Grace of a Girl - Part 6: Graduation II (The Difference) and Beyond

Part 5.

After the students and staff spoke, it was time for my parents to share their part in what the Graduation program called the "Journey of Vulnerability."

This was really hard for my mom because she's an amiable personality who doesn't like the spotlight. She prefers to not draw attention to herself. But, she said, if my sister can jump off a 4 inch beam to go after her success, then my mom supposed she could speak. Recognizing her nervousness, my sister moved closer and put her arm around my mom in solidarity.

My mom said she was going to read a story, a true story. "A long time ago, there lived a little girl. She had three big brothers, but she longed for a sister-" My mom choked up. My sister whispered some words of support in her ear. My mom continued, "She had friends, but that didn't stop her wishing for a sister." She choked up again, and exclaimed that she couldn't do it, and was once again reassured by my sister. Seeing my Mom being so vulnerable made me teary-eyed, and also very appreciative of the ways this journey with my sister has affected them as well.

"She even asked her parents to adopt her a sister, but they declined." My mom stopped again, to try and collect her emotions, then said off-hand, "I'd rather jump off the beam" which elicited laughter from everyone assembled.

"So she changed her dream of having a sister, to having a daughter instead. She wanted a big family of 8 kids, with a nice mix of boys and girls. Soon she met the man of her dreams and they married. And they started their family. Boy #1 arrived, then Boy #2; next was Boy #3. Surely #4 would be a girl! Alas, it was not so. Boy #4 arrived. This mom now had 4 wonderful boys. She was content for a while, but she still longed for pink bows, baby dolls, and lace. But she tucked that longing away."

Hearing my mom talk about how badly she'd wanted a sister, and then a daughter, broke my heart. I came to understand on a new level just how much my mom loved me to deny herself in that way to raise us and love us, even though we did not fit into the scope of her deepest dreams.

"The boys grew and grew. Boy #4 joined the rest of his brothers at school. The mom decided she wasn't quite ready to be home alone. So she decided to try one more time to see if she could get her girl. Being knee-deep in trucks, matchbox cars, and G.I. Joes didn't have quite the same appeal as bows, baby dolls, and lace. Boy #5 was born. He was a very cute, very fun little boy... But he was a Boy. Mom and Dad finally realized that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results. They finally figured out that if they were ever going to have a girl, they were going to have to import one."

"And so the adventure began. In January 1998, they submitted the paperwork to adopt a little girl from Russia. In September 1998, we traveled to Russia to pick up our 4-year old Princess named Anastasia. She was a delightful little girl; stubborn as the day is long and full of mischief. She flushed a towel down the toilet, spread toothpaste all over the basement playroom floor with the help of her 2-year old brother, decided to water the tree that was painted on the playroom basement wall... And that was just in the first week or two. We loved her and loved her and loved her."

"What we didn't know is that she couldn't tell that we loved her. Her past experiences had hurt her too much, and closed her heart to love. Eventually when she reached her teen years she became angry, unhappy, and depressed. Her parents did everything they knew to help her, but the things they tried didn't work because they didn't understand the nature of the problem. It reached the point where she became a danger to herself, and her parents no longer knew how to keep her safe. There's no greater feeling of failure as a parent than knowing you have failed to keep your child safe. In my opinion, that's a parent's greatest responsibility."

"It was in desperation and great despair that I put out a cry for help to all my online adoption groups. It was through one of the moms on my lists that I learned about CALO. As soon as I opened the webpage, and saw that CALO used dogs in their program, I started to cry. Because I knew I had to find a way to send her here. We didn't have the money in our budget to pay for even one day, but we knew it was the right thing to do, and we decided to take a leap of faith. Through the generous help of family and friends, and some creative numbers work with our 401ks, we have made it this far. 11 months ago we left our angry, hurt, depressed, apathetic daughter, as well as our hearts, behind at CALO. Our daughter kindly thanked us for leaving her in hell when we said goodbye. I think that leaving her here was one of the hardest things I have EVER done. Yet I knew it was the right thing to do."

"The first visit she begged us to take her home. That was a very difficult visit for both of us. Staff told me it would get better. And they were right. Now, today we have a girl who has worked hard and come far. Once she gets hold of an idea or goal that she is motivated to meet, there is no stopping her. Even if she falls down many times along the way, she isn't afraid to get back up and try again. I hope that what she will take away from CALO is the motivation to believe in herself and in her dreams. Her apathy has changed to caring, her heart has begun to heal, she has learned skills to cope with her depression, and she has learned to defuse her anger much quicker than she ever could before. I look forward to continuing this journey with her as she uses all the things she's learned here to build a happy and successful life."

After my mom was done speaking, we played a powerpoint that showed pictures of my sister's journey. Sidenote: We had somehow forgotten the music we needed, so when the rest of us were running through the store like crazies, two of my brothers were trying to get an internet connection to download the songs for the slideshow, lol.

The first song was My Wish by Rascal Flatts which documented pictures of my sister when she was a baby and her first years with our family.

Next was Faith of the Heart by Rod Stewart, which consisted of pictures with us, from her being a kid to being a teenager.

Finally, we picked At the Beginning - Richard Marx and Donna Lewis to show recent pictures, including her time at CALO.

Then it was my Dad's turn to talk. He commented the slideshow was helpful because it gave him time to pull himself back together from my Mom's talk.

"It's been quite a journey. Mom shared her side of the story; mine has alot of similarities. I have one sister, and she's the oldest in my family, so she was gone from home by the time I was 12 years old. So I don't feel like I ever really got to know what it's like to have a sister. And as Mom said, she didn't have a sister. So it just seemed like we ought to have a girl. We submitted the paperwork, got everything approved, and the Agency started- the way they did it at that time was they would send us pictures, a biography, and a short video tape of the child. They sent us a baby to look at, and sent another one, then another one... they just didn't feel right. Then- now as I remember it... I don't remember why, but this one day I was home from work in the afternoon, Mom had gone somewhere, and the Adoption Agency called and they said we've got this wonderful little girl for you to look at. So I had them tell me about her, and I asked, well, what's her birthday? How old is she? They said May 8th."

My dad lost it here, and there was a long, long silence before he was able to continue, and when he was, he was still teary. Seeing my parents so vulnerable was such an empowering experience for me. I knew in those moments just how deep their love went, not just for my sister, but all of us in their family.

"That's my birthday. And for some reason, I just knew then that she was our daughter. She was the one we needed. But because we had the plans of getting two, we didn't act on it right away [Note: My parents' "plan" was to get a newborn girl and a young girl, so their daughters would have a sister]. Another month or so went by, and we finally got the point where we said, well, let's not wait for a baby. Let's just go get our girl. Which we did."

"That was the start of our journey. Not that we love any of the others any less, and of course all through this journey, we kept thinking... girl needs a sister, so we did finally achieve that. But there were lots of ups and downs, and it got to the point where there were more downs than ups. Finding CALO was definitely the answer to many prayers. I'm not sure how we can ever thank the Staff and people that run this place. I know saying thanks isn't nearly enough... but thanks for what you've done for our daughter. The day we came and left her here... it was a hard thing to do. We've never left any of our kids anywhere for very long - they were ours! We kept them. But dropping her off here, we had no idea how long it would be, we were told the average is 16 to 18 months or something, but it's not necessarily that easy; it take however long it takes. So we didn't know what the future held for us at that point. We just... said goodbye and went out the door. We were driving away and... it was hard to do. But the person here beside me that I have my arm around, she's such a wonderful person. We get to see the real Stas now. This wonderful girl who we hope to have many wonderful years with yet. So the continuing of our journey begins now. We look forward to a lot of wonderful things ahead - with all of them. So thank you all for what you've done and giving us back our daughter."

After my parents spoke, the program changed to "Personal Reflection and Insight: Student and Therapist" where my sister presented a slideshow. Mainly they were pictures of her and Toby, but there were pictures with staff and students as well. The pictures were set to what was, for me, a very poignant song. The words grabbed at me, and I knew this was my sister being as real as she could be. And I smiled through my tears.

This was honesty. This was soul-bearing. This was my sister sharing with us her truest feelings.

Then the Therapist told us all the story of her relationship with my sister. If you remember back, my sister had an aversion to touch. She wouldn't let anyone have contact with her. Therapist described how when they first started my sister would have her chair as far away as possible. So every session Therapist would scoot a little closer. Eventually, their chairs were touching. Then they started doing exercises where she would put her arm around my sister for 2 minutes. At the end of the 2 minutes, she would immediately pull away, so my sister could have her space back.

One of the most heartfelt moments of the whole ceremony was when Therapist asked my sister to demonstrate their relationship now. My sister smiled and put HER arm around Therapist. So awesome.

Then my sister has a piece to present, which she had written herself:

Imagine a very sad, depressed young lady walking in the CALO doors. What would be your first thoughts? You would probably pity her, maybe despise her, or wonder what's going on with her. Imagine that girl was me, 11 months ago. Sad and depressed with a story she needed to tell. I came to CALO on December 31, 2009. I slept all the time and read all the time to escape from having to be with people. I wasn't interested in building relationships with anyone because I felt like it was pointless because I knew I would be leaving someday and probably not ever see them again. I self-harmed because I felt stupid for being in a treatment center. When in conflicts, I thought cussing, screaming, and getting in people's space would make me seem cool, scary, and get people to stay away from me. It didn't work. It just made people not trust me. I would never let anyone touch me and if someone tried, I would cringe away from them. Staff and students would ask me how I'm doing and I would say “I'm fine.”, which we all knew was a lie. I met Toby downstairs and no one was going after him so I decided to. He was my motivation for slowly starting to trust people and work my program. I had a session with Amanda about safe-touch, and I can finally initiate it. I'm not sleeping during the day anymore. I have made tons of genuine relationships and I haven't self-harmed in 10 ½ months. I'm hardly ever in conflict and when I am I handle it appropriately and talk calmly. I know how to express my emotions in the moment and I'm honest in my answers. I have trust with my parents and family members, and am going to live my life to its full potential. I would like to thank all the coaches and students for all the help and support they have given me. A huge thank you to Landon and Ken for opening a place like CALO. I don't know where I would be without CALO. Another thanks to Amanda. She has been amazing beyond words! I will miss you all and hope to hear from you soon. Thank you family for your help in my treatment, and Mom and Dad a huge thanks for going in treatment with me and also working on yourselves! Love you all!

Listening to her words helped me appreciate just how far she had come on this path, and how much a part of it we all were; my parents more than most, but still we had all played a role, and the effects on our family would be long-lasting and far-reaching. Moments like this spelled out explicitly to me that CALO had made a difference, and it was a good one.

The Graduation wrapped up and people said their goodbyes to my sister (I went to find a box of tissues and to clean up my tear-stained face), then we had a little "Graduation Reception" in the dining hall where we had snacks. More goodbyes and then it was time to go. And take my sister with us.

To celebrate this step in the journey, we wanted to have a family dinner all together. When we got to the restaurant though, they didn't have a menu with nutritional information, which meant that my brothers couldn't figure out their crab intake. See, I have two brothers with diabetes. One has had it since he was 11, so he's had it longer than he hasn't, and is well adjusted to living life with it. The other, though, just got diagnosed and he still struggles to be at peace with who he is, and the afflictions he has to bear. So he left, and went to sleep in the car. Just like that, our idyllic family dinner was no longer complete. When prompted, my parents explained that it's still hard for him, and they forget he's not like my other brother and can easily deal with it. My mom said, "He just wants to feel normal." Well, if there's anyone who can resonate with that longing, I'd venture it's me. So it seemed the natural and correct thing to get up and leave. I had to bring my dad too since he was the only one who could drive the rental van. We left the restaurant, and got in the van. I told my brother, where do you want to go? You tell us the place that you know the carbs and content and we will take you there. So we went to Panera Bread and I got him dinner, then we all went back and rejoined the rest of the family, so our circle was complete once more.

After dinner, we went to the hotel, and played some games. There was talk of Laser Tag, like our last visit (because how fun would it be with ALL 10 of us!?!), but it was nixed. People were too tired. We took a family Christmas picture though.

Not my best, but there we are. Love that one of my brothers isn't wearing shoes! :)

Eventually we all crashed, I may have played a little more Puzzle Quest 2, lol. Then it was up SO EARLY to make the three hour drive back to the airport, and see everyone off on their separate ways. Said buy to my BigBro and his wife, then waited while the other two planes left, before going off by myself to wait for my plane. I was going to play more Puzzle Quest 2 (I mean that's why I bought the game in the first place, right? For the airport downtime!) But no dice. My computer cord decided that was the opportune moment to be shorted out. Sigh.

Oh! I forgot. Something very striking to me, that I must include. At the airport, while we were waiting, both of my parents went out of their way to thank me for what I had done for my brother. This was so new and foreign to me, I was taken aback. Receiving recognition for something that seemed to me the obvious choice. I reflected my gratitude back, and then pondered on the ways this journey has changed not just my sister, but my parents. I think the difference there may be more stark and striking than that of my sister. For which I'm grateful.

I think overall this has served to bring us closer together, to deepen our love for one another, and to prove how deep the bond of love can run. I would do anything for anyone in my family, and I hope they would return the sentiment. I love them all so much and am so thankful to have the parents and siblings that I do.

So my sister came home. She graduated, and that was that. But no. The journey is not over. There's still so much to do going forward. She's participating in CALO's after-care program to help her readjust to "normal" life and move forward with building herself back into the general societal structure.

For the moment, when my sister looks back at the journey, she feels that the BEST part of the CALO experience was The Staff. "Having someone to talk to, having someone to trust. When you put messed up kids together, you can't trust anyone, because everyone's messed up." Once she decided to open up, to build relationships, to trust, and to care, she got close with alot of the CALO staff. They were almost all crying at her graduation.

On the other hand, the WORST part for her were the chores. She hated chores. She hated walking dogs every day. And she hated having to do campus work. Basically she hated everything that wasn't easy :P Nah, I'm putting words in her mouth. But seriously, she liked all the hard work the least of all.

So where do we go from here?

We jump.
We fall.
We get back up.
We try again.

And most importantly: We keep loving.


Julie Daines said…
That's really beautiful!

Popular posts from this blog



2012 Movies