I’ve been hearing a lot from Colton lately. He’s 18 now and has graduated from high school, though college isn’t quite as imminently in his plans as I’d hoped. He’s still living in the same foster/group home and I believe working enough hours that he’s able to still be in foster care, though I don’t know the details on that. He’s gotten chatty on facebook and then must have found my phone number on something I’d given him and started texting periodically, though he understands that I’m not going to be as prompt or constant a respondent as a fellow teen might be.
It’s been two years this month since we flew out to meet him after being matched with him as his potential adoptive family. Then there was the month or so where no one was returning our calls, where we knew something was going wrong and didn’t know what. Then finally we got word from him that he felt so bad about it but just couldn’t bear to leave his state and restart his life in a different region and timezone. We were really disappointed but tried to be gracious and supportive, left the lines of communication open and told him we hoped to see him thrive and succeed wherever he was. And then we opened as a foster home rather than adoption-only and promptly got a call about another teen boy and I seized up and couldn’t imagine putting our hearts on the line that way again, and so he went somewhere else and then a few days later the call came that there was a three-year-old girl who needed a home where she could probably be adopted. We switched from moms-of-teens mode to the moms-of-Mara world and haven’t really had a chance to look back.
I don’t want to get into any arguments about adoptions being “meant to be” because it completely gives me the creeps that there are people who think their God wanted Mara to be hurt and neglected and abandoned so she could end up with us, even if that’s not the way they’d phrase it. But it’s certainly worked out well for us to have Mara and if we’d had a teen boy moving in, we wouldn’t have had room (physical or emotional) for her. I can’t think about that possible reality without a sense of loss about the good times I’ve had with Mara and now Nia and with Val and Alex when they were with us. It’s not anything that I dwell on often.
Colton, though, has been thinking about things a lot, about how his life would have been different if he’d chosen to come with us instead of staying put. Now he’s older and feeling constrained by his small town, ready to see more of the world. He regrets losing that chance when he had it and wishes he’d chosen to go ahead with the adoption. Rowan had said similar things long ago, though not so much about adoption, that he wished he’d come back to us instead of being stubborn about other things. I guess it’s nice that we’re two for two on teen boys wishing we’d been their parents! It’s a weird feeling and weird situation, though, and there definitely were times (especially with Rowan) that I kicked myself about whether leaving the decisions up to them so much was really the best way to deal with it when it always meant they’d end up somewhere else than where I wanted them to be, with us.
Colton’s rationalization of all of this is that he didn’t feel ready to call us Mom then, though he has grown enough he thinks of us as mom-like now. He thought we deserved to have someone who could call us Mom, which is sort of ironic since the only child who has with any consistency is Mara. But that’s the way he tells the story, that he was nobly thinking about what we deserved and in an O. Henry-worthy twist ended up realizing that what we deserved was what he wanted to give us himself. Oh, and he’s said we would have had a hard time dealing with him, to which I responded that it’s a teenager’s job to be volatile and willful and make parents roll their eyes and have to catch their breath.
But I’m putting this out her to remind myself that the story isn’t over on any of us. I said that I’ll never see Val and Alex again, but I don’t know that. They were four and five when they were with us, and I could see them recognizing me someday when they’re older, someday when they’ll still recall that I did what I could for them and their family. If that happens, I won’t be holding my breath for thanks or gratitude, but what means more to me than Colton’s praise for us is seeing him smiling in his Chuck Taylors at prom, noting how diligent he’s been about his job all summer, laughing to myself that we’re the grownups he’s coming to for relationship advice.
He wants to take a road trip someday, get away from the places he grew up and see something different where he doesn’t have to think about how no one from his family came to his graduation and everyone in the community knows he’s different and more constrained because he’s in foster care. He says he’d love to come see us, and I know we’d be glad to put him up for a few days, see how he’s grown into his smile after three years in the same home, take some more pictures to show that he’s taller than Lee and I are now. I don’t know if this will work out any time soon, but I like that it’s something he thinks about, that he wanted to make sure it wouldn’t be too disruptive for the girls to have an extra body around the house for a week or less.
He’s growing up, in some ways grown up already, and I only got to be a tiny part of that experience and yet I’ve seen how it’s made a difference to him. I’m not vain enough to think I’m a purely positive force in the universe or anything like that, but we’ve been going through some hard times (not related to fostering or parenting) lately and I do appreciate getting this kind of encouragement. And I love hearing him, though he seriously needs to stop calling me “ma’am” just like Mara’s mom, who’s within a year or so of my age, should definitely not ever ever ever call me “Ms. Thorn” again. One thing I am not is Southern in my attitudes and style, I suppose. I am not his mom, not “ma’am,” but still something, and that seems to matter.