I was switching laundry and getting ready for a birthday date with my dad. I noticed yet another email requesting a foster parent take a two year old girl. As a licensed foster parent I get numerous emails about children in our county every day. I often pray for the children as I scan through (and often pray for God to raise up more brave souls willing to do foster care). We aren't doing long-term placements right now but I joked when I saw the first email, "Want two year old twins?" knowing the little girl was close in age to Haley.
The second email came and I hit "delete".
As I was switching laundry a new request, "We found a possible placement but they can't take her until next week. Please someone- for the weekend? She's new to foster care."
For the weekend? Maybe after my birthday date with my dad? I mulled it over. Certainly we could do a weekend. If no one answers within the hour that little one with her meager belongings will be sitting in an office in the DSHS building waiting for someone to offer a bed... waiting for someone to be willing while I have everything a two year old needs right here.
I said yes, for the weekend. I dug in my heels a little when I discovered I'd have to miss my movie with dad until my straightforward daughter asked, "Mom? What's more important- a little girl who needs a home or your movie?"
"Thanks for the 'suck it up princess' talk, Darla. I'll go pick her up."
Her name isn't Deeny, but that's what Haley insisted on calling her and for whatever reason it stuck. I thought the last thing this little one needed with everything 'new' in her life was a new name to answer to but she insisted she liked it, so Deeny it was.
When I went to pick Deeny up I met Foster Mom #1. Foster Mom #1 is a gracious woman with grown children who keeps four beds available for foster children, two specifically for emergencies. Deeny had been an emergency call out of a messy situation. She couldn't keep Deeny but was the willing mom who cleaned her up, washed her belongings, took her to buy panties, shorts, and shoes that fit.
As Deeny walked in all it took was dropping to her level and a, "Hi sweetheart" to have her run up and wrap herself around me. Those of you thinking, "Wow! She must have been drawn to you!"- No. I'm not that likable. An almost three year old willing to jump into any arms and go with any stranger has more likely missed an opportunity to attach healthily to the right people.
Just like that I was Foster Mom #2. One bag of belongings, a folder of paperwork, an affectionate toddler, and we were on our way.
Having Deeny in our home for four days was wonderful. My kids were delighted to have another little one and drug her through the house piling toys on her eagerly. We introduced her to fruits and vegetables that seemed to be new experiences and took her strawberry picking. She and Haley became fast friends as they splashed in the bath, dug in the sandbox, and carried matching dolls everywhere.
Having Deeny in our home was stretching and eye opening. The first morning when Sean brought her to the breakfast table, she was miffed to see all the bright faces talking and dishing up food. Her face got sullen and she refused to make eye contact. My kids were excitedly explaining, "It's pancake Saturday, Deeny! We get strawberries AND powdered sugar on them!"
"I don't think Deeny has had a family meal before. Let's give her a minute."
I could see by her guarded, angry stance that Deeny needed some soft to balance the hard she was feeling. We sat her on Sean's lap where she could bury her head into him until she was ready to be fed.
By the end of the meal Deeny was eating independently and nearly smiling. At lunch when she realized everyone was scampering back to the table, she clapped her hands and said, "Yay! Pancakes!"
"Well honey, not every time it's pancakes but yes, the same idea."
Having Deeny was emotional for all of us. At night, when Deeny was crying in her sleep, I cried along with her. Regardless of how unsafe Deeny's previous situation was, it's still traumatic to be thrown into a new house with new rules and expectations, new people, and to be the innocent age of two where only so much can be explained and understood. My heart was heavier than my arms were as they wrangled two 2yr olds.
Having Deeny was intense. Foster Mom #1 hadn't been able to get Deeny a health screening so I piled all five kids in the suburban to take her in. I had known all morning that Deeny was hanging by a thread. She was exhausted, not used to having other kids around, and confused about her situation. I was loving on her as well as I could with four others to tend to and get out the door before 9am.
Immediately in the waiting room Haley and Deeny wanted the same toy. The other three played nicely, if loudly, while I navigated screaming toddlers.
Once we were taken back it became clear the doctor experience was new for Deeny. Nothing was familiar and she was determined to not let anyone near her. As her eyes narrowed, mine widened. Uh-oh, here we go...
I regained temporary control by putting the girls side by side and using every theatrical bone in my body to perform ridiculous renditions of "Itsy Bitsy Spider" and "If You're Happy and You Know it". (Oh, the irony because we clearly were not happy. And we knew it.)
All control was lost as the doctor checked a hesitant Deeny who began fussing right as Haley (who was playing hide and seek behind medical equipment) remembered the large cookies in the waiting room.
"MOM! I have cookie? I have cookie NOW? Deeny have cookies?"
I was listening to the doctor, restraining Deeny, sweating profusely, and whispering to Haley, "When we're done" over and over and over.
I had both crying toddlers by the wrists as we went back into the waiting room. There waiting with her well behaved son was a friend from high school I haven't seen in years. We hugged and said hellos as one of my children yelled, "MOM! Deeny is taking one bite of EVERY cookie on the plate! Hurry!"
My "so-good-to-see-you" smile froze.
I think I mumbled, "I'd love to catch up on a day that isn't today," as I stared at the plate wondering what's worse- to leave a bunch of half bitten cookies on a plate or smuggle them all out. In the end I beelined for the door with arms full of children and fistfuls of cookies.
As I straightened my crossed eyes in the car I saw I had missed a call from the social worker. I called back and asked if the family who was considering having Deeny long term had responded. The social worker said, "I thought you were keeping her long term."
Looking in the rearview at two crying toddlers, three irritated older children, and way too many cookies, I weakly squeaked, "Mmm... I was supposed to be the weekend placement?"
Within the hour it was resolved and plans were in place for Deeny to go to a home nearby for as long as needed, possibly permanently.
Saying goodbye to Deeny was difficult, even after a short amount of time. It was difficult not just because she didn't understand, not just because we adored her, not just because she had started calling us "Daddy and Mom" within twenty four hours, but also because it's hard to contribute to any child's story of abandonment.
I know Deeny's new home is a better place for her. I know when we committed to a weekend it was all we could do. I know someone had to step up for those three nights. I know my role was to pray for Deeny, to love on her, to tell her about Jesus (which we did a lot of) and to stock her up on things she needs emotionally and physically. I had a peace about our role, but that didn't mean it was painless.
I dropped Deeny's things off at Foster Mom #3 and passed on all the information I could think of. I met with the social worker. We hugged and kissed on Deeny as we sent her off. She said goodbye to yet another "Daddy and Mom" to go to another set of people, another set of rules, another house with another new bed.
It's messy when Dads and Moms can't be a safe place for their children. It's messy when addictions swallow the ones who are supposed to be cuddling, singing the alphabet song, and making breakfast. I can't fix it. But I can use little windows God gives to point the Deenys to God who doesn't abandon, who knows her entire journey, who has a beautiful plan for her life that includes redeeming what others screwed up.
I didn't intend on writing about Deeny. As far as foster placements go there was nothing surprising or out of the ordinary. When she left I went straight into a busy week and a half, mostly with Sean gone. The day the craziness halted I came down with a raging fever and strep throat. I slept for nearly three days straight.
Then this week I received an email from the county south of ours, "We have two children who have spent two days in the DSHS office because we can't find placement. Anyone?" Soon after, another posting from our county for different children, "They are sitting in the office right now and are the sweetest girls. Anyone?"
A placement coordinator told me, "I try hard to not let kids bounce around. I'm working to find good placements as soon as they come into care...but the volume! The volume of kids right now is so much."
I'm not trying to convince you to do foster care. I do want to give a little glimpse into the need.
There are many ways to cover needs. A group of people in our town assemble "comfort bags" for each new-to-care child that include underwear, a toothbrush, and a few things to call their own. Another group sews simple, big tote bags so children who have to bounce around a few times have a space to keep the things given in each home. I know of another group that makes sweet quilts to give each child. Deeny was attached to hers and proud it was all her own after only two nights of sleeping with it. I found myself thanking God for each contribution made to give Deeny comfort and ease her difficult transition.
I'm telling you about Deeny because it's easy to think someone else, somewhere else is taking care of the needs of the 400,000 children in U.S. foster homes. It's easy to hold our own children who own panties and shoes, who will never know the terror of having a parent intoxicated and passed out in front of them, and miss that there are Deenys sitting in an office nearby... waiting.
Just throwing myself out there a bit...