“I could never do foster care because I would get too attached and I couldn’t give them back…” I hear this statement all the time. And guess what? I feel the same way – I can’t take children into my home, pour my heart and soul into their care and not get attached, either. My heart is torn up every. single. time.
After we adopted our foster daughter Sue to be ours forever, we decided to try a different kind of foster care called Receiving Care. This means we get a call any time of the day or night to take children who need immediate safety from an unsafe situation. We took our first sibling set as a Receiving Care Home on Cinco de Mayo. I was sitting in a PTA meeting when my phone rang and our case manager said, “Hey, I know this is totally a long shot, but could you take 2 little Guatemalan girls? They don’t speak English but…” I interrupted her and immediately said yes. Of course I can take 2 little girls who don’t speak English….when we adopted our son, Eddie from West Africa, he didn’t speak English either. Plus, I knew I could communicate with them using rudimentary Spanish.
At 10:30 that night, I opened my front door to two scared, exhausted little girls. I spoke softly in my rusty Spanish and urged each girl into the pajamas I had just picked up at Fred Meyer, guessing at their sizes just an hour or so before. I determined I would not put the oldest girl to bed until I could get her to relax and crack a smile. So, I let her pick a Disney Princess Movie. She chose Frozen and we watched Olaf in Spanish. Within a half hour, I was tickling her and commenting on silly Olaf and she visibly relaxed and started giggling. We gathered up the girls and put them to bed in the room they share right next to mine.
Every night since that first one, as I tuck Big Girl into bed (or when she is upset because she is going to time out) she recites the same mantra in grammatically incorrect Spanish (since Mam is her first language, a Mayan dialect) – “You go to sleep with your mom. You go to sleep with your dad. They are going to sleep. You sleep with your sister. She is going to sleep too.” Over and over and over.
Now and then I hear her thrashing in the night, crying out in a nightmare. Her nightmare is real. For now, she is safe but she is far from all that is familiar to her. She kicks, she cries half awake, half asleep and screams “No! No! No! Stop it!!!!” Or she cries out for my husband to help her. And I cry a little too. She has discovered that he is safe. He takes care of her and shows her fun things like Mariner’s Baseball games, or they kick around the soccer ball. But most importantly, he lets her climb all over him with her sister and smother him with their intense need to be loved.
The girls fall in line with my children, and call us “Mama” and “Daddy.” They learned that despite what their parents believe, water in the United States will not make you sick or run a fever. Baths and spray parks are loads of fun. When they first took a bath, you would have thought I was pouring fire all over their bodies. But now, the Big Girl has learned to wash herself while I wash her loooong beautiful black hair, and she inhales deep from her belly, taking in the aroma of the delicious soaps. Her favorite is the blackberry vanilla. We have watched a million Disney movies in Spanish. We have taken walks to the market for treats, yellow or green Petit Fours are Big Girl’s favorite. She wore tennis shoes and rode an escalator for the first time with us. Big Girl loves the PB& J sandwiches I put in her lunch every day. Only my home-made raspberry jam will do. Little Girl pats my back as I burp her after each bottle. She squats like a sumo wrestler when she wants to run to me and gives me a goofy grunt, “oo” and when I catch her, she sniffs me like a little puppy to be silly and then sticks out her lips, awaiting a little kiss. And when I drop Big Girl off at school she reaches up to peck my cheek, giggles and hops off for the day.
So much GOOD and so much HARD has happened in just over 30 days.
Their time to leave is upon us this very week, I am feeling the sadness start to creep into the corners of my heart. I don’t know what the courts will decide on Thursday – to send them home or to keep them in the foster care system and I will send them off to another family? Either way, I have no idea what life has in store for these precious girls. They have come a long way in such a short time. And I can’t tell Big Girl that she is leaving yet, because there is nothing to tell her. If I don’t know where she will go, I can’t say, “You are leaving but I don’t know what happens next” to a 7 year old who has the emotional capacity of a preschooler. So, I have to let her live in a fractured bliss until I do know.
So no, I can’t do foster care and without getting attached. I don’t like “giving them back.” I am already beginning to grieve their departure, even though in some ways, since I am tired from lots of sleepless nights, I will be a little relieved. But, why should I protect my feelings when these little ones need someone to care for them, keep them safe, and speak on their behalf? Foster care isn’t for everyone, that is sure. And that is perfectly ok.
But if I said “no” to these sweet little girls, they may have found themselves sleeping in a DSHS office, a hotel room, or in a social worker’s car while driving the night away on I-5 tonight. Foster care is difficult but it isn’t nearly as difficult for me as life is for a child who has no one to care for them.
So, why not say “yes?”