Monday, April 24, 2017

Heavy Stuff


I've been noticeably absent at home this past week, and my children have taken note. 

"Why have you been gone?" 

"Where have you been?"

"Why aren't you coming home until the middle of the night?"

Now that they're 8-and 10 years old, I I feel the truth is mostly appropriate. Momma has been covering the executions. 

"Executions?" They asked. "What does that mean?" 

I sat them down and told them that this type of discussion was very upsetting, but I would explain it to them the best I could and answer any questions that they had. 

My kids are familiar with crime. After all, we live in Little Rock, and crime seems to have affected us all. My car windows have been smashed in before, things stolen, and to say that it's upsetting to not only me but them too is an understatement. 

But this is a different level of discussion about crime. I paused, because how can you explain murder to a child? They're innocent brains don't fully comprehend. I simply and solemnly explained there are people in the world who do bad things. And in these cases judges and juries found these men guilty of crimes that were really bad. 

My sons first question:  "why can't they just stay in prison for the rest of their lives?" 

I explained that they can and sometimes do. 

It wasn't enough. He then asked this:  "what if someone was supposed to be executed but they apologized?" 

I explained that had happened and he then said, "if they say sorry, they shouldn't die, momma." 

I said I understood. 

But he went on to say that in school they are taught that if someone does something bad to you, you don't do the same thing back to another child. 

*sigh*

I clearly didn't have all of the answers. And obviously what they are learning in school contradicts capital punishment. 

What I ended up telling both of my children was that I didn't have all the answers and that different people believe differently, and that's ok. I said I just wanted them in their lives to learn as much about everything as they can, so that they can make their own decisions one about how they feel about things. 

*heavy stuff*

Sunday morning we were eating breakfast, and I was making my grocery list. I asked the children if there were any special things they wanted. My daughter said, "real food that you don't cook in the microwave, momma. Will you make us a meal?" 

I realized how badly they, too, wanted and needed nurturing and comfort.

So that's what I did. I cooked, and we had a wonderful day,

And now the week starts again with two more executions scheduled today, which I will cover. 

More questions will come... 

I hope I can answer them or at least help them understand a little better a very complicated, dark issue. And understand why their momma has been gone.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

...one open heart


I had never met 15-year old Ryan.

Our shoot was set up for 2 o'clock in the afternoon at the Big Rock Fun Park. I never know what situation I may be stepping into or what a child may or may not be like when I meet them for the first time.   DHS typically sends me an information sheet about the child. It includes things they like, whether they have siblings, and a little about their background.

So I'm always a little nervous.

I can't imagine how hard it would be to be a foster child. Much less up for adoption. Much less the feature and focus of a news story to help me find a family. So, as a television journalist, when I walk into these situations I'm always very sensitive to that. I want the child or children I'm interacting with to feel comfortable and not intimidated by me or a television camera.


But in some cases the children are in tears. In some cases, especially younger children, they don't fully understand, and they are just excited to play. In any case, it is nerve-racking, to say the least.

So it was Monday afternoon, and I walked into the fun park to meet Ryan. I was told he was 15-years old and loved to play games. I had seen a photo of him, and that was it. You can imagine my surprise when he literally ran up to me and gave me a giant hug before I could even walk through the front door! It was me this time who was nearly in tears.  Here is a child who had grown up in foster care, with nothing but a smile on his face. He was so excited to meet me and to play.

The first thing he said was, "I already have my tokens, are you ready?" Little did I know he was going to beat me at every single game we played. Basketball, air hockey, every game you can imagine, he won. What I noticed most about Ryan, is that from the time he gave me a hug until the time our afternoon was over, he never stopped smiling. Even when he talked about having to go into foster care and now being up for adoption.

For me, it's always such an awkward question for me to ask. "What kind of family do you want?"  Because for most of us, it's not a question we have to answer.  We have our family.  But these are children who think about getting a "new one" from the time they wake up in the morning until the time they go to sleep at night. All because they were failed by their own blood. Ryan's response to that question echoes among so many in his situation:  "..to have a good home that takes care of me and always loves me.  I really don't care, as long as I have a home to go to."
 

I wanted to cry for him again. And just between you and me, in many cases I do go home and cry. Because for every Ryan, there are 500 more in our state in his exact shoes. To see a boy who is so loving, so sweet, with such polite manners, working through the difficulties of his situation and navigating the world, a world which has not been pretty for him, to see him still smile --- this is what inspires me to do the work that we do every day through "A Place to Call Home." It leaves a gratitude in my heart to be in a situation in which I can play a small role at a critical time.

So what I hope for now is one open heart, one set of eyes that sees his story, one family that opens its arms, says "yes," and welcomes Ryan home.




Thursday, January 26, 2017

8 and 10 and life...

I say "eight and ten" all the time.


"Eight and ten!" 


I said it at a funeral today.  A sweet friend from high school died suddenly last week.  At the service, I looked around and saw so many people from that time in my life.  I was surprised at how emotional I became...


I saw a bit of gray hair, a few wrinkles, and some scars on all of us.


I watched as my late friend's precious mom and brave daughter spoke courageously in front of everyone there.  My heart simply ached that one of them lost a son and the other lost a dad.  That life is so fleeting, so fragile.  That we are not promised tomorrow.


"Eight and ten," I answered, when a former classmate asked how old my children are.  "My daughter is eight, and my son is ten."


But the other day, I stopped in my tracks.   "Eight and ten" was answered back to me. 


I was meeting two foster children, a little boy and a little girl, for the first time.  We are featuring them on television with the hope that someone will adopt them and give them a permanent home.   I kneeled down so that I was eye-level with them.... 


"How old are you?" I asked.  The girl said, "eight!"  ...and the boy immediately followed, "and I'm ten."


It wrenches my heart every time I meet a foster child.   ...that no one wants them, that no one could get their behavior straight enough for them... 


But this time, eight and ten


The little girl grabbed my hand to go play while our photographer recorded video.  I asked her if she wanted to be adopted and what kind of family she wanted.   I couldn't help but think, what if someone asked MY daughter if she wanted to be adopted and what type of family she wanted?  My God, she's only eight! She would have no clue what to say!   


The boy was a little guarded.  And again, I couldn't help but think, my son would be TOO if some TV woman was asking him if he wanted to be adopted.  This poor child is ten!  


I sat there in the middle of our taping, with lights on these children, and my heart broke into pieces.  I wept inside for the woman and mother too broken to take care of them on her own.  I cried inside for the two of them left to feel as though no one cares enough to bring them in, leaving them in the care of the state. 


And I thought quietly of my own two children, growing up in this big-bad-world, wondering what pain they might encounter, what life holds for them, thinking of the joys I pray they will experience, frightened of the heartbreak they will endure.  


At my high school friend's celebration of life, the reverend said something like, "let us not shrink away into our sadness, but instead stand united in love."  I thought back on those years when we were so young and so full of promise.  I looked around at the gray hair in the room that meant we cared at some point, the wrinkles left behind from the laughter, and scars that showed we've truly lived.


I thought of those precious foster children's smiles, their hope, no matter how diminished, that a family will come and prove that life is good after all.


I thought of my own children and their friends at the horse races this past weekend, jumping up and down and screaming for the horse (named after my daughter) to win.  The memories they are already creating...


"let us not shrink away into our sadness, but instead stand united in love."  


That horse named after my daughter placed, by the way.  You could literally feel the bliss... and savor the moments of "eight and ten." 
8-year old Claniya and 10-year old Dayelun



 My children (and friends) cheering at the horse races

Hall High School alum at Deno's service

Monday, January 16, 2017

Careful...

I want to write about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  But every last person I know has advised me against it.


Careful, careful... CAREFUL.


Why is it when we talk about race, we all walk on eggshells? 


Easy for me to ask, I guess...  I was born white.  I've lived my life as a white woman.  I grew up in the Little Rock School District, which, at that time, was under court-ordered desegregation.  I graduated in 1989, with white friends and black friends.  Today, I work with white friends and black friends, and I consider all of them dear to my heart.  I don't choose to see color.  But I'm sure people see mine. 


And I'm sure they see my children's white skin, too.  At school, when my daughter was younger, she played with a lot of the girls who were "brown."  But she never differentiated.  One of her best friends in the world is brown, a little girl her age who was adopted from Africa by one of my best friends in Seattle, who is white.  She begs to talk to her on the phone, write letters to her, and keeps framed pictures of them on her desk.  She still doesn't differentiate.  I wonder if she will.  One day, she will notice the difference.  I pray I teach her that it doesn't matter.  That, like Dr. King said once, "I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."


My 2nd cousin in NYC is Japanese-American married to a black man, and they have a beautiful daughter.  They are one of the most precious, loving couples I know.  Yet I have listened to her talk, listened to her very real fear, watched her upset about where we are in America right now.  And I understand.  Yet I don't understand.  Why is it that we are at war with one another?  "We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools."


My son and my daughter are growing up now in Little Rock schools, where the heart of so much of it began at Central High School in 1957.  The schools are no longer under court-watch.  But I wonder sometimes if they should still be monitored.  I see things sometimes, and I'm not sharing them here.  But I see things sometimes that don't seem fair.  Is it on me to speak up about that?  I'm not sure.  I do know to start at home, with my own.  With lessons that Dr. King himself urged us to teach. 
"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."


Maybe we can all start at home.  Do something today to change our state of affairs.  Maybe it's simply the talking about it that matters most.  That we stop feeling awkward about a simple conversation. 


Quit being careful, careful, CAREFUL.  And instead, calmy speak.  Share the lessons.  After all, Dr. King left them for us as his legacy. 


"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."

Monday, January 9, 2017

Snowy

I know when I'm off-center.


Unbalanced.


Like nothing is falling into a rhythm.  Tasks pile up.  Can't get ahead of the clock.  Scattered energy.  Going 50 different directions but really not getting anywhere.  Slightly irritable.  Mentally snowed-in.


We're still not in a routine.  Last week, school didn't start until Tuesday.  By Thursday, I was feeling a little more regimented.  But then, Friday was a snow day. 


The same day of the photograph...


I'm not sure I'll re-share that entire picture here.  I'll decide by the end of the blog...


Basically, boy-child and girl-child were playing in the dusting of snow that shut-down our fair city.  They repeatedly called me outside from making homemade waffles.  I ignored, but then the screams turned guttural, and I figured I should head outside for fear the neighbors might call the authorities. 


I walked outside to see what the fuss was about (took my phone, of course, in case there was a snowman or other snow-figure to document).  Instead, I walked right into their little snowball operation.  Slammed by a huge, freezing-cold snowball!   Turns out, I unknowingly captured the tail end of my sweet little sneaky son coming at me in a photo.


We died laughing. I finished the waffles and bacon.  We ate.  Then I looked through my pictures.  When I saw the photo of my boy with a snowball in-hand, it was so cute and so spontaneous, I posted it on social media, even though I don't post a whole lot of photos of my children (the reasons why could be another potential blog post).  What I also noticed, in the background, my daredevil-daughter was standing on a trashcan gathering the puffy "good snowball" snow from on top of the car.   Ready for battle.


I was ill-prepared for my own trashing upon posting this.  Oh-boy, the "mom-of-the-year" comments started.  Anywhere from jokes to the more serious private messages, "Miss Dawn, I'm sorry but something in that photo doesn't look very safe."


I took the picture down.  (disclaimer:  daughter was unscathed).  And yes, I will be the first to admit, she shouldn't have been standing on the trash can.  However, knowing her well, she is adventurous and a bit of a risk-taker at the ripe age of 8.  When she sets her mind to something, she is a force to be reckoned with.  As such, she is also slightly accident-prone.  She was off the trash can within minutes.  And mom-of-the-year, here, documented that questionable-parenting-moment for the social world to see.


Later, I got to thinking..  wait a minute!  When I was a toddler (which was a very long time ago), I rode in the front middle seat of my mom's Chevy Nova STANDING UP.  A few years after, I walked the neighborhood alone.  Mom even left me at home every now and then by age 10 when she had to work late.  Activities, which, in this day and age, are absolutely taboo.


And I get why.  But where is the line drawn?  From letting kids live a little vs.  protecting them at all cost from anything that could potentially hurt them?   It's a valid question.  And I certainly don't have the answers.  Parenting is a moment-by-moment moral and spiritual endeavor that is never-ending and incredibly personal.  I like to believe, despite the horror stories I sometimes report, that most parents do the very best they can.  


Still, I'm off-balance today.  Not sure why I'm so snowy.   


I know it will pass.  Someone once said to me that life is a balance between holding on and letting go.  True.  Balance always wins


It's a little like that being a parent.  Holding tight, keeping them safe.  Then letting them spread their wings and fly.   What a privilege!


Oh, and here's that photo...





Tuesday, January 3, 2017

New Year, New Me (blah blah blah)

All this new-year-new-me bs had me back in bed this morning after school drop-off.  It was just too much. 


Everyone's posts about their new diet, new workout regimen.  New plans to do better, be better, act better, try harder.  After all, happiness is just around the proverbial corner...


People are always being encouraged to change.    But then you hear that people don't ever really change.  So confusing.  I think it's freeing to think we can.  So, on January 1st and 2nd and 3rd and 4th, we work out, eat right, act nice, let go of last year, start anew. 


But then, here we sit.  With our same old selves.  Same old messes.  Same thoughts and feelings.  Same mistakes.  Same situations.


In life, even though so much changes,  it really stays the same, doesn't it?  


Maybe it comes down to the basics.  This moment.  The here and now...


Last year, I turned 45, which means I outlived my father, which I never thought I would do.  I now have a 10-year old boy and an 8-year old girl, when doctors told me 13 years ago, I would never have children.  Our little "fractured" family (i.e., divorced) is quite happy and healthy, despite hiccups here and there.  This, even though so many judged and shared unsolicited opinions and advice.   2016 brought a lot of love, a lot of comfort, a lot of monotonous routine, and no need for therapy (I'm possibly most thankful for this!). 


Our little pygmy miniature frog died.  He never had a name the entire year he was with us.  We buried him under the trampoline out back with a proper ceremony, thanking him for the fun he brought.


The children were old enough to understand the election.  Except when we told my daughter that there was a Democratic party, a Republican party, a Libertarian party and a Green party, her response was, "That is A LOT of parties to go to!  Am I invited?" I spit out my drink, I laughed so hard.  If only it were that simple......


Yes, I guess the election changed a lot. 


But so much stays the same.   Kiddos running for a hug every night when I get home from work.   Kisses at school drop-off, which in a short year or so will equal complete embarrassment for them.  This work I am so grateful to do:  5 p.m. and 6 p.m. defines my life every night.  The orphaned and foster children who need their voice.  Steady, constants.  Neither good nor bad.  It just is.


I think it comes down to the mini-frogs that die, the daily minutes that pass, the moments where we sit with ourselves, even if just for a few seconds.  Because in between all that we create the fabric of our lives.  The 'new me.'  The choice to pause and allow and be grateful for what is.  That choice is available every moment.  And that won't change. 


Cheers to you all!  Here's hoping I can keep up with writing this blog in 2017.  



Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Our Children

I usually blog about my kids here. 


But this post isn't about them.


At least not my biological children.  This is about my other ones...


Our other ones.


I say our because they are ours.  Our tax dollars pay for their care.  Our state workers make sure they're safe.  They live in our cities and towns.  Yet they're invisible, an after-thought.  Sitting somewhere, frightened and feeling as if no one wants them.


They are state foster children.  Innocent.  Alone.


I began this journey 6 years ago, when my news manager asked if I would pick up a feature on a child named Courtney who was up for adoption.  I did.  The child was adopted because of the story we told.  I grabbed on that day when I met her, and I promised never to stop telling their stories... never to stop shining light on this horrific darkness. 


Tonight, as we fall asleep, cozy in our beds, 4,984 foster children in Arkansas sit wondering where they'll end up.  Back home with biological parents, who are often broken themselves by poverty, drug abuse, or mental illness? To a shelter, where they know no one?  To a foster home?  


The latter is ideal, but the fact is, there aren't enough foster homes.  Only 3,384 available beds.  You do the math. 


What happens then?  The children might sleep in DHS offices with workers.  They might stay up late at Children's Hospital, in some cases, until someone says they'll take them for the night.  Can you imagine how that child must feel?


For six weeks, I've been producing and writing a 30-minute special to air Thursday on THV 11 called "Foster Care Crisis."  In it, Governor Asa Hutchinson tells me this is about more now than the state writing a check to take care of the problem.  People are needed.  Hearts must open to bring in these children, who are ours


In the special broadcast, I also share June Simpson's story.  She and her husband have fostered so many children that they "stopped counting at 125." I asked her why she does this.  She answered, "it's not about us.  It's about the children.  They need us.  Why else would you do it?"


And there's Kelly Wirtz, who adopted a teenage girl, something beyond what she ever thought she would do.  As she told me, "I'm a single mom.  I live paycheck to paycheck.  I don't have a lot, but I have a home, and we have each other."


These are the people who have my heart and all my respect.  Them.  And the children.  Our children, who are suffering unspeakable trauma right now.  Children, like the two little girls I met last week, who answered this when I asked how badly they want a family to adopt them: "from one to a hundred?  A hundred."


After we taped the show, my director told me, "man, Dawn, it's just almost too sad to even watch."  Yes it is.  Maybe it's a wake-up call.


This is a crisis.  And our children are hanging in the balance until we figure it out.  Don't they deserve better?



The girls who want a family to adopt them

June Simpson with her foster, biological, and adopted children

Kelly Wirtz and her adopted daughter Stephany

Governor Asa Hutchinson