Monday, October 18, 2010

And Then There Were Three

Guest Post by Laura Deurmyer for Adopt-a-tude

We are once again a family of three. Our most recent foster child went to live with relatives, reunited with his baby sister. He's getting the help he needs from his social workers; he's going to counseling. He'll be OK. He'll be safe.

We'll be OK too, but it's taking a little adjustment time. And to make the move even more jarring, my husband and I have determined that it will be our last foster placement for a while.

To be honest, I have such mixed feelings about the whole thing that I don't even know where to start writing.

I feel guilt most strongly. We're going back to being talkers, not doers. Sure, we'll still support children's rights and policies that protect them against abuse and neglect. But words matter little compared to deeds. I know that; my husband knows that. And our son will know that too.

Then there's relief. For the first time in months, our son and I can have a mom-son moment without a little voice plaintively interrupting “Aunt Laura!” Just as kids sense an adult on the phone and immediately move to get attention, our foster son sniffed out any attention that I was paying to Jacob and immediately moved to get his share. The little guy virtually velcroed himself to my side whenever he was not at school; he lived on my lap, in the chair beside me, pulling on my arm. Just being able to hold Jacob’s hand or being able to sit by him at breakfast seemed like a shiny new experience last weekend. But I feel guilt that I feel relief. Guilt again.

Strangely, there's hurt. When our foster son got the news that he was going to live with a relative, he was thrilled. He let us know in no uncertain terms that this would make him really happy. That he would not miss us—or our many rules—and that he was outta here. His attitude was basically, “Pack my stuff—all my stuff—and make it snappy!” It's childish of me, I know, but his eagerness to leave us hurts my feelings. Just a little. What happened to his intense protestations of love? Of course, I feel guilty that I feel hurt.

Naturally, there's worry and sadness. Will he be safe and loved? When he gets home from school, will there be an adult who will do his homework with him? (He loves school and loves homework.) Does he know that we really love him, that he is worthy of being loved? He demanded so much attention and gave so much affection in return; despite my relief at being free of the constant pressure, I feel a strong sadness at the thought of never hugging him again.

Quite aside from the emotional end of things, there are other changes that our re-configuration back to a family of three entails. I miss the kids’ laughter echoing down the hall from their room. I miss their silly conversations in the car on the way to school. I miss how they made their way to the cafeteria for breakfast each morning, “big brother” Jacob proudly guiding his pal through the parking lot.

On the other hand, I don't miss the constant smell of urine in the bathroom, generated by the pee that went everywhere but in the toilet, and I can't say I'm displeased that I no longer have to clean the bathroom every night before bed. The Geo-Trax train parts all over the floor are something I can live without too. Also the pouting/ crying/ lying sessions that occurred with some regularity. (I understood why he did those things, I just don't miss them.)

With our under-forty population in the house down to just Jacob, I also realize how much drama and stress our foster son created. The time-out corner is no longer continually warm. We don't have to watch out the window vigilantly to make sure that no one is getting physically attacked in a sudden bout of acting-out violent dreams, memories, or fantasies. Bedtime is a snap.

I feel sure that Jacob is sad; he is trying to be very adult about it. It twists my heart when I ask him if anything is wrong and he answers with a pained smile that doesn't reach his eyes: “I'm OK, Mom.”

Though his Dad and I told him it was fine for him to cry, fine for him to miss his “brother,” he isn't allowing that for himself. He plays quietly with his toys when he's not outside with the neighborhood kids, but much of the joy of playing cars or knights or pirates comes from interaction with another child. Thank God we live in a neighborhood full of kids who play together.

In deciding to make this our last placement for the foreseeable future, my husband and I discussed why were were fostering. I realized clearly that one of the biggest reasons for me—a disturbingly important reason for me—was that I had always wanted a second child. I wanted a sibling for our son. We had combined this semi-subconscious want of mine with my husband's feeling that we could be doing something to make the world better and wound up foster parents.

My selfish motivation is not what is required for embarking on a life-devoting labor of love like fostering. Instead, it is a reason that was all about me and not at all about the children or my family.

I still feel that our family could play a role in helping children. At some future point, I may be able to shift my heart again from what I want—fulfilling my view of what a family "should" be—to what the kids need. Meanwhile, the look in Jacob's eye at losing yet another “sibling” confirms our decision that we're not at that point right now.

We've helped several children get through very hard times in their lives. We love them all. We have a wonderful child of our own who is the joy of our lives. For now, that is enough.

This post has been cross-posted on Laura's blog at Open Salon.