Monday, February 7, 2011

New Kin

In foster care training, we learned foster kids have a history with missing pieces, that there can be large parts of their past that are either traumatic or completely forgotten by the kids. So when our oldest son, Isaac, came to us at sixteen months old, Laurie and I were prepared to know nothing about his story.

For a while, we mourned missing Isaac’s first year, hearing his first word and watching his first steps. Then our curiosity shifted and we wanted to provide him some background for his own sake. In our foster and adoptive parents’ playgroups and support groups, parents shared stories about their children asking about their birthparents.

Some kids grieved the loss of their former family while other children couldn’t have cared less. Laurie and I knew that a relationship with Isaac’s birth family was unrealistic. But we wished we had some pictures or maybe even a letter or a card—something that would make them real people to us rather than simply names on the pages of official court documents.

Nevertheless, Laurie and I made our peace with the mystery of Isaac’s birth family. We adopted him just after his second birthday, and his baby sister, Vivianna, was born four months later. As we developed an open adoption with Vivi’s birthmother, Laurie and I prepared ourselves for any potential questions or grief Isaac might have watching his sister look at pictures, read cards, and even play with birthday and Christmas presents from her birth family. We expected this to one day bother Isaac, but we did not expect the phone call we got from his former CPS worker in July this past year, informing us that Isaac has a younger brother who just entered foster care. “We want to place him with you as a kinship placement,” the caseworker said.

Laurie called me at work to tell me. “I told her I’d have to talk to you,” she said. It took me less than two seconds to say absolutely. “I told the caseworker you’d immediately say yes,” she said. “But can you believe it? Isaac has a little brother!” Laurie called the caseworker back and learned that J had been in foster care for just over a week and that he and his birthmother had already had one visitation meeting. Moreover, the caseworker had supervised the meeting and took pictures of J and the birthmother he shared with Isaac.

When I got home that night, I sat at the computer and watched the slideshow with Laurie sitting next to me. I saw little two-year-old J playing a toy piano in baggy blue clothes. His skin complexion and forehead matched Isaac. “That’s him?” I said to Laurie. She nodded. I clicked on the next picture and saw a woman feeding him out of a fast food bag. “That’s her?” I said to Laurie. She nodded. A few weeks later, Isaac’s little brother came to our home.

Although his first two-and-a-half years were a mystery, J adapted to our home quickly, and Isaac and Vivi accepted their new roles as older siblings. Laurie and I couldn’t have been happier to welcome him into our home. It thrilled us that he got to share memories with us like Isaac’s first day of kindergarten and Isaac’s sixth birthday. Then, J’s caseworker informed us that two of our boys’ older cousins had entered foster care. When CPS decided the cousins – a teen boy and a preteen boy—would remain in foster care and not return to their family, they told their caseworker they wanted the chance to tell J goodbye. Laurie and I told our caseworker we had a better idea. The two caseworkers set up a meeting at the CPS office, and we got to meet the cousins.

During most of the visit, Isaac played swords with the preteen and the teen tended to J, wiping his nose, feeding him the cookies we brought, and instructing us on J’s likes and dislikes. Everyone got along great, so we invited the boys to Thanksgiving dinner. Isaac and I picked up the boys around lunchtime and we spent the afternoon eating snacks, watching parades and football on TV, and playing kickball outside. Both cousins took three helpings at dinner, and slept soundly in our boys’ bunk beds. Just before we left the next morning, they asked if they could come visit us every weekend.

A few weeks later, Isaac and I picked the cousins up again for the weekend to celebrate Christmas. That Friday night, we gave them gifts and stockings, took them to a light show, and came home for cookies and hot chocolate. Saturday, we took them out for pizza, and Sunday, they came with us to church. Everywhere we went, the younger cousin played with Isaac while the older played with J and told us stories of about their birth family.

Laurie and I are thrilled at all the memories we’ve been able to share with our new family. Annual activities like watching football on Thanksgiving and driving around the neighborhood looking at Christmas lights are now more significant because we’ve done them with members of our boys’ birth family. We’d spent years praying for photos or a letter, but we didn’t expect we’d get a new extended family.

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