And Then There Were Seven
Page: < Prev 1 2 3 4 Next >

In the months following the funeral, social workers arranged regular supervised visits among the siblings. The older ones were considered too unpredictable to be left alone with the younger ones, but everyone agreed that keeping the family in touch was important. Often these visits took place at the Daigle-Rowland house, where they'd come for a meal or just to hang out. And each time it was harder to say good bye. Mary Pat recalls how when they would take the youngest children back, "they'd pretend to ring the doorbell, and then rush back to the car saying no one was home. It would just break my heart."

Daigle family
Jack plays a game on TV.

Jack and Jennifer and their three younger brothers, Jacob, Jeffery and Jarid, had never had what most people would call a normal home life. They drifted from apartment to apartment. Drugs and alcohol were a constant presence. Everyone—children and adults—slept on a couple of mattresses on the living room floor. No one paid attention to whether the kids went to school. Their mother would sometimes disappear for days on end. Worst of all, she allowed a drifter, who was a registered sex offender and convicted pedophile, to live in her apartment.

But love never lets go, Mary Pat and Dan discovered—even in the worst of circumstances—and the children were their mother's staunchest defenders. "They were always reassuring us that she was trying to get her act together," says Dan. And she was. She was trying to stay sober. She wanted her kids back. Mary Pat and Dan were supportive of her visits, arranged by the state. "But the kids were always worse afterwards," says Dan. "It was like trying to heal a wound. It would scab over and start to heal. Then, every visit was like ripping the scab off again."

"It's easy to judge," says Mary Pat, who met the children's mother many times during this period and knew something of her childhood. "But she herself was the victim of incredible cruelty. She didn't know anything different." Mary Pat, meanwhile, was discovering one of the hardest truths of foster parenting. "I had to learn not to want to be their mother," she says. "I just wanted to nurture them and take care of them. But I had to learn my role. These kids loved their parents very much—no matter what happened." Finally, in July 2007, the social worker called a family meeting. When the children arrived, they sat in a circle and listened as their mother told them that she couldn't care for them anymore. She couldn't stop drinking. She was too sick with AIDS. She had to give them up. She was letting them go. And then she turned to Dan and Mary Pat, sobbing, and begged them to take all five.

Daigle family
Family members and friends play cards.

"For weeks afterwards, I kept trying to imagine it," says Mary Pat. "Could we do it, I wondered?" She turned it over and over in her head. Could they make it work? There were huge financial implications, never mind the enormous emotional challenges. But it seemed like a decision they would never have to make. The state was firmly against it, as were others, including psychologists and social workers. The two older children were considered so damaged that they would be bad influences on the younger ones. "We felt this wasn't true," says Mary Pat, "but we realized nobody thought it was a good idea. So we focused on the two children we had."

The transition, even with two, was rough. "We had a lot of holes in our walls for a while," says Dan, recalling the fits of rage and frustration that came over the kids early on. Jennifer, especially, had difficulty controlling her anger. "At one point, she was really getting out of control," he recalls. "I had to restrain her." When she called the police to report that Dan had been abusing her, the police took her away for questioning. Finally she admitted the truth, but not before police had to open an investigation that put Dan's job in jeopardy. During this period, when she returned under police supervision to pick up some of her things, Dan sneaked in a quick word with her. "When you come back," he said, "we've made a few changes in your room." Jennifer was stunned. "That was the turning point," says Dan. "She thought we were going to throw her out. But now she knew, for the first time, that she was safe. She was in a place where people wanted her."

In one of her newspaper columns, Mary Pat wrote about how her home had expanded to include two new children. She told about a boy who loved her meatloaf and romped happily in the yard with the two dogs, who was smart and handsome, but who had trouble focusing on anything for more than an hour or so. She told about a girl who craved moose tracks ice cream, who had an eye for photography and who was desperately in need of self-confidence. "I have no idea if we will have them long enough to nurture their talents or make a difference in their lives," Rowland wrote. "I can't think about that right now." Instead, she wrote with a mother's eye—sensitive to the strengths as well as the weaknesses in each child, but dwelling mostly on the fact that she and Dan, for at least a short time, could try to give these children some of what they so desperately needed: good meals and clean laundry, along with rules to follow and the assurance that, for the first time in their lives, someone would be able to nurture their potential.

Page: < Prev 1 2 3 4 Next >

 Easy to print version