It’s a cold, grey afternoon and the promised snow we are set to receive is just beginning to mist down on my car, the lone vehicle on this long stretch of highway. Each tiny flake melts so quickly that my wipers lay slumbering on the base of my windshield. I am driving back to the cities from a pre-Thanksgiving visit with two of my clients, teenage brothers, who are living in a residential treatment center a few hours south of the Twin Cities.
Yesterday when I spoke to their case manager, I asked if I could take them off campus for lunch. They hardly get to leave their campus. They are in foster care, and this weekend when most of their peers are going home to their families for turkey and mashed potatoes, they will be in the residential center with a few staff.
"I don’t know," says the case manager. "X was in a hold this morning and he’s really been struggling this last week."
"Yes," I respond. "He told me he is frustrated that this will be his second year spending Thanksgiving in the center. All of his friends are going home." This boy and his brother have no home. For two years they have been waiting to be adopted.
With that statement, the caseworker changes her mind. I can take them out to lunch.
I wish the case manager, also his therapist, would remember how holidays trigger these kids. I wish they would remember that when they are in their warm homes surrounded by their family and friends, that these kids are left behind, wanting that family and feeling lost and alone. Every single thing they do is under a microscope. When they have a bad day and are in a bad mood, they’re "oppositional defiant" and when they go for months "behaving" well, one bad day can send them back to day one.
The staff is planning a day of board games and movies, yet they want to spend time with me, if only because I am getting them off the campus for part of a day. Or perhaps it is because my twice monthly visits this past year have been the most they get from anyone. Maybe it is because I am looking hard to find a family who will adopt them. X wants a family. Even at age 16, he says, "I still need a family to love me."
On the way home, I am listening to the radio and the song, "Don’t Stop Believing" by Journey comes on the air. The lyrics,
Strangers waiting, up and down the boulevard
Their shadows searching in the night
Streetlights people, living just to find emotion
Hiding, somewhere in the night
I think of X and his younger brother. I think of them, how they are living to find emotion. Their county worker tells me I shouldn’t give them false hope that they will find an adoptive family, given their ages and their behaviors. But that’s my job. These kids, according to the law, have to be tracked for "adoption" as their permanency plan. That is why I talk to them about adoption. That is why they know I am their adoption worker and that I am looking for a home for them. And they want to be adopted.
I ask X if I’m giving him false hope talking to him about adoption and he says, "I’ve gotta have hope. If I don’t have hope, there’s nothing for me to live for."
And as I drive home, to a family waiting for me, I think about X and his brother.
How they are shadows searching in the night for a family. And how none of us are willing to stop believing that it can happen.