Christine & Bob

"I was told she was mentally retarded and I didn't know what to expect," my friend, Christine had said, remembering the first time she had met Ceddie's mother. Christine and Bob Grove are foster parents and my friends as well. I smiled as I remembered how hesitant and careful the Groves had been about getting into foster parenting in the first place. It had been about a year from the time they first spoke with me about the possibility of becoming foster parents and the time when we first met at foster parent preservice training. I remembered the questions they asked about what the children and their families might have endured prior to Division for Children, Youth & Families' intervention. Their focus was appropriate, with a good balance for the effects of foster parenting on their own family and their desire to reach out and help another family in trouble.

Recently, in response to an item in the paper describing extensive abuse of some Asian children, the Groves called me, offering to help if needed and I learned that Bob had served in the Peace Corps and had been stationed in Asia where he had learned, not only the language of these children, but their culture as well. Foster parents are such amazing people!

Christine & Bob understand and respect the fact that the families we serve have survived incredible difficulties and are committed to helping them get back on their feet, while nurturing and understanding their children in the interim. At the time of Ceddie's placement, the Groves had already successfully fostered several other children.

The Groves had moved since I last saw them and, although Christine and I had "lunched" now and then, I had not visited their new home. Ceddie greeted me at the door and then ran off to enjoy "Sesame Street." I sat at the dining room table, musing on the number of kitchen and dining rooms I had become familiar with since I began this series of stories. Christine joined me and, not long afterwards, Bob returned from work and the Groves' story of the heart unfolded.

Ceddie had been placed with the Groves at nine days of age. Christine wasn't told much about the situation at the time, but rumors reached her that Ceddie's mother was "not normal." She was currently being treated in the State Hospital and the words, "incest, temper and huge" describing her had all reached Christine. The Groves were told that Ceddie's father had no interest in his son and that he had disappeared from the area soon after Ceddie's birth.

In the beginning, the social worker was unclear whether reunification between Ceddie and his mother, Sandy, would be possible. Three months went by. The bonding process had begun to establish between the Groves and the infant Ceddie. It would have been odd for it not to have happened as Ceddie knew no other parents.

Sandy continued to receive care and therapy in the State Hospital. There had been no contact between her and the foster family due to her mental state. Christine learned that Ceddie's mother wanted to give Ceddie up for adoption. Sandy knew her limitations. She already had an older child with serious health problems. It was rumored that Sandy was so limited she didn't know that she was pregnant until she was due to give birth, but Christine and Bob ignored this. They were bonded to Ceddie and would work in his best interests whether it meant reunification, foster parent adoption or adoption by someone else.

One day the social worker called to say that Sandy wanted to see Ceddie. Nervously the Groves prepared for the impending visit. It was agreed that Christine would handle it with the social worker as Bob would be at work. Fear stirred. Christine remembered, "I was to bring Ceddie to meet Sandy in the State Hospital. I didn't know what to expect. Would she be hostile? Would she have poor impulse control? She would be so different from me, I wondered if I would be intimidated." Knowledge that Sandy was receiving medication for behavior management helped to allay the fear which had been growing quietly stronger with each passing day.

Sandy wanted to meet her child's foster parent and to assure herself that her son was safe. Her therapist had urged her to meet her child and to hold him, she also urged Sandy to meet the foster parents who were caring for Ceddie and then to let him go.

Christine became aware of a feeling of panic beginning to overtake her. She felt hesitant about taking a three month old infant into a mental institution. She worried, "Would it be a snake pit?" Getting a more positive grip on her emotions, Christine decided that she would bring Ceddie to his mother looking his best and she went shopping for a new outfit and a stroller.
Christine arrived at the State Hospital with Ceddie who looked really cute. He was enjoying the new stroller. She took a deep breath and entered the foreboding building. It took a while for her to locate Sandy and the social worker. "There I was, a trained foster parent, shaking in my shoes," Christine said, "Sandy was a gracious hostess and welcomed me warmly. She seemed more like a young teenager, although she was nearly thirty years old. I had expected that it would be hard to communicate with her, but it really wasn't. Sandy seemed to want to show both Ceddie and I off and she took us around to visit some of the staff there."
Sandy seemed glad to see Ceddie but was nervous about holding him. The social worker and the therapist finally convinced her to hold Ceddie and she did so, but not for long. Christine paused, her eyes becoming hazy,"I'll never forget what she said as our visit ended. She said, `He looks very happy. He looks like you're doing a wonderful job with him.' Then she said `when you adopt him please keep Cedric William as his name because he was named after my father. You can change his last name if you want to.' The word "adoption" had never come up anywhere before." Christine assured Sandy that she would definitely keep the names if she was ever allowed to adopt him.
During our discussion, Bob Grove had been dealing with Ceddie and now, as our interview came to an end, he left us to put him to bed. Christine brought out a scrap book she had been making for Ceddie. It was filled with pictures and memorabilia of his stay in the Grove home. In the book were pictures of the visit with Sandy that had turned out to be her final good-bye to her son. It was obvious that Sandy was not at all threatened by Christine. 
She looks happy, almost as if she were the one visiting Christine and Ceddie under other circumstances. In one picture Sandy is holding out a toy to Ceddie, almost like an aunt, neighbor or friend might do. I wondered if it might have felt that way to Sandy as she had never bonded to Ceddie and was really meeting him and Christine for the first time.
My visit was over. During the months that followed Sandy made the decision to release Ceddie for adoption. All that remains now are the pictures. Christine mentioned that she was humbled by her visit with Sandy. She had been so pleasant and gracious. The observations about Sandy that had been related to Christine and Bob had all been wrong, as they had suspected. Sandy's words, "I think you must be taking very good care of him," and Christine's fears, "I didn't know what to expect" ran through my mind as I thought about the value of caring enough to take a risk in order to help someone else.

The story has a further happy ending. Ceddie was adopted by the Grove family and bears the stalwart name of Cedric William Grove as his biological mother wished. "He was named after my father," she had said. Her wishes were honored by the foster family. This is another example of cooperation between the birth parent and the foster family. Although the Groves were willing to have Sandy involved in Ceddie's life, at Sandy's request, there will be no further contact.

To view other "Stories of the Heart" selections go to the Contents Page.