Monday, November 24, 2008

November 24, 2008

51-day reunion. Six months to go.

Oh boy--this is one of those days that you just dread, yet somehow look forward to. And not looking forward to getting it over with, but genuinely because you anticipate a positive result. This day brought out the best of those two opposing emotions, with the good clearly outweighing the bad.

After not seeing Tiana for 30 days, we were led to a small yurt on a hillside. There was a bright spot in the fog just overhead and the grounds of the school were beautifully quiet. We opened the door and sitting on the floor across the room was Tiana and her friend Marsha, who was also graduating from the program. Both kids were chatting excitedly and smiling as we walked in and Tiana immediately jumped up and gave Tuuli and I a big hug. Of course I immediately burst into tears (good self-control, Frank!) and the three of us just held each other for a long time, as our annoying dog was heard howling in the distance.

After a few brief formalities, the girls both went through their experiences of the last 30 days, what they had learned and what their goals were, going forward. Tiana went first and did so much better than our first meeting--I was quite pleased and very proud. Part of my prior dread was averted--Tiana did not make any kind of fuss about wanting to come home, and indeed, almost seemed to embrace the idea of another six months of boarding school. The dread that did materialize was my emotional response to her new-found maturity and self-confidence. I was just so, so happy to see the old Tiana, off all her medications and recreational drugs, physically fit and not consumed with her appearance. At one point she asked me if I liked her hair, as unkempt as it could possibly be. My response, with a wink, was "You know I do."

The rest of the afternoon was spent meeting new staff and getting Tiana and Marsha ready for their transition to the school part of the program. It all went very well, with Tiana in generally good spirits. At one point she told me she was going to work hard and get as many credits as she possibly could. She also told me, at least in so many words, not to worry--that she would be OK. That had a huge impact on me for one simple reason: empathy. One of Tiana's greatest failings, at least to me, was what I perceived a total and complete lack of understanding another person's point of view. Today was perhaps the first time ever that I saw she was able to understand my deeper feelings and relate to me on an emotional level. Perhaps it was just a random thought on her part, but for now I choose to believe it was the biggest sign of progress I have yet seen.

I also want to thank Savanna for making the trip. There were some emotional connection between the two girls that was good to see, including a hesitant hug that I had sort of dreamed of someday seeing.

The goodbye's were heartbreaking as Tiana was heading into a new, challenging realm that was very much an unknown for both of us. The long ride home gave rise to more introspection and a terrible emptiness that Tiana would not be home for the holidays, but contentment that everything is working toward a greater good, if we just give it time.

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