Johnny made it to his Army base on Monday.
Other moms are messaging me tips to survive boot camp, linking me to Facebook groups, introducing me to people who can show me the ropes. It’s lovely, but I’m in a different sort of situation.
“Hi Martha with your #ArmyStrongMama tank top, thank you for the hug. But I’m actually losing my shit because this kid almost broke me and I didn’t realize the stress of it all until he got on that plane.”
Smile and nod, people. Smile and nod.
It was two and a half years ago that I met Johnny at that school meeting, two and a half years ago he told me his graduation plan was prison. I listened to him, tough exterior belying a very wounded, very traumatized child, and realized he was right. After thirteen years in the foster system, 40-something placements, and next to no high school credits, prison with its regular meals, GED program and stability looked like a pretty decent option.
My goal was to keep him out of prison. He didn’t go to prison on Monday, he went to the United States Army.
I’ll be damned.
I take no credit for Johnny’s accomplishment – this is his and his alone. I am not even patting myself on the back for a job well done, because looking back, I don’t think I did that great.
In an ideal world, Johnny needed a calm and patient and permanently nonplussed mom. He needed open-armed, it’s going to be ok, Little House on the Prairie Mom. Instead, he got a sarcastic, Type A, always on the go-go-go Claire Dunfy type of mom. On more than one occasion – ok, fine, on many, many occasions – I reached down into my well of patience for this kid to find it empty. Bone dry, that stupid well. I feel bad about that.
I wasn’t a perfect fit for Johnny, but maybe he learned something from me. I hope so.
On my end, if we’re being frank, Johnny came to me with PTSD, but like a trauma contagion, I’m pretty sure I’m walking out with it. I have been threatened and sworn at and cornered. My sleep is a mess, I’ve gained a chunk of weight, and my finances will take a hot minute to level out. I sacrificed more than ever should have been on the table and I’m a bit of a wreck, truth be told.
Adopting Johnny and being his mother is, hands down, the hardest thing I have ever done. And it needs to be the hardest thing I will ever do, people, because My God.
But I put my money where my mouth is and I’m proud of myself. We did the best we could, the two of us.
Not all stories have Hollywood endings. I know you want to read that when we said our goodbyes at the Army processing place, he teared up and told me how much he appreciated that I took a chance on him and I told him he fit into my family as seamlessly as grocery delivery.
Neither of these things happened. Neither are true.
When I gave Johnny that final hug, we both felt the exact same thing – relief.
I don’t think that’s a bad thing. It’s not Hollywood, but with what this kid and I have been through, we’re lucky to have landed softly at all.
Johnny and I have lots of time – and now we have some distance. We needed both.
Rebecca Masterson is a writer, speaker, and an advocate for children. For more from Rebecca, follow her on Instagram. Or sign up for her newsletter.