Thursday, January 04, 2007

Update on Jen and a back story

Last night Bobbie and Jen called. They had a great holiday, minus one cornea surgery (on Jen's sister, Natalie--OUCH!) and one fairly upsetting conversation with Jennifer's biological family.

Two days before Christmas, Jen was feeling a bit homesick for DC, so she asked her mom (Bobbie) if she could call some of her friends here. She tried several friends from school and, unfortunately, no one was home. So Jen decided to call her older sister. For those of you who aren't aware, Jen and Paulette have a half sister who is in her early 30s. She's got a pretty remarkable story of her own that includes being abandoned by her mother (yes, that's Jen and Paulette's mom, too) at the tender age of 12. At the time, she was taken in by Sheila's sister and raised to adulthood. Today she holds down a good job and--a remarkable testament to the resilience of children--is a pretty impressive woman, someone Kimberly and I think we could be friends with. Although she did not have a relationship with either Paulette or Jennifer until very recently, she thought seriously about taking the girls when their mother became ill. Ultimately, she decided that she was in no position to take care of them, given that she was a single woman with a job that required her to travel a large portion of her time.

That was in May. Once the girls moved in with us, they tried for weeks to contact several of their extended family members--the sister among them--to no avail. No one returned their phone calls then and, to date, not one member of the girls' extended family has tried to make contact with either of them, or with us. It's tragic and, though we don't dwell on it, both girls know they have essentially been abandoned by their family.

Well, in August, Kimberly and I had reason to contact this older sister. Surprisingly, she returned our phone call. We had a long conversation with her, in which she described her own life story and the feelings of guilt she experienced because she was unable to take care of her half-sisters. That same day, she was able to even spend some time with Jennifer. They went to a movie, ate dinner in a restaurant, and bought a teddy bear for Jen. (At the time, Paulette was with her mother in the nursing home).

After that day, the sister essentially disappeared. We made no efforts to contact her, and she made none to contact us--or the girls. A month later, before Jennifer moved to Arizona, she was invited to come say goodbye. She professed wanting to come and told us she was planning on it. But when the time came, she didn't show. No one from the extended family showed. Jennifer had no word from her sister until, she (Jennifer) decided to call her sister on Christmas Eve's eve.

Again, surprisingly, her sister answered the phone. She explained to Jen that she saw their mother over Thanksgiving, and reported that her health was improving. She even said she thought that Sheila would be getting out of the nursing home sometime soon. Jen was floored--all previous reports, including from us--had indicated that her mother's health was, in fact, getting worse. (We later learned from Sheila's sister that her health was not getting better--just the opposite. She had been so ill, in fact, that she had been unable to feed herself, or even walk. ) Of course, Jen had no way of knowing the state of her mother's health while on the phone with her sister, since she had tried calling her mother faithfully every Sunday for weeks and had not been able to reach her. If that wasn't enough news for one phone call, Jen's sister then told her that if she (Jennifer) wanted to, she could come and live with her (the sister).

Of course this was upsetting to Jen. She got off the phone and told Bobbie about the conversation.

Of course this was upsetting to Bobbie. She immediately called Kimberly, hoping to find out the real state of Sheila's health, and to get some advice about how to the handle the situation. Wisely, Kimberly told her that she shouldn't get in the way of Jen and her sister. Jen would have a decision to make. Kimberly was confident that Jen would see that her life in Arizona would be more secure and healthy than the one promised to her with her sister. And, frankly, Kimberly had the sneaking suspicion--borne out by 8 months of experience taking care of the girls--that the older sister would probably never try to contact Jen again, for, in fact, she had never once tried to contact her in the first place. Kimberly was convinced that the sister felt massive guilt pangs that she was not in a position to take care of her sisters, and that this guilt is what had motivated to make the offer to Jen. However, she had her doubts about whether the offer was genuine, because she had made the same offer in August, and then had not followed through. Bobbie was somewhat comforted, and followed Kimberly's sound advice.

Bobbie gave Jen time and space to think about her sister's offer. After a couple of days, as Bobbie was tucking in Jen and her sister for bed, she asked Jennifer whether she had given any more thought to her sister's offer. Jennifer told Bobbie that she had thought a lot about it, and that she had even prayed about it. And that she had decided to stay put. She told Bobbie that she had the distinct feeling she was supposed to be a part of their family.

Although I can't imagine the emotions that Jennifer must have felt during this experience, I'm extremely proud of her for making a very difficult decision. And, while I was outraged by her sister's conversation, I feel for the sister, too. I am sure she feels a lot of guilt that she isn't in a position to take care of her sister. However, as someone who cares very deeply for Jennifer, I am confident that Jen couldn't be in a better place than where she is right now: with a loving family that wants her and takes excellent care of her. She is flourishing in Arizona--making friends and good grades, helping her family around the house, laughing and sometimes fighting with her siblings. We talk to her frequently, and she really sounds great. She reported to us in October that she reads her scriptures every day on her own, and when I talked to Bobbie last night, she said she can still find Jen in her room at bedtime, reading her Book of Mormon.

Jen loves checking email and loves instant messaging people, even more. Last night, when we were talking with her on speaker phone, she asked us to go get on our computers so we could "talk" to her. I know sometimes she's homesick, and appreciates contact with her old life. Any of you out there who know Jen, and who'd like to drop Jen a line, please let us know. We'd be happy to put you in touch.

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