Friends of ours just met their kids for the first time!!! They’re adopting older siblings from foster care. For obvious reasons, this makes my eyes fog up. I am so excited for this new family. And aware of how vulnerable it feels to attempt this. As much as we all want to imagine these moments as beautiful scenes where orphaned children run into the arms of their new parents with bright smiles, grateful hearts, and the sun shining down on us all, that’s not exactly what it looks like. At least that’s not what it looked like for us.
For us, it looked like equal parts wonder, awe, and terror.
I’d forgotten about this until our friends sent out a picture from the night they met their cherubs. They were on a couch together, arms around one another, looking for all the world like a ready-made family. It was GORGEOUS. It reminded me of sitting on a similar couch, taking a similar picture. And the surrealness of the whole, “Hi, so nice to meet you, I’m your new mom/dad/kid.”
After that night, we started the visits and the process of getting to know each other. Our kids liked us okay. We were white, which wasn’t their favorite. But we said we’d get him a basketball hoop for the driveway, and that she could paint her room any color she wanted, and we had a dog. So that all worked in our favor.
We spent the next day with them. We shot baskets at court near their foster home, then went out for lunch. We went bowling, and for frozen yogurt. On the way home, #2 Cherub commented, “Wow, you guys spent A LOT of money on us today.” We didn’t know how to respond. She was right (who knew fro-yo could cost almost $30?). We hadn’t realized how soon we’d be navigating real parenting questions. How should we convey to them the truth – You guys are worth so much to us, of course we want to spend money on things like this, and the other truth – No, this does not mean we’ll buy you every single thing you ask for, like real Uggs or $200 sneakers – when we barely knew them? I think we said something about how we try to be frugal about some things so we’d have extra to splurge on things that really mattered.
Sometimes you just punt.
The next time we saw them was Wednesday. I drove the 45 minutes to pick them up after school, then we came back to Cambridge to wait for Steve to get out of work so we could have dinner together. There was a weird rule I don’t quite understand that we weren’t supposed to take them to our house until we’d had a couple weeks of visits, so we ended up doing a lot of driving around and activities. I’m not good at planning activities, so this was super stressful for me.
Okay, let me get honest: this part was just awful.
I already loved these kids. But they were so unhappy to have their lives disrupted. They loved their foster mom, and her family. That was the best life they’d ever known, and they were ANGRY that they had to leave it. They hated the music I played in the car (all we could agree on were a few songs from the Jackson 5. Shake Your Body Down To The Ground will forever remind me of being stuck on 95 North in Friday traffic). They hated missing out on time with their friends and foster cousins. On some trips, they’d both cover their heads with the blankets we kept in the backseat, just to get away from me.
This gave me lots of time to figure out activities for us, what with all the not talking.
This went on for two months.
Most transitions go WAY faster. (We have one set of friends that met their daughter on a Saturday, then she moved in The following weekend.) Often this isn’t based on what’s best for the kids or the new parents, but a more practical need: there aren’t enough foster homes available in Massachusetts, so if DCF can move two kids into a pre-adoptive placement and free up those beds for other kids? That’s the top priority. Fortunately for us, our kids’ foster mom was retiring, so there was no rush. We were able to spend two months transitioning. This let the kids finish off their school year where they were, and allowed them to process some of their feelings of loss, fear, and anger along the way, which made a little room for some excitement to creep in there.
That first Wednesday, we painted ceramics.
Then we picked up Steve at work, ate dinner out, then drove them home. They were clearly relieved to get back.
I share all this to let you know: this takes time. It didn’t stay this hard forever. It’s been more than a year since either kid hid under a blanket on a car ride (I mentioned this to #2 last week, and she’d forgotten all about it.) But it was rather rocky for what felt like forever, as it ticked by, one minute at a time.
What helped us turn the corner? There were a bunch of things. Their foster mom did an incredible job helping them wrap their minds around the concept of adoption. We showed up on time for every visit and seemed glad to see them, which counted for more than we ever would have guessed. But the unexpected factor was THIS DOG. The kids loved her, and she loved them. They agreed that she was awesome, even though the jury was still out on us. And so they let her nudge them along those first few steps of becoming a family.
A pivotal moment was the night we brought Bergie with us to drive the kids back to their foster home. They got out of the car, hugged us and her, and then headed in. Bergie looked out the car window as they went up the steps and in the door, and then began to howl.
She’s part Great Pyrenees (you can read about our best guess at her genetic heritage here), bred to protect sheep. From Day One of meeting them, The Cherubs have been her sheep, and she takes her job seriously. She was MOST UNHAPPY that night when we drove away without them.
This was, I suspect, the thing that helped the kids consider the possibility that our house might be an okay home, and we might be okay family.
Every family has its own unique story. Our friends’ experience transitioning will be different than ours. They’ll have their own ups & downs. Life might look long sometimes. They might wonder if they’ve ruined all their lives with this crazy idea. (Okay, I’m sure THEY’LL never wonder that. Surely that was just us…) But you do what you do in any challenge in life: you hang on, pray, and watch for small signs as things get better.
Over time, we’ve seen a cycle, where what used to feel like miracle moments of unexpected closeness become the new normal. Then we climb up on that new level and reach for the next step. This is my hope for our friends.
And for YOU when you adopt your cherubs from foster care :)