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.