This post has been a long time in the making. The story is hard for me to look back on and harder to tell, so please bare with me and be gentle in judgment.
In a lot of ways I'm like a first time mom with Kairi. There are a lot of very public ways, like that I breastfeed Kairi and I didn't with Gracie, I babywear, I co-sleep... There are a lot of very different mothering techniques (I guess) that I am using this time round. But there is also one very big, very private way that I am a first time mom...
When I was in high school I liked to party. I skipped school to go smoke pot until the principal threatened to suspend me for skipping one more time. Even then I still left campus to get high at lunch. Just after I got out of school Jason and I got together. I was 17 at the time and still smoking. He smoked then too. It wasn't a huge part of our relationship, but it was there. We moved in together after 8 months with no savings and crap jobs.
After a few months of living together, things were getting rough financially. The job Jason had been working for the past 6 years (on and off, mostly on though) refused to give him a raise. When the state raised the minimum wage from $5.15 to $5.85 his boss told him to consider that his raise. One day, Jason found an easy fix to our money situation. He had bought an ounce of pot off a friend for $80 and had another friend who wanted to buy half of it from him for $50. This friend had another friend who wanted to buy the other half for $50 as well. Jason made $20 out of the deal and went back for another. And that's how it started.
At first Jason and I both kept our jobs. Over time I traded up jobs and was making more money, and over time he was making bigger deals - eventually quitting his job and becoming a full time pot dealer. For a time it was fun. We constantly had friends coming over, we always had money, and we were always partying. But over time I began to develop an allergy to THC, so smoking was no longer fun for me. And the constant flow of people coming over was no longer close friends, but distant strangers who didn't want to visit and have fun - they wanted what they came for and then wanted to leave. Not only that, but they had no respect for any kind of house rules. Looking back, I don't know how I expected them to, but at the time I was pretty worked up over it. But we still always had money and I still enjoyed spending it. After a while Jason was making enough selling that I was able to quit my job and never look back. This went on for 3 years.
When I was 20 I got pregnant with Gracie. During my pregnancy I tried to talk Jason into quitting and getting a job. He kept saying that he was trying to save up enough money that we could make due on it for a while before having to go back to work, but the money kept getting stolen, or a deal would go bad and we'd be out $500 for it. It was always 1 step forward and 2 back where the saving was concerned.
Gracie was born in the end of January '05. While I was in the hospital my family asked me how we were going to make due. They didn't come right out and say it, but the urged me to try to get Jason to find a job, and for me to do the same once I was able to. I talked to Jason until I was blue in the face about it, but he had just lost a big chunk of the savings in a bad deal and thought he could for sure get it back within a couple of months.
I know what everyone must be thinking. I know what I am thinking in hindsight: Why didn't I just leave? Take Gracie and flee? It's not that I didn't love her enough - I just kept believing that Jason would quit after "this next deal." Finally one night in April I made a decision: if he doesn't get a job within 2 weeks, I'm gone. That's it.
10:00 am, April 12, 2005 - The next morning....
BANG BANG BANG BANG!
The loud, hard knocks at the door shot my out of my bed like a bullet from a gun. I had had it up to here with all these inconsiderate druggies waking me up! I didn't even put on my glasses. I looked out the window in the door and saw several people standing on the porch. As I went to unlock the deadbolt the banging on the door started again, this time shaking the house. I stepped back just in time to see the door fly open sending splinters from the door frame across my living room, one slicing my hand open as it flew through the air.
"Get on the ground! Get on the ground NOW!," screamed the 6'5" 300 lb policeman in the front. Immediately I was on my stomach with his knee hard in my back as he was putting handcuffs on me. I had just barely missed the swing where Gracie, then 2 months, was sleeping when I hurled myself to the ground. Within seconds there were 8 men in black in my house rummaging through my things. One policeman went to the bedroom and gently and politely asked Jason to roll over onto his belly on the bed so he could cuff him.
Almost right off the bat they took Jason to the police station. I stayed behind to stay with Gracie until a Child Protection agent could come get her. I begged the officer in charge to remove my cuffs so I could feed her and change her diaper. He said he was already doing more than he should by letting me do those things in cuffs, so it was definitely a no-go on taking them off.
You know those movies where there is an explosion and everything goes in slow motion? The ones where you see everything slightly blurred, debris flying everywhere, blinding light bending your perception on things? That's what those moments felt like to me. The only completely clear thing I remember from that whole morning was sitting in my rocking chair, holding my daughter who through the whole thing did nothing but smile at me. She had the biggest smile on her face the whole time, even as I handed her off to the social worker. The memory of that beautiful, bright, toothless grin will always be tainted by the hazy memories of that morning.
Immediately my mother made arrangements to move back to town so that she could become the guardian of her granddaughter. I thank my lucky stars every single day that my mother dropped everything in her life and spent her entire retirement to get here so Gracie wouldn't have to be in a foster home with strangers.
Gracie lived with my mom, her Mimi, for 10 months while Jason and I worked hard to complete the treatment plan laid out by the social worker assigned to our case. Jason had to go to rehab for a month, we both had to go to group counseling for drug addicts and abusers, I had to go to counseling to work through my enabling issues, we went to parenting classes and additionally attended Narcotics Anonymous meetings every night we were able. We worked hard to turn our lives around.
But our social worker was new - we were her first case. Prior to becoming a social worker she was a foster parent. She got the kids who were in the worst conditions and as such was out for blood on her first run. She needed to make an example out of someone, and we were that someone. Now, I'm not trying to play the victim here. We wouldn't have had to deal with her like we did had we not gotten ourselves in the position in the first place, and I will be the first one to admit that. That being said, the woman really was out for blood. She kept our case open for 2 years. After the initial 10 months of work we had to do to get Gracie back home with us, we were subjected to another 14 months of hoop jumping. She even removed Gracie from our house for a month again because we had it sprayed for bugs.
One night we were at a friend's house eating dinner when I got a call on my cell phone. It was Carol, our worker. She called to tell me that a woman within CPS, but not in her department had audited her cases and told her that our case was to be closed effective the following week. When we went to court to close the case Carol was not there, but her supervisor was there in her place. She apologized on behalf of CPS for keeping our case open so long (it is customary to keep cases open once the child returns home for 6 months. Some have to stay open longer, but only those who aren't cooperating.)
Since then we've been working hard to keep turning our lives in the right direction. We got a foot up in the process of getting Gracie back, but that was only the beginning. Since then Jason has stayed at the same job for 4 years, a job that gives him raises as deserved (for the most part). I got the first job I could get my hands on while we were trying to get Gracie back. I worked for over a year and a half at McDonald's, working to become a manager. Then I went to work at Chili's where I stayed for 2 years until I started school and found out I was pregnant with Kairi.
It's been a long, hard road and we missed a lot of the parenting experience with Gracie as a baby. She lived with my mom from the time she was 2 months old until the week after her first birthday and then for a month the following summer. A friend of mine is constantly laughing at me on Facebook because I'm always making comments about what new things Kairi is doing. "You sound like such a new mom!" she tells me.
And in a lot of ways I am. But I am loving the experiences I am going through with my kids. I have learned from my mistakes and because of them I know that I will never take my children for granted like so many parents do. I am cherishing every single moment I have with them because I know what it's like to go without. A friend of mine told me throughout the whole ordeal, "I don't know how you do it. If that happened to me, if I was separated from my daughter, I'd go crazy. I'd either be in a mental facility or I'd kill myself." At the time all I could tell her was that I knew I had to be strong for my daughter so I could get her back. Recently someone sent me an email with a picture in it. The picture said, "You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have."
In my life I have few regrets. In a way I don't regret what happened because the change made us better parents and better partners to one another. I think that we are amazing now. (Not to be cocky or anything, but I really do.) But the most heartbreaking regret I have is how the change came about.
I realize that my story will turn some people away. Some people just can't get past what we did to get where we are or how we've lived our lives. I would love to say that it's fine with me, that I don't care. But I do. In a lot of ways it makes it feel like all the work we've done to better ourselves for our family has been in vain, that we're still nothing but a couple of pot-peddling druggies. But in the same respect I can understand. A lot of people have not walked in the same neighborhood as what I've gone through, let alone the same path or shoes and it is hard for them to see what motivated me at the time. I'm in no way defending my actions at the time or trying to say that I had the right motivations, but I have always ALWAYS loved my daughters and so has Jason. We have lived through one of the most heartbreaking, life-altering experiences we will probably ever go through (fingers crossed) and we are better parents for it.
I appreciate you taking the time to read my story. I've tried writing this out time and time again and just have never found the right words. Even now I'm hesitant. But I over the past few years I have met families that have been in the same type of situation and sharing my story has seemed to help, to give hope or if nothing else to give a sense that they're not alone in the battle. I hope that maybe someone in need of help will see this and see that it can be done, it's not a never ending battle (even when your social worker has a personal vendetta against you) and in the end there is hope for change and strength.