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Stuck in a tree doing my own thing!

💜 Happy 15th Gotcha Day!!! 💜

This day fifteen years ago was a Thursday. I awoke as usual with a clean home and a nicely made bed. I drove to work. I had a full day of activities that are included being a social worker.

I had no idea that morning nor even at lunch how drastically my life was going to change. I doubt three very young children did either, though, because of this day, their lives were dramatically saved and for one little baby, his life was spared.

I had been a licensed foster parent since that previous November (2001). I turned thirty that year and on my birthday, closed on my first home. I was still single. I worked as a social worker in foster care for the state. I played softball, soccer and volleyball in my free time as well as Bible Studies.

But to hear this story in it’s entirety, it is a story I have never quite told.

In fourth grade, we were in a Christian Bookstore and my mom allowed me to buy a book. It was called “Elizabeth Gail and Double Trouble.” It was the story of a social worker and a foster child who had a tumultuous life and was placed with a foster family when she was twelve after being in and out of foster care and beaten by her mother. I grew up in a very scientific town (Los Alamos, NM). My exposure to this type of circumstances was very limited and I was hooked.

By the time I was eleven and had read more in the “Elizabeth Gail” series, I knew within my heart that more than anything, I wanted to be a social worker, a foster parent and a missionary to the children in Russia.

Fifteen years later, those things on my heart at eleven were fulfilled (the only time I lost sight of this was my senior year for a brief month after being told repeatedly I would be POOR if I chose social work). It was short lived and the following fall I was in college and three years later (I was very motivated to graduate), I graduated Cum Laude with a degree from Lubbock Christian University (1992). I hated the college but I LOVED the social work and psychology program and poured my heart into my studies. I was also blessed with a job to be a relief houseparent at a Children’s Home for children who had been neglected and abused. In fact, it was there that I had my first unofficial temporary foster children. Their names were Jiffy (nickname for Jennifer) and Kenneth. Jiffy was a very precocious and mischievious three-year-old and Kenneth was eighteen-months old and my snuggle bug. They both became very bonded to me and the children’s home allowed me to let them spend the night with me in the dorms when I was able. I was also allowed to take them home (I was 19… crazy) from Texas to New Mexico for the holidays. I loved it. They were my first “babies.”

After graduation (and leaving them was one of the hardest things I have had to do but by then they were older and living in a foster family — I kept in contact for the years until they were returned to their birth family), I moved to Southern California (I actually did my internship there – thankful so much for my Professor, Cara Speer, who traveled so I could do this) where I worked as a residential counselor at another Children’s Home for three years.

At that time, I decided that as much as I LOVED living in California, I was making too little money to support myself and I really wanted to do more as a social worker. So, moved to Tennessee where less than I year later I found myself working for the state of TN as a social worker in foster care (1996).

Being a DCS foster care worker was absolutely everything I imagined it to be. I LOVED it (excluding the red tape and hierarchy of control freaks who weren’t happy to be there and did not share my passion for social justice). I was blessed with some amazing supervisors and team members and an attorney who was ever so gifted and taught me so much.

I had dated(and fallen in and out of love) but by the time I was thirty, I was still single. I bought my first home (closed on my thirtieth birthday) and became a licensed foster parent that same year.

I had short term placements. It was hard to say the goodbyes. I learned that I was not an effective parent to older kids as I definitely was more in the parent/friend zone and was not good at setting limits. I told my foster parent case manager that I probably needed to foster a younger age.

So, back to that Thursday, fifteen years ago.

I received a phone call at work that afternoon. My foster parent case manager told me that she was in desperate need of a foster parent and no one had said yes yet. She started the conversation by stating, “Remember how you told me you wanted to parent younger children?”

My heart started to pound.

“I have three children who need an immediate placement,” she continued. “Because they are a sibling set of three, I have been unable to find a placement. Will you be willing to take them?”

I was in a bit of shock. I asked her the children’s ages.

“They are ages three, twenty-two months, and four-months old. We are unable to locate the baby at this time but we need you to meet the girls as soon as we can.”

I asked her their names. At that point it became real. There were three little ones with names that needed someone. She told me that if I was unable to take them, they would have to separate them and she said she did not want to do that.

I did not want that to happen. I said, “Yes.”

I finished my work early for the day (thank goodness I had put in overtime earlier in the week) and I drove to the designated place we had agreed on. It was a gas station. I met my forever girls at a gas station. It was also the same gas station that I had first stopped at when I first arrived in Knoxville.

I don’t remember who arrived first, whether it was me or the driver with my girls. But what I do remember is the faces of two little terrified girls in the back seat of her car. They looked like children of war; they were shell-shocked. They literally had no belongings. The workers and police had to find them clothes because they literally had none.

There were these two little girls; one whom had just turned three and one who was only twenty-two months old who had NOTHING in the world. I have no recollection of the social worker’s face but those two little girls’ faces at that moment was forever imprinted in my memory and my heart.

The worker told me they still had not located their brother but that there was an Amber Alert and the police had issued kidnapping warrants on the birth mother and boyfriend (that story will continue tomorrow).

I moved the girls to my car.

They had no earthly possession. They had no favorite blanket. They had no favorite stuffed animal. The worker gave me two emergency kits (quilted blankets with a few other comfort items) that a church had donated to the department (BTW… an excellent and needed ministry).

I do not remember leaving the gas station with the girls.

We drove the short distance to a brand new Wal-Mart. I say this every year because it is exactly how I felt. If I could have bought them the moon at that point, I would have. But I was a “poor” social worker on a limited budget.

The girls sat in the cart as we went through the store, their eyes huge and in awe. But not once did they ask for anything. It was many years before they did ask and when they did, it was for so little.

We arrived to my home. I had a room, decorated in Raggedy Ann and Andy (much to the embarrassment of previous foster boys) that was a perfect fit for these precious little humans. I tried to feed them but learned they still were on bottles. I was so thankful I had those on hand.

I bathed them and put them in their new pajamas. The girls, especially Sydney, suddenly came to life. At only twenty-two months, she was talking paragraphs. Her speech was so impressive. And I learned that Katyana had her own language that Sydney interpreted.

They were both so worried about their little brother. They were three years old and twenty-two months (NOT EVEN TWO) and they were worrried about their brother.

Katyana spent some time memorizing my house set up. I realized soon that she was the “mother” at the age of just three. She had just turned three and was taking care of the other two. She memorized where everything was. Sydney translated and talked.

I tucked them into their bed. I had a double bed and had to buy rails that evening.

I read them stories and surrounded them with every Raggedy Ann and Andy doll I could find. I stayed with them until they fell asleep.

And then I went into nesting mode.

I washed all the baby bedding for the crib even though it was clean. I went through my assortment of clothing I had collected for differing ages of kids through thrift stores and really cheap deals through the past few months.

I called my parents who were in China so they were twelve hours ahead of me.

I did not sleep.

I cleaned.

And morning came. I had to work as I had things that could not be put off. A friend agreed to watch the girls for me.

I went to change the girls from their pajamas and Sydney started crying. She did not want to take off her pajamas until she saw that she had new clothes to put on.

I did their hair.

I fed them their bottles and tried to feed them food.

And then we left.

But I get ahead of myself. Because that story is for tomorrow.

Today, March 7th, is MY GOTCHA DAY for my girls. It is the day they came into my home and my heart. It was the day that would make me a mom; not just a foster mom.

It was the day all my dreams were realized.

To be continued March 8th.

💜 HAPPY 15th GOTCHA Day Sydney and Katyana. I am forever thankful for this day. It was the day that all my previous dreams and experience met with two girls that would forever impact and change my life.💜


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