It has taken me almost three days to feel ready enough to sit down to try to write some thoughts about what has happened. I'm still largely at a loss for how to encapsulate what I'm feeling or where precisely we are. Factually, this was the 7th and 8th time we spent an 8 hour day at this courthouse hoping to have the case heard so we can move through trial. We took more time off from work to attend, which is becoming a hardship logistically and emotionally. But the total of what I'm feeling is so much bigger than the sum of the parts. For those who have not been in a courthouse, or sat through a trial, the reality of how much happens in the hallways is quite amazing. Deals brokered, conflict initiated, peace made, agreements signed, alliances forged. We watched so much of all this going on in small ways for weeks and then all of a sudden this week really moved us from the nebulous waiting game into the land of progress. Direct questions were asked and answered, which has helped us, and the attorneys feel greater clarity about where we all stand on this process of termination and adoption. We are not done and there is not legal certainty, but it feels better than hanging out in the ether hoping for anything, just anything to happen.
There are no guidebooks for how to go about adopting within the child welfare process. There are no rules for how you should navigate a relationship with the Mom or Dad. This week in particular I was deeply wishing for stories of how other families managed this time of waiting and uncertainty while sitting together in shared space. How do you ever really feel like it is fair that she is losing her kids forever? That always felt like such a natural event previously to me, of course she would lose them forever. That is the point of adoption, parents who cannot be safe or not scary cannot parent. But what do you do with the feeling of how stacked the deck was against her in life, and how there was not ever a chance she could parent safely and compassionately? What do I do with my guilt for how much easier my life has been in countless ways? We have had record low temperatures in our city this week, like many areas in the country and I find myself preoccupied with how homeless men and women are staying alive in this arctic blast, I'm in an almost constant state of concern about how their Mom is staying warm and getting food.
I wish I had words to talk about what it feels like to sit five feet away from the boys' mother and listen to her wail with heartbreak as she says out loud the wishes she has for her boys, and the honest, naked truth is her wishes are the same as mine. She said: They're happy. Just let them be happy. And as I sit five feet away in the midst of my own tears for her pain, The Artist's tears and heartache and the pain of all of it - I'm lost in the feeling again, that there is no winning in adoption.
As a therapist my job involves sitting right next to pain and dissonance and grief. I'm not unfamiliar with sitting alongside folks who feel lost in the abyss of their despair. And yet the difference here is that the pain and tears she's weathering are a knife's blade away from being my tears and pain. We are both in this very small universe and trapped in a cycle of each other's pain and joy. I went home from court one day this week certain we would be losing the case and the boys would be returning home, I'm familiar with the pain of loss this week. It's a funny thing to feel this weighted mix of sadness and potential relief. I don't know how we all manage to walk forward from here, but I promised myself as we drove home that day that I would work to hold onto the precise way my heart felt as I held their Mom as she cried, and I cried, and we walked loops around the courthouse together trying to just keep moving through it.
One last piece my heart is muddling through happened while I was walking circles with the boys' Mom. Her support person sidled over to The Artist and said something tantamount to how, in her long years of working with birth parents, she had never seen a family do what we did on that last day. How beautiful she felt our care and concern for their Mom was, and how grateful she was to have witnessed it. I've replayed the parts of the conversation The Artist shared with me over and over in my head. Maybe we are doing something great as a big, non-traditional family here. Maybe what we are all doing together helps us in the years to come, especially as the boys grow and want all pieces of their life understood. Maybe the act of valuing a Mom who never got a chance at a good life is the most beautiful work you can do in this process. I don't know. But I'm grateful that my life work might just be to be fortunate enough to walk along figuring this out.
More to come. - Foster Mom (The Therapist)
On the other side of what was an overly emotional week, I was hoping to feel removed enough to write about this process, but if I’m honest with myself, I just don’t have it in me. Yet.
And I’d like to believe I have the sophistication and maturity to write about this in a way that doesn’t offend, but that’s not my strength. I’m the parent that leads with my feelings rather than talking much about them. So I'll just say here that so much of this is so fucked up. That I’m stuck in the soft shoulder of all the big feelings. The injustice toward mom. The damage mom did. The injustice to the kids. The trauma they’ll spend a lifetime working through. The cycle. The selfish extended family. The lawyers. The workers. The process. The older kids who have no permanency plan. The inadequate people I’m tired of being nice to. Of grazing over the huge things they continue to fuck up and cause damage around.
I suspected it was going to be a helluva bearing down kinda week. It’s the wrapping up of a TPR trial, I don’t think there’s a way around that. We were sitting together on the oversized bench of the huge, cavernous courthouse chatting, trying to keep each other occupied. We’d already talked about what the day might look like. Lots of waiting. Little movement. Maybe another cancellation. Maybe she’ll surrender. BIG FEELINGS. The boys’ mom wandered over to us and like she always does, gave us hugs, bantered a little bit - in the way a 13-year-old might - and complained about wanting this to be over. To be back in bed. All normal exchanges given this was the 5th or 6th time we’d done this sorta early-morning-at-the-courthouse greeting. Then she began a line of questioning that shook me and shifted the scales. She first said, "can I ask a stupid question," and then asked if we would change their names - as if inquiring about whether we would change the names of the children you brought into this world could ever be considered a stupid question. This was profound because of the several, several hours we’ve spent with her in this arena, not once has she eluded to either losing her children or surrendering her rights to parenting them. And here she was preparing herself, by herself, in probably the only way she knew how - by asking the most basic, most obviously important questions a mother would want to know about the children she was letting go. She went on to ask if the boys would know her. Would they know who she was. And then she erupted in tears. A deep, deep sadness/relief/sadness/defeated/relieved kinda shaking cry. I stood up and just held her. Her familiar body which birthed the two boys we are in love with and raising. Two boys - one who could not look more different, and the other who could not be more her twin. Two children, who will have the opposite outcomes in their life than so many generations that came before them.
How to manage such huge emotion while keeping it in check, showing up for work at a still-new job, being present as a parent and partner, taking care of my body is sorta beyond me still. I’m getting there. It’s a slow, painful growth that bends in the wind and reaches up toward the sun. The paperwork hasn’t been signed yet. But when it does, I think my body will settle into the long winter’s nap it so desperately needs to start the next phase of this process.
-Foster mom (The Artist)