Last week, Certain Man and I became the “faraway Grandpa and Grammy” to three little boys. G. (3), K. (2), and L. (1).
They came to Eldest Son and his Ohio Heart Throb on a chilly February evening, wide-eyed and wild haired. They were all bewildered. L. was sick.
I look at the pictures that have come across the marvels of my cell phone and I have this tightness in my throat. I am wildly happy for our son and his wife. They’ve been waiting for this day for a long time. They’ve traversed the rocky road of foster parent education, with inspections and questionnaires and reference forms and physicals and classes with courage and commitment, finishing up in late November or early December and thinking ever since that this day would come any time. Their agreement was that they would be willing to take siblings, ages 3 and under. Siblings. As in two. (I thought it was stretching it a bit to think that there would be two in a sibling group that would come intact into the Foster to Adopt program.) But instead, here they were. Three beautiful little boys.
I said that I am wildly happy. I am also guardedly fearful. Because I know. Certain Man and I were foster parents for over five years back in the late seventies. Things have changed a whole lot since then. Except for some very basic things. Children who are in foster care are not there without brokenness. And there is no guarantee that they are home to stay. All the new regulations, all the advances in understanding kids in transition, and all the best intentions cannot displace this “ax in the ceiling” with which foster parents live.
When we moved to Delaware from Ohio, we came with three children; Christina, Deborah, and Raphael. It was interesting to be defined as a family just in the contest of those three children. Because, the truth be told, there were 21 other children who had passed through our home in various contexts, that were so much a part of who Certain Man and I were that it felt strange to me to live as if those children had never existed, and as if those years had never happened.
We had lived on a little hill in Ohio, a smallish grey house at the corner of Plain City-Georgesville and M.V. High Road. There was an orchard and a stream, and Certain Man had planted Buckeye trees along the bank. The many children would swing in the big maple tree, ride the little cart behind the mower while Certain Man mowed, and followed the man that they loved as their Daddy, hanging on to his fingers and riding on his strong shoulders. They sang and prayed and played and sometimes fought and bit and scratched and argued.
And the day came for every one of them, except one, when they went away.
Each story was different. There were a few times when the stay had been extremely short and we knew that the child/children would likely be returned to their natural family, that it wasn’t really too hard.
But there were way too many times when a child left that our hearts were wrenched with unbelievable pain. It just was so wrong. Even when a child was going to an adoptive home, there never was a time when it felt “right.” I remember being warned that we couldn’t love “those children” too much, because we needed to remember that they would probably need to be given up.
I remember saying, “It is a child’s right to be loved in a way that feels like you could NEVER give them up.” And so we invested over and over again. And our families did as well. I remember coming into my parents’ house at Christmas, 1975, carrying Joseph, our first foster baby. We had traveled late into the night, but Daddy and Mama, Sarah and Alma were waiting up for us. We brought him into the house, unwrapped his chunky little eight month old body from the blankets in front of the fireplace, and he blinked in the light and warmth of this new place where he had never been before, and suddenly, as four pairs of eyes were excitedly taking in every feature of this little guy, he broke into the most heartwarming grin. That was it. He pretty much had their hearts from then on. A few days later, Daddy and Mama bought Joseph an expensive pair of baby shoes that he desperately needed, but we were too poor to afford. Back then, the agency wouldn’t allocate money for such things — even if they were a necessity, so foster parents did the best they could. For us, there was the blessing of a grandpa and grandma who lovingly stepped in and helped out.
I would like if we could be the kind of grandparents they were. They had to have some feelings about black and bi-racial children calling them “Grandma” and “Grandpa.” Back in the mid seventies, things just weren’t as acceptable as they are now. But they didn’t let that hold them back. In fact, I remember keenly the time that Mama came to visit shortly after Joseph had gone for adoption. She took a load of laundry to the wash line for me, and when she didn’t come back, I went to find her. She was standing between the lines of clothes at the wash line, weeping. “I just can’t stand it,” she said between sobs. “I just think I have to see him, to hear him call me ‘gammaw’ and to hold him.”
As the “far away Grammy” now, I want so much to see these little boys with my own eyes. To talk to them, to hold them, to read to them, to learn to know their personalities, and to just be grammy. They have a grandma and grandpa there, and they are GOOD. There is extended family there, and they couldn’t be better. So the boys won’t suffer for extended family contact.
But I feel like I am missing out a little with each day that goes by, and that is a heavy on my heart.
Because I really don’t know how much time there will be.