I have students who will spend half their time talking about a new LEGO project, or the Nintendo Switch they're hoping to get so they can play Animal Crossing outside. I have students who will tell me about a feral cat they're feeding, or frustration that they have become a primary caregiver for a younger sibling and aren't really allowed to be 13-14 right now. One student said that she keeps seeing other students on their SnapChat stories, having sleepovers and getting together and taking selfies and THEY'RE NOT WEARING MASKS. She said, "These are the people who are going to make the second wave come and keep us from going back to school." There was loneliness under her justified self-righteousness.
But yesterday, yesterday was something else entirely. I am still recovering, as it has thrown me back into a very, very sad place.
My student in foster care is in a new placement (fun fact: the week we had our last day of in-school, she had her permanency hearing court date, and the SAME DAY her previous foster guardian put in for her to be removed and placed in a new home, so the day after that she had to pack up all her stuff and go from visitation to her new home, and adjust for two days before our worlds changed. Ugh.), and that new placement is still in the county but not remotely close. With distance learning, she can still attend our classes and meets and be a part of the school community she'd adapted to.
But yesterday, she did not want to do any work. She was in a funk, and she said, "you can try all you want, but we're not doing any work today," and then she was silent. Which is unusual.
I asked her if she wanted a break, if she wanted to have this time free and come back to work later, if it was all getting to be too much. That we all can need a break sometimes. And she said yes, but then stayed on. So then I said, "Do you just want to talk? We can stay on and just talk, too."
And this is what happened:
Student, after a silence: "You know how you said you and Mr. T couldn't have kids? Why didn't you do foster? Why couldn't you take in foster kids?"
Me, after a deep breath: "Oh, oh boy. (Tearing up) So, normally at this point in the year you guys have more chances to ask me questions, and I'm happy to answer you but it's hard, it's so hard. We did five and half years of medical trying to have a baby -- I had to take so many injections, and have surgeries, and so much went wrong. Like, seriously wrong. I had a couple things that could have killed me, and I lost two babies. It was so hard. And then we tried to adopt, and we didn't know, we didn't know how hard it was going to be. Medical stuff was hard physically and hard emotionally, but adoption was really, REALLY hard emotionally. We kept not getting chosen. We had a long time where we didn't even have the opportunity to be up for choosing. It felt horrible. One time, we got a call and I was at school and had to keep the kids out of my room and there was a baby born in Buffalo that if we wanted to be considered we'd be reviewed that evening and then if we were chosen we'd have to go the next morning... It was so exciting to think we might be parents overnight, and then we weren't picked and I got that call at school and I had to go talk to the school psychologist because I was too sad to teach and she sent me home. It was awful, and then I got sick and I had to decide to stop. And I had to make a new life where we didn't have children, and have that be okay.
Because foster, you know, you don't always get to raise that child for keeps -- and the thought of that temporary-ness, of all that possibility of loss after so much loss, I can't handle it. So we moved forward."
It was a little unfair, because she had her icon up, and I was on the video, and I had zero visual cues for how she was taking this information. but then...
Student: "Well, what about me? If I go to foster adopt, you could adopt me, and my mom would be okay with it and she'd love you and I could be your kid."
THIS IS WHERE MY HEART BREAKS IN A MILLION PIECES BECAUSE WHAT DO YOU SAY TO THAT? Well, first I welled up with tears that just wouldn't stay in my eyeballs and leaked down my face.
Me: Oh, honey. Oh, wow. I would be SO PROUD to have you as a daughter, that would be so amazing, but I can't be anyone's mom right now. I am not even qualified anymore. --"
Student: "--You just have to take some parenting classes, and then you can be a foster parent and adopt me."
Me (pretty much failing at hiding any tears or sadness at this point): "Oh, yes, I know -- we had to take parenting classes before, and a social worker came and made sure our house was okay and we were okay, but for foster it's a totally different process and I am just not in a place to do that. I needed to leave that behind to be healthy. All those things that happened, they took something from me. But I would have loved to have you for a daughter, and I can be your friend -- I can be like a crazy aunt when you're not my student anymore and stay in contact and have another _____ Day like we did over Christmas Break, when it's safe. I would love that, I just can't be your mom."
Student: "Another ____ Day would be amazing, and if you're my aunt I could come sleep over your house..."
Me: "Um, probably not, but we can do a lot of fun things and I would love to stay in touch way past this year."
Student: "okay, that sounds good."
And then the conversation went to other topics and I got off the call and went to my next one, and my next one, and then I had a lunch break and fell spectacularly apart over my avocado toast.
Raw, heaving sobs that came from a place deep inside that was newly exposed in a way it hasn't been in years. This wasn't a small tear, this was a motherfucking rupture, a hemorrhage.
First of all, it was immensely difficult to recount my struggles, to summarize over 8 years of hideous pain that has changed me, that left me feeling cored.
But then, to spend SO LONG not getting chosen, to be passed over time and time and time again, and then to have this beautiful child choose me, oh god that hurts so much.
Emotionally I want to scoop her up and bring her home, for a hot minute, but then the logical and sane part takes over and I know that this is a beautiful child who is an incredibly hurting child, who has a trauma history that is sooo significant, who has needs I'm not prepared for, and our life is just not set up to upend it and go down that road again.
I also had the chance to say that our house would be lonely, that she always said she wanted a family with lots of kids because she has so many siblings and she misses them, and my neighborhood doesn't even have a lot of kids, so she'd be so, so bored. That the idea of living with me is very different than the reality of living with me. We love our life but it's not very exciting. And I also said that all that mothering energy I have, all that love I have to give, it all goes to my students, and into school, and so she gets that...just differently than she asked.
This was so, so, so hard. I still feel hollowed out by it. I feel so lucky to have the trust of this young lady that she felt she could ask. I feel lucky that she would want that. But I feel such a sense of stars misaligned, and guilt, and that push-pull of what's logically possible and what's driven by emotions.
I called the school psychologist to tell her what happened, so if it comes up in a session it's not a surprise, and also because I wanted to make sure I handled it okay and nothing was inappropriate.
She was so sad for me, but also said that I did it absolutely the best I could have (and Bryce said the same -- he said "you made it all about how great she is and what she would want, and how you can still have a relationship with her"), and then she said, "You know, no one has a relationship with her the way you do. No one. You can be really, really proud of the relationship and trust you've built with a student who needs that so very badly. And absolutely, you can have that relationship moving forward."
Well, that's a relief. I'm still crying though. And feeling so sad about a world where kids like her get stuck with shitty family situations, and people like us don't get to be parents.
Those stars just never quite aligned.