Troubled. That was the word the therapist had used on Jesse. Of course he was, I thought as I read through her report before going to meet the boy. The thick file gave me quite a picture of this thirteen year-old. He was described as uncommunicative, resistant to authority. It didn’t look like he would be easy to place with a family. He had already been to twelve foster homes since he came into the system at age two. I knew this was likely to be a difficult case with a problem child. But I wasn’t ready to write him off yet.
I opened the door to interview room three. “Hello, my name is Marian Blake,” I said as I extended my hand. To my surprise, he took it and shook it with a firm grip.
“I’m Jesse,” he said. His light blue eyes looked into mine. Not in defiance but with respect. “It’s nice to meet you, Ms. Blake.”
I was surprised to hear the polite tone in his voice. Though his eyes showed a weariness and a maturity that no boy should have to know, they weren’t angry or defensive. His faded t-shirt was clean and tucked into his jeans.
“Please sit down.” I opened his file and skimmed it again. Was this the same young man written about in the file?
“Do you understand that your parents’ rights have been terminated?”
“Do you understand that this means you can be adopted?”
Again he nodded. For a minute, he looked down. Then he cleared his throat. “Do you think anyone will want me?”
I’d been doing this job for over ten years but tears threatened my eyes at hearing that familiar question. I started to give the standard reply, but I felt Jesse deserved more. I knew he could handle the truth.
“It’s a challenge to place older kids,” I said. “Most families are looking at kids under ten. But that doesn’t mean I won’t work hard to find the right family for you.”
“I know you’ll do your best.”
Those words haunted me through my search for willing parents. I couldn’t let him down. So instead of writing the standard profile that would give the information in his file, I created one that showed a more positive side to Jesse. The side of him I had seen. I was amazed at the level of maturity in him. Most kids who had been through what he had would be bitter and with good reason. He had been let down by every adult in his life but he didn’t let hatred control him.
After three months, I finally found a family who was interested in meeting Jesse. I wasn’t sure how that would go because I knew from experience it was at this point that kids often rebelled. Whether it was from fear of the unknown or bottled up anger, they sabotaged their own chances at having a family. I was nervous as I took the Hamiltons to meet Jesse.
“Jesse, this is Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton.”
“Hello, Mrs. Hamilton. How are you?”
I breathed a sigh of relief at the polite boy that I had come to know. After a long successful visit, I led the Hamiltons out and then came back to talk to Jesse.
“How come you’re so different from how you’ve been described?” I asked. I knew it was unconventional to have a discussion with a child who often couldn’t answer this kind of question even from a therapist. But I thought Jesse would know the answer.
Jesse grinned. “You mean what everyone’s written in the file?”
“I used to be that person. And then one of my foster families took me to church. I realized that I already had a Father if I let Him be one.” He wiped his eyes and cleared his throat. “It wasn’t easy and it took a long time for that to sink in, but it did. I knew then that I had to show the other kids I lived with.” He paused and looked down to wipe some imaginary dirt from the table. “It’s still hard and I get angry but I know I’ll be okay.”
I was so glad that I had taken the time to look beyond what I saw in his file to the person I knew was inside. I had a feeling that the Hamiltons would do that, too.
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