Please welcome our special guest today Mary Connelly from This Bird Flew Away and the lovely Lynda Martin
Okay – an interesting request. I’ve already done an interview with Jack, so this time I chose to write from Mary’s point of view. Hers is the unenviable position of trying to parent an uncontrollable girl – something many foster parents may have experienced. (I know I have.)
The Joy (?) of Parenting by Mary Connelly
The last chapter of This Bird Flew Away is mine. I got the last word – for once. It was 1986 and I had just enjoyed my fifty-third birthday, which would make me all of 78 today -- if I had been a real woman. That’s the great thing about being a character in a book; we live on in perpetuity at the last age you saw us. Anyway, if you read the book you know I sum it all up letting you know where everyone stands.
Which was only fair, as it really is my story in the first place. I was the one watching it all unfold, unable to do anything to make things as they should be, no matter how hard I tried.
For years, I despaired of ever having a family. After 20 years of marriage, my husband died, leaving me childless. Everyone knew how much I wanted children. I consoled myself by being the best Aunt I could to all the young Connelly’s, always ready to take them in, to listen to their troubles, give them an understanding ear, or even a place to get away. That’s how I befriended poor Jack, back when he was a lanky, ungainly boy, always under his father’s fist – at least in the old days, the drinking days. As he grew up, we became the best of friends.
So when Bria came into our lives, I easily fell into that role again. She needed someone so much. I’d watched the little girl from the time she was three, poor thing, born to a mother who hadn’t a lick of sense in her head. She was left with me time and again over the years, when she wasn’t with some aunt up in Canada, that is. Tore my heart up to see that sweet child passed round like an unwanted puppy.
Jack helped me, like the good friend he was. At first, it tickled me pink how that little girl took to him, the hulking, awkward young man wrapped round the finger of a chubby little girl with a mop of red curls. His dad made it all a big joke and laughed at him for it, but I thought it sweet.
Then she was gone for three years, and when she came back, I knew in an instant something was wrong. So of course, I sent Jack to find out what. I think that’s when it all started… No, I’m not going talk about that.
For a while, I thought I’d get to keep her this time. And when her baby sister, Tara, was born, she came into my arms right from birth.
Darn near killed me when that flighty woman, their mother, took them off, Bria not yet eleven and Tara still a baby. Jack said there was nothing we could do about it; I had no legal standing. Then, later, finding out about their unhappy lives, and Bria disappearing, it broke my heart.
If only they’d stayed with me then, none of it would have happened. Our lives would have been very different. But “would haves” or “could have beens” are cheap as beans. No point in dwelling on them.
By the time I had them safe at home again, I was faced with a very different Bria than the one I’d known. They warned me when I took her home, those social workers, that I’d be facing some tough times with her. Tara, they said, was still young enough to be more or less untouched, but Bria – she’d be a challenge.
Mine was not an easy role. I might have been the mother figure, but I was not the mother. I wasn’t even her legal guardian. Jack was; a fact she understood and never let me forget. Exactly why he did that, I couldn’t tell you. Ask him. At the time, all I cared about was getting her back and didn’t think about it. I should have.
Still, I did my best.
Some of you have written that I didn’t do a very good job. You might be right.
Still, in my defense, let me ask you one question. How many of you have been a foster mother to an abused teenage girl? Hands up.
Just as I thought. Not too many. So, apparently, most of you think it’s just like parenting your own kids. It isn’t.
A girl like Bria, forced to become self-reliant at an early age, who’d lost all trust in adults – well most of them. She always did trust Jack – and had learned to make her own decisions, not do as she was told, and with a stubborn streak a mile wide which I admit probably helped her survive, did not just settle down at the age of thirteen to return to a child-like state.
As far as Bria was concerned, one person and only one person had any say in what she did in her life and that was Bria. She’d sit and listen to me quietly and politely when I voiced my thoughts on what she was doing, but I might as well have been talking to a tree. Her mind was already made up and nothing I had to say was likely to change a thing.
The more I talked, the more closed off she would become. Her eyes grew inward looking, dull and with a “drop dead” expression to them. Her face hardened, set in a mulish way I learned to dread. Nothing I said reached her. I’d hear my own voice and think “Oh shut up, woman. What’s the point?” We fought. Oh yes, we went at each other like two alley cats, but I always stopped short of “laying down the law – or else.”
Why? Because I was afraid to go there. I knew that meant I’d lose her completely and although she didn’t know it, she needed me so much.
A child whose emotions have been so battered, who’s been traumatized like that doesn’t form the kind of attachments your own children do. They can walk away without a backward glance. And will. They don’t understand others’ feelings, being so wrapped in their own. It’s as if the people in such a child’s life exist only insofar as they affect that child.
It takes a special kind of love to raise a foster-child with that kind of history – so very one-sided. It’s not for everyone. All you can do is love them, stick around to pick up the pieces now and then and hope that time and maturity will heal them. At the best, you hope you will one day be friends.
So don’t come down on me and tell me what I should have done, not unless you’ve been there.
[The author, Lynda M Martin, fostered a number of troubled teenage girls, most of them survivors of terrible abuse.]
This book is a beautiful story one I recommend to everyone.
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