My son Ben and I were upstairs. I was ironing one of the many piles of clothes I washed once back from our holidays. Ben was in his bedroom playing Lego. I could hear him chatting away happily. A few minutes later his face made an appearance at door “Mum, can I see the train puffing smoke?”. I pressed the steam button on my iron, and a big cloud of steam filled the space between us. Ben laughed happily as if a real steam train just turned up in the upstairs landing.

Ben returned to his bedroom. Few minutes passed and then he called “Mum, I cannot do it”. I gently told him to give me a couple of minutes, and I asked for more information about what he couldn’t do. He didn’t answer. Ten seconds, maybe twenty seconds went by, and I heard Ben banging his fists on the floor in frustration.

I left my iron and walked the couple of steps that divided us. Ben was still punching the floor. I asked him in a soft and calm voice how I could help. Mayhem. He took a large wooden car we bought on holiday and bashed it hard over the Lego, over and over again. Little Lego bricks went flying up in the air and scattered around his bedroom. Ben threw himself on the floor, crying and shouting. He grabbed a handful of Lego and shoved them in my face.

I froze. I felt like I was witnessing one of Holly’s meltdown. My head filled up with all those non-therapeutic words I couldn’t possibly tell to my son. My feet considered turning around and flee. Finally, I gulped and some random words came out of my mouth. I don’t even know what I told Ben exactly, but it was good enough for him to get hold of himself, sit down, and although still crying, lift up his face and look at me.

From there everything was back under control. Ben calmed down, and he managed to explain he got furious because he couldn’t build the Lego in the way he wanted to. When I reminded that his behaviour wasn’t an acceptable one, he candidly told me “but Holly always behaved that way”.

The rest of the day was a pleasant one, but the incident got me thinking. It’s like the ghost of Holly still lingers in our home. In our fears, in our extreme responses, in our dysregulated behaviours, in our urge to run away. I wonder if she feels the same about us.

No training can get you ready for the toll that trauma poses on a family. Books can tell you how it works, but no one can prepare you to live with it day in, day out. Adoptive and foster families come to know trauma through the eyes of their children. This trauma is intense and primal, and can easily break you.

Diego and I are the adoptive parents of a beautiful 3 year old boy who will have to heal from the scars left by our choice of becoming a foster family. As parents, one of our main responsibility is to protect our child from harm, but when Holly was living with us, we did a shockingly poor job of it. This past holiday gave us the chance to take a little distance from what, until a couple of weeks ago, used to be our reality. Being submerged in it, we couldn’t see–or didn’t want to see–what effect that choice was having on our child.

The “what to do after Holly” conversation was one that we tried to avoid for all our vacation. It was one of these conversations that allow only one logical conclusion, and it was the conclusion that both my husband Diego and I didn’t want to come to: retire from fostering.

Sometimes it feels likes we just gave up, but the choice we made is for the sake our son. We had to choose between the well-being of our son and the one of all foster children out there, and we chose our son. Maybe one day, when Ben is older and stronger, when we won’t have to sacrifice the happiness of one child for the benefit of another, we will go back to be a foster family again.

I really hope so.

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2 Comments

  1. HerdingChickens 25th August 2017 Reply
  2. Grammy 9th October 2017 Reply

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