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“My foster journey started when I was 28. My best friend from high school had fallen on hard times and I was asked by her to take care of her two sons who were 6 and 10 at the time. We will call them Shadow and Sidekick. They came to live with me, and just like that, I became a full-time parent. I was the fun-loving God Mom with whom these two boys spent almost every weekend. Our family dynamic suddenly changed and now I became their full-time mother figure. After about 3 months, I became terrified they would be sent to foster care, so my partner and I looked into what I needed to do to become an official foster parent for these two boys that I loved so much.
Shadow began calling me MoMa, because for him I was ‘more Mama.’ My partner and I decided to take foster parenting classes, and we started and finished the classes within two months. The classes seemed almost unreal and it was hard to wrap my head around the reality that the goal of fostering is always reunification, even with the most outrageous events and allegations of abuse. The idea of fostering a child was more than just loving and caring for that child, it was to rehabilitate and support the rebuilding of a family unit. Even if the child wasn’t going back to the life you thought they should have, restoring the family was the goal. And that’s what I signed up for. Our family profile was made and we knew race didn’t matter, siblings didn’t matter, and any child under 10 was our only restriction.
Sidekick was the big brother and that was a job he took very seriously. He was a protector and big teddy bear. While we were waiting, my friend felt she was ready for her babies to return home. Shadow wanted to go home. Sidekick decided to stay with us, visiting his mom and brother on weekends.
On Friday, January 20th 2017 around 4 p.m., a text came in from our foster licensing specialist. ‘This is what I’ve been waiting for,’ I thought. ‘A child I can love and care for and reunite with a family.’ She was a 2-year-old girl and was living with a family member out of state, but the case was being sent back to Florida. She had been in foster care since she was 10 months old. She was living with a family member but that was not working out. I remember it like it was yesterday, I was so nervous. I was tired after a long week and was sitting there waiting until I fell asleep. 8 p.m. turned to 9 p.m. 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. Still no baby. We called our county foster placement to find out what was going on. They had no idea and assumed she was with us already. Finally at 2 a.m. we heard a knock on the door, and there she was, bundled up and sleeping. My Sleeping Beauty.
She cried for an hour and my ex rocked her until she could fall asleep. I was scared, so scared. This baby had literally just got off a plane with a Case Manager she had never met before that evening, and was told she was going to see her mommy. And I most definitely wasn’t her mommy. I don’t think I slept. She was up early, my partner was still sleeping. It was just me and her. I wondered if she could talk? Was she potty trained? I knew nothing. I asked if she wanted breakfast and I made cereal. She ate nothing and I was a little concerned. I put on a movie and she started to talk. She talked – she talked a lot and didn’t stop. She was sweet, she was beautiful, she was Sleeping Beauty.
We got in the car and she immediately asked if we were going to Walmart. I said no, but asked her if she liked Walmart. She said, ‘Yes! I like Walmart.’ So we went shopping and I was hoping while in the grocery store she would see something that she would want to eat. Here I am, a Black mom with a white baby in the grocery store trying to find something that she would eat. Even in the suburban area where I lived outside of Tampa there were lots of stares. I thought to myself, ‘Please don’t start screaming or crying.’ As I’m pushing the cart I hear her sweet little voice say applesauce. I said, ‘Do you like applesauce?’ And she said yes. You better believe I grabbed some applesauce! I picked up one I had never seen before called Go Go SqueeZ, and she loved it. I ran back to the store for days after to make sure I had those for Sleeping Beauty.
After reading her file, I found out she had two brothers. I requested that they be moved with us to join with her. Monday afternoon there they were, a 5-year-old and 10-year-old, both boys. She was so excited to see them. A 5-year-old who we will call ‘the Boss’ was hyperactive and at times seemed to need his own space. The 10-year-old who we will call ‘big Z’ was just a big brother who had spent most of his life taking care of his younger siblings. The case manager contacted us to let us know the kids had a visit that week with their parents, who had not seen them in person for over a year. He reminded us to not get attached because the parents had only one more thing to complete and the kids could go home. I was excited for them. The idea that these babies could go home soon made me happy for the whole family. The first visit went well and I built a relationship with their parents, emailing them, and even meeting extended family along the way. By February we were seeing their parents less and less at visits and they had stopped doing the things they were supposed to do for their children to be safely returned to them. It became very apparent that big Z was very uncomfortable being with his siblings. He seemed detached from them.
This story originally appeared on Love What Matters.
The process was soon started for Big Z to be moved out of state to live with his grandmother. As hard as it was to see these children separated, it was for the best for all of the parties. The Boss was struggling – he was aggressive, impulsive, and hard to calm when he was upset. His tantrums would last for hours. After getting some counseling and utilizing some tools that we call his toolbox, he learned to calm himself on his own which helped tremendously. Part of the Boss’ therapy was for him to separate himself from situations where he felt overwhelmed or if he could not handle the situation. Being five years old, this was very difficult for him and he struggled daily. He would have these outbursts that would last for hours and most of his anger was directed at his little sister.
As the visits with their parents decreased, his behaviors became more extreme. We would show up for visits, wait 15 minutes, 30 minutes and no one would show up. The Boss just did not understand what was happening. The next day after missed visits was always the worst. His teacher would get the worst of him. All the while Sleeping Beauty seemed unfazed by the fact that her parents were not showing up to visits. But at the same time, she was dealing with something totally different, an attachment issue. This made it very hard for me to leave her; she would scream and she would cry. She was scared I wouldn’t come back. I was her Mama, black or white it didn’t matter, I was her mama. Then there was me just trying not to become too attached because the goal of foster care is always for reunification. Even though the parents were not showing up for visits, everything could change at any moment.
By the time May came, the Boss was about to graduate from his voluntary pre-kindergarten program. I was running late, and I got there about 15 minutes into the program. He looked so sad and upset. He was just looking down at the ground. He looked up and there I was sitting there waving like an idiot with excitement and he smiled with the biggest smile I had ever seen since the first day he walked into my life. His face changed, and in that moment I knew I had to do everything in my power to ensure that I was in his life forever, no matter what way. As the summer started, my home was flooded with more foster kids, more fun, more challenges. My home was bursting at the seams with eight wonderful children running around. And I had a revolving door of several babies, ranging from 6 months to 1 year old, that would stay for about a month and then find homes with extended family. Visits for the Boss and Sleeping Beauty stayed the same, with them maybe seeing parents once a month.
By August of 2017, I had a feeling that this would be it with their parents. The courts said they needed to terminate their parental rights. This was difficult for everyone involved – difficult for me because I had built a positive relationship with the Boss and Sleeping Beauty’s parents. But it was the most difficult for the Boss, as he had the most memories of his parents. No matter whether those memories were good or bad, they were still his parents and he wanted to be with them. The year went on and the courts determined that Sleeping Beauty and the Boss would be put up for adoption. Since there was no family available to adopt them, the courts determined the best place for them would be to remain in my care, as they had been for two and a half years.
I remember the day that I found out they would be my children and would have my name. I remember having a conversation with the Boss about him being adopted. He was not happy and he cried and screamed and told me he didn’t want to be adopted by me and he wanted to go with his parents. I didn’t know what to say or how to explain to him that this was not going to happen. That it could not happen. While he was going through this, Sleeping Beauty was trying to understand how she could become black like me. She would often ask how come I’m this color and you’re brown and I would always respond that this is how God made us. The Boss was struggling big time and his behaviors were getting worse. He was acting out at school and refused to do his work because he just didn’t understand why he couldn’t go back with his parents. I explained to him there were things his parents needed to do in order for him to go back to live with them and those things just didn’t happen. I kept using this response every time he asked, and it seemed like overnight his mindset just changed.
The adoption paperwork sat on my table for what seemed like months until finally my partner looked at me and said, ‘Are we doing this or not?’ There was no question in my mind – the answer was yes! But I was procrastinating, hoping that my son would eventually come to terms with the fact that I will be his forever parent. Our adoption date was set for June 26th, 2018. They were officially my children. They were officially mine.
After their adoption, I decided to take a break from fostering so that I could really focus solely on Sleeping Beauty and the Boss and their needs. Permanency was so important for these two. Sleeping Beauty needed to know that I wasn’t leaving, she wasn’t leaving, that I wasn’t going anywhere. I made time for her in the afternoon between picking up my big kid and going home. She loved shopping of any kind so she was my shopping buddy. Even just going to the grocery store to pick up weekly groceries, she would wake up early, as I did, and she was always with me everywhere I went. The Boss was an amazing soccer player, swimmer, and was doing well in his after school program. He was learning to be a great brother, and was using his ‘toolbox.’ My family was complete, or so I thought.
July 24th, 2019 I was eating lunch when I got a call from a strange number. This happened a lot with the foster care system so you answer the strange numbers. When I answered, it was someone from the Department of Children and families looking for me. They asked about my children, which was weird, but I responded yes to all the questions. Are you the adoptive mother? Do these children currently reside with you? Are you familiar with the biological parents? I finally said, ‘Yes, why are you asking me all these questions?’ The gentleman on the phone then informed me that a baby was born the previous day and needed a home. The baby was the biological sibling of the Boss and Sleeping Beauty. My mouth flew open. I didn’t know what to say and I didn’t know what to do. I was in shock.
He asked me if I was open to taking placement of this baby. A little girl. Without a question in my mind, I said yes. He said I could pick her up from the hospital the next day. The next day?! Just when I thought my foster adoption journey was done, God had a different plan for me and this was just the beginning. I had never parented a newborn before and I was scared and nervous and didn’t sleep much. She was the sweetest newborn I’ve ever met. The moment I met her, I saw so much of the Boss and Sleeping Beauty in her face. Now, what do I tell them? What do I say to them? I picked up Sleeping Beauty from summer voluntary pre-kindergarten, and told her I had a surprise for her. This wasn’t anything new for her because we had so many foster babies come in and out of our family. She just wanted a baby girl, as each of the previous babies had been boys. And she got her wish. The Boss came home and he was equally as excited. To my surprise, all he could say was, ‘Momma, can this one stay?’”
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