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.