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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Neglect has a lasting impact - pay attention to your children

Tuesday, September 28, 2010 By

We've had a few disturbing incidents over the last week at our house; nothing to get excited about, but they highlighted a few of the reasons that we've been paying so much attention to the two children we previously discussed.

As is often the case with neglected children, 12 and 6 (which is how I will refer to the two children, since I don't want to use their names) have some mild but noticeable attachment issues.

A range of emotional problems present in children who come from homes where their needs are ignored or inadequately filled. Depression, anxiety, indiscriminate attachment, and over-reaction to perceived rejection are all very common. Also, because neglected children are not included in social interactions, they often display behaviors generally perceived as inappropriate or rude.

12 reacts to the younger children with anger when they do something annoying. He will sometimes yell at them for petty reasons, such as stepping in front of our television when he's trying to watch. Granted, they do this a lot. And it is annoying. But yelling does not work. But that's the kind of thing older kids do with younger kids. However, 12 hurt my feelings this weekend when he rejected my vegetables. Petty, right? But there it was. My feelings, over his manners.

We picked up a boat-load of Wild Wings Cafe on Friday, with a gift certificate Scott had earned from work he did for The Metro Spirit: wings, nuggets, barbecue. I made corn and beans and toast at home to accompany it. When 12 finished his protein and carbs, he asked for more. Like any mom, I told him that if he was still hungry, there were perfectly good vegetables on his plate that needed to be eaten.

He took a bite of the corn. "NO FLAVOR!" he yelled. "NO FLAVOR!" and dumped the plate into trash can.

Obviously, I was ill. I hadn't even had a chance to eat. It was 8 p.m., and I was still feeding children and husbands and cleaning and I did not need to hear about my corn not having any flavor from someone who is a guest in my home. Angrily, I took a bite of the corn. Crap. He was right. I don't know how I managed to mess up frozen corn, but I did.

I took a deep breath. 12 and 6 haven't received the kind of social training that Emerson has. They don't know what's appropriate and what is not. Worse still, since their parents live on welfare, they really don't know how to appreciate what is worked for, instead of just getting what is presented to them by the government.

"Let it go," I told myself. "Find a way to get the message across later."

Then, on Saturday, I piled Emmie and the boys into the car to go to bargain hunt, and then go to the library. We made it to a yard sale, where we scored some $5 Game Boys, and then to the house of a woman who was selling a treasure trove of new-with-tags clothing. No kids are perfect every day, and  they were atrocious. They couldn't get along, and the attitude was off the charts. I was taking some new medicine for the ear/sinus infection, and it was beating the crap out of me. So we turned around and went home. It didn't get better at home, and Scott sent the boys home to take a break.

A few hours and a nap later, Emmie and I got back in the car to get the books to the library before closing. 6 appeared out of nowhere and knocked on the passenger's side window.

"Where you going?" he asked.

"We're going to return these books to the library," I said.

"Can I come?"

"Not today, sweetheart. You and Em weren't getting along, and I think you guys need a little break from each other. We'll do something together later."

He burst into tears. Neglected children often over-react to perceived rejection, so I got out of the car and hugged him. I explained that it was just for a little while, and that it didn't mean that we didn't like him or care about him. He was inconsolable, repeatedly smashing his backpack into the ground.

"6, stop that, and look at me. We will be back shortly, and you can come over and play for a little while then. But this behavior is not acceptable. Take a deep breath, sweetheart, and try to calm down," I said. But he pulled away and threw his backpack again.

I asked Emerson to walk 6 to his back door and give him a hug, to make him feel better. She tried, but he wouldn't go. He stood at the fence and cried harder.

I called Scott to tell him that 6 was outside, losing his mind. He said he'd be out in a second. So I got Emmie back in the car and told 6 we'd be back in a little while. I started to pull the car out of the driveway. But after I'd taken my foot off the brake - yet before I could touch the accelerator, thank god - he launched himself down the hill in front of my car.

I can't tell you how close I came to running over him. I don't even want to think about it. Because at the moment he did that, my eyes were trained on the rear view mirror at Emerson putting on her seat belt in the back seat.

I screamed, slammed on the brakes, threw the car into park and launched myself over the hood. He lay on the ground, still crying, not even a half-inch away from my tires. I ascertained that he was not injured, and then gave him a very stern lecture. But I couldn't let him think those kinds of actions would get him what he wanted. So I picked up 6 and his backpack, and moved him to the grass.

I pulled out of the driveway as he cried. Scott was with him momentarily.

"I'm sorry about that, Emerson," I said, shakily. "I was very scared. 6 made a terrible choice because he was very upset."

She looked at me with a seriousness beyond anything a 5-year-old should know. Her eyebrows scrunched, her mouth turned down, and she said softly, "I fink he wan-ned to die."

"I think he wanted attention, sweetie. And I think he didn't know how else to get it," I said. "It was a very dangerous choice that he made."

Was it the right way to handle it? Hell, I don't know. At that moment, all I could think of was that Emerson didn't need to see that behavior - although she obviously knew it was wrong - and that giving in would just make it worse. Scott was right behind me to get him under control. I think when in conflict, first remove conflicting objects; then deal with remaining drama through reason and restraint.

These two children need some serious help. And I don't know that I'm qualified to give it to them.

It's difficult to hear 12 talk about the move, because he won't be going with them to Apple Valley. He'll be moving in with his uncle. He's happy, he told me, because "my uncle will let me play his Playstation, and he'll let me eat whenever I get hungry."

He may still be sleeping on someone's couch, as he is now, but he'll at least have food. Will he have supervision? Medical care? Dental care? Homework assistance? I don't know. But he doesn't get them now, either.

And it's difficult to hear 6 talk about the move, because I don't know if there will be a neighbor around to watch him when his mother doesn't get home until 7:30 p.m. on a school day. Those days here, he comes over to our house. He doesn't have a house key. And his mother never tells him - or us - that she'll be late. One day, it was 95 degrees outside. After four hours in that kind of heat with no fluids, a 5-year-old (as he was, then) could have died from heat exhaustion. But Scott - who works from home - was always there to let him in and to make sure he had supervision.

Oh, god, what will happen to him over there? Will there be a kindly grandmother at home who can watch over him when she sees him wandering around the yard unattended? Will this new roommate of his mother's assist in caring for him and the newborn? Will the increased government benefits be enough to cover all three of them? Will his mother have any time for him once the newborn comes along? Where are these children's fathers, anyway? And what the hell is wrong with people?

Please, someone give me some advice. Because I just don't know what to do.


  1. Stacey, as hard as it may be... you need to call social services.

  2. Surely with the contacts that Scott has in the media and some that you've made in the outlets you have could give some guidance without having these kids end up in foster care. Some kind of after school program? Which commissioner is over that district? My heart hurts for all of you - there has to be someone who knows SOMETHING available.

  3. I don't think Social Services would do anything. That's what I have seen so far anyway. Even if they took the kids, they'd give them back eventually. It's almost like showing the kids what could be and then saying, "But not for you". I used to work at Children's Hospital in B'ham, AL and was amazed at the number of kids they took out of good foster homes and sent back to abusive families and/or moms who didn't care enough to take care of them. It's so sad.

  4. That's what I worry about. And then we've burned the relationship with 6's mother on top of that. And he's all alone again.