My husband and I started fostering more than five year ago. I never imagined how fostering would become such a part of my identity. May is national foster care awareness month, and last year I posted a series of “moments in foster” on social media. This year, I have a bigger audience, and I hope the messy, beautiful, terrifying world that is foster care touches you, too. If you want to help, ask me how. Not everyone can foster, but everyone can do something.
A little girl came back to my house after visiting with her mom. Cranky and tired, she crawled away from me, crying for her mommy.
A boy excitedly told me he was going to live with his mom in seven days. I had to tell him he was confused and was only going to visit his mom in seven days. I watched the sadness creep into the corners of his little mouth.
A girl argued with me outside her school. She didn’t want to get in my car. She wouldn’t get in my car. Passionate words were flung through the hot summer air. Tears and more words were spoken to her caseworker on the phone. Finally in my car she beat the seat and anything else she could reach. She threatened to take off her seat belt while we were driving.
A boy sat in a hot tub in Florida, so happy. We’d taken a boat ride. We’d been to the beach; it was his first time. We’d bicycled. We’d explored a museum. We’d kayaked. The hot tub was by far his favorite part.
I dropped two little kids off at day care. I knew it was the last time. I knew they didn’t comprehend the magnitude of that morning. Our first little girl said “Bye, bye Mommy,” in her adorable 2-year-old voice. I about lost it right there. I hugged our first little boy goodbye and did lose it. Tears streaming down my face, giant lump in my throat, I walked out of the day care knowing they were going to live somewhere else. And knowing it would be wonderful for them. It’s still the hardest thing I have ever done. But their adoption story is beautiful.
I sat at my desk with receipts in careful stacks. I entered totals on to reimbursement forms of how much I’d spent on clothing for three girls. Then I filed paperwork to get reimbursed for mileage, again three separate sheets. Then I checked over three logs of medications I’d given them. Then I realized I could probably never be a caseworker. Forget the emotional drain; I cannot handle all this paperwork.
A little girl said “tengo frio” as we got in the car to head to day care one morning. I made sure she had a coat. In not much time at all she was speaking more English than Spanish. I hope she’s speaking plenty of both now.
A little boy sat in “time in.” He was not happy. I was not happy. Then he began spitting on the floor. I did not react well.
I stood in the middle of the newsroom and shouted "I'm drowning," waving my hands above my head. Five minutes later, with work pulling me in 10 different directions at one time, day care called. It was 10 minutes past closing and my children were still there. They nicely asked me where I was. Well, I was at work. A transporter was supposed to pick them up at 1 p.m. Obviously that didn't happen. And no one called.
I danced in a crowded park, watching this girl have fun moving to the music over the loudspeakers. I hoped she thought we were having fun together. I was terrified that I had no control over her whatsoever. Looking back, I wonder if taking her to that July Fourth celebration was a good idea. It probably wasn’t.
We sat on the sidelines watching this boy play soccer. The team always lost. But he had so much fun. I sat with his mother; we didn’t share many words thanks to a language barrier. But her daughter played with her, and her son looked to her from the field. She came by taxi to almost every game.
I picked the kids up from day care. The day care worker said to them, “your mom is here.” I cringed inside. One of the kids looked at her funny. We didn’t say anything. They see their mom once a week. They don’t call me mom.
In the front lobby of a local school, a child asked the girl with me who I was. We had different color skin so I was obviously not mom. The girl answered: “She’s nothin’ to me.”
I picked up a little boy from day care. When I saw his face I was surprised for a second. I subconsciously had expected to see another little boy’s face.
A child cried in my car all the way to day care. All the way. There might have been some screaming. I turned up the radio.
With trash bags full of clothes and toys in boxes at the door of their home, two kids eagerly anticipated their mom greeting them. She walked around the corner, and with grins across their faces they ran to her, calling out “Mommy!”
A boy sat in my back seat so excited to move back to his mom’s. He gave me the biggest hug and kiss in the parking lot of a Walgreens. His family thanked us for all we’d done. Then he was gone.
A girl learned she could go home during a court hearing. So she did. We dropped her things off later with few words or emotions. Maybe we’d used up our emotions. Or maybe all we felt was relief.
I sat outside the courtroom waiting for our case to be called. I wasn't expecting any major changes or decisions. I had brought my laptop, thinking I might work a little while I waited, just like the caseworkers huddled there with their laptops. But I couldn't focus on work. The emotions of even a routine hearing made me anxious. The future of my kids, their kids, hung in the balance.
A boy stretched his arms out in our living room and said something about how this was much better. I don’t know if he believed that or was trying to convince himself. I did know he needed clothes for school tomorrow, pajamas for tonight and shoes other than the worn out baseball cleats on his feet. So at 8:30 p.m. I drove to Target. And at some point that night we figured out what time school started the next morning.
The kids were to go visit their family an hour away. We’d asked DFCS for a transporter to take them, but no transporter had been found. So once again my husband gave up five hours of his Saturday to drive them, wait for them and drive them back to our house.
I sat in training -- getting a couple of hours of the 15 required each year as foster parents -- and thought of a child who used to live at our house. Every time I learn more about how trauma affects the brain, I think about him. Every time.
I tried to remain calm. I did for a while. And then I lost it.
I sat in the floor with a little girl and listened to her try to read. I’ll admit it was not fun. She was almost a grade level behind, and it was so much work for her. But then she got one of the words, and her eyes lit up.