Our story begins in June of 2005. This is the “birth” of my relationship with Minuette Mae. When we received the call that a 14-year-old girl needed a home, we were concerned because we never had picked up a child right from juvenile detention before. Our referral information was vague about why she was in detention. Then we talked with her case worker and she said that Minuette requested to stay there after she was picked up as a runaway, because she was sick of foster homes. A few months had gone by and it was more than obvious that secure detention was not needed for this quiet 95 pound adolescent.
The day was sunny and warm when we met Minuette for the first time. She was pale, malnourished and her clothes hung from her bony frame. I remember the day as if it was yesterday. Most parents have a colorful memory of a cherubic baby wrapped in a warm pink or blue blanket when their child enters their life. My first memory of Minuette is black and white. A giant over-sized sweater borrowed from a staff member hung from her and seemed to envelope her like a shroud that tried hard to keep her safe. The cold institutional walls served as a heartbreaking backdrop for a painful story. Even so it was her eyes that drew my attention. When she slipped into her seat it was with little emotion and a nonchalance only a child “in the system” can pull off. As she looked up at me I could see the pain and sadness in her eyes but it was the inner strength that emanated from her that drew me to her.
At that point we only had about 2 years experience in the foster care world and only had a handful of kids grace the steps of our home, but even so, I knew this child was different. She had a drive and determination that years of abuse and neglect could not beat. What she and I didn’t know at that moment is the roller coaster ride that we were about to embark on. From day one I always got myself in trouble with the things I would say to her. Simple things like “you can be anything you want” or “you deserve better” would send her into a tailspin. What parent wouldn’t say those things to their child? But most children are not told they are worthless and stupid. I told her I sympathized with her and I understood. The truth is I wanted to understand, but how could I? I was never abused, neglected and left to fend for myself. I have two loving biological parents; she had two bio parents who couldn’t even take care of themselves.
We learned together how to understand each other. I could empathize with her but I couldn’t possibly “understand” the atrocities she had lived through. She learned that even though I wasn’t her biological mom, I could love her unconditionally. My husband and I would be there every time she stumbled. She did her best to prove we would let her down and we did our best not to do so. It wasn’t pretty or poetic but we made it through.
What I have learned about Minuette Mae is that she is a fighter, a survivor. Through all of the turmoil she sought out knowledge. She wanted to know where, how, and why this happened to her. She spent some time at Rogers Memorial Hospital and it gave her the answers she needed. She wasn’t mentally ill or unfixable, she suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)from years of neglect and abuse. They explained to her that it was ok that she was scared and insecure, and we explained to her that we were here to protect her… forever.
When she came home, she was fragile; but, she was determined. She read everything she could about PTSD. Barnes and Noble became her favorite place as she devoured true stories of kids who made it out of abusive situations and went on to become successful. In six months, Minuette turned her life around. She worked hard to bring up her grades and established boundaries in her life that she could live with. She took pride in school and very quickly received promotions and raises at her summer job. She joined volleyball and softball with her sister and showed enough responsibility to earn her license. She finally trusted that I was the Mom. To most that would seem silly, but it was a huge step. One I take very seriously.
When Minuette makes up her mind to do something, she doesn’t let anything get in her way. The day she decided that her future was hers to create, she headed down a path she never thought she would be able to. I hope others can see the drive and determination of this now 105 pound healthy ball of fire. She will succeed because she knows what it is like not to. She will succeed because she wants to. She will succeed because she is able to.