My life is all about new territory these days. Blazing through the Foster Care frontier! My most recent adventure has been trying to explain foster care to a child who is verbal and has an opinion about where he'd like to live.
Babies 1-3 were so different. They have no idea what foster care is. They couldn't correlate their abuse/neglect with moving in with me. I never had to tell them that they were going to stay with us or that they were going to have 2 families and houses now. Baby 4 is a whole new ballgame. He was completely aware that something was fishy about his new friend Teresa who visited all the time and talked about her house a lot. She's not like the other people who work at the hospital. He knows that not everybody goes "home" with a new family after they leave the hospital.
While he's old enough to know something's a wry, he's also too little to sit him down and say, "You are going to stay with me until a judge says you can go home, but you can still visit your Dad. This way you'll be safe.". He also won't be saying to me anytime soon, "I appreciate the offer to live here, but I'm really invested in my current family.". Instead we've had several brief discussions about the changes in his life.
The first happened at the hospital. I had been spending all of Baby 4's waking hours with him, about 9am- 8pm, but we hadn't mentioned him living with us or anything relating to foster care. I was trying to get 4 into his room to eat dinner, but he wanted to stay in the hallway playing. When I insisted he take a break to eat, he said, "I'm mad!". I asked what he was mad about, and he answered, "I'm mad that you're not my Mom!". I said, "I'm mad about that too. I'm sorry." That was satisfactory for him, and we went into his room and ate dinner.
Baby 4 calls me and Brandon by our first names because that's all we've called ourselves to him. Since we have no idea how long Baby 4's stay will be, we thought introducing "Mommy Teresa" was an unnecessary complication for a little guy who has more important things to worry about. Unfortunately the rest of the world doesn't get that we don't need labels to be a family. So when we went to get Easter pictures taken at Target, the photographer said, "Baby 4! Get closer to Mommy and Daddy!". Baby 4 said, "She's NOT my Mommy!" and stopped posing with us. 4 also informed my Dad that, "She's not a Mama.", when he slipped and called me that to baby 4.
When I reminded baby 4 that if he teases the dog with a toy, the dog will try to eat it- baby 4 yelled, "I don't love it here!". He has also asked to "Go bye-bye" and "Go home". After he talks to his Dad or Grandma on the phone, he cries and says, "I don't stay here!".
My responses are always very short: "I'm sorry you miss your Daddy.", "I know I'm not your Mom.", "I'm sorry you're mad.", "She must have thought I was your Mom because I love you so much.", "Tell me about your home.", "Where do you want to stay?", "Your house sounds really nice".
These short snippets of explanations are building up Baby 4's understanding of foster care and his new life with 2 families. I'm learning to be sensitive to his triggers and give honest, age-appropriate responses to his outbursts.