Something unique about having C (who is 9 years old) in our home is our ability to have honest and plain conversations with her about foster care. This is a very different and completely new experience, as she is our first child old enough to discuss it. From the moment she walked in, it was obvious she wouldn’t be calling us “Mamita and Papi” like our previous foster daughter did. We introduced ourselves with our first names and throughout the first week settled on our titles being “Mrs. D And Mr. Gabe”. My name, Danae, was hard for C to remember so we settled on Mrs. D. At first, i felt the “Mr and Mrs.” was too formal but decided it was a positive way to establish respect and authority. Using first names was still personal, and further still, using nicknames of our first names like “Gabe and D” was still in a way endearing and familial. We didn’t have to worry about baby K of course, since he’s only 4 months old.
Early on it occurred to me that it might be a good idea to mention Melody (our previous foster daughter). Since C is older, perhaps knowing about her would help her process things. I’ll say that every situation is different and mentioning previous foster children may not be a good idea for everyone. However, we were informed that C and K would only be in our care for a short time, we didn’t know exactly how long for some time but knowing this helped me also make the decision to bring up Melody. As we sat outside with Gamy (my mother in law) I made a comment about a wind chime hanging on the deck and said that “Melody had really beat it up”. Immediately C asked who Melody was, so I said “she was another little girl who we took care of for a time”. This of course piqued her interest and she quickly asked how long she was with us. After saying she was here over a year, she looked shocked and asked if she was going to be here a year as well. We assured her that every case is different and although we weren’t sure how long she was going to be here, it wouldn’t be a year before she at least saw her family. Having now mentioned Melody, C had it on her mind and asked questions about her and her family throughout the following days. At one point we told her that we were good friends with Melody, her mom and her family even though she wasn’t living with us anymore. I asked her if she’d like to meet Melody and she excitedly said she did! So the following week we invited her over. It was really something special to see both girls under our roof at the same time.
Throughout the week, people continued to pour in gifts as well as piles and piles of clothing. As we sifted through the clothes and C picked out what she liked I separated the rest in a bag and said we could donate it. However a few days later she brought it up and told me that we should keep it because if another girl like her comes to live with us in the future, she will already have a lot of clothes! She also often times made comments about “leaving her mark” in the house for other kids to see. When she talked about leaving she would say that she would come visit and that by that time there might already be another child living here.
One night while we were all hanging out watching YouTube, (I don’t recall how exactly the conversation came up) C exclaimed “I’m Goldilocks!” We looked at her a bit confused and asked her to explain. She said “yea! Because I broke into your house and started eating your food…” to which I answered “No, we invited you in!” But she replied by saying “sort of because you got called and then only had a few hours to prepare before I came”. This got me thinking about the story of Goldilocks and the three bears. The story ends with Goldilocks running away after being discovered and never being seen again. The short story doesn’t explain much about why this little girl was wandering around in a forest by herself but given that she was looking for food and shelter, there are a few theories we could come up with. She could have been lost, have ran away, have lost her family, or have simply been exploring the forest and wanted to find a place to eat and rest. Given that she ran away after being discovered, it goes to show that she knew she didn’t belong there and was scared of the consequences she would reap if she stayed to face the bears when they found her.
Opening the door to a foster child may at first feel like a stranger has broken into your home and is raising havoc upon all your things and daily routines. However, it’s important to remember that the child (especially an older child) will also feel that they are a stranger in someone’s home who is imposing on them. They are also likely to feel uncomfortable at first trying to figure out the dynamics of the home, adapting to new routines and food they may not be used to. It’s easy for a child to want to “run away” from this unfamiliar house. Trying to cope with difficult situations and difficult thoughts a child may try to isolate, rebel or start to believe lies about themselves. At one point C began to loudly rant lies about herself throughout the house. She said things like “I am trash” “I’m ugly” “people only pretend to love me”. I wasn’t there at the time but my husband said that after allowing her a few minutes of stomping around, he went to intervene speaking truth to her even though she “wasn’t listening”. He went through every lie she shouted about herself and exchanged it with the Truth of what God says about her. Later that day, there was a softness to C in the way she acted and spoke to us. Even though she didn’t verbally say “thank you” we still heard it. We don’t know what triggered C to say these things, some may say that its common for any kid her age to go through bouts of such self pity and not necessarily having to do with her being in foster care. While this may be true, the volume of pain and shame felt by a child in foster care during these bouts is turned to beyond the max limit. My husband’s intervention was basically like stopping her from “running away” from us. Moments like these, are as if the bears would have stopped Goldilocks from bolting out of their home and invited her to stay longer.
There is a famous African proverb that most of you have probably already heard that says “It takes a village to raise a child” meaning that the relationships, interactions, perceptions and environment created by a child’s community is of deep importance to how that child will grow and what he will learn about himself and the world. However, there is another African proverb that has also been widely known that says “A child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth” meaning that if the village does not come together to provide positive relationships, interactions or environments and instead ignores or treats the child as an outcast, then the child will resort to destructive behaviors in order to gain love and acceptance from their community. Of course, I am not excusing violent acts or crimes committed by anyone, but it goes to show how “hurt people, hurt people” and that we all have the responsibility to display love to those who’s immediate family are either unable to, because of their own personal struggles, or unwilling to.
A child’s immediate family is always his first teacher not only about the world, but about themself. When a child has a drug addicted mother, the child does not learn that his mother has a problem, he learns that he is less important than that drug or that he is such a burden that his mom needs to escape from him through the drug. A little girl who has been sexually abused by her father and is constantly emotionally berated does not learn that her father has a serious issue but that she is unlovely, worthless, and simply an object to be used. Young kids, in their formative years do not mainly learn about adults throughout their daily lives, they learn about themselves. Because this is the day-to-day reality many children live, it is of crucial importance for the village to be vigilant of of their kids. Their kids. The community’s kids. The Church’s kids. Our kids. This is a concept so foreign to Americans and other western societies where everyone is used to only caring for themselves and for “their own” families. As Christians, this cannot be the approach we take, scripture does not lend itself to individualistic ideals. As we see in acts 4, the early church were of “one heart and soul”. This speaks volumes of what their relationships were probably like, the children of that early community were most definitely cared for as family even when their blood relatives weren’t around.
Foster care is often times looked at as something a single couple does, however, foster care is not only a WHOLE family thing but a whole VILLAGE thing, and I’d like to shine the spot light on those who have really opened their hearts to the kids who have shared our home.
First I’d like to talk about “Gamy”. Gamy is what we call my mother in law, it’s a nick name that her granddaughter bestowed upon her when she was little. Even though Gamy doesn’t have a piece of paper calling her a “foster parent”, she first showed her willingness to be part of the “village” with her agreement and excitement for us to be foster parents. She as well as my brother in law live with us, so we had to be sure that they’d both be ok with us doing this before we would sign up because it would directly effect their lives as well. With our first foster daughter, Melody, she immediately took up the “grandma” role and constantly showered her with little gifts, lots of hugs and kisses and gave her special privileges that Gabe and I wouldn’t always be aware of (like extra iPad time, and playing with her phone)! However, the full depth of the importance of her role didn’t hit me until C came into our home. From what we could tell, C was basically raised by her grandmother her entire life and she was the main person that she talked about. It was clear that she loved, missed, and worried a lot about her grandma and often verbally hoped that she was ok. This brought back memories of when I was her age and how my grandma was also a huge help to my mom by helping to raise me. She was always there when my mom brought me home from school and when I got older (during high school and college) and would walk or drive myself to school, she was always the first face I saw when I got home. She always unlocked the door for me and had a hot meal ready to eat. Although I knew my mom was my mom, grandma always had (still has) a special place in my heart! In a way, her word meant more because well… she was my mom’s mom! So if she said something, it had to be right and true! You can’t challenge grandma’s word! Having the constant presence of a grandma imparts security, stability, wisdom and comfort- things that of course, are found in mom as well, but a grandma offers them in a different, freer and unguarded way that a mom may sometimes lack due to stress, fear, lack of confidence and for the simple fact that she is still learning herself. The weight of “doing things right” can often produce unintentional thorns in a mother whereas a grandma has the ability to look back on a fuller picture of parenting and shed the thorns she might have collected over the years. Although C was respectful and acknowledging of mine and my husband’s roles as her main caretakers, it was clear there was something special she found in Gamy that made her feel safe and comforted. Every morning, C would wake up before we did, around 6am, and at that time, the only other person awake was always Gamy, so naturally, many of her mornings were in the company of Gamy. They would chat, play iPad games, and take walks outside with the cat (yes, our cats like to take walks lol). Gamy would also often help C have breakfast if she was too hungry to wait for us to wake up. Almost every evening they would sit outside together and just talk, blow bubbles or do another simple activity together. There were a couple times that C opened up about how she felt about her situation, and sometimes even about the spiritual realm.
My parents have also been an exemplar representation of the village rising up to care for its children. Although they didn’t get many opportunities to interact with C and K, they were always supporting us in prayer, and asking if we ever needed anything. With Melody, they were always willing to watch her while we went on dates or ran errands and would also consistently shower her with lots of affection and gifts. My aunt and her family (who have their own story with foster care themselves) have also always risen alongside us in our journey. They also didn’t get the chance to interact with C and K much but none the less welcomed them gladly. With Melody, the entire family really came around and integrated Melody into the family. My aunt’s kids loved (and still love) her and really accepted her as a “cousin”. Even family in Mexico would send her gifts full of love. Which brings me to talk about our niece who lives in TX. C and her really hit it off and often texted each other and even FaceTimed a few times. Even though our niece is older that C, she was still a much closer peer to her than we were. C repeatedly brought up her cousins and how she’d always go over their houses. It was clear that she had frequent interactions with them, it must have been hard to suddenly be taken away from them with no means of communication. C would often express that she wished she knew she was coming to live with us because she would have had a chance to say goodbye to her family and would have brought her phone (although, she probably wouldn’t have been allowed her phone during her time with us). Our niece’s willingness to take the time to text and FaceTime C was a simple way that she stepped in to create a village for C.
As mentioned in my previous post, many of our friends quickly poured in their support through gifts. No matter how big or small the gift was, these played an important part in this journey. As I have expressed, these outpourings of gifts uplifted us and strengthened us and were also a clear sign to C that there were many people who cared for her and her little brother even though they didn’t know them or have never even seen them. Other’s were consistently in touch with me through texts or messages simply asking how we were doing and offering words of encouragement. Others prayed for us continually. These things too, as simple as they may seem, are a huge support. It’s like cement poured into cracks on a sidewalk. Many may give gifts which may lay down chunks of stones to walk on, but those who consistently walk by our side through their spiritual presence are the ones who help to hold it all together and solidify the sidewalk so that it’s sturdy enough to walk on. Even when our home has no children in it, those of you who continue to refer to us as parents and even text me for my take or advice on certain parenting points make me feel so loved, affirmed and supported. Each person who did any of these things, with their actions were taking their place around C and K and propping up their tent next to them making themselves a member of the village.
How can you be a village to kids in foster care today? As I’ve mentioned before in previous blog posts, not everyone is called to be a foster parent but everyone is called to foster CARE into these children. The things I mentioned above are all ways to do this. But even if you can’t do any of these things, you can still foster care by- first, acknowledging the child as part of the village and second acknowledge yourself as a member of the same village. This should instill in every person the reality that they themselves and this child share a deeply important thing. Ignoring or avoiding the conversations about kids in foster care is like sweeping them under the rug. Speaking out only on the flaws and mistakes of the foster care system or the people in it, but never investing any time to do more research, pray or look for opportunities to come face to face with a real foster family or foster child, is like walking outside the village’s borders and pointing the finger as if it isn’t your own village! I recently learned about an organization called “One Simple Wish” which grants wishes for kids in foster care, if you don’t personally know any foster children, this is a great way to make an impact in the life of one of them. I encourage everyone to check out their webpage.
Thinking back to the Goldilocks story, I wonder what happened to her after she ran away from the bear’s home. Did she go back to her home or did she continue to wander around trying to find food and shelter? Perhaps if the village she lived in had stepped up from the beginning, she wouldn’t have had to go wandering into the forest. Maybe if the bears had stopped her from running, they would have found an unlikely family member.