When We First Met - A New Fairy Tale

by Jen Stevens

 

There aren't many words to describe that moment when you meet your child for the first time. I had years to prepare and dream before our first daughter came. In my head I had built up this fairytale image... How when we looked into each other's eyes we would know each other.

 

In the beginning I thought that moment would be in a hospital room, looking into the face of a baby that had grown in my body. One that was synced to the rhythm of my heart.

When we started the adoption process that dream died and my new fairytale formed. While being her mom was my dream come true, that moment I had built up in my head wasn't meant to be. The reality of our first meeting was hard. Instead of the fairytale, our meeting followed exhausting days of travel. Unfamiliar sounds, foods, and customs, and a rushed schedule enforced by government officials.

 

The day we met, we were picked up at our hotel and rushed across town to the city orphanage. They asked that we place booties on to cover our shoes and then ushered us down the hall to wait. We paced in the silence of a small room until they brought our daughter to us. As they neared the room I could hear them talking, yet couldn't understand the words. It was just one more barrier in our initial connection. The words of comfort she knew were foreign to us. But we were determined.

 

As the door opened and they entered, my heart was in my stomach. She turned to look at us while clutching her caregiver. And the tears came, then the desperate sobs, as they told her we were going to be her "mama and papa". They encouraged me to take her and while I wanted to, I saw her fear, I felt her fear. She nuzzled into the woman's scarf and hid her face from me. I turned my back and choked back my own tears. I took a few deep breaths and reached into my bag for a toy and after showing her, I took her into my arms. That was it, I was holding my baby. My beautiful girl with big brown eyes and red hair. At 10 months old she was so tiny. I remember being able to feel every rib as my hand held her back. Barely 10 pounds, but every ounce was filled with fear. I held her close and stroked her hair. I knew we belonged together. In words she didn't understand I told her it would be ok.

 

And it was.

 

When We First Met - And Then There Were Five

by Emily Attaway

 

When our foster care license was issued, we lived in a three bedroom house. The inhabitants consisted of myself, my husband and our dog, Phoebe. The back two bedrooms were empty except for a crib in one room and a twin bed with a trundle in the other. They were painted a light grey and had gender neutral bedding. We intended to foster a sibling set with the hopes of adopting them. The call came in on a Tuesday while I was at work.

“We have a placement for you. Three kids. 2 girls and a boy. They are 5, 3 and 1. The oldest needs to start kindergarten this upcoming Monday so we need to move them fast. Can you take them?”

This was the call that changed our lives. The call that set everything into motion. The call that torpedoed us from a family of two into a family of five.

We accepted the placement, confirmed that the children would be brought to our house on Thursday afternoon and called our Sunday school class leaders to see if anyone had three car seats we could borrow short term.

Then we bought a minivan.

Just reading that makes us sound crazy, which maybe we were.

I remember texting our friends, and ignoring the advice from one to “Take these last two days and go on two really good date nights!” choosing instead to make lists and plans and dreams.

Oh, how I wish we had gone on those two dates, really enjoyed those last two nights before our lives changed forever.

I will never forget the way I felt on Thursday, as we paced the house, going back and forth to the front window, and waited on the social worker’s car to appear in our driveway. We were terrified. I felt my stomach clench in the same nervous anticipation that I felt on our wedding day.

This is crazy. This is the right decision. Is this the right decision? This is such a big change! Are we making a mistake? This is so exciting. I think I may throw up. This is the right decision.

A car pulled up and we saw a man step out with a toddler in his arms. I glimpsed them through our frosted front window and turned to my husband with huge eyes. “Oh my goodness. They’re absolutely beautiful!”

We came outside to meet them. A five year old girl with blond hair was standing beside the car, her hands clasped nervously in front of her. She forced a brave smile. Then a three year old girl who bears a striking resemblance to me came around the side of the car, eyeing us warily.

“This is the sir and the ma’am I was telling you about.” The social worker addressed them.

I don’t know what I was expecting to see in their faces, but as I crouched down in front of them I saw my own fear reflected there. For as long as I live, I will never forget how unsure and scared they were. In that moment, as my heart broke for the three tiny faces in front of me, I became a mother. I spoke gently to them, trying to convey that they were safe.

“Hi there. My name’s Emily. We are so glad you’re here. Would you like to come inside?”

They nodded tentatively.

We went inside and they made a beeline for the living room to look in the backyard. Hearing the commotion, our dog Phoebe’s face popped up to look in through the window.

“Oh wow!” the three year old exclaimed, her voice registering excitement. “You have a puppy!” Then she turned to me, questioning in a voice filled with hope, “Do you have a swing, ma’am?”

I would have given her the world in that moment if she had asked for it. “Oh, honey. We will get you a swing.”

The next hour was a flurry of paperwork and signatures. A horrific dirty diaper where we discovered that the youngest had come without diapers, wipes or a toothbrush. A quick run to the store. My naïve surprise that the social worker didn’t offer to change the aforementioned diaper. Oh, that’s right. We were the parents now.

Once the social worker left, my husband had the audacity to suggest he run to the dealership to pick up the new minivan. I gazed at him in shock. “You cannot leave me by myself with three children! How am I supposed to keep them all alive if I am all alone?” We text some friends who were pregnant with their first child, asking them to come hang out at our house with me so I wouldn’t be alone with these three tiny strangers who I was afraid may self-combust at any moment.

I remember offering them lemonade and chocolate milk, more concerned with them being comfortable in their new home than the messes spilled on my couch.

I remember them throwing rocks in the backyard, and my husband and I looking at each other helplessly as we realized we didn’t know how to get them to stop.

I remember their little voices singing out “Happy Birthday” when we offered them a piece of their welcome cake after dinner.

I remember the three year old looking at the five year old’s blankie with jealousy, and then asking sweetly if she could use a ratty old towel from the linen closet as her own lovey.

I remember playing in the backyard that evening, the toddler finally grabbing a pillow from our outdoor furniture and laying down on the porch, completely exhausted from his chaotic day.

I wish I could forget how scared they were that day, which, over a year later, the kids now refer to as “the first day”. But it’s burned into my memory. I have a hard time reconciling the happy, healthy kids who spend their days running around our home, hanging onto my legs, and calling me “Mama” with the three terrified babies who were dropped off last August. I went to bed that night the best kind of exhausted, the kind of exhaustion that is exhilarating when you realize that you must have let three tiny bandits move into your house, because they have completely stolen your heart.

When We First Met - Saying Hello and Goodbye

by Kelly Hughes

 

 

We did it. We nailed the parenting thing. We had a beautiful little boy and a gorgeous little girl born 2 years and 7 days apart. Our happy American family was complete. But then it wasn’t.

 

We knew that God’s call on our heart to help children was clear and so we became certified for foster care. Our family went from 2 kids to 5 kids under 5 overnight. And thus began the journey that would change us forever.

 

During the 5 weeks that they were with us we changed 5 kids into 3 different rooms trying to see who would not keep each other up at night, who would not bounce everyone awake at 6am, and what would keep us the most sane in a small house. We fell in love quickly. We got a glimpse of families who loved their children and were heart broken to be parted from them. We learned that foster care did not just bring us new children, it brought an entire family dynamic to learn about and nurture. Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins..…it affects so many. With breaking hearts, we said we don’t know if we can do it again, listening to their sobs as they got in the car and drove away for the last time.

 

Maybe it is too hard, maybe we’re too weak. It feels more comfortable to have smaller grocery bills, put on fewer shoes, and have less chaos. So we took a little while for our hearts to heal and our bodies to rest and we answered the call once again. “Yes,” you say? “In 45 minutes you will be receiving a 2 year old boy and his 4 day old brother who is still detoxing from drugs in his system.” Goodbye last night’s blissful sleep, hello newborn world.

 

We saw the bruises on his arms and the shaking of his hands. We knew he was child #9 and we prayed for his mother to be rescued from the addiction that held her so tight that she had to choose drugs over these precious lives. 3 short days and off to court they went, only to be sent to live with a relative. Barely time to blink and no time to say goodbye. We pray they are loved and cared for wherever they are.

 

A little more time to regroup and the call comes again. An 11 month old girl and her 23 month old brother. The most trauma affected little ones that we had encountered. We barely knew what raising trauma-based children looked like and we were in for a crash course. We decided right away that our girl was either going to be a tuba player or an Olympic swimmer. How else could she possibly have the capacity to scream at the top of her lungs for hours at a time? Hours upon hours the screaming went on. We had to introduce formula, then pureed foods, then solids. Her brother spoke and understood almost nothing although he was just shy of 2 years old. On the streets we heard the comments “you’re amazing, you’re wonderful, I could never do it” and my look became a blank stare as I thought I’m barely holding it together. I’m certainly less than amazing, and I don’t know how I’m going to make it through another day.

 

But 5 weeks went by and suddenly the screaming lessened. She began to smile. We began to breathe again. She figured out what being tickled was and we discovered the best giggle we have ever heard in our lives. It literally stops people in their tracks, it’s that good. Our little buddy began to talk and hug and sing. He knows the words to every song he listens to regularly. And by something completely unforeseen by us, 2 years went by and those precious lives were officially adopted into our family.

 

Foster care is hard, we would never try to cover that up. But do you know what foster care isn’t about? It’s not about us. It’s about children. Children who are in desperate need of love, patience and care during both their good and most unlovable moments. Are we special or significant? Not at all. We are simply evidence of people living one step at a time in grace and praying that others will take this step as well.

 

 

Kelly Hughes became passionate about providing more resources for foster youth and foster families through fostering 7 children. Her placement bag drives have brought in over 3,000 bags in the last 2 years which have been distributed throughout Pennsylvania. Her next goal is to open a full-time free donation center for foster families which is moving forward under much prayers and many volunteer hands. She is wife to a pastor and mama to 4.

When We First Met - Frost Family Story

by Caitlin Frost

Newly married with no job, no kids, and nothing to do all day, I obsessed over birth stories.  It was 2010 and pretty much every person on the planet was blogging about the minute details of their lives and I relished in reading them--all the blood and guts included.

I couldn’t wait to write my own.

Fast forward four years and I was ready to write that story.  I was ready to spill my own blood and guts--literally--and blog about it for other bored new housewives to read about.  But there was no baby.  Instead, there were two littles waiting for me somewhere in the state of Massachusetts and I could not wait to finally meet them.

And I met them.  I learned their names and their faces and heard their voices for the first time.  I got to run my hands through their hair and look into their beautiful eyes.  I was lucky enough to hear a laugh and to learn about who these people were.

I finally had a birth story to write. It wouldn’t really be like those stories I stayed up until midnight reading, but it would be just as special.  I was going to write all about the day I first met my kids and how amazing it was.

But for two and a half years, every time I try to write about that first day, there are no words.  I can’t do it.  It was just as amazing as I had anticipated, but there’s nothing I can really put into words, no matter how hard I try.

So I can’t tell you what that day was like and what we did and how I felt, although I certainly remember every single detail.  But I can tell you this.

When we first met, my breath was taken away.  I stopped breathing when I saw their faces for the first time.

When we first met, I couldn’t speak.  What do you say to a little person when you meet them the first time?  Everything felt so unimportant and cliche.

When we first met, I changed.  Looking back that was the moment I became a mother, though it wouldn’t be until months later that I broke down crying in my car in a parking lot at the therapist’s office because the idea of motherhood and the weight of what that meant had finally set in.

When we first met, I had no idea two little strangers could look and act and talk just like me.  It was if God had created a mini-me and destined us to find each other.

When we first met, I had no idea how I was going to mother another woman’s child.  I was so excited that my dream was coming true at the expense of my own daughters’ life.  That was when I first felt the tragedy enveloped in the beauty of adoption.

When we first met, I couldn’t leave.  I overstayed my welcome at the foster parents’ house (much to our social worker’s chagrin) and my husband had to drag me out to the car.  I met my kids and the idea of leaving them with someone else was so upsetting to me I cried the whole way home.

The days are long and the years are short but the memory of meeting my two forever daughters is as vivid today as it was when we first met, and I don’t think it will ever fade away.  I don’t need to write the details because we all feel them.  Every time I rock one of them to sleep or bandaged a hurt knee memories of that day surface and I feel so grateful that I get to mother these daughters of mine.  I’m so grateful for this birth story, even if I can’t write about it.

 

Dear Foster Momma

by Guest Writer Erin

Dear Foster Momma,

I know you’re not who you thought you’d be.

I know how you nodded your head in the foster care classes, agreeing with DCS and their system. I know how you put trust in caseworkers to do what’s best for your kids. While you knew that your babies were one case out of 30 they had to carry, you felt confident. But then the contact with their family case manager dwindled. And all of a sudden things didn’t seem to be in the best interest of the children. And you know it’s your job to support the system, but it’s becoming difficult. When surprises continue to arise, you grow weary. Very quickly you see the flaws of the system and you wonder how you could be so naive.

I know that while you waited to become licensed you read and read and read on how to advocate for birth families. You educated your family and your friends. You prepared your heart. You reached out and asked how you could help. You pleaded with the Lord to change hearts and situations. But then all of the trauma that the children in your care begins to surface. You begin to feel anger about circumstances beyond your control. It becomes harder and harder to see the good.

I know how you anxiously awaited your first placement. I know how you believed that you would love with all you had and yet hold on loosely. I know you said that while it would be hard, you would be able to say goodbye- that goodbye would be a good thing. But then you brought home a baby from the hospital and you didn’t sleep for 3 months. Those sleepless nights bonded you together. Your heart grew in ways you never imagined. All of a sudden ‘goodbye’ seems unbearable. The thought of not hearing their first words or watching them walk is unfathomable.

I know how you wonder if all of this is worth it. I know how desperate you are to change the system. I know that this is harder than you thought it would be.

I also know that you are doing the best you can. I know that you’re a good momma. I know that what you’re doing matters.

 

Homeschooling and Foster Care

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by Guest Writer Lauren

My oldest was a newly fledged five year old. It was the year that we had to enroll him in a Kindergarten. We had been, for lack of a better word, “homeschooling” for preschool and loving it. What I didn't want, going forward, was to isolate ourselves from our community. I was worried that if we kept going, if we kept homeschooling, it would be for all the wrong reasons. I was also worried that if we sent him to public school, if we changed things because the financial burden was suddenly minimal, that it would be for more wrong reasons. I was worried we were going to be sending him off on some save the world mission. Something not fair of us to ask.

Basically, any way you looked at it I was worried.

We seemingly had two choices. To enroll him in the local school, the one that tipped above the poverty line, or to keep him home, in our nice little bubble. I couldn't decide. I'll never forget the day we sat in the car after touring a homeschool enrichment program. After more lengthy conversation, I told my husband I couldn't decide. I asked him, point blank, to tell me what to do.

As a wannabe feminist, it was terrifying. He said, “Let's homeschool. If it sucks we'll just send him to school later.”

So, we did. We continued to talk and work our way through what we were hoping and wanting.

We decided (together, I should add) that our goals as a family and our vision for his childhood included him staying at home with me. We would later figure out the curriculum and ideology but for now we just wanted more time at home. And time we had.

I'm increasingly grateful for it as the years go on. Our hearts have always had an inkling of aching for more and a little after this life decision we made another. Little by little, email by email, orientation after orientation, in what felt like eternity but now seems like a blink, we were certified Foster Parents. The dichotomy never really occurred to us. Taking our kids out of the system while at the same time opening our homes to the kids incredibly deep in a different one. It seemed to fit all those initial worries going into the educational system. About isolation and community and vision. It was too much to ask my five year old to save the world on his own but it was not too much of us to do it together.

I laugh at myself now. I never really quite realized the impact foster care would have on our schedule. Vision or no vision. The family visits and doctor appointments and home visits and therapy (both in and out of the home). The behavior curve and emotional needs of everyone. How changing any one thing can alter your rhythm incredibly. How important rhythm is for a homeschool.

I know you are curious as to how it works for us. We've been in the thick of it for three years now. Somedays I'm curious too. Especially on bad days.

Usually after an initial placement we tuck into our little home. Cancel classes and events. We work slowly through our books while we coordinate with the county. We do all the things any foster family does. We just do it together. You see, for us education is our life. It's not the math textbook or the penmanship. It's not history or civics. It's our life as a whole. And that life includes, on a daily basis, kids that need a home that loves them.

We have a saying in our home: “the baby is the lesson.” And that applies to our foster care commitments too. “The system is the lesson.” A lesson in patience. In hospitality. In sharing space and time and materials. It is a lesson in community. In homelessness. In the effects of drug use. In the prison system. It is a lesson in a family unit. A lesson in the pain that comes from a broken one.

A lesson in Grace. Overwhelming Grace. A lot of lessons for all of us.

While, at times, foster care feels more disruptive to our homeschool than conducive. It works for us because we've chosen, very intentionally, to do it as a unit. That means driving to visits together. That means the kids are home during home visits. Sometimes that means meetings in public with homeless bio parents. It means therapy waiting rooms together. It means making beds and laying out stuffies and showing the house to a new friend, together. It means tears on the stoop, together. It means welcoming their little brother home, in the middle of the week day, together.

The end of it is, the day to day is the simple stuff. Anyone can pick up a curriculum and give their kids an adequate education. Math will get done. Writing will happen. Books will be read. History will be memorized. The hard stuff is the life stuff. The overwhelming and confusing stuff. For that I'm beyond grateful that we get to do it all together, as a family, with bountiful time and curious hearts and open arms.

From Foster-Alum to Foster Mom

by Guest Writer Alexis

I remember the day they told me they wanted me to talk to my school counselor about the “situation” at my house. I was twelve years old. They spoke ever so gently to me about how my mom needed some time to “get better,” and how they would split the four of us up and send us to different family members. I remember the feeling of dread that crept over my body as I attempted to spit out the words, “but I can’t live without my mom,” before erupting in tears. They explained that it would be temporary, like summer camp. I soon realized it wasn’t my housing and guardian situation that would be temporary, but rather that I would be temporary in so many different families.
We were a wild brood, but we had many aunts, uncles, and cousins that tried generously to take us in. 

Life was different. There was structure, food in the fridge, clean clothes on my back, no unwelcome guests, and a clean house with no little critters running around. There were expectations and consequences, chores, and (my absolute favorite) rewards ;). People were always asking me how I felt, or if I had something I wanted to say to my mom or dad. They asked if I wanted to scream, cry, or even punch a pillow to express anger, but I remained stoic and composed, never wanting to ruffle any feathers. In truth, I was angry, sad, depressed, mouthy—a typical teenager, and then some.

Flash forward 16 years and I beat the system. According to the most recent research, only 50% of foster youth graduate high school, while fewer than 10% of foster youth graduate from college. This May 2017, I will be graduating with a Master’s of Arts degree in Elementary Education. Did I do this on my own? NO WAY! Every family placement I have been with had a hand in creating my eclectic personality that is driven, determined, educated, creative, stubborn, and just a pinch of awkward. They are more responsible for who I am today than anything. Because of this, I knew I was going to be a foster mom, even before I knew I wanted to get married or be a teacher. 
I knew God not only created me with a great desire to care for children, but also with a heart that had endured hardships in preparation for my own personal ministry.

When I look at my children, I can identify with the hurt in their hearts and the confusion in their eyes. I know what it feels like to think, “Will there be any dinner? I must shovel it all in before I lose my chance!” I know what it’s like to feel abandoned, alone, worthless, or to just want love and attention. As much as I know there are no words to make all the hurt go away, I know there are words that can offer solace, just a quick distraction from the emotions wreaking havoc in their hearts. 

I am a foster mom for many reasons, but this one alone is my driving force: it doesn’t matter where you came from, it only matters where you’re going. Every child deserves a chance to succeed. Many are met with opposition very early in their lives. Many doors are closed for them before they can even walk or talk. All eyes are often on them looking to see if they are going to follow in their parents’ footsteps, or venture out on their own, forging a new path for those to come.

Teach your children to blaze new paths. Show them they are worth so much more than they will ever know. Love them not “like” they are your own, but because they are your own. Know this: no matter how long you have them, they will always carry a piece of you, whether it be in a quirky personality trait they inherited from you, or their newly-discovered love of asparagus. Although they may only be your “temporary” children for a short period of time, you will always carry a piece of them, too. In its toughest and most painful moments, emptying your cup of love on your foster children will be reflected tenfold, and that is a beautiful thing to be a part of.