(In this post I write about one of our foster placements, but do not use gender. This is to protect the child’s right to anonymity. So I refer to the child as “them, they, it, the toddler,” etc. It is not to be rude or to be disrespectful, but to respect privacy.)
So we recently accepted two new placements. Yes, we are crazy. We had about a week’s notice that we would be getting the toddler. I was excited, a child that could talk and interact with me. We could go to the playground, color, and play make-believe.
But then I started to panic. What if this child doesn’t adjust to our home, to me? What if they cry all the time, throw tantrums, or other behaviors that foster children sometimes display (such as hurting themselves or others)? Because an older child can talk, what do I say when they ask about their parents? What if they cry for their mother and want nothing to do with me?
We finally got the call to go pick the toddler up. I show up, sort of expecting a ‘tutorial’ on toddlers and the specifics to this particular model. Or at least a manual, something. But no, they just hand the kid over to me! I mean I knew I was going to go and get a toddler, but there was still that little part of me that was thinking, ‘Seriously, you’re just gonna give me a toddler? Do you know I routinely ask my husband for a pony? And you’re going to trust me with a little person?‘
The toddler and I meet, and they walk us out the door. We hold hands walking to the car, and I take a toddler home. It was just as easy as going to the store to pick up a gallon of milk.
Yet much more terrifying.
What do we feed it? Yes, food, but what type of food do they like, do they not like?
How much do I feed it? And how do I know when it is really full or just bs-ing me to get out of having to eat?
Does it come toilet trained? (The answer to that turned out to be ‘sort-of’.)
What time do I put it to bed and get it up?
A ton of questions. And a sense of ‘I could really screw this up‘.
I wonder if when new Moms give birth and they hold their baby for the first time, as they experience the joy of their newborn child do they also experience a moment of fear? A sense of ‘holy crap, I am responsible for this thing, for its entire life, panic!”
Because that is what I felt. Excitement and joy, but also fear.
As it happened the first night we had the toddler I had to spend the night away. And here’s the really honest part, I was a little relieved. I just didn’t know how to handle this “instant-family” we’d just received. There was no 9-month prep, no starting with a little baby to ease us into it this time.
We got a very active, very verbal, very busy toddler. And I kind of felt like the monster in the Monsters Inc. movie:
It wasn’t that I didn’t want to care or like this toddler. The toddler is pretty darn adorable. It was just so new, you can’t just instantly bond with a child you never met before or didn’t give birth to.
And then there were the mistakes. For the first two days we forgot about teeth brushing. We didn’t even have a toddler toothbrush. And get this, did you know they need special toothpaste? They can’t just use regular stuff. We served adult-sized food portions and wondered why they went unfinished. We put the toddler to bed, crying ensued after we left the room. We went back in the room, more crying. We left the room, more crying.
I felt like a big impostor. I was just faking this Mom stuff and I was going to screw up. And then the kid would get moved to a new foster home because I couldn’t hack it.
But then it started to change.
The second night we were all home, and we read books together before bedtime. The last book we read was “If you give a pig a pancake.” Which is seriously one of the BEST books ever. We’re reading the story and I ask “what does a pig say?” And the toddler looks at me, smiles, and wrinkles their nose up and ‘oinks’ like a pig. Then we all ‘oink’ like a pig and laugh. The toddler laughs like it is the funniest thing in the WORLD. Which makes me laugh more.
And something in me eases. I feel like I can breathe a little easier. This is ok, I can do this. It might not be easy, but I can do this.
And so now I fill my days now with coloring, digging dirt, playing with trucks, countless trips to the potty, and answering the never-ending stream of questions that come out of a toddler’s mouth. It’s not easy, it is an adjustment, but that’s ok. I’m cutting myself some slack, this is new to me, and it is new to the toddler. We’ll take it day by day and hope for the best.
And when in doubt, farm animal noises are a HUGE hit with the toddler crowd.