My lovely foster daughter is getting ready for a major life change and I’m amazed at how well she’s handling it. (Or how well she’s pretending to handle it?) After living with me since mid-August, she is now preparing to move on to her permanent home – far, far away from where she grew up. And I get to help her with this transition.
Part of the move means going through all of her worldly possessions and deciding what she wants to keep. And part of the move means saying goodbye to loved ones, friends, and a school that she’s known her entire life. All of her known worlds will soon be a reflection in the rearview mirror. (Well, since she’s flying there probably won’t be a rearview mirror, but you get the point.)
Of course, this is a positive transition; one that will see her happily settled with loving family members. She’s really looking forward to it. But at the same time, she has to leave loving family members behind.
We’ve talked about needing to downsize and part with loved possessions because of space limits – and the high cost of shipping or storing things. We’ve talked about what things are worth keeping at any cost versus what things can be given to friends, sold, or donated to charity. We’ve even taken photos of some of those items so that she can remember them.
We’ve talked about how this new world she’s moving to will have different cultural and social expectations – even though it’s still the same country. We’ve talked about how exciting it is to have a fresh start, but also about how sad it is to be leaving her old life behind. We’ve talked about how exciting it is to think of starting 7th grade as the new kid – and about how much of a letdown the reality of that situation might be.
We’ve talked about how happy she is about her bright new future, and about how much she has to give up for it to happen. We’ve talked about how sad it will be to leave her old world behind. And we’ve talked about how she’s allowed to be happy and sad all at once and how being happy about her future doesn’t mean that she has to be happy about saying goodbye to her life here.
We’ve talked about how many struggles she’s had here, and how a fresh start won’t mean an end to life’s struggles – it will just mean different struggles. And we’ve talked about how it’s OK for her to miss here when she’s there.
We’ve talked about how her fresh start doesn’t erase the sadness – or the happiness – of her past; it just gives her new opportunities for a bright future. A future that will always include elements from her past. Because, after all, just because she’s in foster care doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have wonderful memories of a wonderful life.
Oh, and we’ve talked about what it’s going to be like to fly, as this will be her first plane journey. And we’ve talked about how we’ll stay in touch and what sorts of cool things she wants me to send her when I move to Scotland. (Pencils and t-shirts: Yes. Candy and stuffed animals (not including Nessie, of course): No.)
It’s funny because these conversations aren’t all about her. When we talk, we talk about how we’re both on these major life-changing journeys and how we’ve both had a lot of sadness in our lives that have been the impetus for our new futures. It’s funny because it’s easier for her to part with her stuff when she sees me doing the same thing. It’s not just her getting rid of ill-fitting clothing in preparation for a move; I’m doing it, too. We’re both downsizing. We’re both filled with emotions of joy and sadness as we look towards our futures and behind towards our pasts.
I’m often told what a blessing it is that I’m in the kid’s life, helping her through this time of transition. But you know what? She’s helping me just as much as I’m helping her. Some days I feel that taking on an 11-year-old foster kid whilst I was in the process of grieving for my husband was a bad idea. But most days, I realise that it was the best thing I could have done for both of us.
Anyhow, it just struck me today that all of the assurances I’m giving her to ease her fears and insecurities are the same assurances I need to be giving myself!
And I suppose that you may get to hear a bit more about her transition over the next couple of weeks because it really is a bit of a grieving process for both of us. Luckily, I can blog it out. Sadly, she’s taking it out like any nearly-12-year-old girl would do – lots of hysterical tears and fits over nothing. (Oh, wait! I do that on occasion, too.)
[Original artwork by my foster daughter, October 2010.]