Thursday, September 13, 2012

Up and Away

We've had some nice visits with T lately. I'm not sure what that means. Maybe it just means we've had some nice visits lately.

None of the problems that led to him living away from home have resolved, and we didn't expect them to. It's just nice to see him. I would characterize his attitude as sheepish, and ours as tender. I love to see him. We have a flow. He's a sweet kid. In a way, by moving away and making a point of not needing us, he needs us more. He's regressed. He's having a rough time now, of his own making, and he knows it. Out of the house, he has to confront that his life is what he and he alone makes it. That's a big idea to absorb, and he doesn't need me to drive the point home. That leaves me free to just show my affection for him. I trust his strength and his right to lead his own life.

He knows I'm a high-strung, demanding maniac, so he knows that my low-key approach really does mean "I love you and I'm going to let you learn in your own way" and "I release you from my control, and I am here as your witness and your friend." As I've often noted, that's a big lesson for any young adult, all the more profound for an abused child who has been marked by an adult's violent misuse of power, as it is for someone struggling with substance abuse who knows that everyone around him wants his behavior to change.

He held out for about four weeks with only an occasional email before he got in touch to say he missed us and wanted to get together. His voice on the phone had a transparent joy that he's always had when he's feeling attached.

When we got together, I think he thought perhaps we'd withhold our attention, rub his nose in his mistakes, or lecture him. When we arrived, he was sheepish and awkward, alternately wondering what to do and gushing with stories about his recent breakup with his girlfriend and all the hurt feelings he had that needed soothing. We saw a movie and took him for a haircut. A couple weeks later he suggested another outing and it was easier this time. We had a picnic in the park and picked up some groceries for him.

For a long time, when he was living at home, I fretted over how and where to set limits. Life with a seriously substance-abusing teen is a rollercoaster, and some days we felt between a rock and a hard place in trying to figure out how to support him without enabling him. I don't worry about that much now. I won't hand him cash, but if I want to buy him dinner, get him some groceries, trim his hair, or just hang out in the park, I will. I strongly believe that if he could change, he would, but like all of us, there are things he can't or won't change. That is his business. I can't make that different. His struggles come from a place of pain and grief and survivalism that I understand, but he also deserves privacy and respect. He is not just a patient, and not just the sum of his traumas. He's a teenager, with faulty judgment and half-formed ideas about the world, and he needs to get out and test-drive his life.

It strikes me that in foster care, every farewell is a trauma - whether it's the original separation from birth family, or the all-too-frequent disruptions in foster placements. He doesn't know how to leave a place without rupturing relationships. When we visit him now, he becomes very childlike, I think because it strikes him like magic. We had a life together, and now we are apart, but the bond is still there, and in some ways, it's stronger. We allow each other to transition. We forgive and accept, even the unacceptable. We give him permission to grow up, and away. That permission is an important part of being a parent to me.

He'll learn in his own way, in his own time, and if by some chance he never progresses beyond the struggles he faces now, he got as far as he could and he is just as deserving of my love. When he was at home, it was hard to express love and set limits at the same time. Now that he's living away from home, in a way, the message is more pure.


Anonymous said...

This was just what I needed to read right now! Thank you.

Bobbi said...

I have read every post of your blog. Working my way from the start to the present. You have no idea how much I have learned from you. My husband and I spent yesterday, today and will spend tomorrow in our caregiver orientation course. The first steps in training our province requires to become a foster parent. I felt so much more prepared and confident going into the training because of the knowledge you have passed on. Thank you.

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