I strain to smile and keep the tears from brimming over as I cup her soft cheek in my hand. I don't want her to see my tears, I want her to see my hope. I am trying to tell her, more with my eyes than anything else, that I am still here. I want her to know that she should not be celebrating her 14th birthday in a mental hospital. I sit in a white brick room with a steel door that shouts "institution" at me while invading all of my senses. I sit overstimulated with grief. I try to keep my composure. I am searching desperately for the positive spin as she stares at me through a drug-induced fog, and it evades me altogether.
She is thinking of trusting. This is not something that can be taken for granted. She hopes that she is wanted as she looks fleetingly into my face. She is beginning to THINK about bonding. There is so much weight because this contemplative level of trust must be stewarded well. The day that she was welcomed into the doors at the House of Providence she was completely unreachable. This was a new level of trauma that I had not yet been acquainted with. She just wants to sleep. She says that when she sleeps her heart doesn't hurt. Her heart hurts for the brother that was smothered to death. Her heart hurts from the rejection as she begged family members to take her in, and one-by-one they said "no" in their own ways. Her heart hurts because she misses her other two brothers desperately. Her heart hurts from the unconscionable abuse that she has suffered at the hands of foster parents. Her heart hurts because she is furious with herself for forgetting her real mother's name. Her heart hurts because she is the broken and "rejectable" child. Her heart hurts because she is dead tired and her soul is weary.
She is not the problem. She is already filed by the professionals. She is known and described with many words ranging from trauma to "unadoptable". None of the words used EVER speak power or truth. I will not use these labels.
As she slowly allows us to see glimpses of her true self, we are altogether captivated. She is witty and has a comedic timing that is uncanny. She always dresses beautifully and adds a detail (with a scarf or pop of color) that is uniquely her own. She thrives in structure. She loves babies and she is magical with toddlers. She reads with a graceful fluidity that is beautiful. She prays with a raw furor that convicts me to the core. Her simplicity is precious and longs to be nurtured. Fiercely loyal and hilarious are words more apropos and fitting.
The protection that she deserves has long forgotten her. We reintroduce her to this concept and she is skeptical. This sweet girl's story is not rare and it is not isolated. The plight of children in Michigan's foster care system is horrifying and the problems are systemic. The overwhelming struggles are paralyzing, so instead of complaints, we come with a solution. We do not join this fight with judgment, but rather with a vigor that can be oxygen for those with whom we are aligned. If we love well, it will not fail! The children deserve nothing less than our excellence, strength, integrity, wisdom, boldness and courage. We dare not require anything of them that we are not ourselves exercising daily on their behalf.