Knock, knock! Our first foster baby.

Four days ago we got a call from a DCS case worker. She was on her way to our house with a six month old baby boy and his nine year old brother who has special needs. She told me she had all of their things packed up in her car and would need help unpacking everything. I was home alone with our ten year old foster son and two huge, loud, energetic dogs since my husband was still at work, and it was raining outside. Hard. We had a few weeks notice for this placement and already had a crib, rock n play, and car seat. We just didn’t know when they would come and the date kept getting pushed back because of paperwork issues. Eventually there was a knock on the door and a soaking wet case worker handed me a smiling baby wrapped in a blanket. She ran back out to the car to open the door for the nine year old boy and to grab the diaper bag.

Thankfully my husband came home early from work and was able to keep the dogs entertained while the big kids and I helped the case worker unpack her car. The kids came with a few boxes of clothes and toys, a baby swing, a bouncy seat, formula, bottles, and some diapers.  I was happy to see their things were packed well in the boxes instead of thrown into garbage bags which I’ve seen too many times before.  The case worker stayed for about fifteen minutes to have me sign some papers and try to answer some initial questions.

Questions she could answer: What are their birthdays? What is the nine year olds’ disability? Does he have a therapies?  Do they have any allergies? What days and times do they have visitation?

Questions she could not answer: How much formula and how often does the baby eat?  Has he started any solids yet and if so, which ones? What is the baby’s sleep schedule like? Is the nine year old toilet trained?  What does he like to eat? How long will the kids be staying with us?

So, everything has basically been trial and error from the beginning. We haven’t had a baby here before and it’s just as wonderful and exhausting as everyone says it is. He sleeps most of the night and eats every few hours. The nine year old was testing limits right away and had a tantrum within the first half hour of Day 1, but he has since realized that tantrums don’t work here and had been much better since.  We took a trip to Target, went to a picnic, spent the day at a pool party yesterday, and went to church and grocery shopping today. It’s been a whirlwind few days, but the kids are settling in and we are ready for this new adventure with them, for as long as it may be.

Full Circle

I started a new position as an elementary school counselor three years ago.  I absolutely loved my job and getting to know that kids at the school.  One of my responsibilities was coming up with activities for Red Ribbon Week.  Last year, the theme I decided to use was “One School, One Goal, Bully and Drug Free”.  I combined the typical drug free message for Red Ribbon Week with an anti-bullying message.  I provided activities to the classroom teachers including coloring sheets for the primary grades and group activities for the secondary grades.  I also created this banner and had all of the students and teachers sign it to pledge to maintain a bully and drug free school.

bully and drug free

I also incorporated the message in my monthly character education lesson.  One of my most memorable character education lessons was during Red Ribbon Week month in the school’s special education classroom.  I provided the kids with a ‘Just Say “No”‘ coloring sheet and we talked about the importance of being kind to others during the anti-bullying discussion.  I remember one little boy looking very sad when I talked about bullying.  He told me that sometimes the other kids are mean to his classmates and he tells them, “Stop it, that’s my friend”.  I just loved hearing how he was willing to stand up for the other students in his class.

Flash forward to today – we are waiting for that same little boy and his baby brother to be placed with us through the foster care system.  While I am so very sad for his mother for having to endure such a difficult situation, I am thankful that this boy will be greeted by a familiar face tomorrow.  Since our county is in desperate need of licensed foster homes, if we had not been able to accept the boys, they would have ended up being placed in an orphanage.  The reality of that weighs heavy on my heart tonight. I am grateful that we are able to provide this boy and his brother with a safe and loving home until his family is able to care for them again.

If your heart gets broken, you’re doing it right.

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My plan was to start from the beginning of this placement story, but I feel like the end needs to be told today. We had court this morning and found out that the little boy we have cared for for the last 15 months will be reunified with his parent some time in the next 6 weeks.

Everyone always asked us how we would handle all of the emotions that would eventually come with having a child leave our home after we became attached to them. All I can keep thinking about right now, however, is how happy this child will be when he finds out that he gets to go home. It’s been over a year since he lived with family. He will no longer have to feel like he needs to lie to his friends about who the person is picking him up from school, or why he can’t sit in the front seat of our car, or the reason he is not allowed to be on the Internet. No more awkward conversations in doctors offices or sad looks when the foster care commercials are on tv.

We did not become foster parents because we wanted children to come into our home and stay forever. We became foster parents so we could provide a safe place for kids to stay while their parents figured out their issues. This was never about us and our feelings. It was always about and will always be about the children who are in our home and their feelings.

That being said, our hearts will be broken when he leaves. Not because we think he would be better off with us or because we want him to stay forever, but because we will miss the little person we have gotten to know day in and day out over the last year. Our house and our lives will be so much different. We will think about him often and worry about him daily. We will pray that he is safe and well taken care of. We will wonder how he is adjusting to a new school and a new home. We will hope that he remembers all of the things we taught him and everything he learned while he was with us.

Hopefully he will think of us fondly, and not just as “those people” he was forced to live with when he couldn’t be with his family. I hope one day he can look back on this experience and know just how loved he was and how much we genuinely cared for him. The next few weeks will likely be challenging. We have already started to see some of his old behaviors resurface. It started when the idea of reunification was brought up a few weeks ago. I will not be surprised if he attempts to distance himself from us. Everyone who has been through this before is telling us that that will happen. But we will get through it. Because it’s not about us, and it never was.

The Beginning

The Beginning

It was the fall of 2011 and my husband Josh and I had just started attending a new church in our area. The church had just begun working with an organization that puts on free summer camps for kids in foster care. I wanted to help, so I interviewed and was accepted as a camp volunteer. The summer camp experience was eye opening, heartbreaking, and amazing, and I have continued to volunteer every summer since then. Within the next few years, Josh and I made the decision to become licensed as a therapeutic foster parents. We were so excited and knew this decision would change our lives forever. We did not have children of our own and had only been married for two years, and our families thought we were out of our minds! They worried that the stress would be too much for us, or that we would be overwhelmed often. They also worried that we would get attached to the children in our home and it would be too difficult for us when they had to leave.

Within a few weeks of becoming licensed in September of 2014, we were asked to provide respite for two boys ages 9 and 11. We said yes right away, figuring that a weekend respite placement would allow us to get our feet wet before jumping in to a more long term situation. We were told that the boys were very energetic. The older boy was diagnosed with high functioning Autism and the younger boy was diagnosed with ADHD. Both boys took several different medications but took them with no trouble. We were nervous but excited to meet them.

The boys arrived and made themselves right at home. We showed them the room they would share for the next two days, helped them unpack some things, and gave them a tour of the house. They relaxed in the living room with the Lego sets I had gotten for them while Josh made homemade pizza and sweet potato fries for dinner. The boys played with our two dogs and made up songs while I played my guitar. They were polite and respectful towards us and each other. The weather was beautiful that weekend and we had plans to go to a neighborhood festival on Saturday and church on Sunday.

We had an amazing time at the festival. The boys got to play games, climb a rock wall, go on a hay ride, and compete in a pie-eating contest. They had so much fun. We laughed, took pictures, and acted goofy together. The boys were so sweet and only argued with each other a few times. The next day we asked if they wanted to come with us to church, and they said they were excited to go. They had a great time and the older boy earned the youth group award for “Kid of the Day’ for being so kind and helpful.

We returned home and got the boys packed up to drop them back off with their foster mom. Since we had about an hour left, we took them to the park near the drop off location. They went on the swings and Josh let them take turns riding his skateboard.  They were able to run around and play for a while and had a great time. When we met with their foster mom, she told us that the boys were up for adoption and asked if we were interested in adopting them. Just like that. I was shocked and had no idea know how to respond. I let her know that, while we had a wonderful weekend, we were not looking to adopt, just to foster. She just said, “Okay, no big deal, I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask!”

The following week we found out more information from our agency worker. The courts had recently made the decision that the boys would not be reunified with their mother. They had been attending different special events to meet foster parents in order to try to get adopted. The fact that they were already 9 and 11 and had special needs just complicated the situation further. If they did not find a family, they would end up aging out the system and end up on their own.

Being faced with that reality at such a young age is unimaginable. While our hearts were breaking for those sweet boys, they were also softening. We were no longer unwilling to consider the possibility of adoption in the future. And although it was not originally what we intended, we have continued on this journey with our arms and hearts open to whatever comes our way. God only knows how our story will unfold, but we can’t wait to find out.