Sunday, January 15, 2006

Crime and Punishment Ruminations

Kids like punishment, you know. It's true. I'm not saying their favorite thing to do on a Saturday night is sit home and stare at the wall, or spend a few hours weeding gardens or doing other chores...although there are (weird) kids that even enjoy those things in their own right. But kids like structure and predictability in their lives. There's something comforting about knowing that if you screw up, there will in fact be hell to pay. Otherwise, your future is entirely in your own hands and you're responsible for it. That's too much to ask of kids until at least age 18. In my case about age 24, if I remember correctly...but let's not dwell on that unfortunate bit of ancient history.

Exhibit A for my little theory is our current jailbird. We've worried and fretted all the background information available to us and matched it up with our firsthand observations. We've cross-referenced what we've learned about "Josie's" background and history with the vast storehouse of wisdom that is Mom's brain and memory. We've spoken with teachers, counsellors, social workers, a PO, her friends, family and others. After much conversation, we've come up with the theory that "Josie" is almost a completely normal least when she's on her meds. I've never known her when she wasn't, and I've been told she's a whole different person when she's not on them, but all we've known thus far is a child who has done an amazing job of mostly bringing herself up to the age of 15 in the absence of any meaningful adult supervision.

If I'd had to do that, I probably would have needed meds, too. Holy cripe.

But yesterday, she was with us on our monthly mass-grocery-shopping spree and we bumped into one of her school counsellors. It was another lovely look into this girl's soul. We shook hands with the counsellor and immediately got two impressions: this woman cared about our charge, and judging from how "Josie" sought her out as soon as she saw her, the feeling was completely and perfectly reciprocated. She immediately began peppering "Josie" about her foster care experience while we amusedly looked on:

"How do you like it there?"

"It's pretty nice. We've been busy."

"Have you gotten into any trouble?"

"I'm grounded for two weeks. It kind of sucks."

And I swear she said that last with a rueful little smile on her face. The counsellor, without missing a beat:

"Glad to hear it. Did you deserve it?"

Big grin. "Yeah. I guess so." More small talk.

I was impressed with this woman. No doubt we'll be catching up with her again, either on this case or another in the future. I liked her. She reminded me very much of a teacher I once had who was immensely important to me, both while I was learning theater (and life) from her and in the years since as I've remembered her lessons from time to time.

Today I was puttering in the kitchen making spaghetti (as I am frequently wont to do) and she was puttering beside me, making brownies for the church youth group meeting she is attending as I type this. The phone rings, and I beat her to it. It's "Josie's" mother, so I hand her the phone. As part of her grounding, she's limited to three 15-minute phone calls a day, but I don't limit her contact with her mother. If her mother can tear herself away from the bar long enough to call her daughter, who am I to stand in the way? After all, the county social worker made very clear that "reunification" is the main goal here. No time like the present to start, if the mother is game.

Amid the other small talk (she was too busy to stop by this afternoon and try the first brownies her daughter ever made) I heard the description she gave her mother of her grounding. I wasn't looking at her at the time, but I could hear in her voice that same bemused half-smile as she complained--very, very mildly--of how restricted she was.

This girl is liking this. And as long as we're fair about it, and follow through the way we've said we would and lift the grounding according to the announced timeline, I honestly believe she's going to understand the lesson. I think there's an excellent chance she'll also apply it the next time she's in a questionable situation.

I want so bad for her to stay here until she's 18, because I've decided we can save this one if we have the time to chip away at her enough. And today I heard her say to The Wife that if her mother doesn't change her ways, then she wants to stay here until she's 18. Could we get this lucky right out the chute? I sincerely hope so. We could make all the difference for the first one we drew. That's amazing...and it would do wonders for our own confidence, too.

You see, we've been scared spitless this entire time that we'd get in over our heads. Maybe we're able to swim in these waters, after all.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home