Thursday, August 23, 2012

A Conundrum

Friends, I scarcely know where to begin.

So much to process tonight.

The neighborhood situation? It's changed in the last couple days. Turns out that the girl watching her three siblings, ages 4, 5, and 9? She's not 13 years old. 

She's 12.

And today she fell asleep on the job. The 9-year-old, Aiden, left the house with his two younger siblings while the older sister slept. They came over here, where they know food and drink are available and where they can play with toys and books in a clean house. (Yes, the house has been very clean lately.)

And someone will smile at them here. And maybe pat their cute little heads and tell them their painting has a lot of vivid colors.

Today, I was not ready to host any children. I'd taken Beth to therapy and had chores to do, paperwork to catch up on. Neighborhood children had taken up my time the two previous days and I couldn't dedicate three days in a row to it.

Sounds reasonable, yes? Except that the more I do for this family, the less they do for themselves. The more I've loved on these children, the more the 12-year-old sister ceases to be a babysitter and just becomes a kid who wants to have her own fun. Which is to be expected. She is a kid!

She goes around the block on her bike, leaving the 4-and 5-year-old siblings to fend for themselves. Once the 4-year-old followed after the older sister, in the middle of the street, even turning around a bend from the middle of the street.

He disappeared from my view, and then I saw the 12- and 9-year-olds appear in my driveway from the opposite direction. The 4 year old doesn't have a regular bike, but instead rides one of those low-to-the-ground big wheel bikes. This makes him less visible to cars. He went around the entire block by himself, knowing no bike safety rules. He doesn't stop at stop signs, look both ways, or stay to the right side. No one in this neighborhood wears helmets (except for my children, with the neurotic parents?) There are no bike or motorcycle helmet laws in Ohio.

Last night I received another note from the mother. Could I come over when the gas company gets there the next day, because an adult needs to be present for them to turn on the gas? According to the 12-year-old, the mom didn't pay the last couple dollars of the bill, so the gas got shut off.

My husband went over to their house, mostly outside where the men were working, while I was at therapy. He had to stay 90 minutes because the gas company ran into a few glitches. The 12-year-old did nothing to control her siblings. They kept getting in the gas man's way. The house was in horrendous shape, or so I'm told by my children, who were in it about 20 minutes.

Windows wide open with no screens, flies everywhere. Bedrooms in the worst shape my kids had ever seen, with the 12-year-old's being the worst. The parents didn't have a bedroom or a bed, and one of the children didn't have a bed. The house is a three-bedroom. With two girls and two boys, there should be enough room for everyone? The girls both had their own room.

Also last night, two hours after the note about the gas company, I got another visit. The 9-year-old comes over to ask if his mother can borrow some kid movies. At 8:30 PM. We only have a couple of DVD's, because I happen to prefer videos. I gave him what I had, leaving out the letter and number learning DVD's, which I need intact for my preschooler.

The mother also asked if she could text my phone, because she prefers that to talking. Her son taught me how to text, except that we don't have a texting plan. Who knows what Verizon charges per text! I'm probably going to regret that this woman has my phone number.

I wonder about the mother's overall maturity. When she arrived home from work (she's gone from 9:00 to 4:30) the kids met her at the end of the driveway, excited to see her. She let the three younger ones get on the hood of the car, and the older one get on the back of the car. She proceeded to drive up their driveway this way, and not particularly slow, either. If one of the kids had fallen off the front, she couldn't have stopped in time to prevent an injury.

This mentality is foreign to me. I'm trying to give these folks room to be different, but I'm struggling. Is it my age? I'm probably ten years older than this mother.

I was horrified at this stunt, friends. Seeing it, I immediately panicked about this family. Yes, I'm probably overly conscientious and maybe not the best judge. But this mother is as neglectful as I've ever seen. She must want to be their friend, instead of the adult.

Will I one day have to call CPS about child neglect? How bad can things get? Should I try to do as little as possible to avoid being taken advantage of, and further putting the children in danger? If the 12-year-old thinks I'm watching them, and I think she's watching them, then they're less safe than ever.

I have weeks of homeschooling to plan, leaving me little time to think about keeping the neighbors safe.

What does God want from me? To learn to be assertive? To speak to the mother about her neglectful 12-year-old daughter? Something tells me the mother wouldn't even agree that riding in the middle of the street is dangerous.

The four-year-old now comes whenever he feels like it, whether my kids are out or not. Several times I had trouble getting him to go home after I brought my own kids inside. He came even after his mother arrived home.

Most of this is none of my business, I realize. This is a personal-freedom lovin' country, and thank goodness. You can be a messy, permissive parent if you so desire. CPS, whom I would only call if things got far worse, would probably think me crazy even calling about this family. They see far worse conditions. As a teacher I learned that there almost have to be feces everywhere or obvious physical or se*ual abuse, for children to be removed.

I asked my husband tonight this hypothetical question. Which is best? To have parents you love who neglect you? Or to have foster parents you don't love, who take good care of you? He thinks the latter is best...because love is a verb.

But foster kids can be mistreated and some people take them in just for the extra money--money which is not always spent on the children.

What do I think is best? I don't really know. These children obviously love their mom very much, and for the most part they're all very nice, notwithstanding the 9-year-old's occasional anger fits, and his intermittent disrespect toward adults (is there any wonder?). He probably gets angry because his life feels out of control. No structure. Nothing he can count on.

How many times have they moved? Possibly, three different fathers are involved. Were they evicted and that's why there's very little furniture? Did they move away from neighbors who reported them? Are they recovering from losing their house? Both the mom and the step-dad have jobs, at least right now.

It's so hard, isn't it? These sad situations tare at your heart and how do you process them? This isn't the third world...these children look well fed (though probably not healthily fed). The 12 year old is quite overweight (Childhood obesity is heartbreaking, and on the rise).

Again I ask...what does God want from me? From us? That we all learn to be assertive--something which is hard for all of us (except for my husband)? I'm assertive with my kids and with younger kids, but other people's children? I tend to mind my own business when I can get away with it.

I should have spoken to the 12-year-old right away when she emerged from her nap, but I didn't. I just stewed instead, about this whole predicament. I want to help these children and love them, but that seems to have made the situation worse, not better. Now I almost have to watch them all the time, or not at all.

Setting limits? This family is used to a limitless lifestyle.

Tonight, I blew up at my own kids over the stress of it all. I'm feeling pretty overwhelmed and rotten right now.

Dear Lord, speak to me. What must I do? Help me to see, Lord. You care about souls. I know this. You don't want a single one to perish. Is this only about souls...and not about whether I have time to minister? Is this mother doing her best? Am I the problem? Am I here to fill in the gap until school starts for them next Tuesday? Is that what you want? For me to babysit for free, no matter the inconvenience? No matter that feeling of being taken advantage of? Am I supposed to gently correct in love? Oh, but how I dislike that! I'm no supervisor or counselor, surely Lord?

Speak to me, Lord. Which scripture answers my conundrum?

Matthew 25:40 "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

Is this the one, Lord?

Friends, what would you do?

The last thing I heard tonight, as my children came in for the night, was Aiden asking Peter: "Where do you go to church?

Peter told him the name of our church--the one that meets in the elementary school--and Aidan said, "I'll see you there, then!"

He will? 


Lisa said...

Oh dear, my friend. My heart breaks for you. I'm not sure what I would do in your situation. But I do know one thing: your family comes first. And you might have to set some limits with this family. Otherwise, it sounds like they will walk right over you. I realize that those children need love, and that's the hard part. How do you show the love of Jesus to the world without getting sucked dry?? I will be praying with you and for you. He will show you the answer.
Much love to you, dear!

Tesha said...

Oh Gosh that is difficult. We have been in situation with people from church were I was taken advantage of tremendosly and we almost had to call CPS. I know that it can be emotionally exasperating. Praying for you for wisdom and energy!