Sunday, August 2, 2009


Yesterday we spent ten hours with T.! We wanted to start out with something a little less socially intense for him, but various practical complications dictated a long day. As I said to a colleague the other day, everything about this process is chaotic and less than ideal and we just try to roll with it.

So we got tickets to the X Games, which involved a long drive to and from. Those in the know tell me if you want a teenage boy to talk to you, go on a long car ride and don't make eye contact. My boss suggested X Games - she has 19 year old son. It was definitely high on the coolness scale. He was exhausted by the late afternoon and we left a BMX racing event a little earlier than planned after several hours in the hot sun. But it provided plenty of diversions so he didn't feel we were interviewing him and that was the main goal. We also somewhat accidentally did two things right: we took a pile of CDs and asked him to play DJ in the car, and we took a small video camera and let him loose to film whatever he wanted at the event. It took him about 3 seconds to figure out how to use the video camera and he clutched it all day long.

T. is about 200 times sweeter than I even suspected at our first couple meetings, which were in large groups. In keeping with first impressions, he is gentle, quiet, withdrawn at times and incredibly still - I've never seen someone sit so still. His answer to most questions, particularly the ones about whether he'd like something to eat and drink is a gentle "I don't care." Which means "I'm embarrassed and I'm not going to ask for anything for myself." So we learned to just put a cheeseburger in his hand now and then. But he was also way more conversational than I expected and younger and more open than first impressions had suggested. He seemed to want to be near us, and didn't have any inclination to wander off or want to do things on his own. He smiled quite often - when we teased him a little bit, or when I held a cold bottle of water to the back of his neck while we were sitting in the sweltering sun, or when he picked a CD we all liked. A shy quick smile. He seems very smart and extremely sensitive. I also find it awe-inspiring that he has it so together to show up and spend time with adults he doesn't even know. I can't imagine the emotional pressure and complication of being 15 and looking for parents for yourself, nor the mixed emotions and fear of rejection that must accompany a "first date" with a couple who might be those parents.

On the way home in the car, he had a series of questions, like "Do you like fishing?" "Oh yes, I LOVE fishing!" I said, which isn't entirely untrue. "I also like to kayak. Have you ever been kayaking?" He said no. A few minutes later he said, "I'd really like to learn to kayak!" I said "Well, I'd love to take you kayaking!" He asked me when my birthday is, whether I like to travel, and what my favorite sports teams are. We talked about perhaps going to see a college football game this fall, and his interest in being a therapist, or a paramedic, or maybe working with elderly people. I asked him where he'd like to go someday, and he said "Jamaica! And the Bahamas! And I really want to go to Hawaii!" followed by a little sigh. And he wants to be a therapist and "work with people on anger management," and made brief mention of his own experience in therapy "after my mom gave me back." I replied that I thought he'd make a very good therapist, because he's so calm and a good listener, and told him casually that I had a therapist for awhile she encouraged me to take a karate class. He like that, and said he thought he'd like to take up boxing, and thinks it would be beneficial for him "because they say I hold my anger in and need to find a way to let it out."

As we got closer to the home where he's staying, he got very quiet and stopped communicating altogether. I tried to explain next steps - that I'd talk to his social worker and make arrangements to get permission from his regular foster mom for another visit, and that perhaps he'd then like to come over for a day - but I got nothing back. I suspect that having been abandoned repeatedly throughout your childhood, promises at the end of a happy day from people you don't know well yet may invite a self-protective layer of extra defense. Either that or he doesn't want to come hang out with us - but I don't think that's it. I think we need to allow time to absorb and digest, and then time to come back together again under similarly easy circumstances.

I'm hoping we didn't freak him out and that he still likes us, in which case, we'll next invite him to our house for a day visit. Which will not involve vertical BMX racing or famous skateboarders, but will probably give him a better indication of what life with us might be like than the X Games did.

It's excruciating because I'd adopt him tomorrow if I could. There is just something about him that has been so familiar to us since we first met him, and I know we'd be able to "read" each other. I didn't really expect this level of emotional intensity, or to feel so attached to someone so soon. I'd like to stay connected, and the sooner we get involved, the more we can help him, because right now, he's not getting much stimulation and he's starting his sophomore year of high school, and things change fast at his age. But for emotional reasons as well as practical ones having to do with the tangled system of foster adoption, we can't do anything quickly. And I think we have to make and keep a series of small promises with him before it's even reasonable to ask him to imagine putting so much trust in us that he'd consider living in our home.

So much of the writing about adoption assumes that one is adopting an infant - I find very few if any sources about older child adoptions where the child actually has a say in the outcome. Usually older kids are just placed with licensed foster families without any opportunity for input, and in some cases, those families choose to adopt. But very rarely it seems do the kids meet prospective adoptive parents and get to know them in the way we are doing. I find it incredibly tenuous and suspenseful and emotional, but I also really see the value in giving the kid the time and freedom to decide whether a situation is right for him or her.

So we'll see. Phone consult with his social worker tomorrow about next steps. My great hope is that we can get set up for another visit next week so he sees that we're consistent and committed. But I want to do that without social pressure as well, and she'll give me some guidance about how she thinks he's feeling and how best to proceed.

1 comment:

Heather said...

What a great first individual meeting! I think we might use some of the things you somewhat accidentally did right (the video camera and role of playing DJ in the car). Our process has been different as we had to be "matched" through DCF and go through the disclosure meeting first, before even getting the opportunity to meet (at least outside of the awkward adoptions parties) the teen. Our process has been so unnatural. I wish we had an organization like Kidsave around here...

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