FROM THE EYES OF SOME CHILDREN…
By Ivalee Leo
Foster care is a system by which adults care for minor children who are not able to live with their biological parents. When parents are unable, unwilling or unfit to care for a child, the child must find a new home.
In some cases, there is little or no chance a child can return to their parents’ custody, so they need a new permanent home. Other situations children may only a need a temporary home until their parents’ situation changes. In any case, the children need somewhere to stay until a permanent home is possible. Foster care is intended to be a temporary living situation for children.
The goal of foster care is to reunify with their parent or guardian or find another suitable permanent living arrangement. This may include an adoptive home, guardianship, or placement with a relative. At times, the bond that develops during foster care will lead to the foster parents adopting the child. In some instances, children may be placed in a long-term foster placement. For older adolescents, a foster care program may offer education and resources to prepare for a transition to independent living.
In the United States, the predominant form of foster care is still ordinary people serving as foster parents. Foster home licensing requirements vary from state to state but are generally overseen by the state’s Department of “Social Services” or “Human Services”. Requirements to be a foster parent vary by jurisdiction, as do monetary reimbursement and other benefits which they receive.
In some states, foster parents may be single or a couple, younger or older adults, with or without biological children in their home. Often, “empty nesters” whose children have grown up and left the home may choose to take in foster children. While foster parents are encouraged to connect emotionally with the children in their care, foster families are not meant to be permanent replacements for biological families. Except in unusual and extreme circumstances, every child’s plan is first focused on reunification with parents.
If the efforts toward reunification are not successful, the plan may be changed to another permanent arrangement, such as adoption or transfer of custody to a relative. Occasionally the plan involves a permanent placement with a foster family, usually for older children who have become strongly attached to the family or for whom a suitable adoptive home cannot be found. Placement in foster care may be as short as a few days or as long as a few years.
The ultimate goal is to find adoptive parents who will take on all the emotional and legal responsibilities of birth parents. In the eyes of the law, adopting a child is pretty much the same thing as giving birth to them.
Fostering a child, on the other hand, doesn’t give the foster parents any major authority over the child’s life. On occasion, foster parents will eventually adopt foster children in their care, but more often, the foster home is a means of returning the child to his or her birth parents or a stop on the way to another home. Unfortunately, many children end up bouncing from foster home to foster home, never finding a permanent family.
In this regard, the foster care system is clearly imperfect, since it often adds more instability to a child’s life. Most children are placed temporarily in foster care due to parental abuse or neglect. All children deserve and benefit from enduring, positive relationships with caring adults.
The same is true for the 513,000 American youth in foster care. These young people have a special need to make connections with nurturing adults because their own families are in crisis. Many require secure, stable places to call home until they can either safely reunite with their parent or establish other lifelong family relationships. Foster care affects hundreds of thousands of children and families and society as a whole.
Child welfare issues arise in families of every race, ethnicity, culture, and age group. Children and youth are placed in foster care when their parents (or guardians) are no longer able to ensure their essential wellbeing. These young people need stable, loving care until they can either safely reunite with their families or establish other lifelong relationships with a nurturing adult.
The magnitude of foster care as an issue in America is startling. With an estimated 12 million foster care alumni and 513,000 children and youth currently in out-of-home care, it is hard to ignore the impact of child abuse and neglect on our nation’s next generation.
It’s hard to overestimate the importance of education in the life of a foster child. The school experience can greatly affect the quality of a child’s day-to-day life – and the quality of her future when she leaves care. While in care, foster children need school as a point of stability in lives that can be battered by change.
As adults, with less of a safety net than children from intact families, they need a strong educational foundation in order to support themselves. But when it comes to succeeding in school, foster children face unique challenges and obstacles beyond those faced by even their most economically disadvantaged non-foster peers.
And busy child welfare professionals, foster parents, and birth parents may be distracted or overwhelmed, leaving no adult paying attention to a foster child’s educational needs. Foster children lag behind their non-foster peers in school. Research over the past three decades has shown that, compared to the general school population, the half-million foster children in the United States:
• have poorer attendance rates
• are less likely to perform at grade level
• are more likely to have behavior and discipline problems
• are more likely to be assigned to special education classes
• are less likely to attend college.
For children in care, placement and subsequent changes in their foster care residence often means a change of school as well. Most research shows that transfers have a harmful effect on educational outcomes.
The absence of required school records or other documents can lead to a delay in registering at the new school and a gap of days or weeks in learning. But less recognized is the effect of placement transfers on the child. Each transfer requires the child to adjust to new teachers and peers and to a curriculum that may differ considerably from her previous school.
Too many transfers can cause a child to disengage and give up on school. Children in foster care generally do not have an adult who is their educational advocate – someone who knows her way around the school system; helps navigate the registration and transfer process; monitors grade and attendance reports; and makes sure that the child is properly tested, placed in the appropriate grade, and receiving the necessary services. For most non-foster students that advocate is a family member, usually a parent.
Foster children have lots of adults responsible for their care but no one person responsible for their education. While a growing number of advocacy organizations are promoting the education of foster children and raising awareness of its importance, general measures are not sufficient. Every foster child needs a designated adult to act as that child’s individual advocate. That person not only can intercede with the school system on the child’s behalf but can offer the encouragement a child needs to achieve his educational aspirations.
During FFY 2005, an estimated 1,460 children (compared to 1,490 children for FFY 2004) died from abuse or neglect—at a rate of 1.96 deaths per 100,000 children. The national estimate was based on data from State child welfare information systems, as well as other data sources available to the States.
The rate of 1.96 is a decrease from the rate for FFY 2004 of 2.03 per 100,000 children. Whether this decrease in the rate of child abuse fatalities will continue cannot be determined at this point, but the rate will be monitored closely. While most fatality data were obtained from State child welfare agencies, many of these agencies also received data from additional sources.
For FFY 2005, nearly one-fifth (18.5%) of fatalities were reported through the Agency File, which includes fatalities reported by health departments and fatality review boards. The coordination of data collection with other agencies contributes to a fuller understanding of the size of the phenomenon, as well as to better estimation.(http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/pubs/cm05/chapterfour.htm#child) Research has recognized a number of risk factors or attributes commonly associated with maltreatment. Children in families and environments where these factors exist have a higher probability of experiencing maltreatment. A greater understanding of risk factors can help professionals working with children and families identify maltreatment and high-risk situations so they can intervene appropriately.
It must be emphasized, however, that while certain factors often are present among families where maltreatment occurs, this does not mean that the presence of these factors will always result in child abuse and neglect. Factors associated with increased risk of child maltreatment are often grouped according to the following categories:
• Parent or caregiver factors
• Family factors
• Child factors
• Environmental factors
• Risk factors by type of abuse
Do all biological parents deserve second chances? Truthfully some biological parents get numerous chances. Are the children getting a second chance and at what price? Some children cycle in and out of the foster care system time and time again for the benefit of second, third, fourth, fifth…….chances for the biological parents.
The damage of this to these children cannot be undone and the effects last a lifetime. Every year, approximately 18,000 youth will emancipate — or “age-out”— from the foster care system when they reach age 18 or finish high school. Youth in foster care often do not get the help they need with high school completion, employment, accessing health care, continued educational opportunities, housing and transitional living arrangements. Studies of youth who have left foster care have shown they are more likely than those in the general population to not finish high school, be unemployed, and be dependent on public assistance. Many find themselves in prison, homeless, or parents at an early age.
I was one from a family of 4 that were blessed and lucky to be adopted by great people. I’m not quite finished making my life alterations but I know it will have a happy ending, I always imagined what my life would have been like if I was growing up in my parent’s generation. For a very long time I believed I would have been more content staying home raising a family, and tending to the care of my husband.
I am extremely grateful for where life has taking me and growing up in the 80’s was a blast. However, there is that special bond families held in which my mother’s era exuberated and has always appealed to me. My parents passed on these values to us and for that I am very grateful. It’s ironic that as a teenager I never wanted to be like my mother even though I loved her immensely I just couldn’t see myself being in her shoes. She was a woman who sacrificed her life, looked blindly past opportunities to better her life, never had a real vacation, and never stole free moments for rest.
My mother was a dedicated wife, a great cook, a gentle nurse, a good teacher, she scrubbed the floors until you could eat off them, she glamorized holiday and birthdays, created new games on the fly, she was the accountant, the leader, the peace maker, the piano player and had a great singing voice. Now as a mother of 3 and 40 years wiser I wish I was every part my mother. God must have wanted me to be my father because I have his characteristics down to the tee.
Concetta Leo is a very special woman. Born and raised in Brooklyn she moved to Long Island hoping to start a family. I cannot imagine what she was thinking her life would be like but I bet she got more than she bargained for. She held her head high with great pride and dignity. She carried herself with respect and discipline.
Concetta is a mother to 9 children and grandmother to 16. My parents taught us respect, and strong family values, even though they were dated. I do admire my mother for the many sacrifices she made for the children, some of which I know I could not have made myself. I didn’t always agree with her and couldn’t understand at times why she made the choices she had. As children we had to be in bed at 8 pm, even during the summer. This was a law in our home. We weren’t allowed to watch the news, ride our bikes off the block, and wear make-up until we were 18 years of age, but I did.
I have adopted some of her parenting concepts and honed some that work best for me and my children. My mother had taken parenting classes before and during the time she had been a foster mother and she was very proud of that. She definitely earned all the awards she received in the 36 years she fostered children. Concetta lived the traditional Italian family lifestyle, she had a love for diamonds and lace but most of all she loved children. Concetta raised 46 foster children and did not do it alone.
James Leo, the family disciplinary (an army sergeant to some) and referred to by my mother as the backbone of the unit, although we have always known it was her, is the typical old fashioned Italian father.
My father fought in WWII in France and Germany, and he was proud to defend his country with honor. Growing up I came to idolize my father. I looked up to him with great respect and admiration. My mother always told us to ask our father’s permission, or said wait until your father got home.
I was awed by his strength and power. I loved the way he took care of my mother and the lot of us. He was a hard working man supporting his family. He was the jack of all trades and mastered them all. I was inspired by his nobility. I wanted to be my father when I grew up. I learned most of what I know from my father. He taught me how to build sheds, put up fences, repairs vehicles, mix and lay cement, mow grass, cut down trees, repair electrical wiring, install most lighting fixtures, he covered most areas of home improvements, automotive, farming, family values, self discipline and respect. My father made me laugh.
When I was 8 years old, I attached myself to my eldest sister’s heels. I loved learning from her, I looked up to her. She didn’t know she was teaching me anything because I was stealing it from her. I would read from her diary, spy on her through the crack in her door and secretly listen to her phone conversations.
My sister took me to my first club, using her non-photo Id, I would be cool and hang out with my big sister. I used to dress up in her clothing and put on her make-up. My mother used to make clothing for us to play dress up and let us wear her shoes so I guess as I got older I needed to expand on this concept somehow.
Thanks to my mother I can look back on my life and appreciate all the great things my parents gave to me. Yes children there is a Santa Claus and a God and Angels and the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny and…. Oooh Mother, there is no stork? Mother, what does this strange man mean? Mother, where do children come from? Mother what does “pregnant mean?” I had a strange feeling that my Brady life was about to change, even though I couldn’t understand why, I just knew something wasn’t Brady.
Raising foster children was something my mother actually enjoyed doing, she choose this as her career. I figured in those years people raised children for the sole purpose of providing a loving home, a stable family environment, lots of love and joy and most of all teach the children strong values. It was in my eyes, this simple.
I’m sure my mother saw this in a different light. She saw misplaced, misguided and abused children in dire need of love and attention. She knew they needed fixing and she knew she was the perfect mother for the job. Children were fortunate to come to her home, even if their stay was short lived, they walked away with the necessities to continue their journey. Some went on to other homes, some stayed and later was adopted into our expanding family, and others went back to their natural parents and then there are the ones that moved on to group homes. If my mother couldn’t fix them it usually meant they needed more serious care.
My mother cared for children of the street, children that were mentally or physically abused, children that were abandoned and children of crime. These children were the undesirables to most but not to my mother. She had hope for them all.
She devoted her life to changing the lives of those who were in need. One child in particular stands out from the rest. This child did not burn down a group home nor was drugged up for porn videos, this isn’t the child that lived in a park with his 2 younger siblings stealing to feed them, this isn’t the child that was handcuffed in a closet, this isn’t the child that plotted his father’s murder, this isn’t the child that was living in a dumpster in Brooklyn, this 17 year old child was the child that changed my life forever. He rearranged the order of things in my life.
He took from me something so valuable and precious, something I had to grow up to miss.
He took my innocence. It wasn’t until I gave birth to his child, did I realize I was now a mother oh no wait, I was a child. It is still unclear to me what the proper terminology should be.
All I remember from this is how my mother handled it. I have come to realize that even though my parents have the utmost love for us and they’d give their own lives for us, they aren’t perfect after all. I don’t know for certain that if she did anything different that my life wouldn’t be what it is today. I don’t know if I was the mother in this situation if I would make the same choices. I don’t know, even today, if the right choices were made for me at the time but I do know she was in as much shock and disbelief as I was.
I know she shared my pain and probably more so. My father, well I don’t even remember if at this time he existed let alone having feelings about it. I remember getting lost inside myself.
Somehow my Brady life faded into a deep dense fog that didn’t lift for some time. I recall taking shower after shower scrubbing my skin to it bled and I vaguely recall answering questions, having parental guidance and I remember that no arrest was ever made as promised.
I didn’t know this at the time but there was a crime committed against me and thought why was I, besides my parents, suffering for an event I didn’t understand. Well this foster child was quickly sent away in silence, I was sent to stay with an aunt and if it wasn’t for my eldest sister coming with me, I would have succumb to fear unlike any I could imagine.
Being at a very tender age, I don’t know how I ever made it past this point in life without becoming mentally scarred. Somehow much later in life I realized there was something I could learn from this experience and this was my first lesson in perseverance and a time when I could draw on the strength I learned from my father.
It wasn’t until a year later that I had experienced some kind of clarification and started understanding my emotions. I was raised catholic and had attended church religiously with the family until this life altering event. I started questioning god and his bible. I ripped it apart, not in a physical way, sections at a time. I had awakened from my fog only to find myself questioning god.
I convinced myself that nothing in the bible was real. I didn’t deny that god really existed and I knew he was still there but I wanted answers. I think god heard me because he sent me an angel. This angel was sent to answer my questions and change my life again. His name was Eddie and he lived with us as a foster child for some years before he moved on to someplace new.
I remember this day with such vividness. I was lying in my parent’s bed in a fetal position on my mother’s side of the bed clutching her pillow. My father walked in and announced there was someone there to see me. I thought to myself who would want to see me, I wasn’t worthy of such a request.
I barely looked up when Eddie was beside me stroking my hair and shoulder. I do not recall his exact words but his voice was soft and soothing. Somehow he reached me and extracted me from the depth of my despair. I sat up and stared at him in awe. I remember pulling the blanket up to my neck and briefly glancing out the window. He took hold of my attention when he mentioned the name GOD, he was praying for me. He stood up and asked me to go for a walk around the block with him.
He said he wanted to talk to me and answer my questions about god. How did he know? Did my mother call him? Where did he come from? My thoughts were scattered and moving faster than I could process but I went with him. I didn’t know how profound this walk would be until I arrived home and prayed with him.
I recall sitting across from him with my arms extended holding his hands. He told me to close my eyes and repeat after him. I drew in a deep breath and slowly exhaled, now ready to begin I felt myself relaxing into a state of being I haven’t felt in a long time. During the process of repeating his words I found myself drifting into a state of spirituality. This is the only word that will explain what happened next.
I could not feel, I could not see, I could not hear (in the normal sense anyway). I could spiritually feel myself drifting through a dense translucent haze with bright light all around me. The light wasn’t bright like sunlight it was bright like the whiteness of the clouds.
All I could sense was feelings of safety, peace, love, and security like that of an infant. I could see myself in a fetal position in this grand massive hand. The hand was translucent like the clouds but not as dense. I could see tiny golden lights coming and going from this hand. As I felt myself being drawn away from the hand a figure started taken shape. His size was massive and translucent filled with tiny golden lights sparkling like stars. I could see his face, it was strong, hard and his eyes filled with love.
I awoke from this state feeling electricity all over my body and the hairs on my arms was standing up. I opened my eyes and gasped. I explained exactly what I had seen to Eddie and he said I just saw the Holy Ghost. The Holy what, I asked? The Holy Ghost, he replied.
We just said a prayer to receive the Holy Ghost. I said a prayer? I don’t remember speaking. He said I didn’t speak a word I just sat there with a peaceful smile. How is it that I saw the Holy Ghost, I don’t know what that is. He stood up and said amen.
I ran inside to my parents and told them what had happened. I remember my father looking at me like I had two heads. My mother said “really, that’s nice.” Huh? Didn’t they know who the Holy Ghost was? Well I saw him and he is real, I yelled back to them.
From this day I started having experiences I never thought possible. I could see things that didn’t yet happen. I could communicate with people that passed on. This moment clarified an experience I had prior and couldn’t understand. In 1975 my aunt’s life ended from a massive heart attack. She was like a second mother to me. I loved her so much it was hard for me to except that I would never be able to talk to her again. After she passed I was lying in my bed looking out at the stars. No particular thoughts running rampart in my head.
I looked away from the window and saw a golden light at the doorway. I sat up and noticed the door was closed and there were no lights on. I rubbed my eyes and looked again and I could see her face smiling at me. I didn’t say a word nor make any attempt to move and she spoke. She told me that everything will be ok and not to worry. She wanted me to go next door to her house the next day. I guess at this point I panicked and dropped to my pillow scared. I closed my eyes and she was gone.
The next morning I told my mother what happened and she told me that same night she was coming up the stairs to go to bed and she saw my aunt standing at my door. She spoke to my aunt for a bit and then went to bed. For my mother this was normal.
My mother had a unique ability that allowed her to talk to spirits, find lost items, guess lotto numbers accurately and know things she couldn’t have without being present at the specific time. I have shared my many spiritual experiences with others and each time people would look at me like I was a freak or mentally unstable. It is not so much that I think I experience them I actually have real proof and sometimes an eye witness. I think that if one or more person sees what you do then it is real.
If I dream of a future event and it happens two years later then that’s proof enough for me that my visions are real. An example of this is of a dream I had where I saw a little blond hair girl looking up at me kneeling besides my youngest son. In this same dream I could see black birds falling from the sky. Exactly 2 years after I had this dream my daughter was born and sometime after that Black birds were dying from West Nile. Another dream I saw 6 tornadoes in sequence I shared this with my family. One year later one state had 6 tornadoes in the order I saw them.
I saw cows floating in a dream. Not long after Kansas had a major flood and the news showed cows floating in the water. There is one day that stands out the most in my memory. My parents went to the grocery store and I was bored at home, so I decided to bake. I had time before they returned to cook and clean. I thumbed through some dessert recipes and opted for the cinnamon apple crumb cake.
An hour or so later, my parents return from shopping and my mother enters the house first, holding up a dessert box. She has a huge smile on her face, speaking with excitement she says” Ivalee, look what I bought for dessert.” At the exact moment she was speaking I turned around to her with the cake in hand and said “Mom, look what I baked for dessert” as it turned out we both were holding a cinnamon apple crumb cake. God, I love her.
When we were young my mother told us to go in another room out of her sight of vision. She instructed us to touch any book of our choice on any shelf and she’d tell us which one it was.
Well, we did just as she asked and she guessed correctly every time. My father lost his wedding ring in 2 feet of snow and was really upset that he’d have to wait until it melted to find it, if at all. My mother went outside with the family on her heels and stuck her hand in a pile of snow. She pulled up her hand and had my father’s ring.
When I was living in an apartment 2 miles from home, I lost my car keys. I called my mother asking for her help. She told me to go in my closet and look in a basket. I went to my closet and there at the bottom of my laundry basket were my keys. My sister lived in Florida and lost her keys.
She called my mother and my mother told here where to find them and she did. I asked my mother before she passed away to give me her powers. She told me she couldn’t do that. My father went to a physic and the physic told my father (this is recorded on tape) that she couldn’t give someone what they asked for because it would be like cheating on a math test.
During my mother’s funeral I had asked my father for my mother’s wedding ring. He said no and I was upset. During the same visit with the physic, the physic told him that my mother said it would have been ok for him to give me the ring. I have decided that my experience with the Holy Ghost is real. I am also convinced that there is a god and we can have a life altering spiritual experience.
I managed to continue living on and made it through Junior High School. I was in the 9th grade when the guidance counselor asked to speak with my parents and I think there were only 2 weeks left before that school year ended.
I was anxious to start High School and the thought alone was exhilarating. They arrived a little early and I was already sitting there feeling nervous. I had no idea why this meeting was necessary but
I was there. My counselor finally called us into his office and asked me if I knew why I was there. Bewildered, I said no.
He explained to my parents and I that I had scored in the top 5 percent nationally and qualified for college without having to attend High School. I thought, what no High School? All my friends were going, why can’t I? I wasn’t having that. Why would I want to go to college and miss out on High School? He explained to my parents that because I had a high regents score, I can choose to study anything I wanted in college. I didn’t care to hear any more of this, but I stated that if I did choose a course of study I wanted to work for NASA on the computers.
My mother was elated. As we were leaving I was watching everyone get on the busses and I looked back at the cafeteria thinking of all the fun school brought me. I loved it, I couldn’t skip high school. I was too young for college. I wanted to party. I guess saying this out loud to my mother wasn’t the right thing to do. Exasperated, she said” do whatever you want it’s your life but I think you’re making a mistake” I overheard my mother bragging for days and deep in my heart I knew I didn’t want to go.
Then after giving this some more thought, I said let me do 1 year of high school and then I’ll go. Well, I made it the first year but not with outstanding grades. I had to attend summer school because I failed gym and needed the credits to move up. I then went on to fail summer school and had to redo the 10th grade or go in special ed. Special Ed, how did this happen? I wasn’t that stupid, I did pass that first year. I didn’t want to be held back nor did special classes fancy me.
I knew a way out. I took a summer job and soon after I was making good money. While the other kids were in high school I was making money. In a short time I became the assistant manager of McDonald’s making $650 net a week. I loved this new adventure my next stop is the army. I can go to college and be all I can be. That was my new plan of action.
I never made it to the Army and I left McDonald’s My eldest sister taught me how to drive and went on to take the road test for me. Parallel parking wasn’t easy for me and I panicked, I had no choice but to let her do it. My parents bought me my first car for which I still owe them money on it. Like my father always told me “write it on ice”. He was such a wise man.
So now I had a car and no job. Not happy with myself at this point and I just broke off with my first love of 5 years I found myself in a depression. My eldest sister, whom I love dearly, comes to me with an offer I could not refuse. She invited me to spend a weekend with her and her boyfriend at her apartment. She had big plans. We were going to get drunk and stoned and forget all about men.
I was so there. The first night I had a lot of fun with them. Party went as planned. The second night I was there it was my ex-boyfriends birthday and I cried. My sister wasn’t going to be home that night so she called upon a friend and left a message on his machine to come over and bring beer and weed. Well he never received that message but his brother did. A relationship was born and one year later my first child. I knew I could not stay in this relationship with child because I believed that it would change his life’s path. He was just out of college and taking the bar exam and was headed for something great. Having a child at this point just wasn’t in his favor.
My parents pushed me to find work but there weren’t any jobs available that I was really interested in. My father put applications around town for me and I unwillingly took a job in a light factory. I spent almost the entire year drinking and smoking weed just to get through it. I met an old friend of the family there, whom I later went on to marry and became husband number two. Who knew?
I really wasn’t going anywhere with this job and finally I moved on to another factory working alongside my aunt. This is where I met and later went on to marry my first husband. Still involved in my previous relationship and talking about getting married, I became pregnant. He flipped and said get an abortion, he wasn’t ready. Being the catholic that I am this was not going to happen. I quietly slipped out of this relationship and figured to move on with my life and raise my child.
I didn’t really involve my parents with this part of my life because I knew I wasn’t going anywhere yet. I gave my parents money, spent time shopping with them but never really talked about much.
If they spoke, honestly I hardly listened. I learned over a period of time how to pretend to listen but drown the words out and still to this day it has become a bad habit I have yet to break. Most of this period of my life is drowned out for some reason.
I lived recklessly and uncaring for anything. It wasn’t until I gave birth to my first son that life began to matter to me. When I brought my first husband home my parents weren’t happy but of course I didn’t listen. I remember sitting on my parents bed and crying with my mother. I had my first disappointing moment with my yet to be husband and wasn’t sure if I should get married. My mother was patient and even though she wasn’t happy with my choice she unselfishly gave me the support I needed.
I married my first husband against my parent’s advice and had a second child. As time went on I had to leave this marriage too. My husband would not stop drinking and he was abusive.
Bernadette was my favorite sister growing up. She was my playmate and my best friend. Bernadette was the middle child. She was either too old to be spoiled or too young to venture out. Everything I did she was beside me. I followed her around and vice versa. Bernadette was always there for me. We could talk for hours and entertain each other. We always found ourselves in trouble together.
I know there were times that she wished I’d go away but she always gave in. Once when we were in Junior High School we cut out for the day and went to the beach then found ourselves drinking beer at her friend’s house.
We had planned a story to tell my mother and agreed to stick to it. We were supposed to admit to cutting school to hang at the beach and take our punishments. Well, upon questioning Bernadette was asked “What were you doing when she was drinking?” Bernadette replied “I was sitting on the couch.” My mother retorted “On the beach, what beach has couches?” I still laugh when I reflect on this moment. Bernadette had the hardest struggle in life. Her plight was long and hard but she made it. I am proud of her.
When I was 1 1/2 years of age, I wasn’t well cared for by my birth mother and wasn’t able to speak or walk. I was too young to understand what my needs were and that they weren’t being tended to. I do not blame my birth mother for her short comings but I am grateful that someone was paying attention and removed me from her care. I didn’t know much of anything at this time, however, when I finally arrived at my mother’s door I had sensed her love and security and knew I was home. My parents gave me the love and attention I so desperately needed.
I had a great life growing up and learned so much from them. Not only did they teach me the skills I needed, they taught me love, self-respect, strong family values, and self- discipline. If we were misbehaving our punishment would be to stay in our room and think about what we had done and why it was wrong. They never hit us and didn’t believe in that kind of punishment. My parents always put us first in everything they did and made many sacrifices for us.
I was always given anything I wanted as long as they had the resources. I always respected them even when I didn’t agree. I tried to be a good kid but I wasn’t perfect and they didn’t expect me to be.
I didn’t always get along that well with my siblings. I am one from a family of four children that were adopted. My eldest brother always seemed to instigate things. Growing up in a home where the children just kept coming and going was difficult. You would just find yourself getting attached and then they’d leave. Some didn’t stay long enough for us to remember their name let alone anything else.
I have 2 sisters and myself, being the middle child, wasn’t so bad. I remember the day I wished I would be adopted and feel like I belonged, permanently. Then my wish came true at the age of 14. I was very elated when I heard the news. When the wait was over and we all went to court, I had to stand before the judge and he asked us who we wanted to live with, my birth mother or my current parent’s. I just couldn’t understand why they gave us this choice. Why they would think I would ever leave my parents and go back to my birth mother was outrageous. I knew I was right where I needed to be. Life growing up was wonderful. My best memories are of the holidays and vacations. My parents always made everything special.
We went so many places I just can’t remember them all, but I remember loving every minute of our time spent together, no matter where we went. I have always felt that I was fortunate to have a family that loved me for who I am not matter what my short comings were. I wasn’t always the smartest or brightest child but my parents made me feel just as special and loved.
My first marriage didn’t turn out as I had hoped and I found my life spiraling out of control. I didn’t have many options until I found myself in a woman’s shelter with my 2 children. My mother was my source of strength.
My parents had always helped my children and I. Even when they didn’t have much to give my parent’s would put together care packages for us. They not only took us out to dinner, they would bring us food from home. This always made me feel better knowing that we had home cooked meals and that I had parents that cared as much as they did. After staying at the shelter for some time, I found a place for my family not far from my parents. I was elated to finally have a place of my own, a place my children could call home.
My mom said “See you could do it.” She was so right! My mother showed me how to go about finding a place for myself and I did. I guess I didn’t have as much faith in my-self as my mother did, and for that I am grateful.
When I moved into my new home my mother brought me the groceries and necessities that I needed. At some point I had moved away and relocated in Pennsylvania and found it to be a bit of a struggle but knowing that I had parents that cared as much as they did, it made the transition easier.
I really believe that if it wasn’t for my parents I don’t know how things would have turned out for me. My mother was diagnosed with lung cancer and it hit me very hard. I had hope that she would be alright because she was a very strong woman. She didn’t let anything bring her down. I remember when she was at her sickest she would still wash laundry, prepare meals, and clean the home. She gave me inspiration and strength. Having 4 children myself, everything I have learned from my mother helped me cope.
After 2 years suffering from her illness my mother passed on, I will never forget that phone call. I was just getting ready for bed when the nurse called my father’s home. I was up from Pennsylvania to be near the family, I can’t remember ever feeling this way. This was one family visit that changed my life forever. I have been through many hardships but this was unlike any other. I wasn’t ready to let her go. I prayed and prayed every night. When the phone call came I completely shut down.
I couldn’t or wouldn’t except the news. The nurse told us to get to the hospital as fast as we could my mother didn’t have long. Long, what is long? When you’re faced with a situation like losing the most important woman in the world, long may as well be an eternity. The nurse said there was something wrong with Mrs. Leo, she is having a hard time breathing, and she’s not doing well. We all ran to the car and sped away like thieves in the night.
When we arrived at the hospital my sister Ivalee and I watched her take her last breath. I couldn’t deal with this much pain. It was a blessing that I was surrounded by family because as the seconds passed I was having a nervous breakdown. How does one of any age deal with the loss of a parent? They say life goes on, well it just may, but I will always feel the emptiness and her loss for the rest of time. Sometimes I look at her picture and the pain is like a knife stabbing me in the heart. I know she is here with me in spirit but if I can only hold her one more time, if I can smell her scent just one more time, IF I can tell her how much I love her just one more time. MY mother is a very special woman and nobody can ever fill that void in my life. I am very grateful that I can look back at my life and feel good about the many wonderful memories my parents made for us.
I have heard various stories about the lives of foster children, some good with happy endings and other’s I feel for them. For every child that has stayed with us at some point, I know my parent’s made an impact and influenced them in positive ways. There were many children from the streets or from other foster homes that were abused and found themselves at our door and have called my parents many years later to thank them for everything they did.
They told my parents that their lives wouldn’t be so fulfilled if it wasn’t for them. I don’t need to hear this to know just how great my parents are. My parent’s deserved each and every Foster Parent of the Year Award they received throughout the 36 years of foster parenting.
My brother doesn’t want to share his story so I will elaborate on his life. My brother was a few days old when our birth mother dropped him on the hospital steps. Although we don’t know much information about what led up to the Catholic Home Bureau removing him from her care we do know it was a life saving move.
From the time my brother was born until we were all officially placed with our adoptive parents there was a history of neglect and abuse. My brother was 3 years old when he arrived at his new home. He could not walk or talk and was not potty trained. Our birth mother used to have visitation rights when we were very young. My mother observed her French kissing my brother when he was 4 years old. I didn’t know her but from what he remembers I’d say she wasn’t all there.
When my brother entered Kindergarten the teacher told my mother to have him evaluated that there was some evidence of retardation. He was placed in a special needs class and shifted from school to school against my mother’s will. My brother graduated High School with a diploma and went on to explore many ventures. He was in the Army Reserves and discharged after boot camp.
He held many employed positions with various companies but none that lasted long. He was very special to my mother, so much that she dedicated much of her life to caring for him. He never had a strong relationship with our father but they love each other silently. Communication is not one of their strong points. I never had much trouble with my brother and may not have been as close as siblings should be but I love him dearly. He tried to be a good Uncle to my children but can be at times a bad influence for them. He can be a rebel at times and my mother knew that. I believe it was her love for him that made him complete.
My brother had a difficult time handling life the way the rest of the family did. His way of thinking and doing things were quite the unusual. He was always getting into mischief. When he was young he tied my sisters to a tree in the backyard and lit some leaves on fire.
He explained to my mother that he was playing Cowboys and Indians and his sisters were his prisoners. I think I was about 6 or 7 years of age, my brother was practicing Karate and flipped me over his shoulder. When I landed on the floor I hit my chin on one of the legs of the iron rocking chair. I hit so hard I bit my tongue off. I recall my mother holding it in her hand all the way to the doctor’s office. It was a longer drive to the hospital so my mother reacted quickly and did what she thought was best. It was good thinking on her part because they were able to save my tongue.
The doctor said a few more minutes could have had a different outcome for me. For my brother it would not have been a major loss if I wasn’t able to speak but for me I couldn’t fathom such a thing.
As I got older I recall spending more time with him. He would make me sit and watch him catch bugs on pieces of tape and rip their legs and wings off. I never thought he was different until I grew up more. Some of the things he did didn’t strike me as normal. I must keep telling myself that he is my brother and I must love him for who he is and not what he does. People like my brother cannot help themselves, he lacks the ability to maintain normalcy to any degree. If my mother was alive today oh the stories she could tell. Although I can’t take care of my brother the way my mother had I will always be there for him. My brother holds a special place in my heart and meant so much to my mother.
Rosemarie is my eldest sister and was my teenage idol. I looked up to her with much admiration. Rosemarie is more like my mother than any one of us. My mother of course is far better but Rose tries. My mother was always proud of her even when she caused my parents stress. My mother new is was part of her growing pains. Rosemarie was always out going, curious and a great actress. One would not be bored around her.
LOOK FOR MY BOOK SOON FOR THE COMPLETE STORY
Whenever the world seems to get the best of me, whenever I feel it closing in on me, I go to a quiet place that lies somewhere in my soul. I do not reason, analyze or think. Those will come later. I simply go. And as a frightened child finds comfort and strength in a loving parent, I find my God and a band of loving Invisibles. From this place of power, I garner strength to stand firm in the face of fire, to be calm in the midst of thunder. When I emerge from this sanctuary, the world has not changed but I have. And in my changing a whole new world is born.
“It’s not the destination. It’s the journey.” I’m sure you have heard something like that before. Be it “destination” or “journey”, I have learned something along the way: happiness is more of a choice than I first realized. In the past I tended to think happiness would naturally follow if I attained a certain set of goals or if I succeeded at certain things. I often experienced a measure of happiness as a goal was accomplished or I succeeded at something that was important to me. But over time I noticed a pattern: the happiness didn’t last. I found myself wanting more from life. I wanted to feel joy on a more consistent basis. I longed to experience happiness more. I wanted the kind of happiness that didn’t require me to attain something in order to have the feeling.
As a child, my parents made me happy. Very happy. My mother was the main source of my happiness. At night when I lay my head down I would pray to God not to take her from me. I needed her. I believed that without my mother, my life would end. Then as I grew older, especially in my teens, I looked for outside sources to make myself happy. I have now come to the realization that, for the most part, I can choose to be happy on a daily basis. There is a measure of truth in the old saying, “Fake it till you make it.” Granted, it doesn’t work all the time. However, if “fake it” means choosing to think and act in a variety of “happy” ways before I actually have those feelings, then I would have to say I agree. Take a simple smile, for instance. I’ve found that something as simple as smiling can do wonders to help me see that I have in me the ability to choose to be happy.
People will hurt or disappoint us. Our hearts will be broken. We may have to deal with a variety of losses. Unfortunately, life is not all smiles, and I believe a part of being happy means understanding and accepting the reality of “hard times.” I needed to be aware of a danger in the acceptance process. And the danger of creating my own soap operas. It is simply not healthy to review my own sad stories again and again — like replaying a very sad day on one of the soaps.
When I dwell too long on the “sad things” I relinquish to them a power they were never meant to have: the power to keep my mental controls on the same channel in my mind. I have learned that I don’t want to give that kind of power to things I have no control over. Instead, I need to remind myself that I can choose happiness.
IT’S NOT EASY! Deciding to move forward and choosing happiness over sorrow is a tough choice. Sometimes I feel as though I’m fighting an uphill battle. At times I may feel that the dark clouds may never give way to the sunshine. It is at those very moments that I have to remind myself of the power I possess. It is the power of choice.
I have discovered that somewhere in the midst of whatever chaos may surround me I can… Choose happiness over despair, Hope over hopelessness, Joy over continual sadness, and a smile over a frown. I have shared my life openly with all that have come within the distance of a hand shake. Time after time I have been told to tell my story. Ivalee.. Look for my book soon. All rights reserved.
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