We are coming up on one of our bittersweet “celebration” days…. An anniversary of the arrival of one of my kids. A week before Christmas, I got a phone call from a social worker asking if I could take a little five-year-old girl for the holidays. They had found a relative to take her, but not until after the New Year. So I said yes and a sweet, scared, very confused little one showed up in the afternoon.
I did not hear what was going on for her, but they picked her up from her kindergarten class and brought her to me with the clothes she was wearing, a light-weight jacket and her school backpack. That was it.
Imagine any child you love. It doesn’t matter their circumstances, but during the week before Christmas, a social worker picks her up from her Kindergarten class and she doesn’t get to see you again for 5 months. How would your little one react?
This happens to children every day. Sometimes it’s for very good reasons, but it’s still just about the worst thing you can do to a child. It changes their sense of predictability and safety and trust for the rest of their life. They have no way of naming what is happening to them and no way of doing anything to change what is happening to them.
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This little one said goodbye to her brother and sister and other loved ones that December 17th morning so long ago and halfway through her kindergarten day, she came to me. Her eyes were huge and she was quiet for a long while, then handled her anxiety with constant questions and observations. Everything smelled different, felt different, tasted different, sounded different, and she had questions about all of it. We had a Christmas tree and she told me that she had a lot of presents under her tree at home already. We spent the next week running errands as my other two daughters had gymnastics team and swim team trainings. We had Christmas shopping to do and packing up for our Christmas trip to family in the next state over. She was going to meet OUR Grandma and Grandpa and aunties and uncles and cousins. She was going to have Christmas in a new church and have strangers hugging her and asking if she was happy or excited for Christmas and Santa and everything. I wanted to yell at all of them that NO, she was not excited. She was sad and angry and SO scared.
Friends of mine rose to help with food, clothing, and last-minute gifts for the new little girl. But guess what? Including this new little girl in family, Christmas, presents, errands, meals was NOT what she needed. She needed to feel safe and getting plopped into a new home a week before Christmas was not feeling safe! It was a nightmare!
She was physically safe. She was fed and clothed and loved. But she did not FEEL safe. She was on high alert because, if she could go to Kindergarten one day and then not see her family, nor even talk to them for 5 months, there was no way to feel safe. It was the exact opposite!
This is what life looks like for children in foster care…. Never knowing whether this is the day that you lose everything and everyone…. Again. How do you trust life? Ever again? How do you believe that good things happen if they can be ripped away in the blink of an eye?
It’s been 18 years now since that little one arrived. We have spent years learning to trust each other and trusting that life is good. She didn’t get to stay with the extended family after the New Year and we now ‘joke’ that we forgot to ask the social worker how many holidays she was talking about when she asked for this one to come to me for the holidays all those years ago. But I think we would both agree that we have become family. And she is an amazing young woman who is doing her own work and gets to have the best of our family AND her bio family.
Trust is interesting. Hard to regain once lost, but oh, so worth the gift of learning (or re-learning). If you have Littles in your life, hug them and cherish them. And more importantly, be the trust and predictability that they need.
Credit @MStoneyART for the Native coloring page!