Monday, October 22, 2007

I'm not Cindy

I woke up thinking that -- that I am not Cindy.

And I am not the wonderful foster mother I met on the panel on Friday who talked about how difficult her grand-nephew and niece were when she first adopted them. How they were violent and flew into rages.

I am not them. Part of me wants to be. I want to be the woman who sticks with the kid even when he rages and breaks things and says he wants to leave. I want to say, "Sorry kid. We made a commitment to you and now you are about to learn what that means."

Or at least I want to take him to the one hospital that has a pediatric (teen) psychiatric ward and see if they can get him stabilized, because another way I am not like Cindy is that I have a greater confidence that medication can make a difference.

I want to be the one who in a couple of years can laugh at this story about how he broke his own possessions and then said he had to leave because all of things got broke or lost here. [He did keep saying that last night. It was as though cleaning his room and NOT finding the ring we recently bought him or the toy knight that his mother had given him confirmed that they were gone really and truly forever -- and it was because he lived here. Ah, but I digress, this post is not about him. It is about me.]

What I was saying was that I want to be the one who stuck with him. I don't want to be one of the foster homes on the list of homes that makes people gasp when the story is told. "From age 9 until 18 I was in X number of residential facilities and Y number of foster homes. Every time I got to a foster home they just kicked me back out as soon as they realized how angry I was. Of course I was angry! But they only wanted nice kids. Did they really think that they could be foster parents and take in kids who had been abused and bounced around and they would not be angry?"

But I am not that person.

I am an abuse survivor myself. This should give me perhaps added strength, and I think it does, but I have my own little Scarlett O'Hara in me. Years ago she held up her fist and said, "As God as my witness, I will never be afraid in my own home again."

I have said laughing, but serious, that we specialize in the calm passive-aggressive and deceitful. Before I started I would have told you that honest was the one thing I had to have in a relationship. Now I know it is necessary for a relationship with a spouse or a friend, but not, for me, in a child. I can live with kids who lie.

I have the picture of how the day might go...I know it won't...but I imagine it anyway. I imagine that they make arrangements for him at the adolescent psychiatric ward and take him there. He is treated and he realizes that he does want to be here. In this story I know he will probably need more than one hospitalization, but we stick with him. When he says he wants to come home, we agree on rules that keep everyone safe.

If they offered that option to me today, I would agree to it. Last night, before the rage, but after he came home hyper or manic, pick your word, Hubby and I agreed that we could certainly imagine him choosing to leave and us letting him go, in fact we suspected that would happen, but we were not anywhere near the place where we would ask for him to be removed.

And now?

I am not Cindy. I am a parent of boys to whom I have made a promise about what their lives would be like. It is not a biological child v. foster child thing, or at least it is not that simple. If Evan were here it would be as much about him. I would be asking him if he could stick it out; if he could feel safe. I think he would be more likely to say that he could, because he had been there himself and understood, but he might say, "I was like that until I spent time in that military-style home. He needs to be in a place like that." The point though, is that my commitment to the kids who are already here takes precedence over the kids who might be here or who have most recently moved in.

But this is not just about the boys. I am the wife of a man who teaches special education, who deals all day with kids like Frankie, who has said from the beginning that he cannot come home to the same thing. He cannot come home to kids who need as much help regulating their behavior as the kids at school.

And it is about me. I have made career sacrifices to be a foster mother, but there are limits for me too.

I look at this kid, who right now is sitting in the dining room in the dark, arms folded over his chest and rocking himself, and know that he needs more than I have.

Is this guilt? A little perhaps, not just a very little. Mostly it is sadness. I do like this kid. I really do, but he needs more than we can give him.

I cannot help but imagine a future when after six months or two years he asks for us again. I imagine an older Frankie asking to come back and wanting to try again. And I would want to give him another chance.

Would I do it? I don't know. It would depend upon so many things.

But I would want to.


  1. You know, I think that there is often a really unfair "unwritten expectation" that foster parents should hang in with the toughest kids who rage, destroy property and become violent.

    The truth is I think it's really stupid for foster families to feel like they need to martyr themselves on a account of the kids.

    Though I will agree with the idea that every child deserves a home, and every child deserves a loving, committed family, I also realize that there are some children who are too violent, too mentally ill, or too disabled to be able to safely live in a normal home.

    My heart goes out to these children, and to those who are able to care for them.

    But I also realize that every foster family has the right to decide what they can accept, how far they can go, what they can do, and what their limits are.

    But, most importantly, foster families have a right to feel safe in their own homes. If you don't have that feeling with a particular child, then it's in everyone's best interests for him to move.

  2. I'm so sorry. This is such a hard decision, and it isn't just yours. Maybe if it was just you the Cindy inside would come make everything okay, but you have a commitment to keep your family safe too.

    And FWIW the Cindy's are never all that they seem. People only show what they want you to see.

  3. We are all called to different paths. I wish that I were grownup enough, stable enough (financially and emotionally) to open my home. But I'm not. Frankie deserves to be in a setting where his needs are met and if that means he requires hospitalization or a group home for a while, then he desrves to have that need met.

    Cindy writes how some of her kids are in inpatient programs too. The most important thing is for everybody's needs to be met. He may need more structure, more medication, or a hospitalization. You and your family need a home where you feel safe, where you can sleep, where the other kids in your house feel safe and where you and your husband can respond to the kids with empathy and aren't burnt out. My prayers are with you.

  4. Sometimes I think that if I hadn't adopted Bug, I would have had her moved. Her behavior is so out of control sometimes and her raging and destroying gets to be a lot.

    I understand as well as I can understand.

  5. I'm so far behind on reading other blogs. I just read through all you've been through. I gotta say, not all kids can stay in a family safely. I'm pretty sure I've been clear about that. Not all of my children have been able to live continuously with me, several have needed other situations for extended periods of time.
    The older I get, the longer I do this, the more I'm blown away by the severity of emotional illnesses that I've witnessed.
    Don't be so hard on yourself.
    None of us can help everyone and you will be surprised at some point in your life when kids come back to you to express their appreciation for what you've done for them.
    You're doing a great job and it's the sensitive, intuitive people like you that get so hurt, that take it so personally when you truly have done so much.
    I thank God for you.


Comments will be open for a little while, then I will be shutting them off. The blog will stay, but I do not want either to moderate comments or leave the blog available to spammers.