“What if I bang my head with this pan?” Sabrina* asks while putting away the dishes.
Since I’ve just admonished her to think for her herself, I remain silent.
My 3yr old is not. “No, Sabrina. No!” she shouts.
“I’m tired,” the 17yr old moans, as she has been for the past 1/2hr. “Hitting myself with the flying pan might wake me up.”
Today Sabrina, my foster child with fetal alcohol syndrome and a significantly low IQ, toured the college she’ll be attending. She and the other visiting foster children completed a World Race type game to familiarize themselves with the campus. Being fairly fit, I doubt she’s tired from the extensive walking. It’s all the thinking. Sabrina shrinks back from thinking for herself. It’s become exaggerated since younger children joined our family. While I’m figuring things out for them, I might as well do it for her seems to be the approach she’s taking.
For her the question is absolutely sincere, “What will happen to me if I bang my head with this frying pan?”
This is when I cringe at all the teachers and communicators who say, “There’s no such thing as a stupid question.” Spend a day at my house and you’ll change your tune. There are stupid questions. “Will hitting myself with a frying pan wake me up?” is one.
There are stupid statements. One weekend Sabrina became completely fixated on doing her nails in the basement while watching tv. In nearly 5yr of living with me the rule has always been: nails are done in the bathroom only. Something switched in her brain after doing her nails while watching tv at a friend’s house. She could not switch back. I wasn’t going to back down, especially when I found out she spilled nail polish all over the friend’s rug while doing her nails and watching tv. Multitasking isn’t Sabrina’s strong suit. Even with me pointing out the mishap elsewhere, she couldn’t fathom doing her nails in the bathroom. I put an end to the stalemate by tossing all her nail polish in the garbage.
“This is all you’ve ever wanted – to throw out my nail polish. You’ve been waiting for a chance since I moved here!” Sabrina shouted at me.
“Really? Since you came here nearly 5yrs ago I’ve been looking for a reason to throw out your nail polish?” Sometimes when I repeat it back she can see the absurdity. Not this time.
“Yes, this is what you always wanted – to have a foster kid so you can throw out her nail polish.”
I love Sabrina dearly. She’s my first foster child. I’ve seen her blossom into an amazing young woman. Along the way she’s taught me some important lessons. Hopefully she can say the same of me. My goal was to prepare her for life. Most days she’s high functioning. Unfortunately, I’ve become less so. Waves of exhaustion hit me throughout the day. Often I end up just lying down on the couch for a minute or two while the children whirl around me. The casual observer would chalk it up to the two little ones, 3 &5, who are certainly suffering from ADHD. But it’s more than that. Thinking really is hard. It’s downright exhausting. Before it was just Sabrina and I. Now I have 5 people to think for, plan for, and speak for all day long! There’s me, 17yr old Sabrina, 11yr old Megan*, 5yr old Sloan*, and 3yr old Elise*. I have to anticipate reactions, intervene, explain, interpret for the kids as they interact with each other and the world at large. With the younger two it’s the age. For Sabrina and Megan it’s their limitations. Long before the end of the day, I’m exhausted. Maybe banging my head with a frying pan would help. Sabrina diligently prays to Jesus to heal her. I have faith for that! Imagine not being weighed down by her birth mother’s short comings. After 17 long years of trying to navigate the world with a brain hindered by exposure to alcohol, it would be a true miracle for Sabrina. I want that for her. I know my God’s capable. I’m believing! While we wait for that, the effort it takes to break down every situation is beyond me. I still help to navigate necessary concepts like the importance of flossing (both her parents have lost their teeth due to poor hygiene) or that Christmas is Jesus’ birthday. Today I let her request for the meaning of mentor slide among other things because thinking, explaining, and navigating for 5 is really hard. So if you invite me out with the question, “Where do you want to go?” don’t be surprised by my confusion. Thinking is really hard.
*name changed for obvious reasons