Ever since watching Annie countless times as a child, I have always felt compelled to help children living in foster care. Though I discussed it with my husband from day one, he never seemed interested…until our oldest son was preparing to head off to college.
After taking classes and receiving our foster care license, we decided to open our home as an emergency hotline home. This meant we would be called last-minute as children were removed from difficult circumstances. It sounded scary, but it felt right to us. We knew we had so much to offer—a peaceful, loving home and two kind, accepting kids of our own.
Our very first placement was the night before Thanksgiving. A four-year-old boy was dropped off at our door. He was scared, and so was I. I assured him we were safe and he soon fell asleep. The next day was filled with family, and everyone was welcoming. The little guy opened up fast, given all the chaos around him. None of the kids gave a second thought to his race or the circumstances surrounding his arrival, but just played and fought and played some more, like cousins do. It was that day when I knew we could do this and not only would my children be OK, but they could actually be enhanced by this experience.
Two Proud Moments
Friends and strangers alike are always intrigued when they find out that we bring foster children into our home. They are always polite, but you can often sense something else. We’ve been asked a range of questions—people wonder about the children’s behavior, where they came from, and how we can let them go. Amazingly, though, the number one question we get is, “Are you afraid of what they’ll teach your children?”
When someone asks this, I try to impartially understand his or her thought process, but often feel offended on behalf of all the fantastic kids who have come into our home. What have these kids taught my own children? They have taught them to be open, generous, and non-judgmental. They have taught my children to be thankful for their warm home and beautiful yard. There are two moments in particular that always stand out in my mind when I’m asked this question.
It was four days before Christmas and my 19-year-old college student was home for break, so we weren’t planning to bring in kids for that period of time. But when he overheard me apologize to a worker, saying that all of our beds were full, he interjected, “Jesus, Mom, I can sleep on the couch for a few days if it means that eight-year-old can have a holiday. Please give him my bed.”
My heart exploded with pride as I saw the sincerity in his eyes. As it turned out, that little guy never came, but from then on I knew that our eldest son did not see our fostering as a burden, and felt far more free to say yes to these unpredictable phone calls.
The other standout moment is the day an 11-year-old arrived at our home without a jacket. This boy was shy, but very eager to fit in. He was enthralled watching the younger kids in the neighborhood play rollerblade street hockey. My younger son, who was nine at the time, quickly recognized the boy’s fascination and grabbed him a pair to try. Without hesitation, the boy put them on, wearing a huge smile. He could barely stand up, but I watched my son coach him without judgment.
That night, we were heading to a cold ice rink. Remembering that he’d arrived without a jacket, I gave him one of my son’s to wear. As he put it on, he said, “Wow, I’ve never gotten to wear a North Face before!” My son and I shared a quiet glance. This little guy was excited just to have this jacket on his body, whereas my boys’ closets are filled to the brim.
This boy spent the next 10 days with us, in and out of multiple rinks around town. My son was determined that his foster brother would skate fast before he left and, sure enough, he did it! We have the moment on video and still tear up every time we watch the elation on his face. I pray that moment taught him that he can do anything he sets his mind to with hard work.
The day this boy left was a sad one; he was such a great kid and we all hated to see him go. As we said our goodbyes, my younger son came out of his room and handed the boy the North Face jacket to keep. The boy’s streaming tears immediately turned into a smile. I know he was excited about the new jacket but, more important, he knew he mattered. My son had shown him how special and worthy he was.
So to come back to what fostering has taught them, I am so thankful that my children are getting to learn the real meaning of life at their relatively young ages. I just hope they don’t teach those foster kids to swear while they’re here.
Deirdre Littlefield is the loving mother of three boys, the youngest of whom was adopted from foster care. She works for the MA Society of Prevention and Cruelty to Children and blogs for signaturemoms.com.