Note: This column appears in the 2/5 issue of The Glendale Star, and the 2/6 issue of the Peoria Times
Last year my wife and I decided to become foster parents. It was a long and somewhat arduous process, but we officially received our license right before the holidays.
As a foster parent, your role is to care for whatever child comes into your home while being actively involved in returning that child to their biological family, regardless of any attachments you may establish. We knew this was going to be a challenge. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. We had no idea.
It was not shaping up to be a good day. I had just found out we had a leak coming from our outdoor faucet. That morning, someone inexplicably put his car in reverse and backed into my car at a red light. When I finally got to work one of the machines we use to tie up the papers wasn’t working. I was having a terrible day. Then I got a call from our agency, Catholic Charities. It was about a newborn baby boy. Just a few days old. Would we like to take him?
Yes, yes we would! My day had just gotten a whole lot better.
As is often the strange nature of foster care transactions, I picked up the little guy in the parking lot off the freeway. He came with a file, a car seat on loan, some bags of diapers and formula from the hospital, and a “good luck.” I drove home with both hands on the wheel doing 50 mph in the right lane. He just slept like an angel.
My wife and I barely knew what to do with him. We didn’t have half the stuff we needed –- it’s hard to prepare for a foster child -- but before we knew it, several of our great friends came through with hand-me-downs and advice.
It took approximately .00003 seconds to fall in love with him. Knowing the conditions he came from made us love him even more. Suddenly, nothing else mattered. He was our first placement, our responsibility, and for however long, he was our family. Our sleep time was cut in half, but we didn’t care. In the flash of an eye, he became our world.
In an odd twist of timing, my Mom came into town to visit us for a week. That now made three of us past the point of no return. We took him down to Phoenix for the day and rolled him around town in a stroller. We gave him sponge baths. We watched him giggle in his sleep. We fed him every three hours. We took him for checkups at the pediatrician. We held him as much as we possibly could.
Almost a week to the day that we got him, we received a call that he was going back to a distant family member. They were picking him up in two days. Heartbreak is certainly not limited by inevitability.
We dressed him in the outfit my Mom had just bought for him, and the new, tiny sneakers our friends had gotten for him, and prepared to send him back to an unsure future. Did we even make a difference? He sure did. Giving him up was the hardest thing either of us has ever had to do.
Now we’re back to worrying about leaks and work on a full night’s sleep -- a sleep only interrupted by restless thoughts of where he is and how he’s doing. We’re left now with a whole new respect for foster parents, and the will to, somehow, do it again. I think this experience has made us stronger, and we wait both anxiously and skeptically for our next phone call.
We know it’s not going to be easy. We have no idea.