They say everything is a matter of perspective. While the glass looks half full to me, it may look half empty to you. The quaint life of a farmer seems ideal to someone working a 9-5 office job while the farmer wishes he could take nights and weekends off from the cows. Childless, infertile couples stare longingly at the crying baby that the overwhelmed parent is trying to soothe. There is truth in this. So it will come as no shock to find that my worst day as a foster mom maybe only look that way to my family and not the rest of the world.
Truth be told, while none of our days of foster parenting were glamorous, there are only a few that compete for the title of The Worst. No, that isn’t true. There are four that compete for the second worst day as a foster parent. The Worst is an isolated event that I’m unsure I could survive again.
We had unexpectedly taken an emergency foster placement of two little girls. We had adopted our two sons and youngest daughter by that point. We were exploring the option of another adoptive situation when we got a slightly frazzled phone call from my favorite agency caseworker. The number of active foster homes was small and the uncertainty of this case made many families reluctant to say yes.
While my close friends may call me a compassionate paernt, others see my personality as being “too emotional.” I’ve been called impulsive, bleeding heart, and downright irresponsible. So it will come as no surprise to find out that when someone I cared about called me and asked me to take in a risky emergency placement full of unknowns, I said, “Let me call my husband and ask;” then I called him and submitted all the reasons I thought we should say “yes.” He agreed (the man did agree to marry me after all. We have a few things in common. Being giant softies is one of those things), and I called the caseworker back. Eight hours later we were welcoming a very energetic 4-year-old and a weepy, terrified 18-month-old into our home.
Neither girl had a bedtime routine to speak of. Being that their entire world had just been turned upside down, there was a lot of crying involved. Eventually the 4-year-old was exhausted enough to pass out but the 18-month-old, our adopted 20-month-old and I spent the whole night on the couch getting to know each other and hoping against hope someone would sleep.
The next two weeks passed in a blur of activity. We were told the girls would probably stay “for a while.” Then the caseworker called and said, “Hey we found a family member for them to go to, I’ll be by to pick them up tomorrow.” I’m ashamed to say I was so relieved; in that moment, I cried a little. I love the girls and they were sweet. We were getting into a routine and figuring each other out. But our relatively calm home of five turned into a chaotic home of 7 and it was not an easy transition. However, for every tear I cried in relief, I cried 50 times over the next day.
I was a brave parent. I was. My husband was unable to come home to say goodbye. I had everything packed and ready for them to go. There was so much stuff that it barely fit in the poor caseworker’s car. I carried the 18-month-old out to the car and took one more breath of sweet baby shampoo and lotion and moved to hand her off to the caseworker so he could buckle her into the car.
The tiny, delicate, dainty baby girl wrapped her arms around my neck and would not let go. That would have been easy enough to deal with considering I had the help of two extra adults. It wasn’t for this baby, who I had only known for two weeks, whose life I was a mere blip in the rotation from strange adult to strange adult; she began to scream. Not only did she begin to scream. She began to scream “Mama no! No, Mama, no!” and her little face turned red with exertion. Tears flowed down her adorable face as she stared at me with mixed betrayal and desperation. She had no idea where she was going. She had no idea it was for the best, that she was going to be loved, that I wasn’t her real mama, or that she was (metaphorically) violently ripping my heart from my chest with her wailing.
It happened now almost exactly four years and one month ago, and If I close my eyes and think about it, I feel her little arms wrapped around my neck, feel my face wet with our comingled tears, and hear her screams. I held it together. This was, in point of fact, what I signed up for when I agreed to be a foster parent. My purpose was to be a safe landing place for when children needed it. I was never meant to be their permanent home. I knew that going in.
She didn’t understand. All she knew, all my children knew, was that I was a person–a parent—she trusted and I let her get dragged away by a stranger while she screamed my name. As soon as the car was out of sight, I whispered instructions to my friend whom I had asked to come over to help watch my other kids as I said goodbye. When she agreed, she’d keep the kids outside to play, I went to my bedroom, locked the door, and wept in earnest. I covered my head with pillows, laid face down on my bed, and screamed. I screamed about the unfairness of foster care. I screamed that it wasn’t fair for her to need to be in foster care at all. I cried so hard I threw up and then I cried some more.
My kids were fine. I heard that the girls went to an aunt and uncle that loved them. Things worked out the best way they could have. After a few days, the echo of her cries didn’t haunt me constantly. But as I type these words, my throat is clogged with tears. Should we have done it? Should we have been a safe place for little girls that needed one in an emergency? Would I do it again knowing what I know? Yes. But as a foster parent, this was probably the worst I have ever felt.
So why am I telling you this? Because as painful as it was, it was needed and necessary. And it was absolutely worth it.