Born to Foster Mini-Series: Part II
Editor’s Note: This is Part II of Amanda’s story as part of a mini-series on what it’s like to be a millennial foster parent. Read Part I to discover why she and her husband became young foster parents.
I can’t share my unique journey to motherhood or how I really believe I was born to foster without emphasizing the power of proximity.
It wasn’t until my husband Eric and I moved to Chicago that the needs and urgency around child welfare were in our faces daily. The seeds were planted in my heart at a very young age, a catastrophe that had occurred in my own family made it undeniable, saying yes to opportunities gave me clarity, but proximity to the needs of children in Chicago was the key to movement.
Bringing in our first foster child
It was October 2017. After a 30-minute drive toward the suburbs, we picked up our first foster child (we’ll call her N) at 9 a.m. in a random parking lot.
The caseworker helped introduce us and put N in her carseat, then we were off. The entirety of the handoff 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 clothes and nine diapers, size 3.
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 purchased Puffs from Aldi the night before, an inkling I had 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 shoved them in her mouth 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.
Helping her adjust to her temporary home
When we pulled up to our apartment, N heard a 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 getting her into a routine.
Because she was dropped into our lives at the age of three, we had no idea how to gauge what she was used to, what she knew, or didn’t for that matter.
She napped right on the dot, for 3 hours, and then slept another 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 continued to sleep nearly 2 hours for naps every day and 11 hours or so each night. She is the champ of sleeping.
She latched onto me quickly and was smitten, but was cautious with Eric for a while. 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 I’ve learned that it’s dangerous territory to assume things or write your own story for someone else.
She would tell us, “I wuv youuuuu” in her high-pitch silly voice nearly one hundred times a day. Sometimes I’d initiate, sometimes she would.
Both Eric and I would remind her that she is smart, brave, kind, silly, wonderful, loved, chosen, wanted, and beautiful so much that she sometimes replied, “I GETTTTT ITTT!”
Within the first week, we learned that she loves dancing to music, putting trash in the trashcan, Mickey Mouse, and every food we set in front of her, including kale. It blew our minds how sweet and easy she was. However, just because she was easy didn’t mean the whole process was.
Learning about her life before us
Because of our fostering organization’s setup, I was in direct contact with N’s mom frequently. I was trying to create a relationship, but fumbling badly.
Although well-intentioned, I said and did things that were actually more harmful than helpful towards her. Misunderstandings between us caused her to withdraw further. I made assumptions that she no longer wanted to reunify and wondered if she was hoping we would adopt her daughter.
She and I went through many ups and downs because of my own insensitivity and judgment. Believing I knew best for her and her child was simply my own pride that God was ready to chip away at. Even today, I am on this journey of learning to receive grace on a whole new level.
As the organization gave us more information, we found out that N had a twin sister and a younger brother who were also in other homes. I hated that they were separated.
We juggled visits with N’s mom, visits from our caseworker, and appointments needed in order to get her enrolled in a Head Start program so that Eric and I could both continue working full-time.
Once N was accepted to a nearby preschool, I spent hours filling out paperwork, doing research, and making phone calls in order to advocate for her to receive occupational therapy and be evaluated for an IEP. You see, N is a child with special needs.
Life was no longer about us. She required every ounce of our attention and care. Because of her arthrogryposis specifically, her physical abilities were limited. She could not go up our four flights of stairs without being carried nor open things like other toddlers her age.
Forget reading a book for pleasure or writing on my blog — I was just trying to stay afloat. Between my marriage, career, and this new thing called motherhood, I was stuffed to the brim emotionally and had nothing left to give nor any space in my day.
The personal impact of bringing in our first foster child
The process was exhausting. I was still working my full-time job; I was perpetually sick, unable to fight a simple cold because of my body’s exhaustion. Eric and I both felt overwhelmed beyond belief. To make matters worse, Eric felt distant from me and tried to help with N, but she screamed whenever he tried to take care of her, which led to tension in our home.
We continued to go to counseling (something we’d already begun because we believe in being proactive and pursuing growth at all times), which helped us navigate this massive life transition.
Despite the struggles, we remained a team, unified and constantly pointing each other to the bigger picture. We told each other we would get through it. And we did.
Sweet N came into our lives and flipped our house upside down (quite literally). Shakespeare’s, “Though she be little, she is fierce” couldn’t be more applicable.
She invaded our hearts, which are now as soft and moldable as the play-dough she stomped into my pretty living room rug.
She made us laugh, cry, panic, and — many times — throw our hands in the air. It was a long adjustment, and most days I was completely and utterly spent.
Caring for her and navigating a relationship with her mom was simultaneously the most joyful and painful experience in my twenty-six years of existing. But I didn’t yet know what God had in store for doubling that joy and pain.
Editor’s Note: Amanda’s story will be continued in Part III as part of a mini-series on what it’s like to be a millennial foster parent. In the upcoming week, we invite you to join us in trying to better trust that God has a plan.