For a year now we've been full-time parents to T. Our dynamic at home is highly idiosyncratic but it works for us. However, we're fairly isolated. We don't know many parents of teenagers and we don't know anyone who has adopted an older child.
Over Thanksgiving, we made a week-long visit to my hometown. The best part was spending time with my oldest and dearest friends, who finally got a chance to get to know T, and with my dad, who genuinely likes T. and connects with him. It was relaxing to share T. with other people who know us well, who don't puzzle over our choice to adopt a teenager.
One of my friends is a licensed clinical social worker who once worked with homeless teenagers. Another comes from a family where she had a foster sibling; she now works as a private investigator specializing in family histories in death penalty cases. Traumatized children are not new to them; they are easy and accepting with T.
One evening, we all went out to a trampoline park, and then out for dinner and arcade games. T. astonished me with his glorious behavior. He was polite, quiet, engaged, playful and outgoing. Often, he has a low tolerance for time spent in public. He can be very sensitive to noise, crowds, and chaos. However, this evening, he rolled along with the plan as it unfolded spontaneously, even eating dinner with the adults in a crowded noisy seafood restaurant where his cheeseburger did not meet his exacting specifications.
He is not a kid who attaches easily or indiscriminately. And yet at the end of the evening when one of my best friends invited us to her house, he announced that yes, we would be going, and that he would be riding with her in her car. This was most astonishing to me. As they pulled away from the curb, he gave me a playful wave from the passenger seat as I stood on the sidewalk with my mouth gaping in surprise.
The next day, he said to me and Tim: "I was so good last night! Wasn't I good with your friends? You could say that I was...at the center of things!" Gleeful smile.
From time to time, I am struck by the thought that it is very important to him that he be successful in his new role as our kid. As a young child, he intermittently lived with a cousin whom he loved. But it's clear that he never thought of himself as her kid - she had biological kids in the house who filled that role in his mind. The county located her and urged her to take him and his brother in and from that moment on, he clearly thought of himself more as a house guest.
He's an introverted person, so his feelings are rarely obvious. We catch glimpses of his internal life now and then. When we were preparing to become parents, I read a lot of books about traumatized kids, adoption and attachment. I think they led me to expect that his internal life would be filled with suffering, anger, confusion and grief. And of course, he experiences those things too, more than most kids. But what I didn't prepare for were these expressions of joy, pride in being successful in his new family, and love.
As an aside, my friends and my father all said to me at different times that despite his age and formidable height, T. struck them as a much younger child - about five years old. That's exactly right. When he is happy, he often seems about five. Not coincidentally, that is when he was first taken away from his cousin's house. Something froze then, and when he is feeling happy and secure these days, he appears to pick up where he left off.