Children Center Lessons and Years
On June 18th, 1965, I was sitting in an old 1956 Cadillac, yellow with a green roof, it was 10 am in the morning, and I was with my Step-father, and, my two brothers. We were parked outside Saint Mary’s Hospital, awaiting my mother and the newest addition to our family, a baby girl. The birth of my sister meant some changes for us all as a family. The first girl in any family is always special and it was no different for all of us. A new sibling is always a big moment in anyone’s life.
One year later, as my sister was turning one years old, things turned for me also. I was now, ten years old and a loner as well as looked at as the black sheep of my family. I didn’t get along with my elder brother at all and the incessant teasing and mind games he continued to play on me came to a boiling head that summer. I remember it well the incident that would force my mother to call in the State Social Workers and make me a ward of the state. I didn’t mean to harm anyone, but anger got the better of me as a ten year old and it cost me, two years of institutional time, in a place, called the Children’s Center, in Hamden, Connecticut. All I wanted at the time was to get in the house, but my elder brother never let up on me with his incessant teasing and mind games, and as I tried to get in he stood behind the screen door window and just laughed at me. I begged, I pleaded, until I could no more that summer day, then I finally had enough. I reached down and picked up a rock and threw it at my elder brother right through that window. The glass shattered everywhere, and unbeknown to me so would my life. It turns out in my anger, I never saw him holding my baby sister. The glass flew everywhere. Luckily for me, she wasn’t hurt and neither was he. But, that started the end for me for the next two years.
I was told I was emotionally disturbed by my mother, and her decision was to get help from the State Social Workers. Meetings started shortly after in July 1966. The Social Worker would pull up in her little black State car, and come in to talk to me and the family. The meetings started as a round table type thing where we would all gather and talk about the family and me in particular. For me these never worked, because I was intimidated by the presence of my elder brother and my step-father. I was scared to speak my mind and be honest. I knew what would happen once the Social Worker left our home, so I kept quiet.
By August 1966, the meetings were failing to get anywhere with the problems or me, and my mother kept saying, she couldn’t handle me anymore. So one day before bed she told me, she had, had enough of me and couldn’t handle me anymore. Then she looked me in the eyes as she put me to bed and told me the State Social worker is coming to get you and take you away for a while. The time had come for a separation from my family and more counseling with social workers. The following day, I was dressed in pink and white stripped shorts, a bright white pull over shirt and new sneakers. Then I was told to await the Social Worker, who was on the way. I didn’t want to go anywhere, so, I escaped out the front door of our home and ran. That day, I ran as hard as I could trying to escape everyone my mother sent after me, including my elder brother and all his friends. No one would catch me that day, until late at night, the next town over. I ran and ran that day into the night as I remember it. But ultimately, it was the police who brought me home that evening. And the next day, the State car pulled up and I was packed off, clothes and all and driven to Handen, Connecticut, and The Children Center.
The Children’s Center is a state run institution, located on Whitney Avenue in Hamden, Connecticut. Next to it on one side is Quinnipiac College and across from it is a state reservoir. The front gates are open and made of black iron, around the institution is an eight foot high fence. When you arrive you see the Administration Building to the slight right, and a workshop for crafts. Then as you look up you see more brick buildings that are dormitories for the children. The institution included tennis courts which were used for basketball and ice skating. A gymnasium was also on the premises. A large green was in the center of it all, much like the green in any small town. And this would become my home for the next two years. Whether good or bad, I was tuck and had nowhere to go. I remember rebelling the first week I was in The Children’s Center, throwing a tantrum big time. Their reaction was simple, clear all the kids out of the room and let me go crazy. Then when I finished, they made me clean it all up and put me to bed. End of the traumas for sure.
The Children’s Center is a place where I saw many things for the first time in my life. And Learned many things in my life, that I would never, have seen at home, or anywhere else. I was introduced to different sports, tennis, basketball, shop classes such as woodworking, music, reading which I already loved, and then things no one should be introduced to at 10 years old.
There were violent children who wanted to seriously hurt others; there were drug users, thieves, and more in this institution. And each of us were all marked as emotionally unstable is what they said. But 1966 and the end of the 1960s, medical knowledge was not what it is today. Today, it is known that, this so called emotionally unstable child they called all of us then, are actually children with Attention Deficient Disorder and Hyper-Activity. Times do change as do the knowledge levels of the Doctors.
My two years in the Children Center had many events and incidents that affected me and from which I learned some things I have never forgot to this day. 1) Self-control, always keep self- control was drummed into me for these two years. 2) Fight for what you really believe in or you will never get it. 3) I leaned lessons in love and hate also. 3) Just because you’re in this type of situation, fight back if you’re right and in the end they will find out you are right.
During these two years I went from 10 years old to twelve years old and grew up in more ways than one. I learned that no matter what self-control was primary. I learned to play pool, cards, swim, woodworking, tennis, basketball and hunted down turtles in the reservoir next door. Yeah I know sounds silly but it did happen. I also learned about drugs and not to take them, alcohol and what it does to people. I learned I didn’t know anything about the opposite sex or kissing even though I tried it with a few girls. But in the end, I never grew any connections to the people there or the other kids. I was then as I have always been a bit of a lone wolf type.
In the second year of my time in The Children’s Center, something’s were tried. First I was shipped out to a school in Hamden to attend. The idea was to see how I would handle being among other children my own age and if I could do so. Of course I could I was a normal kid really. As I attended that school I remember one incident I had with a girl and a ring. As I was out on the playground that year, I found a wedding band that someone had lost. I had no idea what the ring really was of course. And I put the ring in my pocket and returned to class. While in class I gave the ring to a red haired girl I liked. The teasing started immediately of course for both of us and we laughed our way through it all. What ever happened to that ring and that girl I will never know, I only attended that school for that one year.
At the same time, questions arose as to whether I would ever go home to my real family again for some reason. My understanding now, is that my mother questioned whether I wanted to come home or not and whether she could handle me again. So, the State of Connecticut, tried two things. First they sent me for a weekend with a family in Hamden to see how I would cope. Could I behave and get along with others, would I survive in a family atmosphere? As I remember it, it went extremely well and I had a good time with that family. They didn’t want to keep me of course they were a family the State used and paid to evaluate kids and the stages they were at.
Shortly after this weekend trip to spend time with this family, I was called to my social workers office in the Administration Building. The reason was, the State had been looking for a family to adopt me, which I had no idea about. It seems my mother decided she wasn’t sure, she wanted me back home. Why? I guess I never asked her. Anyway I remember that day clearly. They were a nice young couple, and I never really met them. I was called to the office and as I entered the office area I overheard the conversation between the social worker and this couple. Upon hearing that they were up to be my foster parents I left and hid. I didn’t need a foster family, and didn’t care to have one either.
The following day, became a big day for me at The Children’s Center. I found myself recalled to the Social Workers office to discuss why I ran and hid and refused to meet this couple. I refused to answer the social worker. SO she sat there with me for an hour at least, waiting for me to talk to her. When I didn’t talk, she finally had to go to the ladies room to relieve herself and told me to wait for her. As soon as she left, I went into action.
Behind the social workers desk on one side was a table with a dictophone machine. I turned it on and made a speech onto the dictophone belt. I told the social worker I didn’t want a new family and all I wanted to do was go home to my own family, it was a tearfully expressed statement. When I finished I left and never saw the social worker again. Next I knew I was released back to my family and returned home. I clearly remember certain things that occurred during these two years in the Children Center. I remember my mother and father coming to see me in the summer months, and my step-father siting me down on the curb to talk to me. His speech went this way, he told me sometimes a person plants a seed, but doesn’t stick around to nurture and feed the seed, and someone else takes over and brings it to full growth. He said such was the case with him, and me, and if I wanted to he would legally change my last name to his. I stopped and looked at him for a few moments without saying a word. He waited and then I said no I was born with the name I have and I will keep it thank you, he never mentioned it again.
So The Children Center experience wasn’t all bad, but in the end it wasn’t all good either. I remember the first year I was there, and they held an event and my mother took part in it. The State put on a dance for all the kids in the gym. My mother came in as a volunteer to help with it all. It only led to a confrontation between her and I, and in the end she never did it again. Looking back, if I had a mother who was nurturing, loving and cared to show it more I think my life would have been different. But, as my step-father told my mother numerous times over the years, she had no mothering instincts at all and four of her five children felt and knew it. And the ones she ignored and overlooked knew it and felt it believe you me.
Today, my mother and step-father are both passed on and long gone. The Children Center still stands on Whitney Avenue in Hamden, Connecticut, doing it’s best for kids. Out of the five children my mother gave birth to, my elder brother lives now in the South, isolated from his siblings because he grew up a selfish person, I survived as the black sheep of the family and live with my second wife, my sister is alive, healthy and doing well and the youngest son is doing ok as an artist and worker. But one son didn’t make it past 32 years old he died in California from drugs. So, it goes to show, no family is perfect doesn’t it.? And places like The Children Center and state social workers are not always right!