Tuesday, February 14, 2023

In my dreams

Sometimes, I dream about them. The little ones I fed and diapered and kissed and snuggled and dressed for months, sometimes years, and then handed over to someone else. They show up in the middle of the night and I watch them playing or crying or maybe they're in a highchair or a carseat and I reach for them and say "Auntie's here" but they don't know me. They don't remember me. I want to touch their sweet little faces and kiss the tops of their heads, but they pull away.

And then I wake up.

Do you know what this feels like? It feels like pain...and peace. Because I want them to forget me. I don't want them to remember anything from their time in foster care except the feeling they were loved and wanted. But I also want to hold them. I want my presence to bring them comfort and joy like it once did, when they were here. 

The dreams haunt me. They bring memories flooding back, and no matter how many babies have come and gone I still remember how each one felt leaned against my shoulder. I still remember the face they made when they were about to cry. I still remember them needing me.

But they don't anymore. And I'm glad. But it also hurts.

Waking up from one of these dreams leaves me disoriented at first, and emotional. I'm stuck thinking about the past and wondering how those babies are doing and praying they are happy and protected. I ask God to please please please fill their hearts with His love and truth. Please, Lord, please hold them forever in your hands.

And then I remember the child who is here now. The baby who needs me now. So I tuck the memories away, of babies gone but never quite forgotten, and pick up the little one who is here today and say, "Auntie's here."

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

3 Things Foster Parents Wish You Knew

We've been foster parents for about seven years now, which sometimes feels like forever and sometimes feels like no time at all. I'm sure you know how that goes. We've learned a lot, laughed a lot, cried a lot. Said hello and goodbye a lot. I can't say it's been easy and wonderful, but we have no doubt it's been worthwhile.

About a dozen foster children have come through our home--some have stayed for 48 hours and some for 2 years--and it's starting to feel like a natural part of our life. However, we try to remember that it's not natural to other people. People who aren't involved in the foster care system typically don't know how it works or what it's like, and they often have a lot of comments and questions. We don't mind talking about foster care, but sometimes, if I'm being honest...it can get a little overwhelming. We're already dealing with a lot, you know?

So, here are three things we wish other people knew.

1) Yes, we do get "too attached."

The most common thing we hear is: "Don't you get too attached?", "I could never do that, I'd get too attached", "Aren't you worried about getting too attached?" or some other variation. The truth is, yes, we do get very attached. But how attached is "too attached"? For a traumatized child, there's only "attached" or "not attached," and if they're not...that's not a good thing. The ability to form attachments is an incredibly beneficial life skill that will trigger either positive or negative repercussions throughout the rest of the child's life. 

So, attachment is a good thing, and I think maybe people tend to look at attachment from the wrong angle. If being "too attached" means caring about a child so much that it hurts like hell to let them go, then shouldn't every parent--foster or otherwise--be "too attached"?

What to say instead: Thank you for doing this really hard job. I'm glad he has someone to love him. Here's a brownie.

2) No, we don't know "how long it'll be."

I understand the question. I really do. You wonder how long this new placement is going to be with us. But the answer is always "We don't know." Always. It's very rare to have a timeframe of any kind, and even when there is one, it's never set it stone. There are too many factors and variables and unknowns. And at the end of the day, does it matter? The child is here with us today. He'll probably be here tomorrow. That's all we know for sure. And that's enough.

What to ask instead: Do you have everything you need? What can I pick up for you from Costco? When can I babysit or drop off brownies?

3) We're the lucky ones.

People take one look at the new baby in our arms and gush about how cute he is and say, "Oh, he's so lucky to have you." The truth is, though...there's nothing lucky about his situation. In order for a child to be in foster care, a long string of unfortunate events must have occurred. Foster care is just us trying to make the best of a really bad situation. Yes, it's good there are people available to take kids in so they're not left fending for themselves or living in a hotel or in the social worker's office, but every child deserves a home. Every child. So a foster baby in my care is not "lucky," he is merely receiving the bare minimum of what he already should have had.

We are the ones who have the good fortune of spending time with a child who brings love, laughter, growth, and perspective to our days. He brings hard things too, but at the end of the day, us having him around is a privilege. Not the other way around.

What to say instead: You're so lucky. He seems happy with you. I hope everyone's adjusting well. This plate of brownies is still warm.

Friday, December 31, 2021

Sometimes it's too much

Sometimes it feels like I'm making a difference. Like I'm doing something important for a child. Like it's worth all the stress and heartache and driving and appointments and frustration and sacrifice.

And sometimes it's too much. I'll have a nightmare that the adopted family of a former foster son of mine decided they didn't want him anymore and dropped him off with a stranger without asking us if we wanted him back. Then I'll be spoon-feeding my current foster son and notice his bib says "I Love Mommy" and I will start to cry.

Because I'm not his mommy. 

I am. But I'm not.

And I'll start thinking about what a broken system it is and what a broken world and how these kids that I have for a short time are going to eventually be out there on their own with a million obstacles in their way and a million pounds of baggage to carry around, and I won't be there. Sure, I loved them and cared for them for a few months or even a year or two when they were babies, but I won't be there when they start asking questions about what happened to them or what happened to their parents or why they're adopted or why they were sent back to parents who were not ready or why they weren't wanted. I won't be there to tell them that they were. They were always wanted. Always special. Always loved.

Sometimes it's all too much. I want to give up. I look at the chubby little cheeks of our foster baby and they remind me of our last foster baby, and I think "What have I done?" Have I done nothing but traumatize them more by making them love me then giving them up? How cruel. How selfish. How horrible to live in a world where these things can happen. Where kids can be abused by their parents and shuffled around from home to home and treated like nothing more than numbers. How can there not be a better way?

The baby we have now is the sweetest thing you've ever seen. And he'll play in one room while I'm in the other and babble happily and clap his hands and try so hard to crawl. But then, I will walk through the room he's in on my way to help one of the other kids or do a load of laundry or go to the bathroom or whatever, and he will see me, and he will start to cry. He'll fix his eyes on me and whimper and whine, and I don't know why. I don't know why the sight of me makes him fuss. I think it's because somehow he knows I am the one person who will do anything for him, so when I'm around he doesn't have to make do or comfort himself or wait for something he needs or wants. Because there I am. I will do it.

Until the day he's gone and I won't anymore. And that's just...too much sometimes.

The Bible teaches that someday everything will be made right. Justice will reign. Tears will be dried. Broken things will be made whole. I don't think I could do foster care without that hope. And even if you think the Bible is nonsense, I bet you still have that longing for something more, something better. For everything to be made new. For the day all children will be precious and beloved by stable and selfless parents.

That day is not today. Today, it's too much and the inside of my chest feels like it's being wrung out by the cruel hands of despair. But I believe in Someday. I believe in hope. So I will keep loving through the pain.

And I hope you will too.