By Amanda Purvis, COPARC Project Director
My husband and I have been foster parents for over five years. We have had 14 children come into our home, forced to believe that we could keep them safer. Our first placement was an emergency placement of twin two-year-old boys. We had been waiting for them for over a week; each attempt that the authorities made to bring the children in, their biological mom would evade their attempts, finding another secret place to lay her babies down each night.
On the night they arrived on our little purple front porch it was after midnight. I remember going out to the social worker’s car to help her carry in one of the sleeping boys. We laid them down in their new beds and were whispering above the hum of the hall fan, trying to glean any information we could from this overworked and underpaid fresh graduate student who had found herself as a safety net between hurting and hurt, lost and found, breaking and broken. I could tell she was new to this. As she was slipping out our front door, into the crisp cool night air that is fall in Colorado, the crickets were chirping as if they didn’t know that our lives had just changed forever, and the breeze was blowing as if it didn’t know that two little boys had just fallen asleep in a stranger’s home, whom they’d never met, but were too exhausted to be afraid of any longer. I looked into the social worker’s eyes, and said, “Who is who?” And she looked down at the grey Trex decking on our front porch kicking at a lady bug that was making its way up the step she was leaning on. She looked back, a little bit ashamed and a little bit angry, she said, “We don’t know. Mom wouldn’t tell us anything.” And so began our journey of helping siblings and families stay together.
Those two little boys didn’t stay in our home long, but our journey will never be remembered without their sweet little faces, big brown eyes, and hearts of loss. Our next placement was our now 8-year-old son, D. He came to us at almost three years old; we were his seventh, and final home. Our next call came about four months later. We said yes to a newborn little boy. Little did we know on that day that we were also saying yes to his almost two-year-old sister as well. Two years later we adopted them both: a brother and sister, almost exactly two years apart. It still marks one of the saddest and happiest days of my life. Bitter-sweet doesn’t do it justice. Adopting a sibling group was something we were open to for sure. What I didn’t realize was how much I would learn about my self, attachment, and what it means to be a part of a family.
When Laila moved in with us she was almost two years old. She had been in four foster homes in the past year that she had been in care. When her younger brother Noah, who came to us from birth turned two, I had a really hard time for a few months. I realized that how I had treated Laila at two was so, so different than how I was treating Noah.
Laila came to us with a lot of “learned” behaviors that I was sure I could change in her, with my parenting methods (isn’t that funny?!). But when Noah turned two I realized that much of those behaviors Laila had exhibited were actually probably more nature than nurture, and that they were just made this way. I remember I would make Laila climb the stairs from the garage to the main level after we would exit the car. Usually my arms were full of Noah and groceries, and purses, and cups. And she would cry and cry.
I set Noah down at the bottom of the stairs the day he turned two, and I couldn’t imagine leaving him there to climb those steps on his own.
When Noah refused to eat tomatoes, I took him to the doctor and had him tested for an allergy; he had one. I think I remember finally, out of exasperation, beginning to hide
tomatoes in Laila’s stuff when she was his age. When I found out Noah was allergic to tomatoes, it dawned on me, I bet Laila is too!
When you parent siblings, you get a bigger peak into genetics. Something I didn’t have with any of the other children I had parented at that point. I was so glad that we were able to keep them together, but I did have to look myself in the mirror and own that I had messed up with Laila. My bond wasn’t as healthy with her when she moved in and so I treated her unfairly, and I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I have apologized to her since then. Luckily she’s seven now, and just laughs and hugs me when I tell her with tear-filled eyes that I am sorry I didn’t carry her up the steps, and that I made her eat tomatoes. She rolls her eyes, kisses my cheek, and begs for another bedtime story.
I love that she and Noah have each other, but I also love that they see all of the kids in our house as their siblings. We are many colors and shapes here, and when someone asks us at the grocery store, “Are any of them siblings?” They all respond, from their pure and true hearts, “We all are!” And I love that the most.
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