December 2007, in Johnstown, PA while sitting at my kitchen table, I decided a change was absolutely necessary. I wasn't sure what at that very moment, but I knew I wanted more out of life. Even with the college degree I had under my belt, the job market there was not going to get me where I wanted to be.
I started applying for jobs where my mother lived, in Lancaster, PA. My mom was all about the possibility of having some of her grandchildren within her daily reach. I stopped showing up to work and began putting in applications, three hours across the state.
I didn’t really have a plan. I decided, I would just figure it out when the time came.
After my final decision was made to relocate, i told myself daily, that i was ready to go. In February 2008, while sitting on my couch, my phone rang. On the other end was a woman, who introduced herself as being the Staffing Coordinator at JF Staffing solutions. She explained that one of her clients wanted to get me in for an interview. After she explained the details of the job, with the starting pay rate being a figure I had only ever dreamed about, she told me the interview would need to happen within the next three days. I respectively declined the invitation, hanging up. My little cousin sitting on the couch next to me, probed for details. I explained to her I turned down a job interview because I needed to be there in three days and had no one to watch the kids. She said, “Lovey, you have been praying to God, asking for a change, speaking it into existence on a daily basis and you turned away your opportunity?”
I thought about it for a mere second before i picked up the phone, called the woman back and scheduled my job interview in Lancaster, PA. At that time, she informed me, if I was to get hired, I would need to start that upcoming Monday. I obliged. After hanging up, I immediately reached out to another cousin to secure childcare. She agreed. So for the next 48 hours, I packed bags for myself and my children as we temporarily prepared to go our separate ways.
The morning of departure, my anxiety began to kick in. All arrangements had been made but my five year old had just received a three day suspension from school. They finally convinced me to start him on medication but i was starting to think it wasn't working.
Nonetheless, I kissed them goodbye and hit the turnpike.
On the morning of the interview I awakened with a very positive attitude. It showed, i was hired on the spot. Darrell, my new supervisor, wanted me to begin the following Monday. I obliged. I left the interview and immediately called my cousin to see if she would be on-board to keep the kids several weeks longer. The first thing she said upon answering was, “girl Zahv been in here cutting up.” I verified he had his medicine for the day, before asking to speak directly to him. I yelled at him and told him to get his act together, all the while holding my breath.
The reality of it was I already knew that the chances of that happening was slim to none. With a recent official diagnoses of ADHD with emphasis on hyperactivity and an unofficial diagnoses of simply being described as “off” for years prior to that, it just wasn’t happening.
I got on my grind.
It was 5 weeks before we got our first townhouse and I was able to bring my babies home. We had developed a routine. They enjoyed their after school program at the Boys & Girls Club and made friends in the neighborhood. Life was good...so it seemed.
On Monday of the third week, I received the first call. The number to the kids’ new school flashed across my phone screen, I excused myself from my desk, then answered. The scenario being described on the other end of the phone was all too familiar. Zahvair had gotten into a fight and landed himself his first suspension at his new school. I had to leave work early. Shit. I picked him up and we rode in silence.
I was speechless.
I didn’t know what to say nor what to do. I had grown tired of physical discipline, as it clearly did not deter him. This was our second year on medication. We had been through multiple psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors, mobile therapists and behavior specialists, alike. Not to mention, we had more appointments coming up within our new city. My son was 6 years old in the first grade.
We made it thru the remainder of the year, barely. Before school was totally out, the school psychologist had put him on the top of his list for an evaluation at the beginning of the following school year. Throughout the summer, he was expelled from the Boys & Girls Club. I had to hire my mom and aunt to alternate childcare so I could continue to go to work.
By December of the new school year, my son managed to be kicked out of the new after school program and almost school. The principal called me one day and said, “Ms. Andrews, if Zahvair gets into another fight we have decided we will call the police and push to press charges.” My son was seven years old, in the second grade. A decision had to be made.
It was the absolute toughest decision I had to make. Yet, necessary.
My son was headed to Cleveland, OH to live with his father. Immediately after Christmas and before the new year could roll in, I met his father and put him in the car. He kicked and screamed and yelled and begged not to go. My heart was pierced. I cried the entire 4 hours, back home.
I urged his father to keep up with his mental healthcare. But his father was in denial, stating, “ain't nothing wrong with that boy.” But as the years went on, he called me one day, admitting, “Yolanda, it’s something wrong with that boy.” My hands were tied with the distance between us. I attempted to set up appointments, but I couldn’t force anybody to take him. I maintained a relationship with his schools, making them aware that I still loved and cared for my son and very much wanted to help as much as I possibly could, given the distance. Things were well in Lancaster but I missed my baby. I drove to Cleveland to pick him up, several times before eventually relocating to the outskirts of Pittsburgh, PA in an attempt to be closer.
Fast forward to 2011, my son had landed himself in juvenile court. To avoid placement, I brought him back to live with me. I began his mental health regimen again, to no avail. Things were so out of control, he had to be sent back to his father in less than six months. All this time, one fact prevailed, my son’s level of aggression was dangerous. After spending Easter break with his sibling and I in 2015, he went home to his father's. The next day I got a call from my cousin saying that she was on her way to get my son because his dad had put him out. Speechless and confused, I knew I had to get him back. My cousin agreed to keep him with her until I could get there, within the next few weeks.
In May 2015 my son came back to PA, for good. He hadn’t changed one bit. We were enrolled in family based services and maxed out after eight months of having two therapists in my home, three days a week. During therapy, a theory was developed that it was quite possible that at age 15, my son was still stuck in the mind frame of that little seven year old boy who was forced to be away from his mother. It sounded good. It even made me think a little. But guilt, no.
You see, each child is blessed with two parents. Traditionally, it is expected that both parents marry and raise the children together. However, in my situation that was not possible. So where I lacked, it was only right that my sons father would step in and pick up, as he did. I feel not an ounce of guilt for shifting my child from one parent to the other. My son has never admitted anything ill to me regarding his upbringing either.
Today, my son is 17 years old. He is a court adjudicated delinquent black juvenile male. He attends Watson Institute, an alternative to psychiatric institutionalization where he receives his mental health care and schooling. He does live with me. He is seeking employment. I am afraid of what his adult future will entail. Nonetheless, as a single black mom, raising children in the millennium, I keep the faith!
We believe it takes a village...here is Yolanda's advice for the village:
Don't be in denial. Don't let them diagnose your child with anything. Do independent research. Be as proactive as possible. Long distance co-parenting is difficult but not impossible. Stay in touch with the schools to be as involved as possible, given the distance.
Yolanda L. Andrews is the biological mother to 4 children. She currently resides in Wilmerding, PA by way of Johnstown, PA since. Yolanda is an IBO of Notary Now, a mobile notary service and Facilitator of a support group for mothers of children with behavioral challenges, Shoulders for Moms. She is passionate about supporting her family & friends, and enjoys trying new restaurants and driving. You can follow her on social media @ team_y_n_z