Is there a protocol for this? How does one navigate the waters of almost-used-to-be children? In his time-honored, often repeated cycle, Marcus is back in contact. He wants to visit. He wants back in. Again.
His 18th birthday comes in less than a week. I’m sending money for his birthday present (he wants a tattoo about a friend that was murdered in his old neighborhood.) I have promised this since he was 16. I have never missed a birthday or holiday no matter where he was or how he was feeling about us. It’s important to me that he knows our family is a constant in his life.
How does one solve an equation as complicated as this one. And how does one count the cost? The cost to my teenager. The cost to my family. The cost to my heart.
He comes to us when he wants something. Marcus can’t discern the difference between his wants and his needs. The survivor in him urges him to meet his perceived needs by any means necessary. This could be $50 for clothes, a haircut, sunflower seeds or a car. I’m glad he knows to come to us. I wish I could teach him the difference between “needing” a new video game and needing bail money. If we deny one will he still know to come to us for the other? I hope so. We are about to find out.
How much do I give and how much do I allow him to take? He wants a day visit. Breakfast until dinner. He asks me with such timidity, such trepidation. But is this real or is it all manipulation? He hasn’t asked after his siblings. He will probably never apologize for being physically aggressive towards me. Marcus never apologizes. It’s one of the ways he keeps his heart safe. I get it. It doesn’t mean that I like it.
How would I handle it if he came for the day? Would Sean show up as well? Inevitably, the visit would end and my teenagers would walk away from me. Again. Can I handle that again? Could anyone handle watching them walk away over and over again?
But if not me, then who else? For Marcus, there won’t be another “mom.” There won’t be another family to be there for him when no one else will. If I walk away I will truly leave an orphan behind me. Sean, on the other hand, has his biological father on the sidelines. This is the same father Marcus has. He told us to adopt Marcus, because he only wants Sean. He is still fighting for Sean, no matter what Sean wants. Sean isn’t talking. Marcus is. Marcus hates that man with a burning vengeful rage.
And that leaves us. The safe place. Home. I want to be mom-enough to handle whatever heartbreak is thrown my way. I’m not sure that I am capable. Before he comes home for a visit, he needs to have some boundaries. He can put my emotions through this roller coaster ride, but not my littles. My littles deserve peace.
The newfound peace in our home is fragile. It’s new. Our littles have more of our time and attention. They are more easily soothed and they express less anxiety. Luke and I have more time for each other. We have an extra hour when the littles go to bed for talking, dancing in the kitchen, having a glass of wine or making love. I no longer spend an hour massaging the teens’ post-football practice aches. I don’t tuck Sean in and go back over and over for at least an hour to soothe his nighttime anxieties. How can we be there for the teens and still preserve this delicate family balance?
That’s an equation I can’t solve. How could I? Where do I draw the line between him and me? How will I know if I’m doing the right thing? How would anyone?
**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.