(Pictures to be added as soon as I get them)
Fostering Friday: The True Tune of the Angel’s Song: PART ONE
Many of you don’t know that the character of the little foster child in The Angel’s Song is based on a real little girl. The tale in the novella is fiction, but the basics of her life are more or less true. When people have found this out, they’ve often asked “Whatever happened to little “Rocky”?
Rocky is all grown up now. Her real name is ‘Charlene.’ She was called “Charley” when she first came to her foster-adopt family. I named the little girl in the story “Rocky” to be a similar ‘mismatch’ in gender and person. She was such a wan, wispy little miss when I first met her, I couldn’t imagine someone giving her a tough-sounding name like “Charley.”
Though her story is anything but the storybook ‘happily ever after’, it has an honest power you just can’t write in a Christmas novella. Charlene and her Mom, Tami, have agreed to let me tell ‘the rest of the story.’ I’ll write it in installments and include the stories of other children also adopted through foster adopt, as I get permission.
I visited at the Hollister home each month as a “visiting teacher”. (Most adults in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are assigned to visit other members each month to help with their needs and develop friendships.) Tami ran a daycare in her home, so we’d schedule our visits during “playtime”. There were always cheerful little ones running in and out, stopping by to listen to our conversation for a few minutes and then charging outside again.
I was surprised when Tami told us that she and her husband, Scott, were considering adopting a child from a foreign orphanage. It wasn’t like there was a shortage of kids in their lives! They had five kids of their own, already. But Tami had a big heart with plenty of soft, cozy spots for a needy child to nestle in, and they went ahead with the application process.
A few months later, I was surprised to be introduced to a wisp of a six-year-old girl named “Charley”. She was thin and pale but seemed to be reveling in an imaginary game of (pirates?) with the other children. She was just tiny, with the ‘pinched’ look of malnutrition still lingering in her cheeks and slender body.
Charley smiled when she was introduced, asked me a question about where I lived and why I was visiting and then tripped off to rejoin her playmates.
“You know we were planning to adopt from an orphanage,” Tami explained. “But we were over at the school for (I don’t remember the function. . .was it the carnival?) and I saw her with my friend who is a foster parent.”(I don’t remember the foster mom’s name, either, but if Lillian or Tami will comment with her name, that’d be great. She was such a nice lady.)
Anyway, (The foster Mom) explained that Charlene had been severely neglected and was in the foster-adopt program. That program is for children who had been so seriously abused or neglected that it was highly unlikely that parents or other family would be qualified to raise the child. Sometimes, a child’s sibling (s) has been so endangered that all the children are removed from the home together. The families had opportunity to work toward reuniting, but the Department of Human Services was striving to find a permanent, loving, stable home where the child(ren) would eventually be adopted.
“As soon as I saw her, I knew she was to be my daughter. She was the one we’d been preparing for, we just found her in a different place than we’d expected. It was a powerful impression from the Holy Spirit,” Tami said.
DHS seemed quite certain that Charlene could never be returned to her biological family. Privacy rules prevented her from going into detail.
(Now, Charlene’s an adult and she has related some of her memories of that time to me for a later post.)
A couple months later, Tami related a story that gave me a glimpse into Charlene’s life that was the starting point for The Angel’s Song. She said that every year, she planned a ‘daycare’ Christmas party. She’d bake cookies to decorate, teach the children Christmas songs, help the children make decorations for a tree and create costumes for a mini nativity pageant. A couple weeks before Christmas, all the families would get together. They’d add icing and sprinkles to the sugar cookies and perform the songs and pageant for their parents and older siblings.
Tami had wrapped a little dollar-store type gift for each child, including each of her own children, and put it under the tree to be the culminating element in the daycare party. Charlene was enthralled with the whole event. “She was so excited when she realized that there was a gift under the tree for her, too,” Tami remembered as she told me the story 16 years ago.
After the party, when the daycare children had gone home, Tami tucked Charlene in bed. Her new dollar-store dolly was clutched in her arms and she sighed to her mom, “Wasn’t that a great Christmas!”
Cookies, singing, costumes and a gift! What could be better?
The implications of her delight in the simplest celebration focused my attention on what her life must have been and how different it was going to be. The Angel’s Song was born.
But that moment was not the beginning, nor was it the happily ever after. That little Miss has lived a real life and tells a compelling story. She’s a highly intelligent, articulate young woman. Her parents and family have suffered with her and because of her.
But at the time that this darling little gal came to the Hollister family, several other families in our Church congregation (called a ward) were inspired to look into and eventually adopt children through the foster adopt program. I hope to tell their stories, too, to whatever degree they’re ready to share. Another family that adopted two young brothers are already on board. They’ve since added another little girl to their family who is being raised mostly as an only child.
So until next “Fostering Friday,” please share with those you think would be interested in a true life Angel’s Song.