We sat in a dark booth near the back of the restaurant. A single bowl of seafood gumbo between us. Two spoons. Two unopened packets of crackers. The rain outside matched how we were feeling.
I stared at my utensils wrapped in a black napkin. It was as if I couldn't remember what I was supposed to be doing. Tim reached his hand across the table and gently laid it on my hand. I was shaking. I looked up into his eyes. My pain was reflected there. Mixed with many other feelings.
I was holding my breath. I think he did, too. I felt all of those feelings work their way to the pit in my stomach. And I just held them there. I was trying very hard to hold it together. But I felt like I should be spilling all over the restaurant. I could actually visualize myself falling apart. I wanted to scream. I wanted to cry. I wanted to yell until someone would listen. Until someone would help us.
I still want to do all of those things.
I want someone else to stand with us and proclaim that this isn't fair. That what we're experiencing at the hands of an organization whose mission is "Protecting Children by Strengthening Families" is anything but protective or strengthening.
Tim worked until 2:30 this morning. He slept for a couple of hours. Then he got up, packed lunches, got three people out the door for school and work. Then he went back to bed. He's done this three days in a row now. He set his alarm and got up around 11:25 a.m. He jumped in the shower and had planned to pick me up for a quick lunch date.
When he got out of the shower, he had a cryptic message from the social worker who was assigned Isaiah's case. It was actually addressed to Isaiah's therapist.
Isaiah is being moved to a facility out of state on Monday.
We have submitted three formal requests over the last month to have a meeting with the transition team at FCCS. Three independent professionals (including Isaiah's therapist and the psychologist that conducted Isaiah's most recent psych eval) have recommended that Isaiah be kept close to his family. There are two group homes in our county that are willing to take Isaiah. One of them is in our school district. He could finish school where he started.
Instead, Isaiah is being moved to a facility four hours away.
There are other details. There has been some maneuvering by FCCS behind the scenes that is counter to the mission of the organization.
I want to be very clear here. We have met some GREAT people who work for FCCS. We have good friends who work for FCCS. However, none of those great people were assigned our case. We are not being treated as if there is a desire to strengthen our family. And now, all of our work toward reunification is being undermined. For what? Why? What can be done?
Tim dropped Esther-Faith, Isaac, and me off at church early on Sunday. He gave me a quick kiss and left to pick up Isaiah for the day. While I was brushing and braiding Esther-Faith's hair, Tim's parents (the kids call them Nana and Poobah) arrived. There were hugs and kisses and lots of pleasantries.
We settled into our seats while the music started. A children's choir. An adult choir. A special music guest. And then the music... So much music. A medley of all the Easter songs my dad used to sing. I could hear his voice in my soul.
When everyone stands to sing, Esther-Faith likes me to stay sitting next to her. I never mind doing that. She usually leans into me and watches the people around us. We were sitting there, singing, snuggling. The song was about second chances. About the story not being over.
My tears spilled into Esther-Faith's hair. I couldn't even stop myself from crying. I tried.
My mind flashed back a couple of months to when my oldest son had a major breakthrough in therapy. As one friend said, those breakthroughs come with their own set of issues--and Isaiah's did--but we celebrated that breakthrough. He's still working through the aftermath of that. Wrapping his brain around the implications. Struggling to make positive choices when he's still in a place that isn't necessarily the most conducive to personal growth.
Have I mentioned the therapist? Isaiah has the best that there is. Say what you will about "these kind" of residential treatment centers, and "these kids." Isaiah has the best therapist.
I closed my eyes, let the memory wash over me, and I gave thanks for unfinished stories. And second chances. I heard that therapist's voice in my head, "Do you have a minute to talk?" I remember telling him that Isaac was in the car with me. His voice pregnant with unspoken words, he said it needed to be a private conversation. I turned off the sync and picked up my phone.
"First I need you to know that Isaiah is okay," the therapist started. His voice cracked. Something wasn't okay. "I have him sitting right here," he continued. "He wants to talk to you." I remember forcing myself to just listen. Don't react. Don't react. Don't react.
I felt Isaac's eyes boring into the side of my face. Don't react.
"Okay," I said. "I'd love to talk to him."
The therapist continued, "Before I put him on the phone, you need to know that he's okay. He had a breakthrough, and it was a lot for him to deal with."
Don't react. Don't react. Don't react.
"He talked about some really hard stuff and he's been writing you a letter all week."
Please God. Give this therapist the strength to keep helping my son.
"He was picked on by some boys on the unit. He struggled with redirection from some staff. Then he went into his room, frantically finished the letter to you, locked himself in his bathroom, and he tried to hang himself."
Dear God. Oh, my God.
At this point, I couldn't react. I was shocked. Frantic. And holding every bit of myself together so that Isaac couldn't read anything on my face.
My voice shook and cracked when I asked to speak to my son.
"He's okay, Karin" the therapist said. He hardly ever uses my name. "His roommate suspected something and alerted staff. Two men broke down the door and cut him down."
"I need to hear him," I said. "I need to hear his voice."
"Mom?" Isaiah. Oh, my God. His voice. His voice. His voice. His voice. "Mom, I'm okay."
"I love you, Isaiah. I love you. I love you."
The tears. The ache. The frenetic desire for him to know that he is loved.
"I know, mom," he said. "I love you, too. So much. I'm sorry. I'm okay."
"Isaiah," I said, not even attempting to conceal anything. My voice shaking. Tears pouring. "I love you. Never forget that."
"I know, mom," he said. "I know that. I'm okay."
And he handed the phone back to his therapist. We talked for a bit. There are obviously details that I'm leaving out. Bigger conversations. The admission that led to him feeling that suicide was the only way out. But Isaiah has given me permission to share this bit of his story. He said, "If one person can learn that there are other ways out, it is worth it."
I love that boy. He has changed my life. My heart. Everything.
The tears trickled into Esther-Faith's hair on Easter morning as I allowed myself to be thankful for unfinished stories and second chances. The song changed. The choir left the stage. Esther-Faith continued to snuggle.
Just then, there was a commotion as my oldest son stepped around the pillar into our row. I sat Esther-Faith up and wrapped my arms around that boy. He held on tight. A smile spread across his furry face. I kissed his bearded cheek. He bent over and hugged his sister. Then he wrapped me up again.
Since Christmas, that is how it's been. Real, genuine hugs. Ten years of waiting for those hugs, and now they are easy.
And now those hugs will be four hours away.
This breakthrough has opened the gates for many more visits home and into the community. Many more opportunities to be together has a family.
Yesterday during family therapy, we arranged for a family visit on Sunday. At the time, we thought he might be placed at a group home here in the county and would be able to start playing sports and running track again. So, we asked if we could take him to a metro park for a run. Tim runs pretty frequently and I've started a running program. Isaiah was ecstatic about running with us. So were we.
During therapy Isaiah gave me a letter he wrote to me. He also gave me a letter for a good friend who has kept in touch with him. He working on appropriate tone and language. He's doing a good job. The letter he wrote to me says...
Mom, Hey! Thanks for letting me come to Easter with you and the family. I loved being a real part of the family. Here on the Kauffman unit, we don't have a mother to love and to be thankful for. We barely have any respect for each other. That's why I am thankful that I have you. I now realize that all the work and dedication you provided helped me out. I can't wait to earn my points so that I can come over and hang out with you guys. I've learned a lot, about how a family's supposed to work. I really miss you. Thank you for listening to me on the phone. I know that I don't always know what to say and sometimes I can be rude, too. I can't wait to leave Pomegranate because it's one step closer to home. I love you and can't wait to see you again. Thanks for believing in me, too. I won't disappoint you. Love ya! Love, Isaiah.
Then, today happened.
We're scared. Isaiah has told us (and anyone who will listen) that he plans to run away from anywhere that isn't close to his family and friends.
He didn't call me today (it's a call day). I can't imagine what he's feeling knowing that I won't be minutes away. That he won't be minutes away from us.
But as Tim and I sit here and try to process the events of today, we're reminded that the God we serve is really a God of second chances. And today, I'm thankful for unfinished stories and second chances.
© 2015 Karin Shirey Henn, all rights reserved.
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