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Archive for the ‘Grandparent’ Category

I have been pretty “quiet” lately thanks to the work volume all of the wonderful folks who have been stepping up to become sponsors for children and elders on Pine Ridge Reservation since the 20/20 episode aired.  I literally have not had time to write.

That is about to change!

This evening I called an elder to give her a sponsor for the 5 year old granddaughter she cares for.  The longer we spoke, the more I knew I had to share this story.  I’m sharing it because I am so far past angry I can’t keep this to myself.  It is difficult to type when all you can see is red, but I will give it my best effort.

[scrape … scrape … scrape … sorry, the soapbox makes a bit of noise]

I asked Grandmother how her granddaughter, who is in first grade, was doing.  She told me that the girl was happy but having some difficulty in school.  She was told the child may be dyslexic.  That will mean a struggle for her.

I told her I had a sponsor for the girl and she was very happy with the news.  We continued to talk as I confirmed the address information.  It was then that I began to steam.

This little girl’s family had moved away and left Grandmother with a trailer to live in with the girl.  If you could hear me, I would tell you to close your eyes and picture it as I describe it.  Instead I will try to paint you the picture with my words on this page.

The trailer is in a group of trailers.  It is very old.  Grandmother worries that the roof will come off in the wind that comes with storms – and in South Dakota that is often.  It seems that the wind is always blowing on Pine Ridge Rez.

The trailer has no running water or sewer connection.  They were using a nearby outdoor faucet for water, carting several jugs a day.  Some of the neighboring men “rigged” up the sewer pipe so they could use the toilet, flushing by pouring some of the water they had carried into the tank of the toilet.  HOWEVER . . . there was some kind of water line break in the area and the tribal water department had to shut off the water.  Yes, the outdoor faucet that they were using to obtain water is now dry!  The tribe has not made the repair that would allow the faucet to be turned back on.  Now they have to go to someone else’s home to obtain the water they need and carry it home.

Following the dotted line . . . or broken water line, let’s see the additional results of the lack of water and sewer connections. 

The most striking consequence is that Grandmother cannot get a propane tank without the water and sewer connected.  Is that important?  It depends on your perspective, I guess.  Do you think eating is important?  Do you think it’s important to have heat in the South Dakota winters?  Personally I think they are both things none of us would want to go without.  So how does Grandmother cook?  She uses a hot plate or electric skillet.  How does she keep herself and her young granddaughter warm in the poorly insulated trailer?  She uses several small electric space heaters.  The pair sleep in the living room.  Grandmother has hung a blanket in the hall doorway to keep as much of the heat as possible in their small living area.

Picture two old-fashioned thermometers, the kind with the bulb of mercury on the bottom.  One of the thermometers is measuring the temperature outside the trailer.  The second thermometer is measuring the electric bill.  As the mercury in the first thermometer drops (actually plummets at night) during the winter, the second thermometer’s mercury is exploding through the top of the stem like a volcanic eruption!  By spring, the electric bill will be too high to pay – causing the electric to be cut off and a $250 reconnect fee to be added to the next bill.  This is what will happen this winter as Grandmother tries to feed and warm herself and her granddaughter.

Are you beginning to get upset yet?  No?!  Okay then, it’s time for the clincher.

Do you remember that flimsy roof I referred to above?  That roof has another serious problem – it leaks badly!  When it rains, the water comes in through the light fixtures.  It comes down the walls.  Grandmother’s mattress in the bedroom can’t be used – it’s wet.  Even if they had running water, the bathroom would be unusable – the flooring and carpet is wet.  Besides, after her granddaughter got a small electrical shock when turning on the bathroom light to brush her teeth, Grandmother decided it was better not to use the bathroom at all.  So all bathing and tooth brushing and laundry is done in the kitchen.

I asked Grandmother whether she had sought any assistance to get the problems resolved.  She told me that she had.  She told the folks at housing.  A man came out and made one small repair.  He never returned, in spite of her calls.  Her district representative to the tribal council has tried to help her out but he has had as much success as she has had.

[okay, breathe . . . in . . . in . . . in very slowly, then out . . . out . . . out slowly, control the breath to control the rising anger . . . again . . . okay]

 

Is this how elders of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, the wise people of the Lakota, should be living?  Is this how they should be treated when they ask for help?

We ALL know the OST has no money, though why they don’t is harder to figure out.  But the fact is they have people.  They need to be training more people to do the very repairs that elders need and can no longer do for themselves.  The tribe needs to invest in their own vocational school to train plumbers, electricians, construction workers, carpenters, etc.  These trained workers could be licensed.  They could form companies and do work for an income.  They could also, in exchange for their education, give back to their communities by performing the repairs for elders for free, as a sign of the respect due to the elders.  The tribe needs to work at making it easier to do business on the reservation — especially for registered tribal members.

Lakota culture and values state that elders are to be respected; that women and children are sacred.  But it is only lip service that the tribe gives.  They spend more time with politics and nepotism guiding their decisions than the truth of their ancestors.

So I am left with the question of how I can help this particular Grandmother.  But I am also left with the bigger question.  There are many more grandmothers on Pine Ridge Reservation.  Many do not have the energy or ability to lobby constantly for the repairs they need.  I am trying to use the steam I am still feeling about this to brainstorm ideas on what would help.

If you have any ideas, I would love to hear them.  It doesn’t matter whether they are feasible or not at this point.  I just want to know that you think this situation is abominable and how you think it could be changed.

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I received a call from a grandmother on Pine Ridge Rez the other day.  She was calling because she wanted to know if we could help her daughter, who had only days to pay her electric or it would be shut off.  There are 2 adults and 5 teens that live in the home.

I think Gramma was a bit embarrassed because they have always been able to manage before.  Her daughter had gone to the tribe to ask for assistance but was told there would be no money available for this until November.  I unfortunately had to tell her that ONE Spirit, the group I work with in their sponsorship program, did not include utilities in our program because of the vast amount of money it would take to do that.  We shared my vision of a wind farm on the plains there that the tribe could build.  The tribe could then supply free electricity to all residents and probably still have electricity left over to sell back to the electric company.  What a relief it would be to residents of Pine Ridge to have free electricity!  Paying over $200 per month when you have no source of income or live on Social Security is a huge burden.  It would be a blessing for the tribe to be able to accomplish this for their people as well, a place where they could begin to rebuild the hope and confidence of their people as well.

She told me about her health, which has improved since her back pain was finally properly diagnosed and treated.  She told me that her daughter, for whom she had requested the help, had been diagnosed with Graves disease in 1996.  That surprised me, because her daughter is full of drive and works harder than anyone I know to help others on the rez.

Gramma also told me about the windows on her trailer (which I have visited).  Apparently one of the severe thunderstorms this past summer blew out all the windows on the rear of her trailer.  The weather, including rain, now comes in her windows.  She said that she had managed to get a board across her bedroom window; however it doesn’t cover the whole window, so rain still comes in.  I asked if she had talked to the tribe about getting help to get them fixed.  She said that, since the trailer was not “tribal housing”, the tribe has no funds to help with things like that.  She noted that she had also contacted a non-profit group that is known for doing work like that all summer.  The group, Re-Member, hosts volunteer groups all summer.  Their last group was last week.  They would not be able to help until spring!  So Gramma will have to go without windows until next spring unless she “finds the money” to hire a private contractor to do the work.  I’m afraid it will be a cold winter.  Unless Santa decides his sleigh has the room and brings windows.

I told Gramma that although ONE Spirit did not have the resources to run a program for utilities, I would see what I could do among my contacts.  Gratefully, we were able to come through for this young woman.

The daughter called me crying when her mother told her I had found a way for it to be done.  It shouldn’t have surprised me, but I am still a bit surprised when strong people cry.  The tears, you know, were tears of joy and relief, not self-pity and woe.  That attitude is something that never surprises me about Lakota women — they never show self-pity and they are always trying to help a neighbor/daughter/sister/cousin instead of themselves.

Lakota women are so inspirational!

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Actually, I guess it ought to be three wheelchairs, since I now know three women on Pine Ridge Reservation who require wheelchairs to move around.  There are many more but I am not personally acquainted with them.  But I know two different “types” of wheelchair-bound women.

Wheelchair 1

When we returned home from our trip to the reservation earlier this month, I had a phone message waiting for me from one of the women to whom I refer.  When I had spoken with her a month or so earlier than the trip, all was well — and she did not have to rely on a wheelchair to get around at that time.

This woman is a grandmother who cares for a teenaged granddaughter (who has a serious chronic illness) and a grandson.  She lives in a home with her spouse, an adult daughter, several other grandchildren and an adult son.  But she is definitely “in charge.”  She is the glue that holds the family together, as one of the children’s sponsors told me.

I returned her call and asked how she was.  “Pretty good now that I’m home from the hospital,” was her reply.

The hospital?  She had been unexpectedly hospitalized because of gangrene in her foot, a complication of her diabetes.  It has just been a toe that looked “a little dark” when she went to the doctor.  But it was more than that, apparently.  They brought a helicopter in to fly her to Rapid City Regional Hospital, where she spent the next two weeks.  During that time she had a leg amputated and got her wheelchair.

When she was leaving the hospital, they gave her a narrower wheelchair which she tells me fits through the doorways in her home.  Since she already had significant arthritis, they had already added a ramp to her home in the years before.  If she needed any further accommodations made to help her mobility, I had no doubt that this feisty Lakota grandmother would ask for them.

We spoke about the adjustment from two legs to the chair.  She told me that she is not “happy” about the change, that it can be frustrating at times but that she would manage.  She laughed when she told me about the groups that have been calling her with “support” for the depression she must have.  She told them she wasn’t depressed, but that she would contact them if she needed them.  She won’t, I’m sure.  She’ll “manage.”

The real reason for her call?  Not her own woes — at least, not directly.  She had heard from her long time sponsor who had told her she would only be able to sponsor her until the fall.  The sponsor, who had major heart surgery just a couple of years ago, was now fighting a battle with cancer.  She was worried about her.  Oh yes, and could I start looking for a new sponsor for her so she would have one when this sponsor stopped in the fall?

I wonder if need always trumps concern.  Probably.

The second woman is also a grandmother and diabetes was also the cause of her need for the wheelchair.  The first time I spoke to her she told me that she liked to sew and read.

We visited her on one of our early visits to the rez.  At that time she was living in an old FEMA trailer.  There was no room to get around in the wheelchair, with the worn, overstuffed furniture she had in the trailer.  There were no closets to speak of, so clothing and other items were stacked and strewn throughout the trailer.  She had adult nephews who were there at the time but did not seem the least interested in helping her get around in the cramped space with the wheelchair.

Now she lives in slightly better “digs” for a rather sad reason.  Her adult daughter, who has four children, was sent to jail.  I don’t know the reason and I did not pry.  The children needed someone to care for them while mom is away.  So this grandmother moved into her daughter’s small house to care for the young grandchildren.  It is now a bit easier for her to get around.  But she is not the type to ask for anything for herself and so she is not likely to have a truly accessible home.

Wheelchair 2

The third woman in the wheelchair is very different from the two grandmothers.  She is younger.  She is not in her wheelchair due to complications of diabetes.

It was about 15 years ago that this woman was in a car that was rear ended by a drunk driver.  I’ve written about her before.  She was paralyzed from the waist down and has been in her wheelchair ever since.  We first met her in her apartment, which is incredibly small.  The kitchen fits a small kitchen table and her chair with little room to walk around it.

The last time I spoke to her, she related that she has never been able to use her bathroom.  She cannot get into it with the wheelchair.  She must do all her bathing and toileting in her bedroom.  Of course, the bedroom is not much larger than her mattress, so it is difficult.

It saddened me to think of living like that.

It is very difficult to be handicapped on the reservation.  Most of the living accommodations would not “pass” ADA muster.  There are many unpaved surfaces.

Yet there are many handicapped persons on the reservation, diabetes probably being chief among the causes.  How do I know this?  One of the things I noticed on my last visit was how many homes have ramps to the front doors.  I guess it’s good that the handicapped person can enter his or her home, even if they can’t get around in it very easily.

I have yet to see anyone with an electric wheelchair, though I am certain there are some who would benefit from that convenience.  Especially someone like the last woman I wrote about, who has had to be in the chair for so long already.

I was in a wheelchair once, for six weeks.  I am unable to use crutches due to my fibromyalgia and I broke an ankle that required surgery.  I had to use a wheelchair.  Even in my 5 room ranch it was not easy getting through doors.  It was not easy getting in and out of buildings.  The toughest task was getting up a ramp in an arena when I attended a hockey game one time.  Obviously my husband wasn’t going to push me into the Ladies’ Room.  So I was trying to push myself up the ramp which was steep enough to make me struggle.  Thank goodness it was “Girl Scout Night” and a few scouts came along to assist!  They truly did a good deed!!

So who does good deeds for the folks on the rez?

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The title question was asked of me by my Lakota friend’s oldest daughter.  She was asking about her grandmother, who raised her from when she was a baby.  My Lakota friend had her oldest daughter when she was still a teenager and her mother had taken the baby away from her and raised her.  So in essence, here, granddaughter is asking a question about the grandmother who has been like a mother to her.

But you and I both know that things change in life.

Granddaughter now has her own 2 young sons.  She has gotten closer to her own mother (my friend).  She has a difficult relationship with the father of her children and his family is not welcoming of her or their children.

That’s your background, in case you are new to the family.

Recently, my Lakota friend, her husband and her sister had been living in a trailer that belongs to grandmother.  My friend’s oldest daughter and two sons had also been living there.  Grandmother is fortunate to have a new house that a charitable organization built for her.  She invited her son and his family to move in with her.  She allowed my friend and her family to live in the trailer that has been condemned as uninhabitable (see a prior post on this topic).  Then, when they did not pay the electric bill promptly, she tossed my friend and her husband out.

My friend and grandmother (her mom) have always had a contentious relationship.  It probably stems from my friend’s youth.  So I was not truly surprised when she tossed them out of “her trailer.”  But now she has done the same to the granddaughter she raised and her 2 great-grandsons!  Yes, that’s what this young girl was asking me about.  How could the woman who raised her just throw her and her sons out, to be homeless?!  It was a reasonable question for which I had no reasonable answer.  I could only tell her that she didn’t deserve it and that her grandmother had unpredictable for the 6 years I have now know her.  Personally I wonder if she is bi-polar or has some other mental health issue.  I know she drinks.  Enough said there.

So what does that mean for this 20-something mom and her 2 young sons (ages 2 & 5)?  It means she called me for gas money so she could pay someone to “drive us to a shelter at Rapid City and dump us off.”  The 2 little boys I sponsor now will be living in a homeless shelter in Rapid City!!!

I feel so helpless to help her!  I do not have the means to help her pay  rent and utilities.  I don’t have the money to do that for my Lakota friend, either.  So now we have 2 homeless families that we love and can do very little to help.

And the question remains:  How can a grandmother who knows how difficult rez life is just evict her own family and make them homeless?!  Why did she do that?

The answer may be as old as antiquity.  There was another cousin that returned to the rez from Rapid City and needed a home.  Grandmother favors that cousin.  So she has evicted the children she raised for this cousin of theirs.

It’s the old Tommy Smother’s sad refrain, adjusted for relationships.

“Mom always liked you best.”

It is one of the most difficult reasons for homelessness on the reservation that I have come across and it is common on the rez.  The shortage of homes has created a class of homeless people who have a roof over their heads only at the whim of a relative.  It is a group of people who are always one argument, one crying baby, one perceived slight away from being on the streets.

That’s a psychologically stressful way to live one’s life – always worried that the home owner/renter will get mad at you for something and toss you into the street.  It is especially difficult to understand for the young children who never really know the whole story.  They just bounce from home to home to home to . . .  Small wonder there is such a problem with hopelessness and suicide among the youth on the reservation.

I’ve turned this one over to God the Creator because I don’t have the solution or the answer to this problem.  I just love this family.

If you have any ideas or suggestions, any way to build more homes on Pine Ridge, let me know.

By the way, I spoke too soon on my “godchild’s” good news.  As often occurs in her life, she “shot herself in the foot” by backsliding and may not be released by the time we visit.  So my 12 hour drive to Utah and 12 hour drive back to the rez may still be on.  Yeah, looking forward to that.  Oh well, just more unpredictable rez life.

At least she has a roof over her head while she’s there.

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I’ve been writing a lot about the reservation in general and some of the people who I speak to in my “job” capacity.  But yesterday, when I spoke with my Lakota friend on Pine Ridge, it dawned on me that I haven’t updated their lives in a while.

I called my Lakota friend yesterday to get her oldest daughter’s phone number.  My friend had 4 teen/pre-teen daughters when we first met 6 years ago.  We had been assigned as sponsors for her youngest daughter, who was 10 years old at that time.  In 6 years, an awful lot has happened to this family.  They have moved at least 8 times; they have lived with my friend’s mother-in-law, mother, aunt and alone twice briefly.  Mind you, when I say “alone,” I mean my friend, her husband, various daughters and her 2 grandsons.  In fact the reason they struggled to live in “the little blue house on the hill” for as long as they did (I’ve previously written about that house) is that they wanted to be in a home where they only had their own “drama” to cope with, not the entire extended family’s drama.

What kind of “drama” are we talking about?  The only way to make it understandable is to take it person by person.  And in the interest of clarity, I will call the daughters A, B, C, D with A being the oldest and so on.

Daughter A:  was raised by her grandmother because my friend was only 16 years old when she was born; had a baby at 17; lived with her boyfriend and the baby at her grandmother’s; had a second baby at 20 years old; the boyfriend’s family accused her of having another man’s baby because the boy did not look like her boyfriend (the baby did look like Daughter A’s father, though); had her boyfriend get drunk and start beating her while she slept with their sons in the trailer; had her boyfriend arrested for domestic abuse; had her sons become ill from the living conditions they are in; allowed the boyfriend to move back in because their sons need a father; was given poor medical care for her son at the Indian Health Services clinic then investigated by child services for her child’s poor health (which was the result of the poor care); she and her sons are presently living with her mother in her grandmother’s old trailer because grandmother now has a new Habitat for Humanity home that she lives in with her son and his children.  More to come on that trailer.

Daughter B was 14 years old when we first met the family.  She was in school and trying to help her mother.  As she grew older, she fell into “the way of the rez” more.  She dropped out of high school.  When she turned 18, she moved to Salt Lake City to live with her father’s family for a while.  She would not listen when her mother tried to stop her or when her mother told her that her father’s family was not who she imagined them to be.  We should note that her father had died the year before.  While in Salt Lake City, her cousins encouraged her to shoplift for them.  When her rez boyfriend died, she returned to live with her mother.  She moved to a friend’s house, started drinking, got new boyfriend and moved in with him.  Those Salt Lake City lessons must have stayed with her, though.  The last time she visited my friend at the old trailer, she stole a box of feminine hygiene pads.  My friend had to sheepishly ask if I could send her another box since she now had none and no money to buy more.

Daughter C was 13 when we met the family.  She started running the wilder life about 2 years after that, before her sister.  Perhaps it was because she had been raped when she was younger.  But she stopped running wild when she began to have health issues.  She had dropped out of high school but was attending Virtual High School to try to get some education.  She was starting to get her life turned around.  She began having seizures and they never did find out the cause of the seizures.  When they were living in the little blue house on the hill, they had no running water in the house.  So she went to a friend’s house to have a bath.  She had a seizure while in the tub and died at the age of 16.

Daughter D, my “godchild,” the child we were originally assigned to sponsor, was 10 at the time we met the family.  She was a typical 10 year old, although she did get into trouble in school – for fighting and such – more than the average child her age.  Within a couple of years, she began to lie a lot.  She “blossomed” early, became sexually active, was raped, began to drink, became a chronic runaway, was in constant trouble and was removed from one school after another.  At 15, she became a ward of the state and was placed in a home several hours away from her family.  She was raped at that home by a staff member.  She is now in a facility in Salt Lake City – a 12 hour drive away from family in a good car – where she will stay until she is 18.  Her father’s family in Salt Lake City does not call or visit her.

My friend has not had an easy life either.  She was very much like her daughter’s when she was young.  She was sent to boarding school until she was 18.  Her mother took away her first child, Daughter A, when she was an infant.  She ran off to Salt Lake City, drank, married and had 3 daughters.  She got sober when she was pregnant.  He husband did not.  They divorced.  She had 3 daughters and no job, so she moved back to the rez.  She has never since lived in her own home, except for the little blue house on the hill.  She met her present husband and they have tried to improve their lives.  He attends college classes.  But without an income, it’s pretty difficult to pay rent and utilities and buy food and … you know how it goes.

So they are currently living in her mother’s old trailer, since her mom has a new house.  I have been in that trailer – 5 years ago.  The front stairs up to the door were rotted through on one side.  The most important problem was the floor just inside the door – literally.  It was a good thing my husband noticed it because if I had just stepped in as I normally would have, I have fallen through the floor.  There was a hole in the floor on the inside of the threshold that went right through to the outdoors.  What a risk with children – and my friend’s mother did have some of her younger grandchildren living with her at the time.

So what about now?  How is the old trailer holding up?  Mind you, it is still a roof over my friend’s head, but it is in my mind worse than the little blue house on the hill.  The floor is caving in.  There is worry that it will give way completely.  There are many more minor repair needs.  Another major danger is the Black Mold that is in that trailer.  We are visiting our friends in early June and I will see if I can get some photos of the trailer because, as they say, seeing is believing.

They also have water issues again.  The little blue house on the hill had no running water and they had to cart water in plastic milk jugs for almost a year until they got a water storage tank from the tribe.  The trailer had running water and a bathroom/shower.  Luxury!  The important word is HAD.  They were just recently informed that the water contains LEAD.  There are 2 little boys, aged 2 and 5, living there.  We all know how dangerous lead is for children!  So they cannot use the water any longer.  They are back to carting water in milk jugs!  They were also told that the trailer was condemned – but they haven’t moved because they have nowhere else to go.

But I think they’d better start looking — again!

 

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I called a young woman on Pine Ridge Reservation today because she and her family had just moved from another part of the reservation to one of the areas I serve.  I needed to get a few pieces of additional information in order to add them to my list.

She was a pleasant 23 year old woman who had 4 sons, aged 8, 5, 2 and 1.  The family (the young woman, her 32 year old partner and the 4 children) had moved in with her mother and adult sister.  I discovered later that they had been asked to move out of the house they had been living in due to allegations that her partner had been dealing drugs.  I did not find this out from the young woman but from the person who does my job in the area in which they used to live.  Oh dear!  The pressure to support your family where job opportunities are very limited pushes you to do unfortunate things, I guess.  I made a note of the potential problem.  The family already has a sponsor, who knows of the problem, so I will not have the question of whether or not to assign a sponsor there.

I paused for a moment to think about the young lady’s mother, who has accepted this man in her home along with her daughter and grandsons.  Was it a difficult thing to do?

I asked about the living accommodations, as I normally do.  That’s when I started to be concerned.  The home is a double-wide trailer.  They used to heat with propane before the furnace gave out.  They did call to have someone repair it but the maintenance people never sent anyone.  The electricity only works in half of the trailer now, so they run extension cords to the other rooms and connect space heaters they have bought at yard sales to heat the trailer.

I know you do what you have to in order to survive, but all I can see is the fire hazard.  The frightening thing is that I am certain this is not the only home on the reservation with jury-rigged heat and electricity.  I have been told there are no building codes on the rez.  It’s one of the questions I hope to ask when I visit there in early June.

To finish up, I asked if they had transportation.  Her mom, who does have a job, has a car.  They have to drive her to work and pick her up if they need the car for errands, doctor appointments, etc..  So they are luckier than some, not as lucky as most of us.

It bothers me that there are so many homes on the reservation with poor heating or no heating.  It really bothers me that there are so many I’ve heard about that are fire risks.  I keep thinking that the tribe ought to be more concerned about the welfare of the people.  I know money is tight.  But if you can pay the Tribal Council members as well as they are paid, surely you can do maintenance to prevent fire losses – material and human!  I know, I’m on the outside but still . . .

As an aside, I read an article by John Stossel of FOX News a couple of days ago that really got me steamed.  He was calling Native Americans freeloaders.  I plan to reread it and write about it in the near future.  But for the time being I will tell you that I have lost any respect I ever had for this man and his work.  He did no homework on this at all.  I doubt he has ever been on the reservation or done more than superficial thinking on the topic.  He is just one more pompous, arrogant windbag to me now!

I’m brushing off my soapbox as I get ready to write that one!

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I spoke with my Lakota friend today – the one we met when we began to sponsor her then 10 year old daughter.  Her daughter is now 15 and some months.  We have been friends for all these years now.

We are visiting the reservation in early June and hope to travel to Utah with our friends to visit the young lady who has been quite a challenge for her mother to raise.  If you are a regular reader, you know the many dramatic adventures she has put herself in.  She is now in a resident program in Utah that I believe has some hope of helping her with the issues she now has.  Traveling from the part of Pine Ridge Reservation in which her parents reside to the institute in Utah takes about 12 hours of driving.  That is not exactly convenient for folks on the rez who have unreliable vehicles and no gas money.  So we suggested the trip as out treat – stopping overnight so we can be refreshed for the return trip.  It ought to be an interesting drive.  One of the reasons I called my friend was to ask her to make sure that her daughter can have visitors once we arrive.  It would be very upsetting to arrive and be turned away.

I asked about other family members I have gotten to know many over the years.  My friend’s sister, with whom she has not had a smooth relationship, is now living with my friend and her husband.  My friend’s mother, who owns the trailer in which my friend now resides, is still a thorn in her side.  Her middle daughter, 19 years old, has moved out to live with her boyfriend (whom my friend dislikes).  She told her mother she was of age and could do whatever she wanted.  Her mother agreed, but said not in her house.  So daughter and boyfriend moved out.

My friend’s eldest daughter is the mother of 2 toddlers.  They live with her also.  So does the father of the children.  That young man had been kicked out at Christmas time after he came home drunk and started beating the children’s mom while she was asleep.  But he is back and behaving – so far.  That’s good for those children.

My friend’s other sister died last year.  Her children were mostly teens and young adults.  She also had grandchildren.  Apparently one of her children has abandoned her children, whom my friend has taken in.  The woman, my friend’s niece, was seeing a man who didn’t like children.  So she made a choice.  She took off with the guy and left her children behind.

According to my friend, the children had not been well taken care of before she left.  They are in need of serious dental work and other care.  I know she will see to it that they get what they need if she can.

Of all the drama, this is the event that has really bothered my friend the most.  I don’t mean to say the drama with her own children hasn’t been upsetting.  But she truly cannot understand a woman just abandoning her children to run off with a guy.  I had to agree with her on this.  There were certainly times, when I was the mother of young or teen-aged children, when I felt like just packing up and leaving.  Parenting is strenuous work!  But most of us ultimately put the needs of our children before our own needs.  This woman did not and it really has upset my friend.

I suspect this is not really uncommon in a population where many of the adults grew up without adequate parenting and thus have a need to be the center of someone’s world.  If you add in the alcohol problems many have, it becomes even more understandable.  It is far easier to do hurtful things when you have anesthetized yourself to the pain others will feel.

Still, I look at this from the perspective of the children who have been neglected and abandoned.  What issues will they have as they get older which will stem directly from this event?  Will they become promiscuous, looking for affection and love?  Will they have illness and poor health as a result of receiving poor health and dental care as children?  Will they become diabetic and/or obese because they’ve learned to drink soda pop instead of water and juice?  Will they take up smoking to calm frayed nerves – or do drugs to self medicate?  Perhaps they, too, will turn to alcohol as a form of recreation or self medication.  Will the suffer from PTSD as a result of the abandonment?  Will they grow up without hope, perhaps adding to the statistics of the reservation youth who have lost hope and attempted or succeeded in committing suicide?  I think my friends sees all these possibilities.  I think that is why it weighs on her so heavily.

But I think the hardest part facing my friend is when she has to find an answer for the questions the children will bring to her:

Where’s Mom?

Why did she leave me?

Did she love me?

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