I keep waiting for the right time to write about this. I am not sure when that will be. I was hoping that some epiphany would help me understand what I should tell you–what this experience has been like–being a foster parent but wanting to be more.
Consider for a moment the possibility that at some point in the future there is a call followed by a knock at the door. Someone is standing in your house asking you to quickly gather up some things for your child and hand him over. There will be no more contact with him, and in fact you will likely never hear from him again. No one will help you with your grief. No one will thank you for your help. No one will care about your pain or whether you will survive the loss. There will be no photos, no reports, no indication that he even made it to adulthood. When I think about our foster son going back to be with his biological parents, based upon our experiences thus far with social services, this is what I believe will happen.
Often the thoughts of losing our foster son creep in unexpectedly. Usually I am still and my mind is free to wander a little–sometimes on the train when I find myself carelessly day-dreaming rather than doing work or writing for the blog–sometimes when I run and I am in a peaceful place at an easy stride and the opportunistic reminders make their move. Though I never completely forget that he is what he is and I am what I am, there is this euphoria that takes over when we are all together. It obscures for the moment, the reality of our respective legal statuses: he being the foster kid, taken from his family and placed in temporary custody of social services, and we essentially being the hired hands who are supposed to serve as his parents while things get sorted out. Ultimately the court and the dysfunctional social services system have decided that he will not stay with us.
I don’t know what our foster son senses in all of this. Does he have any notion that he was removed from the care of his biological parents and placed with a set of complete strangers? What was it like the very first time I picked him up and held him in our living room? I wish that he could remember when he gets older and be able to articulate all that he was feeling during this time. Well, maybe it’s good that he will not remember, because he also will not remember how sick he really was, how bad off things had gotten for him at home, how he was loved while he was with us, and the pain that we all felt when he was sent back.
Sometimes I dread that day not just because of the loss and the pain, but because I was the one who led us down this path initially. Darrow agreed to cautiously come along. And we both agreed that if it turned out that this was not the right path we could find some other means to have children. But things did happen. We breezed through the certification process so quickly and easily. (Was that just fate that we were there when he needed us?) We started getting calls and our foster son appeared at our door about a month after becoming foster parents. And while I can’t help but feel responsible, it does seem like a silly notion sometimes. I think if someone were to ask whether either of us would have been foster parents under the same circumstances, I don’t think we could imagine saying no. He has brought so much to our lives. In the end, I can say with confidence now that the pain I might have to bear could never outweigh the joy and happiness he has brought to our lives. I say this now, because when it does happen, when he is no longer with us, I need to remember that this is the reality, especially if it all seems too much to bear once his room is empty.
A few weeks ago I was running in the early morning. It was before our last court date. I had imagined that it would be our very first opportunity to be present during the proceedings and thought we would be allowed to make a statement. As I reached mile four I began to compose that statement by introducing Darrow and I to the court. Then I described the night that our foster son arrived in our home, how we took time off to help him get a jump start on his development and because of numerous doctors’ appointments. By mile five I was telling them how we loved him and cared for him and he did all the rest-achieving developmental milestones at an exponential rate. His physical therapist eventually gave up setting goals for him because he had surpassed everyone of them each time she came for a visit. In the end she noted that he had made up six months worth of development in just two months. By mile six I had begun to share the extent of his determination, how he waddles down the street sometimes clapping his hands because he is so happy to be upright; that he gets a charge by just climbing and descending stairs over and over and over; that he chases his beach ball in a way that is so daring and so full of energy, that it is hard to imagine that this is the same little boy who came to us just ten months ago. By mile six and a half I began to make my final statements: that we loved our foster son as our own and should the court so determine, we would feel honored and privileged to be his parents for as long as we live. And as I finished my statement, almost to mile seven, I found myself sobbing uncontrollably and began running as fast as I could like there was some way to escape the emotion, until I stopped in a blubbering mess on a busy street sidewalk. There I was bent over on Charles Street unable to contain or control myself. This grown man who hates to cry, and hates that he is in the position to do so in such a public way. I began to curse those responsible for this kind of pain, social services, his parents, myself for getting us into this.
After regaining my composure, I jogged back to my car and realized that whatever I was going through was about him. I cannot lose sight of this one fact-that all of this crazy emotional upheaval is because I have a son, and though he is not my own, I recognize that what I do, I do for him. And if anyone asks how I will survive the pain it is because I cling to this one thing-knowing that my life, our lives will go on as they were meant to.