Party of Five

I’ve often spoken of my family on these pages. When I started writing this column, I had four kids. Then it changed to five. I distinctly remember the first time I typed five instead of four.

The casual reader probably didn’t notice a thing. Once your family reaches a certain size, it’s hard to keep track of whether a person has four or five.  But when it’s your home, your family, your life, it can mean a world of change.

A world of difference in a different f-word for your family: Four. Five. Foster.

It happened quicker than most people can become foster parents. We were told in the early morning that our great-nephew would be placed in our home. By mid-morning, we had been fingerprinted and our home checked. By 2 p.m., he was with us. Child-specific fostering, it’s called.

He came, and so did social workers, home inspectors, and a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA). Counselors, tutors, and caseworker supervisors have walked through our revolving doors over the past four years. The first time we met our CASA, I remember thinking it meant another appointment we were forced to keep.

Then, last month, our CASA visited with us for his last official visit as the CASA worker of our foster child. And we now think of him as family, because he’s visited faithfully every month for the past four years. He’s seen our chaos, our crazy and hopefully a whole lot of love in between. He’s been a listening ear when we needed to tell someone it has all been harder than we ever imagined, but better than we could have dreamed.

Our CASA’s official visits are over because December 5 was adoption day. It’s kind of like a birthday, but better. Because we waited four years and a few months for adoption day.

A new birth certificate, a new social security number, and for our “child five,” a new last name. He was nine years old when he walked through our doors and 13 years old when he became ours.

Along the way, we became certified foster parents, meaning we could take in other children, and not only the one child we were initially certified for. So we took in a 6-day-old drug exposed baby for a “few weeks” that turned into 15 months. But that’s another story for another day.

A little over a month ago, I was asked to teach child-specific training for other foster parents. My voice shook as I introduced myself to a class of almost 30 people who are welcoming into their homes children desperately in need of their love and support.

“I was sitting right where you are,” I started, as I introduced myself. And it was true. I had sat in the same chair, our world shaken and not quite sure if everything was going to turn out alright.

But after years of waiting, adoption day came. And our 13-year-old foster child became ours. But that happened well before the court said it did. I don’t know when I thought of him as “ours” instead of “someone we are taking care of.” It wasn’t all at once. It was a gradual change and a whole lot of love and learning each other along the way.

I wish I could tell you it’s all been a fairy tale, and just perfect. But that wouldn’t be true. But I will say this. The day we became foster parents changed our life. Everyone thinks it changed his. And while that’s true, I know I’ll never be the same. I would do every single day of the past four years all over again. I would say yes a million times to opening our doors and our hearts. My biggest regret is that we can’t help more. The number of children being admitted into foster care in our surrounding parishes is staggering, far out-pacing the number of homes certified to take in children.

We currently have our five children and no fosters. Things are settling here, but we know that can change with just one phone call.

“Can you take in a __________?”

I don’t know what beautiful soul that blank holds, but I do know this, that if asked, if it’s within our power, we will say yes to taking in someone who needs a few nights, weeks or years of safe shelter and a whole lot of love. POV