As you probably remember I closed Part One with a teaser about a life changing phone call. It’s funny how events that rock your world and alter your path can appear so innocuous at the time. This phone call, which came in April of 2008, was one of those events.
We had known Tapanga for nearly six months by this time and, despite some challenging behaviours, she was growing on us. Tapanga was seeing a child psychologist to help her to overcome the effects of her past; her life with her birth family had wounded her greatly. As a result, she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and reactive attachment disorder (RAD), two very heavy diagnoses. These disorders resulted in some difficult to manage behaviours, like severe tantrums, and an inability to form healthy connections with others. Some people with RAD withdraw from everyone and cannot bond, while others form numerous superficial attachments very easily, but cannot bond deeply. Tapanga was, at this time, of the second variety. She would walk up to complete strangers and want a hug, or to share their food; but those who loved her had to fight very hard to form deep connections. Between the RAD, and most certainly a fear of rejection, she seemed to fight meaningful connection every step of the way. The reality of parenting Tapanga at this time was a challenging one that my in-laws had never expected to undertake long-term.
Our first Christmas with Tapanga, 2007.
Despite the challenges, by April Tapanga was becoming more settled, more happy, and most importantly, more open. She was connecting to Hugh & Sally, and to other people in our family as well. She was being weaved into all of our lives, and we were being weaved into hers. While life was continuing on for the family, the wheels of the Social Services system were at work as well. The clock was ticking on her time in care, and it was time for a long-term plan to be made.
Sally called me up one day, likely just to chat or to see if we were coming home for the weekend, and she mentioned a conversation she’d had with Tapanga’s social worker. Sally shared with me that soon Social Services would be seeking a “PGO” for Tapanga.
“What’s a PGO?” I asked, completely unfamiliar with the term.
“PGO stands for Permanent Guardianship Order,” Sally stated.
I was no more aware of the meaning of the title than I was of the abbreviation, so Sally explained that Tapanga was under a six-month Temporary Guardianship Order (TGO). This allowed Tapanga’s parents time to take the necessary steps to become stable and healthy so they could have her returned to their home. Sally further elaborated that since Tapanga’s birth parents were not taking these steps in a timely manner, Social Services would likely seek a PGO, rather than an additional TGO. A PGO would mean that Tapanga would never return to her birth family, that her parent’s time was up.
“So, once the PGO is granted she’ll be on her way somewhere else. They will move her to a long-term placement while she waits for an adoptive family to be found.” Sally explained further. “This should all happen in the next few months, I think”.
“Oh.” I replied, unsure of what else to say. At the same time, something deep within me was already stirring. Something I didn’t dare think or say aloud. Something crazy. Right, it’s crazy?
When Dylan got home from work we hopped in the truck and were driving out to Barrhead for the weekend. As he drove, I recapped my conversation with Sally.
“Oh,” was his simple reply. We took one look at each other and knew the same crazy thought was running through both of our minds. What if we…
If my memory serves me right, he was the first to find the courage to speak it out. “What if we were to adopt her?” With it out in the open, we talked about it. The challenges and…well, if I’m being perfectly honest the challenges seemed to pale in comparison to the potential joys. We recognized that their would be bumps and hiccups, that she had a few behavioural challenges, but those realities didn’t matter. We were in love.
We could see her heart. Her potential. Her future. She had already come so far and with every part of our beings we knew she would grow into a lovely girl. We knew that the love of a mom and dad, the stability of a permanent and healthy family, would heal her wounded spirit.
Oh boy, this is hitting me right in the heart. As tears course down my face I am right there again. It’s dusk, and I’m in the dimly lit cab of the old white Chevy. Dylan is driving and we’re on highway 16, approaching the turnoff to highway 43. I’m right there. Blissfully unaware of how pivotal this moment is to all our lives.
That powerful memory is etched forever in my mind. A seemingly insignificant moment in time that is bookmarked as “the moment it all began”.
Once Dylan and I felt we had talked it through enough, and that we were serious about maybe undertaking this, we talked to his parents. I’m sure we all wish we could say they were immediately overjoyed at the possibility, but that’s not the case. Hugh and Sally had experienced some of the greatest parenting challenges of their lives in the past six months, and despite their growing bond with Tapanga, they were afraid for us. Yes, she had progressed. But there were still substantial challenges, there was still the looming “what if”. What if this is as much as she progresses? What if she regresses? What if, what if, what if…
When we found the courage to share our hopes for a future with Tapanga with my parents, we were surprised by their response. We shared the conversation I’d had with Sally with them, and it’s almost as if my dad knew what we would say next. Mom and Dad seemed to think it was a totally logical, obvious choice. After all, she would fit in perfectly with the family. She was even the same age as our nephew Joel, he would have someone his age to grow up with! My parents had also observed her progress, and unlike Hugh and Sally, they had not seen the worst of her early behaviours.
Despite their initial hesitation, once we asserted our faith in this little girl’s future, in our shared future, Hugh and Sally were completely behind us. Sally then talked with Tapanga’s social worker. Tapanga’s social worker also expressed some serious concerns and did not immediately throw in her support. Dylan and I assured everyone that we were ready for this. We knew the risks, and we were ready for whatever challenges would come! Even though we said we were ready for the challenges, deep in our hearts we didn’t really believe in the risks. We believed in Tapanga.
After numerous assertions that we meant it, after being inundated with reams of papers on RAD and PTSD (which I stubbornly did not do more than skim over), after being warned uncountable times of the risks; the process began.
Don’t worry, I’ve already started Part Three. I’m just pausing here to make the read more manageable. To be continued very soon!