Ode to My Son’s Foster Parents
Foster care. It’s not something that people usually get warm fuzzy feelings about. Here in the United States, our system is not perfect to be sure, but I can say with a certainty that it is much, much better than institutionalization. I don’t have to rely on psychological journals to tell me this; I have children in my own home who suffer from lack of foster care. Foster parents are truly unsung heroes. Good foster parents love and care for children they know will not be with them forever. And yet, the gifts they give them will last them a lifetime.
Last month I got to meet MY heroes – my son’s foster parents.
David became part of our family in 2010, just months shy of thirteen years of age.
We met him in January in Beijing and, as many of our children do, David came to us in layers and layers of clothes. In our infinite western “wisdom” we had him shed all those layers and dress as we were dressed. He tells us now that he thought we were a little crazy when we made him take all his layers off and just wear one pair of pants outside in Beijing in the winter – he was freezing!
Learning about his past has been a bit like taking off those layers. One of those layers was a beautiful yellow sweater, which we later learned his foster mother had knit him. He also came with a backpack from his orphanage that was brand new and had little significance to him. But tucked inside that backpack was his most prized possession, a little red bag that his foster parents had first given him when he was sent to his orphanage for a summer in 2007. Inside the flap of that red bag were many embroidered Chinese words and numbers – contact information and important dates. He also had a tattered photo album with treasured photos of his foster family.
When David was ten years old, he was removed from foster care and returned to the orphanage when his paperwork was filed for adoption. He lived there until we adopted him in January 2010.
David has told us many stories of his life with his foster family, some of which he shared in his recent blog (Reflections of a Former Foster Child). I am so thankful that he got to experience family life as a CHILD while living in China. His family wasn’t rich by any means (or at least not by first world standards), but in sharing their life they gave him a lifetime of memories as well as a solid emotional and social foundation on which to grow.
Any of you with older children living away from home will know what I mean when I say it was good to finally see the people and the setting that David has talked so much about and to be able to picture it in my mind’s eye. His foster village is nestled at the base of mountains outside of Beijing — what a beautiful setting! His family was so warm and gracious. We were given the royal treatment as they first treated us to lunch out and then took us back to their home to a table laden with special treats – strawberries, melons, nuts — food they would not normally have.
It was very evident how much they loved David and how very proud of him they were. They bragged that he was the smartest one in the family. Neither of his foster parents finished grade school, and his foster brothers only completed middle school. His foster mother told me how excited David was to go to school when he turned six years old, and then how bitterly disappointed he was when he was unable to attend because he was missing some papers. She said he cried every night because all the other children were going and he didn’t get to. She was his advocate and fought for him, though, and the next year he was able to attend with his friends.
During our visit she proudly retrieved the certificates he had won as one of the top students in his class, and I was so touched to know that she had saved them all these years.
In the same cabinet with his certificates of achievement was a letter that I sent to her thanking her for the gift she had given our son. It took me a long time to put down in words my gratitude to her for all she had done, and for the wonderful son she had raised. I am so glad I took the time to send it; she had laminated my letter for safekeeping.
When David and I visited LWB foster families earlier in the trip, several of the mothers we visited asked if we knew anything about the children for whom they had cared. They hadn’t heard anything from the adoptive families and wanted to know how “their” children were. If you have a child from foster care and you are fortunate enough to have contact information, please take the time to let them know how your child is doing; it truly means so much!
David’s foster mom had prepared a gift of a red envelope containing money for him and tried multiple times to give it to him. Every time he said “No, I can’t take it,” she wiped tears off her face. Part of my mother’s heart wanted him to just take it because I could see how badly she wanted him to have it. He told her that it was gift enough to see them and see how well they were doing.
Before we visited China, David’s foster mom asked if “his American Mom” would be visiting too. He replied in his usual polite manner “Yes, if that’s OK”. His foster Mom said “Of course that’s OK, we are FAMILY.”
How blessed we are to be part of this family who lives halfway around the world. We may not share the same language, but we sure share the same love and pride for our son. They gave him a great start in life. We will give him opportunities that he would not otherwise have had, which he will be able to take advantage of BECAUSE of the start they gave him. I give full credit to the wonderful young man David is to his foster family.
~Sandi Glass is LWB’s Adoption Support Director and is mother to nine children, four of whom were adopted from China.