Our foster kid, Rell, just turned five over the summer and is now Kindergarten age. Since I recently made the decision to homeschool my own kids, I figured I would just homeschool him as well. Afterall, I had already done so much work with him not only academically, but behaviorally as well, and I couldn’t imagine a teacher at a school being able to tend to him and his special needs amongst a sea of other children.
His needs, I have come to see, are truly great, especially since he has come back to us after being taken away from his family for the second time. The mounting traumas he has experienced and the negative behaviors that have resulted from them are both great, and it has been difficult for even us to deal with it.
He is a different person since he was with us last year as a three-year-old. He was practically a baby then who knew little of what was happening back at home and innocently embraced us as his family. He quickly adapted to our lifestyle and learned what we taught to be right and wrong.
This year, now at the whopping age of five years old, he is already so much more aware of the crisis that have transpired. His emotions are infinitely more complex and therefore so is his pain. The resulting behaviors are more severe, and I, for one, am often at a complete loss as to how to respond to him. Really, it takes everything in me to simply remain calm and to not get all riled up myself when it seems as if every other minute there is something that sets this kid off into a rage.
It has become a daily battle to keep both his and my cool intact and to keep us from spiraling down into the snare of gritting anger and frustration… day after day, night after night.
But we’re not the only ones struggling. My oldest son (now seven years old) also has his fair share of grievances and a growing resentment which my husband and I have been desperately trying to keep at bay.
We’ve done everything we can to try to make them get along, to see the other’s perspective, and to empathize with one another. After all, the two were like best friends last year, inseparable really, and Rell had especially looked up to my son the most. Now, they have become like arch enemies, hostile and cold towards one another much of the time.
Well recently I was told that foster kids are required to go to public school, so I would not be able to homeschool Rell like I had planned.
Oh no, I thought. He’s not ready. I’m not ready.
You would think that we would all be relieved to have a break from having to address behavior after behavior, but instead, I became scared and even more stressed out thinking about how Rell would fare in school by himself. All my motherly instincts came out in full force.
Will they know how to talk him off the ledge when he gets all upset?
Will they take time to understand where he is coming from rather than just punish the behavior?
Will they wait for what can feel like an eternity when he is unable to gather his words and express how he is feeling?
Will they see how he is just a scared kid with a hurt heart and that his screaming and kicking and fighting is his defense?
I worried for this kid for his first day of Kindergarten just as much as, if not more, than my own kids.
The night before, I cuddled in bed with him a little closer and explained to him this and that, like how I would pack his lunch and also put a separate snack in the front pocket for his afternoon snack.
After a quiet pause, he asked in a timid voice, “but what if I forget?” He then buried his head into my arms.
That’s when my son chimed in from his bed on the other side of their room. He explained things to Rell that I didn’t even think to tell him.
In true big brother fashion, he said, “I’ll introduce you to my friends at the bus stop. It’s bus 777. I’ll walk you there too. But when you’re coming home on the bus, don’t forget to get off at the SECOND stop. One. TWO. Don’t get off at the first stop. Just look out the window and look for me. We’ll be there.”
I guess for my son, too, his brotherly instincts kicked in. No matter what qualms they had against each other, he would be there for him when in need.
So there we stood that bright and hot morning on the street corner waiting for the bus on the first day of school. My forehead was already glistening with sweat even though the morning had barely even started. Nervously, I stumbled around trying to think of what final words of wisdom I could say to Rell before the bus would arrive and tow him off to his first day of Kindergarten.
But it was too late. Before I could really say anything at all, the bus turned the corner and pulled up right in front of us.
All the other kids quickly crowded the curb, and a wave of hesitation and fear crept up on me as I’m sure it did to Rell as well.
Big brother, however, did not skip a beat. My eldest son immediately took Rell’s hand into his own and boldly paved a path to the door of the bus. He motioned him up the big gigantic bus steps and soon Rell’s little frame could be seen sitting through one of the windows towards the middle of the bus. I waved frantically to him and even ran with the bus several steps as he drove off and left the rest of us. I wanted him to know that no matter what happened at school that we were for him.
When the bus was no longer in sight, I turned back around to look at my children. It was then that I realized how much we all truly loved Rell despite all the difficulties as of late. I didn’t know what school would be like or if they’d know how to handle him well there. I also didn’t know if we really knew what we were doing at home either. But one thing was for sure and that was that deep inside, Rell is dearly and truly loved by each and every one of us.
My daughter whispered how she already missed him and wished he didn’t have to go. My youngest cried and hollered for the next half hour that Rell was gone.
And my eldest… well he quietly patted the little one’s head and tenderly said, “You love Rell? I know. I do too.”