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How I Unexpectedly Became A Foster Mom

How I Unexpectedly Became A Foster Mom

Anonymous
Unexpected Foster Mom, Raise Magazine

I don’t know if it was my husband or me who brought it up first. Almost without words, we decided that if this boy needed a place to land and have some stability, it was going to be our house. We didn’t even talk to Tyler about it directly. One morning before school I said to Jackson, “Ask Tyler if he wants to just stay here.” That was that.

My sister and I became mothers around the same time. She was born for it.  She had three babies in four years and kept her family running with military precision. There were always lists and schedules and nutritious meals. When they traveled, her children wore brightly-colored, coordinated outfits and had all the necessary supplies. She never once had to wet paper towels in a public bathroom because she forgot baby wipes. Again.

While she was making motherhood look effortless, I was eating takeout with my then four-year-old at 11pm, watching Sex And The City reruns. It was the edited version on TBS though, not the full HBO version. I do have some standards.

I wouldn’t describe myself as Super Mom in any way, but I love my kids fiercely, and I believe the most important part of parenting is showing up. Some days, I’m pretty good at it, and some days I’m not so hot, but I get up every day and keep trying.

My husband comes from a family that takes the Bible’s instruction to be fruitful and multiply very seriously. He is one of over 80 grandchildren. We have three biological children, which is already one more kid than I ever thought I’d have, but we for sure have the smallest number of children of anyone in his family. They always asked when they could expect Baby #4, but I felt really sure that our time, home, and money were already at capacity. Occasionally, I’d toy with the idea of a fourth kid… if we had more money and a bigger house and my husband and I didn’t both work long hours. I joked that if we ever did go crazy and have a fourth, I was sure it would be another boy.

A few weeks later, Jackson asked me if Tyler could stay for the week. I asked him what was going on, and he said Tyler’s mom traveled for work and that he didn’t like to be home alone. I said it was fine, because again, teenagers don’t require a lot of active duty parenting on my part. They can feed, dress, and bathe themselves, so it’s a pretty low-impact workout on my end.

I don’t remember much about the first time I met Tyler. Our oldest son Jackson brought him home after school one Friday and said he was going to spend the night. Jackson was a freshman in high school at the time, and we were pretty used to a stream of teenagers coming in and out of our house on the weekends. Tyler didn’t say much, or even make eye contact. He was polite but quiet, and I didn’t think too much about it.  The year before, in an effort to create more space in our house, we’d finished part of our basement and moved Jackson’s bedroom downstairs. He had a sweet little set up with a dorm fridge, a microwave, and a little “living room” with futons, a TV, and video games. Our house became the hangout, which I loved, but the boys mostly stayed downstairs. I could forget they were around, other than my trips down there to do laundry and check on them.

When Tyler showed up, I noticed that he only had one outfit. One pair of shorts, a hoodie, and t-shirt that he wore in rotation.  Sometimes he would wear one of Jackson’s shirts. Over the course of the week, I got to know him a little bit better. Tyler is a kind, smart kid. He is endlessly patient with Jackson’s younger brother and sister, more so than Jackson himself. At the end of the week, Tyler stayed for the weekend. I wondered why he wouldn’t go home and see his mom, but I didn’t ask. I didn’t want him to feel awkward or like he wasn’t welcome.

“I don’t know,” Jackson said, in a way that made me think he really hadn’t given it any thought. “I guess it’s far, so he just keeps some stuff at Jake’s house.” I asked if Tyler stayed with Jake a lot, and Jackson responded that he did. Sometimes he stayed with other friends. That night at the banquet, Tyler sat with our family, as none of his own was present. As I watched him play with Jackson’s little brother, wearing an ill-fitting suit, the pieces of the puzzle started to fall into place.

I don’t know if it was my husband or me who brought it up first.  Almost without words, we decided that if this boy needed a place to land and have some stability, it was going to be our house.  We didn’t even talk to Tyler about it directly.  One morning before school I said to Jackson, “Ask Tyler if he wants to just stay here.” That was that.

A few weeks later, a local furniture store was having a bedroom sale.  We bought a bed and mattress and rearranged the furniture in Jackson’s room to accommodate both boys. We bought a clothing rack, and my incredible mom took Tyler shopping for clothes.  I told my husband that when I said I knew our fourth child would be a boy, I didn’t realize it would be a 190 pound 16-year-old.

We had no plan, no formal agreement with anyone. I’d never spoken to Tyler’s mother. I didn’t even know her name. To be honest, I didn’t think much about her. We were just living our lives. I know it sounds crazy, but remember, I am not a person who is super on top of her life. Every single day is mass chaos, getting everyone fed and out the door, working, getting home, and again feeding and cleaning all of the humans (and animals) who live under our roof.  I don’t have the time or space to consider much beyond the immediate needs of the people in front of me.

It came to a head in the middle of the summer when Tyler got injured. He and Jackson play football and during a summer scrimmage, he was hit just above his hip bone. He was having trouble walking without pain.  It occurred to me that he needed to see a doctor, but I had no idea how to go about doing that.  He’s not legally my kid. He’s not on my insurance. I wasn’t even sure where to take him. That was the first time it really occurred to me that I needed to find his mom and talk to her. By that point Tyler had already been living with us close to three months.

I never doubt our decision for him to live with us, but I constantly wonder what help he needs that I’m not able to give him. I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m not built for this.

The next night when I got home, Tyler told me that there was blood in his urine. I took him to the emergency room.  As he lay in pain, I explained to one nurse after the next that he was a friend of my son’s and was staying with us, but I was not his legal guardian. When they asked Tyler where his mother was, he told them that she had recently had surgery and that he was staying with us while she recovered. That was news to me. He gave them her phone number, and I heard him say her name, Rebecca, for the very first time. They tried to call, but there was no answer. Crazy thoughts swirled in my head. What if he needed surgery? What if something was really wrong? Someone else more on top of their life probably would have had these thoughts sooner, but like I said, I’m not good at thinking past what is directly in front of me.

Thankfully, Tyler ended up being fine, with just a bone bruise. The next morning, I began my quest to find his mother.

In the age of social media and armed with a name, I found her quickly. She called me that night, and I’m not sure which one of us was more nervous. She thanked me profusely for allowing Tyler to stay with us. I told her truthfully that he was a joy to have and that he was welcome in our home for as long as he wanted to stay. I told her that I understood how much she loved him and that we were honored that she would entrust him to us.

She was worried that I would think that she didn’t care about Tyler. I assured her that I knew that wasn’t true. She is a single mom of five, Tyler being right in the middle.  She had fallen into some unfortunate circumstances, some of her own creation, some not, and she didn’t have stable housing. Her older two children are grown, and her younger two are living with her mother. It left Tyler without a lot of stability. I could hear in her voice, just how much she loves him and just how special he is to her. I felt a really close bond with her in that moment. Despite hard circumstances, she’d done the best she could and raised a son who is smart, funny, and kind. I told her so. I told her that it takes a village and that we are happy to be a part of that village.

The new school year has now started and somewhere in there, though we don’t have anything legal on paper, I became a mother of four. Four sets of school supplies and new school clothes. Four sets of permission slips and back to school nights.

As the summer progressed, Tyler opened up to me about what his life was like before coming to live with us and the trauma he’s faced. No kid should have to deal with the things Tyler has dealt with.  He loves his mom dearly and is fiercely protective of her. All of his life plans revolve around graduating college and getting a good job so that he can take care of his mom. She is the love of his life.

Somewhere along the line, he started calling my husband and me Mom and Dad.  We started referring to him as ours and the brother of our children. It feels right to do so, and it feels like he has always been with us. But I feel small and inadequate when it comes to dealing with the things he has been through. I feel as though I am failing him. Often I just listen, because I don’t know what to say.

Just before school started, he and Jackson went to Ohio to spend a week with Jackson’s grandparents.  On their second night away I got a text from Tyler: “Mom — I need you.”

I called him as quickly as I could.  He was crying so hard that I could barely understand him. Finally he choked out that his mom had been arrested. My heart broke into a thousand tiny pieces. Here was this young man — physically much larger than I am — who sounded so small and helpless. I stayed on the phone with him for the next few hours. I wanted to jump through the phone and just hold him while he cried. I never doubt our decision for him to live with us, but I constantly wonder what help he needs that I’m not able to give him. I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m not built for this.

The new school year has now started and somewhere in there, though we don’t have anything legal on paper, I became a mother of four. Four sets of school supplies and new school clothes. Four sets of permission slips and back to school nights. Tyler is a junior this year, and Jackson is a sophomore.  My youngest two are in third and first grade.

I have no idea how long Tyler will live with us. Somewhere between three more months and forever is my best guess.

I don’t know how foster parents do this. I am in awe of people who open their homes over and over again to children from the most broken situations and try to give them peace. I never expected to be in this situation. Foster moms are Super Moms. They are moms who are so good at what they do that they volunteer to do it for other children. They are women like my sister. I always said she would be an incredible foster mom. My sister is on top of her life. I can’t find my car keys half the time. If you need cookies for a bake sale, at best I might remember to buy some on my way to work, but you surely aren’t getting anything homemade. If it’s red shirt day at school, I’m more than likely digging something out of the dirty clothes at 2 AM and febreezing it. My desk at work, as well as most of my home, is covered in notes reminding me about orthodontist appointments and football games and birthday parties and school conferences.  I try really hard, but nearly all of the time, I fall short. I don’t mind telling the truth: I’m making all of this up as I go along.

I have no idea how long Tyler will live with us. Somewhere between three more months and forever is my best guess. I would happily keep him forever. I honestly cannot imagine life without him, but I know that the goal is always reunification and that at some point, if things work out, he may want to live with his mom again. Though it would break my heart to see him go, I will always support him.

My incredible parents have come alongside us, and I feel so guilty for all that we have asked of them.  People always say, “Why do you have kids if you can’t afford them?” We aren’t a wealthy family. We’re pretty middle class, and to be truthful, with four kids, there isn’t always enough. My parents have stepped up over and over again to make sure that all four kids have what they need. I’m humbled because it isn’t their responsibility. They didn’t decide to bring in another child, we did. Yet every time I ask for help, they are right there. Raising a child truly does take a village.

If you had told me a year ago that today I would be a mother of four, I would have laughed in your face.  I would have told you that I’m not that good with the three I already have — what on earth would make me crazy enough to add a fourth?  Honestly, I can’t answer that question, even today. All I can say is that I saw a kid who needed someone to show up for him, and I knew that however imperfectly I do it, I could show up.  I didn’t expect this to be where our life is, but here we are.  When my kids are adults, they won’t be able to brag about the home cooked meals or the shiny clean house they grew up in. They won’t be able to talk about having a mom who always kept her cool or said or did the right thing. My goal, my only real hope, is that as adults they will be able to say that they had a mom who showed up.

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