Street Stories: Way back when

(“Super heroes and villains. When we used to pretend. We’d go wherever our minds would take us. Way back when.”)

He was crying so hard he could hardly breathe. Blood started pouring out of his nose and I had to stop the car. I pulled over to help him.

Through his tears and his fight just to breath he told me, “I love her. I just want to go home. I want us both to go home but she won’t look after us. Why? Why can’t she just look after us and we can go home?”

I couldn’t answer him. I didn’t know why she couldn’t look after him. I didn’t know why the addiction was more powerful than her love for her children. I didn’t know why the addiction won, and why the drugs were bought before the food was. I told him all I knew was that she loved them, but that she was having a hard time right now, and that’s why they couldn’t go home.

(“Memories will fade. If you want to leave I’ll let you go.”)

I wiped the blood from his face and we sat in the car until the tears stopped and the blood stopped pouring. He was exhausted. Red in the face, sweaty, confused and lost. I tidied him up as best I could. Thankful for the baby wipes I was carrying for my own infant. We made our way home.

He was 11 and his sister was 8. They’d been with us for 4 months and there was no end in sight as to when they’d be going home. Mum wasn’t even ready for unsupervised visits yet. Still unable to parent and supervise her children. We didn’t know the whereabouts of their Father. My job was just to love them and look after them until such time as they could go home. But they wanted to go home now.

Adults see the lack of care, the neglect and the seemingly selfish choices of the parent. The kids don’t see that. They only see their Mother and they love her. They wanted to be with her, not with me. They wanted their old house back, their old rooms back. Even though sometimes that room was in a refuge or a boarding house. Sometimes it was in a car. They told me about the needles on the floor and the chronic lack of food. They don’t see that as bad. They only know it as normal, far too young to realise the danger they’re in and what they’re missing out on. They simply wanted to go home.

“I’ll guide you on your way. I’ll be there for you, don’t you know.”

All I had for him now was words. I told him that one day he would go home, and that one day he would be an adult and would have to make adult choices. I spoke about the choice of the path he could take. To do right or wrong. To make good choices and bad. We spoke about how he would almost always know the right choice, but it was up to him to make it. And he should never kid himself that if he made the wrong choice that he could fix up the damage later. I had one shot to tell him everything he would need to know as an adult because I knew when he got to that age, there was every chance that no responsible adult would be around for him.

I had to tell him to be brave enough to say no when he knew that was the right answer. To be his own person, to do what he loved and to never take a path he knew wasn’t right for him. I told him to be strong, to look after his sister and to care for others who needed him, but to always care for himself too. I had one chance to tell him everything. Knowing all the while that he’d most likely forget it all. But it was all I could give him at the time.

(“It’s a promise that I made. Never be afraid”)

They’d come to stay with us four months prior. The social worker dropped them off with a small plastic bag containing clothes that were way too small and designed for girls. He came with nothing, so we went and bought him some the night he arrived. He was trying to play it cool but I could see the excitement on his face. We weren’t any kind of wonderful. We were just doing what we did for our own children. The fact these were foster kids made no difference and to be honest, we didn’t like nor deserve the hero label.

But through all the things we gave them that they never had at home, our place was never home. Not to them. They had a Mother and they loved her. They wanted to be with her. Not with me. Of course the courts had the final say, and some 12 months or so later they did go home. And they were happy.

(“I know you’ll be ok. This love we have we can’t outgrow”)

I often get people telling me they could never foster children, because they could never give them back. But they never consider that the child might not want to stay with them. No matter what has happened, these kids still love their Mother. And so they should. You will not replace her. You can give them the world but you will not replace her. And nor should you. Your job is to love them and look after them, while their Mother gets better so they can go home to her. And chances are she will get better and they will go home.

He’s 17 now. I looked him up on Facebook. He seems to be doing ok and is still with his Mum. Thankfully I could also see that he was still at school. Who knows what his future us and what will become of him. It’s not appropriate for me to reach out to him anymore. I just hope there is someone in his life who will be there and guide him when he needs them. He deserves the world.

“Memories will fade
If you wanna leave I’ll let you go
I’ll guide you on your way
I’ll be there for you, don’t you know
It’s a promise that I made,
Never be afraid
I know you’ll be okay,
This love we have we can’t outgrow”

Grizfolk: Way Back When

It always reminds me of him.