Three Little Words: A Memoir
Lorraine Rhodes was a single teenage mother who shared parenting duties of little Ashley with her twin sister. They lived in a trailer and worked different shifts. Their home became the cool teen party hangout since there were no real adults around. Lorraine's maternal instincts were casual (when Ashley was a toddler, Lorraine strapped her into a car seat but not into the seatbelt; Ashley once fell out during a drive). Lorraine hooked up with an abusive boyfriend named Dusty, and was soon expecting. That baby died, but Lorraine became pregnant once more, delivering Ashley's brother, Luke.
The family moved to Florida when Ashley was three. There, Dusty ran into trouble with the law, and the two children were taken. Ashley was too young to understand that she would never live with her mother again, as she and Luke entered a foster home --- the first of 14 she would live in over the next nine years. No one explained to the three-year-old why she couldn't be with her mother. When she did finally see her mother, Lorraine said they would live together after she found a nice home and a good job. Ashley yearned for her mother constantly as she was moved from foster home to foster home, sometimes with Luke and other times alone. Lorraine visited occasionally, always promising that Ashley would live with her "someday."
Ashley and Luke were able to stay at their grandfather's house in South Carolina where they were relatively happy, thanks to their grandfather's live-in lady friend, Adele, who enjoyed mothering them. Yet they lived in fear that they would be removed from that home because Adele and their grandfather weren't married, and because Grandpa was frequently in jail and had a history as a wife abuser. Despite the instability of the situation, Ashley was so happy she felt like she was in a dream.
But when Grandpa got shot during an argument in front of the children, they were removed and sent back to Florida, where they entered Ashley's seventh home in two years. Their new "home" was packed full of foster kids, reeked of filthy diapers and was reigned over by screaming parents (as grim as this sounds, it was not their worst foster home, not by a long shot). Needless to say, Ashley and Luke were thrilled when they were sent back to Adele in South Carolina, where they were content until once again they were returned to Florida. During Ashley's nine-year stint in 14 foster homes, she encountered 44 caseworkers. None of these people, paid to help foster children, saved Ashley from living through sickening abuse at the hands of foster parents.
Finally, one woman, a volunteer named Mary Miller, took a special interest in Ashley. Eventually, Ashley was adopted by a loving family, although she agreed to it with major reservations (the three little words from the title were her "I guess so" when the judge asked if she agreed to the adoption). Ashley believed that the adoption could never last; she is frank about her problems adjusting to her new life after years of hopelessness.
Ashley Rhodes-Courter, who sued her most abusive foster parents, works tirelessly to help children in the foster system. She has spoken to the Senate, and many other groups, about the need for foster care reform. And in this excellent page turner, she gives vibrant voice to those voiceless, helpless children caught in this nightmare, giving us insight into a national tragedy. I highly recommend her heartbreaking and inspiring memoir.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on January 8, 2008
Three Little Words: A Memoir
- Publication Date: January 8, 2008
- Hardcover: 320 pages
- Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
- ISBN-10: 1416948066
- ISBN-13: 9781416948063