This is a story I wrote years ago when the plight of orphan-teens plagued my conscience. Being an orphan myself, I feel rather strongly about the need for homes for older children as well as babies and toddlers. It is what it is…
Looking around the upper patio and gardens, Mrs. Forresst smiled as literally hundreds of youngsters, aged one-and-a-half all the way up to thirty-three years old, played contentedly; if a little noisily. Shifting her view slightly, she could see the large Olympic-sized, grotto-styled swimming pool with its crystal water sparkling in the blazing sunshine with the kids, splashing their feet, waiting until their lunch settled.
Laughter and giggles were the order of the day; ordered especially for this reunion.
For as long as she could remember, Brooke, (aka Mrs. Forresst), had enjoyed the happy sounds of children. A car accident, that took the life of her husband of only three weeks, had left her unable to conceive, and had just about destroyed her will to live. Only twenty years young, left very well to do; she felt completely empty.
She thought back on that first year, of all the misery and heartache she allowed to swallow up her sweet, sunny, mischievous soul.
They had just returned from the funeral, her friends and family not knowing quite what to say or do for her.
It was only a week since the crash. She could see the dark cloud hover over her head, like a cartoon character. Misery and selfish pity were the order of the day. She couldn’t see how she could go on living, not now; not when John, her childhood sweetheart, lay decaying in a dark, cold, wooden box deep in the damp earth. Tears followed her every waking moment. She took many pills and found herself losing her thoughts in wine and liqueur.
She stopped letting her friends visit. She became a recluse, refusing to clean herself up or care about the house. The maids were beside themselves!
Then, one day, the sun began to shine again. The world didn’t seem quite so menacing, nor did it appear that she couldn’t go on without John. “Maybe I lost the best part of myself, and maybe I’ll never be able to have kids, but the good Lord must have some other plan in mind for me!”
It was almost nine months, to the day, of the accident. Brooke woke up from her long lethargy. She found a cleanish dress; cut some of the horribly overgrown roses from the driveway and drove herself to the gravesite to talk her plans over with John.
She was finally at peace. She had finally grieved her husband. She had finally forgiven him for leaving her. She wasn’t quite sure what she needed to do, but she was sure that there was some purpose that had her name written all over it.
Her friends had been thrilled. Here she was, back again! Willing to have luncheon and go shopping. Eager to get involved!
Before her marriage, Brooke volunteered at the local food bank; Red Cross blood drives; with the Big Sister’s program; at the local elementary school, helping kids to read; the senior’s centre Wednesday’s and Friday nights with their Bingo games, and occasionally helping out on their Saturday ‘outings’. Now that she had turned the corner on her grief, she felt ready to get involved again, but she wasn’t sure where to direct her energies.
An evening of watching the telly and she was sure she had her answer. Commercials for various ‘save-the-children’ programs ran. They all spoke of a horrendous need for foster parents in third world countries. They showed videos of the unimaginable squalor these children, and their families, lived in.
She looked around at the room she was in, with its Baccarat Crystal chandelier; pair of Queen Anne chairs; an ancient Teak side table; the antique Aubusson carpet under her feet; the …well, EVERYTHING! She had a lot to be thankful for. She lived in a huge house, albeit her husband’s ancestral home, but it belonged to her now!
With renewed strength she stood up, and like one awoken from a long sleep, she wandered around the house, touching, looking; thinking. Seeing it for the first time.
There were more than forty bedrooms, at least half with ensuite plumbing. There were thirty or more gathering rooms, from the entryway; the morning room; the music room; the den; the library; the front parlour; the back parlour; the smoking lounge; the dining rooms; the snooker room; the games room; oh, she could go on! This house built, not for the poor and destitute; it was over five hundred years old, and the family, well moneyed, with each successor taking his hand at adding their mark onto the old house until it resembled the giant castle it now did.
Sitting on three thousand, four hundred and eighty acres of solidly fenced woodland; prime farmland; a stocked lake, among other fancies. (Such as an nine hole golf course, downhill ski run, (on one of the higher mountains way in back of the property), miles of cross country and snowshoe trails, a race car oval, (apparently, one of John’s great uncle fancied himself a contender), and just about any other amenity one could want.) The place was better than a castle! It resembled a fine resort!
Of course, it had the requisite moat, (that was John’s father’s handiwork.) Used for swimming, and kept crystal clear by a heavy-duty system of pumps.
Her walk around the inside and her views to the outside left Brooke feeling a little saddened again, however, this time she was determined to do something about it.
She called together the remaining staff, old Mr. Tews, the faithful family butler, who had stayed on even though there had been not much for him to do in the past year. Mrs. Tews, the head cook, (and Mr. Tews wife). Miss Barcelon, a spinster of about forty, the head housekeeper; Cheryl, Courtenay, and Cindy, (three housekeepers); Mr. Grashe, head gardener and his three assistants, Dennis, Warterton and Billy; Mr. Tyseone, head farmer, and his bailiffs, Parker, Jonesy and Hethrow; and the wash women Charlotte and Kathy.
She outlined her plan to them, and, with a little trepidation, they all agreed to give it a go.
Her plan was simple. She knew there were not only millions of children in other countries hoping to be adopted, but also there were thousands in her country that were being neglected and needed love too.
It came to be her turn to remodel the ‘family home’. She spent a goodly portion of the household budget in the following months up dating and re-fitting the plumbing, electric, heating system and the insulation; all mundane things, but integral to her plans.
She refreshed the interior’s dark (and somewhat gloomy) decor with light, fresh colours and fabrics. She had all the wooden pieces polished, and anything decayed or broken sent out for repair. These efforts kept her focussed for many, many months.
During the time the construction and decorating workers were busy getting the house in order; a small army of gardeners were hacking, chopping and hoeing the garden; and a larger army of farmers were tending the crops and animals, Brooke was busy talking with the “movers and shakers”.
She took course after course on child psychology, better parenting, and general child rearing. She also took a weeklong course in “Home Schooling Your Youngster”.
She hired new staff, slowly at first, making sure she always had the right mix of adults in the home.
Her new plan was really simple. ‘Yea, right!’
She determined to adopt, or foster, hard to place children. She didn’t think she was up to handling disabled children, at least at first.
Who she adopted, were larger families of siblings, who, because of their policies, Children and Family Services would split apart and adopt out as many as they could, even given the fact that the children may never see each other again! Brooke thought that was appalling!
She also adopted older children, the ones most people weren’t looking to adopt. They all wanted pink-cheeked, cherub-fat babies. While Brooke longed for a baby of her own, she knew where God had led her.
Now, as she looked around, she had no regrets. Each child had come to her frightened, hungry, starved for attention, and usually, more often than not, with only the clothes (or rags!) on their back.
It wasn’t easy, especially at first. Even with her courses and past experience as a pre-school instructor she was treated as an oddity by the authorities. That is until she took one family of eight children, ranging in ages from four years to fourteen years.
They weren’t orphans per-se, however life hadn’t been all that kind to them. Found, in a squalid apartment hardly large enough to house one person, let alone eight children. Their mother disappeared again, and as far as the authorities were concerned, she no longer had any claim to her children. This was the tenth time she’d been warned off; still she continued to leave for days on end, leaving her kids to fend for themselves.
When the shy, scared children were brought into the office where their very lives were being decided for them, Brooke had wanted to burst into tears. They looked so mistrustful. So unlike children ought to.
“Here they are Mrs. Forresst. A raggedy bunch, no mistaking that,” the social worker had sighed. “Until you came along, this group was going to be split up, but now I think we’ll give you a try.”
Brooke Forresst looked at the children, and wanted to strangle the social worker, Ms. Drabue. How dare she talk like that about the children as if they weren’t right here in the room!
The social worker went on, describing family history; police files; generally depressing news.
During this time, Brooke noticed the children shifting uncomfortably, and sneaking shy, resentful glances her way. Finally, she could take it no longer, “Enough!” she practically spat the word. Ms. Drabue, incorrectly assuming the news was so bad that Brooke had changed her mind, closed her file-book with a loud thump. “I had a feeling they might be too much for you, we’ll just have to ship them off.”
Brooke stood and pulled herself to her full five-foot four-inch height, looked over the desk at the slower rising Ms. Drabue, “Well you can wipe that feeling off your books and give me the paperwork to sign. These children have been through enough and do not need to sit here listening to your derogatory speeches about them.”
She turned to the kids, “Well guys, I may not be your first choice, but do you think I’ll do for a parent?”
The kids looked at her then Ms. Drabue then at each other. Brooke noted the younger ones sidling up closer to their older brother and sisters. “Do you mean will we live with you?”
“No, I want my mommy!” the four year old piped up.
“I do too, but she’s not here right now, and you folks need someone to help her look after you until she comes back. Can I do that?” she asked the little one, bending down so she was at his eye level. He shrank back against his sister even further.
“I’ll go get the paperwork, although you might want to take them home for a week or two to be sure you want them all.” Ms Drabue commented as she stepped from the room.
“I want them, just get the paperwork,” was Brooke’s firm reply.
In less than an hour, Brooke found herself the proud parent of eight! She was amazed at how quickly everything had gone. She credited that with the preliminary work she had already done, including all the necessary checks. She certainly didn’t credit the social worker with being anything further than a pain in the bottom.
Now, walking out into the late afternoon sunshine with eight children in tow, she wondered what to do first? That was settled quickly as they took up a chorus of, “we’re hungry.” Consulting with her driver, she discovered there was suitable children’s restaurant on the next block.
Taking the children into the restaurant proved to be a bit of a challenge. There were no tables big enough for nine people. That problem, quickly solved when Brooke produced a hundred dollar bill and pressed it into the Maitre’d’s hand. Ordering was a little more of a challenge.
“I don’t like brock-lees!” “We’re not allowed to have that!” and so on. Eventually they sorted it, each child ordering exactly what they wanted; and Brooke had the very sublime pleasure of watching their eyes grow HUGE as plates full of hot food began arriving at the table.
At first, it was a little awkward; Brooke could see that they were completely at a loss as to how to proceed. “Well, now that all our meals are here,” she began, “I usually say grace before I eat, would you like to join me?” Shyly, each child nodded.
Brooke said a very simple prayer; she didn’t want to overwhelm them. “For the food we are about to receive may The Lord make us truly thankful, in Jesus’ name, amen.” She picked up her fork and motioned for the others to do the same.
During the meal, there was plenty of time to talk and get to know her new family. She was heartbroken listening to the stories the children told. She really wanted to throttle their mother; not caring about her children!
Brooke said a short, quiet prayer, “Lord, please look after these children and their mother. Please help her get the help she needs, in Jesus’ name, Amen.”
They asked her lots of questions too. “What’s your house like?” “Will I have my own room?” “I don’t wanna sleep alone; I want to sleep with Derek!” “Are there toys?”
It was time to leave the restaurant; Brooke asked them if they’d like to use the washroom before they left, to clean up a bit? She went with the three girls, and let the five boys go on their own. (She was wondering at what age children should be allowed to go to the washroom on their own???)
As they walked past the tables toward the lobby, Brooke overheard a comment made by a mother of two well-behaved little girls, which prompted her to ask the children to wait in the lobby for “just a sec”.
“Excuse me?” she leaned over to speak to the woman in question. When she had her full attention, “Please don’t make rude comments about my children again, you have no idea what their life has been like, and you certainly have no right to discuss things that don’t concern you. If my children were a little rambunctious, it was because they have likely never been to a restaurant before. Think before you speak. Think of how hurt and humiliated those children would have been if they had overheard your rudeness. Good day!” And she went back to her little ones feeling slightly mollified.
“Now, clothes. I expect you’ll all need clothing?” It was more to herself that she made that comment, “I wonder where we should go to get you some stylish duds?”
In the end, her chauffeur saved the day again. It seemed he knew of a wonderful little mall, chock-full of children’s stuff. He also arranged to have the excess purchases delivered later that evening.
More than once, Brooke was glad she was extremely wealthy and could afford to purchase the children any and everything they wanted. She felt like Santa!
It was a little tough at first, the children were so used to not having anything that she had to cajole them into believing that there was nothing they could do that would get them into trouble. “I’m not joking. You can really touch and try on anything that you want!” Brooke smiled at them.
It took a little more convincing for the manager, but once he saw that she really was going to spend thousands of dollars in his store, he quickly relented, giving them carte blanche.
Brooke had to excuse herself to go to the washroom at one point, so emotional had she become.
Alicia, nine (if she remembered correctly), put on a lovely dress that suited her so well. She came out modelling it for Brooke. The look on that child’s face was worth more than all of the money she was spending.
“Does it really make me look pretty?”
“Oh, honey! You could be wearing sack cloth and you’d still be beautiful, but that dress does suit you well!”
Brooke hugged her hard, “Yes, you are!”
“People say I look like my mom. They say she was ugly.”
Thinking as fast as she could, and drawing on all her courses, Brooke’s only response was, “I don’t think they meant she wasn’t pretty, I think they meant that the things she did made her ugly. I’ll just bet she’s a real beauty! Cause if she looks like you, she has to be!” Smiling, the child went back to the clothes and Brooke disappeared to the washroom.
They each chose a set of clothes to wear home, and Brooke asked for their old clothes to be thrown away.
Shoe shopping was interesting as they each immediately headed for shoes that were too big for them. It seemed that they had to stretch everything before, so the larger the shoe, the longer the kids could wear them! Brooke reassured them, yet again, that they need not worry about that any longer, when the shoes wore out, they would get new ones, in fact, they were encouraged to buy more than one pair now!
Back in the limo, the kids chatted excitedly about all that was changing in their lives. The chatter died as the car swooped them through huge wrought iron gates that led to the house. Their eyes got even bigger as the car wound its way through the wooded area and up the drive to the house.
“Are you a queen?” the youngest asked, her eyes as big as dinner plates, staring out at the castle-like structure.
Brooke laughed, “Nope!”
Hours later, as the children rested quietly in front of the telly, Brooke had the chance to thank her maker for giving her this wonderful opportunity of raising these delightful youngsters.
Over the next few months, several more families added to their growing numbers.
Four children, (whose mother was drug addict and had died from an overdose); five infants from a mother who committed suicide. (The infants were actually three, two and one respectively. The two year olds were triplets.)
Two teens whose father was abusing them. (Teens were typically almost as hard to place as families.)
Four more teens, whose families were wiped out in a freak tornado; six children (aged six through twelve), whose parents committed a murder-suicide, (and actually killed their baby brother).
Five more from a neglected home; eight more due to a tragic fire that took the lives of their entire family, including three of their older siblings. They just kept coming.
Brooke never said no. She never said there is no more room. “Children need a loving home and family to feel safe and secure, far be it from me to decide who can and can’t have that with us. The good Lord will cease to send His children our way when we are full!”
It was hard work; each child needing a little different care. Brooke wasn’t so naive as to think she could consider doing this on her own. She hired staff members.
A psychologist, on staff full time, to help the kids through their emotions and feelings, after all, they had had a very hard life up until they came to Brooke’s and she wanted to be sure they got the best new start ever!
She hired skilled teachers as well. She paid two well-qualified instructors, who lived on the premises, (each in one of eight guest cottages). They were to home school the children in all subjects.
Brooke installed a one story building off to the left of the rear of the main house; furnishing it with all the latest technology, equipment, filling it with comfortable desks and roomy tables, for use as a schoolhouse.
The instructors and she determined that a combination of Montessori methods and formal teaching would be how their school should run.
Now, after five months, it was a model that would serve well in the mainstream schooling system! Children, who, when they arrived, couldn’t read a word, were already starting to sound out Dr. Seuss books!
Even preschoolers were encouraged to attend school, if only for brief periods.
Brooke set up a day care at right angles to the school, offering free day care for destitute mothers in the area, who needed quality care for their kids but couldn’t afford it. Brooke thought that if she stepped in to help now, maybe they wouldn’t be sent to her in a few years, bruised and disillusioned. Forty mothers took her up on her offer; and she expanded the day care considerably.
Recognising the ever extending need in the community, she purchased a large, old building in the city, which she turned into a Family Centre. A day care on the top floor; a high-school on the second and third floors; an elementary school on the fourth and fifth floors; and an after-school hang out joint (complete with a snack bar) that stayed open twenty-four hours, encouraging kids to keep off the streets.
Worried about not having enough ‘cool or fun’ things for the kids to do, she filled it with everything from a ball-pit, to a gymnasium, to a media room, to a craft room, to a photography and art room, to a …well everything! “I want to make it so that a kid will never be able to say, “I’m bored!””
It wasn’t Disneyland, but it was an exciting place. She purchased the building behind, and tore it down creating a huge green park with fountains; a skateboard park; a wading pool; a baseball diamond; a soccer pitch; a football field and loads of picnic space under the growing canopy of trees.
Oodles of staff hired to run and maintain the ‘Play House’, as it became affectionately called, helped with suggestions. The only pre-requisite to attending the school was children required a recommendation from a counsellor or doctor as needing special attention. The entire community was welcome to play in the park and on the first floor!
The city was pleased; They didn’t have to contribute any tax dollars towards the private venture and petty crime in the area had gone down almost fifty percent! To Brooke, that meant only one thing: it was working and she needed to create more of these models in other areas of the city.
Oh, there were problems. Everything wasn’t perfect. After all Pobody’s Nerfect.
Minor glitches like mechanical failures or structural soundness were easy to repair and move forward. Things like graffiti, garbage, and nuisance vandalism worried Brooke more. She wanted the community to feel this was their place; their house of sanctuary; a safe place to go. Safe physically, but even more importantly, safe mentally.
Well-qualified psychologists and psychiatrists worked next to black-belt security guards; scholarly teachers and energetic activity leaders. Parents and grandparents were encouraged to join in. There was even a knitting corner. (Inappropriately named, as crocheting, crewel and other needlepoint was also whipped up there!)
Back at the house, her ‘own’ children played in relative seclusion. It wasn’t that Brooke blocked out the world, she just felt these kids needed time to understand and work through the difficulties life had placed before them. Some of the children she adopted came from moneyed families; these kids would have a huge responsibility when they came into their inheritances. Brooke intended to instil a purpose of life and a responsibility of humanity into them.
Some of her kids wanted to go to their regular school, and this was ok with Brooke as long as the kids spent their first month trying her school and as long as they kept their grades up. Brooke would accept no less than a B from her kids. If they got a lesser grade, she would have them work with a tutor until the next grading session, when, if their grades hadn’t improved, they were hauled back to spend time in the home school.
So far she had not had to drag anyone back. Of course, only three of the kids actually still wanted to attend their old schools, finding the challenge of the home school much more rewarding and far more interesting.
As time went on, kids grew up and went on to college or university, Brooke made sure their dreams were realised. She had the pleasure of raising doctors; lawyers; plumbers; accountants; electricians; musicians; actors; moms and dads! She’d welcomed boyfriends and girlfriends. There were weddings and births. So far the Grim Reaper had not clouded her path again.
Over the years, she adopted over eighty children. Now, sitting on the stone veranda under the canopy of a large sun umbrella, sipping an ice-cold tea and watching those same children playing or relaxing on the emerald green lawn, chatting together, she breathed a thankful prayer to the Lord, thanking Him for His grace and mercy and for bringing each child to her family.
“Lord, I don’t know what the next thirty years is going to bring, but You’ve provided for us thus far, and I trust You will continue. Thank You Lord, in Jesus’ name, amen!”
“Nana? Can we go swimming yet?” One of her adopted children’s daughters asked, her bright blue eyes reflecting childhood anticipation.
With a big smile, Brooke nodded, “I think it’s been an hour since lunch. Go and get your suits on…”
She was drowned out as 10 gleefully squealing children raced toward the house, shrieking: “We’re allowed to go swimming now!”
Brooke shook her greying head, chuckling, “Thank you Lord.”
PS: Check out the rewards of adoption in your area; there are thousands of teens, in YOUR country, who just want a ‘forever home’. Maybe you can provide that space in your heart and house? Remember, adopting older children mean no diapers or potty-training! *smile*