My husband told me that he would take foster care classes in the middle of TJ Maxx. More specifically he had my best friend tell me, as she had been encouraging us to take this leap for years. At that time, she was a social worker and I knew that she was dedicated, overworked and often put in dangerous situations. That week I signed us up for the 10 weeks of classes and we were on a roll.
This was something we had talked about doing for a long time. We live in western Kentucky and the area that my husband teaches in has serious socioeconomic problems. Some of the kids in our town go hungry, worry about immigration sweeps, and deal with abuse and neglect. The teachers are amazing and rally around these kids, offering them food, clothes, and shelter. They do this with the money out of their salaries. We knew there was a need and wanted to help in more than the mentor/teacher/coach roles we were used to.
We finished our classes in June, and in July we finished our home studies. Our medications were locked away, cleaning supplies out of reach; a bedroom was prepared for children ages five and under. We were as ready as we were ever going to be. We just needed the signed paperwork and our first phone call.
It was at this point that I started to cry -- a lot. I cried for children in need that I didn’t know. I rationalized that somewhere is the western Kentucky area there were children who were scared, hungry, neglected, or abused and one or two of those children were going to be mine. Some unknown stranger was hurting my children and all I could do was wait. I was not handling this very well. I bought the world’s softest baby blanket for one of our unknown children. When he or she arrived I would wrap them in coziness and tell them how loved and special they are.
We received a phone call only a few days after being approved. I took a couple of days off of work to help them adjust, but the kids were only with us for 72 hours before being placed with a family member. Our entire family cried.
We of course knew that reunification is always the goal and we had some peace that this was a good decision. For a week after, our seven-year-old would not let us speak the children's names. Every time we discussed the situation or casually made mention of them she would cry. I thought to myself, “What am I doing to my children?” Even our adult children were upset.
How do you open yourself up to something that hurts so badly? It didn’t matter how many times we discussed the system and explained that some children are with you for only a little while and some may stay and become forever family, all our youngest child knew was that she hurt. We wiped tears and waited for the next phone call.
At night I would read more and be awake at three in the morning worrying about things that I cannot control. I cried for an overworked and flawed system, a system that underpays their employees and puts them in dangerous situations. I Googled news stories about social worker burnout and wondered what I would be able to do to help.
We already knew that we would be there to help transport and would facilitate where we could. If we vacationed, we would ask to take them with us. If they had a court date or therapies, we would take them because that is what we would do for our own children.
Now I cry for the two children we have placed with us now. Publicly I refer to them as “the nuggets,” to protect their superhero identities. At night we read to them as they fall asleep. We read Sandra Boynton books that I memorized years ago while reading to our seven-year-old. “The moon is up. It’s getting late. Let’s get ready to celebrate. It’s Pajama Time!”
In the mornings I wake them up by rubbing their sweet smelling hair and tickle bellies during diaper changes while they try to squirm away. It is my idea of heaven. Our seven-year-old asks, “Are these my sisters/brothers?” And I answer her with, “Yes, for now these are sisters/brothers and we will love them for as long as we are allowed.” Then I sneak off to cry.
I cry for their futures and I cry for their pasts. I cry and beg the powers that be to protect them and to do what is best for them. I cry and hope that my heart is strong enough to do this and then I hear a squeal on the baby monitor and I go to play patty cake, trucks, and to tickle tiny necks.