Jennifer is 30 years old, in the prime of her womanhood. She’s always dreamt of a family and it’s what she wants more than anything. The problem is, she’s happily single. She’ll babysit, she’ll be the cool aunt, she’ll be happy watching other families’ kids. But each time she comes home, she comes home alone and goes to bed with an emptiness in her heart. She lies there, in the stillness of nighttime, listening to the clock ticking time off as she falls asleep.
Halia is 7 years old, and she’s at her eighth foster family. She’s trying to remember if she is supposed to put her dinner plate in the dishwasher or the sink. Wait, there’s no dishwasher, so it must go in the sink, she thinks. Rinsing it off seems like a good idea. It’s not that she’s got a memory problem, though. After seven past families, it’s hard to keep track of which rules apply where. She’s tired of moving around (and at this point, she figures, it’s got to have something to do with her. Why else would they keep moving her?), and she’d like to crack the code on being a good girl so she can just…stay with one family for awhile. Forever? Oh yes, definitely, but that just doesn’t seem like a realistic thing to hope for right now.
Jennifer really wasn’t sure if this would work. Most of the adoption ‘cases’ she’d heard of were of family units looking to grow. In fact, wasn’t that the point of a foster family?But no one said ‘no’ to her, and Lilliput kept asking her to come back and do this class, fill out that paperwork, and it seemed like everything had been moving along normally. Still, Jennifer wondered if it wasn’t just a charade and her happy and single status was a joke around the office.
“Hello?” she said, answering the phone. It was Monica, the social worker at Lilliput. “Yes, ok. Uh, huh…REALLY!? Um, I guess, I mean, yes! Yes! I’ll be there!”
Jennifer hung up, putting her cell back on the table. Monica had invited her to a disclosure meeting, which meant that this hadn’t been a big ruse after all - she had gotten her certification from Lilliput and they had a child that needed a parent.
In fact, Halia was a special case. It hadn’t worked out for the last 8 years, and the case workers, scratching their heads, decided to try something different. They wondered if a single mother and daughter relationship would work out better.
Jennifer and Halia would go to the park a few times weekly, then spend the night at Jennifer’s place for a couple months. They warmed to each other over the summer, both of them asking questions about each others’ rules.
Jennifer was looking through some paperwork at the kitchen table after dinner.
“What about the dishes? What should I do with them, rinse, dishwasher, what?” asked Halia. Jennifer pulled Halia over to her.
“I want you to listen to me carefully,” she said, solemnly. “I love you, and always will love you, no matter where the dishes go. You and I are like this now.” Jennifer hooked Halia’s pinky finger with hers. “OK?”
“OK,” smiled Halia.
The two would visit family on occasion and went to Lilliput gatherings. Jennifer had many friends, and each came to know Halia and love her. Kevin was one of them.
“He likes you,” observed Halia. Jennifer’s face reddened, because she kind of liked him, too. But there was no time for that, she reminded herself. Halia was her Number One.
After the adoption was final, mother and daughter would finally begin living together permanently. Halia went to school everyday, and Jennifer went to work. They would come home tired, talk about their days after eating, then go to bed to start the next day.
“Mom, I want to wear makeup,” said Halia one night. Jennifer regarded her daughter, now 9 years old.
“Halia, no! You’re way too young for that,” she said.
Halia looked as if she’d been struck. Head down, she finished her dinner silently. 30 minutes later, Jennifer would be outside Halia’s bedroom, pounding on the locked door. She wanted inside desperately, where her beautiful daughter was making terrible sounds of destruction.
After an eternity, Jennifer stood just outside her daughter’s room and looked in, mouth agape. Her bed covers were strewn across the floor. Toys, some broken, littered the entire space. Jennifer saw a tiny, foot-sized hole in the opposite wall. And there was Halia, red-faced, sullen, and, balled up in the corner.
It took three days to talk about that incident. The two sat at the kitchen table again, tired but satisfied with their compromise. Jennifer would start showing Halia the ins and outs of makeup if Halia would practice at home only.
“Feelings are gross,” Halia concluded. Her little arms crossed, she looked crossly at Jennifer. “I don’t like them.” Jennifer nodded, then pulled Halia into an embrace.
Still in contact with her biological family members, Halia longed for permanence. She still had trouble believing Jennifer was her forever mom. Unbeknownst to Jennifer, Halia had made contact with her birth mother, and planned on going to live with her.
She waited until she was home alone. Then, backpack in hand, she took a quick glance around. There were a few dishes in the sink, and the carpet had those fresh vacuum lines from that morning’s chores. Halia stepped outside. Inside, the house grew quiet, except for the clock tick-tick-ticking its time away.
Jennifer and Kevin looked up when Halia came back. They were at their home, waiting. It had been a long 48 hours, and everyone, including Halia, had dark circles under their eyes.
“It wasn’t they way it was supposed to be,” cried Halia. “I love you, Mommy. Will you please take me back?”
“You were never gone from my heart,” said Jennifer. She looked over the top of Halia’s head to Kevin and mouthed a ‘thank-you.’ Kevin smiled warmly and nodded.
“Wait, wait a minute,” said Halia. She pulled away from Jennifer. She was center stage now, the two adults looking at her intently.
The clock ticked three seconds.
“I need a brother,” she said. She was looking at Kevin.
Like Jennifer’s love for Halia, Kevin’s was quiet and patient. He and Jennifer were married once both Halia and Jennifer approved. They continued to attend Lilliput’s, classes, groups, and social events. Frequent contact with Monica and prospective parents helped guide the tiny family into a cohesive unit, always learning about each other and navigating through many compromises. In May of 2017, William Smith was born and Halia had her wish.
Halia still thought ‘feelings were gross,’ but she got better at expressing herself without the ‘expansive displays of frustration’ she started off with in the beginning. In fact, she is now able to tell Jennifer when she’s bothered about something, and can even tell her mom why. Jennifer is grateful and continues to support Halia’s emotional development.
Jennifer, Halia, Kevin, and William would welcome joy into their home one more time by the spring of 2019. In March of that year, they said hello to Brandon, their newest family member.
All heads were bent down, looking at him. Jennifer was holding him, Halia was holding William’s hand as they peeked at their baby brother. Kevin had his arms around Jen and the kids, smiling with moist eyes. The little family welcomed baby Brandon together, his tiny little hands wrapped around their fingers, not yet aware of how much he was already loved. A love that started with a wish and that grew into something much greater.
Because through all those trying times in the beginning, Love was always working. It was always there, always growing. Like the clock that never stopped ticking, even when they didn’t realize it was there, it stayed quiet and patient in the background. And once in awhile, when they were able to notice it and appreciate it, Love smiled to itself and enjoyed that moment like it had always done every moment since the beginning.
If you are at all interested in learning more about this process or if you are ready to stand up and be that hero to a child in foster care, please sign up now and join us at our next RFA Orientation class.