Never before have I experienced this kind of love.
As I’m writing this, it’s been exactly seven days since our world was flipped upside down.
“But you asked for this…” my conscious reminds me.
“You’re damn right, I did,” my heart and soul snap back.
E and I wanted to provide a loving and safe environment for children whose families are in need.
I’ve wanted this for so long I can’t recall how far back to date it.
When E and I were dating I remember sitting at The Emporium, a pretty nice restaurant back in our hometown, attempting to break-up with him. We were perfect together, but I had never heard him say that foster care or adoption were his passions or calling. I knew it was what I was born to do, so through the tears I mustered, “I want to be with you and someday marry you, but if it means I’m not going to foster or adopt someday, I’m afraid obeying God’s call on my life outweighs my feelings, so it’d be best to end this now.”
E didn’t react the way I wanted him to. Not only did he refuse to let me break-up with him, but he laughed in my face. His answer was something like, “Baby, c’mon. I love you, but you’re being a bit ridiculous. I’m not going to lie to you and say that I feel this call on my life to foster or adopt right now, but I love you, your passions, your heart for others, and would never keep you from doing what you believe God called you to do. What you love and care deeply about, I do as well. I would be totally open to discussing that in more detail down the road.”
He was truthful, direct, and realistic.
Fast-forward 4 years later…here we are.
I’m not her mom. I’m not her mom. I’m not her mom. I’ve reminded myself about 547 times today already.
E and I drove 30 minutes to pick N up at 9am in a parking lot.
The case worker helped introduce us and put N in her carseat, then we were off. The entirety of the pick-up took ten minutes, and that’s if I’m being generous.
She didn’t come with an instruction manual or really anything at all. Just two small bags containing an assortment of non-matching, stinky clothes and nine diapers, size 6.
We told her who we were and asked her questions, but got nothing except a stare that communicated her thoughts: WHO THE HECK ARE YOU STRANGE PEOPLE?
I’m so thankful we bought Puffs from Aldi the night before, an inkling based on our toddler nephew’s love for them. Puffs turned out to be the icebreaker.
I asked if she was hungry and would like some Puffs, to which her little head full of the most gorgeous, thick, curly locks nodded yes. She shoveled them in a fistful at a time.
Then, we tried peek-a-boo, which got her smiling. I can distinctly remember the first time I saw her beautiful smile. It’s the very first time my heart felt this unexplainable, all-consuming love.
When we pulled up to our apartment, N heard someone’s dog bark outside. That’s when she said her first sentence to us. “I hate dogs!” she yelled. We laughed and I held her close.
We got up four flights of stairs and began giving her the tour of her new temporary home. Pointing out the kitchen, the bathroom, and her bedroom with all of her new books and toys, she lit up as most children would if you took them to Disneyland.
The first day with N was completely focused on making her feel comfortable in a new environment and to get her into a routine. She napped right on the dot, no problem, for 3 hours and then slept 12 hours that night. I thought she must be worn out or simply getting quality sleep for the very first time, but that little one continues to sleep nearly 2 hours for naps each day and 11 hours or so each night. She’s the CHAMP of sleeping.
She latched onto me quickly and was smitten, but cautious with E for awhile. It would be easy to assume she’s weary of males because of something that was done to her or in front of her, but with foster care it’s really not healthy to assume anything or write your own story. That only leads to judgement and this is all about grace. (Yes, I am reminding myself as this is hard for me.)
She tells us, “I wuv youuuuu” in her high-pitch silly voice nearly one hundred times a day. Sometimes I initiate, sometimes she does. Both E and I tell her that she is smart, she is brave, she is kind, she is silly, she is wonderful, she is loved, she is chosen, she is wanted, and she is beautiful so much that she sometimes replies, “I GETTTTT ITTT!” She is silly, indeed.
I can confidently say we are not perfect at this parenting thing. For starters, because we’re new to it all. Secondly, because she’s been dropped into our lives at the age of three, so we have no idea how to gage what she’s used to, what she knows, or doesn’t for that matter.
We do know that she loves dancing to music, putting trash in the trashcan, Mickey Mouse, and every food we’ve set in front of her, including kale. It blows my mind how sweet and easy she has been.
However, just because she’s been easy, doesn’t mean this whole process is.
Probably the hardest for me is that I am now in contact with her mom. [This is not always the case with fostering, in fact, it rarely is. However, the specific organization we are working with for N’s case, SFFC, encourages the host parents (us) to text updates and pictures to the bio parent(s) as it keeps them motivated to reach their goals.] In N’s case, her mom, a single parent, just got a job and is working so that she can become financially independent and get housing. She currently lives at one of the homeless shelters. I can’t fully explain why this is hard for me without exposing parts to a story that is not mine to tell. You’ll just have to take my word for it.
Another thing is that many people equate foster care and organizations like SFFC with long-term babysitting, but oh how unbelievably wrong that is. Aside from the obvious, here are a few reasons the two are very different. Babysitters get paid, we do not. Babysitters are trusted to care for a child until the parents return, we have drop-in visits from a case worker who observes us with N weekly. Babysitters are not expected to potty-train, we are. Babysitters aren’t coordinating hours of driving so that siblings can see each other, we are. N has a twin and a little brother who are also both in different homes. Babysitters aren’t filling out 62 pages of paperwork, advocating for a child to attend preschool and receive occupational therapy and other special services the child needs.
You get the point.
I’m not complaining, I get the privilege of doing all of this for N! I simply want to educate people on the stuff that comes with this process no one seems to know.
Like when she calls me mama and my heart simultaneously bursts and breaks.
I guess I am a mama now, sort of. A mama helping another mama out by loving her daughter as if she were really my own. It is hard and holy. And it feels like I’m inching closer to Jesus with each diaper I change, each smile she gives, and every text update I send to her mom.
More to come,