My partner, whom I respect deeply and fully adore, isn’t ready to talk publicly about her thoughts on all things Big Sister. I respect her choice. In many ways, she has been a compass for me as we both navigate these parenting waters. Her wisdom and humility are invaluable, holding clinical best interest and compassion over me in a world where I lead with passion and authenticity. We operate differently but not separately, oftentimes with polarity, but when we overlap, we complement each other well. When we disagree, we learn from one another. We have always been two voices here and now is certainly no different. I have some things to say now.
Each summer since the boys came into our lives has been transformative and 2017 is no different. While therapist mom teaches weekly, I’m with the boys, working on several side projects, soaking up some version of a maternity leave I’d hoped for back when we adopted. Quite the opposite from summer 2016 when all 4 kiddos were with us and she was primary parent while I worked long days.
This year, we’ve also been gifted access to a house near the beach, making our way to the shore as frequently as we can to discover the healing ways of the ocean. Its air is thick and damp, staining skin and hair with sweet salt and sunshine, ushering in much needed laughter, quality time together and breezy, sleep-filled nights. The tide’s consistency anchors us to one another in ways more healing than anything I ever imagined. Our boys spend the mornings learning how to ride their bikes, sand dunes and conservation land lining the paths. Late morning is reserved for fantastic feats of daring during low-tide exploration, followed by long naps, afternoon adventures, poolside swims, seafood, cotton-candy ice cream and boogie boarding. We’ve discovered the waltz of lightning bugs, the joys of evening bubble baths and the weight of our exhausted heads sinking into pillows while sharing in the delight of bedtime magic through books on pirate treasure hunts, hermit crabs hunting for homes and the adventures of other little Black boys. If I oversaw the manufacturing of every kid’s childhood, these would be the building blocks.
We are doing all the normal things we’ve waited so long to enjoy. Settling into our collective bones as a family of 4 who’ve had anything but a traditional journey to this point. And we were reveling in the finality that we worked toward and sacrificed deeply for so that every kiddo in this story would reach a happy ending. Until about 2 weeks ago.
When Big Sis left our home the first week of June 2017, much preparation, tenacity and sacrifice had taken place before that pivotal moment. From the onset of welcoming the boys’ older siblings into our home, launching them was always our #1 goal. We were clear with each other and we were clear with them. We knew we could not possibly raise all four of them as we were not resourced to meet their individual and collective needs. Instead, we actively devoted our lives, at the cost of many things, to help ready them for pre-adoptive homes and forever families. Our commitment to them was to lay the best possible foundation on their paths to permanency by creating a home for them to heal, to get to know each other as siblings, to eat good food, to have routines and consistency, to have fun, to frame who the people and players were in their life, to advocate for them and ensure continuity of care across all channels; medically, educationally, after school and summer camps. And when the time came, to support their transition.
This wasn’t a decision we made lightly, nor was it always a clear path. We were filed on. I lost my job. She put hers at risk. More than once we considered separating. Our community expanded and contracted, leaving a smaller group of friends and family who understood and stood by us. We invested in what we viewed as success at the cost of many things because we believed there to be no more important goal than security, safety and family for all.
We anticipated we would need to absorb more than we might be able to handle, which is, in part, why the boys’ Big Brother left our home earlier than we would have liked. Our job has been to hold the reigns while raising the bar, working above and below radar, within and outside of the system, to reach a place of launch for all our kiddos. Because they deserve no less. For Tiny and Sweet, this place of was our little family of 4. For Big Brother, it has been with his pre-adoptive family. And for their oldest and most vulnerable sibling, the just and timely arrival of an adoptive family that would carry Big Sis into her 9th year and beyond.
There are no fairy tale endings in foster care, there are just families who work hard. There is always work and courage and patience and tenacity and the building of resilience. And occasionally, a good enough story of relative success. There is the understanding, every day, that the child in your arms has suffered deeply. Beginning often with the trauma of the separation of that kid from their birth parents and ending with no clear path in sight and a lifetime of shame for folks who could’ve done better.
Investing in kids is always worth it. Even without a return. There is no glory here. There is no easy road. If one seeks such a path, one should listen to the voices of adoptees and the lived experience of folks who’ve traveled these roads before making promises to kids only to steal them away. One should take care that the choices one makes are altruistically in the best interests of the child one seeks to lift or claim to love. Should a grown-up be unclear about their intentions or capabilities, have any doubts or an alternative agenda, my recommendation would be to just go get a fucking puppy. Or a plant. You can dress either of them up or put them on a shelf to take pretty pictures. That would be preferred. Someday, when she’s old enough, I think she’ll agree.