The Point of No Return

I vowed some time ago to be an honest voice in this sometimes dark world of foster care. I’m deflated and my focus is weak. Sometimes this journey hurts like hell. But these things need to be said and they need to be said now while they are real and raw.  Maybe I’ll delete them later.

Yesterday, a path came to end. Many lives forever traveling in a different direction. We’ve spent many years saying “yes” after many before us said “no.” We are not afraid of the tougher cases. The raging. The aggressive. The disconnected. The system savvy. The long time travelers. The children in which all others have lost faith. Until we are.

Just when it seemed we’d broken through, we got a horrifying glimpse of what lay on the other side. For safety’s sake we threw up the flag and turned away.

I am heartbroken. I am a bit more jaded. I will get back up again–I always do–but right now I’m just going to sit here for awhile.

At the point of no return just cross the line in the sand, I watch a lost child disappear into the dark, dark night. We were sunk before we sailed. Nobody really expected us to succeed–we were repeatedly given permission to fail. The wounds were too deep, the time too long, the wall too thick, the path too dangerous.

We spent seven months teetering between fear and hope, reassessing, digging deeper, employing new tools, searching beneath the fury for the hurting child…believing. Until the scales tipped on the side of danger and it was instantly clear that he was beyond our reach.
In this moment, the relief of restored safety is dulled by the weight of the grief. Grief for the knowledge of where his path now leads, grief for never having found the right tools, grief for giving up, grief that I live in a world where such a very small child can dwell in such a dark place. Grief that I couldn’t save him. Grief that my grief will not be understood or even recognized.
Tonight I’m going to collapse beneath it because tomorrow I have to throw it off and carry on. Before I’d even signed the final line, the call came with the next desperate plea.

One perfect moment in time

imageIn sixty hours, I will place her in her father’s arms, turn, and walk away. I’ll cry. He may too because he’s kind and gentle like that. I love her. It’s going to hurt. A lot.

For the past eight months, I’ve been her mother. At the end of the week, the choice to keep me in her life is exclusively his. He tells me he wants me there, but I know that desire may change in time. As his confidence grows, I may come to be an intrusion, a walking reminder of a time he’d like to forget. He is a good man and I will always respect whatever choice he makes. Although I hope our relationship will continue, I accept that my work here may be done.

I walked eyes open into the fire and knew all along this day would come. Reunification was always the plan-as it should have been. I’d do it a thousand times over if only I could always reach this end. I would love and lose again and again for this finish. For once, I walk away knowing a system wrought with corruption that so often harms children more than it helps them has, this time, properly served a child. A family has been protected and a child has known immeasurable love. Always.

Here’s where many will tell me that they could never travel this path and will offer me accolades. Please don’t. The gift is mine. I am ever so grateful for this moment of light along this sometimes dark journey. I’m no hero. Over the years, I’ve done as much wrong as I’ve done right. I have regrets. I am often weak and scared, angry and impatient. I am never as good as I want to be. I never stop educating myself, I’m always striving to improve, but did not have the skills years ago that I have now. In nearly eleven years as a foster parent, thirty children born to another woman have called me “Mom.” I failed some of them.

This time with this child, this opportunity to serve, and be an instrument in the preservation of a family is one of the greatest rewards I’ve ever received. There may be a hundred  reasons to be here, but this is why I came. To help. Giving my heart to a child who may never know my name, and supporting her father through her journey home has restored my faith in this work. It has granted me one more chance to know love, eight more months of time mothering an infant that I thought I would never know again, countless memories to feed my soul, and one moment in time when all is right in the world.

Blindsided

More than three years ago, for a few weeks she called me “Mommy.” Last night, I saw her face on the adoption photo listing. My stomach has been burning ever since.

I was forced to surrender her after her brother who was also placed with us experienced a violent psychic break and had to be hospitalized. I advocated for their separation. I explained that their relationship was toxic and he was a threat to her, but no one would listen. I was told that I was being unreasonable and a new home was found.

I tried hard to control my emotions as I strapped that tiny sobbing girl into the backseat of her worker’s car as she clung to my neck and begged me to make sure the other kids and Daddy knew that she loved them. I failed and could not contain my tears. Her time with us had been short, but her impact was huge. She was so clever, sassy, mature, resilient, compassionate, and loving. I never could get her out of my mind.

Little Guy and New Guy hiding. I like it when they hide--they're quiet.

Little Guy and New Guy hiding. I like it when they hide–they’re quiet.

Now there she is a lost child listed alone and as a severe risk. I want to inquire, but fear she is no longer the child I knew. Three years is a long time to stumble through the minefield of CPS foster care and separation from siblings usually only happens after they’ve done terrible, often unspeakable, things to each other. Even the most resilient children ultimately break down.

We are already battling ferociously to reach another small child whose time has been long and pain is deep. Another victim of a system that very often does far more harm than good. I don’t honestly know if I could handle another child of this intensity. Just a few days ago, I tossed our struggle in the message below to the Facebook universe as the weight has become to much to bear alone. I fully believe the prayers and positive energies of my friends that followed afforded us a peaceful weekend, but am not so sure I want to tempt fate.

I’m not whining. Really. I chose this path and take full responsibility for all the strife that’s come my way, but fuck it’s been hard lately. This work is hard. Harder than I could ever explain. Harder than you can imagine unless you’ve traveled this way yourself. It comes at great cost. A price, again, that is difficult to explain. A constant vigil, chronic stress, old traumas bubbling to the surface for all my children, honest introspection, committing every day to do better than the day before, finding the strength to never take the assault personally and always see the wounded child beneath the rage, unwavering perseverance when everyone around you shakes their heads and asks why. Because the price is greater if I don’t. Blowing out of here–this place where we will harbor the children that many before have turned away–is a ticket to an institution and all hope lost. Because if I don’t do this work, who will? Because I don’t want one more child to graduate from foster care to prison. Because I want to walk the talk and be the change. Because my inner warrior queen believes when all others have lost faith. It’s still really fucking hard sometimes. This would be one of them.

All that is rational and wise within me says to let this one go.

But the heart won’t hear reason.

I once told this child that I loved her and if I had a choice she would have stayed. I have never stopped thinking about her. I can’t explain what motivated me to browse the photo listing last night–the thought of adding another child now was not even on the radar.

Part of me wishes that I hadn’t looked, never knew. I could have gone on believing that she had remained with a relative as I had heard at last update years ago. But I did look and I do know and now I have to choose. Do I risk losing the ground we’ve gained with this small wounded warrior who just today summoned all his courage and laid his weapons and broken heart at my feet? Or do I turn my back on a child who I once vowed to always love?

Resilient Human Heart

I warned you early on that I would disappoint you….sorry for the long silence.

Life is at once full and fantastic tragic and terrifying and there is so much I want to talk about but I’m focusing tonight on my thoughts over the past 24 hours. But first let me back up a week or so.

Busy at work sewing one afternoon last week, Big Sister brought me the phone to tell me someone from the paper was calling. I assumed it was a sales call and was a little annoyed that she answered it and interrupted my work. Turns out it was a reporter who had been following my blog and wanted to interview me.

My first reaction was negative. I like to be in control of how my words are presented–accepting an interview would mean surrendering control. That scared me. Not because I feared malice on the part of the reporter but because the truth spills out whether I like it or not when I open my mouth. Without the benefit of a self edit, I would be raw and exposed. I’m still not completely comfortable with that vulnerability.

Despite my fears and desire to cancel the interview every minute before it happened David and I took the interview yesterday with a lovely young reporter who I liked instantly–she was warm and tactful and reminded me of another young lady who I adore. I am sure she will be more gracious in her story than I deserve and I am glad for having done it. You know that bravery bit I keep harping about. But a couple of her questions have been haunting me ever since.

Don’t remember the precise words, but in essence she asked about our worst experience.

In an instant every repressed horror of the past 9 years bubbled to the surface. I believe I sat silently for a long time. Maybe it wasn’t so long. I was sorting through the traumas trying to pick the worst one. Not exactly the perspective I have ever chosen to take or care to linger with too long.

There was the 4-year-old who was horrifically violent and physically harmed my daughter many times. She could rage for hours in a way that looked like what I can only imagine demonic possession must look like. We lived on constant guard against her attacks that came unexpectedly without provocation.It was unbearable.

It was the worst aggression that I’ve ever seen.

There was the baby boy who I held all night, night after night as he writhed and screamed and seemed to sweat out his own body weight as he withdrew from the meth his mother used while nursing him. I wore him in a sling around the clock for months, smelling his hair, feeling his heartbeat next to mine, falling in love. We were assured he would be ours to adopt.  From nowhere came the call that he would be going to a fictive kin placement–a family not related to him, but named by his mother.

It was the worst loss that I’ve ever known.

Perhaps the worst part of it was that it went unrecognized. No one I knew spoke a single word of condolence. Our family’s grief seemed invalid and I felt so very alone.

It was the worst sadness that I’ve ever felt.

To this day, my body won’t allow me to speak about it closing off my throat with a stinging pain when I try.

There was the 9-year-old boy who was part of a sibling group of 3 placed with us. He worked hard to improve his behavior, had a kind and gentle heart, and wanted so badly to stay with us. When his brother began acting out sexually, he had to be removed because they would not separate them. I still see his face and hear his pained words when we told him the news.

It was the worst guilt that I’ve ever experienced.

There was the little boy who within days of arrival experienced a psychic break and spent hours physically attacking me as I placed my body between him and the other children to protect them from his blows. I needed the assistance of my 6-foot sons to keep him from striking us with gardening toolS and a fire poker, and throwing everything he could get his hands on at the windows. When I frantically called my worker for help, I was told, “Just let him go.”

I called repeatedly as the raging continued and received no assistance or guidance. I finally resolved to call 911 and informed my agency. I was then told to take him to the nearest psychiatric hospital where he was admitted. I was left bruised and cut. When we refused to accept him back into our home upon discharge, my agency of many years grew cold and I was told I was having a “knee-jerk reaction.”

It was the worst insult that I’ve ever received.

And then there’s Little Sister. We are facing the cold reality that Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder is likely a large part of the equation. It makes for a combination of diagnoses that has a bleak outlook. It calls for a change in expectations and acceptance of limitations. It strips away many of our hopes.

It is the worst disappointment I have ever experienced.

I’ll have to read the final story to find out how I answered this question because I had drifted off to ta dark place and was focused on climbing back into the light when I spoke– Climbing back to another answer to another question.

Why?

Why do you keep doing it? She asked. A legitimate question in the face of so much sorrow. Another question, I’m not sure whether I answered coherently or not because there is no easy answer.

But rather a half million really complicated ones–many of which I don’t know how to put into words. But because I really want to end on a positive note, I’ll try.

There is a call–an urge that doesn’t go away even when you will it to do so. Even when you run full speed in the opposite direction it catches you and assures you that it’s going to be okay. It pulls you back in in a way that makes perfect sense.

There are  small moments of connection. A quiet understanding that an impression has been made. A shift in direction. A change for good that you feel even if you never get to see.

There is faith that there is goodness in me and it needs to be shared. I believe it is an obligation to use our gifts for good, not a choice.

There is the belief that this is bigger than me, than my husband, than my family, than any of us in isolation and it only makes us better–even when we mess up royally.

There is the love of motherhood and smiling eyes, and belly laughs, and small hands, and first steps, and overcoming fears.

There is the desire to live fully, to try to be all that I might. To plow forward. To never surrender. To make my presence matter.

There is the resiliency of the human heart and its desire to know love.