The afternoon I was scheduled to take Hope back to her foster family, I went to the bathroom and silently cried. It was so hard to leave her; I felt like a piece of my heart was being ripped out. I just wanted to put her in my large duffel bag and steal her home with me.
Hope had a lot of emotions as well. She was sad that I was leaving, but the reality that she would be moving in a few months hit her pretty hard as well. She talked about leaving her friends and having to get all these phone numbers so she could keep in touch with them. I could hear the emotion and almost feel it rolling off of her. How could she not be happy about getting a permanent home, but how awful it was that she had to leave everything behind to move so far away to have that home? I tried to be as gentle with her as I could.
We talked about her room. Hope was finally ready to pick out paint and other details from the book I made her. She had utterly refused to look at it with any seriousness until we were about to leave. Hope decided that she would rather have a hermit crab named Jordan rather than a fish (Sorry Dr. Beach!). Purple bubble dot decals and an understated chandelier were other style choices. We had a long discussion about Justin Bieber bedding. I successfully negotiated down to a Bieber throw pillow and blanket. I managed to start a gift wish list for her on Amazon for an upcoming tween shower.
Hope’s foster mom is a sweet lady and when I dropped her off we took about an hour or so to talk about Hope. It was helpful to get a better idea of what she’s like on a day to day basis, which behaviors were really “acting” over the weekend, how she’s doing in therapy, medication adjustments, this boy situation…it was just a treasure trove of information that just isn’t really in “the file.” I know that I’ll be calling on her periodically during our transition. Hope is quite fond of her and it’s clear that the feeling is mutual.
We said our goodbyes; my heart sank and I headed back to the city to comfort myself with some speed shopping and a bottle of wine (it was cheaper than going somewhere and ordering a few glasses, besides I was dry all weekend long).
Yesterday I traveled back to the East Coast. Checking messages after touching down in Atlanta and booking to the next leg, I got a voicemail from Hope’s foster folks saying that my girl had gone off in school that day, earning herself two lunch detentions and two after school detentions. Hope’s rationale: “I’m leaving in a few months so I’m going to check out now, and act a natural fool! Deuces!” Foster Mom wanted me to be involved with developing the consequences for her behavior.
Here we go! It’s on like popcorn.
But exactly how does one exact some form of punishment 3,000 miles away? Punishment that won’t be too heavy, but not too light, age appropriate but not crossing wires with her caretakers on the ground?
Fortunately, I had a couple of hours to consider my first “mommy delivers consequences” move.
Now when I was Hope’s age, around 6th or 7th grade, I had a bit of a motor mouth problem. I had a kind, thoughtful teacher, Mr. Smith aka Smitty, who sent me to the corner to sit between two file cabinets to write or to an after school detention on a few occasions. It was the only period in my life where I really acted up in school, and my parents nearly lost their shiz! Smitty, who was probably in his 60s then, told my dad that I was just flexing and testing boundaries. He told Dad at a parent-teacher conference one time to just be patient with me—definitely give me consequences—but be patient with me. My dad often tells me that story, and how this older man, old enough to be my Dad’s dad at the time, had helped him be a better parent. Well Smitty’s advice lives on.
I decided to take a page from Smitty’s consequences book and kick it old school. Hope will be writing sentences for me. I can’t make her do it in a corner between to filing cabinets, but with Foster Mom’s help, I can mimic important bits of the experience in this age that relies too much on technology to make everything too easy. No cutting and pasting around these parts.
Oh yeah, long hand sentences, 500 for each detention, totaling 2000. Foster Folks don’t have a computer. Nope, these can’t be done during your detention or at the after school program. These will be done in your room on ruled paper (if memory serves that paper has about 52 lines on it per side or some such number), and they will be mailed to me before next week. She will have to apologize to her teachers and ask for a short note from them acknowledging that she did so; these will also be mailed with the sentences. And sweet Hope will be paying for that .46 stamp out of her own little meager funds. And let me just say that my Hope counts her pennies; she will not like giving up nearly half a dollar (a girl after my own heart, that one!). This will be on top of the grounding that Foster Folks have instituted.
I’d been considering how to motivate acceptable behavior for months. I’d been focused on how to handle things after she got home; not realizing that this weekend had me really stepping into parenting with some training wheels. So, I’ll be introducing some of those ideas as well. So, I plan to outline that acceptable behavior will result in earning extra cool elements in her new room. Less acceptable behavior will result in the room’s coolness being halted. I don’t want to take away things that are earned but I want her to think about ways to behaviorally save up for those elements that she’s said she would really love in her new room.
Hope will continue to challenge me in ways that I didn’t challenge my own parents. Like my Dad, I’m going to have to learn how to be patient with her. I never had to deal with the things she’s endured, and I still managed to make my parents stretch at this age. Smitty and my folks had some creative and useful ways of delivering consequences. In some ways they seem old fashioned now, but they are useful tools that I can use with some updated twists. We’ll see how this goes.
Have I mentioned that I miss her?