Although National Foster Care Month is behind us, it presented many opportunities for LSS foster care staff to talk and correspond with our foster parents about why they do what they do. Below is something one longtime foster mom shared with her social worker Alicia Jones. This mom keeps a journal and writes about her experiences. She is a terrific writer and answered a few questions, sometimes referencing her journal entries. Her responses are book-worthy and highly entertaining while so thoughtful and inspiring. Please take a minute to read and enjoy!
LSS: Why do you foster?
Foster In Texas (FIT) Mom: Actually, this one only gets asked every six months. In my living room. By my caseworker. While filling out some six-month review to keep us all in compliance. Something to the effect of: “How does the family feel about fostering?”
The answer changes with the mood. With the day. With the recent entries or upcoming good-byes. It is fluid. I can never give the answer I want because it’s asked while kids are wanting attention, while my brain is in four different places, while my caseworker sits beside me waiting.
Tonight, this would be my answer:
I’ve just watched a video of my three current kids pretending to catch flies at the dinner table. I watched it in its 20ish-second entirety, no fewer than 25 times. It is the most simple game we created out of necessity after leaving the backdoor open way too long the other day. This is what I love about fostering. Over three years, I have fostered piñata hitters, puppeteers, hair braiders, skateboard riders, thumb suckers, ice cream lovers, dog petters, stroller riders, Capital ground hill roller-downers, cat feeders, story book readers, footie pajama wearers, laugh-til-you-pee-your-pants-ers, and yes, pretend fly catchers. I love that we are a family. Though who we are changes, what we are doesn’t. I like to think that the difference between my family and any other family is just the descriptor that sits in front. I love that sitting at the dinner table with three kids still makes me, at least once a week, get up laughing and say: “Hang on, let me get the camera!”
A week ago, having processed again the idea of Little Guy leaving soon, I was NOT a fan of foster care. There are times where I hate the idea that this constantly changing family is my life. That when I say “Hello,” I know there will be a “Goodbye.” That there is a need for homes like mine. That kids ultimately grow in their skin here, become secure, happy little people, are embraced by the community, are adored but then they have to move again. That I watch a variety of children have a single birthday and then watch them leave.
Tonight though, having watched the fly saga happen at the dinner table and in the tub, after reading over and over again a story I have written for the kids to prepare them for Little Guy’s transition, after playing This Little Piggy with 30 little piggies while putting on three pair of pjs, while patting Itty Bitty back to sleep, I am on board. Though it changes with the kids, with each backstory, with court dates, visits and transitions, it is home for me.
About building trust…
If they don’t trust us, they can’t heal. If “D” didn’t think he was safe around me, he would never have spoken to me and sure as heck wouldn’t have demanded, while sitting on top of my friend’s shoulders at Fiesta Texas on Saturday, that he’s “GONNA GET ON THAT BOAT!” after we told him the line for the log ride was too long. I believe the kids can’t feel safe to express even their basic needs, let alone process all that they’ve gone through, if we don’t help them to feel trust.
On what started it all…
I had already been a big sister for a child who was in and out of the system; I’d already been a CASA [Court Appointed Special Advocate] for two cases so this was the logical next step, and I’d made the decision long ago that any child calling me “Mom” would have come from CPS.
Why do I KEEP FOSTERING? That’s probably a better question and no, the answer is not “because I am a glutton for punishment” as my father has said several times. Because as much as I hate to say goodbye, I love love love saying hello to all these kids, meeting them where they are and moving forward from that point. And I’ve come to learn that I love babies, but that’s just an added plus.
Referring to her journal in 2010 …
This was when I had a 5-year-old boy, his 3-year-old sister, and a 2-year-old girl from a different family.
Again, answering the question, “why do I do it?” Thankfully, there is so much more to fostering than saying goodbye. There is saying hello, you are safe, I love you, we want the same thing, you are an amazing kid, you make me smile. There is going to the same park with 15 different kids and finding out what each one’s favorite thing is. There is watching my friends love on each kid differently and sometimes the same. There is seeing how a community comes together in support of foster kids and their families. There is developing routines and little traditions that may last two months or 11 months or more. There is learning what makes a kid tick, what makes them smile, what makes them cry, and what makes them squeal with joy. There is the journey as a whole, which in my mind (and I often have to repeat this to convince myself), outweighs the goodbye at the end of the trip.
Here’s another tidbit from 2011:
“All I Really Need to Know I Learned from Fostering”:
- Never say never.
- Buy different character undies for each child … the sorting will be easier.
- Don’t try to sweep up rice right after dinner. It’s much easier when it’s dry.
- Vague answers to strangers about who you are, who your kids are, and why things don’t always match up are entirely appropriate and acceptable.
- Three-year-olds like bibs too. And stroller rides. And to be held.
- You can make your point known…whether it’s an I love you or a get down from there this instant…regardless of what your child’s primary language is.
- It ain’t over till the fat lady sings. Or the judge hits her gavel.
- Find the source of what really angers you. It’s likely not a back-talking three-year-old. It’s more likely that that back-talking three-year-old will one day walk out the door. Or even more likely that that back-talking three-year-old wasn’t treated right in a previous life.
- Just when you thought you’ve heard it all, you realize you haven’t.
- There are great gifts to be had in caseworkers, fellow foster parents, visiting children, CASAs, and therapists.
- Many, many people out there are interested in fostering. Not enough do it.
- It’s easy to forget the good stuff, so write it down. Fortunately, sometimes it’s possible to forget the bad stuff too, so don’t bother documenting that.
- We are all human. Even bio parents.
- But not all humans should be raising kids.
- At the end of the ride, my kids will not remember me unless their families remind them. They are too young. They will hopefully remember that they were loved by an additional momma during their time here. It’s my choice to believe that part.
- It’s also my choice to believe that no matter how horrific the beginning, the ending will be a good one. It’s called Faith.
- Good endings can look like different things.
- A day without vegetables kills no one. Nor does a trip to Chuck E. Cheese.
Keep extra toothbrushes on hand. And lice shampoo.
- It really does take a village to raise a child.
- A full night’s sleep is sometimes overrated. A chance to pat someone to bed or to sing them one more song is not.
- The word “hurry” carries no meaning to the under-five crowd.
- There’s no need to point out a lie. The liar is aware.
- Blood is easier to clean than vomit. Especially at 1 a.m.
- If you say it enough times, they’ll listen.
- If you say it even more times, they’ll repeat it.
- Make it worth repeating.
- There’s a reason God inspired someone to invent paper plates.
- School serves hot lunch. If you don’t make a hot dinner every night, no one cares.
- Masking tape, bubble wrap and shaving cream are all really cheap, really entertaining ways to keep kids busy.
- Sometimes not being in control is a good, good thing.
- Love them like they’re staying forever. Treasure them like they’re leaving tomorrow!
Alicia Jones, LSS-FIT Family Social Worker