They’re one of the most awkward & daunting things we as foster parents go through. Taking place at the DCBS office & all the galore that it is doesn’t help matters.
Being a smaller county away from our own, the office was incredibly small. So small, in fact, that I almost didn’t find it entirely. A few chairs lined both sides of the two walls that were a little too close for comfort. There was a, “children’s area,” (& I use that term very loosely) in the corner that held one rackety toy that appeared it was about to fall to the grimy floor. A police officer sat in the far corner to my left, gun on his side & suited up in his uniform. His presence became even clearer to me when the child in my care noticed him, got wide eyed, quickly averted his gaze, & seemed to go somewhere else.
I introduced myself to the birth parents awkwardly, explaining who I was & stating I wasn’t sure I’d get to meet them. I slipped his birth mom a letter detailing what he’d done the past few days, along with a few pictures I’d taken over the weekend. They were mostly friendly with me & thanked me for the pictures.
All the while my eyes are stuck on the small toddler who quickly started calling me mama. He wasn’t smiling. He never once referred to his parents as mama, or dad. In fact, the only word I heard him say in that cramped waiting room at all was, “sip,” in reference to the large fountain drink birth mom had. And then his siblings walked in yielding the same expression the kiddo with me had. Blank. No smiles. No words. Blank.
When they all went back for their visit, excluding the inevitable goodbye, I thought the awkward part was over. I thought wrong.
It’s an incredibly odd thing to raise someone else’s children. After a while, they inevitably begin to feel like your children. You’re the one who gives them their nightly baths, feeds them, kisses their boo-boos, & gets up with them in the night. You’re the one they run to when they feel scared, confused, & *insert wide plethora of emotions kiddos feel here. You begin to feel like their parent because you’re the parent….until further notice.
So I sit in the cramped, dimly lit office twiddling my thumbs. I’d never been to a visit before & didn’t know what to do with myself. One of the workers came to the window & asked if I was a foster parent (apparently, in addition to social worker face, I have one of these faces too). After I confirm, she tells me, “they usually go get something to eat or something like that. It will be a while.” I tell her I’m not from the area & don’t mind to wait here. She nods back, walking away.
While I sit there awkwardly the police officer in the corner makes conversation with me about the drink in my hand, telling me how much his wife also loves Starbucks refreshers. I tell him about the new Pink Drink just before someone swings open the door to request he come back to the visitation area in case someone tries anything.
Sitting there I hear the kiddo that’s with me crying. I know it’s him because I’ve become acquainted with his cries. I know that the one echoing through this ancient office means that he’s hungry & ready for lunch. Soon after I hear another from him that I know he does when he fake hurts himself & wants me to, “tiss,” it.
When the visit is over, all the kiddos come out in front of their birth parents. Kiddos older brother walks up to me pointing at the snacks hanging out from the top of my bag. I shake a few Puffs out for him & his parents tell him he didn’t even say hi but was asking for my food. They instruct him to say thank you & he looks through me to squeak, “thank you.” I tell him he’s welcome, dropping the snacks back in the bag.
The social work asks this kiddo if he’s ready to go & walks out with him and the youngest brother. He never says goodbye to the parents. Doesn’t cry. Just looks ahead, grabs the social workers hand & walks to the car with her as she carries the baby. My kiddo is the only one who cries. He watches birth mom walk away & loses it. He starts reaching for her & screaming. She stops to look back at him and time stands still. I’m not sure what to do. She tells him bye again & I tell him he’ll see her next week. When we’re back inside getting him in his stroller, she comes back inside behind me. Now she too is crying. She tells him she’s sorry and she’ll see him again. He cries harder again now that she’s back in his line of vision With that, she walks away & try to tell him it’s okay before we walk back out to the car. Back out to what has become the security that he knows.
For the rest of the day, we lived in toddler nightmare land. Nothing was alright. Tantrums dropped like heat in deserted lands. Our usual routine of sitting quietly, bath time, screen time, & lights out in upheaval. And who could blame him? He’d just been reminded of how his entire life had been completely torn upside down. Before experiencing this firsthand, I’d heard how incredibly devastating these visits could be for these kiddos. But I hadn’t seen it. I hadn’t taken a child I was parenting until further notice to one of these. I hadn’t watched them stare blankly at their parents & then completely crash into disarray for the remainder of the day/days ahead.
I hate it for them. In the future, on visitation days with this kiddo & our future placements, I think I’ll defiantly plan to either A) do something extra fun that day after the visit or, B), return home to the temporary security that these kiddos come to know. I will do something, anything I can, to ease the upheaval that these visits bring.
What have you done to make visitation days easier for your kiddos???? What has worked?? What hasn’t???