I’m a little behind, at 10,000 words. Here’s an excerpt from my work-in-progress. This is first-draft; I haven’t done any proofreading yet (just trying to beat the clock and hit 50.000).
She rolls over to stare at the clock. She stares at bright red numbers, convinced the traitorous clock takes more than sixty seconds between minutes. Tomorrow she will move again. She saw the paperwork. No one thinks she can read, which is handy. “Mouthy, belligerent, oppositional.” She will look up the other two words in the dictionary when she can get to one. She knows what “mouthy” means. Probably the others mean she doesn’t “get on well with others,” which is what the last Foster Ma’am said. A lot of them like to be called Foster Mom, but she had a mom, and that didn’t turn out well. Foster Ma’am works best because most of the time they just think she’s being polite. Only one was smart enough to notice the derision in the word. She got slapped by that one. Fosters aren’t supposed to hit you, but if there’s no bruise and the adult denies it, no one believes a kid. “Everyone knows foster kids are liars and thieves. Why do you think you get moved so much?” She knows why she gets moved so much, and it’s not because she lies or steals. No one wants her because of her behavior. Fine with her. She’d rather kick and scream and find out they don’t want her right away. Better than getting attached, like her first house, and then being kicked out. She thought they were going to adopt her. They already had one adopted kid, and they kept her for a year and a half. Things weren’t perfect, and the boy was downright creepy, but things seemed fine with the parents.
Then the Ms. from Social Services showed up in that silver van and started packing her things into cardboard boxes. The Foster Ma’am helped, and even packed some pictures of their “family” so she could “remember” them. She turned in the van, holding onto the spongy top of the back seat. They smiled, waving as the Ms. drove her away. Were they happy to get rid of her? She thought they would be sad she was leaving, but they smiled. First her real mom, now these people. She would never get attached again. People just leave you.
She thinks of the girl at the playground. Laughing on the swings. Climbing on the monkey bars. Inviting her to play. She wonders if she will be there again. She would like a friend. She looks at the clock again. Three fours. She knows that each hour has triple numbers until the clock gets to six. For some reason, it never changes to three sixes, sevens, eights or nines. She will have to ask about that. She should probably know about time, but moving constantly makes it hard to learn. She stares at the ceiling and waits for the sun.
The girl is back. She feels a little thrill of excitement as she bounds across the playground. “Hi! I’m Megan. Do you want to play with me?” the girl asks. “Yes,” she says. “Want to go on the monkey bars?” The other girl—Megan—glances back at a tall man by the fence. He makes an encouraging motion, universally understood: go play. “Sure! And then maybe we can climb that tree over there. I’ve always wanted to climb a tree. There aren’t many trees where I came from.” “Where did you come from?” Megan tilts her head. “From South Dakota. I had a foster family that didn’t like me, but Roger does. I like Roger. He sorta rescued me.” She looks over at Roger. He looks nice enough. “Is he a foster parent?” Megan shrugs. “Something like that. Anyway he’s nice, so that’s all that matters. And the food is good. We always have great snacks, and sometimes we have ice cream. You should come visit sometime.” She looks at the Megan in awe. ”Like, come to your house to play?” The girl giggles. “Yeah. You can come play anytime. Roger can give you a ride.” She frowns. “I don’t think my Foster Ma’am will let me. She only brings me to the park because all her friends bring their kids here. She says I’m a ‘problem kid’ to her friends and they all feel sorry for her. I don’t think she’d even notice if I fell off the monkey bars.” Megan looks around. “Which one is yours?” “The one walking to the bathrooms. Over there.” Megan says, “Let’s go, then!” “What, now? She’d kill me!” She backs up a step, tripping and landing in the warm brown mulch. “Look,” says Megan, “she didn’t even see you fall. She doesn’t care. Come with me.” Megan reaches down, pulling her up. “Let’s go.” She looks back and sees the truth. The foster lady isn’t watching her at all; the woman has her back to the playground and is laughing with some friends. Probably about me. She decides. “Okay.” She follows Megan out of the playground and through the trees.
Lindsey slipped an arm through Kate’s, then said with a huge smile, “I have something in my van that you need to see.” Kate walked beside her, trying to guess whether they had acquired a new pup. Knowing Lindsey’s penchant for taking in strays, it could any number of other animals, and being June…it might be a fawn. A fawn would be phenomenal. Kate turned her head. “Is it,” she began, as Lindsey threw the doors open. “Look,” said Lindsey.
The fifteen passenger van was dark and cool. As her eyes adjusted, Kate saw. No pup. No fawn. Two very small children, undernourished and frightened. “Hi,” Kate waved quietly. The girl waved back, but the boy was very still. Kate heard a man’s deep voice behind her. “That’s your daughter.” She whirled around. No one was there.
So, I’m taking the NaNoWriMo challenge…I feel sort of weird about it, because this idea has been in my head for three years. Putting it on a page is like having a baby. I think. Since we adopted, it’s hard to make a definite comparison. I’ll be attempting to write 50,000 words in a month, so my Adoption = posts might be fewer than usual. Here’s a snippet, in case you’re interested. (Ha, snippet. I’ve always wanted to say that.)
Detective Bo Franklin kicked a clod of loose dirt away from the edge of the site in frustration. It skittered across the frozen ground. They weren’t going to get anywhere in this weather. It hadn’t dropped below fifty degrees all winter, but now, in February, the temperature had plummeted and everything was frozen solid. Just when he had his first lead. Thank you, Virginia, for officially having the weirdest weather on the east coast. He headed back to his truck, still trying to make sense of what the kid had said. Was this even a lead, or just an attention-starved child? How could a five-year-old boy possibly have information about missing kids?
“Did you try spanking him?”
The police officer glanced at his partner. “Another kid headed for juvenile, thanks to his spineless parent.” I could almost hear his telepathic message.
“We can’t,” I explained. “He’s a foster child. At least three other foster homes sent him away because of his violent behavior. We’re committed. He’s staying with us, but we need help. Nothing we’ve done is working. If his behavior continues, he’s going to end up in jail.” Now I had his attention. Maybe she’s not useless.
“How old is this young man?” he asked.
“He’s…five.” I said, waiting for the reaction.
“Five years old and you can’t control him?” He was incredulous. “Three other homes tossed him out?”
“He’s physically aggressive, and it’s escalating outside our home. Four days ago, he attacked a church worker because she was ‘too close’ to him and he wanted space. My husband told him he’d have to speak with police if he hurt anyone else. Today, he punched a female classmate in the face because she laughed at him when he had a tantrum. It wasn’t a simple reaction. He waited to get near her.”
The officer invited us to bring him in. He sat down with our small boy, explaining what would happen if the violence continued as he grew up. He connected with a county Magistrate via video link, who explained the same. Tears ran down the little guy’s cheeks as he nodded and promised to use his hands for good.
I’d like to say this was our last contact with the police. Although we saw improvement, the police station visit was not life-changing. Similar conversations occurred throughout the next year. At times, we felt very defeated.
I read every child-rearing book available. Most had a few nuggets of truth for our situation, but conventional wisdom generally didn’t help. The officer wasn’t the only one to suggest spanking. Typical discipline does not work for most foster/adoptive households.
Corporal punishment is not allowed in a foster situation, and even after adoption is generally not the best option for a child who’s been physically and emotionally abused. A mild swat may bring back vivid memories of beatings.
Rewarding all positive behavior becomes a challenge, without positive behavior to reward. “Great job! This tantrum was thirty seconds shorter than usual!” “You kept all your dinner off the floor and walls. Let’s have dessert.” “You pushed that child down instead of punching him. Gold star!”
Ignoring negative actions is almost impossible. Imagine you have a child who can, in a thirty-minute span, bash a large helicopter toy to slivers, throw chairs across the kitchen, rip pages from books, climb fifteen feet up a tree and scream for ten minutes. Keeping the child (and the rest of the household) safe becomes priority. Ignoring is not an option.
Time-out only works if the child will sit. For this to happen, you must have either a compliant child or a bigger consequence. If the child is not compliant and doesn’t give a flying flip about another consequence, the time-out chair is just another seat.
Removal of the child from the situation is a problem for several reasons. First, as with time-out, the child has to comply. Unless you’re willing to restrain or lock a child up (never a good idea), nothing stops the child from returning. Second, for children who have been neglected, abused, locked away and ignored, removing them may ignite memories. Think for a moment; a whiff of coconut suntan lotion, even in the dead of winter, transports your imagination to the beach. You can almost feel the sun warm your skin, hear the ocean and seagulls. That same gift of imagination can take your child to a very dark place.
Take away toys, electronics, TV time–all of this sounds great. For most kids, this works because they want their things. Things become less important when you’ve lost people. Mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, cousins–all these have already been stripped away from these children. Prisoners of war become dedicated to survival. “You’ve taken everything from me, but you won’t break me. Go ahead. Take my bedroll.” Kids in the foster system become similarly determined. “I’m stuck with strangers. Go ahead. Take my video games. They mean nothing. You can’t hurt me.”
What does work?
Consistency. If you say, “No TV for a week,” “Clean it up or I’m coming in with a trashbag,” or “If you make it through the week without putting your hands on someone, we’ll go for ice cream,” DO IT. This applies to all kids, but especially ones who’ve found that adults are unreliable.
Expectations. We don’t expect our guy to be perfect, or to act like “other kids.” This year, his teacher commented, “We had an excellent day. Don’t get me wrong, we still had issues, but for him, it was an excellent day.”
Love. After every (mostly useless) consequence, we explained that we loved him too much to let him grow up with behaviors which would lead to ruin. Our breakthrough came the day I screamed (not proud of it) at our then-seven-year-old, “I don’t care how BAD your behavior is. I will always love you. NO MATTER WHAT! But please stop trying to make me prove it!” Two years of consistently loving him, no matter what, paid off.
Jesus. We brought Jesus into the conversation daily. “Jesus loves you more than anything, even when you do wrong.” The day he grasped the truth did not come as an epiphany. He gradually began to believe, and it was a powerful thing for him to understand that God’s love is unconditional and He will never leave us. For a broken, abandoned heart, this is the perfect bandage.
Our kids have been through more than we can imagine. The redemption and renewal process takes time. Be patient, give them what they need. Remember that most of the individuals offering you “helpful” advice have no concept of your situation. Just nod and smile. And, on occasion, call for police backup. Use the non-emergency number, though. Unless, of course, it’s an emergency.
The Prompt – Write a letter to yourself reflecting on who you are as a writer.
The Twist – Choose one skill from the course that you really worked on and feature it in your letter (voice, tone, brevity, perspective, strong verbs, etc.)
You are a procrastinator and perfectionist. It’s ridiculous. If you don’t have just the right words, you put it off. If you don’t think you will get it right, you delay. If you think it’s not ideal, you stall.
Stop it. (Actually, start it.)
Just sit down, shut up and write.
That is all.
P.S. Don’t forget to enjoy it. That’s an order.