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A PLACE CALLED BLESSINGWhere Hurting Ends and Love Begins
By John Trent Annette Smith
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2011 John Trent
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMost every kid has a special toy or blanket he likes to have with him at bedtime or when he is scared or upset. You know, something to hold that helps him go to sleep and makes him feel safe. You probably had one. Or your kids did. Maybe for you it was a teddy bear, a pillow, or a blanket—a gift from your mom or your dad, maybe your grandma. Mine was a tan rabbit with soft fur and silky ears that I rubbed between my fingers as I fell asleep.
But I didn't get that rabbit from my parents or my grandparents. Nope. Not that rabbit or any other toy. I never met my grandparents, and my parents were really young when they had me and my two brothers, Sam and Matt. Young and dumb, as they say.
My dad did not go to work very often. My mom wasn't big on cooking or cleaning or taking care of kids. What they liked to do was go out with their friends. Every weekend and lots of weeknights, the two of them went out drinking and partying. Every time they went, they would promise to bring us boys a treat or a toy if we were good.
I think we were good. Maybe not. All I know is most of the time they forgot. We rarely got treats, and we didn't have many toys.
Once when I was pretty little, Mom and Dad took me and my brothers with them. They stopped on the way at a gas station and got us Honey Buns. Our mom gave us a blanket that was in the front seat. When we got to the bar, they left us in the car. It was only supposed to be a little while, but I guess they forgot. Matt and Sam and I fell asleep and did not wake up until the cops came and opened up the doors. Somebody had seen us and called. The cops did not have to break a window or anything because my dad had not locked the doors. They just pulled us out and put us in the back of their car, then went inside to get our parents. When they found them, they put them in a different cop car.
That's when I got the rabbit. In our state, lots of communities have this program called Caring Cops. It has been around for a long time. The way it works is, police officers carry stuffed animals in their trunks to give to kids who might be scared or upset. All three of us got one.
If you ask me, whoever came up with that had a good idea.
That night they put my parents in jail, and we boys went to this place where they had lots of beds for kids. They gave us some food and some clean clothes. We only stayed there one night. Before our parents could take us home, they had to promise not to make that mistake again.
Sure enough, they learned their lesson. From then on, they left us at home when they went out. I was four, almost five. Matt was six, and Sam was seven.
I do not remember my parents hitting us or spanking us. They yelled sometimes, but mostly at each other. I guess we did not cause them too much trouble because they pretty much ignored us. We were sort of like the furniture. Just ... there. They did not touch us or talk to us much. They slept till noon usually, leaving us to fend for ourselves.
We looked out for one another, as best as little kids could. We played with stuff like cans and boxes. We had sword fights with wire coat hangers. I'm surprised nobody's eye got put out. Sometimes we wrestled. Most days we ate cereal from the box and drank orange soda. Our couch had three cushions, one each for my brothers and me to sleep on. Every night we pulled them off the couch and lined them up in a row against the wall. My parents slept on a mattress on the floor.
We didn't go outside. We didn't go to school. But we did watch TV.
It was on 24/7.
Early one Sunday morning, I guess my dad must have gotten confused driving home from a bar. No one ever did tell us the whole story. I heard a cop saying later that he was glad no one else was killed. Of course, at the time I did not understand what he meant.
I am not sure how they found out about us, but when the police came to our apartment after the accident, they found me and my brothers asleep on our couch cushions. We woke up confused and afraid, but we didn't cry. We had learned early on that crying didn't exactly do us any good.
"Where's our mom?" my oldest brother, Sam, asked one of the cops standing at the door.
He looked over at his partner. "Uh, she had to go somewhere."
"How about our dad?"
"He went with her."
"So they're coming home soon?" I remember asking.
They looked at each other again as if they did not know.
"Hey, I bet you boys are hungry," the first cop said. "Let's go get you something to eat."
We weren't sure about leaving. Mom and Dad had told us to stay put. But these guys were police officers, and from our experience they were people who had been nice to us. You could trust them. Besides, we were hungry.
"Come on, fellows," said the cop. "It'll be all right."
We didn't exactly have a choice, so we went. None of us had on pajamas. We did not own any. We slept in the same clothes we wore all day, which were the same clothes we wore most days. None of us wore underwear. We had finished off the cereal earlier in the day, so there was no food in the house. The apartment was dark. Even the TV was black because our electricity had been turned off the day before.
It was getting light by the time we got to the police station. We sat side by side on a sticky plastic couch while they called for a social worker to come and get us. Our hair was long. It had been more than two weeks since any of us had taken a bath. The officers had driven us by McDonald's to get breakfast. Biscuits with sausage inside. We ate them without saying a word.
Every time a new person came to check on us, we asked him about our mom and our dad. Again and again, the cops told us the same thing.
"Everything's going to be all right."
We had been at the police station for two hours before the social worker finally showed up. She took us to a room without any windows, and one of the cops went with her. He stood in the corner. She sat down at a little table. We had to sit down, too, but there were not enough chairs, and I had to sit in my oldest brother's lap.
"When do we get to see our parents?" he asked.
"I'm sorry, but you're not going to be able to see them again." She held a wad of Kleenex in her hand. "There was a wreck. On the highway. Your parents died in an accident."
We started crying then, all of us at once. The social worker tried to hug us, but I pulled away. I was mad.
Everyone had been telling us everything would be all right. But this was not right! I ran over to the cop and started hitting and kicking him.
Our parents were not much, but they were all we had.
Most people have some kind of family ties. Relatives, even if they live far away, who will help out when there is a real need. The social workers tried and tried to find somebody like that who would take in my brothers and me, but they had no such luck.
Nobody wanted us.
Which was how we ended up in foster care.
Like most, our state is pretty short of foster homes. Some counties don't have a single home. At any given time, it can be a challenge for a social worker to place one kid. Finding a home to take three brothers on short notice was an impossible task. So we were separated for the first time ever in our lives.
When my brothers got into a car to be taken away, I tried to run after them, but a big man grabbed me. He picked me up and held me tight. I cried and fought against him, trying to get down. Why were they going and not me? What had I done bad?
You can listen to the news and know that the foster-care system has a lot of problems. But I have to give them credit for one thing. They tried to make it where my brothers and I got to see each other on a regular basis. The plan was for us to get together once a month. That may sound like a lot, but to a little kid a month is the same thing as a year. And sometimes it worked out, but sometimes it did not. Or two of us would make it, but the other one would not.
I understand it better now. People are busy, especially people who take care of lots of kids. Things happen. But I didn't understand it then. All I knew was they would tell me I was going to see my brothers, and then it didn't happen. It just started eating at me. A lot of things did.
Not many kids get to stay in the same foster home for very long. I lost count of how many different ones I got sent to. Some places I would go to for just one night while they tried to find someplace else for me to go. Others lasted longer—weeks or months, maybe. I was still pretty little then, so my sense of time passing was not all that good.
One foster mom told me she was thinking about adopting me. She was going to see if she could get my brothers too. I was so excited. Finally, a real family for me. I couldn't stop thinking about how great everything was going to be. I hoped it would happen soon. But a few days later I came in from playing and saw that Foster Mom was packing up my stuff. No way. I started crying and asked her why she was doing that. Had she been lying to me all along? I got mad and pulled all the books and toys off the shelf in my room. I threw those books and toys as far and as hard as I could.
Foster Mom would not look at me. She did not even yell at me for throwing stuff. She just kept on putting my stuff into a big plastic bag. There were problems, and she had changed her mind. She was sorry, but my social worker was on her way to get me to take me somewhere else.
When stuff like that happens to you as a kid, you eventually learn to expect most everything to go bad. You just kind of give up. That's what I did, anyway. I stopped counting on things and believing people. I didn't ever feel safe, couldn't ever let my guard down. Think about it. I had been shown that even if people say they care about you and they want you, they can change their minds.
It is easy to say I stopped trusting when I went to foster care, but that is not when it started. No, it was way before that. When your parents don't come when you cry, don't feed you when you're hungry, don't pick you up when you fall, you learn that you can't count on anyone.
But then something unexpected happened. I was six years old when my foster mom at the time told me I was leaving her house to go to a new home. She packed my clothes into a bag, my tan rabbit too. I wasn't surprised that I had to leave. The day before I had hit her real son when he told me I was stupid. Before that, I had wet the bed three nights in a row.
But this time I wasn't leaving because of fighting or doing anything else wrong. I did not know it at the time, but I was about to experience one of the best days of my life.
Or the worst, depending on how you look at it.
Chapter TwoWhen the social worker came to pick me up, she told me she had a surprise. I ran to the car, hoping it was some candy or gum, but it turned out to be way better than that. When I got almost to the car, two heads popped up from where they had been hiding, ducked down in the backseat. My brothers were laughing their heads off. I learned that they were going to the new home too. We would all be in the same foster home at the same time.
My brothers and I hugged and poked one another and tickled and laughed while the social worker drove. Looking back, I realize I did not care what the house looked like or even if the other kids there were big and mean. I was so glad to be with my brothers, nothing else mattered in the whole world.
Since I was the last one in, I had a seat by the window. We drove and drove, from one end of town to the other, faster and farther, to where there weren't many houses. Just lots of trees and fences and even cows and some horses.
"Are we almost there?" I needed to use the bathroom.
"How much farther?" asked Sam.
"Is there a mom and a dad?" asked Matt. His last home was with a lady who did not have a husband. He was the only boy in a family with three girls. His room was pink.
She smiled at us in the mirror. The job of a social worker cannot be easy. She was probably smiling because her task of transporting three rowdy brothers was almost to its end. But we never knew.
"Start watching, guys." She slowed the car and turned down a little road. Trees grew so close they touched overhead; it felt as though we were going through a tunnel. Like always when I was about to see a new home, my stomach got jerky. I put my hand to my mouth and chewed on the knuckle of my left thumb.
Pretty soon, we drove out of the tree tunnel and started up a driveway. We boys stopped talking. We had been through this so many times before. Would the family be nice? Would they let us watch TV? Would we get food that we liked? Would there be lots of kids, or would we be the only ones?
The driveway was bumpy. Even though the car wasn't stopped and we knew better, we unlatched our seat belts so we could see better. There weren't any other houses around. This one was white with black shutters and a red front door. Old. Pretty big. And with a porch on the front. There was a big wooden garage off to one side, separate from the house. The yard had a swing set and a sandbox and tall yellow flowers growing on each side of the sidewalk that led up to the front steps.
"Get your bags, boys." The social worker opened up the trunk. Then she led the way up the sidewalk. We climbed the wide wooden steps and took a look around the porch. There was a swing and a couple of chairs, some plants, a watering can, and a little brown dog. I tried to pet him, but he jumped off the porch and ran around to the back of the house.
Before she even knocked, our new foster mom opened the door. She was young and pretty. And black ... which my brothers and I were not. We looked at one another. This was something the social worker had forgotten to tell us. But I guess she had remembered to tell Foster Mom because she did not seem surprised at all.
She told us to come on in. Foster Dad would be home in a couple of hours. He was out on the tractor, cutting hay. No, she didn't have any kids. Just us. But she had been taking care of foster kids for ten years. She wasn't as young as she looked.
Foster Mom showed us around downstairs—the kitchen; the living room, where there was a TV; and the room where she and Foster Dad slept. Then we climbed the stairs to what she called the attic. Two rooms. The ceiling sloped on the sides, and there was a big window in the end.
One of the rooms had three beds. I was glad to see that. I couldn't wait to sleep next to my brothers again. The other room had toys and books, an art easel and paints, and a CD player with a bunch of music she said we could play whenever we wanted. There wasn't a bathroom, so we would have to go downstairs for that, but we didn't care. She showed us where we were supposed to put our clothes; then she and the social worker went downstairs so they could fill out the papers.
We sat down, each of us on our beds. We had been through this before. Meet Foster Mom. See your room. Put your stuff away. Meet Foster Dad later—if there was a dad. My older brothers agreed this was a pretty good place. I wanted to go look for that dog.
"Boys, come downstairs, please." It was the social worker. She told us she was leaving, but she would come back to check on us in a week. Then she left.
"You boys hungry?"
The first thing new foster moms always ask after the social worker leaves is if you want a snack. A kid always does. We had peanut butter on crackers and then some apple slices.
As I sat at the table in the kitchen, my feet didn't reach the floor. "Where's your dog?" I asked.
"Toby? You want to see him?" Foster Mom opened the back door and called. In a minute he ran in and started sniffing my feet. Foster Mom gave me a cup with some dog food in it. "You want to give him his dinner? His bowl is right there." She pointed.
I slid out of the chair and took the cup of food from her. Toby wagged his tail. When I poured the food into his bowl, he ate it all really fast. I knelt down to pet him. When he licked my hand, it tickled. I scratched his chin. He rolled over for me to rub his belly.
Excerpted from A PLACE CALLED BLESSING by John Trent Annette Smith Copyright © 2011 by John Trent. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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