The following was written by a 9th grader, Kayla, whose family provides foster care for children in Milwaukee County. Her honest and emotional journey can help remind us all that foster care is much more than a “job” or a “way to give back to the community. It’s often a life changing event, not just for the children entering foster care, but also for those who open their hearts and homes to them.
The Stranger That Changed Me
On September 29th in 2011, my life changed drastically. Little did I know on that day that my life would be changed forever. “A”, our brand new foster child had walked in our front door a little after 6:00 at night. My family knew this was going to be big because “A” was our first girl that we would receive while we fostered children. I remember her first walking in, so happy and bubbly. My whole family was there with smiles on our faces; we were so excited! My parents talked to “A”’s social worker while my brother and I started warming up to her. In all the excitement, we were still scared. This was a complete stranger coming to live with us. We didn’t know a thing about her. All we knew was that she was beautiful. She had deep dark brown hair with loose curls, eyes that could brighten any room, and a smile so wide it looked like it hurt. There’s only so much you can learn about a 15 month old who barely spoke, without someone else telling you all about her. Even then we didn’t know much. After the social worker left, “A” was already comfortable with us. She was learning our names and petting our dogs. She was already exploring, laughing, playing, and smiling. Before that day she had never seen much TV before. When we turned on Dora for her she was fascinated.
Previous to her arrival, we had no girl clothing for a 15 month old girl, diapers, or any basic necessities for such a small child like her. At 8:00 my aunt and I quickly drove to the nearest Wal-Mart and searched for everything we needed. We came home to “A” bathed, fed, and most importantly, happy. It was great to see her happy and already used to our family, but then again, isn’t it sad to see a little girl so overjoyed about bubbles in a bathtub, or television, or a bed. It’s sad to know she had it so bad. I knew from that night on this was the start of something amazing.
The days flew by like seconds. Days were like hours. Day in and day out “A” smiled. I remember everything. She absolutely loved our play set outside. In the summer she would always swim with my dad, my brother and I. She loved playing with dolls and splashing in the bathtub. Blowing bubbles was also a favorite. Of course she wasn’t the perfect child. However, every child had their fair share of temper tantrums. At the end of the day she was the most happy-go-lucky girl you could have ever met. She quickly made it to the number one person in my life. She was my sister and I loved her. I still love her. Even in the stressful days, she always made it better. The constant smile on her face always made everything better. She always had the room in her heart to add one more person. She adored her siblings and she looked forward to her weekly visits with them. She made me think differently about life. She made me look at the smaller things. She helped me realize that I need to enjoy the little things. More time passed as my family loved her up.
Before we knew it, a year had passed with her. “A” turned two, she was less introverted, and she even started doing things all by herself. I remember seeing her face light up in the glow of the candles when my entire family sang “Happy Birthday” to her. She looked like she was the happiest girl on the planet. In mid-August, “A”’s newborn sister Baby G came to live with my family, “A” and I. That is when things got bad. Baby G was extremely delayed and seemed to have more medical issues then my parents could help her with. This stressed my mom out to the maximum. It was scary for me because everything was falling apart at the seams. Almost 2 years had gone by with “A” and my mom had put in her 30 day notice to have both girls move out. Just thinking about “A” and Baby G being gone tore me apart.
In late January, “A” left our home. I woke up in the morning completely dreading the day to come. Time didn’t even seem to slow down for me. As I walked out the door she told me she loved me. I told her I would never forget her. I felt numb as I walked out of the house. I would never hug her, kiss her, touch her, speak to her, or see her again. To this very day I still can’t handle that. The very last thing she said to my family was “Don’t cry. I’ll see you soon.” We all knew that wasn’t true.
Since then my world has completely changed. “A” is always in my dreams. I’m constantly thinking about her. Sometimes I have really bad days where she won’t leave my mind, and I break down no matter where I am. I cry so much more than I ever have. Having “A” in my life made me realize something that I would have never understood without her helping me. You must cherish the people you love, the things you love, everything you love, before it’s gone, because when it’s gone, you’ll regret everything you never did. Never let go until you have to. Love with all of your heart, if you don’t you will regret every missed moment. “A” taught me to love strong. Take up every single special moment you possibly can. This little girl taught me to never say “Goodbye”. Just say “See you later”.
Kayla’s experience clearly highlights the emotional rollercoaster that both foster parents and their children experience when they share their lives and love with a child in need, and how difficult it can be to say goodbye. St. Aemilian-Lakeside strives to support families as they are challenged and forced to personally grow through their foster care experience. One way is through our monthly support group, When a Child Leaves: What Now? The group meets the second Wednesday of each month, from 6-8 p.m., at 8901 W. Capitol Dr. It provides an opportunity for foster parents (and potentially their children, if age-appropriate) who have had a child move away to talk to, and hear from, other foster parents about this experience. If you would like further information about this group, please call Mike Joranger at 604-5125.
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