I love new adventures. I love the nervous excitement I feel as I set out on a new journey. I like stretching myself, challenging my limitations. I love the dreaming, the planning, and the preparing. And I especially love procuring all the items I need for this new adventure.
In the past my new adventures have ranged from the mundane (learning to crochet) to the more exotic (scuba diving) and most recently to one with the potential of public humiliation (theater). But the new adventure I’m about to begin is not only the one with the most life-changing potential, but also has, by far, the best accoutrements! I am now surrounded by onesies, tiny little socks, crib toys, pink and blue blankets, two car seats, and one not-too-girly diaper bag. I am ready.
No, I am not, at the ripe old age of 48, expecting twins. But I am expecting babies. My spouse and I have completed training with the Department of Children and Families, and once our home study is complete, we will become foster parents. Our work will be focused on babies, which is one of the hardest groups to place in foster care. People always ask why, so I’ll tell you it’s probably because newborns can’t go to daycare, and people aren’t eager to sign up for those sleepless nights with a colicky infant. But I think the real reason is that everyone knows you fall in love with babies . . . and how will you ever give them back?
I agree that this will be the most challenging aspect of being a foster parent. I have a heart that is bent toward falling, and it can fall fast and strong. But I go into this knowing that, most likely, I will love and then have to let go. It goes with the territory.
I wonder how many people go into parenting with the same idea. After all, the letting go is universal. The children who are ours by birth or selection, those we legally claim as our own, will also require us to let go at some point. At many points, actually. We let go of our moment-by-moment supervision when we go back to work or put them in daycare or send them to kindergarten. Along the way we let go of our ability to select their clothes and control their language and determine their playmates. We let them go behind the wheel (Lord protect them) and we let them go off to college or not and we let them go off and get married or not and choose careers or not and be happy or not, though we pray. Parenting is a million and one lettings-go. Why should foster parenting be any different?
The difference is, with foster parenting, we’re aware that the child isn’t ours. When we bring a child into the world, we tend to think it belongs to us–when in truth, it never did. We just get to walk with that child for a while–we pray for a good, long, watch-them-become-grandparents while, though we are painfully aware that there are no guarantees.
One of the things I like most about the idea of foster parenting is that I get to be part of a child’s life for a while–an important while, those early months when humans develop the ability to attach, when they build trust because their cries are heard and their needs addressed. If I can provide that for a child or two or twenty over the course of my foster care experience, then that is one or two or twenty people who will have experienced, at least at some point in their life, how it feels to be nurtured and loved. There’s no telling what difference that might make–in them and in the world.
But I wonder what would happen if we viewed all relationships this way. We know, for example, that all friendships do not last, and sometimes we mourn the loss of a friend. What if, instead, we viewed ourselves as foster friends? We could love and care for each other for a while, when it was needed, but then we let go and sent one another forward on our journey. With blessings. With love.
In my training with DCF I heard of a woman who provides foster care for infants who always uses a particular vanilla-scented lotion. When she gives each child back to his or her family, she gives them a bottle of the lotion so the child will be held in arms that smell familiar. That smell of love.
Maybe we all need a friend version of vanilla lotion. Or a marital version. Something that, when people move forward from our lives, they can take with them. Something that they can breathe into their souls. Something that reminds them of a time when they were loved.
After all, when I walk out into the natural world, I smell God’s love in the lilac. Why can’t I love in such a way that someone smells my love–and God’s–in the lotion?