Monday, September 27, 2010

Redneck Over Yonder

Uncle M came up with a nickname for the girls' bio dad.  When we talk about him, in our secret way if the girls are in earshot, we call him the Redneck Over Yonder... or the Redneck for short.  We try not to talk about him in front of the girls at all, but at times, it is unavoidable (thank goodness for texting!)  The Redneck does love his daughters in his own way.  He wants what is best for them, IF it involves what is best for him.  He may mature past this, but this is how it stands in the present.  He took me to court in January 2010 for custody, and after a few pretrial hearings, extended the actual custody hearing till July of 2010, then finally backed out of it saying he's not ready yet.  Since January 2010, he has  had court ordered visitations every other weekend for two hours, and we may extend that parenting time if I deem that things are going well.  Most of the time, he seems bored about an hour and a half into the visit, and the girls usually are too.  We are very limited to the range of meeting places, as the Redneck doesn't have a drivers license or car right now.  He used to have a bicycle, but damaged that about 4 weeks ago when he ran into a truck.  So we usually meet at the library if the weather is bad, or the park if it is good.  The Redneck generally expects these two young ladies to do things that he finds interesting or fun, and this usually doesn't work well for either of them because they are both of strong mind and will in that area.  When he is bored, he also likes to pick fights with me at the visitation when he is getting restless and ready to go.  He will tell me The Vampire doesn't need counseling, or that he might be changing his work schedule and will need to start seeing them thru the week instead, and that he wants me to bring them to the community church dinners that he frequents (he is always on the brink of being homeless).  Honestly... the only thing I hold against my sister, is that she brought this dead weight of dealing with the Redneck into my life. 

In the last four weeks, he has seen them once.  He was doing fairly well with visitations, but has begun to falter.  I believe it is because he is back to running with his drug addict friends, and doing drugs himself again.  The visit he missed four weeks ago started with no phone call, and no answer when I called him (his phone had been shut off).  On the day of the visit, he called at 4:00 (1.5 hours AFTER the visit was supposed to start) and left me a sob story on my voice mail about how he forgot about the visit, and was at a friend's house, and how he wrecked his bicycle and fractured his leg, etc.  Two weeks later when we saw, him, he seemed OK, and cut the visit short cause he was afraid he was going to have to walk in the rain.  He always drags out his raincoat and lays on a sob story about how "daddy doesn't want to get wet" and makes his daughters feel sorry for him before he leaves.  I hate when he does this, and really don't know how to handle it.  It's pathetic in my eyes, and an adult shouldn't guilt trip a child to care about them.  But that is something I need to think on and talk to their therapist about. 

He was supposed to see our angels this past Saturday.  I waited and waited for a call asking me if we could meet up and he could see them.  By noon on Saturday, I decided a visit was not going to happen, and went about our regular routine of nap for the Vampire, and a lil Sprout time for the Drama Queen, and resigned myself to the chore of continuing to paint the fence while Uncle M worked on putting my greenhouse together.  We have been working on these two projects for the past three weekends now, and are so near completion of them both that it makes me giddy, and I would much RATHER do these projects than to be forced to drive into Franklin to subject the girls to guilt trips and listen to more of his insanity.  I look at my phone around 2:30 and realize I missed a call around 1:13, I'm so busy working and singing, that I didn't hear my phone ring.  It is the Redneck.  He has left me a message saying that he's sorry the call is so late, that he just bought minutes for his phone, and that he can't make today's visitation and would like to know if we can't just do dinner on Sunday evening. 

I plan our months a month in advance.  I know... sounds crazy, but I do.  I like to keep my mom in the loop of what's up so we can keep the three kids together now and then, and I like to make sure she and dad can help if possible on the weekends I have to work as I have no childcare on those Saturdays.  I am also dating a man from out of state, so it helps us to allot time to travel and see his family, or for time for them to travel and see us.  I really can't do a visit on Sunday evening, so I call him to see if maybe we can do a late breakfast on Sunday instead.  He keeps me chatting on the phone about these jobs he is doing (and I'm sure it is all under the table, tax free, and there is no child support being paid), about his delusions of grandeur and how he is going to tell his boss he won't settle for the $10.00 per hour any longer but wants to be getting 30% of all jobs (they just signed on for a 25K job and the 30% of that would be 7500.00) from now on because he should be considered skilled labor.  He tells me how he should have his license fines paid in about a month, and will be back on his feet.  I usually take this as a threat, because when he is "back on his feet" he has assured me he WILL get the girls from me, and there is nothing I can do about it.  I shudder at this.  I can't see them being treated well, or living a good life if he were their sole parent, but I have to push these fears out of my mind and keep moving along for the sake of my sanity and those two gorgeous little girls.  I finally get a word in edgewise and ask him if we can do Sunday breakfast, he says he will get with his associate, and then let me know if that will be possible, because he may have to go out and look at a new job he and his associate are working on Sunday morning.  I say ok, then go back to the routine of the day - seeing red paint for hours on end.  

Around 7:30 pm on Saturday 9/25, I finally hear back from the Redneck.  He informs me that he can not see them on Sunday as he will be busy, but would like to see them on the following weekend.  I let him know that we have plans that weekend, and that won't be possible, as it is NOT his visitation weekend.  He then asks me what plans so I have for HIS children, and why can't he see them when he wants to.  I tell him that we are taking them to a Pumpkin Fest associated with the Vampire's school, and will be gone from 9:00a - around 5:00p.  He then asks me where and if he can come.  I can't tolerate him all day long.  I really didn't want this to be an outing that involved him.  It is something that the girls, Uncle M and I did last year...  just us.  But I can't tell him that he can't go to a public place.  So I tell him if he can get a ride out there, that he can join us, and try to tell him fees of everything, but he seems disinterested at the time.  He says he will let us know if he will be joining us, then tells me goodbye.  I hang up.  Completely depressed.  Uncle M re-assures me that the Redneck will not be able to find a ride all the way out in the boonies where we are going, and that we WILL NOT be offering him a ride home IF (huge honking IF) he does make it.   I'm hoping he won't show.  I find out later, after the initial conversation just where he was that day, and who he was with instead of making time to see his kids.  It's OK with me, I just hope they are never hurt by him.  I will protect them from that pain as long as I can.  I am their court appointed guardian.  It is MY JOB to protect them... and aside from that - I love them as I've never loved anyone in my life.

Friday, September 24, 2010

IEP, "other mother", and Butterfinger Ice Cream

I had the meeting yesterday with some therapists and a preschool teacher with the local school district.  I have been working with them since the middle of August to see if the Vampire needs to be on an IEP ( Individualized Education Program).  They have taken turns going out to the daycare to observe the Vampire in her natural habitat, and they also tested her speech and behavioral skills.  It is now close to the end of September, and they have gathered everything they needed.  They showed me test scores, and told me that she is a perfectly normal little girl in their eyes, as she tested average or above on everything.  I've been thinking that her speech is lacking, but the speech therapist assured me that she is right where she needs to be.  They also assured me that she is not autistic like her brother as she is way to social of a child.  From what they observed, there were a lot of things that the teachers were doing that were sending mixed signals to the lil Vampire.  One instance they pointed out to me was that she likes to play by herself and as part of the Toddler's Creed, when she has a toy even if it is one that we view as everyone's toy like a slide.... in her mind, it's hers.  So she's playing on the slide, a little boy goes over to play with her.  She doesn't want to share.  Teachers tell her she needs to share the slide, it is for everyone.  She and the little boy try to go down the slide together.  It doesn't work very well, and the Vampire bites the little boy.  Teachers race to little boy's cries of pain.  Vampire gets the slide to herself, and continues to play on it.  No one tells her until few minutes after the incident that it's not ok to bite her friends, and she will have to go home if she keeps biting them.  She doesn't really care... she has the slide to herself now.

So the preschool teacher that is part of the IEP program tells me that we need to start modeling with the Vampire.  No... not baby beauty queen pageants, but showing her what we're asking her to do as we're asking her to do it.  So she can visualize it while she hears the words, and can begin connecting what words go to what actions.  For instance I would say "Let's put our shoes on", then sit down with her and put my shoes on as she does.  It is so nice to know that the biting isn't coming out of the blue like the teachers were trying to have me believe, and that we have finally connected her inability to say "give me the toy back" to her just reaching out and biting.  Hopefully with the modeling and continued patience of all involved we can pull her thru this rough patch and help her begin to enjoy her childhood a little bit better!

The therapy session, with the personal therapist I began taking the Vampire to as of three weeks ago (not part of the IEP at all), happened last night.  The personal therapist had the Drama Queen in on the therapy session with the Vampire.  I was not able to attend this therapy session, because I had to miss some work to be at the IEP meeting, so Uncle M made sure she was there for it all.  The therapist wants to begin seeing the Drama Queen, as she sees some issues that need to be worked out.  I hope this will help them.  I have always had mixed feelings about therapy.  When I got home from work, Uncle M and the girls were all ready there, and he was getting dinner started.  He caught me up on the therapy session, and I filled him in on the IEP meeting.  The therapist had the Vampire and Drama Queen alone in the therapy room, while Uncle M waited in the lobby, then the last half of the session, she called Uncle M to join them.  So we do not know what all took place in the first 1/2 hour, but the Vampire was very angry and mean to the therapist while Uncle M was in there, and was hitting, kicking, and even punching her.  Because of those actions, the therapist asked that we put the Vampire to bed early by 1/2 hour for her aggressive behavior. 

In my time home with the children yesterday, the Vampire spent most of her time in time out.  She was very wild, and very.... obstinate.  When it came time for her shower, she did nothing but cry for her "other mother".  Mind you this was the VERY FIRST time that the Vampire has mentioned my sister to me.  She was very angry and kept saying "I want my other mother!"  I struggled with the entire shower.  I tried to sing to her, and to get her to play, but she just wanted to cry for her "other mother".  I held her on my lap, and rocked her when I got her out of the shower, and she calmed down a little.  I have never in my time with her seen her act out like this.  I don't know what the therapist said, and I'm asking Uncle M "did the therapist talk about M O M M Y??"  He doesn't know, but the Drama Queen confirms it, and things start to make sense to me.  I lotion and dress the Vampire, snuggling her, and trying to talk her up the entire time, but she has another melt down and continues to cry for her "other mother".  She then asks Uncle M why "other mother" isn't here anymore.  He looks at me, and we just don't know what to say.  She comes up with her own solution in our silence, and says "she had to work.  she left me to work."  I tell her what my sister told me at that point, "your mommy moved away to find a better job," and I add "she did the best thing she knew to do, and that was to leave you here with me where you would be safe and loved."  I hug her and get her in bed.  I stay with her for a little bit, and rub her back and her arms, all the while telling her how much I love her, and will never leave her.  She seems satisfied, and comfortable, and I leave her to fall asleep.

I don't wish my sister dead, so please do not take the next statement I make as my saying that, but I feel like it would be so much easier to explain to a child "mommy went to heaven because God wanted to call her home" than to say the truth.  In my mind the truth is "your mommy left with her boyfriend, and put so many things above and before you.  You are better off right now."  I have to skirt around that, and try to say the truth without adding my own feelings to it so she can form her own opinion of what really happened some day.  All I can do is stand there and guide her.  I love my sister, thru all she has done, I still love her, and I want the best for her, but I have to put those feelings aside and concentrate on all the best for her children.

The Drama Queen is also weepy and missing her mommy.  She snuggles Uncle M and I, and tells us that she's so sad that her mommy left her and that she really misses her.  We both reassure her that her mommy loved her and did what was best by her, by leaving her with Aunt TT.  We remind her that her mommy is actually Aunt TT's sister, and that Aunt TT misses her a lot too.  The Drama Queen has had other bouts like this before, and I am more adept at knowing how to handle it with her because I have had to in the past.  I redirect her thinking by telling her all the fun things we have planned for our Friday evening activities, and telling her that if she can do well in school this year, that I will let her try out for Cheerleading next summer because she has asked me multiple times if she can be a Cheerleader.  We then tuck her into bed (on the couch cause she will get no sleep with the Vampire still wired for sound even though she was supposed to be sleeping...), and tell her how much we love her and will always be there for her.  Once the Vampire falls asleep, we move the Drama Queen to her bed, then breathe a sigh of relief that this crazy day nearly over.

It was a very emotionally draining day.  For them, for Uncle M (who is exhausted keeping the pace of two little girls, and being up at 4:00a every morning for work), and for me.  I know I should be sewing the Halloween costumes, but I am so tired.  I am on the Biggest Loser plan here at work against my co-workers, and am doing fair this month in my weight loss, but I gave into my sweet craving last night.  Darn Uncle M for bringing Butterfinger Explosion Ice Cream in my house!!!  Darn me for not getting some fruit instead... but man did I savor and enjoy every single bite of the 1/2 a cup I allowed myself.  Hey at least I didn't start eating it out of the carton like I wanted to right?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

"Do you think I've gone 'round the bend"

"Afraid so.  You're mad.  Bonkers.  Off your head.  But I will tell you a secret...  All the best people are."

In Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland (currently one of my favorite movies, and the theme for our little family Halloween costumes) this quote is what Charles Kingsley tells his daughter Alice Kingsley when she wakes from one of her Wonderland nightmares as a child.  I think of this quote often, not only because I've watched the movie more than I should while preparing for Halloween, but because sometimes... I feel as if I have gone stark raving mad... and it's a comfort to me.  I am sure everyone feels a little "off their rocker" now and then when they are raising children... and you know what?  It's OK!

For Halloween this year, Uncle M (that long distance turned blessed that he is in my life boyfriend) told me that he had an idea so good for our Halloween costumes that I wouldn't be able to turn it down.  I (grinning, and ready to prove him wrong) tell him to lay it on me.  He then suggests the Alice in Wonderland theme.  I then say, "you're right it would be such fun!"  So out of one of our too much to talk about not enough time to cram it all in evenings, we decided that Uncle M will be the Mad Hatter (complete with KILT!!!!!), I will be Alice, the Drama Queen will be the Red Queen (AKA Queen of Hearts), the Vampire will be the Cheshire Cat, and Hobie our faithful 90lb golden lab will be one of the card soldiers to the Queen.  I have been literally dreaming of costumes ever since and working on trying to pull something together.  Uncle M and I dressed up as Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf complete with Grandma's Night gown and cap the last two years, and took the kids around dressed up last year, so we will be doing it again this year... but as a family!

Our little Vampire had a lovely day yesterday at the daycare.  She managed to stay all day long, and only sunk her teeth into one child.  The story I am given is that it was over a pillow, so that reinforces the theory that she is biting as a form of communication/control.  She had tumbling class last night, which she adores, and was so cute and sweet that I nearly cried.  She mothered a little boy that was there waiting for his sister by helping him put the "little people" in their Ferris wheel, and patting him on the head then returning to what she was doing before he wordlessly asked her for help.  Uncle M and I sat and waited tensely, the entire time because of her cannibal history, but she was nothing less than kind and patient with the little guy every time he handed her a little person to place back in the Ferris wheel..  She would then glance back at us and we would both smile and I would say "you're being so good, Aunt TT is so proud of you!"

The Drama Queen had good day at kindergarten yesterday, and amazes me daily with her growing ability to read.  I love to read, and have been encouraging it in her since I realized she was getting to the age she could.  I hope that we can spend some time at the summer reading programs next year at one of the local libraries.  I always loved it when mom did that with me.  I remember having such a thirst for books that I would drive her insane asking her to take me back to the library!  I have promised the Drama Queen that if she is good for the rest of the week at school that we can take some of the money she has earned in her bunny bank and go to the store, and she can pick out and pay for something with her own money.  I hope this will give her a sense of accomplishment, help her learn about money, and help reinforce the good behavior.

I am trying to decide if I should purchase a blank baby book and sit down with my mom and try to fill it in for the Vampire.  Mom found the Drama Queen's baby book, but we haven't been able to locate the Vampire's.  I honestly don't even know if my sister kept one for her, as her life was such a cluster at that point.  I would hate to be able to share the Drama Queen's book with her someday, but have nothing for the Vampire, so I'm leaning toward making one up.  If there are pages or things that are blank.....  it's better than nothing at all right?

Today might or might not be as good as a day as yesterday, but having that 24 hour period where things were mostly all right reinforced my self esteem, my outlook on life, and faith in those two darling little girls.  I hope and pray there are many more days like yesterday to come, and will do everything in my power to guide them to more "good days".  I will take the bad days in stride and do my best to look at them as more of a learning curve in the grand scheme of it all.  So am I certifiably crazy...  without a doubt!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Mission Statement

I have searched high and low for a support group for someone who is trying to raise their sibling's children. Thus far... I have found nothing that fits the bill. So I am making my own, online support type group. I can't be the only one in the world trying to fill the shoes of a mother that is no longer there! These shoes aren't easy to fill, as the children I am trying to raise are 3 years old (the Vampire) and 5 years old (the Drama Queen). They were both neglected in their early years, but their individual personalities also have a lot to do with the various issues that they struggle with. I have had complete custody of them for a little over a year now, it has been that long since they have seen their biological mother, my sister. Their biological father has had supervised visitations since January of this year, but is in no way stable enough to handle being the primary care giver of these precious babies.

Before I became their custodial auntie, I was a childless woman trying to buy a home of my own. I was in a very negative, abusive relationship for 8 years prior to my new life, and at this point, I was still trying to get on my feet and find out exactly what I wanted to be doing. I am stubborn by nature, and was enjoying being in a long distance relationship with a man whom I had been good friends with prior to my divorce. One weekend, my sister asked me to watch her kids for a little while. I asked her how long a little while was, and she said "I don't know." I told her, "sis, I'm trying to buy a home of my own right now, how can I keep your kids for an unknown period of time, and provide schooling, medical care, etc?" She then tells me that she has to leave the state to get a better job. I tell her you can find a good job here, then proceed to help her locate a job. She clearly has her heart set on leaving the state with her boyfriend.... and without her kids, but tells me to never-mind. Two days later, she tells me that since I am so (expletive) perfect... I can just raise her (expletive) children. I have not seen her since, and have spoken to her on the phone a handful of times. That was June 29, 2009.

Since then, I completed the purchase of my very own house, and have done my best at making it a home for us. My long distance boyfriend became more of a steady boyfriend, and has made it clear to me by moving closer to the girls and I, that he wants to help me raise them. I have managed to keep my job, although at times, the odds are stacked against me with that - but thankfully I have an amazing set of employers. My parents have worked hard at having custody of their 7 year old autistic brother. I have become more of a "mother" and less of the "favorite aunt", but above all else, I have come to have a new appreciation the the trials and tribulations that every parent goes through with children.

The Vampire is our adorable blond haired, blue eyed, obstinate, 3 year old cannibal. OK, so she doesn't really eat humans.... but she can't seem to stop biting them. The first time I saw her bite was shortly after she started walking, around 1 yr old. She has used that as communication pretty much ever since. No one believes she is a biter until they see her do it. They tell me, "that angel? she couldn't hurt a fly!!" I am currently using every method legally possible to reign in her biting, including therapy, redirection, time outs, etc, and am now avidly trying to get her involved in speech therapy. She is in danger of being kicked out of the only daycare I can afford to have her in right now. We have been dedicating so much time to her right now that the Drama Queen has started to act out. The Vampire loves the acrobatics class we have her in, and to watch anything animated or kid associated on T.V.

The Drama Queen is our beautiful brunette, with the clearest green eyes I have ever seen. She is strong willed and doesn't like to share or be told that she is wrong. She has developed her biological parents knack for lying, and a mouth that no 5 year old should have. If you tell her it's white she will argue until bed time that it is indeed black. She just started kindergarten, and 4 weeks into the school year, I received the dreaded "call from the teacher". I was shocked, cause I thought that the Vampire was more our problem child. The Drama Queen loves ballet, tap, and is learning now how to crochet (she insisted I teach her).

This blog will be a public record of our adventures, misadventures, trials, tribulations, and successes. You may laugh, cry, think I am crazy, post your feelings of outrage to something I have written, or just read and feel like you aren't alone in being a custodial aunt or uncle of some incredible kiddos that push you to your limits. I welcome feedback, and hope you can enjoy!

- Aunt TT