I wrote most of this last week. I just wanted to finish and share it.
Ned, a curly haired 8th grader, has taken to stopping by my room at the beginning and end of each school day, just to say hi. He doesn't linger to chat, but I notice the sudden increase in visits anyway.
Today during our advisory class, he wanders up to my desk. "I don't really like the holidays," he comments, with a self-deprecating smile. "I'm not with my parents, you know."
I do know this. He lives with his grandmother and great-grandfather. He's moved a lot. I don't know any details. I make an encouraging sound.
"I haven't seen my dad in 8 years," he continues.
"That would be hard," I tell him. "I almost had a fight break out in my class the other day, and it was between two kids who aren't living with their parents either. I kind of figure it was more about that kind of holiday stress than anything else."
"Probably," he says. The bell rings, and he leaves. He comes back in at the beginning of lunch. "I don't remember why I'm here!" he tells me.
"To say hi to your teacher," I say, half-jokingly.
"Oh yeah!" he responds. "Hi!" Then he heads to lunch.
Ned is the "easiest" of all my students dealing with trauma. There's the girl who does no work and threatens to hit kids who mispronounce her name. There are the two who almost had that fight--one with both parents in prison, the other with a dead dad, and a mom in prison. There's the girl who sends me frequent notes telling me how nice I am, despite the fact that she interacts wtih me as little as possible during class. She works hard every day, but clearly has trouble learning. One of her notes told me about her unsafe birth family, then the death of her adopted mom. The homeless girl hasn't been to school in quite awhile. One time she asked if she could tell me a joke, then wrote the F word on my board as part of it.
Ned does well in class, has friends, stays out of trouble. But he still needs something. He still feels the pain.
So do my kids. We are doing well. I think they actually believe they are loved. Oak doesn't always believe he deserves it, and Linden sometimes fears she'll lose the love if she does something wrong, but it's starting to sink in that they are loved. They're even learning how to ask for and create connection when they feel shaky. But the loss is still there. Their childhood included things they are ashamed of now, lessons they wish they hadn't learned. They have a birth-mom shaped hole inside of them, a deep absence and loss that my love can't erase.
It's hard for me to know this doesn't go away. I see this kid, who's a great kid. He makes Batman jokes. He explained the government shutdown to his class more succinctly than I could have. He listens to music the other kids don't like, and is unfazed by their comments. He is himself, all the way. And his parents are missing it. And he is missing them. This is the stuff that's so hard to really grasp before adoption. I know, absolutely, 100%, that my kids are better off with us than they were in the orphanage. They were also, from a physical safety point of view, better off there than in their home of origin. But even if everything goes right, if they are resilient, and we are therapeutic, and the day comes when they both believe that our love is unconditional--the loss is still there.
The flip side is that Ned also shows me it's okay. He feels loss and pain. He is still learning and growing and caring for people. He is leading his life.