This story is longer than my usual stories. I hope you will stick with it to the end.
This week I submitted my final assignment to complete my Master of Arts degree. When I submitted the final assignment, I felt like the character Dora the Explorer on the children’s television show. When she accomplishes something, she sings a catchy tune with her friends, “We did it, we did it!” Notice she sings “we” did it, with her friends. Today I am singing “We did it” with my readers and supporters – my friends.
As a grandparent raising my grandson, I felt very isolated in the beginning. For newer readers, I’ll try to quickly recount my story. My grandson was removed from his parents by the county Human Services in June 2007 after a drug raid in his home. He returned to his parents in September. During the following months, I pieced together my grandson was being neglected because my daughter, his mom, was back to using drugs. After numerous reports to the county social worker and to her probation officer, nothing was being done. According to them, there was not enough evidence.
Finally in October 2008, after discovering a meth pipe in my daughters belongs while she was hospitalized for a serious infection, I was fed up. Both the county and the probation officer still could not do anything, even after finding a meth pipe! The social worker said because the meth pipe wasn’t found in the presence of my grandson it was not child endangerment. The probation officer said because I found the meth pipe outside the hospital premises and it also was not found by the hospital staff, he couldn’t prove it was hers.
I was so frustrated. That’s when the social worker told me anybody can file an Order for Protection on Behalf of a Minor if they are concerned about the safety and wellbeing of a child. She is the first person on my “we” team.
By this time my grandson’s parents had split up. I told the father he could file this order. He didn’t do it. I woke up on Friday, October 31, 2008 with the clear thought I needed to file the order myself. This was a “we” moment with my Higher Power.
I drove 35 miles to the courthouse, wrote down everything I knew as facts, and submitted the form and information to the court. I waited while a judge reviewed the information. After two hours of anxious waiting, the clerk called my name. She said the judge signed the order. I had the legal right to pick up my grandson and take him home with me. This judge joined my “we” team. I went to get my grandson and we went home to my apartment.
The following week I took my grandson to his pediatrician. I learned he was three sets behind in all of his inoculations. He had a developmental assessment and I learned he was 12-18 months behind in his speech, gross motor and fine motor skills. According to his pediatrician, the delays were likely due to neglect. She helped to guide me with my grandson’s medical issues and supported us. She is a member of my “we” team.
I wondered what I was going to do about childcare and working. How was I supposed to work and take care of this child? I am a single grandparent. I didn’t earn my bachelor degree until I was 40. I finally had a great job, a real career path, and was finally earning enough to take care of myself. My expenses were based on my bills at the time. There wasn’t much room for extra expenses – certainly not the costs of raising a child again.
Childcare is not cheap for small kids. I called the Minnesota Kinship Caregivers Association for guidance. I learned because I did not wait for the county to remove my grandson, I was not a foster parent and would not receive the same services as foster parents receive. There would be no daycare assistance and I would not receive the same financial assistance as a foster parent would, even though I am doing “like for like” work. They told me what I would qualify for in Minnesota is food stamps and a monthly stipend of $250. They told me how to make the application. They came are on my “we” team.
My neighbor acquaintance told me about an Early Childhood Learning Center near my apartment. I went there with my grandson, told them my story, and asked if they had an opening. Not only did they have an opening, they contracted with an outside rehabilitation service and they provided all the services my grandson needed at the center – speech, occupational and physical therapies. I would not need to reduce my hours at work to accommodate my grandson’s therapies!
For the next 20 months my grandson would receive three speech therapies, two occupational therapies, and one physical therapy session every week. He had three fabulous therapists, all supporting us. When my grandson was four, he could finally say “grandma”. His therapists supported us and they are on my “we” team.
Grandson Summer 2010
After a year of paying daycare, I had used up my savings. I was down to living paycheck to paycheck – a stressful way to live. I started getting behind with daycare. I spoke with the directors and they kept reassuring me it was all okay and to pay when I could. I felt uncomfortable always paying my bill late.
Finally, I met with the center directors and said I was thinking I needed to quit working because I just could not afford daycare. I remember the conversation, feeling so ashamed, hopeless, and in tears. I am not irresponsible about paying my debts. I could not see how I could continue to afford daycare. They said, “Amy, we know what you are doing and we know why you are doing it. Please understand we support you! Stop worrying about the bill and just bring your grandson.” I never again received a daycare bill during the next 12 or more months my grandson was enrolled at the center. I am so grateful for their financial help and emotional support. They always were on the “we” team, but I didn’t get it until that moment.
Today my grandson attends a preschool to get ready for kindergarten this fall. We receive a 50% scholarship. Anonymous donors pay the other 50%. They are on my “we” team.
When my grandson was in diapers, a co-worker would bring me boxes of diapers out of the blue! Another friend continues to shop garage sales for me, finding clothes for us and toys. I have a counselor I see to work out the difficult emotions I feel sometimes. There are ups and downs as a kinship caregiver, and having a counselor helps. All of these people are members of my “we” team.
I have reached my goal to earn my master’s degree by age 50! When I became a kinship caregiver, I didn’t think I would reach this dream. I cannot even count the number of times I wanted to call it quits. I did not quit because I have a network of online friends – other kinship caregivers – who understood, who encourage and support me. If I needed to stay offline and focus on my courses, I could and then simply show up again as if I never left.
To everyone on my “we” team, let’s sing together, “We did it! We did it!” I thank you. I would not be in this place in my life without you.
If you are reading this and you had dreams of things you wanted to do and now find yourself raising a relative, please don’t feel like your life is over. It’s not. Yes, it will be different than what you thought it would be after your children were grown. Sometimes you will not like that. Sometimes it will make you feel very angry. You need to know that in time things settle down, routines are started, and eventually acceptance and peace will come. Stay open to the idea of forgiveness (another “F” word). I admit forgiveness is a concept I have to work on daily.
Don’t give up on your personal goals. You might have to put things on the side for a while, like I did, but don’t give up. Ask for help. It’s there. You very likely have your own “we team” but just didn’t see it, like me.
Another tip: try to laugh every day. I am very serious about that. Life is too short to be so serious. We have a serious situation to deal with, but we need to laugh. It’s good for us! Rent a funny movie, listen to a funny audio book, or go to a comedy club. Find a way to laugh. You can come join our Facebook support group. I can tell you that you will laugh in the group! We get pretty silly sometimes. If you are a grandfather or uncle, this is not a “women’s only” group. There are men in the group who will understand.
I am a grateful grandma raising my grandson. It’s all good.
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