Most of the mediations I’ve conducted over the years are a blur. The faces, names, and resolution details all blend together to make one big memory. Most of the mediations are a blur; but not all of them. There are a few that have stuck with me for one reason or another and I carry those around like special little secrets that belong only to me. Some are funny, a few are frightening, and one in particular touched my heart like no other.
It took place a few years ago but it feels like it was just yesterday. The only time I was ever brought to tears (thankfully after the parties had left the building) was with a case that involved a 15 year old girl who had been in the foster care system for over half her life. The court had ordered mediation with her mother to discuss what it would take for the two to have a conversation about visiting each other. It was clear from the start that the mother was manipulative and only taking her needs into consideration. It was also clear that the daughter was happy with the direction her life was taking with her current foster family and was simultaneously pained by the current state of her biological family. During the discussion, mom asked if she could give daughter a few gifts she had purchased for the meeting. The daughter said that would be okay and mom slid a gift bag across the table. Included in the collection of teddy bears and trinkets was a small journal with a silver pen. The book had a question printed on each page for the owner to write about; topics like, “my favorite thing to do on Sundays” and “my best friend is.” Mom was emotional when she talked about how little she knew of her daughter and said she thought maybe the journal would be a good way for the two to get reacquainted. In the middle of her rambling description of each item, mom said, “I don’t even know what your favorite color is” and the daughter responded to the comments by keeping a poker face and asking to move on with the mediation. She set the gifts off to the side and we continued with the next agenda item.
We finished the session with a few solutions the pair could present to the court and both parties were free to go. Since restraining orders were in place, the two were not allowed to leave together. It was necessary to keep mom in the room while daughter left as a way to keep mom from seeing the foster family vehicle and the direction it headed. I escorted the teenager to the conference room door and as she put her hand on the doorknob, she turned around, straightened up, looked her mother square in the eyes and said, “Pink. My favorite color is pink.” Her words took my breath away. The simplicity of that one sentence summed up years of abuse contrasted with a little girl’s desire for a real relationship with her mommy. I was honored to witness her vulnerability.
I held it together long enough for the daughter to leave, long enough for me to escort the mother out of the building, and long enough for me to return to the privacy of the conference room. I closed the door and cried for the pair’s past, for my gratefulness at being allowed to see such pure emotion, and for the richness this experience brought to my life.