Harrison (Another Place at the Table, 2003) has opened her home to more than 100 foster children. In this memoir, she focuses on just one.
Foster parents know that, unless they are prepared to take a child on very short notice, they shouldn’t answer the phone late Friday afternoon. Seasoned foster mom Kathy Harrison is a little surprised to find herself not only accepting just such a last-minute placement, but choosing, from among the three children for whom her social worker was trying to find beds, the one who sounded the most challenging. At six, Daisy was taking an inordinate number of psychiatric medications, she didn’t talk much, and she refused to eat. She twirled in circles or flapped her hands like wings when anxious. But after several weeks with the Harrisons, Daisy, well, blossoms, emerging as a confident, sharp child. Eventually, she trusts Kathy enough to reveal details of heinous sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her mother’s boyfriend. Though Harrison takes pains to make clear that children at every socio-economic level are abused and neglected, she allows that one wouldn’t have expected Daisy’s family to land in the social-services net—Daisy’s grandmother is a well-heeled attorney, and her mom a flaky feng-shui devotee. Helping Daisy adjust to her new surroundings isn’t the only task on Harrison’s plate. Her daughter Karen, 13, has just been diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome, and another foster child, Jazzy, 8, is leaving the Harrison family to be adopted. This is good news, but Jazzy, who feels at home with the Harrisons, doesn’t want to go. Throughout, Harrison is endearingly matter-of-fact, even humble, about the hard but rewarding work to which she has been called.
Be forewarned: After you read this beautiful account of the small triumphs and not-so-small heartbreaks of foster care, you may find yourself scanning the web, trying to find out how to become a foster parent.