Help or Hindrance

While living in my last apartment, I got to know an amazing variety of people, most poor, and several with stories that oftentimes seemed unbelievable. One of these woman was Cecilia, a bright lady with a distorted view of her role in the world.

bird-1048269_1920She had twin daughters, Chantal and Sabra, who had just turned 18, but were both emotionally much younger. Chantal was the cherished child; as a result of her mother’s difficult pregnancy she had mild cerebral palsy, and every accomplishment was heralded by Cecilia as a miracle. When I say every accomplishment, I mean each one, no matter how mundane, routine, or handily achieved.

I believe in helping those with disabilities deal with their disabilities.

That is the fair and decent thing to do, to give everyone a chance to live a decent life and fulfill their dreams. But it ends there. Children with cerebral palsy are not angels. They are children.  Yes, they have special needs that must be cared for, emotionally and practically. Beyond that, they have the same mix of good and bad every child has, and need to be treated with love and discipline.

Chantal had been taught that because of her cerebral palsy, she was the angel child, entitled to whatever she wanted, whenever she wanted it. In the months after I met her, I began to get calls at all hours asking me to take her to the store and buy her treats, DVDs, games or anything else she desired at that moment. It never daunted her to ask me to spend my limited funds — and limited time — on this child I barely knew. When I refused her, she very nearly got violent in telling me off.

Sabra, healthy, smart and beautiful, was, in Cecilia’s mind, the demon child. Never mind that the girl was obedient and disciplined, she not only could do nothing right, but as she grew older her mother began to accuse her “evil” daughter of beating both her and Chantal. Cecelia showed up at my door one day and pointed to her cheek, saying, “See what Sabra did this time?!”

Hummingbirds FightingI could see nothing amiss. Cecelia asked me to come over and help her care for Chantal, whom she claimed had been beaten with a wooden spoon and thrown repeatedly to the floor by Sabra. I had my doubts. I’d caught this woman in a number of lies before, and I’d figured out the family dynamics. Still, I was concerned about Chantal. Even if Sabra had done nothing, I was beginning to wonder what her mother was capable of doing simply to get a little attention.

Chantal was stationed in front of the television, watching cartoons and eating cookies. She greeted me with surprise, and when I asked how she was doing, said, “okay, I guess, but my favorite DVD is broken and no one will buy me a new one.”

I knew that story.

“Where’s Sabra?” I asked, ignoring her attempts to manipulate me.

“I dunno.” Just at that moment, a sleepy Sabra emerged from the girl’s bedroom.

In the meantime,

Cecelia was calling 911, once again claiming one daughter had beaten the other and smacked her around as well. Since Cecelia was a good six inches and 100 pounds bigger than either girl, it was hard to believe she couldn’t have overpowered Sabra. But that was only a small part of my doubt.

The ambulance and police showed up a few minutes later. “Hi, Cecelia,” the first officer through the door said. “What’s going on today?” He sounded weary and as skeptical about the situation as I was, and asked some very pointed questions clearly meant to poke holes in the woman’s story.

It turns out Cecelia made this accusation, or one similar, on almost a weekly basis. At her insistence, Chantal was always taken to the hospital, and would return home within two hours. Charges were never pressed against Sabra.

canary-20522_1920Until a month later. I never did find out whether or not she actually struck Cecelia (at some point I figured the girl would break), but Sabra ended up in jail for two days before appearing in court, where the judge dropped the charges and advised her to move out of her mother’s home. She did just that, and within a few weeks, Cecelia and Chantal left their apartment in the middle of the night.

Two years later,

I ran into Sabra while shopping at Walgreen’s. She gave me a big hug, and when I asked how she was doing, told me in great detail about the good things in her life. Her boyfriend, her apartment, her job…it all seemed good. I knew she had a lot to overcome, but she seemed genuinely happy. Relaxed.

“Do you ever see your mom?” I asked.

Bee eater BirdThe smile faded a bit. “Never,” she said. “I don’t know if I’ll ever see her again.” She paused. “They removed Chantal from her home. I want to see her, but she thinks I was the one who took her away from our mom.”

I decided not to ask if she had anything to do with it. “I think that’s the best thing for her,” I said. “And I don’t think you should see your mom either, at least not right now. Maybe someday.”

I hope the day comes when Sabra can see her mother again without falling back into the emotional abyss she had to be living in. This woman raised both daughters in such a manner the courts took action, but she is still their mother.

Help or hindrance, they will always need their mother. Just not the one they got while they were growing up.

Photo Credits: (birds in nests) and (bird in cage) courtesy of Pixabay; (fighting hummingbirds) and (bee-eaters) © Adobe Stock

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Payback

Earlier today I was driving down one of the busiest streets in my city, when I saw three men riding bicycles approaching from the opposite direction. They stopped, and appeared to be looking at a homemade map, clearly uncertain which way they were going.

What made this remarkable was one of the men was dressed like Raggedy Ann, pinafore and all, with a red yarn wig and rosy cheeks. He was unshaven and wore paint-spattered jeans under his doll getup, and as he started riding again (apparently they’d determined some sort of direction), he put on sleek sunglasses.

I’m guessing they were headed to some sort of party, where he would either cause great joy or profound embarrassement for his offspring, depending on how old they might be. After conversations yesterday with two friends dealing with fiendish teenagers, I found myself hoping perhaps at least one of his children was between the ages of 13 and 15, and was about to be mortified…and momentarily speechless.

There’s great joy when a baby is born. Yes, it’s a lot of work, with sleepless nights to add to the increased responsibility and change in lifestyle. But it’s nothing, from all I’ve observed, to the work involved in raising a teenager.

Over the years I’ve had countless parents of teenage boys and girls say to me, “If only I could get rid of them for the next two or three years — and reclaim them once they’re decent human beings again.”

Not a deal too many people are likely to enter into, so parents, you’re stuck. But why not have a little fun? Take a cue from this man with no shame, who braved the cold and laughter from strangers simply to bring…well, I can only imagine what he was bringing and where, but the destination hardly matters.

Show you’re in charge by showing nothing phases you.

football-944349_1920
Notice no teens are nearby….

Tomorrow is the Super Bowl. You can really outdo yourself on this day with outlandish fan gear. Never mind who your team might be. The face paint, cheeseheads (yes, I know Green Bay didn’t make it — but cheeseheads! how embarrassing!), any number of other team-specific paraphenilia. Do it up right.

Your reward for all of this? Your teenager just might lock him or herself in his or her room for the duration of the Big Game.

Photo courtesy Pixabay

Every Word, Every Drop

Once I was grocery shopping with my friend Pam and her then four-year-old daughter Macy, who was nearly jumping out of the shopping cart seat in excitement at every turn.

“Ooooo!” she’d say, “I want THAT!” Another few steps, “And that! and that!” In vain, Pam tried telling her they didn’t have the money to buy all those things. I decided to step in.

“You know Macy, there are lots of things I’d like to have, too,” I began. “I’d really like a new dress, and some shoes to go with it. Maybe some earrings. But I can’t afford it right now, so I just put it on a list for someday.”

“But I want THAT!” Macy insisted.

Pam sighed. “There are lots of things I want, too, and things Daddy would like,” she said, “but we can’t have everything we want.”

“I’d really like some new makeup,” I went on, maybe pushing it a little. “And a new car. Wow, I’d really like a new car. One with air conditioning.”

Macy was looking skeptical.  With her eyes narrowed, she put her hands on her hips and stared at us. “What you two need,” she said sternly, “is a piggybank.”

Piggy bank manager

We burst out laughing. Macy didn’t get anything she wanted that day, but she was the star of evening as we told the story again and again.

Since that time I’ve thought of that shopping trip and realized something rather important: Macy knew about saving money. As frustrated as Pam may have been with her daughter’s demands, when push came to shove, the kid had the answer. Mom was doing something right.

I wonder how many times parents get fed up with their children’s words and actions and wonder if they’re doing any good at all. They see other kids in the neighborhood seemingly doing so much better, maybe, or their nieces and nephews are the family stars. Is anything getting through?

It’s getting through. It’s all getting through. It may seem futile at the moment, but the words — and actions — are sinking in.

When I was about five, my parents decided to teach me a little about money. I’d been getting an allowance, a small amount, all in pennies.  They brought me to the kitchen table, where there was a pile of pennies on one side, and a dollar bill on the other.

I was told there were 100 pennies, which were worth the same as the dollar bill. I could have either the 100 pennies or the dollar bill, but it was important I understood they were worth the same.

No problem. Got it. Give me the dollar bill. I’d never had currency before.

My parents were certain that in my fascination with that dollar bill, I’d missed the lesson. I hadn’t. I’d grasped it quite quickly, in fact.

You never know what’s going on your child’s mind, but they’re hearing every word. That’s a comfort and a warning, I guess.

You can’t be there to make decisions for them, and they’ll make some mistakes, regardless of all your good words. But you’re laying a foundation and they’ll be building the house, so make it a good foundation.

Because it never stops making a difference. You never stop making a difference.


Photo Credits: (Piggy Bank Manager) © BCFC — Bigstock; (Two Girls) © zagorodnaya — Fotolia