Friday, March 16, 2007

what to do, part II

First, a huge thank you to those who were willing to read my rant of two days ago and especially to those of you who shared your wisdom and experience. It is such an odd thing to get all of that through a computer, but you each helped me in this very painful struggle to come to a decision about these little boys and I am very grateful.

In reading your posts and re-reading my original rant, praying some, examining my motives (always unpleasant to really take a look at what drives me), I have arrived at this: I am so angry with the stepdaughter for her failure to be the kind of parent I think she should be, that I've not been willing to look at her as I would a friend. I am also angry with her real family because of their inaction. Lots of money has been spent to help, but there's been no consistency of attention here.

I've always been a little smug about the fact that I'm not one of those who will make a vicious verbal attack on a family member, then turn around and smile sweetly at a friend who commits the same act. That is, however, what I've done with Hannah. I don't verbally assault her, but I think of her in only critical terms. I don't bother to look at her strengths, yet I would with a friend, even a stranger. This is basic social work intervention and, in my resentment and selfishness, I've not bothered to consider her as a human being, a young mother ill equipped to function in this world, doing the best she can.

When I wrote this in December, I'd recognized my own tremendous good fortune after a day spent helping a struggling employee:

I am mindful of those who have so little and I say a prayer for all of the struggling people of the world. I say a prayer, too, that I will be a cheerful giver when the next opportunity presents itself. I know it will come, it always does. I will do what I can.

I tell myself this is different because we have helped Hannah and helped her and helped her. And we have, by writing checks and writing checks and writing checks. But I think the help required is of a different kind. Money, of course, but also a sustaining and kind presence, an encourager. I am still not sure where helping crosses the line to enabling. Maybe it has already, but that debate is always influenced by the little ones.

More help is obviously required here. I realized that I can set aside my anger with Hannah, use the resentment prayer on her (thank you AA for that gem) and develop a plan to improve the lives of the boys in her care. The truth is that no matter how poor the parent, children most of the time want to be at home, even in terrible cases of abuse.

This is not abuse, it's neglect. Neglect is, of course, especially insidious in the emotional damage it does to kids. They are often plagued throughout life by insecurity, feelings that they are unworthy, unlovable. I don't want that for these little boys and maybe it wouldn't happen, but the thing that makes me crazy is this substandard life they're living. I want them to feel that they're worth attention, effort and sacrifice.

They are worth all of those things and more, so I'm going to help. The biggest frustration for me has been just watching these people, this family of mine, the ones blood-related to Hannah, as they fail to act. Hannah's situation seems intractible, so nothing is done. Her younger son needs help, everyone knows it, but nothing is done. Years have gone by as I've watched them hope the situation will improve, put it out of their minds, pray it will get better without intervention. I have held back because she's my stepdaughter and I came late to the party with her daddy, acquiring the girls when they were 14 and 16 and not marrying him until 2000.

Well fuck it. They just need to get out of my way. I have felt like a wound up jack-in-the-box with no one willing to turn my crank. Writing that post the other day, listening to all of you, really working on this thing has led me to the point I've turned my own crank, escaped the confines of my little tin box. I am out of the box, unleashed, through with being so tightly controlled, holding my tongue, offering advice only when asked: I'm taking over, if only for a while. If my plan works to resolve some of basic issues in the family, Hannah may be empowered to do better.

This is what I do, I help people get on their feet. I made a career of it and I have a new client, a new family to work with. I have watched everyone sweep this under the rug, have sat by while they dick around and ultimately do nothing. I'm not blaming them; they're frustrated and don't know how to help. I do and it feels incredibly freeing to just get going.

The first thing I've done is arrange for a landline phone to be installed at their house so we can talk to the kids every day. It's annoying to have only a cell phone ~ which she may or may not answer ~ with a number that changes constantly due to bills unpaid. This phone is set up, permanent, paid for. The listings are in both boys' names so their friends will be able to find them if they need to. They can have the normal childhood experience of talking on the phone, having relatives call, being able to call their friends. It doesn't seem important until it's not there, but the lack of a telephone is isolating.

Once I got past that simple resolution to the frustrating inability to get in touch with the kids, I got on a roll. We're having them spend the day and night with us Sunday. I will take over getting the little one to his appointments for the ADHD evaluation he so desperately needs. I've accepted that she cannot or will not do this and it must be done and quickly. The older baby's dental appointment has been rescheduled and we'll get him there and pay for his retainer.

I've told Mike when we take them home Monday, we'll be going with cleaning equipment, quarters for laundry, scented candles. We are going to clean up her house. He said "how do you know it's dirty?" So innocent, my husband. I said "her car's broken, she has no money, she won't call you back, the boys have missed school, she's missed work, she won't answer the phone, she's missing the boys' appointments. Do you think she's home cleaning house?"

I've called the best car guy I know to get her car fixed. It's not drivable right now and the stress of that is overwhelming for her. It's not going to get fixed when she makes $100 a week, so we will do that because it has to be done. I know nothing about kids' sports but they did play soccer last year and liked it. They were in Tai-Kwon-Do and liked it. We'll get them set up again.

We put the older child into Sylvan when his kindergarten teacher said he couldn't read (never mind the ridiculous way reading was being taught). He is now a whiz and has had no further trouble with school, he's a star student and that's a real source of pride for him. We'll look at doing the same for the little one.

Those are all great things for the kids. So here's the one I choked on until I looked at the rough and ugly patch of heart where I keep Hannah: she needs an evaluation for depression. Everything about her indicates that she's depressed, there's a long family history of depression, it's painfully obvious that she's in trouble. That ugly jagged piece of heart where I keep her wants to blame her and criticize. Just writing that makes me cry because it's the truth and who the hell am I to feel that way about her? I have had everything, every opportunity, every blessing. Some shit too, but who has a life without some of that? Hannah did have a good childhood, but she got messed up in junior high and has never recovered. She has lived in the shadow of her older sister's brilliance and success and perfect life and that has to be hard.

Today I am praying to keep an open and soft heart for Hannah, to help her as I'd help a stranger or one of my employees or the folks I used to work with in child welfare. I remember specifically praying to keep an open mind and a teachable spirit when working with some of my most difficult clients then and it works. So I'll do the same today with this stepdaughter and I believe that approaching her with love will help. I know it will help me because I feel a great sense of relief already.


Blogger SubtleKnife said...

Lynette, that's beautiful.

I've been depressed (I only sought help very recently) and I know how infuriating I must have been. I knew at the time, but just couldn't change it and I couldn't ask for help.

I'm sure the boys will prosper and perhaps with your support Hannah can find her way out.

March 16, 2007 1:04 PM  
Anonymous Tater said...


The people in your life are damn lucky to have you. I consider myself fortunate to have felt your influence in my life, and I know you through a computer screen 100s of miles away. You are so damn honest, and such a good soul. The wisdom I found in your post just soothes my heart. I KNOW those kids are in good hands with your heart to steer them, and your step daughter is as well. I think that you have come to your own answer for this situation, and it's a damn good one. May god bless and keep you, and grant you the strength to keep a soft heart and a healthy perspective. Your post made me realize that this world does indeed have good people with substance left in it. Thank you for the optimism you give me.

March 16, 2007 1:30 PM  
Blogger Debra said...

One of the most positive aspects of the solution that you created is that it puts you in a position to provide an alternative to those boys while allowing them to maintain their maternal connection and allowing you to maintain yourself. Good on you!

March 16, 2007 1:48 PM  
Anonymous Michele said...

Lovely inspiring words on a rainy day Friday Lynette ... the landline is pure genius. Keep on keepin' on.

March 16, 2007 2:41 PM  
Anonymous Lou said...

You have pulled together a solution that should work well for everyone - an amazing accomplishment. You have a wonderful gift for helping people - I feel lucky to get to read your posts.

March 16, 2007 2:48 PM  
Anonymous Gryphoncub said...

I am so glad that you have come to a decision that is going to do wonders for all involved. May your stepdaughter and grandson realize the amazing person they have in their life. Your passion and determination and truly good heart help to over come the creeping misanthropy that occurs after reading so much about the evil in the world. Thank you for that.

March 16, 2007 3:35 PM  
Anonymous Gryphoncub said...

I meant Grandsons

March 16, 2007 3:35 PM  
Blogger Willym said...

damn lady you're good - and I don't mean just morally but you are definately a mover. What you are giving is active help not the sit back here's some money now go away passive help. It's a wonderful thing you are doing. As always love reading you.


March 16, 2007 3:59 PM  
Blogger Helen the Felon said...

There are two kinds of people in this world: the ones who think "I should do that...", and the ones who get their asses up off the couch and get it done. I think it's pretty clear which one you are. Hannah and her boys are lucky to have you. You're an amazing example, for them, and for everyone here. Nothing but good can come from your action, even if you encounter rough spots in your progress. Go girl. And keep us posted.

March 16, 2007 4:59 PM  
Blogger evilganome said...

Lynette, as always you are amazing. What Helen said. I am so happy you have found a way to actually help in this situation and not put yourself in an untenable position. The best I can do for you is cheer support from the sidelines. You are an amazing woman and I hope Mike knows how lucky he is to have you.

March 16, 2007 5:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I actually wanted to comment on the previous post, but everyone seemed to be telling you, in a not so forward way, to not be heavily involved. My thought was, BE INVOLVED. Especially your husband - what were his thoughts on this? This seemed like it was all your descision.

Cindy in CO

March 16, 2007 5:46 PM  
Blogger honib1 said...

I have been reading but have not said anything until now.. Its not only a good soul but a brave heart to step in and try to guide someone who is having a difficult time. It takes strength of character to want to help someone rebuild their lives and pick up pieces. It takes patience and understanding as this journey progresses. Mostly though.. it takes love to be able to step in and be honest with someone and help them. I know this first hand.. having been the victim of my own choosing. Someone helped me begin again...Be Patient with her.. as you would be anyone else.. and if you have not heard this yet.. Thank you for throwing her a lifeline and thank you for her children's sake as well. You my friend are the definition of a hero.

March 16, 2007 8:01 PM  
Blogger Cindy174 said...

I believed you'd find the ways that you could help, the answers come and your heart is in the right place. But I am really glad you shared about your feelings for Hannah and how you can change the way you look at her. Sometimes it is easier for me to be critical, judgmental and angry at my grandson's mother instead of seeing the pain of her life. Too painful in some ways because it takes me back to a part of mine that I don't want to remember. I really appreciate this post. I think you are doing exactly what you are meant to do. Thanks

March 16, 2007 10:54 PM  
Blogger Ms. Place said...

There's never a perfect solution to these kinds of situations, but I think you've found one that will work for you and those children. The boys need to feel wanted and that phone line will make all the difference in the world. A steady date each week will provide them with an anchor and something to look forward to.

As for your stepdaughter, she reminds me of someone at work I've tried to help. I discovered something about my futile attempts to empower her: One can't help those who resist the gesture. I fight my negative feelings about this woman every day because I know she is depressed, just as your stepdaughter.

Lynnette, you are only human. In reading this blog I realize you have one of the biggest hearts in the world.

March 17, 2007 7:26 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

Your compassion is heart warming. Good luck with this pursuit. I hope things work for Hannah and the boys. Keep us posted!

March 17, 2007 8:14 AM  
Blogger angelfish24 said...

Way to go Belle on taking action and helping your step daughter and her kids. They are so lucky to have you looking out for them. I do think it's important to broach the depression topic with Hannah as it seems this is the illness that everyone sweeps under the rug. If she does get treated it could be the beggining of helping her turn her life around and get to a place where she could support her boys better. I hope she will take it (the talk)the right way and see that you are coming from a place of love and accept the help.

March 17, 2007 4:45 PM  
Blogger BigAssBelle said...

Thanks you all. I don't feel like some great person, but I do feel better taking action. Just sitting and doing nothing is a recipe for insanity in my life. Can't stand it.

Cindy ~ My husband has a tendency to just put his head in the sand, hoping things will get better. That's pretty much what they've all done and I know, in part, it comes from not really having any idea how to help because the problems seem so immense and overwhelming.

He's got a couple of chronic, potentially life-threatening illnesses, the management of which takes up a lot of his time. Stress makes them all worse, so to a degree, I try to prevent as much stress as possible because I want him around for a long time.

He is thrilled to have a plan and excited and motivated. Just needed a kickstart to get some idea of how to attack this.

thank you, all of you, for your thoughts and good wishes.

March 18, 2007 10:32 AM  

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