This week, T. had his wisdom teeth extracted. For months, he has been asking after this appointment, checking up on it, anticipating it. This whole little drama of the wisdom teeth illustrates some interesting aspects of being an older child in foster care, transitioning to adoption.
To begin, his keen attention to this appointment with the oral surgeon struck me as a vestige of the feeling he had in foster care that he had to take care of himself and keep track of his own needs. He seemed anxious that we might forget about the appointment, a remnant of a general mistrust of adults.
We also did not quite anticipate the complexities of what it means to be pre-adoptive foster parents, in terms of the legalities. In order to have his wisdom teeth extracted, we had to speak with three different social workers (he has a caseworker and an adoption worker, and at some point in this process, one quit and another went out on extended sick leave so we had to begin anew with a replacement). The social worker needed to give us a form which we needed to give to the oral surgeon and then return to the social worker to take to a judge, to obtain a signature before we could have the teeth extracted.
One day shortly before his appointment, he also commented that "in the system" (which is how he refers to foster care), kids must see the dentist once every six months and foster parents must turn in papers from the dentist to the social worker, who in turn must show them to a judge. He mentioned that he's surprised, now that he lives with us, to see that we sometimes let our own dentist appointments slide a bit. We aim to get our teeth cleaned about twice a year, but our approach is inexact. "I spent so long in the system, I thought EVERYONE was required to go every six months," he commented quietly. "I didn't know you could make your own appointment and go when you want, like you guys do."
Most of all, it's been fascinating to take care of him today since he got home from the oral surgeon. When he returned (Tim was the one to take him to the appointment) he gave me what I call his "angry baby look" - a steady glare that basically means "Help! Can you read my mind?" It's a demand to intuit his needs. He was in pain, and that made him angry and confused. "How would you like to get in our bed and we'll bring the television in and you can watch movies?" I asked. He stared. He nodded. We moved the television and propped him up on pillows. He got suddenly very small, not at all like his day to day stubborn teenage self. He wanted to be spoon fed his dinner and desert. He let me rearrange his pillows and adjust his head. He called for ice cream and water and Advil. He mumbled "thank you" for each small favor. He seemed excited that I offered to stay home from work in the morning. (For a brief moment, he went wild with power and demanded that we go out and get him a milkshake at midnight, which we gently declined to do.) I am not sure he has ever been sick and allowed to burrow in a parent's bed before. He had an awkwardness and vulnerability that appear once in awhile when he is learning, a little late, what it's like to be so loved.
I think sometimes it's in these very small moments that he lets himself absorb kindness. I suspect it's also at these moments that he catches a glimpse of what he missed out on during his early childhood. Grief, relief, surprise, tenderness and embarrassment all pass across his face all at once.
Today Is A Gift
4 days ago