On a cold afternoon last fall, I bundled my kids up in their coats and headed over to our local grocery store. As the friendly cashier rang up our items, she smiled at my large crew and said, “Wow. All of your kids look identical!”
She then peeked in at the brand new baby that was snuggled in his carrier, the tiny baby who looked drastically different than the other kids, and said, “I bet this little guy will look like them too, someday!”
Doubt it, I thought and chuckled to myself.
I smiled at her and replied with a friendly, “Maybe!”
What the cashier didn’t know is that the tiny baby I was carrying with us was not biologically mine.
This particular baby had been placed in our home merely hours before. I had made that trip out to the store because we had such little notice about this placement, and we were lacking all of the newborn essentials.
As I drove home from the store that day, I reflected on my life before becoming a foster parent. Things seemed so simple, so easy. As a suburban mom living in a nice house in a safe town nestled in the heart of Oklahoma, I was so naive about the foster care system.
Sure, I knew foster kids existed. I knew of a few friends who fostered, and I had seen their family pictures on facebook with their foster kids. Each foster child always had a bright colorful heart placed over their face, concealing their identity and protecting their privacy.
I knew these children came from horrible situations, but I never really knew or understood the child welfare system firsthand.
Before becoming a foster mom I went to bed every night without wondering what calls I would be woken up to. Calls that could come at all hours of the night from frantic caseworkers asking if we had any open beds, “even just for the night.”
Before opening our home, I could watch the nightly news without feeling heartbroken and hoping the children impacted by the tragic stories had a safe place to turn to.
You see, before becoming personally involved in the foster care system it was easy for me to turn a blind eye and carry on with life like there aren’t real-life kids living in crisis. Especially when I didn’t see their little faces or know their sweet names.
But then I met them.
And my eyes were opened and my heart was changed forever.
Now I’ve brushed the tangles out of a beautiful scared little girl’s hair at five in the morning. I’ve seen the fear in her eyes when she reflected on the trauma of being removed from her home. I saw the love she had for her mom, and the worry she felt when her mother wasn’t the one tucking her in at night any longer.
Now I’ve tickled an ornery toddler’s toes while I buckled his shoes so he could go outside to run some energy off.
I’ve seen the way my foster son’s eyes light up when he sees my son come home from school. I’ve documented his life just like I did with my own children. I’ve taken pictures of his two tiny front teeth and videos of his sweet belly laughs. The only difference is if I post his pictures online, I hide his tiny little face discreetly behind a heart.
It was easy to ignore the foster care crisis until I rocked a screaming baby to sleep each night and watched him grow and thrive. I watched him develop trust and build attachment, which is so crucial for his development.
I’ve read stories, given baths, bought snow cones and basically lived life with foster children growing up right alongside my own biological children.
And it has changed me deep in my core.
I now have a passion and a heart for these kids who have lost everything. Overnight, they’ve been uprooted from their families. They’ve left their schools, friends, and belongings behind. Foster children have experienced heartache. They can have internal scars from trauma that take time and counseling to heal.
Now I’ve met them and I can no longer pretend the foster care crisis isn’t real. These children need warm safe homes and people to love them.
So I’ll keep on taking the calls.
And while I don’t know what the future holds for all of our past and current foster kids, what I do know is this: just like the pictures of them on my Facebook page, they’ll always be hidden in my heart.
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