I had heard the term “foster mother” many, many times, but being so young I didn’t really understand it. And this experience left me confused. After all, those boys called my grandmother “Grandmommy” just like I did. I eventually realized that although my paternal grandfather had died when I was an infant, my grandmother was full of life and she loved children. There was always another child at her house! We just called them “cousins” growing up.
When I was in first grade my parents told us that my father had been adopted from foster care. There was that term again, but still no explanation (probably because my focus at the time was on what “adopted” meant). I remember feeling sad for my daddy when he showed us a picture of a woman he said was his birth mom. She had dropped him off and never came back.
Any child hearing that story might feel sad; however, my dad was very upbeat as he told us. He was three months old when he went into foster care and was adopted by my grandparents when he was twelve years old. He smiled so much when he talked about how lucky he was to be adopted—that my grandparents “fell in love with him and chose him!”
When I was 17, my father sat both my sister and me down to tell us the entire story. He named people we had known throughout our lives and said they are our family through love. We knew my mother was one of 13 kids on her side of our family, but as l child, we were never given an of an official count for the number of siblings my father had. I understood 4 women were his sisters. Also, there was a neighbor who said he was my father’s best friend sometimes or my father’s brother at other times. (My daddy usually called everyone brother.) My aunts and uncles on my father’s side were much older people and they gushed over both me and my sister. There was always a lot of love.
My father then explained his family through biology. Much to our shock, several people in our lives were my father’s actual biological siblings. He had researched and found his biological mother and all her children. For roughly ten years, we had been sitting next to them at barbeques and birthday parties. His birthmother was the lady who, as we complained, stared at us too much.
Despite my father’s positive view, I admitted that it still hurt my 17-year-old heart to hear that all my aunties were foster or adopted. My father closed our candid conversation about his family by begging me and my sister to never talk to our grandmother about it because, as he lovingly reminded us, she was his real mother as far as he was concerned. And as time went on, my father allowed us to ask questions and see his birth certificate and photographs.
My father was a committed volunteer, serving on both the board that reviewed child placement cases for more than 10 years and on the juvenile justice commission. He also located the 2 boys we remembered moving on from our grandmother’s home many years earlier. We were even able to visit with them as adults.
My dad made us promise to always love people...no matter how they come into our lives.
Hearing about my father’s gratefulness and witnessing my grandmother’s unconditional love for so many children over the years (from the 1950’s until the later 1970’s), instilled in me the need to also give back.
During the 3rd year of marriage, my husband and I applied for and became foster parents. Our first assignment was a 4-month-old respite placement. We adored him and did not want him to leave. The foster children who followed him into our home were harder to place teens with mental health issues and behavior concerns.
In each case, we actively and lovingly accepted these older foster children until we were forced to decline taking foster children due to health-related issues due to my own pregnancy. Then, many other unexpected life changes also took place, including the death of my beloved father. I relocated to North Carolina 5 years ago and, although I am convinced that I could not do it again, I have thought about returning to foster care every day. I would like to honor my Grandmom Mable for taking in all those children over the years. I would like to honor the memory of my biological grandmother who decided that my dad deserved a life she could not offer him. Most importantly, I would like to honor my own father who, in searching for what he thought he had missed, never lost sight of all the parenting, love and wonderful life he already had received.
I now know many people here in NC who have fostered and/or adopted children and that has increased my yearning to give back. I am now giving my support to the community of bonus parents and caregivers through AGAPE of NC. Foster care was not only the change that made my father’s life better, but it has helped make my life purposeful!