Fostering: It’s Still Bananas
Foster Momma Kiki shares her journey as a new foster parent and all that comes with caring for children who have experienced more than most of us ever will.
By Mama Kiki
A new year, a new beginning—that was my hope when the clock struck midnight. There we were, our newly formed “family,” my boyfriend of seven weeks, a rambunctious seven-year-old (we will call him Big Brother), a quiet and scared two-year-old (Little Guy), a shy and closed-off teenage girl (Sissy), and myself. We spent the weekend getting to know each other, figuring out what activities the kids might like, and in reality trying to just have some fun.
Week 1: Winter break was over, and I needed to head back to work. Monday morning was a shuffle of getting three kids ready, fed, and dropped off at three different locations, all by 8:30 in the morning. Big Brother returned to a public elementary school in a first grade classroom, Sissy was a freshman at a local public high school, and Little Guy was enrolled by CYFD into a daycare facility. Within that first week, I received a phone call from Big Brother’s principal that they had moved him from his first grade classroom into a second grade classroom based on his behavior. “What does that mean?” I asked. Her answer: “Well, the teacher was unable to control him, and so we thought it would be best for him to be moved into a classroom with a teacher who can manage him better.” I was furious. Not only did they not give me a heads up or consult with our CYFD case worker—as foster care regulations state—but they also did not consider how that would affect him. I picked him up from school that day, and the first thing he asked was, “Why am I in a classroom with second graders, and why is my teacher so mean?” My heart dropped. I had to now explain to him that all because of his so-called behavior, he would be in a classroom where the teacher was more structured. Regardless of his grade level, she would be his teacher. He did not understand.
Week 3: Parent-teacher conferences at Sissy’s high school meant taking a half day off of work to meet seven different teachers and a school counselor. Come to find out she had missed 60% of the last semester and failed all of her classes. Now in the second semester, she was going to have to pass all her classes with a minimum grade of a C, or she would need to enroll in summer school to retake the classes. As we drove home from school, I asked how she was feeling about her classes and being able to pass. She did not seem too worried or concerned.
Week 5: “I can’t do any of this work, because I’m dumb and my teacher doesn’t care that I don’t know.” This was the actual start to my conversation with Big Brother as we sat down to start his homework. I could see the disappointment and the confusion on his face, as I came to find out that his schoolwork was all second grade material. “Hey, you are not dumb. This is work that you have not been prepared for yet, and I will have a talk with your teacher about what we can do to get you help.” He slumped down in his chair and began to play a math game on his Chromebook. That night I wrote an email to both his teacher and the principal. I wanted to explain how unfair it was for them to give him second grade material when he was technically still a first grader. Their response was that he was given first grade work, but the teacher did not have enough time to give him directions one on one. So basically, they placed him in this class so he wouldn’t disrupt another and now they were not going to help him where he was at. As upset as I was, I, being a foster parent, had no legal right to request a change in his teacher, or school for that matter. CYFD and his biological parents were the only ones who could request such a change. This felt like a personal failure, but all I could do was commit to helping him with homework and making sure he progressed with his numbers and sounding out the alphabet.
Week 11: It seemed like we settled into a routine. I started a new job that I was excited about, and we were heading into spring break in a few days. A phone call in the middle of the day; it’s Little Guy’s teacher. “Hi, so he has a cough and I think it might be best if you can come and pick him up. He can’t return until you have a negative COVID test result.” In a panic I picked up all three kids, and we all went to a COVID testing site that afternoon. We waited at home in separate rooms. Less than six hours later, we received three negative tests and one positive. I read through my message and found it surprising that it wasn’t Little Guy who was positive but in fact Big Brother. I knew I had to keep the other two from getting COVID, so I called my boyfriend to take Little Guy and my mother to take Sissy. I decided I would stay with Big Brother at the house alone.
Week 15: Our first birthday was just a few months into the kids’ arrival, and I felt so overwhelmed with pressure. Would this be his first big birthday party? Should I invite their biological family? How do I introduce our relationship to those who aren’t aware of our situation? Will my family make this awkward? Will he be overwhelmed? So many questions ran through my head as I began to plan for the bid day. Invites, party games, food, gift bags for kids, decorations, so many things to do. For a person who plans events for a living, I was still nervous. The day came and went faster than the amount of time I spent worrying about getting it right. Little Guy ran around with other kids, he stuffed his face with cake, and he had the biggest smile that showed off his adorable dimple. I felt a huge sense of relief as I successfully put on a third birthday party. The one thing I made sure to do was print an image of him, and wrote on the back, “To my mom and dad, I love you, three years old.” I handed that to our CYFD caseworker to give to their parents.
Week 19: School was coming to a close, and the pressure of finding summer camps that fit the kids’ needs and—most important—my work schedule was overbearing. I had to find a program that would start and end according to the school dates, and that was a CYFD-certified program. Now you’re asking, what does that mean? Yes, you can send your foster child to any program, but not all programs are financially covered through CYFD. Those expenses can be extremely high. I spent a lot of time researching certified programs, then trying to meet my scheduling needs, and meeting the needs of the children. Being that it was our first summer together, I also wanted them to experience sports camps and receive support through educational programming. In the end, it was a modge podge of mornings at the local Boys & Girls Club, lunch hour with a reading tutor, and afternoons with a program that focused on support for kids with behavioral issues. It was a lot of time spent driving the kids from one place to another, but it felt worthwhile.
School was out, and summer was upon us. Looking back, it was an eventful five months: Sissy passed all her courses except for one, Big Brother was accepted into a charter school for the new year, and Little Guy had a birthday, was potty training, and would start Pre-K at a Head Start in the fall. Sure, Siss would have to take summer school to make up credits, Big Brother had to go to a reading tutor once weekly, and Little Guy peed his pants more than not, but we all reached a milestone. Things were changing for the better, and we were moving forward. But that’s the thing about foster care, it’s about experiencing life and getting through both the good and the bad, the normal and the unusual. Foster care is ever-changing, and you have to learn to adapt. You have to learn to ride the rollercoaster.
This was another look at my foster care journey, and I am happy to continue to share with you. Next Issue, we will dive into the court appearances, parental visits, therapy sessions, doctors appointments, home visits, and all the people and organizations involved in this foster care life we find ourselves in.
Foster Momma Kiki grew up in a loving home right here in Northern New Mexico. A home that openly took in children and teens throughout her upbringing. She learned from her parents the selfless act of caring for others. She currently lives with her husband and three foster children, ages 16, 8, and 4. You can reach her at email@example.com.