I’ve been thinking a lot about our story, and all the other stories that need to be told. As foster and adoptive families, we often walk a lonely, isolated path. It’s been almost a year since the adoption of our son was finalized. He was our first placement and had been with us for three and a half years.
We had only been licensed for a couple of months when the call came. With the help of our three bio children—a son and two daughters—we prepared the extra bedroom in a gender neutral fashion. Our kids had picked the paint color, a shade of orange that I definitely was not in love with, but it had a hidden meaning that would show itself later.
We had only been licensed for a couple of months when the call came. With the help of our three bio children—a son and two daughters—we prepared the extra bedroom in a gender neutral fashion. Our kids had picked the paint color, a shade of orange that I definitely was not in love with, but it had a hidden meaning that would show itself later. We trusted God to hand pick the child for us. This process, as a family, has been far from warm and fuzzy. The decision to foster was not taken lightly, it was hashed and rehashed, it never felt certain. Our son really struggled with everything about it. He was eight and angry and honestly, if it had been up to him, we would not be doing this. As his mom my heart was painfully conflicted. What were we doing to him, to our family?
The deep seeded desire, the sense of a God ordained calling to take in and protect and love a child that needed us, warred with the fear of what it could do to our children. We knew though that above everything else we did not want our children to grow up selfish. It’s our job as parents to teach them to serve others despite the cost of their own comfort. The Word of God tells us in James 1:27 that the outward sign of our “religion” is this, simply put: take care of the orphans and widows. Those of you who foster know that the cost is great. It’s unbearable at times. We recently said goodbye to a precious 4 year old that had been with us for 13 months. The pain is all too fresh and frankly, most of the time, it’s just too much.
I will never forget the day Ricky arrived. We were told he was eight years old, had some serious medical issues, and significant intellectual disabilities. He was born with an enlarged brain and diagnosed with a genetic disorder called neurofibromatosis. He was not potty trained and was living in a motel with his mom and siblings. We watched anxiously out the window as our family support worker pulled into the driveway with Ricky and his caseworker. This scrawny little ginger-headed boy stepped out of the car, a small suitcase in one hand and a large stuffed dog in the other. His caseworker carried another small bag that held his Thomas the Train set and a few other toys. He looked scared…because he was.
I tried to imagine what was going through his sweet little mind, trying to picture one of my own children in his place. I really couldn’t. When I opened the sliding glass door the smell that hit me is forever etched in my memory. We had also been told that their motel room was infested with fleas. I kindly asked him to leave his stuff on the deck and told him we would carry it in later. Our children had run off to gather some toys for him and immediately joined him on the floor to play trains. I was touched by their compassion and overcome with the enormity of the situation. I’m not gonna lie, I was scared. I wanted to puke. His caseworker went over all the necessary paperwork with me and I signed my name to a commitment that I am sure only the insane would agree to.
By the time the caseworker finished his stop, drop, and run, the children had taken our little ginger outside to the trampoline. Ricky laughed loudly as he bounced, he has the coordination of a newborn giraffe. He has never been a quiet child despite the fact that his ability to verbally communicate is severely limited. The boy can scream though, and better than any girl!
When my husband got home from work I drove straight to the laundromat with any of Ricky’s belongings that could be washed. I felt bad leaving but honestly I needed a minute to breathe. I picked up my best friend on the way, needing someone who could think straight, as straight as she is capable of anyways. When a child is thrown into your life you are suddenly faced with a ginormous to-do list. You try to be prepared. More often than not though you know nothing about the child ahead of time. It’s like going into labor when you didn’t even know you were pregnant.
While I was at the laundromat my husband threw Ricky in the tub. Covered in bubbles he splashed around and squealed with joy. He was content and we were happy that he smelled better. That night as I settled him into an unfamiliar bed my heart broke. I couldn’t imagine his pain. He was so brave. I truly believe he understood that we wanted to take care of him. I also knew that all he wanted was his mommy. He had no say in his very real and very sad reality. He didn’t choose to be ripped from his family and placed with strangers. He started to cry and I asked him if he wanted a hug. In his shy little scared voice he simply said “No”, and that was okay.
Ricky joined our family half way through the summer. He adapted quickly and we were soon schooled in all things “Ricky”. I nearly lost my mind and strongly considered swallowing some Valium. Life with an eight year old who was not potty trained, had bowel issues, and accidents several times a day was, well, I don’t know what it was. He was still in pull-ups and up until the time he came to live with us no one had worked on potty training at home. It was constant showers and poop in places and spaces where poop just doesn’t belong. I was also dealing with a herniated disc in my back and inwardly melting down several times a day.
But as time passed we all adjusted and somehow it just got easier, although I’m not sure that’s the right descriptive. Ricky started school in the fall and his teachers worked alongside us to get him out of pull-ups! His one teacher was so determined having witnessed Ricky’s pull-up fall out of his pant leg while he ran around the playground. Ricky then retrieved said pull-up, running around holding it in the air so everyone could see. In so many ways, Ricky performs at the level of a 4 or 5 year old. So let’s just say that his social skills are a bit challenged. Thankfully, he caught on quickly with using the bathroom. He still struggled at times and when he acted out he often had an “accident” on purpose. He still resorts to this behavior but not very often. He’s a foot taller now and so independent, and yet so not independent. He’s loving and affectionate and very attached to our family. He chose not to take our last name, in his heart still fiercely loyal to his mom. And we felt like he deserved the choice. He’s very compassionate. He is kind to the other kids we foster and he is sad and broken when they leave. He can laugh at himself and that’s really good because we’ve never seen another kid trip and fall as often as he does. You can tease him and he can dish it right back.
He’s also very naughty. He’s unpredictable around animals and has hurt our cats. He steals and lies. He can be aggressive with other children, especially small children. He’ll eat the food right off another kid’s tray at lunchtime. He loves to clog a toilet, and no matter what his consequence is he will clog it again and again. He’s fiercely protective of his toys and will cut you down if you mess with his Thomas the Train empire. He loves to blow his nose all over his coat and sometimes on the kid sitting in front of him on the bus. He’s inappropriate at times, just ask his teacher, the one whose breasts he fondled during class. All of these things, and many more, make up the complicated dynamics that are Ricky. Any child is a lifelong commitment in the sense that our children will always be our children. They will always need us even when they don’t want us. A child like Ricky though is a lifetime commitment that will require us to be personally involved in his care well into adulthood.
I’ve said all of this to point out something profound that happened between God and myself, well, it was profound to me. There have been many times when I’ve felt like I was drowning in my doubts and insecurities and inadequacies. Those first few months I spent a lot of time asking God what in the world He was thinking. I explained to Him that this was a mistake and I was pretty sure my family agreed with me. Not that one has anything to do with the other, but every time I walked past his room I cringed at the color. Why did my kids pick orange, especially that shade of orange? It didn’t blend at all with the rest of the house. It was then that I felt God speak to my heart and He said this, “You painted that room ORANGE so that you would know that the little boy with ORANGE hair that showed up on your doorstep belongs with you.” You might think I’m crazy, but that’s how it went down.
Fostering is hard. It tests the very core of who you are, as an individual and as a family. It’s just plain ugly at times. Angry and volatile birth parents screaming at you to hand over their baby like you stole the child. Three days spent in an E.R. waiting for an open bed at one of only three psychiatric hospitals in the state. Calling the police because you have a child in crisis and your lives have been threatened. Following the paramedics to the psychiatric hospital while one of your daughters rides in the ambulance with your foster child, hoping to give them some sort of comfort. Dropping your foster child off at a group home because they are so damaged and traumatized they cannot function in a family. Feeling like you failed that child because somehow you should’ve known better. Handing over a child that you have loved as your own, sometimes with only moments notice. A never ending sea of people in your home. Paperwork that never ends and calls that never stop. Accusations and allegations that come out of nowhere and are often invented by an angry foster child. Being wrongfully accused and having your bio children interrogated. Yes, we have experienced all of these situations in just 4 short years.
We have also been so blessed. We’ve worked side by side with an agency that is solely there to support us as a family. They bring us cookies and cakes and flowers and gift baskets and personal thank you cards to express their appreciation for what we do. In-home support workers who have become dear friends and have willingly involved themselves in our insanity. We have had amicable relationships with birth families. Open conversations about the care of that child while making decisions together. We’ve been thanked by birth families for taking care of their child when they could not. And most recently we have been allowed to continue our relationship with a child who was reunified with his mom. The agony of having to let him go soothed only by the fact that his mom has graciously allowed us to remain a part of his life. That is not the norm and we know what a gift it is.
And just today, we met our next placement. The call came a month ago, but the process has been excruciatingly long. As I held this precious 4 month old—who has spent her entire life in the hospital—I could hardly breathe. She’s medically fragile and has special needs and I fell in love immediately. We will bring her home within the next week and all I can think is: Thank you God for choosing us.
Laurie Tomascik is a 43 yr. old, stay at home mom of 4 residing in Richmond, Maine. She has been married to her husband Chris for 20 years and they have 3 biological children, two daughters ages 19 and 17, and a son age 13. Laurie’s family is a licensed therapeutic foster home with Kidspeace of Maine. They started fostering in July of 2012. In December of 2015 they adopted their first placement, Ricky, age 13.