Making a foster care adoption life book may be one of the most important things you can do for a child in your home.
It never dawned on me until a year or so after the adoption finalization when Shannon, my first grade daughter, was the “Star of the Week”. This was very special; the “Star of the Week” was not only the teacher’s helper and head of the lunch line, but also the child whose poster board was featured right outside of the classroom in the otherwise empty space on the wall — the poster board with pictures of the “Star” from baby to the big girl in first grade. The headline read, “This is my life…so far,” along with some of the “Star’s” favorite things: color, toys, television show, memory etc. Shannon came home in January right after the holiday break with a list of all of the children in the class and an upcoming schedule for who will be the next “Star”.
At the dinner table, we talked about getting back into the school routine when my daughter overtook the conversation, excitedly informing me that we needed to go and buy a poster board. “Do they come in colors? Can I get pink and yellow? What color should I get?” My son Isaiah, of course, voted for blue. I decided we would go to the store on Saturday and buy the needed supplies. This was going to be a family event with Shannon in the lead. We made a long list of what we needed, which included ribbon and glitter. (Avoid bringing glitter into your house if possible; it sticks to everything and you cannot get rid of it for months — if not years — to come.)
Saturday arrived. We visited with grandparents and cousins and then proceeded to the art supply store with an extra child. My five-year-old niece was going to help with decorating ideas and spend the night. Now we had a new plan: games, dinner, a movie with popcorn, and bed. Sunday would be the big day, and my daughter would be in charge, as she reminded everyone. It still hadn’t dawned on me.
Sunday after breakfast we started to set up the table with supplies. Shannon came in with the photo albums to pick out the pictures that she wanted to use. The four of us looked at pictures as the kids talked over each other laughing at the images in the book, when they were taken and what they reminded them of. Now that was enjoyable and enlightening at the same time.
The next six words felt like what I would equate to how Sonny Liston felt against Muhammad Ali (Cassius Clay at the time). “Mom, where are my baby pictures?”
As I sit here writing this, my chest feels heavy and my heart still hurts. That was one of the few times in my life that I was completely speechless. How could I have overlooked the fact that the only pictures we have of my children were taken when they were with me? Wow, not one picture before they were 5 and 6. How did that happen? Now I remember. The worker did mention there were no pictures of Shannon and Isaiah the day we reviewed and signed the paperwork, but for some reason, with all of the confusion and excitement at the time, it didn’t seem to matter.
I won’t continue the story of that day, but it took a drastic turn; in fact it became a long roller coaster ride, lots of slow ups and very rapid downs, many loops and half of the ride was backwards. This was the first of many times this issue would come out of nowhere and slam us in the face. At one point, I spoke to one of those people that do age progression photos for missing children and asked if they could do an age regression for my children. Good attempt, but not so good results.
As this has come up through the years there has been only one constant; I was never prepared to deal with this issue or the emotion behind it. It always seemed to come from left field when I least expected it. The emotion behind the question was always different; sometimes sad, sometimes angry, and always confusing. Not to mention my own emotions of which there are many. Frustration and inadequacy come to mind, as I am their parent and unable to give sufficient answers or ease their confusion and pain.
It has now dawned on me that the way I approach and deal with these emotional issues of which I cannot control or change, from my initial reaction to today, is with acceptance, patience, honesty and an open mind. I’ve also learned not to minimize or rationalize my children’s feelings and just allow them to express how they feel. We deal with it as best we can and keep on moving forward.
This story could have had a happier ending if the foster parents Shannon and Isaiah were with before they came to Terri’s home had made foster care life books for them. A foster care adoption life book, which can be obtained for free from many foster care organizations, can be filled by foster or adoptive parents with pictures, souvenirs and stories, and given to the child to always keep. Licensed resource parents in New Jersey can receive a free life book by taking “The Life Book and You”, FAFS’ free foster parent home correspondence course on how to put together a foster care adoption life book for your child to treasure.