THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM

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Since the last time I blogged, the following things have happened:

  • I had (another) surgery on my shoulder
  • I stayed extremely sick from whatever I contracted on my trip to Cuba and lost 15 pounds
  • I got two blood clots in my arm, one of which was Deep Vein Thrombosis
  • I started a new job and have spent two separate weeks at the corporate office in Florida
  • Our foster son left suddenly, unexpectedly, and painfully.

Today, I’m just going to talk about that last one.

AJ and I got licensed to become foster parents a year ago. At the time, it seemed like an ideal way to give back to our community, test the waters of parenthood, and move away from being quite as self-centered as we typically are. The reality, obviously, was far more complicated, but take comfort in knowing that we are still equally as self-centered.

Our first foster son was here for five weeks before going back home. At the time, it felt like the longest five weeks of my life. After all, going from no kids to a very energetic five year old overnight is…an adjustment. But in reality, and in hindsight, he was just about as sweet and easy as he could possibly have been. We have maintained a relationship with his family and see them regularly, which has been a tremendous and unexpected blessing. After he left, we took a few weeks off so that I could have my first shoulder surgery. Our second foster son arrived just a few days after Thanksgiving, because the holidays are not crazy enough on their own.

As you know, I have struggled to write about him. He is a complicated child: endlessly sweet and thoughtful, prone to rages and tantrums that make your ears bleed, lover of broccoli and mowing the lawn, innocent and naive, and extremely argumentative. Life over the nine months that he spent in our home was beyond difficult for him, us, and the neighbors who have heard more than their fair share of his meltdowns, since he was apt to run outside and scream in the driveway (#suburbanliving).

And so, with little progress being made towards reunification with his mother and the future looking like it was leading to adoption, AJ and I made a difficult decision. We knew very early on that we were not a viable solution as an adoptive resource (read: we would all have killed each other if we lived together forever), so when the case began moving in that direction, we began talking to DSS and our foster son’s therapist about the best solution. We all agreed that it made sense for him to move to a long-term placement (a family open to adoption, if his case came to that) before school started in August so that he would hopefully be able to stay at his school for the entire year. We all decided not to tell him until we knew where he would be going, because that would just cause anxiety. His last day with us should have been August 10th, but that’s not what happened.

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Happier days

While I obviously can’t go into every detail of what actually transpired, I can tell you that the summer was especially hard. This is a child that thrives on routine and has difficulty regulating his emotions and little body on his best day, let alone when he is exhausted from playing all day and dealing with social situations. As summer went on, he had increasing difficulty at camp and at home, and the rages continued to get worse, coinciding with a considerable period of radio silence from his mother. His sweet brain and heart struggled to process what was happening at camp, at home, and with his mom, and to be honest, we got the brunt of that. This ultimately culminated in a two-day long rage when we caught him lying about something relatively insignificant. We never even got to the point of discussing consequences – he just lost it when we found out. After about two hours, we were finally able to calm him down and get him to sleep, only to have the entire thing start over the next day when he got home from camp. But this time, we could not deescalate the situation. We were truly at a loss for how to keep him, ourselves, and our home safe.

The pain, anger, sadness, and desperation flooding out of him over those seemingly endless hours left us breathless. Time seemed to move in slow motion. We are not his parents, and we could not parent him the way we would have parented our own child in that situation. We had no idea what to do. While we have seen more than our fair share of rages from him, this was the worst by far.  After speaking with DSS multiple times and contacting his therapist, we were told to take him to the hospital for an evaluation. We were able to bring him home that night, but we knew that we were not equipped to continue the placement, even for another two weeks. We made the decision to stick with it until a great family was found, and I wish I could say that is what happened, but it’s not. DSS removed him from our home two days later after he got into an altercation at camp.

I have many theories as to why this situation became what it did, but honestly, I will probably never really know. What became abundantly clear was that AJ and I are not capable of providing the services and resources that he needs for his heart and mind to heal. We have fought for the past nine months to get our foster son the resources we knew he so desperately needed, but those services never came. Without help and with no parenting experience, we were powerless to contend with years of trauma.

Being perhaps too honest, we were ready for him to leave on August 10th. We were excited for him and hopeful that he would have a great family with other kids to play with, but we were also ready for the endless stress to abate. We wanted him to have a place where he could really settle in and belong. We also wanted to continue to be a part of his life, but more like the fun aunt and uncle than the stressed mom and dad. This placement has been extremely difficult on everyone and at times on our marriage as well. More than anything, we wanted him to be happy, but the way he left was anything but happy for anyone. Even AJ, the world’s least emotional person, was emotional about it. The reality of that little life and all he has seen, experienced, and endured was crushing as we hugged him goodbye.

We poured into him for nine months as best we were able. I don’t think we were the best parents ever, but I know we gave it our best shot. We had envisioned a fairy tale ending where everyone got what they wanted and needed, and the reality was a shocking departure from that. It is hard not to feel like a complete failure and a horrible person. I mean, what type of people can’t handle, let alone help, an 8 year old? Yes, we had many big wins and plenty of happy moments, but the day to day reality was probably the most challenging thing I have ever done. Sitting with that failure is overwhelming, sometimes.

Someone asked me and AJ recently if we miss him. We couldn’t help but say “No.”  Do we care about him? Yes. Worry about him? Endlessly. But miss him? No. I can’t say that we do. As foster parents, one of the things we hear the most often is, “Oh, I could never do that! I would get too attached! I would be too sad when the kids left!” I think about that all the time. What kind of monster must I be? What kind of person am I? I’m so, so sad for him, but not for me and AJ. After the initial shock and pain subsided, all I have felt since is relief (and guilt for feeling relieved). I wish more foster parents talked about that, because I know we’re not the only ones who have felt this way. I’m trying to convince myself that it’s ok to say “I’m really glad we did this, but I’m also really glad it’s over.”

Of course, we care about him immensely, and our commitment to him has not ended just because his time in our home has. We were able to visit him about a week after he left, and we will visit again this weekend. He is a part of our family and he is in our lives for a reason. We are stronger and better for having him with us, and I hope one day he will say the same of his time with us.

I wish there was a happy ending or a way I could wrap a bow around this story and tie it up neatly for you, but there’s not. Life is messy. Foster care is hard. To those of you who have offered encouragement, support, and prayers along the way, whether out loud or silently, thank you.

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