If I’d gotten up two minutes earlier
I would have caught the little weasel in the act.
As it was, I looked out my kitchen window
just in time to see our troubled 16 year old Matt drive away in our treasured 1999 Camaro. It was .
Our son-in-law is the police sergeant in
town and, to be fair, he was acting out of family loyalty when he waited an hour to call in the runaway. But you can go a
long way in 60 minutes, especially in a Camaro.
They caught up with Matt in FortMorgan, 100 miles from home. By then, he’d eluded the police, plowed into
a farmer’s field and driven through a police spike barricade. Did I mention he was driving our Camaro? You know, the
kind of vehicle which uses expensive racing-type tires?
When Doug, our son-in-law, called us at
, he told us he had good news and bad news. “Matt,” he said, “was
“What’s the good news?”
my husband countered.
Do you get the feeling we were angry?
The next day, we drove to Sterling
to get tires for the Camaro so that we could bring it home. They cost $270. Then we went on to the towing operation ten miles
out of FortMorgan and paid $250 to get
the car out of impound. Finally, we went back to FortMorgan
for Matt’s advisement. Now, if you get the impression that financial matters weighed highly with us at that moment,
you are right. We love Matt, but we aren’t wealthy. And we have other children to think of…Matt’s adopted
brother and our foster children.
Standing outside the SB94 office (a program
which supervises people awaiting trial without incarceration) Charlie (my husband) asked Matt where he’d been going.
shrugged and said, “MMM-um-UMMM.”
In “teenagese” that translates
to “I don’t know.”
The fact that Matt couldn’t even
respond with some respect at that point frustrated Charlie. He said “You
drive him home. I’m taking the Camaro. I can’t handle him right now.”
I mentally reviewed who Matt was before
I said anything to him on the way home. We’d adopted him two years ago at the age of 14. He’d been in foster care
since he was 8. He has reactive attachment disorder and his emotional age is probably 13. He bears the physical and emotional
scars of years of abuse and molestation.And he’s a teenager, so decreased
impulse control is a part of the package. Still, Matt knows right from wrong.
“Where were you going?” I asked
“Nowhere. I was just driving. It’s
going to sound silly, but I thought I could find myself. I thought it would help me.”
“And did you find yourself at Platte
Matt snuffled and looked out the window.
“And what did you think we would
do?” I asked.
“Nothing.” Matt turned to look
at me. “I mean, I thought you’d want the car back but…I guess I just thought you’d dump me.”
“And why would we do that?”
Matt’s eyes clouded up and his voice
dropped. “Everyone else has.”
Now, let me explain that Matt has lived
with us for almost four years. We’ve been through several “events” with him, but nothing this serious. Still,
we’d stuck with him. He knew we were committed to him. These were alligator tears.
When we arrived home, Matt asked to go
for a walk. I could tell by his face that he was serious.He didn’t have
a clue about what trust issues his actions had caused. When I told him no, he said “Geez,” and stomped upstairs
to his room.
The next day, I took Matt to Sterling
to meet with his SB94 case manager. She advised him of his rights, explained the rules of the program and attached a monitor
to Matt’s ankle.We were handed a black box similar to a satellite TV unit
to attach to our telephone.
was put on house restrictions and each time he entered or left our home the unit called the case manager. Every time. If we
were on the phone when the monster wanted to call, it would emit a series of beeps and disconnect us.I desperately wanted to throw the box at the wall, but the penalty for destroying it was $4000.
And each time I was plucked from an important
call, I glared at Matt. Or threw mental darts at him. Matt’s response?
“Why are you mad at me?”
At his advisement, Matt was given a date
for his next court appearance. I couldn’t be there. Ironically, it was the time I was presenting a workshop at the National
Foster Parents Conference in AtlantaGeorgia.
So Charlie took Matt.
When I visited with my husband on the phone
that evening he was livid. We, who had been deprived of sleep, who had worried about this child, who had been forced to dig
deep into our shallow pockets and shell out hundreds of dollars forcar repairs and gas to attend court hearings…we were being called “co-respondents.” Co-criminals.
As if somehow we were a part of a gang that had planned this whole fiasco. They wanted to know what Matt was doing out at
that time of night.They mentioned to my husband that there were parenting classes
coming up in our county.
And, my husband told me, to top it off,
the Camaro transmission was acting funny.
Several days later, I thought I had a handle
on things. Matt, though not apologetic, was keeping a low profile.I had learned
to anticipate, when Matt was away from home, approximately when he would return. If I was on the phone, I would rush to the
door and wave him away. He would sit on the curb across the street and wait for me to tell him it was “all clear.”
That’s when the police made another
appearance at my door. This time, the officer wanted to speak to one of our foster children. It seems he had threatened someone’s
life at school. He was 11. As I sat on my couch listening to the officer interview Brandon*,
a flashing light caught my eye…the monitor. Now two children in my care had run-ins with the law.
And then, then phone rang. It was the elementary
school principal. Did I know that Christopher* (our other foster son) had been intentionally hit in the groin that day by
a school mate?
I didn’t know. But I wasn’t
surprised. I was a crummy mother. I asked the little guy about it and he said, “Yes. Somebody hit me in the treasure
I felt like a total failure. How could
anyone trust me to raise somebody else’s treasured child when all my charges turned to lives of crime or became victims
of malicious bullies?
I sat on the couch after the officer left
and felt sorry for myself. Then I pulled myself up, went resolutely into the kitchen and ate a quart of ice cream with chocolate
sauce and peanuts on top. Not only was I a lousy mother, I was fat. Fat and lousy.
Have you been there? Has it tempted you
to quit fostering? To abort your adoption plans? Let me assure you it is normal to want to mark foster and adopted kids “return
to sender” and drive them to the post office with a stamp over their mouths. Every
adoptive parent I know has felt that way. And every foster parent has a moment with every foster child when the temptation
You can disrupt foster children, and sometimes
you should. Sometimes it is just not a great match. Sometimes it’s better for a child to go to another home where they’ll
fit better then for both of you to endure a difficult relationship.
Adopted children are another matter. Once
you sign the paper, that child is your family. And sooner or later, he’ll probably begin to act like it.
It just might be much later. Years later.
And until then, you’ll have ups and
downs. But I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. I just want to encourage you. Remember who you are: a
wonderful person who is doing a job not many people are willing to do…fewer are capable of doing and fewest yet are
as good at it as you are.
So don’t kick yourself when you’re
Don’t eat that quart of Haagen-Dazs.
And don’t throw the SB94 monitor
at the wall.
Instead, smear it with peanut butter and
leave your door ajar. Maybe the mice will do the job for you.; )