Last Friday afternoon my mother and step-mother came to visit. My mother had surgery on her foot back in the summer and has had a long, slow recovery, and is only now able to travel and drive, so this was the first visit in nearly six months. As we sat around the table, we joked that it would be a great day for our family to get a phone call about a foster placement.
Five minutes afterwards, my mother was walking by the phone when it rang and she called out “It is the county!” I laughed, thinking she was joking. She wasn’t. It was a call about a sibling group of five kids. We said yes. One of the children was headed to another placement for complicated reasons, we discovered, but the other four were headed our way. The children were 10, not-quite-three year old twins and 9mos – in addition to our normal household component of Eli 12 1/2 (although developmentally 2), Simon (coming up on his 11th birthday), Isaiah (turning 9 in December) and Asher (just turned 7) along with Baby Z. (four months). We would be adding a 10 year old girl (D.), boy-girl toddler twins (R. (the boy) and A. (the girl) and another infant, baby girl Q.)
We all leaped into action. I couldn’t reach Eric since he was teaching to tell him about our new family structure, but we started sorting out clothes, getting beds ready and childproofing. The kids cleaned out the choking hazard toys and picked up the legos, my mother sorted out the baby clothes, I dug out big girl clothes, my stepmother strategized about gate placement. Then, as so often happens in foster care, we found out that they weren’t coming…at least that day. Something else had been attempted to keep them safe in their home. But, we were told, there was a good chance that they would come into care at the next court date – which is next Wednesday.
So in addition to the usual winter preps, butchering, preserving and filling the cellar, this week has been devoted to preparing to become a family of nine with two babies and two toddlers. A friend asked me “But why would you want to do that?” All I can say is that it while this particular family constellation wouldn’t have been my dream or what I would have picked, I also don’t want to see these four children who have lost everything they had lose each other too. If I don’t take them, that’s the most likely outcome. They will be divided up into two or three homes. Do I have to save the world? No, and I can’t, but I can stop that, and if my life is crazier than my ideal for a bit, well, it won’t be the first time. Moreover, I don’t feel a need (or a capacity) to micromanage this. I’ve taken placements that sounded perfect and weren’t, and ones that weren’t what we wanted and were the joy of our lives. In the end, we say yes, and open up and wait and see and trust that this is who needs us now, and who we need right now.
I have done hard before. I had four kids in 5 1/2 years, one with severe autism. I’ve done multiple babies (although never quite this close together. I had a baby, a toddler and an autistic 3 1/2 year old and two dying great-grandparents. I know that nothing lasts forever and kids get bigger and hard times can be lived through and then you get stronger and better – and that families don’t always look like what you planned. Yes, I’m nervous. But I’m also excited – because I know what it is like to open up a world to kids who have had theirs constrained, to be with them the first time they touch a live goat, or hold a chick. I know what it is like to read a story to children who have never been read to, who don’t even know that the marks on the page are letters. I know what it is like to watch a child beam with pride the first time they bake a batch of cookies for themselves or hammer a nail in straight. I want to know these kids, and if I don’t risk, I never will.
On the other hand, I may be crazy, but I’m not masochistic (much ) – I’m also working to get ready so that things will be as easy as possible – so I have constrained, safe childproofed spaces that we can work in, and the ability to go places. I’m so lucky and have so many wonderful friends and family to draw on – my sister is packing up her daughter’s outgrown winter coat (I had that size, but it went home with another little girl last year) and baby girl clothes. A friend has a double stroller, another an infant carseat (since Baby Z. is using ours), another a pile of bigger girl clothes. A family at our synagogue gave us an abundance of baby things, so many I protested that I didn’t need them all – now I’ll have two babies to use them and appreciate their generosity all the more. Just like preparing for a hurricane, preparing for the sudden arrival of children involves getting a lot of odds and ends done – you want the laundry done, the haircuts and dentist appointments taken care of, some easy meals in the freezer, the pantry stocked and the extra hens butchered before suddenly you are head-down in children.
It has been too quiet here. After getting used to the voluble and joyous chaos of 7 kids this summer, we’ve all felt empty without K. and C. The kids tell me they want a new placement nearly every day, and my great joy was that while I was on the phone talking to the homefinding worker about these children, my sons were jumping up and down and cheering that new children will join the family. They made plans too – we’ve a practice of assigning an older child to each little one to be their helper – the kids began assigning the littles and digging out toys and books they would appreciate. Fostering is a family affair, and while it begins from a tragedy – the breaking up of family in crisis – there is always the hope of building something vital and functional out of the rubble. My kids do much of the building, I find – whatever suspicions the children who come may have of parents, they recognize kindness and love from other children instantly and flower from it.
What’s odd about this placement is that we have notice. Our other kids have come to us with at most an hour or two’s notice. That is the way of foster care – endless surprises, some good, some bad. As an online friend, Gina Sampaio writes in her adoption story, the cell phone rings, and the world spins in a new direction – sometimes for a few days, and sometimes for the rest of everyone’s lives.
We’ll know on Wednesday whether these kids are coming (unless, of course, others arrive first, which could always happen). We’ll be as ready as we ever could be – which is probably not very. Ultimately childproofing and equipment is just stuff – easier when done, but the real challenges are hard to meet with equipment. What child didn’t bring surprises in their wake? You’ll hear from me one way or the other, but bear with me if things are a little quieter than usual in the next couple of weeks – that probably just means my family got a lot bigger and more exciting. I’ll keep y’all updated.