I started a two part post yesterday on the dark side of foster care and in response, former foster children started coming out of the woodwork to share their traumatic experiences. Part two will come, but today is a reprieve from the heavy to share a quick story from the home front.
Yesterday we had our first snow storm of the season. The first flakes floated down and gave my son the perfect opportunity to run around in a cape and collect them on his tongue.
Afterwards we ventured out into the storm to go shopping for Halloween costume materials. I figured it’s about time to get started on a homemade costume since we have a grand total of five days before Halloween. Lucky for me, the store was almost vacant, and I wouldn’t have to worry about the kids being loud, or someone taking the cool cart with the attached car for kids to ride in.
We passed a lady near the entrance who seemed more like she was avoiding the storm than actually shopping and went down the aisle with the battery operated puck lights. The entire lighting department was a ghost town, so I squatted down to do some serious price comparisons followed by changing my mind several times before finally making a decision. You know, the usual. Then who should wander up but the lady we passed on our way in.
I’m at the point where I know I’m not the reason we get stopped in the store anymore. It’s the kids. It’s always the kids. But there was something about this woman approaching us that made me feel a little standoffish. I was fairly confident that she didn’t also just happen to be in need of a battery operated puck light at 7 PM in the middle of a snow storm. She seemed very intentional about going out of her way to say hi to the kids, so of course my first thought is to wonder if she knows who my foster daughter is. I’m not opposed to meeting friends and family, but doing it by bumping into them with the child is my worst fear because you don’t know what their reaction will be, the child’s reaction will be, and you don’t know how much they know. My most feared question would be, “Hey strange lady, why is my niece in your shopping cart?”
So when she came up and asked my son, “Is that your sister?” my antennas were up. Instead of answering the question, my adorable little chatterbox started telling her all about his Halloween costume. “This is my mom. My mom is looking for the right light to go on my costume. I’m going to be an angler fish, and that’s why we’re looking for lights. We saw all different colored lights, but those weren’t the right kind so that’s why we’re looking at these lights.” Oh child of mine, we are going to have an uphill battle when it comes to the talk about not getting into that nice man’s candy truck.
I don’t know if the woman didn’t know how to respond to his fragmented conversation, but she decided to cut to the chase and asked him again, “Is this your sister?” I still wasn’t quite sure what her motives in asking were, but I was surprised to hear my son’s answer.
He looked down at the baby in the cart for a moment and then said, “Yes, this is my baby sister. Her name is _______. She’s staying with us. I don’t know how long, but she’s staying with us right now.”
It was a proud moment for me because before she even came, my son was talking about how he wanted a baby girl to come stay with us. When she arrived, he was immediately enamored with her. There was a big enough age gap that there wasn’t any competition or jealousy, and as soon as the baby came, everyone started referring to her as his sister. It was the first comment out of the social worker’s mouth when we met her three days after accepting the placement: “How do you like being a big brother? Did you know that she’s your sister now?” Even after disclosing to his preschool teachers about new foster baby in the house, they were asking about how he likes having a sister, and it seemed like everyone we encountered, whether strangers or people aware that we foster, talked to my son about his “sister.” I worried in the back of my mind that it was blurring lines for him and reinforcing the notion that she would be the kind of sister that his friends had, one that never leaves. I worried he wouldn’t be able to separate this situation from everything he’s ever seen or read about what a sister is.
To hear him understand the dynamic and articulate it so naturally to a stranger was a heartwarming moment for me. Once again, I had that overwhelming wave of relief that this journey hadn’t ruined him.