I'm not sure how this always happens but it seems visits for us have always been right before long weekends. Which makes some very loooonnnnggg weekends around these parts. It's been almost a week since Tiny and Mr. Toddler saw their Mom for the first time in months, and it was an extended visit to boot. "This is the life we choose," The Artist reminds me frequently when I'm feeling spun out on the demands of it all. So here's where I'm falling today. Here's the letter I want to write:
Dear Social Workers, People In Charge and Mom,
I wish for Tiny and Mr. Toddler to have a life with their Mom, I really and truly do. In the best possible outcome they would never have needed foster care and could be loved and safe in a home with their people. And yet here we are. The home is not ready for them, the family is racked with intergenerational trauma, drugs and violence. There does not seem to be a relative or extended family member we know of who has not had to face system involvement for inadequate child care or who's life has not been touched by violence and abuse. There is so much pain here, and so much heartbreak.
The piece I really want to dive right into is what having parent visits, prolonged court dates and inadequate supervision during visits is setting off for us. Let me first say I knew this was going to be a tough ride, I knew the sleepless nights, tough behavior, ambivalent connections and frequent rages to be a part of my job description as foster mom. And I was fine with all that, really. But recently we've had rhythm and this life of ours was feeling predictable, and consistently even for these two little guys. We had the beginning of a very tentative safety in our home; a life of meaning here. Mom made some choices to not be around this summer, and that left a void for our kids that our little family of four filled. Mr. Toddler really feels like he just integrated these past two months. His play is wonderfully creative and expansive and he narrates for his characters and the dialogue is so very sweet and supportive. He builds homes for all his little dragons and whales and then cooks them meals while I cook for our little family in the kitchen. He has favorite spaces in the house to quietly lay in and look at sticker books or flip around on mats to burn off some playful, effervescent energy. His language is surprising and creative and adorable. He started saying "love you, too" spontaneously to me while I'm driving, or we are just quietly in a room together. It causes my heart to feel so many things, but the largest among them is just wonderful gratitude that this little guy, this little guy, wants me to know how he feels, and he feels good with me. We adventured this summer, fell in love all over the place with each other, did hard things, managed many tough moments in our home, kid-wise and life-wise. But we were creeping on almost a year that Tiny and his tiny head of hair moved into our home and well over the half year mark for Mr. Toddler. And that is a beautiful thing.
And that's where we were. people of my kids' life, that's where we were a week ago- let's call that pre-visit. And here's where we are today: Tiny is shaky. He's nervous when the dogs bark now and cries real tears and wails when they do, his sleep (which has never been great, per se) is fractured into an hour here and an hour there, he is desperate to be held rather than his normal loving to be held. If that makes sense- it's no longer exciting when he's bouncing around seeing the world on my hip, now he's afraid when he's not on my hip. The security is shaky, and when he's connected to me he's only not-panicked, rather than excited and ready for the next adventure.
People of my kids' life, maybe you know the impact of leaving a little guy to scream for well over an hour when his adults are right outside. Maybe you know that we tried over three different times in the previous months to come up with a plan for just these moments so he would not need to be distressed endlessly. Maybe you also know the psychic toll it takes on a baby, who developmentally is at the height of separation anxiety and his need for his attachment figures is strongest, to see his caregivers through a window, wail for them, and have no one come to help him. Maybe you saw me twice try to enter the room to help and get turned away. Right now I could give a shit about how this all makes me feel, but I will tell you what, I won't ever forget what it felt like to let Tiny down like that.
And our other guy is struggling.
People of my kids' life, I want you to know that allowing a visit to continue for hours when he is hearing yelling, harsh language, threats, and, I'm pretty sure slapping at the end of the visit, has left him hiding away somewhere deep inside. He hasn't spoken much since we left the office that day. He is using sounds to communicate rather than words and when he does talk it's very short utterances. It's been almost a week. I thought he had a sore throat. I thought he had canker sores in his mouth. I thought he was holding toys in his mouth and didn't want them to fall out. But none of my hypotheses have been proven. Mr. Toddler is angry in a deep, fiery belly way. Everything is back to being a struggle and he's not using words, so helping him out is a little dicey. He isn't sleeping at night or during nap well, he's up very early. He is growling and snorting when angry, behavior we haven't seen in many, many months. And his hitting and kicking is starting right back up.
People of my kids' life, I want you to know that hearts are not as easily healed the fourth, fifth and sixth time around. I want you to know that your choices, and your fucking incompetence in some instances, make me so angry. I want you to know that I am a huge proponent of birth family connection- I wouldn't do foster care if I wasn't. I'm also a huge proponent of protecting kids and knowing when enough is enough. And I'm saying this is enough. Security and love are fragile things to rebuild when they've been shattered. When you're up somewhere that feels safe and protected and then all of the sudden the bottom falls out, well, you feel like everyone who helped you find that safe protected place lied to you. Secure attachment is built by stitching together many experiences, good and hard. It is so not as easy as "he attached once, he can do it again." We know that to be empirically untrue and any Mama or Papa who has cared for a kiddo who has had their heart broken over and over can tell you that's anecdotally untrue as well. We're building back up from ground zero over here again. Hopefully the good stuff we've done together over the months help us get there quicker.
People of my kids' life, you are causing harm. Not by allowing visits and contact- but by not managing it well. And letting kids feel scared and upset and while you sit in the room with them and do nothing. You are causing harm by hearing us share over and over the impact and ignore our ideas for how to allow this to work better. You send a message that adults don't actually protect kids, and that scary parents are just that. They're your parents and they're scary. Good luck figuring that out kids.
People of my kids' life- Tiny screamed for over an hour in there and you did nothing. Mr. Toddler stopped speaking and ignored his Mom while he squeezed in a corner of the room. I could say all kinds of things about what that was like for me, but let me get this in here again. This isn't about me even a little bit. I'm an adult with support, privilege and resources. They are little guys who have no power and are reliant on you and your choices.
People of my kids' life. Stop fucking this up. They are so precious.
And with all that here is the letter I will write. So I get taken seriously. So I'm not written off as emotional.
I'll document the behaviorial details, days and facts, I'll share my concerns over the harsh and loud language used during the visit and potential slapping. I'll be clear and concise when I relay the doctor denying there are any medical reasons for Mr. Toddler's lack of speech. I'll reiterate the plan we proposed for Tiny to get breaks during the visit to be soothed. I'll ask again how we can support all kids in not hearing harsh language and raised voices. I'll cc everyone relevant. I'll take deep breaths.
And not even once will I tell you how irate your choices make me. And not even once will I position myself as knowing what's best because I know a few things about these kids having cared for them for awhile, and general knowledge about kiddos emotional health and psychic well being. And then The Artist and I will wait to hear back, or not hear back. And gear up to do it all again.
They are so precious. This is so fucking hard.
-Foster Mom (the therapist)