Skirting the Issue: My First Experience with Foster Care or The Reason I Hang Fruit Snacks on My Bedroom Wall

In my bedroom I have a space over my nightstand where I have pinned to the wall random things…things that remind me who I am and what I want to be. 
In this space hangs one of my prized possessions.

It’s a decade old pack of Mario Brothers fruit snacks and it really is one of my prized possessions.

Let me explain.
I’ll try my best to be brief.

Here are the facts:
*I started teaching school when I was 22.  I was young and naive.
*My first teaching job was at a lock down school for emotionally disturbed teens.
*I loved that job.
*When I started teaching it was all about the art—that was what my degree was in and that is what I loved—my students were just the vehicles that allowed me to spend my day talking about what I loved.
*Many of my students were wards of the state and/or foster care kids…and the majority had been victims of some sort of abuse.
*New students came and other students left on a weekly basis.  That was just the nature of the facility.
*My students past (or future) didn’t really concern me until one day…

One of the boys from the male pre-adolescent unit told me he was going home that afternoon.  This made me sad because I really loved this little 12 year old…bright red hair, freckles…mischievous, non-stop talking…loved him completely.
Later that day I casually mentioned his departure to one of the staff on his living unit.  That is when I was told what was happening…mom had lost custody, was in no position to even care for herself let alone a child and dad refused custody. 

So that evening when my little artist got off the plane in his home state (after being gone for months at a treatment facility) instead of being greeted by a loving parent (his dad, like he was expecting) he would be met by a case manager and taken to a foster care family.

I am not exaggerating when I say that my heart literally broke.  I had a complete melt down.  The thoughts of my little guy stepping off that plane and realizing that no parent had come for him was more than my heart could bear.  I could not believe that such a sweet kid had no one to go home to…no one to claim him.  I kept seeing the disappointment that would be on his face and knew that his tender feelings couldn’t take another blow.  I sat down on the floor and sobbed until the school secretary found me.

*The crazy PE teacher took my classes for the rest of the day (Heather…this was before you came so you know who I’m talking about).
*This was my first real experience with what happens to children who’s parents can’t take care of them.
*The secretary let me cry in her office until I realized the little guy would be leaving soon and I couldn’t just sit there and cry all day.

I ran to the store and hastily threw a care package together of treats and art supplies I knew he liked and then wrote my first letter to a student….I listed every great quality I knew he had and tried to tell him how wonderful I knew he was and how much potential I knew he had.  Then with the help of another staff member we slipped it into his luggage.

It wasn’t much.  But that night when he was unpacking in an unfamiliar place I desperately wanted him to find something that made him feel loved….and maybe even like home.

That experience was a defining moment for me—it changed me forever…not only how I taught and  how I treated my students but in a myriad of other ways that will be saved for another day.

Today is about foster care….

*I have so often wondered what happened to that little boy and have hoped that his foster family was kind and sensitive.
*After this I wondered about the foster families of out going students all of the time—what they were like, if they would be kind, if they would see the potential that I saw in these kids. 
*I started to think how great it is that there are people willing to open up their homes to children in need.  And I wanted to meet some of these families.
*I met lots of parents and case managers but only the actual foster parents once…it was a special case:

There was a student who had some serious issues.  He was more than a challenge.  Most of the staff tried to avoid having to work with him and those who did found it unrewarding because of his attachment disorder which made him seem cold and unappreciative.

*But I loved this kid.
*I mean I loved this kid.
*I have never met any person who had endured so much and carried so much baggage at such a young age.  He seemed so small and fragile.
*His bad behavior didn’t bother me.  I praised him often and spent my time with him either in silence or arguing over what the best foods in life are. 
*Often they would let him just stay in my classroom because we got along and in the art room he’d behave.

They day he left I cried again.  I worried for his future.  After I had said my goodbyes I was working in my classroom when here he came with his therapist and his foster parents.  (Because of his unconventional behaviors they came to accompany him back to their home.)

How thrilled I was to meet them—they were awesome!  Not only were they kind they were wonderful—they were educated in my students background and had been taking classes in order to best take care of him.  In fact, they were hoping that his placement could turn into a permanent situation.  After a short visit we said goodbye.  My heart soared.  He would be taken care of!  I happily went back to work changing bulletin boards.

A few minutes later I was called down to the front desk.  There was my boy again with his foster parents.  They had a funny look on their faces.  Apparently this little guy wouldn’t leave because he had something to give me.  We were all familiar with his behavior patterns but this was something unusual and we didn’t know what to expect.  We all looked at each other…

Then out of his pocket he pulled out a crumpled bag of Mario Brother Fruit Snacks  (who knows where he got them from!) handed them to me and then told his foster parents they could go now. 

Holding that small token in my hands I knew what a giant step this was for him.  I cried.  He cocked his head to the side, looked at me through his big old glasses and told me I’d like them.  Then they left.  The last time I heard about him his foster parents were going through the process of trying to adopt him.  Thank goodness for those special foster parents.

I still have those dang fruit snacks—they remind me (among other things) that miracles can happen, that you can make a difference, and that there are good people in the world.

Ok, just one last story and then I promise I’m done (so much for being brief)…

Another student—loved him to—he loved to draw Robot Godzilla Ninjas and his face would beam when you told him he was doing something right.  His background was horrifying but he was so eager to find joy you wouldn’t know it.  When he left I sent him with envelopes and drawing paper so he could send me any cool pictures he came up with (on can never have too many Robot Godzilla Ninjas you know). 

He would also be placed in a foster home upon his arrival back in his home state and again I worried.  He sent me several letters—in the last one he wrote, “Don’t worry Mrs Evans.  My new parents are really cool.  They took me to this carnival……I got my face painted like a giant lizard…and I’m safe.”

I’m safe. 

It’s been years since I’ve heard from any of my old students but I still think about them.  And when I do my thoughts trail over to their foster families.  How glad I am that they had them to go to. 

I know not all foster parents are great.  I know not all foster kids are great.  And I understand that being a foster parent is not easy.  But oh how I love those foster parents who provide a nurturing environment that will allow a child to say “I’m safe.”

Thank you to everyone who has been participating in our Skirting the Issue event I appreciate all the beautiful skirts that have been donated.  I know that they will be appreciated by both the girls and their foster parents.


27 thoughts on “Skirting the Issue: My First Experience with Foster Care or The Reason I Hang Fruit Snacks on My Bedroom Wall

  1. Thank you for clarifying that I was not the crazy p.e. teacher at the time (although I totally would have taken your classes, too). I would not trade those years that we taught together for anything. Thank you for putting into word what was in my heart.

  2. Oh Liz, I miss my students. They didn’t have the baggage that some of yours might have had, but I loved them to death, too. They changed me – in all good ways. I hope I made them feel safe in some way, too. Thanks for this wonderful post. You are such an amazing writer. And teacher. And I’m suddenly – and awkwardly- reminded that I need to put the photo of my skirt in the flickr pool. Eek.

  3. Aaaaand now I’m crying.
    How very fortunate you were to have that experience to touch so many lives in a positive way…and to have them touch yours.
    You are wonderful!

  4. That was so moving. I thank God that the children also have YOU! A wonderful teacher can make such a difference in the lives of children, especially those that have had a rotten way of life. THANK YOU!! Thank you for being a person those kids could depend on.

  5. Thank you for posting your stories. Sometimes we forget what others, especially children are enduring and going through in situations like that, so no my broken nail today really doesn’t matter.

  6. Thank you so much for sharing this. Moved me to tears. My husband and I are considering becoming foster parents….I thank God for people and teachers like you.

  7. It’s easy to spot a good teacher when you see one. Thank you for sharing. I was on the fence about making a skirt because I’ve got a lot on my plate right now, but after that, I know I can find 30 minutes to whip something together. I’m motivated now!

  8. I am glad these kids–and the others you touched–had someone make them feel like they mattered! Maybe they will pass that on! Thanks for your post!

  9. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences! It reminds me of my first experience this year. There was a little boy in my daughter’s class. Mom couldn’t take care of him (or younger brother), he was living with great-grandma, who was the only family member they could find willing to take the boys. Sweet kid, real charmer, but you could tell he had stopped trying because no one cared at home. No one was going to take the time to help him with basic reading/writing/math. No one put him to bed (g-gma went to bed earlier than him), he would stay up at night watching horror movies. How I wanted to bring him & his brother home. I prayed so many nights for them…still don’t know what happened.

  10. I worked as a science teacher in a similar setting – I feared for some of my students when they left, I feared for the community when others left, and some I feared for my heart when they left because I had grown so attached to them. Gratefully, many of my students have stayed in the area, and I get to see many of them as now adults. Some are doing about as well as one could expect given their childhoods, but some have miraculously thrived and I’m ecstatic when I get to see them – I’ve even had a few hunt down my address and bring their new spouses & children to meet me. Thank you for sharing.

  11. You had me all the way through. My heart hurts for these children. You are amazing. And beautiful. And a wonderful person. Thank you for sharing your story. It is through others experiences that we can truly learn and I SO appreciate you sharing this piece of yourself.

  12. Thank you. Thank you for being such a wonderful teacher. I know our teachers don’t get nearly enough credit for ALL that they do. My kids go to a school that has somewhat of a bad reputation. All I can say is that I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE all of the teachers that my kids have had and I love the principal. I know how important it is for parents to get involved with their kids scholastic learning. I also know what a shoestring “budget” (if you can even call it that) they have and how much of their own money they spend on OUR kids. There is nothing better than a good teacher. A good teacher can help even the most hardened kid and worst parents. I have the utmost respect for teachers and know it is not a job for you, it’s your passion.

    Thank you for having been a teacher.

  13. your story brought me to tears. thank you for sharing your story and helping me to have hope. in all forms and all ways of life. kudos to you for teaching in ld/bd environment where you probably have touched more lives in more ways that you can imagine.

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