Andrew came into our home November 1st of last year. At the time, I was contracting with the YMCA Family and Mental Health Services agency to provide a temporary home for kids who were in crisis and needed more structure and supervision than they could get in their home or in a "regular" foster home - a place to calm down and stabilize. Some of the kids some were having trouble maintaining at home or in a foster placement, some were just out of the hospital; and some should have been hospitalized.
A few of the children that came in fell through cracks in the system. They were children under six, because six in the Washington State foster program is a magic age. That's when kids can be classified as needing significant behavioral support and get more funding. Not quite certain why behaviors they've been having for all the previous years aren't enough...but hey, it's a Governmental bureaucracy. It has to have a few kinks in it (cough, cough).
Because of this rule, some of the littler kids needing intense supports don't have a place to go. Their "families of origin" can't handle them, and none of the treatment facilities will take them without the higher level of funding. My house became kind of a loophole in the system. Our program could provide the higher level of care and services, but only for ninety days.
So, here comes Andrew. At four years old, he's my youngest yet in the program. He'd been in seven placements already. The previous placements were all family members and he'd been abused and neglected in each of them.
He came into our house one ANGRY little guy. Huge behaviors, spitting, kicking, throwing things, hitting, crying, CUSSING like a serious longshoreman. His tantrums - and I use that term loosely, because they were really rages - lasted up to three hours. For real.
This went on for weeks. Every single day, at least once a day. Sometimes, two or three times. It was a bumpy ride for us all. We went past the ninety days, and I changed the classification of my home so that he would not have to move again.
Eventually, we wore him down. Consistently saying what was okay and what wasn't, sticking to easy, clear rules: "We chew with our mouth closed, Andrew" "We stay at the table until we're done, Andrew" "We don't use words like that, Andrew" "We flush and wash, Andrew" and putting some structure into his life helped him feel safe and he started to relax.
It got so that tucking him into bed (which used to be an ordeal lasting a few hours), turned into one of the highlights of our day. He would get his jammies on and brush his teeth, go to his room to pick out a book, and get under the covers to wait for me. We had a whole routine worked out.
Ditto in the morning. We had a getting ready for the big boy's bus schedule. Having consistent things - even "little" things - to look forward to helped make his day (and mine) smoother and more predictable. He loved these things.
Four weeks ago, a judge who's never met Andrew, decided he was ready to go back to his mother. He hasn't lived with her for the last three of his four years. He is scared. He doesn't know her. And as of last Friday morning, he's living with her.
I can't go into the details of the case; not because I'm worried about confidentiality, but because I don't want to, and I don't feel it really matters at this point.
What matters is that Andrew got under my "professional" foster mom skin. What matters is I love that little boy. What matters is that, when I tried to pack his little plastic forks and spoons that he got for having good table manners, he said, "No, leave them here for when I come back". What matters is how hard he hugged my neck when he left, and how hard I cried after I closed the door.
What matters is that I keep listening for the sound of his rattly, plastic Big Wheel tearing up the sidewalk in front of our house; that I keep waiting for the sound of his voice, asking me a thousand whys: "Kath-a-leen, why does Ricky have eyes? Kath-a-leen, why does Klaryssia get mad so much? Kath-a-leen, why is your car that color...?"
What matters is how empty my lap feels sitting here at this computer because he used to, just last week, just a few days ago, come running out here to my office, flat, bare feet slapping on the hardwoods, to push his way up into my lap, to sit with me while I wrote. Always asking me, "Why"?
I don't know why, Andrew. I have no answers for this one.
I love you, little man. You will always be a part of me, and I hope and pray that somewhere in your little man heart, you will remember me, too.