Jose came to us because he had lied.
He had been in foster care for eight months. He was in a really good foster home that had lots of other kids. And for some reason he had had enough. So he went to his school counselor and told her that he no longer felt safe in his foster home.
He was removed immediately, though he almost immediately confessed that it was untrue, and he was back in the system. We were his next stop.
Jose was a jumble of contradictions when he spoke, as if he was trying to figure out the truth when he was telling you something — or maybe not exactly the truth. It was as if he was trying to figure out what was the right thing to say to you.
I was concerned from the beginning about his self-perceptions. It seemed as if he didn’t like himself all that much. And in a moment alone with Andrew he admitted, “People tell me I’m annoying. Do you think I’m annoying?” Of course Andrew reassured him right away that he was a super sweet kid, a great person, but those self-doubts, they go deep.
One day, Andrew was working, and after an after-school snack, Jose and I packed up and headed out letterboxing. Letterboxing is a great activity for kids of all ages. There are a list of treasure hunts on line, we pick one and head out on a little hike together. Tell a kid it is a treasure hunt, and they are in. So with a camera and juice-boxes in hand, we headed into the “haunted forest.”
Jose’s back-story is a heart-breaker. He was born in Puerto Rico and has a dad who left early on. It was Jose and his mom for a short time, but she had a number of issues and could not take care of him, so he was placed with his maternal grandmother, here in Massachusetts. Jose loves his grandmother, she dedicated her life to him, and it was a good life.
Eight months ago his grandmother had a heart attack and a stroke. She survived, but is unable to live on her own. She will live the rest of her life in a nursing home. And Jose? With no stable relatives, Jose was placed in the foster care system, and the day he was placed with us, it was determined that Jose will be going up for adoption.
As we hiked looking for clues he brought it up.
He wondered what kind of family would adopt him. I said I didn’t know and asked what kind of family he would like. Coming from a houseful of kids he was quick to answer, “One without any other kids.”
“Yeah,” I laughed, “I understand. What else do you think would be good?”
He paused, thinking, “You guys would be fine.” He answered unenthusiastically.
And my heart broke.
I wanted to pause and stop and tell him why he deserves so much more than fine. I wanted to hug him and tell him, great, we’ll take you; simultaneously, I wanted to shut that down, and explain, no, I was not ready for that . . . numerous emotions for me . . . and it wasn’t about me, not even a little bit.
I steered the conversation away from me and back on to him, assuring him that he is a great kid. I wanted to empower him and trust with him that there really is a family out there who is perfect for him, one that will open their arms, their home, and the rest of their lives to him.
I told him that there are really good days ahead.
My hope is that I didn’t lie.