Last year, when I was working at an under-performing middle school, I had, as in other years, a gaggle of seventh-graders who became Library Girls. They were a bit nerdy, they were big readers, they were friends with each other, they had crushes on me. (It’s weird, but I’ve started to get accustomed to the particular way that early adolescent girls sometimes look at their young male teachers.) In and out of the library all the time, talking to me, to each other, I learned more about their lives and interests, and then something that one of them, B, said off-hand one day during the bookfair took me off guard: “I don’t know if I can buy any of these, my foster mother doesn’t give me much money.”
I was thoroughly surprised to find out this high-achieving, even-keeled girl was in foster care. It’s not right that I assume adolescents in foster care to have trouble, but my reading (and the experiences of my friends who are foster parents) meant that my picture of an adolescent foster kid was more like many of the other students in my school: adversarial, doing poorly in school, problematic. But B was different from most of the students in my school: sweet, smart, and respectful in a genuine (rather than forced) way. This was still relatively early in my adoption process. I was in the middle of the home study process, and Dr. Laura hadn’t even met the housemates yet.
I was protective of B because she was a Library Girl, and that protectiveness started to emerge in daydreams: what if I adopted her? Trying not to overstep my boundaries, but showing that I was interested and knowledgeable, I found out she had a 2-year-old sister who hadn’t always been placed with her, but now they were hopefully going to be a package. That she liked her foster mother, but she was attending adoption fairs looking for a forever family. I don’t know how long she’d been in the foster care system, but she certainly wasn’t closeted about it in any way; she was matter of fact about her life when I asked surface questions.
I weighed all the factors I could think of. Could Dr. Laura guide me through a foster adoption? Would B need to be placed on a foster basis before adoption? Could I take a teenager? What about Judaism? What about the housemates? What about continuing to teach in the district, and giving B continuity while moving her to another school? And her sister: did I have room to take on two fully-formed human beings into my life and family? They would outnumber me, so I’d really be the newcomer into their family. I really wanted an infant, to have the learning curve, the baby time, the naming, the fresh(ish) start. The “on the other hand”s started taking up more of my spare thought, although I mentioned this to no one.
By the time I was in the pool, it was clear that I wasn’t going to be continuing at my job, and thoughts of adopting B and her sister were still bubbling below the surface. One day, doing reader’s advisory with her, I recommended a book with a trans character, and while her reaction was milder than many I’ve experienced upon recommending that book, it was certainly negative. And that crystalized all the reasons I couldn’t take on an older kid, why I had opted exclusively for infant adoption. It wasn’t just about my trans identity: my strangeness turns people upsidedown, and that’s just the people I allow into my life as friends. For as much as I live a mainstream life, I cherish my multivalenced queerness, and I am unwilling to be closeted about any of it at home. Ultimately, I believe that foster children need more stability and normalcy than children whose home lives have not been disrupted. Children who grow up with oddity in their family identity intrinsically understand, and learn to defend (or resent, or both) the ways in which their family is strange (all of my family of origin certainly did). But with an adolescent with an identity in crisis, due to general adolescent identity emergence and the upheaval of changing family players and structures, I think the way I live now is too much, and I’m not willing to compromise on this, for B, her sister, or any other child.
I’m glad that my deliberation and self-criticism stood in the way of my impulsive good intentions in this instance. I’m planning to visit my old work next week. I hope that I get to see B, or if I don’t, it’s because she and her sister have found a family in another district.