Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Children in My Life

I am not a first time parent. I am the Old Lady in the shoe and this is a path that I've been on for a long time with many children. It is through them that I've learned a great deal, become patient and recognized how important my role is in their development and more importantly how they have shaped me.

In my letters of recommendation there were two comments from different people that touched me.

One friend wrote : Valarie is like the pied piper for children, she is naturally at ease with them and they know it. Children are inexperienced about the world but they have an innate sense for identifying sincere adults that show them genuine love and concern. Even the most bashful or the toughest, misbehaving kids are like putty in her hands.

Another friend wrote: Some people have children and become mothers, Valarie was born a mother.

At my shower were two of my babies now 34 and 26. Children (uhmm...grownups) that entered my life almost 18 years ago.
  • From 14-15 I worked as a hospital volunteer on the pediatric wing of a hospital.
  • At 16 I was part of a special program that taught basic skills to fourth, fifth and sixth graders in economically disadvantaged schools.
  • From 19-21 while a college student I mentored a 9 year old girl through Big Brothers / Big Sisters
  • At 24 when I moved to Chicago I was a Junior Achievement adviser working with children who lived in between two rival gang territories and several of our students were known gang members. We spent very little time on JA projects. We spent much more time on life management, resolving conflicts, self-esteem, and growing up without parents. The facility had armed guards that sat at the ends of the hallways, there was a manned tower on the parking lot and I was escorted to my car each night. That is where I met a young 16 year old named Michael who shook me to the core when I asked him what he intended to do with his life. He told me that he would probably never live to be 18 but if he did he promised me that he would make something of his life. From that moment I learned that the outer shell was only that and inside was always a young child looking for unconditional love and acceptance.
  • At 25 because of the many youth programs that I was involved in I was asked to work with a large inner city church to help them develop a youth education program. I lead a group of 40 adults over a five-month period to create Project Hope. It was a holistic plan for meeting children where they are and leading them to where they need to be. Parts of it are still used some 15 years later and led by one of my grown up kids.
  • I stayed on at the church for several years serving as the Leader of Christian Youth education and spent most of my time teaching teen bible study and children's Sunday school. I counldn't teach it without living it and developed a system where we used the children's daily issues to lead the classes.
  • It was the first time (far from the last) that I was asked and paid as a keynote speaker for Youth Education. That led me to graduate school where I further developed the HOPE principles and youth education programs that I began teaching to groups of adults who work with children.
  • A two-year old family member in a pretty tough spot ended up coming to Illinois to stay with me over a period of time. She is definitely the child that changed my life and how I see children. She did not want to return to her home and letting her go was pretty tough on me too. Because of the circumstances she came back at age 4 and again at age 8 before becoming a ward of the court that would not allow me to adopt her from another state. She taught me that children are what we write on them and that they watch how we live more than they listen to what we say. I have strongly advocated for children every since.
  • I worked in a program for teen girls and become the surrogate mom to a 16-year old for the next two years that had an absentee mother that would frequently take 1-3 week long trips out of town leaving the girl home alone.
  • I met a 13 year old girl who told me that her goal in life was to DIE! Recognizing some struggles of other young girls like her, I created a program called Eyes Like Mine which was a 9-month mentoring program for girls 8-14. The girls spent one weekend a month in my home where we had structured events from Friday to Sunday. Many of the girls had never been to restaurants, or office buildings but we did it all and traveled to college campuses in other states. The girls came to know me as a strong advocate and a tough disciplinarian. I have a box of projects they completed, letters they wrote, and promises that I had asked them to keep. Several of their numbers are still in my phone and I am still "mom" to some of them.
  • One of these children eventually came into my home on an emergency temporary order of the court. I am still mom to her and she will fight you (if I'd let her) if you say otherwise.
  • One of the older girls, too old for the program but without a mother was brought to me with a desire to go to college, we scrambled and got her into a school in Florida and I had to work with the administration to manage a lot of situations that a parent would on her behalf.
  • Another family member began spending summers with me at age 5 and eventually lived with me for part of second grade at age 7. Even after he did not live here, he and his brother was here each day after school. I had also been the babysitter of their mother when she was a child many years before. These babies of mine are now 12, 16 and 32 and my relationship with them is still that of a parental figure. My boys refer to me as their aunt but I do feel like grandma.
  • Last year I completed a program with the Chicago Public schools teaching life, leadership, and conflict resolution skills to 5th, 6th, and 7th grade students with some pretty complicated backgrounds. Helping children set life goals when they can't see beyond next week can be heartbreaking.
I don't really remember the time before children were a significant part of my life. Even though my own child died at birth I am "mommy" to many, some who never actual had mothers of their own. In my mommy role, I've had to sit in court as an advocate, attended counseling with my kids, dealt with substance issues, issues of abuse and all things in between. Without giving birth I've been to parent/teacher conferences, stayed up late at night doing homework, made costumes and cupcakes for the school events, and attended the plays and concerts. I've been called from my job for the sick kid and the misbehaving kid. I've interrogated boyfriends, set and had to enforce rules and curfews. I've heard the "I hate you's" the "I'm glad you're not my real mothers" and the "You can't make me's". I've hung in there long enough to here the, "How did you put up with me?" "I love YOU!"

I definitely don't know it all but I've seen a lot from the terrible 2s to the hot 22s. Without these experiences I would never I've jumped into the deep end of the adoption ocean. Parenting is a tough job but there is nothing more rewarding. I am so grateful to all of my grown up and almost grown up kids that allowed me to practice on them over the years and have encouraged me every step along the way towards adoption.

I love each of you babies so much!

8 comments:

kristine said...

I'm so sorry you lost the little girl who came to you over and over throughout the years. The domestic foster care/ adoption situation is - in my opinion - criminal.

I'm happy she and the others had you as much as was possible.

Can't wait to see some of the shower stuff (hint hint) and to hear some even bigger news!

VALARIE said...

Thanks Kristine there is not reason to be sorry for me. I didn't lose anything it was her that lost everything. Caring for her was not about me or anything that I did for her. She chose me at 2 years old when you she said, "You be the momma and be the little girl." She chose me when she got her coat and sat in front of the door until I would scoop her up and take her with me.

It was her always fighting and clawing to be with me before I had any understanding of what children see, know, and understand at a young age. I guess that's how children have changed me and why the Wal-Mart story is so different for me. It is always about the CHILDREN it is not about the system and how evil they are, it is not whether or not our feelings get hurt or women judge our parenting it is about children who only get one chance to be 2, 3, 4...

I have always regretted not fighting harder for her but the loss was not mine. Today she is an adult and mother to her own little girl.

The experience with her taught me something very important. You only have the time that you have and in that time you have to make sure that you speak life into their souls. It is important whether it is 5 minutes, 5 weeks, or 5 months that a child knows in their heart that there is someone who sees them and knows their worth. Often times that is all that we can do and I've had to do it many times over the years and let go.

What I know is that as long as the seed is there and is planted they will never forget and there is something inside of them that will always fight for that once in a lifetime moment that they believed there was no one more special int he world. It is why I will approach a child in a store, or anywhere else because we have are moments and moments can change lives.

VALARIE said...

I guess it is not clear that what was tough for me was letting her go recognizing her potential but know what life would hold for her. I learned that I could never control the situation or circumstances but I could always be conscious of how the way that I lived my life was a much stronger influence than anything else.

It was tough letting a little girl go out into a big, bad world with no real way to defend herself but at least in our short time she saw a picture of what she could be.

Signe said...

Valerie,

This is such a good post about how the children in our lives are not always the ones we give birth to, or take care of for all of their childhood. We can influence children in many, many ways, and what it most important is that they know that they can be loved.

I have been reading Come On People by Bill Cosby. I am shocked by the number of children that have no one to love them. I am also shocked by the number of fathers that don't take responsibility for their children. I know I shouldn't be surprised, but I am.

I think you and your children are very fortunate. May God continue to give you a fruitful life.

Signe

Jenna Marie Howard said...

Hello
I just wanted to stop by and tell you thank you for caring for orphans. As I have read through your blogs on children I am encouraged that I am not alone in this fight to help orphaned and abandoned children. I am the Director of Public Relations for a non-profit organization called World Orphans. We build church based orphan homes all over the world and our mission is simple E3 to reach each church…each child…each community. I would love for you to take a look at our website and let me know if you have any questions. (www.worldorphans.com) thank you again for your heart and words that you have written. I hope you will have a glorious blessed day!
Jenna M. Howard
-Director of Public Relations
www.Worldorphans.org
Jennah@worldorphans.org
www.JennaMarieHoward.com

Barbara. said...

Just want to say thanks for living a life of service and being Love in the life of children. This post touched my heart. It was someone like you who mentored my dad when he was a teen. It was someone like you who was my teacher in junior high who would hang out with us after school just because we needed that. I can't thank them.... so thank you!
-Barbara

Angela said...

Valerie,

I can't believe I missed this. This explains the sincerity and passion I read in your post for children. You have honestly spent a lifetime caring for minors. You are truly a jewel among educators.

VALARIE said...

Thanks Angela. I posted this because many of my kids have been so encouraging and supportive of the adoption. I realize how much I learned through them and how much that enhanced my life. Many of them are young adults and I am so proud of them and now they are the ones teaching me.

Original Court Date: April 18, 2009
Final Court Date: May 18, 2009
[607 total days & 165 days w/IAN]