Don’t call us, we’ll call you

November 6, 2016

Foster parenting, Day 15

Filed under: Family, foster parenting, Motherhood, Personal — Tags: , — llcall @ 10:18 pm

19 September

This morning as we said our family prayer before rushing out the door for the bus, Neal asked Addison to pray for the little guy to have a good visiting day. She prayed for that and then added on her own, “And please bless his mom to not be too sad.”

It made me feel like despite all the craziness of the last two weeks we must be doing something right if Addison is thinking of and caring about this woman that she’s never met. I think as a foster/hoping-to-adopt-someday parent, you need constant reminders that the biological family is not the enemy. You’re sad/mad that they’ve made bad choices that hurt the child that you started to love the minute you held him. You’re scared about whether they will have learned the lessons they need to do better.

But if you’re honest, you know that they’ve probably been through things you haven’t. Maybe they weren’t raised with the kind of love and nurturing that you took for granted. Maybe they were exposed to, or not taught to avoid, drug and alcohol abuse that can impair all your good sense and positive parenting impulses if you don’t actively fight against it. Maybe they’re stressed to a breaking point just trying to keep a roof over their heads in the face of limited education or employment opportunities.

We have no idea what factors are playing out in the lives of baby B’s biological family. What we do know is that the police found him alone at home, and a judge determined that he should be retained in state custody for an undetermined period of time. We know that his mom is sad and confused.

Foster parenting is certainly the most emotionally and cognitively dissonant thing I’ve experienced. I want to be like Addison and pray for his mom. I want to believe that she can right the wrongs that have been done to him. I want to pray that she will have the enormous strength it takes to change ingrained habits, and eventually bring him back to a safe, healthy home. But I also want him to stay with us forever, because we can give him everything he could ever need (except his bio family). I want to pray for that instead. And so, often, I pray for nothing related to him at all . . . because too many thoughts, too many emotions. Too loaded.

The saving grace for me is that I have years of experience interacting with people who have made bad choices. When his mom and I talk in the lobby before they go behind the locked door and I leave (always, always leave), I can very nearly dissociate who she is from what has happened. How was your weekend? When is your friend’s baby due?  What’s happening with her boyfriend? I chit-chat with the best of ’em and she readily talks, just as if she were a client sitting in my office. I make empathic responses to all the complicated situations she confides. Sometimes I give little bits of advice, the same things I would tell my clients who had lost their children to the foster care system. In those moments, she’s just a person and the emotional complexity falls away. Because I’m good at people. And she’s not bad or evil, just flawed. Like all of us.

And so I must remember, please bless his mom to not be too sad.

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Foster parenting, Day 9

Filed under: Family, foster parenting, Motherhood, Personal — Tags: , , — llcall @ 8:57 pm

13 September

Don’t ever wait in the lobby while your foster child visits with his parents.

That’s the piece of advice I wish I’d gotten. That’s the piece of advice that I’ll always give to new foster parents I encounter. It was our first day of visitation and I didn’t know what to expect. As the court supervisor came out to get baby B and his mom, I asked, “Am I supposed to wait here? Should I give her this diaper bag? Should I give her food to take back?” To all of the above, she just said that I could if I wanted to, and she would call me if they needed me. I felt in limbo, unsure what was expected of me. Nobody offered further explanation. (Now that we’re on Day 61, it’s obvious that limbo is the norm, and explanations are hard to come by.)

Baby B was okay with mom holding him as long as Neal or I were in sight, but as they started to inch further through the solid, locking door, he began to cry. And as the door slowly closed, and his vision of me got smaller and smaller, he became frantic. I wished it was a sound-proof door because I could still hear his screaming for what was probably 45 seconds, but felt like 15 minutes. Neal went to pick up wipes, puffs, and baby food. And I sat and stared at the gray door.

I brought my computer to work (focus on what I can control, I said that all the time in those first days and weeks), but I kept hearing the baby’s cries in my mind. And it’s both hard and a bit dangerous to type important emails through tears. It turns out I mentioned where I was and my current emotional state in about 75% of my emails that day (thank goodness I have colleagues that are also friends . . . and even therapists 😉 ).

The court supervisor called me about 45 minutes into the scheduled two hours. She told me he finally stopped crying after 20-30 minutes, but mom thought he was really hungry and she wanted to know if he’d eaten. The thought of him crying for the first quarter of the visit brought fresh tears.

Every time I managed to turn my attention back to work, a new foster parent came in to drop off a child. I saw an adorable little girl skip in holding her foster mother’s hand, her dark brown curls bouncing up and down. When the intake clerk commented on how cute she was, the foster mother said, “Oh she looks cute, but she’s horrible. She’s really mean.” Later a toddler was carried in. She was old enough to be walking, but a bright pink cast covered her entire lower body — from pelvis to ankle on each leg.

Then there were the kids coming back out from their supervised visits. They emerged and often ran toward their foster parents for hugs and greetings. But then there was the glance back to the bio parents. Watching their confused and conflicted faces, I could only imagine what was going through their minds. Did I seem too excited to see my “new” parents? Who do I belong with? Should I be happy with both? Or neither? One little boy, in particular, just broke me heart. They came out a few minutes late and the foster mom seemed anxious to get on their way. “Come on, ___, let’s go.” Bio mom, in the meantime, leaned down for a goodbye, “Give me a kiss.” He just stood there. Foster mom already had his hand to lead him to the door, but he’s frozen in place while bio mom’s face is just inches from his. “Give me a kiss.” I don’t think he wants to. Finally, bio mom swoops him up in her arms and gives him a kiss, hug, tries to be playful. He never smiles. Finally, the supervisor intervenes to say it’s time to go.

I cried a bit more loudly and visibly at that scene. He shouldn’t have to kiss her. He doesn’t owe her anything just because she brought him into the world. But at just 4 or 5 years old, he has no control and no voice. And as the courts seek to balance the rights of the bio parents, the children will inevitably be required to do many things with and for their bio parents as if they do owe them something. And this was just one visitation lobby, in one county, in one state, in one country in the world. This scene plays out millions of times in millions of places.

When baby B finally emerged, he was calm but withdrawn. Mom didn’t hand him back immediately and seemed about equally withdrawn. But when the court supervisor finally said, “If you’re ready, ___, you need to give him back,” she teared up, gave him one more squeeze, and held him out to me. I cried too; I don’t know if she saw.

I was just a hair above non-functional the rest of the day. I sat slumped on the couch for several hours, crying intermittently, but smiling and feigning excitement whenever baby B toddled over to me. I felt the same crushing weight I remembered from the night I wandered the streets of D.C., wringing my hands about my Oliver and all the Olivers in the world. So much pain and suffering in the world, and this HSP  was breaking apart after just nine days of foster parenting and two hours in the lobby.

Don’t ever wait in the lobby while your foster child visits with his parents.

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