Won over by a hug
Seven years ago, I had a demanding— but rewarding—job, traveled frequently with my boyfriend, friends, and family, and enjoyed all that Washington, DC, had to offer. But something was missing.
I signed up to be a mentor in a Fairfax County program for kids who were struggling and quickly realized the tremendous difference that a caring adult can make in a young person’s life.
Inspired to do more, I decided to look into foster parenting.
After taking nine weeks of classes, participating in tons of interviews, and installing a whole bunch of new carbon monoxide detectors in my house, I became a certified foster mom.
I had never been a parent, so I was pretty nervous! I asked my social worker if I could start by doing respite care for older kids.
My first placement was a lovely, young lady who eventually reunited with her dad. The next was a 17-year-old golf star and math whiz, who, before he arrived, asked me what the rules of the house were.
Rules? After a late night at my office or out with friends, I usually ate dinner over the counter reading the mail!
I didn’t have any rules, so I had to make them up on the spot: good manners, good grammar, and don’t let the cat out. No problem, he said.
We spent three weeks together. We carved his first pumpkin, and I made him go to a museum. I put a banner up in the hallway when he won his golf tournament, and he left me a little, stuffed animal when he returned to his foster mom. Today, he’s almost 23 years old and is studying accounting in college. He still comes to my house on his breaks, and spends all the holidays with us. I helped him pick out his first car. Then his second! We celebrated all his major milestones together. We consider him family.
My third—and final—placement was the amazing girl who would become my daughter, Mikalah.
I still have the little paper I took notes on the day her worker called: “Smart. A delight. Temporary. Three weeks max.”
Mikalah’s first foster mother brought her by that evening to meet me, and an extraordinary thing happened. When they started to leave, Mikalah hugged me. This 13-year-old girl who was in the middle of what had to be the most tumultuous few weeks of her life had the wherewithal and the grace to make me feel comfortable, and I was completely won over. Any lingering doubts I had about what I was doing bounced out of my door in a puffy, pink coat waving goodbye; our lives were about to change forever.
Mikalah moved in a few days later. As weeks turned to months, it became clear that she would not be returning to her birth parents. We settled into a routine. She met all the important people in my life, and I learned about all the important moments in hers. We quickly became a family and, in all honesty, it seemed like we had always been together:
- I took her to the beaches of my youth.
- She taught me how to make her favorite Buckeye cookies for Christmas.
- I taught her how to drive—and I instinctively learned how to do that parent thing where you try to brake from the passenger’s seat!
- She learned that I would be there for her forever.
That was six years ago. I adopted Mikalah two years ago when she was 16, and today I am proud to say that my daughter is an extraordinary young woman with a long list of accomplishments—including having been a member of National Honor Society, the captain of the varsity cheerleading squad, a violinist, and a volunteer with our county’s foster care advisory board. Today, she is in college studying nanoscience and Japanese; she is happy, healthy, and beloved.
Mikalah may very well have done all of these things even if we had not met. But as every parent knows, it is all too easy for kids to take a wrong turn in their teenage years. As I learned as a volunteer mentor and a foster parent, the stability and guidance a family offers can make all the difference.
When I was making the decision to foster, I read every story I could about foster parents. If you are reading this post wondering if you should give it a shot, I say: Yes! Go to an information session. Volunteer with teens. Learn from other parents. Consider doing respite care.
Whatever it is, don’t be afraid to take that first step. There’s at least one child out there who will be glad you did, and, I predict, it will be the best decision you ever made.