Monday, October 22, 2007

my first mothering

Today we saw one of the best and most disturbing movies I've seen in a long, long time. It was a brilliant film and J and I had very strong reactions to the content. On our way home I couldn't stop myself from re-telling stories about kids I've known over the years who were in trouble. Kids that haunt me to this day.

I still can't shake it, the movie or the kids both. I've decided to post about these kids from my past for a little while, a series of sorts. Some of what I will write isn't pretty, in fact it's damn hard so I am warning you now in case stories of wounded children isn't something you want to read. A graceful feel free to click away with no hurt feelings.

Peter came to us with his mom about seven years ago. He was five years old at the time, his mom lived hard, drugs and addiction, multiple husbands. She had a teenage daughter who lived somewhere else. Peter was a beautiful kid, a lonely kid. His mother was rough, she would often yell at him, her tone always harsh. He would wander into our offices almost daily and after awhile we became friends of sorts. He mostly just needed a safe place to feel some love.

We started to suspect his mom had started using drugs again but we were having a hard time catching her. Around that time she found out she was pregnant and simultaneously her neighbors were reporting a lot of traffic, loud men in and out all night long. We suspected she was selling her body for drugs and eventually proved ourselves right. I'd involved the authorities and as usual, they were disinterested at best. After four or five calls they'd go to her apartment, verify that there was food in the fridge and that Peter wasn't being beaten and tell me there was nothing else to do. Meanwhile, Peter was worsening, he'd come into my office and sit on my lap or he'd sit in the corner against the wall and patiently watch me work. He was dying for love, for nurturing, and his mom couldn't or wouldn't give it to him.

I'd keep reporting her to child services and they'd keep visiting and she'd keep yelling at me for reporting her. This went on for a long time and short of evicting her there wasn't much we could do and we feared the eviction would be worse for Peter, at least this way we were watching and doing what we could.

His mother continued to do drugs and somehow continued to have clean drug tests (we figured out how much later) so in every turn she managed to slip past the limit that would yank her chain. You have to remember we were dealing with the system, a tired and broken system who didn't give two shits about a poor kid living in homeless housing. In their opinion he was better off there than on the streets or in the shelter. His mom was convinced she was a good mom who loved her son. And Peter continued to be neglected and continued to live in sad and lonely pain.

And then one day something very bad happened. Peter was sexually assaulted by a teenage boy because his mom once again failed to supervise him properly. We were the first he told, before he told his mom. He came into the office and told me something that no five year old should ever know with such clarity it left no room for question. I called 911 immediately and when the cops came they took Peter to the hospital.

This was the only time I'd ever seen his mother nurture him in the entire time he was with us. The only time she held him and told him she loved him. It may not sound like it but I was an emotional wreck. I loved Peter and for the first time in my life wanted to adopt a child. I wanted Peter. I wanted to save him because I couldn't take watching him suffer any longer. I called social services and inquired about obtaining temporary custody. The worker took me half seriously and tried to talk me out of it at the same time. The damage, she said. You don't know what you are getting yourself into. The damage, I said, has been caused while you've sat and done nothing. Let me do something.

But in the end he was never removed from his mother, and trust me when I say this isn't something I take lightly. I've seen this many times from all sides and it's awful every time. This was her child, she was his mother. She was and he was and it shouldn't be easily disposed of. She left us soon after, her trust in me shattered and her hands full with a new baby too. It was so hard saying goodbye and harder still knowing how little there was I could do to make it better. To make his life better in the end because I wanted to so much.

Peter should be twelve by now. I haven't seen him in six years and have no idea how he is or how things have gone for him. There isn't a week that goes by that I don't think of him and wonder how he is, and if he remembers the love we offered him so long ago. I've met hundreds and hundreds of homeless kids in the past decade and I've seen all kinds of horrors and all kinds of beauty, but none of them pierced my heart quite the way Peter did. He was the first to make me want to be a mother.

52 comments:

Julie Pippert said...

Just aching hard in my heart and throat for Peter, and the incredible woman who wished she could save him and who tried and tried. Jen, speaking from experience, that matters. It might be the golden thread that kid needs someday in a pivotol moment of choosing whether he's worth a good life or not.

Julie
Using My Words

Family Adventure said...

Oh Jen, I am so sorry for you. More sorry for Peter. And, I hope, hope, hope that his mother was able to straighten herself out. That maybe the horror of what happened to him made her stop and take stock of things. Turn her life around.
I agree with Julie that children will remember those who were kind to them, who showed them a better way.
I am in awe of you being able to face these situations without growing cold or giving up. Thank you.

- Heidi

madamspud169 said...

Some mothers need help to be mothers while others slip into the role easily. You have to keep telling yourself that you did all you could for Peter at the time. The help just wasn't there 6 yrs ago but hopefully is now. Parenting courses & various assistance is now available where it wasn't before so hopefully this will occur less & less.

meno said...

The lack of concern from the government leads me to this bitter observation, that the government only cares about babies until thay are born, after that, who cares?
Bleh.
I'm glad you cared.

Mrs. Chicky said...

Oof, this makes me hurt. You tried, which is more than most would. I know that's cold comfort but it's something.

Her Grace said...

I don't think anyone should click away from this post without reading it.

As a former teacher in an extremely troubled urban neighborhood, I also saw a lot of kids in the same kinds of situations you talked about. For me, though, I never witnessed their pain. I only saw them in school. We took pains to educate parents, to get to know them as well as we could. Our kids were very young (3-5) and many had language delays, so while we often didn't hear about life at home, once in a while we could see it plainly in their eyes.

Like you, I've worked the system and it's a shitty one. I had a principal suggest that I NOT report flagrant abuse (and ear actually torn away from the scalp) because foster care would be much worse for the child in question. I reported it anyway, the parent was visited, nothing was done. A week later, I had a student removed from his beloved mother's care for not having clean clothing on a regular basis. I couldn't make sense of it.

This stay at home time I've had has been a nice breather from the system, but like you, I think about those kids all the time.

Cecilieaux said...

First, a cyberhug, Jen.

Now, for the policitical stuff. It's the conservatives only care until they are out of the precious womb -- not "the government." The agencies Jen is dealing with have had their budgets slashed to the bone. Those caseworkers have three times the cases they should reasonably be able to handle well. The resources available have all been allowed to deteriorate. Malign neglect.

All to give tax cuts to the top 5 % of the income ladder. People who don't even need the savings.

Because what they want -- but won't say out loud -- is to push us back to 1907: children in factories, workers on the 10- or 12-hour day, brutalized in slums, but obedient to the bosses, without unions (and people of color ... forget it, they would be shunted off to the side to be good little servants).

That's what we have to save this country from. The conservatives are taking this country to 1907 ... or the Third World, where a few live in the lap of luxury and the many live like Peter. (See "City of God.")

Sorry, Jen, but this is when my political hackles get raised, when I see anger directed at the wrong targets.

This is whay this coming presidential election is so effing important. Adn why we have to force the Democrats to find their effing spine!

jen said...

C,
Great points about the broader picture. It's hard not to blame a system that only opens 11% of all referred cases and not to want to scream in the face of a social worker who sees it and won't act.

But you are right. Shit rolls uphill.

Momish said...

I don't know what to say, other than to send you a big hug. Sending one out to Peter where ever he may be.

It is terrifying to think that Peter is just one of so many kids that get lost in the shuffle and suffer. How they suffer.

I get so riled up and pissed off when anyone stands on a podium and talks about family values when this kind of suffering and neglect go on!

P.S. I am dying to see that movie.

Jennifer said...

I have too many thoughts about "the system" and the hows and whys to even begin here. Here, I tell you, Jen, that I don't know how you continue without breaking, but thank you, from the bottom of my heart. For Peter, the others, and for those of us who want so badly for things like this to change. Thank you.

hel said...

Tears is the only response I have.

Tears and love.

Sober Briquette said...

No wonder you are haunted.

Thank you for telling these stories. They need to be told.

alejna said...

I'm so sad for you, for Peter, and for all the many other children who get the short end of the stick.

It hurts to read stories like this, but it's important that we do so. And important that you write them.

The love you showed Peter mattered, even though it wasn't enough to protect him. He will know what it means to feel loved, know that at least some adults can be trusted.

Janet said...

Is it naive to hope that having you in his life, for however brief a spell, will somehow save him from being a complete wreck of an adult?

I fear that's not the case. But I can hope.

flutter said...

Jesus...


I just. Oh jen. That sweet baby boy I wish he could have been yours.

Beck said...

That story made my soul hurt. And sadly, I have a similar one - a friend was in the process of adopting a little girl who - thanks to her biological mother's indifference - was abducted and raped. Life can be just HIDEOUS for some children.

mamatulip said...

This was hard to read, but these stories must be told, and read. Thank you for reliving them for us.

Ally said...

The system is just so broken, when a boy in that situation (and so many others like him that I see in my own caseload each week) is not rescued. And to be as close as you were to really helping, and yet fall short, it is heartbreaking.

Karen Forest said...

You make my heart feel so much.

Ache for Peter, warmth for you and your kindness. There is not an ounce of doubt in my mind that you are, and have been, exactly where God intended you to be.

I have never been exposed to such deep understanding that you give to others.......

You are truly amazing.

ewe are here said...

These stories need to be told. And then told again. Because some day society and the government is going to have to do better by them. They just have to.

sigh

mitzh said...

This broke my heart...

I ache for Peter, I wish you had the power to just take him away from all the pain his going through. Every child deserves a good future and most of all LOVE.

You are wonderful, wonderful Jen.

nomotherearth said...

Oh my heart.

Lawyer Mama said...

Oh, that dear little boy. I feel so sad for him and for all children who are never really able to just be children.

This is what I couldn't face in my choice of career - that pain that comes from getting so involved. But I thank the heavens with everything in my heart that there are people who do it. You know how much I admire you, Jen. I also know you don't like it when we shower you with accolades. But, babe, I have to do it here. Anyone who tries to help a child has a special place in heaven.

Karen said...

Oh, God, Jen, I hope he remembers, but even if he doesn't remember your name or your face, his heart must remember, it must. And he gave you a gift to, the knowledge that you could be a mother, that you would be a mother to someone. That's big. I hope that Peter had found souls to offer him love like you did - just enough to give him a taste of the real thing, so he knows what it's like.

Redneck Mommy said...

Poor Peter.

My heart just aches, and I already feel so raw. This post hurt, my sweet.

Kyla said...

The label on this is genius.

But what a story. Poor Peter. I am sure he remembers, those people who come into our lives and love us without condition for no reason in particular always live in our memories.

painted maypole said...

OH Jen. I don't know how peoplke who work with these children manage to sleep at night. You are a strong, strong woman, and I am so grateful that you are there for these people, even if it is for a brief moment. God only knows how many people will look back on you in their lives and know that there was one person who cared, and how much that will change them, strengthen them, and give them purpose.

Jenn said...

Aching for him and for you and for what could have been. And hoping for what is--that somehow, someway goodness has found him.

Joker The Lurcher said...

it was the suffering of the children that got to me too. i've been off sick for 3 months and i can't imagine ever going back to the office, never mind standing up in a court any more. i hope that what you offered him made a difference - maybe you will never know but at least you did the right thing

Anjali said...

Oh, God.

I pray he found someone else to love him as much as you once did.

ms chica said...

The system may never repair itself, but if you don't speak up, people won't know they should be outraged by the atrocities, and neglect perpetuated by our system.

He was lucky to have you and your staff, even if it was only for a little while.

Christine said...

my heart is so pained reading this and the tears are flowing for him. for you.

i hope he somewhere safe now. i really, really do.

Oh, The Joys said...

My Peter was called Anthony.

They root us in our work and our lives.

xo,
J

cce said...

This is so tough. I admire you for trying. My MIL is an attorney who works pro bono representing kids in foster care. She has some heart breaking stories to tell as well. Almost none of them end happily. I don't think I could stand to do what you or she do...the proximity to heart break just too shattering.

slouching mom said...

Wow, Jen. I don't have words. Only tears.

KC said...

Reading this made me barely able to breathe. Speechless.

liv said...

chills. i can hardly listen when my pediatrician friend tells me what gos on in the unit downtown. it sickens me.

Laurie said...

I'm sorry Jen. You are a very special person to be able to do what you do day in and day out.

You are loved.

You are appreciated.

Ruth Dynamite said...

Peter probably thinks about you, too. Just knowing you exist might give him hope to break the cycle.

Blog Antagonist said...

It's so hard to see kids that need and not be able to do something. I have had some experience with that recently. But you did do something. You were the calm in the storm for him and you probably helped him more than you can possibly know. I hope Peter is doig okay.

thordora said...

My heart would break far too easily to do this kind of work. Thank you for doing it for those of us who can't.

b*babbler said...

I'm so sorry and aching as I read this. There is so much to do, so little resources to do it with.

You amaze me with your strength of spirit and conviction. Not many could keep going back and continuing to fight the uphill battle.

I can only hope and believe that part of Peter is a better person for having your influence, love and kindness, if only for a short time.

BOSSY said...

Augh. What to do about devastation?

carrie said...

Oh Jen, I wish that this story was unique -- sadly, it isn't.

Working with the Y.M.C.A. programs for much of my teen years, I saw a lot of kids in less than ideal situations . . . and I would offer to babysit them off the clock for free. It took me a long time to stop letting myself do that, it became too much. What I saw became too much. I talked my parents into letting me watch one little boy for an entire weekend (so his mom could party or whatever) and it was then that I saw the boot-shaped bruise on his back where his mom's boyfriend had kicked him. Kicked a 7-year-old boy straight in the back. I reported it. My Y.M.C.A. boss looked the other way. So, I called CPS myself and I got in huge trouble at work for it.

It was so worth it. I'd do it again in a heartbeat, but I'd probably also be arrested for kidnapping.

I hear you.

crazymumma said...

Tighter hugs for my girls tonight. My hand just a little longer on their forheads as I kiss them goodnight.

jennifer said...

I thought about this all day

Binky said...

I used to think that people were responsible for their own actions, but then I became a mother. It's like playing God. In so many ways, I control my child's destiny. Stories like this make me realize the gravity of that role.

cinnamon gurl said...

Oh Jen. I don't know what to say.

The Expatriate Chef said...

You are amazing. Where do you put all this pain and still have such love and hope? That is badass.

Amy York said...

Poor Peter... I hope he is stronger despite what he's been through, or because of it. I don't know how you are able to hold yourself together and go to work every day knowing you are going to have to witness such horrid things. But thank goodness these kids have a mother figure like you. You will probably never know the impact you have had on their lives...

pgoodness said...

This brought tears, my friend. You are amazing.

Susanne said...

Such a sad story. Thank you for telling it though.