A couple of weeks ago, I caught a hammerhead shark in Gainesville.
My youngest was “fishing” off our deck using a toy that only sort of resembled a fishing rod.
“It’s wiggling!” he shouted as he pulled the imaginary line in. “It’s a fish!”
A moment later, he informed me my line was wiggling. So, of course I gave the rope I was holding a few shakes and started reeling in my catch.
It was a hammerhead shark, he told me.
“What do we do?” I asked him. Asking young children questions can get you some fun answers sometimes. This time, he knew what to do. We better throw it back.
He wrestled it on the deck floor, it bit him once and he threw the imaginary creature over the deck railing.
Soon, we were inside our boat — a large toy bin. With the lid shut, we looked at the stars created by sunlight filtering through the bin. Outside were storms and sea monsters. He slayed one or two with his sword.
His big brother has plenty of imagination, too. This spring, as I worked from home on my front porch, he marched back and forth as some kind of authoritarian monarch, instructing his subjects in a foreign language known only to him. He wasn’t happy with his subjects, but I couldn’t quite make out what they had done to offend him.
These two boys climb trees while wearing superhero capes. They build with sticks that fall in our wooded yard. The little one wants to be a robot for Halloween and is very excited to make his costume. The oldest will be a parrot, using some of the feathers in my craft supplies. He loves learning about animals.
In the morning, they both wake at full volume. During the day, they go nonstop. At bedtime, it’s all we can do to keep them from running and wrestling through the house, though they both enjoy reading books once they’re finally settled.
This is life. It’s exhausting and beautiful and messy.
The messy comes in myriad ways. The marker stains all over their fingers; the smelly socks that for some reason always gather beneath the dining room table; the pillows scattered across the floor as stepping stones used to avoid hot lava.
Then there’s the emotions. The hope of reunification with their birth mom. The joy of going home. The devastation of returning to foster care. The hope again of reunification and the grief and anger that comes with loss that isn’t death but sure feels like it. There’s the continuing love of their birth family, distant but never waning. And there’s our love.
We’ve watched these boys grow, one from baby bottles and crawling to talking and running and the other from diapers and pacifier to riding a bicycle and reading.
They are now our boys forever -- mess and all. There is love, joy and all those other emotions parents know.
Adoption was not our plan when we began fostering more than five years ago. It was not our plan when a caseworker texted photos of these two just before they arrived at our house. Choices made in their best interest by caseworkers, attorneys, judges, their birth family and us led us here.
I will forever wish their lives hadn’t involved so much pain, and I will forever be grateful we could step in to be what they needed.
Living in foster care is a state of never being quite settled. Though a stable home is provided, there’s always the next court hearing, the next visit with family, the next update from the caseworker. Will the kids be there at Christmas? Will they be around for that next vacation? Can I schedule a dentist appointment six months out? I have no idea.
We’ve loved them through all of that uncertainty. I’m still not used to putting school dates in my calendar months out.
Though our time is never guaranteed, planning for the future feels good.
I know there will be more messy emotions and relationships that will be difficult to navigate as months and years pass. But their future is bright.
Shannon Casas is editor in chief of The Times and a North Hall resident.