I know you are all waiting for Part 2….and yes, I will write more of THE story. But it just seemed important to back up to Part 0.5 (and maybe even fill in 1.5 at some point), because there’s quite a bit that shaped us before Super Tall Guy arrived.
So….I take you back to the beginning. Back to early 2005 when I stumbled off an airplane after spending a month on rotation during residency in Kenya. Emotionally exhausted from a month of international medicine and more childhood death than I had ever witnessed, physically exhausted from staying up night after night for a month prior to journeying home, yet so delighted to be back to friends and family. I was greeted at the airport by my wonderful sister. “Hello,” she said excitedly…. “so, while you were away, (I think she forgot to say “hey, how are you? how was the trip?)…. I was contemplating the Biblical principle of ‘taking care of the widows and children’….and since we don’t really care about old ladies (ironic, as we had just had a widow in our house for 4-5 months before she left for the mission field), I signed us up for Foster Parenting classes….which begin next week.” Next week….right. Okay.
We sat in classes week after week, confirming again and again that we were in the “foster parent” track and not the “foster-to-adopt” track (you know how that ended) and learning all we could from the Children, Youth and Families (CYF) caseworkers who stood in front of us. There were probably 7 or 8 other couples in the class and I think we were among the few professionals. We were certainly the only sister pair. And some of the trainees were family members of children that were already living in their homes. When classes ended in June, we had our “Home inspection” and passed. Naturally, Kathy then left on a business trip, and our caseworker called. Little Girl S (age 3) and Baby Sister V (age 2) came to spend two nights with us for what is called “shelter placement” (did I mention Kathy was out of town?), that is, temporary care of children while suitable family members are sought. The two were incredibly delayed in development, cowering and shy little blond-haired girls who sparkled after some food, clean clothes and a bath. They went to live with a doting aunt who kept in touch for about a year.
The day after they left, we were called for our “first true” foster child. Sometimes CYF caseworkers bring the children to you. Sometimes you go to pick them up. I drove to the other side of town to pick up The First from his aunt’s house. I knew he was a couple days away from his first birthday and I pictured a crawling cute little helpless baby. I couldn’t wait to meet him.
Knocking on the door, I entered into a world of clutter and confusion, and a little toddler literally running through the house with a bottle of grape kool-aid dangling from his mouth (I knew that instant that we were in trouble 🙂 ….. but I got the cute part right). He was being chased delightedly by the aunts’ older children as she tried to collect some toys and clothes to send along with him. She explained that much as she loved the little guy and appreciated watching him for the past three months, her multiple sclerosis illness and the needs of her 3 biological children were getting to be too much. She handed me the belongings and gathered The First into her arms to walk to my car.
As we approached, a pick-up truck skidded to a halt and the little boy’s biological father jumped out. He shouted expletives and grabbed The First into his arms. The aunt whispered that we were going to tell him I was the CYF case worker (if he asked) for it was apparent that he was intoxicated. The man squeezed The First tightly in his arms, mumbled a bit, and then flung his sun-glasses to the ground in frustration. (At this point, it dawned on me the potential danger in these situations, but I was strangely not fearful.) The aunt took back the child and buckled him into my car seat. She kissed him good-bye and promised to call us and visit him often. A week later, The First returned to spend the weekend with his aunt, but the visit ended early due to his multiple episodes of diarrhea. That was the last time we heard from the aunt and the father’s side of the family.
This little guy was adorable. We loved him. But I was a fourth-year resident and had some rotations where I spent every 3rd night in the hospital and I barely saw his chubby face. My sister, though, bonded immediately. She took The First with her everywhere. They shopped. They went to the park. They hung out at the mall playground. They visited friends and lounged at my parent’s house. They went on trips together and he came on our annual beach vacation. The two were inseparable….. until CYF called. The mother had completed her “checklist” of “things you must do to get your child back”…. and he returned home. I could hear my sister’s tears late into the night some nights. We knew it was going to happen. We knew that The First had weekly and sometimes 3-times-a-week visits with his mother. We knew that she was “making progress on her goals.” We knew that foster children are supposed to reunite with their parents. Yet we didn’t know the pain of releasing a beautiful, giggling, joyful boy back to his mother.
And we didn’t know if we’d ever see him again.
But we did.