I HAVE FOUR
Do you have three children or four? The answer is – I have four. But it is a question that almost always needs an explanation. I imagine that it must be similar to how a mother whose child has died must explain herself. And, yet, my daughter hasn’t died.
How old are your children? 32, 28, 28, and 25. No, I don’t have twins, but they are only a few weeks apart in age.
One of the girls is adopted.
Oh, well it was like having twins.
No. Actually, it wasn’t.
How I dread these questions and oh how I dread feeling that I have to explain why one of my daughters is estranged from the family – as if the estrangement is somehow a personal flaw that I must erase. Scrub away. Permanently remove.
The truth is we adopted our daughter when she was 21 years old.
And, when I say that, the floodgates open!
Bewilderment, confusion, skepticism, usually followed, by some version of, “I didn’t know you could adopt an adult.” Really, though it’s more of a question than it is a statement. The person on the other end is now quite intrigued and wanting to know more.
And, I just want to say, “Yep, you can!”
And, leave it at that.
However, the need to explain myself still lingers.
I have a daughter. Legally she’s mine.
I love her. I don’t like her.
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN
Shannon was placed into foster care from the time she was born – addicted and going through withdrawals along with her identical twin sister whom, by the way, we did not adopt.
Together they were adopted by their foster parents. Parents who already had, I believe 10 other children – 3 of whom were also adopted. Another biological child followed Shannon and her twin sister making the total 8 bio and 5 adopted.
The biological children were given opportunities – most thrived and received good educations. Many are professionals – nurses, police officers, schoolteachers, and more. Many of them don’t however, act like professionals. The police officer once helped Shannon break into our home, but that’s another story.
Shannon first came to us when she was 18. She was a friend of our daughter, Carianne. Shannon is older by 24 days. Shannon needed a place to stay and she needed it right away. As in, her things were packed, and she had no place to go. Scott and I had mere minutes to hear the story, say a silent prayer, and do what we felt we were being led to do. We were confused, but time was of the essence.
Shannon and her twin sister were yanked out of middle school in the middle of 6th grade under the guise that they would be homeschooled. Their “mama’ as they refer to her, claims it was because Shannon was ‘boy crazy.’ How many preteen girls aren’t, I wonder?
Instead of being homeschooled however, they were put to work in the family resale/thrift shop. Mama would later make claims to a therapist that Shannon learned all the math and reading she needed to know by learning how to sew.
Shannon wanted to be in school. She craved it. She craved the education and she craved the interaction with her peers. She craved learning to drive, going to school dances, going to the movies, cell phones. She craved normalcy.
Interestingly, her younger brother – one of mama and daddy’s biological children, was permitted to continue his high school education. In fact, he would get up in the morning, drive the twins to the store, and then continue on his way to the school…in his own car. I’d later find out that not one of the adopted children completed high school. Not one. Yet, all of the biological children, did.
Some of the adopted children had special needs. I believe all children in the foster care system and those adopted from the system have special needs of some sort, but these needs were above and beyond that. It didn’t however, mean they couldn’t have completed school on IEPs or 504 plans. They could have received modified diplomas.
A NEW BEGINNING
Here was Shannon, at the age of 18, mouthing off to mama about how she wanted to go to school and mama told her she could follow the rules or leave. The rules were to work at the store all day – open to close, and then work at home, too, doing all the chores. No phones. No computer. Sometimes no food. I corroborated this with the owners of the store next to the family’s resale store. One time the owner provided the girls with pizza for lunch. Mama found out and locked them outside in the cold.
It was easy for mama to let Shannon go. Oregon pays a stipend to adoptive parents through the adoptee's 18th birthday. Mama was no longer receiving payments for her or her twin sister. If Shannon wasn’t going to work – mama had no use for her.
Now, it was the beginning of the school year – October. And, Shannon got brave enough to stand up to mama.
Carianne relayed to Shannon that she could move in with us under one condition – she would not lie around the house all day. She must attend school. We could hear Shannon crying through the phone. Not only were we allowing her to go to school. Permitting it. We were demanding it. She was overcome with emotion. With joy.
I drove the car with Carianne, and Scott followed in a truck so that we could get all of Shannon’s things at once. The less interaction I had with mama, the better. I knew I wasn’t going to like this woman and yet I only knew Shannon’s side of the story.
When we arrived, mama was there – in the kitchen.
I walked in with Shannon. It was my first-time meeting Shannon. Although she and Carianne tried to keep in touch as much as possible, I had never heard of this girl up until an hour prior the meeting.
I attempted to reassure this woman, mama, never having met her before and not yet fully understanding the situation, that we’d take good care of Shannon. She was hard and cold and snapped at me. Told me all the ‘horrible’ things that Shannon was capable of. It was her house – I surmised that it was best to just leave rather than to argue with a woman I’d never met about the importance of an education and the opportunities that were being thrown away regardless of the child’s behavior.
Shannon moved into the spare room. She and Carianne were as thick as thieves. I called the high school to get her enrolled. They refused. They said that she had been out of school for too long and they couldn’t accommodate her. I called the local alternative school – they specialize in helping homeless students, students with addictions, teen parents, etc., complete school. They couldn’t help her either.
I went to the school district office. Since she was pulled out of school in the middle of 6th grade, supposedly to be homeschooled, they would have records. They had none. Absolutely NONE. It didn’t surprise me. I didn’t actually expect them to, knowing what I had found out after Shannon moved in with us. However, it did allow me to make a point.
Legally the high school was supposed to follow up every year to assess Shannon and her sister’s academic progress. The high school stated that they assumed that the family had moved.
I’m known to be a really, really, and I mean REALLY tough mama bear. I don’t back down. Like EVER. I actually have a reputation. The look in the counselor’s eyes spoke volumes. I told her I wanted to see the principal. I didn’t even have to make a demand. Simply stating the fact got me into his office within minutes.
I told him very matter-of-factly that they knew the family didn’t move away because the store was a well-known resale store in our small town AND the youngest biological child was still in attendance and if they didn’t admit Shannon I would see to it that she saw an attorney and legal action would be started right away to address their negligence.
She started school the very next day.
ABUSE AND NEGLECT
We knew that she wouldn’t graduate. We knew she wouldn’t have the credits. But she could be normal.
We knew it was going to be hard. As someone who was supposed to be a senior, she was enrolled in freshman level classes, PE class, and art classes. Art was her escape. Her art was amazing and yet she had never taken a formal art class. She was smiling, but deep down this young girl was a wounded bird. She wanted to fly, but her wings were broken.
She was cutting.
I was able to find her an amazing therapist. Shannon signed a HIPAA release so that the therapist and I could discuss her progress. The therapist, Jesse, was appalled at the things Shannon told her. At the things I told her. At the things that some of Shannon’s adoptive siblings told me but said they would never admit to if questioned by authorities. In fact, one sister, who was in a position to take Shannon herself, refused because she was afraid of mama. This was a grown woman with children of her own.
As a child, Shannon was tied to her bed at night so she wouldn’t get up to steal food. She was tied to her chair at the kitchen table until she finished her food. She was losing her teeth – hadn’t seen a dentist since she was a little girl. The glasses she wore were a pair of her youngest brother’s old glasses because mama wouldn’t take her to see an eye doctor. She’s legally blind without glasses that are prescribed to her.
Shannon was struggling with depression, PTSD, and anxiety.
BECAUSE WE LOVED HER
We took her to see doctors, dentists, therapists.
She got glasses and contacts.
She joined school clubs, activities, sports teams.
She had a boyfriend.
She had a curfew.
She had chores.
She had rules.
She went to senior prom.
She had senior photos taken.
She had a nightly body scan – I checked for new cuts.
I made sure she wasn’t cutting near the femoral artery.
After her ‘senior year’ we enrolled her in GED classes through the local community college. We helped her get her permit. We were giving her driving lessons.
Every single time life started to get normal for her, she ran. And, she ran to mama because mama still had twin sister. Then, things would go wrong with mama and she’d come home to us.
In 2011, she came back to us again for the 3rd or 4th time, and we told her that we loved her, and we wanted to give her the same opportunities that our other children have and had.
We wanted her to continue to have access to healthcare and an education. As a disabled veteran, my children get free tuition through the public university system, plus a healthy monthly stipend.
And, we loved her.
We wanted her to stop running. We wanted her to know she belonged.
The adoption was finalized on December 21st , 2011 and Shannon ran again in July 2012.
A WHISPER FROM GOD
I didn’t hear from her for 4 years.
One night. In the middle of the night. Literally, at 3:00 AM in the fall of 2016, I woke up – wide eyed. I had it on my heart to reach out to her. I hadn’t even been thinking about her and yet this was on my heart. I truly believed God woke me up in that moment and was speaking to me. He was whispering to me. I don't know why, especially knowing how things ended. But it's not my place to question Him. He had a reason.
Shannon had me blocked on Facebook for years, but I had been able to find out that she had moved out of state, was estranged from mama and had gotten married.
Scott was snoring beside me as I looked up her profile and realized I was no longer blocked. God’s timing is perfect.
I sent her a friend request along with a long message – telling her that what happened is the past. It hurt, but I’m ready to move on if she is. Then I sent her husband a friend request, too. I rolled over, facing Scott and closed my eyes.
My phone pinged.
Her husband accepted my friend request.
Oh my gosh! What did he know about us?
Within months, they moved in with us. Shannon was pregnant. Her husband found a job.
They got enrolled in food stamps, WIC, and healthcare.
They found a church.
I drove her to doctor’s appointments and dentist appointments.
She needed to have all her teeth pulled. Malnutrition as a child coupled with bulimia.
Mama had moved to another state and took Shannon’s twin sister with her. We thought we were safe. We thought mama wouldn’t have any influence over Shannon.
WHAT SHE REALLY CRAVED
Drama with her twin and with mama.
She ran again.
This time, not only leaving us, but her husband behind as well – taking his only child, my youngest grandson, with her.
Shannon’s therapist told us that her relationship with mama was akin to battered wife syndrome and on average a woman leaves 7 times before the relationship ends. And, ‘ends’ doesn’t always mean that she willingly leaves.
I learned that of all the things Shannon craved, the thing she craved the most was the love and attention of this woman.