It takes a few days to get children in foster care enrolled in a new school district and daycare. After a little scrambling, my husband made arrangements to take the rest of the week off. We told our kids Joanna, 11 and James, 8, what was happening and we not-so-patiently waited for them to arrive by pacing the floor and checking the clock.
At 6pm that Wednesday evening, they pulled in and all I could hear was the screaming. Gut wrenching, terror filled screams that no child should ever have to make. Joey* was frightened beyond words and the look he gave me was indescribable. He clung to and was repulsed by the caseworker all at the same time. The terror, panic and rage on his face is something I’m not likely to ever forget. As the caseworker came in and sat down, his sister Katie* followed. She was 6-years-old, very slim and happy to be there. She began chatting with us about herself and her brother right way. She was nervous but excited, which struck me as extremely sad. He was too young to understand what was happening. She wasn’t and was happy about it. The horrendous physical abuse and neglect that she had suffered at the hands of her mother had made the change a welcome one for her.
The first night was a long one, to say the least. After taking the toddler from the caseworker so she could leave, my husband took Katie and showed her the bedroom so I could try to calm the baby. He wrapped himself around me and shrieked like a banshee if I tried to put him down. We sat in my old wooden rocking chair and rocked. Belly to belly, we rocked. His head on my chest, we rocked. Little arms and legs gripping me, we rocked. Two hours I rocked and sang while he screamed and our hearts broke; his for the loss of his family and mine for him. As Joey’s scream slowly became a whimper, he sat back a bit and let his eyes meet mine for the first time. I carried him, whimpering, to bed with me and we slept.
The next evening when I got home from work, I was greeted by our little Katie-Bug. She’d had, in her words, “a super fun day.” They had read stories, colored pictures, watched television and had breakfast and lunch. My husband’s story was a bit different. He said that Joey had stayed on his lap all day refusing to be put down. Katie had to entertain herself with television and snacks all day. Though their stories were vastly different, I was glad they seemed to be settling in.
As the weeks wore on, our family began to get into a groove. Waking early and going to bed late was how my husband and I lived. With four kids, saying we were busy was the understatement of the year. We were busy but happy. The new kids were quickly adapting to their new surroundings; Joey was quickly adjusting to life in daycare and Katie was doing well in school. Our kids all got along well and were constantly wrestling, playing, building forts and doing regular kid stuff. It was a blur but it was great.
Then one day my phone rang at 3:55 in the afternoon. It was the kids’ caseworker. I answered with a happy, “Hey! How are you?” She said, “The judge is sending them home. I need to either come get them or you can bring them to my office.” I was sick. My head was spinning. I couldn’t speak. After a little stammering, I managed to put some words together and said, “I’ll bring them. It will upset them too much if you come and take them.” She told me I had to have them in her office by 6pm. Two hours. That’s it. I had to give my kids back to their abusive, neglectful family in two hours. The family that had no idea what beautiful children they had. The family that had let them go hungry. The family that had messed up so badly that the state had to intervene.
As you can imagine, Katie did not take it well. She cried, begged me not to take her back; hid under her bed and made me drag her out. She kicked, she screamed, she moaned. She would have given anything to stay with us because she was happy and not afraid. She had friends at school. She had all the food she could eat. She was home and didn’t want to leave. She refused to help me pack her things and flung herself on the sofa, sobbing. I threw myself into properly packing their things to keep from crying. As I packed, I talked to her, telling her how much I loved her, how good it was going to be to see her family, how great she was going to be. She screeched at hurled herself into my arms. I sat on her bedroom floor and rocked her, trying to make her understand what she could not.
The drop off was swift and incredibly painful. Katie didn’t want to be there and didn’t want me to leave but tried to be brave. Thankfully Joey was too little to understand and just played contentedly in his car seat. Their family picked them up and that was that. They were gone. I was devastated and bawled all the way home. My heart was not just broken but completely crushed. How was I supposed to go home without my kids? How was I supposed to wake up tomorrow without them? I ached in a place that I never had before, that I didn’t even know existed. It was a pain that I cannot put into words. A pain that left me completely depleted and wrung out. As I pulled into my driveway, I pulled myself together as best I could. I put my kids to bed and went to bed myself, falling apart all over again. When my husband crawled into bed with me, we sobbed together until we fell asleep.
The next day, I still had to be mom. I had to get my kids ready for school, go to work and live my life, all while worrying about my kids. I was terrified that they were being hurt, didn’t have enough to eat, or couldn’t sleep without me. I worked and took care of my family and home but I missed my kids. As the days wore on, my heart slowly put itself back together and I began to heal.
It’s been two years since I’ve seen Katie and Joey and I wonder every day if they’re okay. They don’t live with me anymore, but every time I see a brown eyed boy and a blue eyed girl, they are in the front of my mind again. They changed me in ways that they will never know and for that I’m forever grateful.
Katie and Joey were our first kids and in a lot of ways they were our most important. Seeing them improve at an incredible pace with things that we take for granted every day convinced us to continue, despite the heartache. Our training showed us that these kids need to be taught rules, structure and boundaries but we were the ones who learned lessons in kindness, humility and unconditional love. Fostering is certainly not for the faint at heart but it's a part of our hearts, just like Katie and Joey.
*Names have been changed for privacy.