By: Shannon Porter
The Gift I Thought I Was Giving My Kids
Moms are amazing, we can multitask like a boss and cross things off our to-do lists with finesse. On an average evening in our home you might find me cooking in the kitchen ; which more than likely meant I lost a bet with my husband. One particular evening as I cooked, I found myself also switching a load of laundry, and wiping down countertops, as I emptied the dishwasher. After crossing a few items off of my to do list, I sat down for a moment to tackle yet another task.
I began to make phone calls to orthodontists as dinner finished cooking. While repeating my “spiel” numerous times, three of my boys rolled tractors and four wheelers along the kitchen table bench. In a room nearby my other two kiddos were involved in an intense game of checker – a family favorite. Before I knew it dinner was almost ready. I quickly tucked my folder away and switched gears. While setting the table my favorite game began : 20 questions ! ( All parents know what this means.)
The kids and I talked about how I was trying to help a teenager, who was in foster care, get braces. We discussed why she might want them, what was preventing her from getting them, and what I was hoping would happen after calling those orthodontists. As we talked, the timer for dinner went off and our conversation came to an end. The nightly routines of showers, Pete the Cat and goodnight songs filled the balance of the night.
The following day my daughter proclaimed – in the middle of her craft session- that she wanted to raise money to help my girl get her braces. I smiled, and thought back to a particular moment years earlier when we were navigating foster care ourselves. As foster parents then, we found our family saying goodbye, after hosting a little girl in our home for a short time. It was now time for the painful goodbye hugs and kisses. Our little friend was sad to leave, a bit scared too. Before I knew what was going on my son ran into the other room to retrieve his favorite book. As he walked back into the living room I remember thinking that after she left we would snuggle and read to distract ourselves from the stress of saying goodbye. He left me stunned when he simply handed his prized possession to her and said she could look at it while she rode in the car. Instantly she stopped crying, and as she did, I told my son we probably wouldn’t be able to get the book back. As he turned around he shrugged his shoulders and said, “That’s fine she can have it.” Selfishly I didn’t really want him to give away a book that meant so much to him. To me. To our family. The old book held a lot of precious memories!
As I thought more about my reaction later that evening I realized the pages in that book didn’t hold the memories at all. No, as a family we held those memories in our hearts. My son had given his VERY BEST to make someone else happy. He gave something that had brought him so much joy and comfort in the past. He had given it away, without regret or hesitation.
Why had I questioned his generosity? What mattered was there was a need, he was able to do something about it, so he did. He was sharing his joy.
Moments like those remind me what a gift foster care has been to our family. There have been moments of sacrifice, of anger, moments of being stretched, moments of sadness and frustration. Fostering had not always been an easy journey. There were days I wanted to quit. Days I had quit. I had so often felt very lonely in our fostering journey. Despite all of that, despite every hard moment, the light it had brought into our home could not be denied.
Not only did our family grow physically through adoption, but we were also blessed with the opportunity to love big, and learn abundantly ! Each “hello” brought new lessons; lessons of giving grace, loving strangers, forgiving the unforgivable, lessons on trust and the unexpected friendships. Each placement taught each of us something new and made us a stronger family unit. Nothing had rivaled what it had done for our marriage either. No matter how bumpy or smooth the journey had been in the past, our family was forever changed in the most amazing ways.
Our season of fostering ended about three and half years ago. Closing our license was very difficult. Writing the letter to request license closure meant no more new “hellos.” As hard as it was to write the letter we knew that our family needed a break from the stress, and time to heal from hard lessons learned. We strongly believed that the season of fostering had come to an end. However, we also held on to hope that another season of fostering might find us again one day.
Two years trickled by, our family had grown by two more feet during that time. The ache in my heart for foster care had begun to emerge once again. After speaking with my husband about it, we had both come to the same conclusion, our season of rest was still in progress. Weeks went by and still I missed foster care. I missed it all, the joy as well as the refinement that it had brought me.
How could I remain faithful to our promised rest period and the calling to serve? The only thing I could think of was to volunteer my time. I began to email old case workers and supervisors, asking what I could do for them. I offered to stuff envelopes or clean visitation rooms, anything they needed. I wanted to help a few hours a week. I had no idea at the time that missing foster care would turn into a job. It has been one year since I have become a case aide. I simply help case workers and supervisors with whatever I can but I am thankful to be once again serving my community.
I am not sure my kids know what I do exactly. But, they are once again teaching me about loving with BIG hearts, free from hesitation and doubt. People would often ask if we were worried about the impact having kids from hard places in our home would have on our biological kids. Our response and deep belief was simple : we believed we were giving our children a gift. As parents we were allowing them to serve along side of us. We knew they would be given the opportunity to see how blessed our family is. They would learn how to be empathetic, and to love a stranger without needing a reason. As I think back I realize we were not the only ones giving a gift. Our kids taught us about selflessness, resilience, a joyful countenance, and to love others without judgement. Our kids taught us loving, and serving, not only in word, but in action. The gift our children gave us was more than I ever expected. And it continues to live on in our home today. So I am letting my daughter craft, while constantly checking my email quietly, hoping BIG that an orthodontist will bless one well deserved teenager with braces. And me? I am trying to see the world through a child’s eyes.
Shannon Porter and her family live in Lenawee County. Shannon and her husband Aaron have been married for 13 years and enjoy adventuring with their 5 kids. (ages 9,8,8,6,2) They became foster parents before growing their family biologically and through adoption, continuing for a number of years as their family grew. After becoming a family of 7 Aaron and Shannon closed their license in 2016. Shannon currently works at Fostering Solutions in Adrian as a case aide. She has a heart for the fostering and adoption community and firmly believes community is vital to the success of foster and adoptive families.