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Friday, March 30, 2012

Book Entry 155: 1981 The Picture Wall


We all worked constantly with Justin trying to catch his vocabulary up to where we thought it should be.  While waiting for a train one day Larry told the kids to watch the rails really close because an airplane was coming.  The older kids all just smiled and looked at Justin.  He looked puzzled.  He knew airplanes should be in the sky.  When the train was right in front of us we all started laughing and saying, “Look at the big airplane,” or “Wow it’s a noisy airplane.”  Justin kept the puzzled look for a minute.  When he realized we were all playing he said very quietly, “Train.”  He had a cute little grin on his face like he’d caught the joke.  That was one of the first smiles we got from Justin.
Halfway up our staircase the stairs took a turn.  Right at the turn, in the middle of the wall, I hung a picture of each of our four kids taken close to their first birthday.  The four pictures were lined up Heidi, Robin, Adam, and Justin.  Each time I went up or came down the stairs with Justin I would stop at the row of pictures.  I’d point to each one and say the name out loud.
After many trips during one stop I pointed at each picture and said the child’s name.  I said the names slowly and waited.  After a couple seconds went by I pointed at the next picture and waited without saying the name.  I looked at Justin.  He gave me a puzzled look again.  I waited again.  Justin pointed at the picture and softly said, “Heidi.”
We moved to the next picture and then the next.  When we got to his picture he refused to call out a name.  This went on for a couple weeks.  I tried something new.  I put a handkerchief over one of the photos.  When we went up the stairs the next time I stopped with Justin and pointed at each photo.  I didn’t say the name of who was in the photo.  I just waited.   After a few seconds went by Justin called out the Adam to match his photo.  Next he called out Heidi to match her photo and then Robins.  Justin’s picture is the one I had covered.  He gently pulled the handkerchief off, and while giggling out loud, he screamed, “Justie!”
 Justin had found his voice.  He found it again when the kids got home from school.  He took Adam, Robin, and Heidi one by one to the staircase.  He pointed out the pictures and waited for them to say the names.  When he got to his own picture he grinned and proudly said, “Justie.”  
When Larry came in from work the kids all teased Justin to show daddy what he could do.  Justin was more than proud as he wrapped his little hand around Larry’s and stepped up the stairs.  
After that monumental day Justin was known as Justie most of the time.  He knew he belonged on that wall with the other kids.  More than that; he knew he belonged in our home.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Book Entry 154: 1981 Adam Goes to Kindergarten

Adam didn’t mind starting school.  He’d been with me every day dropping off and picking up his sisters.  He marched right in to meet Mrs. Has Ellison like she was a life long friend.  When she came up to greet him he told her, “It’s my turn to go to school now.” 
Adam came home with a dozen new friends.  He told us all afternoon about each one describing them in great detail.  He could tell us what each child was wearing, what color their hair was, or if they had freckles.  What he could not share was names.  When we questioned him if a certain little boy was in his class he asked what the boy was wearing.
Adam kept telling me about one little boy who wore a red shirt.  He’d sure like to be his friend because he had a good red car that matched his shirt.  I don’t think I ever did figure out which boy that was.  Adam did think it was funny that several of the little boys had their Match Box cars named.  He said he didn’t even mind the girls because none of them acted like girls.
When we pulled up to the kindergarten class the second day Adam got a puzzled look on his face.  When I asked what was wrong he said, “Oh yea, I forgot they would all have to take a bath and put on clean clothes, now I won’t know who anyone is.”  

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Book Entry 153: 1981 New Plans for our Family Part Four

 Justin had a habit of getting up on his hands and knees in his crib, crawling as fast as he could to the end of the headboard, and ramming his head into it.  He’d do this over and over again.  I never could figure out why he did it unless it was somehow to comfort himself.  I know that seems like a strange thing to say but maybe it validated to him that he was alive.
When Justin was fifteen months old a wonderful thing happened.  He started cutting teeth.  It was later than our other kids had started teething but his gums swelled, both top and bottom.  It was obvious several teeth were coming at the same time.  Poor little Justin was miserable but wanted to be left alone in his misery.  The kids went into overdrive trying to keep him busy thinking of other things during the days.  Finally, one night he could no longer stand the misery by himself.
Justin’s crib was just in the next room.  It was a very quiet evening.  Everyone was sleeping.  I heard a faint whimpering coming from Justin’s bed.  I went to him.  His eyes were swollen from crying.  He was patting his mouth and saying, ”Mama” over and over.  I think he was asking me to fix his hurt.  I took him downstairs to the kitchen.  I gave him some baby aspirin and rubbed his gums with Orajel. 
  I turned the TV on and the lights off.  I held him in the big rocking chair.  I laid Justin on my chest, covered us with a blanket, and began rocking and singing very softly.  It was extremely difficult to do this and still not hug but I kept my arms just on the blankets so he wouldn’t feel confined.  
After about an hour I think the pain began to lift a bit.  Justin rolled a little on his side so he could see my face.  He took my hand from the blanket and put it on his leg.  He turned more toward me causing my hand to move onto his back.  I wasn’t sure if this was an accident or not but I took the opportunity to gently start rubbing his back.  When he didn't fight to get away I repositioned him up on my shoulder and for the first time hugged Justin as I rocked.  When Larry came downstairs the next morning he found Justin and me asleep in that old rocker. Justin was still clutched in my arms.
Justin entered into a time when he was so clingy we absolutely could not leave him alone.  He would so fiercely object being left in the nursery I actually skipped playing the organ for a few weeks to be with him.  Gradually he learned to trust when I left him it would only be temporary.  I would come back.  Even when I’d leave him playing with the other kids I’d make a big deal out of waving good-bye and saying I’d be coming back to reinforce the idea that indeed I would be returning.  This stage was bothersome but it was one of my favorites…Justin was now as spoiled for affection and nearness to me as my other babies had been and I loved it!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Book Entry 152: 1981 New Plans for our Family Part Three

Heidi turned out to be right.  We did get to teach Justin everything.  The first thing was an appreciation for freedom which Justin had never known.  When we got home we put several toys in the new play pen we’d bought and started to put him in to play with them.  Right away that panicked look came over his face and he began his egg-beater turning motion.  Justin knew he was helpless; he had no power to stop himself from being restricted in some contraption again.  I just couldn’t do it!  Instead I turned from the playpen and put him down on the floor, took the toys out and scattered them around, and sat down to watch. 
Justin crawled through the whole house, going from one room to the next, never looking back, always going forward.  He was free for the first time.  The kids took turns following him, encouraging him, talking to him.  

Everyone wanted to be “first” at something with Justin.  Heidi was first to feed him in his high chair.  Robin was first to stretch his legs down to touch the floor when he was in his walker.  Adam claimed the right to be first to take a bath with Justin since he was the only other boy in the family.  We put extra bubble bath in the tub and started the water.  Justin was reluctant to get in so Adam took his place in the tub first.  As the bubbles got higher Justin finally allowed us to set him into the tub.  Almost instantly Adam jumped out and grabbed his towel.  When we asked why he’d gotten out just as Justin had gotten in his answer gave us all a laugh.  “I was the first and last to take a bath with him until he learns to pee before he gets in the tub.  I don’t like yellow snow or yellow bubbles!”
In a matter of days Justin was walking along the edge of the couch and coffee table.  He grew to love his walker and the speed it gave him.  We never used the play pen for anything other that a toy box.  None of us could stand to put him in it.  It was just a couple of weeks before Justin was walking on his own.
We had regular visits from the social worker after Justin joined our family.  She would comment on his progress and how he fit right into our family.  During one of these visits we were told Justin had been removed from his home when he was about three months old.  Conditions had been bad for our little guy.  He had been taken directly to the hospital where he spent three days recovering when he was removed from his first home.  The two gentlemen who removed him told the hospital it is customary to make at least two visits to a home before a child is removed but Justin was removed immediately when these two men saw him.  He was hungry and screaming.  At the hospital it was noted both of Justin’s eardrums were broken and oozing infection.
The first week Justin was with us Adam asked to share him at school.  I took him to Adam's class at the appropriate time.  Mrs. Has Ellison asked Adam to stand and tell about his new brother.  He was so proud to share Justin.  I put him in the middle of the kids who were all sitting in a circle.  Justin just sat there.  I think Adam was hoping he’d do something and when he didn’t Adam commented to his class, “This is my new brother, we got him last week but he can’t do anything yet!”
When Justin had been with us for about two months our worker said the foster mother had asked her if we’d give her a picture of Justin.  I explained my surprise and disappointment that she hadn’t taken a single picture of him in the nine months she’d had him in her home.  I sent a message to her that I don’t give out pictures of my children.  I know it was a hateful thing to do but I didn’t think she deserved a picture.  I didn’t think she deserved to remember Justin.  I was trying everything I could to make sure he didn’t remember her and what it had been like for him in their house.
I really think the lack of expression shown by Justin was his way to let this world where no one had cared about him that he didn't care either.  Sometimes, when I tried to think about what he was feeling, I'd just sit watching him and cry.  He fought caring about our family with all his might.  He would sit with us but we were never allowed to hug him.  That was hard.  I love to hug my babies and this little guy would start to twist and turn any time we even started to put our arms around him.  I think somehow it might be related to being tied into all the contraptions before we had him.  He didn’t want to be restricted so we all learned to live without those hugs we so desperately wanted.
For about a month Justin kept his somber face never smiling.  He didn’t care where he was, he didn’t care where anyone else was.  Slowly things began to change.  One Sunday morning as I was leaving Justin in the nursery, instead of seeming to not care, his eyes followed me as I left.  My friend said that for the hour I was gone he kept looking at the door where he’d last seen me.  When I came to get him after church he saw me then looked away.  I came in, picked him up, and went out to join the others in the car.  The next week when I dropped him at the nursery my friend said he watched the door and got a tear in his eye before beginning to play.  This went on for a few more weeks.
Heidi and Robin were drilling words into Justin all the time.  Other than their own names, mommy, daddy, ball, horse, socks, shirt, and other items around the house were on the list.  Justin began responding and calling objects by their names.  The girls were beside themselves with joy. 
One afternoon, when Justin had been with us for about three months, I was cleaning the kitchen.  The sink was full of bubbles.  Justin crawled up behind me and touched the back of my leg.  “Mommy,” in such a precious little voice came flooding into my ears.  I turned looking at him and said, “Justin.”  He looked at me and again said, “Mommy.”  I hadn’t imagined it!  I didn’t even clean the bubbles off my hands, I sat down next to Justin and laughed and cried.  I scooped more bubbles from the sink and we pushed them up and down each other’s arms.  It was an afternoon I’ll never forget.  He had come to me and spoken to me.  How I longed to scoop him into my arms and hug him, but I dared not, I couldn’t spoil the moment.
It was the next Sunday when I left Justin in the nursery things really began to change.  When he saw the nursery he began to squirm.  When I handed him to my friend he began to scream.  He continued to scream for a good while and then continued whimpering until I returned.  I hate to admit it but I loved that he had screamed.  It was one of the first times he had shown emotion. 
The next few weeks were difficult to maneuver.  Now instead of him not caring where we were Justin had to know every minute where one of us was.  When the kids were home they kept him occupied but during the day while they were at school Justin never, even for one minute, would let me out of his sight.  Still, even when he was comfortable there were no smiles and no hugs.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Book Entry 151: 1981 New Plans for our Family Part Two

We were being asked questions like would we be willing to take a child of mixed race, or unknown race.  Would we take a child with an extra finger or a clubfoot or cleft pallet?  Our Social Worker was asking what imperfections, if any, we would be willing to accept in an adopted child.  I laughed out loud saying, "We have three beautiful kids and none of them are perfect." 
Our worker went on to tell the story of a family who had requested a baby with blue eyes and blond hair.  This couple had been called to the hospital to see a beautiful newborn baby.  The baby was perfectly healthy.  The baby was one day old and they could take her home with them that very day.  She had blue eyes and curly red hair.  When the couple saw the baby's hair they refused to take her.  I couldn't believe my ears.  A childless couple would pass up a beautiful healthy baby girl because she had the wrong color hair.  Perhaps that baby would be their only chance and they refused her.  At first I was mad at the couple and felt sorry for the baby.  Later, I felt sorry for the couple and relieved the baby had not gone to them. 
We signed all the appropriate papers specifying we’d consider a child with a handicap we could work with.  We weren’t comfortable taking a child with a catastrophic problem because we had other children at home depending on us.  We had to keep their future secure.  We’d take either a boy or a girl as long as he or she was younger than Adam.  It was important to us to keep the kids in age order.
Our worker filled us in with a little more information on the brothers we had refused.  They had been living with their grandmother in a trailer.  When neighbors noticed there hadn’t been anyone in or out of the trailer for a few days they had gone in to find the reason.  The grandmother had passed away.  She had been dead for three or four days.  They found the little guy snuggled with his grandmother in her bed; his diapers hadn’t been changed for days.  The older boy was foraging for food in the kitchen cabinets.  The refrigerator was open.  Milk in the carton was spoiled.    There was an empty bread bag and an empty box for cereal.  They had eaten just about everything available. 
Months later we found learned these boys were currently undergoing therapy to recover from their trauma.  The therapist said it could take years for them to fully recover because as they grew older they would understand more clearly just what they’d been through.  The decision we made turned out to be the right one after all.
It was early in the evening at our next meeting when our social worker pulled us aside and asked if we’d like to see a little boy who had just become available.  She told us he was eleven months old.  Diapers and bottles flashed before my eyes.  I’m sure we were standing with our mouths open in shock.  My mind was saying “Oh no.  No way, not a baby, not all that work!”  At the same time Larry and I both blurted out, ”Yes.”
We got Justin the next weekend, nine months after started the process.  Somehow that seemed fitting to us.  All our other babies had taken nine months too!  Our social worker called and asked to come meet Justin at his foster parent’s house.  When we arrived we were told he was a bit destructive.  They said he continually tore the sheets off his crib and threw the toys out of his play pen.  We stayed for a while to visit noticing all the little glass figurines and collectables around on the tables and display counters.  When they brought Justin into the room and placed him on the floor he took off crawling at full speed as if to get away.  
It was an odd feeling visiting a home and seeing a child that was being offered to us.  It felt like we were intruding.  Even when we left Larry and I commented to one another how odd it felt.  Justin never smiled at us even once.  We were afraid he might not like us!
The next day we kept the kids out of school and made the day into a great adventure.  When we arrived at the home the next morning the kids couldn’t wait to get to the door.  Adam said to hurry and ring the bell because his new brother was waiting for us.  Heidi and Robin couldn’t hold still or quit giggling.  When the door opened and it was like a wave of cold water covered all of us.  The smiles stopped, the giggling stopped, the questions and pushing stopped.  We entered, introduced our children to the woman and to Justin.  Justin had a diaper on and a T shirt he’d outgrown a long time ago.  There was no need of a visit this time.  Our social worker took Justin from the woman and handed him to me.  It felt as though she was handing me any one of my other children.  It felt so different from the day before.  Now I was holding my child and I wanted out of that house!  Justin was eleven months old.
Larry asked if there was anything we needed to do and we were told to go home and enjoy our family.  When we left the only thing we were given other than what Justin was wearing was a bottle half filled with milk.  When we left Justin didn’t cry or even look for the woman who was suppose to be his temporary mother.  Any one of my kids would have gone kicking and screaming if they’d been taken from me.  I couldn’t even fathom the indifference Justin felt for that family or they felt for him.  As I left the house I asked the woman if I might have a couple pictures of Justin as a baby for his baby book.  She answered by saying they never took pictures of foster kids.  It seemed so odd to me that she wouldn’t want to remember the little ones that had been in her care. It didn’t take long for us to realize he had never been played with or nurtured, only fed and clothed.  He’d never been cuddled, only put in his crib.  He’d never been worked with, only put in his play pen.  He’d been put in and tied in to one thing or another all the time.  No wonder the little guy tore the sheets off his bed and threw his toys.  He was begging for someone to hold him or to play with him.
While the older kids piled into the van and began putting on their seat belts I started to put Justin into his car seat.  He didn’t mind me putting him in the seat but when I started to bring the brace down over his head that would hold him he began to churn like an egg beater.  He tried everything to not be trapped in that car seat.  I’ll never forget the look of terror on his face as he realized what I was doing.
Our first stop with our new boy was a children’s shop in Turlock.  We had nothing for him so we needed everything.  Justin was eleven months when we got him and as far as we could tell had never been worked with as far as teaching him to walk or even to communicate.  He didn’t use any words and he never changed his blank facial expression.  While we were shopping he crawled under one of the clothing racks and banged his head.  It made such a loud sound everyone in the shop heard it and expected a scream to follow.  Not even a whimper came with the goose egg lump on his forehead. 
When we slid Justin into a walker we noticed he didn’t straighten out his legs toward the floor.  His legs remains curled up under the walker.  He had never even been in a walker before!  I got tears in my eyes and said I couldn’t believe a family could have a little child in the house and never try to teach him anything.  Heidi came to my rescue.  She said right away she was glad his old family didn’t teach him anything because that meant we got to teach him everything.  I really appreciated that statement. 

Friday, March 16, 2012

Book Entry 150: 1980 New Plans for our Family

It was a cold February evening.  Larry and I were watching television.  The kids were playing on the floor.  The fireplace was crackling out wonderful soothing sounds.  A commercial started playing on the television.  In a matter of seconds all five of us were glued to the scene unfolding before our eyes.
The commercial was showing starving children.  It was saying how many of these little ones went to bed hungry every night.  It showed their little extended bellies.  It showed them huddled together to keep warm.  It showed their naked little bodies.  It went on to say many of the children would not live to grow up.  It said many of those children would be dead before we even saw the commercial. 
We all started talking about what a nice thing it would be to give to the makers of the commercial.  Our family was doing well and could afford to offer some help.  We quickly realized we didn’t know much about the organization.  It might be one of those things where for every dollar you give only a few cents actually helps a child and the rest goes to administration.
We quickly stopped thinking about sending money.  Instead we started talking about how much we had.  We lived on a farm with plenty of room, we had a big house, and we had plenty of love in our family.  We decided to go in a different direction.
Even though I could no longer bear a child we decided to add another child to our family.  We decided to try to adopt.
The following week Larry and I went to the county office in Merced.  We met with a social worker, filled out some papers, and were told the steps to adoption.  Merced was just starting a program called fos-adopt.  It is a program where a child not yet adoptable but needing a foster home could be placed in a home.  The theory is when the child becomes adoptable it will not need to be uprooted from the foster home and placed in the adoptive home.  At that time the program was just being developed and no child had been placed using it yet.
We were asked if we thought we could foster a child and if the circumstance developed, give up the child.  We shared with our social worker we had already been separated, by death, from three of our daughters yet our family flourished. 
We were told we’d need to attend parenting classes through the county, then a home study, then a waiting period to get a child.  We were told there were so many people wanting kids we’d probably have to wait six months to a year to start the parenting class.
Three days later, while I was cleaning out the freezer, the phone rang!  We were scheduled to begin parenting classes the following week.  Those classes were very interesting.  The reasons people gave for wanting to foster a child ranged from the obvious need for money to a desperate couple in their forties who could not have children.  When we went around the circle telling of our families we told we had three children at home.  We got some very surprised and angry looks. 
The classes went of for six weeks.  It was near the end of April when our social worker came to us during the break on the night of the last class.  We couldn’t believe our ears when she said she had two little boys that needed to be placed asking if we were interested.  The boys were four and six years old. 
We were leaving for Disneyland the following weekend.  She asked us to think about the boys over the weekend and call her the following week.  We talked about the boys every time we were alone.  One of the criteria we had agreed on was that our youngest, Adam, would remain the same in the age order of any new additions.  In other words a new child would need to be younger than Adam.  Adam was five. 
We met with the social worker the following week.  We told her we were going to stand by our original decision to keep Adam’s place in the family. 
In August we were asked if we’d take a group of three siblings.  There was a girl seven years old and two younger brothers.  This time we happened to be going to Santa Cruz the coming weekend.  Again our worker told us to talk it over.  Again we had a happy but anxious vacation with the kids.  We took long walks on the beach and talked of all the possibilities.  I remember watching Larry kicking in the sand as if an answer would appear.  It didn’t.  We thought, we considered, and we prayed.
  Again when we met with our worker the following week we declined.  She made the comment she wasn’t sure if we wanted Adam older than just boys or girls also.  We apologized.  We felt badly for the kids but our first concern had to be our kids at home.  We asked if the fact we had declined two offers would stop us from getting more offers.  She laughed and said no.  She said it showed we were a strong family and probably put us even higher on the list of parents to pursue.