I am a mother, stepmother, grandmother and former teacher. I thought I knew all there was to know about patience, but being a CASA for the past year has taught me some new lessons about this virtue. Children are not supposed to be patient – they are supposed to yearn for instant gratification. But my two CASA boys (one 9 and one 12) have had to cultivate an adult’s level of understanding that not all needs and wants can be satisfied quickly. And, I have had to learn to accept that sometimes I just have to” go with the flow. “
Last week, my 9-year-old plaintively said to me, “I want to live with my mother.” Of course he wants to live with his mother. All kids do. I wanted to tell him that soon that day would come. But, my job as his CASA is to make sure he is safe and as content as possible. My job is to help him grasp reality and, in this case, his reality is no one knows when he can be reunified. I told him his mom and everyone involved is working to make it possible for his mom to take care of him again, but it takes time. It takes patience.
I hold the educational rights for my 12-year-old boy. He is years behind his age level in reading and math, but has never had an IEP. Our process to get special help went something like this: request testing, talk to the district’s educational psychologist, talk to the school’s resource specialist, get testing done, receive the report, meet to discuss the report, disagree on what the report means, have further testing, receive the report, meet to discuss the report and about two weeks before the year ended, my CASA child was awarded with an IEP. This was the year that was! While the process is lengthy and sometimes participants were in conflict, I found my guiding principle to achieve success is to always see my goal in front of me and find my patience deep within me.
I have watched my 12-year-old CASA child sit outside the courtroom anxiously waiting for his fate to be determined. Will he be removed from his mom, then will he be allowed to visit his mom, then will he be reunited? Hours are spent playing videos on the cell phone in the court-room lobby. Hours are spent hoping and wishing and wondering. I admire his patience. I admire his willingness to wait while his fate is determined by others.
One Sunday as I drove up to my 9-year-old’s house I saw him sitting on his front steps waiting for me. I saw his patient face. I saw the look of excitement and relief when he saw my car. I wondered if he worried that I would not come. I could not help but see how accustomed he is to waiting. I reminded him I am always on time and never miss a visit. I want him to not have to be patient with me.
My 12-year-old has refused to see me for months at a time. Our times together have grown to be more relaxed, more substantive, and more useful. But, in response to the events of his life, he sometimes decides he does not want to see me. I have learned to call each week and wait for his decision. This relationship is not about me; it is about him, so it is his choice. He knows I will continue to call. We are currently in one of those non-visiting periods. I shall wait. I shall be patient.
My 9-year-old has moved several times from caregiver to caregiver. Each time he has had to learn new house rules, make new friends, attend new schools, and learn to adapt to his new environment. We expect him to learn who lets him eat chocolate and who does not; who lets him play video games and who does not; who wants a hug and who does not. I have observed how he willingly accepts the newness and changes. Through all of this he is exuberant, playful, smiling and co-operative. He is a very patient boy.
Perhaps the most need for patience on both sides (me and my CASA kids) is the need to let the relationship happen at its own speed. I, of course, have had images of building a close trusting relationship with my boys. I have learned that the relationship can be two steps forward and one step back. I have learned that it takes time for my boys to open up with me. I have learned that some visits are filled with profound communications, while others are simply a play date. I have learned to let the boys come to me, while at the same time, I need to show them I am open to whatever they want to give me. I have learned that I can give them affection, friendship and advice slowly. Trust is built over a long time. I have learned to be ever more patient. And, I am fairly certain they are testing me, waiting to see how I will react. They are patiently and slowly allowing me to be the CASA I want to be.
While non-foster youth wait for Santa Claus, their birthdays, summer vacation and the tooth-fairy, CASA children wait for their lives to take shape: to be settled and secure. They are waiting for their ultimate wish to come true – to be home with Mom or Dad. And while they are waiting, I am hoping I have allowed some child-like instant gratification in their time with me, and I thank them for showing me what true patience really means.
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