Driving away from the shelter, we sat in silence. I didn’t have words. A mild panic rose up from my stomach to my throat as my mind replayed images of the 7 year old boy crashing the small plastic animals together. I thought back to that Oprah episode I watched years ago with the young girl who had been kept isolated in a room for years. I remembered how her extreme neglect permanently affected her. It made me nauseated.
Finally, I reluctantly found words. I didn’t look at my husband from the passenger seat. Instead I stared straight ahead at the road in front of us.
“They want us to be ready to adopt him.” Once I started talking I didn’t want to stop, “Parental rights aren’t severed but they think that is where this is going.”
Out my peripheral, I saw my husband just nod his head. He knew this already. We both did. I had read the file and am a lawyer who has worked in child welfare. I knew what the odds were.
I just kept talking.
“Obviously he’s developmentally delayed. He’s so traumatized and scared it’s hard to tell where his language skill is but it’s not much.”
Facts and anecdotes from every book I’d ever read on child development were coming to life in my mind – assessing the boy without any formal education is dangerous at best. But let’s be honest. I wasn’t thinking rationally. I couldn’t stop myself
I finally trailed off and put my head in my hands – trying to build up the nerve to say what I was really thinking.
“What if he doesn’t get better? What if he is never able to support himself or live on his own or take care of himself?”
I finally looked over at my husband. He looked ridiculously calm behind the wheel and, for a moment, I wondered if he had been listening to me at all; if he understood what I was saying and what was at stake.
All he said was “yeah.”
I thought some more about our night.
“It was cute watching him play basketball. He is surprisingly coordinated.” I trailed off again.
“He is.” My husband sounded like he was thinking.
I was overwhelmed. I thought about how difficult it would be to parent a child with severe special needs. I have a few friends with children with special needs and I thought about all I’d seen them go through.
“I know this probably makes me a bad person,” I put my face in my hands and tried to fight off the growing knot of anxiety and shame in my chest, “but I just can’t help but think: ‘what if he doesn’t get better? What if this is it? Can we do this, forever? Like, can we take care of him for the rest of our lives?'”
I looked at my husband and tried to anticipate his answer and my response. How would I tell Kathy we weren’t coming on Thursday?
My husband would later tell me he doesn’t have a clear memory of what he said next. He would tell me that he would have been panicking too but was trying not to think about it. Because, in his mind, thinking wasn’t an option. He is not at all spiritual or religious but said that when we made the decision to become foster parents, he made the choice to stop thinking so much and just do what felt right. Otherwise, he claims he would never be able to make it through. I guess some people might call it “faith.”
Whatever it was, in the car that night at a red light, he sounded completely certain when he turned to me and said the words I would replay in my mind almost every day for years to come.
“Why are we doing this? To help a kid. And this we can help. It’s why we’re doing this, right?”
With apologies for the sweeping generalization, I think we often underestimate our husbands. I sat in silence for a moment.
“What if he can never support himself or live on his own?” It was less a real question than a test. I wanted to make sure that he had been listening. That he understood the issue that I had raised.
“He has good motor skills and is good natured. You can always find work when you have good motor skills and are good natured.”
“We couldn’t help Marcus,” my husband continued, “We can help this one.”
I was still scared. But I knew he was right.