Tuesday, July 26, 2011
When most of us finally reach that age when the AARP card arrives in the mail, we are usually ready to slow down and catch up on all of those books that we always wanted to read, but never had the time to, even if those books now need to be in large print. We wear red and purple together, watch movies that remind us of the old days, and get our grandchildren all riled up before we send them home to their parents.
Well, most of us do.
It seems that more and more, though, we are meeting with grandparents at Blessing House who have given up the freedoms of retirement for the responsibilities of raising their grandchildren. Moms and dads, for a variety of reasons, are not able to take care of their children, and rather than letting their grandchildren go into foster care, grandparents are stepping up and saying, “Come, live with me.”
We recently have worked with several grandparents who are raising their grandchildren. It has not been easy for any of them.
Grandpa had not had any children living with him for a long time. He was retired and lived on his social security with little other income. He had worked hard and had a simple home in a quiet town. He had his friends and his hobbies and was ready to slow down. That was until he got a phone call from his daughter. He knew she had been ill for some time, but he was still shocked when she called and told him she could no longer care for her two children. Then she asked him, “Can they come live with you until I get back on my feet?”
Grandpa said yes, but then began to think about what this would mean. Getting them registered for school, getting them doctor appointments. Cooking for them, washing their clothes, putting them to bed every night. Having to watch cartoons instead of his movies. Having to read Dr. Seuss instead of the newspaper. What had he gotten himself into?
Grandpa called us several times after P. and M. moved in with him. It was not easy for him to adjust to this new role, and he needed some moral support. The children had special needs and he was having a difficult time adjusting to their behavior. Now he was questioning the wisdom of his decision.
We listened to Grandpa and heard his frustration. We tried to encourage him to take it one day at a time and not to think about the days, and weeks and months ahead where he would have to put two others ahead of himself. It was hard for him, but he said he would keep trying. He really wanted what was best for them.
We also got a phone call from a Grandma who we have worked with in the past. Grandma had taken in her 3 grandchildren with no notice when their mom was no longer able to care for them. Grandma knew it would be difficult, but she loved them so much, she quickly agreed to take on the responsibility of their care. She arranged child care and continued working her full time job, knowing the days of simple comforts were over.
Grandma was pleased with how quickly the children settled down with her and she, too, adjusted to her new schedule. The baby was progressing in her development and her oldest grandson didn’t seem to have as many problems with his behavior.
But the children’s mom still struggled with the same problems that led the children to go and stay with Grandma in the first place. Grandma often longed for the separation that would allow her to focus on just her grandchildren, but she could not disengage herself from her daughter’s life. So she continued to look for a way to love and protect her grandchildren while still trying to help her daughter. It was not easy. This time Grandma asked if her grandchildren could come and stay with us for a few days while she helped her daughter with yet another problem. Her daughter had no one else to help her.
Grandma is determined to raise her grandchildren in a safe, loving home. Grandpa wants what is best for his grandchildren, too, but we don’t know how long he will be able to take care of them. He says he is willing to take it one day at a time. He recently sent us pictures of the kids playing in the backyard. There were smiles on their faces as they posed for pictures for Sr. Mary. They looked like they were having a good time. Even better, they looked like they knew they were loved.
Maybe some day, these moms will be able to take care of their children.
I think they really want to.
But if they can’t, Grandma and Grandpa will continue to care for them, taking it one day at a time.
I’m sure they would like more time to themselves, more freedom to do what they want to do.
But for now, spare time and freedom are luxuries enjoyed sparingly because their grandchildren really need them.
Retirement will just have to wait.
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
The young lady who walked up to us was striking in her youthful beauty. Her smile was bright and she was self-assured and confident as she approached us.
She and her sister were coming to stay with us for a few days. M. understood she would only be with us a short time, but it was obvious she was reluctant to leave her Mom behind.
The girls arrived at the house and were happy to get something to eat and drink. It was the end of the week, so they put their bookbags away and changed their clothes. As they walked into the playroom, they were immediately attracted by the dolls and they wanted to play with them.
Over the next few days, whenever we would check in on the girls, they were happily settled in their play area with their baby dolls, clothes and accessories gathered around them. The girls dressed their dolls, fed them, and took them to the store. After watching them for a few minutes one day, I asked Miss B. who was supervising them, “Isn’t it a little unusual for a 10 year old to be so enamored with baby dolls?” Miss B. replied, “M. told me she never had a baby doll before so all she wants to do is play with them.”
A couple of nights later, M. was acting a little out of sorts at the dinner table. Then she asked if she could use the restroom. After she came out, one hand was covering her mouth and the other was holding a tissue. In the tissue was a tooth that she had just “wiggled” out. She smiled as she handed it to me. Then she went back to finish her meal.
I held the tissue in my hand and looked at Sr. Mary as I asked, “Does the tooth fairy come for 10 year olds?”
Without hesitation, Sr. Mary replied, “At Blessing House she does.”
I put M.’s tooth in a bag and then gave it to her to put under her pillow that night. I was waiting for her to tell me that she was too old for the tooth fairy and she didn’t believe in it. But she didn’t.
That night the tooth fairy did find her way to Blessing House. And when M. woke up, she looked under her pillow.
“Sr. Sandy, I can’t find my tooth.”
Sr. Sandy and I just looked at each other and wondered what had happened. Then Sr. Sandy helped M. look around the bed until they found the treasure lodged behind the mattress.
M. broke out her winning smile, even though she was still barely awake, and looked at the two dollars that she held in her hand. She couldn’t wait to tell her Mom.
M. blossomed during her short stay with us. She finally left the baby dolls behind and began to try other things. She played jump rope outside and was excited when she taught a six year old how to jump in while she twirled for him. She even enjoyed the one on one time she had with a staff member when she was getting help with her homework after school. She admitted she needed help with her math and could only do the problems if she added the numbers on her fingers. But she proudly showed the smile face she got on her homework page every afternoon when she came home from school.
Whenever M.’s Mom called to talk to her, M. always asked, “How are you feeling, Mom?” Then, “Where are you?” Then finally, “When are we coming home?”
The girls, as confident as they were, had still been afraid for their mom. They didn’t understand her illness, but they did know that going to a hospital meant that you were really sick. They knew their Mom had been sick for some time, and M.’s sister even admitted she was afraid her Mom was going to die.
The path from childhood to adulthood is so different for everyone. In some ways we grow up slowly, but in others, we are forced to grow up very quickly. When this happens, we can miss out on so much.
I’m glad M. was able to take a step back in time and experience some of the childhood joys she may have missed. Baby dolls, the tooth fairy, playing house. M. has probably experienced things no 10 year old should have experienced in her short life, but it is obvious she has not lost her youth or her imagination.
I don’t know if M. really believes in the tooth fairy or not.
But it doesn’t matter.
For one night, for a couple of weeks, it was fun to play pretend.
Saturday, July 16, 2011
He doesn’t even know that he can’t do everything the others do.
Moses runs around in the backyard, chasing the ball and playing with the kids. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees a squirrel running along the back fence and he is there in an instant, following it until it is out of sight. Then, when no one seems to be paying any attention to him anymore, he runs up the ramp and sticks his head in Sr. Mary’s door, knowing he can always get attention there.
Moses doesn’t realize that only having three legs instead of four should keep him from doing many of the things that he does. Moses was rescued by GRIN (Golden Retrievers in Need) after he was either lost or abandoned by his owner and then found as a stray. His leg had been injured, treated, and then reinjured. After the most recent injury, he did not receive the proper care and his leg was so hurt, it couldn’t be healed. So it was removed. But only having three legs hasn’t slowed him down a bit.
Moses has made a big impact on our kids. When they first meet him, they just kind of stare at him and remark, “He only has three legs!” Then they watch as he hops up to them on his front leg, waiting for them to pet him. It doesn’t take long for them to get comfortable with him and soon they are rolling on the floor with him, throwing him the ball, and using him for a pillow as they watch a movie.
One little boy arrived at the house for a visit and the first thing he asked was, “Where’s the dog with the broken leg.” He had been at the house recently for a visit and had become very attached to Moses. Sr. Mary then explained that Moses’ leg wasn’t broken, that it just wasn’t there. Some of the kids thought that if it was “broken,” it could be fixed, restored to the way it used to be. But then they somehow came to understand that “fixing it” really wasn’t important to Moses. He was fine just the way he was.
One day out in the back yard, some of the children were playing and one of the girls was having a hard time mastering a new game. Just then Moses ran by and the girl paused a minute then replied under her breath, “If Moses can do it, then so can I.”
Resilience is a trait our children need, but many of them don’t have the skills to develop it. If they have been living in an environment where they have witnessed repeated failure and lack of motivation, they don’t know how, nor do they even want to try to overcome the barriers that they encounter. They easily give up because they don’t know how to struggle.
It would be nice if we could take away all of the difficulties our children must face, but we can’t. And we shouldn’t. In our imperfect world, we have to learn how to deal with the bad times as well as the good times and we can only do this through struggle. So we may not always be able to fix everything for our children, but we can be with them and help them learn to experience the sweetness of success, as they figure out how to make the bad better.
I think our kids see themselves in Moses. They see that he was hurt, but he has mended. They see that he may not be whole in body, but that he is whole in spirit.
They know that he doesn’t look like all of the other dogs, but it doesn’t matter to them.
They love him as he is.
And someday when they grow up, they want to be just like him.
Friday, July 15, 2011
When children leave to go home after their first visit at Blessing House, they are given a “Go Home” Bag. This bag is a home-made duffel bag made by one of several groups who provide them for our children.
Our staff takes great delight in filling them with stuffed animals, books, a homemade blanket and a homemade pillow. We also send home toys and clothes and other donations that are available.
We know how much these simple things can mean to a child. Just recently, J. was at the house and he ended up needing a bath one afternoon. When he was getting dressed after his bath, he wanted to know if he could put his pajamas on. It was the middle of the afternoon. We knew something was up.
But J. said he didn’t own any pajamas and he only got to wear them when he was at Blessing House. He always loved the pajamas he got to wear when he stayed with us. So he wanted to put them on as soon as he could. We told them his pajamas would be waiting for him to put on later, and he reluctantly agreed to put his clothes back on.
J. and his brother, T., noticed a lot of the donations that had been brought in while they were at the house. They knew that we gave things to families and they weren’t shy about asking if they could take their clothes and some of the toys they were playing with home. They were from a large family and didn’t get many new things.
It was time to go and J. and T. put on their coats. Then , one of the staff came up to them and handed them their “Go Home” Bag.
J. and T. just looked at us as if to say, “And what is this?”
We explained that we just wanted to send a few things home with them and that when they got home, they could look and see what was in their bag.
J. and T. were quickly out the door and anxious to get home. Their bags sat on the seat next to them and it was all they could do to keep from opening them on the way home.
For our children who don’t have much, a brand new blanket and pillow, along with some nice clothing, toys and other surprises can mean so much. Many of our children are used to hand me downs that are sometimes worn out or don’t fit properly. So getting to take these fresh new gifts home was a real treat for them.
When children leave with their Go Home Bag, they are taking a part of Blessing House with them. They are taking gifts that have been donated by our supporters, some even made with their own hands. Getting something new is a real treat for them.
She would have only needed to look in J.’s Go Home Bag, where she would have found a new pair of pajamas.
Nightime couldn’t come fast enough.
We are excited to announce a new event that will help support the children of Blessing House! Blessing House is staging the first “Blessing House Bash,” a night of tennis, fitness and friendship on Friday, July 22nd, at Five Seasons Sports Club in Westlake, Ohio.
The evening begins at 7:00 when guests will be able to play tennis with others of their own skill level on the beautiful courts of Five Seasons Club. There will be prizes and surprises throughout the night. Those who don’t want to play can just sit and relax, watching their friends play.
After everyone has had a good workout, we will be able to enjoy refreshments around the pool. Light hors d'oeuvres will be available along with a cash bar and our other feature of the evening, a beer tasting, sponsored by Great Lakes Brewery.
This is a great opportunity to get some exercise, try some new beer flavors and just relax with friends, all while helping the children and families of Blessing House. Our children and families really need our help right now and this is a wonderful opportunity to help make a difference in the lives of families in crisis.
Blessing House is a children’s residential crisis care center that cares for children whose families are experiencing an emergency and needs a safe place for them to stay. Last year, Blessing House provided care for 176 children whose families were experiencing health, housing, legal, and other family stabilization issues.
Mary Herrick, board member and co-chair of the Blessing House Bash stated, “We are so excited to be able to present this unique opportunity for the community to support the children at Blessing House. This is a chance for everyone to come and get some exercise, meet some new friends and have some fun. There will be something for everyone, even those who have never played tennis before. The Blessing House Bash will be a great summer night out!”
For more information about the Blessing House Bash, please contact Mary Herrick at 216-316-9501. Registration forms are available at www.blessinghouse.org. Tickets are available at $50 per person.