Foster Parenting

Published on March 1st, 2022 | by Mutha Magazine


On Road Rage and Other Rage [Anonymous]

I was driving my son home from playing basketball in the park for a classmate’s birthday. It was the first party he’d been to in over a year, and to even stand with the dads making small talk about the middle school options in our small town was strange and exhilarating. It was a good afternoon, the boys running feral across the basketball courts, then chasing a boomerang as it looped in wild curves over the soccer field; whooping as they experimented with the way their voices echoed in the cinder block bathroom. I felt this boy’s parents could become my friends, and felt a pang of wishing we’d connected sooner— but only a small pang, because life is long, and summer is coming. 

My boy was sweating, mouth blue with Gatorade, in the front seat next to me— a new privilege for his newly enormous body— when I got a call from Jill that she was being arrested. She was terse, sounded detached. She wanted me to come get her car, which I could not do, because I was with the boy. She said she would call me later. When I get to jail. 

(As I write this, I feel a sort of tightening in my eardrums that comes of great stress— a closing-something-out. But I press on. I need to say these things.)

My partner and I spent the next 24 hours in an utter panic. Trying to find her, calling over and over until she was finally booked; texting all night with a lawyer friend who helped me to understand what was happening, what to expect. 

I wish there was some nuance to the situation, that we could say she was racially profiled or not given the benefit of the doubt. That there was something righteous about what she was arrested for— protesting, civil disobedience. That I could preserve some dignity for a person I care deeply about. But the simple facts are that she did something impulsive that could have been extremely dangerous. She was upset and could have hurt someone. She was honest to the police and summarily arrested. 

The next morning, in the criminal courthouse, at First Appearances, we approached the stand and identified ourselves as her foster parents. We told the judge that yes, she lives with us; yes, she has a job. No, she’s never had any other legal issues.  He classified her behavior as road rage, charged her with criminal mischief and aggravated battery and released her on her own recognizance to us.

Jill has lived with us for most of the last four years, moving in to attend community college a few months before she turned eighteen. She has been a model citizen, a foster care success story, an honor roll student, and is two semesters away from graduating college. Like many people her age, she had moved away to attend college out of state but came home, ostensibly in the short term, in March 2020. She goes to work and attends her classes online, mostly keeps to herself, but talks to her friends and has a few people she meets up with to go roller skating. A few nights a week she plays cards with us while we eat dinner. A normal enough, surviving the pandemic family life. 

And now she has multiple felony charges. 

On the one hand, I want to separate myself from her, from this. To say that she is an adult, to offer a specific, limited, bounded amount of support, and then to let her make her choices accordingly. 

On the other hand, and the thing I’m trying to avoid thinking about, is that split second— that nanosecond— when you could do something awful. When the thought occurs. We all have it. We all fantasize about doing dumb, dangerous, absurd, illegal things. And to think that someone I love—someone I regard as family— didn’t, or couldn’t, reign that in terrifies me. 

I hate being angry but I’m so angry. Not only do I feel angry, but I feel resentful. I feel spiteful. I want to lash out, to act out myself. I feel angry that we’ve done so many things to help her to have a good life, and she threw it all away in an instant. 

I work in a substance abuse program, and spend much of my time coaching my clients about how to set boundaries with family members— many of whom are still active in their addiction.  We talk about focusing on what’s under your control. I encourage people to do the next right thing. I remind them to use their coping skills, (always the fucking coping skills!): journaling, taking deep breathing, talking to a sober friend, coloring, spending time with pets, going for a walk, listening to music. 

But I don’t WANT to do the next right thing. I don’t WANT to use my coping skills. I want to scream, want to make demands, want to go back in time and tell her don’t do it. If I could let go of this anger, what would be left? A small, sad thing. 

Parenting has highlighted that I am, in fact, capable of anger. When my son was small and he would do the things that distressed children do (even that normal, well -attached, well adjusted children do on occasion)— shove me, hurt the dog, run from me in a parking lot— I would feel so out of control, so angry that I would bite the inside of my bottom lip until it bled. I would go in the bathroom and punch my thighs until they mottled purple with the marks of my own knuckles. 

I never hurt him but there were many, many times I did the wrong thing. I squeezed him to me when I should have left him alone to calm down. I yelled. I lectured. I feel sick with sorrow when I let myself think of these times, so I usually do not. 

Two years ago, a family member’s dog attacked my son. I spent three months blistering with rage. Then I couldn’t let go, either. When my boy woke up screaming from nightmares I sent her angry texts that she’d ruined my family, she’d broken my boy. 

I fantasized about killing myself— about being dead— so I would not have to feel this way. These are thoughts I would never, never act on, but they were there, with a disturbing intensity. 

I loved her and I wanted to go back in time. Wanted her to be different. These things were impossible so I felt hopelessly, helplessly mad. Now, I don’t want to go back to that place, with Jill, but that is where I am. 

So I continue to do the next right thing, even though I want to sleep for a hundred years, or scream, or get in my car and drive far, far away. The next right thing means exactly what I tell my clients, that advice I do not want to take: make lists, focus on what’s under your control, don’t try to fix other people. Mostly, now, I just have to wait and see what will happen, without crawling out of my skin. 

Loving people is a complete fucking nightmare.

(Cover photo by Matt Hudson via Unsplash)

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About the Author

Exploring real-life motherhood, from every angle, at every stage.

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