WE MET MARCUS! And we were just a little excited about it. 😉.
We visited him at the shelter on a Tuesday night with a bag of games and snacks. He was wonderfully adorable with the sweetest smile and laugh. His favorite color is red, his favorite foods are macaroni and cheese and pasta with red sauce, and his favorite subject at school is math. Least favorite part of school is “recess.” (Shrugs). And the kid loves himself a good game of Uno. Like seriously…we played Uno for over an hour. (It was awesome, actually. Never had so much fun playing Uno).
The whole thing was a little “Law and Order” as we had to visit him in a small room with a two-way mirror that looked like where Jerry Orbach would interview a suspect. There’s really nothing that makes you feel judged quite like attempting to bond with a child while being watched by a child behavior expert. And as my friend, Laura, pointed out, if I felt judged, it’s really saying something since I went to prep school, was in a sorority, and am now a litigator who is literally “judged” professionally.
We were told to introduce ourselves to Marcus as “volunteers” who were there to play with him. In order to prevent Marcus from feeling rejected in the event things didn’t work out, we were not to tell him we were potential foster parents until things we had a move-in date set in stone.
Marcus had a lot of fun and asked us if we could come back and visit him again – and bring “regular” playing cards (he wanted to show us how to play a game called “slapjack”) and nacho cheese lunchables instead of the nuts and granola bars we brought for snack. (As he told us, “I’m not allergic to nuts, I just dislike them.”) I could relate to him – I didn’t like all of my husband’s healthy food either at first.
We made plans to visit Marcus again that coming Friday afternoon and when Friday rolled around, I excitedly pursued the aisles of Target – realizing I had never bought a lunch-able and had no idea what games might be appropriate for an eight year old.
As an aside, my co-workers had thrown me a shower when I became licensed and gifted us with a number of games, craft supplies, and gift cards. These were INVALUABLE during these early parts of foster parenting. We had been two childless professionals in our 30s and 40s, respectively, I didn’t even know what children’s games and movies existed at this point.
I was so excited, I took a picture of my cart. (But also to ask my mom friends if there is anything else they would recommend I buy for the visit.) 🙂
That night, Marcus opened up a little more. We learned that he LOVES playing card games. (We combined two decks and played slapjack and war for nearly an hour and a half). Then Marcus showed us some of his magic tricks or, more accurately, attempted magic tricks. Marcus’ magic tricks are, essentially, Marcus repeatedly attempting in various ways to pull the right card from the deck (usually unsuccessfully) and bursting into laughter. The time it actually was the right card, he was shocked. After asking, “really!?,” he burst into laughter again and said that it “really must have been magic that time” because “he doesn’t really know what he’s doing.” (As if we hadn’t noticed….). Hilarious.
Then, we taught him how to play battleship – which was fun and really cute. We’re hoping to take Michael out next week to a park and for one of his other favorite foods (a McDonald’s cheeseburger). And yes, my husband was already strategizing how to get healthier food into the kid.
That same day, we also had our routine monthly home visit from our licensing worker to check to make sure our home was still meeting all safety requirements and to re-evaluate our “strengths and needs” as a couple. (They actually make the three of us, Licensing Worker included, fill out worksheets on our relationship and marriage and parenting skills every three months. Sometimes, I am really tempted to put, “We’re fabulous! Leave me alone.” Our licensing worker says that’s frowned upon).
The next day, Saturday, I got a call from a DCS “Congregate Care Liaison”, named Victoria around 9 p.m. I later learned this was not unusual for Victoria. The woman works AROUND THE CLOCK for these children. Nights, weekends, holidays. She is tireless. It turns out, she oversees the cases of all children who are placed in shelter and is charged with facilitating their movement from shelter to a foster home. We spoke for about an hour. She was able to provide me with a lot of very frank information about Marcus and his case. She didn’t hold back – every nitty gritty detail she knew was shared: family history, mental and behavioral health evaluations, everything. I couldn’t be more grateful. Information is hot commodity in foster care – and it’s something you don’t always get.
It turns out, no one really had a full view of Marcus and his true needs at that point – but that is an unfortunate reality of foster care. These are real kids from really hard places with really big needs that don’t always make themselves known immediately.