the lost children of rockdale county
cindy: Nicole's mother discusses her helplessness in confronting her daughter's rebellious, sometimes violent, adolescence
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What was your upbringing like?

... We moved here just at the boom of Rockdale County, and daddy did very well, therefore our family life changed a lot. We moved into our first home ... and then just quickly kind of acclimated to Rockdale County. We had no problems. We spent all holidays--everything was family. Everything revolved around the family.

What was the community like then?

Very small. Very close-knit. You knew everyone. I graduated in '76 and my class was the biggest class that had ever graduated from Rockdale. Everyone knew everyone. I couldn't get away with anything because the principal and the vice-principal went fishing with my dad. ... And then we had a lot of people moving out of Atlanta into Conyers, and that's where where everything started changing. ...

Do you think that Rockdale has changed? Are there now a lot of people who don't care anymore about the community, so to speak?

I've been the best mom I know how to be.  I've always been there for her.  I've always tried to see things from her point of view.  When I was growing up, nothing was seen from my point of view.  I was a kid. Rockdale has grown so fast. I don't think we were really able to keep up with the growth. There are so many people here who live in this county but know nothing about the county. ... And so they don't have the hometown pride. ... Rockdale's very important to me. I moved away for two years. It was very important to come back here, for my children to go to school here. It hasn't lived up to the expectations I had. The kids aren't getting the same teacher participation, the same I grew up with. Your brother grew up with my brother, went to school, that kind of thing that we took for granted, these kids know nothing about.

So it sounds like it's not a close knit community anymore.

No. ... It takes an old town person to explain it to someone. Explain what Conyers used to be. We used to play baseball on the road. Now, you can't even turn out of a driveway...So, my kids wouldn't even have that chance of knowing what it's like to just be small town.

Do you think that's hurt your children?

I'm sure it has hurt, because there's an inner part of me, a foundation. I've got a base. I know that this is home. No matter what house I live in, Rockdale County is home. And my kids, both of them have grown up in Rockdale County, but they don't have the pride. It doesn't mean anything. It could be Kalamazoo as well as Conyers. And that may just be because it's so large and that's all they've ever known.

What was Nicole like as a little girl?

Nicole was every dream come true I ever had. I wanted a baby. I was married and had a stepson. And I gave him everything I had to give. But there was still that, "if he was only mine" or "if I only had my own." So at 22 I decided to get pregnant, have Nicole. ... I focused on this baby--I didn't know it was Nicole--but focused on how much I wanted this baby and how much I wanted for her, all my dreams and hopes and all. And then she was born and she was just so perfect. And she was everything I could possibly want.

Well, right off the bat she had her days and nights mixed up. So she started off hard-headed. And she's been hard-headed ever since. I used to think about what my baby would look like. And then she was there so I knew what she looked like. And then I would think, "Oh, what's she going to look like when she's 3. What's she going to be like, 5, 8, 12." I could see her at those different ages playing or with her friends. And I tried to see her at 14, 15, 16, and I just couldn't imagine it. It's almost like it skipped. I can see her at 23. And I finally figured out about eight months ago that I couldn't imagine anything this bad. And that's why I couldn't see what she would be like. Because I've dealt with things with Nicole that Nicole takes for granted as just normal life that I never in my wildest dreams thought I would even think about, much less have to come up with a solution for. And so it's been very difficult.

Up until the age of 12 ... she would take my advice or I would say no, flat out, "no, you can't do that," and she would accept it. But at 12, a lot of different things happened in our lives, in her life. And for some reason she decided to take the road of rebellious--"Don't tell me anything, I know what I'm doing, you know nothing." ...

Do you remember when the first sign of trouble was?

The first problem I had with Nicole was all of a sudden the friends that she wanted to associate with. I would never have been allowed to associate with someone who came from a broken home. I would of never been allowed to associate with someone who did not live in their own home. And I always felt that was really wrong of mom and dad, but at the same time, now I realize they were wanting me to associate with people who were on my socio-economic educational level.

Well, the very first thing Nicole did was bring home a little girl who basically had nothing but a roof over her head and someone to holler at her. And that was it. And so that was my first inkling that somethings not quite right.

And then she started at Salem High School in the 6th grade, and that's where I totally lost any kind of control I had. She was basically an 11 year old at Salem with, at that time, it was 9th, 10th and 11th grade kids. Salem was a new educational approach based on college where they had a lot of freedom. There was a lot of independent study. And, that's well and good for 9th, 10th and 11th graders but I think it's proved to be for 6th graders, it wasn't good. Nicole had 9th grade, 10th grade boys calling all of a sudden. And this was a child who just got out of 5th grade. And so we had a lot of problems with that because it was like, "They're too old." "No, how dare they." "Mom, I see 'em every day at school." What do you say? And then of course you go with the psychologist, [who says] "You can't pick your children's friends. That's inhibiting them." You can't tell them how to make their own decisions. You're supposed to let them be free and make educated decisions. ...

I feel like whenever I made a mistake it was because of someone told me what to do. I listened to a psychologist when in my heart I knew I shouldn't do that. One example is smoking. Nicole was forbidden to smoke in my presence, around me, in my home, around my home. I knew she would sneak around, because every kid does. I did. But that's part of the penalty of being underage and smoking.

And the first thing when we went to a psychologist was, "Oh, let her smoke. Give her a smoking area to go smoke in." Well, right there first of all undermined my parental guidelines I had. She gave Nicole power because I was wrong and Nicole was right. She should be allowed to smoke. And that was the number one place I made the first mistake, was listening to powers that be that knew more than I thought I knew.

Another example is Nicole and I got in a horrendous fight. And the whole reason why we got in a fight is I would not allow her to go to a home where there was an adult who was playing with the kids, doing drugs with the kids, drinking with the kids ... . And so we got in a horrendous fight. The police came and they said, "Let her go on. You all need some space between you. Let her go on down there." Why did I get into this horrible fight with her when once again, the police, someone who [has] "authority," let her go, when I was saying, "No, she shouldn't be?" And plus I just basically got my butt whipped trying to stop her from going down there. And it was all for nothing. So again Nicole won.

Did that happen a lot, that she won, that you found yourself giving in?

All the time. Because ... she's willing to go to any extreme to get what she wants. Whether it's worth it. There is no value system. There is nothing. ... There's no consequences that are important enough. Finally, I have gotten through to her that jail is ... a place where she doesn't want to be, because they can take her freedom away. Finally, we got to the point where, when the police were called, she would stop because they could take her freedom away. But they're the only ones who could make her stop. I couldn't, because I can't take anything away from her. I can't restrict her to her room-- even to the house--because she'll walk out. What can I do? I can't put my hands on her. ... I have no parental leverage with her. ...

Why doesn't she respect you?

I have no idea. Because I've been the best mom I know how to be. I've always been there for her. I've always tried to see things from her point of view. When I was growing up, nothing was seen from my point of view. I was a kid. You're a kid, you have basically no rights. I was given responsibilities and rights as I grew older and I proved myself. I've never been given a chance give Nicole rights. Because she took whatever she wanted from whoever she wanted. Whether it be myself, teachers. And the thing of it is, everyone has always loved Nicole. Her teachers would give her just break after break after break. "We know you can do it Nicole. Just do it. That's all we're asking. Just do it." She didn't care. She would tell them where to go. Even in the juvenile system. ...

I wanted to talk about Nicole's real dad. ...

Well, [we divorced when] she was 3. And we didn't split up because we hated each other. ... To this day I feel in my heart he's still one of my best friends. He's always been there for Nicole. It's not a case of dad leaves and he never shows up. You could set your clock by her dad as far as he got her every weekend. Not every other weekend. He wanted her every weekend. Every holiday. So, she doesn't have that as an excuse.

She loves her dad. ... Nicole was his precious darlin'. ... Even when she was 12 and 13, 14, until she got in trouble with the law, she was his little girl. It got to a point to where I just felt like maybe he can do a better job. From the time Nicole was 4 and 5 it was always, "When I turn 14 I'm goin' to live with my dad." That's the Georgia state law. I mean at 5 years old she knew this. ... And so when she turned 14 ... it's like, "Well, do I have the right not to let her go live with her dad?" And it was a very traumatic experience for me once again. I cried. Oh, I cried. It just broke my heart. I felt like a failure. Why would she even want to leave me? Surely he can't do as good a job as I did as a mom and all that. But I went along with it reluctantly. The psychologist said that we were overbonded. I don't know how you can be overbonded. But we were overbonded and that Nicole needed that split. ... So she went to live with her dad. And he was not able to cope. ...

When we first had a problem, she wanted to have a party at his house. Of course he said no. She got mad and her and her best friend ran away. ... They stayed gone for three days. And to this day don't know what Nicole experienced during those three days. Her stories to me are--I wouldn't have wanted to live another day if that had really happened to me. The things that she said happened to her. That she was held with a knife to her throat. That she was raped. All of this. But, there's not been any traumatic--what you would think someone would show if those things had really happened. So I really and truly believe that they were at a friend's house and just stayed for three days. Someone dropped 'em off close to my house. And she comes home soaking wet because they were dirty and she knew she couldn't come home dirty so they jumped in the lake and washed off before they came home. ...

The group that Nicole has hung out for the last, I don't know, five or six years, they seem like a sort of lost tribe of children. Can you describe the group? What you've noticed about them?

They are kids from extremely broken homes, with no advantages whatsoever. With no family support whatsoever. With no educational background whatsoever. They are searching. When they would come over--and this was something I found very strange--all the kids would call me mom. It was like moms were interchangeable, except for your own mom and then you didn't want to have anything to do with that mom. They all depend on each other for everything. For their self-esteem. For who they are. They put a tremendous amount of trust into extremely untrustworthy people. It's very misplaced. They also have no regards to loyalty other than to the group. But they all talk bad about each other. They'll backstab each other. But the group itself, whatever makes the overlying group, they're loyal to it. But these kids, that's the part I've never understood. Ninety-nine point nine percent of these kids--you understand why they have problems. And with Nicole, it's almost just the opposite. It's like she's rebelling against too much mom, too much family. ...

She seems like she was, even now to this day, like she's constantly trying to get attention from you, to shock you. Why does she want attention from you so badly?

I have no idea. ... because if I try to give her loving attention she pushes me away, or she'll do ... things that she knows that just automatically push my button, I'm going to be furious. ... So I don't know. There's not enough positive attention in the world to give her.

Do you think she's angry at you for having had your own needs in terms of dating, in terms of divorcing, in terms of going out and having your own life?

She blames me for running her daddy away. ... I shouldn't have made her daddy leave. Even though she knows it's the right thing at the right time to do.

Do you think it was hard for her to see you date other men?

She didn't act like it. She liked who I was dating. ...

You said that some day Nicole will look back and regret. What it is you think she will feel when she regrets her life?

I feel like there's a lot she'll regret. The one that I think will cost her the most is quitting school. Then ... I hope that she realizes the way that she's treated her family. I don't want her to have to live with regrets, but I do want her to realize that ... all of her extended family went through this together. Everyone knew each step of the way what was happening. ... Because I went to them for advice. I had nothing in my experience to pull from on how to make an intelligent decision, on what to do next. And so it was a family involvement all the way around. And so Nicole's got a lot to think about that way.

... Plus there's a tremendous amount of decisions that she's made. That has to affect her, even though she acts like all of it's the gang and it doesn't affect her. You can't walk into a health department and it not affect you. You can't see teachers that you cussed out and not affect you. You can't see friends that you've betrayed and it not affect you. Her little brother, there's a lot to atone for there. And I don't want it to be delimitating to her. But I do want her to realize there are payments, there are consequences. And it may only be with inside yourself. But it's something you live with every day. And I just don't want it to be too overwhelming for her when it all finally sinks in, how wrong she was.

Who do you blame?

I don't really think there is anyone to blame. I try to blame myself for a long time. I tried to blame myself. But it just didn't wash. I mean, I did everything I needed to do right for these kids. My other one is taking it and done well with it. I try to blame society, but you have to ultimately be responsible for yourself so you can't really blame society. I think society gives kids too many choices now that shouldn't be given to a kid. The first time Nicole came home with a pager I went bezerk. Only drug dealers and prostitutes have pagers. Which one are you? ... Well, all of a sudden I have no control whatsoever who's she talking to, who's calling her, what guy's putting a nasty message, as far as I'm concerned, in that pager but she thinks that's normal and doesn't mean the same thing that I think it means.

You turn on TV and you kill them, they get up, they're in the next show--so does that mean there's no death? Is that where the violence comes from, because it's really not real to them? ... Lack of religion. I'm sure that's got a lot to do with it. There's no higher power that's above a human that you have to answer to any longer. It's not as important. And so therefore you become your own judge, jury and decision maker. I don't know the answer to it. I don't think anyone does because if there was an answer we'd change it. You would help any kid you could help if there was an answer.

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