A Life Extra … Ordinary

Guest post by Jesse Wilson, child formerly in Florida’s foster care system, advocate, TV host, nationally recognized author and emerging politician. This post is reprinted with permission from www.jessewilson.org. 

jesse1Strange. Strange but … beautiful. A life extraordinary is what I have been mandated, 25 years now. I was dealt a tough hand early on and have been trying to bluff my way through since. I want to tell you about the wild card that was dealt my way this morning but realize many of you do not know my back story. So I’ll start somewhere near the beginning.

 I come from a broken, messy, disastrous family that is cursed. Perhaps due to all the horrible things they have done to themselves and others over the years. The family includes members of the KKK, sexual predators, felons and so much more.

I burst forward into this glorious family and the world on September 22, 1988. My mother was 15 and my father was 28. They would proceed to give me three younger brothers over the next four years. A situation that undoubtedly should have been cancelled from the start was given permission by my grandparents on my mother’s side.

I have sitting on the table beside me two discs compiled from a box of records. Records that detail the first few years of my life. They include all the abuse reports, medical records, and baker act documentation for my family. Around 5,000 pages of information to be shared at another time. I have blacked out much over the years and am slowly allowing it to trickle back. It all basically says how horrible my parents were. My father was the purveyor of pain and mother was the enabler who sat idly by in fear.

My three younger brothers were eventually removed from my parents and placed into foster care and I went on to live with my grandmother, grandfather and aunt. Things here were not too bad. My aunt and I developed a strong relationship. I remember going to school together, looking up to her, coming home and eating sliced cheese together. She became my very best friend.

My grandmother would attempt to be sophisticated, but she would always fail. She was helpless; she had the same abhorrent blood of the family coursing through her body. Moments of unprovoked or irrationally provoked rage were ordinary.

Eventually it led to me too being brought into foster care.

When the police and child protective investigator came to remove me from my grandmother, I was locked in a closet. Sock in mouth and vowed to silence, I sat lifeless, afraid to move. Footsteps all around. Voices of thunder.

I spent the rest of my childhood in foster care and was eventually adopted into a wonderful family. I was given a new life, though not perfect, calmer.

The first times my biological family began to come back into my life was shortly before my 18th birthday when I was contacted by my biological mother. Being a child of wonder, I wanted to know so many things and spent hours on the telephone with her and had a few meetings. I quickly realized she was not the type of person I wanted a relationship with. I have a mom and dad who adopted me and raised me, yet she insisted on calling me son and me calling her mother. The “I love yous” rang furiously and rattled bitterly in my head. The relationship became one sided. She was the only pursuer.

My father came back into my life a couple years later. I was curious and searched his name online. His picture came across the Florida Sexual Offenders database. The charge read “Lewd assault/sexual battery on a victim under the age of 16.”

What do I do with that? Like my mother, I had many questions for him but now had a daughter in my life and couldn’t imagine spending any time with a man/coward/waste like this.

I gave in and rode out to meet him at his trailer. A large confederate flag donned the window, and trucks were parked in the yard. The house was filled with pictures of family, some in KKK outfits, and art that he had drawn. The art was really good. He was talented and wasted it. The meeting was therapeutic and strange. He provided dozens of photographs from my early childhood. I had never seen one of my baby pictures until this moment. He showed me photographs of us at visitation, though I was always told he never showed. I saw myself in him physically. The way he would talk and the way he would laugh. It was electrifying.

Shortly after I met my father, one of my brothers was murdered. August 20, 2011. Six months out of a three-year prison sentence, he was on the way to restoring his life. He was still young though and spent a lot of time having fun. A long story short, he was stabbed 26 times at a party by two guys with strange stories of their own. The trial for the second one finally concluded in May. This was perhaps the toughest point of my life. I planned and signed off on a funeral for my 21-year-old brother. I kept strong for my family, both sides, and tried to keep tensions between my biological and adopted family non-existent.

Last June, my aunt was involved in a freak, still not fully explained, accident. The story is blurred, but reads something like, she was headed home with her boyfriend and their car broke down in the mountains of North Carolina. They were drunk and something happened where she ended up in the middle of the road and was hit and dismantled by a semi. When I received a call that she was gone, I wasn’t sure what to feel, or do. She was family but I hadn’t seen her much apart from the occasional Facebook post. At the same time, she was a major part of my story.

My grandmother died in July and again I find myself not knowing how to feel. Forgiveness is something I believed I had given but I could never bring myself to have a relationship with her, or any member of my biological family apart from my brothers. She would often reach out to me, comment on pictures, shares messages on my Facebook timeline. I was always quick to delete and erase any trace of her. I now sit confused. She was no longer my family but at the same time … she is. Where is the line between compassion and forgiveness drawn?

jesse3Because of her, I am here. Because of them, I am here. My story is them. The numerous additional stories I have are because of them.

My extraordinary life is because of them.

I share this not for pity but to possibly encourage someone else. Look where I was and look where I’m at.

Ask Dr. Phelps: How do I explain death to my young children?

Guest blog column by Dr. Pam Phelps is the owner/director of the Creative Center preschool and doctor of Early Education. Her posts answer parenting questions.

Parent:

Dear Dr. Phelps,

Our dog just passed away and we aren’t sure how to explain it to our 3-year-old and 5-year-old daughters. How can we help them understand that our dog will not be coming back home without scaring them?

– Doggone in South Florida

Dr. Phelps:

Dear Doggone,

Deaths are hard for any of us to understand. Below are some tips to help children cope:

  • There are some lovely books about death that help young children.
  • Collecting pictures of the family with the dog and making a book about the experiences can be visited over and over again.
  • Discussing the gifts that the dog brought the family and what children loved about him helps also.

Children’s first experiences with death will help them with later losses so encourage them to talk. Little ones have no concept of time so they may ask where the pet is over and over again. It is a good idea not to say things like, “He went to sleep” or “He just got sick” because they can become frightened about themselves or other family members. Statements such as “his body was just old” or “his body just couldn’t work anymore” are less frightening. Here are some suggested book titles:

  • Jim’s Dog Muffins by Miriam Cohen
  • The Tenth Good Thing About Barney by Judith Viorst
  • Lifetimes by Bryan Mellonie

Saving the little baby’s life

A Florida adoptive mother came to one of our staff members to express her concerns about a baby her adopted children’s biological mother just gave birth to. The staff member stepped in to inquire about the baby’s status and discovered that the baby was kept in the hospital with withdrawal symptoms, although both parents tested negative for drugs.The adoptive mother who had approached the staff member adopted five of the infant’s siblings after drug use and physical abuse led to parental terminations. 

After looking into the couple’s court history, the staff member discovered that both parents had been given only a single-panel drug screen for cocaine but had not been tested for other substances.

The staff member contacted LifeStream Behavioral Health Center to learn more about drug testing and learned that drug use could be hidden by taking a certain substance. As a result of the staff member’s inquiries, both parents were ordered to take a 12-panel drug screen – during a hearing to shelter the baby – and the test results led the judge to order the baby be placed with the adoptive parent of her siblings.

The staff member met repeatedly with the child protective investigator, Children’s Legal Services and the Program Administrator to monitor the infant’s status and safety, and ultimately her decisive action saved the child’s life.

This is one of many inspiring stories – we’ll be sharing more in the coming weeks and months!

The Heart of a Dad

Guest post by Eckerd’s Pinellas County Foster Parent Martin Carpenter. 

I grew up in a broken home. I want that for nobody. My dad was married three times and yes, I may be a spitting image of him, but I am nothing like him.

My wife of 20 years and I began fostering after I was fixing a friend’s shower and met the two boys she was fostering. I instantly fell in love with them. I felt there were kids in the Tampa Bay area that could benefit from the stability and love my wife and I could provide.  We can’t take away the bad that has happened to them, but we can help them learn to heal.

fathersdayWe have two biological children who have also learned a great deal from the process. Maybe our kids have been a little spoiled over the years not really understanding how much mom and dad do around and inside the house. But they too have given up much and shown their foster siblings hope. My kids argue over who is going to put our youngest foster child in their car seat or who is going to push the stroller. I feel like together we are making someone else’s family whole.

I tell my kids all the time that you can have all the money in the world, but if you don’t have family you have nothing. For the kids that come into our home we give them family.

To learn more about how to become a foster parent in the Tampa Bay area visit FosteringTampaBay.org 

Because I love him

Guest post by Kelly Treesh. Kelly and her husband Ted have six children, four biological children and two adopted daughters. They have fostered 17 children so far.

A sweet little boy, just 8 years old, came into our care late one night. Daniel was scared, holding tight to an Optimus Prime Transformer toy and a garbage bag that contained just a few of his belongings.  He didn’t have a suitcase, backpack or duffle bag, so a garbage bag held his entire world. This was the case for many of the 17 children we have welcomed to our home over the past four years.

I bent to my knees and asked Daniel if he was scared, and he indicated that he was. He gave me permission to hug him, and it was at that very moment, I fell in love.  I assured Daniel that we would keep him safe and make sure he had anything he needed.

Four of our children were awake with us when we greeted the young boy at our door. My 12-year-old daughter knelt on the ground and asked Daniel if he wanted to play with some toy trucks. Our new family member followed her slowly into the living room where the trucks were waiting for him. All four children played with Daniel while my husband and I spoke with his case manager and then saw her out.

My kids are always beyond excited when a child comes to stay with us. They understand that the children are frightened and scared and try to be gentle and welcoming to them. My kids have sacrificed a lot – time with my husband and me, their space, and their things.

Daniel shared a room with my 10-year-old son, and they grew close during the three months Daniel was with us. Eventually, Daniel was reunited with his sister in another foster home. When I told my son that Daniel would be leaving, I thought he would be happy to have his room to himself again. But instead he began to cry. “I don’t want him to go because I love him,” he said. We lay down together on the bed and cried.

I am very blessed still to be in touch with Daniel’s biological mom. Fortunately, Daniel and his two sisters will be going home to their mother in a week!  We will maintain close contact with the family and serve as a surrogate family to the mom and her sweet children.

Over the years, my daughter and I have developed a ritual when the kids leave. We sit down at the bottom of the stairs and talk about how we hope we made a positive impact in that child’s life.

When any of the kids leave our home, they always take a piece of our hearts with them. However, it is such a beautiful gift given to us when the kids come – THEY enrich OUR lives!