Be All You Can Be, was the United States Army's slogan (1980-2001). The slogan feels right. It has become a metaphor for my youngest son's life. My boy, now a young man, is doing what he thinks he was meant to do. He wants to give his all, show himself and the world that he has grown and changed and developed. He has overcome great odds in doing so. Working hard through his personal life, he has become courageous. He shows respect to everyone, he is loyal to a fault, is an honorable man and has personal integrity. Throughout his young life he has already sacrificed so much, he feels that he understands how to sacrifice. With hard work he knows that there is nothing too difficult, no challenge too great for him to overcome. I also believe that's true. He is destined for greatness and all I can say is, I'm glad he's on our side!
My youngest son, Dylan. I have kept him close to my heart. I have always felt an overwhelming need to provide for him and protect him at all costs. He came to me later than most mothers' meet their baby's. When he was only 4 months old he got very ill with a high fever. He was in hospital all alone because his temporary foster mother, a friend of mine, was home ill with her family. She called me and asked if I could go check in on him, so he wouldn't be there without a familiar face. I had three kids at home and my husband stepped up to take care of them while I spent the next three days sitting beside Dylan's hospital crib waiting for his little cheeks to stop blazing, bright red with fever.
I waited for the gummy baby smile to return to his chubby little face. Although he was hooked up to iv tubes, I was able to cradle him in my arms as I prayed for him out loud and sang him lullabies throughout the next three days and nights. His fever finally broke and he slowly regained strength and vigor again. This mother's prayers were answered, at the same time this mother's prayers had only just begun.
Dylan had a rough start in life. His biological mother was high on drugs, and he they tested positive for metheamphetemene and marijuana. The hotel manager heard his mothers' screams and called an ambulance. She was taken to a nearby hospital with her baby, but after being examined for several days, he was taken from his mother, to live in foster care while she worked on her plan to get clean and reunite with him. He was taken to live in what they call a Respite Home. That is, a home where a licensed foster care mother tends to the child until a more permanent home is found. The "permanent" home can last as long as it takes for the biological mother to get her life together. She is offered help with her addiction and given parenting classes. She is given the opportunity to visit her child regularly. Placement in a foster home can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few years. Other relatives are sought to do what they can as well. Getting the family healthy and keeping them together is the ultimate goal, although sometimes it cannot be achieved no matter how much one wishes it so.
My husband and I had what is called a permanent foster home. We had been giving licensed care in addition to raising our biological children for about four years. Our job was to give the baby, or children in some cases, the love and health care, the family environment, and to advocate for all the things they needed, physically and emotionally on a daily basis. The question we were most often asked as people found out we were doing this, and shook there head in a quandary was, why? Why did you decide to become foster parents? Doesn't it break your heart when a child leaves? The answer is yes. Yes of course it breaks, but hopefully the child takes with them a huge piece, that will make a difference for them every day for the rest of their life.
We always wanted a large, boisterous, loving family, filled with memory making moments, fun holiday traditions and close relationships. We felt we had been given so much with our own healthy, beautiful children that, we wanted to share our love and our values and ability to care for others, with children who needed a home for however long they needed it. If a child just once experiences unconditional love, he will remember it and it will strengthen him. We were often asked, "how can you take a child into your home, fall in love, and then let him go again?" Our response, after thinking about it, and experiencing it, is still, if you must have your heart broken in this life, (and you must), what better than to have it broken than by helping someone else? Love is what it's all about, and the love of children comes back to you in ways that are much stronger than what you give away. It really was, and is, our privilege. I'm not saying it was easy, but I am saying that it is worth it.
Dylan now, after two other placements, had his permanent foster home. We enveloped him into our family with all our hearts. Our other kids were so thrilled to have a new baby to love. His health improved and his heart was as full as ours. He smiled all the time and enchanted others wherever we went. Just see if you don't melt into those huge, bright, chocolate eyes!
I get stuck in the writing of our story because I still experience diagnosed, Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Yes, it got that intense. So intense that Dylan went to twelve different schools in twelve years and away to special boarding schools twice for six months just so he and our family could get some respite and regain familiarity with normalcy again. I get stuck because I don't want to breach the boundaries of his privacy, yet it's important to keep it honest and real. He wants moms to know, he wants kids to know, he wants his story told because, it may help someone else who could fall through the cracks. Dylan had doctors, teachers, friends and even family members give up on him. He also had people who believed in him. Thanks Mary Breda and Eve Dryfus. You always said you thought he had an innate goodness and everything would be okay. It helped a lot in our darkest hours. We are still of the mind that any child can, be all he can be, no matter what the circumstances of his birth.
Our book will be a dialogue between Dylan and I, of what we have experienced over the past twenty years. Of why you should always choose life because life, every life, is worth it. It will be a dedication to Dylan's biological mother who said YES to life whatever her circumstances were. God has a plan for every human being. His plan for Dylan was to be part of our family forever. We never gave up on him nor he on us, no matter what, and we went to hell and back during our journey.
Our book, "Heart Cry", will be a memoir of sorts, to chronicle Dylan's story of overcoming the effects of being born addicted to drugs. His story is important in so many ways. For birth mom's, for adoptive moms, for doctors and therapists and all the experts who need the input of those who have actually experienced life with a child like Dylan. It will touch the lives of family members who have or will travel the same path, and look back on twenty years of advocating and not giving up on a kid who in his own words, "would be in prison today if it weren't for what you did." And most of all, it will be a dedication to a kid who never gave up, who always tried to be a better person by pure will and strong faith in God and his family. Now the United States Army and all of us, will be a little safer in the knowledge that this bright, funny, outgoing, courageous human being is helping to defend our country and giving back.
And here is the oath:
My brother-in-law Don, helped Dylan to find his biological siblings recently. When you are adopted through the foster care system that's not always so easy to do. I'm a diligent record keeper so we had just enough information and a good internet connection to get the job done. (Thanks Uncle Don xoxo). It was a dream come true for Dylan and now, besides the four siblings he already has, he found five more! We were all for him making this important connection. You can never have too many people rooting for you, right?
He said he felt a connection right away, and they have a lot to catch up on. We're all looking forward to that, and now he has nine siblings in all, who will be loving him and wishing him well as he goes on this latest journey.
God Speed my son. We'll miss you every second of every day but, our loss is America's gain. Come home soon and safe and sound, Soldier!