You don’t have to look too closely to see that this quilt is far from perfect. It has been slow, slogging work most of the way. What I thought was really precise cutting and sewing sometimes wasn’t and there was enough else going on that the choice was pretty clear: accept all the imperfections and have it ready to take to Maria, or start over. I need her to have this, probably more than she needs to receive it, so tomorrow I will have it with me when I get to wrap my arms around the girl after too many months without seeing her.
One of the haunting truths about parenting our daughter is that we did not get to have a makeover–no parent does, of course, but in Maria’s case, the things we learned in the very last few years before we placed her at BARC, her intermediate care facility, would have made an enormous difference if we had known them sooner. From very early on, when we tried first one kind of therapeutic approach and then another, all of them based on the assumption that insight can lead to behavior changes, we saw how none worked. In fact, they all seemed to entrench her most problematic behaviors more deeply. It wasn’t until Carol, amazing, compassionate, extraordinarily competent Carol, our behavior specialist, came on board that we finally hit bedrock. She was the one who helped us understand how getting attention was Maria’s crack cocaine. She was the one who helped us understand why the other therapeutic approaches had simply not worked–and in fact, had made things worse. She was the one who taught us to throw out everything we thought we knew about parenting so we could finally start getting it right.
Often, including in the past few weeks, Sherod and I have asked ourselves how things might have turned out if we had been able to start working with Carol when Maria, just having arrived from Mexico, was 5 instead of 13. We will never know. What I do know is that neither she or we have every quit trying. And if the path of our parenting has been marked with crooked, wobbly lines and somewhat mismatched pieces and patches, in the end, we have been, are, and will always be, her family.
I have wanted to give up on this quilt too many times to count and now I have finished it. She has been with me day in and day out as I measured, cut, stitched, tore out seams and tried again. I have to believe that my love, and the prayers, equal parts thanksgiving and endless pleas for wholeness and health for her, will remain with her long after I get back on a plane and come back to Alabama. Tonight, the tears are about relief that I was and am equal to the work, though not nearly as well as I would have wanted. I remind myself that this is how love turns out.