There is an eerie similarity to all of this.
It is late winter, just like it was the first time around. It is cold and it is grey and I have spent the past 24 hours cleaning.
I have cleaned the usual stuff. I’ve swept and I’ve vacuumed and I’ve wiped down the kitchen counters. But this occasion calls for more; it calls for tackling the stuff you don’t usually notice. Like the dust that feathers the wall right above the heating vent and the fingerprints that decorate the windows in the dining room. Anything to tip the scales in your favor so that when the caseworker from your foster care agency walks through the door, she sees a home fit for a child in care.
It’s not our first rodeo, you know. Two years ago, almost to this very day, we were swinging our front door open to the woman who would license us as a foster family. The one who would be responsible for placing a foster child in our home. “Wow, what a beautiful home,” she said that afternoon as she passed through our sunporch and into our living room.
Now, we are swinging open our front door to the woman who will license us as an adoptive family. She will be responsible for matching us with a child in need of a permanent home.
“Your home is beautiful,” she says as she passes from our sunporch to our living room.
They are two different women and yet they remind me of each other. They’re both pretty and fair, soft-spoken with wide smiles and kind eyes. In both of them, I sense something under the surface, though. A wisdom, maybe. A sense that they’ve been witness to more than the rest of us. More trauma, more pain, more healing, more hope.
What lived in the space between these two visits was dense and full. An alternative ending to this journey. One year with our four-year-old foster son, BlueJay, followed by one year to grieve his sudden and complete absence.
At the end of that first home visit, I was relieved to close the door. We had cleared what was, up until that point, our biggest hurdle. We presented proof that we were competent both as parents and as organized adults who could wade through an ocean of paperwork.
In the months and years that followed, we had so much more to prove. To others, somewhat, but mostly to ourselves. We had to prove we were up to the challenge of navigating a broken child welfare system. We had to prove we could live under an umbrella of uncertainty, unable to think or plan any further ahead than the next court date. We had to discover that saying goodbye to a child we loved as our own would break only our hearts, not our spirit.
During those two years, I felt more than I have at any other point in my life. Anticipation and fear, joy and love, panic and despair. Each emotion taking a turn at prominence. We went through it, I know now, so that we could come out the other side, grasping a new realization tightly with both hands.
Our journey didn’t end when we said goodbye to BlueJay. It was only just beginning.
Now, Mike and I sit with our new caseworker in a semi-circle around the dining room table. We flip through our original home study and identify the sections that need to be updated. I scribble a few reminders to myself and I set down my pen. As I lean back into my chair, our caseworker places her hands, palms down, on the stack of files in front of her. She looks up at us and she smiles.
Even though we don’t yet know her very well, I know that smile. It is the smile of hesitation, the smile of someone about to take a leap.
“How do you feel about a nine-year-old boy?” she asks. “I might already have a child in mind for you.”