When my sister Bethany and her partner Julie decided to become foster parents, I wasn’t sure what to expect any more than they really were. I mean, I knew they would be great parents – it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to deduce that two people willing to wholeheartedly pursue careers serving kids with severe special needs would be excellent at loving and caring for children. No, the unknown element of the foster-parent-journey had nothing to do with the parents, as far as I was concerned, but everything to do with these unknown little people about to enter all our lives. Little did I realize what little heart-thieves they would all turn out to be, and that being a foster Aunt would wind up being probably one of the coolest things to ever happen to me.
Note to self: I should probably thank my sisters for that at some point.
I live about 20 minutes away from my sister, her fiancée, and their beautiful family, and their collective love and humility never ceases to amaze me. If I were to say something complimentary to them, they would brush it off (and have on many occasions done so), but they truly inspire me on a regular basis. I kind of understand their humility, actually. I mean, when you’re surrounded by rabid toddlers, inundated with poopy-diapers, and listening to the Frozen Soundtrack for the fifty-billionth time, I’m sure you don’t feel like a hero. Nonetheless, heroism has never been so concretely made visible in my surroundings as when I am with my wonderfully-extended foster family.
Today, about three and one half years after their first foster child set foot in their home, their family has expanded and retracted many times, fluctuating from one child to five and holding about seventeen different children throughout those few years. Watching my loved ones go through the process of fostering has taught me a lot about what loving children looks like. Love is letting your heart break into a million pieces when your beloved child is sent back into the full custody of a broken situation, but not regretting the time you shared with her in your family. Love is crying in the kitchen when the baby you have watched since birth is leaving to join a new family. Love is setting stern limits for a little boy whose angry outbursts could, unchecked, easily spiral him downhill to follow in the footsteps of verbally abusive birth-parents; Love is showering him with affection, regardless of the number of frustrations he provides; refusing to believe the worst of him. Love is wishing for more room in your home so that you could take more children. Love is hours upon hours of doctors appointments, early intervention, and holding your shrieking two-year-olds down while you nebulize them so that they will breathe better through the night. Love is keeping in touch with families whenever possible and developing friendships with birth-parents so that – even after their children have left your home- there is a strong relationship ready and waiting to support and care, whenever it is appropriate to do so. Love is being willing to lay down in front of a truck for any child under your protection, even knowing that you won’t have the opportunity to protect them once they leave. Love is searching high and low for enough car-seats (not to mention a large enough car!) to accommodate 6 children at once. Love is making sure that there are a few extra outfits and some spare diapers packed and ready to go with kids who are headed for homes where they will have less material comforts. Love is accepting a new child into your home because they need a placement, even though you lost a child just yesterday and your heart is still scattered in painful pieces at the bottom of your soul. Love is laughing through your tears. This is the kind of love I have witnessed in Bethany and Julie. Fostering is different from regular parenting. When you have your own children, most of the horrifically painful labor ends when you leave the delivery room.
Not that parenting, in any form, is easy. I am neither so naïve, nor so experienced that I could ever even think such a thing! Good parenting is a herculean undertaking on the best of days . . . but foster-parenting is revealing a whole new brand of beautiful. It makes me want to talk in the terminology of gemstones, however unbelievably cliché; how diamonds are only formed under obscene amounts of pressure, and how these women who I observe are truly jewels of the highest order in our society.
Someday, when I have better software and a faster computer and more skill, I will make a movie that might do this family justice, but for now, here’s a peek into the lives I get to observe:
Bethany recently started to chronicle some of her fostering adventures in a blog of her own, which everyone should probably read. It’s a great glimpse into some truly great lives.