I often wonder what my little ones are thinking. What do they remember? What emotions and thoughts are going through those little heads of theirs? I foster babies... Little ones who can barely talk or who can't talk at all yet... So I have to be extra observant and empathetic to the big feelings they are bound to be experiencing.
As a parent, I love watching my little ones as they learn and experience new things. I love the excitement on their faces as they accomplish a new task. I love their concentration when they are trying something new. I love seeing the little wheels turn in their heads when I know they are trying to get away with something or figure out a way to bargain with me. I even love their little frustrated faces or the big dramatic crocodile tears that they play up when they don't get their way.
But as a foster parent, I often see much bigger and more upsetting emotions and behaviors in my babies as well. An 11-month-old rocking herself back and forth over and over when she was distressed because no one had ever comforted her before... A 14-month-old constantly slapping, pinching, and hitting his mom because it was the only way he could get any kind of attention from her. Little Miss was terrified of most men. That hysterical, nearly inconsolable, panic-stricken kind of terror… In the six weeks she was with me, she finally warmed up to my dad and brother-in-law, but she never got close, and she always kept her eye on them just in case.
On one shopping trip with Little Miss, I saw something that I wasn’t at all prepared for. Miss had been babbling away throughout the store, and smiling and flirting with all of the other shoppers. When we got up to the checkout, I busied myself emptying the cart and realized how quiet Miss had become. What I saw when I looked at her face absolutely broke my heart. She was staring at an older man in a wheelchair in the next lane. They say, "the eyes are the windows to the soul," and her eyes were filled with tears just to the point of almost spilling over. She wasn't scared as she was with most men... She was sad. I'm as certain of that as I have ever been of anything. The look on her face was pure sorrow. I found out later that up until she came into care, she had been living with her mother and grandfather. Her disabled grandfather who used a wheelchair and had been one of the main people who took care of her... Seeing that man in the grocery store clearly reminded her of her Grandpa, and her little heart was breaking.
I wiped away her tears. I kissed her forehead. I told her how much Mimi loved her. And I told her how sorry I was that she was sad. I was used to seeing fear, excitement, even anger at times from my babies... Complete and total sorrow in the eyes of an 11-month-old was not something that I was prepared to see, and it's not something that I ever want to see again. The unfortunate truth though is that I probably will. These little ones have been through so much in such a short amount of time. I think they feel much, much more than people give them credit for. Big, big feelings in little bitty bodies...
As much as I see first-hand as a foster parent, I’ve always wondered what my little ones must be thinking and feeling when they leave me. Are they scared, confused, sad? Do they think that I abandoned them? Do they hate me? Do they miss me? Do they even remember me at all? Did I love them well enough to help make going home easier for them? Do they remember the events that led up to them coming to me in the first place? My babies are all so young that I wonder how long the memories of their time with me stay with them. All of those thoughts and more have been on my mind since I began fostering two years ago. And some of those questions are being answered in ways that I wish they weren't.
I've mentioned before that I've been lucky enough to have a great relationship with the Booger Bear's dad and stepmom. I honestly believe if the truth had come out sooner, Booger never would have been in foster care in the first place. I love that little boy so much, and I am so grateful that I was able to be that one stable constant in his life during that crazy year that he was in care, but I hate he was exposed to so much negativity and hurt before everything was finally settled and he was able to begin his life with his real family and away from everything that had hurt him so deeply. CPS failed him in so many ways, and now his parents and the people who love him the most are left to try to heal the hurt and repair the damage that CPS and the person who was supposed to love him more than anyone on the planet have caused.
They do remember. Even at a young 2-years-old, they do remember. And it's breaking all of our hearts that this little boy who we love so much still remembers... and still hurts because of how he was treated nearly a year ago. I know it's killing his family to overhear the things he says to himself when he thinks he's alone. We're all just praying that we can love him like crazy and hope that the love will eventually help lesson the hurt (I'm also on a witch-hunt to track down his old caseworker to see if he can qualify for counseling seeing as how it was partially CPS's crappy decisions that exposed him to this in the first place).
But as much as the Booger is still hurting from the negative things that happened during that time, he remembers the good things too. I don't know if he remembers specifics, but I do know that the love is still there just as strong as it ever was. He's always thrilled silly to see me and my family, and we're always just as thrilled to see him. I talk to his stepmom every day (Have I mentioned that she is awesome? I have officially decided to unofficially adopt her. ;-), and she talks about how he misses us if we go too long between visits and she's always having him tape little messages for us. He's a super-happy, spoiled little thing for the most part. But his hurt and anger over the past are coming out more and more as he tries to reconcile whatever is going on in that little head of his.
I guess it's true that, no matter how young you are, "...people will never forget how you made them feel." That little bit of knowledge makes this entire life that I choose to live in Foster/Adopt Land much, much easier. Even if my little ones don't remember me specifically, they will remember that they were loved. Through all of the hurt, fear, and confusion of whatever has happened in their short lives before, during, and after their time with me... They will have known love. And they do remember. Our little Booger Bear's proof of that.