“I began my foster care experience when I was 28 years old. My high school closest friend had fallen on hard times, and she requested me to look after her two sons, who were 6 and 10 years old at the time. Shadow and Sidekick will be their names. They moved in with me, and I became a full-time father overnight. I was the goofy God Mom who spent practically every weekend with these two youngsters. Our family dynamic shifted abruptly, and I was thrust into the role of full-time mother. After approximately three months, I was afraid they’d be placed in foster care, so my partner and I researched what I needed to do to become an official foster parent for these two boys I adored.
Shadow started calling me MoMa since I was more Mama’ to him. My partner and I chose to enroll in foster parenting classes, which we completed in less than two months. Even with the most egregious occurrences and charges of abuse, the sessions seemed almost surreal, and it was difficult for me to grasp the reality that the goal of fostering is always reunification. Fostering a child was about more than just loving and caring for that child; it was also about helping to rehabilitate and reconstruct a family unit. The goal was to restore the family, even if the child didn’t return to the life you thought they should have. And that’s exactly what I agreed to. When we created our family profile, we knew race didn’t matter, siblings didn’t matter, and the only restriction we had was any child under the age of ten.
Sidekick was the older brother, and he took his position very seriously. He was a giant teddy bear and a protector. My friend believed she was ready for her babies to return home while we waited. Shadow yearned to return home. Sidekick chose to live with us, spending weekends with his mother and brother.
Our foster licensing specialist texted us at 4 p.m. on Friday, January 20th, 2017. I said to myself, ‘This is exactly what I’ve been waiting for.’ ‘A child I can love and care for, as well as reconnect with a family,’ she says. She was a 2-year-old girl who lived with a family member out of state, but her case had been returned to Florida. Since she was ten months old, she had been in foster care. She was attempting to live with a member of her family, but it was not working out. I remember being so nervous as if it happened yesterday. After a long week, I was exhausted and sat there hoping to fall asleep. 8 p.m. became 9 p.m. 9:30 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. There is still no baby. To find out what was going on, we called our county foster placement. They were completely unaware and assumed she was already with us. We finally heard a knock at 2 a.m., and there she was, wrapped up and sleeping. My Sleeping Beauty is a fictional character.
My ex rocked her till she fell asleep after she wailed for an hour. I was terrified, I was terrified. This youngster had just gotten off a plane with a Case Manager she had never met before that evening and had been told she was going to meet her mother. And I was certainly not her mother. I’m not sure I slept. My partner was still sleeping while she was up early. It was just me and her in the room. I wondered if she was able to communicate. Is she toilet-trained? I had no idea. I inquired if she wanted cereal for breakfast and made it for her. I was concerned because she didn’t eat anything. I turned on a movie and she began to converse. She chatted and talked and talked and talked and talked and talked and talked and talked and talked and talked and talked and talked and talked and talked and talked and talked and talked and talked and She was lovely and nice, and she was Sleeping Beauty.
We got in the car, and she asked if we were going to Walmart right now. I declined but inquired if she enjoyed shopping at Walmart. ‘Yes!’ she replied. ‘I enjoy shopping at Walmart.’ So we went shopping, and I was hoping to find something she might want to eat while we were there. I’m a Black mother with a white baby in the grocery store, looking for something she’ll eat. Even in the suburbs outside of Tampa, where I resided, there were a lot of looks. ‘Please don’t start yelling or sobbing,’ I thought to myself. I hear her cute tiny voice say applesauce as I push the trolley. ‘Do you like applesauce?’ I asked. And she agreed. You can bet I snatched up some applesauce! I chose Go Go SqueeZ, which I had never seen before, and she loved it. For days after that, I ran back to the store to make sure I had those for Sleeping Beauty.
I discovered she had two brothers after reading her file. I requested that they be relocated with us so that we may join her. They were there on Monday afternoon, a 5-year-old and a 10-year-old, both males. She couldn’t wait to see them. We’ll name him ‘the Boss,’ a 5-year-old who was hyperactive and seemed to need his own place at times. The 10-year-old, whom we’ll refer to as ‘big Z,’ was simply a big brother who had spent the majority of his life caring for his younger brothers. The case manager phoned us to inform us that the children had a visit with their parents that week, who had not seen them in over a year. He warned us not to become too attached because the parents only needed to finish one more task before the kids could return home. I was looking forward to seeing them. The prospect of these babies being able to return home soon made me joyful for the entire family. The initial visit went well, and I developed a bond with their parents through emailing and seeing extended family. By February, we were seeing their parents less and less at visits, and they had ceased performing the things that were required of them in order for their children to be returned to them safely. Big Z appeared to be very uncomfortable in the presence of his brothers. He appeared to be aloof from them.
Big Z’s move out of state to live with his grandmother began as soon as possible. As difficult as it was to see these youngsters divided, it was in everyone’s best interests. When he was upset, the Boss was aggressive, impetuous, and difficult to calm down. His outbursts might persist for several hours. He learned to calm himself on his own after receiving counseling and using certain techniques from his toolbox, which was quite beneficial. Separating himself from situations where he felt overwhelmed or couldn’t handle the circumstance was part of the Boss’ rehabilitation. This was really difficult for him as a five-year-old, and he battled on a regular basis. He’d have these long-lasting rage episodes, with the majority of his rage directed at his younger sister.
His actions became increasingly aggressive as their visits with their parents dwindled. We would arrive for visits, wait 15 or 30 minutes, and no one would arrive. The Boss simply didn’t grasp what was going on. It was usually the worst the next day after a missed visit. His teacher would have the last laugh. While this was going on, Sleeping Beauty seemed unconcerned that her parents were not coming up for visits. At the same time, she was struggling with a very different issue: an attachment problem. This made it quite difficult for me to leave her; she would scream and wail. She was afraid I wouldn’t return. It didn’t matter if I was black or white, I was her mama. Then there was me, just trying not to become too connected because reunification is always the aim of foster care. Everything could change at any time, even if the parents were not turning up for visits.
The Boss was set to complete his optional pre-kindergarten program when May arrived. I was running late, and I arrived 15 minutes after the program began. He appeared to be depressed and angry. He was simply staring at the ground. He looked up and saw me waving around like an idiot with joy, and he smiled the biggest smile I’d ever seen since the first day he walked into my life. His expression altered, and I realized I had to do everything I could to ensure that I remained in his life in some form for the rest of his life. As the summer months progressed, my home was inundated with more foster children, more joy, and more obstacles. With eight adorable children running around, my house was bursting at the seams. And I had a rotating door of newborns, ranging in age from 6 months to a year, who would remain for about a month before being adopted by extended family. The Boss and Sleeping Beauty’s visits remained the same, with them seeing their parents once a month at most.
By August of 2017, I had a sneaking suspicion that this might be the last time I saw their parents. Their parental rights had to be terminated, according to the courts. This was difficult for everyone, especially me because I had developed a strong relationship with the Boss and Sleeping Beauty’s parents. The Boss, on the other hand, had the most difficult time because he had the most recollections of his parents. Whether the recollections were pleasant or unpleasant, they were still his parents, and he desired to be with them. As the year progressed, the courts decided that Sleeping Beauty and the Boss would be adopted. Because no family was willing to adopt them, the courts decided that the best place for them would be in my care, where they had been for the previous two and a half years.
I recall the day I learned they would be my children and would be given my name. I recall having a discussion with the Boss regarding his adoption. He was upset and wept and screamed, telling me that he didn’t want to be adopted by me and that he preferred to stay with his parents. I didn’t know what to say or how to tell him that it wasn’t going to work out. That it was impossible. Sleeping Beauty was attempting to figure out how she could turn black like me while he was going through this. She would frequently inquire as to why I was this hue and you were brown, to which I would always respond that this is how God created us. The Boss was having a lot of problems, and his conduct was growing worse. He was misbehaving at school and refusing to do his assignments since he couldn’t understand why he couldn’t return home with his parents. I explained to him that there were things his parents needed to do in order for him to return to live with them, but they never did. I continued to respond in this manner whenever he inquired, and it seemed as if his perspective had shifted overnight.
The adoption papers lay on my table for months until my spouse eventually looked at me and asked, ‘Are we doing this or not?’ There was no doubt in my mind — the response was a resounding yes! But I was putting it off, hoping that my son would ultimately accept the truth that I would be his father for the rest of his life. The date for our adoption was established for June 26th, 2018. They were now officially my kids. They were now solely mine.
I decided to stop fostering after they were adopted so that I could devote my full attention to Sleeping Beauty and the Boss and their needs. For these two, stability was crucial. I needed Sleeping Beauty to know that I wasn’t leaving, that she wasn’t leaving, that I wasn’t leaving. In the afternoon, between bringing up my older child and returning home, I made time for her. She was my shopping companion because she enjoyed all types of shopping. She would get up as early as I did, even if it was simply to go to the grocery store for weekly groceries, and she was always with me wherever I went. The Boss was a fantastic soccer player and swimmer who excelled in his after-school program. He was using his ‘toolbox’ to learn how to be a great brother. So I believed my family was complete.
On the 24th of July, 2019 When I got a call from an unfamiliar number, I was having my lunch. This occurs frequently in the foster care system, so you respond to the weird numbers. Someone from the Department of Children and Families was looking for me when I responded. They inquired about my children, which was odd, but I said yes to all of their inquiries. Is it true that you are the adoptive mother? Do you currently have these children living with you? Do you know who the biological parents are? ‘Yes, why are you asking me all these questions?’ I finally responded. The gentleman on the other end of the line then informed me that a baby had been born the day before and needed a home. The infant was the Boss and Sleeping Beauty’s biological child. My mouth was wide open. I was at a loss for words and didn’t know what to do. I was taken aback.
He inquired whether I was interested in adopting this child. A young lady. I answered yes without a second thought. He told me I could pick her up the next day from the hospital. The following day?! Just when I thought my foster adoption adventure was over, God had something else in mind for me, and this was only the beginning. I’d never had a newborn before, and I was terrified and frightened, and I didn’t get much sleep. She was the most adorable baby I’d ever encountered. I saw so much of the Boss and Sleeping Beauty in her face the instant I met her. So, what do I say to them now? What am I supposed to say to them? I picked up Sleeping Beauty from her summer volunteer preschool and told her I had a surprise for her. Because we had so many foster babies come in and out of our household, this wasn’t anything new for her. She simply desired a daughter because all of her prior children had been boys. She was granted her request. When the Boss returned home, he was similarly ecstatic. All he could say was, ‘Momma, can this one stay?’ to my surprise.
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