Buzz is our third foster placement and all three placements could not have been more different as far as the scenarios, outcomes and our interactions with the children’s biological families. Jason and I have hoped to be able to develop healthy relationships with a each child’s parent(s) but with Buzz’s placement it has actually happened. His mom loves him deeply and was terrified when she was told he was going to a foster home. He had originally been placed with a family friend that didn’t work out and DCS made the choice of his new home (ours) back on May 3. She was picturing a crowded group home and afraid her baby boy was going to be eaten alive. We tentatively called her the next day, as his case worker had urged us to do, and we were able to put her mind at ease some. She also gave us some information about his favorite foods and activities. The next day we met her for our first visit at McDonalds. She was emotionally fragile but I think she was quite relieved to see that we were a normal, happy family and we were going to take good care of Buzz. She generously shared her side of the story and we shared with her some of our background and experience with DCS. When it was time to go she wrestled with Buzz to get him into his car seat in our van. Poor little guy was so confused and distraught. I stood at the back of the van biting my lip, watching the emotional and physical struggle and feeling helpless. When she turned toward me, I saw that it had taken all her remaining strength to hold it together in front of him. I offered a hug and she cried. And then I cried as I choked out the words. “It sucks. I know it sucks. I promise we’ll take good care of your baby.” Jason offered to pray. The three of us huddled together in the parking lot while the kids cried in the van, and Jason prayed for strength, courage, peace and grace for all of us.
We always tread lightly at the start of a placement, concerned that we establish some appropriate boundaries for our family, our time and our privacy. So far no one has ever taken advantage of having our phone number. Ali’s biological mom texted a few times before she lost our number (and hers) and I treasure those texts. Buzz’s mom has texted me often but never in an intrusive way. She texts almost every night to tell him goodnight and that she loves him. She asks how things are going. I tell her when we’ve had a fun adventure or when he’s learned something new. I text her photos. We tried doing video chats a few time but it was very one sided – he couldn’t really grasp the concept. We tried to get together every Saturday but she was gracious and understanding when Jason and I were too busy. One weekend four weeks into placement when we couldn’t figure out a time to do a visit, she sent him a video text message instead. I refer that as the turning point for him. He had cried plenty of times before and I knew he was hurting but he wasn’t able to express what he was thinking. Sometimes he would look at her photo and say, “I want Ma. Right there.” I’d say, I’m sorry buddy. I know you miss her. I wish I could do that. He’s say, “No! I want Ma!” When she sent the first video message, he sat down on Lucy’s bed and savored it. He watched it over and over again, gently touching my phone screen. After watching it several times he came to me with little tears rolling down his cheeks. I offered him a hug and he collapsed into my arms. I turned off the stove where I had been working on dinner and I sat with him on the couch for probably 15 minutes while he grieved and I talked to him about some of his feelings and what was happening.
Later that evening, I saw what I believe is “the real boy” for the first time in a month. He was sweet, helpful, obedient and affectionate. He had dropped his wall of defiance. We sent a video back to his mom and she could see that he was sad. We had a good conversation about how he was processing his emotions. From that point on, she has sent him videos a few times a week and we’ve sent videos back to her too. I’m so thankful that we had that discovery and I’ve recommended it to a bunch of people at DCS to suggest to other families. I’m thankful for Buzz’s mom’s commitment to communicate and remain present in his life when they can only see each other in person once a week.
Because Buzz isn’t old enough to communicate with her very well, I do a lot of it for him, which means that his mom and I talk quite often, usually through text messages and at our visits. We’ve gotten to know each other pretty well through 3 months over a mutual interest in making sure a little boy is loved and well cared for. I told my mom a few weeks ago, getting together for a visit with her has started to feel like getting together with a friend. We laugh about the funny things the kids do, share stories, complain about the system and how slow things move. She has been kind to love Ali and give her attention at our visits, too. She often brings gifts for Buzz and has surprised us with gifts for Ali sometimes too…a new outfit from Old Navy in her favorite color, yellow, and a very thoughtful birthday gift, too.
A week before the hearing that we were fairly confident would result in Buzz going home to her, she said she thinks Buzz is really going to miss Ali. I agreed, and that I knew Ali would really miss Buzz, too. I haven’t explained to her yet how much I’m going to miss him but I hope she knows. She must know how much we love her son. She said her friend had asked if we would all keep in touch and she had said she was going to leave it up to us. I’m glad she mentioned it, and in such a sensitive way to give us the decision and control. I told her I’d definitely like to keep in touch and suggested we could babysit for her sometime or get together for a playdate. I told her we would definitely want to hear how Buzz is doing.
I don’t really know where we’ll go from here or how things will play out over time but I can truly say, I am so happy to have formed a relationship with Buzz’s mom. I’m proud of how hard she has worked to jump through all the hoops the system as set up for her. She has never lost control of herself even when she’s been so very frustrated and sad. She has never given up. She has never quit fighting for her son. Curious friends and outsiders often ask if we’re hoping to adopt Buzz and I’m always quick to explain that his mom has been working very hard to get him back and she’s doing an awesome job. We will always be willing to be there for him if/when he needs us in the future but at the same time, Jason and I have felt from the beginning that he’s not ours. It’s not that we’ve kept him at an arm’s length but we knew that his mom was fighting for him. We have loved him and cared for him as a son, all the while knowing he belongs to someone else. He has another mom. I’ll always be “A Ma” but not “My Ma” or “Mahi” and that’s OK with me. That’s what we signed up for. We’ll always feel like A Dad and A Mom to him, but fully accept that he has another mom and dad, his first mom and dad, his biological mom and dad. I hope that his mom will continue to allow him to keep a piece of his heart for his auxiliary mom and dad, and for his sister/friend Ali…his “Ah-ee.”
Buzz has figured out that he’s been seeing his mom more this week and now every time we leave the house he says, “Mahi?” If the answer is not “Yes, here she is right now” he gets upset. Last evening was probably our last “official” visit with her. We met at Monkey Joe’s—a warehouse full of bounce houses, arcade games and junk food. He and Ali both had fun bouncing, climbing and sliding. Buzz (surprisingly to me) really seems to understand that he’ll be going back with his mom soon (Fri hopefully) and the goodbyes are getting harder…more angry. We spent the first 10 min of the drive home screaming “No! I’m mad! I want Ma!” Good using your words, Buddy! Ali and I screamed too for moral support. And then, he was fine. A few minutes a later he said, “A Ma, I’m sorry.”