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A Daughter Gained; a Daughter Lost

Wendy and her husband, Paul, have been unable to have biological children. Knowing that there are a lot of older children "in our country, in our city, who need homes and are often overlooked," they decided to work with D.C.'s Child and Family Services to adopt a school-aged child. The process of matching a child to their family took a year and a half.

Her essay today about their daughter and their loss is much longer than most blog posts here. But it's a story worth telling and worth us hearing. Wendy reports that she feels bittersweet about their situation and hopes that their story will help someone, somewhere in some way.

Right now, I think they deserve all our support and love.

By Wendy Bilen Thorbjornsen

I painted my daughter’s room today. Still have paint on my arms, beneath my fingernails—the stubborn bits that wouldn’t come off in the shower. Someone saw fit to call the color Wild Honey, though it looks more like wheat to me. It’s not quite sunny, not quite sad. It’s also not what I wanted, but it will have to do.

My husband Paul and I first met our daughter at McDonald’s in May of last year. She was maneuvering through plastic tunnels as a social worker held her shoes. We stood expectantly while she knocked against the walls, crawling and sliding her way down. Then she shot out and bounced up obediently before us.

She was beautiful: tall for eleven, and thin, with creamy chocolate skin and heartbreaking eyelashes. Shiny plastic beads hung from her neck, and tiny braids rested on her shoulders. Throughout dinner she entertained us with her stories, her wit, her sassiness. On the way home, I told Paul, “I liked her, if I’m allowed to say that.” The truth is, I was in love.

Weeks of courting followed: supervised and then unsupervised visits to the park, the National Mall, our house. She behaved herself, trying to impress us, hoping we would keep her. She knew we were in for the long haul—a pre-adoptive, not a standard foster family—and called us Mom and Dad almost immediately. Although I had waited so long to hear those words, I recognized quickly the relativity of the terms: she once referred to me, her birth mother, and her current foster mother as Mom within the same sentence.

Everyone thought it was a good match, so A. moved in on 8.8.08, which had the mark of permanence about it with all those infinity symbols. She came with a hodgepodge of clothes and shoes, but few personal items and even fewer photos. Between that, her stories of frozen dinners, and her limited experiences, I wondered where the several hundred dollars of monthly stipend had gone. We bought sandals, hairbrushes, fuzzy pillows, training bras that fit. We ate home-cooked meals at the table together nightly. We took her to museums, festivals, playgrounds, the ocean. With abandon she laughed and ate, ran and swam.

We painted her room what my friend calls Pepto Bismol pink. We glued rhinestones to the wall, tacked pink netting to the ceiling over the bed, princess-style. She wanted the furniture painted pink, too, but we called a truce in the name of taste.

The honeymoon was sweet.

We knew raising A. would be a challenge, as she had come through the District of Columbia Child and Family Services, an agency nationally renowned for tragically mishandling cases: dead children discovered in apartments, hauled from freezers. The more than two thousand children in this system, including A., have largely been removed from unfit homes rife with abuse, neglect, abandonment, and myriad other social and emotional ills. These kids have encountered more of life’s seamy side than many of us will over a lifetime.

Ours was also a messy case because A. had three siblings in three different pre-adoptive homes in the D.C. area, and her birth mother had appealed the termination of parental rights—litigation prolonged for more than two years that would stall the adoption until resolved.
But we had help: Two people had trained us, another certified us, a third matched us, and someone else supported and advocated for us. A. had her own social worker, therapist, community support worker, and attorney. Our family, friends, and church supported us. It takes a village, right?

We soon realized the job would be more complex than we had anticipated. A. was charming, yes, but also deceitful. She lied, hid, avoided. She was exceedingly impatient, ungrateful, and vengeful. She would not, could not talk about emotions or unpleasantries—present or past. She clung, then pushed away. On some days she was five years old, on others eighteen; she had trouble just being eleven. Hannah Montana and electric nail polish mixed with coloring books and seductive poses. We scratched our heads and tried to keep up.

We set boundaries, established routines, created chores. We used incentives, consequences, coupons, tokens. We avoided flooding her with stuff and instead reinforced messages of perseverance, love, and potential. We tried to teach her what it means to be a kid. We visited Disney World, attended school performances, read Shel Silverstein with her. We hosted sibling visits. We also said no a lot, simply because previous caretakers had said yes far too often. We found ourselves not only cleaning up the messes from her birth family but also those from her other foster families.

Whatever we did seemed to be working. Everyone noted her progress and solid adjustment and praised our efforts. She gained weight, grew taller, made friends. I became Mommy.
As a result, she felt safe enough to talk about her abuse, confess shameful habits, and reveal previously unknown details that broadened the breadth and depth of the violations that had catapulted her into foster care. We told the community support worker, who told the therapist. The social worker claimed to have known and already told everyone involved. Lots of phone calls occurred; people were professing all sorts of things. Clearly those who were supposed to be helping A. did not have all the information; some tried to appear as if they did but were not necessarily sharing. We are not experts, and we didn’t know what we didn’t know, but this political diorama was not making things easier for us or A.

If it takes a village to raise a child, how many people does it take to save a child?
The therapist explained that a child dealing with past trauma often regresses behaviorally to the age at which the trauma occurred. For A., this meant approximately age five, so we saw an increase in tantrums, whining, clinginess, and enuresis directly correlated to her disclosures.
We tried to hold our ground by maintaining boundaries, sustaining the frequent stonewalling, and telling her that we loved her, that we had chosen her. We modeled good choices, humility, and forgiveness. We acknowledged our many mistakes, asked for counsel, and prayed for change. Our faith made it easier, and harder.

We asked the court for help in February by requesting a file review and psycho-educational evaluation. The judge ordered a clinical meeting between us and the rest of the service providers. We felt hopeful.

Weeks passed. A.’s anger intensified, and she began to show open hostility toward Paul. She rebelled against her boundaries, our decisions, our racial differences, the very idea of adoption.
We requested respite care, and more weeks passed.

She cut up a skirt. She slammed her bedroom door hard enough to knock a glass piece off a hallway shelf and shatter it. She threw things, stomped out of rooms, screamed. She pushed over a table.

I started therapy.

She talked about being tired, running away, feeling out of control, wanting to die. Paul asked her what all of this meant, what was going on inside her. She quietly picked up some chalk and scribbled on her chalkboard. Then she traced an infinity sign over and over again, after which she turned around and stared at us blankly.

Not until late April did we begin to receive our requested services and recommendations for others, services that should have been in place months or years earlier, services we could have advocated for had we better understood A.’s diagnosis, the system, and the clinical process instead of fielding conflicting and incomplete information. But by then A. was completely ignoring Paul. Wouldn’t look at him, talk to him, or listen to him, partly because she had not been subject to a father since her birth home, and partly because her primary abusers had been male. Although he knew this, Paul did not want to come home anymore, and when he did, he took solace in solitude and rigidity. He lost thirty pounds. He had insomnia, the shakes. He and A. both mentioned moving out.

I was entwined in a twisted triangle that was pulling me, and our family, apart. I felt that if I stayed with him, I would lose her. If I stayed with her, I would lose him. I was either going to lose a husband, a daughter, or both.

Inevitably, Paul hit his limit, and she hit hers. Suddenly the service providers spoke of trying to “save the placement.” They recommended intensive in-home intervention, but we feared pushing A. any further. We tried to manage and salvage, but at dinner one night in early May, she stormed out, and I knew in my heart it was over. When I later said so to Paul, I wept my way toward hysteria. She was messy, mouthy, and troubled, but I loved her completely. She was my daughter.

It was one day before her file review, one week before her psycho-educational evaluation, days after the clinical meeting. It all seemed too little too late. She was done.

The next night I found A. in our bed, crying. She said she wanted to be left alone, but five minutes later she appeared before me downstairs. I made room for her on my lap and held her as she sobbed. I whispered that it was going to be all right, trying to believe that myself.
Can a traumatized eleven-year-old make an informed decision about the rest of her life? Maybe not. Maybe in deciding to leave she was making the wrong decision, for the wrong reasons, but she was making a decision nonetheless, and the triangle was collapsing. Maybe it was a poor fit, she wasn’t ready for a dad, or she just didn’t know how to stay put. What can “forever family” possibly mean to a child who has had five families in five years?

We all agreed that sooner was better than later and scheduled the move-out for an upcoming Wednesday; it just happened to follow our first and only Mother’s Day and land two days before her twelfth birthday. I second-guessed myself and searched desperately for solutions, but in vain: I was a mother for nine months.

I blamed my husband. He blamed the system. The system blamed us, or so it seemed. We all, at some level, failed her. I mistakenly believed that she would be okay if I loved her enough.
I determined not to waste any remaining days, tear-soaked though they were. I wrote notes to A. in our shared journal. I told her again and again that she was loved, wanted, believed in. I let her see me cry. I told her that she was irreplaceable, that I would have kept trying. I told her to be brave, and kind. I told her that I was grateful to have been one of her mothers, even for a little while. Mostly I held her.

The morning they came for her, she dragged herself around the house, eating little, saying less. When she curled up on the couch, I draped my white sweatshirt over her, one she was fond of borrowing. I told her that anytime she needed a hug from me, she could put the sweatshirt on, and I’d be right there.

The social worker soon arrived, admitting that she still did not know where A. would be sleeping that night. After the van was loaded, A. approached me, her head low. I wrapped my arms around her, and she said tearfully, “I’m going to miss you, Mommy.” Choking on my own sorrow I told her I was going to miss her, too, that I loved her very much, that she was going to be okay. I held her tightly and kissed her. Then I let her go. She walked toward the van, turned around, and softly said, “Bye.” She was still wearing my sweatshirt.

I painted my daughter’s room today. It’s Wild Honey now, but a pale pink bleeds through.

Wendy Bilen Thorbjornsen, who also publishes under Wendy Bilen, is the author of the award-winning biography-memoir, "Finding Josie." She lives with her husband in Washington, D.C., where she teaches writing at Trinity Washington University.

Postscript: Wendy reports that A. was placed in a foster home with a single African-American woman. Though she and Paul were told they would receive information about communicating with her, they have not. They do hope to adopt again, using another method. But first, they have to finish grieving.

By Stacey Garfinkle |  July 8, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Previous: Child on a Plane IV | Next: How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Love Reality TV


If only love were enough! God bless you for trying and sharing. I don't know how we as a society will save and repair these children and I fear for them and everyone if we don't.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | July 8, 2009 8:01 AM | Report abuse

I am so sorry for your loss. There is really nothing I can say or do to help but I am very sorry.

Posted by: ishgebibble | July 8, 2009 8:08 AM | Report abuse

Wow, what a story. I am so sorry it did not work out for you or your daughter. I just hope in time, you can come to terms with what happened. Thank you for trying. I know I could never do it. Ditto to Moxiemom.

Posted by: foamgnome | July 8, 2009 8:45 AM | Report abuse

What an utterly heartbreaking story. Being a parent can be difficult under the best of circumstances, and I can only imagine what you went through.

Posted by: floof | July 8, 2009 8:53 AM | Report abuse

I urge Wendy and her husband Paul to keep trying, they have love and patience and I hope they find themselves as parents again.

Posted by: cheekymonkey | July 8, 2009 9:36 AM | Report abuse

What if this girl had been your biological child? You can't 'send them back' if they turn out to be defective.

Posted by: Baltimore11 | July 8, 2009 10:00 AM | Report abuse

Your essay is too self-congratulatory for me to take you seriously. You seem to be trying to evoke deep sympathy for yourself above and beyond evoking sympathy for the child.

I'm sure that the child could see through the white sweat shirt fable you told her -- why can't you? She will see the sweatshirt as symbolic of her rejection by you, not as a representative of how you're always with her. Be honest with yourself.

Stop conflating what you did with being a 'mother' -- you're a well-meaning lady that got in over her head. Real parents don't send their eleven year old daughters away.

Posted by: juzoitami | July 8, 2009 10:14 AM | Report abuse

To Baltimore11 -- no, you can't send them back if you give birth to them, but at the first sign that you have a problem, there are many things you can do. This child, on the other hand, has not received the appropriate treatment and love and maybe never would have had such problems if she had been loved from the beginning. I commend Wendy and Paul for trying to save their daughter and then having the courage to share their story with us.

I am so sorry for your loss, Wendy and Paul, and I hope you will find another opportunity to love and raise a child.

Posted by: SilverSpringMom1 | July 8, 2009 10:20 AM | Report abuse

Suppose somebody were to read this column and, just hypothetically, conclude the following:

These are spoiled upper middle class white people who treated a flesh-and-blood human being like a BMW that was out of warranty, throwing her back when she turned out to have too many defects.
The more mom professes “love” for her adopted child, the more it’s as she approaches the moment she throws the child away. She gave the daughter she loves less than a year to overcome everything in her past and, when the system finally offered intensive help, she wouldn’t even try to use it.
Thousands of parents, birth, foster and adoptive, do a lot more for children who are harder to deal with. They try longer and they go to greater lengths.
Never mind sympathizing with the parents, how about some sympathy for the child, who now has endured the ultimate rejection and may never trust again.

Unfair? Actually, yes. I’ve just stereotyped people I’ve never met – let alone walked in their shoes. They tried to do something I wouldn’t even attempt. At a minimum, we who haven’t “been there” should suspend judgment of those who have.
So why be unfair on purpose?
I did it in the hope that the readers of a column that clearly is of the upper-middle- class, by the upper-middle-class and for the upper-middle-class finally might feel how much it hurts to be stereotyped, even by just one poster to a blog, even when everyone else is rallying around you.
Now try, just try to imagine how much worse it is to be stereotyped over and over again just because you’re poor, Black and caught up in DC Family Court. Imagine what it’s like for those stereotypes to be so ingrained that they have cost thousands of children the chance to be raised in loving homes – the loving homes they were born in. Because that’s exactly what you did, Ms. Thorbjornsen, when you wrote that the children whose fates are decided by that court:

“have largely been removed from unfit homes rife with abuse, neglect, abandonment, and myriad other social and emotional ills. These kids have encountered more of life’s seamy side than many of us will over a lifetime.”

In some cases that’s exactly what happened; in many more it’s not. Far more common are cases in which family poverty is confused with “neglect” others fall between the extremes. Yet you saw fit to paint them all with the broadest of brushes based, apparently, on one case file (which only tells the agency’s version of events) and some horror stories from the headlines.
Ms. Garfinkle also seems prone to some stereotyping, what with this column coming so quickly on the heels of the one about Gary Staton the father in the Nebraska Safe Haven case.
So I challenge you, Ms. Garfinkle: Now that you’ve published Ms. Thorbjornsen’s version of how the system works, publish the first-hand account of someone who actually saw what goes on in D.C. Family Court day after day, because he’s one of the few allowed past the curtain of secrecy the system uses to cover up its blunders.
The University of the District of Columbia runs one of only two programs in the entire nation in which law students represent exclusively birth parents in cases alleging child maltreatment. Some great students, who themselves don’t get the respect they deserve – they’re from UDC after all – stand up for families who have been disrespected their entire lives.
One of those students spoke of his experiences during a news conference organized by my organization to mark the first anniversary of the discovery of the deaths of the Jacks children. If you’re willing to have your preconceived notions challenged instead of reinforced, go here: and scroll down to page 11.
Then, how about letting your readers in on what you find?

Richard Wexler
Executive Director
National Coalition for Child Protection Reform
Alexandria VA

Posted by: rwexlernccpr | July 8, 2009 10:22 AM | Report abuse

What a beautifully written, heartbreaking tale.

As a tutor in the DC public schools, I can attest to the fact that loving these "system" kids is not enough. Serious, perhaps permanently un-fixable damage has been done to them in their early years. Progress is often followed by regression.

It's just heartbreaking to love a child who isn't capable of receiving love. You did the best you could, which is all we can ask of any parent.

Posted by: newslinks1 | July 8, 2009 10:26 AM | Report abuse

This is so hard. I'm so sorry that this did not work for you. You did everything you could, but it did not work. But maybe you have planted seeds of hope and love in her that in time will flower.

I'm all for free speech-- I feel that it's important to hear folks out and if they something assine, well, at least we know now that we should avoid those folks. Please keep that in mind when reading any heartless criticism you read in these comments. It says far more about them than it does about you!

Posted by: captiolhillmom | July 8, 2009 10:49 AM | Report abuse

oh-- and yes, "real" moms do send their kids away-- it's called boarding school! Very common in our very "best" families. boarding school would be a disaster for this child though. The single mom situation sounds like it could be a great fit. Hope it works and that Wendy will be allowed to visit as a loved and loving "auntie"!

Posted by: captiolhillmom | July 8, 2009 10:52 AM | Report abuse

It takes a village to raise a child? How about chhanging this cliche to it takes a parent to raise a child.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | July 8, 2009 10:58 AM | Report abuse

I echo Capitolhillmom's sentiments exactly - I just cried reading your essay. It's a heart breaking story. I spent time volunteering in a Russian orphanage in college and it had a profound impact on me - I always thought I'd want to adopt when the time came to have children. My husband, however, was never into the idea and so I abandoned it realizing we both really needed to be on board if we were going to attempt something like that.

I truly commend you and support the efforts you made, which were no small thing on so many levels. And - I think it's very courageous that you shared your story.

Posted by: stephs98 | July 8, 2009 11:09 AM | Report abuse

Wendy, great piece of work. Heartbreaking indeed, but much, much more common than people want to believe.

Parenting is a progressive thing. Going through a pregnancy prepares mommy for the birth. By taking care of an infant, the parents become better equipped on what to expect from their baby, toddler, kindergartener, and so on,. Then the kid hits adolescence, and BOOM! All bets are off. However, the parents that have known their child for a decade or so at least have several years of experience to go on when it comes to dealing with the next tweenage/teenage escapade.

From observing several of my family/friends go through the process of adopting an older child, I think that the biggest problem is that the wanting parents have little experience in dealing with irrational behavior. They expect their new addition to the family will act like little adults with maybe a few quirks to smooth over. They expect cooperation from the child when they ask them simple requests like, "Please take your feet off the furniture", and if that doesn't work, "Please take your feet off the furniture or there will be no TV tonight", and if that doesn't work, before the next hapless threat is made, the kid will fill it in for them, "... or you will send me back., right?"

Teenagers go right for the jugular you know.

And the worse part of it is - the adoptive parents don't know if stuff like this is "normal" or result of an abusive past, though I say slamming doors, throwing things, stomping and screaming is pretty mild in the grand scheme of parenting.
So next time you hear a parent wanna be say, "I can always adopt..." (and I've heard it several times here on this blog), you might want to tell them Wendy's story. Adopting an older child takes a heart of gold *AND* nerves of steel, a rare set of qualities found in a single person.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | July 8, 2009 11:14 AM | Report abuse

Whacky, Unfortunately this child's background was a village, home to home, specialist to specialist - this has been her life. Sadly it was revealed very late into the process that this 11 year old girl has been abused and could not be in a household with a male.

While I don't subscribe to the "village" mantra of raising children in general, it appears from the article that this child could not stay with this family and the "village" or specialists needed to intervene and place her where she could thrive.

Believe me, I have reservations about DC Child and Family services, and DC Protective Services, the whole system has been a mess for years. That's not to say that there are not some good people working their butts off to help these kids, but what are the options for this particular child at this specific point in her life? You have to deal with the reality, and I think Wendy and Paul made the hard decisions based on the reality of the situation. I hope the child can thrive and the couple can find it in themselves to attempt to adopt again following this heartache.

Posted by: cheekymonkey | July 8, 2009 11:24 AM | Report abuse

Whacky, I think you are right, and I think that most prospective parents who want to adopt realize this too- which is why so many prospective parents look for infants and young children (and are wrongly criticized for this!) Adopting an older child is not like adopting an older dog from the pound- there is a whole lifetime of issues to deal with, on top of being a new parent.

Wendy, I hope you are able to have a family someday, and I hope that you are allowed to communicate with A. eventually in her new home- you may still be able to develop an "aunt-like" relationship.

Posted by: bubba777 | July 8, 2009 11:32 AM | Report abuse

I admire what you tried to do here, it definitely took some courage. And sharing it was also very brave. But I would advise not delving into this again unless you are sure that your husband is willing to tough it out. I think he was trying to be a bit of a hero to you by agreeing to this in the first place, but deep down wasn't really into it. That may be why he bailed out on the both of you when things got tough and he no longer got to feel like the hero.
The sad thing is that most men in our culture (my husband and uncle not included, both of them would throw themsleves in front of a train to protect pretty much anybody's kid, my dad, maybe not so much so) are not willing to put up with alot emotionally. I don't believe they are wired that way, I've seen too many exceptions. But we do raise them to be like that, parents and media. My feeling is that fathers not being willing to go the distance (emotionally and time wise) for the kids is the single biggest problem we have in this country. And we don't complain or shame them enough for it.

Posted by: pinkoleander | July 8, 2009 11:35 AM | Report abuse

I'm sorry for your loss

@juzoitami, Baltimore - Try reading carefully before snarking. Look again:

"Can a traumatized eleven-year-old make an informed decision about the rest of her life? Maybe not. Maybe in deciding to leave ***she*** was making the wrong decision, for the wrong reasons, but she was making a decision nonetheless, and the triangle was collapsing"

The asterisks are mine, since you weren't paying attention. "A" chose to leave.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | July 8, 2009 12:06 PM | Report abuse

hopefully bruno will have more luck with his adopted child...

Posted by: pwaa | July 8, 2009 12:39 PM | Report abuse

My blessings to all concerned.

I was on the board of a residential treatment center for severely emotionally disturbed adolescents and DH was the board president a couple of decades ago in St. Louis. Washington University graduate students had conducted a study of our "graduates" and found a remarkable 66% success rate - a 10% rate is considered normal or average for programs treating this population of clients.

Even the best professionals in the field working with the best staff couldn't save all of our residents. A third of them still ended up dead, in mental hospitals or prison after they left. We rejoiced and celebrated the successes, and holidays were always family reunions with graduates who'd been adults for decades coming back to visit. But we grieved when we lost one - there's nothing sadder than loving but not being able to save a kid.

Posted by: SueMc | July 8, 2009 12:49 PM | Report abuse

It seems obvious now that this child should not have been placed into a home with an adult male, at least not until her issues had been more thoroughly resolved. It seems like SOMEONE- her case worker, therapist, etc, should have known this before she was placed. It sounds like the folks at DCPS either didn't know about the abuse she suffered, or chose not to divulge it (maybe because they thought it would make her harder to place??).

It also doesn't sound like the author chose to send this little girl back- she wanted to leave. It sounds like she simply couldn't handle living with a man in the house.

Posted by: floof | July 8, 2009 1:39 PM | Report abuse

floof, I tired to point that out, that the abuse when the girl was 5 came out after she was placed. Plus the girl made the decision to leave, so you have to let her go. How can you possibly blame the parents, or as pinkoleander did - the husband? He is a man, the child could not be in a house with a man - what is he to do given the circumstances?

Posted by: cheekymonkey | July 8, 2009 2:41 PM | Report abuse

"I did it in the hope that the readers of a column that clearly is of the upper-middle- class, by the upper-middle-class and for the upper-middle-class finally might feel how much it hurts to be stereotyped, even by just one poster to a blog, even when everyone else is rallying around you."

Did you mean to be ironic?

You know, by stereotyping the readers of a nationally-read webnews site as if we are monolithic? Next time try to redirect your defensiveness into something constructive.

Posted by: anonfornow | July 8, 2009 2:59 PM | Report abuse

cheeky- My impression is that some of the people here think she should have just divorced her husband. At least I assume that's what they are thinking, since that was the only other alternative.

FWIW, I considered adoption before we had our first child (it took longer than we thought it would to get pregnant, so we weren't sure it would work). And while I liked the idea of adopting an older child, I doubt if I am up to the herculean task of doing so. I had a friend-of-a-friend in high school who was adopted at around the age of 6 or 7 by of all people a minister and a teacher. And even with all their backgrounds, they were ultimately unable to help her- she dropped out of high school, moved into a homeless shelter, got pregnant by an abusive boyfriend, left him and married another abusive man, left him and now is involved with another man and has another child, and is involved in some kind of S&M cult.

Undoing serious childhood trauma is really, really hard). I don't see how you can fault the writer for being unable to accomplish it, especially when it's so obvious this little girl should never have been placed with her to begin with.

Posted by: floof | July 8, 2009 3:31 PM | Report abuse

Cheeky, I think the husband made it pretty clear that he couldn't handle the situation and that it was either him or the child. Wendy was willing to try alot harder and put up with more. Why would the child want to stay in a house where at least half of the adults were hostile to her and no longer wanted her there? The girl had no choice.
Alot of men are just lightweights when it comes to stuff like this. That doesn't mean he can't run a marathon, run a successful law practice, or whatever he gets his kudos from. But he's the one who really gave up in the situation. And unfortunately that's usually how it goes, and the guys usually get away with it without anybody giving them the hell they deserve.

Posted by: pinkoleander | July 8, 2009 3:35 PM | Report abuse

And I don't think she should divorce him, but he does need a really good lecture from somebody about being a parent, not giving up on people, and being an adult.

Posted by: pinkoleander | July 8, 2009 3:38 PM | Report abuse

pinkoleander- I think it has to do with how you interpret what is written here. I see no signs that the husband gave up on the child. She was openly hostile to him and ultimately refused to interact with him . Finally, she decided she didn't want to live there anymore. I see no signs other than that he did the best he could. I think you may be assuming otherwise just because he is a man.

Posted by: floof | July 8, 2009 3:56 PM | Report abuse

Pinky, You are reading an awful lot into this woman's story. Given your general hostility towards men in your posts, I hope Paul and Wendy disregard your comments. Please don't characterize my defense of this couple as a nod to men walking out on their responsibilities, but I think you are way off base with your interpretations of this family's situation.

If you want to have a discussion on why men bail out on children or relationships, I suggest you type up an essay and send it into Stacey. It may help you vent.

Posted by: cheekymonkey | July 8, 2009 4:12 PM | Report abuse

Heartbreakingly sad. No winners here. Clearly Paul was not prepared to take on all the challenges involved. This is not the first failed adoption of a school aged child that I have heard of. The issues are often complex, difficult, and unknown to the adoptive parents.

That said, I hope this serves as a cautionary tale to people. Clearly people should not try to take such kids on if they are not prepared and willing to go through the wringer. My heart breaks for the child and other such children.

Posted by: emily8 | July 8, 2009 4:34 PM | Report abuse

Cheeky, I think you are reading alot into my posts. The interesting question to ask is why are you being so defensive? I have learned that with certain men, any criticism of the male gender automatically makes you a hostile man hater. If you want to assume that's how I feel that's up to you. I will tell you that my husband is an amazing human being (who would never have walked out on this kid after signing on for being a parent), I have an uncle who is an angel, and I have a male boss that I adore. You guys come all over the map as far as I am concerned. The truth is that society doesn't place a great enough emphasis on good fathering. We need to be worshiping guys who hang in there for their kids, not for being good sports heros, not for making rich guys richer, not for being a rap star, whatever. Sorry if I'm pushing buttons with you, but that's how I feel. We need to get after men for running away from their families and stop making excuses for them.

Posted by: pinkoleander | July 8, 2009 5:03 PM | Report abuse

Pinky - I considered responding to your original post and decided against it as you seemed to be spoiling for a fight. Especially with men. When someone took exception to your comments, you responded by calling the person defensive. [It's known as an ad hominem argument in which you attack the person rather than responding to the point.] Several statements in the story led me to a far different conclusion than you. To wit:

"..she began to show open hostility toward Paul.

"... by then A. was completely ignoring Paul. Wouldn’t look at him, talk to him, or listen to him...

"...Paul did not want to come home anymore, and when he did, he took solace in solitude and rigidity. He lost thirty pounds. He had insomnia, the shakes..."

Your original post suggested he couldn't handle it and checked out. To be precise, you made the gross overgeneralization "The sad thing is that most men in our culture (...) are not willing to put up with a lot emotionally." The caveat of excluding your husband rings hollow. In reading this story, Paul invested completely to the point it was making him physically ill. By this point, the child refused to react or respond to him. I hunted the post for anything you could use to justify your opinion of Paul. I found only two comments:

"He and A. both mentioned moving out.

"Inevitably, Paul hit his limit, and she hit hers."

It is quite possible that separation was discussed. I'm not sure how I would handle such a situation. In the end, A was not able to handle a placement in this home and is in a new home.

If you read the recent thread, you would know I am the father of two special needs children, one with autism. I'm blessed with a flexible work arrangement, so I have been able to take time off of work for medical visits, evaluations, home visits, IEPs and such. I would go to the wall for my sons and further. Now here's what I'd like you to take home. As a parent of a special needs child, I have come into contact with a number of other fathers. EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM would go to the wall for their child. And beyond.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | July 8, 2009 6:22 PM | Report abuse

Pinky, Your changing your tone and backpedaling a little. Fairlington's comments are spot on. I have nothing to be defensive about because I am not the one accusing a father of failing in his responsibilities - you are.

Read the article one more time and see if you feel the same way. Your lack of sympathy for this couple as a couple is also duly noted, the sympathy lies with both of them, not just the mother.

Posted by: cheekymonkey | July 8, 2009 6:52 PM | Report abuse

"The truth is that society doesn't place a great enough emphasis on good fathering."

I think everyone's perception on this may be different depending on what they are seeing in their own lives. Everywhere I go, I see fathers involved with their children. When I go to sing-a-long's at my daughter's preschool, there are usually as many fathers there as mothers. Sure, the dads are lucky enough to have flexible jobs, but they CHOOSE to be at their children's events, even minor ones. When I go to the park, there are always tons of dads. At the pool on the weekends, I would say it's almost unusual for me to see other mothers there with their young kids- it's ALL dads.

I think, in general, fathers are much more involved with their kids than they were 10 or 20 years ago. The overwhelming majority of fathers I know are absolutely crazy about their kids and cut back on their work hours and their personal activities because they want to spend more time with them.

Just my two cents. I think fathers are seriously underrated.

Posted by: floof | July 8, 2009 8:31 PM | Report abuse

No backpedaling here, the adult in the situation who needed to modify their behavior and expectations in order to make this work was the father. Instead he choose to be a drama queen.
F, your situation with your kids has nothing to with with this couple's situation. I'm glad you know lots of responsible fathers, I do too. But the single mothers out there, and the countless number of women I know who's husbands won't do their part might have a different story. It's usually the mom who hangs in there for the kids, just the way it is. My uncle is a different case, there's always an exception.
It's funny that my criticism of Paul seems to be taken so personally by so many of the men who read this blog. Is it because you don't see yourselves behaving any differently in the same situation? I don't know, maybe you would handle it better, who knows.

Posted by: pinkoleander | July 9, 2009 12:37 PM | Report abuse

"It's funny that my criticism of Paul seems to be taken so personally by so many of the men who read this blog."

Pointing out errors in your logic and conclusions is taking criticism personally? You have an odd understanding of how debate works. You read a variety of things into the story that were adverse to the facts with which you were presented. A number of readers, including several women, pointed it out. You can rail all you want and discount the refutations of others, but it would be more constructive for you to look in the mirror and ask why you are so committed to misreading the facts.

Posted by: anonfornow | July 9, 2009 1:11 PM | Report abuse

Wow, what a sad story. And I can't help but feel saddest for "A". She was failed by all the adults around her.

The support/social/community people all failed her. Wendy and Paul both failed her.

Yes, the support/social/community people also failed Wendy and Paul, too. But Wendy says little about working outside those boundaries when it became clear they were incompetent. She sounds strangely passive in advocating for "A".

I too think Paul needed support in order to help "A". He just didn't get it. Wendy said she went into therapy but obviously Paul's attitude was that he didn't need it? Clearly, he needed support, professional support, on how to handle this child. Paul failed his *self* and he failed his family.

While I feel sorry for Wendy and Paul, they are adults and yes, they could have both done better. The sorrow they will feel for the rest of their life is unfortunate, but I believe, deserved.

I don't know that "A" will ever get over this saga. One more blow in a hard life.

Posted by: goodhome631 | July 9, 2009 1:50 PM | Report abuse

@pinky - Thank you for your response, which was well-reasoned and insightful, but not necessarily the opinion of NPR. (I'm a Whaddyaknow fan). I think you came down pretty hard on Paul on the basis of two snippets in a long story. I think I am lucky that the men I know tend to be involved fathers who have put it out there for their children. You do have an excellent point in that many men are horribly irresponsible. In such situations, the burden falls to the mother. I just think that you conflated that perfectly valid observation with this couple's situation. My reading of the situation was that previous abuse of A, which was not known until the adoption was attempted, made a placing with a man in the picture impossible.

So, yes, I disagreed with your interpretation. In my response, I tried to quote the relevant sections of Paul and Wendy's story that were the basis of your opinion. I suppose it would be characterize some of my response as "defensive" only in that your original commentary was "offensive". Not in the cultural sense, but in the sports sense. You stated an opinion aggressively, so any response would naturally be defensive.

Anyway, this story has given me food for thought. What I think it means is that it takes two very special people to adopt an older child. It would have taken extraordinary patience to deal with A's issues. Wendy may have had that, Paul probably didn't. The fact that one isn't a saint is not a criticism. Very few of us could rise to that level. Probably not me. Probably not you. I hope that they will find the space to heal and move on.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | July 9, 2009 10:14 PM | Report abuse

This particular blog posting should be retitled: "The Great White Hope Repaints a Spare Bedroom." Isn't that really what this is all about -- keeping up appearances?

While I agree with Mr. Wexler 100 %, I think you treated this young person more like a pet than an expensive BMW. After all, many people abandon animals with problems similar to enuresis.
My ex-husband told me to choose between him or a cat who hated men. To this day, I regret not choosing the cat. I no longer have any animals because I am not ready to make that COMMITMENT. Likewise, when I took a teen into my home informally, we understood the arrangement was temporary, and expected occasional conflicts. Still, I can't even imagine choosing a man over a child, especially not one I call "daughter;" but I think Paul is just another scapegoat to your failure as a "mother." Children test parents, teachers, caregivers, and sometimes this test extends beyond a year.
If you want to be a good liberal, volunteer in an urban school, but please don't dangle museums and pink bedrooms in front of a another child. Or, perhaps, you can advocate for A's real mother as she fights termination, so that A truly can have a forever family.

Posted by: lorynowak | July 11, 2009 8:00 PM | Report abuse

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