T moved a year ago, and so much of my life looks different now—in good ways and hard ways and ways I never could have imagined. At times it seems impossible that I raised a traumatized child for two and a half years—like it never even happened. And then there are moments that the reality of life with T sucker-punches me so hard I can’t breathe.
Today, I had one of those moments.
I was driving through a part of town I never visit. As I made a right turn, I was overcome with emotion as I remembered the last time I was on that road. It was a day I’ll never forget because it was the day T had his final visit with his parents. He’d known for a couple weeks he wasn’t going back—that the judge had decided his parents weren’t able to take care of him anymore. But, on this particular day, he had to actually say goodbye.
He stared out the window as we drove to the foster agency. Occasionally, I punctured the silence with questions.
“You know your parents love you, right, T?”
“I know, Amy. They tried to get healthy so they could take care of me.”
“You know I love you too, right?”
“I’m with you, buddy. I’m not going anywhere. You’re safe. It will be hard, but it will be okay.”
I didn’t know how to help him make sense of this situation because I was grasping for my own answers.Why is this happening to him? Why does he have to endure this? Why can’t I make it better?
But I couldn’t fix this for him. I couldn’t fix this for his parents, either. Or his siblings. All I could do was try to love him through it. And that hardly felt like enough.
So I sat in the sunshine by the backdoor of the agency while he spent one final hour with his mom and dad. They gave him gifts and candy and implored him to be good. They reminded him to try hard in school and to remember they would love him forever. I sat on the other side of a brick wall, fighting back tears, while he ran around the room, anxious energy pulsing through every limb.
When he walked out of that room for the last time he couldn’t stop talking, couldn’t stop moving. His arms and legs twitched and kicked as he tried to ground himself in time and space. It was the version of T that screamed: I’m not okay. I’m moving and twitching and talking because my world isn’t right. I’m trying to find my way in a physical reality because nothing else makes sense.
We walked down the hallway together, and I knew our night would be hard. I knew the coming months would be even harder.
But once we walked through the door and he saw my car, something changed. He took a deep breath, exhaled fully, and fell into a normal stride. We both buckled in and I asked if he wanted to talk. He gave me a few details of his time, and then he asked what we were having for dinner.
We got home, he set the table, and as we ate he realized what day it was.
“Amy! Hey Amy! We’re supposed to go to the football game tonight. You said!”
I was shocked he remembered.
“I know, buddy. But we thought you might like to just stay home and rest tonight. There will be more games. We can go another night.”
“But I want to go tonight.”
So we bundled up and headed out to watch a Friday-night football game at a local high school. We drove through that part of town I never visit, making that same right turn I made today. On that day, so many months ago, I fought back tears as he raced up and down the bleachers. I swallowed hard as he waved at each float during the halftime homecoming parade. I had to breathe deep as he jumped into my arms again and again, begging to do more backflips. No matter how hard I tried to be present, to focus on the moment, my mind wandered to his parents’ final court date. Another day I found myself fighting back tears. As we stood on the sidelines of the football field, I was thinking about his mom. I was thinking of how she ran out of the courtroom, yelling for my attention. I was thinking about the way she fell to the ground, sobbing. She was begging to know if her son was okay. Begging me to tell him how much she cared.
“He’s doing well,” I assured her. “He is smart and kind. He makes everyone laugh. And he knows. He knows how much you love him.”
I turned around and walked away, totally overwhelmed. And that night, I wept. Just like I wept after T finally went to bed on that Friday, exhausted from saying goodbye to a lifetime of memories (and from staying up too late to watch a football game). I wept for him, for her, for the pain of families that are torn apart.
And, like I assumed it would, the levity of that night didn’t last. Fall turned to winter, and his pain transformed into behaviors that seemed impossible to overcome.
But we weathered the storm. Together. We survived.
And on the days it seems like it was all a dream, I’m that much more grateful for days like today. When I can’t help but remember the weight of that season. Or the ways our lives are irrevocably intertwined in chaos and love and hope.