As a child, I was placed into an emergency foster care placement at the age of six. I was one of the lucky ones; I was placed with a family I knew relatively well(they had been taking care of me ‘as needed’ from when I was 3 years old up until this point), who knew my mother relatively well, who had a background in Education, and had raised two very well rounded biological children. They were (and still are) an ideal family with hearts of gold. Without going into my background too much, I was officially placed with them August of 2000, and two weeks following my official placement, my mother passed away. The thought of taking in a child who is not your own, and then having to maneuver around the trauma of their mother passing away is not exactly a simple feat. I ended up staying with them for just over a year until the court came to a decision as to what was in my best interest. After a long custody battle, the court eventually decided it was in my best interest to move in with my maternal grandparents, who lived 500 miles away from where I was currently placed. Shortly after I was moved, I was no longer allowed to have any contact with the family I had just spent well over a year of my short life with(not including the three years of on and off care they provided me prior to the emergency placement). I was told that my goodbyes had been said for me, and that life will move on. And so it did.
My early parts of life were a vicious cycle of becoming attached so a person/place/family, and then being abruptly moved away and onto something new. As a child, I was extremely resilient. I was experiencing these life changing events head on- to me, this was all “normal”. Growing up, it became that these challenges were more of a “matter of fact” rather than what most would consider a “traumatic incident”. It only recently occurred to me that at 24 years of age, I am still likely carrying this baggage with me every day of my life.
The older I got, the more curious I was about my childhood- how did I end up in foster care, what was I like as a child, what was my mom like, what was it like for this family to take me in – and on, and on, and on. These questions literally kept me up at night. I constantly felt out of place. In school, we would often do projects where you had to do things such as write about your family or create a family tree. Oh, and god forbid I ever forget the dreaded ‘Genetics’ units in science class. My papers were always left blank. There were so many “I don’t know” ‘s and so, so many conversations I was forced to have with teachers about my mystery childhood. I couldn’t talk to my biological family about it; they shut down any time I would bring it up or if they didn’t shut down, the only things out of their mouths were negative. So I just stopped asking all together.
After spending all of my life wandering around, trying to piece together the mystery of what was my childhood, I finally became brave enough to reach out to the family who was so near and dear to my heart for so long. And to my surprise, they welcomed me with open arms. They invited me to lunch and after weeks of anxiety, I went and ended up spending six hours at their house- chatting through lunch, catching up on 17 years of lost time, looking through picture albums, you name it. One of my favorite moments was when my former foster mother pulled out a giant folder she had that she was SO excited to show me! Inside this folder was everything I could have ever asked for but have never had; graded papers and report cards from elementary school, art projects that I don’t even remember making (but she knew every detail of), and documents that outline the details of my placement and every court date and decision that was made on my behalf during this glimpse in time. The only word I can think of that sums up that chilly September afternoon is surreal. I have never felt so at home. These people, these practically STRANGERS, who I haven’t seen in over a decade, took me in as a child, loved me as their own, and they never stopped. They made sure to make it very clear that I was, have always been, and always will be within their hearts. How is it possible to enter someone’s home and immediately feel that this, THIS, is your family? This is the family I have been longing for and searching for my entire life. All of the anxious thoughts that had filled my head literally moments before I walked into their home – What if they don’t like me? What if I am not what they expected I would be like at this age? What if I’m not as far in life as they had hoped; I don’t have a degree, I’m not married, I’m not “well off” by any means; What if I am not good enough? – disintegrated as soon as they wrapped me in their arms for the first time in my adult life.
Throughout the visit I was very open and honest about how I was internally dealing with this situation; how I felt apprehensive to enter the house I had once lived in so long ago, how I felt fear of the unknown situation I was walking into, and mostly how I felt shame. I felt so much shame that it took me so long to become brave enough to reach out to them…and then actually show up. But these people, my family, met me with nothing but kindness and grace. They understand why I stayed away, how this could be scary for me, and they are more than willing to walk right next to me, hand in hand, as we move forward and learn to be a complete family again, just like we did in the early days. Whether that means having lunch together once a month (they want to come see where I live, work, and went to college!) or a family weekend trip to the cottage that we used to frequent. And although I am not sure how much I am ready for, I’m definitely ready for something. I can’t wait to watch this relationship evolve and frankly, I can’t wait to have a family I legitimately enjoy who also enjoys me!
I never fully realized, until now, the impact foster parents have on the children who come into their homes. I feel so compelled to share my story because you often hear so many stories of foster parents who are “in it for the money” and “don’t actually care about the kids” they take in, or you hear about the ‘troubled’ kids who bounce from home, to home, to home and are never able to actually settle anywhere and make those connections. But how often do you hear about the foster kid who loves, and is loved by, their one and only foster family for the rest of their life? I think those are the stories we SHOULD be hearing about.
Little did I know that this relationship that was formed out of such a tragic situation would, in turn, become one of my greatest blessings in life. I am forever grateful for my family that took me into their hearts and never let me leave. As my foster mom said as I was leaving that night, “I always knew you would come back.” And she was right. I did. And that day was September 8th, 2018. But, it is also every single day after that.