I just read Amy’s blog about talking with Mike and I just cracked up about him being irked at us not picking him up in the rain because well we were working. Too funny. As much as the mom in you goes nuts when your kid does that stuff, for me, it is a victory. Mike knows we are his moms and love him and that allows him to be teen in all the teen glory, eye rolls and all.
As you will see in Kindred, one of the hardest things older kids in care have to shoulder is public perception. When you’re 2, it’s sad you’re in care. When you’re 16, it’s automatically assumed that you have continued to do something, that you’re a serial killer or a drug addict, or dangerous, or unable to bond. Sadly, yes there are some children so traumatized in the system that yes, maybe drugs are a history or violence their norm. They still need parents and out there somewhere are folks with the skills to take these kids on, bring them home. It’s matching the right family to the child.
When we told folks we were going to adopt we got A LOT of support. When we shared “our baby” was 16, folks not in our inner support circle sometimes had the response of “good luck on that”, “is he dangerous?” “what if he is out of control? “. Ironically, that one was said by a person whose kid has multiple shoplifting and pot charges. Being a teen is a crap shoot, I had loving and supportive parents and my life still imploded at 19. It was my work to pull my head out and do the work to be the person I knew was buried in me. The truth I see in teen adoption comes after Mike being with us for almost 2 years: it’s pretty freaking awesome. You gain insight and perspective into yourself and your values in a deep and challenging way.
Mike has taught us many gifts: compassion, patience, unconditional love and strength. Adopting a teen is all of this and more important, it is living in the now, living for what feels right because there is not history and all we have is today on. Mike came to us at 16 after multiple placements, poor records and crushing abuse. It gave us a bleak picture of Mike’s life before us. We will never know what our child looked like at birth, as a toddler, when he was potty trained nor what his first word was. He has no favorite stuffy or blankie hiding in a closet, no christening gown, no kindergarten report card.
While this is some ways is a loss, a mystery; it gives us the ability to not take anything for granted and celebrate things that most teens might not. My 17 year old holds my hand in public when the mood strikes him. He let me put his research paper on the fridge. He sometimes climbs in between Kim and I in bed and spreads out and watches TV. He thrives. Every day is an adventure, experiences that most kids by 17 have had but he has not: the beach, camp, dancing, and pride, heck even Costco is a chance for connection and conversation and fun. We may not have the baby years but we have driving, drag queens, art work, glitter and energy. We have graduation and college and tomorrow. And he has taught us to never ever take for granted.
Like Amy, I shudder at how many great kids like my son are left in the system and what is lost in their souls and contributions to the world, when they age out without a family. While Kindred talks about the need for foster care reform in the broad sense, you will hear me take up the banner a lot for the teens. I never really thought about it until Mike came home to us, now I think about it all the time. My son was a different person in foster care; it’s how he chose to be to survive it and his feelings. Now the real Mike is blossoming and Amy and I want that blossoming of all the children waiting for family, waiting for Kindred. So I am off, not to pick up my kid in the rain but drop off lunch where he is volunteering because they have no vegetarian options for him . Indulgent, maybe, but so worth it.