"Get Over That Old Doubt"
The weather was cold and blustery,
but the company was good.
Ansel enjoyed doing yardwork
with Janie, and Turq more than
pulled his own weight.
First they pruned the deciduous trees
and shrubs, moving the branches
to the pile of green brush.
Not far away, a Christmas tree farm
had gone wild and was now seeding
eastern white pine and shortleaf pine
just about everywhere, with a few upstarts
of Douglas fir stubbornly clinging to pockets
of deep, well-drained soil on the slopes
that stretched above the lake.
So Janie cut evergreen boughs
from the common woods for Turq
to drag back to where Ansel was
stacking layers of them carefully over
the flowerbeds to discourage pests.
Turq rolled up the garden hoses
for Ansel to stash in the garage
while Janie cleaned out the bin
that would hold wood ash
from the fireplaces.
Sometimes they sang while
they worked, and when Janie
launched into "Baby, It's Cold Outside"
(which it was) Ansel readily joined in,
their voices stringing the old duet
far across the yard.
Turq had a sad, sweet smile
on his face as he listened to them
while sweeping away the mud that he'd
brushed off of the garden hoses.
Janie's vidwatch gave a clock-whistle toot,
and she dusted off her hands. "Pot roast
should be almost done now," she said.
"Time to go mash the potatoes and
check on the persimmon crisp."
Then she trotted up the stairs
toward the cabin kitchen.
"You look happy, but
a little wistful," Ansel said
as he turned to Turq.
"Yeah, it's good to spend
a day with --" Turq began,
then bit off the comment.
"With ...?" Ansel prompted.
"I almost said, with family,"
Turq murmured. "Gotta watch that,
it's a good way to get in trouble."
Not for the first time, Ansel wished
a whole heap of traffic tickets upon
the heads of whatever foster families
had tried to uproot Turq's connections.
"Turq, we don't mind if you
think of us as family," Ansel said.
"It's fantastic that you feel so welcome
with us. I'm just wondering whether you
were thinking of someone else, too."
"I really miss Dao and Mingxia,"
Turq said, "and the other kids.
I know it wasn't officially mine, but
it was still the best family that I ever
had, and I just ... wish I had it back."
Ansel took advantage of
the perfect opening and said,
"All right, let's sit down and talk
about that." He led the way
to the shelter of the gazebo.
Turq was shivering, and Ansel
suspected it came from more than
just the cold weather, so he opened
the bench and pulled out the blanket
to wrap Turq in familiar wool.
"Thanks," Turq said as he
huddled inside of it.
"You've told me a fair bit
about your parents," Ansel said.
"They sound like nice people.
I'd really like to meet them."
One corner of Turq's mouth
tilted up. "Yeah. They'd love you."
"So I can look forward to
an introduction some time?"
Ansel said, smiling back at him.
Turq wilted. "I shouldn't,"
he said. "It's selfish of me."
"Everyone wants to belong
somewhere," Ansel said.
"That's a basic human need,
so it is not selfish of you."
"I want to see my parents
again, but I'm such a mess ...
it would only hurt them," Turq said.
They had been around and around
this conversation, without success.
Ansel decided to try a new approach.
"Turq, why do people have babies?"
"Well, because that's how a species
reproduces itself," Turq replied,
shaking his head in confusion.
"That's just biology," Ansel said.
"Why do people want babies?"
"They're cute. They're plenty
of fun to play with," said Turq.
Now they were getting somewhere.
"Sure, but they also scream a lot,
produce an endless stream of
dirty diapers, and puke on
your favorite shirt," Ansel said.
"That's a lot to put up with. Why?"
Turq got a faraway look in his eye.
"Someone to love," he said.
"Exactly," Ansel said, clapping
his hands. "Most babies are
loved and wanted, even though
they're kind of a pain in the tail."
"What does that have to do
with anything?" Turq said.
"Parents know what they're
getting into," Ansel said.
"Oh, not the details -- it's
always bigger than expected
for the first-timers. But they
know, in general, that family
is a rough ride sometimes."
"Yeah, I guess," Turq said.
"The point is, they do it anyway,"
Ansel said. "They know that it's
going to hurt -- especially women,
because childbirth is uncomfortable
at best and miserable at worst."
"I remember how wrung out
Mingxia was, after Baozhen
was born," said Turq.
"People have families because
they think the love is worth the pain,"
Ansel said, leaning back against the wall.
"It was really sad," Turq said. "Everyone
got all excited to meet the baby, but
then she was just so sick."
Delicately Ansel stepped out onto
some very thin ice. "Do you think that
your parents made a mistake?" he said.
"Or that they wished they never had her?"
"No, never," Turq said, shaking his head
so fiercely that his blue hair fluffed into
a cloud. "They don't turn their backs
on family. They didn't even want
to give up us older kids, but we
could all see how tired they were.
Wasn't any other choice, is all."
There should have been,
because Family Services had
support options for severe illnesses
and disabilities, but now was not
the time for that conversation.
"If your parents loved your sister,
problems and all, trust them to do
the same thing for you," Ansel said.
Then he reached over to lay a hand on
Turq's knee. It vibrated under his fingers.
"You need to get over that old doubt."
Just as the tears welled up,
Turq doubled over and hid
his face in his hands.
Ansel hated to see him
so vulnerable, even more naked
than when Turq ran around
wearing nothing but fur.
It was necessary, though,
if Turq was ever going to fit
the broken pieces of his life
back together again, like
setting a shattered bone.
Ansel just hoped that, in time,
Turq would come to feel that
this pain was worthwhile too.
"I can't," Turq said. He
snuffled loudly. "I don't ...
I wouldn't even know where
to start. I'm too messed up."
"Then you can delegate
the search to someone else,"
Ansel said. "I'd be glad to help.
I'm actually trained for this." He
passed Turq a handkerchief.
"All you have to do is consent."
Turq wiped his face and
blew his nose. "I don't know ..."
Ansel could see the mix of fear and
longing traced in the curves of Turq's face.
"Not knowing will hurt them far worse than
knowing," he said. "Give it a try. If I can't find
your family or they don't want to reconnect,
then I won't bother you about it again. I have
a good feeling, though. I'm confident this will
work out, or I never would have suggested it."
"Say it again," Turq insisted.
He crawled halfway into Ansel's lap.
"Make me believe it."
"Trust me," Ansel said, putting
all of his hope into his voice.
"I believe that this will work.
It's worth it. Just let me try."
Turq's face was wet against
the side of Ansel's neck.
"Okay," he whispered.
"You can look for my family."
Ansel went limp with relief,
then hugged Turq. "Thank you,"
he said. "I know that was hard.
You are amazingly brave."
"I'm not," Turq said, hiding
his face. "I'm a coward."
"No, you're a survivor," Ansel said.
"Things are hard right now because
you've come through a lot of terrible stuff,
but Turq, you do the hard things every day.
I've seen you push yourself to walk through
doors and talk to people and just survive.
That's not cowardice, it's courage."
Turq peeked at him, then ducked
his head again. "If you say so."
"I do say so," Ansel said firmly.
Turq was developing an odd fascination
with Ansel's statements, but Ansel wasn't
about to look a gift horse in the mouth.
"You have come so far since we met,
it's just enormous progress. Think
about how you felt when we met --
you could barely touch anyone then."
"Yeah," Turq said. He snuggled
deeper into Ansel's lap, a warm bundle
of boy instead of blue fur. "This is better."
"Yes it is," Ansel agreed. "Now, what
can you tell me about your family?
The more I know, the better a chance
I will have of locating them now."
"There were five of us foster kids,"
Turq said slowly. "Andeana was
the oldest, then Benedict, Jada,
me, and Seth was the baby.
We lived in River City."
"Okay," Ansel said he committed
the details to memory. "Do you
remember anything about the place?
I think that mine seems to remind you
of it, if I'm reading you right."
"We had a tan house with a red door,
and flower gardens all up the front,"
Turq said, "then more plants around
the sides and vegetables in back. It's
a big house, two storeys, or three if you
count the basement, so it can hold
a lot of folks when it needs to ..."
Ansel encouraged Turq to ramble on about
his memories until Janie came downstairs
with a picnic basket full of supper things.
At the first whiff of food, Turq jumped up
to fetch the portable picnic table that
went into the center of the gazebo.
There was pot roast with carrots and
onions swimming in broth, mashed potatoes
as fluffy as clouds, and persimmon crisp
all sending up curls of fragrant steam.
Turq shoveled food onto his plate
and ate with single-minded devotion.
Ansel had to smile, recalling how long
it had taken before Turq would do more
than snatch the food and run for the woods.
They really had come a long way in a few months.
"Save room for dessert," Janie said, pointing
her spoon at the dish full of persimmon crisp.
"Yeah, okay," Turq said. He slowed
his progress, but kept eating.
Then Janie turned the talk to
holiday plans. "My family will be
mostly scattered for Thanksgiving,
just my parents and maybe one brother
at home this year. What about yours?"
"My folks are driving down to Arkansas,"
Ansel said. "There's a wedding there
the weekend before, so they're just
going to stay for the holiday too."
"Sounds like it's just us and
a few friends," Janie said. "Turq?"
Hastily he swallowed his food. "What?"
"Do you have plans yet?" Janie said.
"The two of us are pretty flexible."
"I can get out of the way," Turq said.
"So not what I had in mind,"
Janie said, rolling her eyes.
"Are you a ham or turkey fan?
Small gathering or big bash?"
"I'll eat whatever's on the table," Turq said.
"Quiet is better than busy. I haven't ... had
many holidays worth remembering, though."
"Finally, something we can fix,"
Janie said with a grin. "We'll
take it in baby steps, okay?
I was totally overwhelmed
when I first met Ansel, and we
do not want to do that again."
"Okay," Turq said, licking
his lips. "I can do baby steps."
It was exactly as nerve-wracking as
letting go of an infant, knowing full well
that those first unsteady steps would
involve a lot of butt-planting and tears
before toddling turned into scampering,
but Ansel knew it would be worth it.
* * *
Here's an overview of November yardwork.
Missouri evergreens include eastern white pine, shortleaf pine, and Douglas fir. Some of those are popular as Christmas trees.
"Baby, It's Cold Outside" by Frank Loesser. Read the lyrics. Enjoy it on YouTube with the lyrics printed in pink and blue for the female and male parts.
I really can't stay
(Get over that old doubt)
Oh, but it's cold outside
This is the kind of clock whistle that Janie likes for a vidwatch alarm.
Enjoy recipes for pot roast, mashed potatoes, and persimmon crisp.
Due to traumatic stress and other reasons, Turq has trouble with decision-making and consent. There is a spectrum of consent which ranges from healthy to impaired to completely unable. In this case, Turq finds it hard to imagine his family's perspective accurately or work through the process of whether reconnecting with them is advisable. However, he misses his family and desperately wishes to reconnect with them. Ansel is using a combination of his professional training and his knowledge of Turq to reason that such reconnection would be be painful but ultimately much better for everyone. So Ansel helps shore up Turq's ability to reach consent, and then takes up the work of actually searching so that Turq doesn't have to. There are basic and detailed instructions for assisted decision-making. This too exists on a spectrum from autonomy through support to dependence. When done correctly, formal or informal support helps people make better decisions. In Turq's case, this coaching and assistance is gradually getting him back to where he can do more for himself instead of just floundering.
Foster care necessarily disrupts attachments that formed prior to separation. This often, though not always, causes attachment issues. What is often described as an attachment disorder is more precisely connection disruption. This may be the abrupt severance of positive connections (as in separating Turq from his preferred foster family) or lack of connection because people have been unreliable or abusive (which also happened to Turq in a lot of other places). Such disruptions of contact cause many problems, particularly in foster care. The attendant loss and grief can make recovery difficult. Turq's history of separation, abuse, and neglect makes it very hard for him to connect with anyone now. His positive family ties make it possible to form new connections, because at least he remembers that such things exist and are desirable. Consider a spectrum from secure attachment through insecure but organized forms of attachment, disorganized attachment, secure base distortions, disordered attachment, and finally non-attachment disorders at the far end. Turq's attachment is damaged but still there. There are tips for parents of foster or adopted children about healing disrupted attachment, which may prove helpful in other relationships.
PTSD of abandonment is a particular confluence of hardships which may lead people to feel like "damaged goods." They often withdraw for fear of hurting others, which is something Turq does a lot. There are resources for coping with abandonment and helping survivors form healthy bonds.
The need to belong is fundamental to humanity, although individuals may experience a greater or lesser amount of it. Wanting to belong does not make you greedy, clingy, needy, or otherwise broken. It just means you're human.
Emotional pain is a natural part of relationships; even healthy ones have some. What makes the difference is that healthy relationships do more good than harm, whereas unhealthy ones do more harm than good. For example, parents feel that having children is worth the pain, including foster parents. Important life skills include being willing to sit with your pain instead of stifling it, and knowing how to cope with it. Turq is doing better at handling his emotions in nonhuman than human form, but he really does need his human brain to process some of the more complex aspects such making decisions about family ties.
Vulnerability entails openness to injury in some way. It is what divides the satisfaction of needs from going without, a universal experience. Vulnerability is necessary for building rapport, deepening intimacy, and accepting love. Ideally, people open up to each other in slow stages as a relationship develops; much of the tension between Turq and Ansel comes from getting flung together without much opportunity for the gradual exchanges of vulnerability that build trust. It's important to accept vulnerability in yourself and others, and understand that that it's not the same thing as being needy. This is especially difficult for abuse survivors. Ansel is better than average at handling vulnerability, though, and that helps Turq deal with it too. Follow the steps to overcome fear of vulnerability, accept it, become comfortable with it, and use it to strengthen relationships.
Cowardice and courage are two different responses to fear or risky situations. Caution is a healthier alternative to cowardice. People often do not recognize everyday courage, but this is precisely what lays the foundation for those moments of heroism that are commonly upheld as examples of courage. Heroes say "I just did what anyone would have done," because it's not an unusual action for them; it's how they habitually face challenges. For people with PDSD or other mental issues, just coping with everyday life requires a constant application of courage. There are tips on finding your courage in everyday life and increasing your courage.
Advance planning for holidays will make things go smoother. Abuse survivors benefit from additional safety plans. In this case, Janie wants to make sure that Turq understands he is welcome in their celebration, that he doesn't short himself for fear of inconveniencing them, and that they accommodate his needs so he doesn't get overwhelmed. Read about how to plan a Thanksgiving event.
Turq is "mouthy" in the dog or horse sense, meaning he licks and chews things a lot. This is also a symbol of submission. Here's an example in horsemanship.