The call came from a DHS supervisor at midnight: “We have a three-year old girl at the hospital. Her mom was shot and is not expected to live through the night. Her dad has been arrested. Domestic violence. All clothing was taken by police as evidence so if you could bring a blanket that would be great. Can you come pick her up?” Yes.
The call came from a CPS worker while I was making dinner: “I just came on the scene to find a four-year old boy sitting in the back of a police car. His clothing is soaked with urine from his mentally unstable mother; he may have lice, and he is filthy. Can we bring him to your house?” Yes.
The call came from another county as we were getting ready for bed. “We have a two-year old who is sound asleep at the DHS office now. She was brought to the ER with an injury. Her mom was so high on drugs she could hardly function. This little girl is adorable. We just need someone who can take her for the night. Could you?” Yes.
The call came from the placement desk while I was in the middle of a run. “We have a tiny, ten-day old baby boy. Things aren’t working out with his current foster home, and we need to move him. Do you have an infant car seat?” Yes.
Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.
My husband and I are biological parents to two young kids, as well as foster parents to a revolving crew of kids under the age of five. A friend, who also fosters, once told me that calls from DHS are like a Create-Your-Own-Adventure Game. Each “yes” takes your family on a wild new adventure you never expected. I always wonder what adventure we are missing out on with the calls we can’t take.
We say yes because these broken babies need a safe place to land. They need a mommy to wrap them in blankets and tuck them in at night. They need a daddy to hoist them up on his shoulders and gallop them around the backyard. They need clothing that fits and food that nourishes. They need to be tickled and trained and taken to the zoo. They need boundaries. They need love.
I have been surprised to find how much we need these little people, too. They are sweet and feisty and stubborn and funny. They keep us on our toes and teach us lessons we need to learn.
People tell me all the time, “I don’t know how you do it! I could never become a foster parent. It would be too hard to say good-bye to the kids once I’ve gotten attached.” And I get it, I do. I used to say the exact same thing. But now, I wonder what in the world I was thinking. Was I serious? It would be too hard for… me?
Make no mistake. It is hard. There are plenty of days when I feel like I just don’t have it in me to do this. My ideas and energy and patience fall flat. Some kids have night terrors, others have accidents. You wash a lot of sheets. You fold a lot of socks. You buy a lot of diapers. There are endless meetings and appointments and phone calls. There are false accusations and frustrating decisions. Foster parenting can be tough.
And yet these kids are forced to do hard things every single day, through no fault or choice of their own. They are abused and neglected and forced to fend for themselves. They are separated from siblings and shuffled from place to place. Kids in the foster care system have endured more hurt in their short lives than most of us will pause to think about, let alone experience, in our own.
The next phone call will come. And my husband and I will say yes. Not because we are some amazing poster family for foster care. We will say yes because these kids are forced to do hard things. The least we can do is look into their broken eyes and say, “Yes. I will do hard things with you. I will hold your hand and kiss your head and calm your tantrums. By God’s grace, we will figure this out together.”
When it is time to say good-bye, I will wash their clothes and pack their stuffed animals. I will ache and cry and wish it could be different. But I will never regret saying yes.
Emily is a foster mom in Portland, Oregon, who has been married to the love of her life for almost 12 years. They have two adorable kids, who keep them laughing and Googling. Emily also volunteers with Embrace Oregon.