The Daring Book for Girls

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Dishes, Dresses, Boxes, Beaches, Days, Bikes, Wishes, Things, Names, Children. Ten spelling words Cherrisa was supposed to learn for her new school. Her homework was to memorize the words, but she couldn’t yet read. She was 8 years old and repeating the first grade for the second time. Her sister, DeAndra, was 4. They’d been in foster care for 6 months, 4 different homes, moved 5 times. These were the numbers involved, but they were only the beginning of the story.

DeAndra was a violent, angry child. She hit, bit, broke things, and held her breath until she hyperventilated. Cherissa over-compensated for her sister. She was nice beyond reason: too considerate, too polite.

The girls came to live with Tom and me when we were on the ranch, before I was mom to Carter, before we had the twins. It was just after Christmas, and they arrived with plastic bags of mismatched clothes and a truckload of toys in various states of disrepair—babies missing a leg or an arm, a light-up vanity with dead batteries, little pink ponies with ratty manes. I called the social worker and asked about the sackfuls of belongings: The girls were just supposed to stay for the weekend. Why did we have all their stuff?

Their three-day stay turned into an extended placement. I enrolled DeAndra in daycare and Cherissa in school. I tried to help them fit in, but they were different, and they knew it. In addition to being in foster care, their mother was from Guatemala and the girls favored her. They had coffee-colored skin that turned ashy in the dry Montana air, and hair that was thick and black.

DeAndra found two crickets and asked if she could keep them, her first pets. She named them “Horses” and “Sally.” She and I spent hours in the rocking chair–sometimes she sobbed quietly, other times she howled, as if in pain. Tom and I didn’t know what to do for her, so I called the social worker, who called a psychiatrist. The answer–hold her and let her cry.

In the quiet moments after bath time or while I was brushing hair, they told me their stories. Abuse, neglect, broken trust. Childhood wasn’t supposed to be like that. I frequently felt overwhelmed, and just when I’d hit bottom, a day would come, out of the blue, when everyone was happy. A Saturday morning building castles out of cardboard boxes, Cherrisa wearing her Snow White costume and DeAndra dressed as a lion. Or a pizza party with the kids from neighboring ranches; Disney movies and popcorn on Friday nights.

But at best it felt hollow: They were not ours and we were not theirs. We all knew that someday, they would be leaving. That was the goal—reunion with their father, who had sole custody.

My time with these little girls happened more than 10 years ago; now I’m the mother of 3 sons. I’m happy with my boys, but every now and then, I catch a glimpse in the corner of my mind of a dream daughter, a girl I might have mothered. She is, in part, a way of honoring the girls I did mother, if only for a short while.

Reading The Daring Book for Girls by Andrea Buchanan and Miriam Peskowitz calls these experiences to my mind. As I looked at sections like “Stand up for Yourself–Or Someone Else” or “Boys,” I wished I’d had a chance to talk to the girls about these things. Sections like “Princesses Today” and “How to Negotiate a Salary” made me hope that they’ve learned all this on their own.

I think about the last days the girls were with us. In the midst of the sadness, a warm chinook wind blew across the ranch, melting the snow off the peaks, greening the grass in the meadows. There was so much that they needed that I couldn’t give them.

The Daring Book for Girls encapsulates the very best things about being female: We are smart, we are strong, we are playful, we are kind. It’s all the things I’d want to teach my daughters. I wish I could have given this book to them; it would have been a good thing to hold on to, when I was no longer there to show them the way.

To see what other moms are writing about The Daring Book for Girls, visit MotherTalk. And I have one copy of the book to share: If you’d like it, leave your name in the comments and I’ll draw a winner at random.

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17 thoughts on “The Daring Book for Girls

  1. Jennifer — I’ll have to check this one out! I had forgotten about your time with foster care. I know the short, but so positive and loving time they had with you will still come back to them as a model of good behavior as a parent!

  2. thank you for sharing your story, I’m sure you and Tom made lasting, positive impressions on those girls while they were with you.

    Please count me in on the drawing.

  3. So…after a second read, well a first because I couldn’t read at all when I saw my D’s name… this is a beautiful piece and yet so sad.

    I would love to read the book, count me in on the drawing.

    By the way I have two books you mentioned you would like to read, I will send them to you if you like, next Friday when I get paid. BC’s Mommy Teach Me.

    Email me if you would still like to read them.

    xo

  4. We have friends who fostered and eventually adopted two children who were different, neglected, broken kids and, I think, saved their lives.
    Foster parents are special people! Thank you for sharing this story.

    And we would love to have that book! We have the one for boys, but my one girl sandwiched between all these boys needs the girl book!

    Beth

  5. I already have the book, so don’t put my name in the drawing.

    But this was a gorgeous and very sad entry. I hope the girls are OK. It says a lot about the size of your heart that you tried to give them what they needed even when you couldn’t.

    I didn’t realize, however, that you lived on a ranch. I’m intrigued! I want to know where, and why, and share stories. My first husband was a cattle rancher (sandhills in western Nebraska, and later in Montana).

    Most interesting. I love your posts.

  6. My daughter’s name keeps showing up in places I least expect it, like on a tin of mints, and now your blog. I wish it were a sign, a sign she is going to come back home, but I know that isn’t it.

    Who would have thought a name I love dearly, belonging to a child I lost would just start popping up out of no where at a time when I least expect it.

    Ack.

  7. Foster care is so hard, on everyone involved. I’m glad those girls had that time with you.

    I almost got that book at the library the other day. I think I’ll go back for it.

  8. Jennifer, what an amazing story and what a wonderful thing you and Tom did for those girls. No doubt, they will never forget the difference–no mater how small you think it may have been–you made in their lives.

    (I’m not entering the drawing, I just wanted to say that.)

  9. I would love to win the book for my daughter. We have the other book for our boys, and my daughter and older son sit and look at it & learned to tie knots. I bet there are some really neat things for girls in this one!

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