Family Planning with Foster Care

As of Thursday we will be officially done with our foster care classes, 30 hours of discussion on discipline, loss, grief, strength, and needs. We have filled out every piece of paper known to man, and when finished with that stack of paper, we were handed new stacks to fill out. We filled out profiles of our family, discussing how we live our lives and who makes our decisions. Do we have any communicable diseases or a jail history? Our marriage license, my divorce papers, social security cards, driver’s license, health forms, FBI checks, and insurance forms have been turned in. However, as time consuming as the classes have been, the hard part is just beginning.

Sometime in the not-so-distant future, a social worker will come to our house to interview us and make sure our house is a safe and healthy environment. They will make sure that our smoke detectors work and check to make sure that medication is under lock and key. We will sit down to talk and I will inwardly fret that we have framed horror movie posters in our living room. While we have pleasant conversation, I will fight the desire to blurt out, “Please know that I don’t approve of murder and the wearing of a mask made from human skin. We just really like Rob Zombie.” On my fireplace is a painting done by Selena that says, “There was a hand in the darkness and it held a knife.” I will quickly explain that it is the opening line from a book that I found to be beautiful and I am not a knife enthusiast. Still, the home visit isn’t the hardest part.

Once our paperwork is stamped with a big red approved, we wait for a phone call. At some point a child will need a family and they will call us to see if we should be that family. On what I can only assume is the worst day of that child’s life, we will meet. They may be scared, angry, or confused, and it will be our jobs to put them at ease. To give them structure and support. Hopefully we will bond and make a difference in a child’s life. Perhaps the child will need a forever family and we can be that for them. But in the here and now, all we can do is wait.

Carvell and I talk about our “faux baby” sometimes. We wonder if it will be a boy or a girl. After a lifetime of female children we have a difficult time imagining life with a boy. We wonder if they will be a different race than us and make plans to be mindful of cultural differences. We talk about football season and how different it will be with me trying to care for another person in the stands. That may seem like a silly thing to wonder about, but football consumes us from August to December. We eagerly anticipate adding to our family while also fearing other aspects of foster care. How do you parent another person’s child while also absorbing them into your family? We know there will be visits with the birth parents and then the emotional fallout from those visits. We are mindful of court dates that may not go in the way that we think is best for the child. We are unable to plan for our life with a new child because we know nothing about them, not their sex, age, interest, motivations, needs, or wants. Our “faux baby” is a concept that is waiting to become a reality. When you are expecting a child through pregnancy you have nine or so months to plan and dream, but when you want to adopt through foster care you can only wait until the moment you receive your first phone call. Still, I don’t believe this will be the hardest part.

My concern is I don’t know what will be the hardest part. Will it be the dealing with a system that is heavy with problems? Will it be the time, energy, and changes to our family structure? Will it be the emotional and physical issues that can come from abuse or neglect? There are more questions than answers and I am someone who likes answers. I can worry an issue until it is a twisted knot, loops turning in on each other until it is a maze that cannot be undone. While I struggle and worry about what happens next there are also things that I know for sure: In Kentucky there are approximately 6,800 children in the foster care system and my family can help at least one of those children.




West Plains, Missouri

When I think of summer I think of my grandma’s house and the mimosa tree in her yard. It was the perfect climbing tree. The tree had a solid base and easy footholds for climbing, and climb we did. Hours were spent inside that tree, Kara and I half hidden from the world, covered by the fern-like leaves. There was one branch that was just about the best branch ever. It was substantial, knotty, and a little green. I would climb out onto the branch and hold tight with my knees. Dropping backwards, I would dangle upside-down and see Grandma’s house from a different point of view. Upside-down, with my shirt tucked into my shorts, I could see the porch off of the kitchen.

That porch was the slimy porch. It was where buckets of soapy dirty dish water were thrown and where my grandfather would whittle and sizzle. He never whittled the wood into anything, no animals or whistles. He just shaved away the meat of the branch, slowly and methodically, until there was nothing left. As he sat there on the slimy steps of an old farmhouse, he “sizzled.” It was somewhere between a whistle and a hiss; teeth slightly parted and tongue pressed against the backs of his teeth, he would press air out making his odd noise. I was only about six when he died and this is one of the few memories that I clearly remember. This, and a memory of us sitting around the kitchen table getting ready to pray before dinner. As everyone bowed their heads in prayer, I would watch Grandpa to make sure his eyes were closed. Everyone knows that prayer works best when your eyes are closed. After the prayer I would tell the table that he didn’t close his eyes. I think it was a game he played with me.

When he died I remember family coming to the farmhouse in West Plains, Missouri. I remember it to be wet and chilly. I have no idea if that is accurate or if it is the manifestation of the emotions of the adults that were around me. In the grayness of the farmhouse there was a box of donuts and one had pink icing and sprinkles. It shined in the box like a beacon. I wanted that donut. I remember the want but I don’t remember if I ever ate that lovely pink treat. I sat with my cousin Jill in her parents’ car and listened to Billy Joel’s You May Be Right on the stereo. These are the memories I have that surround my grandfather, incidental memories surrounding a fabled man.

We visited West Plains many more times over the years. Sometimes it was Mom, Dad, Kara, and me, and others it was only Mom, Kara, and me. We packed into whatever car we had at the time and made the four hour drive to Grandma’s house. Sweaty naps were taken in the backseat, with faces smooshed against the vinyl seats. It didn’t matter how sleepy or groggy we were, when we neared Poplar Bluff we would wake up, because we knew a bathroom break was going to happen at the McDonalds. Long legs would spill out of the car and take a long stretch, backs and shoulders would be rolled to remove the stiffness. Inside we would use the bathroom and wash our hands. The begging for a Happy Meal would be incessant. Mom’s reply would be, “Smile at your hamburger.” Once I made the trip with my Uncle Leroy, and when it was time to order, I asked what I could order. He said I could order whatever I wanted, so I ordered a McRibb. It was a mistake and tasted terrible. I don’t remember ever ordering it again.

The times spent at Grandma’s house are now some of my best childhood memories. We once saw a snake in the grass and ran to get Grandma who swore it was only an old branch from the mimosa tree. Kara and I knew different, and for the next couple of days, every step we took was cautious, each foot was planted with great care. At the old farmhouse Mom made us take baths in a quarter inch of water, so that we didn’t deplete the cistern of water. In West Plains the soda came in glass bottles and was colder than cold. In West Plains I couldn’t get out of bed at night because everyone was aware that if you stepped on the dog’s (Booger) tail, your leg would be eaten off. It was in that house I played pretend with my Mom’s old baby dolls and her Barbie dolls. It was in that house that I read bags of Harlequin romance novels. I fantasized about being “taken” in the barn, all pulsing members and velvet sheaths.

Eventually the house was sold and Grandma came to live in Paducah. I have memories of that house too and of reading her Star magazines. According to her, you could trust Star but the National Enquirer was just full of lies. I loved my grandparents, they were quirky and interesting, and loved us a great deal. Tonight when I go to sleep I will hunker under a quilt my grandma made, a quilt that is never too heavy and never too light, and I will close my eyes and say a prayer for those that are gone. I will close my eyes when I pray, because everyone knows that prayer works best when your eyes are closed.

The Casualness of Family

I have written a great deal about my Mom and what she meant to our family. She was a good and kind woman who loved us strongly and boldly. She touched many lives and is greatly missed, but there was always someone standing beside her and that is my Dad. He is a man who loves my sister and I a great deal. He also loves his grandkids with the same ferocity that Mom always showed.

I was never a Daddy’s girl that title went to Kara without a doubt. She was his shadow, following behind him as he did the simplest of tasks. If Dad went to get wood for the stove then Kara followed behind. If Dad took out the garbage then Kara was no more than three paces behind. She was his shadow, following behind him as he did the simplest of tasks. He coached her sporting teams and helped her practice batting and catching. While, I never was one for sports or the outdoors he drove me to the skating rink and took me to friend’s houses. Kristi and I would jam ourselves into his beige pickup truck and he would drop us off at the mall on a Friday night, and then at 9:30 he would be waiting at the front to pick us back up. Never did Dad make us feel like he didn’t have enough time for us. Never did we feel like we weren’t his first priority.

As each of us become parents we silently think about the way we were raised and what we want to do that is different or the same as our parents. I know that my Dad did that too. He, like many, made a conscious effort to not be like his father. He was there every day. He worked hard to provide for his family. He had an amazing work ethic, working when sick or hurt. “Make hay when the sun is shining,” is the adage that my Mom always used. He loved Mom and was not afraid to show it. Never, not one time, in my life have I ever wondered, if he thought Mom was beautiful. It was always obvious to anyone that he thought she was radiant. He set out to be a good husband and father and did a damn fine job of it if you ask me.

 If I close my eyes and picture Dad I think of our house on Herman Avenue. I see him sitting on the bed with his brown leather bible in front of him. He is propped up with a nasty pale blue backrest that Mom was desperate to throw away. This was the norm on a Saturday night. Dad working on his Sunday lesson and Mom coming home from work with a to-go box filled with fried fish and French fries. My mom would sit on her side of the bed and pull out a wad of one dollar bills from waitressing. Kara, Dad, and I would sit on the bed and pick through the box of fish while Mom told us about her night. It was the casualness of family that I remember so fondly.

Once I cut the knee out of a pair of jeans. Guess jeans, which in the late eighties was like ripping a hole in a brick of gold. I wanted to look like the girls in Poison videos on MTV. I was never going to be thin, buxom, and have hair that resembled a lion’s mane, so I decided that the least I could do is have the knees of one of those girls. In my defense the jeans already had a small hole in the knee, but that ended up being a moot point. I took a pair of scissors from Mom’s sewing box and started to cut on each side of the small hole. The line was as straight as a scalpel incision and in no way resembled a hole that would have been created by falling on the front walk. I cut, and little by little, the small tear took over the whole knee. When Dad returned home at precisely 5:17 like he did every night I started to spin a tale about how I had fallen (which was true) and ripped a hole into the knee of my jeans (kind of a half truth). That night my father said to me the two words that I dreaded the most, “Un-cool, Heather.”

I have no idea what happens after, “Un-cool, Heather,” is uttered. I assume that building fall and the sun is covered by a thick black fog. Birds stop chirping and the world is silent. Hearing, “Un-cool, Heather,” is a sign that my father is so angry that he is sitting on his hands in an attempt to stop from committing a most heinous crime. That night that I cut my jeans Dad put me in the car and drove me to Kingsway Skateland. He was literally so angry at me that I could not be in his sight. I have done some things in my life that deserved a little wrath. I cuss like a sailor. I have two illegitimate children. I have tattooed myself. I have pierced myself. I will talk endlessly and with little shame about my sexual escapades, but I have never seen him as angry as the night that I decimated my Guess Jeans. Luckily I escaped with little more than a lesson learned and a story that will live in Young family infamy.

Our family has changed forever and Dad’s place in the family is forever altered. I will never forget the sound of Dad’s voice when he made the phone call that Mom had died. I will never forget how much we laughed and cried while planning her funeral. The love of his life was gone and now he had to bury her. I cannot understand the pain he must have felt when he had to turn his back and walk away from the room she died in. What I do know is that I am thankful every day that this man showed me what love is. He showed me in a sometimes imperfect ways what a man should be: kind, loving, strong, funny, flawed, and a staunch defender of Guess Jeans.

I love you Dad.

Grief and Tattoos

I want to feel whole and I haven’t since my mother died. I want to tattoo my arms with words that make me feel solid. Words like here, now, loved, enough, healed, whole. They don’t need to be large just big enough for me to see when I have my glasses off and I am lying down. It is at night before I fall asleep that I need to feel whole the most. When the stress of the day weighs heavy on me and I feel the filmy edge of sleep and panic trying to creep in. I stare at the tattoo on my wrist, words that my mother left Kiaya, and remind myself how much she loved us.

One of the many problems with my tattoo obsession is that if Amyloidosis hadn’t killed mom, my desire for tattoos would have. Mom was very proper and I loved that about her. We once took her to see Bon Jovi and she wore jeans, a navy turtleneck, navy pumps, and a vest that had dolls embroidered on it. We walked past the security guard and he tilted his head at mom and said, “She with you?” “Yeah.” I said and ushered her to the seats. The people in front of us rolled a joint and my mother, in not quite a whisper said, “What’s that? Why are they licking the paper?” She had a great comedic timing but had no idea that she was funny.

I want to wear the tattoos as armor to keep out the feeling that I am alone. I want my skin etched with words that remind me that I am solid and here. They would guard me against the feeling of hopelessness that I sometimes feel at night. When my day has gone bad and I want my mom to tell me it’s going to be okay. I could look down and see the word loved and know that although death put a chink in my armor I was loved to my very core.

My ability to cuss is legendary. I can weave a cuss word into a conversation like a blue ribbon through a lace edged slip. This skill of delicately interweaving the word “fuck” into a conversation was horrifying to mom. “Heather Renee, how could you say that?” I did it to watch her reaction, while horrified; I secretly think she was proud of my ballsy manner. I found this to be true at a Neil Diamond concert. The women behind us had passed the point of intoxication. Slurring their words one of the ladies told the entire arena that she had found Billy Joel tickets in her pocket from three years prior. The entire concert they talked in our ears about every song being their favorite and randomly yelling “Woo Hoo” at the top of their lungs. I just knew a “play me some Skynyrd” was coming. Or at the very least, they would throw a pair of off-brand Victoria’s Secret panties on the stage. I finally had enough and yelled at them. I just knew that prim and proper mom was dying that I had publicly yelled at someone, but she just looked at me and said, “About time.” I think she approved of my occasional brashness.

The tattoos would anchor me.

Here. I have to be here, in the present. Retreating to my room to watch old episodes of Sex and the City is not an option. My life needs to continue even if it hurts and feels empty.

Now. Now is the time that I stand up and do what I have always been scared to do. We are not guaranteed a tomorrow.

Loved: She loved us. She loved us fiercely.

Enough: I am enough. I do enough and do not need to prove myself to others. I have merit.

Healed: Mom is whole and does not hurt.

Whole: Although my heart is broken because I do not talk to her every day; she is always with me. Shaking her head at the newest weird thing I’ve said. I am whole and not broken.

She loved us fiercely.