"Everywhere we went the kids were triggered by past things. I kept thinking that if we just moved from there, that it would be, it would be safer. I was concerned for the safety and well-being for the kids."
Between January and March 2014 DJ and her husband, Lyle, uprooted her mosaic family from Salem, Oregon, and moved them 6,000 miles east to a little home on a hill in Amesville, Ohio. The children's progress with DJ plateaued or back tracked each time a familiar space or place came into view. She believes the first step to helping these children was to move them away from the harrowing environment that they were in.
DJ does not believe that the children's birth parents are intrinsically bad people. The choice she made to relocate her family was not to erase their pasts. Rather, DJ wants to create a context that sustains their healing. "It's just when you're parenting you don't really need a bunch of input from people that are part of the trauma, you know, it's like, it's not, it doesn't feel good, you know, it doesn't feel good for them. It doesn't, it's not consistent either," she says. The cross-country journey gives the kids a chance to grow without multiple voices of influence. DJ also benefits from the distance. Similar to the seven kids that know her as "mom," DJ's past is conflicted by drugs. She is giving the children something that she never had as a child - a place to call home and a family to lean on.
"If I can make it, anyone can make it because I grew up on the streets of LA. [I was] a little skinny white girl making really bad choices and you know, running from the truth of my family and feeling unwanted," she says.
DJ was born into a hard life. Ridden by instability, she did all that she could to minimize the chaos that consumed her. There was no place to call home. Family members took her in, but DJ's stay was always temporary. They did not understand what or who she was running from. None of her relatives believed the stories she told them of the abuse she endured. DJ was left to her own solutions. Young and alone, she took to the streets of LA.
"My addiction was I was addicted to poor people. Like I was addicted to mentally poor people. I was addicted to unhealthy and toxic people because I grew up in chaotic situation and abuse," DJ said. "So it was easier for me to function around abusive people than it was around healthy people. Healthy people scared me."
DJ struggled with socialization for the same reasons that her children do now. Normal people intimidated her. Unable to create healthy relationships, she fell into a spiral of self-worthlessness. She has since come to terms with her past and has forgiven those who scarred her. It wasn't an easy path to take, but she believes that channeling compassion instead of focusing on anger helped her along the way. "I went through a lot of shit and I think that if I would've had someone who had kind of been like, you're good no matter what, it would've been easier," she said. DJ continues to guide her children, hoping that someday they will find the serenity that she did years ago.