“Mr. Copeland and Bullard, we have a 16-year old runaway, and we need your home for respite foster care this weekend.”
Why in the world did we say yes? I guess being in a mortgage class, my mind wasn’t in its normal place. As I drove home, I thought, “What the heck have we said yes to? He’s a runaway. God only knows if he’ll stab us in the middle of the night. What if he sniffs ReadiWhip before school, hidden in his closet? Oh dear lord, call DCS now and tell them to turn their car around.”
At 7:02 p.m., this preconceived “thug” walked through our door. He held a grocery bag of smoke-laden items including, a pair of boxers, a red shiny shirt and two pairs of dingy socks…his only earthly possessions. Just as I was ready for him to roll his eyes at us and plop on the couch, something magical happened. He smiled really big, put his hand out and said, “Hi, I’m Tom. Thank you for having me.”
What happened over the following days would alter the way I look at adoption and fostering for the rest of my life.
Revelation 1: All kids are just kids.
Simple, I know, but all Tom wanted was safety, which is form of unspoken love. As we drove home from school today, he said, “I’m actually learning in school now!” We were told he was LD (or learning disabled). He admitted last week that he was “dumb.”
I asked him, “So, why are you learning?”
What is perceived as bad behavior or dumb can simply be a mind full of fear. He’s just a kid who needs love, safety, security.
Revelation 2: Teens love hearing all your boring crap.
They say, “Whaaaahttt” a whole lot. Like, every response to everything interesting is, “Whaaahttt” with the emphasis on the “T.” A teen who has literally been no where has a mind begging to hear of every mundane trip (or so you thought they were) you’ve ever taken.
When I told him that Prague had black buildings and a black river, his eyes lit up, and he wanted to see it on Google immediately. That lead to a whole conversation about pink lakes and multiple trips to San Diego, New York, Chicago and Puerto Rico.
These kids can’t get enough of your life, no matter how routine you think it is.
Revelation 3: Some of the hardest parts of their “in home” time are over.
Having a two year old, I’m so excited that Tom can go pee in a commode, and I don’t have to clap for him after or give him candy. Tom doesn’t throw a tantrum when I don’t give him my iPhone. I’m not thinking about the next 16 years wondering what will this kid bring me on a bumpy ride.
I’m not saying that a 16-year-old is easy. Heck, he’s not been here long enough for me to make that assumption, but I will admit, a two-year commitment to a minor is more palatable than an 18-year-long commitment (which, by the way, I’ve happily made and have made again.) Yes, I realize parenting is life-long. Just because they’re out technically at 18 doesn’t mean the responsibility is over.
We shopped on Saturday…new shoes, jeans, shirts, boxers. Those few “worldly possessions from Friday night” in the smokey bag made their way back to our kitchen on Sunday. Tom asked if he could throw them away and smiled. Now, they are a distant memory of a boy who just needed someone to give him security for a small moment in time.
What if Tom could throw away the memories of being abandoned, bounced from group home to foster home to foster home to street to group home to foster home just as easily as he tossed the smokey clothes? What if we all could throw away our preconceived notions on teens in “the system” as easily? Actually, I have. Can you, too?