12:45 a.m. – I get a call. It’s CPS. They’re begging me to take in a fifteen year old girl.
‘I called 47 homes today. It feels like I called everyone. Please, can you take her in? Even for a few days. She’s been sleeping in the conference room for awhile. We have nowhere to place her.’
My heart drops. I get calls like this often. It sucks how badly the system operates. I can’t imagine how foster kids feel. I really wanted to say no. Turning down placements is much harder than saying yes. But my heart was pushing me to say yes. How could I say no to a child sleeping in the conference room? After asking for more information I said yes. Was I crazy? I guess so. I was expecting to have a few days to prepare but the worker on the phone told me she’ll be here in a few hours. A few hours!!! I had nothing for her. I woke up my husband to tell him I just said yes to a placement that will be here in a few hours. He asked if he should go to the store (thank goodness there’s 24 hour supermarkets and deli’s in my area) because we were long overdue for food shopping. I told him no. Maybe later. Knowing CPS she could be here sooner or much later. CPS doesn’t tell time. We needed to get her bed ready. We gave her the twin bed and switched my younger daughter to the air bed until we could go shopping for another bed. We tried getting clothes together. Something she could sleep in and wear for a day or two. Usually foster kids come with the clothes on their back.
4:15 a.m. – I opened the door and M was at my door step. I kept thinking to myself how beautiful she was. M looked exhausted, had a book bag and two small plastic bags in her hands filled with her belongings. Her worker asked us to sign some paperwork. After a few minutes it was just us (M, my husband,and I) in the living room. We showed her to her room. I asked her if she was hungry or wanted anything. She didn’t answer. I told her she’s welcome to anything in the kitchen. She mentioned something about a towel. I gave her three. Didn’t know why she wanted it. I found out later on she used it as her pillows. M fell asleep on the couch while watching TV. I stayed up because in an hour I was going to get up anyway. It was a long night for all of us.
A week later I found out M was a mom. She had a son. Three months old at the time. He was in a different foster home. I hate sibling separations. What I also hate, teens being separated from their child. A lot of kids currently in foster care will have their own kids taken away and put in the system. It’s a tough pill to swallow. I got in contact with M’s cw. What she told me is forever burned in my mind. ‘Teens like M fail anyway, so what’s the point? I wouldn’t go through the hassle when the outcome isn’t going to happen.’ I felt a knot in my stomach. Thank goodness I can hold my tongue. I fought for M and bubbles (shout out to my DD for nicknames) The foster family he was with was hesitant and put up a fight. It was four months before I got bubbles into my home. I was super happy M could be with her son. I didn’t want M to be another number. When bubbles got here, M didn’t know to to parent. I don’t sugarcoat foster care. It’s broken, hard, and exhausting. Dealing with trauma and the system isn’t easy. M was very difficult. She was failing school, hanging out late, doing things she wasn’t supposed to be doing. While she expected me and others to care for her son. She often had angry outbursts and cursed at me. She broke my doors and often I had to track her down. She got suspended from school constantly.
I kept pushing towards her but she kept pulling away. I couldn’t help someone who didn’t want it. I tried. It can’t be forced. Fostering any foster child is difficult. It’s not necessarily the child but the things that come along with foster parenting. It often feels like the system is against you. Fostering teens is different. They choose you. They choose to love you. They choose to stay. They’ve been let down many times before. They have to open the door to let you in. You have to be accepted by them. Nothing can be forced. I was waiting at M’s door. Waiting for her to let me in. It felt like M’s door would never be open to me. It was closed tightly with multiple locks. I wanted to disrupt. I still feel awful thinking this. I couldn’t help M. I couldn’t deal with M anymore. I felt defeated. My husband kept telling me I shouldn’t feel bad. We can’t help every child. Every child has different needs. We can’t meet all of them. Finally I put in my notice. I felt awful. What’s even more awful are the things I said to M. I was overwhelmed and at the time dealing with other issues outside of foster care. I’m not proud to write this. M said some not so nice things to me and I said some not so nice things back. After I said them to her I felt terrible. I apologized to M reiteratively. She brushed it off and told me she didn’t care. She was leaving anyway. A lot of foster kids know. They know people leave all the time. They know nothing is permanent. I didn’t even tell M I put in my notice. She just knew. I told her right then she was leaving to go to another placement. Surprisingly she already had her things packed. She had her things packed for awhile. A lot of foster kids don’t unpack at all. M told me she didn’t care and she hated it here anyway. Her next placement would be better because she wouldn’t have to follow all of the rules like she does here.
As you’re reading this and you know M and I in real life, you might be wondering how the heck is M still with me. Well, long story short I decided to work with M and not against her. Both M and us decided to stay. It was still hard. The sad thing is, I didn’t notice the small changes M was making. Especially parenting her son. I had high hopes and goals for her. I had to let this go. She had to work at her own pace. She had to work on her own time. M was still difficult. It was a long, slow, and steady process. My heart that was once hard started turning soft. We went to therapy together. Therapy that hasn’t happened in over a year for M. I wanted to support her. I wanted to let her know we were there. It was hard. I hate foster care. In order for me to get a child something bad has to happen to them before they show up to you. M’s past is sad. She finally had to deal with it and learn coping skills. Her son needed his mom. A mom that will do anything for him. A mom that cared for and loved him. A mom who would put his needs first. M never had good role models in her life. She never had a mom she could look up to or learn from. How was M going to be a good mom or be a good parent if she never had one? She had to learn. It was baby steps.
It was also baby steps with school and her behaviors. The saying slow and steady wins the race holds some truth. M started staying in school instead of cutting. M started to find other ways to deal with anger. M learned how to parent. It started small. She was scared to parent. M started to cook meals for the entire family. M started to make an effort in school. The walls she had up and the door she had closed tightly was beginning to open.
I remember this very visually. It was 2 AM. M was having a difficult time. She was hurting. Acting out. Suddenly she wrapped her arms around me and cried. She sobbed in my chest. I let her. I comforted her. She was in pain. I cried too. It’s sad what foster kids have to carry. They shouldn’t have to carry so much. They should be kids living life carefree. M wasn’t allowed to be a kid. She had to be tough. That’s how she survived. Now she was a little girl crying in my arms. She felt embarrassed. She kept apologizing. She was scared. She said this through tears. I kept telling her it was ok. I was here. There’s nothing wrong with crying and expressing feelings. I was happy yet sad M trusted me enough with her feelings. To be so vulnerable with me. To feel safe with me. This is one of the many reasons I love being a foster parent. It’s an amazing feeling when a child from a rough background who starts off hard ends up in your arms and holds you tight because you’re the one they want. You’re their safe person. They trust you. I truly consider this a gift.
A few times M told DH and I we were too “nice” to her. She questioned why we kept her. She wanted to know something bad about us. She asked why I didn’t get rid of her. She thinks she’s damaged and unworthy. I told her she’s not. She’s a somebody with a future. Her views on families and relationships are distorted. She often asks why I’m only married to one guy or if my husband and I had different kids by different people. She thought she had to have different kids by different people because that’s how she grew up. She had to learn how to love herself. She had to heal from her own past. She’s still learning she is worthy. I tear up at M. Tear up because she eventually stole our hearts. I tear up because I almost said no to her and disrupted her. I tear up because looking back I’m astounded at her progress. I tear up because she can finally be happy. She feels happy. She beat statistics against her. She held down a job and made her own money. We found a school that will work with her. She wakes up early and gets her son ready to go to daycare.
A few months ago M made me uncomfortable. She made me cringe. She also melted my heart. She refers to me as grandma when we went to pick up her son from daycare and me as mom. She calls me mom in front of her friends and sometimes at home. I never expected her to see our relationship like that. I never expected her to see me as mom and grandma or give me these very special titles and roles in her life. There’s something very special when your teen foster daughter calls you mom for the first time. It’s not something I’d expect. I have no clue how to react or respond to it. But when it happens it’s one of the most heartwarming things ever. It feels like your heart leaped out of your chest and is melting in love. It makes everything worth it. Earning M’s trust enough that she was willing to share things she never did before. Earning her trust enough that she was willing to be vulnerable with me. Earning her trust enough that she sees me as her mom. Earning her trust enough to uncover her sweet personality and her dependence on me.
One of the promises I made to M was to be there for her graduation and throw her a huge party when she graduated. She picked up her diploma at the end of August. We threw a huge party for her. M planned it herself. She told me nobody has ever celebrated her like this before. She didn’t think she was worth celebrating. Yes that means M passed all her regents after summer school and has all her credits. She worked hard to get to this stage in her life. The child that came to me a year behind is now a year ahead. The child that everyone thought would fail and be a bad mom isn’t. The child who had so much anger now deals with it in an appropriate way. The child who said she hated me now tells me she loves me. The child who cursed at me now calls me mom and says funny, sweet things to me.
I was standing outside M’s door for awhile. Waiting for her to open it. Slowly one by one the locks came off. Then the locks went back on. M was terrified of opening her door and taking off the locks. When two locks came off another one was put back on. Slowly the locks came off and I was waiting for her to open her door. Very slowly she did. Now her door is open and she doesn’t want me to leave.
M I’m so proud of you. I’m happy to have you in my life. I can’t imagine you anywhere else. You’re right where you’re supposed to be – with us. You melted my heart and made me tear up at how far you’ve come. You’re an awesome Momma to your son. I’m happy I get to experience many things with you. I’m excited to see where life takes you. I’m going to be heartbroken when you leave. Jase and I feel honored that you view us as your mom/dad and grandma/grandpa. We feel honored that you trust us. I’m sorry for the many hurts and pains you had to experience. I know we can’t make up your past. We will do everything we can to make your present. You don’t have to carry all your hurts and pains alone. We will always be here for you and love you. You and bubbles will always be a part of our family. I’m happy I said yes to you. If I didn’t I would’ve missed out on a wonderful young girl. I know many people said no to you. I’m happy they did because they’re missing out. You taught me so much. You brought many things to our family. Don’t you ever think you’re not worthy because you are. You’re worthy to us and your son. I’m happy you took a chance with us. I’m happy you accepted us. I’m happy that you’re happy. I love seeing you smile. I love when you hug me and tell me how much you love me. I love the sweet notes you write for me. I love the nice things you do for me. I love watching you grow and blossom. I remember when you first came and both of us were strangers. How scared I was. How unprepared I was. I was afraid. You probably were too. Both of us had to build a relationship. I want you to know that every day spent with you makes me happy. Each day with you is a gift. I cherish each moment that I have with you. You had a difficult start. I want you to know that life can sometimes be hard…sometimes really hard, but it’s so beautiful in so many ways. You taught us so many things. You made me a better foster mom. You’re a beautiful girl inside and out. I’m happy that I uncovered the real you, the one you had hidden. We love you.”
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