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This post is several days beyond part one, mostly because I needed time to put things in perspective. Before I do that for you, let's go back to where I left off, in a rental car with my younger daughter, Kelly, and three hungry, stinky grandchildren. The first thing we did was to feed them, of course, and while they ate I called their mother to let her know they were in my care. For once, she answered her phone. Shadowy Guy was in the background, urging her to listen.

I told her I was taking the kids to my house and asked if she wanted to say goodbye. I also wanted her to sign a paper, giving me permission to enroll them in school and seek medical care for them. It took four hours to convince her, but she finally agreed, and while the kids were happy enough to see her, they wanted to come home with Kelly and me. My daughter was thin, and her face was drawn, wrinkled beyond her age. She denied using again, but her condition said something else. We'd been there before.

Kelly and I finally started home around 3 p.m. We stopped to buy the kids clean clothes and Game Boys to entertain them on the eight-hour road trip. As we drove, the nine-year-old told us that had been the first time they'd seen their mom in days, "because she works three jobs." He also said they hadn't been out of that hotel room for "a week and a day," and all they'd done was watch TV.

Because it was so late by the time we left Vegas, we stopped for the night in Tonopah. Before dinner, we bathed the kids, carefully washing their matted hair, as the youngest two were afraid of having water poured over their heads. (After three weeks, we've convinced them it's not such a bad thing.) The little one was also terrified of the toilet. All three complained about their teeth. (A visit to the dentist confirmed the youngest has cavities in almost every tooth, and several are broken to the gum line. She has to go into the hospital so they can sedate her and fix them all at once.) We tossed their disgusting old clothes, dressed them in clean ones and went to dinner.

That night was a nightmare, at least for someone used to sleep. The children had obviously not had consistent bedtimes for quite a while, and their lack of exercise for those days was apparent. At midnight, they were bouncing off the walls. At 1:30 a.m., they were still awake. I was toast. Finally, around 2, they dozed off. The next day, before going home, we stopped by the park and watched them run, climb and slide nonstop for well over an hour.

The initial relief and excitement were soon swallowed up by the realization that this situation was very real. All our lives had changed, and there were so many details! Where would the kids sleep? How could we register the eldest for school (eight weeks late) without shot records? They needed clothes. Toys. The four-year-old was turning five in a few days. What about a birthday party? And around all that, how would I possibly continue my fall book promotion schedule?

The first few days were heavy with stress. Though everyone—my husband, our 16-year-old son, Kelly, and the friend who's living with us—pitched in to help, none was quite prepared for the adjustment period. Regular meals, baths, exercise and bedtimes proved harder to accomplish than we supposed. For the first week, the only way to get the three-year-old to sleep was to rock her. When I'd lay her down, she'd wake up and cry. So I'd rock her again. Generally, the second time worked.

Meals? Whoa. Our household eats a straightforward diet—protein, vegetables and fruits, whole grains, few carbs. For kids used to pizza, Lunchables and hotdogs, that took some getting used to. Our milk-loving little girl is lactose intolerant—something we found out the hard way! There were arguments. Meltdowns. Regular tantrums.

But then, small miracles. Boxes of clothes and toys and books began to arrive, sent by friends and total strangers. One of Kelly's acquaintances is a school nurse who could access shot records so the kids could start school and preschool. The expectations that were set began to be met. With love and guidance, meals, bath times and bedtimes have become regular. Though I've had to let some travel go, I've been able to fulfill most of my commitments, with the help of all involved.

There's more to this story, but I'll post this much for now. The next part will take some time to write. For all that we've accomplished, there's still a long way to go to put this fractured family back together.


( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 29th, 2013 01:09 pm (UTC)
Your Experiences
Thank you so much for being willing to share your family's story. I was a school librarian for 11 years and encouraged our students to read your books. The heartfelt comments from the students ranged from concern to awareness of the actual consequences of decisions made. I know you have and are still having trying times, but remember you are helping others by sharing and I for one am truly grateful.

Thank you.
S Jeaux DeVine
Oct. 29th, 2013 01:22 pm (UTC)
Oh Ellen:

I could hardly finish this to the end as the tears were free flowing from my eyes.

God Bless you and your family.
Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Oct. 29th, 2013 01:57 pm (UTC)

Plain and simple-you're a hero.
Oct. 29th, 2013 02:03 pm (UTC)
You have so much more to handle, I know from experience. But what you are doing for the kids is so important. Bless you for what you are doing and will continue to do.
Oct. 29th, 2013 02:20 pm (UTC)
You are wonderful!
Ellen--you are *wonderful*! Truly! Saving your grandchildren like that, giving them real, safe love, safety, healthy food, security, a home...a *routine* which they've probably never known before, stability... you are giving them a chance at a good life. You are giving them what they need on so many levels. Giving them what they need to be healthy emotionally and physically and feel loved and safe--the most important things. And you *still* came to Less Than Three and are doing most of your other commitments? You are amazing, woman.

Take good care of you in all of this. I'm so glad you have some support!

hugs, Cheryl
Amber Noelle Singleton
Oct. 29th, 2013 02:35 pm (UTC)
Family is always firsts, take care of them, then worry about your book promotion. I met you a couple years back after I walked into a book store having no idea you would be there. Your books have brought light to me in my darkest times, so I can't even imagine have much light you yourself bring to your family. They are very fortunate to have you as a grandmother.
Bright blessings
Oct. 29th, 2013 03:51 pm (UTC)
Bless you, Ellen. I have tears in my eyes, thinking of you rocking that precious 3-year-old to help her go to sleep.
Julianne L
Oct. 29th, 2013 04:07 pm (UTC)
I really commend you for being able to share such a heartbreaking and terrifying story with us. It was hard for me to wrap my mind around it not being one of your great fictional pieces. My heart aches for you and your family for having to go through such a trying experience. You must be a pretty strong woman to be able to cope with all that you've been through in your life. Sending good thoughts your way!!
Donna Welch Earnhardt
Oct. 29th, 2013 06:38 pm (UTC)
Thank you for continuing to share this journey with us. We prayed for your family - and our hearts hurt knowing what could have happened. I am so glad... so very glad... your grandbabies are with you and being loved and cared for!
Oct. 29th, 2013 07:12 pm (UTC)
You have saved three lives. I am in awe of the goodness here.
Deborah Nourse Lattimore
Oct. 29th, 2013 07:57 pm (UTC)
What a wonderfully stalwart soul you are.
"Surely goodness and mercy shall follow you all the days of your life."

Deborah NL
Oct. 29th, 2013 08:41 pm (UTC)
You are the truest kind of hero <3
Mary Licht-Chamberlain
Oct. 29th, 2013 11:05 pm (UTC)
You are an amazing woman. I admire you for all that you are doing for your grandchildren. Your life with your daughter has been hard and trying on you and your family but you seem to be strong and find ways to over come the problems that has been placed before you. God bless you and Thank you for the update. I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers.
Debbie Biggers
Feb. 8th, 2014 09:19 pm (UTC)
I've just started.
I haven't seen my granddaughters in years. I am just starting on my quest. I found your web site and it gives me hope that I will find my two granddaughters, ages 12 and 9.

Pray that God's will be done.

Debbie Biggers
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )