I could be writing about the glorious Saturday I spent in the garden, where transplanted broccoli, Brussel sprouts, and Swiss chard and cut up more sod to lay down weed paper. I could be writing about the quality time my husband and I had when he was so thoroughly and utterly exhausted but wanted to play board games and I totally slayed at Agricola. I could be writing about my hopeful trepidation about receiving a new package of bees this afternoon. Or about how my sewing machine still isn’t working properly. Or about the latest farming book I finished. Or about the rich blue roving I’m spinning into yarn with increasing uniformity.
I have many a time reached for something sweet when I felt overwhelming waves of emotion. I’m significantly better about not reaching for a Reese’s peanut butter cups or a two-serving brownie frosted with caramel and chocolate because something has distressed me or I don’t feel good. It hasn’t been easy to overcome a lifetime of emotional eating, but I’ve made some darn good progress. Now, as a foster parent, I’m trying to teach my kiddos some of what I’ve learned.
Teenagers are hard to place in the foster-care system. We always assumed we’d get teenagers because, well, we’re open to having teenagers. My husband works with teenagers, and I used to work with teenagers. We understand their dramas and their this-moment-is-everything attitude. I’ve had teenagers be incredibly mad at me. So has my husband. We’ve both had teenagers cry with us about their struggles. We’ve shared in their exuberances. We genuinely and truly like teenagers.
When your world changes, say, having two teenagers arrive at your house after you’ve spent the previous week feeling discombobulated after meeting with three foundation contractors, some of your habits may fall by the wayside. You might keep exercising every day (point, Rachel!), but you might not be reading thirty minutes of Latin and writing for thirty minutes every day (points, world!). Your dog probably isn’t getting walked over your lunch break either because you’re spending that time on the phone with caseworkers. Yes, he’s still giving me those puppy-dog eyes.
You’ve been given 20 minutes to collect everything you hold dear to you in a backpack and leave. That 20 minutes includes time to process the shock and alarm and be spurred into action. You forget enough socks. Heck, you don’t even know how many socks you need in the first place. You cannot say no. You try to say no, but you fail. Twenty minutes have passed, and you’re taken away from your house, your school, your school, your community, your whole world. You’re over an hour away from everything you love, and you do not know when you’ll be permitted to go back… if you’ll be permitted at all.
Now imagine you’re a senior in high school. In January. You are worried about graduating, your job, your cellphone bill.
What would you have taken? What would you have chosen to leave behind? What would you have forgotten?
As foster parents, we never know what to expect. We’re licensed for kiddos from birth to eighteen, though we’re more interested in taking kiddos four and up right now. Still, that’s a large range in kiddos. You don’t know whether the kiddo will like peas or carrots or accept with magnanimity that we never buy bread from the store because my husband bakes all our bread.
No one becomes a foster parent because they want to welcome a child into his or her home, earn enough trust to be called mom or dad, and then decide that the child can no longer stay. That decision is anguishing and cruel. You feel like a failure, even if everyone tells you that you aren’t. You know intellectually that you’re making the right decision even if your heart is railing against it.