Continuing to Do Things…. the Non-traditional Way
By Dawn Wolcott, founder of PICC of NY
I recently asked my still at home adult daughter if the current stares we receive when we are in public as a family bothered her. She laughed when she replied, “Mom, people have stared at us my whole life. We are not like normal families. Why should things be any different now?”
Allow me to share a little window into our wonderful nontraditional family….
Home schooling was just a grass roots movement 26 years ago when I decided I was never going to do it. My otherwise very nice pastor's family was following this strange practice at the time.
Then in 1984, our son Joshua's kindergarten teacher suspected he had LD and ADHD. The following year we began home schooling him because of problems he was having in the traditional setting of a public school. We decided we would try it for a couple of years and then send him back to public school.
It was then that we attended what may have been the first NYS LEAH conference with Gregg Harris. Our hearts changed about our reasons for home schooling. We decided it was our only good choice for spiritually educating our family.
That first year we were stared at when we were in the grocery store during school hours. We were told more than once that our children would be socially starved by home schooling.
In 1986 we took the next logical step. We removed our second son from his private school for persons with handicaps, amidst the head shaking and certainties from the staff that we would “be back”. Michael was 2 years old then. He has cerebral palsy and is nonverbal. The stares only increased as we went for nature walks with a very active 6-year-old boy, a toddler boy in a wheelchair, and a baby girl strapped on my back.
OK, some of you are smiling as you picture that last scene but it wasn't always fun. It was a challenge. Joshua would be under the table, hanging off his chair, fiddling with small objects and looking out the window as I gave him his lessons. I learned after a few months and a lot of tears from him that he learned best that way. Trying to get him to sit still was like trying to nail Jello to a tree. He wasn't being defiant. His body and brain just didn't work well without background noise and movement. He excelled academically in our home.
Although there were difficult days as trail blazers in the area of home schooling children with special needs, I never had the desire to scream at the public school bus as it passed our house, “Wait! Come get my children!” It was a difficult balance to try to juggle all of my responsibilities. Joshua was brilliant and had probable LD and ADHD. Michael had physical and educational delays and Christine was an average student. Quite a combination!
We home educated Michael until he was 21. Looking back I realize that there were academic areas where I wouldn't get an “A” as Michael's teacher. That can't be changed. Despite my human frailties God has been gracious. I know that Michael's character is one of godliness. He has a heart that loves the Lord and he longs to be closer to Him. As a parent I delight in that.
In Mike's final year of traditional home schooling we decided as a family that we would become foster parents for the local Department of Social Services. Christine was then 19 and she took all of the Foster Care Training with my husband and myself.
We are a strong family and felt that we could help other families learn to become stronger while we temporarily helped care for their children. It was not our intent to foster children in hopes of adopting. A few years earlier we had looked into adoption but every door was closed. We were open to having more children the traditional way but that didn't seem to be in God's will for us. Thus foster parenting seemed like a good way to help others on a temporary basis and for me to get my “baby fix” while I was still young enough to enjoy it.
On a beautiful spring day in 2005 we received the call asking us if we wanted to foster a four-day-old girl. She would be coming straight from the hospital. I was delighted! A newborn! I never thought we would get a newborn. I love babies and this was really exciting. A few hours later a beautiful baby girl was placed in my arms by the caseworker with the unforgettable words, “Here you go, Mom. Got any questions?” My thoughts were, “Mom?! I'm not her Mom. Questions? What do you need to know about a newborn? I'm a midwife. I know about newborns.” If this was a movie those unspoken thoughts would be considered foreshadowing.
Five weeks later we received another call from DSS asking, “Do you still have that newborn? How is she doing? Would you like another baby girl?” I told her I would have to call her back.
I went in and asked Christine what she thought. Christine considers her helping with the children her home ministry. Her wise reply, “Mom, people have twins all the time. How hard can it be?” I called my husband at work and he said we would try it for two weeks. Two hours later an infant car seat holding a four-month-old African American baby was placed on my kitchen table. My first words when I looked at its occupant were, “Oh! She's beautiful!”
I thought we were stared at before but now people did double takes. We had two girls who were the same size, but they looked so different and their needs were opposite ends of a pole. Baby “A” was fair haired with blue grey eyes and didn't ever want to be put down. She liked being jiggled and double swaddled and hummed to. She was a screamer and a puker. Baby “B” was so dark that even perfect strangers would walk up to her and say, “Hey Bright Eyes, you're dark.” She did not like being held or touched, and would startle easily at the smallest sound.
Fast forward four years later. Little girl A and B are still in our home and the stares have only increased. Oh yes, I failed to mention that when we filed our initial home study for foster parenting I said that I didn't think I wanted children who had certain special needs because I wasn't sure I could handle them. God knew better. Many of those needs are wrapped up in these two little girls.
When your child has an autistic breakdown in the checkout line and starts throwing things, people stare. When a child repeatedly hits you because they can “hear” the florescent lights, people really stare. But hey! God has been preparing us for those stares for over 23 years.
We were only foster parents for a short time. That time is soon coming to an end. I will soon be an adoptive parent of two little girls who have grown up together as sisters. If this is what it means to be nontraditional, I'm ready!