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With Death and Injustice for All

Our county was supposedly established on freedom. Justice. The pursuit of Happiness. However, when it comes to welfare and safety of children, we have failed and we have done so immensely. Don't believe me? Take a look for yourself.

In the great state of Pennsylvania...

Jan. – Dec. 2015:

Child Fatalities: 34

Child Near Fatalities: 58

58% of the families of fatalities were already known to Children and Youth Services (CYS) - (had an active case, had been reuinified, or the case had been successfully closed.) 55% of the families of near fatalities were already known to CYS.

 Jan. – Dec. 2016:

Fatalities: 46

Near Fatalities: 79

Of the fatalities and near fatalities, 66% of these families were already in CYS’s care or had been successfully closed, 22% had not been known to CYS, and 12% were not specified.

 Jan. – May 2017:

Fatalities: 42

Near Fatalities: 73

No reports have been given at this time regarding how many of these families were already known to CYS, and 7 months still remain in this calendar year.

Look at the numbers. Just look at them. Even to an untrained layman, it is more than obvious that there’s a rise in fatalities and near fatalities of children each year – and that the statistics for 2017 were only for the first 5 months of the year! It is also quite clear that each year, CYS is aware of these cases in over half of the families who have had fatalities or near fatalities. They've had active cases, had “successfully” closed cases, or the children had been taken from foster care and reunified with their birth parents, only for those children to wind up dead or severely wounded.

If these numbers aren’t enough to cause some kind of emotional reaction in our communities, then I fear for all of us, not just our kids.

In the 2017 records, 86% of the children who died and 60% of the children who nearly died were under the age of 5 years old. These are children who have not yet entered school. Also in 2017, 74% of children who died and 77% of children who nearly died were under the age of 3… children that CYS themselves determine are too young to self-report, therefore they continue to be harmed until they are hospitalized or they pass away. In fact, just last year, the state of PA put in their own annual statistics that out of the children who died in 2016, 94% of the time, the perpetrator was a parent of that child. For near fatalities, 89% of these cases listed the parent as the perpetrator. These children are with their perpetrators for most, if not all, of their time until they enter school. These very kids may have no other safe person set eyes on them if not the caseworkers in charge of determining their fate.

In 2016, 44,259 reports were made to Child Protective Services (CPS) in the state of Pennsylvania. Of these calls, 37,853 were made by mandated reporters – individuals trained to know the signs of abuse and neglect in children. And out of these calls, CYS determined that only 4,597 of these allegations were substantiated. That means that the other 33,256 calls made by doctors, teachers, day care workers, therapists, nurses, and police officers are deemed to be not severe enough for CYS to even open a case, let alone remove a child from the home. This is despite the fact that 1,952 calls made were cases of repeated abuse. In these cases, even though CYS already knows the family from prior dealings, only 13.6% of these cases of repeated abuse were substantiated and a case was opened.

In addition to the 44,259 CPS reports made in the same year, 151,087 General Protective Services (GPS) reports were made. GPS reports are “those reports that do not rise to the level of suspected child abuse but allege a need for intervention to prevent serious harm to children. The department is responsible for receiving and transmitting reports where GPS concerns are alleged” (page 24 in the dhs.pa.gov 2016 reports). Of those calls, 48% of the reports were screened out and not assessed at all, whereas 21% were validated, requiring CYS to attempt to visit the home at least once. The state provided no information on what happened to the other 31% of calls made to GPS.

However, of the calls that were looked into by Children and Youth Services, they found that the highest percentage of problems in these homes (by more than double) was due to parental substance abuse. This information is increasingly frustrating when you factor in the comment made by a Beaver County CYS worker that if a parent is a “functioning addict and there are no broken bones” they cannot and will not intervene. Knowing that these “functioning addicts” are the biggest reason that children are dying or nearly dying should make that a difficult comment for anyone to wrap their minds around.

Also in 2016, 166,971 calls were made to Childline, the crisis hotline for abused and neglected children. These calls go to the local CYS agency, the local police (who have informed me that they do not receive these reports for at least several weeks after a call has been made), and the District Attorney. Of these calls, 155,911 were answered, 10,957 calls were abandoned (there is no description as to what this means on the government website), and 103 calls were deflected due to not meeting abuse or neglect criteria. Since the state of PA was given $1.811 billion in funding for child welfare services, and since there appears to be such a high number of calls by trained professionals regarding abused and neglected kids, it shocks me that only 13% of this budged was used for investigations into these allegations (this 13% INCLUDES the salaries for personnel that work these investigations).

(As I live and work in the Western Region of PA, this is where my main focus has been. However, if you are interested in looking at the statistics for your own counties, the links to the necessary government websites are listed at the end of this post.)

Fatality and Near Fatality Accounts of 4 core Western Region Counties:

Allegheny County:

1)      18-month-old female died of serious physical neglect by her mother. Mom was on heroin and morphine which the child ingested because the drugs were left on the bed next to the child. A sibling was then placed with a grandparent. Mom was sentenced only 30-60 months in jail.

       Prior history with CYS over 6 years (7 GPS calls made).

2)      2-year-old male nearly died of physical abuse by his maternal uncle. Prior to this, the family had a case with Beaver County CYS where the child was placed in a foster home and then given to the maternal uncle and aunt as a kinship placement. The child was shaken severely because the uncle caught him going through the garbage. This lead to a brain bleed and a seizure. The child and a sibling were placed back with the previous Beaver county foster home.

       Both the bio mom AND kinship uncle had previous history with CYS. Mom had reports made on her of sexual abuse, lack of supervision, mental instability, inappropriate discipline, and physical abuse. The uncle’s family had reports made of physical abuse, the oldest 4 of 6 children were acting out sexually, no food or beds, the uncle is an alcoholic, and the aunt has mental health issues).

3)      2-month-old female near fatality due to physical abuse by mom’s boyfriend of 2 weeks. He was tossing the baby 4-5 feet in the air and catching her when her head snapped. Baby girl had internal bleeding, 3 rib fractures, bruises on face and butt, and has shaken baby syndrome. Boyfriend is in jail and the baby is in kinship placement awaiting reunification with mom.

       The family was previously known to CYS.

4)      2-month-old female near fatality due to physical abuse by mom’s ex-boyfriend. Outside in March, the baby was wearing a onesie and a light blanket and ex-boyfriend was reportedly erratically swinging the baby in the car seat from side to side. The male appeared under the influence when police arrived, but he denied using anything and no blood or urine tests were taken. Baby girl was blue and lethargic and had injuries from being violently shaken. She developed seizures, blood clots, and was put on a ventilator. Ex-boyfriend is in jail and child is with bio mom.

       Family was not previously known to CYS.

5)      18-month-old near fatality due to physical abuse by babysitter. Investigations seem to point to it being accidental, but the sitter is still being questioned for possible medical neglect.

       History of CYS with Mom but not babysitter.

6)      3-month-old male near fatality due to physical abuse by mom and step-mom. Baby had bone fractures in skull, rib fractures, retinal hemorrhages, and retinal folds – these injuries are believed to have occurred between 7 and 10 days old according to the doctors. Step-mom was arrested and is awaiting trial. Baby and 2 siblings were placed with grandparents before being reunified with mom 2 months later.

       History of CYS with mom for deplorable housing conditions and mom throwing things at the children.

7)      23-month-old female near fatality due to physical abuse by an unknown individual (probably an in-home nurse). Baby was born with multiple health issues and was receiving 16 hours of medical in-home care each day. A non-regular nurse for the child did an 8-hour shift and somehow the child ingested about 1 cup of salt, which her ill body couldn’t process.

       The family had no prior CYS contact.

8)      8-year-old male died due to physical abuse and neglect by his mom and her boyfriend. Child was unresponsive and had blood around his mouth, bruising all over his body, severe brain trauma, and hemorrhaging at the brain stem. Boyfriend is in jail awaiting trial and 2 other siblings were placed with grandparents.

       Prior CYS history for physical maltreatment. This was apparently unfounded so no services were provided.

9)      6-month-old male near fatality due to physical abuse by mother. Baby had skull fracture, scalp hematoma, multiple brain bleeds, and a seizure. Mom admitted to hitting the baby in the head with a hard plastic bottle and punching his head 5-6 times while frustrated with one of the victim’s 6 siblings. She also body slammed him 2 times. Baby was placed in foster care and mom was placed in the psychiatric unit while she awaits trial. Other siblings were placed in kinship care.

       History of CYS due to lack of supervision and maltreatment towards an older sibling. Mom and victim child both tested positive for marijuana at the time of birth as well. CYS couldn’t assess the family because they moved to Ohio. CYS then closed the case with no follow up or forwarding to the Ohio child welfare system.

10)  3-week-old male died due to serious physical abuse by mom. Baby died smothered next to intoxicated/high mother who had passed out on the bed with the newborn. (GPS and CPS reports were already filed due to mom being on drugs and alcohol.) Kinship care was given for other siblings, then they went to a shelter, and then they went to their dad, who also was using drugs and alcohol. Mom was incarcerated for 5 weeks before she was released and sent back to jail for 4 months.

       Prior history with CYS for 9 years. GPS reports made for drugs and alcohol, domestic violence, and the oldest two children were previously in foster care. 1 CPS report was made for physical maltreatment, which was unsubstantiated.

11)  17-month-old male died by physical abuse from mom and dad. Mom threatened to harm and kill the baby and 2-year-old because the dad had allegedly had an affair. Mom sent text messages of this to the dad but he didn’t take her threats seriously. Mom then sent text pictures and videos of her harming the children and smothering the baby with a pillow, causing him to die. The 2-year-old was placed with dad until CYS found out he had failed to intervene in the harming of the children. She was then placed with an aunt and is awaiting adoption. Mom was arrested and awaits trial. Dad was arrested and released on bond.

       Prior history with CYS and current CYS involvement. 2 GPS reports regarding parental substance abuse and allowing a sex offender to have access to the children – a case was opened briefly and mom was ordered a drug and alcohol assessment but no further actions were deemed necessary.

12)  2-month-old male near fatality due to physical abuse by mom and dad. Baby ingested methadone and was given Narcan to revive him. It was more methadone than was possible to have been in breastmilk. Baby was placed in foster care, then kinship care. Both parents were in jail and then released awaiting trial.

       No prior CYS history.

13)  5-month-old female near fatality due to physical abuse by male babysitter. Baby had hemorrhaging, bruised chest, and retinal bleeds. Babysitter awaits trial.

       Prior CYS with family – 5 GPS reports made between 2013 and 2016 when the baby died. Reports were for domestic violence and an older sibling being grabbed by the father. The father how has a protective order against him and the kids reside with the mom.

14)  2-year-old female near fatality due to physical abuse by mom. Mother left a bag of suboxone and other medication out on a table while she went to help her other child get ready for school. Baby ate numerous pills and was given Narcan 2 times for survival. Baby was returned home with a safety plan, which mom violated. Kids were sent to an aunt’s house and then to their father. Dad had a prior PFA and was ordered in-home services and batterer’s therapy. Mom awaits trial.

       History of CYS – 3 GPS reports in 2015 for physical maltreatment and housing issues.

Beaver County:

15)  2-year-old male near fatality due to physical abuse by mother. 1 week prior, GPS was made for deplorable housing, little food in the home, and mom was suspected of using heroin and pain pills. Multiple reports were made that the child had bruising on his face and was locked in a room. Police and CYS brought the child to the doctor and he had burn marks on his skin, scratches, bruises, and internal bleeding. Mother admitted to abusing him and he was placed with his grandparents.

       History of CYS involvement due to drug use and not caring for the child – the child had a prior skull fracture and torn frenulum in his mouth. CYS followed up for 6 months at the home and then closed the case.

16)  3-month old female near fatality due to physical abuse by mom and dad. Baby had a skull fracture, hemorrhages, cerebral edema, acute AND healing rib fractures, fractures to both legs, and retinal hemorrhages. These then led to seizures and deep vein thrombosis. She was sent to her grandparent. Mother admitted to shaking the baby while mad at the baby’s dad. Dad didn’t intervene to stop her. Mom was arrested and awaits trial. Dad was not arrested.

       History of CYS involvement for physical abuse of her older 6-year-old child.

Lawrence County:

17)  2-month-old female died due to physical abuse by mom’s boyfriend. Baby had cardiac arrest due to blunt force trauma to the skull. Boyfriend was arrested and awaits trial and the sibling is with the mother.

       History of CYS with the family from 2010-2016 – 3 GPS reports and 1 CPS report for inappropriate discipline, substance abuse, deplorable housing, and physical abuse by mom and boyfriend. Mental health evaluations and parenting instructions were offered.

18)  2-year-old female near fatality due to physical abuse by dad. He said the toddler fell down the stairs while mom was at work but the doctors reported that the injuries couldn’t possibly have occurred from that. The baby had hematomas, an inflamed colon, abnormal liver enzymes, retinal hemorrhages, and left arm fracture due to violent shaking. Mom supported dad’s story. The investigation continues.

       Prior CYS history for parental drug and alcohol abuse, poor home conditions, lack of supervision and limited food. This was not substantiated, however.

My Observations:

1)   Most accounts of fatalities and near fatalities occurred with families known to the CYS workers and were getting services, had been successfully closed out, or abuse couldn’t be substantiated.

Birth parents are given so much leeway that kids are dying or being severely injured while they “work to get themselves together”.

The “services provided” to these families are obviously proving ineffective. (By the way, services are often recommended but cannot be mandated unless the case proceeds to court, which is avoided at all costs, leaving treatment up to the choice of the perpetrator!)

Prior CYS involvement and multiple GPS/CPS reports are being ignored until children die.

2)    When children and families change counties or states, cases are often closed and not transferred.

3)    Almost all fatalities and near fatalities are by parents.

Therefore, parenting classes and evaluations are not working.

4)    Drugs and Alcohol abuse are the highest leading contributor in validated GPS reports (twice the percentage of the next highest contributing factor)!

Drug and alcohol evaluations and classes (again, if they are even mandated) are also not working.

5)    The way the state determines successful permanency is through adoption or reunification.

Reunification can be done quickly, but adoption usually takes well over a year.

Statistics from the previous year determine the funds for the coming year.

Caseworkers are told to reunify instead of placing children in foster care or adoption at all costs to show a higher success rate of permanency for the year.

This leads to increased CYS funding instead of a decrease in funds for the following year.

6)    Why are so many cases not assessed or screened out since most of the calls are made by mandated reporters who are trained to know the signs of childhood abuse and neglect?

Are these weeded out so that hard cases don’t effect funding?

7)    Since many of these death and near death rates can be proven inaccurate (on the low end) by local newspapers and police reports, I would question the integrity of the agencies and workers writing up reports, filing reports, and completing the annual documentation.

And now that you know, what are you going to do about it?

Here are some solutions! First of all, we have to start with our local politicians. Commissioners oversee Children and Youth Services (CYS) and yet they are never notified of these issues. Following up with local DA's (District Attorneys) and the Attorney General are next. Working with your state legislative office to help promote new laws to protect children or change existing laws - and on the state level, we have to find a way to get the state treasurers to re-quantify how "success" is determined for the counties. If we take away the burden of finding permanency for a removed child within the same year, CYS can actually focus more on adoption as an option. But right now, adoptions take longer than a year and reunification doesn't - so they reunify or don't remove children at all in order to not lose their budget (and hence, their jobs) the following year. We also have the option of raising awareness via the news, protests, and getting national attention from sources willing to take on causes like this.

http://www.dhs.pa.gov/cs/groups/webcontent/documents/document/c_241811.pdf

http://www.dhs.pa.gov/cs/groups/webcontent/documents/document/c_260880.pdf

http://www.dhs.pa.gov/cs/groups/webcontent/documents/document/c_260881.pdf

http://www.dhs.pa.gov/cs/groups/webcontent/documents/document/c_260882.pdf

(These reports were divided into 4 quarters over the 2016 year.)

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The Heartbreak of Living

            I would say that my heart breaks on an average of 25 times a day. Some days, some months, that number is significantly more. I think that’s the price we pay for loving people. Honestly, I can’t think of any relationship or situation I’ve been in where there hasn’t been a time of heartbreak. Sometimes I’m even the one doing the breaking. But at the end of the day, the only way to avoid this pain is to hide away and ignore the world entirely – not look at the news, not read social media, not have a family or friends, not leave the house. In a sense, to avoid heartbreak, you can’t actually live.

            However, since I’ve chosen life, I’ve consequently chosen some pain. And true to form, when it rains, it pours. In the midst of grieving a dear friend’s illness, I’ve continued to hear horrendous reports on our little Isaac’s situation. My heart breaks continuously for these two situations alone. Then I’ve had to deal with a personal ordeal that has left me devastated and questioning things about myself that I haven’t felt in a long time – feelings of insecurity and vulnerability – things that have reignited my panic attacks with a vengeance. And then I read the 2016 and what is to date of the 2017 Child Protective Services Annual Reports, only to find that the PA fatality and near fatality rates have more than doubled in this year alone… and we still have 6 months to go! So, my heart broke significantly more, not just for my own situations, but for the hurting children all around me.

            Naturally, in the middle of all of this, my own children decide to let their RAD hang out all over the place. It was only 9:30 am yesterday when I thought I was going to have to admit my oldest to the hospital for his rage (which the poor fellas doing construction on our new house had the privy of hearing). He was told “No”… that was it. That was the “big trigger”. The mooing cries started. The punching his head came next, followed by screaming at a pitch that would compete with a dog whistle. (Obviously I was to blame because I couldn’t understand what he was saying.) As he picked up a toy and cocked his arm, ready to bust out the window in our toy room (it took him over 6 months to save up to get his bedroom window fixed, by the way), I saw my toddler standing in his direct aim. We’d already been to the hospital twice within a week and I instantly feared that my youngest was going to be next.

            Jumping in front of him as quickly as I could, Cameron screamed that he hated me. That I’m a child abuser. That I always blame him for everything. That I’m the worst mother in the world. And when I told him that I was calling the police if he didn’t calm down immediately, he screamed some more and went upstairs to flip his bed. This happened 10 minutes before I had to leave and take Taylor to camp. Knowing that Cameron was hoping his sister would have to miss for the day, I was going to move the earth to make sure she made it, even if she was late!

Thankfully, my pastor’s wife jumped in her car and came to sit at my house while I got my daughter to camp, our builder was ready to step in and assist if needed, and a good friend picked my daughter up from camp, keeping her for a few hours while Cameron eventually calmed in his room.

            That same daughter, however, got mad at Wyatt only a few hours later, shoving him off her tall bed! I went running into the room upon hearing my toddler wailing in a heap on the floor while my daughter tried telling me the most physically impossible stories about what “could have happened” in order to avoid getting in trouble. There was no remorse when I told her that he could have been severely hurt. No. She cried when I told her she was in her room for the night and would miss choir practice.

I screamed like a lunatic for the hundredth time that day, ensuring my craziness to our neighbors. I sobbed, I slammed my door a few times, and I did a whole lot of hyperventilating! To sum things up, I was the perfect picture of an untherapeutic disaster, but I couldn’t have cared less. All I wanted to do was be by myself and sleep for a super long time.

But that’s the thing with choosing to live… you don’t get to step away from hard parenting moments. You don’t get to heal your friends or stop child abuse, fix broken hearts or save the world. What you get instead is an infinite amount of opportunities to be loved. Prayers from a parent, encouraging texts from fellow mothers, a pastor’s wife who will drop what she’s doing to step into your craziness, friends who will listen to your prattling daughter when you just can’t, children who eventually apologize (sometimes), and a God who is bigger than all of your heart breaks.

As always, I blog to process and to heal. My only hope is that someone out there who is also going through heart break will realize that it’s just the cost of living and loving deeply. Look for those moments to be loved back and wrap yourself up tightly in them… even if it’s just a little love from a blogger out in Western Pennsylvania. My heart is with yours.

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"God help us, it's almost summer!"

How is it possible that these children are going to be out of school in a matter of days? How?? Don’t get me wrong, I am literally dragging can to make lunches each night at this point, and thank God for the blessed teachers who have stopped giving homework because Lord knows this mama is basically over checking math facts and quizzing vocab words. But isn’t there a place that these little people can go until fall arrives again? Because quite honestly, it’s May 24th and I already want to staple all of their mouths closed.

“Shivonne, aren’t you overreacting just a bit?” some may ask.

Um, no. And go kick rocks, by the way.

So, Wyatt has taken to baby talking. Not just acting whiney, but all-out baby talking “goo goo ga ga” crap. That is, of course, when he’s not screeching at the top of his lungs like a little girl, mooing like a cow, or singing the ABCs… which I’m daily regretting having taught him. And then there’s the fact that this kid is CONSTANTLY talking about food being in my boobies and hugging my uterus with a weird kind of fondness in his eyes. This child, in his best baby talk voice, is asking if he can go BACK INTO my belly and be a baby.

Have I don’t something to traumatize him? I mean, is it possible that there is some kind of psychological damage that’s been done? Did I nurse him too long? Because honestly, what child asks to re-enter the womb? It’s creepy and disturbing… especially when he pats my chest and tells me he loves my “bellies” so much because they’re just so squishy. And then he thanks me for having them… because it was obviously my choice.

Yeah, these are things that could end any day now and I would be quite fine with it.

Cameron, on the other hand, makes me want to staple his mouth shut for multiple reasons. First of all, the kid is majorly obsessed with particular things for a few days at a time and can think of absolutely nothing else but his momentary fixation. Pokemon cards, bay blades, planting his 2x2 foot garden, fidget spinners, fit bits, geocaching… whatever the fad for that second is the only thing he will speak of for days at a time. It’s kind of like living with a redneck Kardashian, minus the nude selfies (thank you, Jesus).

Secondly, I would like to staple Cameron’s mouth shut because, for those brief moments he isn’t obsessing over things, he sits there with his mouth hanging open as if he’s trying to catch flies. He will quite literally sit like that and drool until someone tells him to close his mouth! My husband and I have affectionally labeled this “Resting Doofus Face”. (I know, we are horrible people… and yet we manage to still live with ourselves.)

My 11-year-old came home the other day and was telling me all about a girl in his class who “has the hots” for him and how they’re practically dating. I mean, I tried to be excited I guess, but really, all I could think was that this poor female child must be blind and deaf because no one could possibly be drawn to the drooling and all this obsessive prattling about boring stuff. It’s just not possible. So, until I’m proven wrong, this girl is nothing more than a figment of my son’s imagination – someone he has invented because he needed one person in his life who wouldn’t constantly nag him to close his mouth.

Then there’s Taylor. The girl child who talks incessantly about NOTHING. I cannot fathom saying so many words in a single day without having accomplished a single productive conversation. It’s incomprehensible how much she talks about back-handsprings and bracelets and her hair! Seriously, is there nothing else in her head? Is there nothing else of importance that happens on a day to day basis? Why would she think that anyone cares to hear her tell them 17 times in a row how surprised she is that her new shorter hair will still go up in a ponytail? Like, oh my gosh, right?

excessive talking.jpg

I simply cannot and will not feign excitement at one more cartwheel. I just can’t. The quality of my life desperately depends on me walking away from her when she jumps for joy and wants me to do the same when she manages to flip or flop for the 274th time in a single afternoon. And it keeps her alive that I have restraint enough to walk away from her when she repetitiously states the obvious every few seconds.

“Wow, it’s raining.”

“Wow, it’s still raining.”

“Hey, did you see it rain?”

“Is it supposed to rain tomorrow?”

“I like rain.”

“Oooo, it looks like the rain may start back up again any second…or maybe just sprinkle…or it could thunderstorm…no, I bet it’ll just rain…”

This makes me want to throat punch her. She sees me working on bills or talking on the phone or choosing songs for church and THESE are the moments she talks the most about nothing. And the sad thing is, even if I gave her my undivided attention 24/7, it wouldn’t come close to being enough. So, I try to hide from her until she leaves for school each morning.

Except school is almost out! There will very soon be NO MORE hiding. There will just be minutes and hours and weeks and months of quality family time, filled with nothing but stupid talk. Babyish whines. Repetition. Drool.

I can only pray for patience so many times before all that’s within me is gonna hit the fan, so God help us all this summer. You, me, and all of these wildly loud and ridiculous children. God help us.

#TeachersAreOfficiallySaintsInMyBook

 

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A Mother's Day Reminder

Today is Mother’s Day. I have children (11 and 9) who were adopted, one foster child (4) whom we lost, and one birth child (who just turned 3 yesterday). In our house we have mental health issues, social delays, and the inability for each person to pee on the potty consistently each day. To top things off, we own a LOT of dog hair. In fact, we get so busy that I might even forget that we own the 3 dogs entirely if it weren’t for the constant reminder of hair and dander floating to and fro as we rush in and out of the door each day to get go our millions of errands and appointments.

To sum things up, our life is one of chaos.

I remember a few years back my oldest son and I were at the mall (back when we had time for such luxuries). We ran into a child from his class and Cameron was anxious to introduce me. The next day he came home from school proudly announced that his friend had a crush on me. The sense of joy this gave my son, that he could have a mom “cute enough” to be crushed on by a peer, was priceless. And I, needless to say, felt flattered.

Fast forward 3 years…

Cameron and I ran into this same peer a few months back in a church parking lot. Cameron made small talk with the boy by saying, “Hey, remember when you had a crush on my mom?” This other child then looked over at me and dismissively said, “Eh, she’s looking a little old now…”

Um, ouch?

My son felt the need to tell me this as if HIS feelings were hurt! I gave myself a quick check in my side mirror of our van as I processed the child’s words. It was then that I noticed that my hair was thrown up haphazardly and my make-up had worn off as the day had gone on. I didn’t display the same kind of attractiveness that I once had, and this was apparent to my son AND his friends. It didn’t take long before I began to second guess the state of my house, the quality of school lunches I pack for my kids, and the fact that I’m often too busy to play a game or build a fort when asked. By the time I’d returned home, I was practically in a tail spin about my inadequacies as a mother. Naturally, children finding us old and unattractive does this to a mama!

But today, as my husband and three remaining children gathered around me, doting me with cards, gifts, and handmade notes, I felt tremendously blessed. I also felt something else that surprised me greatly.

I felt adequate.

All of the things that creep into my mind throughout the days and the months, the things that point out all my flaws – those things are nothing in comparison to being the mother that MY kids need me to be. I mean, I could so easily get hung up on the fact that my weight will probably always have a 15 pound fluctuation… but if my daughter looks at me and sees a strong and confident woman, I have succeeded. I may grieve the loss of a child and show this weakness to my other children at times when the pain becomes too much to keep inside… but if they see me rise after I weep, then I have succeeded. My house may be cluttered and my legs be unshaven, but if my children observe that my time is being spent on helping the needy and loving the unlovable, then I have succeeded.

Because you see, our successes and failures are not judged by our children in the same light as we judge ourselves. Yes, they may be disappointed when we can’t play every game with them and if they get peanut butter and jelly 3 days in a row (okay, 5 days in a row) – but these things are small in comparison to our example of forgiveness when they lose their minds in tantrums every other day or when they hide their dirty clothes around their rooms instead of putting them in the hamper.

By simply being a mother who loves and disciplines and does her best for her family and her community and her God, we are being the perfect example that our children need. We are being real. And by being real, that means that we are often ragged and lumpy and worn, just like a child’s favorite stuffed toy. By being real, that means that our children see our lives and learn to set expectations of both greatness and resilience during failures, all at the same time.

When we show our children these things, whether or not we feel lovely or disheveled, all together or frazzled – we have succeeded.

Be blessed, be real, and remember that you ARE succeeding.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mamas.

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A Season to Head Bang

Sometimes I feel like I’m banging my head off a brick wall with my kids. Anyone else?? Often, I see no results, well apart from a headache. Other times I simply bang my head out of habit. Brush your teeth… Stop hiding your dirty clothes around your room… Leave your sister alone… Put the milk away… Take your meds… Stop peeing on your things… If it’s not yours, stop touching it… If you break one more toy, I’m never buying you another… Don’t forget your lunch… For God’s sake, wipe your butt! (Bang. Head. Hard.)

I say these things over and over again, not because I truly believe that my children will ever listen to my words, but because it’s my duty as a parent to say them, regardless of the outcome.  I am the teacher and the repeater and the official head banger of our household. I do these things so often that I usually run out of time to do other necessary things (laundry, grocery shopping, showering, etc). Generally, this leaves me feeling dissatisfied with my current life. Go figure, right? But honestly, if all I’m here for is to remind people to do things that they will, inevitably, not do, then what’s the point of my job as a mother?

Last week we had a group therapy session, me and the kiddos. I know with their diagnosis that I have to tread lightly when it comes to praise. If I give too much encouragement or show too much affection, the self-sabotage takes over and the tantrums will ensue. And, despite me knowing this, I praised my children during their therapy session. I was careful to do so quickly and without too much emotion, but it didn’t matter. My son arrived home and had a massive melt down. The “I hate you” train plowed through our home with a vengeance that evening, complete with screaming and slamming and all the back talk you can imagine. He even challenged The Hubs, which is quite insane because my husband is large and fairly intimidating when he scowls.

But none of this mattered to the boy. All that mattered was that I had broken the rules. I had said too much and it was his job to reestablish the chaos, leaving me to find the closest brick wall.

My daughter is much more passive in her need to rectify praise. She wants it desperately. But when she gets it, her body creates all manners of psychosomatic symptoms. She will literally develop any disease, wound, or body ache that she has seen someone else exhibit recently that got them attention. She’s my child who ends up in the nurse’s office with unsubstantiated illnesses that another classmate just had. Sadly, this week we are potty-training the toddler… therefore the way to get our attention and make the world right again was for her own bladder to regress.

She can’t help it, at least I don’t think she can. But it wouldn’t matter if she could or not. For me, it all comes down to the same thing. The fact that I am once again just hear to be the head banger.

The stress of all things concerning Isaac… the constant work I do educating others on watching for child abuse… the never-ending advocacy to get laws changed, to get social workers to do their jobs, to get people to see the horrific things happening to children all around us… it so often seems all for naught. I find myself spinning in circles all day long, only to wake up the next day and spin some more. I fight for my children, I fight with my children, and I fight the world that is harming children – day in and day out, I try to be the best that I can and follow the peculiar rules that this life needs me to follow so that my children don’t go postal on me. I try desperately to protect them and to train them and to remind them of all the good things they need to do and be. I want so much for all my children to be safe. Yet all I do is spin circles because it seems that no matter how much I try, very little changes.

The other day a female cardinal got trapped in our van while the windows were down. She frantically raced from one side of the van to the other, banging her head at every dead end. She also crapped on every surface of our freshly cleaned vehicle, but that’s another story entirely. When I went outside and saw what had happened, I tried to open the van door for this terrified bird to escape. In the meantime, her hubby tried to attack – divebombing every time I neared my van. His partner was trapped and he was frantic. He rammed himself into the glass so many times that he left bloody evidence of his efforts on each window.

Yet it wasn’t until after I got the door opened and both birds were free that I noticed that they have a nest in the tree above our van. These birds aren’t just partners, they are parents.

From that day on, these birds have guarded their nest with a vengeance. Our cars are constantly under attack and we, the owner of a Chrysler Town and County bird cage, are also a threat and are treated as such. From what I’ve read about cardinals, they are incredibly territorial and aggressive towards trespassers. I also read that they are amazing parents because they will go to any means necessary to care for their young.

This includes banging their heads off car windows and squawking wildly all day, every day.

Sound familiar?

We, the head bangers and circle spinners, we are not alone in our daily battle to protect our children. We may repeat endless efforts to ensure their safety and well-being and it may seem like nothing is ever changing… that we’re beating on the same glass of the same van each and every day.

But do you know what else I found while reading about cardinals? That they are often seen as a sign of Hope. That, after a long, bleak winter, the first sign of those bold, red feathers lets the rest of creation know that spring has arrived – that change is coming.

That there is hope for something more.

And sometimes that means a season of banging our heads and squawking loudly each and every day. But it is just that… a season. And in the end, our young will know that we did all we could to protect them and to set them on the best path possible. Because for everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven. We will not spin circles forever, friends. It’s just our time to remind all around us of the Hope that has arrived.

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