Normal…It’s a pretty subjective concept. What is normal? Prior to fostering, normal for me consisted of going to work, hanging out with friends, spending time with family, shopping; you know…normal things. One theme centered around my normal; it was mostly (okay all) about me. I did what I wanted to, didn’t do things I didn’t want to, and pretty much was content with my life. Sure, I served at my church’s youth ministries, but that was because it was something I wanted to do. Something I enjoyed. This sense of normal all changed when I began fostering kiddo.
Almost immediately I knew I cared for this little guy. To be honest, I thought the beginning was going to be much harder than the end. Would he like me? Would we mesh? Would he be angry he was being placed in my home. Instantly all of these questions and doubts faded when I met him. I still remember every detail of our first meeting almost as if it were a movie I could replay in my mind. I remember being anxious at the agency waiting for him to arrive. You see nothing is ever “normal” in my life. When I arrived 3 minutes late to the agency, I was frantic to get up to their office only to find out kiddo wasn’t even there yet. They had been in a minor fender bender and were just getting on their way.
When I went down to meet him, kiddo ran up to me and said “Hi, I’m ******” with a contiguous smile. Instantly I knew things were going to be fine. I knew I already cared for this kiddo, but it wasn’t until later that I found a love in my heart for him. Our new normal had begun. Getting ready for work in the morning was replaced by getting kiddo up and ready (he is NOT a morning person). Going to dinners with friends was swapped out with cooking for him and I. Weekends were no longer spent figuring out where to meet up with folks. Instead, they were spent anxiously awaiting for the time to pass so I could go pick him up from a visit. Everything about my normal changed and I was fine with that. I wasn’t living for myself. Instead, I was living for us. Choices I made didn’t only affect me anymore. I had to think about us.
Like I said; instantly I knew I cared about and for kiddo, but it took some time for a true love to form. I remember tucking him in one night, as I did every night, and us saying our prayers. Afterwards, he started up a fairly generic conversation. At first I assumed it was a ploy to get out of going to bed, but quickly the conversation got deep. He started telling me about things that had happened to him both with his mom and at other foster homes. He talked about how all of the foster homes he had been to told him that he was always welcome only to have him moved at some point. As we finished up the conversation, he looked up at me and said “other foster parents told me I would stay with them, but when you say it I trust you.” In that moment my heart melted. I knew that what I felt for this little guy was far more that compassion or caring; love had begun. It was weird; I didn’t care about my old normal. I was happy to do nothing but spend time with this amazing kid. When he went home for the first time I think I was most sad that my normal was going to change again.
Fast forward about a month. Kiddo came back after being kicked out for the 1st time. Only days into the stay a realized it was going to be for a very brief time; a cooling off period. I didn’t let myself get too comfortable with him being back because I knew it was going to be short-lived. And, to be honest, nothing was normal about this return. It was a juggling act. The 2nd time, however, felt much different. From all of the conversations with his worker, his lawyer, therapists….it seemed as though he would be with me for some time. We quickly slipped back into our old normal and I was beyond thrilled to have that back. It felt safe; comforting…Like wrapping up in your favorite blanket. Just good and cozy.
It wasn’t long before that blanket was ripped from both of us. We found out court was ordering him to be returned home, we got the news the date had arrived, and he was gone. But where does that leave me? Where does that leave my normal? I can’t go back to my old normal again; it doesn’t feel right. I don’t want to hang out with friends or go on completely random adventures. There are too many questions when I do. Too many people interested in “how’s it going?” or “did you hear anything yet?”
How’s it going? Sometimes I imagine the expressions I would get if I told the truth. It’s going like this; I get up in the morning exhausted because the night before I couldn’t sleep. Every time I close my eyes an instant replay goes on of kiddo’s face when I had to leave him. I spend 8 hours a day at work trying to stay focused only to find my mind wandering back to “how is he doing?” I’m starting to hate my job because every time I have a classroom visit and look at the children I’m reminded that when I leave work it’s to go to an empty house that no longer feels like a home. Once there, I muddle through feeding the dogs and sometimes eating something myself, but mostly just laying on the couch sleeping off and on because staying up only means I’ll be looking around at reminders of when kiddo was here. Then it’s finally time to go to bed where I pray to God to give me peace and understanding…to take the anger, pain, and hate out of my heart, and to be with me because I feel broken. Is this my new normal?
I can tell you this was not how I felt the 1st go around. I was sad I didn’t get to see him every day, but mostly I was happy a family was reunited. I was happy because he was happy. Knowing how much he wanted to go home and be with “family” gave me such a joy that my sadness was dampened. This time was different. There was no happy reunion. That was replaced by a child crying that they didn’t understand why they had to go home when their parent missed visits. Tears because this child didn’t feel like anyone heard him except me. Pain and exhaustion because, at his age, he felt like his childhood was over and he “didn’t really have a good one.”
Why? Why do we do this to children in foster care? Why are children removed multiple times yet parents get another chance to get it right? At what point do we say enough is enough? When does a child’s voice get heard? If all of this is affecting me this much, how on earth do we expect children to function? The truth is, right now, I don’t get to have a “normal.” My new normal is wondering if kiddo is safe. If he’s happy. If he’s feeling loved and if he feels wanted. Because a system failed to take proper steps to see if it was even possible to bring this family back together or to give the family a chance to work through some issues in therapy, I get to have all of this as my new normal. A new normal I never signed up for…