I probably learned more in two and a half months of living at a children’s home than I have for the rest of my forty years combined.  I don’t regret the decision to go.  We prayed about the job before we took it, and we felt like God answered our prayers.  In fact, He answered my prayers right down to the dollar figure.  I prayed that God would give us a sign about whether or not we were supposed to take this job.  We felt like it was a good thing, but we weren’t sure.  I did not tell Mr. E this, because I thought it was just me being silly, but I prayed that, if it was meant to be, we would be offered $30,000.  I knew that houseparents typically made anywhere from $13,000 to $18,000 (since living expenses are paid for), so I knew this was a crazy amount to ask for.  As we sat in the administrator’s office, he offered us $30,000.  I got cold chills, because I knew this was my sign.  To this day, I still firmly believe that God sent us to that home.  I have no idea what His purpose was, but I look forward to finding out someday.

Whether this was God’s reason for me to go or not, I did learn a lot of lessons in Georgia.  Here are some of the ones I could come up with:

1. Tae Kwon Do lessons are a great idea.  Watching my kids take lessons allowed me to protect myself from Margarita.  Having a black belt also allowed my little Goose to protect herself.  There was this boy whose parents ran the house next to ours.  He was the most un-mothered child I have ever encountered, which was sad since his mother’s occupation was to be a mother.  He was not a big boy, but he was big compared to the Goose, and he picked on her constantly.  I had told the Beetle, who was a head and shoulders above this kid, not to let it happen, and as long as the Beetle was around, the boy left the Goose alone.  However, on the Saturday before the Margarita incident, the Goose was out playing on the playground across from our house.  The boy came out and was playing alongside her.  He shoved her, and she told him to quit.  He shoved her again, and she told him that if he touched her one more time, she would take care of it.  He touched her again.  The Goose took care of it alright, by flipping the child over her shoulder and onto his back on the ground.  He got up and ran.  While I was slightly horrified that she had done this, I was also extremely proud.  Those martial arts classes were worth the time and money!

2. A children’s home is not always a ministry.  On my second day of training, the social worker told me that I would be much better off if I could learn to treat this as a job instead of a ministry.  I had no idea what she meant, because I was there to save the children.  In hindsight, I understand.  Depending on how a home is run, it may or may not be a ministry.  Plus, not everyone can be saved.  They have to be willing to be helped before you can help them.

3. Sometimes a big attitude combined with a neck sway goes a long way.  This was a lesson the Goose learned, but I didn’t quite master it.  Ask her to do it for you some time.  She can move her neck with attitude better than anyone I know.

4. I now know what the Stanky Leg dance is.  We were in traffic at a red light, and a guy got out of his car and started dancing the Stanky Leg.  The girls in the bus with me stood up and started doing it with him.  I don’t have nearly enough rhythm to do it, but I at least know what it is!

5.  I am tougher than I ever thought, and I am a survivor.  You really don’t want to mess with me.

6.  You have to watch out for the Po-po.  They might be after you.

7.  Some people might see kindness of weakness, but I choose to be kind.  Being hateful and damaging others will only create more crazies in the world.  The girls I encountered were crazy because of the things that had been done to them.  Imagine how loving they could have been if the world had been kinder when they were young.

8.  Not everyone who goes to church tells the truth.

9.  Sometimes, no matter how big the plans, you have to cut your losses and get out while you can.

10.  Bugs that get in pasta float when you cook them.

11. No matter how much you are tempted, never color your hair with a Crayola marker.  You won’t like the results.                                                                                                   -Al

Margarita was the straw that broke the camel’s back.  For two and a half months, we had been in a house with a violent but loveable semi-adult and a bi-polar schizophrenic who was lacking intelligence.  With trips to the police department, mental hospital and rape crisis center, I had just about had enough.  My family was tired of traveling back and forth from Brandon to Georgia, and I was tired of having them gone all the time.  At the same time, I was happy when they were gone, because I knew they were safe if they weren’t there.

I was down to just Essie in the house with me, and our mother/daughter time had just about pushed me over the edge.  The clocks had been set back so that she would go to her room for bed an hour and half before the appointed time.  The social workers called me to the office on a Tuesday afternoon.  I knew I was in trouble when they both wanted to meet with me.  That was when they broke it to me that I was getting a new child.  The good news was that she was actually a child.  She was sixteen years old.  The bad news was that she was a felon.  The home had worked out a deal with the Georgia Juvenile Justice Department that allowed felons to serve their time by living in my house.  Neither social worker would even make eye contact with me as they broke this news to me.  They knew what they were doing was horrible, but they had been given orders by the administrator.

I should have gone directly to the administrator’s office and told him exactly what I thought of him and his “of course your children will be safe” speech he had given me during the interview.  I didn’t.  I was too mad, and, as usual, I had 30 minutes to get prepared for Margarita’s arrival.

It was a rare occurrence that my family was in town.  I cooked supper and set the table with an extra plate for our newest addition.  Margarita arrived right in time for dinner.  I had not yet had the opportunity to talk to my family about where Margarita was coming from.  She had been serving time in prison.  She had been found guilty of attempted murder as she tried to stab her stepfather with a butcher’s knife, and now, she was going to live in my home.

Margarita came in, looking demure and pristine.  She had on a pretty tank top that showed her arms.  During dinner, the Goose, being the Goose, was just trying to make polite conversation and to get to know Margarita a little.  She chattered on about her tae kwon do lessons and asked Margarita if she had ever done martial arts.  Margarita said no.  The Goose asked her if she worked out and asked how her arms got so muscular.  Margarita said it was from doing push ups in prison.  My family laughed as they thought she was kidding.  Mr. Everything caught the look on my face and realized it wasn’t a joke.  I thought he was going to choke on his beans.

On Wednesday morning, Margarita went to school.  She and Essie went to the same school, although they were on separate sides.  Essie’s side was for mentally disabled kids, and by walking down the halls, you could watch children throwing temper tantrums and being restrained.  There was always yelling and wailing on her side.

The other side of the school was an alternative school for kids who could not make it in a “regular” school.  I’ve always wondered why in the world they would put society’s meanest and most dangerous kids in the same building as the most disturbed.  It doesn’t take a genius to realize what a dangerous situation the school board had created.  Again, my tax dollars hard at work.

Margarita made it in school 30 minutes before I got the phone call.  She had cussed out the deputy, so I had to go pick her up.  That meant I got to spend the whole day with her.  Lucky me.

The strange thing was that Margarita, by far, was the most polite and well behaved of all the girls I encountered at that children’s home.  She spoke respectfully, unless she was angry, and she said, “Ma’am,” and, “Sir,” without fail.  However, just being around her made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.  She had an anger in her eyes that was unmistakable, and I had no doubt that she would hurt me or my children if the opportunity arose.

Throughout the week, I got to know Margarita a little bit.  She could be funny, and she could joke around.  For the most part, she was pleasant and easy to live with.  I still didn’t trust her any further than I could throw her.

At one point, I was filling in for the parent at another house, and Margarita was with me.  One of the girls from the other home started being terribly disrespectful to me.  I had never been talked to like that, and I had no idea how to handle it.  Margarita stepped in and said something to the girl.  I could not hear what she said, but the girl immediately backed off.  I probably didn’t want to know what Margarita had said, but at that moment, I was just thankful that she did.  Later, when she and I talked about it, she said something that has stuck with me to this day.  She said that some people saw kindness as weakness.  I asked her if that was what she thought, and she said, “No.  I can tell you’re tough.”  She was right.

We made it through the school week and into the weekend without any other incidents.  Margarita managed to go to school and stay there for a few days.  Then, Sunday came, and she was about to spend her sixth and final night in my house.

We were coming back from Sunday evening church. I was driving the big white bus.  My family was in town, so Mr. Everything was in the passenger seat and my kids were in the back with the crazies.  When we got home, the Goose got out first, and she jokingly said, while holding the door handle, “Hurry up!  Hurry up!  I’m going to close the door in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1….”  She was six years old, and she was joking.  Essie laughed and got out in a hurry.  Margarita stopped, looked my child in the eye and said, “Do it again, and you won’t wake up in the morning.”

I bit my tongue and controlled my anger and sent everyone else on into the house.  Mr. E had not heard the comment, thank goodness.  Keep in mind that this was not an average child who said this to my baby.  This was a convicted felon.  I stopped her by the door, looked her in the eye and quietly and calmly said, “I just want you to know that I will not tolerate threats in my home.  You will not threaten my child or any other child as long as you live here.  Is that clear?”  She said, “But she was bothering me.”  I responded, “And I am telling you again that you will not threaten anyone, especially my child.  Understood?”  She stood there for a minute and said, “Understood.”

We went on in the house to start warming up leftovers, our typical Sunday night dinner.  Margarita said she was not hungry and went to her room.  I gave her a while to cool off and then went to see if she wanted to eat.  She refused to come out of her room.

As a side note here, both of my children slept with dead-bolt locks on their doors.  They could get to each other’s rooms through their bathroom, but no one could get in unless they unlocked the door.  Mr. Everything and I also slept with a dead-bolt on our door.  My children had been instructed that, if at anytime I told them to, they were to go to their rooms and lock their doors.  They only had to do that once when Beloved was throwing a fit.

On Monday morning, Margarita would not come out of her room.  It was spring break, so the girls did not have to get up early for school.  Finally, around 9:30, I knocked on Margarita’s door, and she did not answer.  I told her to come out, and she still did not answer.  I was starting to get worried that she had hurt herself.  I got the door open and found her, sitting on her bed, staring at her wall.  I told her it was time to go to the office and talk to the social workers.

She followed me after I loudly insisted, and together, Margarita, Essie, the Goose and I all walked over to the office.  I’m not sure why I allowed the Goose to go, and in retrospect, I shouldn’t have. 

We got to the office, and I told the Goose and Essie to have a seat in the hallway.  They were within sight of the receptionist, so I felt safe leaving the Goose near Essie.  I walked with Margarita, and we went down the hall to one social worker’s office.  I told him that we had a problem, and I began explaining the events of the previous evening.  All at once, Margarita went crazy.  She went running down the hall, knocking pictures off the walls as she went.  She ran out into the sitting area where Essie and the Goose were, and she stopped and looked at my baby.  I was getting there as fast as I was, and lucky for her, she moved before Mama Bear got there to rip her face off.  Margarita ran into the bathroom and locked the door.  I looked at the Goose and said, “Go. Home. Now!”  For once, my child listened and complied without questioning me.  She ran home as fast as she could, bless her heart.

Margarita came storming out of the bathroom and headed toward me.  I was against a wall at this point, and she came at me with her fist raised like she was going to hit me.  I don’t remember much, but those who witnessed it said I did a tae kwon do block.  (Watching all that tae kwon do did come in handy!)  Meanwhile, the social worker stood nearby and did nothing but watch.  Later, he said he would have defended me, but he knew it was illegal for him to put his hands on her.  Whatever.

The police were dispatched at once, and Margarita was arrested right there in front of me.  It was sad to watch as she just stood there and let them handcuff her.  She knew she had messed up.  While I should have felt anger toward her, I really just felt sad.  She was the most damaged of all the children I encountered while at the home, and I wondered what had happened to her to make her so angry and so hurt.

Speaking of anger, Mr. Everything reacted much stronger than I expected him to when he heard what had happened.  He has never been the jealous or over-protective type.  However, just hearing that this felon had almost hurt his child and then his wife was enough to push him into a rage.  It was at that moment that I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that we had to leave, and we had to leave soon.  He left the next day to take our kids back to Brandon where they could be safe with my parents.  Then, Mr. E came back, we gave our resignation, and we packed our stuff.  By the end of the next week, we were gone.

On our way out of town, I had to stop by juvenile court to testify against Margarita.  It was an appropriate ending to our saga at the children’s home.  She was found guilty and was returned to a detention center to finish serving her time, plus three extra months (woo!) for attempted battery on me.

We returned to Brandon hurt, disappointed and broken.  What we thought was an answer to prayers was actually a nightmare.  We had left for Georgia so excited about the opportunity and returned to Brandon in worse shape emotionally and financially than when we left.  The worst part was when people made comments like, “Well, I knew it wouldn’t go well for you.  Children’s homes are difficult, and it takes a special person to be able to work there.”  As if we were not special enough, and as if we went into it thinking the whole thing would be rainbows and butterflies.  We learned a lot of lessons, some funny and some not, and in my next blog, I’ll tell you what those were.  -Al

My friend, Lola (name not changed because she put it in the comments of my last blog), says I’m holding back on the stories of the crazies.  I must admit, she’s right.  I was holding back for two reasons.  First, I usually try to be funny on this blog, and many of the things that happened just weren’t funny.  Second, I try to only write what I would be comfortable with children or grandmothers reading, and I’m not comfortable with some of the things that happened.  But, I’ll write it anyway, for the sake of a good story.  Just consider yourself warned that you probably don’t want to read this blog to your five year old today, unless you are ready to answer a lot of questions about the birds and the bees.

I can’t think of a more appropriate nickname for Beloved and Essie together than “The Gruesome Twosome.”  (AKA "The GT")  It just fits.  Apart, they were difficult to deal with, but together, they were the perfect storm.  The girls fed off each other, and they managed to get in lots of trouble together.

We had finally decided on a church congregation to call home.  We were going to place membership on the upcoming Sunday.  However, the Gruesome Twosome quickly changed those plans.

It was Wednesday night, and I had taken the girls to church.  My family was in Brandon (of course), so it was just me and the crazies.  After church, I could not find the girls, when normally, they came and found me right away.  Finally, I found them coming down the stairs from the upstairs youth group area.  They were both acting weird, but that wasn’t unusual.  We headed to the white bus and got in.  As I drove home, both girls were very quiet.  That WAS unusual.  I asked what was wrong, and they wouldn’t answer me.  Finally, Essie started telling me a tale of a teenaged boy trapping them in an empty room and touching them.  (We’ll just leave it at that, but you know what I mean.)  As the story was told, the facts were not adding up.  First, there were two of them and one of him.  How had he held both of them in the room at the same time?  Second, I had seen Beloved when she felt threatened or got mad, and I was pretty sure no one could hold her in that state.  I pointed these facts out to them, but they both insisted that he had been inappropriate with them and they were the victims.  Then, they began to accuse me of not caring because they were just foster kids.  I rolled my eyes and bit my tongue, because if I had spoken at that point, it would not have been nice.

When we got home, I called the social worker who was on call for the weekend.  He came over to the house, and we discussed what had happened.  He agreed with me that the circumstances were unlikely, but he said we had to treat it as though it had happened.  I pointed out that, while I wanted to make these girls feel valued and listened to, I also did not want to ruin the life of a boy who was most likely innocent in the situation.  The social worker said the justice system would have to work that out.  I said that was horrible.  He said he didn’t care what I thought.

We took the girls to the police department to file a report.  I had never actually been inside a police department before.  It wasn’t nearly as exciting as you might think it would be.  This police department visit happened late at night on a Sunday night.  The detective told me I would have to have the girls examined at a rape center, but he said it could wait until Monday morning.

First thing Monday morning, the social worker gave me the address of the rape crisis center, and I drove the girls there.  I was warned numerous times never to give out the address or location of the center as it was classified information.  I had never thought about it before, but I’ve never known where a rape crisis center was.  Have you?  Probably not because they are hidden from the general public to protect the victims.  I sure learned a lot during this little adventure.

At the crisis center, Essie was anxious to go first in the exam room.  I found that disturbing.  Beloved tried to back out and said she would not be examined.  She cried and yelled and refused to be seen.  By this point, my blood was boiling as I was sure they had brought this situation on themselves.  I stepped outside and let the poor volunteers handle it.  At least they knew what they were doing, because they managed to examine her.  Nothing was found in the examinations, and we knew this would be the case because the “attack” had not gone that far.  However, they said the exams had to be done just to document the situation.

Charges were brought against the boy.  His court date was set for sometime in April.  By the time the date happened, we all knew the whole thing was a farce by the way the girls had acted since the “attack.”  They had all but admitted that they made the whole thing up.  Coincidentally, the boy’s date in juvenile court fell on the same day that I went to testify against Margarita, the third girl who lived in my home.  I’ll tell you about her tomorrow.  (Sorry.  I know I said today, but I had to confess what I was holding back…)  I got to hear this boy’s court case, and he was found innocent, thank goodness.

From hearing about this incident with this unsuspecting boy, you can see how the Gruesome Twosome could be.  They’d both had horrible things done to them when they were younger, and because of that, they were highly sexual.  It was only because my family was gone most of the time that we lasted as long as we did while living with them.  The administrator’s words that my kids would “of course” be safe kept running through my mind.  He told so many untruths during that job interview.  I wanted to believe he did not mislead us on purpose, but it became harder and harder to believe.

Beloved never messed with my kids.  I never got the feeling that I had to protect them from her, although I never dared leave them in a room alone with her.  Essie, on the other hand, scared me to death.  She went from playing Barbies with the Goose to trying to hug on and rub on the Beetle.  I was in constant turmoil as I was trying to balance my role as caretaker of this child with my overwhelming “Mama Bear” instinct to rip her face off.  That’s probably why I never managed to love her in a motherly way.

One day, both girls complained to the social worker that I never took them anywhere.  He actually called me into his office and explained to me that teenagers needed entertainment and they needed to go places and have fun.  He said he wanted me to take them shopping or out to dinner or roller skating.  I told him that if he thought I was taking the Gruesome Twosome in public, he was out of his ever-loving mind.  He then basically ordered me to take them out, and since he was one of my bosses, I had to listen.  So, I took them out.  I took them to a local dive of a restaurant, and we went during the early bird special.  (And in case I’ve never told you this, I tend to be a little passive aggressive.)  The girls never complained about not going out again.

With as scared as I was of the Gruesome Twosome together and as much as they worried me when my kids were near, they were nothing compared to what was about to hit.  Margarita.  She lasted less than a week before being arrested, and then we were out of there.  I really will tell you about her tomorrow.  -Al

Essie, oh Essie.  Where do I begin while telling you about Essie?  I will start out by saying that I never learned to love Essie like I did Beloved.  Of course, I loved her as I love any human being, but I did not learn to love her in a motherly way.  That was probably because she made me insane.

So, where do I begin?  I guess I’ll begin with the diagnosis.  Essie was bi-polar and schizophrenic, and she had a very low IQ.  Life with her was certainly interesting if nothing else!

For about a month, I basically lived alone with Essie.  By that point, Beloved had been removed from the house, so Essie was the only foster child in the home.  My family was gone more than they were there and that left the schizophrenic and me.  I don’t mean to make fun.  I really don’t.  It’s just that, until you’ve lived with a mentally delayed, bi-polar, schizophrenic, you just haven’t lived.

After about a day alone with Essie, I was already losing it.  She talked non-stop, and most of the time, she did not make much sense.  By the time she went to her room at night, I was so happy for her to go.

You’re going to think I’m terrible, but I have a confession to make.  When daylight savings time started, I changed the clocks a little more than I should have.  Essie said she could not read time, but I did not want to take any chances.  I set the clocks back two hours instead of one.  I figured she was already confused from the time change, so it wouldn’t matter.  By setting the clocks back, I made it where Essie really went to her room for bed at 7:00 when she thought she was going at 8:00.  Call me diabolical, but it was a matter of self preservation.  By sending her to her room, I gave myself an extra hour of peace and quiet.   Handling her from about 3:45 when she got home from school until about 7:00 was all I could do.  Don’t look at me like that.  You have no idea how bad it was.

One morning, Essie came to the table with her hood of her jacket pulled up over her head.  When I asked her to put it down, she refused.  Finally, I talked her into putting it down.  When she did, I saw that her entire head of formerly blond hair was now bright red.  I asked how in the world she had done that, and she said she used a Crayola marker.  And, just a helpful hint, in case you are considering using Essie’s beauty techniques, Crayola marker is really permanent in hair.  It faded to bright pink when she washed it, and it stayed pink for weeks.  It was lovely.

When I went into Essie’s bathroom after she left for school that day, I found red marker all over the room.  She had colored her toothbrush.  That was just one of the nasty things she did to her many toothbrushes while she lived there.  The child went through a toothbrush a week, because I kept discovering her brushes in gross places with gross things on them.  Once, I found it in her toilet that was unflushed.  Enough said.  I’m pretty sure Essie used her toothbrushes for just about everything except brushing her teeth.

Personal hygiene was definitely lacking for this girl.  She did not shower, and when she did, she did not use soap or shampoo.  I talked to the social worker about this, and the social worker started a series of lessons for Essie and a few other girls from the other house who were suffering with the same issues.  Throughout the classes, Essie insisted that she washed her hair daily.  When I said she did not, she got mad at me.  We had reached the point where I had to dispense shampoo in a little paper cup because Essie kept dumping whole bottles down the drain.  So, the social worker asked me to start collecting the cups to see if the shampoo had not been used.  I collected a full cup of shampoo every day for two weeks.  I’m pretty sure the soap did not get used either.

Now, here’s the kicker.  Essie was a hugger.  She wanted to hold on me and hug on me all the time, and she called me, “Mommy.”  My own kids didn’t even call me, “Mommy.”  Just hearing her voice say, “Mommy,” was enough to make me want to set the clocks back even further.

Essie told me that she was hearing voices.  I figured this could not be a good sign, so I had the social worker make an appointment with the state appointed psychiatrist.  We went to see him and went through the whole appointment with no mention of the voices.  Finally, I asked Essie if she was going to talk to the doctor about the real reason we were there, and she said no.  I asked her why not, and she said she didn’t want him to think she was crazy.  Since I thought it wouldn’t be nice to say that the ship had already sailed, I just looked at the doctor.  He asked what was going on, and she said she was hearing voices.  Then, he had a conversation with her that made me wonder if I was the crazy one.  He asked her what the voices sounded like, and she said they sounded like Essie.  He asked her if the voices told her to do good things or bad things, and she said good things.  Then, the doctor looked at me and said, “She’s fine.”  I asked him, “Really?  We’re trusting to schizophrenic to decide whether the voices are good or bad??”  He said we were.  And then I remembered that this was my tax dollars hard at work.  Thank you, doctor.

Essie was confusing at times.  She had an incredible vocabulary and could come across as very mature and smart.  Then, she would run into traffic without looking.  In fact, that happened so many times that I threatened to get her a monkey backpack.  Sadly, she said she wanted one, and she was serious.

When I asked Mr. Everything if he could remember any funny stories about Essie, he said there was absolutely nothing funny about her.  He said she was scary, and he was pretty-much right. 

When we made the decision to leave the children’s home, Essie was moved back to a house where she had already lived.  The mother of that house was so upset about getting Essie back that she would not even speak to me.  I didn’t blame her.  She was probably so happy when she escaped the insanity of Essie, and then she got sucked back in.

Essie lived in our house for the two and a half long months that we were there.  For the last week, she was joined by Margarita.  I’ll tell you about her next. –Al

At the children’s home, we got two for the price of one.  With 30 minutes notice, I gained two 18 year old girls to my household.  The first one was named Beloved.  (Okay, that wasn’t her name, but it meant “Beloved.”) 

Beloved was a living Jekyll and Hyde.  When she was nice, she was really nice, and she lit up the room with just her smile.  When she was not nice, boy, oh boy.  Let’s just say things got ugly quickly. 

Bless her heart.  It was a terrible irony that her parents named her something that meant “Beloved” and then threw her away.  It was horrible to see how her parents and society had messed up this precious soul.  She was a self-mutilator, or so they said.  I never actually saw her do anything more than scratch herself with a broken CD and threaten to do more.  I was glad I did not get a full demonstration of the mutilation.  I don’t *do* blood or bodily fluids.

Beloved was not in school.  She was supposed to be working her GED, but it wasn’t going very well.  Her tutors kept quitting because they couldn’t take the mood swings.  When I got her in my home, the social workers and I decided it would be a good plan for her to volunteer at the home’s thrift shop.  They thought it would help her to get out of herself a little.  I thought it would help her to get out of my house a little.  She volunteered there three days a week.  I was lobbying for five days a week, but I never won the popular vote.

One Friday, I decided that Beloved would go to work.  She had overstayed her welcome, and I desperately needed a break.  I told her to get ready and that we were going to take her to work.  My family was in town for a rare moment, and I was really excited about the idea of being just the four of us for a little while.  Beloved pouted around the house and said she didn’t want to go.  She said that she should not have to work on Friday as it was part of the weekend.  I reminded her that the social worker thought it would be good and that she didn’t have a choice.  I also reminded her that the social worker was at work because Friday was, indeed, a work day.  She said she was special and shouldn’t have to work.  Finally, after dragging her feet for over an hour, she was ready.  We all loaded up in the huge bus that I got to drive.  I was driving, because, as usual, Mr. E was not actually allowed to participate in “our” job.

Beloved refused to buckle her seatbelt.  I told her to put it on, and she said no.  I told her again, politely, but more forcefully, and again she said no.  Then, through gritted teeth I said, “I. Said. Buckle. Up. Now.”  She said, “And. I. Said. No.”  After that, the memory is just a flash.  I was driving but still on the children’s home property when Beloved refused to buckle up.  I slammed on my brakes hard.  It was hard enough that Beloved flew out of the seat and into the floor board.  I threw it in reverse and backed all the way back to the house.  Then, I made the decree of, “Everyone, get out of the car NOW!” and everyone obeyed, including Mr. E.

Beloved and I marched over to the children’s home office to have a word with the social worker.  You see, I had no power to actually DO anything.  My only action was to consult the social workers and let them handle it.  In this case, Beloved won and did not have to go to work that day.  I also won because she spent the day in the office, and I got a break.

Later that evening, Beloved hugged me and said, “Ms. Alison.  I thought you were going to kill me!  Next time you say, ‘Buckle up,’ I’m gonna buckle up!”  Chalk one up for the mother.

One thing I learned about myself through this whole process was that I am one tough cookie.  In case you ever doubted that, just know that it is true.  I thought I would probably shrink away when threatened.  However, I found that my response was just the opposite.  When the large framed, tall Beloved moved toward me in a menacing manner, my response was always to puff up my chest and move at her instead of away.  One time, Mr. Everything actually had to step between us because he was afraid I would hurt her.  That was probably smart on his part.

One night, things had gotten ugly.  Beloved was throwing a hissy fit about something, and I had had enough.  She was threatening to run away, and I told her to go for it.  I also reminded her that if she stepped foot off the property, she was out of the foster care program.  She said she was still leaving, and I said, “Bon voyage.”  She grabbed a few things and headed out the door.  She stood on the porch, because, as was common knowledge, Beloved was terrified of the dark.  I knew she wouldn’t go anywhere, but I had to get her back inside.  Then, I did something that, to this day, I find funny but at the same time, I am not proud of.  I turned off the porch light.  It’s horrible that I did that, because this child was really, really scared of the dark.  But you know what?  It worked, and she came slamming back into the house.  I won’t print the words she said to me, but hey, she came back in.  She never threatened to run away again.

Beloved had her good moments.  She had funny phrases like, “The Po-po is after me.”  We still say that in our house if a cop is nearby.  She also called pickles, “Pinkles,” and she loved her pinkles.  I have some good memories of her and grew to love her as much as I could in a short amount of time.  I wonder where she is and how she is doing.  I can still see her infectious smile in my mind, and I can hear her funny laugh.  She was a joy, at times.

When I got Beloved in my house, I picked her up from the mental hospital.  I had a sneaking suspicion at that point that I was probably not properly trained to handle this job.  Sadly, the way she left my house was that Beloved went back to the mental hospital, and I had to drive her there in my big white bus.  I never saw her again after that night.

Come back tomorrow and I’ll tell you about Essie.  You’ll want to brew a pot of tea and pull up a chair for that one.  Do I have tales to tell…  Beloved was normal compared to the other one.  You’ll see what I mean.  -Al

Moving to High Springs has brought to my mind memories of another move we made, once upon a time.  A few years ago, we thought we had landed the perfect job in Georgia.  We were going to be house-parents at a children’s home.  It was going to be great.  We would have dinners together around our big family table with our own children and with the multitudes of children we would learn to love as our own.  It was a lovely image and definitely a dream.  Little did I know that I would become the Keeper of the Crazies.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I knew we would have struggles.  After all, we were going to be living with the hurt, the broken and the abandoned children of the world.  I knew there would be challenges, and I was prepared for them.  What I was not prepared for was the mis-information we would receive about the job we were expected to do.  In the job interview, I asked the administrator of the home if our children would be safe, because, while I wanted to help other children, I did not want to do so at the expense of my own.  He assured me, with a straight face, that the kids would be safe.  I should have checked to see if his fingers were crossed.  I even went as far as to ask him if we would have felons living in our home.  “Oh, no, no, no,” he said, with laughter.  Little did I know that at that very moment, he was in the process of making a deal with the George Juvenile Justice Department.  We’ll get to that later.

Once we were hired, the home wanted us right away.  My dog, my turtle and I headed to Georgia while Mr. Everything stayed behind to pack up our belongings and take care of the kids.  The fact that he had become the sole care-taker of our kids was definitely foreshadowing of things to come.

I was in training for a week.  I shadowed the other house-parents to see how they lived day to day.  Then, I got to sit in an office while a social worker read to me.  It was the most useless training I have ever experienced.  In their defense, I’m not sure how they could adequately train people to handle what they were about to hand me.

A few days after I got to Georgia, my mother, bless her heart, came up to clean the house that we would be living in.  On the surface, the house looked clean, but as she dove in, it was Nasty with a capital ‘N.’  While my poor mother worked tirelessly, I went to “training” every day.  (Notice the quotes.)  About a week after I started, Mr. E arrived with the U-Haul truck and my kids.  He had unloaded almost all of the truck before I was released from “training.”  I immediately grabbed him and pulled him into a room of our house and closed the door so no one could hear.  The conversation went something like this:

Me: “Please.  Please.  I beg you.  Put my stuff back on the truck and take me home.”
Mr. E:  “What?”
Me:  “I’m telling you.  We need to get out while we can.”
Mr. E:  “You’re just nervous.  It’s going to be fine.”
Me: “No.  It’s not.  These people are crazy.  Please.  Please put my stuff back on the truck.  We don’t need money to pay bills or buy food.  We’ll be fine.  We can stand to lose some weight.  Please take me home.”
Mr. E: “You know it’s always scary when you start a new job.  It will get better.”
Me: “No.  You’re wrong.”
Mr. E: “Let’s give it a little time.  It will be okay.”
Me: “Okay.  If you say so.”

But, I knew better, even at that point.  For a rare occasion, I was right and Mr. Everything did not know everything.  Two and a half short months later, we loaded up the truck and moved back to Florida.  I considered kissing the ground when we crossed the state line.

For those two and a half months, I lived in Georgia while my family traveled back and forth from Georgia to Florida.  Smartly, we did not close our pottery business, so Mr. Everything and the kids went back to fire pottery and keep things running in Brandon.  Meanwhile, I was trapped with other people’s horrible children, who actually weren’t children.

I had been told that I would have a week after the training was completed to get settled before children were placed in my home.  A day after my training ended, the social worker called me to her office and said she had some news.  Not only was I getting one child, I was getting two, and they were moving in that day.  I had thirty minutes to get prepared.  No problem, I said, as I was eager to start my new life as mother and friend to all.  The children I was given were not actually children.  They were both 18 years old.  The state of Georgia has a plan that allows foster kids, on their 18th birthday, to sign themselves back into the foster care system.  By doing so, they forfeit their rights as an adult until they turn 21, and the state helps them transition from childhood to adulthood.  These two girls had signed themselves back in, and they would be living with me.  Lucky me.

During training, I was talking to one of the house-parents.  She was a single mother who had two girls of her own.  Hers was a home for teenaged mothers and their babies.  She told me about a night when one of the foster kids got sick and had to go to the emergency room.  She said, without batting an eye, that she left her eight year old and her six year old at home, alone, while she took the foster child to the emergency room.  When I acted shocked and asked why a worker had not been sent to the house to stay with her two children, she said the state did not pay for services for her kids.  We’ll just call that “red flag number one.”

I quickly learned that the children’s home actually only wanted my services.  Mr. Everything was never allowed to be alone with the girls (understandably, since these children knew how to work the system by making up lies about things people had done to them).   I was expected to handle all interactions with the children, and Mr. E was supposed to be my silent, trusty side-kick.  I was also expected to put my own children’s needs on the back burner, and I was to always put the foster children first, no matter what.  We had been told that our children would have the same benefits as the foster kids, including gifts at Christmas, baskets at Easter and season passes to a local amusement park.  They got none of the above.  Mr. E and I were given season passes to the amusement park so we could take the foster children.  I guess we could have let our kids sit in the parking lot while we went in with the others.

A month after we got there, the Goose had to have her tonsils and adenoids removed.  We had this done in Florida, because that was where our doctors were.  The children’s home “graciously” let me trade one of my so-called weekends off for a day and a half to go to Florida.  I was there for the evening before her surgery, and I was there for the surgery.  Then, I had to leave my sick child and drive back to Georgia to take care of the adult children living in my house.  I added that to my list of reasons why I deserve “Mother of the Century.”

My weekends were not actually weekends.  I got off at about 5:00 on Friday evening.  Then, I had to be back by 5:00 on Sunday evening.  That meant I got one whole day without having to see those lovely people who were living in my home.  Since I had to see them on Friday and Sunday, those days didn’t count as “off” in my mind.

I want to tell you all about both girls and the third one we had living with us, and I will, soon enough.  For now, let me just say that, I experienced new and interesting things in the two and a half months I was in Georgia.  In that time, I visited the sheriff’s department, a rape crisis center and a mental hospital (twice).  I also watched someone get arrested (which is not nearly as dramatic as it looks on TV), and I went to juvenile court.  I learned enough lessons for a life time and then got out of there as quickly as possible.  My mama didn’t raise no fool.

Come back tomorrow, and I’ll tell you about our first little darling.  She was a real peach. -Al