I had 8 years with my first daughter, Alice, all to myself. The foster care system has changed a lot over the years, but back in the 90’s, if a child out of foster care was in guardianship, there was a level of check-ins still required by the system. Alice was not eligible for adoption because of her cultural background, but I had guardianship. The main component of ‘keeping tabs’ was that I had to keep my foster care license current, even though I did not intend to have any more children other than my Alice. Relicensing happens every three years in the foster care system. EVERY time I relicensed, I would get calls to have kids placed with me. The calls would last for about 2 months and I would always say ‘no.’ My theory is that my file would bubble to the top of the pile with each relicensing and social workers would take note and try to find placement homes for kids in need.
When I had finished relicensing for the second time, I got a call about a little 4-year-old that my heart could not ignore. Her story caught my interest and the extra nudge to pay attention to this call was that the little one, Beatrice, had the same birthday as Alice (8 years younger). It felt like more than a coincidence, so after some questions, I said, “yes,” this time. And my life changed again in the blink of an eye.
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Beatrice, 2 years old at the time, and her brother Harry were found in an apartment alone with no food available. She has shared many tidbits of memories over the years about things that happened, with her mother specifically, around that time. I have no memories of being 2 years old. Beatrice has fearful and sad, ingrained memories. She and her brother finally ended up in a foster home together.
However, within a month or so, the social worker was asked to find a new placement for Beatrice, because she “cried too much.” All in all, this little, fragile, frightened sweetheart had 3 placement changes with a single excuse…. she cried too much! And she was separated from her brother in the process (he was adopted by the first placement), further traumatizing her. She touched my heart!!!!
Beatrice had been in a placement in another state, so on the day she was to come to us, the social worker flew out to get her. Ms. P arrived on our doorstep at 10:30 at night with a tiny little girl, tears rolling down her cheeks and a little pink Tweety Bird suitcase in hand. I asked Beatrice if she needed a hug and she walked right into my arms.
Oh. My. Goodness! This little girl could cry!!!!! Every single transition in her day was accompanied by tears. “It’s time to get dressed for school.” Crocodile tears, “But I miss my mommy.” “It’s time to start getting ready for bed. Go pick out a book for us to read?” Crocodile tears, “I’m too sad. I want my brother.” “It’s time to wash your hands for dinner.” Crocodile tears, “I can’t! I don’t feel good.”
Early on, I figured out my response. “It’s time to go brush your teeth.” Crocodile tears, “But I’m so sad. I want my grammy.” “I can see how sad you are. Do you need a hug?” Beatrice would nod yes. So we would hug, then I’d tell her, “I’m sorry you’re sad. You can be sad if you need to be sad, but even sad people have to brush their teeth.” At first, she would blink her eyes and stare at me, then wail even louder and throw herself in my arms again. I would gently direct her to whatever transition prompted the tears.
Month after month, the tears continued. Alice would complain once in a while and we’d have a discussion about how often SHE would show HER rage, especially early on and that every person has a right to their feelings.
Ever so slowly, the tears began to lessen. The changes were barely noticeable until seen in hindsight.
One day about 5 months in, we were sitting, the 3 of us, at the kitchen table and coloring pictures I had printed from my computer. It was pretty quiet… a comment here and there about choosing a crayon or the girls showing me their progress. Eventually, there was a huge sigh from Beatrice. I remember it vividly. She put her crayon down and looked right in my eyes, then sighed again. I asked, “What’s up?” Beatrice said, “I get to cry in this house.”
“Yes, my love, you do.