A few minutes I entered Claudia's office with paperwork in hand. "Ten years ago today," she reminded me. A decade ago today she and I were in Washington state, preparing to meet for the first time our two newest sons, Kyle (then age 12, now 21) and Michael (then 8, now 18). We had read the paperwork, we had spoken with them on the phone, we had listened to what their case worker and CASA worker had to say. We knew we weren't "ready" (how is anyone truly "ready" when for the very first time you bring into your home kids who have already lived for years and years without you), but fortunately we didn't recognize just how naive we were.
I can't speak for Claudia, but I still labored until the illusion that what kids caught in foster care most needed was "love" and a positive, nurturing home environment. Surely, I thought, kids who have experienced early years of abuse or neglect would automatically recognize "something better" when they saw it. They would, I conjectured, jump on the good ship of future hopes and intentions in order to sail into a golden opportunity.
I was wrong. Dead wrong.
Older kids who have spent time in foster care and abusive or neglectful homes before are not looking for love or for a sense of permanency, at least not how "ordinary" people envision it. Frankly, they are rarely able to know what is in their best interests (at least our two were not), so adults make decisions for them. I soon discovered that what they need is very different from what they may want ... they may want freedom, luxury, money, possessions. What they need is consistency, structure, boundaries, the kind of love that at first looks like discipline and order. I have learned that kids coming from tough backgrounds see "love" as opportunities to manipulate and use, not as ways to live. Eventually, many of them, perhaps most of them, learn what "love" is, but at first it is only an entry point to gain what they think they want.
I have learned, parenting both Kyle and Michael, that some kids get it sooner than others. Kyle figured out pretty quickly that if he did what we asked he often got what he wanted. It wasn't about whether he agreed with it or liked it or even though it was the right choice (and each time he would tell us exactly what he thought was the better parenting decision; ours were never the appropriates ones). He was a perfect case of behavior modification. It worked for him and made our lives a bit easier, even though we had to listen to his continual banter about our imperfections. Happily, now at the age of 21, he understands more about life, and has a mutually respectful relationship with his parents. I am glad that I stuck with him through good and bad times; the reward of his successful and respectful attitude is "payment" enough after these ten years.
But I have also learned that when a kid doesn't know what is in his best interest, a parent can try to do what he or she will to no avail. Our Mike is a case in point. After all this time, and with all of our effort, he is on a path of self-destruction that will not be deterred. It has reached the point where it is not only he that is at risk, but the health and safety of our family. And so, it is for that reason that in minutes I will be driving to our county court house to file a harassment petition which will provide us a legal basis for keeping him away from our children and our home. Notice I say a "legal basis," because I am not naive enough to believe that a piece of paper will prevent someone from doing what they intend to do. We have detailed numerous accounts of harassment as defined by Minnesota statute, I will file the request for the order today, and we will wait for our next encounter with our errant son. We are not requesting a complete cut-off from MIke, but are requesting that his only contact with us be through written communication via the U. S. mail system. At least that way he cannot say that he completely prevented him from being in contact with us (which we don't want anyway). All we want is for appropriate communication that does not threaten or trouble our other children. We still love our son, but once again, as we have for more than ten years, we need to erect some boundaries for that relationship.
So, here I sit, ten years and one harassment order later. Who would have thought after a decade we would be at this point?