Holidays in care
By Shannon Hanson
Every Christmas I pull out a sparkly Christmas branch and see her face. I remember going to pick it out together because she loves the holidays as much as I do. I remember driving around listening to music. She would pick a favorite song of hers to play and then I would pick one of mine. Sometimes we would roll the windows down and turn it way up. We would laugh and dance and for a few minutes, the world was alright. And then sometimes the tears would come. She knew what it was to be afraid. To be woken up in the middle of the night and told to grab only the most important things because the rest would have to stay, it was time to run. She knew what it was like to have to lose. She lost a lot.
The holidays are reminders, markers of the good times and of the bad. Sometimes they remind us that we aren’t where we thought we would be at this point in our lives. Others, a chance to celebrate dreams come true that we didn’t even see coming the year before. For our kids in care, they elicit emotions they may not understand and couldn’t describe even if they tried. How do you tell someone what it feels like to see presents under the tree and wonder if you are going to get one and, if you do, if you will really get to keep it or if it will be just another piece of collateral damage in a life lived on rocky ground? How do you tell someone about emotions you feel but don’t understand? How you miss things about your old life even though you know it wasn’t going well. That you love your parents desperately even though you know they aren't able to keep you safe right now.
For so many of our kids, the holidays are times of grief. As foster parents, we have learned to take everything in moments. To let the feelings and emotions be ok. To let go of the expectations we may have of matching outfits and perfect trees and to find ways to make beauty for our children even when they feel like they can’t manage one more day. As foster parents, we learn that sometimes trauma lurks in the most beautiful of corners adorned in stockings and twinkly lights, and when it comes we reckon with the big emotions our tiny people have to carry because they are living so close to the broken pieces they can’t help but get scratched. And, while this time of year can be hard, it also gives us the privilege of residing in these places with these precious souls and getting the chance to bring light to a place that may have always been dark. To be the first to see their wonder and to allow them, for even a moment, to be a child.
And to this sweet girl whose feelings would bubble to the surface during moments we least expected the holidays were a fragile time. I told her she didn’t have to trust me, that it was my job to earn that honor. But that if she did want to talk, I would listen. And she did talk, enough to make my heart break into a million tiny pieces. And then I got a call at 11 am, she and her sisters were gone by 3 pm. They were our first foster placement. She’s in high school now, and I wonder all the time if she still has to run. I knew it wouldn’t be forever when we first met but I hope that in the time that we had she knew what it felt like to be safe, and loved and cherished and heard. And I hope that one day, if not today, she doesn’t have to run anymore. And that maybe, just maybe, she feels every time I look at this sparkly Christmas branch all lit up with tiny lights that I think of her sweet face (and those of her sisters as well) and send my love. And probably always will.
Shannon is a Colorado adoptive parent. As a foster parent, she was certified by Hope & Home. She is currently supporting other families on their foster parenting journeys.