Super Tall Guy was about to turn one and was already pushing past the 75%ile on his growth measures. The gap between him and The Flipper in size was beginning to widen, but The Flipper wasn’t going to give up anything in the abilities field. He was already wiry and muscular. The two of them were just beginning to toddle around the house, exploring, examining the rule of gravity, noting projectile velocities, rejecting a wide variety of foods, and communicating through basic signs.
The phone rang. Well, Kathy’s phone rang. I pretty much just got the gist of it. The First One (now age 34 months) and his younger sister, really “The Only Girl,” at age 18 months were going into foster care and would arrive soon at our house. Despite her physical age, The Only Girl had definite developmental delays that put her close to a one-year-old level….giving us 3 1-year-olds and 1 3-year-old in the house. The next day Kathy traded in her Honda station wagon for a minivan! (My CRV didn’t succumb until there were 5 kids to cart around).
I will confess the hard truth here. I was not ready for this sudden change and my grumpiness was likely evident at times. You see, I was delighted to have “a” baby and had finally adjusted to having two. But I’m an introverted, “slow-to-warm-up” type of person, and the doubling of children ages 3 and under was overwhelming. Looking back, I know I was not very helpful and supportive at the time. I would kind of “punish” Kathy by having her pretty much handle three kids on her own with an attitude of “well, you said yes to two more!!” I really don’t know how she did it all – but I’m mighty proud of her.
I think we survived the chaos only with the assistance of my mother. She would come over daily for the dinner-bath-bedtime routine. We had three high chairs and should have had a dog to clean up the spaghetti. The bathtub could hold three and the floor sure could hold a lot of splashed water. We had three cribs in the house and a toddler bed. And none of us slept.
The year was a blur and a huge juggling paradigm. As probably an attempt to cope with the chaos and laziness in truly baby-proofing a house, we spent most of the weekends outside of the house. We would take those kids anyway – mall play-yard, the zoo (almost every single weekend! Arrive when it first opened, hit the playgrounds and leave as others with “nice” sleeping kids would start to arrive.), the Children’s Museum, the Science Center. Anywhere. And then we’d end up at my mother’s for dinner on Saturday evenings….every single one…
The First Guy and The Only Girl were enrolled in a “therapeutic preschool” in a part of town that was not convenient for either Kathy or I. So Children, Youth & Families (CYF) would send a “driver” to our place every morning to pick them up and someone would bring them back every evening. They also had visits with their biological mother for a couple hours 2-3 times a week. This was an odd time. For the younger two kids, Kathy and I pretty much made all the decisions since the mothers were not really involved (though The Flipper was still having weekly visits with his mother). But for the older two, we had no say in their schedules and had to adjust. The First Guy was clearly happy to be back with Kathy as he had bonded to her the first time he was with us. And we were happy to be providing what the kids needed.
Again, the birth mother “met” her goals and the kids were reunited with her. Yet life remained difficult for her and The First Guy was a challenging creature as he worked through issues of independence and obedience. Eventually, even though the kids were living back at home, they were still with us for “weekend respite” as The First Guy grew even more difficult and eventually his explosive tirades were medicated. Kathy and I struggled with how to help him for clearly he was living under two (probably three) different sets of standards – ours, his mom’s and his childcare center’s. It broke our heart to see him struggle and you’d think it might have prepared me for Super Tall’s outbursts when he turned three, but it really didn’t. I probably blamed The First Guy’s behavior on “poor parenting” by his bio mother ….and Super Tall Guy’s on him.
Eventually, The First Guy’s behavioral problems escalated enough that by the time he was back into the foster care setting again, it was decided that he needed “therapeutic foster parents” and off he went to his “fourth” mother in his five years of life. It was a confusing time which included an inpatient psych stay for him, caseworkers essentially blackballing Kathy, and us all wishing there was something we could do.
We knew that The First Guy just needed love and stability and yet we were not allowed to have a voice into his life, despite the fact that we had cared for him more in his life than any other “parent.” It was years before we had any contact again. Yet he remains a part of the boys’ lives as does The Only Girl. To this day, Super Tall Guy will randomly sigh and say, “I wish I had my sister back.” Foster parenting affects everyone in very unpredictable ways.