Monday, August 6, 2007

Remembering Andrea

When our boys were six- and three-years-old, we opened our home to a little girl named Andrea. Andrea was only a year old when she came to us as a foster child. She had been badly neglected and possibly abused. Until Andrea, I would never have believed that a child, only one year old, could already have a personality so forged by circumstances. Andrea was amazingly independent – our social worker said she probably wouldn’t have survived her first year without being that way. She was both aggressive and strong, to the point that our three-year-old was utterly intimidated by her. She did not tolerate hugs or cuddling, and was prone to hitting, biting and pinching. But she was extremely bright. I couldn’t get over how fast she learned anything we put before her.

When the social worker first came to talk to us about fostering her, he emphasized that a foster home is a temporary placement, and that we should always keep that in mind, having no ulterior motives of adoption. We understood this, and, from the beginning, prepared ourselves for the day when she would leave. I used to get my feelings hurt when people (frequently) would say, “I couldn't do that. I’d fall in love with the child and not be able to give her up.” My feelings were hurt because it felt like they were telling me that my love just didn’t measure up. But the fact is, taking in a child in crisis, and caring for her until she can be placed into a safe and secure permanent home takes a huge amount of unselfish love.

Andrea was ours for over a year. She grew from a baby to a little two-year old girl. I remember how cute she looked on her second birthday. She flashed a great big smile as we sang "Happy Birthday" and she watched the two flickering candles on the doll cake I had decorated for her. I would never give up that piece of our family's history. On the other hand, I’m not sure I’d want to repeat it, either! Andrea was a handful, and I already had two proper handfuls, in my two boys. Changes in her personality came slowly and unsteadily. She learned to give and receive hugs (a big breakthrough), and her little face broke into smiles more and more often. But her first traumatic year had left her still untrusting and physically aggressive. It was a very hard year on our passive son, Tim, who pretty much let Andrea run over him. Andrea and I had some serious power struggles of our own, as well. A stern “no” seemed to flip her stubborn-switch; and she seldom showed that innate desire to please, that dwells inside most children.

Up until that year, I thought I wanted to have a third child, while Dan seemed quite content with two. What I learned about myself was that having three children severely cut into the extra attention I was able to give to the kids. We had always done so many things together - the library, swimming lessons, picnics, walks, baking, art. But with a third child, especially one with needs like Andrea's, my time and energy were so consumed that those activities were severely limited; I felt sad that the boys were the ones losing out. Some moms can do it all, with a dozen kids. But I learned my own limitations, gave a lot of thought about quality vs. quantity, and came to a wonderful peace about being a family of four once Andrea’s future was safely settled.

About a year into Andrea’s stay, the social worker came to visit. After all of his lecturing about ulterior motives, he now told us that they were terminating rights for both of Andrea’s parents, and . . . would we like to adopt her? I can’t tell you how emotionally confusing the following few weeks were, as we attempted to un-do all of the “programming” we’d done on ourselves, and to ponder the prospect of adoption. Of course we’d love to have a little girl! Of course we were tremendously emotionally attached to Andrea! But . . . what about all that quality vs. quantity stuff I’d worked through? We prayed. We talked. I cried. And every day my mind seemed to see everything from yet another perspective.

No need to go into all of the thought processes we went through, but the end of the matter was that we didn’t feel adoption was the right choice for us. We felt we shouldn't adopt if there were doubts, which our confusion seemed to indicate. We believed adoption should be something done because of a burning desire to have another child. There was a family, in a nearby community, on a 60+ acre ranch, with a four-year-old-boy who wanted a baby sister; and they had that burning desire to adopt. That’s where Andrea went to live, soon after her second birthday. Our social worker kept us posted for the next year or so, and told us that everything was working out beautifully for Andrea and her new family, which really eased our minds.

Andrea was so young when she left that I know she doesn’t remember us. She left with a scrapbook in her suitcase, though, detailing her year with our family. It contained photos and enough clues about us that I always hoped, some day, to hear from her. Andrea is 29 years old now. We haven’t heard from her. But I do believe that during the year she was with us, we wrote on the "pages of who she is" and played a part in changing, for the better, the outcome of one precious little life.

1 comment:

Kelsey said...

You made me cry. I know what you mean about insensitive comments. When we were serious about adoption, I was already preparing myself for the biggies: "Who's her real mom?" and "It's too bad you couldn't have your own children." Hello, I'm her mother and do you not see my child right here?

Chris and I entertained the idea of foster care at one time; hopefully some day we will. I think it's great to open up your home to a child who'd likely never truly felt loved or safe or happy. What an amazing gift to give a child.