I’m not a mother, but I am. And then there’s Anya James.

Rozz, JJ, Whylie, & my thumb, Christmas 1996

With Rozz, Whylie the dog, & my thumb, Christmas 1996: just a few days after he arrived in Alaska

I never intended to become a mother, but then my partner’s nephew came to us from a background of severe abuse & neglect. Now he’s 23 & doing great. In contrast: the case of Anya James.

On May 8, the boy said to me, “Happy Mother’s Day.”

It was, of course, Mother’s Day, and I did, of course, help raise the boy — he’s actually a man now — from the age of 9 years and 2 days. That’s exactly how old he was the first time I saw him coming off an airplane when he first arrived in Alaska late 1996. He’s now 23.

I don’t know why, but I’d never really wanted to have kids.  I simply never felt that instinct or desire or whatever it is that so powerfully prompts so many women toward motherhood.  It worked out well that I turned out to be a lesbian.  Not that lesbians are unable to have children, but it takes effort to find a sperm donor; even more effort to go through large swaths of one’s life mistakenly assuming (as the endemic social propaganda would have it) that one is heterosexual, and having a boyfriend or marriage, having kids that way, & only then realizing you’re gay — & having to figure out what to do about it.

Williwaw hike

With me on a backpacking trip in the Chugach Mountains, Chugach State Park, near Anchorage, Alaska. Abt. Aug 1997. He was 9.

I never had those issues: I came out early enough never to have gotten sexually involved enough with a guy to risk pregnancy; & I never had the desire to go the turkey baster route.

Or, as I’ve often joked,

I thought I thought I had a foolproof birth control method — until I became pregnant with my partner’s nine-year-old nephew.

I’ve never gone through real labor, so can’t compare my experience with any other woman’s experience of becoming a mother.  I can only tell you that it hurt like hell.  As I wrote a couple of years back,

This was a boy who had been at the very least witness to sexual abuse of one of his siblings, if not a victim of it himself; & had most definitely been victim of physical & emotional abuse & neglect.  And for many long months in his fear of more of the same, he took it out on us.  I had never lived with abuse before — an abuse that I reckon was not him abusing me, but was his father reaching through him — as [the boy] used to say, “[My father] is in my head.”  It messed me up so badly, it took months to for me a wordworker to find words for it:


the man in the head of the boy
the father of memory
the father who would pitch
his sons into the wall
the man who used their sister
for his “needs”
who sold them back for
four hundred dollars
in an Oklahoma City

the man in the head of the boy
the man in the boy’s fist
in his kicking feet his butting head
his spit on my face his biting teeth
in the bruise yellow and purple and green
on my arm the blood beneath my skin

the hurt that cannot speak

But, long story short, we got through the hard times, he learned to trust us, and the violence went away. And I became a pretty good parent.  I’ll never forget the success I felt after I successfully negotiated him and two other boys his age, his friends, through grocery shopping at Fred Meyer’s followed by a visit to the video store, where they had to agree on three videos for us to rent.  I lived! They lived! I had skills I’d never knew I had!

And life went on, and years were lived through, and here we are: a 23-year-old young man, working hard, living through his first (one doesn’t yet know if it’s his last) long-term relationship with a girlfriend, and sitting next to me on the couch Sunday night saying, “Happy Mother’s Day.”

For all that I’ve never been “Mom” ( I’ve always been Mel); for all that I’ve never had any form of legal relationship with him (he came up her as relative foster placement with his aunt, Rozz, now Ptery, my then-partner); for all that I had never actively wanted a kid — yeah.  All the same, I’m a mother.  And it means a lot that he sees me that way too.

Williwaw hike in the Chugach Mountains, 1997

Williwaw hike in the Chugach Mountains, 1997

And then enter the case of Anya James. She’s the adoptive mother who’s in all the Anchorage headlines now: indicted on 10 felony counts of kidnapping and 6 felony counts of first degree assault for her (alleged) abusive treatment of 6 adopted children. Kidnapping because she is accused of locking the kids up in their rooms in order to prevent their escape. A good chance she did a lot more harm than that: she’s had lots of foster kids over the years too.  And the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) and the Anchorage Police Department — both of whom had a number of complaints and contacts with James over the years — somehow missed it all. While the kids continued to suffer.  Yeah. They really dropped the ball. Read all about it.

I’ve been angry since James’ arrest was first reported. I’m angry not only about James abuse (alleged) of these kids, but also about many of the kneejerk & often highly biased comments made by online readers of the Anchorage Daily News about the case.  Case in point: the one that prompts me to come back to this post in the middle of the night, wherein a commenter identified as kearbear wrote,

Anya had everyone fooled.  It happens. The only true advocate for children are the biological parents. When the biological parents negate their job and abandon their children it is a crap shoot. Many foster parents and adoptive parents are loving. Sometimes they are cruel and abusive.

Maybe s/he’s just not a very good communicator in writing. But in any case, the comment that “the only true advocates for children are the biological parents” got me pretty ticked off.  After all, I have a good deal of firsthand experience with the results of what fine and “true advocates” my kid’s bio parents were for him and his siblings.

What I wrote in response:

“The only true advocate for children are the biological parents.” But then you go on to say, “When the biological parents negate their job…” do you see the contradiction in your words here?

Different cases are different. I am the nonbiological parent of a boy who at age 9 came to live with my and my partner, his biological aunt. We were two women raising a boy — the middle of three kids — who had been physically & (at least in his sister’s case) sexually abused & neglected by their biological father & stepmother, & got only a bit better deal from their biological mom & stepfather before they were taken by child welfare authorities in the county in Missouri where they lived at the time.  His biological parents were not “true advocates” for him. They were both disasters. His advocates were me & my partner: two women, lesbians. I have never even had any kind of legal relationship to my kid (though his aunt, my partner, did) — but I have been more an advocate and a parent to him then either of his bio parents ever in a million years would even think of being.

And now today, he’s a 23-year-old happily adjusted young adult (sitting next to me as I write watching Doctor Who) with a job & a girlfriend, who seldom has nightmares about his father anymore.

But back then: he was one of three kids, two of the whom were warehoused on pysch drugs in a children psych hospital for years, the third — the one who came to live with us — on a succession of 4 different psych drugs plus a succession of 6 or 7 foster homes in Missouri (we’re still not sure the exact number) before a group home for six months before he came to live with us.  He was scared, angry, violent, & passed it on to us because he thought we would treat him as he had already been treated.  It was horrific for me: I’d never lived with abuse before.  It was his father’s abuse — “[father’s name] is in my head” he’d say after violent outbursts” — emerging through him, directed at us in threats, biting, spitting, hitting, kicking. It wrecked me for awhile.  What saved us was the help. We had wraparound services under the Alaska Youth Initiative — where has that program gone? Away?  We as parents were part of a treatment team also including a case manager from Alternatives, the community mental health center; an outpatient therapist; a home-based therapist who came in & helped us deal with in-home issues; & activity therapists who took him out on activities in the community (also providing us with needed respite at times from what was very traumatic for both of us).  And we had our friends.

Without that help we couldn’t have done it.  It takes a village.  It seems like in this case, & maybe it’s systemwide now, it’s a matter of “hand the kids off to someone & let them handle it” — alone, without either support, or checks on them.

Yes, OCS dropped the ball. Bigtime.  But you know: I’ll betcha that even as it was in our time with DFYS (OCS predecessor) & the continual revolving door of social workers coming into our lives, then burning out & leaving — OCS doesn’t have the resources to really care for the kids under its jurisdiction. I haven’t checked into it, but I’ll betcha that the budget just isn’t there.  I haven’t heard squat about Alaska Youth Initiative in years either, without which we could not have survived just _one_ kid who’d been evaluated as “severely emotionally disturbed.” And the reason the resources to look out for children of abusive parents isn’t there?

Because the people of Alaska will blather on endlessly about how much they love kids — but they won’t put their money where their mouth is.  They could care less about these kids, until something like this happens.  And most of them will forget about it by sometime mid-next week.

And I’ll just leave it at that (for now) and go to bed.

Except first to say: to hell with the creeps who claim that lesbians and gays should have no right to be parents. Yeah, Mr. & Mrs. Heterosexual did such a grand job with my kid & his siblings.  A grand job, that is, of beating the crap out of them & leaving us to pick up the pieces.

Resting up from another hike. Powerline Pass, Chugach Mountains, 2006. The dog here is Sweetheart.

Resting up from another hike. Powerline Pass, Chugach Mountains, 2006. The dog here is Sweetheart.

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