When I finally became approved to be a (single) foster parent, I was surprised when the phone didn't immediately start ringing with placement needs. In fact, I didn't get the first call until almost a week later, when I had to turn down a request to foster a teenage boy. Another call followed, this time for 1-year old twins who had no English language exposure. Having to say no to these requests was disheartening, because helping children was my objective, but I'd had fellow foster parents advise me to stick to what I was comfortable with so that I could best provide for the child.
Having spent extensive time with my niece as she grew up in addition to a school-age "career" in babysitting, I had a surplus of experience with children of all ages. Based on my capabilities at the time, I'd decided that I wouldn't take a child under age 2 and preferred a child that wasn't in grade school yet (note that I said 'a' child, as in singular). I had no preference of gender, race/nationality, or other factors. I communicated these preferences to my caseworker at DCFS and reiterated that I was trying to ensure that I didn't scare my own self off from fostering by taking a placement I wasn't comfortable with. Meanwhile, I desperately wanted to have a child in my home. I'd been going through the certification process for months, with a notable delay in the process due to me dealing with my own grief of losing my first "child", my dog Moby, during that time.
After having to say no to another placement that wasn't a good fit, my caseworker called with a request for two weeks of respite care for a 2-year old girl. While it was only a temporary placement while another foster family had a to go out of town, I was thrilled to be able to say yes. The date was set for me to pick her up, and though I had almost no information about the child, I was out-of-this-world excited.
The foster family she was with was unable to meet me with her, so I was instructed to pick her up at daycare. I recall shuddering with nervous energy on the drive to pick her up, hoping that she wouldn't be scared and wondering about every detail of her story.
I remember the teacher calling her name and she came running over grinning, a seemingly happy child. She willingly went with me as I packed her stuff into my car and attempted to hide the fear in my voice as I explained to her that she would be staying with me for a few days. She didn't seem excited or scared about that, rather she seemed indifferent. I recall the lump in my throat the entire drive home as I imagined what she'd been through to not be scared of a strange person picking her up and taking her home. She was only 2.
Those 2 weeks were an emotional roller coaster, because I fell in love with this child almost immediately. She was extremely easy going and smiled all the time. I had growing confidence that I could "do this." However, I had no information on her (other than her name and birthday) and couldn't stop wondering what circumstances she came from. That information came to me gut-punch-style, when the foster parent she lived with called to check in a few days before I was due to return her.
She was thrilled to hear that Archer and I were getting along so well because, she said, there was a very good chance that she would need to be "rehomed" soon due to circumstances at the foster home and that I might be a good option (YES!!!)…….but that she would need to be moved to a home along with her 3-month old sister. My heart sank. At the time, I had no expectations of knowing Archer beyond those 2 weeks, but in the instant she mentioned the potential of placing her in my home, my heart was saying yes. So hearing that Archer had a 3-month old sister felt like I was saying goodbye to her already. I applaud the efforts the state takes to keep siblings together (as they should), but at the time I absolutely hated that rule because I just wanted her and a baby was deal-breaker status in my head.
The remainder of our time together before she returned was spent laughing and loving and me thinking about saying goodbye. Knowing that the state might be looking for a new home for these children, I was considering whether I could be that home, though it mostly seemed unfathomable due to the baby. I'd carefully arrived at my decision to not take a child younger than 2 because of the total dependence of the child and the fact that babies get placed into homes easily (everyone wanted the babies, except me apparently). But here I was, facing the reality that: 1) the state wouldn’t have to separate these siblings because there would be dozens lined up behind me to take them and 2) if I told them I wasn't interested, I would never see Archer again nor know of how she was.
At some point, my fear of never seeing her again outgrew my doubt in my ability to care for a tiny baby (who I'd not met at this point) and I indicated my interest in being a foster parent to both of these children.
There were delays, of course, and in the meantime, I took in another placement of a 2 year old boy who was precious and joyful and had a traumatic story. During that time, I was also keeping Archer and Alice on weekends to maintain the bonds Archer and I'd made while affirming that I could in fact care for a (very) tiny baby. My mom was there every single weekend helping me, and I doubt now that I would have my children today if it weren't for her help and reassurance.
Seven months passed between the time I first picked Archer up and when they officially moved in with me, though they spent almost every weekend between with me. Each Sunday evening when we turned into the neighborhood of her previous foster home, Archer would get tears in her eyes and the sobbing would grow as we got closer. I thought I was going to die each and every time, as I never really knew that I would see her again. As long as I live, I will never forget those times because all I wanted to do was to assure her that I would see her soon, but I didn't have any assurance myself. Though I thought I was the only one with the memory, Archer recently revealed to me that she remembers me taking her back there and how she would cry, and it still hurts me to think that she had to wonder if I was coming back for her.
But I did, again and again. And eventually circumstances changed with the 2 year old boy I had (who had to be moved into a home with his 8 and 10 year old sisters, who I couldn't take) and with Archer/Alice's placement, and my precious girls moved in with me. At the time, I had no preconceived notions of them being with me forever, as their case was complicated and I was still living day to day wondering if I could be a (single) mom to 2 kids under 2. It was a lot, but I had a lot of help.
I often think back to those seven months and wonder how we survived. Don't get me wrong, they were well taken care of and were happy children. But I still felt incompetent to raise these kids alone and sometimes pondered when the state would come and take them away due to the lack of faith I had in myself. I've since been told that most new parents feel this way, but being in the situation I was in, my fear was immense and I felt like a fraud. I had dreams of losing them to a traditional, nuclear family. I criticized myself for thinking I could "do this" and how I'd now set them and myself up to be hurt because there's no way they would end up with me. I had so many doubts and so much fear, and had no assurances of anything.
But I had love, and as it turns out, it's really the only thing I needed to keep going. One day at a time, which turned into weeks, which turned into months, and eventually I was presented with the most important decision of my life: do you want to adopt these children?
To Be Continued……