Reminder in the Mail

There goes the dream of having another child. 

The pain of a second failed adoption has taken 2 years to heal from. I need to write it, purge it, and pray about it, one final time. I haven’t written about this awful loss in our lives for years because it’s raw. And no matter how much I pretend to say I’m over it, the pain is still near the surface when the reminders rear their ugly head.

Just when I think I’m doing ok and can live with the guilt and failure of being forced to say ‘no’ to a second son who was almost ours, Jake drops a bomb. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it slices. 

“Where is the lamp, in brother’s room?” 

“What’s in the closet in brother’s room?” 

“Is our friend going to sleep over in brother’s room?”

“Brother’s birthday is in August.”

Two years ago, Jake nearly had a brother. He delighted in the thought of having someone to play with, fight with and torment for life and Chris and I were excited to think Jake won’t be alone his entire life. 

We divided the toys, split the books, saved old clothes, and painted the bedroom Spiderman colors all for this future-son we decided to save from the foster care system. We visited him at his foster-care home out of state, made lots of phone calls and were following the rules of the complicated, draining and corrupt foster system. 

Lie upon lie upon lie led to heartbreak for our entire family which still lingers inside me.

It can be a simple comment from an unknowing and innocent Jake. 

The vision of a mom with two boys close in age still twinges my heart. 

The longing in Jake’s eyes of another kid his age to play with him, wake up with in the morning and love him unconditionally.

The forward-thinking of our Super Hero being alone in the world without a sibling to keep his finger on him.

It was a challenge but we were up for it, we thought. 

There were a few strange signs along the way: if this kid only had a diagnosis of ADHD why did he come with 8 pills a day? 

If his diagnosis was that simple, why was he in an intensive therapeutic foster care home? 

Does ADHD require 2 hospitalizations as an in-patient? 

These things didn’t quite add up, but were able to look beyond because our desire for a family of four was bigger and stronger. 

Two extended visits in our home went as well as can be expected. The boys mostly got along, our family and friends seemed supportive and he got along well with the neighbor kids. Our visits to his home were fun but emotional.

After one day the “I love yous” flowed freely from future son to us. While it sounded nice that was a huge red flag. The fact that he could attach so quickly and freely was telling on many levels. Called me momma on our first visit. 

I’d correct him, “Buddy, I think you love the idea of this, but you just met us…” He’d agree. 

Spending Christmas was the last test. A major holiday, lots of stimulation and Chris was leaving for a work assignment at the Winter Classic hockey tournament. The final challenge was to see if I could handle both boys alone because that’s how our lives roll. 

The first 4 days of this extended visit were great: Lots of gifts, lots of friends and tons of good food. My heart was full and tears near the surface when I’d watch Jake and future brother play. 

Chris departed for his trip feeling more comfortable and proud he was almost a dad of two sons. 

Visions of high school football teams, Friday nights in the cold bleachers and teaching both boys how to skate filled his head as he travelled miles away.

The 5th day, Jake was in bed and I was having a heart-to-heart with our future son (10 at the time). I was surprised at how wise he was to the ways of the world yet how jaded at the same time. 

We discussed life’s goals. 

What he’d be when he grew up. 

How he was excited to have his own room. 

What he’d miss about living with his foster family.

Then he got around to Jake. 

I again explained to him about Autism and he seemed to understand, but...

In one breath he said he would always be around to protect and watch out for Jake, then in the next breath detailed how he could end his life. 

Yes, I said, end his life.

I don’t know how, but I was able to keep the conversation going. Probing with questions about how exactly he was planning to kill our son if he “kept getting on his nerves.” 

My heart was racing as I kept peppering. 

“Well then what would you do?” 

“I’d just hold his neck like this for a long time…. And he’d stop and be dead.” That phrase delivered with a shoulder shrug and matter-of-fact head nod.

“Aren’t you afraid to get in trouble?” 

“No. I’m only 10. I’d just go to juvy ‘til I’m 18, get out, and go find my real momma anyway. She works at the Winn Dixie in Virginia.” 

I was instantly nauseous. 

Part of me felt like he was just talking big to test me and see if I’d still want him. The bigger part of me was thinking, stay the F away from my son! Jake and I are not safe in this house with a 10 year old! I need Chris!!  

As I hurried him off to bed, I called the social worker. No answer. 

I called the Adoption Agency we were working with. No answer. 

I frantically called Chris and freaked out. “I can’t do this, I can’t do this…” 

I could hear the disappointment on the other end of the line, but I really knew in my heart this couldn’t work. 

I failed. I failed him. I failed Chris and I failed Jake.

At my wits end, no matter how much I didn’t want to call the foster mom, I did. 

She promptly asked how things were going and if everything was ok. When I told her about this conversation, she was not surprised at all. In fact, started probing about other destructive behaviors. 

“Has he started hoarding food yet? Has he started the hallucinations yet? Has he put his hands on your son yet?” 

I exploded. Venomous hatred flying from my lips. 

“Were you ever going to tell me about these other behaviors? How can you let this child travel to another home, where there’s a special needs child, and not warn me? What are his real diagnoses, this is not ADHD? What are the 8 meds for?” I was screaming, shaking and crying all at the same time. 

The foster mother listened and responded with, “Well it’s good this isn’t working out because white parents don’t having any business raising black children anyway.” 

I again unleashed a fury I didn’t know I was capable of. 

“I cannot believe you – we have discipline, structure and the means to meet all his needs. We have extensive behavior training and can handle the toughest of behaviors, but we needed to be told about freakin' psychosis!” 

The next days were filled with emergency calls to the agency, frantic meetings with social workers trying to save this placement and sleepless nights worrying this soon-to-be-son could kill our child. 

The realization that we could not accept this child, we could not save this child too, was just agonizing to endure. The social workers told me to make his last couple days with us a dream. So I did. 

As Jake went to school, I took him to swimming lessons, out to lunch and to all the Smithsonian museums. I gave him the life he could have had.

He saw dinosaurs, ate the finest foods and tried to bond while my fear and anger just built the wall high and higher. 

“Momma, do you still want me?” 

“Momma, where will I go to school?” 

“Momma, do you love me?”

I don’t know where I found the strength to come up with the answers I did or how I survived those few days, but all questions were answered the same, in mono-tone while slowly dying. 

“We have to see what the future holds buddy. There’s a lot more work to be done. Of course we’d love to have you, but I don’t know if this is the best fit. I need to talk to Chris and your social worker.” 

Chris has the awful task of having to fly with him back home, pretending the entire time. We could not stand the thought of crushing this child, but we also could not risk putting Jake in danger. 

The guilt from deciding not to adopt this second child who was nearly ours still eats at me today. We were not the first family to reject him and the trauma of our denial likely is what’s keeping him out of the foster care system. He has not been stabilized enough to re-enter the “available for adoption system” and will likely age-out one day. I have no idea what his future holds. 

I rejected him. I carry this with me almost like living with a hole in my heart. What could have been… 

Most days I’m good and he doesn’t cross my mind. I can convince myself we did what we needed to do to protect our family. 

But once a month, I go to the mailbox and there’s the Lego magazine addressed to him. My heart sinks, my mind wanders and soul aches for another son. A confidant for Jake, a role model and a guaranteed friend. 

I’ve cancelled the subscription… 

Twice… 

Jake’s has been stopped. 

But this painful reminder still appears in the mail of how we saved one child but lost another. 

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