Ms. L is a no-nonsense kind of gal—she tells it like it is. She is also the kind of person that may easily intimidate the president of the United States.
How am I going to engage her? The previous case planner had no success. When we were at a joint emergency meeting with ACS, she admitted that she was purposely not picking up my phone calls and did not want us in her house.
As I stood in her living room, waiting for her to acknowledge me, I thought, what could I possibly say to this mother of four that she would care to listen to?
Her children were very friendly. They grabbed my hand and pulled me into their rooms to see their toys. One of her daughters held out her coins and practically sat on my lap. The little baby played at my feet and gave me high fives. Ms. L, however, looked straight ahead, never turning to face me as we spoke.
I gave her forms to fill out so we
could get those out-of-the-way. I whipped out the genogram sheet and told her we were going to make a map of her family. Plotting her children and their respective fathers was the easy part. As I asked her about her parents and siblings, she was short and simply said she did not keep in contact with them. Yet, I insisted by asking her to tell me about her sister.
“Actually,” she said. “She is my adopted sister. I was adopted when I was a teenager. I was in foster care until I was seven.
Throughout our entire conversation about Ms. L’s family, we kept being interrupted by her eldest daughter who was doing homework at the dinner table. Ms. L was helping her with her vocabulary homework. She struggled a bit while she tried her best to help. Her daughter kept being resistant and wanted to play instead of sitting at the table with her homework.
“I want the best for you,” she told her daughter. “I know it is not easy. I started my first day of school today and I missed out on so much. But if there is one thing I know, it is that in order to be successful and have the things you want, you have to have an education. My adoptive mother wanted the best for me. Yet, I was hard headed and now I appreciate the things she said to me.”
“How old are you, Ms. L?” I asked.
“I’m 27,” she replied. “I will be 28 at the end of the year.”
“I’m 28, too” I told her. “I just graduated college in May.”
“With a Master’s?” she asked.
I shook my head ‘no’.
“With a bachelor’s?” she asked incredulously.
“Yes,” I replied. “There were circumstances that did not permit me to go to college after high school. I could not afford to pay for it and I could not get financial aid. But my mother believed in me, that I was smart, and that one day it would happen. This May, I was the first person in my family to have a college degree.”
Ms. L was silent, her eyes wide as she looked at me.
A million thoughts ran through my head. Maybe that was inappropriate. Maybe she thought I was trying to show her up and that anyone could do it.
“Thank you so much for sharing that with me,” she said. “I keep thinking that I can never do it, that there is something wrong with me. My teacher told me today that at the end of the course we would have a graduation. I thought it was silly but now I think it will be so awesome to have a ceremony. I am doing the best I can for my children.”
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one single step, Ms. L,” I said. “Today was your first class on your way to achieving something great for you and your family.”
Did I save the world? Not in a million years.
Should I have disclosed my personal story? Probably not but I went with the feeling in my gut.
Did I change anyone’s life today? I do not think so, but Ms. L, the tough cookie, the person no one wanted to deal with, gave me a hug as she bid me goodnight and was very open to welcoming me back into her house again.