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Sunday, January 28, 2007

one small boat

one small boat: the story of a little girl lost then found

I picked this book up while I was looking for a good adoption memoir for the class I'm teaching. I meant to just skim it to see if it would be appropriate, but after reading the first paragraph, I was hooked. I finished it the same day, which is something that does not happen often in my house. (I have a three-year-old.)

One Small Boat is a tender story about what love can and cannot do for children in the foster care system. The narrative most closely follows the story of Daisy, a five-year-old who, when she arrived at the Harrison’s house, was emaciated, green snot dripping from her hose, arms flapping.

Harrison’s prose is smooth and her voice engaging, but one of the things I loved most about this book was her honesty. One is tempted (and by "one" I mean "I am tempted") to think of foster parents as saints, which I think can be reductive. (If they are saints, it's easier to convince ourselves that fostering is something that non-saints can't do.) But Kathy Harrison never makes herself out to be a saint. She is clearly getting something from taking care of these children, and she admits that. When she is waiting for a new child to be placed with her, she states how impatient she is. When a foster-parent friend calls to tell Harrison about the six-year-old twins she was getting that afternoon, Harrison "sulked for the rest of the day. When a full week went by, I was beginning to feel a big ghoulish in my pining for another child. After all, the only way for me to have what I wanted was for another family to sink into the mire of social services." When she takes care of two older, very difficult girls, and she wonders why she kept them as long as she did, she admits that "there was a certain ego jolt I got from caring for these particular girls. They put on a good deal of weight and gained several inches in height…People commented on how well they looked and how much progress we had made. Foster parents get precious few pats on the back. Caring for Ruth and Mary Margaret assured me lots of pats." It’s this kind of honesty and her refusal to make herself into a saint that make Harrison such a successful narrator. I trust her. She is real and vulnerable, and when she cried, so did I. Seriously, I was wiping my face with my sleeve.

Harrison seamlessly moves between the stories of the foster children in her home, and I was pleased that we got to know each of them. The only thing I was left wanting in this book was a little more about her older biological and adopted children. What are their reactions to all the foster children coming and going? How does the fact that their mother spends so much time and energy with the foster children affect them? Some of this may already have been addressed in Harrison’s earlier memoir, Another Place at the Table, so I guess I’ll just have to check that out.

6 comments:

Bryan said...

The author's motivations seem as though they would be as interesting as the children's stories. Her pride in how they "put on a good deal of weight and gained several inches in height" sounds as though she's raising show heifers. Adoptive children as well? Sounds like a she has a collector's mentality. Fascinating stuff.

moonlight ambulette said...

this is beautiful, kate. thanks for sharing -- and for starting this blog! i look forward to seeing what shows up here...

Mandy said...

I love the Blue Jay's Dance! I tried to leave this comment below but it didn't work, so here it is on the wrong post! Glad to know you've begun a blog!

kate said...

You guys rock! Thanks for visiting my blog. Mandy, you're linked here, too, but I wonder why your name doesn't link to your blog. Hmmm. This technology still eludes me.

Mandy said...

Hi, Kate. I never use my blog name to put comments on people's blogs - so it's not a technology thing. Thanks for putting my link on your blog, though. I can't figure out how to do that on mine yet!

Susan said...

Ahh. I read Another Place at the Table and was totally fascinated. I'll have to pick this one up, too.