“In this house there isn’t chaos”
By Amy Whipple & Will Halim
To say the least, Tracy has a lot going. When Shacoya Bates from Every Child, Inc. arrives for a visit, Tracy has almost everything ready at her dining room table: a stack of paperwork, her planner, notes about both the forms and the planner, and a notebook with user IDs and passwords.
Tracy has the smooth jazz music station playing softly on the television in the living room and her two cats poke about. Her 13-year- old granddaughter, Anya, has just called to say she’ll be staying after school for the homework club to help get back on track—and maintain her B average—after a sick day the day before.
Shacoya and Tracy huddle together at the table. Tracy pulls a form out of her stack; it’s for Anya’s school lunches. She says, “The directions told us, ‘If you check “foster care,” do not do any other thing,’ right?”
“What does the note say?” Shacoya asks.
Tracy says, “The note says—” She and Shacoya read aloud simultaneously, “—the form is incomplete.”
“We did this together and we read this together. More than once,” Tracy laughs. Paperwork is absurd. Keeping track of everything is absurd. Though she’s only in her 50s, Tracy suffers memory loss from electroconvulsive therapy treatments. “Shacoya knows we have to write everything down,” she says.
They complete the form and, in short order, run into computer problems for changing a hotel reservation for an upcoming conference on ADHD and Executive Function (impulse control, organizational skills, “just about everything that it takes for daily living”)—both of which hinder Anya’s day in addition to depression and PTSD. Shacoya has been able to secure funding so that Tracy can go to the conference and learn more about how best help Anya. And Tracy, being Tracy, will certainly find a way to pay that information forward, be it through a local support group, class, or just one-to-one interactions.
A few years ago, Anya was living in a car under a bridge with her brothers and their mom—Tracy’s former daughter-in-law—an active addict with unchecked, severe mental health issues. Tracy recalls this part of Anya’s past matter-of-factly: “[Anya] threw a fit and the next thing I knew, I was getting a phone call, and I went down to Carson Street and there she was laying in the middle of the sidewalk, crying and hysterical.” Much of the work between Tracy and Anya is helping Anya through the guilt of being the one who got out, the PTSD of being a little girl on the streets. Shacoya helps by finding outlets for Anya—guitar lessons, summer camp—and for helping Tracy piece together the details.
Tracy and Shacoya work their way through the to-do list. They change the hotel reservations and call a friend to remind her to get her clearances so she can stay with Anya. Scheduling their next visit is a crunch: literally every single square in Tracy’s planner has something marked in it. “I don’t even know how you fit me in,” Shacoya teases.
The kicker? Every last thing Tracy does is out of the goodness of her own heart. It’s all volunteer—advocating for Veterans’ Court (Tracy herself is an Air Force veteran), mental health awareness classes, sobriety groups—or Anya—her guitar lessons, weekly appointments, outings through Every Child. Even something as “simple” as getting to the VA for a yoga class, for Tracy’s own self- care, is a schedule negotiation (in this case, fixing her car in order to get to the VA).
Shacoya checks in on how Anya’s school year is going, making sure she and Tracy are already planting the seeds for Anya to continue her education after high school. Tracy confirms the rules of the house: homework and dishes first before hanging out with friends at the park. She also says that the military won’t be in Anya’s future because the military has too many of its own rules. “She thrives in chaos. In this house there isn’t chaos,” Tracy says.
“She bounces between being a very old soul who’s seen a lot and, at times, she’ll snap back to being that little girl. Emotionally, she’s still that little girl.”
Shacoya says, “You guys are a really good team.”
“We’re working on it. As you change from a grandparent to a parent, that’s a big adjustment. She’s used to being the parent. That doesn’t work here.”
*** Some names and identifying details have been changed to comply with the family’s specific privacy requests ***
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