Three weeks ago today, we met Jack and brought him home. I can’t think of a time I have been more nervous, scared, excited and happy. So many questions. What type of personality did he have? Would we like him? Would he like us? Would we get along? Would our lives fill up with drama and fights and power-struggles? Would he be mean to the dogs? Would he throw things and break them? Would he bond with us?
A week or so before we met, we had been given a three or four paragraph write-up on him. Every child in need of placement has one and they are very generic, talking about if they like movies, comic books, have siblings and there is always a cute picture of them attached. Minutes before meeting him, we were given a bit more information which we have since decided to disregard.
All children in the foster system have a file that follows them wherever they go. We had been told that he has huge meltdowns when it comes time to get ready for school or take a bath. A few days in, I noticed his socks didn’t really fit his feet. We looked into it further and discovered that a lot of his clothes were too small. We went to Old Navy and while we guided him, we let him pick out all his own clothes. We think it was probably the first time in his life he has been able to have a say in what he wears. We have not had a single issue with him getting ready other than the fact that he looks outside, sees the sun shining and wants to wear shorts even though the temperature is in the thirties and forties. But still, not a single getting ready for school meltdown.
Bath time is also a non-issue. He wanted to toys to play with and we said yes. The only issue is his lack of affection for soap, but we get around that with a bubble bath.
A few days ago, I took him for a haircut and he started to get upset until I told him he could get whatever haircut he wanted. He immediately cheered up and decided he wanted a Mohawk (really, a faux-hawk) and when he was done getting his hair cut, he was beaming his toothless smile and you would have thought he just discovered he had super hero powers.
He has lived in places where he couldn’t just go in the kitchen or get a drink of water when he wanted. We have rules of what he can have, but he can pretty much help himself. As he feels safer and his confidence grows, he is opening up more and is more relaxed and willing to play on his own.
John and I decided early on to give Jack a clean slate. We don’t care about his earlier behavior. In the situations he has lived in, I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t act out. We didn’t tell him we had given him a clean slate, but we never bring up past events the way some of his previous caregivers have. It was great for John and I to let his past go so that we could let go of the expectation of something “bad” happening and not have that energy around him or in the family. Yes, there are little issues, like not wanting to do homework, but everything we see is average seven year-old behavior. My nephews did the same thing. Friends of mine with children the same age have all the same issues.
When John and I were going through the process of getting licensed and talking about being parents, one of our main priorities was to create an environment where our child would feel safe and have the confidence to become whoever they were meant to be and wanted to be. We have been giving him back control over parts of his life. We listen to his opinion. Sometimes he gets what he wants, sometimes he doesn’t. We constantly reiterate that we are a team and everyone has to do their part, and while we can’t always get what we want, we can all get what we want sometimes. Watching the changes in Jack, some subtle and some not so subtle, has been amazing. The energy and love Jack has brought to our lives is beyond anything I ever imagined.