September 2008 – Martha Part II

Martha came to our home on September 16, 2008.  We were told very little about her, because the State only knew snippets of what they were told on that day just before 5:00 pm.  We knew that a man named Jacob had come to the Massachusetts courts to claim Martha as his daughter.  When we met him and we heard his story, we fully believe that he is her father.


Jacob’s Story

liberia1Jacob is from Liberia.  He met a pretty girl named Sunday and in 1990 they began a family.  Sunday gave birth to twins, just as the First Liberian Civil War was beginning to rage.  Jacob and Sunday decided together that it would be best to get the girls out of the country.  They loaded Martha and Jaqulyn into a basket and carried the basket on their heads as they hiked through jungles and rural communities to the Ivory Coast, where Sunday and the girls settled.  Jacob went back to Liberia, choosing not to be a soldier, but to serve with the Red Cross to support his new little family.  While he worked in Liberia he received word that one of his little baby girls was unable to get medical help and died at three months of age.  A few years later he received word that his beautiful Sunday had also died.

He returned to see his daughter, Martha, now a five year old, and brought her back to Monrovia, Liberia with him.  Since he was working full time, he paid for Martha to stay with friends of his who had children.  In the home of this older couple, Martha was able to attend school and see her father.

A number of years later Jacob received word that he had been granted permission to live in the United States; he was chosen from a lottery of people.  In 2002, Martha and the family she was living with waved good-bye to Jacob at the airport, all were anticipating when father and daughter would be reunited again.  It was Jacob’s dream to make enough money to bring his daughter with him to America.

In 2003, Martha’s maternal grandmother came to Monrovia to take Martha during her school vacation.  Jacob had encouraged Martha’s connections to her mother’s family, but was horrified when he heard that Martha had left on school break, but was never returned to her temporary family.
Jacob’s journey to find his daughter began.  From the United States he worked to find out what had happened to his daughter.  He soon learned that his daughter had been sold to another Liberian family for profit by her maternal grandmother.  Jacob began searching for this family and for his only daughter.

Jacob’s search was a difficult one.  Financially limited he had to pour all the money he earned into working with lawyers and connections in Liberia and Ghana as they searched for his daughter.  A number of times Jacob’s people came close to obtaining custody of his daughter, but over the years each turn ran into a dead end.  He worked through the courts systems in Liberia, and Martha was taken to Ghana.  She was seen in Ghana in a refugee camp, but just as he was about to make a connection, she was moved.

Finally, in 2006, Jacob received word that Martha was in the States in Lynn, Massachusetts.  Working with a lawyer here on the North Shore he worked diligently to obtain custody of his daughter.  He gathered all of the right documentation, birth certificates, school papers, a death certificate for her mother, there were dozens of hurdles, and this man jumped everyone to try and be reunited with his daughter.  Every time they went to get Martha, the door was closed.

Finally, this summer Jacob had everything he needed, all the paperwork was in, the court was ready to award him custody when his own lawyer put on the brakes.  If they simply went to the home to get Martha and she was not there, the family would move again; and there would be more hurdles to jump.  Jacob’s lawyer insisted that they wait, and instead of removing her from her home, it was their only option to wait until school began and remove her directly from school, so that she would not be hidden away again.
On September 16, Jacob took the train to Boston, took the T to the courthouse, sat through his hearing, and waited for them to bring his daughter to him, reunited finally after six years of being apart.

To be continued . . .

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September 2008 – Martha Part I

Martha is overwhelmed by her own story.  There are probably a dozen different ways that it could be told from various perspectives, but let me begin with what she would tell you, her story as she knows it, from her perspective.
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Martha is a fourteen-year-old, twin to her sister Maria.  She and her whole family emigrated from Ghana in 2006.  They first lived in a house in Lynn and then moved to another Massachusetts’ town in 2007.  She just started her eighth grade year this September, her second year at the same school, and she was loving her life.

One Tuesday afternoon in September, she was sought out by the principal of her middle school and told there was someone waiting for her at the front office.  When she arrived, there were three police officers awaiting her.  She was scared and had no idea why they were there.  They asked her if she knew a man named Jacob.  She answered that she did not.  She was told that Jacob was her biological father and that they were going to take her to him.  Afraid, disbelieving, she asked to call her mother.

She was not allowed to call home; she was put in a car and taken to a courthouse.

There at the courthouse she met Jacob, a man so happy to see her, a man with pictures and stories of a childhood she did not remember.  She was brought into a room where a judge told her that Jacob was her father and that her family was not her family, and that she was to go with Jacob, leaving Massachusetts and her home.

Martha can be quite quiet and shy, but this was too much. “No,” she was able to say, “I will not go live with him.”

At 3:00 that afternoon the Department of Children and Families was called in, Martha was given a choice, she could either go with Jacob or self-submit to the system and go to live with a foster family.  Martha did not know what a foster family was, but she chose it over leaving with a strange man.
A couple of hours later she was climbing the steps of a big blue house in Beverly.  She came face to face with two white people.  She was doubtful that this was a better scenario.  As soon as she was able, she went to “her room” curled up in a ball and cried.


November 2008 My Fostering Fear

My great fear in being a foster parent?

It was not that a child would harm our things, though we both talked about it and prepared ourselves for the likely possibility.  It was not that a child would run away.  I worked in a boys’ home; it happened, and I learned that it does not need to be a great drama.  It was not that a child would harm us or him or herself.  I have learned to de-escalate situations, to know when things are growing out of control and when to call in other resources.  These fears were allayed early on as we quickly realized the children in foster care are most often the victims, they are hurting, and they aren’t angry at us; most often they are really scared.

My great fear in being a foster parent?

It is trivial and miniscule, but it is my own fear.  I know my strengths, and I certainly know my own weaknesses.  And I know that I am not so good at doing hair.  I have spent a lifetime of feeling frustrated with my own hair.  And in those same years, I have never been the kind of girl who ever did anyone else’s hair.  Sure, when I babysat I would have to brush a little girl’s hair, but it was never something I either loved to do or was any good at.  My great fear has been being the one responsible for doing a little black girl’s hair.

When Jahmela climbed the steps to meet me, she was perhaps one of the cutest little girls I have ever laid eyes on.  Her creamy brown skin looked smooth and toasty, her apple cheeks literally glowed, and even in her uncertainty, her little lashes blinked expectantly over deep brown eyes.

As Diane, the investigator, pulled her hood off, I felt my own fear beginning to well up; there was a head of hair that needed lots of loving and help.  As Jahmela hopped around from room to room, I studied her hair, how it had been done, trying to think of what I might do to help her feel confidant and pretty.

That night before bed, began our journey together.  Jahmela found her “grease” as she called it – and began pumping it on to her hair, making it greasy and slick.  I got a dollop of pink lotion and began rubbing it through the curly locks.  And then, as unsure as I was, I got the brush and began to carefully pull it through her hair.  By the time she lay down for bed, I had French braided her hair into a pretty, if not slightly lopsided success.

img_6028Each morning getting her dressed always meant that, around the corner, I would need to face my insecurities again.  I would lotion and tug and work her hair into a place that was both pretty and functional.  I found that each day I was having more success.  The first day I sent her off, she came back with three braids, an entirely different hair do, than the ponytail I had sent her to school with. But on Wednesday, I sent her off with sweet pigtails, and she came back with them, only slightly higher on her head.  By day three she was returning to me with the same hairstyle she went in with, I knew I was getting better; she knew I was getting better.  Some days she could not get enough of herself in the mirror her hairwas looking so cute.

I was overcoming my fear!  I was deep conditioning, I was greasing, I was lotioning, I was doing her hair!
And then the day before we were saying good-bye to Jahmela I came face to face with her mother.  And my own fear-conquering went out the window.


Her mother’s first words to me?

“This child is filthy; her hair looks terrible.  I don’t know what you are doing, but we treat this girl like princess, and she looks like a mess.”

Jahmela’s eyes looked up at me betrayed.  It was as if she was saying, “Why did you do this to me?”
And as my own insecurities flooded over me, as I wanted to somehow defend myself, the inside of my heart melted.  I literally felt as if I was collapsing on the inside.  I floundered through those moments.  Somehow trying to affirm, somehow trying to reassure, somehow trying to encourage.  Those moments in the lobby of the Department of Children and Families were painful for everyone standing around that precious child.  I reminded myself that it really isn’t about the hair.

I sat in the back seat of the Element with a broken little girl, holding her tiny hand as she sat in her car seat.  Her eyes were swollen, there were tears welling in them, but she was so determined not to cry.  That night as we went to do her hair, she was super sensitive.

“Let me do it, like this!” She pulled and tugged at her curls, trying to straighten them so that no curl would pop out.

“That looks beautiful,” I assured her, “You are so pretty . . . all the time.”

And as I pulled the brush through her hair, the tears welled up in my eyes.  Really it isn’t about how her hair was done, really it was about getting to do her hair.

Jahmela’s mother has been the most difficult parent that Andrew and I have encountered. But I now see that that tough and angry exterior is because she is melting on the inside.  She wants to be the one to do Jahmela’s hair.

I want her to be the one to do Jahmela’s hair too.

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November 2008 – New Child

We are hoping to utilize this blog to communicate with friends and family about the arrival and departure of children.  We have posted below three blog posts written about our first three kiddos, we have had two others we still hope to post about.

Yesterday, Monday, November 3 we received a little girl.  She is six years old and is in the middle of a difficult time with her family.  She was removed from her home on Friday, but was placed in a home with cats and had a strong allergic reaction.  The hope is to place her with a relative this Friday.

She is very sweet, though rough around the edges.  The allegations are difficult to imagine, and we do request your prayers for her.  We will post more again soon.

Thanks for joining us.

July 2008 – Scott

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He is five years old, slightly autistic and has been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder.”

We said yes.  We hung up.  Then we looked at one another and considered if perhaps we should pick the phone back up and recant.  It really sounded like it would be too much, this time we really may have decided too quickly.  But we had said yes, and it was only for a few days.  We could do anything for a few days we convinced each other.

We began to steel ourselves for his arrival.  He would probably be angry and upset and unable to cope with the overwhelming rush of emotions, changes, and transitions.  He might need to rant, to scream, to act out.  This was about to be an entirely different experience for us.

The bell rang.  He was climbing up the steps, lifting his legs high, accomodating for his little body.  He looked up  “Hi!” he exclaimed beaming, and then back down as he concentrated on the steps.  Once he had conquered the climb, he looked around,  “Is this where I get to sleep tonight?”  He took everything in with enjoyment.  “Are you the mom and he’s the dad?”  His questions had only begun, they were endless, just like his energy.

Scott was a study in contradictions.

He seemed to have been parented so well.  He always said please and thank you.  When he didn’t want to do something he would sadly plead, “No, thank you, no thank you, I don’t want to go, thank you.”  At the same time he never mentioned his parents, never asked for them, never wondered where they were.

He had so much energy we thought he might never settle down, but when it came time for bed, his head would hit the pillow and he was out for the night.

He had every reason to dread the beginning of a new day, and yet every morning this kid woke up as if it was time to celebrate, his beaming grin embracing the morning.

May 2008 First Teenage Boy

 

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We said good-bye to Luis on Friday.  Our Emergency Foster Care was two weeks long,and once again we found ourselves learning and growing immensely through the process.  Thought we would try and consolidate our lessons here for you.
Top things learned about hosting a teenage boy for Foster Care:
10.  Have lots of food on hand.
9.  If you have any junk food they will find it and eat it.
8.  If you have more than one teen boy over for dinner, there will not be any leftovers.
7.  Fire is a great way to entertain teen boys (we won’t write it on line, but you can ask in person).
6.  Teenage boys like teenage girls, and when you say he can call his girlfriend any time, he will . . . any time he is not asleep.
5.  Teenage boys like to sleep (very different from 7 week old babies).
4.  When not sleeping Teenage boys like video games (even better video games with snacks).
3.  Guitar Hero is THE video game of the moment.
2.  When given the opportunity said teenage boy loved learning, about history, about computers, about us, about finances, about family . . . we were thrilled when we discovered, if we gave him the chance to learn, he always stepped up.
1.  Teenage boys are wonderful.
We had a wonderful time with Luis.  We ended every day sitting down together talking about what we were grateful for, and we found that even in the hardest of times, gratitude draws us closer together and into community.
Thanks again for being our community.
Love,
Liza & Andrew

April 2008 – Humbled and Healing

We are recovering from a roller-coaster ride of a week for the Sharpteam.  imagesWhile we began it with open hands and a willingness to be stretched and challenged, we had no idea the lessons that little Patty would bring into our lives.

Our forethought was that being Emergency Foster Care Parents would require us to be flexible and ready at all times.  While this is true, our first foster care experience challenged us both that there are ways that we can be and should be prepared even before we answer “Yes,” to the voice on the other end of the phone.

Our time with little Patty was truly a gift.  She is beautiful and perfect and tiny and fit in the crook of an arm with such ease, that we were both instantly enchanted.  We put together a makeshift changing table, we brought a bassinet into our room and then the lessons began.

The first thing we learned was that when people talk about being tired with an infant, they aren’t complaining, they are . . . making an understatement.  Patty loved to sleep during the day and be awake at night.  And the timing of our life shifted instantly.

And yet, there were places that couldn’t quite be shifted.  We don’t have a nursery, there were trips that couldn’t be moved, and there is no way around a bout with the flu.  And when the time required of us extended we both drooped, knowing that there was no way to truly be who Patty needed in these days.

We reached out to DSS in honesty and humility, admitting that our home wasn’t the best home for the beautiful little girl we both so wanted to hold on to.  Three days after our adventure with Patty began we said good-bye to our little boo.

We are processing much in these days, as we consider next steps and how we might embrace better and be better and follow through in ways that are better. 

In order to truly welcome a child with the kind of openness and focus we would like to have in the future, we recognize that there needs to be a space and place and time set aside and ready for the entrance of any child into our home.  And we are beginning to try and understand what that looks like.

Our experience with the Malden DSS was truly exceptional.  They were kind and thoughtful, and where they didn’t have answers they were truthful and helpful.  Debbie was supportive and present and encouraging. 

We so believe in what DSS is doing and does for children like Patty and for families all over the state.  And while we are not so sure we are capable and prepared for such a daunting task, we are longing to be a part of this process of healing.