Today, it is exactly 3 years since my first blog entry posted.
It's actually been a little longer than that since we started this journey. (Confession:the first several posts were all scheduled. I wrote them all within a day or two, but knew I might not have much else to say for months to come since we didn't have a placement yet, so I spaced out the posting of them.)
There is a pretty good chance that M will be our last placement, at least for some time. Our agency imposes a "hold" on any family for at least a year following a birth or adoption, to ensure that the "new" family has time to solidify and find their "normal" before bringing the uncertainty of foster care back into their world. We don't know if the "year" starts the day the adoption is finalized or the day the child moved in or what. At any rate, after that year, whenever it starts....we'll see. When we started fostering, all our permanent kids were in school full-time and our acceptable age range was "younger than our youngest." If we stick to that, it would become "younger than M", which would limit us to babies. Perhaps we will do that. I'm not sure about taking on another infant, though, especially while caring for a one or two year old. Perhaps we will maintain our license, but only do respite for other families. That's too far down the path to think about yet.
If M isn't adopted --- if somehow, after all of this, she's returned to family -- we will need a long break to heal from the roller coaster. Right now, that seems unimaginable. But DNA test results are still unknown and potential fathers and paternal relatives have yet to be investigated. Anything can happen. Especially in foster care.
A lot has happened in these 3 years. Much of the foster stuff is included in these archives, but not all of it. Many things that weren't foster related have happened as well, as life swirls onward, regardless of what other plans we had for those days.
In 3 years, we've had 11 "bonus" children come into our home -- for hours or days or weeks or months at a time. We've had at least 7 that might have come, but didn't. Of the ones who did arrive at the door, 10 of them have moved on -- returned to family, or back to their long-term foster placement. The 11th is still here....and might stay forever.
In 3 years, we've had children from 4 counties. Boys and girls, siblings sets and single placements, babies and preschoolers and elementary school age children. Most of them looked enough like us to be mistaken for biological children, but not all of them. Some of them called us Mom and Dad, some called us by our first names, some didn't speak enough to call us anything at all.
In 3 years, we've learned so much....and realized how many things we have yet to learn. We've learned: no one knows how long they'll stay, some caseworkers are better than others, the turnover in DFCS is unreal, and you never know what the judge will actually do. We've learned that we can handle more than we thought when it comes to disruptive behavior, but that some things we thought we could do forever, we really can't. We are so grateful that we learned that with a child that didn't need to stay forever.
In 3 years, we've come to understand how important reunification truly is and how to accept that. We've learned how to attach not just to the children, but to their parents, so that we can truly desire that a family be kept together, not just believe in the theory in our heads. We've learned to love them hard while we have them and then let them go. We've learned to really feel that reunification is the happy ending we all want and to rejoice in it. We are currently struggling through the disappointment that is case that couldn't reunify. Right now, we are grieving the dissolution of M's original family; the joy of M's forever home won't come until the adoption is final.
Part of me never thought we would be doing this for three years. Mr D and I both thought we would be done fostering when an adoption came through. Perhaps that is still true. But, naively, we never thought it would take 3 years for that to happen. We may have thought that because the first two calls we got were for kids "likely to be TPR'ed." And yet, I think that the placements we've had in those three years have helped us grow so much stronger in our faith and in our empathy and in our understanding of the big picture. God's plan for this time in our lives is so much better than ours was. (Isn't it always?)
We've watched our Originals grow up so much in these three years. Peter was always a good "big brother", but he has become a young man with a deep love for little children. He's so much more comfortable with preschoolers and toddlers than most boys his age and it's a delight to watch him go to get M when she's fussing and I can't get to her right that second. Susan has matured as well, and her heart for missions is strong. The ups and downs of foster care haven't dented her faith that God can use all things for good. Edmund is still goofy and silly and loves to make the little ones laugh. He rolls with the constant change of his place in birth order (He's the youngest, then he's not, then he is, then he's not....) They all rush to greet her when they come home and delight in making her smile or giggle. Somehow, in spite of all the coming and going, they are always eager to welcome the next placement, often well before Mr D and I are! It will be interesting to see how they react to the concept that M is staying. I think Peter suspects -- he's been asking questions about the possibility ever since visits started getting missed. (We haven't told them yet -- we won't tell them until all parental rights are legally, officially, nobody-can-take-it-back terminated and we can tell them what the time-line and process is for the adoption.)
It's been a busy, crazy, dramatic 3 years. I don't know what the next 3 years will bring, but I never would have believed these 3 would happen this way if I'd been told ahead of time. Sometimes, we just have to let go of that desire to know and follow the path God lays out for us. It's a good one, even if can't always see it at the time.