Chicken pox has officially left the children’s foster home where I volunteer and not a minute too soon. I was really starting to miss those kids! I was only able to go once last week and once this week, just because our schedule has been so crazy lately. It may be a blessing in disguise, though, since keeping up with nine two year olds is quite a task. It’s especially challenging now that it takes me an extra five minutes to get up off the floor to separate dueling toddlers. Last week was relatively peaceful, but they were more than happy to make up for it this week. Yesterday there were three little ones, in particular, that were seemingly bent on making everyone else miserable; they weren’t content unless they were eliciting screams or yells from another child. Their methods ranged from stealing toys to pulling hair to biting to throwing said stolen toys. There was not a moment of the afternoon in which someone (or sometwo) wasn’t crying.
It is so hard to discipline children that I’m only around for a little bit each week. They all know me well by now, but I still find myself challenged by how to handle their shenanigans. Do I ignore it? Do I raise my voice to get their attention? Do I put them in time out? Do I wait to catch them doing something good and snuggle them close? Yes. Yes. Yes. And yes. Even more than these things, though, is trying to figure out what it is that has set off a particular child on a particular day. Sometimes there’s not one thing that can be blamed. Life isn’t fair, love is hard to come by and being a hellion is one way (sometimes the only way) to get attention. Sometimes, though, it doesn’t take much digging to figure out what’s going on with a particular child. Today, Elian was that child.
His name isn’t really Elian, but I’m not comfortable sharing his storing without changing his name. I’m quite sure that when you pray for his situation, God will know exactly who you’re talking about.
Elian is somewhere around two years old. When he’s happy, he’s got the most adorable dimpled smile of any child in the home. He’s smaller than the other kids, which makes him easy for me to pick up and snuggle. Elian’s mom (we’ll call her Ana) is eighteen or nineteen years old and his father is not in the picture. Given that Ana recently aged out of the older girls’ foster home here in town, I can only assume that Elian has spent the bulk of his two years living at the home where I work. Ana’s own parents are in prison for drug trafficking. Ana lives with an aunt, but does not have a job to support herself or her child. For that and probably some other reasons, the Chilean government does not feel she is fit to care for Elian so he’s continued to live at the home. She visits him just about every day. It’s obvious that she cares for him, but it’s also obvious that she doesn’t really know how to love him and that she doesn’t really know how to be a parent. Given the parental examples she had, it’s not hard to figure out why.
When I went to the home last week after being a way for about two months (travel and chicken pox), the tia (caregiver) informed me that Ana’s parental rights were being completely severed and that Elian is to be put up for adoption. I was a little surprised because the goal of the home is to get as many of the children as possible back with their families or at least a family member. Some of the kids have lived in limbo for a long time waiting for their parents to get their lives together that they’ll probably never exit the foster system. I guess Elian’s prospects are so slim that they’re severing parental rights early enough to find him an adoptive family—something that gets increasingly harder as time passes.
I asked the tia if the government offers assistance to parents trying to get their children back—support finding a job or parenting classes—and she replied that there’s nothing like that. How on earth is a teen mother, whose own parents have failed her, to learn how to be a good parent? How is someone who probably hasn’t finished high school to find a job? I keep asking these questions (and others) and I hope to keep asking them until I can be a part of the solution—maybe not for her situation, but for others like her.
Anyway, Ana is crushed—so crushed, in fact, that she kidnapped Elian from the home on Tuesday. The two of them were found on their way to Bolivia, where Ana is from. Given that this is the second time in six months that she’s done this, her visitation rights have been completely stripped. I’m quite certain that Elian doesn’t understand the ins and outs of the situation, but I’m also quite certain that he’s more aware of what’s going on than one might think and that it’s affecting his behavior. After learning about this most recent development, I tried to give him more attention, hold him a little closer, and cut him a little slack.
There is so much wrong with this story and how it will likely end up playing out. Please pray for Ana and Elian. Please also pray that I will find my place in ministry here. A lot of things are going through my mind right now and I could really use some direction.