Missy and My Brother

Shepherd - Bernadette said I had to use a PictureQuiet time gives time to reflect on some of our most influential life experiences. Mrs. Bernie took a little cruise and left me at home to fend for our business, several pets, and my self. She asked that I write a guest post while she was away. I toyed with a few ideas and decided to tell a little story about Bernadette, Me, and a little girl who shared our home for about 6 months. It is also a tale of how good deeds sometimes have unintended consequences.

Bernadette and I received notification that child protective services had become involved in a family unit that was close to me. It seems that one of my brothers and his wife were providing a volatile environment for their two children. The children were immediately placed in emergency foster and kinship care because the State felt it necessary and prudent. The older sister, we’ll call her Sally, went to live with her maternal grandmother. Her mother insisted upon it because Sally had lived with her grandmother before. The younger child, let us call her Missy, was relegated to live with her licensed day care provider. Bernadette and I were both concerned about the real possibility that Missy be taken from the family that she knew and be separated from those that loved her. More importantly, we were concerned that she might be adopted outside of the family. This wasn’t a happy thought for either of us.  We decided to prepare ourselves for the worst case scenario – that my Brother and his wife would not regain custody of the children.

Bernadette and I enrolled in the special classes that the system has developed for people who are contemplating becoming foster parents or adopting children in need. We learned a lot about typical challenges; expectations; and a bit about psychology and human nature. We really didn’t need to take these classes because I was kin to Missy. We thought, however, that it is better to have more education than less. We elected to not go through the hassle of becoming a ‘licensed’ foster home. Becoming licensed would have meant that we could receive government funding for her care, but we prefer to keep the State out of family matters when possible.  This was, after all, our niece and I believed that my brother and wife could get help and regain custody of the children. If not, then Bernadette and I could quickly get the home licensed because we already had the training. If necessary, we would have taken both children under our roof.

My brother confided in me and expressed concern about the hoops that the State was trying to make him jump through to get his child back. I listened and, as most brothers would do, encouraged him to suck it up and do what he had to do. Otherwise, the State would find a new home for the little girl he so dearly cared about. I didn’t use exactly those words, but I wasn’t going to jump onto his “I’m the victim” bandwagon. That would never get him closer to his goal. It certainly would not be in the best interest of Missy.

Bernadette and I talked with the case worker about moving Missy closer to family. We received mixed messages along the way about why Missy was still staying with her day care provider. My best impression, despite my brother saying, “We always insisted that Missy be put with you.”, is that My brother and his wife were wishy-washy about the prospect. We felt frustrated on Missy’s behalf. We were told about five months later that Missy needed to be moved to a new home. It seems that her day care provider needed to spend more time with her own children. I suspect that she also grew tired of the attitude and frustration that my brother must have exhibited with his situation during his visits. Bernadette and I got a call to meet with some of the people that were working on Missy’s and families’ behalf. There wasn’t a bunch that we could be told because of rules about confidentiality. We were told a few things that brought some sense about why she had not been placed with us initially. That did not much matter anymore. Two year old Missy was going to be able to see her Grandmas, aunts, and uncles again. She might even get to see her sister. Certainly, she will get to see more of her father. That was our primary concern for Missy.

Missy came to live with us early spring. She was a typical 2 year old who loved to wear dresses, explore, and was quick to learn. We got into a pattern over the next 6 months. Bernadette and Missy got up early and started the day. I’d get up a bit later and have a cup of coffee. Bernadette or I would help Missy select from one of two appropriate outfits for the day. We generally offered one dress and one pant/shorts outfit. Choice became less diverse when the weather got bad. Missy almost always opted for the dress. We finished getting ready to go to day care and off we went. We elected to keep the same day care provider for Missy’s sake. A little change is okay. A lot of change can be more harm than good. We would sing a long to Raffe for the 20 minute ride. Bernadette and I would then turn back toward town and go to work.

I would drop Bernadette off at home after work and drive across town to pick Missy up from her day care. We’d get home; pet the cat; make supper; sit at the table and eat; ask to be excused; and all the typical things that we do. I appreciated how quickly that Missy picked up on the difference between asking to be excused and the meaning of ‘Pardon me.’ Bedtime would come and we had our ritual. Bathe and brush teeth; night gown; hugs & kisses good night; and then we would wander off to bed for a story. ‘Salt Hands’ was one of Missy’s favorites at the time. Any parent that regularly reads a favorite bed time story to a child understands what I mean by knowing a story by heart. I would occasionally and purposely alter the tale just to see if she was paying attention. This was how it went for the next 6 months.

Missy’s father would come to our home for supervised visits once or twice a week. That was good. He was my brother and welcome in my home. It also helped him to remember why he was going through whatever it was that he needed to. Later, we were told that Missy’s father was to gain unsupervised visits. He would pick Missy up from our house at a specified time and return her there at another. This was a bit inconvenient having to structure our lives about these pickup and drop off times, but we saw this as a good sign. Missy just may be able to return to live with her father and mother. Success, it seemed, was to be had.

A sudden change in Missy’s attitude became obvious after the second or third unsupervised outing. She returned with venomous attitude toward Bernadette. This was not typical guileless 2 year old talk. This was rude and hateful talk directly toward Bernadette. I was simply stunned. Bernadette was cut. She needed a break and left to be close to her family. I talked with the people who know children about my observations in search of a good way to address the issue. They suggested to treat it like any other unacceptable behavior. That was easy enough. Within a couple of days, Missy was right back to being adorable. The next weekend visit came and along with it came more venom. I did not know what was going on. I made mention to my brother about what we were seeing. He passed it off with seeming dis-concern. I let it go and realized that I had a new weekly chore with Missy. Sunday and Monday saw a bit of conditioning about being considerate of other peoples feelings.

CPS, the girls counsel, My brothers counsel, and all the others that were involved gathered and decided that it was time for Missy to go home. It was precisely this time that I exercised my judgment and offered no resistance. I suggested that the transition be made quickly. We did not need to spread it out over several weeks as is normally done. I believed that Missy would be safe with her father. Despite other peoples claims that Missy would have had a much more culturally enriching environment elsewhere, I still believe that my brother will provide a safe environment for her to grow up in. That is all that is really required. I didn’t really expect for my brother to become eternally grateful for our service. A simple thank you would have been appreciated. Instead, everything pretty much went how it usually does.

What happened then?  Bernadette and I went on with our lives. My brother isolated his daughter from me and Bernadette. Indeed, he isolated her from all of her family for about a year. I have heard many ludicrous things about how Bernadette and I are to blame for my brothers’ problems. Someone even said that we were trying to steal Missy from him and his wife. Most things just make no sense to even the slightest extent. Even Judge Judy knows that if it doesn’t make sense, then it is likely untrue. Most of the family makes excuses for my brothers lack of insight and rude behaviors.  I occasionally find myself rationalizing how it is okay for him to treat me and my wife like enemies when all we have done is to help protect his interests.

This, however, really isn’t a story about me, Bernadette, nor my brother. This is a story about a little girl who will grow up and wonder about family she scarcely knows. It is about sacrifices that we make to help others. It is about how having been of service, one can be shunned and, yet, hold no malice.

In about ten years, I suspect that we will be a approached by woman wanting to hear a story about the year that a precious little girl spent living away from her Daddy. We will tell her only what we can about our time together. We may treasure the times that we will have getting to know her as an adult. This short story might help jog our memories about our experiences and help guide our conscience in how we present it.

About Mr. Bernie


  1. I really want to start a blog about Fashion and cute things for girls. But I can’t seem to know how to start it. I’m not that confident because I’m not sure if it’ll have potential like other blogs. I also don’t know if what I post should keep up with Fashion trends or be my style. Another thing, how do I give myself that inspiration to post every week? Should I research trends and cute things and write paragraphs on it or keep it short? Help!.

  2. Zinedine says:

    I’m so sorry to hear this. I hope everything will be okay soon.

  3. My heart aches to read this story. I feel your hurt that runs deep. It is so difficult to understand and forgive when a family member spreads untruths and cuts out family. You and Bernie did the right thing and I don’t know what more you can do except to be there for your nieces if they ever need you and are able to reconnect.

  4. It is such a shame when people cannot recognize how many positive. relationships our children need in their lives. I hope something special can be shared between the three of you again sometime.

  5. Mr. Bernie—-it does not surprise me that you and Bernie opened your hearts and your home to your sweet niece. Life gets complicated and messy sometimes and you were a ray of sunshine in this little girl’s life–that is for sure. I would almost wager a bet that at some point she will have a memory of reading “Salt Hands” and associate it with love and warmth and a good feeling in her tummy. I hope the day comes when you will have the chance to show her the love that you showed her then and that her life is filled with happiness. Thanks for sharing this—how wonderful to have been able to see this glimpse into you and Bernie’s life!!! Thank you!

  6. Its almost like he is keeping her hidden out of his own shame and guilt, not anything you did. I think he probably told her things to make him look better in her eyes so she would want to come back and live with him. I always feel bad when I here this story because I know how terribly hurt you two were and still are. What he did and is doing is just plane cruel to the whole family and will most likely ultimately hurt him in the long run. I hope she come to visit when she is older, I know Bernie has talked about that and is hopeful for it, it sounds like you are too. :)

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