It was February, 2020. I was escaping the winter chill in my little condo in southwest Florida. Guests were coming and going, life was good.
My daughter, Amanda, vice principal for a special needs school, called most every day from Delaware with an update. One Friday, she was especially emotional. “Mom, I don’t lose sleep when drug addict parents’ kids are taken away, but these parents have done nothing wrong. They just can’t keep them healthy enough to stay out of the hospital…” She went on to explain that the parents were of Guatemalan descent and communication with them was difficult. She was distraught. These two little boys, ages 4 and 5, had a rare disorder, Maple Syrup Urine Disorder (MSUD). It’s a genetic disorder and if they take in more than 10 grams of protein in a day, it can send their body into distress causing neurological damage.
Social Services put them in a foster home and before the end of the weekend, the caregiver called to say she couldn’t handle the responsibility. Their diet requires their food to be pureed and measured meticulously. Amanda immediately raised her hand and offered to take them in for one to three months until a solution could be found.
I was beside myself. I wasn’t home to help and not convinced this was a great idea. Amanda’s 90 year old father in law was also preparing to move in with them as he was bedridden and could no longer live alone. “How much can one household take?” I wondered and worried about the heartache that would surely come to her and her family if something were to happen to one of the boys while they were in their care.
Juan moved in first and Pedro joined him a few days later, after he was released from the hospital. We Face Timed every day and they met me, Grandy. Thank you, Facebook. The boys were well behaved for the most part, but their moods could change on a dime. Welcome to the world of special needs children.
Amanda gave up her weekly yoga class and cross fit trainings. She sacrificed her Friday nights out with her husband and fun times with friends. My granddaughter, Maddy, a senior in high school, jumped in to help and they made a heck of a team.
March 1, 2020
My granddaughters, Lexi and Haley, came to visit. We had a great time beaching it and my great grandson, Zay, loved going to “Grandy Beach.” We had an awesome time bonding. I even got to babysit one nights so the girls could go out for karaoke. When it comes to singing out loud, I’m better off staying home. Besides, it gave me one-on-one time with my littlest guy. They left and went home. I was thrilled that he would most likely remember me when I got back to Maryland in a few months.
March 12, 2020
Then, covid began to rear its ugly head. I was not due to go home until mid-April, but packed up everything and headed north on March 15, just beating the spring-breakers. Good timing for once.
I stopped in Savannah to visit four of my ten grands and for the first time, was fearful of hugging them. I stayed for a few days and realized I had no idea when we might be together again. I don’t think the kids really understood what was happening. None of us really did.
Once home, I went to the grocery store and there it was, the Armageddon of empty shelves all through the local Walmart. I bought what was available to stock my empty fridge and pantry. Once done, I headed to Amanda’s house. I had to meet these little fellas. Since I was in the 65 and Older Club of covid, I had to limit my contact. We lied to the little guys and told them “Grandy’s sick,” so I kept my distance, but hugged them with my heart as best I could. They hugged me right back from across the yard.
I went into quarantine along with the rest of the world. I was home alone, but closer in miles to the ones I loved. Dorothy was right, “there’s no place like home,” especially during a pandemic. It was uncharted waters for all of us. I watched the news conference every night and took hot baths to ease the stress of being alone in a pandemic and saying goodbye to a long term relationship.
I yearned to connect with Zay again, but covid had other plans. I was a Grandy with nobody to hug. Right then, the world was full of grandparents just like me. We all had empty arms and sad hearts.
I started having socially distant dinners on my deck with Zay, Lexi, Clarke, and Maddy (Amanda’s children) once a week. I continued my lie of “Grandy’s sick.” Poor Zay wasn’t permitted to hug me. It broke my heart when I saw the confusion come over his little face. I went along with this self-denial, but after a month or so, I threw caution to the wind. I hugged him anyway.
June 16, 2020
Once summer showed up and Assateague Island National Park opened, I made a bee line for my favorite place. The sunshine kissed the water and the ponies greeted me from the marshes as if I’d never left.
Amanda and I decided to take the boys to the bayside of the island where the water is warmer and calmer. She cautioned me that they might not like it. How could anyone not like it?
They pulled up in the parking lot. Juan and Pedro hollered, “Grandy!” when I opened the car door.
“Who’s ready to go to Grandy Beach?” I asked and they jumped out of their car seats donning their beach hats, bathing suits, and water shoes. They were adorable as we held our breath with the hopes they would acclimate. We knew they might run screaming to leave, but, it couldn’t have gone better. They were like any other kids I’d ever seen at the beach. The only time they complain is when it’s time to leave and we’ve cured that with the promise of “Grandy Ice Cream,” aka, snow cones.
Zay was able to join us when Lexi didn’t have to work at the day care. The three played just like the cousins they are. You see, cousins aren’t just blood lines. They’re a connection called, “love.” You just have to open the door and let it in.
July 15, 2020
The summer was going by fast, and it was almost mid-July, my favorite month. We were in Phase 2 of the restart of our economy and lives. Since I was on the lower edge of the 65 and Older Club, I ventured out, but not without being super careful. Yes, I was now a bona fide germaphobe, only not without cause. Although I’d retired from a Fortune 500 chemical company, I still couldn’t get them to sell me a case of hand sanitizer or table wipes. Go figure.
Just when we were beginning to figure out the world of covid we found ourselves in, George Floyd had been murdered in late May. The tone and direction of our conversations changed. Talk shows went from trying to be entertaining, to somber. Ellen went from being amusing to incredibly upset about the state of affairs with regards to racism. Her entire tone changed. As did the world’s.
Confederate statues came down, some destroyed forever. For the first time, I understood how a black person might feel looking at a statue that honored someone that fought to suppress them. My family had deep southern roots, including the middle name of “Jackson” in honor of Stonewall. It is the middle name of my grandfather, father, brother, and grandson. You see, my family hails from Alabama, Georgia, and the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and Maryland. We were families that fought for and against one another during the confusing times of the Civil War. Little did I know when I wrote my book, “Stuck in the Onesies,” all those years ago, how relevant it would be today. While covid kept us hidden behind our masks for our physical health, George Floyd helped us to rip off the mask of racism that many still hide behind today.
As if losing some of the honor the name, Jackson, held for my family, another name changed as well. My dear Washington Redskins had to go and change their name thanks to pressure from Nike and FedEx. My family tradition of rooting for our home town team, the Washington Redskins was now over. If I ever get to Heaven, my mom’s gonna smack me upside the head for letting that happen (if you’ve read, “Stuck in the Onesies,” you know I’m not joking). I remember thinking in 2019, that we finally made it through an NFL football season without someone screaming for the Redskins to change their name. Never say never. 2020 can make just about anything come to pass.
In retrospect, I realize that the “prejudice” that was passed down from generation to generation in my family was inherently wrong. It was an acceptable dislike. As I matured and life showed me how love can right many wrongs, I came to know that it was never agreeable to accept disliking someone because of how they looked. I guess I just thought the rest of the world had learned the same lesson I had. When the mask of racism was ripped off, I realized my theory was wrong.
Juan and Pedro enabled me to break free and move forward during covid. They brought me smiles every night at our Facetime bedtime visits. Covid had given me pause, shown me that not only can I wait and be patient, but I have no choice. Maybe covid does have a purpose for me. He’s helping me to learn patience, although some days I’m better at it than others. I’ll not give in to covid’s prescription of fear, but am trying to embrace its lesson of patience.
July 18, 2020
One Saturday during a Grandy Ice Cream visit after the beach, a little two year old boy came up and started to communicate with Juan and Pedro. All that was needed was the universal sign language of love and acceptance. They played tag and giggled at one another. It was apparent that all of them missed interaction with their peers. That necessary communication with another human being of our own size and understanding.
Chasing each other, giving each other high fives, Juan’s brown skin covering over Aiden’s pale white hands, my heart was reminded of how simple life really is. Love covers a multitude of sins. The sins of our fathers may overshadow ours, but do not have to consume either “side.” There are no sides. We are all human beings in this life together. We’re on the same boat, folks.
July 26, 2020
Amanda managed to find good home care for the boys for six nights and we and took off to the Outer Banks for a secluded beach house with a pool. It was such fun to see her relax and have fun with no responsibility. We Facetimed with the boys a few times a day and joked that they must know what we’re up to. Every time they saw us, we were wearing beach gear. If they knew, they didn’t let on.
When Amanda arrived home, Juan and Pedro were beside themselves with delight. She sent a picture of Pedro who had pulled a chair up to the kitchen counter and sat playing on his iPad while Amanda put away the groceries. He wouldn’t let her out of his sight.
We took Juan and Pedro to Grandy Beach the next day. They were excited to see me, but it was obvious how in love they were with Amanda. Pedro hugged and kissed her repeatedly all day long. Their affection always makes my heart sing, but this time, it made me realize how much of a family we had become in one short summer.
August 4, 2020
In just a few weeks on September 1st there will be a family court hearing. It’s only a month from now and the boys could very well be given back to their parents which has been our goal all along. We just didn’t know how hard it would be to let them go.
So today, I woke at 7:40 AM to my phone sounding a beep, beep, beep, alarm. Trouble was, I hadn’t set an alarm. I checked my phone and there were tornado warnings in the area thanks to Hurricane Isaias. I hate tornadoes. I don’t hate many things, but that’s one of them. I’ve often joked that I had watched, “The Wizard of Oz,” too many times. Living in a resort area, you become accustomed to preparing for a hurricane and you can get out of its way, but tornadoes, nope. Instructions said to go to the basement. Whoops, I don’t have one. The best shelter I could come up with was the bathtub, but I turned on the TV instead.
My granddaughter, Lily and her friend, Haley, had been visiting for a few days and were planning to head back to Georgia that morning. Their plans were delayed when the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel closed due to high winds. We ate my famous home fries breakfast and checked weather and tunnel reports constantly. The tunnel reopened and much to my chagrin, they drove away.
Not thirty minutes after they left, I heard a thud. I thought a plant on the porch had fallen over, but instead it was a huge limb from a forty foot tree next to my house. The good news was, it fell parallel to the porch and shed, doing no harm.
I love the trees in my yard…especially now that I have a landscaper that takes care of picking up its leaves. The first thing I worried about was how much shade I would lose on the porch. What a princess I am.
When everything was over and the sun was back out, you would never have known Isaias had been here but for the leaves, sticks, and huge torso of a limb in my side yard. I sat on the porch and here came the yellow monarch butterfly that lived in my yard. I had seen him every day for a week now and here he was again. It felt like he was telling me something. We both were protected and survived. I’ll draw my conclusion, you can draw yours.
Patience has never been my close friend before. He has always come and gone on a whim. Now, he’s taken up residence in my life, like it or not. Sometimes I try to ignore him, but he sits on my shoulder with not-so-gentle reminders that covid still lingers. We don’t know how the Juan and Pedro situation will end, but we do know this. We now have Hope and she’s a welcome visitor.
As September 1st approaches, I realize my life could look much different. Juan and Pedro might be back with their parents and I could be left on the outside trying to look in. I pray daily for God’s will to carry all of us through and I know it will.
Whatever happens, I know that my Guatemalan grands will be just fine. I often wonder what goes on in their minds as their days carry on. It’s mostly happiness and that’s what draws me to them. An innocence that is unfamiliar to most of us humans. They have an angel like quality that is here to teach us something so much better than we could ever dare to imagine.
Tonight, my phone will soon be ringing and the boys will be looking for my kitten, “Grandy Kitty,” to make them laugh. We’ll sing, tickle, and tease each other over the phone. Laughing all the way till we sing Jesus Loves Me and then recite “Now I lay me down to sleep.”
August 26, 2020
So, today, I picked up the boys and Breanna, the boys’ home health care aide, and we went to get Juan and Pedro’s blood work done at the hospital. As soon as we turned into the parking lot, Pedro said, “Doctor!” This kid knows more than we give him credit for. We did the registration paperwork and waited for the DFS representative to arrive. The boys were delightful through the registration process. They played quietly saying hello and goodbye to just about everyone that walked through the lobby. It’s funny, they can solicit smiles from behind a mask faster than anyone I know.
Amanda had tried to prepare me for the worst when it came time for blood to be drawn. She described the “team” might have to come in and basically, swaddle Juan so he couldn’t move while they drew his blood. I took Juan in first at Amanda’s suggestion as he was bound to have the worst reaction. “He turns into a gremlin and there’s nothing you can say that makes it any better.” She was right.
It broke my heart to sit there with him knowing he was watching every move the nurse made. His young mind knew nothing but fear at that point and I could not say anything that soothed him. His memories of hospitals and needles took over. That day, I felt like I lost a bit of Juan’s trust in Grandy. We consoled them with Grandy Ice Cream from Dunkin on the way home, but they didn’t indulge. While they didn’t show any signs of distress, they couldn’t drink their Coolattas. I put them in the freezer for later.
Even though there’s been heartbreak to deal with during covid, fear, and all that negativity that comes with everyone’s opinions, I’m smiling more thanks to Juan and Pedro. My weekends with them at Assateague and bedtime Facetime fun, have brought me through this awful chapter of covid and I’m grateful. I know with all my heart that whatever happens, God has got this. This family is His creation. The one the boys were born into as well as the one that has adopted them into their hearts.
Driving up Route 13, it occurred to me that September 1st was this coming Tuesday. You see, I’m guilty of ignoring September’s arrival because that means that summer is really just about over. So, I didn’t see it coming.
I didn’t realize that come Tuesday, I might not see them again. No more Grandy Beach, Grandy Ice Cream, or Grandy Kitty. I’ve prayed so much for their mom and dad, for their strength and fortitude. I can’t imagine having my children taken away. I don’t know how one gets through that. At first, all I could think about was how distraught their mother must be, and didn’t realize then how tangled up my own heart would become. Now, I need to pray for myself, but I know I don’t need to. I know God is in control. That’s how the boys got here to begin with.
August 28, 2020
So, today, we met with the parents, DFS, and CASA. I sat in the background, after showing up late (long story and doesn’t make me look very good, so we’ll skip it for now). It appeared their little home had not changed much since the boys left. A box of their toys sat next to a Pack-n-Play in the living room. Juan and Pedro truly did resemble their parents, Pedro looked like Dad and Juan, like Mom.
I took notes for Amanda. There was great communication between her and the parents for the first time. This new interpreter was so much more accurate and insightful than any other. Many interpreters don’t pick up or know the nuances of things such as medical terms, not generic to normal everyday language. Anyway, today it was much better than ever before. I think Mom has some challenges, but I think she can do it.
During covid, we discovered that most times a liver transplant can cure the Maple Syrup Urine Disorder. What a transformation this would be for Juan and Pedro as well as his parents. They could eat like normal kids and actually enjoy sitting down for a meal or grabbing a quick snack. Can you imagine trying to keep your child from eating something off a platter at a party? We’re praying for a solution that works for everyone. Stay tuned…
August 31, 2020
Tomorrow, a judge will decide where the boys will live. I am confident that God is in control and the right decisions will be made. It will be tough for all of us in one way or another, no doubt, but with prayer and faith, we know that we will all survive. I recently read an excerpt from “My Grandfather’s Blessings” by Rachel Remen, “In the depths of every wound we have survived is the strength we need to live.” God’s got this.
They will survive. I know I won’t walk away and neither will my daughter. Juan and Pedro are here to stay in our hearts forever. These boys have brought smiles to us countless times in this dark time of covid. Only love can trump covid or any other stumbling block along life’s way. I’m no longer #stuckintheonesies on this one as I was just a few days ago. Juan and Pedro are going to be just fine. And so are we.
So today, I saw the first golden leaf fall from my trees in the back yard. Fall is just around the corner. Normally, I dread it, but this year I am just so grateful. Grateful for the Summer of Juan and Pedro.