Well, T's back home. Perhaps to be expected. What's more surprising is his giddy glee. I might add another g-word: gratitude. I expected it to wear off after about 24 hours, but it's been a couple weeks already. It's partly relief. His whole experiment living with his brother was a little rough: sleeping on a pull-out sofa bed for months and buying his own food. And partly it's the warm feeling of familiarity: despite the kinship, he doesn't know his brother very well (they didn't grow up together or ever live together), so living with him these past few months required that he build and maintain a new and perhaps sometimes strained relationship. By contrast, at our house, he has undisputed insider status; he knows the rhythms, the in-jokes, the household routine.
But I also think something more profound and unique to kids who've spent time in the foster care system is at play; he's having the experience of leaving and then returning home, finding that home is still here, even when you are living elsewhere. That you can go away and come back. His experience, like that of too many kids in foster care, was that life is a series of leaving various "homes" (16 in his case), never to return; sometimes leaving family members, and being separated from them for years without any control of the situation. I think he found it disorienting during his time with his brother that we were still connected to him, and that nobody forced OR forbid him to come home. He made a choice, and we let him.
He came home under somewhat amusing circumstances. We had been visiting him on weekends, down where his brother lives, doing regular family things like Sunday dinner and a movie. During these visits, he was alternately sheepish and confused and warm and self-absorbed. Gradually he started to talk about going to community college this winter, and to reflect on the dead-end that lay before him if he stayed on his present path. He seemed to be struggling to figure out what to do next. One day, I said something I often say to him: I asked him to sit up and look me in the eye and ask for what he needed with confidence. We thought he might ask for help in getting enrolled in school, paying tuition, etc. But he squirmed and fidgeted, and then looked at us like a little kid and said sheepishly "I want to come home! I need you guys to help me figure stuff out!" We were so convinced that he planned to continue staking out his independence that we were taken completely aback. We had to step outside for a parent conference, and we spent the first half minute staring at each other blankly. What about the romantic vacation we'd just planned? What about the fact that I have happily been storing all my extra clothes in his closet? How did he manage to surprise us? By the following evening, T was back at home in his own bed, my clothes were out of his closet, and we were negotiating a visit from grandma and grandpa to preserve our romantic vacation.
His substance abuse issues haven't gone away - this isn't a fairytale ending. They are less extreme right now, for sure, for whatever reason. But it is nice to see him in this happy state, and to witness the dramatic burst of maturity he recently underwent. I didn't really know before I was his parent that kids develop that way - not at all, for long periods of time, and then seemingly overnight.
Right now, he's in the car with Tim on his way to the northern part of the state to look at a college option. He left me a note. It says "Since being back home I learned that you have a bad habit of not locking the front door. That is not good. You should start locking it. Sincerely, love T." That is him, in a nutshell, and that is the bossy, loving behavior that means he feels the warmth of belonging. And that makes me feel good.