Our conversation with Sheila went better than any of us expected. We approached her with a reminder that we have been happy to help take care of the girls while she is unable to do so and telling her again that we cannot keep the girls permanently. We explained that we have been looking for other families in our church who would be able and willing to take care of the girls, and that we have found a family who wants to take care of Jennifer. We used the "g" word (guardianship), and she, several times, repeated her resistance to the "a" word. ("I'm not giving my girls up for adoption" she said, with us assuring her that we were talking about guardianship at this point and that our desire was to find a way to ensure that someone would be able to take care of the girls while she could not.)
Initially resistant to the idea of separating the girls and of sending Jennifer far away, she at first focused on the question of how Jen would be able to continue to attend KIPP School while living with this family. At one point she answered her own question by guessing that Jen would have to "commute." We tried to impress upon her that Arizona was too far away for Jen to commute to school, and that there would be very good schools there for Jen to attend. (A fact that Jen has already discussed in great detail with the family). In Arizona, we emphasized, Jen would be cared for by friends of Kimberly's and members of our church who loved children and had already warmed to Jennifer. We told Sheila that we would be taking Jennifer to meet the family this weekend.
We explained that we had prayed and felt really good about the decision. That so many people had also prayed with us, that we are pretty convinced that this is God's will. We told her that we understand why she may not feel great right off, but asked her to pray about it and that we could continue to talk. She apparently decided that prayer was expedient. Hushed us. Bowed her head and began a mumbled, personal prayer. After about a minute, she lifted her head and made a modified version of the sign of the cross (more in a circle with a kiss of her fingers and a flick of the wrist) and said that she wasn't "getting anything". (it is remarkable that she expects such answers. I wonder if I expected direct communication what would happen?? I am WAY too cynical) So we talked about spending more time in meditation and prayer when she was alone and their weren't T.V.s blaring in the background.
Sheila asked how Jen was feeling about all of this. Jennifer came into her mother's room at that point and told her mom that she was feeling "ok" and "good" about the idea. She showed her mother the letter she had received from the family inviting her to come and live with them, and shared the pictures of the family. Sheila read the letter with great interest and looked very closely at the pictures. She said repeatedly, "they sound like nice people." And then added, "but I want to meet them so I can know for sure." We assured her that this would be the case. Paulette, bravely, also chimed in support of the plan; telling her mother how much she wanted her own new home (for some reason, she is fixated on going to Salt Lake City, Utah) and how important this was to Jen.
Ultimately, Sheila did agree to sign a document consenting to giving guardianship for Jennifer to Mark and Bobbie. At one moment in the middle of someone's sentence Shelia hushed the group again. Bowed her head and listened intently. Then looked at us all and said that Jesus had spoken and it was okay for Jennifer to go. After her mother said this would be okay, Jennifer burst into tears--I think in part because she had been so worried that her mother might say no. Sheila wants to meet them to make sure they are as nice as they look, but she said several times that it would be okay for the family to take care of Jen. We explained that we had hired an attorney who could prepare the paperwork, and help us to make sure that everything was done in a legal, right way, and she seemed to understand that as well.
Frankly, all of us (Kimberly and I, as well as both of the girls) were a bit surprised at the ease and outcome of this conversation. Now the questions are about how--and how quickly--to proceed?