The Word ‘Parent’ Is Also A Verb

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.

29 Comments

Filed under Be-Causes, children

29 responses to “The Word ‘Parent’ Is Also A Verb

  1. suzicate

    So proud to know you on blosphere, you are the best. If more people were like you, we’d have a more beautiful world. Loving a child is easy, but letting go is difficult. The strings attached have nothing to do with umbilical cords. God bless you, Jane.

  2. Oh, what a tragic story. Good for you for speaking your mind. Judges can make these decisions and not live with the repurcussions.
    We all affect the lives of our kids, hopefully much more good than bad. But some kids start out with barely a chance. And the legal system doesn’t want to “get involved.” I really admire you.

  3. I know, all too well, how easy it is to abuse the system. Once an addict learns how disgustingly simple and forgiving the system is, they never clean up. Why would they?

    Poor Ashley. I hope she survives.

    • I’ve held onto their information, waiting for them to turn 18 so I could find out how they’re doing. They’re both past 18 by now and I’ve been too afraid to find out.

  4. So many times I’ve wished I had spoken out. Three cheers for you! I hope the judge always remembers the lady who cared enough to stick her neck out for two little girls who didn’t share her DNA.

    DNA shouldn’t always be the trump card in the court system.

    Did you see the movie Gone, Baby, Gone?

    • You’re not the first to suggest that movie to me. But my sister has seen it and she has advised me against it – she said it would get me too upset.

  5. This post broke my heart. I worked for child protective services for a while. One of the things that drove me from the field was having to supervise visits between children and parents . . . whether the children wanted them or not.

  6. I am so sorry. The system is broken in so many ways, and so many people suffer as a result. Especially the children. This is so unfair to the girls.

    I had a patient where the courts continued to give a birth mom second chances, much like in this case, and eventually, the baby (who required continuous special care) was given back to her, and the baby nearly died of neglect.
    It is just tragic.

  7. Powerful, heart-wrenching post that highlights major and deeply entrenched flaws in our legal system. You are right to note that parent is, and should be, a verb. Thank you for sharing bits and pieces of your experience with us.

    It is so good to be back here reading your stories. A very happy new year to you and yours.

  8. I suspect that Ashley and Jennifer’s mother may have suffered in her own youth, but I wonder how and when a cycle of violence will ever be interrupted when our legal system seems to privilege the rights of the child abuser over those of the child.

    Jane, I am impressed and humbled by the willingness of you and your family to open your home to these girls. I wish I had your strength and generosity of spirit.

  9. What a powerful post, one that actually tugs at my heart. There are so many holes in the system, and it seems in many of these situations, everyone loses.

    Thank you for sharing such a personal experience with us.

  10. bloginsong

    I can barely keep it together reading this. You are so strong and wise. Is there anything we can do to help – i.e. write a letter or bug a congressperson or support a good foundation?

    I am blown away by your brave you are. I hope those sweet girls can hold a little place in their hearts where the promise of love and safety lives.

  11. Such a beautiful post. I hope your love and kindness imprinted on their hearts and they will always remember the “mom” who really cared for them. Unfortunately, people need licenses to hunt and fish, but no license to have children. Sometimes it seems awfully skewed.

  12. What a powerful post! I think you are amazing for taking on such a tough task. Foster children can be volatile because of all they have been through but the system is so horrible that who can blame them? Something needs to change.

  13. unabridgedgirl

    It is sad. It is so so sad. Sometimes I look at our system and think it such a failure.

  14. ck

    You left me without words, only tears. It’s impossible to read a post like this and not feel the heartbreak, added by the fact that my girls are the same age.

    You have a wonderful heart.

  15. You’re absolutely amazing. A real live saint.

    It’s horrible that our system is so broken. I’ve talked to a couple of foster moms, and they are truly the most amazing people I’ve ever met. Thank you for the sacrifices you made trying to be these girls’ mom.

  16. You are all so kind. When I’m feeling down on myself I think I’ll just come back to this post and read your comments. I’m no saint. But I did try very, very hard to be a positive force in two precious girls lives. They taught ME soooooo much. And for that I am forever grateful.

  17. I wouldn’t call you a saint. Saints are fictional and their pain often seems largely ceremonial and useless. Your pain was in the service of an incredibly important cause. What an incredibly brave thing to do, and how deeply marked you must be by it. It’s too bad you didn’t all get a Hollywood ending, but at least you tried.

  18. Wow. I wish I were as brave as you. In so many ways, especially storming into the judge’s chambers–that rocked my socks! My husband supervises children’s visitation with parents and, while he doesn’t have stories as compelling as yours, the mere fact that the parents sometimes don’t show up, fall asleep, or gripe the whole time makes it hard to feel compassion for them. But those children, as you’ve implied, may very well turn out to be the same kind of parents. Thank you for sharing.

  19. B

    Kudos to you for taking a stand and marching in on that judge. It is a blessing that there are people like you willing to give of yourself and PARENT children so desperate for a little love and affection.

    (visiting from Theta Mom!)

  20. angelcel

    Heartbreaking. I wonder where and how they are now. I only hope that they eventually enjoyed some kind of stability and love with another family such as yours.

    Good for you, marching into the judges chambers. I also wonder if he ever thinks of the woman who did that, and if your words ring in his ears. Have you ever thought that your brave move may just have made a positive difference to the outcome of subsequent cases?

  21. Oh my. What a heartwrenching experience. What lives those girls have already led. I don’t know what to say. I’m so glad they met you. I’m so sad about those who beget but do not parent. I’m so sad for the little lives lost before they begin.
    Damnit, Jane. Now we’re all going to have nightmares. Thankfully, we’ll also be extra patient and kind for a long time, thinking about how lucky our families are.
    I hope every family helps another soul (or two or eight) the way you did. What a different world we would live in.

  22. Oh Jane…there’s really nothing more that I can say that hasn’t been said more eloquently than I could. My first teaching job was in an inner city school, and some of those kids and their stories could break a person’s heart. For every caring, loving foster parent there are so many that use the system as well. For you to take those girls into your home and give them love was the greatest gift they will ever receive. Bless you.

  23. Oh man. Don’t even get me started on how jacked up the system is. The system makes me positively sick. SICK. From what you wrote, the birthmother doesn’t even deserve to breathe the same air that those precious little girls breathe. What a pathetic, disgusting, sorry excuse for a human being she is. Anyone, ANYONE who neglects or abuses their kids is a piece of sh*t in my book and deserves nothing more than the abuse they gave their kids. But the courts don’t see that. They do not do what is in the best interest of the kids… and visits with the birthmother were so obviously NOT in their best interest. Ok, I’m going to stop my rant before I get even more riled up. Let me just say that I wish there were more people like you in this world. God bless you.

    -Jen

  24. Pingback: perspective time « Naptime Writing

  25. jc

    thank you for being an awesome person.

  26. Jane, I found you via Naptime Writing, and had to comment. Thank you so much for being open about your story. I work with preschoolers with special needs, specifically those with social-emotional-behavioral issues (poop-smearing? check. hoarding? check.) and have worked with tons of foster kids. I never fail to be amazed at the system’s effed-up-ness.

    I did some post-graduate work in infant-toddler mental health, and one of my colleagues worked for Child Protective Services. After completing the program, she actually changed jobs, in part because she couldn’t handle knowing how far the system is from what research has shown is needed for these kids to survive and thrive.

    You made a difference to those girls.

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