Six years ago today was one of the most humiliating days of my life. Just a couple of weeks earlier, we had received a new foster placement. We got the call about a child suspected of having autism. As typical, in an effort to have a moment to think before saying yes or no, I asked the resource worker if I could call my husband to discuss the placement before I gave her an answer. I was confident that Joshua would say no. We had never had a special needs placement before, and I was not sure if we could handle it. Joshua, to my surprise, said yes. We can take him. So, I drove up to DHS to pick up little D. As soon as I had him in my car, the fear I had before tripled. I was instantly confident that we had made the wrong decision.
I have often described D as a wild animal when he came to us. A very sweet and beautiful wild animal, perhaps comparable to a bunny, but if you were tasked with requiring a bunny to act like a boy, you would understand why this was daunting. D was 3 1/2 when he came to us, but he knew less than 5 words. Trapped in a never ending toddlerhood, a world where he knew what he wanted but did not have words to communicate, he, naturally, threw between 20 or 30 temper tantrums a day. These temper tantrums were not of the normal variety. They involved kicking and hitting and biting. There were many days that Joshua or I ended the day with large wounds on our arms and legs.
D had not been given many rules before he came to us. This was most evident when we walked out of the house. I learned very quickly to hold D as tightly as possible when we walked outside. There were many days that I chased him as he raced towards the street straight for cars. One day, I got him out of our van at a very busy intersection and literally had to tackle him just inches from death. I got to where as I held his hand with a vice grip impossible to break free from, I would look at his squirming body and say “D, you will NOT die today. Not today, buddy.” He was a very fast and wild bunny.
So, 6 years ago today, we went with good friends after church to eat together at McDonald’s. We figured it would be an opportunity for all of the children to play while we could enjoy conversation with each other. The McDonald’s playground was enclosed with tables for families inside the playground. Our table was in a back corner of the room, but the room was enclosed. What could go wrong? We came to learn over the next 11 months, that with D, quite a bit could go wrong in a very short amount of time.
D played very well for a while. His gorgeous and enchantingly deep, blue eyes laughed with delight at the treat. And, then an older boy walked over to the exit, D closely following behind. He opened the door wide with an invitation for D, and D walked through. I got up immediately, and crossed the room, packed with families escaping the cold January day, as quickly as was possible. I entered the main restaurant already shouting his name. “D!! STOP!!” He stopped. Looked at me. And then sprinted as fast his legs would take him through the restaurant, behind the counter, past the cashiers, and all the way to the fry machine before my screaming finally caused a McDonald’s worker to grab my wild boy and deliver him to me.
The entire restaurant stared. I was that mom. The one that everyone was talking about. The one who should have better control of her child. I wanted to scream that it wasn’t my fault. I had only had him for 2 weeks! But, I just hung my head in embarrassment and walked my boy to the nearest restraining device. Thankfully, he still could be buckled into a high chair! Bunnies do not belong at McDonald’s.
We found out soon after that day, that D did not have autism. He had Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, or FASD for short. FASD shed light on a lot of D’s issues. His severe speech delay was one of those issues, but the biggest issue for people with FASD is a lack of impulse control. He did not have that little switch in his brain that said “Stop”, and that led to many days full of tension and stress waiting for the next life threateningly dangerous thing for him to do. We had a one and done policy with D: one death defying stunt and we go home. There were many trips to the park that ended quickly for D as I caught him hanging on by finger tips at the top of play equipment. You will NOT die today, little bunny.
Another of D’s shining moments was at our neighborhood pool. Joshua and I had worked with D and taught him how to swim. He was actually very good at it, and the pool was a place we spent many hours. One day, D was jumping off the diving board. I sat on the side of the pool watching him jump. It was a busy day and the pool was full, so D was standing very nicely in line waiting his turn. I was proud. He had come a very long way, but as he stood in line behind an adult man, one we had never met before, D had an FASD moment. I watched in horror as D bit the strange man on the bottom. He bit a strange adult man on the butt. And, yes, I did what any self-respecting woman would do in my situation, I pretended like I didn’t see him or know him. As soon as I was confident no one was watching, we made a quick escape with our sweet, wild bunny.
Fostering D was one of the hardest things I’ve ever willingly signed up for. There were many days that I wanted to quit or Joshua wanted to quit, but, thankfully, we never wanted to quit at the same time. If we had quit, given up on our bunny-boy, we would have missed so very much. We were able to witness, first hand, the miraculous transformation of a boy we grew to adore. Yes, our other foster placements were easy in comparison. Yes, it took every bit of everything we had that year, but God. God took 2 pitiful adults ill-equipped to help a hurting boy, and He let us take part in D’s healing. And, while we watched D grow and mature, a funny thing happened to us. We grew, too.
First, D taught me how to fight. When D came to us, we were told that it wouldn’t be a month before he was in a special school. It took me fighting tooth and nail for 5 1/2 months to get him placed in a school that could help him. I learned to call lawyers and case workers and supervisors and doctors. I learned to never stop calling and to never give up. The day I walked my precious bunny-boy into his classroom and watch him be hugged and welcomed by his amazing teacher and therapists, I blinked back tears knowing that I no longer had to fight for D alone. He had a team of people fighting FOR HIM. I, also, had to fight to get his teeth repaired. The first days of him living with us, I had to almost sit on him, of course gently, in order to brush his teeth. Later we found out he had large holes in most of his teeth. He needed lots of dental work. He was terrified of the dentist, remember he was afraid to even let me brush his teeth. We had to fight to have Medicare pay to have him put under while he received 5 caps, 7 fillings and 2 root canals. We fought hard for our boy, and, let me tell you, I am thankful that this timid momma was forced to learn to fight for my kids. I still need that lesson today.
Secondly, I learned the true beauty of boundaries. The main thing we introduced into D’s life those first few months was limits. No, you can’t run from me. He learned to walk beside me without even holding my hand. No, you can’t hit and bite when you are scared or hurt or mad or confused. He learned to communicate. Yes, you have to follow my rules. He learned happiness. The biggest compliment I received during D’s time with us, before he had even started therapy, before he could even say his own name, was that D was happier. Happy. Because he felt safe.
Finally, I learned to trust my Heavenly Father’s love and presence in my life and in the life of my foster children. D changed. When he came to us he was a precious, beautiful, wild bunny, but he turned into a functioning and happy and enjoyable little boy. I watched him learn to speak. I can still hear his voice saying “shhpoon”. Letter blends had been so hard for him, and, yet, he learned to say spoon! My eyes fill with tears at the remembrance. He learned the alphabet and the sounds the letters made. He LOVED to learn.
The best memory, though, the one that warms my heart to this day, happened just a couple of months before he went home. I took the boys once again to McDonald’s. I was alone with my 3 boys and one of their friends, and I BROUGHT A BOOK. We ate. They played. He PLAYED. I was relaxed. I read my book for a few hours, and, as we left, I was overwhelmed at the difference.
Yes, D was without a doubt our hardest placement, but he may very well be one of my favorites. In him, I watched a miracle unfold. I watched God work in and through D and Joshua and me. I watched a wild animal who could not speak, who was constantly angry, who was trapped by his disability turn into a normal, thriving, happy and very SPECIAL boy. I learned to love, even when it was hard, even when it took everything I had, and in the end, I had the pleasure of seeing God transform a bunny into a boy.
Philippians 1:6 “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”