“Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”- John Lennon
It’s been a rough week. In foster care, they say that every case has a honeymoon period, and it’s true. Kids usually come with their best behavior, and then once they trust you, they start to show you their butt, as my Grammy used to say. I try to remember that it’s only because she feels safe with me, and be grateful that she does, but Flower has given us a little run for our money. It’s been hard, and I’m exhausted, and it’s starting to show. What gets me through is knowing we are going to get better, and this is just a speedbump, and this too shall pass. Sometimes, I tell myself this fifty times a day.
Last week, we discovered some behaviour was happening without our knowledge. It was typical teenage behaviour, but still unacceptable. In addition, information came to light that made the agency decide that Flower and her mother can’t have a healthy relationship right now, and they need to take a break for a while. Sweet Flower lost two major players in her life, and had some pretty big consequences for her actions. Her life kind of stinks right now, and a good portion of it is her fault. That’s a tough pill to swallow. Her behaviors, including defiance and indifference, are frustrating and understandable. The school is calling me, and I am calling caseworkers. As with so many foster kids, the loss of control in her life means she is trying to find things she can control, and it’s not always fun to live with. Flower hasn’t behaved perfectly. and neither have I. I may have slammed a door the other night. Not very mature of me, but it felt pretty good. I need to remember in the future to go slam the barn door when I’m mad. It’s quite satisfying*.
In the midst of all this, I’ve had to pull out my big guns and stand firm. I’m sure Flower was shocked. Until now, I’ve been accommodating, loving, and easy going. With everything that happened, I had to put on my butt-kickin’ boots, say some hard things, and set tight boundaries. During one tough conversation, Flower told the translator that she doesn’t know how to have a mother. I told her I don’t know how to be a mom to an immigrant teenager who doesn’t speak my language, so we were in the same boat. We are both learning as we go, learning each other and how our relationship is going to work. It really is like a marriage, when you start to see the person you’ve chosen as a life partner, warts and all. I told my caseworker that Flower is probably freaking out, miserable about the people she got stuck with- our loud and crazy family!
I think Flower knows I love her. I’ve said a million times that she can do nothing to make me stop loving her, and that I want her here. I’m worried, because if ORR (the Office of Refugee Resettlement who oversees these kids) thinks she can’t behave or is a flight risk in my home, they can more her to a shelter until she turns 18. This is the last thing she needs. What Flower needs is to be a kid, to have stability and boundaries and to be shown what healthy relationships look like.
The thing with teenage foster kids, they have to let you. They have to choose to stay in your family instead of slipping out the door while you sleep. They have to dig deep and find the little bit of something in themselves that makes them feel worthy of their opportunities and privileges. As a foster mom, I have to find that kernel of light, feed and water it, and hope it blossoms. I can’t forget the care and keeping of me, or my other family members though. This is makes it messy. You can’t always find the time to tend everyone’s garden, and sometimes they start to wilt. Sometimes I feel like my life is one of those stupid farming games people play on Facebook, trying to keep everything fertilized and tended and weeded while still keeping oil in my tractor.
The worst part for me is it can be lonely, this work. It gets hard, and sometimes awful, and you feel like you can’t vent because everyone thinks you’re nuts for “taking in all those kids” in the first place. It’s isolating at times. My circle of people I can talk to and go to for support is small, but amazing. The truth is, sometimes I feel like giving up. I’ve honestly felt like that a lot lately. Then I remember how hard it must be to be Flower, or any child not living with their biological family, being thrown into a group of strangers with new rules and new expectations. I remember that Flower is capable of doing better, and making good choices, and that all children want to behave properly. Sometimes, kids from hard places just don’t know how. It’s my job to show them.
So, while the road is bumpy as of late, I know there is a sunrise just over the next hill. Flower can choose to stay on this bus with us, or not. The journey is largely up to her, but I’m making sure she keeps her seatbelt on. All we can do is keep driving at a steady pace, try to avoid the potholes, and remember to stop for gas. This is how we do Family, no matter who’s along for the ride. We just have to always remember that all trips have that one moment where the ride seems interminable, even though the final destination is just around the corner.
*Foster parent tip: Find a door you can slam in private.