Last week, a family asked about adopting my foster son, Johnny.
A family. Adoption.
This was a big deal for a sixteen year old foster kid who moved in with me last month because he had nowhere else to go and had every intention of aging out of the system as an orphan.
I mean, wow.
Before this news, I had been thinking an awful lot about my limitations. I am a single mom, I can barely manage a weekly load of laundry, and I am hours away from the supports Johnny had in place before me. I sometimes have to google his interests – things like “air soft guns” and “why do people think paintball is fun??,” and he regularly looks at me like I have two heads when I make statements like “You know, I just think my house is over throw-pillowed.”
Our worlds have made an unlikely intersection, but remain very far apart.
This interested husband and wife couple lived closer to Johnny’s network of people, they were more rural, more outdoorsy. They had experience with foster kids, shared his interests, were stable. The timing of their interest with my running track of concerns seemed almost divine.
Johnny and I made the several hour drive to their home to meet them. Johnny had a Big Gulp and plugged in his headphones while I listened to CNN and sipped on a latte. I asked him if he was nervous, and he said, “Nah, I’ve done this before. You get used to it.”
The house was lovely and came after a stunning drive through the Arizona desert that I don’t get to see too often. Johnny had me ring the doorbell so he could stand a few steps back. He seemed fine, cautiously optimistic even.
The door opened and the couple was immediately warm and talkative. We went on a tour of the home, we saw the yard, met the animals. The wife and I easily fell into place. She was witty and lively and energetic.
But I wanted to leave this house more than I have ever wanted to leave anywhere in my life. It had nothing to do with the home and nothing to do with the people. To the contrary, I wanted to leave in spite of how kind they were.
It didn’t smell like my home, it didn’t look like my home, it didn’t feel like my home. The light was wrong, the food was different, the mountains were on the wrong side of the yard.
For a moment, I forgot that I wasn’t the one at issue here. My brain did a somersault and landed behind the lens of a foster child. It felt like I was the one looking at a new placement, I was being told about the high school, I was being shown the available bedroom.
I wanted to leave. It had been fifteen minutes, tops, and I, quite literally and very desperately, needed to leave.
I looked over at Johnny, his back up against the outside wall of the back patio, trapped behind the dining set. He looked at me like he was a cornered animal and I, the person who promised to protect him, was coming to attack.
We left before lunch was even out of the oven.
Johnny tried to apologize in the car for shutting down. He felt bad for making me uncomfortable, he felt bad if he hurt the couple’s feelings. I cut him off before he could finish. I told him he never had to do that again. Never.
I told him I felt like I got the tiniest glimpse of his life, this foster kid shuffle with the strange homes and the strange people and the complete lack of choice. I told him I understood, if only in the most peripheral and superficial way, how trapped he must have felt at every single point and in every new placement.
“You never have to do that again.” I repeated it. There would be no more placement options for him if he didn’t want them. I could be the last placement. He nodded. He smiled. He looked genuinely content for the first time since I met him, almost a year ago. He said he didn’t want to move at all.
Our worlds have made an unlikely intersection, but it turns out they intersected at the exactly right spot – at his home.