One day last week I got a call from an unknown number in Westminster.
Westminster, I thought. This can’t be good.
The only time I ever got calls from Westminster was when we were going through the whole custody ordeal with the first little boy whom we hosted in our home last year. The one who stayed with us for 10+ months, became like part of our family, but then went back to his home in hopes that things would be better.
As soon as I answered, I could recognize the voice—it was the social worker who had worked on the boy’s case last year. Without any details, she asked me urgently if we could take the youngest boy again…and as soon as possible. He and his siblings had been taken the day before and were currently being sheltered.
There were a million things to consider of course, but I knew that in the end, our answer would be yes. So I agreed. But before we hung up, I asked her to please just tell me how he was doing. How did he look.
After a momentary pause, she responded with a soberness in her voice.
“Sad,” she said. “Dirty and sad. But as soon as CPS got him, he was crying out for you… and he wouldn’t stop saying your name all night.”
The very next morning, I got in the car and found myself taking that one-hour drive back down the same roads I had taken so many times before during that roller coaster of a time with him last year. We came for court cases, parental visitations, mediations, and more.
And now here I was again. So many emotions. So many thoughts. In a lot of ways, I felt really helpless and unsure, not knowing what was happening. Yet something drove me to keep going and told me I just had to go get him. Nothing else mattered.
After all, it’s not like he ever fully left us anyways.
Since his departure seven months ago, his pictures have yet to come down from our walls and he is still talked about just about everyday, if not by one of the kids, by me or my husband.
And while the circumstances that were bringing us back together again were not good (and I so, so, so wished he never had to go through this nightmare again), I still looked forward to seeing him again. To see him, to hug him, to look into his eyes. I’ve wondered so much about him almost every single day.
However, the reunion between he and I was far from what I imagined it to be–no huge smiles or bursting flowers and butterflies as we hugged. No, as soon as I arrived and spotted him at the social services office, he only glanced at me a quick second to register who I was. And although his eyes said he knew me, his posture told me to stay away.
What had happened to him.
When the paperwork was taken care of, we all walked back down the hall, and I was instructed to escort him to my car. That’s when I saw his fear escalate as I’m sure the place was familiar to him as well. It was where we had taken him from his mother the first time, screaming and kicking through the doors. And now we were doing it again.
His breathing grew heavier, tears welled up in his eyes, and he started to scream. With everything he had, he fought to get away, digging his nails into my arms, spitting, and wailing.
Back to square one, I thought, as I used everything I had to hold him down and buckle him in. A boy I knew so well now seemed like a stranger running away from his kidnapper. When I finally got him in, he continued to let out the loudest, most heart wrenching, soul trembling shrieks I have ever heard. Over and over and over again, all he could do was scream.
Against his will, he was being taken away, further and further, mile by mile. His life spinning completely out of his control… again. What else could he do?
Thankfully, he did calm down, and he warmed up pretty quickly to everyone back at home, remembering all the Korean names he picked up during his stay with us. Instantly, he called my husband “appa” for dad, my son “hyungah” for big brother, “halmuhnee and halabuhjee” for grandma and grandpa, and gave everyone big hugs.
But slowly, I noticed he was very different with me.
For starters, he told me that I am not “umma,” which is what he used to call me. He made it clear that I am not his mommy and that I was not his family.
At first, I couldn’t understand why he was singling me out. Was it because I was the one who had to take him from his home again? Was he mad at me for something I did when he was with us? Was he just older now and less comfortable with me as a mom, albeit a foster mom? Why only me?
As each day passed, I discovered more and more that for whatever reason, he had absolutely resolved not to let me get too close to him this time around.
The other day, for example, he sat happily drawing a picture of his family. At the very end, I saw him draw one more person and looked up at me to say, “and that’s you!” Yet just as those words left his mouth, a look of terror came over his face, and he told me I couldn’t be in the picture. He tried to find ways to take me out but eventually drew a new one altogether with me omitted.
“My mommy going to see it! You can’t be in there.”
Then, I knew. It was his mom. He wanted to be loyal to her and eventually even shared that he was put in the corner for calling me “umma.”
Of course. It all made sense.
I don’t blame his mom for making that distinction for him. I am not his real mom after all and she has every right to be clear on that point. But what kills me is that at this moment, he is a broken boy who needs the comfort and warmth and love of a mom but he won’t let me fully in. He’s afraid, and my ache is not a personal offense, but it is that he has to deal with all of this brokenness in the first place in this fractured world.
Sometimes at night when he is teary eyed over what has happened, he asks me to lay with him (next to him but not touching him), and I close my eyes to encourage him to sleep as well. Then just when he thinks I am asleep, I can feel him gently touch my hands and stroke my hair. I peek and I can see it in his eyes, even in the day, that he wants so much to be close and have that nearness, but he can’t show me.
So I have let him take the lead. I tell him he can call me anything he wants to call me. He can hug me when and if he ever wants to. He doesn’t have to take any pictures with me or anything else, but I do stay close enough in case he ever does want to let me in. Whenever he’s ready.
In the meantime, we pray. There is a war in the spirit and we are still contending for this boy’s mom to be healed, freed, transformed, and well-equipped to raise her children. Both for her own sake and for the sake of her children. And while I am not a mom to him by name, I know God has called me to be so in this season. So until they are reunified, I will quietly play the part and pray that a healing process occurs in this boy’s heart as he stays with us.