Some of you already know what happened. Others may have guessed. The final loss in the “year of losses” was the abrupt exit of our two beautiful foster daughters. You realize this is a distinct possibility when you take in foster children. In fact, in most cases, it is the desired outcome. It is usually the goal of the state, county, and foster care system to improve the home situation of these children so that they can be returned to their biological families. We understood that role and were fine with it. We were naive.
First of all, I never expected our very first placement to last over 15 months. I figured we’d take someone in for a few months, keep them fed and happy, comfort them and play some games, and send them home when things were better. We had specifically asked for an elementary school-aged child, one child (boy or girl–although all the guys in this house said they would PREFER a boy–so I fully expected to get a boy), with no major abuse in their history. (Yes, I know they’re all there for a reason–but you probably know what I mean). I wanted someone old enough that I could converse and interact with, but who would not be big enough or scarred enough to kill me (and I’m just being honest here). I figured the child care situation would be easier during the two months I work if the child was in elementary school with our after-school programs. I definitely did not want an infant because to me, that is just endless busy work with very little personal connection. I really didn’t think there would be that much of a personality to work with in a pre-school aged child, and I thought a slightly older child would be easier. Life is full of surprises!
I fell in love with Bonus Baby the moment I laid eyes on her teeny-tiny pint-sized body with her big brown eyes and coke-bottle glasses. She came as an extra bonus along with her eldest sister. She was “almost three”, as the caseworker stated, trying to convince me to take them, but she was the size of an 18-month old, still in diapers, and busier than a tornado. And she was loaded with personality. At first, okay, even later, she was a lot of work. Physical work–changing diapers, potty training, keeping everything out of her reach, trying to meet her constant demands for food and entertainment. When these kids came, they were very needy–for time and attention. They never just chilled for even 5 minutes to pause and watch TV or sit still and play. It took a lot of energy. It was a great exercise plan (I lost a good 10 lbs. those first 2 months)!
Bonus Child was a big help to me from the very first day she came. She was very much used to being in charge since she was the eldest of five surviving children. She came with me to the supermarket to help me figure out what size diapers to get Bonus Baby since she’d arrived without a spare and I had no idea how much the darling weighed. Bonus Child knew exactly which package to get, and also accurately informed me what kinds of food to buy. She also showed me how to fix Bonus Baby’s hair properly. Raising three boys, I was pretty much all thumbs at making little braids and pony tails. As a not-too-girly mom who thought I’d dodged a huge bullet by having boys, I was surprised by how much I actually enjoyed buying clothes and hairbands for the girls!
Before you knew it, these little strangers were a part of our family. Surprisingly, all the expectations were topsy-turvy. The younger one was the easier one, in so many ways. She made the astute observation one afternoon on the way home from preschool that “I have two mommies. And two daddies”. And that was just the way it was. No problems. No issues. She loved all of us and she loved life.
I learned that it’s harder for the older kids to accept their situations. Sometimes they feel they are being disloyal if they’re having too much fun. Often they’re afraid of bonding to new people because they never know when they’ll be leaving. They are stressed and angry about events in their young lives and sometimes act out without knowing why. You learn a lot when you’re a foster parent–by reading, researching, observing, and talking to other foster parents. No matter what, though, by the end of the second summer we were a family. Bonus Child had finally turned the corner and had firmly bonded with me and seemed to genuinely want to be here. I felt this bond would help get us through any little bumps in the road.
But that was not to be. The unfortunate “perfect storm” of events occurred. The kids were once again “in between” case workers at the overworked understaffed county. The agency we worked with had just assigned us a new case worker. My eldest son’s wedding in California was coming up and of course since we’d never even dreamed we would still have the kids in September when we had to make travel plans in the spring (although the case worker at the time had assured us that we could get respite care for the children during the trip if we DID still have them) I kept checking to see if arrangements had been made. You can’t just leave foster kids with anyone; they must be watched only by an adult with clearances. Since my entire family was going to the wedding, and even my neighbor, who is a CASA volunteer and has clearances, was going to be out of state that weekend visiting her son, I had to rely on the agency. And they couldn’t come through unless the kids went to another county and Bonus Child would miss 4 days of school. And that just didn’t sit well with the supervisor-acting-as-interim-caseworker at the county.
I spent the weekend before my son’s wedding packing up over 15 months worth of toys, clothes, books, school supplies, etc. for two little girls who had a lot of things! I still didn’t even know for sure what I was going to wear to the wedding and for the rest of the time we would be in California and hadn’t started packing my own stuff. I was grieving for them while I packed up boxes and backpacks to send with them to the foster mom who had expressed that she wanted to adopt all 5 of the kids to keep them together, trying so hard not to let the girls see me cry so I could put the positive spin on it that they would get to be with their brother and sisters who they really loved and missed. The supervisor from our agency picked up the girls the day before we had to fly to California to take them and most of their belongings to the county, and Bonus Child made me promise to write and call as soon as I got back from California. I sent a note with her to give to their new foster mom promising to get the rest of the kids’ stuff to them and thanking her for keeping all these precious children together in one home. I included our phone number and address so the kids could keep in touch. It was during this frantic week in my life that I found it impossible to take a full complete breath. I’m still struggling.