After my panic in the car, we never discussed whether we could parent the quiet boy in the corner, again. It was almost as if it wasn’t up for discussion. We could and we would. We were all in and would work to get him as comfortable as possible with the idea of moving him into our home. It was the first full week in December. If things went well, we could move him in before Christmas. So a couple of days after our pizza dinner together, and after a few deep breaths, we were back at the shelter with big plans: dinner out at Peter Piper Pizza (you know, the place with mediocre pizza and arcade games).
“Every kid likes Peter Piper Pizza” my mom-friend, Trish, told me.
When we checked in at the security desk at the shelter, we sat and waited for staff to bring our new favorite 7 year year old boy out to meet us.
And we waited.
And we waited some more.
I looked at my watch. It had been 15 minutes since we checked in. I wondered what was taking so long.
Finally, one of the staffers at the opened the door. He looked exasperated and appeared to be alone until he shifted his body to the side and I could see the small boy cowering behind him. He encouraged him and then gently guided him through the door in front of him. The boy resisted – his body appeared to be leaning back towards the door of the shelter. A passive resistance to entering the shelter lobby.
“Hi!” we waved at him.
He stood motionless. His eyes fixed on us. And then, in the quickest motion I had ever seen him make, he turned on his heels to face the door behind him.
The young male staffer pleaded with him. “I will be fun! I promise!”
“Yeah!” I chimed in! “We are going for pizza!”
Still standing with his back to us, the boy crossed his arms over his chest.
“Pizza!” The male staffer raised his eyebrows, “Yum! That’s way better than what we’re having for dinner!”
The boy didn’t move.
I walked over and knelt in front of him. When I did, I felt all eyes on me. The receptionist, the staffer, my husband were all staring.
“Hey.” I said, “Are you feeling a little apprehensive?”
Apprehensive? I thought. What is wrong with me? What kid knows what the word apprehensive means?
I tried again, “Are you feeling a little nervous?” He didn’t move. “Scared?”
It was subtle, but I saw his shoulders shrug.
“Here,” I moved to put my hands on his shoulders and then thought better of it and jerked my hands back, “Can you turn around so we can talk?”
He shook his head.
“That’s okay.” I didn’t want to force him to go with us. I wanted him to trust us. I wanted him to could be his advocates. “Do you want to do something else?”
“We could go to the park?” My husband suggested.
The young staffer jumped on that. “Fun!”
“Yeah – there’s a nice big basketball hoop there!”
The boy shook his head.
“If you’re scared, we can stay here again this time?” I suggested.
The boy nodded, still with his back to me.
The male staffer didn’t look to fully support this plan. I could be wrong, but I got the sense that he would have preferred me to force the boy to leave with us. But I wanted to take things slow for him as much as we could.
When he opened the door back to the shelter, the boy scurried through it as quickly as he could. When he realized that we were behind him, he looked at us suspiciously. And it didn’t get better from there. When he was left alone with us yet again at the shelter basketball court, he ran to the window and looked inside to where the other children were playing. It took some cajoling and, ultimately some cold hard truth talking (i.e. “You’re stuck with us for an hour, kiddo, you might as well have some fun.”) to get him to grudgingly shoot the basketball (and mostly ignore us) for an hour.
Shelter manager Kathy called again after we left the shelter. We need to push him, she said. So we made a plan to pick him up a couple of days later for a visit at our house.