Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Monthly Disappointment

So after earning my Master's Degree and deciding to stay at my current job, my husband and I decided that we'd like to begin trying to have a little one in August 2007.  We both loved and wanted children and thought that it was time.  We were 28 years old, had been married 4 years, were financially stable, and had a house big enough for 10 kids. 

For medical reasons, I had been taking birth control pills in an effort to control the nasty side effects that went along with my irregular, somewhat-monthly cycles.  My doctor said that it would take approximately 3 months to get all of that medicine out of my system, but after that, we should have no problems.  I made an effort to lose some weight, take vitamins, and eat healthy.  We timed everything according to plan.  Towards the end of the month, I'd avoid alcohol and caffeine.  This went on for almost 3 years.  I can remember having friends over on New Year's Eve and having grape juice at midnight.  I'd go to the local pub with friends and not have a beer.  My friends knew and didn't give me a hard time, and more often than not, would just see I'm not drinking and cross their fingers at me.  They were hoping almost as much as us.  I'd get my hopes up, thinking that this month had to be the month because we'd done everything right.  I'd just know that it happened.

And every month, I'd get confirmation that it had not happened and I'd be sad.  The worst part of this whole process was that this disappointment repeated itself month after month.  I'd get my hopes up, act accordingly, and then find out it hadn't happened. This huge let-down was not good for me, my husband, or our sanity.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

God's Cruelest Joke?

So, after saying my entire life that I didn't want to work with children, I ended up dedicating my life's work to the little things.  I pursued a Master's Degree in the Art of Teaching and received a teaching license.  I even added on a Reading Endorsement.  I spend my free time serving as a Girl Scout Troop Leader, 4-H Advisor, and leading kids' programming at church.  Even if I said I didn't want to work with them, somehow they always found me or I found them.  It was inevitable.

So about 6 years ago, I was asked to change jobs and run an after-school and summer-long youth program for at-risk kids.  I took the job thinking that it was more in line with my degree than the job I had at the time.  The youth center used to be a place to merely hang out and I was asked to come and change the center to a more meaningful program.  We went through lots of growing pains my first year at the center as I changed rules and attendance requirements.  I had many clashes with families who didn't like it that I was asking them to help with discipline problems and participate in family activities.  I grew some tough skin very quickly!  Now, the goal of the youth center is to not only help with homework and provide a hot, nutritious meal each evening, but also to teach these young people the life skills necessary to survive on their own.  We work on skills such as doing laundry, opening a checking account, and understanding ads for housing.

I have 32 wild children, ranging in ages from kindergarten through 12th grade, every day after school and all day in the summer.  Some of the kids that I serve have learning disabilities.  Some kids are being raised by someone other than their parent.  Some come to the youth center hungry or dirty.  However, the majority of the kids I serve are just poor.  I help them with their homework and try to teach them something useful for life before giving them dinner and sending them all home each evening.  How little did I know that I would be the one learning so much from these children and come to love them all - even the bad ones - immensely.

On my birthday several years ago, I held a 9-year-old on my lap as she told me about her house burning down just hours before.  I've laughed as kids yell and scream because they caught a fish on their pole for the first time. I've picked lice out of hair.  I've taught kids how to tie their shoes.  I've helped a 16-year-old study for his driving exam.  I've taken the brunt of anger as a 13-year-old lashed out at me because she realized that she has a deadbeat mother and can't do anything about the unfairness of it.  I think it's my job to not only get them the basics, but also expose them to everything I was able to do as a child.  They're poor, but in my mind, they're kids.  And all kids deserve the kind of childhood that I had.  We didn't have a lot, but my Mom and Dad made sure that I was exposed to every learning opportunity.  At the youth center, we've made our own watercolors, tie dyed T-shirts, and gone camping and swimming.  We've had art lessons, dancing lessons, and piano lessons.  We've taken tours of chocolate factories, bakeries, the courthouse, local potteries, and the zoo.  We took a ride on a boat down the river.  I even took 11 teenagers to the ocean for the first time in their life.  Perhaps this is what my sister-in-law had in mind that day when she told me I'd make a good teacher.  I knew a typical classroom would never suit me - maybe that's why I had never entertained the idea of teaching.  What I'm doing now is much more than that.

I am surrounded by wonderful children everyday of my life, yet I have so much trouble having just one of my own.  I know that I'm making a difference in their lives, but at the end of the day, I have to hand them back to their parents or guardians.  And when I do, a good deal of my work with them is undone.  When would it be my turn to take one home with me?  To love as my own?  As my husband and I received the news of our infertility last summer, I became a bit reflective.  I love children.  I've taught them, cared for them, and been around them my entire life.  Heck, I even have a degree in them!  I'd always pictured myself as having children, but it seems to be the one thing I'm not able to do - at least without extremely high medical bills and the help of a team of doctors.  Was this God's cruelest joke?  Sometimes I still think it is as I send my 32 kids home each night.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Pseudo Mom

I had my first taste of being a Mom just after I was married.  My husband and I were leading the Youth Group at our church and there was one little girl I found especially irritating.  I love children, but for some reason, she didn't want to be there any more than I wanted her to be there.  She was argumentative, lied a lot, and manipulated the smartest of adults.  I wasn't going to let her have the upper hand with me.  On those Sunday mornings, I would punish her when she was disrespectful.  The first time we went head-to-head, she was mad and surprised that someone was trying to make her behave.

Over the months, she discovered that I wasn't the enemy and I wasn't going to let her ruin the lessons that my husband and I had prepared.  She became tolerable - even likable.  We became involved with her life.  We went to her volleyball games, met (and gave a hard time to) her little boyfriends, and I even IM'd her while I was at work.  I grew especially attached to this young lady.

Later, she confided in me that she had been molested by her step-father.  I asked her if her mother knew, and she said yes - that her mother had told her that she'd just have to deal with it because she was not able to financially raise her on her own.  It blows my mind that people are capable of hurting children and that a mother is incapable of protecting her child.

After getting officials involved, she came to stay with us for the weekend while her step-father found some place else to stay.  The next week, she went home, but we were still a big part of her life.  I found out that she had began cutting her wrists in an effort to control the pain that she felt because her mother refused to get rid of her husband for reasons that made sense only to her.  She told the girl that she still loved him and what  happened was between the child and the husband - that it had nothing to do with her.  The cutting got pretty bad and the young lady ended up in the psychiatric ward at the hospital.  From her hospital room window, she watched her mother kiss and embrace her step-father in the parking lot.  On her very first visit with Children Services, she indicated that she'd like to stay with us and we agreed.  I went from Youth Group Leader to Pseudo Mom very quickly.

Her life had changed while she lived with us.  She went from failing to getting straight A's.  She was tolerable because she was rested and not on the internet all hours of the night.  She acted very much like a kid instead of an adult - because she could - at our house.  She was my girl and even told me that she loved me.  Truth is, I loved her too.  Still do. 

Meanwhile, her step-father went to trial, was found guilty, and sent to prison for several years.  She stayed with us for several months after that because of the explosive relationship she had with her mother.  We were asked and we were prepared to adopt this 13-year-old when it came down to it.  However, she was placed back with her mother at the end of the 6 months.  They made the 13-year-old choose.  They made her choose!  What 13-year-old girl would not choose her mother?  Would not want the relationship with her mother - even the worst kind - to work?  She tearfully packed up her stuff and we took her to her mom.  Later that evening she called and said that she knew she had made the wrong choice.  Unfortunately, I couldn't do anything to change the situation.

Through all of this, her mother came to dislike us - especially me.  I was the enemy.  I ruined her facade of a happy family.  I was even called into a therapy session with her in an effort to strengthen our communication.  I would not state that I understood her point-of-view and went on to say that her reaction to the situation was inappropriate - that anger, confusion, frustration, and hurt were all acceptable, but hers - as a mother - was not.  This didn't go over well with the therapist or the mother.

I knew that in order for her to go home and live a peaceful life that she wanted with her mom, I had to withdraw a bit from her life.  I knew that when she left our house that last time, things had to be different between us.  She's still angry with me about this because she doesn't understand what I had to do.  She thinks I abandoned her.  She still calls every now and then - mainly when life is really stressful and she needs someone safe to argue with.  I know that I should just be happy with the fact that it's me that she calls because she knows I won't turn my back on her if she lashes out.  But I still miss the little girl that was mine for a little bit.

Not only did this teach me about being a parent, but it taught me that I am not a fan of Children Services. Please don't hear that this organization never does any good.  It does.  I know full well that they do, given my current job.  However, I have learned that they always work to put a child back with his/her parents because their philosophy that a child's best place is always with the parents.  I disagree with this completely.  I think they made the wrong decision by allowing a child to decide what was best for her, plain and simple.  I have no desire to work with Children Services on a personal level ever again.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

I (Don't) Want to Work with Children

I've been playing "Mom" my entire life by caring for people and teaching others.  It's not a skill that I set out to acquire.  It's not something that I set out to study.  It just comes easily to me.  I'm just one of those people to which children are attracted.

Earliest pictures of me on Christmas morning portray a smiling little girl clinging to baby dolls. In kindergarten, my Mom told me that I'd come through the front door after the bus ride home from school, throw my bookbag on the floor, and lean on the door in exhaustion.  When asked why, I told her that I was tired from taking care of 2 classmates who cried for their mothers all day.  Years later, I was a 4-H Camp Counselor and the youth would arrive early at camp to make sure they had a good chance at getting into my cabin.  At family reunions and other gatherings, I often found myself wherever the children were organizing some sort of game or leading in an impromptu activity.  At age 13, I began teaching dancing and mothers would request that their child be placed into my classes.  At 15, I began an educational day camp for children living in the low income housing in our community.  I took baby/child CPR classes and my babysitting calendar was very full when I learned to drive at age 16  Every person who knew me said that I would make a great teacher and mother someday.

The funny thing was, I didn't want anything to do with teaching or working with children.  I thought that was a less-than-prestigious job that was for someone who was not out to change the world like I was.  Besides, that kind of work would never lead me to make the mega bucks like I had in mind.  Teaching?  I had no desire to raise other peoples' kids.  Sure, I had plans of being a mother of several kids - that was just a given, or so I thought - but I had big plans to work in medicine.  You ask what was the specialty I was most interested in?  Obstetrics and gynecology. I wanted to deliver babies and make sure young mothers had the healthcare necessary to carry out a healthy pregnancies.  Ironic, huh?

It was about 10 days before I was ready to leave for college that my plans changed dramatically.  I was up late in our front room preparing my 4-H project for the next day's County Fair.  Our neighbor ran to our front door, screaming.  I opened the door to find a small, blue baby in her arms.  Her tiny 6-week-old wasn't breathing.  Without thinking, I grabbed the baby from her arms, laid her on the floor and began the baby CPR that I was taught several years ago.  After a blur of yelling directions at my Mom, working with emergency personnel on their arrival, and a very sleepless night, we found out the next morning that the baby had died of SIDS.  At this point, I really had to take a hard look at what I thought was going to be my life's work.  I was OK with the idea of performing exams, providing medical information to expectant mothers, and delivering babies.  But if everything always went as planned, we wouldn't really need doctors, would we?  Doctors, especially good ones, are necessary when things go wrong.  And in this field, that could mean very sad consequences.  Consequences that I would take home on my mind and my heart.  I made a tough decision at that point that I just could not deal with that aspect of the job.  So I left for college 10 days later, still registered as a pre-med major, but knew that I would be changing that as soon as I figured out my next plan of action.  I went on to be drawn to Psychology, especially child psych classes, during my undergraduate career.  I graduated with a degree in Psychology and had no idea what I'd do with it.

I returned home after graduation and took a job working as a grant writer. I was learning a lot and fairly good at the job, but was not sure where it was going to lead.  My brother and sister-in-law paid me to provide kids' activities during a party they were throwing.  I was down on the floor, playing a game with several kids, and having a ball when my sister-in-law came into the room, looked at me with a big grin, and said, "You would make a great teacher."  I don't know why, but for some reason, I heard it that time.  My brain chewed on it for a whole year.  I did enjoy kids.  It did come easily to me.  I had learned that making a lot of money didn't necessarily mean I'd have a happy life.  I began a program that fall in which I'd earn my Master's Degree in Education and also earn a teaching license.  It took me 5 years as I held down a full-time job along with school, but without much academic effort, I graduated with a 4.0 GPA.  I passed all of my teaching exams on the 1st try with flying colors.

I began my current job almost 6 years ago.  I run an after-school and summer-long Youth Program for at-risk youth. It's a great mix between teacher and mom for kids that need both the most.  My job will become important later in my journey, but for now, it's a shame I (don't) want to work with children!

Monday, February 21, 2011

"No" is the Hardest Answer

This is going to be my space, my therapy.  Perhaps you will get some amusement out of my writings or find some sort of solace in the fact that someone else is going though what you are as well.  Maybe you'll have a greater understanding for someone going through something like I have.  I'm finding it difficult to have a real conversation about this kind of stuff with anyone.  I'm angry.  I'm sad.  I'm confused.  I'm hopeful.  This is my journey.

I'm a 32-year-old female who has a graduate degree and is happily married to my college sweetie.  I graduated at the top of my high school, college, and graduate classes.  I have a beautiful historic home and a snazzy little sports car that I've always wanted.  I have a great job running a youth program for 32 at-risk, beautiful kids that I enjoy immensely.  I love to garden and scrapbook.  I've learned to ski, but prefer laying on the beach in Hilton Head.  I dance, sing, play (mediocre) piano, and do theatre.  I have a cat (or two), a dog, and a pond full of goldfish.  God has blessed me in many ways, except one very important one.  Whenever I meet someone new or run into an old acquaintance, the question is always the same.  "Do you have children?"  It always happens.  It's inevitable.

I answer this question depending on my mood and to whom I'm talking.  My answers have ranged in the past.  "No, we're just practicing" if I really want someone to quit asking.  More often than not, it was more like "Not yet," or  "It just hasn't happened yet."  These have all been my vanilla answers.  Lately, my answers have changed to "No, I wish," or "We are trying." Or, if I really want to change the subject altogether, I say, "I have 32. Don't I look great?" alluding to the fact that I work with 32 children everyday.  However, there is no good answer.  Sometimes I want to scream, or cry, or feel sorry for myself.  I even find myself making excuses as to why we don't have children.  Sometimes I dance around the truth.  But no matter how many times I change the subject, the truth is, my answer is, "No." 

I know that at age 32, if people were going to have children, most would have already done so.  Anyone who has met me knows that I have an undergraduate degree in Psychology, focusing on Child Psychology.  I have a graduate degree in Early Childhood Education.  I have a job where I work with at-risk youth all day long.  I love children.  I always have.  I have found myself mothering, teaching, and caring for people my entire life.  I know that most people ask if I have children out of politeness or perhaps a bit of curiosity.  I would wonder too, if I were talking to me.  Why doesn't this woman who is good with children and cares for others' children all day every day have any of her own?  I truly don't think anyone has asked thinking that they are being invasive with what should be a simple question.  It's so difficult to have to continue to utter "No."