The cute conundrum: searching for cues

We’re approaching a year since our younger daughter, now 3, arrived to us via foster care. She is pretty much as sweet and kindhearted as they come, and everyone who crosses her path instantly falls in love with her, just as we did 12 months ago.

When we were going through the whole process, we were told she had none of the issues typically associated with foster kids. She didn’t hoard, fight, wasn’t defiant, and was meeting all the developmental markers of typical kids. Everyone, including us, seemed equally pleased and shocked by this.

Okay, maybe skeptical is a better word than shocked, as far as we were concerned. It might be a stretch to say we’re seasoned veterans of the foster care process, but our experience combined with my wife’s therapy background kept us on the lookout.

The food issue was apparent from the beginning. Long story short, our daughter, a victim of neglect as a baby and never sure if or when her next meal would come, obsesses over food. We’re aware of this and trying our best. Slowly but surely, however, we began to discover something else. Our little one, although her vocabulary was great, didn’t seem to be actually processing the information she was repeating. Oftentimes she could not answer a basic question without cues.

Whereas our older daughter’s defensive mechanism is “fight or flight,” for which she usually opts for the latter, her sister’s defensive mechanism is cute. She’s going to kill you with kindness, and you are going to give her the answer, or whatever it is she wants. She had everybody fooled.

Including the school system. My wife, concerned about her academic future, had her tested recently with the hopes of eventually establishing an IEP (individualized education plan). She gently informed the school district’s evaluators about her concerns, and then watched as our daughter put on a show.

Evaluator: Okay, what is this a picture of, honey?

Daughter: (gives evaluator a hug)

Evaluator: Awww, how sweet is she? Did you all see that? Oh my goodness, what a sweetheart. Okay, so what is this?

Daughter: Ummm … (standing knock-kneed, smiling cutely) It’s a … I have to go potty, please.

Evaluator: She’s potty trained? Wonderful! And so polite. Of course, my dear.

Wife: (rolls eyes, knowing the stall tactic) (no pun intended)

Daughter: (reemerges from bathroom, runs to evaluator and hugs her)

Evaluator: Oh my, I can’t take the cuteness! Okay, back to this picture. What is this, sweetheart?

Daughter: Uhhh …

Evaluator: It goes “Moo.” It’s black and white. It’s a c- c-

Daughter: COW! It’s a cow! (goes in for high-five)

Evaluator: Very good, ha, ha! (high-five) What a sweetie!

Wife: (slow claps)

The day after this "assessment," during which, of course, she was denied an IEP and my wife was assured she’s on track if not advanced—it’s early, but here’s to hoping for a lucrative career in the field of cow identification—we went through the girls’ school bags to see what they had learned that day. Out of our younger daughter’s bag my wife pulled the letter “t,” made of construction paper and featuring animals that begin with “t.”

Wife: Ooh, honey—this looks like the letter you’ve been working on all week. What letter is this?

Daughter: Ummm … uhhh … ummm … (waiting for cues) … uhhh …

Wife: (staring, smiling)

Daughter: I have to go potty.

Wife: No, you don’t. You just got off the potty. What letter is this?

Daughter: Ummm … uhhh … Saturday.

Wife: That’s a day of the week, honey, not a letter. What letter is this?

Daughter: Huggie (arms outstretched).

Wife: Not now, honey. What letter is this?

Daughter: Umm … uhh … pancakes.

Wife: (staring, not smiling)

Daughter: Bear. Mommy, it’s a bear. Right, Mommy? Huggie!


A day later, her class had continued their letter “t” lesson by reading a story called Tiggy the Tiger and by creating his face on paper plates. We took our daughter’s paper plate out of her bag and asked her what animal it was, even spotting her the cue of “Tiggy the …” The end result of this battle of wills was the emergence of an animal called “Tiggy the Pooh.” Honestly, she must have answered “Tiggy the Pooh” 25 times, despite being told it was incorrect and also not even a thing after the first time. My wife has taken to leaving the “Tiggy the Pooh” paper plate in various spots throughout the house for me to find, like under my pillow, so I can be randomly reminded of the magnificence of this fictional creature.

So that’s where we’re at. Not a problem, just a challenge. Albeit a challenge that would be easier to face were everyone else not so swayed by her cuteness. We’re pretty sure that’s why God placed her with us, not because we don’t think she’s cute—she’s adorable—but because we won’t let it blind us.

Our daughter is pretty sure God placed her with us for the pancakes.

Either way.

Photo by the incomparable Otillia Ceh

Note: This column appears in the 3/27 issue of The Glendale Star and the 3/28 issue of the Peoria Times.