***To protect the girls and maintain confidentiality, the names of our foster daughters have not been disclosed and pictures have been blurred or watermarked. ***
After 6 months of trainings, forms, home assessments, and interviews, we were finally approved and signed contracts to open our home to foster care on November 22nd. That first night, we got a call to foster a three year old little girl, but a kinship placement was found a couple of hours later, and we weren't needed. A few days later, the same thing happened, this time for a two year old.
On Monday, December 5th, we were putting the kids to bed when we got a phone call for a placement of two little girls from across the state. They had been waiting at a DHS office in their county all day as their worker tried to find a home that would place both girls together. With no success in their area, they widened their search to include the OKC, and called us. Their worker shared their story with us and told us this placement would be long term because of the severity of the abuse and the involvement of law enforcement- a minimum of 6 months. Our paperwork clearly stated that we were open to taking in only one child at a time, but their story broke our hearts, and it took us less than a minute to decide that we would accept the placement. The girls, 5 years old, L, and 5 months old, C, would arrive about 2 and half hours later.
Just after midnight, they pulled into our driveway and stumbled out of the car. We had made sure to leave our Christmas lights on for them, and met them outside. L had had an accident in the car. It was freezing outside and she was soaking wet, wearing short sleeves and no socks. The baby was sleeping soundly and she never stirred- even when we took her out of her car seat, and stripped her down so that her worker could point out the bruises on her little body. We carried her up the stairs and placed her into our crib in a home she didn't know and she slept.
I noticed L had a Frozen backpack for school, so I grabbed one of Lyla's Frozen night gowns out of her room and gave it to her along with a pull up. She was quiet at first. Dustin went downstairs to sign forms and talk with their case worker, and I settled the girls into their room. L spotted a basket of rainbow blocks and began building. I asked her if I could help, and she gave me *very* specific instructions on which blocks I could put where.
As we played, I told her that I wanted to tell her the rules of our house. I told her that we all try our best to be kind and helpful. I told her that in our house, there was no hurting and no hitting. She told me her house didn't have those rules.
I asked her if she celebrated Christmas and she told me she did. She said her favorite thing to do was to sing Christmas carols and go to the park with her mom. She told me her birthday was April Juneth. She told me she loved school. She asked if I could call her bus driver and tell her where my house was. I told her it was too far, but that I would take her to a school close by. She simply said "Okay".
The case worker left. Dustin came upstairs and sat with us. The baby stirred, so I made a bottle and on my way back up to their room, I saw Lyla sitting up in her bed. She saw me holding the baby and asked what had happened to Karrick. She was so excited (and probably relieved!) when I told her this was one of her foster sisters. I told her there were two and she sprang out of bed to meet L.
L immediaely warmed up to Lyla. She took the lead on their play together, and I noticed she had a small stutter. They played together with every toy in sight. They were so similar in so many ways. They liked the same things. They were fast friends. A little before 2:00, we told the girls it was time to sleep. Dustin got Lyla to bed and I was in the girls room bouncing, walking, and swaiying wih the baby who was obviously tired but not sleeping. I asked L if C had any favorite songs or if she knew how she liked to be put to bed. She told me that she puts herself to sleep. "Just put her down," she said. I did, and she rolled over and slept.
I turned out the light and reminded L that I was just across the hall if she needed anything. She told me she was hungry, so I got her a snack and some water. She ate quickly and laid down. She fell asleep sucking on her fingers.
I went to check the backpack they came with to see what they had brought. Two outfits for each girl, a few diapers, and half a can of formula. L's backpack was full. A school agenda, and several folders. I read through everything. Notes from her teacher were written almost weekly in her agenda from August to December. A few replies from her mother were written in sporadically. I checked every worksheet. I looked over her assessments and report cards. I read the notes from her speech therapist noting her progress. I learned as much as I could from the contents of her backpack, and then I went to bed. I slept lighly waiting for baby cries. I heard C fuss for a moment, and I went in to check on her. She was fast asleep, but I picked her up and held her in my arms anyway. I prayed for her and kissed her face. When I put her back in her crib she slept and didn't make a sound the rest of the night.
That morning, we made a list. We needed a car seat for L, a couple more baby gates, socks, diapers, and their favorite foods. I called a few of the resources that had been given to me to provide clothes and basic needs for foster children. None of them could help. One worker told me that this time of year the donation centers receive many toys (for Christmas) but almost all are in need of basic necessities like coats, clothes, and car seats. I called our elementary school, gave them L's name and medical info, and they sent me the forms to bring in that afternoon to enrolling her.
We made cinnamon rolls for breakfast, and the big girls played dress up. First they were Sofia and Cinderella. Then they were getting married. Then they had a tea party. They brushed their teeth and got ready for the day. They made me several pieces of artwork for the refrigerator. They jumped on the trampoline, had hot chocolate, snacked and snacked some more. We had just finished having lunch when I noticed I had a voice mail. It was their case worker.
"We were able to find a home for them nearby. Moving the girls will make it easier for visitations. Someone will be there this afternoon to pick them up."
I told Dustin, and asked him to talk to the girls.
Lyla was understanding, and L didn't bat an eye.
I stepped outside to call a friend to cancel the meal train she was setting up for us, but when I tried to speak, tears welled up and I couldn't form any words. My heart broke and all I could do was hold the child in my arms more tightly and cry.
I packed up everything the girls came with, and added everything that I could. Before they left, I talked to L about what our family believes about God. I told her that I believed He loved her very much, and that I would be praying for her and her sister. She said okay, and asked to go play.
We packed so much into the day we had four children. We loved and snuggled C, who gave endless smiles and barely ever cried. She melted so sweetly into the arms of whoever was holding her. She was a tiny little five month old, but she was almost ready to crawl and was rolling all around so well.
We loved getting to know L. I will never forget how quickly she and Lyla began to act like sisters. Sitting at the lunch table playfully arguing over who was copying who, dancing in their princess dresses, and throwing each other birthday parties. L was brave and kind and protective of C. They were a joy.
Their stay with us was short. Less than a day, but we loved them. I am thankful for that chance, and I can be grateful for a move that keeps the girls closer to what they know and who they know. Because even though I know they come from a home where terrible things have happened, L told me about some wonderful things, too. I know that she loved her mother, and L deserves to see her in a safe environment as much as she can.
I've read that every time you foster a child, they take a little piece of your heart with them when the go, but that another it grows back even bigger. After having our first placement come and go so quickly, I can say that I absolutely believe that. My heart broke when they left, but I know my capacity to love has grown.
This week, I faced two of my biggest fears of foster care.
1. I let children go.
2. I found compassion for the mother who hurt them.
The first was harder than I had imagined, but the second was easier. Before getting to know the girls, and hearing L talk about her mother, it was easy for me to vilify the faceless biological parents of abused children in foster care. When their case worker told me the severity of their abuse, my heart ached for the girls and was full of fury for the monster I imagined her to be. It was easy for me to think of her as wholly "bad". But then I got to know her through L. The truth is, L and C's mother sang them the same Christmas Carols that I sing with my kids. She pushed them on the swings and caught them at the bottom of the slide. She took them out for ice cream. She did her best completely on her own without anyone meaningful in her life to lighten the load. The truth is, there isn't one of us who is all good, just like there isn't one of us who is all bad. Seeing their mother through L's eyes painted the clearest picture of forgiveness and compassion that I have ever seen. The truth is, I need just as much grace and forgiveness as her biological mother does. My rags are as filthy as hers when presented before God, but, thank Goodness, He forgives us both completely.
Our first placement taught us so much. It reaffirmed the notion that while this may be the hardest thing we ever do, it will likely be the most meaningful. We will continue to love and care for L and C. We will pray for them just like we pray for every member of our family. Because, even if only for 16 hours, they were a part of ours.
"May the Lord watch between me and thee while we are absent one from one another." Genesis 31:49