Earlier this week I was waiting in our minivan at the curb outside Mareto’s school. It was pick up time and I was a few minutes early. While Arsema fed her baby doll in the back seat I watched the older children running outside to the playground. The doors to the school opened and a class began to file out for their turn at recess. Single file they poured out of the building ready to run and I watched them amused until one little boy turned to look at our van. It was one of our foster sons from seven years ago.
Daniel* met my gaze and I smiled the biggest smile I could muster through the sudden rush of tears and waved. He looked confused and turned back to follow his class to the playground. I watched him play through my blurry eyes and fought the urge to jump out of the car and wrap him in a bear hug. My eyes searched the playground for his twin brother David* but I couldn’t find him. He must be in a different class, a thought that made me sad since I know how close they are and how much they love to be together.
The next day I found myself waiting at the curb again as Daniel’s class once again filed out for recess. Once again Daniel looked into to van and right at me. Once again I gave him a huge smile and an enthusiastic wave. Once again he turned away with a confused look. That’s my plan – to confuse him with love. Every day I see him I’m going smile and wave so that maybe if he’s had a bad day it will brighten his mood to think that the crazy lady in the minivan thinks he’s wonderful.
It’s an odd mix of emotion to see “my” boys again. When they left us back in 2008 we never saw them again. We never got a single update about how they were doing and how they transitioned back into their home. We had no idea if they were happy, healthy, or even safe. There was silence and heartbreak for seven long years. For seven years all I had was this album of pictures and crafts and a heart full of memories until that night in Walmart a couple months ago when I turned to see them playing with the candy display.
And now to discover they go to my son’s school? To know that even though I can’t talk to them or hug them or have a relationship with them I can at least see them play at recess? It’s a lot of relief and joy and grief. It’s a constant battle to not ask myself, “what if?” Because as much as I’d like to make this a happy story it isn’t. They didn’t go back to a good place and that’s been evident every time I see them. So that’s why I smile and wave – because I think they have a lot of hard in their lives and I want them to know that someone loves them.
May is National Foster Care Month. By far the most common thing I’m told when I share about the twins is, “I could never do that – I would get too attached.”
This is what I want to shout from the rooftops — “If you will get ‘too’ attached, if you will love these children exactly as your own, if you will pour your whole heart and soul into the little lives that would be brought to your home for two weeks, two months, or two years… then YOU are exactly the right type of person to be a foster parent!”
Children whose lives have been turned upside down, who have been abused and neglected, who are frightened or angry or grieving do not need a babysitter.
They need and mother and father. They need sacrificial love. They need someone to stand in the wide gap of their hearts and fight for them. They need people surrounding them with unconditional acceptance and love to stand up and say, “You are WORTHY, dear child. You are seen and you are just as deserving of love and safety and nurturing as any other child in any other family.”
And at the end… if you’ve done it right… your heart will feel like it’s being ripped right out of your chest. And you will cherish the pictures the drawings and memories. You will grieve… deeply. You will pray for them for the rest of your life.
Yes, if you’ve done it right it will break your heart. But it will also widen your capacity for love because when we love well we see that it matters and it isn’t wasted. Even if we never see the fruit of our work we know it was worth it.
There’s only one right way to do foster care – to get “too” attached.
*Daniel and David are not the twins real names – I changed them for privacy/legal reasons – that is also the reason for the heart blocking out his sweet little face and why I can’t share more detail about their hard reality.