M’s issues as noted by the experts at the time: ADHD, PTSD, mild cognitive “delays.”
Because we were only foster parents, we had no access to her previous medical or psychiatric records. We were completely dependent on the overworked social services and foster care agency staff. Things were hinted at or misrepresented or just misremembered.
Labels are terrible. They are mostly used for diagnostic purposes to bill insurance. Complex trauma is too vague. Hyper vigilance – is that something we can medicate? Sexual acting out due to past trauma – we can’t address that until she’s more stable etc.
For the first few weeks we all danced around each other, feeling each other out. M was terrified to leave our house. I had farm chores. It would take an hour to work up the courage to walk the fifty yards down to the barns.
M fluctuated between smothering me with physical affection and ridiculous levels of compliments and being white knuckle, blood drained from her face terrified of me. She missed her sisters and the rest of Miss B’s family. After all she had been there for three years. The dogs started acting funny, not wanting to be in the same room with her. We later discovered that she was abusing them.
At times she would laugh hysterically over the word explosion. She talked incessantly about nonsense. When I mentioned this to the therapist, she said that the laughter was because of her low IQ. M was ten years old and at this session she slithered over my lap like a snake. It was so bizarre I really had no idea what to say or do about it.
I could tell by the looks on the faces of the staff in the school office when we went to sign M up that they were already concerned by M’s behaviors. She smiled and was friendly – underneath it all M’s base line personality is bubbly and upbeat. But there was obviously something off. It’s hard to describe her eyes back then – a mix of terror and blankness, maybe like staring into the abyss?
“Her meds will be adjusted soon,” I said though nobody had asked about them.
The photo I took of her first day of school is imprinted in my mind: neat braids in her hair, goofy braces smile – a trying too hard smile, cute skirt and bunny shirt.
I try to imagine what she was feeling that day. Her sisters had just started making sexual abuse allegations against their biological mother, but M had kept those things mum until the previous day when a person from the county came to ask her questions.
“Mommy forced us to touch ourselves on the couch. She put lotion all over my body and let boyfriends watch. She made me do sexy things to her. She tied me to a chair and taped my mouth shut when she was mad at me.”
I was told then that one of the reasons Miss B would not take M back was because the girls had fondled one of her children and that M had scared her younger sister saying she wanted to have dangerous sex with her. No one was able to figure out what dangerous sex was to M at the time, but she later told me that she had seen a vampire show where the vampire French kissed someone.
So, on this first day of school, M, for the first time, was alone. No sisters, no Miss B, no familiar classrooms or teachers to help her navigate this first day of fourth grade. She was an unknown to the school staff. Her records only mentioned her slight cognitive delays. Almost everyone who really new M hoped that those delays were just temporary due to the instability she had lived through all her life.
It’s amazing to me that she made such a brave effort to smile that morning. How she managed to walk off into the new school with her heavy baggage and jam-packed book bag is beyond me. She waved once and disappeared into the building.
“It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.”Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl
The day went by with no incidents, and she was happy to report that she liked her new teacher. We rushed home because she was going to have her first visit with her bio mom that evening. This was court ordered. The social worker picked her up at four and off they went. I was happy for the break.
M’s mother had for years refused to take the steps necessary to get her girls back, but the judge still somehow believed in her. In the meantime, M’s mother had gone out of state to have another baby (this was why she had gone missing for months – the very thing that sent M to the mental facility).
A few hours later M rushed into the house and straight into her room. The worker explained that her mother had forced her to dance in the gazebo of a public park to suggestive music. M had wanted to please her mother but also felt disgusting dancing. It was bizarre to me that the worker who was there to supervise, did not step in though she witnessed the entire thing. She told me herself when she complained that M was very difficult on the car ride home.
A few minutes later M came into the living room. “I’m sorry to say I can’t live here anymore. I don’t love you and I want to leave.”
My husband let out a disgruntled sigh knowing the night would now be hijacked with a talk. M paced around our table. Her entire demeanor had changed. She raged at us and at the worker. I don’t remember how we calmed her down and got her to sleep, but her mood the next morning did not bode well for her first day on the bus.
I received a call at noon. M had frightened her classmates when out of nowhere she started screaming that she was going to commit suicide. She was in the school counselor’s office quietly playing with some toys at the moment, but could I come pick her up. The staff was willing to give her another try the next day. I was apologetic. I knew hardly more than they did about M. The school district, a tiny one, was now saddled with a mess of a kid who obviously needed services.
The next day was no better. The counselor’s hours were taken over by M in her office. She called me a few times to update me. She hoped that these were just first day jitters. The bus was out of the question, so I picked her up at school and we went for ice cream.
“Adrienne, I want to kill myself.”
“Do you want ice cream first?” I asked hoping to distract her.
We sat outside eating the ice cream with bees and wasps buzzing around us. We’re both terrified of wasps.
“I still want to kill myself.” She said this in a cold, clinical way. She knew what the words meant in her world. It meant a visit to the hospital.
I did everything I could think of to change her mind, but I had to alert social services.
They met us at the house.
“This may be a good thing,” the young social worker said. “If she goes to the hospital they can adjust the meds. This is not the M we know. I mean she’s always crazy, but not this crazy.”
As the two of them left M turned back and smiled with a look of supreme satisfaction. She had gotten her way and hoped in her warped sense of reality that this trick would have her reunited with her sisters.