Pending Match

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The Power of Story

“They are both deaf or significantly delayed,” we were told. “They have no understanding of words. The boys are two and three years-old, defiant, wild, and fighting the world.” After living in six different foster homes and being exposed to four different languages, our boys came to us drowning in a sea of undecipherable and confusing words.

Then we discovered how to teach and share words through story. At nighttime their busy little bodies would still as they listened to a bedtime story read aloud. Their wide eyes would scour the picture books and their little ears would listen eagerly to each detail. They loved hearing my husband’s homespun tales of adventure and danger and courage where they became the heroes and stars of the story.

During story time, our buddy who was afraid of physical touch, the one who often winced if someone even brushed against his skin, began to inch closer and to snuggle in. The stress and confusion that accompanied visits with birth family, social workers, or therapists eased as they lost themselves in a story.

We started reading chapter books and classics aloud when they were toddlers. These busy little men, that took three social workers to wrangle into their car seats after birth family visits, who both had Individual Education Plans in preschool, and who failed their auditory screening, would listen and engage and get lost in the magic of stories.

We have the power and privilege as parents to introduce our children to the magic and beauty of words. “…Still I believe that words, too, are necessities- and to give the children of the world the words they need is, in a real sense, to give them life and growth and refreshment…” Katherine Paterson, children’s author, Gates of Excellence.

Our children from hard places know that words can be used as weapons. They know that words can wound. What we discovered was a way to show our boys that words can heal. Words can transport us. Words can be the valve that releases hurt and tension.

For those of you with older kids, do not discount the value of stories and reading aloud. When I taught junior high science, I read aloud to my thirteen and fourteen-year-old charges often. The backtalking, overconfident, rebellious attitudes disappeared as we entered the world of inventors, explorers, and misfits that we discovered in books. Imagine a room filled with defiant, hormonal teenagers enraptured in botanist Beatrix Potter’s Tales of Peter Rabbit or the biography of Thomas Edison, the famous inventor who was once expelled from school.

Recently, my buddies, who are now eight and nine, were having a rough morning. While plowing through school work, frustration ensued, books were thrown, and angry words spilled out. One of the boys was curled into an angry ball in the corner of the couch, refusing to speak to anyone. At a loss for the right words to help my son, I pulled out a book. I read aloud about wagon wheels, snowy winters, and brothers traveling alone across the prairie in search of their father. As the story unfolded, so did my son. His body began to relax. His brow unfurrowed. His eyes lost their shadow and began to twinkle.

On those days where you child seems unreachable and lost, be encouraged. When your own words seem ineffective and unheard, don’t give up. Establish connections with your kids through the beauty of words- Read-aloud. Share a story. Listen to an audiobook. Share a funny family memory. Discover the lyrics to a song. Recite a poem. Write your child a love note. Be courageous and give your children the gift of words.

For book lists and creative ways to incorporate stories into your home, excellent resources can be found at ReadAloudRevival.com.

La Ne Powers

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Twirling Kurts

“NO!” she screamed. “I WANNA KURT!”

I sat back on my knees and stared at this formidable three-year-old in bewilderment. We had only known each other for a couple of days, and I was struggling to understand her. I didn’t know who or what Kurt was, and I had no ability to reunite her with anything from her life before she came to live with me.

My oldest daughter heard the yelling and came into the room to see if she could help.

“What do you want, Little Girl?” Big Girl asked.

“I wanna kurt!” she declared. Then, she walked over to the big girl and gently grasped the edge of the big girl’s skirt. “I wanna KURT!” she reiterated.

“A SKIRT!” I exclaimed. “She wants to wear skirts like you, Big Girl!”

Big Girl and Little Girl had quickly formed a deep bond. They shared a room, and Big Girl was wonderful with Little Girl. She would happily read “The Monster at the End of this Book” a dozen times in a row and participate in dance parties on demand. Little Girl adored Big Girl, and the feeling was mutual. It was incredible to watch our Big Girl exhibit the patience we were desperately lacking.

Our time with Little Girl was difficult. Early on, it became clear that the county hadn’t be completely forth-coming about her history, and we were dealing with more than we expected. While she bonded deeply with Big Girl, she didn’t react very well to the males in our family. Her developmental delays were severe, and her trauma behaviors were extremely difficult to manage. She was our first placement, and we quickly realized we were too far out of our depth to properly care for Little Girl.

We reached out to the county for help, and we were given a few phone numbers. One phone number was disconnected, and one phone number led to services that were restricted to children several years older than Little Girl. The last number led to a program that would have been absolutely perfect for Little Girl…a program that gave me hope for our future together. Then, I found out Little Girl would be put on a six month waiting list.

The simple truth was that we couldn’t make it another six months. Things were deteriorating quickly, and we needed immediate help.

In the end, we asked the county to move Little Girl to another home.

Big Girl was angry and devastated. She begged us not to make that decision and bargained with us to the very last minute. She was so disappointed in us when Little Girl left.

Our son was grateful and relieved. He came out of his room and started spending time with the family again. He was relaxed and thankful when Little Girl left.

My husband and I were disillusioned. No longer did I hold the arrogant belief that I could care for any child placed in my home. No longer did he believe he had endless patience. We found our limits. We had been forced to take a long, hard look at ourselves, and we felt like complete failures.

Tempted to quit, we took another look at our limits and had another discussion with the county. We decided to give it one more shot, and I’m so thankful we did. We went on to welcome twelve more children into our home, and we never had to request another removal. If we had never known Little Girl, we might not have learned how to better care for the children who shared our home. She taught us a lot in a few short months.

It’s been four years since we said goodbye. Big Girl still keeps pictures of Little Girl by her bed. She still talks about the way they twirled their skirts and danced together, and I know she will never forget Little Girl.

We won’t, either. Little Girl opened our eyes to the beauty in the midst of the brokenness. She made us laugh when she whipped and nae-nae’d. She made us melt when she cuddled with Big Girl on the couch. She filled us with pride when she learned to identify a couple of colors. Watching her grow and change over those few months was a great privilege, and I’m thankful it was bestowed upon me.

Lindsay G.