I gripped the steering wheel tightly. I was emotionally exhausted. I couldn’t keep the tears at bay. The stabbing, fleeting feelings of panic were emerging.
I was tired. So very tired. From not sleeping. From stressing.
It was A WEEK.
It started with a phone call at 8 PM on Sunday night. My kids were wrapping up a play date and I had invited the other mother to enjoy a glass of wine with me before we wrangled kids out the door and to bed. We were chatting in that “getting to know you” way that comes when you testing out the waters of a friendship. Tip toeing around and trying to figure out if we are compatible or if its just our kids.
Suddenly, the phone rang. I quickly glanced at the caller ID and realized that it was a local number, but not one that I recognized. I almost always let unfamiliar phone numbers go to voicemail, but had a nagging feeling that it might be important, so I asked my new friend to hold on just a second and answered the ringing.
“Hello?” said the voice on the other line. “Is this E? This is XXX calling from the Department of Health and Human Services.”
Immediately, my heart began to pump a little faster. I am a teacher. DHHS is no stranger to me, unfortunately, as I have had to call the hotline one too many times to report instances of abuse and neglect. My mind did not jump to my own two children–thankfully–but immediately began sorting through the students I serve.
“I have an unusual request for you…” the voice continued on the other line. “I was actually given your number by an attorney in town. I have three girls here who need an emergency foster home until after the Labor Day holiday.”
My mind continued to spin. First–wait–what? My name? But I am not a foster parent. I am not a respite worker.
I am just a teacher. And, okay, I am also a vocal member of the community when it comes to working with organizations that support abused and neglected kids.
The man continued, giving me the girls’ names.
One of them was a student of mine last year. All three of them attend my school. Their case has been especially difficult and agonizing to watch, hear about, and support the girls through.
Evidently, some allegations had been lodged against the current foster home, by bio mom.
….The foster mom is my coworker.
I felt sick.
It’s only two nights…I thought to myself. How can I NOT do it?? How can I do it to my OWN family??
I told the worker I had to talk to my husband. I would get back to him shortly.
We talked it over. My husband wanted promises that the mother wouldn’t lodge allegations against us.
I couldn’t promise him that.
My kids wanted promises that they would not live here forever.
I could promise that.
But I couldn’t, in good conscience, say no to those girls. The caseworker made it clear he had no other options at 8 PM on a Sunday night, other than taking them 2 1/2 hours away.
So, at about 9 PM that night, a car pulled up to the curb and out crawled three blond girls, with one suitcase between them.
“Hi E…” the oldest one said nervously from the dark sidewalk.
“Hi girls…” I replied.
“Wait…Mrs. XXX!!!!??? This is your house????!!”
And up they bounded, giving me hugs and laughing. Dropping the suitcase, they ran right into the house and began playing with my older child.
I looked at the caseworker.
“Can you tell me what is going on?”
“I can’t tell you much, unfortunately. Only that sexual abuse allegations have been lodged against the foster home.”
I let this sink in. My poor co-worker. She and her family have poured their lives and love into these girls over the last eight months.
Bio mom has become increasingly desperate, knowing that termination is looming.
And now, this.
“I have to do a walk through…and, I also have to ask, Do either of you have felonies?”
My husband and I looked at each other sardonically.
“No,” I said. “We do not.”
And with that, he proceeded to do a quick walk through of our home and then announced that he better get going.
Bam. Just like that.
No paperwork. No warnings. No rules.
Just three extra children in my home.
We navigated our way through the next few days. My co-worker was gone from school. Sick at home with fear and anxiety for her own family.
The girls kept asking, “Are we staying at your house again tonight, Mrs. XXX?”
Unfortunately, my answer was “No.”
I didn’t know where the girls were going to go. DHHS hadn’t been in contact and our home was simply not set up for long term foster care.
By Wednesday, the investigation started. By the end of that school day, it was over.
Foster home was cleared of all charges.
Mom had coached the youngest girl.
None of it had happened.
But now, the foster family is done. Terrified.
Allegations can ruin lives. They can’t open their home and their own children up to that ever again.
And now, those three beautiful blond girls are bouncing around from respite home to respite home.
I have no control over any of it.
I thought it would be easy.
It opened up a whole can of stored up something for me.
Anger against this bio mom for what she is doing to these girls. Agony over the trauma that they are living each and every day.
Disappointment and guilt in myself for not being able to take them. For not being willing to open up my own family.
And all those old emotions–relief that my own removal was a family placement. Sadness that it happened to me and has to continue to happen to others.
I can’t even name the true emotion.
So, yesterday, I gripped that steering wheel tightly. I couldn’t blink back the tears.
Today, I am continuing to do the same thing. I am sad. I am anxious. I am still tired.
I wish I could DO more. I wish I could BE more. For the girls. For the foster family. For my own family.
What is going on? I’m overwhelmed, most likely. Triggered.
But knowing it doesn’t make it magically disappear. I need to process. To sort through the feelings.
All I know for sure is that it started with a phone call…and then spiraled into one hell of a week.