Saturday, November 4, 2017

42 kids

Today we went to a celebration of life for Charlie Treas, or Poppa Charlie at the VFW hall on Stockton Blvd. How am I connected to this person? My husband's sister's husband grew up in foster care, and Pat and Charlie were his foster parents. This sounds like a remote connection, doesn't it? But it isn't, and it never was.


When I first came onto the scene with Mike and his family in 1994, he told me they were a little unconventional. I don't remember exactly when the first time was that I went with the family up to Pat and Charlie's house in South Sacramento, I'm guessing it was Thanksgiving or Christmas. What I am sure about is I was pretty self-conscious  and had no idea what to expect. There were what felt like 60+ people crammed into a small house, lots of folding chairs, people sitting in the freezing garage, and a velvet painting of an 18 wheeler semi truck that LIT UP. Not just the lights on the truck itself, but the streetlights in the painting also lit up. Where the fuck was I?? There was food everywhere, and as the years progressed, I knew to look for the standards. Banana pudding with Nilla wafers, deviled eggs in the special Tupperware deviled egg container, and what I believe is officially called Ambrosia but our family refers to as Pink Stuff. In the front yard, there was a boat that they would fill with water for people to sit in on the 4th of July, which we called the redneck swimming pool. Even though this wasn't a scene I was used to, these people could not have been warmer or friendlier. I became more comfortable with it over time and I remember when I felt like I was 100% accepted and liked because Pat started making fun of me. I don't remember what she said, but I do remember thinking, "Man, she's a smart ass. And I like it."  Here's the thing that I know for sure...if I had stumbled upon this scene with no connection, I probably would have determined that these were not my people. It hurts to even admit that, but it's true. I would have walked into that house and instantly thought I had nothing in common with them. What a gift I would have been deprived of! What a jackass I was when I was younger...

The years went on and stuff happened, as it does in a family that big. When my niece became pregnant as a teen, she said that her Poppa Charlie said, "Shit happens, how can we help?" We had our kids, and at some point Pat decided to refer to my son Stephen as "Maynard". No one has an explanation for this, no one knows why or where the hell that came from. I can still hear her voice, loud and shrill, yelling, "Hey, Maynard!!" and my son mostly just looking confused. Pat and Charlie loved our kids, they loved ALL kids. But they had a way of showing love and interest in a very sincere, selfless way, no matter who you were. So to Maddie and Stephen, they seemed like another set of grandparents. It did not at all seem to them that these older folks were their dad's sister's husband's foster parents. They were just Pat and Charlie. One year, my dad visited for Christmas and we took him along to their house. I wondered what he would think of the whole scene with crowded rooms, lots of noise, and a varied assortment of people. Oh my God, my dad was in HOG HEAVEN. There were kids everywhere, and he played with them. There were people there who were passionate about drama, as he was. He ate it up, every second. How many situations can you think of where the warmth is overflowing, but so is the entertainment? Just the pieces of conversation overheard could easily have been turned into a screenplay. 

Foster Care

In my career, I encounter the foster system frequently. Most of them suck. I have had foster parents say the most horrible, heartless things about the children they are being paid to raise. I've dealt with foster agencies who are no shows to meetings, have lied to my face about things they've done to support these children, and who never return phone calls. Pat and Charlie were ANGELS. They raised 42 kids over 25 years. FORTY TWO CHILDREN. Let that sink in for a second. These were not wealthy people,and they didn't do this for the money, as so many do. They didn't send their foster kids to school, dirty and unkempt and then wrap their spiky, manicured nails around the steering wheel of their Escalade and drive away, like some others I've known. They didn't have fancy stuff, they actually poured themselves into parenting, and they did it well. They were tough, they devoted the time and effort that it takes to discipline kids, which is not easy for anyone. Once all those kids aged out, they kept coming back. This is why the holiday scene over there was so nuts, so many of these foster kids would come back, then start families of their own and come back with them, and then with their grandchildren. Seriously, how often does that happen?

The stories that some of the foster kids (now adults) shared today were unbelievable. Pat and Charlie saved these kids. They saved them from neglect and abuse, from crime and addiction. Did every single kid turn out okay? Probably not, but the magnitude of their positive influence can't be measured. They knew the secrets to parenthood, money isn't ultimately that important. Designer clothes and exotic family vacations are nice, but they don't matter very much. What makes the difference is consistency, availability, and attention. Kids know when you give a shit and when you're faking it. Kids aren't able to progress and grow until they know that they can trust and rely on their caregivers. Trust had already been jacked up in the kids who came to their home, but they managed to repair it. So many of those kids had experienced significant trauma, and yet grew up to be awesome parents, and contributing members of society. As a psychologist, that blows my MIND. 

Pat passed away several years ago, and that loss was tremendous. Charlie immediately picked up referring to my son as Maynard. Now with him gone, it feels like the end of an era. I pray the extended family will continue with tradition as much as they are able to, although the hole will always be there. 


I remember my sister in law Michelle teasing me that it would take years to remember who was who and what the family connection was. But the thing is, it didn't matter. Everyone turned into an auntie or a cousin at their house, and it didn't matter if there was an actual family connection or not. There were blood relatives, foster connections, neighbors, in-laws, friends, and the offspring of all these people. Everyone was family, and not in the diluted, shallow way that some people express the same thing. This was true welcoming, this was loving acceptance of every person who entered that kitchen through the garage. I consider myself so incredibly lucky to have been in the presence of this type of love, truly unconditional. They considered me family too, not just one of their foster kid's wife's brother's wife.  Just from fostering Chris, all these people were blessed with their love: Michelle, Heather, Eric, Christian, Mateo, Dominic, Nikki, Sypheria, Killian, Jamie, Olivia, Elias, Brenden, Jane, Mike, Stephen, and Maddie. That is precious, and something I will never forget.

Godspeed, Charlie. I'm so glad we got to see you this last birthday, and I will forever picture you in your chair in the garage with a game on, drinking your Corona. Thank you for accepting that somewhat pampered 25 year old white chick, and showing me that initial impressions can be misleading. Thank you for gifting that light up velvet painting to Michelle, so we can still see it. Thanks for sending your family that unbelievable rainbow and sunset today, we all know you're up there. Please tell Pat that Maynard sends his best, we love you both. 

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Damn Immigrants....???

*I had been thinking about this post on and off for a couple of weeks, and when I returned from Safeway today, I thought now would be a good time to write it. Then I turned on the television and unwittingly tuned in to Trump's rally, just in time to hear him read a poem that compared immigrants to snakes and generous Americans to stupid naive victims who should have known that snakes can't change their nature. I had every intention of keeping politics out of this post and I will muster ALL MY STRENGTH to do so still. I will refocus now...but it's not going to be easy. Here goes.*

I think that no matter what direction people lean politically, most could agree that right now is a crappy time to be an immigrant. Legal or illegal isn't the point, nor is the faith they live by.  If you are an immigrant, and you didn't immigrate from say, Ireland, it's a tough time to be in America.  There's so much negative press, public suspicion, and just overall ugliness towards these people. It's heartbreaking. There are bad people in every part of every society, but I truly believe that most of the people who have come here have done so because they don't want to starve, or be killed, or be brutalized.  The perspective that I have is purely derived from my own experience.

I work in one of the most diverse school districts in the country, a fact I'm proud of. I have worked with immigrant families frequently at my elementary schools. The majority of my job is meeting with families to express that there may be an issue with their child and their education. Then I meet with them again to tell them what the issue is. I don't do this on my own, I have amazing teams at both of my schools and we are all in this together, but the burden of telling the parents what the issue is falls on me. This is a difficult thing to do with all parents, but over the last few years, I've thought it would be harder with immigrant families. I assumed they would be distrustful of our rules, our system, and our way of educating our young people. What I discovered was the exact opposite.

The countries some of these families have come from are Mexico, Ecuador, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Vietnam, Laos, Ethiopia, and Eritrea. Let me tell you the kinds of experiences I've had with these people.

  • We met with a father from a Middle Eastern country who is commuting almost two hours away to provide for his wife and children who speak almost no English at all. He apologized to US for not being more available to help his children at home since he is the only one who speaks English. He said he is working very hard to find a job closer to home so he can see more of his children and help them learn. He promised us all he would try harder and thanked us for taking the time to be invested in his child.
  • We met with another family from the Middle East whose child suffered complications during birth that resulted in them having limited cognitive ability. They explained (through an interpreter) that in their country, not only were they not able to get their child the help they needed shortly after they was born, but the education available to this child mainly consisted of sitting in a room. They explained to us that they assumed the child wouldn't be able to learn anything so they didn't try to teach them. When I had to tell this family how low their child was, it killed me. It was hard for them as well and the mother cried. While she was crying, she thanked us for helping. This little one is now picking up English like you wouldn't believe, and IS learning, even though it's at a slower pace.
  • We assessed and qualified another youngster whose family was from Central America. We didn't know that the dad was here illegally until we were contacted by an immigration attorney who asked myself and a special education teacher to testify on behalf of the father. We both agreed to do so, planning on saying that the father's absence would have put undue stress on the child, making it even more difficult to learn. The day we were to testify, the attorney called to tell us that we no longer needed to, and that they had won their case and he could stay. This occurred about 6 weeks before the election.
  • A teacher I work with had been trying to convince a parent from a country in Africa to allow us to screen her son for a particular disorder. She had been resistant, but after meeting with us she agreed. She couldn't have been lovelier about it either, and afterwards I learned she brought our principal food from her country she had prepared for him.
  • Parents from another Middle Eastern country came in to discuss their child, who is suffering from severe hearing loss. They've only recently arrived here, and they shared that they had attempted to take their child to a different country for treatment, but with the economy the way it was in their country, they couldn't afford the treatment that was necessary. Could we possibly help them figure that out now that they're here? 
  • A family from Africa came in to discuss their child who we suspected could have Autism. This usually isn't an easy thing for families to consider, and even harder to accept. When we told them the child qualified, they said they were relieved. They said that they were glad there was an answer and that we didn't just punish their kid for their behaviors like they did at the last school. The mother told our principal that she knew the moment they arrived at our school, that he truly cared about their child.
  • After telling one father from South East Asia that his child had a pretty pronounced learning disability, he said "I'm just so glad there's help like this for him. Back in my country if you had a hard time learning, they just hit you with a stick!"

Sooooo, yeah.  What a bunch of freeloading, lazy leeches who are just sitting around on our dime, plotting our demise! Not all of my experiences have been this positive, but the vast majority of them have been, and they all have one big thing in common. They thank us.  We tell them that there is something wrong with their babies, and they are grateful. 

Lately when I encounter these families, I want to apologize. I want to tell them to not watch the news, that we don't hate them, that we don't look at the moms wearing hijabs and think negative thoughts. When I see these ladies on my campuses, I look around on guard, but on their BEHALF, not because of them. I don't want anyone to say anything negative, to look at them wrong, to make them feel unwelcome. But they don't need me, they are doing just fine, they are happy to be here and they are thankful for our education system, even though their kiddos are struggling. It is absolutely beyond humbling. I thank GOD that they all came here when they did, because I have no doubt whatsoever that there are thousands of families exactly like theirs who can't come here now.

Don't get near these families. Support them or leave them alone and be quiet. I don't care where they're from, what god they believe in, or what their customs are. I care that I'm a mom, and I'm talking to another mom. At the end of the day, parenting is the same everywhere. We want our children happy and healthy and probably 80% of our lives is spent worrying about them or thinking that we've screwed them up somehow. While I worry about my children and their relationships, decisions, and grades, they have some different concerns.  These moms are just trying to get their babies away from being sold into slavery, or being raped, or gassed, or bombed. We have no idea what this is like. NONE.

To our current leader...I say this. They are not snakes. They are NOT snakes. THEY ARE NOT SNAKES!! They're just human beings...are you one?

Thursday, February 16, 2017

"Tell the truth in love." Ummm, thanks I'll pass.

Over the years, I have been able to swallow, although not completely digest the whole idea of "hate the sin, love the sinner" and "tell the truth in love."  Today, for reasons that are not entirely clear to me, that idea has risen in my throat and made me feel literally sick. You know why? It's utter bullshit.

This philosophy is usually liberally applied by Christian people in situations when they have to interact with LGBTQ people and they don't agree with their "lifestyle". It's interesting, really. I have been on the receiving end of this idea and I've been able to deal with it. Recently a friend was the recipient of this notion and now I'm livid. Here is the problem: These folks equate being LGBTQ as being sinful in the same way as other sins are, you know, like murder, adultery, child abuse and the like. But here is where that argument falls apart. I do not know ANYONE who would approach someone who harmed children, or committed a major violent crime, or someone who steals from their family to purchase heroin, and gather around them and collectively say, "Well, we need to tell you the truth in love. We love YOU, but we don't love what you're doing."  If it were a parishioner, let's say, in a big church who had embezzled thousands of dollars from a non-profit organization, would the treatment be the same? Would the other fellow church goers get together and talk about the importance of rallying around this person, loving them, and trying to get them to see the error of their ways? Highly unlikely. You know why? Because everyone knows that this behavior is wrong and it harms other people, that's pretty clear. It's a horrible decision that they've made, and they'll have to deal with the consequences. What a shame.

And yet...these same people do not appear to be capable of understanding that being LGBTQ is not the result of a bad decision, or a desire to harm other people, or selfish desires. Being gay is NOT a decision. It's NOT a lifestyle. This notion is so outdated and stupid and illogical and it totally amazes me that people still believe it. I suppose it's their right, everyone can think what they want. However, coming forth and expressing love and "understanding" towards these people is a thinly veiled insult. You know what it reminds me of? You know that scene in The Color Purple where Miss Milly approaches Sofia (Oprah) and compliments her children?  "Your children are so clean! Would you like work for me and be my maid?"  That is how it feels to's condescending as hell. It's demeaning. It's insulting. And in the immortal words of Sofia (Oprah), may I just say....


I don't need strokes on having a clean child. I don't need anyone to tell me that my daughter is wonderful, but...  To be clear, this hasn't happened to me lately, it just hit me like a ton of bricks today. Maybe I'M tired of being politically correct for a change. Maybe seeing all the madness in the world right now has made me wake up and realize that I no longer care about making people upset. My daughter is freaking amazing. She is intelligent and witty and talented. If ANYONE in my life feels that they can have a conditional relationship with my kid, that they can "love" her without supporting who she is as a human being, get ready for a rude awakening. You may NOT. I would have more respect for people if they would tell me the truth, that they don't understand, they don't accept her. They think she is sinful and is putting her soul in jeopardy. Alright, sweet, good to know. Silence is also acceptable to me. But please don't express "love" as a means of absolving your own conscience, and don't think I am going to help you do it. The mere idea that anyone could express this to her, or to me, under the umbrella of it being a loving Christian action completely confounds me. It isn't. It is a total and complete cop-out. It is a way of saying, "We don't agree with who you are at all, we believe it's a sin but we don't want to look like dicks, sooooo....we love you. We just hate what you're doing." NO THANK YOU. We're good. She isn't doing anything, she is BEING.

You know who else is BEING?  My cousin, my dear friends, a man I consider to be my second brother, our God-family, my colleagues, my neighbors, and my late father. I hope that his BEING in Heaven right now is kicking ass and having the best time ever. The only "sin" any of these people are/were guilty of is being themselves. The God I believe in would never, ever turn them away. Jesus would never reject them. I do think the tides are turning a bit, and I think that there are popular Christian folks like Jen Hatmaker that are taking incredibly brave steps and admitting that maybe their earlier beliefs were wrong. I love them, and they give me hope. The other folks I know, and many of them are good people, will be on the wrong side of history and that makes me sad.

I am fortunate. Other than being female, I really don't know what it's like to be blatantly discriminated against, but my child does. The things that people at school say to her would make your heads spin, but out of respect for her, I will not share what they are. She doesn't even share them all with me because she knows I will get riled up. She is not interested in a spiritual life right now, and it's her walk and honestly, I understand. The idea that in the future, if she does decide that it's something she would like to investigate and pursue and she might be turned away because of who she is makes me want to scream and never stop. This is NOT love. This is NOT looking out for ones soul and trying to save them from themselves. It's discrimination. It's short-sighted. It's incredibly stupid. It's simply not Christian behavior. 

So to my LGBTQ friends, family, and coworkers, I say this:  I love you. I accept you. And contrary to popular notion oftentimes, GOD loves you too. I know this. 

To my Christian friends and acquaintances who express love towards me and my family while choosing to make it conditional due to our child's "lifestyle", let me be I want or need this kind of conditional love? Does she? Do I believe this illustrates the love of Jesus?


Thanks, Sofia!