This is my son’s story. It is the one that I have struggled most with writing because I have trouble conveying the emotion that embodies it, but I’m going to do my best to portray his story as honestly as I can.
Picture, if you will, never having a home to call your own; never knowing from one day to the next where you will be or who you will be living with. Now, imagine that you are only a child and your fate rests in the hands of adults who are strangers that float in and out of your life. These adults tell you that it is their job to protect you and you have to trust them. You want to believe these strangers because they are all you have standing between you and an abusive mother.
You and your brother have been taken away from her several times already, but you are too little to remember. Your first real memory is when you were about five and one of the strangers showed up at your mother’s doorstep and you remember your mother crying. The stranger tells you to pack your things. You don’t know what to do. You’re not supposed to talk to strangers or get in stranger’s cars. This person tells you that they are taking you away to protect you. You want to leave, but your mother needs you doesn’t she? All sorts of emotions are running through your brain as the stranger hustles you into your room. You want to cry, but you have to be brave for your little brother. He’s only three and he is crying. You hug him and tell him you will never leave him.
What do you pack? You have to pack for him too. The stranger tries to help you, but she doesn’t know what is important to you. She just wants you to take some clothes. She tells you that there will be toys for you at your new home. You believe her. You throw a few clothes in a garbage bag (and sneak some favorite toys in as well), grab your brother’s hand and follow the stranger to the car. You only look back once and see your mother sitting on the couch crying. You picture her in broken pieces. That’s the memory that is etched in your brain as you gaze through the back window of the car at your house fading the distance.
The “caseworker” (that is what she calls herself) takes you to the home of new strangers and, after about an hour, leaves you there. She says she’ll be back to see you soon. These strangers are supposed to be like parents and care for you in their home. At first, you and your brother don’t talk to these new people. You stay in the nice room they give you and play with the cool toys. Soon, you start to like this new place and these “parents” who take you to church and the movies. After a few months, you start to hope that the caseworker will let you and your brother stay here. You even allow a glimmer of hope to tickle the back of your brain: Maybe they’ll adopt us! Sometimes, when you lay in your nice bed at night, you allow yourself to dream that this will be your forever home and that you and your brother will be loved forever by these parents. Then, it happens - your hope is shattered because the caseworker, who promised to protect you, comes back into your life and tells you that you are going back to your mother.
Now, most children would be happy to return to their mothers. However, you are not like most children because your mother doesn’t bring you cookies and milk or tuck you in at night. Instead, you never have enough to eat and sometimes you don’t have a bed to sleep in. Sometimes you have to tuck mommy into bed because she is sick. Mommy also brings very mean men into your life. Yet, you have no say in what happens to you because the lady who is supposed to protect you tells you that your mother is better now. You wonder, What does better mean? Is she going to stop putting that needle in her arm that makes her sick? Is she going buy food and bake brownies? You don’t know what it means - all you know is that you and your brother have to throw all your stuff into the garbage bags again and say goodbye to the nice foster mom who did bake brownies and the foster dad who played ball with you. This time, you cry as you take your brother’s hand and follow the caseworker to her car. As you leave, you tell yourself that you will never hope again.
So, you return to your mother and you quickly learn that she is not better. She’s still doing drugs and leaving you alone to fend off the boogeymen she’s brought back into your life. You, being the older brother, know that it is your job to protect your little brother from these men that hurt you and your little brother in ways you never want to remember. Sometimes, you can’t protect him and you cry yourself to sleep at night.
Then, a new caseworker comes into your life and tells you that you are leaving your mother again. And so it goes, you and your little brother grab your garbage bags full of clothes and a few treasured toys and you leave to go to someone else’s house - someone you don’t know. You are scared. No, you are terrified. You are terrified that these people might be mean, or worse - you might grow to love them and then be taken away again. For two years, this is the roller coaster life you and your brother live and you hate it. You learn to never trust what these adults tell you and you vow to never ever let yourself hope.
Billy was eight when he and his brother Ben walked into our lives with their garbage bags full of memories better left forgotten. They were covered with bug bites, dirty and scared.
They had been placed in at least eight homes in the six years that they were in foster care. When they came to us, I wanted more than anything to give them both the love and support of a forever home.
We grew to love both boys as they became a part of our family. We knew that they would most likely be put up for adoption because the courts finally decided that it was time to sever the mother’s parental rights. We planned to adopt both of them. Then, something went terribly wrong.
I’ve never written about the painful decision that we had to make after the boys entered our lives. This decision deeply affected our entire family and most of all had a profound impact on Billy and Ben. It was a decision that haunts me every day, but I still believe it was the right decision at the time.
In short, we had to reevaluate our decision to adopt both Billy and Ben. Both boys had suffered so many tragedies in their young lives. Ben was left deeply scarred and needed specialized help. Sadly, after many consultations with doctors and therapists, we determined that Ben would be better served in a therapeutic setting where he could get the support he so desperately needed. We would still see him, but we did not feel we would be the best family to adopt him.
Like I said, to this day I struggle with the decision to adopt Billy and not Ben. I know in my heart that it was the right decision but it still haunts me. It haunts me mostly because I know that Billy made a promise to his brother that he would never leave him. I cannot imagine the burden this put on Billy’s heart. I cannot describe the pain that he must have felt when Ben left.
We loved Ben. We really did. We simply could not keep him in our home and we wanted to at least give Billy a chance to have a family to call his own. Foster parenting is so hard when you know that these broken children are yearning for a family, yet most of them just float in and out of your home because they are frequently reunited with their biological parents time and time again. When they are finally put up for adoption, the years of turmoil have made them angry, despondent and fearful. Sometimes, the system has failed a child to the point of irreparable damage. That is what we feared happened to Ben, yet we saw a glimmer of hope for Billy, so we made the decision to try to save Billy.
Billy has had his share of rough patches since his adoption. For a while he drifted in and out of our lives. I knew he was angry, hurt and confused and would have to find his own way in life. I never stopped loving him. I never stopped believing in him. I never stopped knowing that he was and always would be my son.
When he was sixteen, he left to find his “real family” (he had two sisters and a brother who had been taken away from his mother years before he and Ben were put into foster care). We let him go because we had to. He would never be a part of our family until he wrestled the demons of his past. I believed in my heart that he would come back. I believed that he would realize that we were and always would be his forever family. I believed that he would one day know that we never stopped loving him.
For four years I waited to see my son.
It was my birthday and we went out to eat. I was sitting at the table when a tall, handsome young man came over to join us. At first I wasn’t sure that I was really seeing what I thought I was seeing, but Billy came over and hugged me and said, “Hello mama!” He always called me mama. I put my arms around him and held on tight because I never wanted to lose him again. My tears drenched his shirt, but I didn’t care. My son was back - that was the best birthday present I could have ever received.
I looked at this young man standing in front of me and I thanked God that He sent him back into my life. I missed him so much. I almost lost hope that he would return to our family. I thought that he never believed he was loved as deeply as all our children. I thought that he just didn’t feel like he belonged to us.
Then, Billy gave me my birthday present and I knew that I was wrong. My birthday present was a picture Billy had framed. It was a crude pencil drawing I had drawn for him when he and his brother first came to live with us. I remember drawing the picture (I have never been even remotely artistically inclined and this picture was no exception). I can still picture Billy, Ben and I sitting on the couch laughing about how silly my drawing was. The stick people in our family were almost as big as our house, our car was smaller than the people and our bird was bigger than the cats, but that didn’t matter. What mattered to Billy was that he and his brother were finally in a family portrait. They belonged in this picture just as much as everyone else.
After Billy handed me the picture, he gave me a laminated letter tied with a bow. He took such care in these gifts. It made me cry even harder. Here is the letter:
Twelve years ago I was a scared, lost and confused little boy. Nowhere to run; nowhere to find a safe place and no one to show me the meaning of love. When I was eight you accepted me in and I felt that you not only accepted me in your heart, but into your family. When you first drew a picture with me, your little boy in the picture, you made me realize how important I was to you and everyone else. When I look back twelve years ago I see a boy who struggled with obstacles in his life, but you always were there to put me back on my feet because I was your son. I know I have made mistakes but you were always there pushing me in the right way and never letting me forget how much you and the rest of the family loved me. You made me realize what true love and lasting love was between a family. I just want you to know how much I appreciate everything you have done for me and provided in my life; a family, a true mom, and a safe place to run to when I was scared and confused. Mom, I love you so much and I wanted to give you a gift that means as much to you as it does to me.
YOUR SON, Billy
That letter was written four years ago. Much has happened since then; many ups and downs with Billy, but I’ve learned that we have to weather these storms together. One of my proudest moments was when my son walked me down the aisle at Jennifer’s wedding. On that day, I felt my family was complete again. Then, something even more amazing happened; Kaylee.
My son and the love of his life, Amanda, are now parents themselves. Billy is a wonderful father to a beautiful little girl who is almost a year old already! I love my little granddaughter with all my heart and I am so proud of my son and the man he has become. I am so grateful that he has found his way back home and hope with all my heart that he will always know how much he is loved and cherished by his forever family.