The day I received little-bit played out exactly as any movie would depict it.
On an ordinary Friday afternoon at work, I received a call from my Home Development worker (this is the person who inspected my house, reviewed by application and certified me to be a foster parent). She was looking to place a 5 year old girl. She knew that the child had multiple siblings and no reported behavioral or health problems. That’s it. That’s all you get. I immediately agreed knowing that a 5 year old girl was my ideal placement.
“Okay, someone will call you back- they should bring her to you tonight.” [click]
I walked back to my desk in a blur. I could barely remember what state I had left my house in that morning. When I left for work I was only thinking about me. Now there was a we. Was the bed made? Did I have enough groceries ready? What size car seat does she need? How am I going to get her to school on Monday? What school does she even go to? Thoughts raced across my mind as I tried to comb through as many details as I could before the end of the business day. I rushed around getting things together all while repeatedly telling myself “expect the un-expected, expect the un-expected, expect the un-expected,” -the foster care motto. I was excited yet incredibly nervous. What would she be like? Will she sleep tonight? Will she cry for hours? Will she even like me? More thoughts – millions of thoughts raced as I finally sat down on the sofa to wait.
Just after dark I answered the door to find a recoiled 5 year old in a tea-length seersucker dress. Her hair was knotted and her dress covered with dirt. It was exactly the image you would expect. An image I will never forget. Her eyes were sunken and dark. She moved slowly. Though that seersucker dress was adorable, I’ve put it in the storage pile because it’s hard for me to look at it without thinking of that fragile & lost little girl.
The next few days were incredibly taxing. Little-bit wasn’t sad, she was completely shut down & set on autopilot. She never cried to me. She cried while hiding behind the sofa, or curled up under her bed. I stood close by and waited for her to crawl into my arms so I could hold her tight and tell her it would be okay. She didn’t.
I used my best mom tactics- I parented with every bit of positive re-enforcement I could. Yet, what I finally realized was that in that moment, she didn’t need a mom straight out of Parent’s Magazine. What she actually needed was the exact opposite of that. My parenting in that moment was too much for her. This child would barely brush her teeth and I was asking her to do things like put her plate in the sink after she was finished eating. She wasn’t ready to be taught/asked to say please and thank you. She wasn’t ready for 100% attention. She needed time & she needed love from afar. I re-adjusted my plan of action. I backed off the parenting and planned to let her come around in her own time. Three days in I found myself jealous of her sibling’s foster mom who cuddle up to her two foster children in a “family hug.” We weren’t there. Why weren’t we there? Was I doing something wrong? Should I be worried? There goes those racing thoughts again.
We eventually got there- I actually think taking the time and patience to get there has made our tiny family stronger. Now little-bit wakes up and refuses to leave my presence without her morning hug. She say’s things like “I’m just so happy I can’t stop smiling” and “I’m one lucky girl.” I’ve learned that love doesn’t always look like hugs and sweet words. Sometimes love looks like backing off and giving space. Sometimes love looks like watching from a distance and staying consistent. That consistency in my love and care for her is truly what I believe has turned little-bit’s life around. When I look back on photographs from the first few days, I barely recognize the child that I know now. I now look at her in awe of the joyous, helpful, and kind little girl that I prayed she could be.