Learning about the foster program in Charlotte was eye opening to say the least. A more accurate description might be disheartening. Distressing. Even shocking.
I’m sure this isn’t news to anyone experienced with the foster care system, but its reality was a slap in the face for me. It’s one thing to read statistics about how many kids are waiting for families. It’s quite another to walk into an enormous ballroom to find bookmarks placed at every seat, each one featuring the smiling photo of a child available for adoption.
Hundreds of children, lost in the system, waiting for years for a family to come for them. Some of them are lucky enough to eventually be adopted; others finally age out of the system at eighteen, never really belonging to anyone, left to their own devices when it comes to finding their way in the world.
So. Many. Children.
I tried to take it all in at breakfast. Talking with the other people at the table, listening to the keynote speaker (who had spent twelve years being failed by the foster system herself), but my eyes kept returning to those bookmarks and the children hoping for homes.
- BRITTANIE. I have a bubbly personality. I enjoy basketball and movies. I love animals, especially dogs! I also enjoy painting.
- JAVANNIE. I love being outside and playing ball, especially football. I also enjoy playing video games.
- SAVION. I am smart and funny. I love to draw. I like to play on my Kindle, watch TV, play video games and listen to music.
After people left for their morning session I quietly gathered the bookmarks left behind, sliding them into my bag before leaving the room. That’s when I first heard the quiet, still voice telling me to step forward – make a difference in a child’s life, be the one to say yes – and it scared the hell out of me.
I slipped those bookmarks into my bag as if I could gather up all those children and take them home with me.
Our first session didn’t do much to tamp down that instinct. I kept thinking about those faces, and someone from DSS came up to us afterward to ask if we still had our certification. (It’s been so long since our adoption days that I actually had to ask what she meant.) My heart was humming with all the feels, and the questions came fast and furious – we have room, the kids would adapt, we have love to share – why wouldn’t we step forward when so many need a family?
We returned to the ballroom for lunch only to find that every seat had a new bookmark at its place.
- KAYLA. I love to read, draw, listen to pop music and play games. I enjoy talking with others. I want to be a fashion designer one day.
- DAKOHTA. I am funny, energetic, affectionate, playful and lovable. I enjoy building and constructing objects with Legos.
More smiling faces, more eyes filled with hope that a mom or dad would choose them. The heartbreaking realization that with more than 250 foster kids available for adoption, it would take a miracle to find them all homes.
I added more bookmarks to my bag, telling BrightSide we would be praying for them to find families. And I kept thinking about the question written on the back of each one: If not you, then who?
By day’s end I was the emotional equivalent of overcooked pasta, plagued by a gummy, overworked brain and gooey heartstrings. BrightSide and I talked on the drive home about everything we’d learned, but those faces haunted me. I knew I’d be listening to that voice for a while.
This was a Friday. That Sunday was challenging…I couldn’t even tell you why, just that the kids had a bit of a breakdown and there was drama flying at bedtime. Not exactly unusual around here these days.
But after T-man and Bear were finally settled into their rooms for the night, everything became remarkably clear. I turned to BrightSide and said, “I don’t know what I was thinking; we can’t bring another kid home. My hands are full with what we’ve got here.”
It may be the truth – and believe me, it is – but even writing those words feels selfish. I mean, there are women with four, five, or six children and here I am saying two’s my limit? When there are so many kids who need parents?
Then I remind myself that everyone is fighting their own battle, and that my work is here. Next to marrying BrightSide, committing myself to being Bear and T-man’s mom is one of the most important promises I’ve made, and I have to give everything I have to that.
I choose not to list the reasons why these two kids are enough (although if you’re a longtime reader of RFTM you can probably guess), but I know myself. So while my heart says yes, bring me the children who need a home…my mind says no, the children you have need your focus right now. And I have to listen to that instinct.
The foster care system is overwhelmed. There are hundreds of children looking for families. But my work is here.
All so very true.