Last October, I attended an Interfaith Memorial Service for the homeless at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in East Los Angeles. The service remembered the 472 homeless people who died on the streets in Los Angeles County in 2016. Seven of the deceased were under three years old.
At the service I thought of a girl who called herself Latoya, who I met eight years ago while covering an adolescent drug dealing story. She moved into a teenage drug dealer’s tent under an overpass in downtown San Diego after running away from her foster family. One year later she gave birth to a baby girl. She was fifteen; her boyfriend was eighteen. Social workers took away their baby because apparently, the parents were too young, on drugs, and homeless.
When I met Latoya, I was fresh out of journalism school and she was long out of school. She was seeking help from a volunteer attorney with a non-profit organization helping homeless children.
“She wanted to go back to school, get a real job,” the lawyer told me. “And eventually get her daughter back.”
That surprised me. I had assumed that drug-using, homeless, teen parents were irresponsible and careless people. The reality is that they love and care their children just like any other parent.
When the adolescent drug dealing story was done, I wanted to follow up with Latoya’s story, but my assignment editor decided to cut it because “following a homeless teen mom is way too resource consuming, we cannot afford it.”
In the end I wrote a short article about Latoya and her efforts. The piece was included in my first book “Wēi Zúyǐ Dào”, published in 2011. The book sold 80,000 copies in five years, but Latoya’s story remains incomplete. I lost contact with her, but in eight years I have never forgotten her. In fact, over the years I have met many Latoyas and their children.
One of the Latoyas was 25-year-old Venessa Ibarra, who last June set her SUV on fire, threw in her three-year-old daughter Natalie, and then got in herself. They both died.
The death of a homeless child gets very little attention, and the authorities have many difficulties determining their identities. These children are called “baby doe” and their stories are rarely told.
In the cases where these stories do get attention, the media tends to sensationalize them, playing up the deaths of the poor children, especially babies. A negative connotation that has arisen from these over-sensationalized stories is that less advantaged women are not to be trusted with babies. This has a backlash for homeless mothers who also need help.
I tried to follow up with Ibarra’s story, but it was difficult. The authorities said that she had experienced “issues and a little bit of a drug problem.” But many questions remained unanswered. There weren’t even records to show whether she had received medical attention, or whether any efforts had been made to prevent the tragedy.
I can’t stop thinking about Latoya, Ibarra, and other mothers who live out of cars, in tents, under bridges and on the streets with their babies. How well could they be coping while living on the streets? Homelessness affects every facet of a child’s life, inhibiting his or her physical, emotional, cognitive, social, and behavioral development. And without proper maternal care, the pregnancies of homeless women can be at risk from many preventable obstacles. As a journalist, I don’t just want to present the statistics stacked up against homeless mothers and their children, I want to listen to them. Yet they are so hard to reach, with most of them fleeing from the media and social workers. That is one of the reasons why this country’s child welfare program is unable to help homeless children. In addition, most programs serving the poor are underfunded.
Los Angeles has seen another sharp rise in homelessness and outdoor tents over the last year, as local officials struggle to identify funding for billion-dollar plans they approved last year to combat homelessness.
Last November, Los Angeles County voters approved Measure HHH, a proposal to create 10,000 units of permanent supportive housing and affordable housing for the city’s homeless population. The measure has not yet translated into visible effects, and homelessness remains an ongoing public health issue.
Two days after the Interfaith Memorial Service, the remains of the 472 deceased, including the children, were cremated and interred in a common grave with only one plaque marking the year of interment. Baby does didn’t get a name. Their story remains untold. It is Autumn again and the church is preparing for another service. More baby does will soon join those buried.
This is an original post for World Moms Network by To-Wen Tseng. Photo credit: Mu-huan Chiang
Where do I begin to describe the horror that I shared with the world on September 11, 2001? It was a horror so big that at first, I refused to believe it. Planes deliberately flying into buildings? A terrorist attack against the United States? It had to be a hoax.
Where do I begin to describe the feeling of loss that followed me around for days and weeks after this event? In the immediate aftermath, two of my New York friends were missing. One was located, safe and sound, the day after the attack. The other, whose daily schedule would have placed him in the North Tower during the critical moments, was never seen again, and his remains were never identified.
How do you grieve for someone when you hope against hope, and against all available evidence, that they are alive?
Where do I begin to describe the utter desolation that I felt when, more than fifteen years later, I stood at the site of the Twin Towers and looked into the reflecting pool? I knew that my friend’s name was etched into granite surrounding the pool, along with the names of all the other victims, but I could not bring myself to look for it.
Where do I begin to delve into the sensory shock that I felt when I went into the 9/11 museum? As I entered that space where all of those people had died, the first thing that struck me was the smell. It was the smell of fear, despair and confusion. It was the smell of death. It was the smell of hopes and dreams that would be forever unfulfilled.
I wandered through the space in a trance, not sure what I was most horrified by. I stared at enormous pieces of twisted metal, the staircase that scores of people fled down in an attempt to survive, and projected images of missing persons ads posted by desperately hopeful relatives in the days after the attack.
Where do I begin to describe how depressing it was to witness the blatant sensationalization of tragedy? When we arrived, at least one hundred people were in line ahead of us, many of them chattering excitedly about how “cool” it was to be here, before forking over their $24 admission fees. Visitors to the museum were gleefully taking selfies in front of the exhibits, as if this was a carnival instead of the place where hundreds of people had lost their lives.
After a while, I had had enough. I felt as if the place was haunted by the dead, by memories forever lost and by futures never lived. If I didn’t get out of there, I was going to buckle beneath the weight of grief for all of the victims. As I made my way to the exit, I passed a gift shop. There is no way to describe how I felt about the presence of a gift shop in a place like this.
As I left and emerged into the world of the living, the spectres of the dead clung to me, and I wondered what my children would make of all of this. Having been born in 2003 and 2005, both my sons were born in the post-9/11 era.
To me, the 9/11 attacks are a horrifying memory that include personal loss. To my kids, it is an event in history, something that happened to the generation before them.
If they visited the 9/11 museum, would they be affected in the same way I was? Or would the oddly upbeat tourism there undermine just how tragic this event was?
There is a lot of controversy surrounding 9/11. Many questions have been asked and not satisfactorily answered. Many coincidences have not been addressed. The truth, I believe, has not been told to its fullest extent.
But that doesn’t change the fact that the world changed that day. People lost their lives. Other people lost children, parents, brothers, sisters, life partners and friends. Emergency responders saw things that no one should ever have to witness. Rescue workers developed illnesses that would later kill them,
Where do I begin to describe the magnitude of this tragedy? And where do I begin to talk to my children about it, so that it is more than just a history lesson to them?
How did the events of 9/11 affect you and your family? How do you talk about it to your kids?
This is an original post to World Moms Network by Kirsten Doyle of Canada. Photo credit to the author.
The first time I met my future mother-in-law, she insisted on taking me shopping. She raised two sons and was hungry for female companionship. I worried about disappointing her because I am not a shopper. Department stores stress me out. I very much dislike wading through racks of fancy clothes. I rarely carry a purse, and I don’t want to go anywhere near a fragrance counter. I recognize that this is a silly, first world problem, but my mother-in-law, while frugal, loved shopping. Wanting to make a good impression, I went with her. She bought me clothing, which I accepted as graciously as I could.
Soon afterward, my husband and I moved across the country and started a family. My mother-in-law always remained involved. She visited, sent care packages, and supported us in so many ways. She encouraged me and would occasionally offer gifts that sparkled. I always appreciated her tokens, whether they were to my taste or not. I knew it was her way of female bonding.
Earlier this year after a stroke, she learned that she had advanced cancer. She made the decision to move to our area for her care, so she could spend as much time with us as possible. As we talked about goal setting for physical therapy, she kept coming back to one thing. She wanted to go to Macy’s on her own.
Let me back up a little. Many years prior, her eyesight deteriorated through macular degeneration. No longer able to drive, she relied on her husband to take her to Macy’s, often not on her terms. When she moved, she wanted to reach the point where she could hire a car and go on her own. We offered to take her, but she declined. There were so many decisions to be made about doctors, living arrangements and finances that she was unsure about, but what she was crystal clear about was the idea of going to Macy’s and looking at blouses for long as she wished without family poking around her. Macy’s became the ultimate symbol of her will to recover. Unfortunately, this outing never happened.
When she passed away, I offered to pick out the clothing for her burial. I didn’t want to select something from her limited wardrobe, so I pulled myself together and did what she wished she could do. On Halloween morning, I stood outside Macy’s in the pouring rain waiting for the doors to open. I had so many emotions running through me, and I held a warm cup of tea to steady myself. A man dressed as a banana came to unlock the door. I took that as a good omen. I was the first person in, and I walked past an army of smiling, eager sales clerks. I didn’t think I could get through explaining to them what I was looking for, so I decided to go it alone.
At first I looked for a dress, thinking I’d find something in the color she wore to my wedding which suited her so well. I walked section by section, and saw how much there was to sort through. I started to feel overwhelmed. I wanted it to be perfect, but everything felt flashy and loud. Nothing seemed like her. I worried that I was in over my head.
I took a deep breath.
She liked a touch of femininity, but she was sensible – a college professor and savvy investor. A dress was the wrong way to go. I needed a sweater and pants. I came upon a pretty cream sweater embossed with a floral pattern. It was simple yet elegant. I found black pants to go with it. Feeling emboldened, I moved to the jewelry area and picked out a pearl necklace. Lastly, I hit the shoe department. I really struggle in shoe departments, but I pushed on and decided on a pair of black flats. After rounding out the other needed items, I checked out and was on my way.
My mother-in-law was laid to rest on a beautiful, sunny fall morning. The service was intimate and heartfelt, and I think she would have enjoyed the lovely yet not ostentatious flowers. I hope she would have approved of my choice of attire. As for Macy’s, I plan to stop in now and then, wander around, think about my mother-in-law, and enjoy the sparkle. And if I do ever need to pick out a handbag, I trust that she will guide me to the perfect purchase.
Do you have a mother-in-law? What types of things do you do together to bond?
This has been an original post for World Moms Network by Tara B. Photo credit: Diariocritico de Venezuela. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.
I believe that everyone, in some way or another, has a second (or more) set of “parents”. This is a broad definition of parents I am using here – they may be people who cared for you when your biological parents were having problems, such as grandparents or aunts and uncles, or even godparents as is the custom in some places. They could be people who took you to the movies or to fancy restaurants if the money in your family was tight. They could be people close to you whom to others might seem commonplace but to you were heroes. They could be teachers, formally or not. The common characteristic among these people is that they were role models for you and had a big (positive) impact on your life in one or more ways.
I was lucky enough to have several such wonderful people in my life during childhood and adolescence, but one couple stands out.
…and prevention is protection.
Now-a-days, we hear a lot about violence. Violence at home, bullying at school, harassment at work or on the street. Violence is everywhere. It does not define our societies or who we are but it plays an important role in our evolution and how we decide to define ourselves.
In the past couple of years, the French government put into place important measures to fight all types of violence, creating adds to show its impact on peoples lives, opening more helplines, dedicated centres to welcome the victims, creating new jobs and training programs. Many well-known artists took it over and started campaigns around the country and in the world.
Still, I think something is missing in order, if not to eradicate violence completely, at least to change the vision of men and women on the subject and prevent violence from spreading even more. Before discussing the impact of violence, people first have to be educated on what violence is, how to spot it and how to protect themselves from it.
We tend to think that violence is only physical. Is it something we learn as kids? Or are the other forms of violence too cruel to be true?
I met women who kept telling me that in their case, it was not violence. I met kids who kept telling me that other kids were just laughing at them, no big deal. I met men who kept telling me that if their bosses were that mean towards them, it was maybe because they were not that good.
If people don’t know or understand that the relationship they are in is poison, they won’t be able to get out of it or ask for help. And it will keep destroying them. Ads or campaigns won’t have any impact on their life. They will still think violence is horrible but they will think it has nothing to do with them.
I suppose we have to educate people from a young age. Maybe school is the first place to start, as violence can take root there for many. Teaching kids about respect and differences. Teaching them about what is not allowed, about their body and about the importance of equality. Boys are not better than girls and girls are not better than boys.
But first, we have to teach kids about confidence. In most cases, it’s the lack of confidence that takes people down. Teaching kids that they are important, that they are valued and loved, that they are worth it, beautiful, enough. I think this is crucial and it can change many things in our world these days.
I don’t say that confident people can’t be touched by violence, but they’ll have the resources, the power to face it and say stop to it. Or they’ll know something is wrong in the equation and they’ll be able to talk about it, to raise their voice.
Because, at the end of the day, silence is really the enemy, silence is what allows violence to thrive.
This is an original post from our contributor in France, Marie Kleber.
The image used in this post is attributed to Cyber Magic. It holds a Flickr Creative Commons attribution license.
The last photo of the author and her brother with their mom.
There once was a little girl who lost her mother. She was too young to fully understand the concept of never. She had a secret belief that people were making a silly mistake when they gently explained that her mommy would never be coming home again.
The little girl secretly believed her mommy had just taken a long vacation. Her Daddy told her that Mommy was in a special type of hospital for people who were sick and needed to rest.
Since the little girl was smart and precocious, she imagined her mother had taken a much needed rest and gone on holiday with the traveling circus, which recently had been in town. Hadn’t Mommy admired the clowns and acrobats SO much? Wouldn’t this be a great way to get better after all the medicine the little girl had secretly seen her mommy take when she thought nobody was watching…
As the months and then years dragged on and Mommy didn’t come back, the girl started to realise that the traveling circus probably wasn’t the reason her mother had left.
Instead, she started to suspect that her parents had gotten a divorce and her father had custody of the 2 children since his wife was sick. This had happened to a boy in the little girl’s class at school.
She still couldn’t accept the fact her mother was gone for good.
Things began to get difficult at home and at school too. At first the other children were sympathetic because their teacher had told them that the little girl was going through difficult times at home and needed help and understanding from her classmates.
Eventually though, when the girl started coming to school with untidy hair and wearing grubby, mismatched socks, most of the kids started calling her names and telling her she was a freak.
She DID look and act weird, she knew. The sad truth was that she FELT like a freak, and that was even worse.
When other girls went on sleepovers and to birthday parties, on shopping trips and visits to the local swimming pool with their moms, the little girl wasn’t invited. The mothers felt awkward and embarrassed trying to organise these things with the girl’s father. The father said he needed his daughter to stay home and look after her little brother and he couldn’t spare her as he had to work. After a few kind attempts, the invitations dried up.
Although help was offered to the father at first, his depressed and confused mental health gradually repelled those who were trying to help him support his 2 young children. After losing all of his teeth and most of his hair due to extreme stress, he realised he couldn’t cope alone anymore. He suffered a nervous breakdown and was forced to go back to his country of origin to seek help from estranged relatives.
This is the traumatic beginning of my early life and the reason I lived in a fantasy world following the death of my mother, when I was just six years old.
My family had left England a few years earlier and gone to live in Australia for a better life. We really did have a perfect lifestyle for a couple of years until my beloved mother became sick and died of cancer before the age of 30.
I remember with utmost shock how I refused to believe my mother was actually dead. I’m staggered now at how I stubbornly clung to elaborate fantasies about her REAL whereabouts and my utter refusal to grasp reality.
The other thing I remember with clarity is the nastiness of some and the true kindness of others.
Although virtually everyone was supportive and helpful at first, this really didn’t last long. After a relatively short period of time, I became an object of ridicule and target for bullies. My father was going through his own catastrophic demise and I basically had to fend for myself as well as bring up my younger brother.
It’s not easy for a 6-and-a-half-year-old to cook, clean and look after herself and her 4-year-old brother as well.
I went to school looking unkempt and bedraggled most of the time and the fantasies I told about my mother must have scared my schoolmates, who knew she had passed on. I was called names and kids threw stones at me because I was so different from them. In my class I was the only one from a single-parent home at that time.
Nowadays, of course, single-parent families are commonplace. Back then it wasn’t the norm and other kids made me feel that somehow it was my fault; I was stigmatized.
Coming from another country and speaking with a different accent didn’t help either. I was unacceptably different on so many levels.
When I first met my Greek husband decades later, one of his relatives praised him for being such a good Christian, offering to marry not only a foreigner but an orphan too!!!
It seems that in many cultures the child is responsible and pays for the parents “crimes.”
I remember a limited amount of kindness during my formative years and so try my best to instill a sense of compassion and respect for ALL living things in my children. I tell them that it really doesn’t matter how many possessions a person has that gives them value but how they treat others that counts. The way they interact with others is the true measure of their worth.
As a result of my childhood, I know that the kindness and compassion we show to a person can shape their whole future, for better or worse.
If we could all impart this wisdom in our children, wouldn’t the world be such a better place?
Have you had any childhood traumas that have made you passionate about something in adulthood? How do you encourage your kids to show kindness to others?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog from our contributor in Greece and mum to two, Ann Marie Wright.
The image used in this post is attributed to the author.