Bud & Ella

It was a warm summer day and my husband, Joe and I were enjoying the annual Foster Parent/New Hampshire Division for Children, Youth & Families picnic sponsored by our local foster parent association.

I had been reconnecting with old foster parent friends and meeting new foster parent recruits when I noticed a man launching a huge kite into the air. A group of spell-bound children and my husband watched it rise ever higher, far over the picnic grounds. This was my first encounter with Bud Maynard.

I had met Ella Maynard earlier in the day and was impressed with her forthright ability to sum up the situation of her three foster children and to describe her methods for dealing with the daily cause and effect incidences that occur in all foster homes. Our conversation was filled with stories of love, patience and good teamwork between her family, the Agency, the foster children and their mother. I had been told by the foster home licensing worker that, although the Maynards were fairly new foster parents, they seemed to have exceptional skills in dealing with these children and their family. The children have been in the Maynard foster home for about six months. I made an appointment to visit the Maynard home.

I was fortunate, the weather was warm and the sun shone brightly as I parked in the Maynard's driveway. A fenced yard sported a number of large geese who quacked at me excitedly and two little girls who, with the geese, sounded the alarm, "company!"

Ella met me at the door, calmly shooed away the geese, gave the girls a sandwich, asking them to picnic in the yard and invited me inside. The home was lovely, with a smattering of craft items and Ella's impressive collection of fancy tea pots. We sat at the dining room table and got better acquainted. Bud was still at work when I arrived but came home during our conversation and joined us.

Both Ella and Bud had been married previously and both had been widowed. Both came from stable, solid families. Their childhood had been happy and they had enjoyed sensible, competent parent role models and close extended families.

The foster children, Mary Lou, (called "Mally") was four, Julie was five and Nicholas (Nicky), was eight years old when they were placed in foster care in early spring, before the Maynards had completed much of the required foster parent preservice training. They had agreed to accept placement of all three children and the social worker, Paula, had sighed with relief. It's almost always the aim of the Agency to keep siblings together, however, when the family is large, this is often a difficult task. Here was a family who, although new to foster parenting, was willing to try to deal with these children and their family. Foster homes are always in short supply. Sometimes social workers are forced to contact very new and often untrained foster parent recruits to see if any of them would be willing to provide foster care for children who need immediate placement when there are no available experienced foster homes with vacancies. All agree this is not the best way to begin fostering.

Ella and Bud had been told that there was a possibility that the children would have to be placed during the night and that they were all sick with various illnesses; an ear infection, Bronchitis and Pneumonia. They were told that the children's mother, Shawna, was an alcoholic who had, for all intents and purposes, abandoned her children, leaving them with her mother, Ruby.

Ruby worked two jobs and said that she had taken the children "only until Shawna didn't have a man in her life and stopped drinking." Ruby had her own problems and the dysfunction in her own home was soon obvious. In the end, she called the Agency saying that she wasn't interested in keeping the children any longer.

I asked Ella how, since she and Bud come from such untroubled family backgrounds, they felt about dealing with an alcoholic mother with such severe problems. Ella stopped in her story of the foster children and related to me the only "bump" in her otherwise idyllic raising. Her sister, Jesselyn, to the entire family's dismay, became an alcoholic at the age of fifteen. The family tried and tried to get her to accept help, reassuring her of their love and concern for her at every step, yet she continually refused. Nothing worked and, in sadness and not knowing what else to do, they took a step back from Jessey. Ella learned how to deal with an alcoholic using an abrupt "tough love" approach; she just walked away. The rest of the family followed and Jessey found herself alone.

One day, when Jessey was at a particularly low point in her life, there was a knock at the door. A little old man appeared saying that he had come to escort her to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting she saw that there were other people in the waiting car. Predictably, Jessey, refused, saying that she had no sitter for her children. The man told her that he had a sitter ready to help out. He told her his name, where he lived and a little about himself and he introduced her to the proposed sitter. He was very compelling and, in spite of her reservations, Jessey felt at ease with him. She found herself getting into the car with the others, making the trip to her first AA meeting. Once there, she realized that she needed to make changes in her life and she continued attending AA meetings. That was six years ago. She has remained sober ever since.

An odd thing happened as Jessey began to attain sobriety. She decided that her recovery was definitely affected by her encounter with the little old man and she decided to locate him and thank him for his help. She searched in vain for him but was never able to locate either the man or the fellow passengers in the car or the sitter who cared for her children. It was as though none of them had ever existed. Jessey's father, in gratitude for his daughter's sobriety, wanted to properly thank the man. He hired a private detective agency to locate the little old man. The report from the detective agency indicated that these people never existed. Jessey and the family believed it to be the work of a Guardian Angel.

The incident left a lasting impression on the entire family. "It was as if Jessey was given a second chance. She would have died otherwise," Ella said returning to the present time. I wanted to give something back to a family in need, the way strangers gave me back my sister. Fostering seemed to be a good way to do that."

Continuing with the story of the foster children's placement she said, "Paula, the social worker, told me that Shawna's family had so much dysfunction that there was no relative capable of caring for any of these children." Shawna, herself, tended to be drunk on a daily basis. She often lived on the streets until she was picked up by some man. Her last boyfriend beat her severely. Although the children were never physically abused by this man, they saw their mother being beaten on more than one occasion. At eight years of age, Nicky was doing most of the cooking for the family. He became the parent for the two girls and for Shawna as well. "He had a hard time giving up the role," Ella commented. I asked her how she was able to deal with this problem.

"Fortunately, the kids arrived during school vacation so we had time to get used to each other and it gave the kids time to get well," Ella replied. "I really worried about Nicky entering another new school. He is in second grade and has already attended six different schools due to his mother's periodic evictions and relocations. This would be his seventh school. I invited the neighborhood children over to meet Nicky before school started. I didn't want him to be singled out as a `foster kid' and, somehow, `less than' the other kids. It worked well and the kids all got along and became friends. I arranged for Nicky to meet these kids so that they could all enter the school together. I had contacted the school before he entered and asked that he be placed in Mrs. Heywood's classroom. I knew that she would understand his problems. Foster parents need to do a lot of advocating for the foster children in their home."

Nicky went to school and things went well, for the most part, though he worried about being separated from the girls. He had been the caretaker and feared that something would happen to them while he was unable to protect them. Ella, sensing his fear, brought the girls with her to meet him after school, assuring him that they were all right. "We had to try to replace all that adult responsibility he had carried with fun," Bud offered. "I took him fishing and we had a great time. He even caught fish on his first trip out. Nicky had to overcome fear and hesitation and learned to swim. This seemed to end his need to 'parent' the girls. We also have horses and Nicky loves to work with them." "I believe that there's no greater therapy in the world than animals," Ella concluded. Nicky had lived in a world of broken promises. He learned from the Maynards that it doesn't have to be that way.

Although Shawna is nearly thirty years old she is very immature, acting more like a girl of sixteen or seventeen. After her children were placed she continued drinking and running from man to man until mid-summer. At that point, she moved into Ella's town with a local man named Cliff Johnson. He was about ten years her senior and had a clean record. He worked regularly and, although he drank a little socially, he did not do so to excess. Ella and Bud and the social worker, Paula, wondered how long he would put up with Shawna and her restless ways. When the children were removed, the judge told Shawna that they could be returned to her if she found "proper and adequate housing for them, got and held a job and stopped drinking." Shawna continued to drink, although she seemed to cut back once Cliff entered the picture. Nicky learned about the new boyfriend and he worried. All he could think about was, "What if she goes wrong again and Cliff throws her out once we've gone home with her. We'll be out on the street with no place to go and we'll be taken away again."

Visits between Shawna and the children began right after their placement. A parent aide took them to the appointed visitation spot for the one hour weekly visits. In mid-summer, Ella and Bud asked to have the visits expanded so that Shawna could visit her children in their home. The social worker who brought her to the Maynard foster home had to leave after about an hour. Shawna was really enjoying herself and didn't want to leave. Ella offered to bring her home and a relationship began to develop between them. Shawna began to see Ella as the "mother-she-never-had." Now, she comes to Ella when she has a problem and is hurting or when she feels that the "world has let her down."

"She's okay with the kids, but she doesn't physically play with them. I have to prod her a little. I give her Mally's clothes and tell her to dress Mally. I tell her to make lunch for the kids. She is willing to do it but she needs to be told. I document what happens when she visits and Shawna knows that I share this with Paula. She's still very immature. She doesn't want the kids to interfere with her relationship with Cliff," Ella said.

Nicky is a bright, observant boy. Ella told me about an incident when she took Shawna to a school function at Nicky's school. Afterwards Nicky told Ella that his mother had been drinking. "Look at her eyes," he had said, "and smell her breath." Shawna had managed to fool Ella but she had not fooled her son. Ella told her that she was not to visit when she had been drinking. Although she continues to drink she has since been sober when she visits. Nicky worries that he will be sent home before his mother has sufficiently recovered. He told the parent aide he thinks that the worse he acts, the less the likelihood he will be sent home.

Shawna balked at the invitation to attend the Agency's six month review of her children's placement. She made up excuses and lied about it. Ella told her that it was her responsibility to go and that she would transport her to it. "Tough loves comes now," Ella had said. She told Shawna, "I won't lie for you or make excuses. I will defend you when I can and I will be your friend, but I won't lie for you." "Shawna needs firm control but she is terrified. She shared information with me from her childhood. She said that she had been sexually abused from age eight continuing into her teenage years. She told her mother but her mother only blamed Shawna and the abuse continued. She said that she had been physically abused as well," Ella concluded.

Nicky told Ella that Shawna's sisters, his aunts, want nothing to do with her. They have refused to help. Ella has met Shawna's mother, Ruby, and she has seen Ruby constantly berate Shawna. "I stick up for Shawna when I can and I think that she sees that I am trying to help her. It seems to give her the strength to open up and talk about her life and her feelings. Sometimes, with both Shawna and Nicky, I have to read between the lines and listen to what they don't say as well as listening to what they do say," Ella commented.

Shawna told Ella that she doesn't think that she can change and Ella asked her why she feels this way. Shawna replied, "I can't accept this man who is so good to me. I don't deserve him." Shawna needs to be in therapy but has, so far, refused. She is attending parenting classes and the teacher is a therapist who has taken an interest in Shawna. "Everyone sees the problem but Shawna," Ella said. The Maynards and Paula are concerned about the relationship between Shawna and Cliff. He is hesitant to deal with the Agency as he feels that he has done nothing wrong. He does come to visit in the Maynard home and Ella talks with him. On an early visit, Ella got Cliff to talk about himself and his life. She asked if he minded talking and he said, "No." She told him that talking with the social worker would be similar and Cliff agreed to talk with Paula. He asked her about Shawna's case plan and was told that she was required to stay away from her former hangouts in a neighboring town, to stop taking up with revolving men, to stop drinking, etc. Cliff understands and is trying to help. The Maynards and Paula still worry about how much he can take.

Paula is very pleased with the way the Maynards have dealt with Shawna and her children and with Cliff. She believes that they have done more to move the case forward than the Agency has been able to do in all the years they have been involved with Shawna and her family."She's much more interested in self care and is keeping herself cleaner. She seems to glow, now that she feels better about herself. "She still needs to keep her mouth out of the gutter, though," Ella added. The Maynards opened their home to Shawna. She was allowed to visit every other day. Cliff purposely takes the car to work, leaving Shawna with a bicycle and less temptation to visit former haunts. This works well. Ella and Bud felt comfortable in telling Paula that Shawna could stay with them, for a while, if she and Cliff didn't work out. Ella says she doesn't look at it as being "used" or "dumped on." She would offer Shawna a place to stay just to keep her out of trouble until a plan could be worked out by the Agency. Cliff has confided to Ella that his mother and several siblings are alcoholic. There is a lot of dysfunction in his family of origin and he stays away from them. He doesn't want to end up like his mother.

Nicky worries that Cliff will abuse his mother. The parent aide and Ella thought that Nicky should meet Cliff to put his mind at ease. At first, Nicky visibly trembled but he got to know Cliff better and told Ella, "He's a nice man!" and he began to relax. Cliff began to come with Shawna to visit her children and this helped a lot, although Nicky still doesn't trust his mother.

Although four year old Mally seems relatively problem free, such is not the case with five year old Julie. All three children are very bright. Unfortunately, Julie is a little girl with a dual personality. Usually Julie #2 appears when she is frightened or anxious. This happened when she was placed in the Maynard foster home. Julie #2 recited over and over what appeared to be all the promises that had ever been made to her, and broken. The last one was, "he didn't bring the dog" over and over. The Maynard dog, "Chauncey" saved the day; when Julie #2 saw him, Julie #1 reappeared.

Shawna and Ella visited Julie's school and Shawna saw a self portrait Julie had drawn. "It's all black and scratches," Shawna said in dismay. "That's how Julie sees herself," Ella said gently and turned to put her arms around Shawna who was trying unsuccessfully to repress her tears. Later, on visit to the foster home, Shawna, attempting to discipline Julie, told her she couldn't do something. Julie didn't want to listen and her frustration brought on Julie #2. Fear and apprehension took over. Shawna panicked and turned to Ella, "What should I do!" Ella replied calmly, "Scratch her back very gently and call her name softly. She'll come back." It worked. Julie #1 returned, asked for a drink of juice and wanted to go outside and play, as if it had never happened.

Ella asked Shawna if she felt that she and Cliff could handle this problem. Shawna replied that she didn't think so and then she said, "I really need to be involved in my kid's therapy, don't I?" Ella nodded. "She's getting it," she thought.

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