My friends rock. Two of them particularly rock.
My Friend #1 is a private investigator who investigates the social history of people on death row. She worked in a foster group home for a couple years right out of college and her parents adopted an older child from foster care.
My Friend #2 is a licensed clinical social worker who supervised a program for homeless teenagers for many years, worked with traumatized kids in Kosovo, and now runs a free medical clinic.
They will both touch many lives in the course of their careers. But this week, I get the benefit of their wisdom. Tim and I are getting four full days off, thanks to them.
This is how it came about: I have a business trip to my hometown this week, and decided to take T with me. I figured I'd put him to work and pay him a bit for his time so I wouldn't have to worry about what he's up to while I'm away (winter school break is interminable this year thanks to LAUSD budget cuts). Of course that also means struggling to keep him occupied while I go about doing my job, being with him 24/7, juggling his needs with those of my coworkers. I booked a hotel suite for us with cable, video games and room service and hoped for the best.
Well, unexpectedly, T. announced that he'd be staying with Friend #1, who lives in the town where we're visiting, instead of with me at the hotel. This news was shocking and delightful, because he does not easily take to strangers nor to spending the night in unfamiliar places. Some months back, we had dinner with Friend #1 and her partner, and I guess he was captivated by her stories about her current case, involving a young man who grew up in a prison camp. I think he was also struck by her low-key compassion and hard-to-impress demeanor. So he decided to make himself her house guest. She loved the suggestion, and immediately got in touch to let him know that he should bring his xbox and come prepared to entertain her new pit bull puppy. His complete confidence and comfort about staying for five nights at her house is really touching to me.
Then my blessed Friend #2, who also lives in the town where we're visiting, offered to have T work at her health clinic for a day or two while he's staying in the vicinity. She knows that he wants to be a nurse, and arranged for him to shadow a male nurse at her clinic as he goes about his day. She isn't bothered at all that just three weeks ago I was ranting and raving to her about my problems keeping him in school, off drugs and out of trouble. Like Friend #1, she's pretty hard to impress and she's seen plenty of complicated teenage boys in her time. She has taken the time to listen to him and recognizes who he is, underneath the misbehavior. Like all kids, he rises to the level of expectation, and he responds to her respect and good humor.
One of the hardest things about becoming T's parent has been the isolation. We moved to Los Angeles just two years before we met him. That's not enough time to form deep friendships in middle age. We do pretty well, and we get home to our friends and families often, but I wish sometimes that we had stronger local bonds. It can be isolating enough raising a traumatized kid, because his intense needs and struggles have a way of drawing all of our time and attention and energy. Living in a town without close friends and family makes things harder and we almost never get even an hour off, much less a day.
So this week, I'm exceedingly grateful for the opportunity to distribute the wonders of T.'s company across the safety net of my two friends. He trusts them and feels he can be close to them because he knows how much they are a part of me, and that makes me feel good. Visiting with them gives him a chance to grow and experiment, and it gives me a chance to relax.
I hope every foster/adoptive parent of a traumatized child out there gets a break like I'm getting this week. Knowing that someone you trust who "gets" your precious, complicated child is going to stand in for you for just a little while is SUCH a huge mental and emotional relief. And for T., finding surrogate parents who are willing to open their homes and lives to him sends a profound message about belonging to a family, growing into an adult, and the value of strong friendships. They are my family, and now they are his as well.