Foster Care: A Hard and Beautiful Calling

foster care

At 7:45 p.m. on Saturday, January 6, I was upstairs doing "the bedtime marathon" with my husband and little ones.  Hair was washed, teeth were brushed, and we were on to our favorite part of the evening: stories.  I love reading to my kids, but even as my oldest sat in my lap, I was already thinking about snuggling with my husband on the couch with Netflix and a glass of wine - the makings of the perfect at-home date night.  

Also at 7:45 p.m. on Saturday, January 6, my phone was ringing on the kitchen counter downstairs because a sweet 2-year-old was sitting in our local CPS office.  When I came downstairs and saw an unknown 405 number on my screen, I knew immediately why we had been called.  Shakily, I pressed "play" and listened to the voicemail.  "Would you be willing to accept placement?"  It still seems strange that such a life-changing event begins with a phone call.

We said “yes”, and so began our foster care journey, less than a week after our home was open and less than an hour after that phone call.  

People have asked us how we are doing and what has been difficult about adding K to our family.  "Everything!" I often want to say.  "Everything about this is difficult."

But that's not entirely true.

Pride is easy.  I can, all too readily, fall into the trap that elevates our family above others who aren't doing foster care.  Along a similar strain, I can feel sorry for myself with absolutely no effort at all, believing the lie that others' lives are less messy than mine and becoming angry with those same people, who have done nothing to warrant my irritation.  

Compassion is easy, too.  If I can have compassion, anyone can.  As more of K's story unfolds, my cold heart continues to melt.  I hate what she has had to face in her short life.  This is not the way things should be when you're two.  I want better for her and for her family.  Saying "yes" on January 6 was both simple and obvious.  How could we not?

foster care 2

What's hard has been saying “yes" every day since then.  Continuing to hear and obey this calling for our lives, even when our will is weak and the Voice calling us feels distant, is anything but natural.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, "When Christ calls a man, he bids him to come and die."  Foster care feels a lot like dying sometimes.

It's hard to have two two-year-olds.  Period.  God bless you mommas of twins.

It’s hard to explain this broken system to my four-year-old when I don’t quite understand it myself.

It’s hard to watch her cry for “mommy”, knowing that that person isn’t me.

It’s hard when very few people really understand how big this thing is that we are doing.  I didn't just birth a newborn, but we added a two-year-old to our family, which I would contend is equally consuming at times.  Most people expect us (and anyone else with a new foster child) to continue with life as it was yesterday, when it will never be that way again.  

It's hard to have family in Texas who is willing but unable to help because crossing states lines requires permission every single time.

It's hard for a Type A person like me not to have a plan.  She might still be here in six months, or she could go home next week.  Either way, I'll probably be among the last to know, just as I'm the last to be informed of team meetings and home visits which I'm supposed to attend.  It's selfish, I know, but I hate being at the mercy of everyone else's schedules.  (Selfishness- there's another easy thing.)

It's hard that her language is so limited.  

It's hard that our family is under constant scrutiny by the same people who removed K from her home.  I'm doing the best I can, but I live in constant fear that I've done something wrong.  I'm afraid that someone will think I'm not doing my job if she falls off the bench at dinnertime and bumps her chin or her head, as my own two-year-old does basically once a week.  

It's hard to have very little information regarding the child who is living full-time in my home.

It's hard to pour out my life for this tiny soul, to be the umbrella that she stands under, taking the rain ... and to be unappreciated for doing so.  She doesn't want me.  I can't comfort her like her mom can.  Her mom doesn't want me, or even like me, either.  I tell K every night before bed that I love her, and she never says it back.  Maybe one day she will, but it's possible that she won't.  Perhaps the hardest thing about all of this is choosing to love someone without expecting a single thing in return.

I've put my life on hold for the moment and am not taking any classes for dental hygiene.  I wanted to slow down this semester in order to give our family my full attention, because I know that what we are doing is important and needed.  And yeah, it's hard.  It's dang hard.  Knowing that it would be hard hasn't made it any easier, and sometimes I wonder if all of this is worth it.

But there are moments when it is also beautiful. 

There are these brief reminders that I get the privilege of doing for another what Jesus did for me: He welcomed me into his family, and he pursues me when I don't want him.  He provides for my basic daily needs but also goes beyond that and loves me, simply because He loves me.

Today, she laughed at me while I played with her.  

Yesterday, she and my biological two-year-old played blocks together ... without screaming or crying or stealing.  Yesterday, I didn't even scream or cry or steal ... all day long.

Last week, our friends rallied to bring us clothes, diapers, and food, reassuring us that we are not in this alone.  She has a built-in new family and set of friends who all adore her.

She knows three words in sign language that she didn't know when she came to us.

I get to be the one to give her experiences that she's likely never had before.

Even when they're all fighting, our own daughters LOVE having another little girl around.  Though everyone has had a rough adjustment, K really is a perfect fit for our family.  

Everyone tells the scary stories of foster care, and then everyone understandably gets scared away from doing it.  I want to tell the good stories, about how the most difficult things are also the right ones and how redemption can be found in the most hopeless of situations.    

This is a hard calling.  And it's so beautiful, too.

Daycare is not the devil.

My daughters' last day at their childcare center is next week.  After that, our oldest will be in "big school", and our youngest will stay home with me.  Though I am eagerly anticipating our family's new adventures, I am also sad and nervous about the days to come.  With a few short exceptions, my children have stayed at this preschool since they were seven and nine weeks old, respectively.  It will be strange to walk out the doors of the facility that became their home away from home for the final time.

Some people see daycare as a detriment to children.  While I don't believe that every childcare center is quality or that anyone can be trusted to care for kids, our girls' preschool has proven that exceptional care can be found.  This place has been a blessing beyond words.  

For primarily financial reasons but also some personal ones, I have needed to work throughout the past four years of our kids' lives.  Thankfully, I have not had to worry about their well-being for a single day after I've dropped them off with their teachers.   

Piper and Caroline have blossomed at their center.  Their development and character are ultimately my responsibility, but both of their teachers have partnered with us to help them become the spunky, curious, sweet, smart, and loving girls that they are.  

Teaching (because that's what it is, not babysitting) at a childcare center requires skill.  The average four-year-old asks 400 questions per day, but even the little ones who don't ask questions yet poop their diapers, fuss, refuse to take naps, spit their food out, destroy things, and engage in other similar sorts of mischief.  Not only are childcare workers simultaneously dealing with all of this times eight to ten, but they are also training the children to be kind, to play with toys appropriately, to identify all of their letters and numbers, and to make wise choices.

At times, I am impatient with my own two children.  Our girls' teachers perhaps become impatient with them, too, but they do not show it by raising their voices or inflicting punishments not fit for the crime, as I do embarrassingly often at home.  I can also be lazy about teaching them important academic and life skills, while the girls' teachers are tirelessly intentional and persistent.  And people say that anyone could do their job.

Though I have paid for childcare, payment alone does not entitle me to the extraordinary standards that I hold.  Yes, their teachers have been required to check their diapers every hour, to make sure that their classrooms never exceed the established student-teacher ratio, and to follow a specific curriculum and schedule.  

They didn't have to bend over backward when my kids have had rough adjustments to new classrooms.  They didn't have to read books on the floor with them, hug them as I dropped them off the in mornings, send me pictures of their days while I've been away, or volunteer to babysit them outside of school hours.  

They didn't have to love my girls.  But they have, and they've done those parts for free.

Piper and Caroline may never remember Miss Barbara, Miss Sierra, Miss Michelle, Miss Shelby, Miss Nicole, Miss Tamara, Miss Eliana, or Miss Tracey, but I will.  Our family is forever indebted to these ladies who have made it possible for me to leave my precious little ones for a few hours each day, knowing that they will be happy.  

If your child attends a daycare, hug her teacher.  Daycare workers do a big job.

SAHM Status

I did it.

Last Friday, I officially handed in my notice and will be joining the ranks of stay-at-home moms (with the exception of night classes) when our oldest starts school in August.  

Photo by  Kate Bernard

Photo by Kate Bernard

I'm equal parts thrilled and terrified.

I left the teaching profession at the end of last school year so that I could spend more time with our family, but our finances still necessitated at least part-time work on my end.  My ultimate goal was to spend the kids' "little years" at home, and my husband's recent job promotion will allow me to do just that.  

Obviously, I won't arrive at the end of my life and wish that I had spent more time working.  However, the "terrified" part of me wonders if I will miss having an outlet for a few hours every day.  I worry about money.  I'm intimidated by other SAHMs, who appear to do all the things with all the kids and stay perfectly put-together in the meantime.   Will I fit in?  Will I be fun?  Will I share the "right" opinions with other mommas?  (Lord knows moms are never short on opinions.)

The "thrilled" part of me has been reminding the terrified part that I can do hard things, that I am bigger than my fears.  God gave my girls to me, and I have the unique opportunity to shape their hearts and minds like no one else can.

Above the other feelings, I am free.  For the first time in years, I'm free to say "yes" to all kinds of opportunities that a job outside the home never allowed.  At least for one year before I start my dental hygiene program, I get to live this dream that I've had since I was my daughter's age.

I've been wanting to say this for a long time: I am one of the lucky few.  I am a stay-at-home mom.

Stay tuned for our next adventure(s).  Big things ahead for Team Fenrick. :)