off-beat

Friday, November 6, 2015


This afternoon, I was sitting in my living room, watching two toddlers, who finally seem to have found their groove, chat and play. One without words, one with more words than a two-and-a-half year old should rightfully have, one with a strong biting habit, one who is so used to being the adored baby of the family that it’s been a rough transition to sharing, one who has pain that we can’t begin to understand right now…these two are bridging that barriers and learning to be friends. Little Man wants to show affection; Mira is cautious. Mira wants to play ball; Little Man can only throw straight up in the air and bonk himself in the head. It’s been joy and delight to watch these two find their way in this transitional duet. It’s been pain and fighting and household destruction as well. It’s been hard.

A couple hours later, we drove to our run-down city to drop Little Man off to see his mama and siblings for the first time since he came. Four weeks to the day from when he arrived at our home. This is not at all typical for placements in our county. Usually, we begin visits within a week of placement. They don’t want to keep parents and children apart. I’m not quite sure what the delay was, but I do know our county is overwhelmed with kids this year. Foster care rates are once again rising, and there are still not enough homes.

The visitation center is packed full when we drove in. It’s been years since we’ve had to do visits at the visitation center. Our last two placements both had home visits with parent aides, so there was no need for the scheduling chaos that working with the visitation center requires. The snapshot of that visitation center on a packed full night is one of trauma and pain. Parents are crying, children are crying, foster parents and social workers are trying to wrangle children in and out of vehicles, trying to force them to stay in the rooms where they don’t even want to be, trying to drag them back to cars to go back to homes where they don’t want to be living. Fast food, sugary drinks, dye-laden cupcakes are on the menu for these supper-hour visits.

There’s a smell to this particular building. Not really a bad smell, just a very particular smell. Despite changes to the interior and a turnover in management, this building smells the same as it did the first time I walked into it more than six years ago. I wonder if someday these children will remember this smell – one of those trauma triggers that hold over from this part of their childhood. I wonder if Little Man will forever associate Happy Meals, this smell, and the sound of children crying for their daddy with this time in his life.

He took it all in suspicious stride. No visible reactions, as is his typical way. He keeps things tight to his chest, even at 18 months. There are a lot of people; it’s overwhelming, I’m sure. His lack of emotion saddened his mom, I’m sure. I wanted to make it better for her. I wanted her to look at his curly hair and feel like it’s well-taken of. Did she feel it, I wonder? Did you notice how well I’m keeping it moisturized? I hoped she liked his shoes. Name-brand on purpose, because sometimes those things are really important to people. The irony inherent in my desire to please birth families with how well I’m caring for their children is not lost on me, but the minute I start thinking of myself of better than and above ‘these people’ is the minute that I need to quit doing this job altogether. These families and parents are every bit as worthy of respect and dignity as anyone else on this earth, most especially me.


I have a lot of mixed feelings about visits. I have a lot of mixed feelings about foster care in general. Now we’re full into the middle of this case with visits and team meetings and all that goes with it, the familiar confusing emotions come back. Conflicting desires to reunite and to protect, to love and to keep distance come rushing all back. Most of my days are spent just living life normally, but in foster care, there is a constant weekly (or twice weekly, in our case) reminder that these children are not your own. No matter the groove you find yourself in, there’s a consistent off-beat because it’s not a completely harmonious normal life. Trying to keep our own beat steady with that conflicting rhythm will be a challenge during the next long while. We’ll just keep on singing our song of love and peace and safety, praying that those notes sound forth from our lives, not only into Little Man’s life, but also in the lives of his family as well. 




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