Not MY Normal, But YOUR Normal.
If there is a normal way to come into fostering, Jennifer and Kevin were the poster parents of “normal.” Five years ago, they were a young family with three kids trying to do a little good in the world of suffering. They were driving one day and saw a billboard sign about fostering when the idea of turning their home into a haven for one child, seemed like the cherry on top of a very nice life.
They told me what few, if any “normal” foster parents, have ever said, “We loved all the classes.” Mind you, no one “loves” foster classes, so that should have been my first clue that they were odd. Those three-hour classes stretch for weeks long. And further, they train to the worst-case scenarios, intended to weed out the weak-willed families by scaring them half to death, every week. Yet, Jennifer told me that she and Kevin came out of each class more and more certain and excited to foster.
They flew through all the licensing requirements and like “normal” parents they licensed their home for to meet the needs of one (maybe two) children that were not older than their youngest bio child. No one actually says to do this. No one has actually proven its merit. But every foster and adoptive family has been cautioned into adhering to the custom. It’s kind of like taking your toddler to get his picture on Santa’s lap. The tradition is considered “good practice” for every self respecting parent who wants what’s best for their terrified son.
Jennifer and Kevin’s first placement was a three year old girl. Unbeknownst to them, the little girl was taken from a sibling group of 4 in the middle of a terrifying night. She was not only alone but did not speak English. Although they surrounded her with comfort, toys, food and play dates, she still cried uncontrollably each night. The inability to understand her trauma just intensified the commitment they felt for her. This drew the Adams into a fight for her peace… no matter the cost.
“Who or what is ‘GoGi’?” Jennifer asked. “Is it a blanket, a toy, a friend? She calls out that word all night long.” Jennifer told the case manager. “That’s her big sister,” the case manager replied. “Get her!” Jennifer insisted. “Actually, she has three other siblings as well, all older, I am not sure that’s what you had in mind…” the case manager explained. “Bring them all here NOW!!” Jennifer demanded.
A little girl’s trauma was breaking down preconceived limitations in the Adams home. Somewhere in the middle of one of those gut-wrenching nights, “normal” was formally evicted. Now there was more room for a struggling little girl to believe what was true. She was safe in the Jennifer and Kevin’s home. More than safe, her sense of loss, was being validated for the first time.
When Jennifer told me she had four adoptive children (ages 19, 15, 11, 7) and three bio children (5, 9, 12), the first thing I wanted to say was “Are you crazy?” but I wisely chose the second thing I wanted to say, “How old are you?” She is 32…today. Which means she was in the “crazy” category by the whopping age of 27.
We discussed the typical learning curve of an adoptive family. She is honest about the trials of working through the adjustment with older kids. When I asked what the most challenging thing their family has gone through, I was surprised by her answer. “I went through breast cancer recently.”
It seemed so unfair. A large sacrificial family should get all the breaks. We talked about her church, Action. They did not waste time getting behind her family. They immediately set the Adams up with a C127 care team. The Adams care team went the distance, especially during her chemo and surgeries. “We never asked for anything.” she said. Yet she told me how they dropped off meals every week; ferried their kids to and from youth group; sent games and school supplies and even helped with the added finances. Jennifer got teary recounting what her church and care team means to her.
But a thought kept coming to me. “I know this sounds weird, and I know you love ALL your children, but… is there one child that really fills a spot that you could never have imagined?”
Without hesitation she said, “Yes.” “Which one?” I asked carefully because you should never ask a mother to single out one of her cubs. Also, of more importance, you should never reveal the answer in a newsletter.
“My oldest, Julie.” she said. “She terrified me the first time I met her. She was a 14 year old girl that had tried to fill the shoes of her addicted neglectful mother.” “She was the one that called DCF to have her siblings removed. She did it to save them, yet she was a terrifying presence to meet. She was angry and filled with her own trauma.”
“But you adopted her!” I said, “So what changed?”
“I had to adopt them all for the sake of ‘our’ little girl. I knew she was ours and I knew I had to adopt her whole family to get her healed.”
But what Jennifer didn’t know was how instrumental, Julie would be in her life. “We grew closer during my battle with cancer. She stepped up to help me, just like she was used to doing.”
Julie was determined to get her new mom better. But this triggered many insecurities and old feelings. But this time Julie didn’t have to shoulder the responsibility alone. Many nights Jennifer and Julie would sit together and talk. They would talk openly and honestly about each other’s fears and a shared a world they both now knew as “trauma.” However time was different. This time Jennifer could share about how she found hope in God. And Julie, could be a front row observer of that hope. “Those were some deeply bonding times.” Jennifer said, “like a blessing in disguise. Now, we can talk about anything.” But she did have to qualify one thing.
“Parenting her is a challenge.” I assumed that was because Julie was now a 19 year old (complicated) girl. “No!” Jennifer said. “That’s not it. It’s because she is quickly becoming my best friend.” Then she laughed as she said, “It’s really hard to parent your best friend.”
Ok so now I wanted to cry. I felt that “normal” must be the enemy of really living. And the Adams make you question if you have ever really lived a single day in your life.
Before we got off the phone, I asked her to give some advice to foster parents and foster supporters out there. Here is what Jennifer said, “Open your heart and take a chance. All these kids want is someone to love them. Just take a chance.”
I think that’s her kind way of saying, formally evict normal from your home and see where God takes you. You might just find the “crazy category” a really enjoyable place to live.