There are things that happen within the privacy of a home that we never learn about. The private family struggles that can be hard to offer as you know you haven't really made it out of the woods, and yet you have something to say about where you are standing in this moment. Here is what I want to say to anyone who has an interest in hearing from a family standing in the gap of foster care and trying really hard to do something good. Kind. Just.
Two weeks ago our boys' older siblings moved in for an emergency placement for the weekend. It was a holiday weekend. The plan had long been for them to move from their previous foster home to a new home and there was a gap. We all knew this was coming for a month at least. Last minute placements slipped through the system's fingers and it was Friday at 3:30pm before a 3 day weekend and our big brother and sister had no where to go. I called The Artist to talk about our offering to be a home "only for the weekend, Tuesday is our hard limit, no excuses." Well, Tuesday turned into two weeks which is turning into a month. The condensed version is this: two beautiful kids who share blood and history with my boys need a home to adopt them and a family to love them forever. I know that home cannot be with us. The current plan is to search intensely for a pre-adoptive home for big brother and sister, and we are holding onto them while this process happens. In my heart I know the work of building a forever family does not happen on timelines, and no one involved wishes to compromise under deadlines and pressure. And yet, here we are. It's a funny thing to offer yourself into a situation which requires immeasurable compromise, discomfort, uncertainty and genuine joy.
When we said yes to being a more permanent-temporary home I knew I was saying yes to hope and opportunity for the older two kiddos. I will stand tall and say this is a good thing to do. I know it is. They deserve opportunities, love, and dedication in a way the foster care system has not offered them yet. In the same breath I will also say we made a choice to give our boys less of what they have come to know and rely on in having attuned, present adults, and introduce chaos, traumatic reminders and aggression into our home. And this is not something we took lightly. Tiny has only conscious memory of a home with his two Moms and his toddler brother - he feels rymthic, connected. He does all those wonderful textbook things babies should do; he makes faces that mirror mine, he catches my eye in any uncertain event and with my smile and head nod he gently moves forward. He sleeps in his crib (sometimes) and when he is teething or sick sleeping next to a Mom allows him to rest easier. The gift of good enough attachment here helps us immeasurably as Mamas. My sweet Mr. T is funny, kind and a sensitive soul. Mr. T has disorganized and troubling memories that surface mostly as night terrors, generalized anxiety and pretty intense sensory disorganization. We had a family rhythm, a bedtime routine, that was finely honed over the course of a year and a half that finally, FINALLY, allowed my toddler boy to sleep beyond 2 hours at a time. And it's ridiculously elaborate: dimmer switches throughout the whole house, tubby time, books, yoga, guided visualization, lavender essential oil spray around his room, weighted blankets and chew toys. It's kind of amazing I can remember it all. And now we have big kids with very different histories, who have gotten so little in their lives they are hungry for it all. And their needs and basic household needs and Moms' needs have shot this meditation-on-relaxing bedtime to hell. It would be dishonest to say this is nothing but a fun crazy, hectic time of wild kid energy. Mr. T feels unsure of his place now I think, and we have tightened our routine back down to make sure he is still getting as much from us as he possibly can, but it's admittedly less.
The battle for adult attention in our home is terrifically hard for the Moms to balance. I feel like I have three 3 year olds, and a 21 month old. No one can toilet or bathe independently. Which seems like not really a big deal until you do the math on 4 kids and how many times they pee and poop a day. All four of my kids need significant help eating and need outfit changes after almost every meal. Riding in cars is t o u g h. If I were a betting Mama I would say a lot of their history involved being strapped into strollers/carseats/something as being restrained in carseats was traumatic for all of us on the first long cartrip. The feeling I experience most during the day is a wish to unzip myself and be in four places at once. Everyone needs something most of the time, so I'm having to tally up who gets attended to first, which isn't something I really had to do before and it feels awful to know I'm sometimes choosing to let our boys wait it out and watch other kids get picked over them. Not a big deal, many would say. Maybe even waiting to get your needs met builds character and patience? Totally, I would say. So long as those kids waiting it out have gotten enough from the people they need it from and have the internal resources to feel loved and secure even while waiting it out. Not quite the situation I have in my house. Most of my day is spent knowing we are doing a good thing in helping our biggest kiddos learn how to be in a family, how to share, how to not hurt someone else's body when you're upset, how to accept redirection and limits. How to melt down and get back on track when you're ready, and better than that let your grown up step back into it with you as you move forward. These are things kids need to know how to do to develop in a good enough way. These are things that can only help them do the work of building a family when they are able to connect with the adults who will raise them forever. I would say that the biggest kiddos in my home have been doing amazingly well over the past few weeks. Calming bodies and voices, tolerating limits (I mean, real talk, some limits), not hurting anyone else and not raging and scaring the little kids so many times a day. And the little markers: their skin is not as chronically dry or showing signs of eczema, they're eating well (two more for the leafy green lyfe), their nails and hair look attended to. The largest reason I think they are really launching here though is probably the most complicated.
Connection, self worth, trust - these are tricky things to rebuild when you come from a hard place. I'm a broken record here, but these are the things you heal over a lifetime in different ways, and I'll just say again I think this is heart-breaking and beautiful work. Really, I do. And I hope we are laying small stones in their path to help them as they grow. But the bigger reason they are thriving is that they are getting all the more superficial things kids like and that's super exciting. New clothes! They came with only clothes for the first weekend. Backpacks, lunch boxes! Books! Games! Chew toys! Beach trips and museums and water parks! This stuff is totally fun and worth being excited over. And eventually the new clothes will stop when they have enough to get by with, and the trips won't feel so novel or as exciting because that is what happens when things become routine or predictable. And that is when we will really hit the floor. Some folks call this the honeymoon, and I think that's not precisely right as the kids have known us for over a year and we have lots of expectations and family rules around language and kindness. This is more the complicated work of rebuilding a heart from the outside in, if that makes sense. A small example: I brought home a Dino lunchbox from Target for our biggest brother, nothing fancy it was like $4. When I showed it to him to explain how we'll pack his lunch tomorrow he said, " I just love you so much! I love you!" And here is where I say "Oh my gosh, you're so happy! I'm glad you're happy, happy feels good! And I love you too that's why I read books, and listen to all the reasons you are mad or frustrated. This is happiness you have something new, and that's so great!" Getting things is not love. Nice shoes and embroidered backpacks, those are not love, those are things. It's really fucking hard to not confuse this all when you've gotten so little. And now they are in the getting things phase, because that is how it goes at first. And eventually it will be the "I want more/better/RIGHT NOW" phase because that is what happens when you start getting things before you know how to use relationships. It's not their fault, kids come by this honestly. Many, many adults can relate. All that to say, our biggest kids are seeming really feel happy here. Biggest brother (who is 5) asked me yesterday if I could get a rocket and take him to the moon on Sunday, he thinks this is a totally plausible thing I could do for him. It's completely adorable, and at the same time causes my heart to hurt. That is the level of excitement and novelty he has about the family adventures we take now. Family adventures our boys think are kind of mundane or typical. When you've lived through terrible trauma, you will do amazing in certain places, before you really struggle everywhere. That is the way healing from complex trauma happens. When you expect this linear trajectory because it's going so good, it's a set up for everyone. And we know this. And we knew this when we said yes. So right now we are doing amazing in places with our biggest kiddos. At the same time our boys are struggling with sharing, struggling to get so much less of us, struggling witnessing scary behavior and language they're not used to. And I knew all of this when we said yes.
In the end the biggest reason I wanted to say yes to being a home for our biggest kiddos was that I wanted our boys to know that our family did a really hard thing, all together, when it mattered, because it was the right thing to do. And that in essence this is the way we write our family story. I wanted them to grow up knowing we said "yes" fully aware it was going to require painful growth on all our parts, and also knowing we stood beside their brother and sister at a time when they needed love and holding. Building a family is such personal and messy work. Beautiful work. Hard work. I can't even begin to imagine what happens next for us all. I just believe we as Moms, and we as a family, are doing the hard work that comes along with doing a good thing together.
-Foster Mom (therapist)