Five years ago today was also a Wednesday.
I remember that Wednesday, sharp and clear as a photograph.
I remember the warm, golden sunlight of a late Autumn afternoon streaming through the leaves, pulling them from the branches.
I remember the soft, caressing breeze teasing through my hair, wrapping through and past our little group.
I remember the strong hug as my friend, also a foster mom, dropped the kids at our back door.
I remember her fierce whisper. “You’re going to be a GREAT mom.”
I remember the tears stinging my eyes and the concerned little faces gazing up at me.
“Why are you crying?”
“Are you sad?”
It was their first introduction to what we call “happy tears.”
I remember the incessant chatter, the celebration of having “my own room in my favorite color” and the wonder of suddenly being “the four of us.”
My memories are colored by everything I knew in my heart to be true. From the moment we met, they belonged to us. I harbored no doubt.
Funny, how shared memories of the same instant can be so different.
In their perception, we were just another foster home. The seventh, to be exact, in just over two years. To them, we were nothing more than adults who would eventually give up and request their removal. A couple of unknown aliens.
My friend provided respite care for them twice and was kind enough to let us spend time with the kids, knowing we were in process with social services. The children were unaware but every time they saw us before our placement, they begged us to come let them live with us, especially after visiting our home. Looking back, I see all the signs of attachment deficiency. At the time, we thought it was a sign.
Meant to be.
In reality, they were desperate to find somewhere, anywhere other than their current foster home with the ten-year-old monster who threatened to kill them in their sleep.
Their attachment was so disrupted, they’d have willingly followed anyone who offered them cupcakes or soda.
Today, on the way to an appointment (car rides are the best discussion times), we reminisced. The children remembered the terror. The confusion. The adaptation to an unknown environment and new adult caregivers.
“I kept screaming because everything was new and it all hurt. Even taking a shower. That’s why I liked baths. I’m used to the shower now.” My daughter stated this with nonchalance. Old news, the months of screaming.
I cringed and gritted my teeth, thanking God we never have to endure that again.
“I don’t know why he screamed all the time,” she said, with a preteen eye-roll she’s beginning to perfect. “I only screamed when I didn’t want to do something. He just screamed for hours. For no reason.”
Her description was accurate.
I waited for his verbal retaliation. None came. I wished for the millionth time that science fiction memory-wipes were real. That we could erase the trauma.
“Can we go ride roller coasters again next summer?” His incongruous question signaled he’d had enough.
She wasn’t done.
“We had a lot of bad people before we came to you. I think today is something to celebrate.”
I agreed, and at the mention of celebrating, he rejoined the conversation.
“Can we get pizza?”
If you like, read a more detailed description of our first day, written two years ago. The napkin bit is sort of gross…sorry.
Pre-Note: Something I learned from a counselor this week: if a child experiences trauma, it typically takes twice as long for the child to recover. If a child was abused for three years, expect six years of recovery; five years of abuse equals ten years necessary to heal. As she explained this, she said, “so, you can expect improvement, but total recovery is unlikely until your daughter is about age…huh. Well, right when she hits adolescence. Good luck with that.”
Our little guy gets sick with a horrible, croupy-barky, goose-honky cough every fall and spring.
This year, I thought we’d escaped the scourge, but it turns out things just happened later. Last year, he started with a minor cough in the morning, and by the time I managed to get a work-in appointment with his pediatrician in the afternoon, he could barely breathe. After oral steroids and starting a third nebulizer treatment to open airways, the doctor said, “if this doesn’t work, we’re sending you to the ER.” Not the words I wanted to hear. Thankfully, he was able to breathe by the end of the treatment and they sent us home to several weeks of breathing treatments and a follow-up to check on asthma.
This year, I didn’t wait; he started sounding like a waterfowl around 8 am. The pediatrician didn’t have a work-in until late afternoon, so we went to an urgent-care facility. The doctor was matter-of-fact. “Son, you are much too old to have croup. How did you manage this?” My boy just shook his head, coughing.
She gave him an oral steroid and a saline-only nebulizer treatment, explaining that he’s not asthmatic; the noise isn’t bronchial–it’s from a swollen trachea. I was happy he wouldn’t have the albuterol jitters. He was happy to have a doctor’s note to stay home. Two days into the steroids, his cough simmered down. He was sad to go back to school; I was actually a little sad to send him.
I picked up the kids from school and noticed that he seemed a bit listless. He rested his head on the table during homework and dinner, then asked if he could go to bed around 7:30. I noticed his light was on and assumed he was reading a scientific journal (okay, actually thought it would be “Captain Underpants”). Walking into his room, I focused on stepping over Lego pieces and Kinex shrapnel strewn across his floor (“at least make a path from the bed to the door, dude,”). I didn’t look at him right away, as I scraped a walkway in the toys with the side of my foot. “You reading?” No answer. I glanced up to see tears streaming down his face. “What’s wrong, buddy? Are you feeling sick again?” I reached for his forehead. Clammy and cool. He looked pitiful, terrified and desperate.
“I just remembered it all, Mama. I remember the day they separated me from my other family.”
I barely made it to the bed in time; he dove into my lap, wailing. His sister came flying down the hall. “Is he okay? Is he hurt? Is he sick again?” Hubby was working late, and I knew I couldn’t handle both of them melting down at the same time, so I fibbed a little. Well, fibbed a lot. “He’s fine. Fine. He just needs a minute. Go ahead back to your room and play; I’ll be there in a bit.” I heard her slowly move back down the hall, then begin talking to her stuffed animals. Thank goodness.
He sobbed for almost an hour, angry and devastated. This was the first time he’d ever mentioned memories of the day they were removed; he was not even three. “Why did they take us? What made social services do it? How could they do this to me? I want to go baaaaaaaaaaaaaaack!” I had no answers, so I just held him and tried to think of all the answers I learned in class. Suddenly, the “unused” counseling degree became abundantly more relevant. “It must really hurt your feelings. I know this is hard for you. Can you tell me more about what you’re feeling?”
Spent, exhausted, he finally calmed down. He lay back on his pillows, almost lethargic, face turned toward the wall.
“Is there anything I can do to help make this better?” I asked. He closed his eyes and shook his head, the movement almost imperceptible. I held his little hand, hoping he’d squeeze it the way he usually does, but…nothing. He was so deflated, it scared me. I looked around the room, hoping for something to distract him, break him out of his malaise. “Hey, look. Pumpkin is checking on you.” His funny little hamster was indeed plastered against the side of the cage, eyeing him. My boy rolled over, away from the hamster and me.
I was getting desperate. “Would you like me to read you a book?”
He rolled back toward me. “About adoption?” I couldn’t read his tone. Did he want a book about adoption, or was he just expecting me to try to use it as a bandage? I stalled, flipping through his bookshelf. I found one we hadn’t read yet. “How about this one, about a mama and her son? It’s not about adoption, though.” He rolled closer. “Okay.”
The book begins as a mother holds her newborn son. “I wish I could have been there the day you were born,” I said, trying to forestall another hurricane of bio-mom memories. “Me too,” he answered, sitting up. Each page showed the son growing up and the mother growing older, “but as long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be,” the mother tells the son.
The book actually gets a little weird, showing the mother crawling across the bedroom floor to hold her teenage son in his sleep. The book mentions that her son bought a house nearby. Later, she drives across town with a ladder, climbing through her grown son’s window to rock him in her lap while he slumbers, unaware. Yep, creepy.
Finally, the mother is old, and asks her son to visit. She is too old and frail to hold him, so he rocks her. By this time, my little guy was almost in my lap again. He looked up at me, interested. “When you’re old, will you look like that?” Laughing, I said, “I sure hope I’m prettier, because that lady, well…” “She’s kinda ugly,” he finished my thought, smiling at me. The next page showed the young man walking up the stairs of his own home, then singing to his own baby. I looked down at him. “Someday you’ll probably have a baby, and I’ll be very proud of you. No matter how old you get, you’ll always be my baby boy.”
He threw his arms around my neck and then we both had tears running down our cheeks.
“I love you so much.” “Me, too.”
“I know you are sad about the people you lost, but I’m so glad you’re part of my family.” “Me, too.”
After a few minutes, he sat back. “Mama?” He looked at my face and wiped my cheeks with his little hands. “Yes?” He thought for a moment. “Let’s never read that book again, okay?” I laughed. “No problem. Anyway, the mama crawling across the room sort of creeped me out.” He started laughing. “Yeah, me too.” I started to stand up, but he grabbed my hand, squeezing tight. “Mama, when I grow up, I’m going to buy a house next door to you, okay?”
Sounds perfect to me.