Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Foster care math

He arrived on a Thursday evening, covered in sweat. He wore a shirt and jacket that were too small and a pair of shorts despite the freezing temperatures. He carried a blue and black blanket that reeked of...something. And that was all he had.

One outfit plus one blanket equals the sum total of his earthly possessions.

I peeled the sweaty clothes from his back and coaxed him into the tub with a yellow ball and bubbles. He did not speak or cry but only whimpered. I spoke quietly to him as I washed him, wincing at the abuse the scars on his body revealed - the story I could easily read in the size and shape of the marks. I pulled his two-year-old self out of the tub and wrapped him in a towel.

"Mommy?" he said.

Sometimes I wish my door did not open for vulnerable and broken children. That I could turn the lock and go about my life unaware of the need on the other side. But that is not my reality. Even with the door shut tight, I can hear those kids out there, crying for help. I can sense their presence. And I can't turn them away.

A phone call from CPS plus an empty bed plus a willing heart equals an open door.

He handed me the same three toys over and over until he grew tired and a wild look appeared in his eyes. I laid him down in our extra bed as his whimpering returned and assured him he was okay. Everything was okay. It was going to be okay.

"Mommy?" he said.

"No. Auntie. I'm Auntie."

"Night night," he said.

I stayed awake worrying. His placement with us was meant to be very where would he go from here? Would he be safe? What was he used to doing? Eating? Did he have any allergies? Diseases? I had no way of answering any of those questions and there was no one who could, not even the case worker.

Too many questions plus not enough answers equals a terrible night's sleep.

Over the next few days, I did my best to make him feel at home. To give him as many hugs and kisses as he would let me, which wasn't nearly enough. I kept him clean and safe and fed and had him looked over by the doctor. I threw away his only possessions once I learned they'd come from a drug lab and replaced them with new clothes that actually fit and a new blanket and a giant stuffed dog he refused to put down.

Two weeks dragged - and flew - by and then he was gone. Moved to a different situation deemed by the state to be best for him. And I prayed God would watch over him wherever he went, but I also breathed a sigh of relief because my anxious hyper-vigilance was no longer required 24/7 and a hundred questions from every person I ran into no longer needed to be answered or avoided and no more poopy diapers needed to be changed. Phew. Life returned to normal.

But I could still hear him say, "Mommy?"

So I stocked up on diapers and wipes and am getting as much sleep as I can so next time I'll be ready to do it again. Because the sum total of a vulnerable child's possessions plus an open door plus a terrible night's sleep multiplied by the love God puts in my heart just for these kids equals a difficult and meaningful calling.

That's foster care math.