Changing the Sheets

Changing the SheetsLess than an hour ago I held you for the last time. I felt your tears roll down my neck as you pressed your cheek against mine and your toddler fingers tangled in my hair. They told me that I’m not supposed to cry in front of you, that I need to put on a brave face—but I’m not sure how to do that at this moment. I bite my lip so fiercely I feel the metallic taste of blood hit my tongue.

I don’t want to go, Mama. I know Bud, I know. We’ve done everything we could. Your team petitioned for more time so that you would feel safe and comfortable before returning, but the judicial powers did not hear you this time, darling. I love you and God loves you, I whisper back. It’s time to go now; we have to be brave. We stand on the waving rock like we promised we would and watch as you both press your faces to the window until the car is out of sight. And then? Then that’s it. The chapter of your life with us is now closed as unceremoniously as it began.

Preparing for What’s Next

After allowing myself a brief collapse, I begin cleaning up the pieces of our home that scream, “Kids lived here.” The star chart gets wiped away and blocks and Barbies find their way back to their bins. Trying to fight my way through the mental fog, I feverishly swipe at memories and things that taunt me with deafening silence—the kids that consumed my waking hours for nearly 200 days are simply, gone.

I’m not sure what to do with myself so I wander into your room and change the sheets. That’s what this whole process feels like sometimes, this foster care system. A child comes in and we are asked to rent out space in our hearts and our home until it’s time to leave. Then, like they were never there in the first place, we wash the bedding, clean the playroom, and prepare for the next. A changing of the guard.

As I clean the bedding, fold it, and put it away {because we don’t know when the next child will need it and dust could build}, I remember the panic we felt during the three hours we had to prepare for your arrival. We only had one mattress, one pillow—my husband picked up another mattress on his way home. Dear friends stepped in to make sure Bug had princess-worthy bedding and Bud was equipped with a bed rail.

Today we also had three hours—to prepare for departure.

Searching for Answers

Before you even left, we received a phone call:: There are two boys that need a home. They were in placement but need to be moved. The family is homeless. My head spun. At the time, we weren’t even sure what was happening with your case. We still had a hearing to attend and the ad litem was calling me to testify. Could we say no? Could we say yes? What if you two still needed me?

Mercifully, because your case was still pending, we were removed from consideration. But now, I’m a shell. No one needs me to pour their cereal or lay out their clothes. No one searches for me in the morning looking for their good morning hug. My time is not absorbed by bath time, bedtime stories, or nighttime prayers. I don’t turn the monitor on so I can listen for nightmares and no one asks me to sing “Baby Mine” just one more time. But at the same time, I’m not sure my head or heart is prepared for another renter just yet. Standing here in the hall I hear your “mama” cries ricochet in my ears.

The echoing silence is replaced by fear and anxiety that rips through my chest and seizes my breath. No mother should be asked to send children that she loves into a potentially dangerous situation; yet, that’s exactly what I’ve been asked—made—to do.

Love and Healing

We will all heal from this—I know that—but I cannot promise you when. While I am heartbroken for what brought you both to our home, I am so glad you came. I am grateful that you saw something outside of the situation you lived in every day. I am blessed that you saw love and learned to give love in return. You were a part of a community that you didn’t know and that didn’t know you but loved you anyway.

You are brave, my darlings. Always remember you are worth more than someone who does not treat you with kindness. And, if someone hurts you again, you tell. You tell someone and you keep telling until someone listens.

In the meantime, we’ll be here, changing the sheets and waiting for the next broken heart that needs to be loved whole again. And if you don’t mind, darling, I’ll let them sleep with pigeon, too.

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4 Responses to Changing the Sheets

  1. Avatar
    April T. December 18, 2019 at 9:13 am #

    This is so beautifully written, and even though I don’t know you my heart aches for you. Thank you for providing these children a loving home. I don’t know if I’d be strong enough to do the same. Hugs to you.

    • Kirsten C
      Kirsten C December 28, 2019 at 9:53 am #

      Thank you, April! Foster Care can definitely be heartbreaking but it is full of beautiful blessings and healing along the way. Not everyone is prepared to have children in their home but there are a dozen ways to support foster families! Donating to organizations, being certified to babysit, or even scheduling playdates – building connection is huge for these kiddos and families. XOXO

      • Avatar
        Roberta January 6, 2020 at 8:51 pm #

        Hi Kristen. I read your blog because the school nurse with whom I am a colleague just sent this to me. I told her today that after caring for two severely mistreated little girls for the past 3+ years, that I was going to give notice to DCF. They have misinformed and mislead the court (whom also changes their rulings at a whim) many times about what was truly going on with the girls before they came into custody and what their lives have been like since being in custody.

        DCF text me recently to tell me that they are going to move towards reunification, although it might take (more) years to get mom and dad to go to rehab for alcohol abuse, drug abuse, domestic violence, homelessness and joblessness! Shall I include their criminal records too?!

        The regression the girls are experiencing since a few visits with mom has the school and myself revisiting various unhealthy behaviors from both girls. I’m struggling on how best to help the girls. DCF told me I would have to start including mom (and dad, if he ever resurfaces again) in all the girls activities, doctor visits, community and church activities etc. starting this week!
        I am beside myself with trepidation and concern, anger too! Like you (and countless others) I have been caring for these girls unconditionally in every way possible. There is so much more to their story.

        Anyway, I appreciate your sharing with us. I believe we need a foster parent support group. Perhaps I’ll pray about it and approach my pastor if so led.

        Thanks again, Roberta

        • Kirsten C
          Kirsten C January 7, 2020 at 12:02 pm #

          Oh, Roberta. I wish I could reach through the screen and wrap you in a hug. Come sit on my virtual back porch and share some tea, won’t you?

          It is a hard, hard road – I know. But what you have undoubtedly given these girls no one can take from them no matter what happens. You have shown them unconditional love, that they are worthy of respect, challenged them to be kind-hearted people, and supported their unique interests. I have every faith that you have hugged them, mended hurts {physical and emotional}, shared laughter, given high-fives, and broken many a bread over home-cooked meals.

          No one can erase what you’ve done. You have changed the trajectory of their lives. And whether you make the decision to continue down this windy path or not {which needs to be your decision, BTW}, these two precious lives, and yours, will never be the same as a result of your saying “yes” to loving them at a time when they needed your strength the most.

          Yes! I cannot stress a support group enough! Talk to your church, your agency, look it up on Facebook. Find your people! They will get you through those valleys.

          xoxo

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