If you had told me in the very beginning of this whole entire process to become foster parents that I would spend the most time and energy on obtaining information about my future children prior to placement and even more so after I would have said you were a damn fool. I would have probably thought you were being dramatic or that my experience would be completely different and that I would just ask for things enough in advance so things wouldn't pile up. I would have done all the things and my process would be the brightest shiniest star in all the land of foster parent stars and I would change that view with my process alone!
I'm here to tell you, for me, this has truly been the most heart breaking, the most confusing, the most infuriating, the most injustice highlighting journey I have ever been a part of. I have spent the better part of eight months communicating with a social worker who by all intents and purposes should not be doing this for a job. Again, this is not a complainy post. This is a fact, a cold hard fact. I have had to fight for extending prescriptions to allow time for me to make new appointments with new doctors in their new town but on the same token have children given to me at an airport without so much as a paper stating we are their legal guardians. I have had conversations with supervisors, with CASA case managers, CASA volunteers, nurse case managers, all to find out why one particular child uses an inhaler and why did I have to find that prescription medication unattended in her backpack? I have had to fight for contact numbers in case of an emergency during our first visit and was just told that we should call their office number over the weekend should the need arise and maybe just maybe they'll check their voicemail over the weekend. The information I request, the documentation I request is solely for my own knowledge, to help me better understand my children and to help them with this transition. What have their past grades been? Are they good at math? Reading? What can I work with them on in order to make them feel more comfortable around a 30 new faces in their new class? I have had to fight for these things as if I'm not even remotely important in this process at all. Sometimes the focus is on the need for more foster parents and how they never have enough and I will say this...the issue is not solely because people are unwilling, it's also because foster parents can be very mistreated. Situations like this one. If I wasn't singlehandedly the most stubborn person on planet earth and if my need for justice didn't course through my veins like it does I would be done. Completely with all this. I don't know if I would ever do it again. But then, during bedtime I have a conversation with our oldest boy about his new friend Caleb that goes a little something like this...
J: Mom, sometimes with Caleb it's like I want to see him every day. What does that mean?
Me: Buddy, that means you found a friend who shares common interests and treats you kindly. That's what a true friend is, someone that makes YOU better and someone that YOU make better.
I had to explain to him what friendship FEELS like and Caleb has shown him what friendship LOOKS like. I have to explain to him why the adults in his life failed him by allowing him to watch scary movies and how that's not his fault and that I'm sorry I can't erase those images from his mind. I have to leave four lights on in his room while he falls asleep and prop the door open just right so he can't see the "scary" playroom door. I have to show him the weather app on my phone because he's terrified of bad weather. Take cell phone photos of the cut on the top of his head so he can make sure no one at church sees it and makes fun of him. Tyler has to hug him while he cries over the fact that he's worried his real mom doesn't have enough food to eat. This is real life for him, the worry and the pain and the remembering of the icky that was his former life before foster care and that unfortunately didn't end once he was actually part of the system. This is the same kid whom the "team" spoke about for the longest during any update phone call and one whom quite frankly is completely misunderstood because he's too little to have a real voice and instead has strangers speak for him. And they were wrong about him, I knew it then and I know it now. I see a boy who loves to protect his brothers and sisters with fierceness and love, one who takes his big brother role seriously but has to be reminded it's ok to be a kid and let us be the adult. I see and experience his response to our consistency even if sometimes that means a consequence. He is one of the bravest people I know and when I first saw his face and learned a little more about him I knew then that he would change me. He would wreck me and I wouldn't resist it.
So please current foster or foster adoptive parent...don't give up. On those days where the injustice of your position and lack of control in their real life is hitting you pretty hard, just know that the pain is worth it if it means their pain will subside. I promise you there will be days you'll stare at email replies with continued unanswered questions and you'll cry. You'll read it again and you'll cry again. You'll learn to cry quietly behind closed doors and employ tactics to hide your puffy eyes and red nose. Push through. DO NOT GIVE IN. Ask your closest friends to pray. Vent to them. Advocate for them even if it's to someone you know should be on your side. Get over the embarrassment of being the one they dread getting emails and phone calls from and just forge on. In those moments, think of the healing you may be able to provide. In those moments remind yourself that they need you, those precious children need you to make this work for them. Even though certain moments with our boy are very hard, there is healing in the talking about things. There is healing when he learns to trust and when he says he misses you after you return from a trip to the grocery store. Healing in him asking to have his last name be Zielasko on his name tag at church and also on his name tag at school. Don't let those other people have ruin moments like this, it's worth it you guys. I promise you it is.
Let me tell you a little something about this photo. I bought this shirt for J as incentive to manage how he voices his frustrations. He didn't even wear it the very next day because he wanted to make sure he wore it the same day he saw Caleb. When we arrived and were greeted this is what he saw and it was SERIOUSLY NO LIE NOT EVEN PLANNED! Same exact shirt on the same exact day.