Casaubon's Book

The Story of M.

As you may remember, after waiting for a long time for a sibling placement, Eric and I took what was supposed to be a weekend placement of a little boy, M. back in October. We picked him up on a Thursday afternoon, anticipating he’d go to his father on Monday, but for various reasons, that didn’t work out. They had already done an extensive search of extended family, and we were told that M. might be with us for the long haul, until his Mother was able to take him again – and for various reasons, it wasn’t clear whether Mom would be able to take him back.

Now the first rule of foster parenting is never assume. Don’t assume the caseworkers know everything, and don’t believe what they tell you about how long they are likely to be here. We didn’t – we were prepared to have him go home a few days after arrival, and we never have allowed ourselves to really assume that M. would stay with us. His intake worker (M. still doesn’t have a long-term caseworker) is a wonderful and incredibly supportive woman who we really enjoyed working with, and generally speaking, we’ve kept a hard hold on our fantasies of permanence.

This was tough, because M. is a delightful and utterly loveable little boy. He certainly struggles with sadness due to being apart from his Mom, and we suspect (due to his reactions) some trauma from things he has seen that no two year old should have to know about. At the same time he’s a delightful kid who fits beautifully into our family. When I asked Simon how he was feeling about having M. in the family he rolled his eyes and said “Mom, last week I had a bunch of little brothers. Today I have a bunch of little brothers. It just isn’t that different!” All of our boys have been wonderful, kind playmates and enjoyed having a little guy around.

Even as we held hard to any fantasies, repeating to ourselves regularly “ok, this is foster care, kids go home” daily, and reminding the children that this is the reality, we have had to admit to ourselves that we’d be glad if M. could stay. All of us have come to love him deeply. It only took a week for Eric and I to turn to one another and say that if he can’t go home, we want to adopt him.

Today we learned that an aunt who was missed by the kinship search run earlier has come forward, and is seriously considering taking M. This could be a good situation – she’s an experienced parent with older children, has a relationship with him and cares about him. Foster care begins from the assumption that the best place for any child is in their biological family if at all possible. Sometimes this means that kids are returned or left in homes that they really shouldn’t be, or that relatives are pressured heavily into taking kids they can’t care for and don’t want. At the same time, however, in this case his conscientious caseworker is really trying to determine what the best situation is, and she wants it for him. Our job is to help prepare M. to go to a new home (he’s had a lot of transitions and those are hard on kids) with his aunt, if necessary, and to let him know he’s loved and that we want to take care of him. We’ve asked his caseworker to include a note in the file saying that if he ever comes back into care, we want him to come to us, and she has done so.

If M. goes home, he’ll go with a winter wardrobe, books and toys, and the love of not just our immediate family but an extended family as well – grandparents and aunts and uncles who when he came embraced him. He’ll go home with all our best wishes and hopes, and any support we can offer. The thing we most wish for him – that he hadn’t had to experience any of this, that we could spare him another transition, well, we can’t give that, but he’ll go with our love and the promise that our home will be open to him if at all possible.

The most common response to the news that you foster parent is “I couldn’t do that, I’d get too attached.” The answer to that is that in fact, that’s the job – kids need attachments, they need love and care, they need you to get attached to them, and help them attach to you. There’s a reason why this job cannot be done by institutions or robots – they need people who will fall in love with them, advocate for them and stand for them and say “that’s my baby who I would do anything for,” Doing it temporarily for children that might go away is admittedly difficult – but it is harder for them than for us. I understand why M. might have to go. I may grieve, but I chose this – the children in foster care don’t choose this, they don’t choose to stay with us and learn to love us, they don’t choose to move home over and over again, leaving behind friends, siblings, pets, parents, toys – everything they love. To protect myself from pain and leave them to endure seems the wrong way around.

Every foster parent I know (and my parents were foster parents and we know many) tell this story – at some point a child you love very much and felt was your own will go away – sometimes after years and in hardship that makes our pain for M. who we’ve only had a month look like nothing. Getting back up on the horse afterwards and taking another child and loving them is what makes you a real foster parent in the same way that the velveteen rabbit became real – it is the wear and tear that makes you into what you can be.

It helps that we feel that the county has dealt honorably with us (not every foster parent does), and that we have a good relationship with his caseworker. It also helps that we have hope that this is a good situation for him. It isn’t enough, of course, but that’s ok – if it can be any kind of close to enough for him, then we can go forward into the next placement with a little more knowledge and the recognition that we’ve been made real.

Sharon

Comments

  1. #1 Kate
    November 14, 2011

    Thank you for sharing. I am sure the love and acceptance he felt at your home will be carried in his heart always.

  2. #2 P. J. Grath
    November 14, 2011

    “Kids need attachments….” That’s the bottom line, isn’t it, Sharon? Thank you for that succinct statement, as well as for your personal story. It could help others follow your path.

  3. #3 Brad K.
    November 14, 2011

    Sharon,

    What is a month to you and I is, like, 1/12 of 60 years for me. I have watched many months pass. For M, that is 4% of a lifetime; longer, if you discount the early months when we aren’t aware of time passing in months and years.

    That makes this sojourn a long time for M.

    (I call this my relativity theory of time. That is why “tomorrow” to a 2 year old is similar to “next week” to a 14 year old, or “next month” to me. Our baseline is *our* life as we have known it.)

    Blessings, for the gift you have already been in his life.

  4. #4 Lauren
    November 14, 2011

    So glad that you are willing and able to do this. Thank you.

  5. #5 Michelle
    November 14, 2011

    Blessings upon you and your household, Sharon, for this selfless act of love.

  6. #6 Jenn
    November 14, 2011

    This was, I admit, something that I never really thought about, but that makes so much sense now that it’s set out in this way (why yes, sometimes I need a two by four to the skull to get it). I hadn’t given much thought to fostering children, but your story so far has got me thinking. I wish you all the best, and I hope that M. continues to get what he needs, no matter what happens.

  7. #7 Rebecca
    November 15, 2011

    Blessings to you and yours Sharon, but, while I could and might one day adopt from foster care, I could never, ever, be a foster parent. The attachment issue is one thing, but it’s not the only reason. I grew up in an abusive home and the idea of potentially having to let a child go back to one is intolerable to me. It’s just not something I could do.

    I hope M’s new home works out for him, and I’m glad you’re doing this.

  8. #8 Grandma Misi
    November 15, 2011

    One word comment, excuse the spelling!
    VERCLEMPT!

  9. #9 Joseph Ormond
    November 15, 2011

    I laughed out loud when reading Simon’s comment on little brothers. I am the oldest of five and have 3 younger brothers. He nailed it. You do good work in so many ways!

  10. #10 GL
    November 18, 2011

    Thanks for this. I found it over at Rod Dreher’s, and posted this there…
    _______________________

    We were licensed to provide foster care back in August. Though we have four children at home (and we home educate), our thought has been to “foster to adopt” since that would have the best influence for the child long term. After a couple of respite care opportunities and a potential placement that didn’t work out, we had a placement in our home about a month ago. We had 24 hours notice- the child had just been born, and could we take her tomorrow? It was a whirlwind of preparation, but my wife quickly got things in order, and the next day, we were parents of a newborn! Social workers told us she was placed with us because we were open to adopt, and that because of previous history of the birth parents, it was a virtual lock the child would not be allowed to remain in their custody. Two weeks later we got a phone call- the judge overseeing the case ordered the child back with the parents, and 2 hours later, we were baby-less again. Wow.

    It was pretty intense, I must admit. I have 3 daughters (ages 13, 12, and 8). Kleenex stock was up that day, I imagine. Living in a small town as we do, I have had some opportunity to try and help the family (I am a Baptist pastor). But yes, you do get attached.

    That being said, as a family, we are all committed to keep doing this. “Pure religion,” James 1:27 tells us, involves care for the orphaned. We have been approached just this week for taking a sibling group, and possibilities remain that our first little one could still need a home. I would be foolish to assure you that it is easy…. but these kids need homes, and the love people like you and me (readers of this blog) can provide.

    Nothing rewarding comes without difficulty.