“Who do you think was responsible for your removal from your bio-home?” This is the question our therapist raises to 9-year old Carl. He pauses for an impossibly long amount of time. He bows his head and says, “Mine. I used to be bad. It was all my fault.” Never mind that they were removed during a drug raid when he was 5 years old. Never mind that he didn’t go quietly. He tried to physically fight his way through the police officers to get back into the home. To get to her.
This guilt is a weight that he carries always. It has been the permeating theme of all his subsequent relationships. He believes that he needs forgiveness. Redemption. He believes that he is not worth the love we give him. And we do give him love. Heaps and oodles and barrels full. It’s too much. He must react.
A full laundry basket flies at my face, hitting me in the lip. I’m not caught off-guard. I knew it was coming. It was the only thing left in his room to throw. Carl is yelling at me that he is bad. A bad kid. That he doesn’t need me. He doesn’t love me. I know better but I can’t say it in this moment. This is a moment I can’t help him in. I can stay with him and bear witness. I can attempt to prove my steadfast loyalty by standing with him through it all. Does he see this? Does he see me at all? Or is he still seeing her. The other one. The mom who came before me.
This week I visit him at the in-patient unit. He glances away and won’t meet my gaze. He is so tiny he looks like he is still 5. In a lot of ways he is still the 5-year-old boy who got off of his Kindergarten bus to a SWAT team outside his home. He is small and scared and this is what makes him fight. He fights against closeness. He fights against love. He fights against anything that tells him he is worth something. I want to tell him he is worth anything. He is worth the world! Unfortunately it triggers him.
During our visit I got to thinking about redemption. Carl has this equation all wrong. He is on the wrong side of it all. Carl doesn’t need to be redeemed. But she does. This case was riddled with severe neglect, physical abuse, and substance abuse. Our kids have been in care for 4 years now. Almost half of his life.
She had this time to seek her own redemption. She could have gotten clean, gone to her parenting class, and maintained employment. Sometimes she did. Lots of times she did not. Instead she had another baby. She left this one behind as well. Right now she is refusing visits with our kids. These are not choices I myself would have made. I stay for the tantrums and the tears. I was there for the TPR. I stay for the spelling tests and the laundry and the stomach flu. I research books on attachment disorders and trauma. These are the choices I make.
So I have a question. Is she worth it? Is she worth redemption after all she has done to our broken little boy? The answer seems obvious to me. Of course she is. She has to be. And if she is worthy of redemption then it stands to reason that so am I. Mine is sought for different reasons. I seek redemption for feeling jealous of the attachment they still have for her. I want to be redeemed for all of the times I felt resentment at having to clean up her mess. And the anger comes for me too. When I see the damage she has done to my 4 little chickens I feel an incredible amount of anger. So it’s simple. She deserves redemption and so do I. Does Carl? Absolutely not. There is nothing from which to redeem him. He is an innocent.
And there are other things. The things I get to keep. I taught him “This Little Piggy Went To Market” and he squealed in delight as I tugged on each toe. I bundle him in a blanket sometimes and hold him close like a little baby. I kiss his boo-boos and give him band-aids. I tuck him into bed. I teach him to play “Go Fish!” like a bona-fide card shark. I get the small tiny art projects he makes that say, “I love you mom!” We get to dance in the kitchen and shake our booties to One Direction songs. What I’m trying to say is that I get all the good stuff. And I am glad. I’m glad he is mine. I relish in it and live in these moments.
I seek redemption for this as well my satisfaction in being “mom.” If I could give it all back to them, I would. If I could turn back the clock and fix her into a good or a decent mom or even a mom who was present, I would. I believe that birth families belong together. Attachment disorders are something I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy. They are beyond awful to bear for these children. Unfortunately she couldn’t do it. But I could. I can. I am.
Redemption certainly isn’t for them. They don’t need it. But I do. And I am hoping I’m worth it. I believe she is.
*If you’ve ever considered fostering or adopting, I encourage you to start your own adventure today!
**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.