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.


36 comments:

  1. I love these words. I see babies born into 'the system' on a daily basis & my heart breaks for the pain the mama goes through & the life of strife ahead. I pray that my nursing care & support brings some small measure of comfort for a moment in a life so deseparate. I always say the day it doesn't hurt my heart is the day I need to work somewhere else.

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  2. These are powerful words. I love this... "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."

    I constantly remind myself of that and ask God to open my eyes and give me HIS compassion and love!

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    1. Indeed, Father, grant us all Your compassion for we have not walked the miles they have walked!

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  3. This breaks my heart! I'm praying for this mama. For her sweet babies. For you for caring about them all. May God bring peace to all of you and strength to endure!

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  4. "All I know is that sometimes the system does exactly what it should, and sometimes it does the opposite."
    My husband sees this everyday as a counselor working many of these cases. He has come home drained from families that should be together that have a zillion hoops to jump through, and children who need protecting that don't get it.
    I feel like I should have some nice words after that, but I don't. My heart is heavy.

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  5. Sigh. Aren't we always just so wrong when we think we know it all? I've had my perspective thrown all over the place as a former but recent DCFS administrator, current foster parent, and kinship caregiver. My joy (in my gathered children) has come at a great cost to people I love, people with rail-straight hairdos and supervised visits, in the clutches of things bigger, stronger than they. I love them and I love their little people. Thanks for this post.

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  6. Oh, for all the times I've sat in ignorant judgment. *sigh* Thanks for pouring your heart out on the page to share with the rest of us. We need it. The pain, the struggle, the love, the grace.

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  7. Yep - I've sat in the same judgment seat as well like I'm somebody who knows something. Yikes. Paradigm shift. Thank you.

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  8. Shannon, I am reminded again of why I love your blog. I should read it more often. Thank God for your heart and sensitivity to your community and the world. You are bringing the stories that go untold or wrongly told in the dominant discourse to life in all of their complexity. I work with amazingly dedicated people in a wonderful organization where we journey alongside many families like your friend's family. My heart and prayer daily is that God will send more people like you to build organic and real relationships that begin to repair our communities and that we will live lives of mutuality and communion so that our world becomes different for all women, men, and their children.

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    1. Amen to that prayer! I'm praying it with you!!

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  9. I often times find myself in the judgment seat myself, my heart feels so often heavy because of the weight of this world, all the sadness the nastiness the wrong choices the sin, it's all just too much to bear. I was once a child of the system in and out of placements each one trying to hide me from my mother, my drug addicted abusive hateful mother. Now an adult and a mother of my own I have carried those memories and those judgments with me and I see people differently. As much as I try and fight it, try and find grace and not judge I struggle, i see the twitches from meth, I smell the alcohol I see these people and all I can see is the sin, I truly believe the lord brought your blog into my life to teach me many things, most of all forgiveness. I cannot explain it but through the years of reading your words my outlook on these people my mother included has changed and my heart has slowly started to soften and I suddenly can see their humanness and I just wanted and needed to say thankyou.

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  10. Shannan
    I love this. It is so beautifully and compassionately written. I know several of "those moms" two are cousins of mine. This reminds me to have compassion for them. In fact every time I read your blog I am reminded to be compassionate. Thank You
    Tammi Webb

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  11. Amen. What Glenda said. thank you.

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  12. It's a paradigm shattering thing when "those people" become our friends and we see how the brokenness abounds. Thanks for your blog, I've been reading for a few months now and appreciate your honest words. Especially these.

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  13. Reading your beautiful words is my "church" right now. You sure know how to preach Mama!

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  14. Reading this made me empathize with her so much. I get to pick my babies up from daycare tonight and take them to our happy home. I can't imagine trying to find the strength to change my own life while my babies are somewhere else, being cared for by someone else, all the while needing me as children need their mother. Thank you for helping put me in another mother's shoes.

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  15. This ripped my heart out.

    Praying for her and you.

    And for my own know-it-all-nasty heart.

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  16. Where does that know-it-all bitchy judgement voice come from? I am ashamed of her - she who speaks in my head sometimes. She who doesn't remember ... "there but for the grace of God..." I want to think myself better than that judging girl. But she is me. Not always. But enough. And so I thank you for your truth and honesty and open living. I will pray for her - for you - for me - and all of us that we may fix that which is clearly so broken. And I pray for grace. Grace to be a better me. Amen.

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  17. The foster care system is a HUGE joke. It's full of foster 'parents' who continue the cycle of abuse. It doesn't protect kids AT ALL.

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  18. I worked for Children's Services out of college too, before kids. The stories that are burned into your heart forever. How differently I would not approach the job as a parent.

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  19. Context breeds grace, always. Love you dearly friend!

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  20. Standing on both sides is so hard. You want to cheer them on and shut them down at the same time. These tiny souls need good lives and their parents need someone to rescue them too. It is sad.

    xxoo

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  21. I really have nothing important to add to this topic. I just want to say that I absolutely love the way you write. You have a beautiful way with words.

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  22. Gah. I do not have words to adequately express how awesome it is to read these words. Thank you for sharing it well. My heart pounded hard and I was desperately hoping for a happy ending. Its just so hard. All of it.

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  23. Shannan...thanks for sharing your heart. I need the reminder that "but for the grace of God...." I should be so much more thankful for my blessings.

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  24. I love your heart for people others might not take the time to love on :)

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  25. Aaaaaaah yes yes yes. As I foster little ones, I am learning that I cannot love the kids in my care WELL without loving their mamas and believing with them and loving them as hard as I love their baby. You said it so beautifully. Our judgment and righteous indignation do absolutely nothing for her. Always have to remember He knit those kids into her a womb on purpose... Need to keep reading this post forever. :)

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  26. I give a rip.
    Every day-
    I give a rip.

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  27. Why am I just now learning that you were a social worker?
    I was too.

    It never goes away....the advocate in us...even though I'm not earning a paycheck doing it, I'm still an advocate, and you are, too.

    Praying for that mama..and those kids...that they would know that Jesus is with them, even in the hardest days without each other.

    Praying for the judgement in all of us to be crucified. Everyone has a story worth being heard.

    The system doesn't always work.

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  28. wow. i too was a dfcs foster care/adoption case manager. since then i have been involved with the "system" from the other side (with birth families, with foster parents, with adoptive parents). this is so achingly familiar.

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  29. Praying hard. Thanks for the beautiful reminder.
    Love you lots
    Leslie

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  30. This is something adoption is teaching me over and over. I have no idea what it is like to be some people, and but for God's grace, it could have been me in those situations. I pray that something beautiful comes out of the dust that you are witnessing.

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