100,000 Miles Later
By Amy Bell
After years of dreaming about becoming a foster mom, I finally reached the right season in my life to take the life-altering leap. At that time, I was a single mom of four and a major roadblock was acquiring a suitable vehicle. I found something beautiful in the price range of my 401K on the first call. Though it had high mileage, this van was owned by the type of family who documented every tire rotation. My doubts rode away in this Odyssey, gift wrapped with a DVD player, heated seats, snow tires and all weather mats. I wondered what human lives were going to become a part of this van’s journey. I had visions of the kind of foster mom I wanted to be, showing love to these unknown children in spite of the manifestations of their pain.
The wondering would be almost immediately replaced with little people when I got the referral. They were names, ages and behaviors on a piece of paper – 2, 4, 6 and 8. Three boys and a girl, identified by their histories, not their humanness: nonverbal, potty training issues, history of drug exposure, domestic violence and neglect. I immediately called their current foster mom of about a month. She would say – "They are just more than I can handle. I don’t think they even know basic manners, things like please and thank you." My heart immediately bristled for them. Why would you say thank you when your world had just been torn apart?!
I had no idea what it would really entail to love these children through their pain, that on the first of many visits, my severely traumatized four-year-old would try to grab his momma and stuff her into the van frantically saying, "Momma, come on, get in here." I would have to watch her say, "no baby I can’t go with you" and tearfully walk away. I would tearfully drive away, having personally experienced the very real pain of separation for both a momma and her children.
I learned my van would become a safe harbor as I naively went about my life. Our initial outing was to a fostering day at a pumpkin patch. My then 13-year-old daughter and I worked to create the ideal trip, singing songs and playing roller coaster over the hills. When we arrived and I opened the doors the children ran in four directions, tantruming if we impeded their independent pursuits. A seasoned foster mom with four children attached to a stroller laughed and said, “You’ll get the hang of this.” I did learn the value in containment, especially for children who never experienced the comfort of safe boundaries, but I still like to let them run!
Another hundred thousand, memory-filled miles have been added to this van as a foster family. It has blown through the fancy tires and I lost the all-weather mats because I was too exhausted to manage them. French fries are growing out of the cracks and when a smell happens I go in search of the origin. It has traveled to many everyday life events and milestone events like sending my son off to college and our practical wedding ceremony at the DMV.
A new van has been purchased, this time a fifteen passenger to accommodate our growing family and on its native voyage it carried the entire family to the ocean! Yet the Odyssey will be remembered as part of a life-changing journey for all of us, including seven children who were once nothing more to us than histories in a referral. At the very least, it made it possible to keep two families of children together, even though the rest of their worlds were falling apart.
Amy is a Colorado foster parent. She is certified by Courage Community Foster Care.