Remove a small child from her family and see her whole world crumble before your eyes, and the pain that goes with it.

It took Holly almost a day to get out of a state of absence, give in to anger, and start lashing out. When the rage faded, and the crying started, I realised how much I preferred the rage. Because hearing a small child hurting and not being in the position to comfort her will break your heart. In that moment you seriously question whether there is something good you can do for the child, not just in the immediate, but ever.

I found myself bargaining with myself, wondering if the pain she was experiencing then was really preferable to the danger that awaited for her home.

We knew close to nothing about the circumstances of her removal. Our Social Worker reduced the whole subject to two generic nouns, and that was literally all we knew. That at least meant we could fill the gaps in her story with whatever horrible scenario we could think of, and still make sense of her crying, and still maintain we were the good guys.

The worst seems to be over for her now, after just over a week. It has nothing to do with what we did, I’m sure, it’s just the time it took her to find a positive path out of the helplessness of her situation. The frequent contact with the birth family still poses a challenge to her fragile stability, but she’s now engaging with us more and more, and smiling at us, all of which–just days ago–would have seemed impossible. We are finally getting to know her for the lovable little girl we always knew she really was.

Helplessness is ugly, and it doesn’t allow for a way out. It is learning that the result of your actions will make no difference to the reality around you, however hard you might try. For Holly, it meant learning that pleading us to take her to her mum was pointless. Or learning that putting her shoes on, while crying in the middle of the night, wouldn’t have gotten her any closer to her parents. When you believe there is no solution for your problem, what good is there in trying. Acceptance is not the solution either, it just leads to further depression. The only way out of a helpless situation is to reshape our own interpretation of reality and find a way to be optimistic again. An adult might take months of therapy to get there; Holly just needed a few days on her own.

It’s hard to guess what a 2 years old is thinking, but I’ll offer my interpretation anyway. It is true that her reality hasn’t changed a bit since the week before, she still loves her parents and she still can’t go back living with them. But perhaps she understood that, however some things are outside of her control, not everything is. She might have decided to let go of the big problems, and concentrate on smaller ones instead, like finding a way to go on with all of us, until the day her mum and daddy will come and pick her up. In the process, she’s learned that she could trust us a little, and doing so is making her feel a little less alone.

One morning she opened her bedroom door and I happened to be just outside her door. In that moment, all the pain of the previous week was as if it never existed. All that was there were the smiling eyes of a little girl who found a way out of the darkest period of her life. I smiled back at her and said “good morning”, and a good morning it was indeed.

These are the moments I know I will regret when it’ll be time to say goodbye, but if that is the price to pay to see her smiling, it will have been more than worth it.

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