The Visitor

We encourage our kids to have friends over. It’s pretty common for there to be an extra kid or two hanging out for a few hours or spending the night. That’s why I didn’t think much of it when Mike brought a new friend home last Thursday after school.

“Mom, this is my friend, Darius. Do you mind if we go downstairs and play video games for a while?” Mike asked.

“Sure, sweetheart. Go ahead,” I replied, then I went back to making dinner.

About an hour later, Mike came upstairs and told me that Darius was going to need a ride home. I thought that was strange, but sometimes Mike offers our help without checking with us first, so I didn’t think too much of it. I told Mike that we were busy then but someone could take Darius home after we were done with dinner. Darius texted his mother and let us know that she was ok with that. Later that evening, my husband drove the boys over to the apartment complex where Darius lives. When they got there, Darius noticed that his Mother’s car was not there. He texted her again and she replied that she had to leave and wanted to know if he could just spend the night at our house because he couldn’t get in his apartment. We thought that was weird, but we weren’t about to leave the boy alone in the parking lot, so he came back to our house and spent the night.

On Friday morning before school, I pulled Darius aside and tried to get some more information about his home life. Mr. M and I had an uneasy feeling about the whole situation. As foster parents, we are required to report suspected abuse, but I refuse to make that call unless I am fairly certain abuse is actually happening. My gut told me that Darius was not being truthful, but I couldn’t tell what the truth was.  Darius assured me that his mother would be picking him up later that day, then he and Mike left for school.

Friday was a busy day in our town. It was homecoming week, and there were events all day long. I was busy taking care of My Littles and My Middles. Lu was not feeling well, and she was taking a lot of my attention. My Bigs and my Olders (whom I still need to write a post about) were all busy doing other things, so my day was completely consumed with caring for my family. Late in the afternoon, in the midst of the chaos, I noticed that Darius’s backpack was in the kitchen.

A while later, Darius walked into the house with Mike. I asked him why he was here and not home.  He explained that he was hanging out between homecoming activities and that he and Mike would be leaving for the parade and football game in a little while. His mother would be picking him up after the game. That seemed reasonable to me, so I wished him well and went back to my day.

The rest of the evening was busy but typical, that is until bedtime. I was exhausted, but I waited for Mike to get home before climbing the stairs and heading to my bed. When Mike came home, he was not alone. Darius was with him. I looked at them both in utter amazement. Darius stammered. He explained that his mom never came to pick him up and when he texted her, she had told him that she had gone to work. He sheepishly asked if he could spend one more night, insisting that his mother would pick him up here when she got off work the next day. I shrugged and told him, “That’s fine, but when she picks you up tomorrow, I am going to talk to her.” Then I went to bed.

The next morning, I woke up refreshed and determined to get to the bottom of our strange visitor’s story. I assumed he had been lying, but I was hoping to get a glimmer of the truth. I still was not sure if a call to protective services was warranted. I questioned Darius several times that day. I watched closely for signs of trauma and abuse. I repeatedly asked him what time his mother would be coming to get him, reminding him that I was determined to speak with her when she came. I had already asked for all of her contact information, but Darius was being less than helpful.

As the day wore on and the time came closer to when we were finally going to get to meet Darius’s mom, his story suddenly changed. Apparently, Darius’s mom had messaged him and needed him to be dropped off at the mall. I looked Darius in the eye and firmly explained that I would not allow that. He was not leaving my home until I met his mother. Darius squirmed. He stammered and came up with a lame excuse as to why he needed to be at the mall. I gave him another chance to be truthful, but got nowhere. I left Darius playing video games with Mike and went upstairs. Mr. M and I discussed all of the details and decided that since we really had no evidence of abuse, I would call the police. The police could take it from there.

Not long after my call to the station, an officer arrived at our home. (I really need to bake our local officers cookies or something. It seems like they are out here to help us out quite a bit.) We called Darius upstairs. He seemed shocked to see an officer there waiting for him. Darius started with some of the same stories that he had given us. The officer had him collect his things and get in the cruiser. They were going to drive around until they found Darius’s mom. As they left, I breathed a sigh of relief.

In the mean time, we had found a Facebook account that we were pretty certain belonged to Darius’s mother. We sent her a request. She responded the next day and asked why the police had been involved. I explained what had happened on our side. She explained her side, sending copies of the messages between herself and Darius. He had refused to go with her after school on Thursday and had gone to the basketball court instead. That is where he met Mike.  Once he came to our house he decided he was going to stay here as long as he could. No one knows why. Some mysteries are never solved.

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Runaway

I’ve been a mother for a long time . . . A. Long. Time. There are things I just know after all of these years. I know that each child is different and that you can’t parent them all the same. I learned the hard way that parenting adopted and foster children is a lot different than parenting biological children. I have learned to read my children’s body language and behavior because most of the time behavior is a clue to underlying issues. If we address the issue, the behavior can then be addressed. I am also keenly aware that, as the mother of the home, my attitude sets the tone in the house. I KNOW all of this and I’m usually decent at parenting with this knowledge in mind. Then there was yesterday.

Yesterday was an exhausting day following two overwhelming weeks. September is always a tough month here. All of the kids are getting used to their new school schedules. The month is full of triggers for my kids with PTSD and emotional impairments. Illness runs through the house making its victims miserable but also exacerbating symptoms in my two daughters with autoimmune disorders. Then we add in our normal meetings and appointments plus school meetings and the month is full. This year is tougher because our young adult daughter is staying here while she gets some things settled and we are helping care for her two babies. Yup, I’m just a little stressed. No excuse.

Back to yesterday. Mike, our almost adopted 16 year old, has had a rough week. He is struggling to get back on a school schedule, work through some pretty tough therapy, deal with the stress of his upcoming adoption, manage some serious trauma triggers, and is balancing the heaviest academic load he has ever had. Normally, I try to see things from Mike’s perspective. He’s been through more than any 16 year old I have ever met and he’s an incredible kid. I am extremely proud of him, he has accomplished so much since he has been with us. He is MY SON! But yesterday, after the 5th e-mail from the school, my patience had worn thin. Mike hadn’t really done anything wrong, but he was becoming increasingly agitated, and in the process annoying his teachers and the school staff. These were clues that I needed to step back from the situation and get to the root of what was causing Mike’s agitation. But I wasn’t watching the clues. I was at the end of my rope.

Mike walked in the door as the 3 month old was screaming. Immediately, I began interrogating him. Why was he annoying his teachers? (Foster Parenting 101: Never ask Why.) The argument commenced. Soon, Mike was blaming the whole situation on me and as our voices raised he said something that struck a nerve. I had had it!

“That’s it! Go to your room!” I yelled.

“I’m leaving!” Mike spat back.

“Fine, then leave!”

“Fine, I will!”

“FINE!”

“FINE!”

“Mike, you can’t leave. Just go to your room.” I said as I determined to bring my emotions back under control.

“You said I could leave, so I’m leaving.”

“Go To Your Room!” my voice again raised.

Mike walked into his room, threw some clothes in his backpack, and headed toward the door. I again told him to stay, but he was set on leaving. He walked out the door as I stood there seething with anger. I sat and tried to get my emotions under control again. I knew I would have to go after him, but in the state I was in, it would do no good. After about 5 minutes, I walked outside to see where Mike had gone. I saw him walking down the sidewalk with Leo, our 15 year old. I figured Mike would walk it off and as long as he was with Leo, there was nothing to worry about. I would apologize for acting like a crazed lunatic later, when we both had a chance to cool off. I went to give the baby her bottle.

About 20 minutes later, Leo returned to the house alone. Mike told him that he was going to keep walking. Rolling my eyes, I decided it was time to go find my wayward teen. It took a while to get all of the kids set so I could leave, but I was reasonably confident that it wouldn’t be too hard to find him. Wrong again. After an hour of driving around, I went home and started making the necessary calls. I made dinner and waited for the police to show up.

Thankfully, the officer that came is an old friend, so I was able to relax a little as I told the story. We drove around to check a friend’s house and some other areas that Mike might go. Still no luck. The officer came back to our house and made sure that he had a detailed description of what Mike was wearing when he left and then updated dispatch. I went back to watching the little ones and began their bedtime routines while my husband took Lu and Marie driving around to look for our son. Leo printed out a map, estimated how fast Mike was walking, and drew circles around how far Mike could make it every 2 hours. Then he took a bike and rode around, joining the search.

As the hours passed, me heart sank further. I watched out the windows hoping my boy would come home. I thought of the story of The Prodigal Son and understood how the father watched the road every day. Finally, at the little ones’ bedtime, Sergey was able to take over for me so Eddy and I could rejoin the search. We drove around until it was too dark to see. With a heavy weight on my heart, we returned home. I sat at the window and watched some more. I tried hard to push away the frightening thoughts that kept popping into my mind. Five hours had passed, then six, then seven, still no word. I fell asleep.

After midnight, there was a knock on the door. I don’t think I have ever jumped up so quickly. Through the window I could see an officer standing there next to my son. Waves of relief and joy passed over me as I saw my boy standing there in one piece. The officer told me that he had been found walking along a major highway. He was hungry and exhausted and just wanted to come home. Mike had told the officer about some of the bad things that had happened in his past but then told him of our home, how good he has it here, how we love him and take care of him. I thanked the officer as he left and turned to Mike. He looked at me apprehensively, waiting for me to start scolding. I reached for my son with trembling hands, pulled him to me, and held him. He is my son. He is home.