About five years ago, I began dreaming about having twins – foster babies to be exact. So when Ikea had green cribs on sale for $50, I bought two. Since then the cribs have been used in various combinations – … Continue reading
15 months ago, a little girl joined our family through foster care. She was on the verge of turning 9 but the size of a 5yr old. I can’t say she’s grown much. But she has been completely transformed. And so has our family.
J brought a peace and unity to Raine and Athena. The three girls connected on the deepest level. Their days were spent playing joyously together. Raine has become so much calmer and can even whisper now. (If you’ve ever met Raine you know she pretty much always sounded like she was speaking through a megaphone.) Athena has grown in confidence and will actually hug people – something she wouldn’t do with anyone but me prior to J’s arrival.
There have been struggles as J deals with all the emotions that come with foster care and the reasons a child must be there. But she’s embraced a measure of healing. The girl here now is nothing like the one that arrived 15mths ago. She’s taller – though still needs to gain a significant amount of weight – happier, and more at peace. I’ve not been a perfect parent to her. But she knows she’s loved by our family.
And that’s why the news that J almost quite certainly will be leaving us August 19 caused Athena to run away from me crying. It made Raine go quiet. Eventually, Athena asked if I could take down the pictures we have up of J around the house. Once she’s gone, Athena doesn’t think she’ll be able to bear seeing the face of her lost friend.
The news of J’s departure isn’t really a surprise. It’s something that’s been a year in the making. Her mother has finally met all the requirements necessary to have her children returned. The social worker expects the judge to confirm this in court next week. Then J will need to go.
This is the heartbreak that keeps many from entering the world of foster care. The truth is not every child fully enters your heart. Often their brokenness keeps you from getting close. Sometimes in spite of your best efforts, there’s no connection with a child in your care. So every departure may not be completely heartbreaking. We’ve had some children with us temporarily or for a length of time and the moving on hasn’t been hard.
But in the case of J, there has been a deep connection. Her absence will hurt every member of our family. And, no doubt, the loss will affect her as well. It’s love that has changed each one of us as we’ve grown together. Whenever J’s social worker comes to visit, she’s always on the verge of tears seeing the relationship that has evolved. It saddens her to know it will come to an end. This isn’t the outcome that seems best. It’s not what we were expecting. And it’s not what we want.
Still, it is always possible in the world of foster care. So we bless J as she prepares to move from us. And I pray that Jesus, the one who calls us to love the needy, will comfort my children as they say good-bye. They’ve loved J so well. Their unconditional acceptance has enabled J to discover the beauty within herself. That revelation will go with her – that she is loveable, that she is valuable and to be treasured. Those truths are not coming to an end even though it appears J’s time with us is. She will take with her the deposits we’ve made. And we will keep the imprint of her on our hearts.
This is the phrase I’m keeping in mind. Social workers have informed me that studies show weakened immune systems in children who have been in foster care and a tendency to be accident prone.
For six days Raine has been under the weather. Her appetite is gone and she’s not her usual energetic self. Refusing to admit she’s unwell, Raine keeps making up silly excuses for her symptoms. For example, she’s arguing that the bathtub is now dreadfully too small for her 8yr old body. Because it’s so painfully small, her head is hurting from trying to washing her hair. Despite the statistics, she doesn’t know much about being sick.
The last time she suffered was at age 3. Shortly after receiving the required flu shot, she came down with the flu and step throat. Then there was the time she burned her leg our first Christmas after the adoption took place. That healed remarkably fast without a trip to the ER.
In the midst of Raine’s lingering flu like illness, Athena managed to give herself a black eye. She has a way she likes to do things. Something mimicking modern dance or creative movement is how Athena goes about the house. While retrieving a stuffed seal from the floor, she somehow managed to cut her eye on the dinning room chair. No one knows exactly how since the rest of us were upstairs. Athena’s scurrying feet and tiny howls made me think she needed to go the bathroom. (Often she waits until the last minute then runs around in circles, panicking at the thought of not making it to the toilet in time.) I was about to shout, “Get to the bathroom,” when I realized she was crying.
Rushing downstairs and gathering Athena into my arms, at first I didn’t realize she was bleeding. She buried her face on my shoulder and I managed to calm her. When she lifted her head there was a stream of blood coming from the corner of her eye. I mentally prepared for our first trip to emergency. Staying calm, I put Athena down and went to get the first aid kit. With a bit of pressure, the bleeding stopped. The cut was much smaller than I expected. Athena assured me she could see perfectly fine – and found my constant questioning and testing annoying.
Later when I put Athena to bed, I tried to discover if she’d been afraid when she got hurt. The idea didn’t make any sense to her. “I wasn’t scared,” she told me. “Jesus was there standing right behind me.”
Well, that’s a crisis averted, I thought to myself. Athena isn’t gripped by fear or anxiety. She’s still dancing through the house and happily eating meals on the chair that maimed her. Her eye is swollen and black – but not in an overly noticeable way I’ve been told. Of course it is noticeable to me.
Looking at it, I’m filled with joy and wonder. It’s a miracle that the injury wasn’t more serious. And it’s a miracle that it’s been years since Raine was sick. In the midst of illness and injury, I’m filled with joy and wonder.
Last weekend, at a visit our 9yr old foster child was told in 2mths she’ll be leaving us to live with her mother. Her dad’s certainty contradicted everything the social worker and I have said. In truth, there is no way of knowing what will become of J. Everything is still very much up in the air. But it’s quite certain, nothing is certain at this point.
J returned home quite distraught, likely heightened by the fact she was only fed M&M’s for lunch. She was starving and angry. It wasn’t long before she was melting down.
“If I’m leaving, I want to go now,” she said in the midst of her tantrum.
I reminded her that bad behaviour is not going to get her moved from my house because we really want her to stay. And it is a good place for her right now while we wait to see what will happen.
“Then I’ll kill you all so I can go,” she went on. “My dad told me you have to be 12 to go to kids jail. So I won’t get in trouble for killing you. I’ll just get to live somewhere else.”
Seems dad was a wealth of information.
I let J scream out her frustrations. Then she went to bed and, I assumed, woke up in a better frame of mind. Then at church, J decided she didn’t want Raine sitting near her. Raine ignored this demand and sat in front of the girl. J began kicking Raine’s back. Raine shouted at her to stop. J didn’t so Raine hit her. And both girls erupted. Or so I’ve pieced together from the Children’s Pastor and the girls themselves. I was paged and came to collect my unruly children.
I do appreciate the team who work in the children’s department. I know they go out of their way to manage and have often kept Raine when she’s well outside the range of acceptable behaviour. Their commitment to my kids is incredibly valuable. It grants me a brief time of peace each week as I take in the service. Despite their best efforts, the teachers could not separate and calm J and Raine.
I gathered them and Athena from the classroom. J didn’t follow me up the stairs but took off running. When I went in search of her, she was in a hallway huffing and puffing. To my instructions to come upstairs, J answered, “I’m not leaving with you. I’m going to behave so badly that I move somewhere else today.” We reviewed the fact that bad behaviour won’t get her moved – I’m committed to caring for her as long as necessary.
“I don’t want to go in 2 months. I want to go now!”
“You’re not going anywhere today. And probably not in 2 months,” I answered. “Your dad doesn’t have the ability to decide what will happen. He and your mom have been asked to do certain things so that it will be safe for you to be with them. If they do those things, a judge will decide if you go to live with your dad or your mom. But for now, you’re staying with me.”
She came to the car – kicking and scratching all the way. I drove to a nearby park, letting Raine and Athena play while J screamed and kicked inside the car. Then it was time to go out for lunch and shopping for Athena’s birthday. J pulled herself together. And managed the rest of the day without incident. At bed, she snuggled close to me and talked all about how much she loves being at our house.
It would be easier if love didn’t manifest as death threats when the possibility of leaving comes up. It would be nicer if love wasn’t a wall of hatred brought up to distance herself in the face of potential separation. But this is the look of love when you come from a place of brokenness and fear. This is how I know my care and investment have made a difference. This is the look of love in foster care.
As an adoptive/foster parent, I live in a world that is unlike most. All around there are well meaning individuals, best practices, protocol, and lingo.
Closure is a big word in foster care and adoption. It’s something that is supposed to be helpful and healing.
Two summers ago, my teenage foster child aged out of the system. Everything was arranged for her to move on to a lovely set up in a city that could better meet her needs. Sabrina* had been with me for five years. Raine and Athena hadn’t known life in our home without her. So as the move drew close, I sought out a therapist for Raine to see. Then, when Sabrina left, Raine’s anxiety level lessened dramatically. We still went to see the therapist. It was a grueling 50 minutes repeated three times. Raine, the most talkative child you will ever meet, didn’t speak at all during the sessions. The well intentioned therapist followed her around the room. As Raine bounced from the sand box to craft table, the lady was stressed beyond belief. She was deeply worried about the sand escaping from the table and too much glue being put on papers. It was very uncomfortable, made even more so by the eery silence.
Since our home life was becoming quite pleasant and Raine was not exhibiting any instability in Sabrina’s absence, I decided to end the sessions. The therapist responded to my email, insisting that we have a final visit “for closure, since Raine has experienced so many losses in her life.”
The problem with “closure” is that it doesn’t close the gaping wound left by an individual’s exit from your life. It isn’t a cure for the natural grief process. It doesn’t erase the pain.
I asked Raine if she wanted to see the therapist once more to say goodbye. She did not. So we didn’t. It wasn’t as if Raine had formed any attachment. In fact, she was completely detached from the woman which was very uncharacteristic for Raine.
Another opportunity for appropriate closure has passed us by recently. Our young friend, featured in my last post, was at a foster parent seminar I was supposed to go to. She was staying at another foster home within our agency, waiting for CAS to decide where she’d be residing. Being far from her school, the girl was not attending and would be accompanying the foster parent to our training session.
I was told she’d be helping in the children’s class which is where I’d be required to leave Raine for the day. And so, after a bit of thought, I decided not to go. The message I gave to my daughters after our dramatic ordeal, is that I can protect them and will keep them safe. Dropping Raine off to be cared for by someone who tried to harm her does not support that message.
Later when I explained to a case worker why I wasn’t there, she pointed out that I denied Raine the chance for appropriate closure. Yes, I suppose I did. These are the decisions that I make reluctantly, knowing I’m going against the grain of best practice. Social workers are educated and experienced in ways I am not. There must be something to this approach of closure – saying goodbye one last time. But I couldn’t find any benefit to my family or our friend. The context this appropriate closure was offered in made me uncomfortable. So I let the opportunity pass us by.