My 10 Year Reunion

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This past weekend was my 10 year High School reunion. Actually, it wasn’t really even mine, technically. Not many people know that I combined four years of high school into three in order to graduate early. So, if you want to get technical, this was more like my 11 year reunion. But since this was my class for many years, they were kind enough to let me crash it.

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I had my reasons for wanting to graduate early. Academically, my parents considered bumping me up a few grades a few times during my childhood, but always decided that it would be harmful to my development. That all changed when I came to them and said that I was DONE with high school drama and wanted out. I graduated when I was barely 17, headed off to college in the big bad city of Los Angeles. I almost always hung out with people who were older than me anyways (which is how I became best friends with Jesse, who is three years older than me) so it only felt natural to graduate early.

My barely 13 baby-self, attending my first high school dance

My barely 13 baby-self, attending my first high school dance

But there were significant downsides. Being super young for my grade was rather embarrassing at times. I entered high school having just turned 13. I was also a firstborn, which means that my parents were very protective. I remember going to my first high school BBQ with my new classmates (at a tiny Christian school, mind you) and dying of embarrassment as my dad checked every cooler for beer. My parents chaperoned quite a few dances, just to make sure that I didn’t go as anyone’s date behind their backs.

Then there were other things, like being a senior and having to take Driver’s Ed with the freshmen. When I got to college, I needed parental signatures before doing things like using the fitness center or attending all-hall events with my dorm. I remember jumping for joy when I turned 18 at the end of my first year of college, because it meant I was finally a “real” adult (haha).

The biggest downside, however, was having to leave my class behind. Most of the people in this class had been my friends since I was a baby. I got along with them so well, in fact, that here we are, 11 years later, still good friends. Many people say that this class was one of the best our small school has ever had. The wonderful loving and cheerful atmosphere at this reunion was evidence of this.

After the reunion, we had over 30 people over to our house for a late night “after party”. Originally, we told people that they had to leave by 10:30 so we could clean and stage the house for a few showings today, but everyone was having such a good time, there were people hanging out until long past midnight. It was an absolute blast!

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I’m so grateful that I got such a wonderful time to reconnect with and see such good friends again.

Discussion Panel of Prison Inmates

Interviewing Inmates Cover

About a week ago, I mentioned that part of our foster care training included a discussion panel of prison inmates, all of whom either had kids in foster care or had themselves been a child in foster care. It was absolutely fascinating, and definitely moved me. I got lots of emails asking me to write about it, but it’s taken me a while just to digest it all.

At first glance, I don’t have much in common with prison inmates, right? I mean, in all seriousness, I’ve never even smoked. Not a cigar, not a cigarette, not even once. I’ve been offered drugs only twice in my life, but never done them. None of my close friends have ever done drugs. I grew up sheltered at a private Christian high school and went to a private Christian college. I did have one year of teaching, my first, wherein 90% of my students were on drugs at all hours of the day. I had to confiscate a few cigarettes from junior highers in class. One of my students was in and out of juvi most of the semester.

But it’s safe to say I didn’t have a context for this experience. And yet, I was shocked because of how it touched on and related to so many aspects of my life thus far.

How does one begin?

A large transport van pulled up into the church parking lot. 4 inmates dressed in blue filed in. One by one, they told us their stories, not in an effort to make us feel sorry for them, but just to explain where they were coming from. We could tell that they were used to talking in front of crowds. Apparently, they come once a month to these trainings, along with speaking openly at high schools around the county.

The first story was easy enough for me to listen to. She was older, and her kids were grown and about to graduate from high school. She had missed 90% of their lives while behind bars. She seemed tough, but honest. She never blamed anyone else for her mistakes, and in the end she said that after nearly 2 decades of prison, she was finally able to say that she would never touch drugs again, and that this was a very recent resolve. Our moderator later said that this was the first time she’d heard this woman say she was done using.

The second was harder for me. The girl was middle aged, sweet but definitely the “Miss Congeniality” type. She explained how she had moved from the Central Coast to Sacramento and got sucked into the seedy drug scene. She said that going from her sheltered life to such a big pond was what did it for her. I couldn’t help but think of our first foster placement who is currently placed up in Sacramento and has recently been experimenting more with drugs. It made me feel sick to hear this woman say that Sacramento was the absolute worst possible place for her to be during her rebellious years.

Then came the third. She was only 22, already finishing a 3 year sentence. Her experience sounded so much like our first foster placement that I felt like the air had been sucked out me. She went from knowing nothing about drugs at 15 years old to being arrested for dealing meth and heroin at 18. She talked about bouncing around from group home to group home, unable to stay anywhere for long, acting out as a way to fill a void inside her. The comparison to our first foster placement was so uncanny. She even looked like she could be related to her.

And then the fourth. She was MY age and had two kids, both of whom were living with their bio father. She was so high when her kids were taken by CPS that she didn’t even know they were gone for days.

Once the stories were done, the Q & A began. I waited until a few questions had been raised and answered, took a deep breath, and raised my hand.

I directed my question at the 22 year old. I briefly described our experience with our first foster placement, then said, “I know that one can always look back, hindsight being 20/20, and wish there had been something someone who could’ve said something to get through to us and change our course. But really. IS there anything anyone could’ve said? What would you tell someone, another young girl in your position, to keep her from ending up in the same situation?”

Her answer surprised me. She didn’t talk about magic solutions. She asked if we still kept in contact with her.

I said yes, barely, but that she told us she’d “moved on” and didn’t care about us that way.

This 22 year old looked me right in the eye and said, “She does care. She’s pretending that she doesn’t, but she does. She wants you to reject her because it feels normal.”

A wave of emotion hit me. I knew the words were true, deep down, but hearing someone say them hurt.

Suddenly, I found myself pouring my heart out in a room full of strangers.”B-but we needed time too. It’s hard to be there for someone when your heart hurts too. I mean, I couldn’t even go in her room for weeks after she left because I missed her so much. It felt like she’d died.”

I’ll never forget it. Even Jesse noticed how zeroed in we both were. This girl’s eyes softened, her voice was quiet, and she was staring at me so intently. “Does she know how much you hurt too? Does she know how much you miss her? Have you told her?”

And I realized I hadn’t told her. I realized that to be vulnerable and tell her how much she had hurt me was the farthest thing from what I wanted to do. I realized I didn’t have the kind of honesty or courage to do so.

I couldn’t believe it. In less than 2 minutes, this young stranger had diagnosed a vital part of the equation. She wasn’t trying to help fix some girl she’d never seen. She was trying to help fix me.

I think this was the main thing that was apparent to both Jesse and I throughout this afternoon. These inmates weren’t giving mushy devotionals or scare stories, they were deep. Their pain had broken right through the B.S. and carved out an understanding of life and it’s value that many of us never have the time to realize.

But they also had hope and they had love. They cared for every single one of us in that room, as inane as some of our questions must have sounded. They had been through the system, and they wanted to help us make it better. A few of them even talked with Jesse for quite a while afterwards during the lunch hour (unfortunately, I had to leave and find gluten free food, which kills me, looking back!).

Overall, there were a few key points that stuck with me over this past week, things that the women said to help us not only understand and humanize the birth parents of our foster children, but also to help us make the kids themselves feel comfortable and safe.

1. Drugs are almost always a part of the story. No one wakes up one day and says, “I want to be a bad parent” or “I want to abandon my children with scary strangers today.” It happens gradually, as things get worse and worse. Many of these women were clean for a few years, had one relapse incident, and were back to their worst addictive state within days. Many times, when their kids got taken, they grieved for what felt like a few days, woke up from a few benders, then realized a whole year had gone by and they’d lost custody forever.

2. Deciding to be clean isn’t something that prison forces on you. All of the inmates said that it took them close to a year of being incarcerated before they stopped doing drugs. They had just as much access to drugs in the prison as they did on the streets. The fact that they were all currently clean was because of a choice, not a forced lifestyle change.

3. Prison was, in some ways, the best thing that ever happened to them. Many of these women described childhoods full of upheaval, family changes, huge unknowns. Prison was predictable and finally gave them the peace and structure they had been seeking their whole lives. It wasn’t until they were in the safety of prison that they were able to process the trauma they’d incurred throughout their lives.

4. These women weren’t trying to say that their pain was any greater than anyone else’s. They just lacked the support system and training to walk through it. Instead of processing the pain of what had happened to them, they ran from it time and time again, ruining relationship after relationship, sleeping with guy after guy, resorting to drugs to dull the pain. One actually said to us all, “Look, our pain is just as great as what you guys all have. We just don’t know how to deal with ours.”

5. Rock bottom doesn’t change anything. Many of the foster parents in the room kept asking the inmates, “When was your “rock bottom”? We keep wondering when “x” will reach rock bottom and turn around.” But these women stressed over and over again that rock bottom is actually one of the worst things that can happen. Rock bottom makes you use again, because you feel helpless and without hope. Reaching rock bottom just means that there will just be more rock bottoms to come. It takes a choice, and until that choice comes about, no bad situation, no penalty is bad enough to inspire change.

6. Along the same lines, these inmates encouraged the foster parents in the room to draw hard and fast lines with all the birth parents. “Don’t believe any of their lies,” they said. “They will say and do anything to manipulate more visits, few restrictions, etc. Believe us, we were those parents, and we did lie and do everything in our power to cheat the system.” They wanted to give foster parents the freedom to protect the children, first and foremost, even if it meant acting insensitively towards the birth parents.

7. As each of the women listed bad experience after bad experience, bad foster home after bad foster home, they always were able to recognize that “one” person who made a difference in their life, despite the fact that they ended in prison. They knew when they were part of a family who was in it for the paycheck, and they knew who truly cared about them. One big piece of advice they gave was to go to great lengths to treat any foster children like a part of the family, giving them both the perks and negatives. Even making a kid eat their vegetables or punishing them similarly to what one does with their own kids helps them feel less and less like an outsider.

 

There isn’t much else to say for now, other than it made a huge impact on me. I learned so much about the courage it takes to open one’s heart up in a room full of strangers, many of whom are probably judgmental, and demonstrate complete honesty and caring.

It makes me wonder about what it would take to produce this kind of open honesty on my own, without needing prison walls to hold me in.

Good Eats– Thomas Hill Organics, Paso Robles

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Jesse and I got one of those rare date nights, and GUYS. If you are ever anywhere NEAR the Central Coast, you need to stop by Thomas Hill Organics. Jesse and I were here once before on our 6th anniversary date for pizza, but this time we splurged and got the good stuff. These are small portions that focus on amazing taste over quantity (although it’s more than enough!), however, so be prepared to play $30+/plate, not including drinks or appetizers (we had a gift certificate, so…yippee!).

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Their menu is ever changing, since they only buy local and in season, so it wouldn’t do a whole lot of good for me to wax poetic about their AMAZING chicken soaked in bok choy curry, but man….it was better than any Thai restaurant I’ve ever been to, hands down. I also had French Onion soup for an appetizer, and it was the best I’ve ever had, completed with some brie cheese on the side.

And their wine list is above and beyond amazing. Since Paso is deep in the heart of wine country with some of the world’s best wines, why not showcase some of them with pride? I was able to try a few before settling on a glass of my favorite.

Last but not least, the ambiance of this little place is fantastic. Industrial Loft meets French market meets Anthropologie. Just fantastic.

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If you’re up for a cheaper option, they even have a wine/appetizer bar!

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Do yourself a favor– stop by and try it out!

Fantastic Friday #8 and Announcement

Hi! I’m once again hosting for Fantastic Friday! Also, stay tuned because tomorrow morning, I am making a big announcement. I’ve been waiting to share until things are official, and I’m super excited about it 🙂

Before we get to the Blog Hop, here’s a sweet picture for you that I posted on Instagram two days ago. I love the beautiful surroundings that we live in!

Goose and country living

 

And now, without further ado, the Blog Hop! For my readers/friends who don’t know what these are, they are a fantastic opportunity to meet other bloggers around the country. I have met some of my best “bloggy” friends through these blog hops. Link up, and visit a few other blogs too!

 
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Fantastic Friday Link Up
Fantastic Friday Link Up

Let’s start by introducing your hosts and co-hosts!

 

The Fantastic Friday Link Up is brought to you by:

Michelle from The MaMade Diaries
and
Stephanie from Life as a Mommy

This weeks lovely co-hosts are:

Leah from Mama Knows Nest
Stephanie from TinTin & Livia
Kristen from Happiness is a Mood Not a Destination
Kim from This Ole Mom
Jennifer from Mommy Day By Day
Tiffany from Mrs Tee Love Life Laughter
Kelly from Our Cone Zone

The Fantastic Friday Link Up is a place for you to come each week and link up all of your social media sites. Link ups are a fun way to network your blog, gain more followers, and make new friends!

Each week we will also have two or three co-hosts. If you are interested in co-hosting please e-mail me at mamadecreations{at}gmail{dot}com so that we can get you scheduled!

The Rules:

There is only one real rule and that is to please follow your hosts and co-hosts in any area that you add your links. These will be the first few links in each list below, and will also be labeled host or co-host so there is no missing them. Please stop by a few other pages and follow along as well, after all, that’s how link ups work!

Don’t forget to leave us a comment when you follow so that we can be sure to follow you back! 🙂

Besides that we do ask that you please share the link up in any way you are comfortable. The more views and participants we have, the more views and follows we all receive!

 


If you would like, go ahead and grab our button above and placed it somewhere on your page. We would really appreciate it and that’s one more way to help get the word out about the link up :).

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