The first morning I stayed with the people who became my Legal Guardians, I rolled out of bed to find the father figure in the kitchen gracefully sprinkling garlic salt on a mound of potatoes and eggs, serendating them with his own rendition of “I Feel Pretty.” He looked like a cross between a retired football player and Hagrid from Harry Potter, but sang like a gigantic angel. ([To this day,] I’ve secretly thought of him as my Fairy Godfather). He has always called me, “Pumpkin” and used phrases like, “diglty dangit” when frustrated. My 15 year old sullen self, draped in black, frequently rolled my eyes, saying “Okay, Flanders.” He was such a big, weird dork. No one warned me about his floating left eyeball or his slight Tourettes Syndrome, but I forgot to pay attention to them. He turned out to be funny (but mostly corny) and a very good cook. Every day after school, like clockwork, I called him to see what he was making for dinner. And every day I crossed my fingers for spaghetti.
His wife, on the other hand, could not cook (or do simple math). If her husband ever had to be away, we all grumbled. Their youngest son always feigned starvation and then dramatically faked his death in the middle of the living room after darting through the house yelling, “It’s a fend-for-yourself night!” That meant, find leftovers, make a sandwich, eat cereal - anything but let her cook.
All jokes aside, my foster mom deserves a finder’s fee. She had been my English teacher my first year in foster care, but I hadn’t known her prior to entering care. The small town I was from didn’t have any open placements, so I had to switch towns and schools in late October. I ended up having her for two classes, Public Speaking and Honors English. I caught her attention during a speech when I got extremely heated regarding an article I read about a foster youth who died in care due to neglect. I can’t remember the specifics of my impassioned speech, but I do remember dropping a couple of “F Bombs” and vehemently condemning the “system.” Of course after sitting down, she quietly tapped on my desk and mouthed, “See me.”
After class, I gathered all my sass and a little bit of courage and stood silently in front of her. I looked her square in the eye and might have even glared a little bit, sure I was about to get kicked out for my profane language. (Like I cared anyway.) She looked at me with soft eyes and asked point-blank, “Are you in foster care?” I nodded suspiciously. She then asked, “Are you happy where you live?” “Hell no,” I retorted. “If I can make it happen, would you want to live with me?” I couldn’t speak for a moment. I regained my teenage nonchalance and answered, “Sure. Whatever.” I disappeared with an eye-roll and hair flick, then didn’t hear about it again for a couple of months.
One day, out of the blue, that same English teacher who always cried during “To Kill a Mockingbird” (what a dweeb!), dropped a pretty purple envelope on my desk. When I opened it, there was a questionnaire inside with questions like: What color did I want to paint my room; what would I feel comfortable calling them; what were my favorite foods? She filled me in on the timeline and it wasn’t long until she and her family picked me up from the foster home where I lived for our first visit, which was really just her two sons yacking my ears off for hours and introducing me to everyone at their church as their new big sister. I guess that was set. We painted my room purple and within a year they let me get a polydactyl kitten, who I adorned with a spiked collar and named Buttercup.
I didn’t understand it at the time, but my foster mom had convinced her husband and her then-disapproving extended family that I was worth a shot. Family members, fellow church attendees, and friends told her what bringing me home could mean, echoing stigma-drenched words that she had to pray about. People accused her of endangering her own kids, but she faithfully persisted through certifications, inspections, and court proceedings to give me a stable home.
Having her as a role model is one of my greatest privileges in life. That finder’s fee? It’s not for finding me. She helped me find my vulnerable side. She helped me find the ability to trust and be loved. When I terminated my birth parents’ rights, I faced both of them stone-faced. But once outside that courtroom, I bawled in her arms. She didn’t have to say anything because her consistent presence had already taught me that she was safe.
My weird foster parents annoyed me constantly. They made me do “family things” and embarrassed me by insisting on dropping me off at friends’ houses and meeting my friends’ parents. We got into arguments and sometimes when I thought I couldn’t wait to be out of their house, I’d gather the Dachshund puppy we had and walk for hours around the park next to our house. They were so weird sometimes I couldn’t handle it, and that's how they became my family. Being a foster parent doesn’t mean being a perfect person. It means being you and sharing that with someone who is still trying to figure out who they are going to be. (Thanks for the corniness, Fairy Godfather!)
I wouldn’t be the person I am today without the love of these weird strangers. I can’t imagine where I would be if they hadn’t opened their hearts and their home to this weird little teenager with an affinity for dark colors and multicolored hair. They saw me off to college, where I graduated with Honors, becoming a part of the 1% of foster youth at that time who obtained a 4-year college degree. In the last decade, that number has jumped up to a whopping 3%. But in the program I am honored to serve here at FCNI, that statistic for 4-year graduates is 100%. Every person who has started a 4-year degree and maintained communication in FCNI’s higher education program, has graduated. All it takes is support. I spend my working hours passing on the love and wisdom I learned to young strangers who become my clients. I spend my time listening to complaints about how stupid some things are, growing fonder and fonder of eye-rolls, and celebrating successes, growth, and healing. I’d like to invite you to share in that wonderful, weird glory.
In San Luis Obispo county alone, at any point in time, approximately 400 children are in need of a foster home and many of them are older youth. You can become a Foster Parent, a personal mentor, a career mentor, or volunteer with FCNI. There are lots of ways to get in on this. Please consider opening your heart. It might feel a little weird at first, but in my experience, weird works.
“We’re all a little weird and life’s a little weird, and when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it love.” - Dr. Seuss
If you are interested in becoming a foster parent or adopting, e-mail email@example.com and ask how you can get started today!