When T came to live with us, it was unclear exactly which birth family relationships were important to him. But we knew that he had lived for several years with a younger sibling--whom I will call "E"-- from whom he had been separated about four years earlier. They were in separate group homes in separate counties when we met him. He also had three other siblings he had never met.
E had bouts of violent behavior, and was considered by his social workers to have an elevated level of need that we couldn't meet. To be honest, I didn't think we could meet his needs either, but as I came to understand the shared history between him and T, I felt increasingly guilty that we were adopting one boy and not both.
E spent holidays with us, or we visited him at the holidays, depending on his situation. These visits were usually tense - he wanted all of T's attention, and T found him exasperating. They triggered each other's agony.
Meanwhile, E was going through a period of chaos. He was thrown out of one foster home for breaking the windows and cutting himself, and in another he tore apart a kitchen. After one such bout, he was charged with a crime and went to juvenile hall. In juvenile hall, he sank into a deep suicidal depression, resulting in a placement in a high security probation department facility for emotionally distressed kids that was horrifying and heartbreaking. We visited him there. He had scars where he'd cut himself. It was a seemingly endless nightmare.
Fast forward. After nearly a year of that, and various placements, E was transferred back to child protective services and he was moved (after some lobbying by Tim) to a therapeutic group home near us. By then, we had been the only people to visit him and the only people to go to his court dates for many, many months.
During this time, T was living in another city, so we had time to spend exclusively with E. Seeing him apart from T was an eye-opener. We got him dusted off and reacclimated to the world. We went to the movies, and to his high school graduation. On his own, and with the benefit of a little more maturity, medication, and therapy, E was a different boy, more self-possessed. We were able to get to know him as an individual.
One day, he looked right at me and said "I am so afraid I'm going to do something to disappoint you." I realized that he thought our visits were a reward, or a privilege that might be taken away as punishment. We explained that wasn't the case, that we consider him family, that we visit him because we love him, not because he's been good or bad.
After that, there was a subtle shift. He was a little more relaxed, a little more honest. And then suddenly, there was a great leap forward! He started to refer to us as his adoptive parents. He started asking for things, reasonable things, things that kids need and want from their parents. He got permission to stay at our house on weekends. He sulked sometimes, and at other times, he was wildly entertaining. He started coming over every weekend, both days. He started taking long naps in the second bedroom, bringing his dirty laundry to be washed, and staying until late Sunday night.
And lo-and-behold, it turned out that his pain and rage and suffering had been masking something more nuanced: a fantastically funny, laid-back, honest personality. And an incredible gift for music. He is the polar opposite of T. Where T is refined and graceful and controlling and repressed, E is silly and sloppy and snuggly and uninhibited. Where T struggles to let go and express himself, E sings his heart out and spills the beans at the slightest provocation.
And what's even WEIRDER: it turned out that T and Tim have a magical chemistry. They fit together like puzzle pieces. I love him too, no less than Tim does. But just as T and I have a natural chemistry, an ability, based on a similar sensibility, to intuit each other's thoughts and feelings, Tim and E fit together in their own way. They even share certain body language that makes them look alike! I was behind them at the mall the other day and they had a way of walking side-by-side that made them look unmistakably connected.
You could bowl me over with a feather about all this. I always felt guilty and obligated to be there for E, and afraid that we couldn't provide what he needed. I totally missed the joy of being connected to him, the pleasure of his company and the brilliance of his personality.
He is with us every weekend now, and he calls frequently during the week. "Um, we have two kids...." Tim said to me one Sunday night.
Truth be told, a part of my heart tries to hold itself in reserve. I'm afraid of attaching even though it's too late, of failing to protect him (from himself, among other things), of losing him. I understand T a little bit better, I know where he's at on the scale of risk, and I trust my instincts with him. E is more elusive to me, and his history of self-harm makes me vigilant and fearful of what might happen if I misjudge. But I love him, in such an uncomplicated way.
Today Is A Gift
4 days ago