Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Letting Go

Yesterday I heard an update on J, the young woman who I mentored all last summer/fall while she lived in a group home for pregnant girls in our city.

J was 17 at the time. She had bounced in and out of foster care/relative care placements since she was 11. Grew up with her bipolar, schizophrenic mother during her first 10 years of life. The mother had severe anger issues and had pushed a man to his death on subway rails in NYC, prompting J's entrance into the endless rotation of foster families. As I grew to know J, it became evident that those anger issues were passed on to her as well.

J is a very smart girl, both academically and intellectually. She was a school track star and varsity wrestler. Quite the go-getter.

But J was also very smart like a fox. She instantly hated the group home. When she learned that she couldn't live with us until our adoption was complete, she then convinced her mother--now living on her own--to move to a larger apartment, and then concocted a plan to convince her social worker to give her mother primary placement of her once again.

Somehow, she pulled that off.

But, when leaving the placement hearing, she had a 21-year old Jamaican man "friend" pick her up and promptly move her back in with him. Into the apartment she was living in when she became pregnant. Leaving her mother to head back to a large empty apartment by herself on a Greyhound. This fellow had a small, one-bedroom apartment in the ghetto of Madison, but J insisted he's like a big brother and slept on the couch.

The Mister and I had expressed complete disapproval over this plan of hers. We tried to convince her to stick it out at the group home and get her diploma. She then could move into an independent-living apartment on the group home property and receive free daycare to go to community college. We would be there to help her, guide her, and create a support network for her.

But, 12 months was a prison sentence she could not bear. Not even for the promise of a better life.

12 months, honey? I said to her. You'll be a mother of a minor for 18 YEARS. Stick out the mere year to make the following 17 so much easier.

To her, I sounded just like Charlie Brown's teacher: "Mwah mwah mwah, mwah, mwah, mwah" rang through her deaf ears.

And our disapproval over the situation? When she realized that she could not convince us to enable her in this unhealthy lifestyle, we were dropped like a hot potato.

I had heard through the grapevine that she had her baby boy, whom she named Ace. Seriously, that's his first name. The baby had terrible jaundice and she was going back and forth from the hospital with him.

I kept waiting to hear from her, but I never did. I had promised her that I would always be here to listen. I know darn well she knew my phone number, and I always reminded her that we are listed. "Just whitepage.com us," I would tell her.

Instead, she would call the group home for updates, and try to get them to tell her our number. Which, by law, they can't do.

But that's just another example of her games. She knows how to get our number; she just wants to see if she can get other people to break the rules for her benefit.

The few times I was in Madison, I was worried sick about that baby, wondering where he was, how he was doing, etc. If J was in school, if there were still drugs in that apartment, if she picked up the baby each time he cried.

Yesterday, Jill had an update for me through her mentee. J is back in a different city living with her mom.

I was relieved, as crazy as that seems. I'd much rather have her living with her sedated, overly-medicated mentally ill mom than the gang banger, pizza palace worker 22-year old.

J's not in school. I'm hoping she got her diploma in December as she had planned. Not in school and not working, with no plans. Instead she's catching up with other girls who have since left the group home; girls who are prostituting and living with drug-dealer relatives.

Oh, and the baby's white. Completely white. DNA-tested and confirmed. Which is funny, because when she was telling me "in confidence" the father options, a white guy was never one of them. Apparently, she was really disappointed because she was hoping for a black baby, but she's over that now and besides, the baby is cute.

Good grief.

When you're 18, everything seems both overwhelming and forever. 30 is "forever" away. Going to school for 2 years takes "forever." The Mister is looking at MBA programs right now, which will probably take him 4 years to finish part-time. A drop in the bucket, timewise, for us. But to an uneducated 18 year old with no life skills? That takes way too long. They can't even imagine being 22.

I feel sad for J. I feel sad for baby Ace. I wish some way, somehow I could have conveyed to her that anything worth doing is going to be really difficult at times. But you get through it.

My baby brother is learning these lessons now, in his mid-20s. He feels overwhelmed and regretful and pessimistic. He feels like things really probably won't ever get better, because he can't project out his life on a timeline.

I spent so much of my late teens and early 20's feeling stupid and ashamed. I thought I would always feel that way. But that was a long time ago, and my suitcase isn't big enough to carry all of that around, so I let it go. My 30's arrived and I found my footing. Now when I make mistakes, I shrug my shoulders and say, best not to do that again.

I have spent the past few weeks feeling very irked and angry over the rude actions of people. On at least 4 occasions, I've been flabbergasted by rude, inconsiderate or hurtful actions and remarks. To the point where I felt like it's better to be a hermit in my own home than deal with rudeness every which way I turn.

But being a hermit is not really the answer, is it? My suitcase does not have the extra space to store all of my irritation. So, I'm working hard on dropping it. Letting it go. Life is too short for feeling stupid and ashamed, and so it is too short for irritation and anger as well.

I want to fill my suitcase with my husband and a house full of children. Full of loving family and friends. Full of pets. Full of memories of times at the lake and in the garden. Full of journeys and experiences and plain ol' living.

But, I really had hoped to have J and Baby Ace in my suitcase, too.

For now, that corner of my suitcase is glaringly empty. At this point, I don't know if they'll ever be in there. I don't know what to do. I can try and tell myself that she is an adult and makes her own choices and that at least I tried. That at least I took the time to tell her what she needed--and didn't want---to hear. But I still feel like I failed.

It's difficult. I learned to let go of my own feelings of anger, stupidity and shame.

But how do I learn to let go of them?


small town girl said...


Don't know the answer, but there is a certain grief in abandonment. When someone you love callowly and carelessly tosses you by the wayside and you only want to love them, and maybe help them too.

You can pray. Pray for her and the baby, and pray for yourself. Pray that she comes to her senses before the mountain of regret and bad choices becomes too much for even a little "fox" like her to climb. Thanks for sharing. It is heartbreaking.

bbbunch said...

Oh Sarah...I'm with small town girl...you can pray. Prayer is truly the only real way I can ever let go of something. She will make her poor choices, but they are HER choices to make...and someday, she WILL look you up and tell you that she should have listened to you. Being a teenager under the best of circumstances is rough, but under hers...well. Your heart is the reason why you have such a wonderful family and friends who love you so! Keep your chin up, you left the door open for her.