October 05, 2010

Pretend

My home office is right by the front door, and it’s often where I’m sitting when the little neighbor kids come over. I keep a Raggedy Ann doll on my bookshelf, and I’ve got coloring books and crayons, but what fascinates the neighbor kids most are the “grown-up” office supplies. They’ve gone through reams of post-it notes, boxes of staples, and several yellow pads of legal paper.

Today, they seized two small pads of paper that I’ve been using for to-do lists. They took them into the hall and then came right back. “Can we have some pens?” asked Ponytail.

“Sure,” I said. “What are you going to draw?”

Ponytail stood up straight, and held her pad importantly, pen poised to write. Biker Boy struck the same pose.

“We’re playing Caseworker,” Biker Boy said.

Ponytail knocked on my office door, even though it was already open. “Pretend you’re the Mom.”

“Okay,” I said. “Show me your ID.”

Ponytail looked surprised, but Biker Boy didn’t hesitate. He reached into his back pocket and pretended to pull out an ID. “I’m from Child Protective. I’m gonna ask you some questions.”

Ponytail bounced up and down, a big smile on her face. “I have ID too!”

They began barraging me with questions. “How old are your children? Do you have any weapons? Do you smoke? Do you smoke anything besides cigarettes?”

I gave answers, and they scribbled importantly on their pads. Then Biker Boy put the pad under his arm and began searching my office — opening drawers, looking under books, pulling back the curtains. Ponytail joined in.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Looking for drugs,” Ponytail said. “I found some cocaine.”

“Me too,” said Biker Boy, holding up an eraser. “Here’s some cocaine.”

“We’re going to take your kids,” said Ponytail. She put her face close to mine. “We’re going to put your kids in foster care.” She was smiling, which made the words even more painful. She’s only six.

“We might have to put you in jail,” said Biker Boy.

“Who wants cocoa?” I asked. I couldn’t stand the game any longer. The kids dropped their pads of paper and followed me out to the kitchen, where the tea kettle was already on the stove. I sliced some banana bread, and we played the game where they’re kids from a stable home, eating a snack after school.

32 comments:

Psycgirl said...

Ohhhhhhh :( (That was the sound of my heart breaking!)

I am so glad those kids have you

Lorianne said...

Ouch (!!!)

Anjali said...

That's the most heartbreaking thing I've read in a long time.

EmmaNadine said...

That makes my heart hurt.

mommo4.5 said...

Oh yes, heartbreaking. I am glad they have found a safe place in you. I truly believe God sent them to live down your road. I'm glad, too, that they have each other. I hope some day, they will be able to be parents whose children don't have to deal with such things.

Magpie said...

Ouch.

rented life said...

I'm so glad you're able to give them some stability, because this just brings tears to my eyes.

amy b. said...

Oh, jo(e). You are their rock. Role play was a staple when my children were younger, but this is more than the imagination can take. Thank goodness for comforting hot chocolate diversions.

sko3 said...

this is heart breaking.

jo(e) said...

You know, I'm pretty realistic about how much I can help these kids. I can give them a safe place to come to, a few moments of peace in their life right now -- and that's about it. I've talked to caseworkers at Child Protective, and there doesn't seem to be a whole lot they can do until things hit the point that the kids are removed from the home and put into foster care.

Readers often write and ask if they can help out with my little neighbor kids.

One reason I write about them on my blog because there are kids like that in every community -- and my hope is that readers will be on the lookout for kids in their own neighborhood who need a safe place, and a grown-up who will call 911 or notify the Child Protective Agency when necessary.

liz said...

My sister has been that safe-house twice for two different friends of my niece.

You and she make me so proud to know you.

Di said...

Heartbreaking, Jo(e).

As another kid whose home life was bad, but had great Other Adults: thank you.

kathy a. said...

my mother was an abusive alcoholic, but her public persona was a respectable, middle-class teacher. we could tell nobody what was really happening; she made clear that if we did, she would lose her job and we would all be sent to foster homes. it was an effective threat.

i escaped as often as possible to the homes of friends. one friend's parents stopped allowing me to visit because i never "reciprocated" their generosity by entertaining their daughter at my home. but having some adults who accepted me without questions absolutely kept me sane, and helped me eventually escape to college. i was so lucky to have stable people around me.

readersguide said...

Yikes. But what we'll happen once they're sent to foster care? Doesn't sound like a much better option at all, although maybe it is.

Amber said...

What a treasure you are, jo(e). I felt a little suffocated reading that. I can't imagine what it was like to play that pretend game with them.

halloweenlover said...

Heartbreaking Jo(e). I hope these poor kids have a better life soon.

Kimberly said...

Thank you for your inspiration and reminder. I will honor your intentions and keep a look out in my community...

Blog Antagonist said...

Ouch. That hurts in a place that hasn't been touched in a long time. Never doubt your home is a haven for those kids. You may not think what you are doing is enough, but to them, it's everything.

What Now? said...

Oh, how painful to read. I'm wishing these kids all the blessings in the world and knowing that they've already found one in you.

Lilian said...

I have tears in my eyes and a very heavy heart, but I know you're doing all you can (thanks for your comment within the comments too).

This is just a harsh reminder of how much children learn from everything that goes on around them. Children will listen.

And thanks for the push to have us lookout for children who may need our help in our communities.

sherry said...

Do these kids have a CASA worker yet? (court appointed special advocate)

CASA workers are Not case workers. Their entire role is to be the advocate for the child. The role of the case worker is often to try and preserve the "family unit". As a result, CASA workers are often more useful to/for people like you that are in children like these lives.

If you want more info, just email me slrowmdatgmaildotcom

profgrrrrl said...

Oh, this moved me (along with many others) to tears. That children should know this script at a young age is so very sad. I'm so glad to know they have you in their lives.

Songbird said...

jo(e), I've been thinking about the kids and you ever since first reading this. My heart is aching for them.

RageyOne said...

That is heartbreaking.

Digger said...

Jo(e), this is heartbreaking. And I'm furious that any caseworker visiting the house would expose the kids to that.

jo(e) said...

Digger: I've met several of the caseworkers, and most of them seem pretty sensitive and compassionate. I'm grateful for their presence.

The kids' mother gives the caseworkers a hard time — she screams at them in front of the kids, for instance — and she's always doing imitations of the caseworkers and saying how terrible they are, saying how they know nothing about raising kids. (For instance, she always goes on and on about how stupid it is that the caseworkers tell her she shouldn't hit the kids -- she says the caseworkers are just wrong and that hitting is the only way to discipline the kids.) She's the one who says things about how the caseworkers want to put the kids in foster care, etc. I think most of the dialogue comes from her.

That's even sadder, if you think about it.

kathy a. said...

it seems more likely to me, too, that the talk of foster care comes from the mom acting out her frustrations -- as jo(e) has seen her do. yes, there are some bad caseworkers in the world. but this is a mother with extremely impoverished coping mechanisms, and very little sense of what is developmentally appropriate for children.

Kyla said...

They should have to know those things. No children should.

I'm glad they have you, with the cocoa and banana bread and the safe space for them to be children for a while.

landismom said...

That is really awful. I can't imagine having such a conversation. You are a saint, jo(e).

Jennifer said...

This is so sad.

BrightenedBoy said...

The more I hear about this family, the less respect I have for the mother.

I suppose it does say something that they're comfortable enough to share this with you; even as small children, my brother and I instinctively knew that the things going on in our household had to remain a secret.

I can remember being told that if I ever revealed what was happening, I'd be sent to a foster home where people would urinate on my head and rape me. I was about nine.

Here's hoping that your presence in these children's lives will anchor them to something good.

Mary Beth said...

You rock.