"On the plains of Oklahoma, with a windshield sunset in your eyes like a watercolor painted sky, you'd think heavens doors have opened."
Fly Over States

Friday, October 17, 2008

Home Visits

I spent a little time with the girls out back, this afternoon.

Do you see Evelyn's tongue peeking out?

They didn't catch any squirrels but they sniffed a bunch.

I try to make home visits to each of the parents in custody/visitation cases, if possible. A lot of homes are just lovely - they are in gorgeous neighborhoods, beautifully decorated on the inside, large, sweeping, landscaped yards, copper pots hanging in the kitchen - you get the picture. Just because people are involved in a custody/visitation dispute doesn't necessarily mean they aren't successful people with good jobs. Obviously.

Other homes, however, are in neighborhoods that are downright dangerous. I always leave word with someone when I am going to ANY home but Husband threatens to send the SWAT team in if I don't immediately call him when I finish up in some areas. Seriously, I probably ought to have my head examined to go into certain neighborhoods. Don't think I don't worry about it.

Not far from where I live is a very old (for America) city - one of the oldest on the East Coast. At some point, it became a bustling, enterprising city for free blacks. After the Civil War, freed slaves settled in the area and to this day, it has a large African American population. Unfortunately, it has become extremely economically depressed in the past decades although there appears to be some civic pride that has re-emerged and attempts to rebuild the infrastructure and attract business were in full swing before the current financial crisis.

There is one particular neighborhood that is so crime-ridden that I hate to even drive near it. As one of my dear friends who is a criminal defense lawyer put it - "That neighborhood keeps me in business!" Shootings, rapes, condemned houses, rampant drug abuse, whore houses (I know of three busts in the past year and the area is less than a half mile by a half mile), truancy cases, gangs, CPS complaints (child abuse/neglect), robberies, you name it. I had one GAL kid who lived NEAR the neighborhood who refused to go to school. He was big for his age, played football, weighed over 200 pounds and was six foot two. Eventually, we found out why he wouldn't go to school - he had to walk past that neighborhood to the bus stop. And he was too scared.

Anytime of the day or night that you drive by the little convenience store on the corner, there are at least four black men wandering aimlessly in the street, many with the stereotypical brown paper bags in their hands. Young minority girls (black or Hispanic, usually) in too-tight pants and flashy clothes push baby strollers up and down the sidewalk. Many of them are known hookers (I know this because I work with the local police officers). I frequently see elderly men of all races wandering around and have wondered if they've just fallen on hard times and this is all they can afford. Some of the parents of my clients (actually, step parents who are considerably older than their paramour) are Vietnam vets who never found their way and ended up there. Young black males in doo rags, hoodies and low slung pants constantly shuffle up and down the sidewalk, generally yakking on a cell phone. This is one stereotype that appears to be justified - shuffling, that is. I think it has something to do with the pants that are dragging them down. Trash is scattered everywhere. No one picks up the garbage, no one trims the hedges. The awnings on windows are ripped and flutter about. Broken windows are boarded up rather than replaced or repaired. As often as not, there are towels or newspaper in the windows rather than curtains. The insides of the houses are typically dark (because the windows are covered up), and many don't have carpeting - it frequently was pulled up at one point because a pet ruined it. The carpet is not replaced, it is just hauled out and left on the curb, blocking the sidewalks - which haven't been edged in years.

So anyway, I recently had a home visit in that neighborhood and was going to visit an African immigrant who was embroiled in a custody dispute with the child's mama. For those who read my blog, this is the case whose mother breastfed the little darling but the judge ordered that the father have visitation one week per month. It was entitled "Scary Things." (while you're at it, take a look at how far Jezebel's muzzle has come!). I was already leery about that case and when I learned where the father lived, I felt sick, inside.

I knew from the map that his house was on the very far outskirts of the neighborhood, as far from the nasty little convenience store I just described as you can get. I'd never been in that small area and was pleasantly surprised that the houses were actually fairly well maintained and there wasn't garbage in the yards and street. I turned onto his block and was astonished to see one of his neighbors had an American flag waving proudly from a pole in the front yard. I knocked on the door and he let me in. The place was neat, curtains were on the windows, there were pictures of the baby framed all along the wall and she was cooing and playing on a blanket on the floor. She had on an "I Love My Daddy" bib (he sheepishly admitted that he gave it to her). Oh, what a cutie she was! She was healthy, solid, clean, smelled wonderful, playful, engaged, made eye contact and constantly flirted with her daddy. He was utterly enchanted, you could tell. He'd fixed up her own room with her own crib, and even bought an extra small bed for himself so he could sleep in there with her if she wanted him (this was in addition to his regular bed - pretty astonishing when you consider how many kids don't have beds at all!). He told me how he'd taken her to the toy store and selected the stuffed animals that SHE reached for. He'd taken her down to Wal Mart to have portraits made and couldn't wait to see how they turned out. When she got on the floor to crawl, you'd think she was running in the Olympics. I honestly wondered if he was going to hurt himself grinning so broadly. He delightedly showed me how she likes to kick and grip and so on and so forth. Such a proud, proud Papa. There was no mistaking that this little baby trusted him and they were well bonded. I can't tell you how relieved I was. I was even more relieved when he mentioned that he felt sorry for the mother because she must really be worried and miss the baby. He has called her, every day, to reassure her. So while this is a tough case, I felt much better about it than I had, initially.

Let me just say, while I'm thinking about it, that I typically really, really like working with African immigrants. Just from a practical standpoint, their English is usually marvelous, so communication is not an issue. Additionally, because they aren't in a position to easily immigrate illegally, most of them are educated and hard working which is why they have permission to be here. What I have noticed, more importantly, is that as a group, they seem to have a great deal of common sense, personal dignity, an attitude of civility and tolerance, an appreciation for how important it is for the child to have a relationship with both parents, and they genuinely appreciate their babies. Obviously, there are exceptions, but as a group, they have been a pleasure to work with.

Quite a few of the African Immigrants practice the Muslim faith and I frequently detect an "attitude" (perhaps too strong a word) from the men about women. That being said, I have NEVER had an African immigrant treat me disrespectfully or in an uncivil manner. I appreciate that.

How do you like this fabric?

It is Simpatico by Kaufman. I was just in the mood for something bold and dramatic, different than my RWB and the mellow blue and brown Surf and Sand Quilt. Not sure what I will do with it, but it called my name.

Off to do some "real" work.


Anonymous said...

I loooove the fabric.

Thanks for another interesting post - I like reading your observations about your job. You're a lot braver than I am, by a long shot.


Paula said...

Your job sounds interesting. You truly have my respect, it can't always be easy. And, of course, love seeing pics of the girls. I've been showing them off at work and some of the girls oooh and awww over them. They're such beauties.


Anonymous said...

Another captivating story with a good ending. Must make your day.

I'm curious. Do the girls sing on their own or does something/someone motivate them?


Penny said...

Mar, Evelyn will frequently howl spontaneously and Jezebel sometimes will join her. If I howl, Jezebel will sometimes join in but it depends on her mood. Evelyn will always join in and Jezebel will nearly always join in once her sister starts.

There is a picture I posted, today, where it looks like Evelyn is howling. She isn't. She is staring at the fat, retarded squirrel that is vexing them.

Penny said...

Paula, be sure to tell your co-workers that the girls are pretty, but their looks pale in comparison to their sweetness! Thanks for checking in and telling me.

Stephanie D. said...

I'm so glad to hear the story has a happy ending and that the father is considerate enough to let the mom know everything is alright.

And I LOVE that fabric--it's right up my alley! It would have called my name louder than yours, I think.

The ladies sure looked happy outside.

Anonymous said...

Penny...my husband works with several African Immigrant students. he would agree with you. The young men he works with aren't fathers yet. But one of them has come to my children's classroom and presented a slide show of his country and talked about what education means to him, etc. A very nice man with his priorities on straight!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info. You're going to have to make a recording of them!