We had met her once before. That day, we were supposed to just meet her, then we could make a decision and plan a transition. The caseworker was concerned that we might not want to accept the placement. “She's part black,” I was told, as if that would matter to us. It had mattered to others, apparently. Her caseworker was concerned that we might change our minds once we met her because “she's pretty dark”.
I had concerns that were more important than her racial makeup or her complexion, however. Though so young, she had spent most of her life in foster care. Part of that time she had been in a home with her mother, then not. There was a trail reunification, which lasted only 2 months. There had been so much instability in her short 21 months and it had clearly affected her. She had just learned how to walk and did not speak. Her foster mother had taught her to use baby sign language in order to communicate with her. Even more concerning, her caseworker told me that she showed no signs of having attached to anyone. Not her mother, neither of the foster mothers that she had lived with, no one. They were concerned that she may not be able to properly attach to anyone. If we accept the placement, we could be signing up for an attachment disorder. Even so, I wanted to meet her and, if we decided to accept the placement, we wanted a slow transition to make things easier on her.
Our meeting was going so well that the caseworker asked us to take her somewhere. We took her to the park for a few hours. She must have felt like she had been dropped on another planet. Here she was with people she didn't know, who are trying to show her how to play on strange equipment that she was clearly not familiar with. We know, though, we would be accepting the placement.
The case worked wanted to move her immediately, but I insisted on a transition for her sake. We were given 9 days. So, I left a laminated collage of photos of our family with her and called her every night. Her foster mother and I were doing everything we could to try to familiarize her with her new family as much as possible in the sliver of time we were given.
Even though we were more than willing to make the 2 ½ hour drive to pick her up, the caseworker insisted we meet halfway. We were to pick up our little girl at McDonald's. It was a combination of anger and sadness when she arrived and I realize that, not only was this poor baby being sent home with strangers, but she was being dropped off by an office aid that she didn't know and who didn't seem to know the first thing about taking care of a little one.
You can't unring a bell, so we made the best of it. So, I brought home this beautiful, terrified child. She was calm most of the time but seemed to be detached, almost in a daze, for the first couple weeks. Over the protests of friends and family, we kept her world very small for a while. It was important to work on making her feel safe and encourage attachment.
Bedtime was when she was the most distressed. Because she was still in foster care, putting her in our bed was not an option. But she was so scared when she would go to bed in this strange house, alone in a room for the first time ever. We started a routine of bath, reading a story, and then I would hold her and she would wrap her little fingers around my thumb and I would wrap mine around her whole hand. This somehow made her feel secure and she would fall asleep, as long as I held her hand that way.
The transition wasn't always easy but, after 5 years, I can see how far she has come. She was able to form healthy attachments with each member of our family. Unable to get her into speech therapy, I did my best to research methods for helping her catch up. Today, she is on target with her speech. She is a bit behind on her reading, though, because the delay means she still has a bit of difficulty differentiating between letter that sound similar. So, we are working to deal with that so that she can pass the 1st grade test at the end of this year, so that she will not be held back. I feel that being held back will harm her, instead of helping, but I didn't write the law.
Because she had just started walking when she moved in, her muscle development was behind where it should have been. So, we did everything we could think of to give her fun ways to develop those muscles. First thing, her new brothers played with her on the trampoline. I had never given much thought to how much exercise a trampoline can be but she went from wobbling when she walked to running like an Olympic sprinter within a couple weeks. A year after moving in, I put her in dance classes to help her learn more muscle control. Her angel of a teacher didn't normally take kids her age but, after I explained the situation, agreed to take her on a trial basis. My baby has been a dancer ever since.
Today, I look at her and wonder how it could have possibly have been 5 years already. Our lives have changed so much in those 5 years. When she moved in, it was anticipated that she would be adopted in a matter of months. Instead it took 3 ½years. We were strangers to one another when she moved in but now I can't imagine life without her. She has enriched our family so much and, without her, there would be a void that could not be filled. She is an amazing, loving, beautiful, intelligent young girl who is growing up far to fast for her Mommy.
She has come so far...and will go so much farther...