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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Angry (08/02/07)

TITLE: Little One, Relax
By Jan Ackerson


He is sleeping now, his long eyelashes resting on his freckled cheek. His deep and measured breathing belies the fury in which he spun through the day. I rest a hand on his pajama top and feel, beneath the rise and fall of his chest, an angry heartbeat fighting against the imposition of a few hours of unwelcome peace.

The social worker, Allison, has tried to prepare me for the difficulty of being a foster mother to Cody. For each placement in his three years of life, a colored tab adorns his thick file. It is a veritable rainbow; so many well-intentioned families have fallen for Cody’s cherubic face only to be defeated by his startling outbursts of anger.

Despite Allison’s pessimism, I have brought Cody home with me. I understand his rage; that same dark, cold fire burned in my own spirit until extinguished by a pair of pierced and weathered hands. Although I did not give birth to this little boy, surely the volume of love ripped from my heart when I first held his little hand was a sort of birth.

Here then, is Cody’s day: he emerges from sleep with a whimper, kicking at the blankets. When I pull him, half-awake, into my lap, he drapes his warm arms around me and burrows his face into my neck. He remains groggily compliant while I help him into shorts and a tee-shirt and lead him, yawning, into the kitchen.

Some time during breakfast, Cody’s anger is sparked. Perhaps the orange juice is too pulpy, or the grape jelly spread too thickly on his toast. The inevitable result is a sticky mess on the floor and the necessity of a change of clothes for both Cody and me. A few shards of shattered glass lodged in my heel have taught me to use paper and plastic for all of our meals.

Cody lisps sowwy, and sometimes he forgets to call me Moira and says mama instead, his fist grasped tightly around my soul. I look for pleasant ways to fill his hours then, and we play with Noah’s ark or Legos until something not right sends Cody back to that scarlet place where only screams can adequately express his pain.

I gather Cody into my lap and hold him close, my grip around his arms both restraining him and telling him I will stay here as long as you need me. I rock him and murmur shhh, shhh into his ear.

Father, will You teach me to heal this broken boy?

I prepare Cody’s lunch while he watches Veggie Tales, clinging to Morton, the stuffed alligator that has traveled with him to every foster home. He sucks his thumb so hard that it is red and cracked; it is a battle I have chosen to forego. If he takes comfort from Morton and his beleaguered thumb, so be it.

Lunch is always macaroni and cheese and canned peaches. My little tyrant insists that they must not touch, must not be too hot, must not fall off his spoon. A good lunch ends with only a few fierce tears; a bad one ends in another full-body embrace as I battle this 30-pound bundle of wrath.

After lunch, we explore the wooded area in the back of my property. Cody discovers nature with all of his senses—even, alarmingly, taste—and I allow him a restricted freedom, aware that it is my effort to keep him safe that most often precipitates an angry episode. So I hold my breath and pray as Cody finds a stone, a leaf, a fuzzy caterpillar. “Look, Moira!” he exclaims, his eyes wide and a blush spreading beneath his freckles. I hold out a hand to receive his treasures, and wait for the explosion.

It comes, it always comes, on the heels of the word no. There is a flurry of elbows and knees, accompanied by a soundtrack of dreadful screams and incoherent agony.

So this is the rhythm of Cody’s day, a pulse of alternating turbulence and tranquility. And here I am on Cody’s bed, my hand on his chest, when I see that his pudgy fingers are tightly fisted even in sleep. Oh, little one, relax, I breathe. I work my pinky into the clenched knot and realize that Cody is clutching something. He stirs and opens his eyes a little, gracing me with a sleepy smile. Mama, he whispers. A small, crimson wildflower uncrumples and falls at my feet.

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This article has been read 1701 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Loren T. Lowery08/09/07
This is just beautiful. The rhythm of the words is like the pulse of a heart. It is great to know there are people in this world like the narrator who know to look beyond the anger.
valerie chambers08/09/07
I absolutely love the ending.
the story gave me new insight into what I would have--before reading this story--labeled a temper tantrum. Very well written.
Verna Cole Mitchell 08/09/07
This is a truly beautiful story of patient love. The little boy is pictured so well, the reader can see his angry heart. One only hopes the love of his foster mother will soothe his broken self, and God will make him whole.
Lynda Schultz 08/09/07
A lovely, poignant story — it held me all the way through. Well done.
Betty Castleberry08/10/07
This is SO very sweet and touching. Very well written, too. Five stars from me.
Seema Bagai 08/10/07
Well written. I could picture the interactions between adult and child.
Kristen Hester08/12/07
This is so tender and sweet. I felt the MCs compassion and love. I saw the boy's anger. The last line gave me chill bumps. What symbolism. Great!
Joanne Sher 08/12/07
You absolutely tore my heart out! Just excellent. What compassion from mom, and what vivid descriptions of that boy. Wonderful.
Mo 08/12/07
Sharlyn Guthrie08/13/07
Absolutely wonderful writing. Your title and the paragraph in which you repeated it were especially effective in this touching story.
Sherrie Jackson08/13/07
You never cease to amaze me with the complexities of your stories, that seem to come so naturally. I always get the sense that I'm entering a full, living world when I read your work. This story is no exception. I hope this is a winner. Brilliant work!!
Sheri Gordon08/13/07
This is absolutely beautiful. Your detailed descriptions left my heart physically aching for this little boy. Wonderful writing -- as always.
Jan Ross08/13/07
As I read this earlier today I knew it had to be yours. Jan, you are an incredible writer. There's so much depth--perhaps "heart" would be a better word--to your writing. Having met you, I can see it in you. You were born to write, to put into words what most people never stop to consider. Your descriptions are so vivid. I could see Cody, I could hear his screams, feel the pounding of his fists, and even easily visualize his "beleaguered thumb". We had a little "Cody" but his name was "Scotty"--a bit older but just as angry. I guess that's why this story really stirred up some emotions in me...memories of a difficult time in our family. I was so thankful to see Moira blessed with the small, crimson wildflower--what we would have given for such a gift! Awesome, Jan! But, then, I would have expected nothing else from you. God bless! :)
Joy Faire Stewart08/13/07
This is so beautifully written. The insight the MC has is perfect. Excellent!
George Parler 08/13/07
Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful!

Jan, you hit too close to home. Just too close. For me, this was hard and wonderful to read. Thank you for writing and sharing this.
Dee Yoder 08/13/07
You alternately broke my heart and mended it over and over as I read this. Simply stunning. I'm choked up. What a story!
Catrina Bradley 08/13/07
Stunningly good. Simply awesome.
Julie Ruspoli08/14/07
You described everything so perfectly. I could picture the entire article in my mind. Beautiful description of Cody and his anger. My daughter Jade was similar when she was very young. The characters plan to help him is perfect. This article is one of my favorites.
Leigh MacKelvey08/14/07
How, how, how ... do you do it?
Your words are words so special and so original, you need to try the publishing route, JAN! I MEAN IT! I'm going to start sending you places to send your work, if you don't get a move on! Your brother isn't the only one in your family who writes, you know.
Lynda Lee Schab 08/14/07
This is exactly the reason you are in Masters. Such a wonderfully creative, beautiful piece...touching, real and quietly powerful. Since you asked for critiques, I will say the one thing I didn't quite get (and maybe it's just me) was the transition from the paragraph where Cody gleefully hands over his treasures to the next, where there is an explosion. Maybe that's the whole point - that there is no clear point to his anger.
Such a sad piece...you've captured the reality of so many foster situations today. But you've also shown that there are some wonderful, loving foster parents out there who can love these kids to health. Excellent writing.
Helen Paynter08/14/07
This really touched me - for reasons you will understand. My favourite line: 'surely the volume of love ripped from my heart when I first held his little hand was a sort of birth. '
Sorry for the delay in reading this deeply beautifu piece.
Patty Wysong08/14/07
Wow! I could see this so clearly, and I could feel it, too. The wildflower at the end...what a heart clencher, but you didn't manipulate our feelings. Excellent!! Hugs!!
Pamela Kliewer08/14/07
Oh! Powerful. You have a way with words that astounds me. The ending of your story was the clincher... I felt hope - hope for this little one to be healed as Moira continues to care for him and be the place of safety that he so desperately needs. Years ago, I dealt with an angry boy for a week, only a few hours a day, at VBS (in the end God intervened and gave us victory). I can't imagine doing this day after day... one would definitely need to rely on the Lord.
Stephen Paynter08/14/07
Hi Jan, I don't often get time to read FW entries at the moment, but whenever I do I always make sure I read yours first ... and this one amply illustrates why this is a good strategy! What I particularly liked about this story ... apart from the wonderful evocation of
mood and situation ... was the fact that there were no
easy answers. The foster-parent just had to hold on and love and pray.

My youngest was a little overtired yesterday, and required just that kind of love. I was very conscious of your story helping me to better parenting decisions
and responses as I tried to
calm her.

So, bravo! bravo! I hope this does well for you.
Mariane Holbrook 08/15/07
I can't even find the words to describe my feelings after reading this. But the last line saw me dissolved in tears. I saw too many little boys and girls filled with anger when I taught first grade. The worst behaved was secretly my favorite but I couldn't let him know. At Christmas he had changed so much that he brought a large, clumsily-wrapped bottle of very inexpensive perfume to class and set it on my desk. Immediately, it fell off and smashed, soaking everything in sight. He flew into a rage, disappointed that his gift to me met with such an unthinkable fate. I held him tightly until his little body relaxed. And we both smelled mightily of "Lily of the Valley" for the next six hours! LOL.
Linda Watson Owen08/15/07
Exquistie in every single way! Oh, how you led me into loving and knowing that precious little boy! And in knowing and loving Moira too! Your skill at building such depth, layer upon layer, into these stories is astounding. I'm in awe, again and again. What a gift!
LaNaye Perkins08/15/07
This stirred me so deeply. I agree, this was masterfully done! WOW!
Pam Carlson-Hetland08/15/07
Oh, yes, this is definitely why you are in Masters. I had a neighbor once whose adopted daughter from a foreign country was diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder. The anger outbursts were very much like you described. This story is put together so well that the reader can "feel" it. Absolutely excellent!!!
Julie Arduini08/15/07
I don't know what I could add that hasn't already been written but the beauty in this story unfolded like a sweet rose. This was beautiful, start to finish.
Jacquelyn Horne08/15/07
What an emotional tale of a troubled child. I love the way you have the mc dealing with it.
TJ Nickel08/16/07
excellent, good theme, great writing.
Your imagery and symbolism actually outdid your characterization (if ever possible) and I found this masterful.
Sheri Gordon08/16/07
Congratulations on your EC. Very much deserved. :)
Loren T. Lowery08/16/07
Jan, this is great to see - congratulations on a well-dserved win. Goodness, you have way with words! Loren
Sara Harricharan 08/16/07
Well done! I liked Cody. He reminds me very much of a few little boys I know. ^_^ Congrats on your win, it is well-deserved!
Helen Murray08/16/07
This is high power loving. Fab Jan.
Dianne Janak08/17/07
It is so hard to add to what has already been said, but having not yet attempted fiction, I always want to know, did you experience a Cody? How on earth does one capture the beauty of this kind of love without the experience?? I just am speechless and in awe of how it left me, and your writing. Also thanks for all your encouragement to me and the rest of us.. with your wonderful comments each week... Dianne
Diane Bertrand08/25/07
Jan,Thank you so much for this story. you really do paint pictures with your words. I am reading this at a time when I am again in the process of applying to be a foster parent. My heart goes out to both Cody and Mmoira and honestly your story sparked both courage and fear in my heart...could I deal with a Cody? It just reminds how much i need to rely on Jesus. Thanks again!
Patricia Todd09/14/07
A truly wonderful piece which flows beautifully. Paints a very vivid picture of the little boy with all his emotions and his impact on the carer. Exceptional.