This week, less than two weeks after opening our home, my family received our first foster care placement.
We got the call on Monday evening for two sweet little girls (5 years old and 5 months old) coming to us from across the state. Their case worker hadn’t had any luck finding a placement for both of them together in their area, so they widened their search and found us. We were told that due to the involvement of law enforcement and severity of their case, it would be a long term placement (a minimum of 6 months). We said yes, and they arrived a few hours later, tired and cold, with a small backpack of belongings.
The baby slept while we stayed up until two that morning getting to know our new big girl. She ate and ate some more. She played with every sparkly princess toy we had to offer, and then played with all of the rest. As we talked to her, she told us things that broke our heart and things that made us laugh. She was sweet and brave and she warmed up to us quickly.
We eventually insisted on bedtime and she laid herself down, and she and the baby slept all night. I stayed up a few more hours reading everything in her school agenda. Every note her teacher had written from August to December. Every note her mother had written back. I read and re-read every worksheet, report card and assessment that had been done. I learned her strengths. I learned her weaknesses.
The next day we bought car seats, socks, toothbrushes, diapers, teddy bears and all of their favorite snacks. The girls were such a sweet match to our two biological children. The two “big girls” were instant BFFs and the babies smiled and cooed at each other.
My refrigerator was quickly covered in artwork and drawings from both big girls. We had tea parties. We played dress up. We danced. We ate a lot. We got spat up on. We changed outfits. We changed diapers. We made bottles. We snuggled. We even made arrangements to start kindergarten the next day. We were overwhelmed and exhausted, but we loved them instantly.
Later that afternoon, I got a call. Their case worker let me know that the girls were being moved to a home closer to their biological family to better facilitate visitations.
My oldest daughter was upset, but understanding. Our foster daughters didn’t blink an eye at the change. And my heart broke into pieces. I stepped outside to call and cancel the meal train our amazing community had so quickly set up for us, but as my mouth opened to form the words “they’re leaving”, I broke down.
I couldn’t speak. I could only pull the child I was holding closer into my arms and cry. You see, I’m one of those people who always said I could never do foster care because I would get too attached. Several things had changed in our minds over the years that led us to decide to open our homes. But some things didn’t. My heart didn’t change. It was as raw and open and broken for children in hard places as it had ever been. I hadn’t kept them at arms length. I hadn’t put any walls up. I hadn’t waited to start loving them. And I don’t regret it for a second. I don’t. But, goodness, it hurt. And they were only with us for a day.
The girls left that afternoon, and they took a piece of our hearts with them, but the love and heart break of our first experience with foster care only reaffirmed our families call to this life. Because foster care shouldn’t be reserved for the strong or the emotionally unavailable. I’m vulnerable and broken and my heart is soft.
The children we meet will likely not be with us forever. (It’s actually our hope that they aren’t!) But for the time a child is placed in a foster home, they deserve nothing less than a parent who will love them fiercely and completely. They deserve our vulnerability. They deserve to feel the unconditional love of a family. They deserve open hearts and open arms. They need them.
Loving too much is not a weakness for foster care, it’s a strength.
The past few days have been hard. My eyes are puffy and I’m tired. So tired. But I would do it again in a heartbeat. Because for every piece of our heart that a social worker drives away from our home, a bigger piece grows back. My family will continue to love and care and pray for those two sweet babies long after they are gone, and I’m so thankful to have known them…if only for a day.
If you are interested in becoming a foster or adoptive family in Oklahoma, visit Oklahoma Fosters or OKDHS. Not everyone can foster or adopt, but everyone can help foster children. The following organizations provide ways to do just that!