Small but Important Messages in Rhodes-Courter’s “Three Little Words”

by Luanne

Have you seen the “baby” photos of Latrell Higgins which have gone viral?  He’s 13 and was adopted at age ten.  As a professional photographer, his adoptive mom Kelly Higgins takes photographs of newborns, and Latrell said he wanted some baby pix of himself.  So his mom complied.  They were laughing very hard during the shoot, but the end result is a very sweet adoption announcement.  This Huffington Post article describes the story in more detail.o-KELLI-HIGGINS-570

This photo resonated with me right now because I had just finished reading Ashley Rhodes-Courter’s memoir Three Little Words, which I wrote about in last Monday’s post.  Ashley was a foster child who lived in over a dozen foster homes and a shelter.  She was abused and neglected and lost in the system.  But because she eventually got a wonderful guardian ad litem to advocate for her, she ended up in an adoptive home.

In Ashley’s story, she describes how Gay Courter, her final foster mother and eventual adoptive mother, discovered that nobody had ever read a bedtime story to 13-year-old Ashley.  After that, Gay began to read Ashley “Pat the Bunny, Goodnight Moon, and Where the Wild Things Are.”

I took special note of the book choices because when I used to teach children’s literature, the picture books I used for in-depth analysis were Goodnight Moon and Where the Wild Things Are.  What phenomenal stories to introduce to Ashley.  They both are centered on images of the moon and the mother hovering in the background of the house.  The moon can be synonymous with the mother figure.  In this way, it could be seen that the mother in the house with the child is the adoptive mother and the moon overlooking, but at a distance, is the child’s birth mother.

My point in mentioning this passage in Ashley’s book and how it connects with Latrell’s photos is that after hearing these books read to her, Ashley began babbling in baby talk and Gay responded by playing along.  Ashley declared that she wanted a baby bottle because her mother took hers away too soon.  This can also be “read” as Ashley losing her mother too soon.  Gay bought Ashley a bottle the very next day, and Ashley drank out of the bottle with relish.

I’m not a psychologist, and I’ve always pooh-poohed more “radical” ideas like the notion of taking somebody back to their babyhood.  But in Ashley’s story, she clearly initiated these actions herself, and it sounds like it was short-term, but helpful to her.

Some excellent reviews have been written about Three Little Words.  I won’t try to re-invent the wheel here, but I paid attention to some things that were mentioned almost in passing, but which I felt were important.

Another one of these passages was when Ashley went to her first event at the White House, an invitation she received from the Dave Thomas Foundation.  She was blushing with excitement and confesses “that it was as if my childish fantasies about accidentally being lost in foster care, while I was really meant for another, grander life, had come true.”  In literature, we see the “Cinderella” story being one of the most prevalent story types there is.  Harry Potter is a Cinderella character–an orphan raised by mean relatives until he goes off to Hogwarts and discovers that he is destined for greatness.  What a powerful fantasy to keep one going in the worst of times, to know that one deserves much more.

Ashley Rhodes-Courter’s book is a treasure to foster children and to a system that needs fixing so badly.  Every person who reads this book will feel a desire to advocate for these kids and to see the system change.  As a teen, Ashley herself sees the move Erin Brockovich and decides that she will be like Erin and stand up for what’s right.  She will help other children who are enmeshed in the foster care system.  Today she is a public speaker on this issue and a foster mother.


  1. Lisa Ercolano says:

    Luanne, thank you so much for writing this. I think it is difficult — no, impossible — for most of us who were brought up in our families of origin to imagine the emotional trauma that many adopted and/or foster children have gone through. It makes emotional sense that some of them feel the need to “go back” and be babied a bit (once they feel safe). My motto as a parent is “whatever works.”

    • Lisa, thanks for reading! It really struck me in Ashley’s book how important that must be for some kids. I agree with whatever works!!! What a great motto. It’s all part of staying flexible when you’re raising kids.

  2. What a wonderful post and yes, I completely agree. I have caught my son many a time doing something that you would have expected of a baby – this is a NEED that they have and we should encourage that! It is only when they fulfill this need, that they are able to them move on forwards in their development – a bit like a jigsaw puzzle, they need to find the missing piece before they can complete the picture!

    • Ah, that is so well put–“like a jigsaw puzzle, they need to find the missing piece before they can complete the picture!” That’s precisely what it’s like! And it’s so wonderful when adults realize this stuff and are flexible enough to give kids what they really need when they need it. Thanks for reading, lilyedwardsattachment.

  3. I know at times I have followed my youngest son’s lead in playing games which would probably be considered young for his age and I still carry him around at times like I would a toddler. This I must say is getting more difficult, not sure how much more my back will take. I love that books are so therapeutic for children and they can learn so much from literature. Thanks again for joining in with the Weekly Adoption Shout Out.

    • You will have to take care of your back, but it’s such a good thing that you know what he needs and are able to do it for him. Thank you for inviting us to the Weekly Adoption Shout Out! I’m travelling this week and it’s difficult to spend much time at the computer, so I will have to read some of the other posts later rather than sooner this week :(.

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