Wednesday, July 10, 2013

I Used to Know So Much

I used to think I knew something about "those moms".

I aced my degree in Psychology (back when I was 20 and the biggest decision of my day was Burrito Supreme or Nachos Supreme on the nightly fast food run.) I memorized all the theories and they sounded good to me. I charmed and smarted my way through my first "real job" interview and landed a position as a social worker for The Department of Children and Family Services.

I visited homes where I had been warned not to sit on the furniture, but sat down anyway. I told desperate parents with fractured lives what they needed to do to keep their children in their homes. I carried a lot of mixed feelings around with me, but didn't bother doing the taxing work of sorting them out. At the end of the day, I drove to my parents' house, slept in my childhood bedroom, clocked my hours and counted the days until my wedding. When it finally rolled around, I never looked back.

But "those moms", they were still out there. I heard about them on the news. I was vaguely aware of them, just like I was aware of racism, poverty, and drug addiction. The glass was wavy and the font very small, but oh, I knew all about them.

I knew their priorities were dead wrong. I knew they'd probably gotten knocked up, by the wrong kind of dude. I knew they were stuck in a pattern, yes, but I believed they inherently knew a way out and simply chose to walk backwards. They were selfish. Lazy. On drugs. They just didn't know. They didn't care enough, didn't try at all. They let themselves off the hook at the expense of their children.

I'd heard about the ways a child would cry for the mama who had abused her or neglected him. I didn't doubt it, but it seemed like a trick, a glitch in our human wiring. Because of course those kids deserved better. They would adapt soon enough. They would forget, before long. They just needed to trust the system that was designed to protect them.

I knew almost everything.  But none of it mattered until the day I drove a brand new friend to her supervised visit.

Her hair was shiny, her part as straight as a rail. She tapped her foot and chatted nervously about things that didn't matter, doing all she could to reassure herself that it would be okay, this misunderstanding would lose its steam.

She just wanted to see her babies.

I dropped her off at the door and waited in my van while the sun burned a hole in my heart and I tried not to think about all the days I had judged "that mom", daring to believe I knew anything at all about her or her life or the circumstances that crossed our paths.

My thoughts were weighty and the words on the pages of my book desaturated, then floated away. So I just waited.

She walked back outside, squinting up at July, her smile locked in place. Her son hung on her, clung to her, wouldn't let go. He screamed and wailed while she kept a brave face and promised him and his sister they were safe. She would be back soon. They would be together again so super soon, so say your prayers, talk to God, he's right there listening and my love won't ever leave you, not even for a second.

Somehow, her legs carried her to my passenger seat and only then did she crumble, while the red sedan rolled past, her four-year old's fist banging the glass.

That was one year ago, and things have only gotten uglier.
That was one year ago, and those kids are on their third placement while their mama, endearingly flawed and beautifully human, loses steam.

The rose coloring has faded and the frames are cracked. It's hard to keep on hoping.

I think back to the first time I met them, how I drove home and told Cory that they were so well cared for, so bright and respectful. I told him what a great Mom she was and that I wanted to get to know them better.

This wasn't what I had in mind and my brain chews itself up thinking about the ways this will change them.

All I know is that sometimes the system does exactly what it should, and sometimes it does the opposite.

All I know is that she was imperfect, but she was their world, and they were hers.

All I know is that my choices and decisions are framed in a different galaxy than hers. I can't being to compare the two.

All I know is that there's a story behind every child and every parent in the system. My judgment does nothing but cloud the already-murky water.

All I know is that she needs support. She needs love. She needs someone to give a rip, someone to remind her to keep trying when it feels like a long-gone cause.

That's all I know.
I don't know anything else.