Warning: This post is long and picture-less. Juan will attest that it took me forever to write it. Consider this my attempt to answer some frequently-asked questions – How’s T doing? Have you heard from his parents? Do you get to see him? The short answers are I don’t know, No and No. The longer answer follows…
Back in ’07, thanks in part to the week-long training, I started my foster care journey bright-eyed and hopeful. At that training, we learned we would play an important role in a family’s life. We and other community members – teachers, ministers, social workers, healthcare providers, etc. – would be members of teams of people meeting with and supporting families in need.
Collaboration. Support. Direct contact. It all sounded good and interesting to me. I might have been blinded by the trainers’ certainty. Like preachers speaking to a reluctant but willing congregation, they read excerpts of the training handout’s with great conviction. I couldn’t help but drink the Kool Aid.
It became crystal clear fairly early on that DSS was not going to make any moves to include us in any part of the process except child care. So left to our own devices, we attempted to establish a connection to T’s parents ourselves. I would say our initial efforts were feeble at best. The whole process was a mystery to us and no one was offering any decent advice. My first effort was an impromptu introduction at the courthouse prior to one of the hearings. Before I made the move, I remember being uncomfortably aware that to them I was a stranger taking care of their son. On another occasion, in a rush of empathy as everyone prepared to exit a hearing room, I thanked them for allowing us to be present. I knew there really was no need to thank them. Our ability to be present was not their decision to make, but at the time saying thank you seemed the right things to do. Juan and/or I also met up with the parents at three of T’s many medical appointments. Those were some of the most awkward and uncomfortable moments, in spite of having something wonderful thing in common. Unfortunately, T wasn’t enough to bring us together.
As winter wound down earlier this year and after the court ruled that unsupervised overnight visits should begin, we renewed our efforts to build a better relationship with the parents. We hoped a stronger connection would mean T’s transition would be smoother – less traumatic. We started out with what seemed like a reasonable suggestion, offering to meet with them to talk about T’s likes and dislikes, his health concerns and ways to make the coming changes easier on him. T’s parents declined that offer, leaving us mired in disappointment, puzzlement and anger. We couldn’t imagine T’s needs not being considered in what we could only assume would be a difficult process for him.
Hope waned by the time overnight and weekend visits began, but then suddenly there were signs things were changing for the better. The first drop off and pick up went better than I ever expected. At that drop off, T’s father greeted me with a handshake instead of his usual grunt and glare. We even managed to have a manly talk – complete with measurements, a hand drawn diagram and a cell phone picture – about T’s train table and space requirements in its potential new home.
Since T’s mother was usually home when I dropped him off and again when I picked him up, my main interactions were with her. I had expected her to be cool toward me, but she was the opposite instead – friendly, open and a little over-confiding. She even complained to me about the foster parents taking care of T’s sisters. I had to wonder if she was doing the same sort of complaining about me to them. On one of the drop off conversations, I mustered up the courage and broached the subject of T’s inevitable return. I asked her what she thought about keeping T in contact with his buddies from in and outside day care. I explained that many of the parents of T’s friends hoped their children could continue friendships with him. She looked surprised at the question, responding that she would have to talk to his father. That was our first and only conversation on that topic.
It was shortly after that interaction that T’s last day arrived, leaving us with an uncertain connection to hisparents. With T gone, we had little in common. All that was left were the things of T’s we had not been able to get to him – a new pair of glasses ready at the optician just days after he left, stuffed animals, books and lots of friendships. And the train table. The glasses seemed like the obvious place to start, so I contacted T’s mother to see if they could meet us at the optician to fit the glasses. I let her know of our desire and plan was to pay for them as well. She said she would call me back but she never did. Two months later, in the thick of my grief, I reluctantly packed T’s glasses in a box, walked to the post office a mile away from my job and dropped them in the mail. Included in the package, was a handwritten letter to T’s mother and father in yet another effort to do what seemed right. I wrote about practical stuff, like getting T’s remaining belongings to him. I also wrote about my hopes for T and my hopes for forging a better relationship with them.
…you, Juan, friends and family on all sides and I have the opportunity to something the world does not expect of us. The expectation is that we all go our separate ways, closing our doors and hearts in an effort to feel safe, secure and not threatened. Moving on and away requires little of us, but I wonder if there is a better way…
The package and letter made their way to T’s house in June. July and August came and went with no response. Feeling unresolved and clinging to the idea that T should at least be reunited with the books he loved, his stuffed animals and his neightborhood and day care friends, I reached out to T’s old caseworker – D. A new one had been assigned to the family post-reunification, but I was hoping D might still be able to help. After about three weeks of phone tag and delayed responses, the new caseworker finally got back to D and D to me. The verdict came via email.
Unfortunately, I do not have good news. She reported that T’s biological parents are not interested in the remainder of his belongings or in helping him remain connected with the friends he developed while in care.
I wonder now if I went too far. Was I too much? Did I come off as over-zealous? It hurts to think that I might have gotten in the way of a better relationship and that I somehow ruined T’s chance to continue – outside of us – the good and supportive friendships he developed in the 3 1/2 years he was here.
And now and perhaps ultimately, I have to sit in this reality that neither I nor his friends might ever see T again. That’s a tremendously hard pill to swallow. Sometimes silently and sometimes not, I curse DSS, the parents and yes, myself. I’m still bewildered by the notion that I have no relationship with someone that I love so deeply. None of it makes much sense to me. Maybe that will change.