Mi Niña

Maria and New Friend, Dot

Maria and New Friend Dot

“Mom, what is wrong with me? What is my diagnosis?” I had stretched out next to Maria this evening when she declared it was bedtime. This followed my having gotten in the shower with her earlier to scrub her down–I would have scrubbed her with a Brillo pad if I’d had my druthers. This woman-child still struggles with good grooming and good hygiene and I long since learned I had to make it a game and I had to help if I wanted her really clean.  The laughter had dissolved the grit and grime of these 5 months living so far apart; lying on her bed, we were back in that real place she sometimes leads me to.

Now we had been in the dark, in silence for quite a while and she had broken that silence when she said, “I’m going to miss you something fierce. Do you get lonely?” I told her I was lonely for her every single day and I kept hoping so much that one day, she would be able to manage her choices enough to live safely in a group home in Montgomery where we could see her lots and lots. That’s when she asked me those two questions. I explained reactive attachment disorder like this: “it happens when the people who needed to take care of you when you were an itty bitty little baby girl just couldn’t. And it made your heart very sad and very scared, and that in turn makes it hard for you to act in ways that keep you and everyone around you safe.” “So that’s my diagnosis?” “Yes.” “Will I get better?” “I’ve watched you work hard to be brave and strong. And you are becoming a beautiful and kind young woman. I think you will always have to try very, very hard to make good choices because it won’t come easy to you.” “But Mami, who will take care of me when you die?”

While her school situation is a million times better (she made all A’s and B’s this grading period), her residential program does not measure up to the standards of BARC. I see it in small things—we keep buying her nice clothes that fit well and they keep disappearing so when I picked her up on Friday she was wearing pants that didn’t fit and a blouse that was all stained. I know Maria has had a very hard time adjusting and she’s been given stronger medications. They leave her chronically lethargic and she has gained so much weight that she is one dress size away from the very largest clothes I can find in “women’s plus sizes”. Today, I had to take up a pair of pants and asked her to get up on a chair so I could pin the pants. That simple activity was terribly hard for her and left her winded.

Here’s the thing: I know we cannot have her with us. Alabama does not care enough about people with mental health issues like Maria’s to fund Intermediate Care Facilities with the kind of staff support she needs. Every time I am at TDC, and even when we visited at BARC, I could see the amount of energy and effort it took to care for the residents; I understand that with so many of them with as many challenges as Maria’s, it is essential to a staff, no matter how compassionate, to be able to keep destructive and self-destructive behavior managed as best as possible, including with meds.

Tomorrow, Sherod and I will drive her back and do our best to advocate on her behalf with the director and house manager. But it is hard. It is hard to accept that I lack the resources to provide my daughter with a better quality of life. It is hard to accept that the decision Sherod and I made, to leave Ft Lauderdale and start over, as absolutely right as it was for us, came at a cost to our girl. It is hard to consider that Maria cannot look forward to a significantly better life unless somehow, she is able to finally get a handle on those destructive patterns of behavior. And it is especially hard to think that my daughter worries about who will take care of her when I am gone.

This has been a glorious birthday celebration for me because she’s been here and we have been able to enjoy each other and the goodness of being a family, however briefly. I wish I could stop time. I wish I didn’t have to take her back to that place tomorrow.

4 thoughts on “Mi Niña

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