Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Take a deep breath

Today has a "plunging over the brink" feel to it. Within a couple of hours, I will make a phone call to someone who's waiting to hear from me. During our conversation I will say something like "We've decided to go ahead with it." And the first step toward bringing a foster child into our home will have been taken.

We were licensed as a foster family in Illinois about 2 years ago. From that time, our understanding with the excellent agency through which we are licensed has consisted of two points: (1) we prefer temporary placements rather than those likely to result in adoption, as we do not wish to adopt a child, and (2) we do not wish to take any children the same age or older than our daughter, S. (who is now 11 & 1/2). It just seems like a bad idea to take in a child whose first act, albeit unintentional, would be to displace S. from her position in the family, or to compete with her for that position. Most of the children who come through the agency are under 10 anyway, so this isn't much of a restriction.

I could write many pages about our first foster child, but that story will have to wait for another day. Suffice it to say that A. and I got the wish that we silently but fervently shared: "Shallow end for us, please." Even before our license came through the agency started matching us up with a girl who they thought would be a good fit for our family. We'll call her Catherine. She was a sweet, quiet, smart girl, just turning 5, who'd had a rough time in her short life, but had not been directly abused. She had been removed from her home because of abuse suffered by a sibling, not by her. As a result, her spirit had been bruised but not scarred.

Catherine was with us for about nine months, and did well here. You could tell that at first she thought that she had landed on Mars. She was a black girl from the west side of Chicago and had never been in a white family's home before. She didn't know any white people except those at the agency, and it was clear that along the way she had heard some pretty unflattering talk about us in general. Well, let me tell you, here at the Fifth Decade house we're pretty white, and Catherine didn't know what to make of it. At dinner on one of her first visits here, she looked down at her baked fish, then at everyone else's, and said "This is yall's food?" She had a way of saying things like that with just the hint of a smile, so we all laughed, including her, and went ahead with our dinner. She had lots of humor in her, and some steel as well, and her experience had taught her to adapt. She did just that over the next months, as did we, and the five of us grew comfortable together.

Catherine left almost exactly a year ago, and by all accounts she's doing well in the family that's adopting her. I am not going to talk about what it was like watching her go, except to say that it was cruelly hard on all of us. A. and I still sometimes lie awake nights wondering if we did the right thing. We don't doubt that taking her in was the right thing to do, but we're not so sure about letting her go.

Sometimes A. even questions the morality of bringing a child into our home, treating her like a family member in every way, letting her learn to love and trust us, and then allowing her to be taken away to live somewhere else and go through it all again. It's a tough question. I struggle with it too, but I usually revert to pragmatism, and the reason we got into fostering in the first place. We didn't cause any of these kids to be taken from their homes. What we have done is say: "Here, here is a safe place to stay for a while. We will feed you, clothe you, nurture you, and encourage you. We will help you to deal with the losses you have suffered. We will subject you to our ridiculous tempers no more often than our birth kids (hey, we're working on it). Finally, when the time comes to move on, we will do everything we can to ease the transition, and to help it feel like a move forward."

There's a fair amount of pain inherent in fostering, for the foster child as well as the foster family, but because of all the need out there, this is an arrangement I can live with.

After Catherine left we asked not to be called for any long-term placements for a while. Aside from one short-term emergency placement, it's just been the four of us for a while. The timing has been good, as we have been able to focus on helping our son W. adjust to high school (a little rocky, that), our daughter S. to middle school (not so rocky--she's a confident one), and A. to teaching more or less full time.

A few weeks ago the agency called us again, and here we are. There's a six-year-old boy needing a home while he and his mother work toward the court-mandated goal of reuniting within a year (a happily realistic goal in this case, so we hear). We've talked it around and around, but the trend of our conversations has been toward saying Yes. Our daughter S. has been less enthusiastic than the rest of us this time. This is a girl who threw herself without the slightest reserve into being Catherine's big sister, and when Catherine left, S. wrote a dedication to her that was so moving the agency read it from the podium at their annual fundraising event. So we have taken her reservations seriously (in large part the problem is that the child in question this time is a boy, not a girl), and given her time, and talked things over with her. The final message is that she's ready to do it again. I'm glad, because it feels right.

The afternoon is starting to get away from me, and I have lots to do. I see how incomplete this post is, and wish I could write more, but I have a phone call to make.

After I take a deep breath.


Blogger Moreena said...

Wow. I am so glad that you decided to start up this blog. I am just enthralled reading your stories of life with teenagers (a phase of parenthood that I have perhaps slightly paranoid feelings about) and now as a foster parent, as well. The very best thing about these on-line journals, I think, is the chance that it gives us to gain from the wisdom and experience of others. Thanks, and good luck with your next big step.

3/01/2005 9:30 PM  
Anonymous R said...

This post was really moving. I used to work with kids who were in danger of being removed from their families and entering the foster care system or going to group homes. I used to pray that they'd end up in situations that were better than the ones they were leaving and that were safe and nurturing. Thanks for being foster parents - what you're doing is SO important.

Also, thanks for sharing this post!

3/01/2005 11:06 PM  
Blogger mrs.holmes said...

I, too, enjoy reading your version of things. And I love knowing about such caring and intelligent people. Thanks for letting us in on your life.

3/03/2005 12:41 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home