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Neurodiversity Awareness/Appreciation

Neurodiversity Awareness/Appreciation

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

I Wanna Be A Mama! (Plus, A Very Dysfunctional Story.)

And now to explore a sensitive topic that always makes me uncomfortable to talk about.
I have always wanted to be a mama. When I was in junior high and high school I used to assume that, by the time I was 21, I would have kids. But one weird thing about me was that I also assumed I would either adopt, or be a foster parent. Not that I specifically was against having children by birth... but I just always felt that adoption or foster parenting would be part of my life.
In fact, when I was 17 or so, I remember emailing some sort of foster care organization and inquiring about how old a person needed to be to adopt a child. (The answer, in case you are wondering, was that you need to be 21, and be at least 10 years older than the child you're adopting.)
But things didn't work out so well. I had a lot of problems as a teenager, stemming both from my general feeling of never fitting in, being bullied  most of my life in school, and being emotionally abused by my mom. (When I was growing up they didn't know as much about ADHD or Aspergers, so everyone just assumed I was lazy, immature, and annoying, which deeply irritated my mom, who has a Straight A personality.) I didn't make great choices. I can't really blame myself now... I was basically a kid reacting to things that had happened to me... but just in case you are a teenager reading this right now, be forewarned. The choices you make now really do effect you for the rest of your life!) Anyways, by age 18 I was homeless. By age 19, I was living in a group home for teen girls (or young adult girls, anyway... ages 17 to 21.) At age 20 I briefly had my own apartment, but I had a soft heart and couldn't turn away any of my friends from the streets who needed a place to stay... plus if I did turn them away they just clambered in through the windows... so I ended up being evicted. At age 21 I made one of the only good choices of my life and joined AmeriCorps, where I spent a year in Colorado working with preschoolers in foster care who had special needs. (They mostly had behavioral disorders. Which were, in my opinion, not so much "disorders" but children's natural reactions to being severely abused and neglected, and then removed from their families, and then bounced from foster home to foster home, all within their first four years of life. Can you really blame them for screaming and throwing their crayons?)
At age 22 my term in AmeriCorps was over, so I moved back to Illinois, where I lived for a while with my parents before the street life sucked me back out.
In all my times of living on the streets, I never drank or used drugs, by the way. I hung out with a lot of older people who did do these things. I guess, seeing the effects that drinking and drugs had on them, I didn't find these things very appealing!
At age 23 I was working full time in a special education school, as a 1:1 aide for a child with autism. I had tons of responsibility at that job. He was academically more advanced than his classmates, so I planned and taught him all of his reading, math, science and social studies separately from the rest of the class. He also had severe behavioral problems (mostly caused by getting easily frustrated and overwhelmed) so I also had to create his behavior plans, social stories, visual prompts, etc. My whole life rotated around trying to help this little boy feel more at home in the world so he wouldn't have to throw chairs at everyone and stuff. At the same time, I was living with friends in a subsidized housing project. This girl I was living with was also 23, and had two kids, one of whom had been taken away by DCFS and the other who lived with his father, but she received housing subsidies as if she had both of her kids living with her. She only had to pay about ten dollars a month in rent. She made extra money by letting other people camp out on her couch and floor and charging them "rent." Because I was the only one who actually had a full time job and could be depended on to pay, I had the privilege of sleeping on the couch. For this I was supposed to pay $100 a month... except by about the third month, I had loaned the girl so much money that, according to her, I didn't owe her any rent at all for the rest of my life. Can you guess what she was doing with all of that money?
While I was living there, this one lady used to come around and hang out there. She had two little girls, ages 5 and 2, that she'd bring with her. Whenever the little kids were there, they were immediately pawned off on me, and I would be responsible for them for however long their mom stayed... the reason being that I was the only sober one there! I found out from some others that stayed there, though, that when I wasn't around, the mother of the children just left them with anyone at all, or even left them alone. I dreamed that at some point I would get my own apartment, and the girls could come live with me. I was pretty sure their mom would let them stay with me... it would get her off the hook from having to take care of them! I felt like a parent, or at least an older sister, to the little girls.
I got really close to these little girls because I was always with them. I even became kind of close to their mother...despite her pesky crack addiction, she was nice to me, and when she was sober she would invite me out with her and the girls to places like Six Flags or the carnival or the water park.
To make a really, really, really long story short, I managed to stay in the girls' lives for years, in whatever way they could. About a year after I met them, the girls were taken away by the state and put in foster care. I managed to track them down in the foster care system (something that is pretty hard to do, because they keep things super confidential most of the time) and was allowed to send them cards and small gifts to let them know I was still out there and hadn't forgotten about them. Two years after that, the girls moved in with their father, who got in touch with me and asked me if I wanted to see them! Unfortunately, instead of being a reliable parent, their dad turned out to be a raging alcoholic, and the girls started staying with me most weekends. (I still didn't have my own place but was staying with some old friends who had a son who was the same age as the older of the girls.) I hated dropping them off on Sunday nights. They would get really sad, even cry, and all week long they would call me to ask when I was going to get them again.
The friends I lived with, and I, started suspecting that the girls might have been sexually abused, but we never found out for sure. We tried to ask them, in ways that wouldn't be scary to them. We'd talk to them about how nobody should ever touch them in a way that made them feel yucky, and that if anyone... even a family member... ever did something they didn't like, they should tell us, or tell a teacher, or tell anyone else who would listen. We'd bring that up frequently. We had to try to walk a fine line between letting them know they could tell us if something was happening, and freaking them out if nothing was happening at all.
There was one time that I actually called the authorities on their dad myself. The girls were about 10 and 6 at this point. Their dad had started perseverating on the idea that my friend was going to encourage the 10-year-old to have sex with her own son, who was also 10. He talked about this constantly, even in front of the girls. The odd thing was that when the girls had first started spending weekends with us, the dad had made tons of jokes about the older girl having a crush on my friend's son, and he even bought her what he referred to as :"sexy lingerie" to wear when she stayed with us. But now he was frantic that his 10-year-old daughter was going to get pregnant by my friend's 10-year-old son, with my friend coaching them! Throughout the evening, he started calling the older girl on her cellphone and asking her about it. The girl seemed really nervous and told us that she thought her dad was drunk. When it was time for me to take them home, we walked into their apartment, and he was in some sort of passed-out state... his eyes were open, but he was not responding to us or anything. The girls begged me not to leave them there.
At the time I was working at a nursing home, and I had to work early the next morning. I was, at that point, living with my parents, and couldn't bring the girls there. I also didn't want to bring them back to my friends' house, because they had sort of hinted that we were wearing out our welcome there. So I took them to the Holiday Inn... the kind with the Holidome with the indoor pool and arcade and stuff... so they could play. While they were swimming and playing, I made a hotline call to DCFS and explained the situation.
The DCFS people arranged for someone to come to my work the next day and talk with the girls. I had to bring them to work with me. (Luckily, I had an understanding boss who loved kids!) I thought a kind and warm social worker would come to talk to the girls, but instead a gruff man, wearing a uniform that looked like the kind the police wear, complete with a badge, showed up. (I am not sure this is how DCFS investigators dress in all areas... we unfortunately lived in Cook County, near Chicago, and the investigators probably had to look like cops in order to somewhat lower the risk of getting shot at when they went to talk to kids in the inner city projects.)
The cop-looking dude talked to the girls. And I sat there and watched them lie their asses off. They denied everything. No, their dad didn't drink. No, they were never scared to be left alone at home, Yes, they felt like their dad was a very involved parent. Yes, they felt that their home was clean, safe and pleasant.
Afterwards the officer or whoever he was took me aside and told me that he could tell the girls were lying, trying to protect their dad. He said that he would file a report, and someone would go investigate the situation further. In the meantime, I was supposed to bring them back to their dad by the end of the night.
I was crestfallen. It was yet again a situation where, if I had my own apartment, I could have let the girls stay with me. I was pretty sure their dad would agree to it. He had already once offered to allow my friends to adopt the girls... but that was before he started freaking out that my one friend, the wife in the couple, was teaching the children to have sex. (That still turns my stomach when I talk about it!) I felt like I had failed the girls, because years of making bad choices when I was young had resulted in my still staying in temporarily places, and never being able to provide the girls with a home.
Not long after that, my two friends split up. The wife met a different man, and he moved in with her. When the girls' dad heard that, he went berserko, and wouldn't let the girls visit with us any more.
(I later found out that, about a year earlier, he had called my friend one night while I was at school and her husband was out of town. When he found out that my friend was home alone with just her son, he asked if he could bring the girls over for a playdate. He drove them over himself, which was the first time he'd ever actually driven them over... usually my friend or I picked them up and drove them home. During the visit, the girls' dad started flirting with my friend, more and more aggressively, to the point where she asked him to leave and was threatening to call a male neighbor to come over and help remove him from the house. It was right about then that their dad started talking about my friend wanting to teach the children to have sex, so... you do the math. I think he was schizophrenic or something, myself.)

Years went by. I moved from place to place, from job to job, but the whole time, I was going to school part time. After working at the special education school, I had decided to become a special education teacher. It took me forever and ever and ever to get my teaching degree, because most of the time I was working full time and going to school part time. Finally, in 2012, I graduated! But, unfortunately, I was unable to find a teaching job. After all that. So I had to take an assistant job, which doesn't pay as much, and I had to stay with my parents for another year.
Meanwhile, the world was quickly passing me up. I was now 30 years old. 30 was a scary number to me, considering that I was now not really any further along in life than I had been at age 18. I was sleeping in my childhood bedroom, following my mother's rules, and working at the same kind of job I had worked at 10 years earlier.
So we have these books in my basement... including some old Dr. Seuss books and Little Golden Books that belonged to my brother and I when we were little. One day last year, my mom was on a cleaning rampage, and she started hollering at my dad and I to clean out the book case, and throw all of the books in the garbage or the garage sale pile. (Most of the books on that shelf belong to my dad, except for the little kid books.) I argued that my mom had once told me we could keep the children's books so that I could give them to my own children someday.
My mom retorted, "Well, that never came to fruitation, did it?"
It never came to fruitation. It never happened. I never became a mama... not foster, or adoptive, or otherwise. I had come close with the girls, but they had slipped through my grasp and I had been unable to take care for them. In the end, I had more or less abandoned them just as their mother had so many years earlier.
And then, a call from my younger brother. Two years younger than me, he has been living a carefree hippie-like lifestyle on the west coast since he was 18 years old. Currently, he is living with his girlfriend. And that day when he called my parents, it was to tell them that his girlfriend was pregnant!
And I was (and am) so happy to find out that I'm going to be an auntie. I was also glad for my parents, who were finally going to be grandparents... and for my grandparents, who had lived long enough to become great-grandparents.
But at the same time, I was (and am) heartbroken... because as my family rallies around my brother, sends him gifts for the baby, and gives him parenting advice, I can't help thinking, "I wanted that to be me!"
I love kids. I work with kids. While living with my friends, I helped them raise their kids. I know I could be a good mama. And I know that I would love every moment of it. Well, not every moment... but, in a way, yes, I would love every moment. But what if I never get that chance?

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