This is some of us at Medieval Times dinner theaters in Kissimmee Florida. We had a spectacular vacation, taking 12 kids to see things they’ve never experienced and show them new adventures while they are with us.
There were several kids missing from this trip because of work and other scheduling conflicts, but we had our hands full, believe me. If you want to know just how patient you are, take a dozen kids ages 2 to 20 with different personalities and interests to a theme park in 95 degree weather in Florida with the occasional life threatening lightning downpours, 60 minutes lines for rides, and you will quickly find out where your patience ends.
By the end of this trip as we were packing to leave by the 10am deadline, I was stuffing things into any random suitcase not caring whose it was or if it was folded or not and yelling at the top of my lungs for them to stop playing around and shenaniganizing while going from room to room finding things everywhere that I just told them to pack and threatening them with dismemberment. Eventually, I went into the bathrooms with a basket and swiped my arm across the counters and watched as every bottle of everything imaginable fell into it and then I shoved it into my big cosmetic bag all willy nilly and zipped it up. Not my finest organizational moment and one that I am now paying for as I have to unpack everything and figure out where it all goes, but still. In THAT moment it was completely satisfying.
We are now home, safe and sound.
Mommy and Daddy are flippin’ exhausted but the insane amounts of sweat, the sacrifice of our sleep and sanity, and the major hit to the pocketbook was totally worth it. If you think it is a “vacation” or “restful” for Bruce and I, you would be wrong. There have been people out there to suggest that we do these things with the kids for our own benefit, and to them I would say to simply come on one of these trips with us. It is nothing less than round the clock work and many of these kids react very differently to new and exciting environments which keeps our adrenaline flowing. It is go go and go some more, and it is like herding cats.
Cats with opinions and attitudes.
Hungry and cranky cats, cats that are sneaky and break the rules in a house you don’t own with furniture that is fragile. Anyway, you get the idea…
We do this because it is urgent. It is not something we can put off until later. You see, we don’t know how long many of these kids will be with us, what their future holds, or if they’ll be here for our next adventure… so while they are here, in every single moment, we try to pack in as much learning, love, and life changing experiences as we can. Taking them places they have never been, encouraging them to try new things, to be brave, to taste different foods, and for our long term kids establishing traditions that they come to cherish- THAT is what it is all about. KKIDS, Inc. is for kids, every kid that needs us, any time they need us, for as long as they need us. Every child needs to know there are caring adults out there that will drop everything and do anything for them, and we are those adults for many kids. We have to break the generational cycle of addiction and abuse, poverty and entitlement, by showing them a different way of life. With a lot of love.
By the way, they LOVED this adventure and it was an awesome history lesson for them! Curious minds…
Parenting is MORE, so much more than just producing a child and then giving birth. Oh sure, that makes you a “mother” or a “father” by definition, but it doesn’t make you a mom or a dad.
Parenting is hard.
Parenting is being awakened in the night to clean up vomit- vomit that couldn’t possibly have made it onto the tile floor but is, instead, on every piece of fabric in the entire room including the rugs and curtains and the lampshade and the basket of clean clothing which then means that you will be doing more laundry than you ever imagined could exist in the world while nursing your sick child back to health.
Parenting is having multiple children want to tell you their stories at the same time while trying to compete for your attention by grabbing your arm and talking over everyone else as loudly as possible while they attempt to tell a story but they have to keep starting over again from the beginning because they keep getting interrupted by the other children and you have to pretend that you are keenly interested in all of their stories at the same time by making eye contact at least every 2 seconds with each of them even though you may have fallen into a temporary coma. (Note: they take FOREVER to tell a story that could easily be summed up with one sentence but is drawn out over a ten minute period and usually they make no sense. They also insert random fill words like “um” and “soooo” at least 1,317 times. Get used to it.)
It is you being forced to watch their favorite movie seventeen times in one day because it is their favorite movie. It is having the stupid songs from the silly movie stuck in your head for days and possibly weeks. It is you eventually knowing the dialogue of said movie without even trying.
It will also include the bonus of sleeping with children who got scared for no apparent reason whatsoever and crawled into your bed in the middle of the night and you being too tired to walk them back to their own room- children who may have been kangaroos in another life because they kick you repeatedly all night just for sport, and they wake rested and enthused while you have to resist the urge to throat punch them into orbit.
It is endless carpools where you arrive an hour early because you got bad information from your 3rd grader so you just have to sit there and wait because driving home would be useless because you’d have to turn around and go back to get them as soon as you got there, and boring soccer games where you have to pay actual money to get onto the field to watch your child sit on the bench the entire night.
It is year after year of show and tell and birthday parties and cupcakes for the class and sleepovers with screaming girls or shrieking boys that want to leap and roll and spill things and paint things and then bungee jump off the roof. You will be required to have the scheduling skills of a certified activities director because you’ll be coordinating everything from school trips, piano lessons, dental visits, after school rehearsals, teacher conferences, AND you must get your kids field trip T-Shirt payments in on time because if you don’t, your child will be the ONLY one not wearing this T-Shirt and all life as you know it will end and your child will not succeed in life.
Parenting is picking them up from school with a note from the nurse that they have lice while you pray for the rapture to happen. It then means days and days and weeks of treating them for lice, treating their friends for lice, treating friends of their friends for lice because you are now known as the “lice whisperer”, and then burning all hats, princess crowns, clippy things, tie backs, hair bands, and anything that looks suspicious in a ritualistic ceremony that I truly believe tells the lice that they are no longer welcome in our home. Lice means head checking every human being that comes within fourteen feet of any of your family members and looking at your children’s friends with great suspicion. Lice also means endless laundry and the hum of the clothes dryer nonstop for 17 days. This also means your electric bill will skyrocket. Usually this happens around Christmas-time when you can least afford it.
Being a parent is a revolving door of pets. Pets that poop. It is bird cages, fishtanks, poop, hamster houses, litter boxes, lots and lots of poop, and the empty promises that they will clean up the poop. I’m just going to tell you right now that these are lies. Blatant, unapologetic lies. They do not clean up the poop. They will go to great lengths to “hide” the poop so that YOU will find it and have to clean it up. They will deny that they saw the poop even though they have gently placed a clean hand towel right over the top of said poop so someone else will find it.
Then there will be bazillions of haircuts, the “no you can’t dye your hair purple” debate, shopping for just the right pants, buying underwear 47 times so you can find “just the right fit and fabric”, trying to find a prom dress that will make you want to become Amish (there is no such thing as a “modest” prom dress), vacuuming cheeze-it’s and socks out of your sofa, bath time EVERY SINGLE NIGHT (and when you have multiple kids you have to actually write down who showered “when” because they will try to fool you and you honestly will lose track).
It is hours of helping with homework every day which will make you feel like you are a complete moron, soccer practices and basketball games, and science projects that you aren’t prepared for and “I need a gift for so and so by tomorrow” which justifies your “gift closet”, and saving every little handprint pumpkin, and snowflake Christmas gift, and searching for the missing mask – shoe- backpack- the night before Halloween.
It is trying to remember to stay up late enough to put money under their pillow every time they lose a tooth. It is trying to remember when “picture day” is happening.
It is prayers each night, feeding them every night (because they always want dinner), teaching them to swim, ride a bike, tie their shoes, button their shirts, and have manners. It’s worrying every time they cross the street or go to a party and demanding them to “tell your father” because you are at your wits end with the drama. There is lots and lots of whining and noises that you can’t quite identify. There will be endless bickering and the use of “shut up” in almost every sentence.
It is teaching them to drive a car. (This, and other scenarios that involve teaching teenagers any skill in life, should be incorporated into any government form of torture to make spies talk because they wouldn’t last 10 minutes.)
The list is endless.
It is thankless, it is exhausting, and it is a lifetime, every single day, even when you don’t feel like it commitment. Being a parent means more than just saying you love your child. That is meaningless lip service.
Being a parent means actually “being there” and putting in the hours. If you can’t do that, then please don’t show up to share the big moments like special events and holidays. It isn’t fair to those of us who do all the work.
Your words have lifted me up in this tumultuous season, I can’t thank you enough for really caring so much that you would take the time to pray and to write thoughtful, God inspired words.
Through tears I have read every single one, sometimes multiple times, and they have encouraged and inspired both of us.
This is going to be a long and heartfelt post and in it I am going to share some things that may shock you. I hope you read it to the end.
Since the beginning of the year, we have been under attack. Both figuratively and literally. As in, actual people cursing at us and wanting to throw it down in the driveway. We have experienced gut wrenching betrayals by children and families that we have loved and invested in for years and years, and been utterly shocked and disappointed in the legal system and organizations that are supposed to have children’s best interests at heart and fail miserably.
We experienced a “whole new level of crazy” when someone who had given us a furniture donation became infuriated that we gifted it to a pregnant teen. We were surprised that this person missed the entire point of our foundation but, clearly, it was missed. One parent, who literally abandoned her children by walking out of their lives, moving across the country, hooking up with someone a felon and starting another family, somehow ended up standing in our yard accusing us of stealing other people’s children.
A DCF investigator inappropriately named us by name, which is a TOTAL breach of trust by the way, in an ongoing investigation (we were not directly involved, we were simply references for one of the parents) which then caused us to be viciously attacked by the parent who ended up in our driveway screaming vulgarities at us and upsetting the child and everyone in the home. This same investigator then told us that she knew more about the situation than we did even though we’ve been involved for 9 years and she has spoken with them 4 times.
It’s like we are unwilling participants on the Jerry Springer show.
And we are VOLUNTEERS. As in, we don’t get paid. We don’t get support from the government because we are considered “non relative caregivers”. This is done on our own dime and we could not do it without contributions from all of you. We do this because we love people and children and want to see them safe and successful.
In the meantime, we are trying to keep a roof over our heads with one income all the while raising a bunch of children. I’m not sure if you are a parent, but I’m sure you know that to raise children successfully includes spending time with them, playing with them, nurturing them, listening to their non stop stories, watching them flip water bottles repeatedly, observe them proudly “fidget spin” until you want to throw those gadgets in the bushes and run away, teaching them to ride their bikes, swim, tie their shoes, use their words, making them go outside for exercise, making sure they brush, wash, and aren’t wearing the same dirty clothes for days, and praying over them while tucking them in at night. You also have to feed them all the time, pick up after them, drive them everywhere, do their laundry, wash their dishes, and make sure they are safe.
We have, in the 16+ years of fostering, focused our efforts SOLELY on purpose of reunification. We have supported entire families and men and women in prison because we sincerely believed that the parents, given the opportunity to improve their lives and do the right thing, would want to do that for the sake of their children.
And we were wrong. WRONG.
Do we want to believe that all of these dysfunctional parents will wake up one day and find God and find their way? Of course we do!
After a decade working with the same family and waiting, praying, supporting, giving, and investing, we have yet to see any improvement. Do we want to believe that all of these parents will wake up one day and find God and be reunified with their kids? Of COURSE we do! We pray for it, we encourage it, we talk about it, we take them to church, we take them to rehab, we take them to counseling, we take them under our wing, we buy them phones, we pay for first, last, and security, we pay their utility bills, we get them jobs, we provide every opportunity and yet things stay the same. And… we are done.
We have spent so much of our lives enabling parents and families who have had every opportunity afforded them, and they choose not to change. It is the same ole’ same ole’ except at a new address. An address that we probably lined up, paid a deposit on, painted, and furnished for them that will be filthy, infested, or abandoned shortly thereafter because of their lifestyle, and because they had little regard for our efforts.
Would you like to know why I believe they don’t change? It’s not like they are bad people because they aren’t. They are children of God and people of worth. Many of them have good hearts that mean no harm.
So, why???? Why do they choose to live like this?
Why do they reach their hand out for our help and use the same hand to stab us in the back the first chance they get? Because… they are damaged. You see, their parents were damaged by their parents who were damaged by their parents and now they are damaging their children. It is a generational cycle and it needs to stop.
Which is why we are quitting.
We are quitting the parents and the outreach to families for the purpose of reunification. The fact is, we don’t want reunification into dysfunctional families. We don’t want anymore damaged kids. We want to break the cycle.
Here are the facts: Virtually everything a child learns about what is right, wrong, pleasing, helpful, expected, and safe, PLUS their future health, growth, future achievement in school, basic coping skills, emotional well being, attachment to family and involvement in community happens in the FIRST FIVE YEARS OF LIFE. In a nutshell, the first five years of life determine whether these children are going to be stable, successful, human beings.
It is everything! It is a tiny brain developing and absorbing everything it comes in contact with.
This is when the HARD WIRING of their brains and personalities are developing and this is statistically when most of the abuse occurs. Did you read that?? MOST ABUSE HAPPENS in the FIRST FIVE YEARS. .
The imprint will be indelible. A child born into a world of chaos, to an addict, an alcoholic, an uninvolved or abusive parent, a young teen with no support or experience, or someone with a mental illness, has now become a victim.
These are statistics, they aren’t opinions.
These tiny, innocent babies learn that a life filled with drama and chaos and strangers and yelling and lying and police and filth and hunger and stealing is how you survive.
THIS IS THEIR “NORMAL”…
We have fostered toddlers that sneak into the cupboards and forage for food and open the refrigerator and eat entire packages of hot dogs in the middle of the night because that is what they know. When they are hungry, they had to go and find food and eat as much of it as they could because they didn’t know if it would run out.
We have had children who had to bathe in stores or with a neighbors hose because their water was turned off for four months. Children who have lived with a rotating door of strangers, abused by their mothers boyfriend who masturbated next to them while she was in the other room, children who only know how to grunt because nobody taught them words, or songs, or colors, or animal sounds. Nobody was reading them “Goodnight Moon” or “Dr. Suess”. They fell asleep on the couch or on the floor, filthy and unfed. These kids grow up with no keepsakes from their childhood. No photo albums or baby books or blankies. No special toys. No “First Tooth” proudly displayed in the cabinet.
We have fostered children who lived with such a bad roach infestation in their home that a roach had lived in this child’s ear. It was there for weeks until one day, in the shower, it crawled out.
They hold loosely to everything and have learned not to mourn over “things” because when you move from place to place you lose track of stuff. You only take the clothes on your back and what you can stuff in a car because you’re sneaking out to avoid the landlord. Sometimes angry boyfriends will sell all their possessions or destroy them in a rage. Sometimes their Christmas toys get repossessed because Mom stopped making payments to the Rent To Own place.
They know that their clean urine can be sold to people trying to pass a drug screen and wake up often to complete strangers sleeping in their house or passed out on the couch. It is a completely different world that these innocent little children have to navigate, and it’s costing them their innocence. It is also creating something in them that makes a peaceful environment disturbing to them. Uncomfortable. Unsettling.
It makes them crave drama.
In a peaceful environment, they will often create turmoil and stir up some chaos because it’s been imprinted on their brains and it is familiar to them.
They are bored without it. Can you imagine?
Stuff that makes our hearts pound and gives us upset stomachs and we avoid it at all costs is the stuff they thrive on. It gives them an adrenalin rush. It’s entertainment. They pull up a chair and get some popcorn because this is the show they watched growing up. This is what creates those “crowds of teens who stand around watching and cheering” when someone is getting beaten up. Oh sure, they know right and wrong, yes they know the law, yes they know all the rules that they don’t think apply to them. But this kid… this young adult has a need for drama, a quest for excitement, and the insatiable desire for attention. Because they are a part of the cycle. And most never grow out of it.
They have grown up watching their parents lie to the police, the child protective services, their boss, the landlord, the power company, the car salesman, their significant other, lie after lie after lie and we sit back and wonder how they became such liars. We watch TV shows like “Cops” where the people arrested with cocaine in their pants pocket and on their nose trying to tell police that it’s sugar from a donut. Even when faced with the evidence of the test kit that proved it was cocaine wiped DIRECTLY from the snout of the man in handcuffs, he continued to insist that is was sugar! We laugh at the audacity, and the incredibility factor, but the fact is that this is tragic. And it makes me angry. It also makes me face the ugly fact that we can no longer advocate for reunification with parents who won’t step out of the cycle. This generational pattern makes it incredibly difficult, and dare I say virtually impossible, for these people to be good parents.
There are plenty of opportunities out there if they truly wanted to change their life, but they will no longer be offered by our foundation. They will no longer take advantage of us, we will no longer enable them or excuse behaviors that jeopardize the development of the children.
We know that this will seem harsh to some, and being steadfast in this will be one of the hardest things that we personally ever do because we are both givers and exceptionally forgiving, but it is necessary.
To keep peace in our house and protect these kids from the drama, we have to say, no more. No more drama.
For those of you who might criticize us, until you can come alongside us and see firsthand and know what we know from being up close and personal, then please don’t offer an opinion unless it is supportive. We don’t want to lose your support, we need you! We need praying people and positive people and people who are willing to stand beside us and in front of legislators and child protective service workers and say “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH”! People that will tell their stories and help us break the cycle.
We believe that God has led us on this journey so that we can make a significant impact in the protection of children in our community.
As if raising a dozen kids wasn’t enough, we took the necessary steps to start a non-profit foundation this year to help protect children and restore families and bring awareness to the growing epidemic and the desperate need for foster families. We also started the foundation so that your gifts could be tax deductible and so we could continue providing for these kids financially.
In doing so, we received the most amazing outpouring of love and support both financially and spiritually from people who believe in our mission, know our hearts, and want to help as many children as possible. The encouragement has been so unexpected and we treasure it!
We also, however, opened up the door for people to criticize us and offer their unsolicited advice and make outrageous accusations based solely on assumptions.
We truly love, appreciate, and VALUE advice from trusted friends, people who have experience and knowledge to offer us, and those that have walked this journey and know from their own experience what we are living out. We are exceptionally open to ideas, concepts, and knowledge that will help us help kids and do a better job at what we are doing. Absolutely. What we are NOT open to are people who do not have our best interests at heart and purposely try to be damaging in word or deed. We know we are doing something good, something needed, and something life changing. We are now aware that this will bring criticism from those who aren’t.
The number one appalling accusation that really, truly gets under my skin, is when people insinuate that we foster children because we are financially motivated. That we are scamming the system and we take in children so we can live a luxurious lifestyle. (I can hardly even maintain my composure while I type that statement because it’s so ludicrous and laughable. I’m sure that every one of you who know us are laughing too.)
For those who aren’t aware, let us give you some facts so you no longer have to speculate. We do not receive ANY federal or state funds for raising these kids. NONE. Zero. Zip. Nada. Not even food stamps! We will be applying for grants in the future, but currently we receive nothing.
We provide a loving home and everything these kids need as “non relative caregivers” which allows their parent or grandparent to maintain their benefits. People think we are nuts for not going after what little money there is, but for us it is not about the money. It’s about maintaining a healthy relationship with their caregiver and NOT traumatizing them even more than they have been by losing their kids.
This is how we operate: from our perspective, they have already lost their children and perceive us as the bad guys, they survive on a poverty level income barely making ends meet, and we aren’t going to add to their problems or in any way make it seem like we care more about money than we care about them. We just aren’t. This is something that we are highly criticized for and, again, we find it objectionable that people who have no firsthand experience with this are wagging fingers at us. If they are upset that we aren’t taking their benefits they would probably also be upset that we often help them make ends meet. We make sure they have birthday and Christmas gifts, we make sure they have delicious holiday meals, we have paid their utility bills, furnished their homes, paid down payments for them, phone bills, cable, you name it. And do you know why we do it? It’s for the kids. 100% for the kids. Because the kids love their parents!
So, let’s talk about money. That painful subject, that taboo subject, that root of all evil that turns people against each other.
How much money would it actually take for someone to be financially motivated to be a foster parent to this many kids? Let’s figure it out, shall we?
Wikipedia says it costs an average of $9,500 to raise one child annually and that’s just for the basics. I can guarantee you it costs more than that when they have asthma, are involved in sports, driving a car, need glasses or braces, or grow 4 inches in one year and need new shoes and clothes. But let’s say that, on average, we need to be spending $100,000 annually on just the kids we are raising right now, which is a conservative figure. That doesn’t include the cost of Bruce and myself, the kids’ extended families, or the mom’s in jail that we support.
So, for us to be financially motivated to foster children, we would have to receive well above the $100k that pays for just the kids, right? I mean, how can we afford our luxury cars, our boat, our mansion, and our lavish vacations otherwise?
Indeed, I jest.
We would love to have donations over and above $100k annually, and someday we hope to!
But currently, that figure is not even in the ball park. Not even in the parking lot near the ball park. Not even in the town the ballpark is in.
So it is apparent that we are not growing wealthy as foster parents.
As a matter of fact, we are sacrificing a lot of things that most of you probably take for granted.
Things that no amount of money can compensate for.
These are a few things we have chosen to give up to have our very large family:
A Job: With them being in several different schools with several different schedules, it is a 24 hour a day, 365 day a year job with limited time off (none) and you are always, ALWAYS “on call” and always doing laundry. My job as the chief taxi driver, bottle washer, butt wiper, and referee is the toughest, most rewarding job I’ve ever done that I don’t get paid for.
Vacations: No more vacations to exotic places or vacations that require air travel because it is cost prohibitive to take 15 people an an airplane.
It’s cost prohibitive to take 15 people anywhere! Two years ago we took all of them on a trip of a lifetime to Busch Gardens. We drove two cars stuffed with people, bought lunchmeat and bread, blow up mattresses and got 3 hotel rooms. We ate breakfast out once and bought pizza one night. This little venture that lasted 4 days costs almost $5,000.00 which was basically $333 per person. Unless we hit the lottery or have a gofundme fundraiser, vacations are out of the picture.
Movies: We only get to go to the movies when it’s free for a screening. (Thank you Crystal Gross!) Who can afford an evening out that’s going to cost $100? Certainly not us. Popcorn and treats for 2 people at the movies is about $15, imagine what it costs to buy treats for a dozen kids! We buy our DVD’s at WalMart and make our own popcorn but it’s not the same as going to the theater, I’m not gonna lie.
Shopping: We gave up shopping at the mall or even going to the mall because they will see and want things that will never, ever be in the budget like $150 shoes that their friends are wearing or a top that costs $35. The average price we pay for an article of clothing is $9.00 and most of what they wear has been donated.
Drive-Thrus: Forget about zipping through a drive through when you’re hungry unless you plan on buying everyone in your car something to eat. You either wait until you get home or your $5 meal just turned into $35 because they all want something too. We do drive-thru’s on a limited basis and everyone has to share. I carry a jar of nuts in my car and usually bring fruit along.
Luxury Car: Gone are the days when I sped around town in a red convertible. Gone are the days when our cars were neat and you didn’t have to step over shoes, jackets, bags, wrappers, and toys. Now I drive a 16 year old Suburban with 290k miles that smells like a mildewy rolling locker room and is being held together with clear duct tape.
Privacy: Everything we do, everything we have, and how we live our lives is on display for complete strangers who show up to have family visitation time with the kids every week. We have to drop what we are doing to “supervise” this time or we have to meet them at a public place. Is it convenient? Nope. It’s intrusive and uncomfortable and awkward. But we do it because we love the kids and it’s important to them. We also have lovely social workers visiting on a regular basis doing routine paperwork each month and sometimes we get the lovely unannounced visit for an inspection because a disgruntled parent or family member reports us for some made up violation and waste the taxpayers dollars by making false reports.
Quietness: We rarely ever have an evening when nobody is home where we have the house to ourselves. If this happens it is because someone has been grievously injured and is in the hospital, they have been kidnapped, or the rapture has occurred. They are so loud that everyone in the neighborhood knows when we are eating dinner because of the epic noise level that occurs when they are all in the same room at the same time. We often wear earplugs. We suggest earplugs for our dinner guests as well.
Order: The rooms in our house will never, ever be clean and neat all at the same time and we have to pick up and vacuum on a daily basis or our house will look like an episode of hoarders simply because all these people come with “stuff” and there is barely room for all the “stuff” to be contained. We, literally, have multiple clothing dressers in our dining room and the baby sleeps in a pop up crib in our master bedroom closet and you can’t walk through the garage.
Spontaneousness: For those rare occasions when you have the energy for “time with your spouse”, those moments have to be planned, scheduled, manipulated, and carried out with the stealth precision of a moon landing in 7 minutes or less (give or take), before someone notices that you aren’t in the room and they need a band aid or are shouting for you throughout the house because they just stepped in poop. What would it take for you to have to walk over mounds of laundry, toys, shoes, dirty socks, papers, backpacks, and wet towels every single day and turn down last minute invitations with your friends for a fun evening out because you are so tired that the thought of putting on makeup and a bra doesn’t seem worth it?
Feelings: This is the toughest one. You have to put aside your feelings. That just comes with the territory. You get used to it after awhile but in the beginning it was tough. Having these precious little children that you have raised for years and years- wiped their tears, wiped their butts, up at night with them, at every special event, baking them cupcakes, taught them everything they know, taking them to school every day, planning every birthday party they’ve ever had, bathing them, feeding them, your entire life lived for them… and every handcrafted little handprinted take home gift they make at school is for their “other” mom. Big let down. Then there are the times when they are angry they will remind you that you aren’t their “real mom” and they don’t have to listen to you. The worst is when they accuse us of being the reason why they aren’t with their other mom when we had nothing to do with it.
Opinions: You have to zip your lip, bite you tongue, and choke down the urge to say what you really feel to the people who have failed them, who keep making the wrong choices over and over and over and over again… and you do it because you love the kids. You smile and nod while listening to the advice of the sincere church friend or relative who tells us that we should just stop helping and give up, or questions our ability to handle these kids and all their emotional needs and points out our flaws and shortcomings. You want to say “okay you choose which child I should give back”, and then watch them stammer but you don’t. You want to point out to them that our worst job of parenting is exponentially 100% better than what they had, but you stay silent. Most of the time.
So let’s ask ourselves realistically- What’s the price tag on giving up your lives so someone else can have it better?
Are we simply motivated by our “get rich quick scheme” to scam the system that we aren’t scamming and just faking our investment of time, love, energy, and all of our resources?
There is no amount of money that can make this appealing unless your heart is completely motivated by love.
There is nothing we love more than loving and providing for them. They bring us so much joy, they are the light of our lives. They are worth it every day, in every way.
So, to all you haters out there, you’ll be happy to know that we are barely making ends meet and we wonder each month about how we will get by and keep the bills paid and healthy food on the table.
You should also know that we don’t worry about it and that we have complete and utter faith in God to provide for our family and protect us from naysayers who don’t know what they are talking about.
We do, however, want to invite you over to spend the day with us so you can experience what money can’t buy.
I have cleaned, refurbished, repainted, rearranged, pressure washed, deloused, fixed, hired, rewired, scrubbed and mopped many houses for people. I love doing it, and I loved working along with some of you who jumped in to help!
I had expectations that this gift to them would inspire them to be more involved, a better parent, keep a clean house for their kids, I don’t know… whatever.
Sadly, most of these houses returned to the state they were in before we came to help. Filthy, downtrodden, infested, ruined, or abandoned. Several times we have provided this service for the same family with the same expectations. Bought beautiful furniture for them, cleaned, painted, gardened, made every home and apartment they went to into a showplace!
We were always disappointed when things were ruined, sold, soiled and stained. It’s like they didn’t care at all.
To some it would appear our efforts were in vain, why would we bother with people like this?
The fact of the matter is that I was the one who was wrong.
I was the one who was serving with expectations. Transparent strings attached. Hopeful that they would do it my way from now on.
I was the one who was disappointed when it seemed like they didn’t “appreciate it enough to keep it up”.
Shame on me.
Most of us have no idea what limitations other people have. Some are limited by physical issues, some financial, some time and energy, some just can’t organize their thoughts enough to tackle things. Everything overwhelms them. Sometimes it’s a 75 year old Grandma who is raising her grandkids and just can’t keep up with them AND work her job at a fast food restaurant.
If we can bring cleanliness, joy, brightness, dishes, decorations, clean sheets, curtains, food, organization, and order to someones home, even if it is just temporary, then that’s what we try to do.
We are not to judge.
We are to lift the fallen, help the broken, and serve without expectations. Always.
We are to pick up a broom.
“There should be less talk; a preaching point is not a meeting point.
What do you do then? Take a broom and clean someone’s house.
That says enough.”
― Mother Teresa
“At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done.
We will be judged by “I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless, and you took me in.”
― Mother Teresa
“I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things.”
― Mother Teresa
“Love to be real, it must cost—it must hurt—it must empty us of self.”
― Mother Teresa
I am ashamed to admit it, but I had a major meltdown last week.
Do you want to know why?
It’s because I caved into jealousy.
Jealousy that led to pity and sorrow.
I sure did.
I jumped on the pity party bus and went for a long ride around “they don’t appreciate me” park, and stopped for awhile at the “I could have nice things if I didn’t have so many mouths to feed” cafe, and then sped down the “nobody appreciates me” parkway while I cried the ugly cry with fat, stupid tears like a baby. While I was on my little journey I took note of my friends on Facebook traveling to romantic destinations while I went nowhere, enjoying lunches and manicures with their besties while I layered on the 19th coat of gunked up nail polish on my cracked and chipped toes and my feet look like hooves, and I saw them dressing up in sparkly frocks and sinner shoes as they enjoyed a Friday night with live music while I listened for the 39th time to “Wheels on the Bus”.
I see them at cross fit working out and I see the interior of their spotless homes with their matching furniture and their designer pieces as they sit around chatting with friends over a nice dinner. A nice, quiet, adult dinner where I don’t have to stuff paper towels in my ears to dull the noise.
I also noticed women my age driving around in new luxury cars with designer purses sipping Starbucks that cost $4 and the interior of their cars were spotless! It has been 18 years since my car was spotless. Currently, my left headlight is being held into place with clear duct tape and my right rear window doesn’t work and the interior door panel is falling off. You have to open the door from the outside. And there is no working air conditioning.
I convinced myself that these ungrateful, loud, messy children didn’t care about my sacrifices and my dedication to them and could care less that I haven’t had a facial in 14 years. I have to repeat myself 27 times to get them to do anything around here and they never, ever turn off lights or unplug anything. I mean, why should I spend $400 on an electric bill when I could spend $400 getting much needed BOTOX! These kids are giving me wrinkles. Or God forbid we could go on an actual date without trying to move heaven and earth and refinance our entire food budget!
We haven’t been out to eat or seen a movie in over a year.
Carrabba’s MISSES me.
Oh I was mad. I was working myself up into a good woe is me.
I dejectedly announced that I was not going to make them delicious smoothies, I was not going to be picking up after any of them any more, that I would not be reminding them to do their chores, and that in one day this house would look like an episode of Hoarders and they would all be grounded. It was time they think for themselves that I was not Julie the cruise director.
I took away their X Box games and hid them in my room.
That’ll teach them.
And then I cried. I cried and felt sorry for myself.
This lasted for a few hours. I know, right? So not like me.
I was beginning to wonder what was happening to me, and then I realized it.
It was a spiritual thing.
What a hypocrite I was! Teaching my kids that money can’t buy happiness, that God supplies all our needs, that a fancy car and the trappings of our society aren’t what life is all about… and then I get sucked into it!
I did what I should have done in the first place when I felt that twinge of envy, and I prayed.
I prayed, and I asked God to forgive me.
Forgive me for being weak and selfish.
Forgive me for being shortsighted and stupid.
I have more blessings and love and laughter than anyone I know.
I am blessed with a husband who loves me who loves these kids, loves to cook, loves to dance, and loves God. How rare is that??
I am blessed with a car, a roof over my head, a pool my kids can swim in, and food to feed them all. Just being able to feed all of them is a miracle!
I am an American, I am safe, I have opportunity, and that is something that half the world covets.
I have no business whatsoever complaining or feeling sorry for myself. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others, and that comes at a cost.
I chose this life. I chose to love and shelter children, to reach out to neighbors and hurting women, and I chose to sacrifice so they could have a better life. Nobody forced me, I chose it.
And, even in those rare moments where I envy someone else’s glamorous lifestyle, I wouldn’t trade what I have for any of it.
What I have can’t be bought.
It’s messy, it’s hard work, it’s inconvenience, and it’s expensive. It’s exhausting.
It’s also amazing, fulfilling, exhilarating, and priceless.
A glamorous life is great, I used to live one back in the day, but it doesn’t compare to the life I have now.
I want to leave this world exhausted and broke knowing I spent everything I had and every ounce of energy trying to make a difference in the lives of others.
Besides, you can’t fit a zillion kids into a Lexus no matter how hard you try and they would just mess it up anyway.
He is almost 21 years old and doesn’t have a dream.
He doesn’t have a drivers license or a car.
He never graduated school because nobody cared enough to make sure he did.
This poor young man on the cusp of adulthood has no clue how to “adult”.
He has no idea who he is, what he likes, how to do much of anything, and he dreams of nothing.
He has never gone to a football game with friends, gone to a school dance, gone on a field trip, seen an art gallery, gone on a vacation, gone to a theme park, gone rock climbing, hiking, skiing, built anything with Legos, gone fishing, played on a team, gone to camp, built anything, assembled a toy, had an electric scooter, or been to a museum.
He has never dined at a fine restaurant or worn a suit.
He doesn’t have a best friend.
He doesn’t know how to balance a checkbook, get a library card, or prepare even the simplest meal.
He doesn’t know because nobody ever showed him, nobody was around to teach him, and the only role models he has had have been pitiful to say the least.
He has gone nowhere and is going nowhere.
He has lived in many, many houses and gone to many different schools, connecting with nobody and growing roots nowhere.
This young man has no tangible memories of childhood whatsoever.
No baby book with pictures, no baby teeth saved in a porcelain box, no videotapes of him laughing or playing in the bathtub.
No elementary school pictures on the fridge or on the wall, nothing.
There is nothing that was saved from his entire childhood.
It’s as if it was a vapor.
As they walk from room to room in my house they always look at the baby pictures I have on the wall.
I see in these kids an emptiness, a jealousy. They want to be important enough to have a place on the wall. Important enough that memories and keepsakes would be treasured and not pawned, lost, or stolen.
They harbor a deep sorrow, they mourn their missing childhood. He has existed for so many years on cigarettes, monster drinks, and video games.
Drugs that he was accustomed to because he watched the people around him.
Drugs to dull the painful hopelessness.
Drugs to have something, anything, to look forward to.
Drugs so that he can have something in common with someone and “hang out” together.
Drugs that his mother shared with him at a very young age and, after he became addicted, had to buy for him.
Our job now is to lift him up, steady his steps, and bring him back to the nest because he is not ready to fly.
Our job is to stay with him until he figures out who he is and can make it on his own.
Our job is to help him find the sparkle that may have existed in his eyes at some point.
A sparkle to replace the empty dull haze.
He has hurdles to overcome, major hurdles.
He has limited, awkward social skills because he wasn’t socialized.
Nobody ever taught him the things that he needs to navigate being a young adult.
“Adulting” is hard. It’s even harder when you had no adult to lead the way.
He doesn’t feel confident, he is fidgety and nervous.
Most of the adults in his life have taken advantage of him or let him down in every way.
He isn’t sure who he can trust.
We have known him and his siblings since they were very young, and regret that we didn’t do something extreme to intervene so that they could have come to us earlier.
We believed in the parent, until time unveiled the reality of the lies.
We can’t change what happened in the past, but we can certainly do everything we can to make it up to him now and in the future.
Thanks to all of you who are making is possible.
We are responsible for children who put chocolate fingers everywhere, who like to be tickled, who stomp in puddles and ruin their new pants, who sneak popsicles before supper, who can never find their shoes.
And we are responsible for children who can’t bound down the street in a new pair of sneakers, who are born in places we wouldn’t be caught dead, who never go to the circus, who live in an x-rated world.
We are responsible for children who bring us sticky kisses and fistfuls of dandelions, who sleep with the dog and bury goldfish, who cover themselves with Band-aids and sing off key, who squeeze toothpaste all over the sink, who slurp their soup.
And we are responsible for children who never get dessert, who have no blanket to drag behind them, who watch their parents watch them die, who can’t find any bread to steal, who don’t have any rooms to clean up, whose pictures aren’t on anybody’s dresser, whose monsters are real.
We are responsible for children who spend all their allowance before Tuesday, who throw tantrums in the grocery store and pick at their food, who like ghost stories, who shove dirty clothes under the bed and never rinse out the tub, who get no visits from the tooth fairy, who don’t like to be kissed in front of the carpool, whose tears we sometimes laugh at, and whose smiles can make us cry.
We are responsible for children whose nightmares come in the daytime, who will eat anything, who have never seen a dentist, who aren’t spoiled by anybody, who go to bed hungry and cry themselves to sleep, who live and move, but have no being.
We are responsible for children who want to be carried and for those who must, for those we never give up on and for those who don’t get a second chance, for those we smother, . . . and for those who will grab the hand of anybody kind enough to offer it.
That is when they realize they are in a completely new home and that it isn’t a dream.
They are somewhere with strangers. They have nothing but the clothes they were wearing when it happened. No comforts of home. That first night is the hardest.
And sometimes they get placed with friends, but it’s still feeling alone. They wonder if it will be forever, if they will be with their family again.
They wonder about everything… what is going to happen to their stuff, are they going to get new clothes or will someone bring them their other clothes, who else lives here and will they like me and, especially, they wonder about what their parent is thinking/doing/feeling.
No matter how awful their parents are, or how badly they were mistreated, their one true desire is for that parent to love them and want them. It’s how we are all wired.
They start to feel guilty that they may have done something wrong or it’s their fault. They cry. Sometimes they hide it, sometimes they can’t.
They are a dichotomy of emotions.
They look around as they lay in a home they are unfamiliar with, laying in a different bed with different blankets and different sounds and smells. They don’t even know where the light switch is or how to get a drink of water. They are timid to ask where the bathroom is.
They might not remember your first name when they finally muster up the courage to tell you they are thirsty or hungry.
It is a helpless feeling they have, a combination of fear and calm wondering about the old and not knowing what to expect with the new. They know that there will be no more yelling or violence, no more drugs or random people coming around, but they will also miss that familiarity.
There is a familiarity, a queer comfort in the midst of the chaos that they called home. Away from the drama it is so quiet they can hear their thoughts and their thoughts are sad.
It’s hard to imagine these circumstances and feelings as an adult, let alone as a child. A child that has seen too much, been exposed to things no child should see or experience, shuffled around like extra baggage.
I hate it for them. I truly do. It makes me sick to think that parents can’t prioritize their children over everything else.
That’s why we celebrate every kid that comes through our doors, we embrace and we engage, we comfort and we counsel.
We want them to feel remarkably welcome and loved. They are dear to us.
We want them to know that, no matter what, we are reliable.
All the kids have worked hard trying to adjust to the school routine. It’s up at 5am for five of them, then 7am for the rest of them. We are only into the first week and already the elementary kids have homework. (I hate homework. I hated it when I had it, I hate when they have it because I have to help them with it. Homework is awful.)
Summer months meant nobody getting up at 5am and late night popcorn and movies. Summer meant no homework. Summer was kids in the pool, eating dinner whenever, video games, and the beach. I loved summer!
The end of summer brings a new schedule, and a lot more work for everybody, but at least I will no longer hear my name called four thousand two hundred and seventeen times a day, and I will not have to make someone something to eat around the clock and I won’t have non stop bickering about whose turn it is to use the remote remote.
(That is not a typo. A remote remote is wireless and, apparently, coveted by anyone under the age of 15.) I will also not have to go room to room turning off every light in the house continually through the day and picking up random articles of clothing off the floor and off the chairs and behind the furniture giving them the sniff test to see if they are dirty or not. I will turn off all the lights in the morning that they left on, and they will stay off until they get home. Yay for saving electricity!!!
I have now become the homework monitor, the chauffeur, the lunch lady, and the shoe finder. Actually, I take that back, I am “the finder of all things”.
Literally, somehow, somewhere, it was genetically determined in each of these children that instead of looking for an item themselves, it is absolutely mandatory that they loudly call my name 24 times and stand there in desperation (doing absolutely nothing and not looking for anything) while I tear the house apart because they waited until the very last second to let me know it was missing and now I don’t have time for the “you should have put it where it belongs” lecture or we will ALL be late.
I will then drive rapidly to our destinations while I tell the other children to remind me to punish “so and so” after school so I don’t forget.
(In the same notebook where I write down the funny things they say and the things that come out of my mouth, I now have a naughty page where I write down who I need to remember to punish. Sadly, I never remember to visit the naughty page until three days later and by then the moment has passed.)
They all have new backpacks loaded with supplies thanks to all of you, their own water bottles with their names on them in permanent marker, and lots of “new to them” clothes and shoes that were donated! WE THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!!!!!
Now that we are moving into fall there will be new adventures, new exciting things for them to experience, and we will keep you all posted along the way!