Hooligan Zoo

Two Zookeepers… many Hooligans… It's always feeding time at this zoo!

The Other Side

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That little guy up there, he was only supposed to be with us for 6 weeks, but was instead with us for 7 months.  He was 4 months old when he came to us, and is almost one now.

He left us on Monday, picked up amongst many tears from us, and from the workers, and was placed in what everyone is hoping will be his forever home.

The transition took place over about 6 weeks.  He gradually spends more and more time with his family, spends overnights, and then he’s just gone from us.

Those 6 weeks are some of the hardest that we ever do as a foster family.  You have this deadline of them leaving you hanging over your head.  You have no control over where they go.  If you’re especially lucky, you have amazing workers (we did) who continuously seek your input as you have contact with where the child is going.

So, just about every day over those six transition weeks, we are packing up the babe who has become a HUGE part of our family, all for the purpose of allowing him to transfer that trust to someone else.  We know from the moment that a child comes into our house, that they will be leaving.  That doesn’t make it easier when they leave.

Ephraim has the most outwardly hard time with transition.  He acts up a little, is more weepy…  Talya will have her brief moments, and then go off and flit around the way she does.  Zi is the most verbal.  She outright says, “this sucks.”  Cries a little, spends a LOT of time with the little one in question.

Our job as foster parents is to love these kids as if they are our own, knowing all the time that they will be leaving us.  People talk a lot about how awesome it is for the kids in our care that we do this, but I think that we are equally benefited.

It’s incredible to us that we are given the privilege of seeing their milestones, soothing their hurts, in some cases, helping them catch up a little.  We truly believe that it’s a privilege.  When the child’s family can’t give them what they need, we’re able to for the short time that they’re with us.

The benefits to us as a family, and to our kids?  Oh man.  I have seen our kids grow and become such giving little creatures.  They instantly accept every single child that comes into our house.  Without question.  That child becomes a part of our family right away.

Our kids do diapers, they rock to sleep, they do bottles.  They don’t complain.  They love it.  And they miss them when they aren’t here.

8 foster kids have come through our house in less than 2 years.  And it still isn’t any easier when they leave.

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Believe it or not, we are not heartless.

“I would love to foster, but I don’t think I could ever let the kids go.”
“I don’t know how you let them go.”
“I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t send them on.”

We hear stuff like this ALL the time. A friend said to me yesterday that someone said to her that she didn’t know how we can let the kids go, and my friend was mad. Mad that it implies that we are heartless people, mad that it implies that we don’t care, that it implies that we can just have kids come in and go, with no feelings whatsoever.

It so isn’t true. We grieve. Our hearts break. There are tears for a long time after someone leaves us. It is so hard, so very very hard.

But, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t necessary. Fostering is hard, yes, so many parts of it are hard, but that doesn’t make it not worthwhile. Doesn’t make us cold and heartless for being able to let them go.  God doesn’t only ask us to do the easy things.

Yesterday we said goodbye to a wee little thing that had been with us for 7 months. We’d been through a lot with this little girl. Two, almost three, hospital visits for respiratory issues. Lots and lots of access. Typical baby stuff.

We watched her grow from this wee little thing who just laid on the floor, to the terror that she is today. Crawling like a maniac, getting into things, bullying the other little girl we have now. We got to see her personality develop like crazy.

Sleepless nights, feedings, diapers, we did all of that. We loved her like she was our own, while always remembering that we would one day have to let her go.

And let her go we did. It took five weeks to transition her back to her parents. Parents who Ja and I both like very much, parents who themselves had a crappy start in life, spending most of it in foster care themselves. Parents who are trying very hard to be the parents that the toad needs them to be.

My anxiety level grew as we got closer to the “official” date to have her go home.

Zi, at one point during the transition, commented that she wished Toad was just gone. Because then the pain could stop.

Eph said yesterday that it’s so hard, but it’s totally worth it.

A friend sent me this fantastic article, and this part really touched me,

I texted my friend, Nancy: “Why are we doing this again? It hurts so bad.”

Nancy: “Because if we aren’t there to be Jesus with skin on, his mom may have never felt Jesus’ hands and feet restoring her family and those kids may have never felt safe and clean and loved and valued. It does hurt. Praise God that your heart is still tender for these kids and not calloused!”

The most common misconception about foster parents is that they have hearts made of steel. I can assure you that this heart is not made of steel. It’s tender and bruised. But I have a God bigger than the hurt. A God who comforts me, heals me, and prepares me to love another child in need. A God who uses my hands and feet to point to Jesus.

God gave us an incredible support group.  We had so many people checking in on us yesterday, and a wonderful friend not only brought dinner (and icecream!), but also sent me this email today;

God understands more than anyone the sacrifice you have made and how your heart aches giving up these precious munchkins. Can you imagine what it must have been like for Him to turn Jesus over to the likes of us! One day He will heal your heart, hold you in His arms and thank you for caring for His babies.

And you know what?  They’re all His babies.  Yours, mine, the ones that just pass through here for a short time, they’re all His.

Yes, it IS hard to let them go.  It’s one of the hardest things that we’ve ever had to do as a family.  It hurts us more than I can say.  The tears that we shed are many.  It creates an ache in my heart that doesn’t ever go away.  But?  My God is big.  He is bigger than all of it.  And He keeps us going until the next child comes, and we are able to soothe the hurt with the ability to help and love someone else who needs it.

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6 Months, 6 Kids

I started this post many months ago, and am only just now feeling prepped to finish it…

This foster parent thing is quite the ride, I tell ya. Full of ups and downs, falling in love, letting go… exhaustion, worry… really all of the things that you experience being a regular parent as well.

I think the difference with the foster thang, as we like to call it, is that you’re loving these kids IN ORDER to let them go. We’re the stopping place. We’re the place where we try to fill them up with as much good stuff, love, stability, food, as we can, before they go on somewhere else. Whether that’s home, to an adoptive family, or what have you.

When we signed those papers back in May, we were sure that it was going to be eons of time until we got the call for our first little charge. It was, in fact, 5 days before we had our first placement. Four weeks later we had our second little charge, a week after that, our first charge went home, and then a week after that, we had a second little boy placed with us. That gave us a 17 month old boy, and a 15 month old boy at the same time.

The boys, Thing 1 and Thing 2 were with us for 5 months.

Thing 2 got to go and live with an aunt, and Thing 1 was adopted into an absolutely amazing family.

He was third generation to grow up in the system, his grandmother and his mother both grew up in foster care. Since he was placed with us, our entire church family was praying for him. For his new family. For God to touch his heart, and remain with him wherever he went.

When we got the call for the meeting to go and meet the potential adoptive parents, Ja commented that maybe it was the couple that we had taken the PRIDE course with. I laughed, because, obviously he was a foolish, foolish man, and there was no way that was possible.

Turns out, it was them! This wonderful Christian couple that we had really liked when we took the course. The woman and I hugged, with the adoption worker looking confused, caught up a little bit, and headed into the meeting.

I can’t tell their part of the story, but I do know this. She had been praying for faith. After so many years, years of infertility, years of trying to adopt, to finally get the call, she had been praying for faith that if this was God’s plan, it would happen. That she would have a sign. That it would be so obvious to her.

Later she said to me that it being us was the first sign. Then, the word faith kept coming up in the meeting, and her heart was singing, and she just knew that Thing1 was supposed to be hers.

We transitioned him to their home in a way that God could have only had his hand directly on. It was so smooth. The entire time, this couple were so kind and considerate as to OUR feelings, our hooligans feelings. They wanted to do everything possible to make it an easy transition for him to be in his forever home.

And, it really was. It felt so natural to be with them. The transfer of our little guys affections was seamless, and felt really right. I stopped being his momma, and truly, truly became Auntie Jamie.

Before the transition, when I got Thing 1 in trouble, he would run to her. Afterwards, when we were visiting about a month after the placement, she gave him trouble, and he ran to me!

We still see them and chat with them fairly frequently. In this case, I don’t feel like we lost a child at all, but more like we gained a family. They are very dear to us, and I still get goosebumps about the way the whole thing happened.

I know that God is always in control, that he can allow things to happen, but, I still get goosebumps when I tell this story and realize how very true that is. How none of this could have happened.

One of my Sunday School teachers said that she could one day see Thing 1 standing up in front of a group of people, telling his testimony, telling where he came from, how his cycle was broken. Gesturing at parents who have loved him unconditionally from the moment they first heard his name.

His new mom and I both hold that picture in our hearts. I can’t wait to see it actually happen.

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And then we let him go.

I guess it’s been about a month now since our first little foster hooligan went home.  I think I might be ready to talk about it.

The entire experience was so positive, so wonderful, so great, that we have since then been suckered into taking in two toddlers…  One 14 months, one 17 months.  Whew.  That’s a story for another post that I’ll probably write in a month or two given my current writing track record.

But oh, little C.  You fiery adorable little thing.  

When Ja walked in the door every night, there was a squeal of “JAY!” and instantly needing a snuggle.  His bedtime routine included a good snuggle, and when asked after the story what it was time for, he would enthusiastically yell, “BOBBLE!”  The only one he got for the day.

The obsession with Thomas trains.  The refusal to drink water unless it was slightly coloured….  

I knew that he was going home on the Friday that he did.  It was something I could just feel.  I was actually rooting for his dad in court that day, basing my thoughts on my gut feeling, conversations with him, his interactions with his son.  Even the worker was hopeful that he would go back to his dad.

We kept busy the day of the court proceedings.  Visiting friends, waiting for that phone call.  The call came around lunchtime that we were to bring him back to the Access Centre at 4.  Dad would be there, and to make sure that we packed all of C’s things.

Even that part was hard, packing everything up.  His little clothes that we had bought for him, toys, books, we packed everything into a big duffle bag.  A very very full duffle bag.  His life book, extra pictures of his time with us.  All of those little things that we found all over the house that were a piece of him embedded in our family.  It all had to go with him.

The kids spent a concerted amount of time playing with him that last day.  Doing whatever he wanted.  Making him laugh that big deep down belly toddler laugh over and over and over. 

When it was time to go, we spent ten minutes, made a circle around him, and all of us prayed over him.

Talya prayed that he would miss her.

Eph prayed that he would always remember him, and that he would be safe and happy.

Zi prayed that he would always love books, and that he would be safe and happy.

I prayed that we would have had an impact, that the Lord would grow that little seed in his heart.  That he would remember that we prayed every night with him, that we gave thanks for him.

We all cried.  

We packed everyone up and off we went to the centre.  I was so determined not to cry.  It was such a mixed round of feelings too, I was very very happy for his dad.  I knew that he belonged with his dad.  I knew that he needed to be with his dad, and I had that gut feeling that this was a good thing.

At the same time, I was so sad that he was leaving us.  The toddler spa wouldn’t happen with him demanding the nighttime cream on every leg, on his back, on his tummy.  He wouldn’t name all of the Thomas trains for us anymore.  He just wouldn’t BE here on a daily basis.  I was sad for us, but happy for him and his dad.

I made it all the way to the centre without crying.  Our little guy’s worker met us in the parking lot, and I just lost it.  She was so kind and gentle… gave me a hug.  Dad pulled up not long after, saw me all teary, and said, “Oh, you’re not supposed to be CRYING!”  Gave me a big hug too, and started crying himself!  

By the end, after the little guy was all buckled into his dad’s van, his dad’s carseat, we’re all crying, he’s bewildered at the tears, phone numbers have been exchanged, Dad was so incredibly grateful that we took good care of his son, I thanked him for being so wonderful to us, told him that he had ruined us for ALL other interactions with future bio parents… 

… and then he was just gone.

The worker stayed with me for a few minutes, hugged me again, and then she said something that I will never forget.  I had commented that I hoped it gets easier, sending the kids on.  

She responded with, “You know, Jamie, I really hope that it never gets easier for you.  I hope that you always care this much.  It means that you are really doing your job when you welcome these kids into your home, and love them enough that it hurts to let them go.  I hope it is always this hard to let them go.”

And that was it.  We went home.  Had some family time.  

And woke up the next day to a quieter house.

((until we got the call three days later to take in a second baby….))

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