I was recently invited to share our story with a group of families who were completing their foster care license. I thought you might enjoy hearing some of the pieces of our story, too.
After 5 years of marriage, my husband and I electively chose to expand our family through foster care adoption. (Brief pause… we are not struggling with infertility and chose foster care. We know some who infertility is their adoption story and we have walked alongside them in love. For us, and as we hope will be a revolution to foster care… we chose foster care as our Plan A.) We both share a heart for adoption. My husband’s paternal grandpa was an orphan who was never adopted. Grandpa Sam grew up in the City of St. Louis. Both of his parents died when he was 10 or 11 and although his two older siblings were adopted, he never was. He grew up living in the back of a grocery store and on the street and later became a small business owner. For me… I always knew I wanted to adopt. I can’t pinpoint the moment I knew this, I just know it’s been a part of me for years.
Through a series of “right place at the right time events”, my husband and I obtained our foster care license in January 2014. As we began researching children in need of a forever home, through a friend of one of my sisters we became aware of a brother and sister sibling set. At the time, we were open to a sibling set of 2 kiddos, ages 5-10. The needs of these children required some additional training so we signed up for another round of classes (read: a series of Thursday nights where we spent 3 hours learning about invisible suitcases and better understanding the unprocessed trauma children go through when they are in foster care).
As we waited to apply for these children, we prayed for discernment and provided respite care for other children in foster care. A few months later, we were selected as 1 of 2 families to interview for these kiddos. We poured our hearts into the interview. Afterwards we went to a Thai restaurant for lunch with my dad. A few hours later our social worker called to share while it was a tough decision we weren’t selected. A flood of emotions overwhelmed our hearts but we are glad the children found a forever home in a family that best suits their needs. And I’m proud to share today these kiddos are adopted and doing very well!
Back to our story… after receiving the bittersweet news, my husband made a run to the grocery store for a frozen pizza for himself and a bag of Oreos for me. We agreed to eat away the disappointment. And, yes, my bag of Oreos were nearly 100% consumed that night.
While he was at the store, I opened my inbox and found an email from the opposite side of the state about a sibling set, a brother and sister. The email included a short and vague paragraph on each child. No photos. (Most emails like this have photos.) Like other emails we had received this thread was physically forwarded from one social worker to another to another. But this thread had been circulating for days and had just gotten to us. The deadline was midnight the very next day. Other than the children being younger (2 and 4) than our licensed age range, I couldn’t find any other reason not to submit our homestudy.
While my husband was at the store I texted, “I have a wild idea. Be ready for ANYTHING when you get home.”
He arrived home. We made the pizza and I stuffed my face with Oreos. I shared the email. We usually sleep on big decisions like this but given the deadline time was of the essence.
So at 7PM, I emailed our worker…
We weren’t planning to do this right away but the deadline is tomorrow and are open to new opportunities, especially sibling sets.
Please submit our homestudy. We’d like to learn more about big brother and little sister.
My husband and I discussed a few months ago that there are preschools in our area that will enroll 3 year olds. Would it be difficult to adjust our license to include this age group?
A week later on a Friday afternoon I got a call from big brother and little sister’s social worker who said she and her supervisor were reviewing profiles and they wanted to know if we were a smoking family. I confirmed we weren’t. She was pleased since big brother has smoking-induced asthma. The worker then asked if we’d be willing to make a monthly drive to the kiddos’ hometown so they could visit with their maternal grandma and great grandma. I told her my husband and I had read about that in the original information about the children and we were happy to support the children in any way we could. Then she said, well great, because we chose you.
Thoughts going through my head…
What!? What happened to the interview process? Am I dreaming?
The social worker’s next questions was “How soon can you come to meet the children?”
Context: I was at work and my husband was tied up teaching so I was fumbling on the fly.
Me: Um… this weekend…?
The social worker: How about tomorrow?
Me: We can do that.
The call ended. I called our social worker who was as baffled as I was. My husband and I talked as soon as he was finished teaching and we both agreed it was CRAZY… but why not!? That night we wrote up some questions and had a call with the kiddos’ social worker. Then we packed, reached out to some family and friends for support and barely slept… mostly due to the next day’s unknown.
We got up early the next morning and drove the 4.5 hour trek to the kiddos’ social worker’s office where we were able to read the 3-inch file on the children over the course of two hours.
Finally, the two hours were over and it was time to go to a local park to meet up with the children and their emergency foster family – a sweet couple in their 70s who live on a farm. They had agreed to keep the kiddos for a week while a more permanent resource was found. But, due to physical health issues of the kiddos’ social worker the emergency placement had kept the children for a month.
We parked our car and got out and saw the social worker pull up next to a van. Out of the van came two small children with sand pails in their hands. They didn’t know anything about us except that we were the social worker’s friends and we wanted to play. As we climbed onto the playground with the children I asked myself if I felt connected and if this was it. I couldn’t decide. Instead I focused on the fun of going down slides, building sand castles, and eating Pizza Hut for lunch.
Mid-way through the visit the social worker asked me – “So what do you think? Are you willing to do this?”
Me: (completely shocked this question was being asked at this exact moment… somehow found the words to respond) My husband and I want to talk on the way home and I will let you know after that. (He and I had made this game plan during the drive.)
Playtime ended and I was neutral to the transition. I had just met two children who I had only known about for about a week and whose faces and personalities I had just met. I had also just met a wonderful couple who are retired and chose to spend their own time taking care of children in foster care.
We said our good-byes and then drove away. Our drive home was filled with hail and at one point we had to get off the road. The conversation with my husband was brief. We didn’t feel love at first sight. I asked if I could go first and asked him, “Tell me one reason why we shouldn’t do this.”
Neither of us had an answer.
So… we agreed we were willing. Willing to walk alongside these children in whatever the outcome would be.
We called the kiddos’ social worker and said we’d be happy to have the children placed with us.
She asked how soon we could come back to get them.
We said on Thursday.
On the drive home we were invited to join some friends who were putting together the final details for a local board game conference. (My husband and I were helping to plan the event until this point.) We stopped by around 9PM and were supported with questions and love. We left the house with a few items for the kiddos (step stool, a booster seat for the dining room table) and a list of key things we needed before Thursday. Such wise friends we have.
The very next day was Mother’s Day. One of my sisters texted and suggested I post the list on Facebook. I did. And my husband shared the list with his co-workers. Within 24 hours every… SINGLE… thing we needed was provided for!! We had friends stopping by with things from their homes, I met up with friends who were given things by others who wanted to help, we had friends out of state shipping us things on Amazon and sending us gift cards, and we had friends overseas sending prayers and support.
I went to work on Monday and called a preschool that is approved by the state (fun fact: until the age of 13 there are specific childcare centers that the state funds to educate children in foster care… in other words… childcare is free for children in foster care who go to these schools). We knew of this school and loved what we knew of the program because one of the boys we provided respite for went to the school. I called the school and was told they had immediate openings for both kiddos and I could stop by that week to take a tour and get paperwork. WOOHOO! I visited the next day and was given a short supply list. Overwhelmed, I posted the list on Facebook mid-day as I was leaving the school’s parking lot and by the time I got back to my office (a 10 minute drive) EVERY SINGLE NEED was met yet again!!
Wednesday night rolled around and one of our neighbors offered to go pick us up anything we still needed. We had had so many friends stop by with hygiene products (that we didn’t know we needed yet we have used ALL of the items and are grateful for Boogie Wipes and tear-free shampoos!) and so many boxes shipped that we were nearly set up. So we only needed a few things like a second booster seat for the dining room table. We handed her our TargetCard and stayed home. Friends texted that night asking if anything else had popped in our minds that we needed. I remember while organizing a few final things, a dear friend texted photos for us to pick a kids’ coat rack.
We went to bed so amazed at the provision of it all.
We got up early Thursday morning and made the same drive across the state. We met the adorable foster mom and big brother and little sister at McDonald’s for lunch and then began the longest drive the kiddos had ever taken. They did great. We stopped in Columbia for a picnic dinner and to play at a park. Then we headed to our home. We had packed our life books – an alphabet iPhoto book of our lives – as a way to introduce the kiddos to our city and friends and family. Sitting in the middle of the back seat with them as we read the books (each has their own) I remember it getting real. On “Y” the picture caption is “Your own room.” Before ever arriving home they picked their own bedroom. Something they had never had before.
We arrived home after dark. Our two small dogs were so curious about who these new humans were. I began tucking big brother and little sister in bed as my husband and a dear neighbor began unloading our rental car.
And that began our journey.
The next morning we had visits by two different social workers… one our licensing worker and one the state worker (i.e. the kiddos’ local social worker).
You could say we’ve been in love ever since, but I feel like that doesn’t quite capture the connection we have. We are parents but most often find our role to be mentor and friend. We seek to better understand their past so we can help them put accurate words to their stories. We see how they embrace new things and how they have already grown so much. We see their strength and their fragility. It is because we know they don’t have to repeat cycles that we will do whatever it takes to ride this journey alongside them.