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Category Archives: the foster care

Uncharted territory.

After some introductions from the other children that were met with Patches burying her face in my shoulder,   I took her to have a bath by herself. She didnt splash and laugh or wiggle when I placed her in the warm water. She sat still, looking ahead or down with no expression on her face. Her body language was scared and tired, her tiny back rounded over. Occasionally she would glance at me. I talked and narrated what I was doing and sang in my softest, most buttery Disney princess voice. She let me gently wash her hair and body, and I took the opportunity to love her and also to examine this little body. I looked for clues, anything that would indicate what kind of world she had just been taken from.

Her hair was clean. Her nails were trimmed. A tiny bruise on her thigh had the familiar, round bandaid mark from an immunizations trip to the doctor. I breathed. Maybe she had been cared for. Maybe she had a loving family and had just had a really crazy night full of mistakes. I could handle this.

Hooper came in and invited himself into the bath. He was so excited to have an unfamiliar toddler in his bath tub. He splashed and laughed and wiggled, like two year olds should. He showed her his bath toys. She fought it, but he won and she laughed.

Once she was dry and dressed, the first day home with Patches was similar to the first day home with a new baby. I felt unsure about every move. She was different than my two year old. I knew how to meet his needs, I knew what every facial expression and voice meant with Hooper. Patches was a different story.

For about 90% of the first day, Patches was a limp little doll with her cheek on my shoulder. If I put her down, she would slither to the floor, face down, and bang her head if I didn’t scoop her right back up.

The only words she used were, “Keeta” and “Doddy”. The Cat and The Dog were also the only things that really made her smile.

Not that I blamed her- have you met The Dog??

She was terrified of The Dad, the gentlest man I know. He wanted so badly to be able to comfort her, but had to strategically settle for being gentle and affectionate with the other children and me within her view, but not with her. If he was within a foot of her, she reacted with a crumpled face and arched back, before hiding in my chest or slithering to the floor. She obviously needed to relearn that men can be safe. I had no idea why.

I experimented with different foods. I learned quickly that she needed to be presented with one or two tiny bites at a time. If I gave her an entire meal or snack with a pile of cut up pieces. It would all be in her mouth within seconds, and she would be gagging until I scooped most of it out.

This was another example of how emergency foster care is a lot of trial and error. I called my agency at about 9:00 am to check in about what paperwork needed to be done. They didn’t even know I had been placed with a child. They told me a case worker from the agency and one from the county would contact me by the end of the day.

They didn’t.

That night, long after The Dad had put the other small people to bed, she fell asleep on my shoulder and I laid her into her crib. I suddenly realized I missed my kids. Had I given them any of myself today? Had I hugged them?

I went and looked at their carefree, sleeping faces.

Tomorrow will be better.



Home…for now.

When I arrived at the shelter, I remembered what a huge campus it was, and how it was even huger (yep, huger) in the dark. …

After weaving through a labyrinth of identical buildings (see above), I finally found the giant cow sculpture landmark that I thought I was looking for. Sigh of relief. Clutching my bag and coffee, I walked up to the buzzer and pushed the button.

“I’m hear to pick up (name). Am I in the right place?”
“Yes, I’ll buzz you in.”
Three minutes pass.
“You’re in the wrong place. Drive back the way you came and take your first right.”
I did and I did.
When I found the right building, I realized it was clearly the only one that was lit up and there were two women walking through the front doors, each holding a car seat. Other foster moms. The kind of seasoned foster moms who knew what they were doing and where they were going. Suddenly, I felt like the nerdy, freshman foster mother who would have to face the cool, senior foster mothers. Deep breath.
I walked into a normalish looking waiting room. In the middle of it, with her back to me stood a small figure in a very wet and dirty halloween costume (I won’t say what kind, on the off chance of it being too identifying). I’ll call her “Patches” because she looks like the cuddliest Cabbage Patch doll you have ever seen.
I sat down behind her and said hello as I slowly unloaded the stuffed animals and blanket. She turned around to show me the rest of her incredibly sweet face and big, tired eyes. Patches basically looked like she had had a really long and crazy night. She seemed interested in what I had and let me show her the animals and get a little closer. Once she had given me a tiny smile, I showed her some happy pictures of my kids on my phone, which she liked. Then I told her I was going to change her diaper and put on some nice new pajamas, which I held up for her to see. She let me gently pull down her costume and her gray, saturated diaper that looked at least ten hours old. It had soaked down to her feet.
Within minutes, she was in her fresh and dry pajamas, and sipping juice under a blanket in my lap. I felt warm and hopeful. The other foster mothers each held their babies and asked routine questions that would go unanswered. The thing with emergency foster care is that you pretty much get no information. The children usually have nothing but the clothes on their back (or in this case, a costume and no shoes). Sometimes they get the gender wrong. They might be developmentally disabled or HIV+ or have a severe allergy or have been molested. It’s just a big question mark that you agree to take home and love for now. You may find out more in the  following days or weeks. The child might go home or with relatives the next day, or never.
It was still dark and cold by the time we left, and we had a long drive home. Patches was awake, but silent and still. I just wanted to hold her. When we pulled into the driveway, it was about 5:45 and the house was quiet. Every touch and movement I made with her was in slow motion and soft focus. I was going to envelop her in gentleness and comfort and show her that I was safe. I walked in the door with her in my arms and was greeted by  one of The Cats. The other Cat  lounged on the dining room table (total disrespect for me). Patches was delighted and wiggled out of my arms.

Then The Dog appeared. Patches was now beside herself and began running through the house laughing. We had just gotten The Cats cornered in the living room for a petting session, when The Dad appeared with Hooper for an introduction. Hooper was squishy faced with sleepiness and excited at the stranger who was just his size. With unprecedented care, he walked towards her and patted her shoulder, saying hello in his sweetest (and loudest) two year old voice.
Hearing the commotion, the other two squishy faces emerged from their dark bedroom and Jorge said while rubbing her eyes, “Do we get a new, little foster child?”


This is not a drill.

I wonder if I will ever get used to the middle of the night phone call thing. When it happened around 4:00 am the morning after Halloween, The Dad ran to grab the phone which had been left off the base somewhere  in the living room. My heart raced with my eyes still closed as my thoughts immediately went to my father. Was he alright? Would I be on a plane by morning? Then I heard him say, “Ok, what have we got?”. Then I remembered this whole emergency foster care thing.

“Ok, so… newborn twins… a two year old… hmmm, well… let me put my wife on.”

I bolted upright and cleared my throat. It was hard to think clearly with the left over adrenaline from my first thought. I took the phone and tried to process what the calm and authoritative voice was saying.

“We have an urgent situation, I apologize for calling so early. I have newborn twins and a two year old girl. One of the twins has (insert confidential medical information here) and we are extremely understaffed here.” She explained that they had already been medically cleared and brought to the emergency children’s shelter about 40 minutes away, instead of waiting at the local emergency room for foster parents to arrive. I hesitated, and said, “Ok… ok, I can absolutely take the two year old if they are to be separated.” Once I had said it, I knew it was true, and it was all I could do.

She said, “Wonderful”.

The Dad nodded and went out to start the coffee while I spun in circles trying to find some jeans. I went into the garage and found the bin carefully labeled “GIRL, 2T”. I grabbed a stuffed bunny and and stuffed hippo. Soft, pink blanket.  Warm pajamas. Juiceboox and granola bar. Within about nine minutes, I was dressed and semi-ready and on my way out the door, coffee in hand.

I swear, The Dog seemed to know something was up.

I could have been projecting, though. Am I the only one who is constantly attaching human emotions to my pets? Next time, I’ll talk about how the pick-up and homecoming went. Now, if you will excuse me, I have a mountain of tiny clothes to fold, and a giant latte to sip.

Just So Stories..

A lot of my day is dedicated to addressing  a looping cycle of the 5 W’s (and that one H- curse you, H!) being thrown my way. Remember this one? “I keep six honest serving-men (They taught me all I knew);Their names are What and Why and When And How and Where and Who…” In this case, it was just, “What is that?”.

I relish these early years of their lives when they are small and the questions are so easy.Sigh..

In other news, our first emergency foster care call came a few weeks ago- we had been eagerly awaiting the first call and I had been walking around with my phone in my pocket ,like a surgeon on call.

We said no. I had a stomachache over it, but I just knew it would not be a fit. The call was for two little girls under two. One was on methadone and one had various physical and developmental disabilities. I think one of the tricks to being a successful foster family is to be able to say no sometimes in order to keep the quality of care high. I keep reminding myself of this, when I get these overwhelming urges to adopt everybody. And I mean, everybody.

The second call came a few days after that one. The little guy was already at the emergency facility and they requested that I go have a visit with him that day, and would pick him up the next. He was two, and was one of four siblings. Children under five weren’t allowed to stay at the shelter, so they were to be separated.

I paced, I prepared, I did laundry, I packed snacks. I drove the 45 minutes to the shelter with my plastic baggie  full of family pictures to show the siblings he would be alright with us- we were alright, weren’t we?  They buzzed me in and he was led out by a woman in scrubs. He could have been my Hooper’s twin.I spent an hour with Little Guy and by the end of the hour, we were rolling on the floor laughing together. I couldn’t wait to get him home. He had lice. I didn’t care. We would take him anyway. It should be a mother to comb through hair with careful, loving hands- not the tired, unfamiliar hands of the rotating staff at the shelter (bless their hearts).

I paced, I prepared, I did laundry, I packed snacks. I drove the 45 minutes to the shelter. When I got there, my stomach was in knots. When I saw the social worker’s face, I knew something was strange. She told me there had been a change of plans. They had located a relative and they were on their way. I was shocked, but tried to be gracious. I said, “what wonderful news.” Then I cried all the way home. How silly.

I reminded myself  over and over that it was good news. Of course it is better for him to be with family. I had made it about me and not about him. Foster families are a last resort, as they should be. I have a feeling I will learn something new with each call. Adaptability  is strength in emergency foster parenting, but I still need to build my calluses in that department.By the time I got home, I was composed and my mind was clear.

The kids were glad to take all of their stuffed animals out of garbage bags. This is our family’s second dodging of the lice bullet. Nothing like a happy ending. Hopefully, Little Guy will get his too.