Rewritten History: Motherless Motherhood

“I think you forget that we are super girls, you and me, but mainly you,” my 13-year-old daughter whispered to me recently. Her blossoming into a young woman is like watching clipped movie reels, revealing uncut scenes of the childhood I wanted for myself. As she walks down the block to school, her ponytail swaying, her hips gleefully hopping almost, her mind safe; she is all the things I was not at her age. To me this is the epitome of success of motherless motherhood.

For former foster children, becoming a parent is filled with a mine field of emotion, far different from the landscape of others who had good or bad parents, natural or not. Children are taken from their biological family and put in state care due to abuse, neglect, or parental addiction. I was taken from my mother before I was 5, after I was found burnt, abused, and suffering from malnutrition in a dark basement. I spent my first year “out” learning to walk, talk, and acclimate.

As a society, we are horrified at abuse from a father or other family member, but from a mother it seems unholy, even to atheists. When the umbilical cord is murderously snapped, when children are cast aside, abused, neglected by the very person whose body nurtured them, something changes in the child. Synapses are broken; trust and safety are coveted but often never really found.

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Me and my growing mini.

When foster children are ripped from their mothers and fathers, several griefs occur. The loss of mother seems like a different loss for foster children. Even if the mother was violently abusive, as many are, or had an addiction, or was extremely neglectful, not feeding or clothing the child, there is a loss and grief cycle that child still enters. This is still the person who brought them into the world, it is different than abuse from another trusted person.

Foster children are taken from biological relatives and placed in stranger’s homes or group homes until “reunification with a safe biological relative” is possible. If not, at some point, that child may become eligible for adoption, or sits in the system from home to home until he/she is out on the street for good. It is a system with flaws, it is a system meant to protect; but often children are abused in these new homes, and lose more than their biological family.

I spent a few decades doing was trying to come to terms with this unnatural loss. It was a loss of my former self in many ways, as the person in the mirror looked strangely familiar to the figure who was wandering the earth without me, and who let other people hurt me. With this loss also came the startling discard of my connection to any other family, grandparent, or cousin. Most caseworkers and even advocates neglect to see the other losses in this child’s life. It is a loss often of an entire lineage, and for foster children, they often have other familial relationships that are gone, often forever.

When I was found, I had an older brother who was found with me. Often, I would ask for him. That person was long gone; coping with that and with supervised visits with my mother was very complicated. As years went on and my mother completely vanished, to live her life elsewhere, I shuddered at my physical similarities to the woman I feared and loved. I even have her first name and so I prefer to go by the Italian translation of it.

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The year I was taken from my mother.

I spent birthdays wondering if she ever thought of my birth, did she remember me kicking inside of her, remember pushing me out of her body, does she remember there was a cord? I wondered if she had any regrets. I wondered if she was crazy or just such a sad, desperate person who did not know how to love and protect, even her own. I wandered if I was worth anything.

The umbilical cord breaks and so does the ability to trust or feel safe in the world. I spent years before my motherhood creating my own corner of safety. I found it in books. I kindled an internal warmth and  was often a peace keeper in the calamity of my foster home. I was mother-like to friends, boyfriends, and to foster siblings. As I got older my caretaking spilled into other relationships where my needs, wants, wishes, or even dreams were not really discussed. I was never looking for a rescuer, I never believed in fairy tales like other young women at that time; it was my job to put myself last. This was the lesson from my mother, though she hurt me and left me, I felt responsible. Maybe I said or did something bad? Maybe I did not deserve light or sun or safety. These lessons give abused foster children a PhD in devaluation to hang on the wall for life.

Learning that we are valuable as a foster child is a daunting carnival, with long lines and expensive tokens. It is lifelong.

The idea of motherhood baffled me. I often studied the mothers I would see on the train, in my friends’ lives, on television. I would watch carefully at the good and not so great mothers around me, my friends’ mothers, my foster sisters who were parents, neighbors, and friends; I always felt like I was watching a television show, outside of something I could not study enough.

I wrote stories about mothers in my notebook. I studied writers whose mothers were either idolized or furiously hated. It intrigued me. Sometimes, I would sit in a café in NYC and just listen to the stories, the complaints of someone’s mother; oh the irony and jealousies I felt! This mysterious connection was difficult to grasp but as a woman it was my focus. I did have anger and fear toward men in many ways. I did wonder about my father, whose name I shared, but I did not seem so intrigued by fatherhood. As a woman, motherhood was something I felt I HAD to know, or else maybe I really could never grow up and be a real woman.

Despite this obsession with understanding the nature of motherhood, it did not occur to me that I would have my own children. To be honest, I did not think anyone would love me enough to start a life with me. But I adored children and thought that I would share this concern I had for them in a classroom or in volunteering or advocacy. I had an empathetic soul, but did not think I would be granted any chance to conceive.

By some granted miracle, I had my daughter in 2003. In the past 13 years, I watched her grow into a better version of me. A freer version of me. As a baby, I was astounded by her every move sound and gesture; often I would sit up all night just to watch her sleep. I would check the doors and the oven and the windows incessantly.  My eyes were always on her. I studied her features. I wondered if I looked like her at that age (I never saw a photo of myself before 4). She was all the lineage I knew. Her blood, genes, skin, and eyelashes were something that probably were similar to people in my mysterious past. She was and always is a revelation to me.

Often these re-awakenings are not understood by anyone other than other former foster children and some adoptees. My daughter’s natural beauty and talents obviously come from both sides of the gene pool, but my side is very dominant. Maybe it is also environmental; we spent most of her life alone together. But still, sometimes I see the curve around her lips and I remember my mother. It is very startling for me, it is almost like someone flashed back a memory to her, to grandparents I didn’t know, maybe aunts, family who never looked for me or found me.

When former foster children become mothers or fathers; their child can uncover startling memories. Memories of people we never met, or people who hurt us and vanished before we could find closure. I do not live through my daughter, that is a different parental connection. The motherless mother synapse is one through a carefully crafted lens. My girl has so many skills and interests that have nothing to do with me. I give her the tools to nurture these new curiosities and I watch her parade like a movie star under a blanket of emotional security from me.

Success comes to former foster children when we redefine parenthood in our own terms. I put aside (okay maybe buried) my hurt and anger toward the past before I became a mother. I vowed that her movie reel of childhood would instead be safe, full of little mystery, adventurous, exciting, and emotionally secure. And it has been. Do I have regrets and would haves, should haves? Sure I do, like any other mother.

But when in doubt of myself, I watch her movie reel. Her arms outstretched, she takes on new opportunities with hope. My movie reel was confusion, fear, loss and at her age; with my mother’s and her “friend’s” abuse as the director. My own production reminded me I was not good enough. My daughter’s reel has never known that pain.

Her reel is hope.

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Life Without Conditions: Motherless Mothering

There are stories we yell out to the world with a megaphone, stories we tell only in the dark, and other stories we keep buried under the rubble in our thick skin, the skin thickening with time, loss, disappointment, and hurt.

Recently my mini me, a proud and soulful preteen, had the chance to scratch the surface and get a pinhole view of her mom as a child. She had 3 full days with my adoptive brother, whose stories of our time together in foster care, she never heard. I watched her face light up and dim all weekend. Some were stories of hope, others of fear and mayhem. This weekend was my daughter’s first real lessons about her mother’s personal past. With so much unknown history from my side of her family at all, this was her chance to scribble the first few pages of her own history book as well.

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Me and my girl.

I’ve been very skillful in my disclosures to her. The stories in between the basic timelines, I usually gloss over. My daughter knows a lot about children in foster care, but I am often impersonal about my experiences because they are part of her also and I want her to be nothing but proud of her background. There are a lot of things to not be proud of in my history, but I never wanted her to see the blemishes. As she’s gotten older I feel uncomfortable with some of her questions. They are no longer shallow and easily answered. I write academically about transitioning foster children at universities and about strong mothers in literature. But, often talking about my own vulnerabilities is not easy for me. 

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The Ties That Bind: Motherless Mothering

“I am sorry I was born and caused you so much pain.” The scribbling in my old dusty notebook brought back an old familiar pain, long forgotten and buried in the rubble of my foster sister’s basement. As an introspective young girl and a bit of a loner, I filled notebook after notebook with endless internal observation. My private thoughts were not entirely meant to be private. Someday I hoped to hand them to my mother, who I was taken from at 5 and saw sporadically through my elementary school years. I never had that chance. In 2004, holding my own newborn daughter in my arms, I was told my mother died years before and did not want me notified. In my daughter’s big blue eyes, I found a solace that notebook never brought me. Motherhood closed the door on most of the past, but not all.

Me and my girl.
Me and my growing mini.

The day I found out I was pregnant with my mini me, I sat in my car crying alone before I called anyone with the news. Fear, excitement, nervousness washed over me. What would she look like, a relative? I knew none. I never even saw a baby photo of myself: What mysteries would my genes bring? Would I know how to be a mother? I never really saw one for very long. Before having my daughter, I envied my friends families with their normal family struggles and battles. Their photos on the wall. Their smiling parents at games, graduations, their shared expressions, their family fights, and their tangled emotions. I was envious but just carefully observed. Now, with this new person growing inside me I had the chance to see myself in someone else. I had the chance to undo the past and bring a loved person into the world.

Anytime the umbilical cord is snapped, unnaturally broken, or tethered, the child on the other end suffers. The world seems so large and life feels so alone. As a foster child, the disconnect and mystery surrounding my young life appeared in every friendship, relationship, failure, success, happiness, or sadness.

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Orphanhood and Batman: Redifining Foster Children’s Labels

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It has been a long time since anyone looked at me and used the term “orphan,” but it happened this week. In a clinical sense, the word may fit, but its connotation implies weakness. As my mini me told me, “Aren’t Batman and Superman both orphans? So that’s it, you are my Batman.”

While I do not look good in capes, I do want to redefine the term “orphan” away from the idea of victimhood of foster children, and instead define it by eternal superpowers. Orphans do not have parents as children and are raised by strangers. While they do lose the grounding of being consistently parented, foster children have an inner strength that others do not gain until adulthood. They can use that energy to become their own heroes as adults.

Foster children are children who are taken away from biological relatives due to abuse, neglect, or parental addiction. They are placed in temporary homes until they can be reunited with a safe family member, or even adopted. Many are left in children’s homes or on the street. Homelessness, academic failure, drug use, and suicide rates are very high for former children in care. My goal as a former foster child, is to help others become advocates for themselves, create their own family, and encourage girls in foster care to redefine their strength as they become women.

I was taken from my mother and placed in foster after I was found in her basement starved, abused, and left to die. For years, a lingering court case against her and others kept me as an emotional prisoner to her apologies and to biological connections I lost forever. I was adopted, but both of my adoptive parents died within months of each other, when I was 13. Orphan-hood was in my blood it seemed and so I navigated alone. I watched foster brothers and sisters come and go, some living a life of crime, depression, and drug use. Others, who succeeded, went on to love themselves and won their internal battles against those who left them at their most vulnerable.

Without any guidance, good or bad, as a developing child the brain takes in the environment with little shelter. For some orphans, we see only the bad and keep ourselves in a bubble. For others, they absorb attention and affection anywhere they can, and often the abusers of the world hone in. Orphans are, after all, a weak link. In some ways, this is true. My weakness was and is a codependent helping of others. Out of guilt and maybe shame, I blamed myself for whatever happened in that Brooklyn home as a toddler and infant. That guilt led me to try to fix anyone and anything. It led me to poor boundaries personally. My real solace was found in being alone. When I was not fixing friends or lovers, I sought out time with myself by wandering aimlessly to recoup. It gave me a convenient excuse for not taking care of my own heart. 

While my past did dictate my solace, it did not lead me to victimhood, in fact I was determined to rewrite my story. I  had loose connections with some foster brothers and sisters. Some were good influences and believed in my few talents. I never drank or partied, in fact I was basically a very short adult, even as a teen. I studied hard and became absorbed in books. What my favorite writers like Emily Dickinson or Sylvia Plath could not heal for me was a sense of belonging to something. I was introspective, very much self-aware, and a mother hen. As I look back, I grew very attached to women teachers, friends’ mothers, strangers even. I sought out maternal attachments everywhere.

Some were positive, some were not, but I concluded that rather than seeking out answers from the past, searching for long-lost family, (which proved disastrous emotionally), having my own child was the biggest part of my healing. After years of quiet envy listening to friends complain about their parents, siblings, extended family, I wanted something of my own. On January 22, 2003, whatever higher power exists, decided I needed a little blue-eyed girl to put my heart into, to build walls around, and to help design her own future with strong roots.

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It has been 12 years of non-orphanhood for me! In my eyes, becoming a mother shatters that term altogether. I finally got the normal I heard so much about. It has not been easy. Everything I wanted for her did not happen as I expected. But I got the up all nights, the lioness protection, the graduations, the crying, the sadness, the pain, and the joy of childhood laughter. For the first time, I found myself playing hopscotch and picnicking in the park. I started to love who I was and was proud of my new lineage. I had photos to hang on the wall, photos that resembled me, the good parts of me. With this new piece of me, I strived to become better. I stumbled a few times, but she helped me believe in myself and improve myself. I am forever in her debt.

For other fellow successful orphans, a strong network of close friends, or animals, or successful relationships, became their family, but the commonality is that we all tried to rebuild what many people took for granted. While my girl cannot be my only grounding, which I’m learning painfully as she gets older, I finally have let myself become more vulnerable to a deeper adult relationship and a sense of not being alone. I may even have another child or let someone lift ME up when I need it. For this orphan, that is a huge feat.  After all, what I want my daughter to see, and other former foster children to see, is that Batman or not, every orphan has the opportunities to find success amidst the ruins of our childhood enemies.

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Motherless Mothering: The Endless Cure?

Like most  mothers, passing milestones are sometimes bittersweet. After all, my identity has been intertwined with motherhood for 12 years. Old habits are hard to break. Often, beaming with pride at another birthday or school year, I feel an almost stabbing in my heart. Change is coming, change is here, and the bubble of early childhood years will soon burst. As is, it is leaking.

For former foster children, becoming a parent can help mend the past or play it as a horrible rerun. They can repeat their cycle of abandonment, abuse or carelessness, or they can cradle the gift they have like a prized jewel.  I have a jewel and I cradle it as much as she will let me! In many ways becoming a mother saved me. But, while some healing comes from the unconditional love of motherhood, some healing has to come from within.

Me and my growing mini.
Me and my growing mini.

Foster children, are children who were taken from their biological family due to abuse, neglect, or drug addiction. Of the hundreds of thousands in care now, thousands will never see their biological family again, thousands will spend their childhood living with stranger after stranger, thousands will sit in court rooms for their entire childhood, thousands will be reunited with abusers, thousands will live in homeless shelters, hundreds will commit suicide. A small percentage find stability.

I was taken from my mother when I was 5, after I was found abused, starved and burnt. I was left in a basement to die. For years, I saw my mother in supervised visits until one day she just vanished when I was about 10.  I was adopted, and within 2 years my adoptive parents died. Change was part of my life. I learned quickly not to get too attached.

As I became an adult, I never felt jaded, but instead tried to save everyone around me, perhaps trying to heal the past. Perhaps because I felt to blame for my abuse. Still I always had some inner strength that kept me from dwelling. I hoped one day to have my own lineage, one that would be proud to be part of me.

The day I found out I was pregnant with mini me, I cried like I never cried before. I was happy, scared, fearful, and almost in a state of panic! I spent weeks reading everything I could about motherhood. The word “mother,” seemed so illusive. I felt like someone just threw me out of plane with no parachute. So, I did what any good English major would do;  I read about the most heinous mothers in the world, I read about the best. I read something from every psychologist on the planet. And I felt prepared.

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The Other Side

At my daughter’s age, a counselor told me never to forget three important things I learned in foster care.  What happened to me was not my fault. My experiences made me mentally strong. At 12, I could take care of myself and protect myself. Don’t forget that at 42, she added.

Me, the year I was taken from my abusive mother and entered foster care.
Me, the year I was taken from my abusive mother and entered foster care.

I am not 42, but that marker is not too far off. I forget those facts when adulthood brings me the usual pains of life. Somehow her voice echoes through though, at even my lowest points. Every single child in foster care and every former foster child can muster up this power. It is a gift bestowed upon us by early brain changing, life altering events that endow us with the kind of strength others still seek.

Despite this superhero energy I dig into time and again, voids exist. Voids I try to fill, but in searching for my own identity, still lurk in the background. For more than the half a million children who were removed from abusive, negligent or drug addicted parents, and placed in care, their adulthood leaves these impenetrable gaps.

Often, my colleagues discuss what missing link displaced, abandoned, and neglected children crave most as they develop into adults. Their diligent research is aimed at stopping the negative cycles we all see in the child welfare system, generation after generation.

But, in order to stop the vicious cycle of abuse, depression, graduation failures, addiction, and mental illness that so many former foster children face, advocates must start understanding the importance of maleness.

Foster children need a balance of nurture and protection. Generally this comes from a mother and father figure ( of any gender). Without a true identity, or with a broken one, foster children clamour around their lives seeking to fill emotional buckets. They recreate themselves from nothing.

I never fell into that pile of advocates (many whom I respect and love dearly) who desperately searched for answers, for biological family, especially a father, to heal early wounds. Instead, I plowed on. Some called it denial, I called it survival. Survival sounds better.

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End of the Line ?

Former foster children live a patchwork life, with bits of  small recollections of the past, often blurred by emotional pain. Most of their own heritage and lineage remains a complete mystery. Identity is shuffled and recreated in different foster homes. In adulthood it can remain precarious. A lifetime of sorting through a past they will never find, leaves them in the cold.

In my collaboration with other foster child advocates, we talk a lot about abuse cycles, attachment issues, success, stability and strength. What is often overlooked, outside of the adoption arena, is identity and the lack of a concrete past.

Me and my end
Me and my end

Dissimilar from adoptees taken or given away at birth, most foster children are taken from their biological families after attachments, negative or positive, have formed. Children enter the foster care system due to neglect, abuse, addictions of the parents, or abandonment.

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Blue Pin of Courage

I wore a blue pin this week and had someone approach me, “Is that for Autism awareness?” I felt almost bad saying no, but my blue this month is for child abuse prevention month. Child abuse kills 5 children in the US a day. A DAY. Thousands of other victims a day go on living; their young lives physically, mentally, and socially altered.

Child abuse is rampant and knows no ethnic or economical boundary. More often than not, a trusted caregiver or parent is the child’s abuser. The truth is not everyone loves their children and not everyone protects and cares for their children. As a mother, this is hard to accept.

I live mostly for my daughter, every day I wake up thankful I have her. I spend my nights worrying about her, my decisions center around her needs. But, not everyone feels this sense toward even their own children.  As I type this, hundreds of children in America are being hit, starved, burned, molested, and left in the dark at the hands of those who brought them into this world. They have no out. And when they wake up tomorrow, their abuser will either continue to abuse, or further perpetuate the sick cycle of abuse by rewarding the child with praise and affection, regaining trust.. only to abuse again.

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Me and my girl

What is the key to preventing child abuse? Like winning any other battle, we must understand the enemy. How do they infiltrate? How do they succeed?

Abusers gain a powerful tool, trust; either by proxy or because the child knows no other way. TRUST is the open door for an abuser. A parent, caregiver or family member often already has this trust by biological or situational nature. Children are born innocent and their only security comes from what is under their roof.

In recent years, many programs aim to help parents, caregivers and teachers recognize these grooming tactics. But what about parents who abuse? As we delve more into the causes of abuse, or indicators, rather, there really is not a picture of a parent abuser. It happens in trailer parks, it happens in mansions.

City officials were investigating my mother and other adults in my house, when I was found at  5;  abused, beaten, burnt, and starved for a long period of time.  They came to my home half a dozen times looking into suspicion of severe abuse of my older brother. No one knew for over a year that my mother had another child. She kept me locked in a basement and lied to the police. A case worker literally turned on a light on the staircase, and my brother finally uttered he had a little sister.

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Carrot Souffle Heals All

Is  the saying that Spring is itself eternal or is it hope? When neither seems definite, me and my girl wait out the changing seasons in the kitchen. I like when new beginnings are on the cusp, so to me, the Spring tease and cold days are very welcome. The  cool evenings of March and sporadic tulips are a welcome contrast to the monotony of a full-blown season.  Everything is more exciting when it is ABOUT to happen.

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Mini me learning the ropes!
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I LOVE this dish.

Food cravings in these in-between moments are even more adventurous. Depending on where you live, the greens, golds, reds, and yellows of spring are slowly emerging. When it comes to culinary fare, Spring tends to lighten itself up. But, I find myself still clinging to darker fall flavors. I am fickle, choosing is painful for me.

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Spring peeks out!

Me and mini me have had some unique menus this month. Pear risottos, deep carrot souffles, rice salads and artichokes are abound in every way possible. March invites kale greens, but steeped in fall’s comfort foods. Pictured is mini me making our lightened carrot soufflé. We used about 2 lbs of organic carrots; cut them, steamed them, and pureed them with half a stick of melted butter. Then we mixed in 2 tablespoons of maple syrup, fresh cinnamon, a touch of nutmeg, 2 cage free eggs, half and half,  2 tb of coconut flour, 1 tp of baking powder, vanilla and 1 tp of kosher salt. We Mixed everything together very well, and baked it at 350 for 40 minutes in a well buttered casserole dish. The result is reminiscent of pumpkin pie, without the calories. You can add additional sugar, but I think the maple syrup is plenty. A good tablespoon of raw honey would be a nice touch. We paired our soufflé with a simple chicken piccata and kale salad.

In another month, menus will delve deep into light Spring fare, but for now,  relish in enjoying two simultaneous seasons at once!

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Kit Kat Bars and Hope

I was 9 years old, but my little legs and little belly made me look about 5. I was cute, no doubt. Stumbling into the social service office, I looked over at my case worker Drew’s desk to make sure the picture I drew him was proudly displayed.

Drew was a very tall man, probably about 35 years old, though at my age he seemed ancient to me. Because of our stark height difference, he often patted me on the head like a puppy. I liked him a great deal; he was the first man in my life I ever trusted. He was kind-hearted, never raised his voice,  and lit up when I walked by. He lavished me with compliments.  I looked forward to our meetings, though at the time I did not understand his role.  I just knew that when I sat in his office, he had toys and Kit Kat bars. I liked Kit Kat bars!

The year after I was taken from my mother. I was tiny!
The year after I was taken from my mother. I was tiny!

One day, he seemed a little unnerved, almost shaken. His smile was different. I knew, even in my young mind, that our conversation was not going to be a fun one. So, I clutched a wooden doll and looked for my Kit Kat bar. I braced myself for some type of bad news.  A lot of what Drew imparted to me is being imparted to thousands of children a day who enter the foster care system.

Drew  was one of the social workers who found me at about age 5 locked in a basement with burn marks, bruises, and left very sick from malnutrition. I was not toilet trained, could not walk and did not talk.  His accidental finding brought me to a hospital and led to the arrest of my mother and others in my home. I was then placed in a foster home.  The brother I was found with was sent somewhere else.

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The Ebb and Flow of Letting Go

My nerves and heart were both tested this week. The realization that the world can intrude on the safe, secure space I have built for my mini me, came crashing. Former foster children who become loving parents are rocked hard deep in the soul even by minor intrusions on the children we have sometimes smothered for their own protection! 🙂

Me and my girl.
Me and my girl prepare for Santa’s visit!

Often our minds are flooded with the physical and emotional trials of our own past; innocence and trust ripped from us before we knew what either meant. The moments that flash like slide show images when insecurity, fear, doubt, and frustrations sit at our door as adults. It is startling. This is why many former foster children try not to love or attach to anything. For those like me, who ventured into loving motherhood, the slope is especially tricky. We are vulnerable, so is the object of our unconditional affection; it is a tough reality to face.

I have prided myself on being a good parent. Mini me trusts me, relies on me, she feels loved and wanted. Check. But what about what the rest of the world can do to this gentle creature I helped create? There are things I can protect her from and do; people I keep her far from, events and situations we avoid..but what about what is outside my grasp? This is something I had not considered.

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Lighter Pho Fare with Mini Me

wpid-2015-01-28_18.46.00.jpgMidweek, me and mini me try something out of our comfort zone to break up the monotony of our staple recipes. Routine bores me.  The chill factor climbed for us this month and heavy comfort foods are not comforting for my thighs! Sacrificing flavor for tight jeans is not my style either, so I found  a way to take my Italian cravings to the far east.

With some organic pork and ginger, our love for meatballs met my love for Vietnamese Pho.  While this traditional noodle soup is filled with mixed meats and seafood, portions can be heavy and the flavors can sometimes overwhelm each other.

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It’s My Party-Celebrations and Foster Children

2002, NY. Pregnant with my mini me and glowing!
2002, NY. Pregnant with my mini me and glowing!

Today is my Mini Me’s 12th birthday. Her big blue eyes have been rolling all week, because I dragged out baby pictures left and right all week. Mini me sighs heavily, simply because a  recollection of our connection, is already very real to her. For children in foster care, this day of birth comes with a painful clause in small writing. It is a reminder that their personal past has been erased or deleted. It is a reminder of  a history often long gone or wrought with pain.

Birthdays are a celebration of life, it is a mark of importance of the child to his or her family.  Foster children have been abused, neglected, or lived with a parent with addictions who is gone, and so this validation of importance is not fed.  The violent, or tragic separation or abandonment, of children by their parent or both parents rings loudly on this day. A connection to the happy event of their birth is often not ever born or shared with them. Generally, the day is wrought with mystery, confusion, or even memories of physical pain.

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Isn’t She Lovely? Lighter Lasagna

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Often lasagna is like  a beautiful Italian woman in a tight red dress. She may look like a siren, but she may be good for you too.  Italians are known for overdoing it. We are impulsive, impetuous, extreme, but passionate. In the kitchen our personality is in full force all the time. Nothing is off-limits.

The new year is about shedding many things. In an attempt to embrace a new life.. ..I also let go of the calories and fat in my traditional Christmas Eve lasagna. Basically anything that does not add to your lasagna, needs to be left out. Sounds simple but it does wonders.

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A Reason to Believe

I spent a lot of time in my own mind as a foster child, dreaming up my ideal holiday that would not ever come. For me, the lights of Rockefeller Center scripted fantastical stories that eased the pain of being forgotten.

While most of the world, no matter what tradition, awaits big family meals and the exchange of gifts; for children lost in the child welfare system the holidays can wreak havoc on their fragile souls.

Me. the year I was taken from my mother and entered foster care.
Me. the year I was taken from my mother and entered foster care.

After being found in a basement, beaten, burned and starved at age 5, I entered foster care. The ferocious court battles, the on and off again appearances of my illusive mother, plagued me well into my teen years. Often during holidays, I wondered where my mother lived and if she too saw the crystal star at the top of the grandest tree in the world. I wandered. I made excuses for her in my mind.

Certainly I was loveable or at least I hoped so, but alas dreams stayed dreams. I held my breath each year, thinking some knock would come to the door..a long lost sibling explaining the big mishap. My father maybe? I would’ve settled for a man with a familiar feature walking down my street, even. Maybe my mother would run to me, presents in hand, cloaked in her long dark hair at the door, looking for absolution! The stories spun in my young mind over and over again each Christmas.

Me and my girl prepare for Santa's visit!
Me and my girl prepare for Santa’s visit!

Many foster children feel discarded like yesterdays trash around the holidays; discarded by those who brought them into the world, by a child welfare system that doesn’t protect them, and by the fairy tales they hear other children recite. It is a childhood interrupted by an all too soon reality.

My childhood Christmas came decades after my childhood, when my daughter was born.  Because then..I did not need answers anymore. I had my own link, someone belonged to me.Every other sense of my own family seemed to fail, but not my blue-eyed girl depending almost solely on me.

A girl whose eyes lit up next to the big tree. A girl who still waits anxiously for Santa.  A girl whose heart is so big that she leaves an unmarked gift under the tree every year for a girl in foster care.

Becoming a mother saved my soul from a past that did not want to let go. All former foster children can be saved, with a sense of belonging to something unconditional, far from the discard pile.

Continue reading A Reason to Believe

Getting Back on the Horse

 

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My proud girl and her new friend.

Sometimes I stumble. Actually, I stumble often.  Sometimes the past whispers in my ear, tells me I am not good enough, tells me my attainable goals are out of reach. It whispers I am not beautiful enough, smart enough, rich enough, strong enough, or worthy enough. My inner voice is polluted at times.

I heard somewhere, that as mothers, our words and actions to our children become their inner voice as adults. Nothing about parenting is more true. Being a former foster child, who was taken from  an abusive mother, my own inner voice sometimes has a deep, harrowing echo–it sneaks up on me at vulnerable times. It is especially loud during intimate moments and in small daily perceived failures.

Children who were foster children, or who suffered abuse by a  trusted parent often have a life-long emotional barricade. Physical wounds heal and people do move on. We look whole on the outside, we can grow and succeed, but that inner voice taunts. It pushes us to fail, to stop while we are on the path to emotional freedom.

It makes us hold our breath, it keeps us expecting hurt. Sometimes it invites hurt. Failures, personal or professional, seem par for the course. In fact, there is a comfort in being cast aside, or losing a professional goal. That nagging whisper tells us our negative inner voice is correct. It is  the lifelong impact of early abuse.

But, being a mother now always gives my soul another chance to drown that inner voice. This week, I watched my beautiful girl get up on a big horse and proudly trot around an incredible horse farm. Her bravery and confidence astounds me. Her inner voice is strong. When she is scared, she hears me telling her she is the most beautiful girl in the world. She hears her family telling her she can do it, telling her to try one more time.  She is whole and not fractured. She later climbed a fort, pulling herself up on ropes, and laughing at my fears. She is strong, where I am not.

My proud rider.
My proud rider.

She stumbles (not often), and she gets herself back up. I asked her how she is so brave. After all, she is now an aspiring artist. She is my little chef who studies french baking. She still climbs trees and likes to rock climb higher than I ever would! She nurtures every living creature, even the scary ones. Most importantly she always wants to help someone else. Only yesterday she asked me if she could do more to help foster kids. She is so proud of herself when she gets involved. She is selfless beyond any child I have met.

I felt so emotional watching her climb that horse. My daughter is everything I was not as a child. She is fearless.

On the way home, I told her I am so proud of her willingness to try so many things. Her response was: “I am so proud to have you as my mom, in all the universe there is not a better mom. That is why I get back up when I fall off!”

Me-- Just entering foster care after I was taken from my mother.
Me– Just entering foster care after I was taken from my mother.

This is what foster children, discarded children, and abused children need. They need what secure and loved children like my girl have; one consistent voice and presence urging them to be their best selves. Advocates can bring this to all children. Former foster children can create a new generation of givers in our own children. We can create strong women and men. Our own inner voices can be quieted for yet another day.

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Risotto Stuffed Tomatoes: Heaven!

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As mini me gets older, I find our closest times are almost always in the kitchen, or at the kitchen table. As a young girl I dreamed of that mother-child connection, especially over a family meal. Having my girl gave me that long awaited opportunity.
I take every chance to spend time in the kitchen with her, teaching her a new culinary skill. Nothing makes me feel more like a woman than preparing a meal and passing along tradition.

Tomatoes, in all forms are one of our favorite summer treats. Roma, yellow, green, tomatillos, beef, cherry; you name it, we love them all. When I am not stewing and pressing tomatoes for our homemade sauce I use them as little baskets to hold a gluttonous treat. What better way to push the envelope than to nest a creamy risotto inside their walls.

Continue reading Risotto Stuffed Tomatoes: Heaven!

Re-Writing History

My little girl graduated from 5th grade last week. As I watched her eyes look for me in the crowd over the dozens of families strewn together, it occurred to me that being her anchor has indeed saved me.

Sharing moments with her and for her, my only real familial connection, heals me. When I was a child in foster care, milestones such as graduations, birthdays  holidays, events were something I wanted to avoid. And here I was last week and hundreds of times over the past decade, slowly overcoming the feeling that I had nothing that really belonged to me by sharing milestones for her.

Me. the first year I entered foster care.
Me. the first year I entered foster care.

For children in foster care, all seems temporary, haphazard, confusing; they are sometimes forgotten in the shuffle of the system and courts. I was no different. I was put in foster care at age 5 after I was found locked and hidden in my mothers-basement abused, not fed, unable to walk or speak. But still, I looked in the crowd for many years, hoping for any sign that my mother or even father would need to see me or would need my forgiveness.

Sometimes the pain of feeling forgotten outweighs the pain of remembering past abuse for children in care during these milestones. To me, the milestones were a reminder that I was not important, that I was not impressing anyone, that I had no one to “make proud” or even let down.

 

Continue reading Re-Writing History

With or Without You: Guilt-Free Baking

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Simple ingredients often fuse together and create a rare foodie surprise. The basics bring out unmatched flavor and passion. What better place to sharpen your minimalist skills than in the kitchen!

Going flour-less ( when possible) is one way to do it– my flour-less banana chocolate chip muffins sans the carbs is heaven for the hips and heart. Nothing beats when gluttony meets healthy. These petite muffins are full of fiber, potassium, healthier glucose, and powerful antioxidants. So, have another.. and another ! Then, go outside and jump in a pile of leaves:)

This oat-hearty treat can fix a sweet tooth, but also pair as a brunch favorite. Anyone who knows me, knows I love BRUNCH. I am always looking for ways that me and mini me can satisfy late morning cravings. We found it. After much tweaking, we perfected this little morsel, and it is now a fall staple!

Using steel oats might seem grainy, but the texture is unmatched. If you want something less filling, you can blend simple oats until they are smooth.

Continue reading With or Without You: Guilt-Free Baking

A Lesson in Living

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2002–Me, pregnant with my mini me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

As one of my favorite writers once said, when we rummage through our souls, we often find things we should have kept hidden. In my rummaging lately, nothing is more stirring than the first feeling of mini me’s hiccups in the womb. It was my first true biological connection to anyone, and it made me feel alive. Like I would have something that belonged to me. Like I finally mattered to something. Like the past was far, far behind. So, becoming a woman and creating this life..it was a lifeline. One I want again someday.

The smile on my face here is no mistake, I felt this miracle was an overdue payment from a higher power for early loss, fear, rejection and pain. I was taken from my mother at age 5, found abused and left in a basement, having been starved, unable to talk and obviously very isolated. I was placed in foster care and my sense of belonging to anything was gone. At first, I cried often for a sibling who was removed somewhere else. While I grew to develop relationships where I could, there was always something lurking and missing.

Continue reading A Lesson in Living

Fresh and Simple Summers

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Me and mini me have been enjoying every sprouting food market within a 60 mile radius this season and I love it. To me, nothing heals the mind better than love and food. Seeing the pride of growers, cultivators, creators and area cooks inspires me.  My life recently has been full of a lot of new colors, flavors and aromas. All of this has reawakened stalled dreams and brought new life even into my kitchen. What better way to celebrate this heightened sense of awareness and passion than with a simple, bright meal.

Continue reading Fresh and Simple Summers

Shedding Light on Forgotten Children

The last image I have of my mother is her sitting in a low chair, pregnant, with long straggly hair below her shoulders. I am maybe 9 years old, and she is crying to me. She is apologizing to me, she is promising me a new life, and then she is rambling nervously. Her eyes are mine, her hands even have the same texture. But she is so vastly different from my soft-hearted nature, she is starkly calculating and unnerved.

Even in my fear of her, I pitied her obvious weakness. We sat in a cell of some type that day, being watched by two social workers and a cop. I did not speak a word but felt hot tears nearly cut my skin as I tried to decipher my own feelings of hatred and fear. I saw her one time after that day and never again.

It is the stark image of her face, strained and nearly helpless, and the sound of someone kicking in a basement door that follows me sometimes. The smell of the musty air, the light being dim from a broken window, the cry of a boy beside me. And confusion. Mass confusion. Thankfully decades later, these memories are dull and they appear infrequently. They are sometimes jarred by someone’s touch, and other times, by my writing, my motherhood, and personal explorations.

This past week journalist Lisa Ling  gave viewers of the OWN network a harrowing look at the foster care system in Los Angeles in her documentary, “Children of the System.” The stories in the documentary re-opened old wounds, when  I was placed in foster care after being abused as a young girl.  In my advocacy writing, just as in my  parenting and all intimate aspects of my life, I do sometimes tread on thin ice.

Continue reading Shedding Light on Forgotten Children

Aren’t You a Sweet Thing

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Who hasn’t had a tough morning after? Nothing cleans the soul after a bad choice like a good brunch. It is my favorite meal of any day. Lazy enough to sleep in, early enough to leave the day wide open. With some simple ingredients you can wow that bad choice on its way out, or keep  it coming back for another round.

My smokey sweet potato hash is also a colorful way to keep your body on the right track.
This antioxidant and vitamin rich dish is easy on the eyes and waste. It is the subtle smokey cumin that adds to the antioxidant rich cancer fighting power:)

The mixture of beta carotene in sweet potatoes (go for organic, the skin is truly your body’s best friend) with Vitamins A, K, E, C, B in the spinach keeps your body in stasis, fighting disease like batman.

Even better, it is simpler than last night’s regret. Brown 2 medium thickly sliced sweet potatoes in olive oil and a small tab of butter. Make sure to let each side brown. Lower the heat and add two cloves of garlic, sea salt and two tablespoons of cumin. Throw in some bright red onion and some fresh spinach. Tear up four basil leaves and throw them in. Brown the mixture, gently turning once. Add some tomatoes, I prefer Roma. Then top it off with three organic eggs. On covered low heat, let the egg cook on top of the potatoes sunny side up. Yum!!

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The Tracks–Home: Daily Prompt

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The train rushed past my house every 27 minutes or so bringing millions of strangers to and from one of the largest hubs in the world, Penn Station. The noise of the train rocked my street and at times, shattered its foundation. It trembled at odd hours and to me always seemed magical. When the temperatures dropped, you could see small blue flames light up the hot tracks. It seemed this beating heart was always present.

Nothing is more extravagant, noteworthy, historical, romantic, nostalgic, and more like a house with hidden stories, than New York’s railroad system. To me its pulse housed all the “home” I’ve known. It sheltered my hopes for love and life and mystery.

I spent countless hours as a child climbing over the platform to sit as close as possible to the track. Other times I would hide nearby and imagine stories about the businessman walking in a hurry, the Muslim woman carrying a child..the homeless man struggling for warmth on a train car. It was all fascinating to me. Where were they going? Were they happy? Were they at their last stop?

As I got older I would sometimes ride the train to Penn Station or any other stop just to feel the train beneath me. To see the magic of a new neighborhood, to roam the streets..to let the mighty car pull me away from my own lonely thoughts. Some of the greatest memories of my life happened on that train.

Riding with a lover, all dressed to venture the city’s music— to navigate our souls and bodies. ( I can still feel the sting of his facial hair against my skin as we huddled in the corner of the train car). I can see the sneering faces as we laughed over the noise of the rumbling engine. Young lovers can be so disruptive.

His body was as strong and as powerful as the MTA car it seemed.

I secretly wished that ride would never make it to its final destination. The train sheltered us from life’s blunders. From the realities of love and its inevitable losses.

Writing poems on the Metro North train while crossing the Hudson..watching the river beneath me almost crash through my skin from the dingy window. Bringing my daughter on her first subway ride, all bundled up as a wide eyed baby..just looking out in amazement at the world rushing past us.

Yes, that train was home to me. And it still is. When I go back and feel the familiar rocking below me, see the strangers altogether as a family for one short ride–I feel safe. I feel hidden.

I’ve often wandered if my very elusive idea of “home,” will ever find me. By this age, I pictured myself on a rounded porch, overlooking the landscape, huddled in the kitchen over a pot of sauce, writing by the window…watching the leaves and our lives change. Finding peace in my heart. The house smelling like garlic, the warmth of candles, the hissing of a heater, the low toil of family life, mini me stumbling in for meals.. the security of the same strong, handsome face coming down our long driveway.

They are delusions long buried under those tracks by now.

And while those daydreams are simply, well… childish fantasy, the tracks past my early home are very real. They are waiting for me to step on and feel that long lost feeling of hope and love and maybe magic just one more time.

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What’s in a Name: Fostering Identity

 

Me and Mini me
Me and Mini me

When my daughter was born, I studied her face. It was in her little eyelashes and wide forehead that I searched desperately for a piece of me. I had and still have never seen an infant photo of myself and I was curious that my “first” biological relative would resemble me, a trait I had never witnessed. Over the years, the lack of relation that foster care emphasized, impacted me in different ways. Family trees that were empty, medical appointments with an empty page, the albeit odd tale every time I met someone new. A feeling of aloneness in the universe that nothing seemed to fill. The somewhat jealousy over friends’ family ties, positive and negative. The relentless search for identity through older men who generally wanted a flashy confused girl on their arm and not much more. So finally, here was mini me..the tie I wanted, the bond, the answer, the connection I needed. A big piece of a foster child’s personal history is always missing, regardless of bonds with siblings that come and go, or later, lovers and spouses. Adopted children do feel something similar, I imagine, but when you have also have a disconnected or abusive connection to some biological family, that estrangement is doubly confusing. It was one wave of delirium after another. But identity is not just in appearance, or a link in appearance though if you think about it, that is how we recognize connection. I was adopted eventually, and my adoptive parents died soon after. My identity was always changing it seemed, as was my name. Continue reading What’s in a Name: Fostering Identity

How Sweet It is!

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Mini me shows me how it is done! Her simple blueberry pie
is a healthier version of the usual sugar laden staple. We use nothing but fresh blueberries, honey, lemon juice, lemon zest with a touch of starch to hold our little piece of heaven together. This one crust version, is complete with mini me’s light wheat crust. For a sweet touch, she always puts a heart somewhere in our baking. Love. Love. Love.

Follow the Leader: Role Models and Foster Care

There is a missing link that is easily overlooked when discussing children in foster care. I spend a lot of time focusing on the idea of womanhood and just female leadership in shaping those children who do not have any role model, transient models, or unhealthy, abusive models. Male leadership is equally a driving force of success for children in care.

Me. the first year I entered foster care.
Me. the first year I entered foster care.

No matter the gender, children need leadership. It is my belief that both male and female role models shape who we become. Those ideals can be gleamed from either both sexes or just one. The idea of leadership, characterization, safety, sexuality, academic strength, health, mental wellness and humanity is found in this precarious balance of male and female-ness. Children need to witness all of these traits in role models.

The after-effect of a lack of these traits modeled in early years for foster children is tragic and astounding. The availability of these qualities to emulate, are the driving force of emotional development of the brain, of personality, and  an indicator of future personal success for children.

Strong, honorable men are not present in the lives of many foster children.  But, there is hope as I see more  male healthy role models coming out of the wood works in recent years for foster children. I want to see more.

Foster children are children that  have been removed from a biological parent due to physical or sexual abuse, drug addiction of the parent, severe neglect or abandonment. They are placed in temporary homes while the courts decide if the parent can be rehabilitated and the child can be reunited with family, or that the parent should lose all rights and the child can then be adopted.

I was taken from my mother when I was young, after being found locked in a basement, starved, burnt, abused and unable to walk and talk. I saw her for many years in supervised visits until she stopped showing up when I was 10. I was probably lucky that she did. Steady roles and leadership, male or female, were nowhere to be found.

My idea of women confused me as a child, I feared them or became unnaturally attached to them. I was still dearly attached to my mother long after she vanished. She was an unhealthy fantasy figure. These role models can shock the soul of children. It is imperative that “replaced” role models in foster care can outcast the poor earlier models.

Continue reading Follow the Leader: Role Models and Foster Care

Survival of the Fittest

A recent foster care case in Florida this month has many wondering about the abuse of children in the foster care system.  Six children were removed from a home after nearly dying of starvation, having been locked in separate rooms, covered in feces and abused for a long period of time.

 The foster parents had the six children in their care after they were abused years before. This situation and many others like it have advocates wondering how we can protect these vulnerable children.  It also has well-intentioned foster parents, mentors, social workers, psychologists, teachers and journalists asking, “what now,” when these cases come to their doorstep. How do you end the cycle  for these children? And what can you do when these children’s issues come into your home or office?

A blog  I follow posed a question by new foster parents that has weighed on my mind all week. They have two new foster children who were neglected and starved before entering their home. And now, the unexpected challenge is the “unusual” eating habits of the children. They are overeating, they are demanding more food than normal for their size and age, they seem continuously unsure of their physical and nutritional security.

This simple post  hit home for me. I was taken from my mother at a young age, after I was found locked in a basement, abused, suffered from severe malnutrition and was  unable to speak or walk. The challenges I and many others like me faced, were innumerable. 

When a young child whose brain is still developing is starved nutritionally many things happen physically and psychologically. The brain simply does not develop optimally. Stimuli response is thwarted, memory is disturbed, physical senses are interrupted, sometimes learning disabilities develop, and psychological “survival” instincts kick in full mode.

Once a child is taken from a food/sunlight deprived scenario, the mind reacts very similar to that of a released prisoner. It confuses day and night. Sleep patterns are interrupted. And the search for food and quench of hunger is heightened. These reactions to the natural instinct to hunt and secure  food and water are actually quite normal.  The long-lasting effects of this trauma can be mitigated.
Continue reading Survival of the Fittest

Motherless Daughters and Womanhood

As a child in foster care, nothing was worse than seemingly meaningless holidays like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. As an elementary school girl, being forced into making empty family trees and pottery gifts brought the sting of unworthiness and a not-belonging that was at times difficult.

Me. the year I entered foster care.
Me. the year I entered foster care.

I was put in foster care at age 5 after I was found locked and hidden in my mothers-basement abused, not fed, unable to walk or speak. I was found with other children who were also abused. I did have adopted parents for a few short years, but they both died a couple of years after the adoption.

So for me, as a child, the idea of “parenting” was elusive. I heard stories and complaints about tough parents from friends. My friends complained about rules, regulations, bad marriages and the usual identity crises of my female friends with their mothers. To me, it was a foreign land.

Having a past that is strewn with missing links can make becoming a woman feel like a bad carnival ride. Lines are long and the scenery is dizzying.

Through years of mandated court visits with my mother, I found myself finally at age 10, studying her for those few quick moments with her. She was so mysterious to me. She was a violent woman, she was a neglectful woman, she had allowed abuses against me and other children. But she was always smiling and playing the part of victim during those visits. Her skin, her hands, her hair were like looking in a fast forwarded mirror. It was challenge not to feel a hatred and love or pity for this elusive woman who was so transient and confusing. I cared for her but feared her.

It was hard to catch up to my idea of her. Once she vanished for good, my young mind created fantasies of her. Maybe she was some lost, desperate soul who really thought the world of me, if only she could get past things that happened to her? If only. But truth is, that following year she was long gone, and at some point so was the fantasy of her, or of a father or male figure. And so I navigated alone and sometimes the compass I used was shaky at best.

I identified myself with friends’ parents, only to sometimes feel the sting of jealousy when I could see I was not truly apart of their circle. I did identify myself with other women, foster sisters, and again found myself as a person apart from them. Without sharing the same childhood or environment it was hard to build a deeper connection. Their influences though, were invaluable to me.

As I got older, it was easy to fall into place in lover’s families. I was always the first to attach to someone’s mother, more so than the man who shared my bed. I reveled in this idea of motherhood, womanhood, long before I was a mother or a woman. I found it intoxicating. This idea of steadiness, of sometimes craziness, this idea of protectiveness; it was foreign to me. It was also the driving force of many dreams.

Me and my mini me, 2013
Me and my mini me, 2013

Becoming a mother to me was the pinnacle of these hidden wishes. Looking at mini me’s face when she was born gave me a purpose. It was not just the purpose of creating a life, it also gave me some type of lineage; a source of pride instead of pain. I finally had someone who looked like me, someone who would feel that sense of protection,love, discipline, fairness from me….just as I had sought as a child.

Continue reading Motherless Daughters and Womanhood

Sassy Shrimp Scampi

 

There is nothing quite as bright as the hue of meyer lemons hanging over the Amalfi Coast. And every time I make our simple lemon basil shrimp, I feel like me and mini me have escaped to a land where cobalt blue meets canary yellow. We can dream, can’t we?

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The healing properties of lemon are innumerable, almost as innumerable as new love. This week, I’ve  been fighting a cold that is wreaking havoc on my mood and my nose, so I needed to call in the big guns !

I wandered through a small city market this weekend and found some beautiful meyer lemons, some ginger juice, incredible pastas, herbs and some fresh lettuce.

For the moment, I live in a landlocked town:( And I truly can’t stand it. I have always lived near the water or in pretty close proximity to a coast. It is challenging to find fresh seafood here. However, the city market was abound with well priced  fisherman stands and I made sure to stock up on some fresh shrimp.

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For our simple lemon basil shrimp, me and mini me used the juice of 3 meyer lemons, olive oil, sea salt, white pepper and oregeno. This is our basic marinade . It is important to let the shrimp sit in the marinade for at least two hours. Then we drain ig. We lay the shrimp in a baking dish lined with olive oil, and zest 1 lemon over the shrimp. We then chop three cloves of garlic in a bowl with a half cup of planko, two cubed tablespoons of butter and 5-7 torn basil leaves.  Take the dry mix and spread it evenly over the shrimp. We add crushed red pepper to taste  and some  shredded fontina. Simply cook it at 425 for 15 minutes until the shrimp is cooked through.

This is a light dish and is perfect with couscous and a bright spinach salad! Perfecto!

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Handle with Care: Time to Step Up

In 2013, the state of Texas was startled to see the number of children’s deaths in foster care rise. The state passed legislation this month demanding regulations and oversight of foster homes. It includes stipulations that frequent home visitors be assessed, community relationships be monitored , that work, finances and mental health issues be looked at before children are placed in temporary homes. Some of these basic ideas are truly monumental. My hope is that other states jump on the bandwagon.

Me, a year after entering foster care.
Me, a year after entering foster care.

Several states have lost control of public and private sector social service systems that literally leave kids out in the cold. Florida felt the heat after two foster children who were unknowingly missing for several years, turned up dead. They suffered years of abuse from parents who continued to take stipends for their care after their deaths. New York, Texas, California, Florida, Alabama have all had very public tragedies unfold. In some states, “lower” level sex offenders have been found taking in foster children.

Very few states have made it officially unlawful to even place children in the care of parents whose spouse/boyfriend/son/daughter are sex offenders. What does this reabuse already do to weakened foster children?
The truth is the system is overwhelmed. With nearly 400,000 children officially in foster care in America, solid families are few and far between . The New York Times reported on a homeless foster child this winter living in and out of shelters in NYC. Her story is nothing new, but it was a startling piece on a loss of childhood. Displaced foster children are the face of homelessness in America. It is a distressing trend. They live on cots next to offenders, violent criminals, the mentally ill in some cases. And they are CHILDREN.

Children are put in foster care due to physical/sexual abuse, neglect, or because of a parent’s drug addiction. The intent is for the child to be temporarily placed until they can be reunited with a biological relative or rehabilitated parent. Oftentimes, that reunion doesn’t happen and children are shuffled from home to home.

I was put in foster care at age 5 after I was found locked and hidden in my mothers-basement abused, not fed, unable to walk or speak. I was found with other siblings who were also abused and left like dogs to rot in the dark. While my experiences were painful, they helped me grow into a better person. And more able to appreciate the chance to be a mother and have a relative/family of my own. They make me love stronger: I know the value of my life because I was nearly robbed of it.

I saw the shuffling of kids in and out of the system. Some are probably still on the street. Some are dead, some are in jail, but others are very successful. Some found their rock in foster care, had a school mentor, were successfully adopted or somehow left their ghosts behind.

Abused children are sometimes at risk for reabuse. Without the protection of a solid foundation they are often left flailing in the wind. While foster care is intended to be a refuge from instability; neglect, violence, sexual abuse, starvation, torture and even murder happen in foster care here in the United States. Sadly abuse happens even more so in biological homes.
Continue reading Handle with Care: Time to Step Up

Siracha In My Pasta?

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This week I tried a habanero latte, which may have been even too spicy even for my palette. But with a new fire in my life, I feel brave enough to try it all. Today was no different, I stumbled upon an open market. It is my favorite way to break in a Saturday morning. Well, ALMOST my favorite way but that is another story. 🙂 Amidst the foodie trucks, the indie booths and students was the silent roar of canons were booming in the background; you can get an idea of the region I am at for the moment. For a foodie, this town can be lackluster at best. But I lucked out today.
Amidst the usual finds, I found a fresh pasta stand that offered more than your typical fare. I love making my own pasta, especially egg varieties like
tagliatelle. Me and mini have not made any in a while, and I want to make more time for what I love. While pasta is getting a bad rap for carb haters..healthy carbs in certain portions are a vital energy source. They prevent your body from stealing energy from muscles and needed proteins. No one in my opinion should be kicking HEALTHY carbs in healthy portions out of their diet entirely.
Continue reading Siracha In My Pasta?

Protecting the Unprotected

A friend and advocate shared this post this morning about the manipulative tactics of child predators. It is something that anyone who works with children in the system needs to read. The traits listed are a personal reminder of the insidious methods of those who truly prey upon children in care.

http://swtimes.com/news/special-reports/sexually-abused-children-usually-know-their-abusers

Children in foster care are especially vulnerable to abuses once they enter the system. The nature of their circumstance;  no solid parental figure, transient homes,  and lack of trustworthy/consistent adults puts them at high risk. Some foster children only know abuse before they enter a new home and so when the cycle reappears, it is hard to recognize.

It is the job of foster parents, mentors, teachers, social workers and advocates to educate children and anyone who works with children about the malignant tactics of child predators. They are generally not strangers hiding in the bushes. Usually it is an adult or child that is trusted. By gaining trust, the abuser has easy access to the child.

The predator uses an intentional manipulation of caregivers and the child to gain access. Gift giving, over-attention, being in a position of high esteem, or simply being the only person who notices this child, are just a few ways that predators find a weak link. Being trusted by the family or community gives the abuser an open door. Even more so, when predators are trusted family members or foster family members, it is an enmeshment that is hard for the child to escape.

Pedophiles “groom” caregivers and children to believe they are a valuable asset to the child’s life. Then, in private, the abuser shows his or her true colors. Soon, the child is caught in the highs and lows of the depravity of a well-calculated manipulation.

Teachers, social workers, mentors, health care workers and parents need to be trained to understand the psychology behind the grooming tactics of predators.  Education is the key to keeping  vulnerable children safe enough to have a childhood.

 

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Some Like it Hot!!

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And I do like it hot! My palette has recently been re-awakened by the touch of Spring and an unexpected gift of hope .  This new intense color in my life makes me feel almost reborn. What better to celebrate this rare feeling than to recreate a simple dish loved in so many cultures that I adore.  Food can signal emotion, and this opening of flavors also signals an opening of my heart too.

Mediterranean, Cuban, Mexican, Portuguese families all have a version of a traditional light stewed fish. One thing they all have in common is they balance a light fish with local salty and spicy flavors in a dish with more colors than the Amalfi Coast.

Me and mini me spent some time experimenting with the balanced flavors. Its health benefits are innumerable; high in protein, fiber, high in vitamin C, capsaicin and other anti-inflammatories.

Simply brown any white fish, tilapia..Cod if you wish..whatever is fresh and cultivated in your own back yard. Please be careful when buying seafood; added colorants and false labels can really be deceiving.

Mini Me works hard in the kitchen!!!
Mini Me works hard in the kitchen!!!

We simply browned the fish in olive oil, salt and pepper it, and set it aside covered. We turned the heat up, added chopped onion, chopped stuffed green olives, salt, pepper, oregano and two sweet orange peppers.  We let the vegetables cook until they were translucent. Then added one chopped jalapeno pepper ( more or less depending on the heat you want), and two good handfuls of capers. We added in some cherry tomatoes, but you can use whatever you have on hand. Add salt and pepper to taste. Put the fish back in the pan, and lower the heat. Cook for 7-10 minutes until the fish is cooked through.

We made a simple wheat couscous as our side, with fresh spinach and tomatoes. The result is a dish that will surprise you in its simple direct beauty. And whose colors just may give you a little bit of hope for better days.  Mangia!!!!!

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New Traditions-Pizzagaina ( Really Pizzachiena)

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I always felt Easter was really the clean slate for your year, rather than New Year’s. We all make promises to ourselves in January that never really make it to the Spring. This year was no different but this Lent I found all areas of my life blooming in ways I did not imagine. New blessings deserve new traditions. This year, I wanted mini me to feel the old world tradition of Pizzagaina, but without the calories and fat of the traditional Neapolitan tradition.

Yes, Pizzagaina is the Americanized spelling of this  unique Easter bounty, and I kept it that way here because I changed it up quite a bit. For one, I wanted to lessen the calories and two, every single region and family makes it a bit different. And in some of the best Italian eateries in Little Italy and Brooklyn, you will find very different versions of this classic.

The traditional Easter pie uses egg, ricotta and a selection of soppressata and meats layered heavily. The result is a mix of salty and smooth flavors.  This is usually nestled in a thick butter laden crust. It is heaven..but not for the arteries!

Being that mini me is the only true family I have got,  it is monumental that I pass on healthy traditions that can spill over into her own life. I also want to fit into a bathing suit this season! So we made it our own.

We layered 6 sheets of phyllo dough, drizzled with olive oil and made a patchwork that looks like a basket in the center of a deep pie dish. For our pie we did use light ricotta, a teaspoon of vanilla, sea salt, two eggs, two torn basil leaves,  peas (yes peas), and some prosciutto ( the sharp flavor contrasts well with the smooth ricotta). You can add a variety of flavors to the pie..but keep in mind as you cut it, the colors and layers are really what make the dish pop. Then you simply wrap your phyllo around the top, brush with olive oil and then cook it at 400 until the dough is flaky.

Let it cool before you slice it!!! This lighter version works well as a brunch..but I have made others as a full meal or just a side. Not all good things need to be difficult. And like a new Spring and new LOVE, I hope the flavors make you blossom like never before 🙂

 

The Missing Parts

Me, a year after being taken from my mother and entering foster care, 1981.
Me, a year after being taken from my mother and entering foster care, 1981.

In my first years out of college, I worked at a newspaper and was anxious to be assigned anything that had any merit, anything besides the usual car break-ins my editor felt I needed to cover hourly. I had stories to share, I had things to unearth. I had research and gems I wanted to share!

The stories that gave me some type of hope were any that involved the welfare of children in the system. I was shocked at what I found as an outsider looking in, when before I had a bird’s-eye view as a foster child in the system. I watched my mother have more rights than myself through years of court battles.

To see a woman who looked like me, whose first name I share, who allowed me to rot in a dark basement, with no food, sun, who perpetrated and allowed others to perpetrate a violence and neglect against me that was inhumane, play the system like a fiddle! And me also! To me, I felt that learning everything about the system as a reporter, would bring me closure. It did not, but it helped me keep an emotional distance from those experiences.

I find now that in unearthing stories of friends who experienced this early on, who overcome it, who go on to live a life that is full of love, empathy, success and maturity..that we share a bond that outlives those trauma bonds.
Continue reading The Missing Parts

The Lighter Side

Many say they know how to do it, few actually know how to really make it happen. In the kitchen and otherwise, there are imposters running amok.  Nothing will wreak more havoc on an Italian woman’s soul than trickery extending to the kitchen. In American households, this treachery is everywhere and is very evident when many attempt the classic Italian American Chicken Parmigiana dish.

For the love of all things holy, please do not simply fry a chicken cutlet, pour on jarred sauce (which is hereby banned from your kitchen), and scatter some processed cheese ( full of fillers like wax), heat it up, and invite me over. It destroys every fiber of my being, well most anyway. While bikini season is basically over, I plan on hitting the shore this weekend, so me and my mini me made a light version to ensure I can fit into the tiny dress Id like to sport, if I feel like shaving my legs..we shall see.

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We used organic, farm raised, (no cage) chicken, and home-made breadcrumbs (simple! please do not use breadcrumbs that have a 3 year shelf life, some simple dried wheat crumbs, dried herbs, and spices are easy to put together..store them in the freezer in small ziploc bags), some fresh tomatoes, bright peppers, mozzarella, romana and fontina cheese. Light on the cheese, this is a light dish after all:)

All done...YUM!
All done…YUM!

I do not brown the chicken, I simply flour and bread it and put 5 cutlets (tenderized)  in the oven at 400, while I make my garnish of yellow peppers and tomatoes. We simply cook down 5-7 vine ripened tomatoes, olive oil, sea salt,  6-8 small yellow and orange sweet peppers ( I buy the organic bag of small peppers weekly and snack on them all week),  a cup of fresh spinach, with three cloves of garlic, 5-7 basil leaves in a dish next to the chicken in the oven for about ten minutes until they soften. You can also fire roast the peppers if you want.

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Mini me was busy making her school lunch skewers while I slaved away at our dinner, but she is always in the kitchen at my side! 🙂

Since this “garnish” is not truly a sauce, I usually add about one cup of fresh marinara that I  store in the  freezer (simple as well) just to keep the juices going. Once the chicken is done, and the peppers have softened, we add the mixture on top of the chicken. In a small bowl, we put 1/4 fontina, mozzarella, 2 tb olive oil, 3 basil leaves, sea salt, pepper, Romano, 1/4 ricotta salata and spread the mixture on top of the chicken. I reduce the heat to 300 and bake it for another 5-7 minutes. Easy, simple, light.

The spinach and pepper mixture brings out some bright flavors and is brimming with vitamins, antioxidants and cancer fighting agents. Phylicia (mini me) needs her pasta fix, and since I had none fresh and we were in a hurry, I used a dry garden variety. The colors were incredible, and  although they advertise a list of nutrients, you are far better off getting nutrient from actual fresh food rather than dried versions. Your body does not properly store or absorb much else. But, we used it anyway and were pleasantly surprised.  As you can see, mini me had her own agenda this week:)

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In Love with a Lemon!

Lemons get a bad rap. A lemon lot is a lot of dilapidated cars, and a lover who is a bad lemon, well..is a bad lemon, rotten seeds and all. But these jewels of the Mediterranean come in all sorts of varieties, more sweet than sour. It may be the sentiment of the large yellow bulbs draped off of the Amalfi Coast that make my Italian heart swarm with pride, but even if you have never ventured to the coast, they deserve high-ranking in your kitchen and your lifestyle.

Mini me!
Mini me!

Not only are they beautiful but also abrasive, and both are imperative! They have strong antibacterial, antiviral, and immune-boosting powers. Lemons aid in digestion and this makes them a top choice for simple healthy drinks and dishes to help you slim down. Lemons contain citric acid, calcium, magnesium, vitamin C, flavonoids, pectin, and limonene–promoting immunity and fighting infection like a ninja!

Me and mini me use lemons around the house, as part of our beauty routine and in so many of our favorite dishes. Last week we made Phylicia’s Amalfi Plate. A lemon chicken with tarragon, some couscous and a simple lemon olive oil dressing.

We brown 4-5 chicken cutlets in lemon olive oil , seasoning both sides with sea salt and pepper. Remove them from the pan, cover with foil. Next, brown baby portabello mushrooms, garlic, shallot until the mushrooms are golden bulbs. Then simply juice 3 meyer lemons, add to the pan with 1/4 cup of chicken stock. Add some white wine if you have any around. Bring it to a boil, then reduce heat. Put the chicken back in the pan until cooked through. Add fresh tarragon and lower the heat. Then we added two tablespoons of cream, and the zest of two meyer lemons. We used our homemade lemon olive oil for a simple fresh spinach salad. Phylicia then mixed up some whole wheat couscous with two tablespoons of lemon juice, one teaspoon of olive oil. Simple, bright and good for your every part of you, heart and soul.

Mini Me's kitchen beginnings. :)
Mini Me’s kitchen beginnings. 🙂

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Lovely Lemoncello!!

 

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There wasn’t a better surprise this week than finally mastering this beauty. It was a sultry treat for a special night!! A little Lemoncello, a little ricotta.. And a yogurt frosting made, light, full of goodness and unforgettable!

The Tao of Womanhood: Leadership..Pass it On

History’s strongest leaders rerouted their army when food supplies were cut off, they found creative ways to overcome hardship. They were respected, not just feared..and most importantly they sat across the table from known enemies and compromised for the sake of those that followed them.

Leadership is something we all need; as children and adults we need guidance..something or someone whose strengths outweigh our weaknesses. Someone who values our leadership qualities. For children who have not had a strong/moral/reliable/stable leader, such as former foster children, finding leadership as adults can be daunting.

Some revert to finding abusive leaders in relationships, just to feel safe. We all know the pitfalls of lack of permanency, abuse and neglect. However, former foster children also have the innate ability to be stronger leaders than the missing or abusive adults in their young life. It is my past pain in foster care as a child, that makes me a better mother and a better person now. This is possible for any former foster child.

Me and my mini me!
Me and my mini me!

To me, great leaders can reinvent themselves. They adapt to different situations with great stride. They come up with plan D when A, B and C fail. Most importantly, they are intelligent enough to know their own weaknesses, to seek help or self-improvement solutions. Leaders do not blame everyone else for their failures, they change their lifestyle to stay accountable to themselves through action.

True leaders earn respect by being personally successful, not just materially. Leaders stay in the game when things get tough, they are the last to leave under stress. And so they earn trust.

Former foster children are adaptable, they had no other choice. While other children were holding mom’s hand, some were stealing bread to survive. Others never slept for fear of who may come into their bedroom at night, but still got up and faced the world at age 7. Some walked the streets all night with no one calling them home. The safety boats and nets did not exist, and so they successfully navigated by themselves from infancy on through violence, neglect and chaos.

These horrible early experiences, which can reshape brain and emotional development, makes them more resilient to loss as adults. That pain can be re-harnessed into a positive sense of worth and leadership ability unequaled elsewhere.

My goal as a mother, given my childhood experiences in foster care, is to make sure mini me is a good leader as an adult and has the safety net to propel herself anywhere she wants in life. I think in many ways my past does cripple me, it does still keep me awake at night. I look in mini me’s innocent eyes and remember the pain I felt at her age. It is tough not to hold on tight to her. I am protective about who my daughter meets, where she goes; my past fears play a role in my close relationship to her.

But the past also has allowed me to accept things sometimes as they are, to try my hardest at anything before I give up, to pursue improving myself and to be consistent. I value people and am careful of what I discard. I have always been the main leader in my daughter’s life and I’ve earned her trust by putting other goals aside to be by her side every day.

I hope my leadership qualities, as a consistent, trustworthy, strong person stand out to her when she looks back on her childhood. By modelling this ability to be creative when life gets hard, hearts break,or dreams fail, I am creating a leader in mini me. And I hope she seeks a spouse who is a strong leader and respects her unique leadership abilities.

All I have ever wanted for her was to show her what I never knew; safety, security, and loving leadership.

The Withdraw: Daily Writing Prompt

The knocking in my heartw11-john-waterhouse-lamia
asked for one more fix.

His hot mouth.
The trance of pretty words.
Grand fantasies. Hope.

Just one more time.
To feel possessed. Owned. Wanted.
Needed.

Same ending.
Raw. Exposed. Forgotten.

The knocking becomes an echo.

—P

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http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/10/09/daily-prompt-addicting/

Not All I Can Give

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Me and Mini me starting off the New Year right and cold!! I love seeing her little smile as we squish a new friend in between us down the hill. Seeing mini me’s face light up makes the world feel right. I am so blessed.

This new year started off surrounded by people I love and by new people I had never met. While the holidays are generally a mix of gratefulness and a looking back for me, I took careful stock of the smiling faces on New Years Eve. It gave me hope for deeper love in my life. Resolving to love and live better, I opted to assess what I have in my life and what I need. This churning of ideas and desires in my head can be overwhelming. Realizations sometimes come to me at odd hours. I am still sometimes a scared little girl awake when the sun is still hiding. At other times, I am a woman of great strength, great passion and quite charming. This is a part of me I need to see more.
With the temperatures at an all time low, I think of the thousands of children who may not have the warmth of inner strength to draw upon. Stories of young foster children stuck in cold city shelters plagued me this holiday season. My gratefulness for the chances I have had as a former foster child, and the warmth I have in my life now as an adult, builds me up in confusing times.
My resolve this year is to tap into the reserve of strength I have and impart that strength on others rather than let ghosts of the past blur my vision or block my path.
Selflessness is the only way to feel alive, whether it be selflessness as a parent, mentor, advocate, teacher, friend, lover or artist. It is all a giving. This new year I need to take less and give more.

Attachment Vs. Detachment : Theories Vary

Rainer Maria Rilke discusses the incompleteness of lovers who lose themselves in others, without first finishing their self work. It becomes a whirlwind of attachment and detachment.

Decades of research shows early neglect or abuse hinders the brain from learning how to healthily attach to others. For children in foster care, early neglect and violence ( physical and emotional) can cause attachment issues for life.

These attachment disorders are also seen in adults with PTSD ( negative destructive cycles of reaction to stress ) or depressive disorders– and carry on throughout life until there is an intervention of some sort.

20140222-113356.jpgThe avoidant, disordered and disruptive attachments seen in abused children carries well into adulthood. These negative styles are also seen in the adult fallout with PTSD. The dissociative symptoms, self-destructive habits, impulsive attachments, the high prevalence of divorce, the self loathing and a feeling of being disrupted or broken — breeds a torturous playground of tragic attachment.

Healthy adults attach themselves to friends and lovers when trust is gained. Unhealthy attachments can be an immediate attachment to strangers, to casual friends, and to every lover. They can be attachments that are bound by emotional, physical abuse or emotional addictions.

Abused children will sometimes try to people please abusers and form an unhealthy attachment. They cling dearly to teachers, social workers, or even someone on the bus. This cycle can carry on into adulthood.

These unhealthy attachments are built on the hope of healing old wounds, and quickly become attachments that create more. Unhealthy adults attach quickly to those who can fill a space in their emptiness without filling in their own empty space, so they are complete in themselves and able to give love and receive.

The detachment in these cases is equally as damaging. Individuals who disengage quickly, who keep no support system build harrowing self-defense mechanisms.

In a healthy adult attachment, when the friendship or relationship ends, or a person dies–a grieving period commences. After going through a series of sadness, guilt, anger and acceptance..the healthy person regains inner strength. He or she finds a way to re-attach to support networks and begin anew in time.

In the unhealthy detachment however; fear, anger and insecurity drives the person to detach coldly. The friendship or person lost is erased quickly. They remove all memorabilia and quickly look for a new replacement.

Often times this detachment is self fulfilling.”This person can hurt me so I will push it until this person feels so unloved they may go, then I can say I was left and detach.” Children in foster care will sometimes push away healthy children and adults, for fear they will get emotionally scarred by abandonment.

Another unhealthy detachment is where one sinks into a depression and does properly go through grieving stages when a friendship ends, or someone dies. They get stuck. They are immobile.Teens in abused homes exhibit this by isolating themselves, attaching to street friends who may or may not be well-intentioned and to lovers.

It is important that in working with former child abuse victims or sufferers of PTSD that we teach self-accountability, offer cognitive therapies, and instill stable support by gaining trust.

Leaning on positive community influences can help, but without personal accountability one on one with a counselor, issues will go unresolved and worsen.

Most important is teaching them to release blame for things they could not control, while being accountable for their controllable behavior.

It’s about changing their own cycles that enable unhealthy attachments. Finding healthy attachment in mentors and healthy friends is the best way to combat the search for an unhealthy replacement.

It takes a lot of painful looking inward to move forward with a healthier life after abuse..Especially as a child when it is all you know.When the one person who brought you into this world beats, neglects, burns, beats, molests or starves you…trust is a long, long road.

I was an unhealthy attacher as a teen and in my early 20s. My first teenage boyfriend was abusive. Fortunately, I had friends who helped me release myself from that situation. I was attached and attracted to his attention, and I felt I could fix him. ( Didnt work). My experiences as an abused foster child made me think I could “right” the past by appeasing this man.

Me, about a year after being taken from my mother, 1981.
Me, about a year after being taken from my mother, 1981.

I attached easily to women as well. I remember feeling an emotional connection to one person I kept seeing on the subway. She said hello once or twice.. And I started seeing her as a mother type figure. I imagined very familial things with someone I did not know.

From then on every man I met was a knight in shining armor. I attached easily and ferociously. Detaching was impossible, I would get stuck. 99.9 percent of my intimate relationships since I worked on those struggles and closed the door on the past.. have been healthy.

When things have not worked out, it has generally been a healthy parting after years of work. With the exception of a couple of emotional pitfalls, I avoided that cycle or ran from it once I noticed it was not healthy. I would like to detach quicker but it is a process ! 😉

Now, when I do attach..detaching is hard..not because I get stuck–but because I am so careful with my heart that once it is given away — to even a friend, it is nearly impossible to forget. I am not careless with my emotion. But it runs deep if I let it get the best of me.

When underneath it all, we feel we are undeserving..then all the affairs in the world will not make things right. If we keep leaving jobs, then blaming others, we will lose a career. If we keep turning off the switch on lovers..we lose the new families we create. New faces will disappoint time and again.

When we are hurt and damaged inside, we need to seek counseling to heal. We need to point inward so our lives can be successful. And I know it is cliché but it takes a big person to seek counseling. Most do not. It is self accountability that is hardest to confess.

Yes, foster children do not deserve the lot they are given, I did not deserve it. Yes, survivors of sexual abuse do not deserve what happened, yes starving on the street as a child can make you a negative adult, and yes being left hurts. Going to war hurts. Losing spouses hurts. People dying hurts those left behind.

However, everyone deserves to give themselves the tools to stop using excuses and start building a full life from within. And then, we can all find the attachments, friends, lovers, family that helps us grow.

As mentors who work with former foster children, or children in the system, warriors, or other adults who are overcoming trauma, it is our job to turn on the light. Everyone is a work in progress and with the right support, anyone with any background , and any experience can live a full life with healthy attachments and security.

Life and love are so much more fulfilling when we feel safe with ourselves.

http://apt.rcpsych.org/content/15/3/172.full

http://www.parkerville.org.au/child-abuse/child-abuse-and-attachment/

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Love is in the Kitchen!

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Love is in the air and our kitchen this week. Can you spot the heart in me and mini me’s version of chicken pot pie? We lightened it up with a whole grain crust and roasted chicken ( which marinated overnight in rosemary olive oil and fresh lemon juice). Our pie was full of antioxidant rich sweet potatoes, garlic, carrots, a turnip, green beans and sugar snap peas. We cooked down garlic and red onion in olive oil and added our chicken. We then added the vegetables. Once it cooked down, we added flour, milk, stock, sea salt, pepper and some nutmeg! We put it all together under one (not two) of our easy go to crusts. A simple egg wash on the crust with some basil and we were set at 375 for 20 minutes. We felt the love!!!!!

Beauty: Daily Prompt

water 2Beauty was Wednesday’s
fire sparkling, carpet
kneading our bodies.

Arms stretched around
like barbed wire clinging to a fence.

Tears crashing, heart boiling over.
Beauty was his
Long legs tangled around me.

A soft green blanket and bodies
that did not want to sleep.

Nights secrets whispered.

Saturday coffee,
Sunday, Monday and Tuesday morning walks.

Beauty was moments becoming habit.

It was the water and window watching our
tragedy unfold,waves
shattering our shore.

Beauty
was the long look behind..
subtle warning that the wave
would recede.

—P

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The daily prompt was to use poetry or art to describe beauty or looking at something beautiful.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/10/05/daily-prompt-beauty-2/

A Mighty Good Man: More Men in Mentorship

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I was inspired today by some photos of a male friend who surprised a few kids and shared their school lunch table today. The kids were beaming, huddled close to his strong smile. I see photos a lot, and I have many men friends who are good fathers, but something about one of the photos made me think of mentorship.

As a former foster child, I have spent a good amount of my professional and personal life advocating for the needs of abused children and foster children. Sometimes life gets in the way and I have to work on things that have nothing to do with my passion. I tell myself to do more and more.

I feel a sense of pride when I think I’ve gotten through or helped someone who was in the same situation I was in long ago. I have spent thousands of hours of my life pondering what it is that abused children need to get that extra push motivation to love themselves and enter society as a whole person successfully.

Leadership is always the answer. Since I am a woman who was put in foster care at a young age, my answers for this strength came from within and from becoming a mother myself. My time with mini me is something I am not only proud of, but helped define myself and idea of family in many ways. Male leadership was not part of that equation or so I thought.

I remember one male social worker, who I saw on and off for a couple of years as I visited my real mother. It was a confusing, scary time for me. I was 7 or 8. He would run up to me with a big smile at me and ask me to draw him pictures when I would visit. I spent a lot of time day-dreaming about being friends with that man outside of court visits.

I imagined his wife and children as the luckiest in the world. I had never met a man who was so intelligent, strong, handsome or kind before and at such a young age..it overwhelmed me in many good ways. I thought of him many years after I no longer had pigtails. He was something in the back of my mind through many hard times and formative experiences. He still is sometimes.

But today, it was this friend’s big smiling face..and his excitement and pride at his afternoon with a few innocent children stirred me in a way, that I have not been moved in a long time.

I am ashamed to say that as an adult, I overstepped the gender role in any kind of mentorship. Women are nurturers ( which is why when they abuse we all feel a different sting–shouldn’t women be caring)? But the true nature of a decent man, is one of great strength. He is a pillar of family or social justice in a truly different way than a woman. Not better, but definitely different.

The world of mentorship for abused children or former foster children needs more men. The strength and character that good men can represent and provide is something everyone needs brought to the table.

Me, about a year after being taken from my mother, 1981.
Me, about a year after being taken from my mother, 1981.

In other volunteer work I’ve done, I always felt that my role as a woman, was to take care of..provide..help a child or adult up. Women are natural healers. In my volunteer work with service members, I found women in particular to be nurturing caretakers. But the powerful nature of a man in front of a wounded soldier garners strength. This is the same for children who have been abused by men or women.

A man with character, stability, strength can change the world of a scared child or at-risk teen in an afternoon. It gives them something to emulate, it fulfills a need for protection, in a far different way than a woman.

Children who have only known abuse or mistrust, who have been shuffled from home to home, young adults who grew up on the street, soldiers who find themselves alone when the world quiets down…they all need to witness the courage of a man.

A man with self-respect, one who lives honorably to his word, one who stands strong when things fall apart. One who does not run. This is what children in the system lack and need to see desperately.

Several of my readers are social workers, teachers, advocates, mentors…I encourage you to seek out honorable men to steer our country’s greatest asset and give them something to look up to, to follow and to seek out their sense of security.

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Winter Tagliatelle

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Us Italians know how to warm things up for the holidays. In looking at my traditional gluttonous Christmas Day gorge of meat laden pasta, me and mini lighten things up. ( Christmas Eve is meat free. Christmas Day, not so much).

Here is our winter tagliatelle, perfection in its imperfection, due to a pasta roller mishap!

Continue reading Winter Tagliatelle

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