Monday, October 12, 2009

Eleventh straight weekend with T - we've had him from early Saturday morning until late Sunday evening every week since late July now as we work on his adoption. This weekend, we went to a football game, visited his friends, and had breakfast with his social worker to talk about the transition plan for full-time permanent placement next month. We also had a visit with my brother's family who were visiting from out of town - the first extended family of ours to be introduced to T.

It was a weekend of firsts. Including the first time we've had to ground him. On Saturday, he missed the mark during some time we allowed him to spend with one of his friends. He didn't keep in touch as he is supposed to, snuck off to the car, and ran the car battery down to zero listening to the radio. I dropped his friend home before discussing it with him. Then I said, "I think you didn't do a great job today of keeping in touch and telling the truth. What do you think?" He covered his eyes with his hands and wailed "I think I got a D-minus!" He's 6'2", but he was slumped down in the seat with a look of terrror and shame like a young child's. I said, "Okay, so there has to be a consequence, so tomorrow we're not going to visit your friends as we had planned. Is that fair?" He nodded yes, and then he was very very quiet.

After about half an hour, he still wasn't talking and he seemed quite crushed. I said, "Tim and I realize that you've been living in situations where you're not given much freedom and as a result, maybe you've had to sneak and lie in order to get any free time with your friends. And we do things differently. So it's going to take awhile to get in the habit of using your freedom wisely. When you start to lie to me, I want you to stop for a second and think about whether you can tell me the truth instead." He said "okay" very softly. Then I said "You have a lot of adults poking around in your life right now. It's going to be nice when it's just us, working things out together like this. We've talked a lot about you. Do you have things you'd like to know about us?" He looked shocked and amused and made a face that meant "A million but I can't put them in words." I offered, "Maybe you wonder why we want to adopt, or why we chose you?" He said, "Well yeah!" with a big exhalation. So I told him that, although some people adopt because they aren't able to have a biological baby, that wasn't true for us. I explained that my best friend in college had been a foster child, and I didn't like how she was treated. So when I grew up, Tim and I decided maybe we'd adopt a foster child - that we liked the idea of making a family with someone like him, where we all choose to be together of our own free will. And I told him that we weren't totally sure we wanted to adopt until we met him - and that as soon as we did, something about him set the wheels in motion and we just knew he was the person we wanted to be in our family. He just LOVES this story. He just beamed quietly with this amazing soulful expression on his face. I said, "And nothing that has happened since then, in all this time we've spent together, has ever made us feel differently about you. We like you much much more than I even thought possible, and I couldn't possibly be more proud about having someone in my family than I am of you." He didn't even pause before he said "Thank you!" in a firm, proud, satisfied way.

I asked him then if he still felt like the adoption was something he wanted, and he said yes.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Lucky Rock

We had our tenth (!) consecutive weekend visit with T. and we were particularly merry going into this one because last week we passed three major hurdles on the path to adoption: 1) we finished our six week mandatory county parenting class; 2) we passed our state licensing inspection, required of anyone adopting out of foster care, and 3) we did our home study with the county social worker handling our adoption. (For anyone just catching up on this blog, we've got T. on weekends while we pursue adoption and wait for full-time placement at the end of his school semester this winter.)

This weekend we went camping. It was NOT my best laid plan. In fact, it was one of my worst. The campground was 3.5 hours away, much further than I realized, and although the location on top of a bluff overlooking the Pacific was beautiful, it was absolutely freezing and windy. T. has never been outside of Los Angeles, and he's never been camping. But it turned out okay anyway.

In the big picture sense, I learned this weekend that bonding (at least in the kind of oddball alternative family universe that we are starting to inhabit via this adoption) happens as much through mild adversity as anything else. Packing the camping gear, trudging up a mountain in the middle of nowhere, pitching the tent in the howling wind, and struggling to keep the camping stove lit long enough to cook a meal while T. hopped around with my pajamas wrapped around his neck for warmth got us feeling all family-ee.

We played cards for hours in the tent and saw a side of T. that is probably familiar to his friends, but not the adults in his life - a happy, fast-talking, unguarded teenager, taking great delight in winning (and losing) nickels from us as we just sat around wasting time. Then we all had to pack it in side-by-side like sardines in the tent for a night of sleep amid the howling wind and roar of the ocean.

This morning he wanted to ride horses, but we couldn't make it happen, so we practiced driving (we helped him get his permit recently and we're teaching him to drive) instead. At least equally as thrilling, especially since he did his first highway driving today.

By the time we got back this evening, he was back in teen world, text messaging on anything he could get his hands on - my phone, Tim's phone, the office computer. He was ever so slightly surly at dinner. We actually rejoice when he's a little surly in that age-appropriate 15 year-old way. When we met him, he was so still and polite and quiet, I just felt like the lid was going to blow. He would barely eat and never asked for anything.

Now when he won't look up from his text messages and he shovels food into his mouth and makes sarcastic jokes, we feel like we've made just a wee bit of progress. Of course, he also gives us ample opportunity to parent the younger version of himself that will probably be with him for a long time to come. But we love these periods of normal teen behavior too, because we feel like we've been able to offer him a sliver of stability that allows him to resolve some earlier uncertainties so he can get back to the business of teenage development.

And this weekend, I was reminded that we never know when and in what way we're likely to reach him. At one point this weekend, we went down to the beach for a look at some tidepools, and he showed little interest, so I let him stay in the car listening to the radio. When we returned, I brought him a rock I picked up on the beach. I handed it to him and said, "I brought you a present. It's your lucky rock." I was half-thinking when I said it. Later that night, he brought the rock out of his pocket while we were playing cards, and rubbed his cards with it "for luck". I was so surprised - I thought he'd have forgotten it by then. Then tonight, I let him drive the last mile home. As he hopped in the driver's seat, he rubbed the pocket of his jacket where he had tucked the rock away, for luck before he took the wheel. The significance he ascribed to that rock made me think we should probably be careful, even (especially) when he is being surly and coarse, never to assume he isn't listening.

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