Odd, because I had this really funny hockey post going for today, but for some odd reason, this just won’t get out of my head. So here we go.
When Jason and I went through foster training 2 1/2 years ago, they made a point to tell us, “we don’t call them foster children. They are children in foster care.” At the time, I didn’t really think much of it besides to shrug my shoulders and think, “okay.” Honestly, when you’re going through foster parent training, and each inch of your life is being gone over with a fine tooth comb, to include calling my parents for our address when I was five… well, you kind of just do what they tell you to. There are rules, and if you want to foster, then you follow them.
But this one, I kind of glossed over, because there seemed like there were so many more important ones to think about, like how to help a baby with RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder), or even better, how to work your butt off to keep her from GETTING RAD if there’s a chance. I wore Princess Pumpkin in a Moby wrap nearly every minute she was awake for her first two months here, but that’s another story. But this rule kind of came flying back at me in the last few weeks.
Jason and I took Princess Pumpkin to a doctor’s appointment a few weeks ago, and there was something going on with her insurance that I didn’t quite understand. Honestly, the only insurance I’ve ever known has been TriCare, so the rest kind of confuses me. Anyway, the nurse was explaining to us what she think happened and she said, “and that’s when she became a foster child.”
White hot rage and indignation swept through me. I clutched Princess Pumpkin a little tighter to me and had to remind myself that it wasn’t an insult. It took me all day to figure out why it got me so riled that she called her a foster child. I mean, that’s what she is right?
She’s not a foster child. She’s ours.
She is a child in foster care, not a foster child. Don’t label her like she’s something unwanted or unclaimed, because she is neither of those things. She is wanted by more people than the nurse could have possibly realized. She is loved. She is cherished.
I guess our Pumpkin isn’t what I pictured as a “foster child,” and I know that each child and each situation is unique. That’s why we can’t just stick a “foster child” label on them. They each have such different stories of where they have been and where they are going.
So let’s clarify a few things.
She has a home, a bed that was carefully put together for her by the daddy that tucks her in every night, well after there’s copious amounts of giggles from neck raspberries.
She has a wardrobe stocked with Gymboree because I’ve fantasized about every little outfit my daughter could wear, but now that I know what she LOOKS like in them? Well, now I’m even pickier about the clothes on her little body. Sue me.
She has brothers here. Four dragons who breathe fire on anyone who looks crosswise in her direction (not that anyone does). I don’t think she’s ever fussed without the Brother alarm sounding of “MOM!!!!” in a panic, like she can’t possibly protest for longer than 30 seconds or she’ll perish.
She is treasured beyond any price. She is snuggled. She is held. She is put to bed when she’s cranky. She is treated just like the four other children in this house that I gave birth to, or perhaps better, since they spoil her.
She is anything but unwanted.
When someone calls her a “foster child,” it feels like someone is taking a cheese grater to my skin. Like by sticking this label on her, they automatically understand her situation and pity her. Yes her life is in upheaval, but she doesn’t know it. All she knows is that we get up around 7 am, we take a bath, we have our breakfast and we play. She knows getting in the car seat means bye-bye, and when she’s hungry I’m going to feed her. She knows when she’s hurt, we will come. She knows that when she lifts her arms, she’s going to get picked up and snuggled. She knows it’s play time when she hears Jason’s voice. She knows that we sing before bed time, and yes, she has a favorite song.
Her situation as a child in foster care is different because she is a baby. She doesn’t “know” what’s going on, but please don’t call her a foster-child. She’s not a “foster child,” she’s our child, at least until the moment DSS tells us that she’s not any more. She just happens to be “in” foster care.
She is loved, cried over, prayed for, and adored.
She is safe.
Her legal status may be hazy, but never doubt that she has a firm place in this family, and we will do battle for her best interest. We will never leave her until it is legally necessary to do so, and we say that with full knowledge that we have PCS orders coming soon. That’s right. I’ll stay here, and we’ll send Jason ahead to our next duty station because we won’t leave her. If you think that’s odd, well, I wouldn’t just leave one of our boys if he couldn’t go either. She’s not just in “foster care,” to us. She never has been.
The only other “foster parents” I know think exactly the same way we do. I know there are bad ones, just like there are bad people everywhere. There are some kids who get the raw deal in foster care. I can promise you that Princess Pumpkin is not one of them, at least not while she’s in this house. But those other kids? The ones who get shuffled, in and out of the system? Please don’t label them either. There’s so much more to them than the label people think they neatly fit under. You can’t know what they’re going through with that label, so what use is it? It’s no better than implying “military wife,” or “blonde,” or “only child,” will tell you everything you need to know about someone. These kids in the system are just that… kids. They are children, trying to survive. They don’t “become foster children.” They didn’t magically morph into something different overnight. They are who they are, unique, beautiful kids who need someone to take care of them while the state figures everything out. And their everything is different. No two kids go in under the exact circumstances, and no kids have identical foster parents… well, unless they’re in the same foster home… 😉
You get the point. Look at these kids for who they are, and stop labeling them by the circumstances they have nothing to do with.
So when you look at Princess Pumpkin, I hope you can see the curls in her hair, the light in her eyes, the way she dives in for kisses when I smooch at her. I hope you can see how strong she’s gotten when she crawls, and how proud we are that her weight is picking up. I want you to see that each piece of clothing she has on is carefully picked out not because she’s a doll, but because she is so adored, so wanted, that I’ve planned out everything so far in advance that she has bows to match everything. I hope you can look past her legal status to see her sassy face when she’s had enough, or glimpse her intent little face when she’s watching her brothers play hockey. I hope you can see past the fact that she’s not biologically ours, to witness that while her biological family is sorting itself out, she still has a family that loves her.
She is not alone.
This is our job as foster parents. All of us who foster. We take babies, kids, teens, who aren’t biologically ours, and we raise them like they are, for as long as they need us to. We love them, nurture them, and do the best we can. We want them to see past their circumstances to the amazing tiny humans they are, to their potential, so please don’t make their circumstances the very first thing you label them with.
Princess Pumpkin may be in “Foster Care,” but she is ours in heart, soul, and hugs. I know you don’t know that by first glance at her face, or what’s in her file, but give her a chance to show you what her life is like right now, and I promise you won’t pity her. Pray for her, for all of us, that her path is decided in the fashion of what’s best for her life and hers alone, yes, please. Pray, but don’t pity.
These tiny humans called “foster children” will grow up to change the world one day.
Let’s help them do that with a clean slate, the chance for them to define themselves, and stop doing it for them.