There are certain things I want to remember, because on my very worst days I feel like the biggest failure to ever grace the world of foster parenting. And maybe I am. But even if that’s true, so is this:
- T couldn’t tie his shoes when he came to live with me, and now he can.
- T was so afraid of showering that he ripped the shower curtain off the wall in his first foster home, trying to get away from the water. Now, he loves showering so much that, if I don’t monitor him, I think he’d stay in there all day.
- T was terrified of lakes and pools, and now he jumps right in and sticks his head under without thinking twice. He has gone down massive water slides and begs me to take him out over his head at the lake.
- T didn’t eat vegetables (or anything other than ramen noodles) three years ago, and now cabbage, broccoli, and kale are common requests. I recently roasted two whole heads of garlic, and all the cloves were gone within a couple of days.
- T clears the table without being asked. After breakfast or dinner, I often hear him yell from the kitchen, “I’m just quick trying to find at least one way to be helpful before I go play, Amy.” Please find one way to be helpful was one of my frequent refrains in our early days together.
- His homework folder is on the counter for me to sign most nights without any prompts.
- He turns off lights when he leaves rooms and often has to remind me to do the same, gently pointing out that wasting electricity is bad for the environment.
- T readily and accurately uses the word ‘discernment’ when describing his process of reading books, watching movies, or listening to the news.
- T looks people in the eye when he talks to them. He couldn’t do that three years ago.
- T asks thoughtful questions of others over meals and on the phone. I don’t have to remind him.
- T no longer sucks on his clothes when he’s feeling anxious. For a long time, his shirts and jackets were drenched every single day.
- Even when he’s dysregulated, T can use his words to tell me how he’s feeling and why he’s feeling that way.
- T can make his own breakfast, and he’s proud of himself when he does.
- T folds his own laundry, without being asked.
- When he came to live with me, the skin on T’s hands and face was so cracked and dry it often started bleeding when he went out in the cold. He still has sensitive skin, but diet and homemade products have eased the bulk of his discomfort.
- Every early trip to the grocery store ended up with T wailing and throwing himself on the ground if I said no to a toy or treat. Now, he accepts, “No,” with a simple, bright, “Okay, Amy!”
There are also certain things I’d rather not remember, too, but feel the need to note:
- I’d rather not remember every conversation in which someone told me I was a good “mom”, feeling the need to nestle the title in a cozy quotation mark shell, letting me know I don’t deserve the full weight of that word.
- I’d rather not remember the times people have told me I don’t “really get it” because he’s not “really mine”.
- I’d rather not remember the times I’ve been shunned from parenting conversations because as “just a foster parent” I can’t actually relate.
- I’d rather not remember the instances when my life with T has been referred to as babysitting or childcare.
- I’d rather forget all the times people from the agency have gossiped about me or spread rumors about me because they took it personally when I advocated for T or called them out for treating him like a task to be checked off instead of a human being.
- I’d prefer to forget the times I’ve lost my cool. The times I’ve been frazzled and angry and unable to cope with the stress of someone else’s pain.
This journey, this road: it’s been hard. Standing in the gap for someone—literally acting as a bridge for them to cross from one reality to the next—is hard. I don’t know how else to describe it. But I also want to remember why it’s good and why it matters and why it’s worth it.