"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

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

In Walks Aunt Jenny

This was supposed to be my first day back to court but I woke up sick as a dog and was in bed until around 1:00. I fell asleep nose to nose with Evelyn and she was still right there when I woke up. Bless her heart.

She has hardly left my side. I am having a hard time typing because she keeps wanting to snuggle, which makes me happy.

Fortunately, it was a light court day so I was able to make arrangements for coverage.

After I got up, I managed to keep some food down then worked on my latest project - a nine patch based quilt using brights. Here is a picture of what inspired me although it won't look exactly like this:

I actually planned to just make a wall hanging and it sort of swarmed on me. I don't think I'll need all the nine patches so I might use them to make that wallhanging.

Here are some of the nine patches:

No, your eyes aren't fooling you - there are two different shades of blue blocks.

I'm auditioning these solids/tonals to alternate with the nine patches. I plan to place them on point.

Oh Good Lord - that lime green fabric is back on my table.

This is NOT the layout I have planned. I just put this up because I wanted to see the colors.

Anyway, I am not exactly sure how this is going to go. The pattern that inspired me has 3 inch nine patch blocks and I made 6 inch nine patches. Unless I want a circus tent or a new nightgown, that is way more than I need. Which is why I was wondering if I might have some left over for a wall hanging.

Now that I am well down this road I'm fretting about what color I will use to quilt it. I don't much care for light thread on dark fabric - shows up too many of my mistakes. But the way this is pieced, unless I want to switch thread, constantly (and I darn sure don't), I am going to have to find a color that works on a variety of hues. I'll cross that bridge when I come to it because I tend to engage in reality avoidance when I get artsy. Otherwise, artsy doesn't work.

While I was stitching, cutting and pressing, I was thinking about a few of my cases that involve foster care. A fairly common fact pattern involves a young mother whose newborn is born with drugs in her system due to her mother's drug abuse. Could be crack, could be meth. Could be weed. If there is a father, grandparent or other relative present, the mother often can make a "safety plan" for the baby to be taken into their care. Social services then typically seeks a protective order that would require the mother to be drug free, get counseling, restrict visits to only those that are supervised, have the child remain with the caregiver, etc. Chances are, the mother will be facing criminal charges for child endangerment for taking drugs while pregnant so we are really talking about a quite serious legal situation that is not going to resolve itself quickly.

Alternatively, if there is no suitable relative immediately available to take the child, chances are social services will take custody and the child will go into foster care. This is a significantly different situation in terms of the child returning to the family and/or the mother. That is because once a child goes is in the state's custody, the law will not allow the agency to place a child, even with a family member, if there are any members of that particular household who have been convicted of certain crimes.

For most of us, that is no big deal. We may not even know anyone who has been convicted of a felony and the idea of someone like that living in our home is ludicrous. However, for many individuals living in the drug culture, it is practically the rule to have convicted felons or individuals on probation living in the home. It is a common - COMMON - situation where children are not able to be returned to the mother because she lives with her parents and one or more of her brothers are convicted felons. Or her boyfriend is a felon. Or her Uncle who lives in the home is a felon. I've seen kids stay in foster care for years waiting for their felon siblings to grow up and leave home so they can return.

However, to get back to the case of the drug baby, this is when Aunt Jenny appears.

I love Aunt Jenny. She is a little, old, shriveled-up-apple-faced lady (from decades of smoking) who is tiny and birdlike and hasn't had a period in at least twenty years. Her voice is raspy; her clothes were new in 1980; and she has a heart as big as all outdoors. She lives in the trailer park and knows all her neighbors; gets a $780.00 social security check every month; drives a 14 year old car; sends birthday cards to all her great nieces and nephews (a dollar per year); goes to church; lives within her means; has already given the young mother a stern talking to about messing up her life with drugs; and thinks that love conquers all even though she has had more than her share of heartache in her life.

Aunt Jenny never finished highschool and has had a series of jobs throughout her life. She was married once, but he either died or they broke up more than thirty years ago. Any children she may have had - and frequently she never had children - are grown and gone. She primarily mothers her great nieces and nephews - the majority born out of wedlock (Recall that this is a situation where no grandparents or siblings could provide a suitable home for the child - some fairly shady family dynamics are in place). Aunt Jenny has taken the role of Nana in the family whenever someone gets into a jam or needs someone to watch a baby. It makes her feel useful.

She used to the see the drug mother "all the time" when she was a little girl. When asked, Aunt Jenny will tell you that they haven't seen much of each other in the past 10 years and she just can't understand how that darling child ended up like this. When it is pointed out that all her siblings did the same thing, Aunt Jenny remains perplexed.

Aunt Jenny is OLD SCHOOL. Which means that I love her. I was raised by my grandparents, in large part, so I am also old school. Here is how the conversation frequently goes with Aunt Jenny.

Me: Aunt Jenny, how would you handle discipline?

[blank look from Aunt Jenny]

Me: I mean, what would you do if she did something she wasn't supposed to - how would you correct her?

Aunt Jenny (with no sense of self consciousness - god love her): I would turn that child over my knee and spank her bottom! Someone should have done that to her mother!

Me: Aunt Jenny, if this child is placed with you, what would you do if she wanted to take dance or be in gymnastics or play soccer?

Aunt Jenny: I'd tell that little girl that she needs to go outside and play with her friends, instead!

Me: Aunt Jenny, can you afford this child? Kids these days are really expensive.

Aunt Jenny (irate): Money isn't everything! I pay all my bills and own my own home. I have always paid my way! That child will never lack for anything! This shouldn't come to money!

Me: I don't mean to pry, but how much income can you count on if she comes to live with you?

Aunt Jenny: I get $780.00 per month in my pension and my house is paid for!

Me: Would you be prepared to take her to girl scouts or stuff like that if she wanted to do that?

Aunt Jenny: Kids these days are spoiled and don't need all that stuff. When I was a kid, we kept busy helping out our parents and doing our homework. We had plenty of friends and didn't need to be entertained.

Me: Where did you live, Aunt Jenny?

Aunt Jenny: We lived on a farm - had 30 acres and raised chickens. We had a few cows and an orchard. I had to be up before the sun to get the eggs and had a ton of chores to finish before I walked to school.

Me: Well, I would have loved to have raised my kids on a farm. It sounds like such a great life. I used to go to a relative's farm when I was little and it was so much fun.

Aunt Jenny: Oh, it's a wonderful life but hard work!

Me: But Aunt Jenny, you live in a trailer park. What sort of things can you do to keep the child occupied?

Aunt Jenny: Oh, I know everyone at the park.

Me: But you realize that there is a lot of crime reported at the trailer park - did you know that the police are out there several times a week? I checked. Are you aware that there are four convicted sex offenders that live within a quarter mile of your house and two are within two blocks?

Aunt Jenny: Every neighborhood has bad apples. Are you trying to say that the trailer park isn't good enough to let this child come to? Are you trying to say that I am not good enough to take this child because I live in a trailer park?

Me: No ma'm. I didn't mean that, at all. So, what do you think of Dora the Explorer?

Aunt Jenny: Dora Who?

Once the dust settles, chances are that the child is going to end up being placed with Aunt Jenny. The state really wouldn't have much basis to not place her, assuming Aunt Jenny is reasonably healthy and willing to work with social services to provide protection to the child.

Left alone, Aunt Jenny would probably do a fine job raising the baby, notwithstanding her age and limited finances. But the world typically intrudes, the mother returns, the child's father comes along (a lot of times he initially hides out to avoid getting tagged with child support), and other family members are there to influence the child. And remember, this is a situation where Aunt Jenny is the best you can do.

But I love Aunt Jenny. She is usually a simple woman with a heart of gold. I think it is wonderful to be able to get to her place in life and keep your faith in humanity.

Candidly, these cases usually don't end well once the child gets into her tweens and teens. And when you consider that babies brought into care at birth often miss out on being adopted by a wonderful family when the Aunt Jenny's of the world step in, I have to be honest that I inwardly cringe when they appear. That is no reflection on them. I love the Aunt Jennys of the world.


Anonymous said...

Quilt is going to be striking! Love your choices. Yes, even the lime. Works in great with the other colors, doesn't it?

Oh, such an interesting post today. Have known a few Aunt Jennys myself.


Anonymous said...

It's winter. I think your inner child is craving lime green and spring. Go with the flow, Penny.

Anonymous said...

Grrrr. That last comment is from Janet, who forgot to sign!


Penny said...

I knew that was you, Janet!!

Thanks. You are probably on to something About the green. Winter hasn't been nearly as bad here as in some places but spring is always pretty alluring.

Lisa said...

Love the colors..Reminds me of an Amish quilt....

Your right when they hit tweens to teens it really seems the fruit doesn't fall to far from the tree.
I've seen quite a few of these with my cousins on both sides..My siblings and I were the straight law abiding ones.... But then we didn't fall to far from our tree either....