My poor heart!
It needs to stop being wrenched around…
I had my 10 year old cousin staying with me for the last several days. We are pretty close. I was there when she was born, I helped raise her, and I’ve been the one to teach her the important things in life. I love her very much. She is such a special little person.
I had her all last summer. Her situation at home wasn’t good. Her mother is a hoarder and has been her entire life. Since I know personally how damaging hoarding is to a child, I posed an intervention. Unfortunately when I showed up unannounced, my cousin’s home was in even worse condition than I’d expected (and I expected it to be bad). My then 9 year old cousin was living, sleeping and eating in animal waste. Roaches and fire ants infested every room. There was barely a pathway anywhere in the house.
I’ll call my little cousin “J” and her mother “K.”
When I realized how deplorable the situation was, my whole plan for the intervention changed. I’d originally planned to sit down with K and let her know once and for all that she was to clean up the place and keep it in order or I would take actions to have J removed. However, there was no way I was going to leave J in that place while it looked like that.
I sat down with K and told her that I would be taking J for three days so the place could be cleaned up. I continued with my intervention as planned, except that I also took J home with me. K was very angry, but she had no say in it because I gave her the choice of letting me take J or letting DCF take J.
That 3 days turned into a week, two weeks, a month, and so on. Each time I returned to inspect the house, it was still a filthy disaster. Don’t get me wrong, they were working on it, but it was just so bad to begin with. So, I ended up having J for the entire summer because it took them that long to clean it up.
During the time that I had her, I did some major damage control on her emotional state. She was hitting, scratching, punching and pinching herself. I stopped that in one week. She didn’t know how to release her anger. I taught her healthy ways to release it, and ways to calm down. She lied about everything when she first came, but I got her to trust me and always be honest. She was on her way to having a serious eating disorder. I taught her how to eat healthy, how to accept her body, and that occasional junk food or sweets were perfectly fine. She didn’t listen, but I taught her through explaining the importance if listening and by putting her in time out or taking away privileges when she didn’t.
I talked and explained constantly. She really needed that. I also got her on a schedule, which she truly loved. She had a bedtime and meal times. She liked knowing what was happening. We played, too, a lot! We had art time, game time, fun study time, and physical activities. I taught her yoga, a little ballet, and we wrestled a lot. J has a larger frame than most kids her age. Because of this, no one picks her up or plays with her in that way. When I was 9 my dad picked me up and tossed me around and played in that way all the time. But J is a bigger girl than I am. Still, that sort of interaction is important for children. J and I made up a game of “sumo wrestling.” We stuffed pillows in our shirts and tried to knock each other onto the bed. I could pick her up and toss her onto the bed, and she loved that.
As most children are, J is usually all over the place and full of energy with little caution. She jumped on the bed once without looking and landed on one of my cats. That turned into a huge ordeal. She cried and refused to speak. I tried comforting her, telling her that the cat was okay and accidents happen. She handed me a note on which she had written “hurt me.” That was extremely alarming to me. She wanted me to hurt her because she had hurt the cat.
I spent the entire summer building her up and repairing her damage. And clearly she was very damaged. She always thought I was going to hit her. She always thought she deserved to be hurt if she did something wrong, even if it was accidental. She thought she was fat and ugly, unlovable. I don’t know how my little cousin got so lost at such a young age, but I did everything I could in that short period of time. I even helped her prepare for school. she hadn’t even known how to bathe properly when she first arrived.
By the time she went home, she was excited to see her new (clean) home. I hadn’t told her anything about the intervention, hadn’t spoken poorly of her mother, but she’s a smart little girl (and sneaky, eavesdropping I think) so by the end she basically knew what was going on and what I had done for her.
I wrote up a contract for K to sign upon my returning J. It was 4 pages long, so I’ll just summarize. It stated that the place was to be kept clean, J was never to be physically punished, abused or neglected in any capacity, she was to be kept clean with clean clothes that fit her, all pets were to be cared for properly or re-homed due to health risks of living in animal waste. There was much more. I laid it all out how a child is to be cared for and loved. I stated at the end that I would check up periodically and if anything broke the contract, I would alert every authority in the county.
I was dead serious and I made sure K knew that. K hates me now, by the way. I’m not exactly fond of her either, though.
J knew that I could get her mother to do things, even of she didn’t know how I did it. She knew I changed her life for the better. Because of that, she thought I could make anyone change their behaviors. She tried to get me to intervene in her friend’s family, too. Sadly, there are a lot of children in that area who are living in filth and being abused in some capacity.
Returning J to her mother was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I was still living in my cruddy trailer, unemployed, so there was just no way I could have kept her. It’s definitely bad when my cruddy trailer was safer and cleaner than J’s home. If I’d been able to, I would have taken K to court and tried to get custody of J. Throughout the entire summer, J never asked to call her mother, never wanted to see her, never missed her. K didn’t call either. She only called when she thought she’d cleaned up her place enough. She only visited one time when I said I needed money to buy J groceries.
J returned home feeling good about herself, not self-harming, excited to see her place all cleaned up, looking forward to sharing meals with her family at a table, excited to tell everyone all the new things she learned over the summer, etc.
I was happy for her, but heartbroken to see her go. I missed her sweet little notes she left me telling me how much she loved me, her wonderful laughter that filled my room, her energy, her dancing, her bedtime hugs and kisses. I don’t think her family appreciates all the wonderful little things about her.
Unfortunately, by the next time I saw J, she was lying again, self-degrading, etc. Things were better, but she was starting to return to how she was before. I made sure her home was still clean and safe, though.
Back to the present…
J came to stay with me from Monday to Friday, before I start work and she starts school. I’d seen her at my going away party last weekend and we made plans for her to come stay for a bit before life gets hectic. We had a nice time and I enjoyed having her here. We went to the beach, walked around downtown, shopped, ate out at nice restaurants, and played at home.
She is a hundred times worse than last summer, though. She is relentlessly negative, she has zero self-worth, and she absolutely did not want to go home.
She was so damaged that nothing I said or did made any difference. She enjoyed the beach, she had a great time playing with me last night, and she was happy to help out by feeding the cats and washing dishes.
But the negativity… Oh my.
She wouldn’t stop saying that she sucked at everything. She complained constantly about everything we did. She was miserable most of the time. Yet, she didn’t want to leave.
I tried and tried, but I couldn’t reach her at all. She completely drained me, mentally and emotionally. I’m disappointed in myself and extremely worried about J.
When her ride home arrived, J hid under my bed. She didn’t pack her things, she begged to stay. And then she cried. She tried to pretend they were fake tears, but they were genuine tears. She begged and begged to stay, and explained that she had school and I wasn’t her mother. She said she wished I was her mother.
After she left, I cried, too.