first time for everything. One of the firsts I was referring to was our first foster placement, and many more "firsts" happened after that. The first time we met our foster son's bio parents, the first time we attended a Family Engagement Meeting, the first time we doubted our calling to be foster parents.
The first time we had to say goodbye to a child we had spent months loving and caring for.
All those firsts taught us a lot. We got through them. And he went home, and life went on.
Then one night, the phone rang.
"There's been an incident," the social worker said. "Can Little Man come back to your house?"
My feelings were mixed. Happiness to have the chance to see him again, snuggle him again. Sadness that his life was in chaos. Disappointment that his parents had made poor choices. Worry about what it might be like the Second Time Around.
And there was guilt. Not the same kind of guilt I wrote about here, but this vague sense that maybe there was more I could've done to help Little Man's parents after he went back to them. If I would've checked in on them, asked about Little Man, encouraged them to continue their counseling...would this have happened?
That's what went through my mind. But I said yes.
He hadn't lived with us for months, but when the social worker came and I opened the door, he recognized me. When he saw Patience, he smiled. I held him for a minute, wondering what his life had been like since I'd seen him last. Wondering what his future might hold. Then I plopped him in a highchair, kissed the top of his head, and went back to making dinner.
When Andy and the boys came home and saw Little Man at the table, they weren't fazed.
"For how long?" Andy asked.
"Cool," the boys said.
That was four months ago. So why haven't I written about this before? I wrote about spending Christmas with Little Man's parents, why haven't I written about my struggles with the Second Time Around?
Here's why: the Second Time Around is nothing like the first. It's scarier. Harder. A whole new set of challenges. He has the same bio parents as before, but our relationship with them is different now. He's the same kid as before, but he can communicate now. Before, he was a baby. Now he knows how to let me know what he's thinking and feeling. He reaches for me, wants all my attention. Calls me Mama.
I don't want him to, but he does.
"It's Auntie," I say. "Call me Auntie K."
He looks at me and cocks his head to one side. "Mama."
And there's another reason I've been hesitant to talk about it. Another reason I don't tell people that he's actually the same kid who lived with us before. I fear their reaction. Because some people think it's an exciting thing for us to have him back. They assume it's what I wanted. (No.) Or they have no idea how to respond. Or they think if he's back that must mean he'll never see his parents again because surely the state wouldn't send him back home a second time, right? Because people don't understand how the foster system works.
Now that the First Time for Everything has turned into the Second Time Around, I'm realizing the life of a foster parent isn't just about helping vulnerable kids. Isn't just about giving them a safe place to live temporarily. That would be easy. The hard part is learning and growing and letting go of all the things you can't control (which, in foster care, is just about everything). The hard part is answering all the well-meaning questions and misconceptions without compromising Little Man's privacy or my sanity.
So if there's a foster parent in your life and they have a child return for the Second Time Around (or third or fourth), don't dig for information or tell them how much harder it will be to say goodbye this time. Don't assume the foster parents plan to adopt the child now. Don't ask how long it's going to take.
Don't say anything except "Oh, I see. What's your favorite kind of chocolate?"