It is in the early days of bringing a new foster child into your home where you wonder what the hell you are doing. The first hurdle is getting them comfortable with you and your home. The next hurdle is getting them to sleep that first night. Next, you adapt your life and schedule to account for the new addition. We work with 1-4-year-olds. Our experience runs the gamut from hour-long sobbing and screaming sessions, hitting and pushing, to kids walking in, calling me mom, and sitting down to play. Believe me when I say that the first day is NOT an indication of what life will be like with that child. The first week is always tricky logistically. You have to get the child signed up with various resources including daycare, school, WIC, etc. as well as bringing them to numerous appointments with doctors, dentists, forensic abuse exams and CHET screeners. You are also expected to make room for short notice parental visitation with the child and social worker visitation to your home. All this while you are conducting your regular work, family duties, and obligations. So you can see why the first weeks are quite difficult for the carer and a whirlwind for the child?
Humbled by the situation, I sit here with someone else’s baby fast asleep in my arms. This beautiful 2-year-old girl could only fall asleep here, while being held, in this strange place that will be her home for a while. She barely knows me, but she knows enough to let her guard down for the night. I can only imagine what went through her head, as she was removed from her home, then passed from person to person, until finally, she found a spot to call home for a while. Here I am 1 week into a new placement. Our new foster daughter is a precious, cheeky girl, with the attitude of a teen and the sweet little face of an angel. Last week was hard. My routine flew out the window as chaos descended upon us. The fourth-day she refused to get into her car seat between appointments. The first time it took me 45 minutes to convince her. The second time it took 2 hours. The 2-hour stint came on the heels of a major tantrum in the doctor’s office, where I had to carry a howling, flailing child out of the clinic. She weighs a solid 36+ lbs, which doesn’t sound too bad until you realize that she is resisting you with everything she has. Imagine carrying a 40 lb bag of dog food that is struggling to get away! My poor son had to follow behind carrying mommies purse, both the kid’s coats and the two-year-olds shoes. He kept dropping things, but I could not help. I finally told him to leave what fell, but a nice man came to the rescue. He wrapped everything up in a coat for him, so it was easier to carry. The whole while a few elderly patients gawked and scowled at us in the waiting room.
I am ready to commit to our foster daughter. It has been a long emotional journey for us since losing my foster son, but we are ready. Our home is her home as long as she needs us. She is a spirited one, which means she will fit right in. I am hoping next week will be less stressful, but I know nothing is guaranteed. I was ecstatic to see a light schedule next week on my calendar, but it filled up again before the end of the day. I received fantastic advice from other foster parents regarding getting her into the car seat. I am slowly finding ways to de-escalate potential tantrums and power struggles. She does not respond well to the word “no” or when you tell her what to do, but she does well with redirection. It is an evolving relationship. She is gradually learning to trust us, and understand we won’t hurt her. During the meltdowns, I go into survival mode. However afterward I consider what must she be going through. Her whole life shattered. I have seen it repeatedly, but it has never actually happened to me. So how do you ever really understand?
The part that never ceases to amaze me is observing other people’s reaction. Once my son, probably two years old, was woken from a nap so we could go shopping at Costco. He had extreme difficulty waking from naps for a while, and he would cry and cling to me when he woke up. So my mom and I were soothing him as he cried, and some old man swooped in out of nowhere and exaggerated a loud, bratty cry in my son’s ear. I was so dumbfounded by the man’s outburst I did not react. He, of course, scared my son and made it all that much worse. Who does that? Fortunately, I have also encountered admirable people. Those strangers who offer to help, or the people who understand I am exhausted and offer words of encouragement. The thing is that you never know what someone is going through. On the surface, you may see a little girl who appears to be a real brat having a tantrum, what you don’t understand is that girl is being comforted by someone she barely knows, in a place she has never been before, and she is sad, overwhelmed and wanting to go home to her family. So please don’t be so quick to judge. If you see another mom struggling, give her a hand. Parenting is the most challenging job you will ever have. So if you can help in the tiniest of ways, karma will return the favor. My husband and I were at the store with our son, and a mom was there with her three young kids. She was carrying one and struggling to unload her cart at the checkout. I went over and helped her unload her shopping cart so she could tend to her kids. It takes only a second and minimal effort for you but could make all the difference to them.