family

The Prodigal Son…Graduates! 

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This is a day I never thought I’d be able to see. Don’t misunderstand, I’ve always believed he would finish his high school degree. This is a point I hotly debated with the many social workers, and clinicians involved over the years. “He won’t want to graduate from high school when he is almost 20. He’s missed too many credits. He’ll probably just get his GED,” was something a clinical consultant on his case said to me once. What he meant was “Marcus will surely drop out.” But I knew better. Marcus, our children’s oldest biological brother, never backs down when he’s determined about something.

It’s just that after he decided he didn’t want us to adopt him, he left and swore he’d never return. So I believed that I would have to miss the day he got his diploma. I stupidly tried to comfort myself with thoughts of seeing his pictures on Facebook or being there “in spirit.” Marcus eventually made contact with us and we managed to forge a new kind of relationship. Despite this, I didn’t think he would want his “old parents” at his high school graduation. But he did. He asked us to come when he contacted me to say “Happy Mother’s Day.” Man can that kid make me cry!

For me, he will always and forever be my eldest son. For him I’m probably one of the many “moms” he’s had through his years in the foster care system. He often felt like a throwaway kid.  Marcus felt out of place being loved by a family. So he pushed back. He got suspended, kicked out of schools, sent to a group home, disrupted many foster placements and did a stint in “juvie.”

Social workers cautioned us from the beginning against getting too attached to this “troubled teen.” But attachment was just what he needed. Unconditional love, acceptance, and ultimately the ability to ride out his struggles. No, we never got to adopt him. He aged out of foster care. But eventually Marcus returned to the house of his first foster mom. He wasn’t “in the system” anymore. She had long since retired from fostering kids. But Marcus? He always had a place with her.

Marcus often felt that no one wanted him. He pushed back against love so hard that he tried to drive the people closest to him away however he could. It didn’t work. For this  graduation the vice principal and resource officer (the same one who had to arrest him once) from his former school attended. He had a childhood friend he’d kept in touch with over his years shuffling through foster homes. He had his first foster family. He had an older sister’s ex-husband.  And he had us. One of his older biological sisters came and surprisingly, so did his biological father. We all loved him enough to be there.

When Marcus first started coming to visit us, he reminded me of the little boy Max from the children’s’ book Where the Wild Things Are. For one thing, he would stretch waaay into his 7-year-old sister’s footy pajamas, shirts, and headbands when playing with her. He was just shy of the wolf costume Max wears in the book’s opening illustrations. Like Max, Marcus was always quite fond of “making mischief of one kind or another,” and like Max he was an expert at driving his caregivers crazy.

If ever a child deserved to be made “King of the Wild Things,” it was Marcus.  He would have angry outbursts and tantrums over the smallest things. Then he would put on his headphones and drift away to a place where no one could make contact with him. Marcus would come back at his own pace. So many of his relationships followed this back-and-forth pattern. Like Max, Marcus was a lovable child at heart and needed to know it. I obviously had to read him the book aloud. He loved the experience! At 17, he’d never heard of the story, or even heard of parents reading stories to their children at bedtime. 

When we started his adoption process, I bought him a hardcover copy of the book. I slipped it beneath his pillow after writing on the inside cover “You have finally come home to a place where someone loves you best of all.” We never discussed it. After he left us, he packed everything except that book. It crushed me. Like the beasts Maurice Sendak created, I wanted to roar and gnash my teeth. I wanted to eat him up, I loved him so! But I couldn’t. So I let go. I had been wrong about this story the whole time.

I wasn’t the mother waiting at home with his hot supper. I was one of the many “Wild Things” trying to love him along the journey of foster care. So when Marcus asked us to be at his graduation, I was overwhelmed with emotion. I felt love, pride, and gratitude that we were still family. I cried through the ceremony from the moment he walked in until the moment he crossed the stage.  Luke and I were by far not the only ones there for Marcus. He had the largest group of supporters of any graduate that day. As we stood around wiping tears and snapping pictures, I figured maybe I wasn’t the mother or the “Wild Thing” after all.

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Marcus approached Luke and I last. Without words, he fell into Luke’s arms and pulled me into a tight group hug. He was crying and so was I. In that moment, in that hug? Marcus really was “home.” No matter where he goes in life, that hug was the place where “someone loved him best of all.”

Congratulations, Marcus.

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

*My sincere apologies if I botched the plot with my interpretation of Maurice Sendak’s famous children’s story book Where the Wild Things Are

 

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adoption disruption, family

The Prodigal Son…Returns! (No, Seriously!)

mcarlos

I would like to believe that love ALWAYS wins. It doesn’t. The past three years have humbled me and taught me that attachment and trauma are strong opponents. They plague children from hard places. But sometimes, sometimes, love wins.

This weekend was a win. Marcus, our prodigal son, the one we never got to adopt, came home. It was only a weekend visit, but it meant the world to all of us. (You can read about the struggle for this visit here and here in case you haven’t been following!) At the last minute (the day of) Marcus decided to come.

The former foster mom he lives with now told Luke truth about why she asked him to leave March 1st. As it turns out he is hanging out with friends that are not welcome in her home. The house rules are that he cannot bring these friends around. She told Luke that if his friends are more important than the house rules, he needs to leave. His choice. She’s not wrong, I just hope he chooses family over what are probably fleeting friendships.

Marcus was almost our son, too.  Love can be tricky for him. Too much is scary. Too little is devastating. We decided to surprise Carl and Mary, because we weren’t sure if he would change his mind at the last minute. When he walked in with Luke he got squeals of joy from both children. They flew into his arms and he looked almost surprised at the amount of big-brother-worship they still hold for him.

I had to choke back tears as I hugged him. It was the best weekend. I made sure we did all of the family traditions that he used to participate in. We played a million board games. He helped Luke move things around upstairs. He went to work overnight Friday on the ambulance with Luke (as an observer.) He slept in the next day and then the family (except for me. Stupid back injury!) went to the science center. We always have season passes.

Saturday night dinner was chinese food, a family favorite, followed by more board games. After the Littles went to bed, Luke and I played Bananagrams with him. When he lived here the teens and adults would always battle out this game after the younger children went to bed. Eventually it was just Marcus and I playing Monopoly Deal into the wee hours, and talking.

He proudly showed me a picture of his girlfriend on his phone (skipping past few nude ones.) He told me all about her, seeking my approval, but he is 19. He makes his own decisions now.  I just listened to him, late into the night. He made us both look like “The Joker” from with Snapchat. He told me things that me proud. He graduates in June and wants to be an electrician. He told me things that made me shudder. He smokes a lot of pot and no longer takes his prescribed medication. I just listened until I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore.

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Scary Snapchat!

On Sunday Marcus had “sibling time” with Carl and Mary. He took them to Mcdonald’s in town for lunch. We told them “sibling time,” was just for them. As a bonus, Luke and I got a bit of alone time! (You can read here about why Luke and I aren’t getting much sleep!)

As he was packing to leave I realized that he brought along the fuzzy purple blanket I gave him 2 years ago. When I asked him about it he laughingly said, “I take that everywhere! That’s like my blankie, yo!” Once again, I choked back some tears and hugged him good-bye. He has a choice to make in a few days. He can choose to live with his former foster mom (family) and follow house rules. He can also choose his “friends” or this new girlfriend.

My hope is that this weekend reminded him about the importance of family. About the permanence of unconditional love. He chose love this weekend. I hope he makes the same choice March 1st.

mgroups

 

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

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Attachment Disorders, family

The Prodigal Son…Cancels?

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I would consider myself a fairly decent mom, even pretty good at predicting my children’s trauma-based actions. Not this time. I entirely missed the mark. Last week I wrote about Marcus asking to visit. After a lot of time and planning, he was finally coming this weekend. He sent me numerous messages about how excited he was. I really believed it was happening.

He is the oldest biological brother to our 2 adopted siblings. Our relationship with him is haphazard at best. At one time he lived with us. We wanted to adopt him. We tried. But the closer we got to him emotionally, the more he seemed to fight against that bond.

The day he left was the day his adoption worker from our state was coming to meet him. He was 17. On that day I truly believed he sabotaged his adoption because remaining in the foster care system was more familiar and easier to him than committing to being part of a loving family.

He threw an enormous tantrum, threatening to kill us and bury us in the backyard. (I guess he knew all of the best places since he had painstakingly cleared out an area of forest and landscaped it in our backyard the week before.) At our house, he had been the one to grab the tool bag eagerly and enjoy fixing things around the house with “Pops,” my husband.

He called me a whore, and a b**ch and a c**t. He told his younger siblings that he hated them and he would kill them, too. He slammed doors, threw things, kicked me and threw his iPhone at me, shattering it. I actually think he didn’t mean to make contact with me at all. His big scary tantrum was more along the lines of putting on a big show. Later he apologized to my husband saying, “You know I didn’t really mean to throw the phone at her, right? That part was an accident.”

He got his way that day. He had done this many times before. He would get really close to me, discuss his feelings about his biological mom with me, or simply let me in on an emotional issue with a girlfriend. For a few weeks we’d be closer than I ever thought a teen and his mom could be. Then, he would drop all communication and act as though he hated me and couldn’t stand the sight of me. He’d cut off contact, only to resume again in a few more weeks, asking to return or visit (we always said a joyful yes, but with behavioral boundaries.) But that was from 16-18. The closer he got to 18, the more he tasted his freedom.

Like so many other foster kids, he aged out at 18 and began life on his own. After that, our relationship actually improved a bit. Our communication was spotty, but when he had a problem, he always came to me. He bounced around to a few different places. I assumed, with a fair amount of certainty, that he was back on the streets hanging with his old crew. He’d put selfies on FaceBook throwing up the symbol for the “Bloods” a notorious gang. Whether he simply admired them, or was involved, I’ll probably never know. He was always wearing their colors of red and black.

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Over time, I began to think of him as the son who just left the nest early. He called and messaged us when he could. If I squinted my eyes really tight, and let my vision go blurry, I could almost see a son who was off to college, or the military, or the peace corps, and checked in when he could. He had asked for visits before, but this one seemed so real to me.

That was, obviously, a fantasy. There are many sides to Marcus. He loved family dinner we had each night. He took pride in our family and our home. He decorated his room immaculately with all of his favorite things. He played board games for hours with us, as if he couldn’t get enough. Our family took him to science centers, zoos, and museums. He was delighted and amazed by the reptile show at our local library.

These were all of the amazing memories I was reminiscing about when he called to cancel his upcoming visit. I had to stop and question myself. Why had I really believed he would show? He’s a few weeks away from moving somewhere new. We are trapped in this cycle where he gets close and then pulls away. His issues with attaching to a family are too complicated to let him enjoy a typical family relationship with us. This is what complicates his ability to allow himself to be loved.

My daughter told her therapist that she thinks he didn’t get adopted because he was “too dangerous.” This gave us the opportunity to explain that no matter what Marcus did or said, we would have gotten help and we would have adopted him. It just wasn’t what he wanted anymore, and we respected that. Mary agreed there was less swearing when he wasn’t in the house. She loved his happy, playful side, but was scared of his short-fused anger. Me, too, I told her. But no matter what, we will always love him.

The only good thing that came out of this was that he texted with both of the Littles and told them he missed them. They sent silly pictures of their faces back and forth. They saw the texts where he wrote, “I love you, Ma,” to me. Good or bad Marcus knows we are here for him. And maybe that’s all that really matters right now?

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Whenever he is ready, our door is always open. 

 

 

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

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adoption disruption, family

The Prodigal Son…Visits?

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This is a post I never wanted to write. I just never thought things would turn out this way. Despite my best intentions,my hardest work, and all of my love, this is where we stand. We started with a sibling group of 4. The teen boys disrupted before we could officially adopt them. We have now adopted the younger two. The adoption fairytale isn’t exactly what I thought it would be. Is that wrong? No. It just…is. I thought I was OK with it. Maybe I was wrong.

Our children’s oldest sibling, Marcus, has been in touch with us for a time. It’s weird to think of ourselves as just one in a long line of “foster parents” for him. I still feel like his mother. We had every intention of adopting them. Only Marcus has stayed in touch. (This is the story of meeting Marcus and bringing him home) In the end, he chose not to be adopted by us. His attachment issues ran too deep to allow him to be in a family.

It’s been a long time since we’ve seen Marcus. When he left it felt like a part of me was dying. Why didn’t he choose to be in our family? Why didn’t he choose to be adopted? Why didn’t he choose to have a mom. Even more painfully: why didn’t he choose me?! I wrote him an open good-bye letter (you can read it here.) This was cathartic for me, in a way. I’ve never stopped loving him. Sometimes I miss him so much it physically hurts.

Marcus aged out of foster care. He signed himself out at 18 and bounced around a bit. He lived with a girlfriend, and her family. His job was supporting a lot of the people living there. He contacted us for money because he was so hungry. Luke gave him advice about how even if he loved this girl, he shouldn’t live where he couldn’t eat food. He also shouldn’t be supporting a family of 6-8 people.

We didn’t send him money. Luke and I had made a pact about letting Marcus learn to stand on his own two feet now that he had chosen not to be adopted. He needed to know that being an “adult” didn’t necessarily mean getting to do whatever you wanted, whenever you wanted. It’s hard work! (I caved and sent him and Amazon care package of food overnight anyway.)

As always, Marcus only lasts with a family for a short time. He bounced again, this time back to a former foster home. Marcus had been very close to the foster mom and we had facilitated visits between them when he lived with us. We didn’t want him to lose anymore people that were important to him. He always referred to her by her first name,  but I knew he loved her. Then he was gone from our house, gone from another foster home, and now about to leave his girlfriend’s home.

He was contacting us a lot during that time, and I think he wanted to ask to come back. He never said it, though. Our contact went something like this. He was making a lot of bad choices at the time. Drinking, getting high, and hanging out with a tough crowd. He was still enrolled in school. He still texted me pictures of his report card. He still wanted me to be proud of him. He still called me, “Ma.”

I was glad he was going back to that former foster home. Maybe he really belonged there the whole time. Perhaps we just hadn’t been the right family for him. Only it didn’t last. Now he has a few weeks left before he has to leave that home, too. He tells me it’s because he lost a job by falling asleep. He works in the day and is getting his high school diploma at night. He says his former foster mom is telling him this is “tough love.” I’m not exactly sure that it isn’t because of drinking, irresponsible behavior, or not working. Marcus usually tells his own version of a story.

It doesn’t matter what the story is, they all have the same ending, Marcus moves on to a new family.

He’s been asking me just for a visit. Just a day or a weekend. I’m conflicted. I don’t want to keep the littles from their brother. Sometimes, I feel like it will be too much for them to see him, and then not see him again for who knows how long? The thing is, I want Carl and Mary to see that we still have a relationship with Marcus. We still love him. No matter what happens, our love is forever. I also get the feeling that Mary has fears that her behavior might get her “kicked out” somehow.

I want her to know that we NEVER “throw away” people!

Should we have him over? Show them that he is still family even though he is an adult making his own living arrangements? Will it break their hearts?

Will it break mine? 

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**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

 

 

 

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family

Changing the Adoption Fairy Tale

I still believe in happily-ever-after. I’ll be the first to encourage people to take the next step in considering fostering or adopting children from foster care. I’ll also be the first to admit that it doesn’t always work out. It isn’t for everyone. It isn’t easy. I still believe in happy endings but my story is my own. I had to shift the narrative. I had to change my expectations. Yes, I’m living my happily-ever-after, it’s just that my fairy tale is different. It’s messy and heart-wrenching and wonderful and it is REAL. 

In the beginning we were attempting to adopt a sibling group of 4 children. Two disrupted and two were adopted. The oldest disrupted, aged out of care, and now keeps in touch with us. I guess our final success rate is two-and-a-half?

Marcus is the oldest. He disrupted from our house almost a year ago. I was worried sick about him ever since. He is 18 now, and living with a girlfriend. He signed himself out of care. He’s been in touch more and more frequently over the last several months. He sent me a text message the other day. It said, “Ya I know I never said it but I really care about you guys. And ya, I love you too.”

I thought he’d get arrested on his own. I worried that he might drop out of school. I worried there wouldn’t be anyone to love him. Did we fail him? He didn’t want to live in our house and take our last name. Was this a “failed” adoption attempt?

He’s still in school. He’s in a credit recovery program and getting good grades. He has a job. So far he hasn’t  had any episodes with the law. In all honesty he is probably drinking and engaging in risky behaviors. Overall, though, I’m impressed he’s done so well for himself. Recently, my husband and step-father traveled the 2 hours to where he lives and took him out to lunch. I sent along a care-package like my mother used to send to me in college. He isn’t in college. He isn’t technically “ours,” but I love him just the same. Did we have a fairy tale adoption story with him? No. I believe we have something equally as valuable. We have a relationship. It’s not a typical family relationship but it’s as close as he is comfortable with. I take pride in his successes. I also take pride in what I’ve been able to  give of myself as a parent. I take pride in teaching him to drive, holding his hand when he was shaking with fever, and rubbing his back when he cried about a relationship. Those moments were all real for me. Regardless of what our non traditional parent-child relationship looks like now.  No matter how he fares in life, I am glad I could do these things.

Mary and Carl have their ups and downs. They have trauma reactions, and fears and meltdowns. But they are also real little people. They have creative ideas and hilarious antics. I’m surprised and amazed by my children every day. They love us and have attached to us. That is success. We earned our family bonds through blood, sweat and tears. I mean that in the literal sense. One child drew my blood by stabbing me with a pencil during a dissociative episode. I’ve spent a sweaty hour in a car at a rest stop holding my daughter safe while she raged on a 100 degree day. I’ve cried tears of joy and triumph to hear them say, “I love you mom.” This is better than your run-of-the-mill fairy tale. This is 3 dimensional life. And it is amazing. What more could I ask for? These triumphs over trauma, attachment struggles and pain? These triumphs are the happy endings. This family is the happiest of endings.

A few months ago our daughter Mary was filling out a questionnaire in her little “All About Me” journal. It asked her to list her family members in one section and then write how they are related to you. She wrote “Carl–brother” and “Mommy and Daddy–love.”She was right. We aren’t related by blood, we are related by love. And so we live happily, messily, crazily ever-after.

The End.
**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

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adoption, family

The Other Shoe Drops: Aging Out of Foster Care

I’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop. Ever since Marcus left our house, at 17, I’ve been waiting. For awhile he seemed to soldier on as a foster kid in the custody of the Department of Children and Families.  He was almost 18. Would he voluntarily sign himself in to DCF care at 18? Would he stay in his foster home and finish high school? Would he drop out and leave? Would he finally stabilize emotionally and make good decisions?

In the world of DCF teenagers are often on the “independent living” track. And it sucks. Sorry, but this is true. Without a family, navigating in the world is difficult. Period. After the termination of parental rights, a teen can get adopted, enter into a guardianship arrangement, or enter into this track.

The independent track even comes with a brochure. It promises to help teens work on things like getting a driver’s license, getting a job, and maintaining health insurance. The brochure never clearly states who will be helping the teen do all of these things. Is it the social worker? The foster parent? A mentor? Sometimes these promises just fall through the cracks.

For Marcus, none of this was happening when we met him. In fact, due to overburdened caseworkers, his health insurance wasn’t in place for almost a year. We spent the next 2 years trying to catch up. We got him his driver’s permit and taught him to drive. I taught him all about his rights in school and what his IEP meant. Luke practiced his interview skills and got him job applications. We opened up his first bank account and taught him how to deposit and withdraw money. In short, we tried to do all of the things that the state would not or could not do for him.

And then we tried to adopt him. Getting too close was our mistake.

In October he turned 18. We had only heard from him sporadically since he had left our home. His foster mother reported that he was still in school. He got into a few fist fights, but he was getting good grades. He had a girlfriend. No arrests so far. November came and went. Then December and then January. I still waited for the other shoe to drop.

After his biological mother rejected his attempts at contact last month, he began calling us frequently. He said he knew we would always be there for him. He mailed us a beautiful letter about much we meant to him. He explained that getting too close to me made it feel like he had to give up on that first mom. Marcus struggled with conflicting loyalty. He couldn’t reconcile himself to loving more than one mom. No matter what he did or said, we still love him. Of course we do.

I got a call at work from Marcus this week. The secretary told me that I had a call from “my son.” I almost cried. He explained that he had already dis-enrolled from school and signed out of DCF care. He had packed his bags and was setting out to move away with his girlfriend. He didn’t yet have a place to live or a plan about enrolling in a high school. He wasn’t sure about a job yet. He promised to keep in touch. He texted me a picture of his report card (all Bs! Wow!) and he let me say, “I love you kid.”

Now I’m left staring at the pair of shoes he left behind. I just hope he knows that we will always be here to catch him if he falls. I’m honestly proud of what he’s accomplished so far. I wish he’d never had to do it all on his own. Now, he is out of our care. He is out of the state’s care. He must truly stand on his own two feet.

NoBohnsAboutIt

<a href=”http://www.nobohnsaboutit.com&#8221; target=”_self”><img src=”http://www.nobohnsaboutit.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/AdoptionTalkButton2016-e1452013232524.jpg&#8221; alt=”NoBohnsAboutIt” width=”225″ height=”225″ /></a>

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

*If you have ever considered foster or adoptive care, I encourage you to start your own adventure or to mentor a teen in care.

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adoption, family

“He Was Probably High”: Adventures in the Prodigal Adopted Son

There are probably a million and one ways to fall in love. But falling into motherhood is a unique situation. Falling out of motherhood is a fate I wish upon no one. I’m speaking from personal experience, of course.

It’s been about 7 months since Marcus disrupted out of our home. When he left he was clear about never wanting to see or hear from me again. He had made up his mind that he did not want to be adopted and he did not want to be in our home.

Since then I’ve heard from him in starts and stops. He is usually looking for money or material things.  Once, he asked how his younger siblings are doing. Once he contacted my husband, high as a kite, to talk about his new career as a rap artist. He offered to get us tickets to his next show. Of course we said we would go.

He’s 18 now. He’s making choices. We have to trust that he can make them for himself. He is still in high school and I am beyond proud of him for that. School is hard for him because he has never reacted well to rules and structure. We sent him money on his birthday. He and his girlfriend used it to get matching tattoos. He proudly sent us pictures.

I spend half my time wondering if I will ever stop missing him so terribly. He was my son. I was his mother. It isn’t supposed to be this way. I spend the other half wondering if I will ever stop being relieved that I’m not responsible for him anymore.

His story changes so often it’s hard to keep up.

The day he left:

“I hate you, you f**king b***h. I hope you die! I’ll bury you in a hole. Get back before I f**king kill you!”

Last week:

“Don’t ever think you’re a bad mom you’re not you’re a great mom don’t ever let anyone tell you you’re not”

7 months ago:

“You’re a f**king whore! I’m gonna break every bone you have!”

Almost 2 years ago:

“I don’t want you and dad to give up on me. I feel like your gonna give up on me”

2 years ago:

“Mom. Mom? White mama?”

7 months ago:

“B*tch”

Yesterday:

“Ma”

He asked to come back for family dinner. He claimed he’s been missing us. He wanted to thank me for helping him when he was sick. He wanted to thank me for helping his younger siblings.

He wanted to apologize. “I remember when we talked about taking responsibility” he said, “I want to take responsibility. I want to apologize face-to-face.”

 He sent me a beautiful text message. He told me all of the things I longed to hear. He said he was sorry and that we had been good to him. He thanked us for giving a better life to his younger siblings. He let me know that he trusted me to take care of them.

Afterwards my husband and I talked. He brought me back to reality when he said, “I’m glad he was nice. He was probably high.” It’s true. these are the moments when Marcus most often makes contact. He needs something, something has gone wrong, or he is high. Who knows? All I can say is that I needed to hear his words. I did thank him and reassured him that he is loved. I’m not ready to start letting him back in. We all tried our best and it didn’t work. It’s too soon. It’s too hard on the Littles when he is back and forth. If I’m honest, it’s too hard on me.

I will still hold his words close. Maybe he wasn’t entirely sincere. Maybe he was high. I don’t know. What I do know is that I needed to hear those words. No matter the circumstances, I needed to hear it.

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

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