"There is little choice in confronting it, yet always choice in how you respond to painful affect."
I was trying to steal a few moments of rest and meditation while the little kids napped and the big kids were at camp one hot afternoon. My phone buzzed and I saw the number and assumed they were calling to ask about taking a kiddo for a hotline placement. I answered, the supervisor and our worker were in the room together, I was on speaker phone. They weren't calling to ask if we could take another kiddo for an emergency placement. Our conversation felt pressured and off from the start. They shared the basics; someone filed a report of abuse and neglect against me and named me as neglectful on behalf of two of my kids. I was told clearly this was not on my household, not on my partner, and that this was solely against me. They shared some basic details, and the conversation was primarily centered on asking for my side of an incident that happened in the parking lot of one of the big kids' summer camp. I had no idea there had been a filing against me until this call - it happened on a Friday before the weekend about an incident on a Wednesday. So on this day, a Monday, already we were 5 days away from something I barely remembered. The short (and largely protected version) is this: someone in a director position within this summer program filed against me claiming I left two kids in a car for a half hour by themselves in the summer heat. The report had one or two other details that were largely untrue. I'm going to do my very best to be fair here, but this was so wildly inaccurate, I was unable to find words at first. It has taken me the better part of a week since this all ended to even want to piece this together publically. What I remember about this mundane Wednesday is this: I had a brief interaction with someone in the parking lot who also happened to be speaking harshly to another small child. She asked who I was and what I was doing with my kiddo (like why was I walking off with him) and asked why I parked where I did. I identified her as an overwhelmed parent and kept my distance wanting to protect my kiddos, and gave her a kind of blow-off answer. As it turns out, she was an administrator at the program. She never identified herself, or introduced herself. This off kilter interaction spun out into something that took 6 weeks to sort out.
"Don't worry too much, I don't think this will affect your ability to adopt your boys."
I've had a few conversation in my life that tilt the axis of my world so quickly. Clearly my work in the aftermath is not to rectify this new place I find myself in, the work is to live here. At the end of the call with our worker and her supervisor she said she did not think this would affect our adoption. The possibility of having another hurdle come into this path we are on as a family had not occurred to me before. Trial was a 15 month hurdle, the timeline of legalizing paperwork and operationalizing a visitation schedule were expected roadblocks, but not this. I remember the first time this happened. I got a call from my Mother saying my father had a stroke and was not doing well. The left side of his face was paralyzed, he was unable to find words to speak and he could not walk. The possibility of my young, athletic (50 year-old) Dad dying had not come to live in my world yet. I remember everything growing very quiet after that phone call and my first thought was there is no longer my old life, there is just this new life. The phone call from our social worker and her supervisor was like that moment, how do I just walk around now in a world where I am very clearly back on a path to lose the boys who know me as their Mama, and who I love with something beyond myself. Far bigger than myself. And my answer is that you don't really. I could tell you about how I perseverated on that interaction and day in the parking lot, I could tell you how I had trouble sleeping and dreamt almost every night some anxious variation on my kids dying, getting lost or evaporating from my arms as I rocked them to sleep. I had trouble in my day-to-day work of Mama-ing four kids and being present and grounded and normal.
"Good. They will talk to everyone and then they'll know you're a good parent."
The foster Mama and foster Papas among us know privacy is a luxury foster parents are not afforded. And as a general rule, I'm fine with that - I chose this life knowing much of my life goes into documents and computer dictation and that is okay with me. As this investigation unspooled doctors, every social worker we know of, programs my kids are affiliated with, it felt like everyone was contacted and told what happened. Sure, in the end it was helpful to have voices of support saying they have no concerns about our home or the care we provide, but during the almost two months this took to resolve I had no contact with anyone involved in our case, and had no idea what they knew or what they were saying.
Someone told me that after you are filed on, you have no one on your side, and I would say that is almost exactly how it felt. The system was not cold or distant, it was just busy with other things and we were in a process that was black and white and running it's course. For anyone going through this process I'll offer some timeline details here as they were distressing and totally baffling to me. After we were filed on I called every few days to learn if the allegation was screened in (meaning it is going to be investigated and there is a concern) or screened out (not a big deal or not believed so not going to be opened for investigation). This process of screening in or out should take three days max in our state. It took 5 weeks in our case. I called every few days for 5 weeks, honestly I called feeling terrified, to learn my family's fate. On the day I packed our biggest brother's bags in the car, did a special breakfast and drove him to meet his social worker to be moved I cried the whole drive back home. The Artist came home from work - she couldn't focus and we chose to just spend the day together. We came home to learn one of our pups needed emergency surgery as it seemed the dogs got into a scuffle and there were cuts or bite marks or something that needed stitches. They have lived together for over 6 years and never had conflict like this before. One of our guys is a nutty, sweet rescue and the other is an perfectionistic, aging border collie. Neither of them are dogs that do well in stress or tension. We dropped off our guy for surgery and went to grab food. Got a call from our Vet that she discovered he has a heart murmur and that surgery is risky and he might not wake up. Our oldest guy, the border collie, has been The Artist's companion since she entered her 20's over a decade and a half ago, he is, in essence, the largest part of her heart and the most influential energy in her life. To say this was painful news is to understate greatly this moment in time. We navigate this all and pick up the kids and head home, we are almost ready to join as a new family of 5 for dinner time and I get a phone call from the investigator. It was screened in and now an open investigation. She needed to interview my kids this week for the case.
"Sometimes the work is in the brave act of surviving, and surviving intact together."
In one day we said goodbye to our biggest boy and a piece of our heart, for good reasons and hard reasons, our sweet dogs (and first kids) were not well, and I stand closer to losing my boys than I was 24 hours ago. 5 weeks to make a decision. The case was overdue by 4 weeks, the allegations were concerning enough to open a case and yet no one came to our home, or spoke to our kids for over a month and it still made sense to the system to do this. So the investigator came out, spoke to the kids, and spoke to me. Under normal circumstances I would never, ever leave my kids with a stranger that had just came to our house, and here I was walking them into a room I was not going to stay in so a stranger they don't know could speak to them about a day they do not remember and a story that is not true.
There are many moments I have experienced throughout our foster care journey I imagine I will not ever lose the feeling of: seeing Tiny for the first time in his little tattered, stained carseat, hearing Mr. T scream and claw his way out of his co-sleeper with night terrors, hearing my kids' birth Mom cry in a way only a parent who knows they chose a better life for their kids at the expense of their heart can. I will add walking out of the room with Mr. T looking confused and anxious sitting with a stranger who is in our life because of a case opened on just me. The case of just me, as it were. The investigator also spoke to our sweet big sister, who has such complicated delays and language processing issues that general conversation and commands are very, very tricky, so this conversation was overwhelming and unclear to her. For the rest of that day she would try to piece sentences together of what she said to the investigator and then ask me "Is that true? Did I do it good?" She was so confused about this all, and I'm not sure how much clear memory or coherent memory she has about her life with her birth Mom, although I am sure this was reminiscent of old days as she has had social workers around almost her whole life. The worker told us she would have her answer on whether it was supported (yes neglect occurred- and if neglect occurred kids do not stay in foster homes with open supported cases so all my kids would be moving or I would start the fight to keep them from moving which is almost too complicated for me to understand- it involved special petitions, lawyers and lots of process) or unsupported (nope nothing to see here, everybody move on) on Monday or early next week. We have one special vacation we can afford a year, and we were leaving the next day for it, and coming back Monday. As the investigator was explaining the next steps to me and the jeopardy my kids were in if this was supported, I was silently crying. I tried so hard to hold it together, and in the end I just couldn't. I couldn't speak without sobbing so I was trying to stand up and just usher this to it's ending, and The Artist helped the kids say goodbye as I went into the bathroom. I came out and was trying to just say something to the kids about it being a hard day, and that I just felt sad but I'm okay or something like that, honestly I was probably better off just walking away but that is like totally against my therapist blood.
My biggest girl has drawn two pictures of me with tears down my face since that day. She will draw a detailed very sweet picture of me and then the tears. I understand, I do, I'm her person and I was in pain and she didn't know what to do and that feeling sticks with you. Tiny walked upstairs after me and offered me his most special Binky pacifier which is his most prized possession. And I did my best to move through it, and then step back into things with the family.
It felt impossible to me to try to imagine myself helping my kids vacation and do one last hurrah before school knowing the precipice we stood on. But we went, slept terribly, had beautiful days, spent time with loving family, ate wonderfully and survived. One week after we thought we would have our answer we learned it was unsupported and closed. Just like that. It feels as though I now live in a changed world, living that close again to losing my boys, my girl, our family, and yet this is the life we choose. We are still walking along over here, and still doing our best to survive intact, loving together.
Foster Mom (The Therapist)