I'm sure I've told this story here before, but I'll tell it again because it is worth repeating.
We met Ashley four days before Christmas. We picked her up from a children's home in a town nine hours away from ours. We stayed in a Holiday Inn. We celebrated Christmas in a hotel room with a 12 inch tree. We opened presents on Christmas Eve morning because on Christmas Day, Hannah and I would be making the nine hour trip home. It was not a Norman Rockwell Christmas.
She was hard to handle from the start, easily angered, difficult to understand, and very loud. There was lice involved. It was not the most wonderful time of the year.
We trudged through those four days until, finally, Christmas morning arrived. Hannah and I were excited. It was time! In a few short hours we would drop Ashley back off at the children's home and for 36 hours we would be Ashley-free - until they flew her to us on the 27th.
We checked out of the hotel and headed to the only restaurant we could find open on Christmas morning, IHOP. It was packed. We slid into our booth and ordered. The girls went to wash their hands. The waitress brought our drinks and napkins and silverware. We sat chatting, mostly Hannah. Something had made Ashley mad. I don't remember what. Suddenly, without warning, Ashley threw her arms across the table and everything on it went flying.
What would you do? What would you say?
The place grew deathly quiet. Every eye was on us.
There was so much I wanted to say, so much I wanted these folks to know.
I knew what they were thinking. I would have been thinking it, too.
They saw me as a mom who couldn't handle her own kid.
I wanted to stand up and explain. I wanted to tell them that I had only met her four days ago. I wanted them to know that I picked her up from their children's home down the street. I wanted them to know that this was not my kid. I had not created this mess.
Instead, I apologized a million times to a waitress that was not amused. I offered to clean up the mess, but she refused. I offered to pay for the damage, but she didn't take me up on that either.
So we sat as they cleaned up around us and brought us new drinks and napkins and silverware. Our breakfast arrived and we ate it in silence.
Then we left.
The folks in that restaurant never understood, and that's okay. They can think that I'm the worst parent in the world. They can think that I have no business raising children. They can think all kinds of things. None of that matters.
You know what matters? Ashley. She matters.
From the moment I picked her up on December 21st, 2008, I signed up to be her 100% mom. From the moment I met her, I committed myself to be 100% in her corner.
Even at IHOP on Christmas morning.
It doesn't matter if your home is her forever home or a temporary one. As soon as she is placed in your care and for as long as that placement lasts, you are her 100% parent. Everyday. Not just the easy ones. Not just when you feel like it. Everyday. Everyday. Everyday.
Fight the urge to explain her mess to others, especially strangers. Keep her confidences, protect her reputation, show her that you'll take what comes and won't spread it around.
Be 100% on her side. Even if it makes you look like a fool in IHOP on Christmas morning.
You'll be in good company.