We went to visit her once…….during a regularly scheduled visit that I had with Camaro. Patty, Sly, Cam and I drove over to Luna’s new home and were welcomed in by the woman there – also named Patty. The contrast between homes was striking.
Patty and Sly lived in a fairly large, meticulously clean house on a wooded cul-de-sac. Patty took pride in telling me that the bed sheets were changed and washed every day without fail. A house rule was that all personal care – including hair combing and brushing had to take place in the bathroom. There were no crumbs, no smears, no dirty dishes, no dust, no stray hairs……. The house itself was immaculate. The children’s clothing was changed and laundered several times each day. The yard was landscaped and mowed. The driveway and walkways were swept. The fish pond was clean and tidy. The large Malamute was groomed daily. No stray pet hairs. All the accent pillows were straight and the furniture in showroom shape. It was not an extravagant home, nor was it uncomfortably formal, but there were also no signs that 4 biological and dozens of foster children had passed through the house over the past 2 decades. And while a clean house is always lovely, this particular one seemed to exist in stark contrast to these loud, brash, coarse people who smoked like chimneys and charged around their home like rhinos and who, based on the proximity of their faces to mine while talking, showed no need for personal space while engaged in social interactions.
The new Patty’s house, on the other hand, was another kind of assault on the senses. It was in the city, surrounded by chain link fence, and separated from the neighbors by a few blades of wan grass. The entire house reeked of urine. The carpet and furniture was grimy enough to warrant sitting on the stone hearth instead. The TV was on and several scraggly children in various states of undress stared at it with glassy eyes. None of them moved or registered the entrance of 3 adults and another child. Patty led us through the living room of tiny zombies, through the greasy grimy kitchen where a pot of boiling vegetable oil and large serving spoon sat on the stovetop, and out into the backyard that held an ancient rusty swingset. Playing by herself, Luna looked up, gasped, and ran to her brother and the 2 siblings hugged – clearly elated to see each other again. Her face was smeary and sweaty, and her hair was matted to her head. Her diaper was hanging low and full and her chubby legs were covered with swollen angry bug bites. Her clothes were unfamiliar to Patty and Sly and the change in Luna in just a few short weeks was marked. She said very little, and was very uncertain as she stole glances at Sly and the two Pattys. We didn’t stay long, and it was difficult to leave her. Resigned, Luna silently watched us leave.
I found myself awash in emotions. As offensively aggressive and overwhelmingly loud and assaultive as Patty and Sly were, they had at least supplied the children with clothes and toys and food, and had shown them the respect of cleanliness. While I was beginning to suspect that the children were somewhat lacking for emotional nurturance, they did not appear to lack for their basic physical needs. Luna’s new home showed a level of profound poverty and neglect that I had not been privy to very often in my life – if at all.
I comforted myself with the convicted hope that she would not remain there long and that, in the grand scheme of a life, this would be but a forgettable moment – a short time period that she would easily jettison as not belonging or find to be useful in establishing her reality.
But what I did not register or acknowledge at the time was that, as dismissible as I saw this “short” period of time, it was the air she breathed, and the customs she lived, and the resulting assumptions she made about life every single day. 70 days of her 900 total days alive was still about 8% of her life. She was a vibrant 2 1/2 year old – in the prime of trying to figure out what life was and who and where authority and boundaries were and how to think about things.
Her developmental tasks were to begin to use cause and effect thinking – to learn to connect the dots of independent actions and resulting reactions. Her job was to experiment with behaviors and emotions and take matters into her own hands and learn the consequences – to become independent and walk out a bit on her own and learn that, no matter what she did and what happened as a result, she was still loved and cared for and held within a circle of safety. In order to learn those things, she needed to push back when given a limit, ask questions and learn to verbalize her feelings and ideas.
The adults in charge of her were supposed to be sharply present and affirm her explorations. They were supposed to hold boundaries and explain how power works. They were supposed to love her rage and testing and let her know how safe and loved she was as she blundered about. They were supposed to be her steadying and consistent partners – encouraging her cause and effect thinking, endorsing her growth and independence, encouraging her language and questions and holding firm the emotional tie that kept her safe, even as she increased her physical distance.
Instead, on an ordinary early summer day, all of her possessions were loaded into 2 black garbage bags larger than her little self, and her family left her for their own pursuits. A vaguely familiar man came to her house, greeted her lovingly, picked up her and the bags, put her in a car and drove her to a house that could not have been more different than the home she had always known. There she was deposited with an explanation that would be emotionally incomprehensible to anyone, and way beyond the intellectual comprehension of a 2 year old. According to child welfare laws, it was called a change of placement – a state sanctioned abduction. Patty and Sly called it a relief to be rid of the ‘dozer. For Luna, it was the ultimate betrayal and abandonment. With her toddler self as the center of her own and known universe, she wondered what atrocity she had committed to warrant being ejected from and rejected by the only home and family she had ever truly known.