Before our first child was born, my husband and I worked as weekend houseparents at a crisis nursery. It was a job I would not have sought out. When I learned about the position, I tried hard to shrug away the feeling that we should apply. The pay was minimum wage during the normal daytime hours of the shift, but there was no compensation for the overnight portion. We assumed we would be able to sleep. In reality, sleep proved hard to come by.
We were one of a handful of couples who would stay at the nursery in 24-hour shifts on the weekends to spell the live-in houseparents. Additional caretakers had shifts during the weekday hours when the entire office was open. The children we cared for were either coming for respite care or they were brought to the nursery for care after being removed from their homes as a result of abuse or neglect. Children could remain in care at the center for up to a couple of weeks at a time as a safe haven — so as to prevent the child being shuffled around to multiple homes in the process of finding the right placement. We applied and got the job. It brought us to a total of three part-time jobs each while we attended school full time.
There are many stories I could tell about this job, but the story I want to share today is the tale of two brothers. The brothers, ages three and five, had been with a foster family long-term. Parental rights had been severed, or were going to be, and adoption was the new plan for their future. For whatever reason, their foster family did not feel that adopting these boys was part of their future. While their worker endeavored to find the right family, the boys were placed in care at our place of employment. On our first shift with the boys, we clicked. We instantly adored them. The feeling was mutual, especially with the three-year-old. We could not have gotten along better. For the first time, my job there felt fulfilling. I felt joy in my work. After one shift, the boys didn’t want us to leave. We didn’t want to tear ourselves away.
When we saw the boys next, I felt like I was coming home to them. It was a reunion. I was ecstatic they were still there! They seemed relieved and excited to see us. As we tucked them into bed for the night, the younger brother asked if I would be his mommy forever. Just like that. I choked back tears as I felt my heart opening and my guard melting away. Hope flooded in. Could we be a family? It felt right. I wondered if there was any possible way we could make it happen. I ached with a desire to make it so! Suddenly, I found myself rushed back into that moment and the reality of it all. I had no magic wand to wave and I knew I couldn’t give him false hope. My promise was that I would take care of him while I was there with him and I told him how much I liked spending time with him – how much I loved being with him and his brother. I expressed how wonderful I thought those boys were and that anyone who got to be their family was lucky.
The last time I had to walk away from the boys, knowing it would be the last time I likely ever saw them, I remember breaking down as soon as we walked out of the building, sobbing that I wanted them. I remember how wrong it felt to care deeply for two young children in need of a forever family, and to not be able to scoop those kids up and take them home and love them. I felt so incredibly helpless. I still think about them from time to time and pray that they are happy and loved. Their names have escaped me, but I can picture their sweet faces in my mind. Part of me wonders if I should have fought harder to find a way to try to adopt them. Part of me knows that if it were meant to be it would have worked out and I remind myself of my naiveté at the time.
Still, there was an invaluable lesson from this experience . You see, I used to belong to the “I could never” club when it came to foster care. A lot of people identify themselves as members of this club in response to discovering we have chosen to foster. During our experience at the crisis nursery, my heart grew and changed and I learned I could belong to a new kind of club, the “if only for a little while” club.
I learned from this experience that I was capable of becoming a foster parent. I could love a child who needed me, if only for a little while. I decided that I never wanted to again find myself in the position of not being able to adopt a child who needed and wanted me, particularly when I felt the same way in return. We immediately looked into the foster care process as a direct result. When the time was right, my husband and I independently recognized the shift– and we began a new leg of our journey.
I’m officially part of a new club, and those two brothers and a really difficult job are the reason I knew I could make the leap.
Have you had an experience on your journey that has softened your heart toward what you previously thought was outside your ability?