So this is a long one, but I promise it’s an entertaining read. It’s got everything: suspense; a police chase; a child jumping out of a moving vehicle (okay a slowly moving vehicle but still…keep those child locks on folks). Grab some wine and pull up a chair.
We learned in our foster parenting classes that many children who can not trust adults test them to see if they can control the situation / make the adults angry and not want them any more / make the adults go back on their word to prove that the adult is not to be trusted. We were also told rules and boundaries are an important part of this process. In our training, we learned that children must know that the adults are in control in order to feel safe. We were determined to be the exception for Marcus so that he knew that we were adults who mean what we say and, while there are always consequences to his actions, we would not explode in anger or stop loving him no matter what he does or says. Because we are tough and we’ve been training for this. 💪
We picked up Marcus on Friday night around 6 p.m. That evening was great! We made our own individual pizzas; played with our dog; played catch in the back yard; and watched the beginning of the sponge bob movie. I warned Marcus that he would have to go to bed in the middle of the movie and suggested we watch something shorter but, sure enough, when I told him it was bedtime he went right to bed. The next morning was also great. My husband made omelets for breakfast (Marcus’ request); we went to the dog park; and played catch!
Marcus then asked if we could go to Target to get Pokemon cards. We told Marcus we would give him a $10 allowance every Saturday. If he wanted to spend his $10 buying Pokemon cards, he could do that. We got there and he wanted a $20 Pokemon set. None of the $5 or $10 sets would do. After quite some time, he realized we weren’t budging. He could save his $10 for when he came back next week and buy the $20 set we explained. He moped out of the store empty-handed.
After we got home, Marcus asked to call his grandfather who lives out of state and with whom he is allowed contact. We obliged and, as we had been directed to do, kept the phone on speaker. But as soon as his grandfather picked up, Marcus started crying and slammed his finger into the phone to end the call. It broke my heart to see him in so much pain.
Then, without warning, Marcus launched himself off of the sofa and ran out of the house barefoot. I raced out the door after him and he screamed at me not to follow him. I told him I was worried about his feet and that I would help him put on shoes before going back out on his walk, but he refused.
As foster parents, we are not permitted to physically touch or ‘man-handle’ Marcus in any way – short of blocking him from jumping into traffic or other life-saving types of actions. We can give him hugs but that’s about it – and we’d been advised to only do so when he affirmatively okays it (i.e. “Marcus, can I give you a hug?”)
So after he refused shoes, I just followed Marcus through the neighborhood and continuously repeated, “I will give you space, but I care about you and its my job to keep you safe,” every time he yelled for me not to follow him. My husband and our dog, Millie, found us after a ways and we continued on like that for about 30-40 minutes: Marcus in the lead; me a few paces behind; my husband and dog a few paces behind that. All the while, Marcus threatened to jump in front of traffic, climb a fence, walk on broken glass, or runaway and never come back. I positioned my body to block him if he did in fact attempt to jump into the street in front of a car (although we live in a pretty quiet neighborhood so that was a relatively remote possibility). We got a lot of weird looks from the neighbors. If we weren’t “that family” before. We certainly are now. 😀
Marcus picked up a rock and threatened to throw it at a neighbor’s car to break the windshield.
I shrugged. “Well, if you do that we certainly wouldn’t be able to pay your allowance next week because we’d have to save money to pay to fix it.” It was the truth. Marcus put down the rock.
Marcus did get a minor cut on his arm when trying to climb a chain link fence during this incident. (I talked him down by warning that anything could behind the fence and I don’t want him to get hurt). Finally, he wore down and asked me to lead him back home for lunch.
After bandaging up his arm, Marcus seemed to be doing better. We decided not to let this incident upset our plans for the day: lunch at Marcus’ favorite place (McDonalds) and a movie Marcus had picked out the night before.
When we got to McDonalds, Marcus was in good spirits! He got to order whatever he wanted and pick where we sat in the restaurant. We talked about our favorite presidents and he impressed us with presidential facts (like that Abraham Lincoln was the 16th president of the United States)! He and my husband also played their own game of “Trivial Pursuit” by posing questions (i.e. “What’s the highest mountain in the U.S.”) and both taking guesses before having me google the answer.
After lunch, we drove to the movie theater. The theater we chose is within a large outdoor mall. Although Marcus had chosen the movie and seemed excited to see it earlier in the day, he decided after we bought tickets and went inside that he, in fact, did not want to see the movie. At first, he went in the bathroom and claimed he wouldn’t come out until the movie was over. My husband waited inside the bathroom for him. Finally Marcus came out and sat on a bench outside the theater moping about how he wanted us to buy him tickets to another R-rated movie.
I sent my husband in to get us seats “just in case Marcus changes his mind” while I waited with Marcus outside of the theater.
[There is a method to my madness. You see, my husband had dealt with Marcus while he was refusing to come out of the men’s room. This was an organic way for us to switch off and, thus, conserve energy.]
When it became clear that I was not going to buy tickets to the R-rated movie, Marcus sprung up from his seat and started pacing around the theater – running in and out of different movies threatening to “scream,” and “tell everyone that I was kidnapping him” if I didn’t buy him (1) a slushee; (2) tokens for video games (“If you would like, you can use your allowance for tokens”); (3) tickets to another rated R movie (“Obviously, No.”).
I did my best to play this by the book. My response to the various threats was simply a calm, “Okay” or “that’s your choice.” I don’t negotiate with terrorists – even little 8 year old ones. 😜. He asked me what I would do if he screamed that I was kidnapping him. I shrugged again and told him I didn’t know. (Again, the truth is always the best answer, right?)
I called his bluff. He didn’t scream or accuse me of kidnapping him. He did unplug all of the games in the game area.
Finally, after about 30 minutes, Marcus ran full speed out the door of the theater into the outdoor mall. He told me that if I didn’t buy him tickets to the R-rated movie, he would jump in the fountain. I told him that I wasn’t too sure about that negotiation tactic since he was the one that would be all wet. He jumped in. I shrugged yet again. (We live in a place with a very warm climate, so there was no health or safety risk. Just a wet and disappointed kid).
After helping him climb out of the fountain, Marcus and I stared at each other. I started to ask if he wanted to try to watch the movie now but Marcus took off again. I briskly followed behind and lost him as he rounded the corner behind a dumpster and into the parking lot. Because Marcus is in state custody, we are required to call 911 immediately any time his whereabouts are unknown – so I did and positioned myself back at the theater entrance in case he came back and to meet the responding officers. I then saw Marcus from a distance, running into a store a ways down and began to follow him – updating the 911 operator the whole time. I weaved through the crowded store, looking for Marcus. Finally I saw him crouched behind a row of hanging clothes. But when we made eye contact, he bolted out the door again and back into the outdoor mall.
The 911 operator kept me on the phone in case I found him again but it wasn’t long before he informed me that police officers had made contact with Marcus.
When I was reunited with Marcus by police officers, I told him how worried I was about him, how much I care about him, and how I want him to not run away because I want him to be safe and I like spending time with him. Marcus refused to look at me or leave with me and stared at the ground.
I told the officers all of the wonderful things that we love about Marcus (like how smart and funny he is)! Then I texted my husband who was still sitting inside the movie theater. By the time my husband got to where we were, Marcus was in a little better spirits and had agreed to leave with us. So we all walked to our car.
Marcus is required to ride in a booster seat given his height and weight but when we got to our car, Marcus refused to sit in it. We told him that we could not drive away until he got into his booster seat. Again, we knew it was important for our ability to build trust to parent Marcus that he knows that we will not go back on what we say. So began the stand off. We sat in the car for about 45 minutes waiting for Marcus to get in his booster seat. The whole time, Marcus attempted to negotiate – threatening to slam his finger in the car door; strangle himself with the seat belt (he made some pretty pathetic attempts at that one); and run away again. In a desperate plea around minute 35, he started telling us that the booster seat hurt his back. He said that he had a back injury and couldn’t sit in it. (“Nice try – if its still hurting tomorrow, we’ll buy you another booster seat. But right now, this is the one we have and you have to sit in it”). Finally, he grudgingly buckled himself into the booster seat. (We both had the strategic advantage of iPhones and a cell phone plan with unlimited data during this stand off – so it really wasn’t a fair fight).
We didn’t make it far before Marcus unbuckled in the back seat and stood up while my husband was driving. He started to pull over into the parking lot of a Barnes and Noble, near a bus stop but before he could stop, Marcus jumped out of the car. (We had inadvertently left the child lock off (a mistake we paid for). I jumped out after him.
Marcus ran towards to city bus. Luckily, the bus driver must have seen me making wild hand gestures and closed the door on Marcus as he was trying to board. With the doors to the city bus slammed in his face and me closing in, Marcus turned and bolted towards the Barnes and Noble.
Thus began what we lovingly refer to as “Pokemon Stand Off Part II.” 😄
But this post is already getting too long. So tune in next week to find out why we are likely on some sort of Barnes and Noble watch list and why my husband and I can’t even look at a Pokemon anymore.
6 thoughts on “Our Foster Parenting Journey: The one where we leave a path of destruction…”
oh man! I thought my week was stressful but you beat me on this one! You are one strong person!
LOL. Thank you. This was, hands down, our hardest day of foster parenting….trial by fire for sure…
Wow again! Not that us foster parents are in competition, but my little one’s meltdowns are in no way compared to yours! I am amazed how you and your husband kept your composure. I especially like the way you describe strategically switching off to conserve energy. I totally wish I had that advantage :-). You two are doing a great job!
Thanks, Clarise. I’ll be honest, I don’t think either one of us would have made it alone – and I mean that sincerely. It was too much for one person. I kept hoping that if we made it through this rough day and earned his trust (and show that this behavior was not going to get a rise out of us), it would resolve itself and get better. Unfortunately, serious mental health issues don’t work like that. 🙁