules, anticipating worry and fear, etc.) I stopped the car to make sure she was ok. She said, “Mommy, that’s the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me.”
Ashley had been in and out of the system since she was two. Jennifer didn’t know anything else. And because Jennifer was young, sweet and not as ‘damaged’ (although, she was our ‘poop artist’) there were plenty of people who wanted her in their homes, hoping to eventually adopt her. Ashley was older. More guarded. More devious. It was harder to see through her coat of armor. By the time they reached us then had been in more than 8 homes. Their stay with us was their longest.
The birthmom was a mess. Alcohol. Prostitution. All she had to do to get her children back was: 1- go to AA meetings, 2- maintain ONE household, and 3- hold down ONE job. That’s ALL she had to do. You take away my children? I’d move mountains to get them back. She, on the other hand, continually skipped her AA meetings. She moved from apartment to motel to friend’s apartment. She quit or was fired from 5 jobs in the 10 months that we had her children. And every time the case went up for review (once every four months) the judge gave her more time to get her act together. Every. Single. Time.
And this was nothing new. He was giving her second, fifth, umpteenth chances every time her review came along. Always the same answer, “We’ll give you four more months.” And we had enough. The tug and pull. The string of good days and then the monthly visit with the birthmom would tear apart all of our progress. It would take days to get back on track. It was hard on us. But it was damaging to the girls. It was wrong.
par-ent (per’ ent) v. 1. to bear or rear children. 2. to act as a parent to ( Wordsmyth)
We were parenting these precious little beings the best way we knew how and we were seeing joy, love and progress. And every few months a court system, that only saw biological ties to another human being, told us that DNA was more important than a safe, loving home. Kissing boo-boos, calming fears, sharing joy, nurturing little souls was secondary to genetic coding.
At the last hearing we were privy to, the judge, as expected, gave the birthmother ”four more months” to get her act together. I was livid. As foster parents we didn’t have a say. We stood out in the lobby waiting the decision. When our social worker told us the news I stormed into the judges chambers. I blew past the law secretary and into his office as he was taking off his robe. I said, “We’re offering to pay for their college education. But you’re telling me we’re going to have to pay for their prison term instead! This is unacceptable!” All he said was, “Get her out! Get her out!” And I walked out. I was shaking and had no idea what else I would say.
I found out later from a friend who is a CASA volunteer that I could have been thrown in jail. I wouldn’t have minded. If it could save one more child from an inadequate, ineffective foster care system? I wouldn’t have minded at all.