The first visit took place on a Tuesday in my home with a number of people in the room. The child's worker, my worker, my mom who happened to be visiting from Texas, my partner C. (although we weren't officially "together" at the time-- it's long story) and I. Corazon was a burst of energy and didn't want to leave. She came back for a two hour visit on Thursday. That same weekend she came for her first overnight. One good thing was that her foster home was in my neighborhood and less than a dozen blocks from my house so everything seemed familiar to her. That night we had to take my mom shopping because she was leaving town the next day. We took Corazon to a local mall and in the Se*rs department store I went to pay and asked C. and my mom to keep an eye on Corazon. I was gone less than 5 minutes and they lost her! She took off and joined another family and followed them around the store. My mom and C. could only say "you're going to kill us!" when they told me. We split up and I quickly spotted her and extricated her from the family who must have thought I was a really irresponsible parent. I reminded Corazon that she shouldn't wander off and she sweetly apologized and "promised" it would never happen again. At dinner, I went to the ladies' room and while I was gone Corazon declared to my mom and C. that she was going to call me "mommy." We had a good overnight visit, she stayed in her room all night and seemed to sleep well. The next day when I returned her to her foster home she cried all the way in the car, pouted as we walked up the steps, ignored her foster mom who warmly greeted her at the door and pushed past her to announce that she was hungry. She didn't say goodbye to me. Her foster mom smiled apologetically and told me she often behaved that way and no matter how much she punished her for her disrespect it never stopped. As I started to step out of the doorway Corazon had a change of heart because she came running to the door, threw herself in my arms, told me she loved me, and begged me to not leave her there. I reassured her that I would be seeing her soon. At the time, I was surprised by how quickly she seemed to attach to me but of course, now I know better.
One week after meeting her I visited her at her daycare center. Her teachers spoke highly of her intellect and reminded me she had been there since she was 3 months old so they knew her really well. They were very supportive of my adopting her and several of her former teachers stopped by to say hello and tell me that they were so excited she would finally have stability. Corazon had been moved between relatives' home, birth mom, paternal aunt, and several foster homes 12 times in her 4 1/2 years although she had been at the current foster home for 11 months. The next day the social worker called to ask me to take Corazon permanently on the following day (9 days after our first meeting.) I reminded her that the plan was for me to take her in about 10 days when the TPR was complete. The social worker told me there was an emergency at the foster home and they had to remove her. She asked if I really wanted Corazon going to another foster home for 10 days before she came to me. Of course, I didn't so I agreed and I was really excited to begin this parenting journey with Corazon. I spent all day getting her room ready and the social worker was over an hour early in delivering Corazon to me. She greeting C. with a big hug as she went downstairs to greet her and help bring her belongings upstairs to our apartment. When she got to the bottom of the stairs Corazon shouted up to me "Mommy I'm home!" In my journal recounting that night I wrote the following:
"The evening went smoothly. She asked me my name and I said “N___” and she said “I’m going to call you ‘Mommy.' I asked her if she might prefer to call me "Mama N___" and she said “NO” that she was going to call me "Mommy". She seems clear about this. It isn’t what I expected. I tried to follow the schedule [foster mom] gave me for her and use some of the familiar routines she was used to: dinner, bath, brush teeth, last bathroom trip, etc. She seems to have very good habits and uses very respectful language. She seems to respond to both English and Spanish quite well. I read her a story and as I tucked her in she said, “Mommy, do you know I’m afraid of everything?” My heart melted as I kissed her goodnight. Last night she was up 3 times to use the bathroom. Of course I was up most of the night listening out for her. She has asthma and coughed and wheezed a bit. Only once did she say she had a bad dream about a monster."
The next day was a Friday. She insisted on taking a picture of the two of us with her to daycare for Friday's "show and tell." When she got home the picture looked like it had been handled a great deal. Her teacher sent me a note telling me Corazon was so excited and happy. She had told everyone she had a "real" mommy now. That evening we went to a bookstore to buy a gift for someone. I told her up front that I wasn't buying anything for her and she needed to keep her hands to herself. I knew from the foster mother that she had problems with stealing so I wanted to set clear expectations up front. When I wasn’t watching she pulled a sticker out of a sticker book and started to put it in her coat pocket. I caught her and reminded her that she was not allowed to do that and she started crying with very loud wails which turned into an explosive tantrum. I took her out of the store and let her cry until she calmed down. Then I explained to her, again, that she could not touch anything when we were in stores. We left the bookstore without getting the gift I needed to get. The following day (three days into the honeymoon) this is what I wrote in my journal:
"This morning I found pee in the trash can in her room. She denied peeing in the trashcan and cried dramatically in her denial of this. She came up with 7 different possibilities about what was in the trash can and who could have done it. Eventually she admitted peeing because she was “afraid of getting up” even though she had gotten up three other times last night to use the bathroom. I explained that peeing went in the potty and she "promised" not to do it again. In the car she declared “Mommy, I’m your daughter!” five or six times as we went about our errands. When we got home she drew a picture of herself and said “I don’t want to be alone anymore. I am going to draw you with me, mommy.” Then she also drew my roommate and C. and showed me the picture and declared “This is my family!” We put it on the refrigerator. She is very conscious about when it starts to gets dark—and she starts to cough and wheeze. I introduced her to the idea of “Grandfather Sun and Grandmother Moon” today and she seemed to like it. She asked some good questions and I showed her Grandmother Moon, explaining that she looked out for us at night while we slept."
On Sunday, I was tidying up her room and noticed that she had gotten into the bookshelf that I had said was "off limits" to her. There was a Scr*bble game on the bottom on a stack of board games. The box was slightly open. I walked over to the box and she stepped between me and the bookcase. Here's what I wrote in my journal about what happened next:
I confronted her about getting into the games and she started crying and screaming and denying that she had touched it. I calmly explained that I could see the box had been opened and I needed to remind her that she was not to touch the things on that shelf because they weren't hers. She totally lost it! She threw herself on the floor, started kicking and screaming, and hit herself on the arm repeatedly. I sat on the floor and held her so she wouldn’t hit herself anymore. She resisted being held but when I let go she would hit herself again. She never stopped screaming and kicking. She is small so it was easy to hold her. I didn't want to hold her against her will but everytime I let go she hit herself on the arms, legs, and face. She screamed repeatedly, “I don’t love you, I don’t want you. I want to be alone. I am a bad girl.” I told her she was a good girl and I loved her and she would say “I don’t love you.” I would say “that’s ok, I love you enough for both of us.” She screamed that I didn't and that she was "bad, bad, bad!" She fought like this for about 40 minutes before she calmed down and finally clung to my chest and then said “I love you mommy.”
Later that evening I discovered there were 2 gameboy games inside that Scr*bble game box. They weren't ours and they weren't hers. She denied putting them there and I decided to call the former foster mother. The games turned out to belong to her 11 year old son. The foster mom thanked me and gave me an earful about Corazon's stealing. It turned out that the "straw that broke the camel's back" for the foster mom was about stealing. Two days before Corazon moved in to my home the foster mom had taken Corazon shopping to a local department store. The foster mom is primarily Spanish-speaking and a bit self-conscious when she is out and about. They made a small purchase and started to leave the store when the security alarms went off. She was stopped and her purchases/receipts were examined. As they were about to let them leave, Corazon, in all of her 4 year old cuteness pulls out a very expensive piece of women's lingerie out of her coat pocket. She shows it to the store personnel and announces that the foster mom "made" her put it in her coat. Of course, foster mom denies it, store believes the 4 year old and it takes the police and 3 social workers three hours to sort it out before the woman gets to go home. Turns out that wasn't the first such incident and the foster mom was done. She tried to get the social worker to take the child away right then and there but finally agreed to 48 more hours with her. That was why I got her early.
I was a bit taken aback by all the foster mom shared and called the social worker about it. The social worker assured me it was a small incident, a misunderstanding, the child didn't feel safe and comfortable in that home, she had no known issues, etc. etc. I pointedly asked her if there were other problems I should know about and she said no. Corazon had been in two stable placements over the past two years and she had no known issues. She was one of the "lucky ones" who didn't need therapy because she was very "resilient." I had no reason to doubt the social worker at that time. 10 days passed with lots of ups and downs but mostly ups with Corazon. We were settling into a nice routine. The court date for the TPR came and went and I didn't hear from the social worker. I left several messages and it took her a week to get back to me. At that time she informed me that the birth family had a new lawyer and the judge had postponed the court date for a couple of months! She assured me they didn't anticipate any problems because mom was clearly unfit and there were no other family members interested. I was very upset that there was a possibility I might lose her but I also began wondering if maybe there was more to the story.
Of course there was!