She was one year old when they took her. Family, to her, was a group of people who had always been there. It was the group of people who mommy and Gigi trusted to be around and, by default, so could she. Family was who took care of her and who was there every day. Then, family became what the state defined. Family became the people that kept her from what she knew. Family became people who, despite our best efforts, she could tell that we did not trust.
She referred to them as Mamaw and Papaw. That made them seem more like family because they had family like names. She was accepting of this because we, against our own emotions, accepted these titles for her comfort. There was no way to explain it other than to accept that one component of this hellish nightmare.
Then, she came home. She and her brother were removed from Mamaw and Papaw and returned to their true family. For weeks we had to promise that we would never take them back to Mamaw and Papaw’s house and that they would stay with their real family forever.
Fast forward to the present trip I discussed in Why do we Wait?. We are only a few hours from my father’s home and were discussing stopping by while we were near. My daughter refers to him as Papaw and my granddaughter had a breakdown in the car about this potential threat to her stability. The very mention of a title, of a name, sent her into a regress that we have spent months trying to overcome.
After more than an hour of explaining the family tree and how some people are actual family, some people treat us like family, and some people pretend to be family, she finally calmed down enough that we could continue on the road.
When we finally reached my friend at the hospital, her family greeted me with hugs and tears. My granddaughter looked up and asked me if they were family… I could only respond with “Yes.”
There is no handbook that tells us how to help former foster children to become secure again. Will she ever know who to trust and what it really means to feel secure without there always being that question in their minds?
Some questions do not have answers, only perceptions of circumstances,