I have a guilty pleasure- I love the show Hoarders, both because so many of my clients are schizophrenic hoarders, and because my grandfather is a hoarder, and I have hoarding tendencies. Having a sister and mother who are both very much NOT hoarders and organizational freaks, helps me tremendously (as does my dear site Unfuck your Habitat). The latest episode is up, and so I watched it tonight, and came to a very sobering realization.
Four children were removed from their grandfather’s home, where they were being watched, and their parents and grandfather were all charged with felony child endangerment, as upon inspection the parent’s house wasn’t much better. Dr. Zazio sat down with the mother for a coming to God meeting to explain what CPS wants to see before the children can be returned.
These kids had no beds (not really even bedrooms, all of the rooms were very cluttered with stuff grandfather had brought over and no boundaries had been set,) both homes were severely infested, their parents’ home was falling apart from disrepair, and none of the adults could really see why this was a problem until it was explained to them.
I realized that I didn’t have a bed until I was in the third grade, and neither did my brother. My aunt and uncle bought us bunk beds, so we finally had beds. Until that point, we slept in sleeping bags on the floor in our room. Only our little sister continually had a bed because she was a toddler and still had her crib. My parents had slept on a pile of quilts for as far back as I remember, because they were given a large bed at one point that my brother and I shared for a few months until I broke it by jumping on it. I’ve never felt that kind of guilt before, as I realized I’d taken away the first bed we had to sleep in since we moved from California when I was four. When we stayed with my grandparents we slept in a foldout bed in the living room, until my youngest aunt moved out and I was able to sleep in her bed, and my brother had the foldout bed to himself. When my family lived on our own, as we floated in and out of our grandparents’ home, I got to sleep in a sleeping bag on the floor, or a pile of quilts when it was cold.
I remember going to visit another aunt (I have a LOT of relatives; both my mother and stepfather come from families of seven,) and they’d ordered a twin bed for me to sleep on, as they were planning their family and would soon need one anyway. They’d ordered it from a catalog and it was rock hard when it arrived and my aunt expressed dismay about this. I remember saying, “It’s perfect! It’s a lot more comfortable than sleeping at home, because I sleep in a sleeping bag there!” The look of anguish on my aunt’s face made me feel like I’d betrayed my family somehow by admitting to this.
Dr. Zazio explained that CPS expects for children to have beds, and sheets, and rooms of their own, with separate rooms for boys and girls. HUD and Section 8 demand this as well. We were never on those programs, though I’m sure now that we qualified.
Had CPS ever come to investigate, we would’ve been removed from the home. I could’ve gone into foster care and lost my siblings. They were the reason I held it together as long as I did, because I had to keep things together. I’d occasionally let things slip and then feel awful about it, laughing it off to keep people off my trail. I still do that to this day, though it’s something I’m working on. Being the oldest in a dysfunctional family is hard.
There’s a book one of my college professors read to his classes about the same situation, but for the life of me I can’t remember the title. I actually just emailed him about it. It was an excellent book from one of the children’s points of view. I remember crying because while it never got that bad, it got close a few times…
Edit: He replied! The book is The Bears’ House by Marilyn Sachs. His email made my cry.
Of course I remember you, and fondly. The book you are referring to is The Bears House by Marilyn Sachs. The sequel is Fran Ellen’s House. I hope you are doing well.
It feels good to be remembered.