After a strange phone call to my husband at work--“Hi. When you get home tonight, there will be a new daughter at the dinner table”--I spent the afternoon in a frenzy of activity. To minimize transitions and give Haley a sense of consistency, I wanted Haley’s bedroom to be ready for her arrival. This required shuffling the other kids’ rooms--and if we were moving dressers and changing beds we might as well vacuum the corners and sort the detritus of children’s belongings. By four o’clock, the bedrooms were arranged and I had done my best to make a bed suitable for a girl--the lighter blue side of a reversible comforter was face up on her bed.
I still remember the moment I first laid eyes on Haley. Her shelter mom, who had cared for her for the previous two weeks (which included 11 days in the hospital with RSV, pneumonia, and asthma complications), held her on her hip as I opened the front door. Haley was wearing pink pants and was holding a sippy cup. The shelter mom and I sat on the couch to discuss Haley’s care. Haley effortlessly began playing with the boys and the toys in the room. When the shelter mom and I were done talking, I set Haley on a barstool and distracted her with a toy while the shelter mom took her leave. I remember that mom looking wistfully at Haley as she walked away. Everyone involved in Haley’s case recognized that Haley was a catch--young, cute, sweet, compliant, seemingly ready to heal from her turbulent past. At dinner that night, I remember watching Haley, learning her face.
The next day I began the process of teaching Haley how to operate in a healthy family. Mealtime, naptime, and bedtime--basic routines for most children--were foreign to her. She would watch me making dinner and chant “eat, eat” literally hundreds of times. She couldn’t understand why food was out on the counter, yet no one was eating it. She screamed and kicked with abandon each time I put her to bed. We went through our daily routines slowly, purposefully, and let her learn--we eat at mealtime, your tantrum doesn’t keep me from putting you to bed, you’ll wake up here every morning, I’ll be here every day.
Haley was a fast learner. We could see her willingly adapting to every new expectation and change in her environment. She flourished under praise. When we complimented her behavior or cooperation she would nod smugly and say, “mm-hm.” Haley had many problems resulting from her dysfunctional upbringing--inability to initiate play, desire to monopolize adults, willingness to attach to any passerby. But she had come through remarkably strong, healthy, and pleasant.
In the coming months, my feelings were split, as they had been with Zillah. A part of me held back from loving Haley too much in case I had to let her go. A part of me wanted to beat out Haley’s birth mom, Terri, and any other birth relatives so I could adopt Haley for myself. A part of me rooted for Terri to do the small tasks remaining that would allow her to have her daughter back.
In the eyes of the state, parents of young children like Haley have very limited chances. While the best option for the child is to live with healthy and appropriate biological parents, the second best choice is permanency--with any healthy and appropriate family. If the birth parents cannot provide permanency, stability, and care within several months, it’s best for the child to move on and begin attaching elsewhere.
Though Terri’s time was running out, most people involved in the case seemed to think her chances were good. Terri had made good progress on many fronts. Her drug tests always came back negative. But again and again she failed to hold a job, maintain a residence, and comply in other basic requirements that would show her ready to care for her daughter.
As had Carrie, Terri sometimes found it easy to pin her frustrations on me. Once a week I carefully dressed Haley, fixed her hair, and drove her to the DCFS offices to visit with her mom. And each week Terri found something to criticize. One week she complained that Haley’s earrings weren’t clean enough. She unleashed at me a tirade about how I should clean her ears more carefully and concluded with a sarcastic and demanding, “Can you do that?” The irony hung heavy between us. Of course I could do that. She was the one who had lost her daughter twice due to neglect. I was the one who had dressed and cared for her. But I had learned some lessons from Carrie and answered only, “Sure I can.”
That ability to avoid conflict with Terri is, I believe, the reason why Haley is my daughter today. A distant relative in Haley’s birth family came forward wanting to adopt Haley should the need arise. The state, wanting to preserve birth families as much as possible, would have given priority to that family over ours even though it would have meant another wrenching transition in Haley’s life. But Terri told the caseworker, her lawyer, and the judge that she wanted Haley to go to our family. She said she could see that we loved Haley, took good care of her, and would provide her with a good upbringing. Haley's birth father made a similar statement in court.
Two days after our fourth son was born, Terri "voluntarily relinquished" her parental rights. Although giving up Haley was the last thing she wanted to do, I think she could see she wouldn't win and bowed out to avoid a prolonged and painful court hearing. She told the court, “I love Haley. That’s why I’m doing this. It’s breaking my heart.” She was a beaten woman, giving away the one thing in her life she loved most, the most beautiful and good thing she had ever accomplished.
After the court session, I wrapped my arms around grieving Terri. “I’ll take good care of your daughter,” I told her. My love and appreciation and sympathy for her were real. As Mark and I drove away from the courthouse, we saw Terri, alone, climbing onto the bus to drive away. It is the saddest image either of us has ever seen.
Within three months, we adopted Haley in that same courtroom. A few weeks later, she was sealed to us in the Salt Lake temple. Of all the pictures we took that day, one immediately caught our attention. It shows our four sons and their adopted sister, all in their beautiful white temple clothing. The children are clustered around a small park bench, the gray stone walls of the temple rising up behind them. In the picture, the boys are looking with bemusement at Haley. Both her arms are raised high, her face is turned up to the sky, and she looks as if she is shouting for joy. I like to think that the picture shows the true feelings of Haley’s spirit about finally finding her place in a forever family, at coming to rest after several detours in a family where she would learn the gospel. A family where love would be shown through action and consistency day in and day out, not in fits and spurts.