by Ashley Rhodes-Courter
[Note: Some explicit references to abuse and pedophilia can be disturbing for younger readers. Recommended for 18+]
Ashley Rhodes-Courter is a phenomenon, an inspiration, and a powerhouse of progress and change in the child services. This book started out as an essay titled, "Three Little Words", for NYT - an essay about her adoption day, which won a grand prize in June 2003. People expected the three little words to be "I love you", but readers find out that it is actually, "I guess so" - the three words which sealed the deal to make her adoption official.
Ashley's teen mom lost custody of her by age 3, and since then Ashley was shunted from foster home to foster home in the Florida foster care system for the next 9 years. Some of the stay was brief, some longer; some were tolerable, some were outright abusive; yet, she endured, and tried to thrive. Knowing that nobody can take away her education, she excelled in the school system no matter which foster home or which public school she went to. Sometimes she never got to spend a full year in the same school, and that did not make her withdraw into herself. Instead, she found ways to stand out through her achievement - be it essay writing, or public speaking, or acing the tests and being a straight A's student.
The book is a memoir, recounting her experiences upto and including her adoption by the Courters and her successes thereafter, including being invited to the White House as President Clinton's guest, winning an essay to spend time with her favorite author J.K.Rowling even as a teen. Her life has been one painful event after another until she found herself surrounded by so much love and care with the Courters that she was able to give back, and give back generously.
I could not put this book down, and had to finish reading it in one long sitting, one recent weekend. To think that the childcare services are so steeped in bureaucracy and neglect that many children fall through the cracks never to resurface is infuriating.
Being a gifted writer, Ashley's words cut deep without being bitter or resentful. Her honesty and her unique perspective on the traumatic events in her life are not paraded for pity but shared with clear insight into the breakdown in the system which allowed this to happen, not just to her, but the thousands of other kids with no families.
Her question still remains unanswered probably: Why do states pay a fortune to foster parents rather than helping the biological parents out? If her own mother was given the financial support that the vile Mrs. Moss was given, wouldn't their lives together been a lot less painful? Why are the likes of abusive foster parents like Mrs. Moss allowed to get away with cruelty time and time again while the biological parents are penalized at the first hint of failure as a parent?
Her other book Three More Words tries to answer all the questions we have from her first book, plus shares her journey as a foster care parent.
[image source: http://rhodes-courter.com/three-little-words/]