I Can’t “DO” Foster Care Without Getting Attached

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.

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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?”

 

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Cuttin’ a rug in the shoe department

Oh, Sue.

We were told our brand new foster daughter would only stay for a few months and that minimal commitment seemed like something we could handle for a while. We didn’t want to get too attached so we just gave her cuddles and did the perfunctory tasks of caring for an infant. But its funny because one day, I looked into those bottomless blue eyes after changing her diaper and realized that I had accidentally fallen in love. I didn’t have a choice in the matter. Weeks of diaper changing turned into months, months melted into years. And now, she is becoming ours forever. Someday soon.

Since coming to us, every ounce of heartache we have endured with the medical issues of our other children, Sue has brought joy in full measure. Even in her late blooming development, when Sue couldn’t move her body much from lack of muscle tone, her facial muscles were in perfect order, smiling and bringing light back into our hearts. The days I wanted to give up, I found her in her crib after a nap, arms outstretched with her smile just as wide, saying, “Hold you, Mama!!” And she wrapped her arms around my neck while patting my back and lifted me out of despair. If she weren’t here, who would do that in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon?

She balances it all out. For each of us. A few weeks ago, we found ourselves fretting over some tough choices (we thankfully didn’t have to make) for Layla. As we sat on the couch, my husband turned on some electronica. I looked over to see Sue hastily lining up all her stuffed animals on the couch. Oh, how cute. And then she started to dance. I mean, she threw her arms in the air then dropped it like it’s hot – DANCING! On her way back up (after dropping’ it, of course) she shouted over the loud music in her most elated voice, “Elmo, I danthing, Elmo!! I danthing!!!!” She desperately needed him to know – this was her moment. And our woes were forgotten for a time. And don’t get me started on the fact that it wasn’t that long ago that she couldn’t even walk.

This girl is larger than life. And the stronger she gets, the more confidence she has. Thank goodness for all the therapies she has to help her there. So, her little shimmy in the living room went public a few days ago. My husband took her to the mall one evening because it was raining and it is a good spot to walk the toddler. She REALLY likes to walk. Maybe it is because it took her so long to learn. He didn’t get far because wouldn’t you know it, they were playing some sweet beat in the Nordstrom shoe department. Sue wasted no time at all letting herself go. And GO she did. Right between the MAC makeup counter and the shoe department near the entrance to the mall, she was busting’ a move again with all the gusto a two year old is capable of. And every time, she loses herself in to the beat – she can’t hold still. At first, people just walked by and smiled like they always do. Everyone thinks she is cute. But then, the longer she kept at it, dancing her heart out, the more people just stopped to watch. And then they were cheering her on, and before you knew it, she had a circle of people just standing there, not shopping…but watching her. And she ate it up. The more they watched her, the bigger the circle, the longer she danced. For 20 minutes. It wasn’t just us this time – she made a whole crowd in a department store smile and laugh. She started her own flash mob. Oh, the tips she could have collected had there been a hat next to her on the floor.

Of this I have no doubt: there is just something about this little girl. Most people are mesmerized by Sue. Her smile and (just slightly maniacal) laugh is simply infectious. People who don’t care for small children are taken by her. And they do anything they can to win her love and affection. They can’t help themselves. She has that “Why, of course you love me!!” aura about her. And so they do. Sometimes I look at her and I think to myself, “How in the world do WE have YOU in our lives? Why are we so lucky?”

It was Sue herself that somehow snapped her birthmother out of a 14 year long funk to try to put her life together. And she worked so hard and is still doing the best she can! Sue, who can make Layla smile on her most difficult day wading through mental illness. Any silly story of Sue can melt the tension between her birthmother and I in a heartbeat. And we can laugh together. It is Sue who has stolen her big brother, Eddie’s heart and she thinks he is her own wonderful playful pet who happily does her bidding. This may be a problem someday since she will have all the smarts and will bend his will to hers with her naughty schemes. Yes, she is very naughty and already very schemy. But I love her for it.

She has saved my sanity. Her light, her loving spirit, her lisp, the way she calls me “mama,” her wobbly dance gyrations, and her thumb-sucking ways have buoyed my soul through some dark tunnels. And I believe that there is so much more of this ahead and it isn’t just for me. People often tell me how lucky she is to have us as foster parents. I don’t know what to say to that. Because what SHE has given ME and what she has brought into our family is beyond the power of words. She is a gift, and God was incredibly generous to me. He knew how much I would need her in my life – because she makes me laugh. Laughter is truly the best medicine for any ache. And for all those who need a smile, especially her loving birthmother, I will gladly share her.

Watch out for random public dance parties. She is probably responsible.

 

From mourning to laughter: Birthday surprises

I had just finished packing up and moving our foster daughter, Marisol, out of our home so she and her family could move out of state. She had lived with us on two separate occasions over the past year and we loved her and her family so much. Watching her go left us bereft and the sadness seemed to hollow us out.

The following day was my Eddie’s birthday and we did our usual: skip school and do whatever he wants! So we did. But it never amounts to much because he just isn’t an idea man. After lunch, we headed home and I got a phone call from our foster care agency. It was a surprise since we were specifically on the “do NOT call list” since our lives were still on the epilepsy roller coaster at the time. Odd, since the placement desk person, Jeannie had called me the week before to just “chat.”

She didn’t even say hello. Jeannie just blurted out “Hey, has Marisol moved out with her mama yet?….Because Marisol’s social worker has a newborn she really wants placed in your family. She specifically asked for you. And by the way, can you pick her up from the hospital by about 6 pm?”

I was a little taken aback but admittedly intrigued. OK, let me think this through. So I got the details and told her I would call back after I talked to my husband. And my pitch was this: “I won’t be mad if you want to say no. We can say no. Or you can listen to your crazy wife who really wants to say yes. I don’t know why, I just want to say yes. But its ok if we say no.” So he listened to his crazy wife. Then I started laughing and I couldn’t stop. THIS IS CRAZY, but I LIKE IT! I wanted to say yes, because I COULD say yes.

I laughed all the way to Target because I had given away all the carseats, the baby clothes, the glider, the bottles, everything I had for babies because a month before we said we would never take another baby. And then I changed my mind. I am a woman, I have the right to change my mind. (This is what happens when I say “never”). I was in stitches when Eddie and I picked out just 2 new baby outfits and a carseat. And the basics we needed to get through the night. Then, I texted my cousin and said “Help! I need stuff for a baby girl!!” And she gathered the troops and supplied practically every need…alongside my mother in law. People I had never met gave us bags of beautiful clothes for this little person who needed a home. So amazing!

And I laughed for four hours straight until we showed up at the hospital with the new carseat and our driver’s licenses, signed a few documents, and then we were ushered into an empty room. With only a baby. She had hardly been held in the two days since she had been born and I felt the enormity of her solitude and smallness in that big, sterile hospital room devoid of love or warmth. I remember rushing over to her crib and scooping her up. My first words to her were, “Oh Little Baby, we will be your family!” And all the hollow places filled up inside me. But I didn’t intend to get attached since we had been told that she would only be with us a few months. We didn’t know it at the time, but we were quite literally carrying home our own bundle of joy. It felt like we were stealing and as we exited the hospital, I was afraid the buzzers would go off like we were taking unpaid for merchandise. It never happened.

Well, thosIMG_3204e few months turned into 2 years and today is her birthday. I can’t stop smiling because she truly is going to be ours forever someday soon. She has stolen all of our hearts and has refused to give them back. Sue is a whirling dervish of naughty joy. She is a licker (as opposed to a biter), she is bossy, she is goofy and she hath the motht irrithithtable lithp. Her first “feelings” word was happy. And when I picked her up from daycare after sitting in a courtroom in a long and difficult settlement conference where her birthmother would agree to relinquish her parental rights, I walked into her classroom and she looked up. Light filled her face as a smile meant just for me spread over it and she proclaimed in her sing-song voice, “Happy, Mama! I happy, Mama!!” And I would sit in 1,000 more courtrooms if I had to in hopes to keep it that way.

And it floors me every time I think, that on this day 2 years ago, I had no idea this little beauty, full of love and brimming with happiness was to enter my life on Eddie’s birthday. I cannot imagine my life without her these past two years, we needed her so much. I thank God every morning when I walk in to her smile and her cheery little voice says, “Hi Maaaw-muh!! It’th awethome, Maaaaw-muh!” Yes it is!

 

 

Dear Birthmother

A letter I wish I could give to our foster daughter’s birth mother as she wrestles with having to relinquish her parental rights.  

Dear Birth Mother,

First and most importantly, I would like for you to know that our family has been praying for you since I met you. We are thankful for you and for the courage you are showing in the face of such heavy but important choices for your life. It has been an amazing honor to love and parent your beautiful daughter. And we are thankful for the relationship we have had the privilege of building with you.

 

Adoption means “to take as one’s own.” Our whole family has a passion for loving and caring for kids in this way: Layla and Eddie are excited at the chance to love their foster sister as their forever sister, we have worked intentionally toward enfolding her into our family. And you have a place with us too. Thank you for always placing your confidence in us. You are always on our hearts and in our prayers every day and that will never, ever change.

We look forward to the coming years, and watching her grow and change…along with you. I promise you to love her as my own and honor the family she came from. I will not ever willingly shut you out. I vow to give her everything I can to become the strong woman she is meant to become. I will nurture her talents and creativity in every way I can. I will continue to hope these things for you as well.

Know in your heart that you are loved,

Ruth and Family