So on with the final part of this story...
Everyone appeared to settle in nicely and there was time to get to know my cousin a little better. After some time had passed, my cousin would share horrific stories of sexual abuse and being caught up in child trafficking. This mother.....this child. My insides ached for her and instantly I was given a spirit of protectiveness over this "woman-child". Her nickname would become "choman" and we would smile at my utterance of this name because it would acknowledge that she was both a child and a woman in the same body. I wanted her to know that I adored and respected all parts of her. She went to church with us and eventually came to a saving knowledge of Christ. She was baptized in water and in the tears of joy from others that were rooting her on.
My cousin seemed to be adjusting well and wanting to learn. First thing was first, we needed to get her eldest, Maria, on a schedule so she would sleep through the night. Insurance was also a concern and so we got them approved and started on Medicaid and W.I.C. Through God's grace, we were successful in obtaining a grant that would pay the full tuition to a local beauty college. This was a stepping stone to what she really wanted to do with her life and that was.......to be a mortician. There, I said it. I am so not going to answer any questions regarding this, because I was as perplexed with this desire as you probably are now! But I figured someone has to be a mortician right?
After about a month, the cracks began to show through. My cousin was wanting to get on MySpace to "talk with her friends" and she was sleeping in later and later and not taking care of her babies like she needed to. Most of her time was spent texting her friends. We really had no idea what we were taking on nor the limits we needed to set in having her live with our family. Given hindsight, we would have done many things differently, but we just didn't know. She was used to having so much freedom back in her home town....the same type of freedom that got her into trouble in the first place. We were afraid to set too many limits because we were afraid it would drive her away and the help we had to offer her would mean nothing. We just didn't know how to strike this balance and still be successful with her. In retrospect, we were way too timid.
15 mos old Maria was showing signs of emotional wear and tear as well due to previous unexplained absences of her mother. It had already been a month and I had yet to get a smile out of her. Not only that, her desire to play was non-existent. With all the children in our home ready and wanting to play with her, she exhibited no spark of interest. Her main goal of each and every moment of every day was to be as close to her mother as possible. If she had suction cups, I am sure she would have used them to attach herself to her mother like one of those stuffed animals that you see plastered to a window. A month of this behavior was not normal. Something wasn't right.
My cousin's beauty school was to start in January of 2010. It was agreed that I would care for her daughters while she went to school. In mid-October of 2009, before the start of school, my cousin was making noises that she wanted to go back home to "tie up loose ends" (i.e. parole issues, re-instating her driver's license..etc.) She did not want to take her little ones because she was afraid their father would try to abduct them. It was a valid fear that we both shared. She had an unused plane ticket and this is what she used to go home. She was scheduled to come back in 10 days.
We would not see her again for another four and half months.
After a series of conversations, I would learn that she had wanted to go back home solely to hook up with someone she had met on MySpace and they had decided they wanted to get married. And within in three weeks, she was pregnant once again with her third child at the ripe age of 17.
My cousin had left me with her precious girls, hidden from all the chaos she was now involved in. Was this why the Lord had them come live with us? It was obvious we were going to be of no help to their mother. Were we going to end up with them permanently?
In the ensuing weeks and months, we would have numerous phone calls with many family members to discuss our options. The end conclusion was that we were encouraged to seek temporary custody of the girls. Even their mother, my cousin, agreed and felt that we needed to pursue this.
At this point, I had four children three and under and seven additional children above these ages. Two of them were just months old. I loved the challenge and I loved Maria and Julia. Maria would begin to open up to me in ways that would melt my heart. The first time she ever reached her arms up for me to hold her was a milestone. This was a huge step for her in her trust in me. She was actually reaching out to have a need met. She used to just whimper quietly when she was upset or injured, almost as if she didn't think her need or pain was worth a robust cry. Her cries were becoming more strong and confident as she saw I would attend to her. Whoever thought I would want to hear this!!! But it was music to my ears. She was now fully playing with my children.....she seemed more at peace and happy. In a deep sense, I was so thankful that the Lord had given this chance to make a difference in a little curly headed life. However, her eating was still a sign that something was amiss. She would eat anything put in front of her. She had no stopping point. She would stuff her mouth so full that she would not be able to breathe. She was treating food as a choking person would oxygen. She would eat desperately, even when there was no need to.
It was this little person that would teach me that no matter how much I loved on her, my love would never saturate the deepest roots of who she was.......only her mom could do this and she wasn't there.
Again, we were back at the lawyers office trying to draw up documents to obtain temporary custody of Julia and Maria. According to NC state law, this could only happen once the girls had been in NC for 6 months which would be in late February of 2010. So now it was just a waiting game. Their mother would call on a regular basis and was noticeably torn. She wanted to be with her girls, but she wanted to create a stable life in which to take care of them.
At one point, my cousin asked to come back and live with us. The hardest thing to do was to say "no" to her. But her behaviors and lies were something we could not tolerate in our house. Since she was pregnant again, there was no way we could take on another little life and then have her leave again. Her children couldn't be exposed to more episodes of abandonment. Even if she were to stay and go to school, I felt confident we couldn't take on another infant so soon without jeopardizing the rest of my children. All we could offer was to take on the continual care of Maria and Julia while she got her life together and stabilized. She was upset and hurt that we would not take her back and took it very personally. As a result, she somehow convinced her mother that the girls were in imminent danger of being kidnapped by their father and was able to scare out the funds necessary to fly back to NC. With an 8 hr. warning, my cousin and her sister flew in and retrieved the girls.
Within hours they were gone. There was a hole left in our family. For days afterward, out of habit, I would check their room at night to make sure they were ok only to find the room vacant. Sigh.
What was I supposed to learn from all of this? Did we somehow misinterpret what God wanted us to do? Did we help at all? All I know, was that my heart ached and I was worried for these girls. There was nothing we could do except to offer future help should the girls need it.....and I was selfishly hoping they would so I could see them and love on them again.
We would hear nothing more of the girls unless I initiated contact with my aunt. They are currently living with their father and paternal grandmother. I'm assuming the grandmother has since developed the fine art of remembering the formula and bottles by now (refer to previous post). The father and grandmother are not in this country legally, so I do not know if this will affect the girls in anyway. My prayer is that it won't. My cousin apparently, rarely visits her daughters and is slowly evacuating herself from their lives.
Here's how I look at it. God uses all kinds of situations in which to raise us.....even imperfect ones. Obviously, this is the case for these girls. At least they are with family that love them and take care of them how they see fit. It could be so much worse. I feel content and satisfied that we obeyed the Lord's leading and did all that we could do. There are not, and never will be, any regrets in what we attempted to do.
If anything, this experience has made us realize that our hearts desire is to give of ourselves to children in need on a permanent basis................like what adoption offers. This experience played a huge part in grooming us for this role. We have a lot for which to thank Maria and Julia. They were teachers and didn't even know it.
You know, as I re-read through this whole story, there is so much that has been left unsaid. So much that happened and so many emotions that ran rampant and have been left unexplained and unexpressed. But I think I was successful in getting the gist of this story documented.
Listen, if you made it all the way through this long and arduous story.....you deserve an award! You have also shown great love towards me as well as it means the world to me that you would even be interested. Thank you. This has been something that I have needed to write down for the longest time and it has been cathartic to do so.
Here is the most recent picture I have of them: Maria @ 2yrs. and Julia @ 1yr.: