Lilian is 11. Ana Yeri is six. Manuel is three and Angel is two. They are siblings. They live in La Carpio. When we opened our first daycare center there ahead of time it was because of these kids. Their mom was on her way to buy rat poison to kill herself and them because she was at the end of her rope and couldn’t deal with the poverty anymore so she thought she could kill everyone and wind up in heaven with them. We gave her so much support, lots of love, lots of ideas and lots of practical help. Food, clothes for the kids, help with child care. We even gave her a house this year so that the money she earned could be used for food for the kids. We gave her a refrigerator, a stove, pots, pans, bunkbeds, bedding and hired people to help take care of the kids. We tried so hard to give her a chance to keep her kids with her, to be an adequate mother.
Today, when I arrived at the clinic, Lucia, the neighbor and one of our teachers was there with Lilian. Lucia let me know that Flor had been beating Lilian again and that the whole neighborhood had enough and had finally called child welfare. They were on the way to the police station which is the first step before the child welfare representative can come in. We were all there, Lucia, Marlene, Sandra, Zulay, Lucia’s grown daughter Belinda, Marlene’s children. And lilian was sobbing. She didn’t want to be taken away. She didn’t want to leave Belinda who had helped to care for her. The police went to get the other children and found them locked up alone in the house, naked. Little Ana Yeri was trying frantically to bathe the other two. There was not a drop of food in the house. There was nothing there. They had to break down the door, get into the house and bring the kids up to the station.
I asked Lilian, why do you want to stay with Belinda? Because she cares for me. How do you know she cares for you? She gives me what I need. What does she give you? Food. What else. Clothes that are clean. What else? She helps me with my homework. What else, she hugs me.
So, Lilian I said, this is what a good, caring mother is supposed to do. There is nothing big deal about this. Just a few words of kindness, some food to eat and some clothes to wear. Your mom has not been able to do this, in spite of all the support she gets. Now, you as a person, you, and your brothers and sister deserve to have this kind of love all the time, every day, all day and night. You deserve to be protected and taken care of. Your mom is not able to do this. Now, you are going to go to a shelter where they will take care of you and where you can be with your brothers and sister and you can still help to take care of them but the responsibility won’t be all yours. You’re going to have help. And your mom is going to have help because she is going to know that she will be watched over and given classes on how to be a better mother. And if she wants you back, she is going to have to work to get you. This is fair to you and better for her.
My guardian angel doll was clutched in her arms and in her little 11 year old voice, she smiled and said she understood.
When the welfare rep finally arrive three hours later, Lilian was upset, she cried, she clung to Belinda. But she got in the car and she had in her hands a note of love from all of us, and my phone number written on her hand. I blessed them, prayed for them, hugged the other women.
It’s exhausting. It’s sad, it’s wrenching and traumatic. For all of us. For me, it’s enough to make me want to go to bed and not get up.
© Gail Nystrom 2007. All rights reserved.