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She was only supposed to stay for the weekend.
I told myself the reason we were only taking short-term foster care placements was to protect the hearts of the children already in our home.
And if we used the term “foster friends” instead of “brother” or “sister,” nothing would get confusing. Right?
But perhaps I was trying to protect my heart as well. Although–how deeply could you fall in love in one week?
It was the morning before Mother’s Day. The call came in at 3:00 a.m. with a plan for her to be picked up on Monday to go to another foster home.
I can still hear the car seat making contact with the wood floor as the social worker set down the 11- month-old stranger who would become my daughter. I can see her bright brown eyes and the mouth that would call me Mama as her first word.
Five a.m. the next day, while my husband, our 5 year old, 2 year old, and new baby were still sleeping peacefully, I sent an email that would change each of our lives. I told the social worker that I thought she was supposed to stay.
Yes, I was concerned with what her leaving would mean for my children. But– I was also fearful of what the loss would mean for me.
While she was never solely ours–we became fully hers.
Weekly for a year, I would drop her off at the mall play space for a two-hour visit with her father. I celebrated with him when I learned he had been sober for 6 months, and when he received a promotion at the fast food restaurant where he worked.
I wish I could tell you I celebrated their reunification. But I wasn’t there when the social worker came for her. I asked my husband to arrange a two-hour block when I would be out of the house, because I couldn’t imagine handing over this child against my will, the way birth parents are forced to do when a removal takes place.
Maya Angelou said, “Without courage we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.” I could see the storm coming before my babies knew it was imminent, and I was weighed down with an ache to protect them. Yet it was our 5 year old who responded, “I’m sad she can’t be with us, but I’m glad for her Daddy that he can be with her.” I tried to be that brave.
Any time we choose to love another person, we hope for things and endure things. This is true when we love a child–whether they are in foster care or not. When you love another person, you don't pause to question whether it will be worth it or how long you will get to love them.
I remember the exact moment I met my husband when we were both 18. I can still see my parents out the window as I boarded the bus on our college campus, and extended my hand to the stranger who would become my lifetime partner. Our friendship began that day, and my love for him deepened a year later as I witnessed how he hoped and endured on my behalf while I grieved my father's death.
Eighteen years later, he hoped and endured with me again as we said goodbye to this little girl.
We believed that we were supposed to say yes to loving her regardless of how long she would be placed in our home. We hoped for the stability of her father. And we endured grief when she was removed.
I would choose to love my father and that little girl again and again even knowing there would ultimately be loss. Even if I could modulate my heart to love to a lesser degree someone who would not stay in my life forever, I would not choose to cheapen the experience for either of us.
Sometimes when I miss her, I remember a moment when I was tucking her in her crib. I knew there were only a few days left until she reunified with her father. I thought about how for the rest of our lives, that moment in her room would be just for the two of us. Not my other children, or her father, or my husband.
Each relationship is a series of moments without a guaranteed number of years for any of them. We said yes again to foster care after she reunified with a desire to create more love-filled moments that overpowered a fear of when the moments might end.
A child deserves the 100 percent kind of love. None of us want to be loved less–or to feel like a second-class citizen in the home where we live.
Every child is worth becoming attached to . . . and grieving when they leave. And it will not just be the life of the child that is enriched when this risk is taken . . . but the one who said “yes” as well.
If you are ready to give a child your heart, please reach out to us today to learn more about foster care.