Friday, January 19, 2007
For the past month and a half I've transported one of my foster children to her old school every morning. She originally resided with her family in one part of town, but now lives in a foster home at the exact opposite end. Since she attends public school this means that there is no transportation available to take her to school other than one of the social workers. I decided this was my responsibility since I am the reason this change of homes came about. Anyway, this requires that I get out of Jackson before the rest of you fools have realized you are once again breathing and that Jesus has made the sun come up-yet again.
I get up and drive her because she already had to leave her home, I really can't imagine asking her to leave her school. The school is extremely supportive of her and many of the staff care for her in different ways. The thought of saying "Hey, not only can you not see your mother, but I'm going to take away all these important people as well" makes me want to cry with her, for her, and just in general all around her.
So, this means that I get up at 4:30am, shower, and head the hour and a half to work before the sun comes up.
When I first decided to do this I wasn't thinking. Like most things I simply believed I was superwoman and would make it thru like I do with everything else-on a wing and a prayer. But, let me tell you people, it's beginning to kick my ass.
The other morning I didn't feel well, was very tired, and-horror upon horrors-was somehow wearing a set of tights that were so constricting my boobs were going numb. This put me in a bad mood. Unfortunately, when I'm in a bad mood on the way to work "Andi" is the first person that I see. This is compounded by the fact that I usually walk into her foster home and must hear the litany of things she did wrong the previous day listed by her foster mother. "Andi" is mentally ill and sometimes she can't control her impulses to do certain things…like, cut up all her clothes, tear her hair out, steal, pick at her skin, and wet the bed.
I'm afraid every morning this foster mother is going to tell her that she can't stay there anymore, and for "Andi" it's the first place she's lived where anyone ever really cared about her. I found her dirty, under-dressed, and living in the small unheated laundry room of her house with scars covering her body. Her hair was unkempt and undone and she had been wearing the same clothes to school for three days. She wasn't getting her medication and her behavior was tearful, scared, and off-the-wall. But, her smile will break your heart. She also giggles more than any normal abused child has cause to giggle. Overall, I'm not ashamed to say that I have fallen a little in love with this fiery ball of kid energy despite her behavior problems.
This morning, however, she was clean, medicated, and in a great mood when I picked her up. She immediately began running her mouth about everything she had done the previous day. I started asking "social worker" questions-of course. At this point it comes naturally and just annoys all my friends.
"Did you sleep well?"
"Have you spoken with your mom?"
"Did you wet the bed last night?"
"What did you do after you wet the bed?"
"Do you own everything in that backpack you are carrying?"
"Are you lying to me?"
"Do not give away any of your clothing at school today."
Then I make a list of everything in her backpack so I can check it when I get her in the afternoon.
Most every day we are at least ten minutes late for school because of traffic reasons. This requires that I walk her into the school and sign her in as "late". After signing her in, I always turn around, give her a hug, and say "Have a good day, Andi" and she skips off to class.
I do the same thing every day.
In the afternoons, I park, walk up to the door of the school and wait for her to come out. She usually runs up and hugs me and then I ask her, "Did you have a good day today?" and she tells me everything she did that day.
I then begin another long list of "social worker" questions much like the ones from the morning. Although, the afternoon requires a slightly different set.
"Did you have a good day today?"
"Did you learn anything new today?"
"Did you fall asleep in class today?"
"Did you get to stay in the regular classroom today?"
"Did you see your therapist today?"
"What did you talk about?"
"Do you feel okay about that?"
"Is everything in that backpack yours?"
"Do you have all the clothing that you left with?"
Then we check the backpack list and make sure that "Andi" came home with everything with which she left-and nothing extra.
I then drive her to her foster mother's house, give her a hug, and tell her that I will see her in the morning.
I call these days being "Wrapped in Andi". Mainly because she's the first person that I see in the morning and the last person I see before I head home at the end of another work day. I find more and more that the days I don't get to see "Andi" are a little less bright. I feel a little less needed.
I guess I realized all this last week when I was in the foul mood because that one morning-instead of turning around and hugging her and telling her to have a "good day" after two months of doing it every morning-she turned around, ran into my arms herself and said "Have a good day, Ms Lori" and then skipped off to class.
As happy as a parent must be when their toddler learns how to walk, the only thought I had the rest of the day was, "I taught her that." I immediately came home and told my mother because she taught that to me. There is a little piece of my family that now lives with "Andi".
Now, every morning before she leaves her foster home she turns around, hugs her foster mother and says, "Have a good day."
I know the foster mother thinks I'm a nutjob when I tear up at this-maybe because she gets to see tangible evidence of her teaching with children all the time.
To me, that "have a good day" was one of the moments that changed my life, my outlook about this job, and pretty much everything I thought about myself and this often dreary world.
When "Andi" now tells me to "Have a good day" its like hearing it with different ears. Its at these moments that I finally realize how much she has taught me with that one phrase and who the "teacher" really is in this situation.
So, guys, have a good day.
I love you. It's a good one. Reminds me of our Taco Bell friend. You do good sister.
Babycakes, you rock... have a good day.
You do rock, Babycakes, whatever that means entirely.
- Ray Carter