“Is this Karen?” It was our caseworker, James, on the other end of the line.
“Yes,” I answered quickly, impatient that a phone call was interrupting my work. Typically, James, from our foster care placement agency, called to request paperwork or ask questions related to our licensing.
But this call was different.
“I’m sorry to bother you at work,” James said, “But we’re wondering if you and your husband are willing to become foster parents to a 2 ½ year old little girl, Olivia Thomas*.”
My heart started racing. For seven long years, this had been the call my husband and I had been waiting for. We were exhausted from the pursuit of parenthood: the infertility treatments, the adoption classes, the foster parenting training, the truckloads of paper work. But most difficult of all was the relentless rollercoaster of soaring hope followed by crashing disappointment and grief. Now we were just numb.
“We need to know within the next few days,” James said on the other end of the line.
“Of course,” I croaked. “I’ll have to talk with my husband. But we’ll let you know as soon as possible.” He offered more details, including the fact that Olivia would be available for adoption soon, and then we hung up.
A few days later, we called James back and said, “Yes!”
Olivia moved into our house like a college coed moving into her first dorm room. She had a toy box, an impressive collection of dolls, a pink suitcase filled with tiny pink skirts and skinny jeans and pink socks, enough books to fill the Library of Congress, and the personality of a sorority house president.
We had to rearrange every piece of furniture in our small condo to make room for her and her “things.” And we had to rearrange our entire existence.
Both my husband and I were single long before we got married, and then we were childless for 7 years before we became foster parents. Pre-Olivia, our favorite pastimes were quietly reading together in front of a fireplace, going out to serene dinners with another couple, or watching movies.
After Olivia moved in, our lives were filled with sippy cups, potty training, stray Lego pieces, and Dora the Explorer. We spent the winter of 2013 surviving every illness known to mankind: sinus infections, a norovirus, fevers, colds, coughs. It’s all a blur, but I vaguely remember lying on the living room floor with Olivia in the middle of the night, her tiny body bent over her vomit bucket. Watching a three-year-old dry heave is the saddest thing in the world. Who knew that becoming a parent also means you’re living with your very own Petri dish of daycare viruses?
It hasn’t been an easy year. But here’s the thing: when Olivia stormed into our lives and took over, we soon realized we ended up with the most joyful child in the world. Olivia doesn’t walk– instead she bounces. She doesn’t just smile. She beams.
I wasn’t expecting this. If David and I had given birth to a child bearing our genes, there’s a good chance he or she would have been quiet, introverted, and prone to melancholy like us. Instead, we ended up with a giggling, bouncing, outgoing, joyful three-year-old. After years of disappointing setbacks and deferred dreams, Olivia has been a balm to our souls.
Olivia has endured a lot of loss in her short little life. She was born to parents who were too young, and later her father passed away. She also had to grieve the loss of her first foster family. One day, a few months after she came to live with us, we were eating lunch when she stopped, looked at me, and said, “Where is my home?”
“Your home is here,” I told her. I pointed to her bedroom. “You belong here.”
She looked at me and smiled. It took her awhile to understand that she wasn’t leaving. That she would be with us forever. But slowly she started calling us “Mommy” and “Daddy.”
“Everywhere a greater joy is preceded by a greater suffering,” said St. Augustine. We are a family forged out of grief and loss and disappointment. But Olivia is teaching us that now it is the season for joy.
“I’m so happy, Mommy,” Olivia told me recently.
“I am too,” I told her as I kissed her dimples. “I am too.”
QUESTION: What is your child teaching you about joy?
CHALLENGE: If you are going through a season of loss or grief, look for the treasures. The poet Rumi says, “Where there is ruin, there is hope for a treasure.”
*Name has been changed.
Image provided by Karen Beattie.