Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Three Little Words: A Memoir

I stumbled across Three Little Words: A Memoir
by Ashley Rhodes-Courter as I was perusing the adoption section in the library.  Initially when I started reading this young adult memoir, I questioned my sanity.  Why plunge myself into another dark, sad story?  But this young lady has written a gem.  Not only is her writing style compelling, but her thoughts and memories are clear and articulately conveyed.

Ashley's mother is an unwed teenager with a troubled family life of her own.  She and her baby brother are removed from their mother when they come to the attention of the police after a minor car infraction.  They are then caught in the cruel, uncaring, illogical foster system.  For 9 years she is repeatedly stuck in abusive homes, constantly rejected, and often ignored by the system that is supposed to protect her.

When Ashley details the many ways the legal and family system let her and her brother down, I just wanted to beat my head against a wall.  Unspeakable horrors.  Her story is a must read for anybody interested in social work.  Ironically, the 2 woman that make the most difference in her life are not paid on her behalf by the system.  They just volunteer to make a difference for her.

The part of the book that spoke loudest to me was when Ashley let us in on her own thoughts and feelings throughout her journey... especially when she shares her new life with her adoptive parents.  She has faced so much pain and rejection that by the age of 12, she distrusts everybody and everything.  She's seen disrupted adoptions and knows that even a forever family is not forever.  She hates her new mom's food and takes pleasure in upsetting her mom and pushing her buttons.  She wants to win the battles even if it means she goes to bed hungry.  She loves to drive a wedge between her new mom and dad; always waiting to be sent back to the children's home.

There were a few passages that just hit hard.

After Phil left the room, Gay stroked my hair.  "It's ok not to love us."  I kept my face buried in my pillow, yet my ears were on full alert.  "And I'm not going to say that I love you, because I haven't known you long enough to feel that way.  I like you very much and I want you to be my daughter forever, but love is something that grows with shared experiences.  I feel the buds of love growing, but it hasn't blossomed yet."

I could not believe she was being so honest.  She took a long breath.  "There is nothing we can say to make you believe that we'll be here for you.  You'll only learn it by living with us year after year."  She smoothed my hair again and stood up.  The bedsprings creaked.  I turned enough to see her hovering over me, and for the first time, I saw her as more of a protector than a stranger.  "Ashley, one of these days I will tell you that I love you.  When you hear those three words from my lips, you will know they come from my heart.  Sweet dreams, sweetie," she said, and stepped out in the hall.  (p. 193-194)

As the adoption made me feel more secure, the tautness in my stomach relaxed, and I found that I was interested in new foods.  I realized that I could find something I liked at almost any restaurant, whereas before I had often left hungry.  (p. 224)

Broken promises crippled me for many years.  As the Courters kept their pledges to me, my faith in others expanded.  Day after day, they were there for me; until one day, I not only felt safe, I did not want to leave.  Maybe that is one definition of love.  (p. 289)

I could keep going with the excerpts because there are many powerful moments.  This is an excellent book and would be helpful for older siblings in families who are adopting or have adopted.  Ashley has overcome more in her young life than most of us can imagine and her insight would be helpful for all family members.  This is a story of courage and hope and I highly recommend it.

1 comment:

small town girl said...

Wow. Great book review. I'm not sure if the book is discussing the American foster system, or is it similar in Canada? But I do not find it ironic that the 2people able to help her were not paid social workers...nothing against social's just that the American foster system is so dysfunctional. It sounds like a story of hope and real love. Can't wait to read it...thanks!