Last night, we were having a dance party while I made dinner. Until we weren’t.
This is how quickly the beat and the tempo changes in our home. For over ten years, a lifetime really, we have welcomed children into our family in need of a safe place to land. Our house is loud and fun and scheduled and chaotic and perfectly imperfect. We are a foster family.
Last night, we were laughing and singing and shaking our wiggles out. We were lost in the sound and the rhythm and the smells and we forgot to think and we forgot to worry. Our foster son’s three year old body moved to the beat as he kept pace with his own reflection in the oven door. He was happy. He. Was. Happy.
And then all of a sudden he was sad. I missed him calling my name. I was still caught up in his joy. I felt the tug on my sleeve and looked down to find him standing motionless. His mouth was moving but I couldn’t make out his words. His quiet body in the noisy room caught me off guard. I bent down to find his voice.
“I miss my other daddy.”
The music still filled the room, but his grief was a sudden rival. I felt the oxygen thin. His little body looked vulnerable. I couldn’t imagine how exposed his heart felt.
186 days in our care. That’s how long it took my foster son to find the courage to tell me what had undoubtedly been woven through all of his days and nights in our home. That’s how long it took him to open up the wound of being removed from the only father he has ever known. How do we explain this loss to him? How do we teach him that sometimes goodbyes mean for now, but other times they mean forever? 186 days is a giant amount of time in the life of a three year old, but how much longer will it be before his body and mind and heart learn to forget the lessons that the abuse and neglect and loss have taught him?
When we become parents, we feel powerful in our ability to fix booboos and ouchies. We give bumps and scrapes cute names and we patch them with colorful bandages as a ritual, but also as a distraction from the pain and discomfort of getting hurt. We cajole our babies into covering their wounds and into forgetting that they’re there. Witnessing pain in our little ones is almost unbearable for our great big hearts and so we do what we can to make it better. Or to believe it’s better.
The loss of a primary caregiver is a primal wound. There is no remedy. There is no distraction. There is no bandaid cover it or spot to kiss it and move on. There is no moving on. So we sat with the pain. Right there on the kitchen floor. We felt it together. We let the sadness win. We let the air feel heavy. We let dinner run late. We let our guards stay down. We let our new connection to one another meet in the place the grief lives.
After an eternity of five or ten minutes, he looked up at me and said, “This is the love song.”
Last night, right there on the kitchen floor amidst the buzz of the dinner hour on a busy
weeknight, we let the music play on.
About the Family
Deborah Sweet is a biological, adoptive and foster mama who believes parenting is best played as a team sport. She works hard as a foster parent ambassador and harder at raising community awareness for kids who come from difficult places. Deborah is a teacher by trade but now spends her time advocating for school districts to become trauma sensitive and provide wrap-around services for children who are challenged by developmental trauma and attachment disorders. She lives in the Boston area with her husband and six(ish) kids, plus a couple of amazing animals that add to the calm of the house, not the chaos. You can read more of Deborah’s writing at Because I Stay.