Romeo races up to give his mom a sweet, spontaneous smooch on the cheek before the 4-year-old dives onto the living room floor to join in his brothers' wrestling match.
It has been a long and winding path from childhood addiction to sobriety for Romeo's mom, Victoria Vinsick. The 25-year-old mother's path has taken her from hopelessness through the criminal justice system to sobriety. It has also taken Vinsick's five children through the foster care system.
The Family Nurturing Center is sponsoring the Vinsick family for Light One Candle. The Vinsicks' story details the devastation of drug abuse and hope of healing. Described by staff at the therapeutic nursery as one of the most needy of all families that receive help at the center, the Vinsicks' holiday wish list includes fundamentals such as clothes for all five children. A few games would be helpful, too.
If you would like to help this struggling family, please call 541-779-5242.
Vinsick expresses gratitude to everyone who has helped her find her way back, including Medford's ARC, or Addictions Recovery Center, where she regained her sobriety through inpatient counseling and therapy, and the Family Nurturing Center, which helped her and the children become a happy family once again.
"I was using drugs when I was 10," Vinsick says. "But I didn't get into it really heavy until I was 12. By the time I was 15, I was pregnant."
No child of 10 can fully understand the dangers of methamphetamine use. Just as no child of 15 can fully understand what it means to be a parent. But Vinsick said being pregnant with her son, Alleric, now nearly 9, set the tone for a series of cycling periods of sobriety.
"I would stay clean during my pregnancies, then start using drugs again after my baby was born," she says.
Vinsick was sober for almost four years at one point. But she succumbed to the mind- and emotion-numbing lure of drugs after her last child suffered life-threatening health issues, she says.
Two-year-old Nickolas stopped breathing one night, Vinsick says. She rushed him to the hospital, only to be told the baby was fine.
"They told me I was crazy," she says.
But then Nickolas stopped breathing in the hospital. And his heart stopped beating, too, she says.
Doctors were able to start Nickolas' heart again. He was airlifted to a Portland hospital where he remained on life support for three months, Vinsick says.
"The day they shut the machines off, he just started breathing on his own," she says.
Vinsick brought Nickolas home. But then the young mother spiraled into drug use again to dull the pain and terror she was feeling. Her reaction is one Vinsick knows most people will not be able to understand, she says.
"I was supposedly happy. My baby was alive," Vinsick says. "But I went off the deep end."
Eventually Vinsick was living "from bush to bush" along the Bear Creek Greenway. She subsisted on free sandwiches offered by the Salvation Army at Hawthorne Park. But she was never, ever safe.
"I was raped in January. I had my arm broken," she says.
Vinsick was also never at peace. No matter how much drugs she pumped into her system, Vinsick missed her children, who were also paying a heavy price for her drug addiction, she says.
Her five children were parceled out to their father, her mother and eventually to two different foster homes, she says.
"I missed my kids," Vinsick says.
Vinsick remembers the day she decided to turn all their lives around. One more time. Hopefully for the last time, she says.
"Something happened," Vinsick says. "I just didn't want to do it anymore. I didn't want to be one of those losers who waits around in the park, waiting for a sandwich."
Vinsick enrolled in an in-patient sobriety program at ARC and stayed for more than a month. Then she entered transitional living through the Salvation Army and began the process of reuniting with her children. She continues to take group therapy classes and also meets with a counselor for one-on-one assistance, Vinsick says.
"I've got 15 months' clean now," Vinsick says. "I am doing better than I would expect for myself. I graduate in a week."
Vinsick also reached out to the Family Nurturing Center for help with her parenting skills, says Betsy Wright, a teacher and care coordinator for the therapeutic respite nursery.
"Victoria stated that she desperately wanted parenting help," Wright says.
Vinsick told staff that she felt she was parenting primarily "out of guilt," that she didn't know how to "put her foot down" or "stick to her guns."
The house and the children were always neat and clean. But Victoria was struggling to parent all five children, who were demonstrating some challenging behaviors, including spitting, throwing fits, screaming and lying, Wright says.
The children participated in setting goals that included sticking to regular bedtime schedules, developing family rules, eliminating swearing, learning appropriate boundaries, and having consistent discipline techniques that work for her family, says Mary-Curtis Gramley, the center's director.
"Victoria was exceedingly responsive, and developed systems to manage and deal with the children's more challenging behaviors," says Gramley.
"This family really responded to the help they were offered," Gramley says. "And it is due, in large part, to the commitment of Mom to really turn her life around."
Gramley describes Romeo, who attends the nursery, as "one of those little fellows who is the epitome of resilience."
"He is happy and ready to learn," Gramley says.
Vinsick, sitting on the couch with her two daughters, says Nickolas will be attending the Family Nurturing Center soon.
"They are great," she says. "They're all full of energy. And there is still a lot of fighting about who is the boss. But we're all just happy to be together."
Vinsick vows she will continue to "stay strong" for herself and her children.
"Drugs are not the way out," Vinsick says. "I have learned they will only leave me alone, and I will have nothing and have nobody."
Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or firstname.lastname@example.org.