This is a guest post by my sister, Rita Spann. She’s hilarious. For more of her laugh-out-loud content, follow her on Instagram: @ritas.digest
I can’t believe it’s only been a week. I’m watching H pretend a chunk of cheese is a pirate ship at the dining table. He’s taking a brief break from playing to scarf down some lunch. His legos are spread out all over the living room, there’s a tent set up in his bedroom and there are crayon marks on the coffee table. Lucy and Thomas’s home is now officially a kid zone.
Having a front row seat to this seismic shift in my big sister’s life has been wild.
Becoming a Parent
This time last week, Lucy and I were putting new sheets on H’s bed. She said “Should I have washed these? I mean, I guess I’ll probably be changing them soon. I think little boys are pretty dirty.”
I said “But don’t kids take baths every night?”
Lucy responded “Ugh. I think so. That seems pretty excessive. But I don’t know, they are pretty low to the ground…”
When Thomas got home that night he got started installing a baby gate at the foot of the stairs while Lucy read a book about raising kids who have experienced trauma called “The Connected Child” out loud to him.
Between my sister the planner and her husband the doer, they were going to be as ready as possible.
The Truth About Parenthood
I think the truth is, no one is really ready for parenthood regardless of the circumstances. I realize that this isn’t a particularly hot take, but bearing witness to H’s first week here and watching Lucy and Thomas learn-on-the-go has brought that fact into glaring focus for me. Figuring out what to feed him, teaching him to wash his hands, setting up a bedtime routine. They’re doing an incredible job, but I mean, how can anyone know how to do all this stuff? But once you have a kid and it needs to eat, and be clean, and go to bed, it turns out you have no choice but to figure it all out.
And now that I’m on the topic of “having no choice” and “figuring it out on the go”, I happened to have an opportunity to rise to the parenting challenge myself this week.
H arrived last Friday. We three adults played with him and got to know him all weekend and then Lucy and Thomas went back to work on Monday. H couldn’t start his new daycare until after MLK Day so I happily volunteered to spend the day with him.
We woke up and said goodbye to Lucy and Thomas and I made H some scrambled eggs, bacon, and apple juice. He was eating his breakfast and watching a cartoon (allowed on weekends and, if I’m babysitting, holidays) when all of a sudden he jumped up and said “I have to go to the bathroom!” and darted full speed out of the room. I ran after him and by the time I got on the scene his pants were down and he was peeing in the toilet, liquid poop was shooting out of his butt, and he was bawling.
Poop-splosion: A Part of Parenting
Nothing in my life so far equipped me for this situation.
I had literally no idea what to address first, the tears or the poop. I took a deep breath and opted for tears.
“It’s okay buddy! Accidents happen. Let’s get you out of these clothes.”
I stripped the still sobbing kiddo down and set him in the bathtub.
“It’s okay buddy. We’re gonna get you all cleaned up!”
Gagging, I mopped up the bulk of the poop so I could get next to the tub.
“You don’t have to cry H, we’re gonna get you all cleaned up.”
I turned the faucet on, stood him up, and poured cups of water over his little legs and scrubbed him down. Once I got him cleaned up I ran the bath water and he sat down, stopped crying, and started playing with a toy boat. Tears handled, I got to work cleaning and disinfecting.
I told H “You see, no big deal. But next time we’re going to go to the bathroom earlier, aren’t we? We’re going to go in the toilet, not the floor, right?”
After the impromptu morning bath we took a walk with the dog, went on some quests, played hide-and-seek, ate lunch, and had a generally excellent day all around. And just before Lucy and Thomas got home there was another poop. This one solid, and in the toilet.
Well, Thomas and I made it through our first 48 hours as foster parents. I should revise that statement: Thomas and I made it through the first 48 hours as foster parents thanks in large part to my sister, Rita.
Because this was a transition situation and not a traditional foster placement, we had a week to prepare. The upside is, we had time to prepare. The downside is I had a week to work myself into a panic, which is exactly what I did.
By the time Friday rolled around, I was pretty much a ticking time bomb.
The First Night as Foster Parents
Honestly, compared to other people, I think our first night as foster parents was easier than normal. H* had met us the week before so it wasn’t like he was being dropped off with complete strangers. Also, the foster fam he was living with are awesome and hyped us up all week so he was excited. They also provided us with notes on H’s likes and dislikes, so we kind of knew what to expect.
I think normally you’d get a crying, scared little kid and you just have to trial and error stuff to figure it out. We didn’t have to.
Plus, I’ve been reading all these books about fostering and toddlers and how routine is basically the most important thing. Ever. Period. So, armed with this knowledge and the notes, I felt prepared.
I was not.
The Importance of Routine (and How I Failed in the First 48 Hours)
I thought I followed the routine to a “T” but the second I walked out of his room, he started sobbing. I probably could have held it together but then he started begging for his mom. I literally stood outside of the door and cried while my sister hugged me.
I tried to recall what the book said. The only thing I could remember was “Establish routines. Stick to your guns”.
After the longest 5 minutes of my life he stopped crying and fell asleep.
The next morning I talked to the previous foster parents and they said they rub his back for a few minutes before leaving his room and then he doesn’t cry.
I tried that the next night and it worked.
Wrong. This knowledge only makes me feel worse. Because had I just gone in the room and comforted him instead of “trying to stick to the routine” he wouldn’t have cried himself to sleep.
And I can’t take that back or change it. His first night as a foster kid in our home he cried himself to sleep because of me. I know I tried to do the right thing. I know my heart was in the right place. I know that I couldn’t have guessed this so I shouldn’t blame myself.
I also know anyone who is already a mother (including my own mom) probably is reading this and thinking “how did she not instinctively know this?”
Honestly, I doubt he even remembers, considering he’s 4 and cries about lots of things every day: green beans on his plate, brushing his teeth, picking up toys, when TV time ends.
But I remember. And it feels horrible.
Privacy & Protection for Foster Children
*It is the policy of the Department of Children and Families (DCF) that foster parents do not share personal information, like children’s names, for safety reasons, which is why we refer to the foster kiddo in our care as “H”.