Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Unexpected...


...currently, there's a file in my email containing a set of cover designs, accompanied with a handful of fresh title ideas from my indie-pub. One of them I'm even quite fond of.

And yet their requests for an opinion have gone unanswered.

The manuscript is going through its final edit. A beta reader has been recruited, the project nearing completion with a press the size of a Mac truck eagerly awaiting.

And yet I've held my excitement in check.

An acknowledgment is due, and I've yet to begin.

My new manager at the dayjob, whose badge number just happens to be 666, has already issued me a verbal warning for reading Karin Slaughter's "Undone," while on the clock.

I suppose I should be concerned, but the reprimand has failed to inspire angst. (Insignificant foolishness sprayed from the mouth of an obtuse twit.)

For the past week, something's been on my mind. Something bearing far more consideration than reading on the job, or even concentrating on a dream.

...she's a lanky twelve year old. Shoulder length hair. Armed with a "quick to the plate" mouth full of spit-fire, at times harsh, but more often, just silly...and lost. She's property of the state. A girl permanently imprisoned in the foster care system, both parents no longer in the picture.

Too old for most available suiters, too young to be considered "mature enough to decide her own fate," she's been living in a foster home, sharing a spare bedroom with three other teenage girls, considered more of a number than a name.

My wife and I, licensed foster parents, accepted an invitation for a weekend of respite care for the girl a few months ago. In a nutshell, respite care is simply a change of scenery for the foster child, some peace and quiet for her foster home, a chance for reflection for both.

Prior to her visit, we were warned of a girl quick to spout off, whose mood swings hinged on bi-polar tendencies. Who'd managed to run away from home a time or two. A girl in the dark, lost and searching...for what, she had no idea. I was told of a girl uncomfortable around men, to be patient with her.

Contrary to what we were told, the girl was well-behaved. She spent the weekend playing with my daughter, the two of them like long lost soul mates, scurrying about in the field behind our house, playing the way children did before the likes of X-Box Live and Sony's latest electronic marvel.

She revealed to us that her mother has a mental disability, that her father's been out of the picture since before she was out of diapers. That she's been in counseling for years, doctors probing, medications prescribed like candy.

The weekend was a hoot. Swimming at the YMCA. A Sunday afternoon barbecue. She left in tears, hinting of an eventual return, to which we agreed.

A month later we received a call. The girl was asking for a second weekend of respite, and was requesting us. Despite a busy schedule, we agreed.

I didn't arrive home from work until 2:30 am last Friday night. The house was dark, the wife and kids in bed. I pulled into the garage, staggered out of my car, joints whining from fatigue, when I sensed the door to the mudroom quietly opening. I looked up and saw the silhouette of a girl, and remembered her visit.

"Hello," I said. "You're up kinda late, don't you think?"

"Yeah, I guess."

"Couldn't sleep?"

"I'm a little tired."

"Well...is everything okay? Why are you still up?"

I watched the shadow of a bare foot scuff along the door frame, her head lowered, lost in thought. Then, "I just wanted to say hi. I missed you guys."

"You waited up for me?"

"Is that okay?"

I felt a tightness in my chest. "Yeah, that's okay. And it's good to see you too."

Despite a ten hour shift and the need of a hot shower and a night of slumber, I spent the next hour and a half on the back porch under the stars, talking with a girl whom I'd been told didn't know how to conduct herself around the company of a father figure.

Over the course of the weekend, she informed us that she'd been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. Of how her foster family pushed for this prognosis, declaring her mood swings unmanageable. She then spent the next three hours surrounding herself in a heap of Legos with my daughter, constructing the next great metropolis.

Rather than crying, this time around, she left quietly, accepting a hug from each of us, and offering a wave from the passenger window of her ride.

Late Sunday evening, after tucking the kids into bed, my wife took me aside and informed me that before leaving, the girl had confided in her several points of interest.

She told my wife that I was the first adult man she'd ever been able to speak comfortably with about any subject. Like an actual dad. She revealed that she'd recently started her first menstrual cycle, something I scratched my head over, wondering if in fact that explained the reasoning behind those mood swings her foster family was struggling with.

Then she asked my wife if we'd ever be interested in adopting her.

As foster parents we're taught to have skin thicker than lead. To manage the unmanageable. To find a way to change the life of an unfortunate victim, earn their respect, perhaps even their love, only to release them back into the world in a year's time. And we do.

And yet...

Like the girl, I also grew up dealing with a mother stricken with mental issues, thus inspiring the drama behind my upcoming novel. I can easily see myself in her shoes, a twelve year old lost in a world boasting of cruelty.

In this state, one would find the act of moving mountains a bit easier than reaching out to a twelve year old girl already in care, with the purpose of changing her living environment, much less beginning the process of adoption.

And yet...

She immediately made friends with my daughter and younger son. Any fears of awkwardness between her and my teenager were quashed upon watching them play catch in the back yard like long lost siblings. And when she's gone, she's on our minds, like a family member's absence.

The book is nearing completion, a lifelong dream soon to be realized. The hours I keep due to writing and the dayjob should be bottled up, shelved in a closet, and not spoken of. My wife and I argue over unpaid bills and household repairs long ignored. My kids fight over the WII controllers and who gets the last scoop of Moose Tracks wedged into the bottom corner of the freezer-burnt container.

And yet to her, we're perfect in our dysfunction. Because it's something normal. It's something real and concrete, without the worry of being scrutinized by doctors, each one waiting for the next screw up in order to diagnose her with her mother's disorder.

And so we'll wait until the time is right. For if it's meant to happen, it will. And perhaps someday she'll return...this time with more than a suitcase and a pillow.

Thanks for reading,
EL


29 comments:

Tracy Edward Wymer said...

Awesome post, Elliot. Sheesh! A lot there.

The Words Crafter said...

Wow, how vulnerable and desperate she must be to lay herself open like that and ask such a gigantic think of you guys. Like her, I feel uncomfortable around male authority figures-and my dad left us when I was nearly 4, maybe 3 1/2...

My heart would say take her! but I don't know what my head would say....I tend to be impulsive. I'm glad that your heart wants more, but I'm also glad that your head is thinking straight. Good luck with any future decisions and God bless the generosity of your family!!!

Roland D. Yeomans said...

She obviously needs you. Do you have the emotional energy to take her and her needs on?

If you are seriously considering taking her in, with the added bills that would entail, then that verbal warning at work must not be ignored.

I've seen too many other friends go into denial over such warnings, only to lose their jobs. Please don't be one of them. Your family needs you employed. This wounded girl needs you -- if only as an escape valve -- if not adoptive family.

I am your friend. My profile has my email should you need to bounce ideas or lack of angst at me. Roland

Lola Sharp said...

My heart just broke.

Oh I hope the stars align and she and your family find a way to be a forever family...if it's meant to be.

I love that you and your wife have such big hearts...and care. Big hugs to both of you.

Also, what Roland said...please do be careful with your job.

Your family and the lanky girl are in my thoughts and heart.

aspiring_x said...

when i used to work with a lot of foster kids as a camp counselor, they'd come in with these warnings. and oftentimes, the kids were nothing like the report said. but it all comes down to environment. a lot of times they're just looking for the "right' place... a place where they can just be them, and not their case...
i'll be praying for you, and your family, and that little girl as you think over your decisions...
but i'm with roland. you really need to keep your job- extra little girl or not. be careful!

Donna Hole said...

That is awesome that you are foster parents. It's not an easy life for either the kids or the families. A necessity of the world, however.

I'm sure you've had to "harden your heart" many times over the years against getting pulled into a child's disheartening life and needs. So if this girl is really tugging at your heartstrings, maybe its not just a passing enjoyment of having an older child in the house the young ones can look up to.

Remember, everyone is on their best behavior for visits, special occasions. If you have longer visits and still enjoy each other's company, then as you say "if its meant to be . ."

There are funds available out there for parents who adopt special needs/hard to place children. If your heart is in the right place, I'm sure the financial burden could be overcome.

Like writing; some labors of love are not meant to be easy, just satisfying.

You seem to be facing a lot of life decisions at this time. I'll be sending you and your family - Miss Lovely Lankey included - warm, inspirational thoughts. Whatever the results of your choices, they are sure to be well thought out, and thus the only ones that you could have made.

Thanks for sharing this part of your life with us.

......dhole

Piedmont Writer said...

I don't know you. I doubt if we'll ever meet in person. But I do know this - you are the truest and best of men. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family at this time of indecision because I also know, if this little 12 year old girl didn't mean that much to you, we wouldn't have heard about her.

God has a funny way of showing us what we need in this life, even if we know it will be a burden, even if we know there will be tough times ahead. There is no doubt in my mind that you and your family will be so much more than a respite for her. You don't choose who you fall in love with, you just do. And sometimes we're so much better off going with the flow than trying to fight the inevitable.

Godspeed to you on this incredible journey.

**Heidi** said...

Well honey if you wanted me in tears (which you know is a rarity)...ya got it! God works in mysterious ways and He just made it very clear to me that we need to pursue this and fight for her....I love you!

To all of you fellow bloggers that support and encourage my husband...you are awesome! Thank you all so much! BTW..he knows his "day job" needs him more than he needs them. They are major busy and can't find workers who will put up with their dictator style....plus he is awesome at what he does there....so no worries ;0)

Christine Danek said...

This post has moved me. You and your family are amazing. To be a foster parent is extremely difficult and I commend you.
It is strange how signs come upon us. Usually out of nowhere but I have learned to open my eyes and try to see why certain things happen. They may have a deeper meaning.
Good luck with your decisions. I know they will be well thought out and made the best they can be.
I will be thinking of you and your family.
Thanks for sharing this part of your life.

KarenG said...

What a moving post. What a sweet picture. My heart goes out to this lost girl. How wonderful that she feels so comfortable with your family. Even if nothing more works out, you will have made an impact on her and given her hope that she can belong somewhere someday. What a great thing your family has done to touch her life.

Jules said...

It's not 7 in the morning and you have me all emotional. Such a heart moving post. I was applauding you for being a foster parent and then the little girl.

Regardless of what happens I can say from experience even the smallest of gestures can save a life. Sounds to me like your are already leaving a footprint in her heart.

My blessings and prayers :)
Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

The Golden Eagle said...

That's a very moving post.

Terry Stonecrop said...

A lovely post. You're so generous and kind-hearted. I'm sure no matter what happens you and your family have already helped this girl in immeasurable ways:)

You'll have plenty of time to get to know her better before you decide. So enjoy it:)

Elliot Grace said...

...Wow. Re-read my post now that I'm not utterly exhausted, and realized that it became a rumbled, jumbled flurry of info. On most days I really can spit out a decent blurb or two, but when tired, well...

In any sense, thanks to all for reading. Since returning to her foster family, she's been in contact via Facebook, and keeps us in the know regarding her life. She knows that she'll have refuge under my roof if ever needed.

Thanks again. You guys are great:)

Lynda Young said...

Wow, this is such a sensitively written post. Wishing you all the very best for your dream.

Jemi Fraser said...

Wow - have to wipe away the tears to type here.

As a teacher I work with lots of kids in these types of situations. It's so incredibly hard. These kids are dealing with so much - and then you add puberty on top of it. Hard to imagine how they cope at all.

I'm so glad this little one was able to find some true respite in your home and with your family. That oasis of peace and ease will stay with her and help her stay grounded. It will help her when she dreams of what her future should hold.

You're good people. In my opinion foster parents are true heroes.

rama said...

First let me thank you for visiting my blog.
You have written a beautiful and touching piece of story. However remember not to get too emotional, and do something which you would surely regret later.You have to keep the needs of your family first.
If you felt emotionally attached to each and every child then, there can be no end to the problem.
The best option is to be there for that girl, help her get over her problems through a distance, and don't let guilt take over prudence.
We have all gone through various problems in our lives, and have somehow struggled and come up in life, she too would have to go through many of them, and your idea to take her in would not solve her problem in the long run.
I have a feeling you yourself have realized, that what you initially felt was not so right.
Well, I can wish you the very best in your life. Take care.

Alison Stevens said...

Wow, Elliot, what a powerful post. I can only imagine how difficult this must be for you, to find the right path for you, your family, and the girl. I wish you all the best.

Angie Ledbetter said...

Wow, it's still 90+ outside at 11:48 pm, and I have goose bumps. Great story full of heart, but even more soul. Kudos. Glad I came here from KarenG's BBQ. I'll be back.

Ann Best said...

I'm so glad I came over here from KarenG's BBQ.

Like everyone else, I am so moved by your story. It certainly is a major decision facing you and your family. But from what I've read here, I know you will make a wise decision that will be the best for all of you.

I am now your follower. I'll be back! Especially to hear the end of this story....
Ann

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Hi, Elliot! I hopped over from the BBQ celebration at Karen's. And lucky me - I get to be your 100th follower! :-)

Amie B said...

i grew up surrounded by foster children. my parents loved kids, wanted more, and longed to help children without loving families.

so i understand your longings and desires to help others. god bless.

Lisa said...

What a touching post. Thank you. I'm a new follower from KarenG's blog party. Thanks for stopping by my blog as well. Take care and good luck with both your upcoming release and your family.

Wendy Tyler Ryan said...

Tears before nine o'clock. Look what you did to me.

This is a big decision. Listen to both voices - the one in your heart and the one in your head.

RaShelle said...

This wasn't jumbled at all Elliot. If your family feels like it's the right thing to do . . . well then, go for it. And thanks for sharing. =D

Nicole MacDonald said...

Awww *sniff* got tears in my eyes. I hope it works out for her, I really do and you guys are amazing for taking on the task and doing it WELL! I worked for Child Youth & Family in NZ for a couple of years and will be forever awed by those that took the job with both hands and made a real difference.

I actually popped over from the BBQ and am so glad I did!

http://damselinadirtydress.blogspot.com

Joanna St. James said...

wow! keep us updated u've got most of us caring about her now and all the best to your family

Elliot Grace said...

...everyone's support has been overwhelming, to which I'm grateful:)

Over the past few days contact has been lost with the girl. She hasn't been on Facebook, and my cell phone's been silent. A call to our social worker revealed that things are growing "volatile" at her foster home.

We are concerned, but have no choice but to support the agency's decision to leave her there for now. I've got a feeling we haven't seen the last of her though. I'll keep everyone updated.

Thanks again!

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