Every now and again we get a phone call. It may come in the middle of the night, or right after dinner, or on a Saturday. My husband and I are on the emergency call list for foster care. The ones they call when children are pulled out of the home not during business hours. The ones who can’t wait for people to be awake or someone to be in the office. Generally, these kids come to us with only the clothes they are wearing. Sometimes there are shoes, sometimes not.
Friday we got a call.
The first call came about 5pm. That was nice. They said they had four kids who were at the hospital that might need a place for the weekend. They were looking around just in case. I said I could take the 2 year old boy and one girl because that’s all the sleeping arrangements we had. Even then the girl would have to be on the floor or the couch. They said that was okay for just the weekend. They said they would call again if they needed us. I did some preparation just in case. We didn’t get a call. At 10:30 lumberjack and I hit the hay. Just as I was drifting off my phone rang. “We need you.” They said.
They told me I would be taking the boy and the 5-month-old girl. “That’s fine.” I said. It suited our sleeping arrangements best. We had an extra bed in the boys’ room and the baby could sleep in the port-a-crib. Perfect. “Could you come pick them up? I can’t leave the hospital yet, and someone else is coming to get the other two.” I agree. After we hang up, I look up the hospital. It’s an hour away. Well, it’s harder on the kids so whatever. Hubby went up to the shed in the dark to get the infant car seat we keep for times like this while I pulled out sheets and blankets. I left and he put up the crib in the girls’ room. Half way there I get a text and pull over to read it. “I got it wrong,” they said. “You have to take the two older girls, 4 and 6.”
“I don’t have beds for them,” I explain. But I can’t say no. “Can they sleep on the floor?”
“Just for the weekend.”
I got to the hospital at almost midnight. They’re waiting on tox screens and bone scans. The kids are tearing up cotton balls and throwing them everywhere to pretend it is snow. Frozen is playing unwatched on a tv in the corner. By 1 the tox screens are back and the three older kids are cleared. They may have to come back for bone scans later. The baby is five months old and only 8 lbs. Not eating. She has to stay. I pack up my two, take them to the car and figure out how to pull out the infant car seat. Fortunately, I still have my son’s booster in the car. The four-year-old has to squeeze into my two-year old’s car seat. But she fits easily. She’s small.
They haven’t had dinner. “Can we stop at a store and get something to eat?” They’re so hungry. Fortunately, there’s a McDonalds near. Drive through is still open. I order 3 kid’s meals because, come on, it’s 1 am and I’m hungry. Get curious or judgmental stares directed at the woman taking kids through the drive through at 1am. I notice, but don’t care. I give the kids their boxes and they fall asleep clutching them unopened.
We get home a little after two. I take down the port-a-crib and spread blankets on the floor for them to sleep on, the one bed sits unused in the boys’ room. The girls wake up and start crying for their parents. My 2-year-old wakes up and starts crying. By the time I get them all settled and asleep it is after 3. I stumble to bed. I am woken several times by the 4-year-old crying. I get up at 6.
For the most part the girls are sweet but It’s still an adjustment for everyone. I sneak away to the grocery store to buy more milk and food then dig through the tubs of clothes in the garage for clothes that fit them. They have flip flops, which are not great on our mountain, but at least they have shoes. That afternoon we take all of them down to target for school shopping. We have kids aged 10,9,7,6,4, and 2. Fun times. We teach them how to brush teeth, give them a bath, stop arguing, explain why we don’t hit, or break things. Hubby leaves town on a business trip Sunday morning. I take all six kids to church.
My house is a mess, the kids are great one minute, all arguing the next. My kids are jealous, the new kids are lost. It’s a roller coaster and the only goal is survival. There will be time to clean, to sit and relax, to count my blessings later. For now, the important thing is helping them adjust to their new situation. I answer countless questions about when they can see their parents, and where their brother and sister are, and try to get them to eat and drink enough.
It’s Tuesday and I’ll be dropping them off with the caseworker to go to a permanent foster home this morning. Part of me is excited to get some order and peace back. Part of me is sad to see them go. I’ll never know the rest of their story. Never know if they’re reunited or adopted, if they struggle or survive. Never see them as competent adults. Even so, I’m a part of their story. A part that I hope is a good memory. One that helps them adjust, one that teaches them they’re strong and worthy of love.