S has returned to her mother.
The "transition" was as non-transitional as I had feared. I got a call one day saying that the caseworker was requesting permission from the judge to send her home in about two weeks.
I didn't give S that date as a return date. I chose to wait until we heard from the judge lest the answer be no -- there was a sizable chance the judge would require an appearance in court. Let's say that return date was July 25th.
On the afternoon of 24th, I called the caseworker. I left her messages every where, asking where we stood on the reunification date -- was it "tomorrow"?
I got a call back on the 25th. She was to be returned on the 28th . . . in 3 days.
There would be no more visits before that return date.
So, it was, in fact, "this time you won't come back here from Mommy's house."
I'm not sure she understood. She reacted very calmly to being told it was going to happen. She asked occasionally how many more days until The Day. Once or twice she talked about "when she comes back here" and I had to gently reiterate that she wouldn't be. She reacted very calmly to packing up everything she owned and loading it in the car. She got a little clingy at the actual hand-off -- lots of hugs and kisses good bye, and she wanted me to strap her into her car seat.
Her mother and I hugged each other and smiled a lot. Her mother said she wants us to keep in touch. Her grandmother was there too, and she said the same. S rode off in the car with her grandmother -- because it was the vehicle with room for her carseat after all her things had been loaded. Grandmother stopped the car and rolled the windows down to tell me that S was saying she loved me.
Her mother has worked hard on her case plan and has done everything required of her to get her child back. I hope and pray that the changes she has made in her life are long-lasting ones. I believe that her mother will encourage her to keep the photo album we made for her for as long as she wants it. I don't know how much contact we really will maintain -- we live about an hour apart -- but I appreciate the offer and the care for S's mental health that prompted it.
It's been a few days now since we filled the van with S's things and drove off, returning with an empty vehicle. Her room is empty. We are slowly beginning again to refer to it by its wall color, instead of as "S's room." (This is requiring conscious effort on our part right now, but we believe it's better to change the name of the room now and get used to it, than risk slipping and calling that bedroom "S's room" when the next placement comes and has moved into it.)
As far as when that next placement will come, I've told the agency to give me several weeks. Last time we sent a long-term placement home, we said we would take a break, but really only took about 2 weeks. I need more time than that.
The Originals will start school soon -- we are buying school supplies, getting hair cuts, going to doctor's appointments, and getting ready to meet teachers. We will get the new school year under way and I will spend some time on projects around the house. When the Originals have been in school for about a month, then I will consider taking another placement.
Unless that turns out to be one of those Famous Last Words....