And Then There Were Seven
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There are other signs of progress, too. The two youngest, with steady pushing from their new parents, have become hooked on sports. "It will be their salvation, I hope," says Dan, remembering a call from Jarid's gym teacher. The second-grader had just broken the school record in the mile—a record usually held by a sixth-grader. Jarid also plays baseball and hockey. Jeff, who's in fourth grade, was the high scorer on the basketball team and a top pitcher. He shines in football, too. "At first they weren't too keen on participating," Dan recalls. "Now they're always pestering me about when their next game is."

Daigle family
Dan Daigle, Jeffery and Mary Pat Rowland check out Jeffery's new cleats.

Jennifer, meanwhile, has blossomed in her job at a child care center; she's also babysitting a lot, earning her own money. Her natural parenting abilities are being encouraged by adults who are providing role models she's never had before. "She's finally realizing that the life she knew is not how people live," says Mary Pat. "She's learning another way." She has also quit smoking, a habit she picked up when she was only 10.

Jacob is playing hockey and lacrosse, making friends and working hard to catch up on math. He spends hours tinkering with his sports equipment. "Our tools are always disappearing," says Mary Pat. "We call him Mr. Fix-It." Jack, who is determined to finish high school even though he's behind, is now the proud owner of a car, given to him by Dan and Mary Pat as a surprise on his 18th birthday. The gift was transformative. "It's old, but it runs and it's his," says Mary Pat, who calls Jack's progress a miracle. He has managed to get a job--and is earning the money he needs to maintain the car. He has also begun to overcome many of his fears. He goes out more. He has a girlfriend. He feels needed. Those are his words. That's what he tells Dan and Mary Pat he loves most about his new job: "I feel needed."

There's still a long road ahead. All the kids are being tutored in school to make up for lost time. There are ongoing health and behavioral issues to deal with. And the emotional landscape remains treacherous. Jarid, the youngest, asks questions constantly. "Was my mother bad?" he wants to know. Mary Pat reassures him again and again. "She wanted the best for you," she answers. "She thinks of you every day. She just couldn't do it." But the questions, the pain, the craving for the mother you want, but cannot have, never goes away.

Daigle family
Jacob performs stunts on his bike.

"I worry about all of them," says Mary Pat. But she has hope that the kids can conquer their past. She still sounds surprised by the whole turn of events, by the instant second family she's found herself nurturing. "I never knew they were there," she muses. "Here I was all this time, living a pretty insulated life—I just never knew they were right there." Now she can't imagine it any other way. "I take my strength from them," she says. "They light up my life."

Even Dan and Mary Pat's two older daughters have overcome their skepticism at suddenly being part of an expanded family. "It took some getting used to," says Mary Pat. "I think the girls thought I was going to retire and garden or something!" Instead, she and Dan are busier than they've ever been.

Come to think of it, though, she is gardening, tending to five transplanted kids she and Dan helped rescue from a cracked and forlorn corner of the world, cultivating a new plot of earth where there's plenty of room to grow, all the while having faith that something good will take root and flourish. ~

Editor's note: Several readers have inquired about making a donation to the Rowland-Daigle family. For information, call (603) 862-1239 or e-mail alumni.editor@unh.edu.

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