Friday evening 14yr old Emma* arrived on my doorstep. My friend, her foster mom of 5 1/2 yrs, brought her when things went from bad to worse at their home.
Having fetal alcohol syndrome and some intellectual delays, life is hard for Emma. Often her emotions spin out of control. Bringing her to me is a common occurrence. Usually she calms right down. I keep her overnight and her foster family has time to recover from the upset.
This time that didn’t work. When her foster mom left, Emma kept right on with the outburst she’d begun a few hours ago at home. She stomped the floors and slapped the walls. I tried to settle her in Raine’s room (normally there’s a spare room devoted to Emma, but we also had a visiting 2yr old boy who was occupying that room.) No doubt putting her in another bedroom fueled the fire raging inside of her. But there wasn’t any other choice. I’d already set up a crib for the physically delayed toddler. With Emma carrying on I couldn’t change everything around.
Refusing to go to the room assigned to her, Emma opted to sit in the living room while I put the other kids to bed. It took me a few minutes to realize the silence downstairs meant she was gone. By the time I untangled myself from the three little ones and got out the front door, Emma was no where to be seen.
I called her foster mom, who had a pretty good idea where she’d gone. Piling the very tired children into the car, we headed over to a nearby church. A friend of Emma’s had brought her to the youth group there a few times.
Thankfully there Emma was, outside the church because the doors were locked. She refused to get in the car. I pretended to drive away. Startled, she changed her mind and got in. Her attitude remained. During the drive home she repeatedly swore at me and spewed all kinds of hatred. “Because I don’t want to be at your house!” Emma explained. It’s not like I wanted her there either – at least not in that state.
When I told her not to swear at me. Emma responded, “I will. And there’s nothing you can do about it.” True. There’s nothing I can do. It’s a frustrating sense of powerlessness. This child is not mine. Nothing I say matters to her.
Back at my place, Emma settled herself in the front garden – refusing to come inside. At a loss, I called her foster mom. Normally I’m quite capable of managing Emma or any other child in my care. But this time it was all completely beyond me. Some stern words from her foster mom got Emma inside the house.
Then the real battle began. I put the other children back to bed. Emma stomped her feet in the hallway and punched the wall with a violence that made my pictures shake.
When I was done with the little ones, she got up in my face screaming about how much she hated me. This went on for over an hour. In the midst of it, I did get her into the room she would be using that night. Emma kicked the door so ferociously I was sure she’d put holes in it. But it remained in tack as did the walls she poured her anger out on.
Normally I just walk away, but with this being completely unlike Emma’s normal behaviour at my house, I kept close. Fear for the other kids mounted as she her anger increased. At this point she’d been raging for nearly 5hrs (mostly at her own home), breaking briefly for her walk to the church. It was late. I was worried and tired. I needed the noise and the violence to stop. But it didn’t. Emma kept going strong – coming out of the room and again aggressively confronting me.
My patience wore out. I couldn’t endure being bullied in my own home by a 14yr old. My voice was no longer kind nor were my words. Eventually Emma retreated to the bedroom.
She’s on a fair bit of medication which is supposed to save her from these moments. Perhaps the pills aren’t working, but I still wanted to get her nightly does in. That didn’t happen. Emma was wielding every bit of power she had.
While on the phone with the emergency after hours worker, Emma kicked my door in. I’d gone into my bedroom and locked the door. Her screaming and kicking was making it hard to hear the woman on the phone. Having access to my room, the girl just stood in the hallway shouting and punching the walls.
My door frame is broken. My nerves are shot. And now Emma’s saying that I attacked her which of course I did not.She, however, did slapped me during my initial retreat to my room. This is warranted in Emma’s mind. She’s completely beside herself with rage and panic all rolled into one big, ugly mess.
This is the result of a life in foster care. Arriving at the age of 2, Emma’s moved countless times. My friend is trying to keep going. It’s been 5 1/2 yrs. That’s miraculous for a child with FAS. The long term goal is holding out until Emma turns 18. But things are unraveling quickly. Not long ago, the teen ran away and called the police saying she felt unsafe in her foster home.
She’s safe. It’s those around Emma who aren’t safe. Her accusations could land my friend in jail. At the very least, it may lead to Emma and the two other foster children in the home being removed. The two sisters – 14 & 10yrs – have been with my friend nearly 4yrs and are doing well. The plan is for them to remain until 18. Emma’s antics could put them all in jeopardy.
I’ve told my friend it’s time to let go – especially after this weekend. Emma awoke Saturday with an incredible sense of triumph. She’d gotten away with leaving my house, speaking to me in a deplorable manner, slapping me, breaking my door, and refusing to take her pills. As far as she can see she’s won.
What Emma doesn’t realize is how much she’s loosing. For 5 1/2yrs she’s been part of our family – I’ve been like an aunt to her and her foster mom has been the same to my kids. Emma’s foster family, while not perfect, have cared for her with generosity and grace. They’ve welcomed her back after many such outbursts. But she doesn’t want to be there. Eventually Emma’s behaviour will get the result she’s seeking. She’ll be moved into a group home until she ages out of foster care.
It’s a tragedy. I am heart broken. At the same time, I’m encouraging my friend to make that move. My prayer is for Emma’s complete healing – that the Lord will restore her mind and heal the wounds tormenting her. I know that’s possible. I want that for Emma. How long can we wait for the miracle before we have to make choices based on the reality of here and now? It’s becoming impossible to have Emma around.