Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Carl's Story 4: Moving in

When Carl moved in he suddenly changed. He was depressed. He looked at me out of the corner of his eye and seemed suspicious. He hid in his room. The boy who had been engaging and anxious to please was now, suddenly, wary and nervous and ready to dislike me intensely.

I now know what a good sign that was. At the time I remember thinking that I would have found moving in with a new family at sixteen exhausting. I had turned down some invitations to spend holidays with friends during college. I preferred the quiet days in my dorm room, cooking on a hot plate, hanging with the other kids left behind, and catching up on work. It was often better than a week being a good guest.

His social worker was anxious that he get a job right away. She was used to kids who were used to being moved around. She was frustrated that Carl crawled into a shell when he moved in.

I did get frustrated with it myself. I put more energy than I would now in trying to get him to feel comfortable. But I thought it was normal then and I know now that it is both normal and unusual for kids in the foster care system. Carl had lived with his mother until he was 13. She was sick and he grew up being the responsible adult and an irresponsible child, but he was always secure in his knowledge that his mother loved him. He could not always care for him as he needed, but he never doubted that she loved him. No one had ever hit him or abandoned him.

He had lived with one foster family during the last year of his mother's life, staying with them during the week and his mother on weekends. He was furious at not being allowed to live with his mother and was moved to a new home, the family in my church. His mother died while he was there. The parents loved him and hugged him. He believed that they would be his parents for the rest of his life. When he told the mother he was gay, she was not upset. But they had got divorced and the mother had spent less and less time with him as she herself was falling apart.

We had stepped up and offered to be his family. We were excited and ready to pull him into our family.

He was wary. He wanted to relax and trust us. He had mourned his mother and was ready to love another, but first he needed to be certain we were safe.

It wasn't anything like RAD. A RAD kid would probably have been charming and easy at first. A RAD kid would not be afraid to trust, taking it slowly and being careful. A RAD kid eventually would react from a deep inner panic, lashing out and hurting us in whatever way was necessary to prevent us from getting too close.

Carl's behavior was normal.

He was sixteen and Andrew was eleven. Carl had never really got to be eleven. When he was that age he was caring for his mother. His soical worker wanted him to go out and get a job, and I tried to be supportive of that, but it seemed so right to me that he wanted to spend his time hanging with Andrew. They drew pictures and played video games together. I thought, "Let him be eleven this summer. He has the rest of his life to grow up. This summer, let's let him be a child."

In some ways it was wonderful for Andrew. He adored Carl and they played together. He also was suddenly not the oldest. BC (before Carl) he was the most interesting young person in the house. He could command everyone's attention at the dinner table. He was sometimes gracious in allowing his younger brother to play with him and his friends. Every toy in the house was either his or "too young" for him to care about.

Now though, he was the little kid. Suddenly there were older kids in the house who did not want him joining in their activities and conversations. Sometimes they would let him play, but it was like they were doing him some big favor. It was an unexpected difficulty. One week he was the older brother, kid number one; the next he was not.

And there was a secret. He didn't know what it was, but there was definitely something we were not telling him.

Carl's Story Part 5

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