Maybe someday I will get used to this place, this place where the need for adoption is born. Maybe someday, but not today.
On day one, I sat amongst a team of doctors, clinical staff members, interns, social workers, and the biological parent of a three year old boy at our children’s hospital. They schooled me on his psycho-social needs and they spoke to me in the abstract and then in detail about his medical needs. I spent close to eight hours listening, asking questions, and being more than aware that I was being sized up and may not even make it more than two feet past the front gate. But I stayed. I smiled. I showed up. I was scared for this child. I was scared for me. It didn’t matter. I already knew he belonged in my life, in my home. I knew from the first phone call before I knew anything else at all. So I stayed.
On day one, I met him. We played with dozens of eyes on us, watching every interaction and gesture, looking for a clue into a future they didn’t yet believe in. But I didn’t care. I already knew he belonged to me. Maybe not forever, but for now. And so I played like we were alone in his room on a rainy day with nothing else to do but to be together. I sat on the floor and built towers, and trust, and Mr. Potato Heads, and connections. The gate that was opening was the only one that mattered and I was getting in. Slowly. On his terms. With careful hesitation his hand brushed my leg, his eyes lingered on mine, he handed me a toy, he asked me not to leave. So I stayed.
On day two, I met my new little friend in the hallway on the way to his room and we danced. He called me George. We played with a toy hamster and he called it my bug. He was having trouble containing his big personality around me. He couldn’t fit it back inside. My heart melted. And then broke. And then melted again. There’s a term for that. It’s called parenthood.
On day two, I saw what a day in the life of this three year old looks like. I heard about the 35 days he spent locked inside. And then I saw the hospital bed that they zipped him into not just night after night, but also day after day after day after day. And then I saw and heard things I cannot share. My eyes are too dry to cry after so many years of being wide open to seeing and knowing. Not knowing is no longer an option. So I stayed.
On day three, I brought my daughter to the hospital with me. We had a dance party or twelve, maybe twenty. We laughed when he dunked his banana peel into a basketball hoop. We felt his palpable relief at the realization that being silly did not lead to getting zipped back up into his bed. He bumped his head and let me hug him. After several hours, he got tired and let me carry him. And when I kissed his forehead and placed him into a chair, he whispered “I love you” just barely loud enough for me to hear. But it lingered in the air and in that whisper I heard the gates open wider. Because I stayed.
On day four, I cried with his birth mom.
I thanked the nurses and support staff. And then I thanked them again. He sat in his play car and got wheeled though a parade of grownups blowing bubbles and cheering him on. The super hero cape I had fastened around his neck caught the wind of a bubble machine and sailed behind him. Freedom was imminent. He had been the mayor of the tenth floor and he was giddy with excitement that his term was officially over.
On day four I took this small boy home, where he will stay forever or until his fate is shuffled and manipulated one more time. Maybe someday I will get used to this place, this place that is unfair and hard and changes the trajectory of little lives. But not today. Today, I will roll my sleeves up and get to work on building a sense of security in a little boy who won’t believe me that he is truly safe, and on propping those gates open long enough for this child to let my love in. Today we are just short of strangers, but tomorrow we will be family. And forever, we will remember that we belong to one another, just as we did when that first phone call was placed asking me if I would be the adult who would be willing to stay.
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.