What King has shaken off is the urge to condemn most abusing parents. "When people find where I work and react with horror and say, 'How could anyone hit a child?' I know they aren't around kids much," she says. "Kids can be infuriating. But most people don't set out to injure their children. Abusing parents are often people who want a lot for their kids. It's just that they don't know how to proceed, and when there are setbacks, they get frustrated and take it out on the kids. We don't have a school that teaches parenting skills. We have to fall back on the way we were raised. And the fact is, you're only as good as your teacher."
The eternal cycle. "You have to break into it somewhere," says King. "You have to teach parents a new set of responses."
King is effective, her coworkers say, because of her remarkable ability to make struggling parents feel they have everything in common with this tall, funny, elegant, commanding woman. King asserts that they really do.
"You have to understand that under the same circumstances, in the majority of cases, you would act the same way," she says. "We, the lucky we, by accident of birth, money, genetic gifts, love and sport, are fortunate in our circumstances. But beware. Things can change.
"We're all one human animal," she concludes with force. "We just live in different jungles."
So good was King in the nursery that Sister Agnes Bachmeier, a Vista volunteer, recruited her for a home visiting program to assist parents of the relief nursery's children, many of whom are poor, without transportation, and therefore isolated from family and community. "She gives her all to her families," says Bachmeier. "And she can find the humor in very difficult situations."
"That's because I'm a candidate to be an abuser myself now," says King. "I took my work home with me." In 1986 it was one-year-old Tyson, a methadone baby. "At first we just had him for foster care," says King. "We expected him not to stay. I was working with his mother to solve drug and personal problems and create a home life. But after six months, I couldn't imagine the house without a child. So we adopted four-month-old Michael. Then Tyson's mother's troubles took a nosedive, and Tyson, now 29 months, evolved into our son."
King spends less time in the relief nursery now, but is a lay member of both the Oregon State Children's Services Review Board and the Lane County Juvenile Services Commission. After the 1988 Olympics she will go to law school to specialize in juvenile law. "I'd love to rid the juvenile care system of some of its injustice," King says. "To help shift the emphasis from just keeping the family together to really looking out for the welfare of the child."