Her adopted children froze whenever Halloween came up. Amy Beth Gardener had no idea the pain the girls had gone through at this holiday time before. Indeed, sisters Bridgett and Breonna seemed terrified whenever it was mentioned. She had to discover what was behind their fear.
The girls had been placed in the foster care of Mrs. Gardener and her husband Paul in the fall of 2014. The couple had been compelled to adopt after failing to conceive naturally. After months of applications, social services turned up one night with two young, unsmiling girls. So, the Gardeners made it their mission to make up for lost time and help the girls have a childhood again.
Within just weeks Bridgett and older sister Breonna came out of their shells and the family started to bond. Breonna herself remembered feeling unhappy when she joined the family aged nine, but just weeks later a picture showed that she’d changed into a bubbly and confident young person. Months later the children were adopted and the Gardeners became a family of four.
But when Halloween came around, both children remained scared. Mrs. Gardener eventually gathered her children around the kitchen table and asked them why they feared Halloween. Could it be the scary costumes? Or perhaps they didn’t like knocking on strangers doors? Both were valid reasons they could have given.
However, the truth was somewhat different. In fact, the girls’ story turned Mrs. Gardener’s stomach and made her question the upbringing that they had endured before they came to her home in Tennessee. The young girls hesitantly told the story of Halloweens past. Not of trick-or-treating and playing with their friends, but the humiliation and cruel actions inflicted on them by their carers at the time.
Bridgett and Breona took Mrs. Gardener back to their last Halloween experience. They had collected their sweets like most kids do. Moreover, that had been the fun bit. But once the girls had returned home, all had changed.
Once indoors, the adults inspected the sisters’ stash of goodies. They picked the pic’n’mix and selected the tasty treats on offer. The sweets no longer belonged to the children; it became clear that they were only for the adults to enjoy.
Recounting the incidents, the children admitted that the grown-ups would take the tastiest sweets and eat them in front of the children. Furthermore, they didn’t just eat them, but made the children watch. It was a cruel and heartless joke to play on the sisters who had to watch their treasures disappear.
Furthermore, they were not then left to forget the matter. Far from it. No, the two girls were forced to eat the wrappers of whatever candy had been eaten. Incredibly, they were even made to eat the brown paper that holds a chocolate peanut butter cup together.
Understandably, then, the children were left feeling anxious about Halloween. All they had ever known were the cruel taunts from past years. But mom made sure that this time around things would be different. This year they would have the best experience ever, and a family tradition was born.
As the girls stepped out of the front door, with their empty bags and adorable costumes, Mrs. Gardener hoped that this time they would allow themselves to have fun. But as the bags started to fill up with treats from kind neighbors, Mrs. Gardener noticed that with every house came an anxious peek into the bag. The children were secretly counting the sweets, making a note of every treat they had earned.
Finally, the route was finished and they returned home. But the mom had a trick of her own up her sleeve. She had prepared a way to put a stop to their worries. Now she had to persuade her children that they could have a happy Halloween despite their sadness.
With each bag, she drew out a marker pen and told the children her idea. Slowly, they worked through the piles of candy until every piece had been accounted for. Not only were the children able to keep their sweets, but they were able to see for themselves what they had and know that no one else could touch their bags. She had turned their fears into a game, noting down how many of each sweet was up for grabs.
The sisters treasured the bags and carefully wrote down what had been eaten and when. This was the only way Mrs. Gardener believed that the girls’ trust would be gained. And piece by piece, day by day, the bond between these girls and their new family grew and grew.
Mrs. Gardener still caught them peeping into their bags often, but she knew that it was to be expected. For weeks after the main evening of festivities, the family went through a ritual whereby each child would pore over their sweets, counting them to make sure they had not been eaten by any adults. The taunts from their past started to fade in their memories, replaced by their new family game.
Family life continued, and they made the regular counting sessions of their new Halloween tradition the norm. But one day, young Bridgett did something that affirmed Mrs. Gardeners unconditional love that she already felt for the girls. Mrs. Gardener had been tidying up the house after a busy family day when her youngest emerged from the kitchen pantry clutching a bag.
Wrapped around the bag were some sheets of paper. A gift had been made and was lovingly being offered. The girl outstretched her arms holding the gift to her mom. A post commenting on what happened has since gone viral attracting a response from thousands of people.
Inside the bag were sweets. Not only were they some of her favorites, but they seem to have been specially picked out for the mom the enjoy. Scribbled in Bridgett’s neatest handwriting was a message that melted the heart of the parent and many others who have since read it. Mrs. Gardener revealed what it said through her Facebook account.
A label on the bag read, “Mom, I want to give you a taste of how much love I have for you by giving you my candy.” Unsurprisingly, Mrs. Gardener holds her children extra tight after hearing what they went through. And she urged others to learn from the tale, explaining that many of us could give gifts of love and support to others.
A similar tale written by the very same loving mother was shared 1.2 million times recently when she urged her child to be careful about what she said at school. She told her daughter and the world that once spoken, no words can be taken back. The ideas that Mrs. Gardener lives by are inspiring for all. The family have a sweet new tradition and the online world has enjoyed hearing about their adventures.