Unlike Emmy’s school day, Stephanie’s day was going good. She’d given a test this morning and no one in her first class had gotten worse than a C. That was big deal for this group. Maybe Rita being gone had allowed the class to concentrate on what she was teaching and not Rita’s behavior.
After the first class she was worried when Mr. Johnson, Emmy’s science teacher, dropped by. “Mrs. Miles?”
“Mr. Johnson, is everything OK?” She looked up from her desk where she had just finished grading the tests.
“I’m not sure. Emmy Taylor is living with you now right?”
“Yes.” Word had gotten around to the other teachers several weeks ago after they’d told the team.
“Well I thought you should know that Emmy fell asleep in class this morning. That’s really unusual for her.”
“Thank you for letting me know. She hasn’t been sleeping well at home. Big adjustment I guess. I’ll talk to her.” With that Mr. Johnson left. She wasn’t sure if he was genuinely concerned or just being noisy. Stephanie certainly wasn’t going to tell him that Emmy was tired because she spent the night sleeping on the bathroom floor.
During lunch Mrs. Wells, Emmy’s social studies teacher sat with Stephanie in the teacher’s lounge. “Stephanie, is Emmy feeling OK?” They had talked last week about the new living situation. Mrs. Wells and her husband had adopted two children from China several years ago and she applauded her and Brett’s decision.
“She’s been a little under the weather lately. Why?”
“Well she asked to go to the bathroom during class today. Speaking without being asked is practically unheard of for that child. And she looked a little green when she left.”
“I’ll check on her after school. I think it’s been a big adjustment and everything is catching up with her.” Stephanie took a few bites and then asked. “Martha, how long did it take yours to open up?”
“Well ours were from an entirely different set of circumstances and language was the biggest barrier for us initially. It was probably a month or two before they would hug us voluntarily. But ours were much younger also. Mia was only three, and Maya four when we adopted them. Emmy has a whole lot more life experience to overcome. The lady that helped guide us through our adoptions said just love them. Some of these kids have never known love in any form. Do you know any of Emmy’s past?”
“She was with her mother until she was at least seven. But I’m not sure what kind of life that was. Emmy doesn’t talk about it. I’m not sure if that is good or bad. She went into the system at 8, and no one really knows what happened in between. Again Emmy has doesn’t talk about it.”
“Some physical, while she was in the system.”
“At the hands of an adult?”
“Yes, a foster parent.”
“That’s going to take time to overcome. She’s not going to trust people as easily. The only way I know to overcome it is love her and show her that you’re going to be there. Over time she’ll see that you all are different and you aren’t going to dump her off somewhere else. Most of these kids have never known any kind of stability. That’s what they crave.”
“Thank you so much for this. That’s was the man at St. Thomas told us, but it’s nice to hear it from someone who’s lived it.”
“Anytime. James and I have been praying for you all.”
“Thank you we can definitely use it.”
Today must have been rough on Emmy for two of her teachers to notice. Stephanie sat down to grade another set of tests when Mrs. Smith the 7th grade language arts teacher stuck her head in her room. “Steph, do you have a minute.”
It was her planning period, “Sure. What’s up?”
Mrs. Smith was a young blonde teacher that was still bubbling with the hope of changing student’s lives. As someone who’d been teaching for more than ten years Stephanie often struggled with keeping that hope alive. “Last week’s writing assignment was to write about something they were truly thankful for this year. I told them I didn’t want to hear about their video games or the new boots they got. I wanted something serious and heartfelt. I said this was between them and the paper. I’d be the only one reading it.”
She pulled a piece of paper from a folder. “Emmy turned in some little page about being thankful for school and the opportunity to go. It was shallow and I knew she could do better. I told her it was a C paper. I know she’s been through a lot but her writing is usually better than this so I pushed. I may have said that this grade was important and would look bad on the progress report for basketball. So I gave her until Tuesday to redo it and this is what she turned in.” She handed the piece of paper to Stephanie.
This year I’m thankful for an ordinary life. I live in a house with electricity, heat and running water. In the morning there is always breakfast to eat as well as dinner in the evening. Each night I go to sleep in real bed with blankets and a pillow. I live with a family. A Mom, Dad and brothers who actually care about me.
This I’m most thankful for an ordinary life. You might say this is shallow and not heartfelt, but from where I’ve been ordinary is something to be very thankful for.
To have your own room in a real house might seem like no big deal. But as the child of a single Mom who worked three jobs just to keep a trailer roof over our heads, living in a house is a dream come true. When you’re a foster kid you don’t usually get a room of your own. In fact you usually get a mattress in the basement. Often there is no pillow or blanket.
You are probably thinking its silly to be thankful for breakfast, but as a child who’s been hungry I can tell you breakfast is a wonderful thing. When you skipped or got very little for dinner the night before you wake up with your stomach already growling. Concentrating at school is so hard when you’re hungry. Sometimes there would be a can of soup that had to last breakfast, lunch and dinner. I know what it is like to see your mother so tired from working that she falls asleep on the couch still wearing her coat and with keys in her hand and you go to bed without dinner because you don’t want to tell her and there’s nothing left in the cabinets.
This year I’m thankful for heat. As a child who’s lived on the streets I know what it is like to shiver uncontrollably just waiting for the sun to come up and warm you just a little. I know what its like to hide in a cabinet in the science lab at school until everyone leaves for the day just so you can sleep somewhere warm.
I’m thankful for living with kids and adults who don’t want something from me. As a kid that’s lived with more foster kids than I can count, I’m glad to no longer get beat up for looking at someone the wrong way. Of not have stuff stolen. To not be looked at the way people usually look at foster kids.
I’m thankful to live with adults who don’t hit me when I mess up, or for no reason at all. I’m thankful that I don’t have to protect anyone anymore.
I spent the first seven years of my life with my Mother, who did her best but was gone most of the time trying to keep the lights on. Then one night she never came home from work. After a year alone, living on the street, in the park and hiding in the school, doing my best to avoid people so they wouldn’t send me away, praying that the next morning my Mom would come back I was tired and almost glad when the police found me.
Then came the never-ending shuffle from foster home to foster home. There were good families and bad ones. Good foster bothers and sisters and bad ones. I was invited into their homes, but most wanted nothing to do with me. For most I was a paycheck. I usually stayed separate from the family, often in the basement, and was moved often so I never got comfortable. That moving took me from school to school too, so friendships were impossible. Then came St. Thomas. There’re had food, and heat and stability along with kids with behavior disorders and issues that even I can’t imagine living with.
This year is different. This year I’m thankful for the ordinary life I’ve been given. There is food on the table. I live in a house with heat. I live with a real family. A family that chose me. While it may have been out of pity I’m thankful for the opportunity.
This Thanksgiving I’m thankful for Coach Miles and her family for allowing me to live with them and see what life should be like, ordinary.
As she finished Stephanie wiped a tear off her cheek. “Stephanie I’m so sorry. I had no idea what she’d been through. I’ve read her other work and I knew that the other piece just wasn’t up to her usually level of writing so I asked her to redo it and then she hits me with this.”
“Don’t feel bad. She was on the team for two months and we didn’t even know she lived at St. Thomas. She’s been living with us and I didn’t know most of this.”
“How long has she been living with you all?”
Mrs. Smith sighed and hung her head. “Please don’t tell her I let you read it. But I really thought you should know.”
“I won’t. I appreciate it. She’s never opened up to anyone about any of this. Maybe this is a start.” Stephanie wanted so bad to tell her more, but it wasn’t her place. Maybe Mrs. Smith could get her to write about the cancer too.
She slid the paper back in the folder and left the room and Stephanie just sat there. So far she’d done nothing more than give the kid a bed to sleep in and a ride to school and she made it sound like they’d given her the world. In a way that’s exactly what they had done. To Emmy the world was just an ordinary life.
Pulling into the driveway Emmy got out and slowly grabbed her school backpack and basketball backpack Stephanie knew that it was all she could do to carry both after practicing hard today. This week Dr. Hatcher had giver her a little stronger anti nausea medication and after the first couple of days it seemed to be helping. She still wasn’t eating much, but at least Coach hadn’t found her on the floor of the bathroom anymore.