As part of a parenting class for foster care training that Jeff and I are taking, we were asked to go on an imaginary journey. We were to close our eyes and place ourselves in the story being told, and were warned that it might feel overwhelming at times.
As I closed my eyes and listened to the speaker’s soothing voice, emotions washed over me that I did not expect. I was asked to go with a worker whom I had never met before, who knocked on my door and told me that I had five minutes to gather my things. He would be taking me to a new home and a new family, and I could bring whatever things I wanted, but they had to fit either into a small cardboard box or a garbage bag. A garbage bag…what unspoken message does that send to you about the value of your things?
We were allowed to pack inanimate objects but could not bring any family members or pets with us. Other than photos or letters from loved ones, I couldn’t think of much that I wanted to bring. Suddenly, material objects didn’t mean much as I knew in my heart I only wanted to bring my family with me. Unforutunately, this was not allowed. The story continued as we were taken to a new home, with a new family smiling and waiting to greet us. They were happy to see us, but it was overwhelming as we grieved for the home we had left behind.
Clearly the object of this lesson was to attempt to understand what a child feels when he or she is removed by a Child Protective Services worker and taken into foster care. As I listened to this story, however, I was overwhelmed at how my own adopted children must have felt when they left everything they knew and came to our home.
As the cardboard box was mentioned, the tears uncontrollably started to flow. Two of my children came to me with only the clothes on their back, but one came with his personal possessions–few though they were–in a small cardboard box. A shoebox. I can’t imagine all of my life’s experiences being represented by one small shoebox. We had a backpack for him to put his belongings in, but he still clung to that shoebox even after a few months in our home. I wondered at times why he wouldn’t just throw it away. After all, it was just a piece of cardboard. I didn’t stop and think what it represented to him: 11 years of his former life.
Like a foster child, no one asked my children if they wanted to join our family. They were abruptly removed from the only homes they had ever known. Their homes were orphanages, but even as a child who is removed for abuse or neglect clings to the familiar, I am sure part of my children’s grief came from leaving all they had ever known even if it didn’t include the love of a family.
I’ll never forget asking Micheline in Haitan Creole if she was afraid, on the day that I took her from her orphanage. She silently nodded her head. I loved her with all my heart and had cried and prayed over her during the 19 long months her adoption required. I had visited with her on a few occasions, but she had no idea on the day that I showed up at her orphanage for the final time, that I would be removing her from familiar friends and caretakers.
She learned quickly what it meant to have the individualized love and attention of a mother, however, and within 4 days when we returned to say goodbye to others, she clung to me and made sure that I was never out of her sight. Her body tensed up while we visited and she noticeably relaxed into me when we got into the car once again to leave her orphanage behind for good.
Even with the love of a family, however, she and my two boys had to experience new sights, sounds, smells, and tastes that were all foreign to them. I am overwhelmed with their fortitude. Their resilience amazes me.
As the person taking us on our imaginary journey told us when he would be moving us again without any input from us, I wanted to lash out at him. He had all the control and I had no say in my situation. And I wonder why my 3 youngest children have such a strong desire for exercising control in their lives? It is said you cannot understand another’s perspective until you have walked a mile in their shoes. I am grateful that even though my journey was only imaginary, that it gave me a taste of what my children have experienced.
Since this imaginary journey, my patience for their behaviors over the past few days has increased if only just a little. My empathy for them and what they have gone through is deeper; my love and respect for them is stronger. I now have a new definition of bravery.