by Julie Riddle
I hung up from my phone conversation with our assigned foster mentor, feeling a mixture of relief, excitement and trepidation. I had left a voicemail for her one afternoon this spring, expressing my husband’s and my concerns that we wouldn’t be able to handle being foster parents. She had returned my call while I was eating lunch and reading a novel I had checked out from the library.
A few days before I called our mentor, my husband and I had completed a 24-hour training program (six hours across two weekends) with Fostering Washington as part of meeting the requirements to become licensed foster parents. At the program’s opening one of the trainers said, “We’re going to hit you with the gloom and doom first, but don’t worry, it’ll get better.” At another point that first day one of them said, “Being a foster parent is the hardest thing you’ll ever do. It’s also the most awesome thing you’ll ever do.” The trainers were longtime foster parents and had adopted foster children; they taught as professionals and from their own experience, and I soaked up the helpful insights, facts and information they shared throughout the program.
On the final day of training my body was worn out from sitting for two weekends in a stuffy, fluorescent-lit room, but I still felt capable and hopeful. By the time training concluded that day, however, those positive feelings had deteriorated into discouragement and despair. The tipping point came during a panel with former foster children who had aged out of the system; their parting advice was: “The best thing you can do is take care of yourselves. Foster children will do everything possible to prove that you will abandon them. They will push you as far as they can to see if you will break.” My husband and I made eye contact and shook our heads slightly. What are we getting ourselves into?
During the four days of training we had encountered a fat manual’s worth of gloom and doom; as we neared the program’s last hours, the manual and the instructors remained starkly absent of hope. All kinds of hard; no signs of awesome.
In the days after the training concluded, my husband and I talked and prayed together, we each did a lot of thinking, and I prayed alone. Every time I prayed, a gentle, insistent sense arose in me – Do this…You can do this…I want you to do this – the same sense that had been prodding me during the past six months as my husband and I discussed fostering a child and researched the process, and I, initially resistant to the idea, had begun praying about it.
During those months all sorts of support had surfaced. Everywhere I turned it seemed that friends, colleagues and acquaintances had fostered or adopted children, or were related to someone who had. Our pastor. My doctor. My three best friends. My mom’s best friend. A writer-friend of mine in Iowa who had fostered dozens of children with her husband, had adopted two foster children, and led training workshops for the state.
These people provided information, ideas, advice and encouragement, affirming my prayer-led sense to pursue foster parenting. So my husband and I began filling out an abundance of application forms and participated in the training, where our eagerness collided with doubt.
On the phone, our foster mentor seemed cheerfully unfazed at the anxiety that gripped my voice as I explained our fears. “It’s great you’re asking these questions,” she said. She gave me a pep talk and provided clear directions on how to best ensure that the child placed in our home would be a good fit for us and us for him. I took notes, and at the end of our conversation I thanked her for helping us find our way back to you can do this.
After setting down my phone I returned to the novel, The Portable Veblen (quirky, funny, thought-provoking), and opened the book to the page I had been reading when our mentor had called. I turned the page to place my bookmark and discovered a handwritten note, penciled in cursive on a square of blue stationery:
you are not alone,
and you are loved.
This note from a stranger was meant for me. And it was meant for the child who would one day come to our home. I slipped the paper from the book and placed it on my bedside stand. Before I returned the book to the library I slid a square of stationery between two pages and wondered who would come across it. I hoped the message I had passed on would find the reader – as it had found me – at just the right time, the surprising words offering confirmation, reassurance, peace.
Julie Riddle is the creative-nonfiction editor for Rock & Sling and the craft-essay editor for Brevity. She works as senior writer for marketing and development at Whitworth University and is the author of the memoir The Solace of Stones: Finding a Way through Wilderness (University of Nebraska Press). Learn more at www.julieriddle.net.