As I trudged through the fluffy, falling snow this morning at the steps of our county's historic court house, I wondered how it would all go. It has been several months since we have seen our sixteen-year-old son. That last time we saw him he was handcuffed and anklecuffed, escorted by law enforcement to a hearing in which we had no conversation and virtually no eye contact. Punching the "2" on the elevator display gave me about fifteen seconds to think about it. I stepped out of the elevator to see our son face-to-face (it's not a very large waiting area). His face brightened, and he immediately stood from the place where he was sitting with his mom (Claudia and I arrived separately today) to greet me and give me a hug. His warm, robust, stocky body embraced my cold, snowy, equally robust but significantly taller frame as I enveloped him in my arms. "It's good to see you again, Dad," he said. "Good to see you, too, son," I responded.
John has always made it easy to love him. When he is appropriately taking his medication, and when he is calm, he is a warm, loving, open child. Our other "special child," our soon-to-be-eighteen-year-old has not so blessed our life, so it's always more difficult to interact with him. But John has loved us since the moment we met him (actually, even before he met us face-to-face, through telephone calls and letters and such), and in spite of his aggressive and angry moments, we have believed that he values us and loves us.
It is humbling, really, to know that after all this -- the numerous out-of-home placements and interactions with professionals along the way -- that John still loves us and knows where "home" is. It is gratifying to know that we mean that much to him, but perplexing because his behavior does not allow him to dwell in the place he knows to be home. Claudia and I have battled for years to know whether the behavior is "cannot" or "will not," but that doesn't matter any more.
It doesn't matter anymore because today's hearing established that he will remain in permanent foster care until the age of eighteen. While we were waiting for court to begin, I was sitting next to John at the tables front and center. In those brief moments I reminded him that we loved him, even though he couldn't live at home right now and asked him if he understood what was being recommended (that he not return home). He said he did understand. I asked him if he liked his placement (where he's been before), and he said he did. "I'm glad that you do, John, because it's the only place where you've had success in the past, and I'm glad that you have that chance again," I said. He nodded mutely and then said, "But I'm really gonna need you guys to help me." I said, "How do you mean?" (not adding what I was thinking in my mind, "Well, sonny, our opportunities to help you have long since faded"). "I mean you're both really smart, and you can help me once I'm done at the Ranch." While I offered him no assurance of that possibility, I simply nodded my head and told him I appreciated his proferred respect.
We shared a few other conversational snippets until His Honor arrived. Within minutes the judge decided he needed to get on the record testimony from one of the parents. In a nano-second decision-making process, Claudia and I decided that I would be the one taking the witness stand. And so I stood to be sworn in and experienced yet another humbling (humiliating? ... I'm still not sure about this one) moment. The judge's paralegal assistant is a member of my congregation. So I stood before the courtroom and was sworn in by one of my parishioners in a matter that legally required parental "admission" that John could not remain in our home. I answered the questions asked by the attorney and stepped down.
Fortunately -- and it hasn't always been this way -- this time I was able to step back to my chair without feeling shamed or humiliated by the process. Perhaps it is because the system finally has enough documentation to believe that somehow John's behaviors are not his parents' fault or perhaps because of his age John is no longer seen as a vulnerable child ... but for whatever reason it was a relief today to be able to "admit" that what John most needs is not ... well ... us.
In the past that has been a difficult thing to admit. Over the years past we have fought to maintain John's connection to our family, we have taken him back home time after time in hopes that this time it might be different, we have forcefully argued that attachment-disordered children need contact with their families.
The past few months have changed my orientation on the matter. Emotionally I have been able to let go of those things I cannot change and control. I have let go my sense of parental failure and disillusionment. I have given John back his life to do what he, along with others now in his life, can do. Legally the issue has also been resolved today. It is humbling to recognize how little -- and yet how much -- parents can offer a troubled child. There is one thing, though, that I will not let go. I will not go of John as a person, as my son, as a sibling to others in our family. I will not let go of the hope that John's "home" is always with us, even if he does not reside with us. And that may well be enough.
This is not what I envisioned eight years ago, but this is yet another opportunity for humility, for even though John has no contact with his birth father and limited contact with his adoptive ("real" in our definition) father, he does have a heavenly father. And for that will have to be -- and it is -- enough.