Oh, we are so happy.
So much love and joy is filling our home these days. The other day, after dinner and homework and bathing little girls before bedtime stories and tucking in covers, I looked at Paul and said “Can you even remember our life before these girls?” Our lives used to be full of work and quiet dinners together and Netflix and that, in itself, was wonderful. We were happy just being a family of two, grateful for the gift of each other.
But now our lives are full of pink laundry and My Little Pony coloring books and chicken nuggets. Our lives are full of “Amy Beff, I missed you so bad today at preschool that I cried for you!” and “Paul, will you take me to daddy / daughter night at school?” I have (somewhat) learned how to style little girl hair and Paul has mastered a hair dryer after bath time. We are so happy, even on the hard days (and there are always hard days when you are fostering; I just don’t write a lot about them for privacy reasons).
For Easter, we did something absolutely magical. We left town as soon as school let out that Thursday and headed to a hotel in Pigeon Forge. I wish you could have been a little bird perched on our car while we tried to explain the definition of vacation to these sweet girls. It was almost more than they could comprehend and they asked endless questions about it. We stayed at a hotel and the girls experienced all kinds of firsts: hotel rooms, water slides, breakfast in the lobby. The next morning, we took them to Dollywood where they proceeded to lose their minds with excitement over every little thing. Incidentally, their favorite ride was the only open water ride which, also incidentally, had no one in line for it (probably because they had better sense than we did). This meant that, after we finished the ride, we just stayed buckled in for another round… and another round… and another round.
That night, we took the girls to eat at a Mexican restaurant (“So, they’ll just keep bringing us these chips, right?”) and then went swimming in the indoor hotel pool. The next morning, we went to Dollywood again and repeated the previous day’s water adventures much to Paul’s dismay. That night, we ordered pizza (“Wait, they will bring pizza to our hotel room?!?”) followed by more swimming in the indoor pool. Late that night, we wrote notes to the Easter Bunny explaining that we weren’t at home and would he please bring our baskets to our hotel room instead? And wouldn’t you know it, that bunny managed to find us in that room while we were sleeping and left two huge pink tulle covered baskets in our hotel room. Paul and I woke to squeals of joy as two little girls ran to their baskets. Our little one excitedly told us that she “saw” the Easter Bunny drop the baskets off in the night and reported that he had “very big, friendly eyes” and “ears that flopped over his head.”
Later that day, we took the girls to a stream in the mountains where we met up with my dad and stepmother for a picnic. While my dad grilled lunch for us, my brother carried my girls into the stream so they could put their feet in, even though it was freezing cold. That evening, we stopped by my mother’s house so we could celebrate Easter with her and that side of my family. On the way home that night, I realized that we had never taken photos that day of our foster daughters in their Easter dresses. We pulled off an interstate exit, put the girls in a little field and took some of the prettiest cell phone pictures you ever did see.
I could tell you a hundred other stories like these. We have attended pre-school graduation, celebrated our third grade student of the month, made end-of-the-year gifts for teachers, played in sprinklers, taken the girls to the beach, learned how to properly brush little baby teeth, attended court hearings, sat by hospital beds, read storybooks at night, everything. I find myself somewhere in the middle of looking forward to bedtime so I can have some “me” time (to do laundry and wash dishes, naturally) to finding myself truly missing the girls 15 minutes after I tuck them in at night. Most of all, I find myself in a state of gratefulness. Foster care isn’t supposed to be about us; it is supposed to be about the children. We are doing this because we want to provide a loving, safe home to children who need it. The fact that we are being blessed by them is just icing on the cake.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: fear is just the hardest part of this. One morning this week, as I was driving the girls to school, I started thinking about the inevitable question of when they will leave us. I found myself instantly playing negotiator with God in my head: can she stay until she starts kindergarten so I can make sure she has a picture of herself on her first day of school? Or at least until October so we can take them on that dream vacation we are cautiously planning for them? Christmas, oh Christmas — is it possible that we could have them in our house on Christmas morning, please?
That’s the rub of foster care — you can’t imagine the future without the children you have come to love but, at the same time, you can’t imagine the future with those children because they are not guaranteed to be in your future. And so you continue driving them to summer day camp and fixing dinner and giving baths at bedtime always secretly wondering how many more days of day camp you get, how many more taco nights you’ll have together, how long pink hooded towels will hang in your bathroom.
There have been times I have caught myself withholding part of my love from the girls, trying to emotionally cushion myself for the chance of them leaving. I am trying to break that habit and to love them selflessly, even if I know I may hurt more in the long run. I am the adult; I can handle the emotional pain. They, however, are the children and they need every ounce of love I can give to fill a million little gaps that have been empty for far too long.
“The risk of love is loss,
and the price of loss is grief –
but the pain of grief is only a shadow
when compared with the pain of never risking love.”
Hilary Stanton Zunin