We started out naive. People murmured we were crazy to go off and do what we were about to. Well, most of them said it to our faces actually, since we like our friends honest and straight forward like that. Selling every thing you own, after 12 years of marriage and three kids, is a weird thing to do. Trusting that they were just things, made it easier, but not easy. Moving 3000 miles away when your head is about to burst from all the over-thinking you're doing, is an adventure.
Actually, let me back up. Adventure was what we wanted. We were tired of living in an American rut. Working 9-5 just like Dolly, only without the figure. Mike worked and relaxed on the weekends and made the kids pray before dinner and helped with the bed time routine and plugged the holes in the fence with pants. I grocery shopped and homeschooled and went to play groups and MOPs and had a glass of wine in the evenings and changed diapers and potty trained. We got the bills paid, we went on road trips to see family, we exchanged the winter clothes for the summer clothes and vice versa. Life went on, pretty much the same as it had before. We wanted to adopt a baby, but it was too expensive. We went through foster care training, but never got a placement. Cars broke down and got fixed. The dog ran away. Life was uneventful.
So we did it. We packed up the minivan - Ol' Bessie, we call her - and we took a job as house parents for a group home, which is basically an orphanage but you can't call it that. We were told we'd get kids of all ages and genders, good kids, on the edge of the system, children of refugees. There would be safety always, we were told, and our own kids would grow through the process. We could live as we'd always lived, we were told, and just fold these kids into our lives.
The reality was we lived in a fish bowl. We were told what to wear, where to shop, what to drive, where to go to church, how often to go, what scriptures we were read to the kids, how to cook, how to clean (I had to sit through staff meetings on how to properly load spoons in the dishwasher. I wanted to jump out of my skin). We were told we were too laid back, too strict, too organized, not organized enough. There were no safety systems in place, other than the monthly fire drill. We were given seven teenage boys and one teenage girl. They came with baggage I will not talk about here. They had to ask permission to enter a room, and to leave. We were screamed at, there were fist fights, there were cops, there was drugs, there were sexual situations, there was thievery, there were nights I got up and just cried in the living room. I'd think, I want to go home, but we had no home any longer. I was shown that although I thought I had a lot of patience, I had none at all. I learned to be aggressive and to not take any crap from anyone, even if they were two feet taller than me and intimidating. I'd stand nose to ... well, I couldn't reach their noses, so nose to collarbone, and I wouldn't back down. We had kids lock themselves in their rooms, or escape out the windows. My own kids lived quietly on the back burner. I couldn't dedicate any time to them because I was constantly putting out fires. Any time we bonded as a family, we were raked across the coals for not loading spoons in the dishwasher properly. The paperwork was insane. It was a full time job in itself. We had a nice social worker...who was nice. And utterly unequipped to deal with these children, as of course, we all were.
We bonded. You do that when you travel down to the pits with one another. There is no other option. Eventually, down there, you huddle together for warmth. We were the only parents some of them had ever had. They all said I love you, every one. Not every house parent can boast that.
When we were fired, it was probably the worst day of our lives. We were burnt out, exhausted, wanting out, but never like this. They boys were a mess. I had never seen or heard tears like the ones we all spilled in the kitchen that day. The organization treated us like criminals and removed them from our care with 15 minutes to say goodbye. We had no money and no hope of quickly getting any, since the state looked at our earnings from the year, laughed and said, that wasn't a job, that was a ministry! Our boss, who we thought was our friend, never even spoke or said goodbye. We were dismissed and called names. Whether we were simply not religious enough for our religious organization (of which I could tell tales...but I won't because I'm bigger than they are) or whether there were other agendas, we'll probably never know. I think they made us leave because we cared too much, and so did our kids. We had become a family, and they didn't like that. Maybe it made them uncomfortable. Maybe they thought I was secretly teaching them spoon loading incorrectly. Who knows. I no longer care.
We packed up what stuff we had and got on the road. I had no voice at all because of all the crying and I sounded like a sick frog. Gianni was too young to know what was going on and wouldn't take the goodbyes seriously. He didn't understand he'd never see these people again. The girls were scared because Mommy and Daddy wouldn't stop crying. The dog got neurotic again, like he always does if there's stress. Somewhere in Utah, we ran out of money and gas simultaneously. It was evening and it was a tiny town and they didn't have our bank and even if they did have our bank, they wouldn't have been open. Our debit card was declined because we had gone through too many states in two days so they put a stop on it. I literally thought we were going to be one of those couples out on the freeway, holding up signs for money, sleeping in our car with our children.
No good deed goes unpunished, is all I kept thinking. It was hard lesson, but one I hope didn't make us hard.
The kids call, they text, we Facebook. Eventually we found work and a house and we started collecting all those dumb items we had sold before. It took about 6 months, but we finally stopped dreaming every night about what we went through. I no longer lull myself to sleep by hashing up the past. I don't come up with better scenarios or better comebacks anymore. I don't think about the supposedly Christian group that went out of their little way to hurt us. They'll self-destruct eventually.
There are so many stories and photos and things I could write, things that are bottled up because I'm scared to talk about them. Maybe someday.
This post is linked with Emily: