Saturday, December 23, 2006

December, 2006: Goodbye, Teenasia, #2


Our foster daughter left three days before Christmas. Teenasia has been a member of our family twice in her five years. The first time, she came to us as a one-year-old — sad, scared, unable to walk, barely able to stand, and having never slept in a crib. Our boys were just four and eight when she came the first time. She left a little over a year later to go live with her father, the result of her father completing a year of parenting classes and supervised visits. She left a smart and outgoing two-year-old — a fast runner who could say the alphabet forward and partly backwards, too, thanks to the obsession Jacob and Liam had with singing the ABC song backwards.  “Stop singing it in front of T,” I’d tell them a few times a day. “You’re going to mix her up.” But T loved the song, and the boys loved the reaction they got from other people when they sang it, so T was returned to her biological father able to say, “Z, Y, X, W, V, U, T.”  I figured every family has its quirks, and in the scheme of things, this wasn’t such a bad one.
When T left the first time, we waited for six months before once again putting our name on the list to receive another foster child. The social worker assured us that there was little chance T would end up in foster care again. Jamie was the next foster child we received, and we adopted her after she had lived with us about six months. 
            The second time Teenasia came to live with us was this past September, and we weren’t expecting her at all. Bill and I had taken our name off the foster care call list once we adopted Jamie. Maybe once Jamie was in school, we’d consider foster care again, we agreed, but not now. With three kids plus Bill’s 125 eighth graders, we felt like we had enough people in our lives who needed our help finding either their socks or last night’s homework. But when Teenasia’s biological mother called us early one morning to tell us T had been detained from the custody of her dad, we knew we were entering the foster care ring once again, ready or not. 
In the weeks leading up to Teenasia’s placement with us, I had mixed feelings. While there was no doubt in my mind that this was the right thing to do — that indeed it was what God was calling us to do — I was afraid for how Teenasia’s arrival might affect our family. Teenasia was almost five and had lived a very difficult life compared to that of our own three children. I worried about what she might bring into the family. I worried what habits Jamie, just 20 months younger than Teenasia, might pick up from her. I worried that the boys might feel neglected because of all the energy I knew we’d need to devote to Teenasia. Two days before her arrival, though, Bill went to a bedding store, and chose a comforter for Teenasia’s new bed. I opened the bag, prepared to not like whatever Bill chose but ready to say it was great, nevertheless, because he made the effort to go and get it.
I took the comforter out. It was perfect. Yellow with pink, and dragonflies everywhere. Dragonflies, for me, are a sign of the presence of my friend Amy’s father. A gentle and caring man, he died two years ago, and Amy noticed that whenever she would pray to him or ask him for help, she would likely see a dragonfly. Amy’s father was a big fan of our family’s decision to be foster parents. Seeing the dragonflies on the comforter allayed my fears. Looking at the comforter, I understood that while the issues I was worried about could come to pass, they would not level our family. The dragonflies told that Mr. Galvin was involved. Saint Mr.Galvin.
Teenasia’s three months with us were the most intense three months I’ve had as a parent. The little girl who left us a happy, confident, backwards-alphabet-saying two-year-old came back to us at age five not knowing any letter except O. She sucked her thumb constantly, and was quick to anger and tears. She and Jamie needed almost constant supervision in order to play together appropriately. Bill and I dropped some of our regular volunteer commitments and concentrated on just keeping the family on track. But one month, then two months into her stay here, I felt like I was finding my rhythm and so was T. I began to see glimpses of the happy baby I once knew. Glimpses of the girl she could become.
Despite knowing the court’s plan was to reunite Teenasia with her father, I allowed my mind to see her growing up in our family. T and Jamie shared a room, and the word “Jamie” was the first thing Teenasia would shout after coming back from a visit with her father. Even as the social worker explained to us that Teenasia’s father had once again met the conditions for her return to him, Teenasia told us that she didn’t want to go back. She would cry before visiting him, and say she wanted to live here, with us. But what a five-year-old wants, and what indeed might be best for a five-year-old, is not the same as what the law has to say about that five-year-old’s future. What Teenasia’s father did to land his daughter in foster care was not serious enough, in the eyes of the court, to terminate his rights, or even to keep his daughter in foster care for longer than five months.
And so it was that three days before Christmas, we packed up all of Teenasia’s things, and said goodbye to her once again. We printed out the same Irish blessing prayer that we had said to her the first time she left, “May the Road Rise Up to Meet You.” Last time we said goodbye to her, Liam, just five, could not read well enough to participate in the prayer. This time, at eight, he was the only one reading by the end of the prayer as Bill, Jacob and I wiped our tears, unable to speak. Liam’s clear voice didn’t falter, though, and he blessed his sister as she left him once again.
May the wind always be at your back, Teenasia.
May the sun shine warm upon your face, and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again, May God hold you in the palm of His hand.
Until we meet again, Teenasia. May God hold you.


1 comment:

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