Then there’s that time the baby stops breathing right as you arrive home at the end of the day, but everything is fine because the police are already scheduled for Family Home Evening.
The baby is fine, because of course she is, but it was another scary one.
Scary like rescue breaths got her coughing so hard she coughed up her ng tube, so that it was hanging out of her mouth but still in her nose and taped to her cheek. Scary like it scared her, too, and choked her so she threw up everything we spent all day getting into her. Scary like it took too long to get her back, and I was glad the police were there, and I cried when she finally gulped for air.
We cleaned her up, rocked her until she felt better, and then she ran across the street (with Papa) to play with her year old neighbor as if nothing happened.
Because this is our life, with a baby who has no airway, or at least a small airway that sometimes collapses in the middle of real life.
Know what else is real?
Five special needs kids adopted from foster care who are terrified of the police.
Unfortunately for them, their adopted Mama (me) is a therapist and chaplain, so I know the best thing to do is just invite the police on over so we can talk about it.
Because what else can I do?
And when better time to do it, than now while I can hold them safely, instead of waiting until they are grown and beyond my reach?
The kids even let them in the door, since they got stickers.
They even made this video in response, to teach other kids about racism and prejudice and privilege:
But we also talked with them about the impact of using drugs, and how it has already impacted them via their biological parents, and even all the problems the baby now endures.
You all were born addicts. You cannot experiment even once without being hooked. You have to decide now not to do drugs. You need to understand now why it is so important to protect yourself by staying away from drugs. Choose now.
If our children try drugs, we will lose them, just like that.
And I work the emergency rooms, and know that the kids coming in for meth crises these days are 9 and 10 and 11 years old.
But we take the power away from those fears by confronting them directly, and we talk about it openly, and make plans for staying sober and being safe.
It doesn’t mean they will, but we will have known we tried all we could, and they will know what resources to use if they ever need help.
We even show them this video, often, in hopes of helping them understand:
And we talk about their very personal stories of how drugs have impacted them and their biological families:
Remember when your dad threw you up against the wall? He was using drugs.
Know how your mom can’t stay out of jail? It’s because she keeps taking pills that are not hers.
Remember how your parents were living out of a van? That’s because they blew up their house trying to make meth.
Know how your mom and stepdad were always screaming and hitting? It’s because they were doing drugs.
That story about you being locked in the trunk? You were in the trunk while your mother was prostituting in the casino so that she could buy drugs.
Sweet baby, who fights for every breath, it was cocaine and alcohol and who knows what else that caused all the structural damage that makes her fight to stay alive every single day and hour and minute.
But they don’t put those pieces together without us explaining it.
They just remember flashes of uniforms, loud voices yelling at the only parents they knew, and being “stolen” from home.
How am I supposed to teach my adopted-from-foster-care children that the police can be community helpers and that those scary experiences were for their own safety?
How do I keep my brown daughters safe from white police in a town that (barely) prayed its way through a shooting, when other cities haven’t yet been able to? What if this isn’t the safe place where they live someday? What if we live somewhere else, or they do?
How do I keep my son with autism calm in front of flashing lights and loud sirens and shouts from urgent voices trying to protect him?
How do I keep my brown-skinned daughter safe when she is Deaf and cannot hear directions given to her in earnest by these community helpers?
How do I keep my son safe, when cerebral palsy means he cannot lift his arms high in the air if he were ever asked to do so?
How do I teach any of them that despite everything, that no matter what we are still learning, that all of us can work together as friends and helpers? How do we learn from each other to bridge these gaps, to smooth the waters, to prepare them now in safety before they are in crisis when they turn 15?
How do I actively participate in my community in some tiny way to change the world, much less to make the future better for my own children?
The only thing to do was to invite the police into our home.
Dialogue, I said to the children, is when we talk with others so that we can better understand each other.
And so we did.
We invited the police into our home tonight, and shared with them the scary memories we have of police experiences in the past:
My other dad threw me against the wall, and so my ears turned off and I never heard any sounds after that, but I could tell the police were yelling at my other parents, and that was really scary because they looked very mad and I did not know why I stopped hearing.
My parents locked me in a van at the casino, and I broke out of the van like Spider-Man because it got hot in there, but then the police arrested my dad and I was scared except then the police gave me some clothes and bought me chicken nuggets so I thought they might be the good guys.
I just know the police took me away from my mom. I didn’t know why. Now I know why, but I didn’t know then, so sometimes it still scares me when I see the police.
Yeah, I am only four, and I know that when you see the police, you are supposed to turn the other way and hide your car so they can’t find you.
I just remember it being dark when the police came. I don’t want to talk about it.
That’s all my children know about the police.
Except for when kids at school talk about shootings, and say police are bad, and say terrible things because they are scared, too.
And some of them should be.
But my children got adopted by me, and we have learned as a family that we can do hard things.
And one of the hard things all of us have to do almost every day? Face our fears.
We let Anber go first, at least until Kyrie took over, but Anber went first because she was the most scared. She was very proud, though, to be the first one to sit in the police car, and maybe felt a little more brave with her sister sitting next to her. Kyrie was just ready to take off.
Anber was so little when she was picked up by the police and taken into state custody, that all she remembers of being locked in the trunk is it being completely dark and then the lights flashing. So tonight she got to be the one to turn on the police car lights and see how they work. She was so excited! We were so proud of how brave she was!
Barrett remembers everyone screaming when the police came. We talked about how when people are in a hurry to keep everyone safe, they sometimes shout directions really fast and move quickly because it is so important to be sure people are safe. We compared it to calling the ambulance for the baby, and how the EMTs move so quickly, but that their urgency is because they are there to help us – even if we have to shout for them to stay in their room so that everyone is safe while we are all paying attention only to the baby. This made sense to Barrett, and because he remembered the shouting, the police let him be the first to talk on the speaker! He pushed that button and the whole neighborhood rang out with a resounding “HI, PAPA!” that bounced off all the houses! It was amazing!
Kirk remembers feeling out of control, and hurt, and very victimized. What helped him most was knowing what all the buttons were in the police car, how they worked, and trying everything out. He really played for a long time, and was able to connect this to positive memories from one set of good foster parents he once had where the dad was a policeman, too.
Mary wanted to play with the lights, and see all the different kinds of lights she could do. She tried them all, and had a blast! She asked good questions about all kinds of different things the police to do help, from pulling cars over to helping in emergencies to making sure people don’t shoplift.
Alex, being Alex, naturally had the most things to ask, as well as the most things that were not accurate information. We worked on untangling some of these by giving accurate information, like explaining the different tools the police use and how the safety vest works to protect them. For Alex, the best exposure we could give him was full blast: putting on all the lights and the sirens, and having him stand there and feel it and be able to stay calm and still follow directions. He was such a trooper, and he was rewarded famously by getting to play with all the different siren sounds.
I tried not to cry when thanking the police for coming, because they were so very patient with us and so very kind to the children. Each child got a sticker, and after trying out the police car, each child also got a little Frisbee. They got exposure to the police as helpers and as friends, but also serious talks about safety and following directions and not using drugs. They got to share some of their trauma stories from the past, but also see in the daylight and in new context that the police were their to protect them – which Alex testified of from remembering when the police came to his adoption (covered on channel 6).
An unexpected blessing came as the neighbors gathered. Only the children came close, and not without a great deal of prompting on our part. The children were skeptical and hesitant, and their parents would not come close enough to tell them it was okay.
We are building trust here, in our neighborhood, and it’s not every night someone invites the police over for snacks and a lesson.
The police understood, though, the kinds of stories my children told, because they see it everyday.
And they understood my pleas for them to meet with the police now, at our dining table, rather than in the dark streets as teenagers.
My children better understood why the police must sometimes act or even respond so quickly, and the police listened to the challenges our children have with following those kinds of directions.
It blessed my heart to see my children hug the police goodbye, and I prayed with all of the life within me for those hugs to last their lifetimes.
One of the officers knew sign language, and had a brother with autism. So they really spoke our language! It was amazing!
But staying at the kitchen table was not enough.
Going out to visit the police car was not enough.
We had to talk to the neighbors, too, and invite them as well.
Before it was all said and done, the neighborhood children tried out the police car also, and the afraid and even angry expressions of their parents softened into amusement – and then laughter.
That’s “neighborhood policing” – and if we want it, then let them start here.
In my neighborhood.
We shared our book, Keeping Kyrie, because it is our story of our not-breathing-baby, and because it is the foster stories of our children, and it is the story of how we became a family.
Because dialogue, as it turns out, is the best way to keep your children safe.
And you keep your children safe by keeping your neighbor’s children safe.
And you keep your neighbor’s children safe by loving your neighbor.
Love your neighbor. Hmph. I wonder where we heard that before.
Matthew 22:39 gives us the greatest commandment except for the one about loving God Himself.
Love your neighbor.
And that’s how, for the first time in my life (I am ashamed to say), I know the neighbors on both sides of me, and even across the street.
And we have children who play together – even stay safe together.
It matters now, that we have shown them how to do this, because it’s only five years (or less) before they have to know how to do it all by themselves.
That process began tonight with a little healing, with tiny seeds of trust planted, seeds that will grow as both sides honor that trust be being careful with the other, respectful of the other, even gracious with the other.
Photos shared with permission from officers from the Tulsa Police Department. We offer our sincere gratitude for their visit this evening, and their patience with each of the children as they shared their stories and asked questions and wreaked havoc on your patrol car.
Many thanks to our hospitable neighbors who were at first startled and then delighted as our kids – and then their kids – played in the police car.
Thank you for your part in our healing.