What I miss the most about my daughters, 6 and 7, is giving them a bath, drying them, watching them dance with their towels, lotioning them, and massaging their backs while they sing how good it feels. As they got dressed, they’d pose in the mirror, enjoying their outfits, loving their look. I would pretend I had a camera, taking pictures.
Then there’s my son Mandell. I miss giving him shape-ups with the razor, playing videogames together, and having conversations about school and friends. He’s 12, so I have to question him constantly to get him to tell me things that help me know him—what he likes and dislikes when it comes to people, activities, clothing and videogames. Still, it’s fun communicating with him.
One Year in Foster Care
One year ago, Mandell, Alaysia and Diamond went into foster care and I went into a drug program. I’d voluntarily placed my oldest daughter, TeAsia, in foster care a few months earlier because of her behavior. I’m 42 and have two older children as well. In all I have six ambitious and talented kids.
Ever since I became a parent, I have tried to learn patience and commitment. But my biggest struggle in life has been with depression, bad memories and wanting to drink and use drugs to get rid of empty, horrifying moments in my life.
Losses and Struggle
Moving into motherhood at age 20 was such a shock. I wasn’t married or ready to be a parent. I was young and homeless, and then my son’s daddy got locked up. I felt alone.
A few years later,my older daughters’ father died. Again, it was like a part of my life had come to an end. There I was with a 5-year-old, a 1-year-old and a 38-day-old baby. A great depression moved in. I felt lost, shocked and alone again, living in a new apartment in a borough where I knew no one.
I tried to be courageous. But my babies had me totally stressed and confused. They cried all the time. No one in my family would step in to help. Finally my daughter’s cousin showed up and took my 1-year-old.
A Depression I Couldn’t Stop
Still, I could not stop the depression. My therapist once a week wasn’t enough. The medication I was taking kept me zoned out and not able to attend to the house and children like I wanted to. I began to drink. Wine helped me focus on music. Music motivated me to clean and cook, smile, and interact with the kids, take them out on family outings, and bring them around my family.
Then I met a longtime friend who also drank. Eventually, child protection got involved. I was so disappointed and ashamed. Still, I got them back, and I was a stable mother for many years. Then my cycle of depression and drugs set in again.
The Cruelest Winter
Entering the holiday season in 2014 with my children in care was eye-opening and mind-blowing. Throughout December, I felt unsettled and discouraged. I thought to myself, “The new year will be here within weeks but I can’t seem to be on my way to a family home.”
There were some hopeful signs. On Dec. 16, I moved into a beautiful two-bedroom apartment with one of the women from my shelter. I was so happy to be out of the shelter. I need peace and silence in my life. Everywhere I stop has groups of people. I haven’t been in peace for a long time.
The 16th was also my court date. I was able to report that I’m done with the treatment program. I completed parenting and most of my services. I also got some unsupervised visits.
But my holidays did not go as I hoped. Two of my visits were cancelled in the two weeks before Christmas. Those visits were what I looked forward to to keep me sane.
I was also stressed because I was given a Section 8 voucher that would run out January 27, with no extension. That seemed like too short a time to find an apartment. I could not stop thinking that I might not have a home for my family. I was down, telling myself, “I am not using drugs but I feel like things aren’t getting better. I wish this search would come to an end.”
‘Will I Make It?’
Christmas and New Year’s usually make me feel like the perfect parent: cooking, gift wrapping, storytelling, bringing out smiles and long hugs. These holidays didn’t feel right for me without my kids.
Without them, I felt alone in a world that doesn’t know me and really doesn’t care. And when I do not have control over things for a long period of time, I want to give up. My mind was on my kids endlessly, but I found myself wondering: “Will I make it? Can I be that supportive parent, or have I weakened? Can I tolerate the kids once again? I don’t know them anymore.”
The Devil on My Shoulders
Looking around for answers and hearing silence, I began to feel weird, mentally and physically. I couldn’t find peace in my face when I looked in the mirror. I saw disturbance, wounds that haven’t healed. I felt empty inside, aches and pain. I sat and wondered if I was haunted. I just didn’t feel like myself.
My despair came to the point that I wanted to give up. Stop going to visits. Stop trying to please the parent in me. Move on as a single woman. It felt as if the devil had hopped on my shoulders and strapped himself in.
I needed to gather my thoughts, look back, leave the past behind, put my life in order and hold on to what could help me in the future.
My Strength Comes from Me
The sight of my room in my new apartment with all my things that I wanted to share with my children helped me remember how it was when we were together, and how every day I looked forward to seeing them.
“The miracle has just begun,” I told myself. “I can keep my head to the sky. My brain is disturbed, the pain is returning, but I can keep loving myself and fighting to stay humble and keep my sanity.”
I reminded myself, “This temporary separation is giving me time to regain a relationship with myself.”
An Amazing Beginning
And do you know what? It’s been an amazing beginning to 2015. I was able to give my kids a cellphone so they can call me from their foster home, or I call them to check in. Every other night the girls call me to say they miss and love me, or tell me that their brother is bothering them.
Our unsupervised visits are also going well. I pick the kids up from school. When they see me, their eyes light up. Out of their mouths comes “Mommy!” Then their bodies come crashing into me, and their arms wrap around me. I feel tackled like a football player.
Now that we meet outside of the agency, it brings back memories of happy days before foster care. We return to places we’ve visited, a store we’ve bought from, or avenues that put a smile on their faces.
The Magic Johnson theater has arcade games and historic pictures that they love. Deal convenience store always excites them, and the block with the Apollo is great. They always ask to go in. They bring up moments that remind them of home. That experience of not seeing them on a daily basis doesn’t seem to have gotten between us.
Lakisha’s children came home in February 2016.