We were licensed on a Wednesday afternoon and by Friday night we got the call. A baby boy needed a home, but baby had multiple siblings. “I know you said your preference was one child under two, but would you consider taking a sibling as well?” our case worker asked. We wavered and then ultimately stuck with our plan: first placement, one kiddo. As I said yes to the baby only a small piece of my heart broke. We had just simultaneously filled a need and contributed in the breaking up of a family.
I went to take a shower knowing it might be awhile before I got to do that in peace again and I wept for the baby we were getting, for the child we had to turn away, for the mother who was losing her children. I thought I’d be thrilled when we got our first call. This is what we wanted. This is what we’ve spent almost 40 hours training for, this is why my linen closet has a keyed lock on it now and my laundry detergent is locked up, and why we installed annoying door chimes, and why my house has been cleaned and re-cleaned meticulously for home visits. This is the moment we’d been anticipating. But there was little to celebrate that night.
We waited up all night and finally, in the wee hours of the morning, a CPS investigator arrived with this sweet little baby sleeping in a carrier, snuggled under a blanket. The CPS worker mentioned that he needed to hurry. “One of the other siblings is in the car with another agent. We’re taking him to a shelter for the night.” Another fracture to my once naive heart.
I didn’t bother putting baby boy in his new bed that night. I just rocked him in the light of our Christmas tree and prayed over him and admired his little hands and his long eye lashes. It was still dark when our six year old son came stumbling into the living room. “Look what I have,” I whispered. “Where?” he asked, panning the room, his eyes still adjusting. “Right here, in my arms.” “Is that a baby? Our foster baby?!” He climbed in my lap and we took turns pointing out all the cute things about him. Then my two year old daughter wandered in and climbed up with us too. She’d woken the night before when our case worker was here and we told her what was happening. She traded spots with her brother and took her turn adoring the baby, enamored, but a little uncertain about sharing mommy’s lap.
As the day unfolded, I felt the urge to call or text his mama every time a question popped up. “Does he take a paci?” “What about a lovey?” “How many ounces of formula does he typically take?” “That cry…what does that cry mean?” “Does he like purees or do you do baby-led weaning?”
As we prepared to foster, I think I expected to be mad at the mother. I expected to feel like if she had her child removed by CPS, I probably knew much better than she did about taking care of them. I expected to feel like I was swooping in and saving the day. I didn’t expect to want to talk with her so badly. I didn’t expect to want to send her a picture of him happily smiling or eating breakfast or sleeping soundly. I didn’t expect to want to share with her little moments like discovering he could army crawl…as if she didn’t already know that. I didn’t expect to so strongly want to tell her, “He’s okay. He’s safe. I know you must be scared, but I promise I will take care of your baby for you. I promise.” I didn’t expect to care so much about her.
I didn’t expect siblings or that I’d care so much about them so quickly. I think as we prepared to foster there were parts I couldn’t face until I had to. This must have been one of them. These children are beautiful. Their family looks normal, nice even. These aren’t the faces of the foster care I had imagined. A week ago I certainly didn’t expect that tonight I’d be chatting on the phone with another sibling’s foster mom or that that sibling would hop on the phone and I’d get to ask him a burning question about his little brother. “What is his favorite food to eat?” “Ummm, I think he likes carrots. But don’t forget to cut them!”
I’m a homebody, an introvert. I need plenty of time to just be, without plans and busyness. I’ve designed a life that allows me this refueling time on a regular basis. I didn’t expect so many meetings and appointments and visits. The first doctor’s visit, the first visit with mom, a trip to the foster closet during the one day a week that it’s open to get some clothes and essentials. Next week is already lined up with an appointment at the WIC office, another visit with mom, a follow up visit with our caseworker. And then add to that the phone calls with baby’s lawyer and CPS. Somewhere in there we still have to squeeze in all the other parts of our life, like my part-time job and kid’s school and feeding them actual meals and stuff…oh and not to mention, ya know, a baby to now care for and connect with. Life is so much busier than I expected.
I didn’t expect that with all the unexpecteds, I would feel so absolutely sure of this new role of ours. It doesn’t mean I’m not anxious about what is ahead, but I just know that when I look at this baby smile at me or watch him stare a hole into my soul as he gulps down his bottle, I’m so grateful I get the privilege of knowing him and being his safe place for a little while.