Saying Goodbye to Our Foster Child

Saying Goodbye to Our Foster Child

By Meghan Moravcik Walbert


Illustration by Linda Willis

I make a list of all of the essentials. The things he needs and the things I know he will really want. The things that will help him fall asleep at night. The things he will cry for.

I put the finishing touches on the photo book I will send with him so that hopefully he won’t forget our faces too quickly.

I order yet another copy of Goodnight Moon. This time, it’s a recordable version that will help him remember how our voices sounded as we read to him each night at bedtime.

I will stock him up on size 4 T-shirts and summer pajamas. Maybe a new pair of Crocs. Yet another pair of sunglasses even though I know, I know, he will probably break them in the first week. I will buy him these things in advance to get him set up for next season, which he will spend without me.

I am un-nesting. I am preparing not for the arrival of my child but for his departure.

He’s not my child, though. Not legally. He is my four-year-old foster son, a boy whom I have never had any real claim over, but a child I have fed and hugged and cried over and corrected and laughed with and loved for the better part of the past year.

He’s not mine, but oh, how it feels like he is.

I prepared for him, the little boy we nicknamed BlueJay within the first day we met him. I prepared for him in ways that mirrored the ways in which I prepared for the arrival of my biological son, Ryan, who is now 5 years old.

I decorated BlueJay’s room just as I had prepared Ryan’s room. My husband, Mike, and I made announcements to family. I read parenting books and Google’d endless topics.

I also prepared for him in ways that looked completely different. Foster nesting requires training sessions, invasive questions about your marriage, health assessments and, in our case, four separate background checks.

BlueJay was wanted. Long before I knew he was, in fact, a he. Long before I knew he doesn’t walk, he only runs. Long before I knew about his macaroni and cheese obsession or his fear of fireworks or the way he crosses his arms with an audible HUFF when he’s mad, he was very, very wanted.

I used to sit in his bedroom, back then. Back when my heart swelled in a way that felt strangely familiar to the way my belly swelled as I grew Ryan. I would sit on his bed and imagine it. I would rub my hand back and forth across his quilt and try to picture tucking a child beneath it’s warmth.

I tried to picture it all. Two kids jumping in waves at the ocean’s edge on our annual family vacation. Two kids clad in costume with two pumpkin buckets clasped in tiny gloved hands. Two kids running down the stairs on Christmas morning. Two kids laughing. Two kids yelling. Two kids playing and fighting and making faces at each other over their dinner plates.

I imagined the first hello.

The surreality of it left me breathless.

In the moments when I’m strong enough — or are they the moments when I am the weakest? — I un-imagine it.

I picture the way our house will once again be quieted. The half-empty backseat of my car. One pair of rain boots instead of two. The way our family will no longer fill up an entire booth in a restaurant.

I imagine the last goodbye.

The pain leaves me breathless.

If this were to happen, I had thought back then, we would be fine. Yes, we ultimately wanted to adopt, but we were well aware there are no such guarantees when you foster a child. Reunification with the biological family is almost always the primary goal. It’s an important goal, a goal we fully supported then and still support now.

That’s why we thought if our placement didn’t end in adoption, everything would still be OK.

Sure, it felt at the time like maybe there was a small gap in our family where a fourth person could permanently fit, but the hole wasn’t gaping. We weren’t woefully incomplete. We were a regular family with a happy, typical life that happened to have room for a little bit more. More joy, more love, more noise, more family.

If our foster child reunited with his family, we would simply bask in the warm knowledge that we were able to provide a stable, safe and loving home for him at a time when he needed it the most.

But BlueJay is the giant bell in our lives that can never be un-rung. He’s no longer an idea or a possibility. There is nothing abstract about him anymore. He’s not a category on a sheet of paper or a series of checked boxes indicating who we can – or are willing to – accept.

Now, he’s the loudest, fastest, clumsiest and most hilarious piece of our family puzzle. That piece you might hold up initially and think, “I’m not sure where this fits,” until you fill in everything else first and then suddenly realize you needed that piece all along. The piece that somehow pulls the rest of you together.

After him, you do not simply return to the same old content life of a family of three. He changes you.

I am running out of time. I want to somehow cram a lifetime of parenting into the next few weeks.

I want him to know he should never look in a lady’s purse without asking. Or that he should chew with his mouth closed, then swallow, then speak.

It isn’t polite to point, kiddo. Sit on your bottom. Don’t just look both ways when you cross the street; listen, too.

It’s OK to feel frustrated or angry. Deep breaths will help.

Your words have power, so choose them carefully.

Your choices have consequences, so make the best ones you can.

If you’re sorry, say it. When you say it, look directly into the person’s eyes.

If you love someone, say it. When you say it, look directly into the person’s eyes.

Be kind. To friends and family, to strangers, to the person taking your order at a restaurant.

Be yourself. Be the boy whose favorite color is purple. Be the loudest person in the room. Be the bull in a china shop. These are the things that make you stand out, make you special.

Remember that I always love you. Always. No matter what. No matter where you are or what you’ve done, nothing will ever stop me from loving you. Even when you can’t see me, especially when you can’t see me, I am loving you.

I have no idea how much love and respect and pride I can imprint on him before he leaves. I have no choice but to focus on the things I can control.

So, I make the lists. I will pack up his favorite stuffed puppy dog and his Ninja Turtles bathrobe and his toy guitar. I will type up notes detailing his bedtime routine and his favorite foods for the far-away relatives who will raise him after me. I will give suggestions on what to do when his emotional triggers are tripped or when he regresses and it seems like he truly can’t distinguish blue from orange even though we know he can.

I will tell them, when all else fails, to turn the radio up and let him dance.

Meghan Moravcik Walbert is a freelance writer, a stay-at-home mother to her five-year-old biological son, and a foster parent. She writes about motherhood and foster parenthood from her home in Eastern Pennsylvania, and she is the author of the Foster Parent Diary series on the New York Times’ Motherlode blog. More of her writing can be found at


How I Lost 4,163 Pounds

How I Lost 4,163 Pounds

minibus on the country highwayBy Rebecca Lanning

My friend Juli once said that driving a minivan was like announcing to the world you’ve got stretch marks and saggy boobs. I swore I’d never drive one, but something happened on my way to turning 40. In the span of one summer, I became practical, succumbing to both the skirted bathing suit and the mom mobile. But little by little, my van grew on me.

Spaciousness was what sold us. A distant cousin to the RV, the van hauled our family of four to destinations near and far. During a thunderstorm one summer night, when our tent proved to be as waterproof as a paper bag, we piled in the van, reclined the seats, and slept in quasi-comfort. We criss-crossed the state in that van, traveled south to Orlando, north to D.C. By the time it hit 100,000 miles, the cloth seats had grown fur. Twenty thousand miles later, when side curtain air bags debuted, we traded it in. For another van.

For fourteen years, I drove a minivan.

I schlepped loads of kids to the pool, Chuckie Cheese, skating parties, soccer games. I drove on countless field trips. To the recycling center, Lemur Center, art museum.

“Settle down,” I’d say.

Gazing at my charges in the rear view mirror, I’d recall my senior year in high school when I drove a school bus. When the state of North Carolina actually thought it was a good idea to let high school students drive school busses. But I loved that job, and the students loved me, bringing me sweet notes and brownies wrapped in cellophane. I’d wave to the gaggle of moms at the bus stop as I closed the door, retracted the Stop sign, pulled slowly away from the curb. Don’t worry. I got this.

That was the hit I got from driving a van. The sense of doing something vital. Serving as chauffeur to the next generation. Taking children places they’d never been or just places they couldn’t take themselves. The designated driver. Captain of a tour bus with a moon roof and front strut suspension.

Even after my sons grew big enough to sit shotgun and refused to go on family camping trips, I still loved driving them around. Maybe more so than ever because sitting next to them in the van was often the closest they’d allow me to get to them. They pulled away from my kisses, ducked from my hugs. But belted in the van, they couldn’t keep me from looking over at them, smiling. Hands on 10 and 2

Only it’s 9 and 3 now. Who knew? Apparently, when an air bag deploys at 150 to 250 miles per hour, it can rip your hands off if they are positioned at 10 and 2. Mr. Phipps, the driver’s ed teacher, told my sons this, and they told me. Good to know.

That my sons were giving me tips on how to drive should have been a clue that my van driving days were numbered, but I vowed to drive this second van until my younger son graduated high school in June of 2016. With a flush of pride, I imagined the odometer hitting 200,000 and beyond. Saggy boobs and stretch marks be damned.

But three months ago, while I was I was driving my younger son to a sports event in a flat, far-flung town neither of us had ever set foot in, the van started making a strange noise. A loud whine during acceleration. I glanced at my son, but he was staring out the window, listening to music, oblivious. And I wondered: Can the engine of a minivan sound like a vacuum cleaner sucking up a brick if only a 51-year-old, post-menopausal woman hears it?

When I described the whining sound to my husband that night, he went outside and started the van. I was standing by the side door when I heard what sounded like an F5 tornado. The dogs went beserk. My husband popped the hood, jiggled wires, shot me a look. I knew what he was thinking: The last thing we needed was a major car malfunction. We’d just put a new roof on the house.

The next day, two different mechanics gave us the same dreaded news: It was the transmission. A repair would set us back $4,500. The van was worth less than that. I felt, oddly, betrayed.

“At least we have a roof over our heads,” my husband said, Neither of us laughed.

With the van disabled in the driveway, I forced myself to test drive several vehicles, but they all felt flimsy. The seats were stiff. The trunks too small. They didn’t have enough cup holders. Nothing excited me. Not the 0% interest. Not the free oil changes for life. After weeks of finding fault with every car in our price range, I finally settled on a station wagon.

On the morning of the deal, I sat for one last time in the driver’s seat of the van, ran my hand along the worn upholstery. When I opened the console where I once stashed juice boxes, I spotted the orange crumbs of Goldfish crackers. Gripping the steering wheel, I gazed in the rear view mirror at the empty seats behind me.

I could almost hear the laughter of children, their corny jokes. I could see the pretty girl who’d had a crush on my older son, the way she slid so close to him in the third row seat when she joined us for a family outing.

I saw my nieces and nephew crammed inside on our way to a seafood restaurant at the beach. Eight of us in a van that held seven. Rose, the youngest, stretched out on the sandy floorboard, hiding from phantom police.

I recalled the swirl of snow that surprised us as we left the movie theater one Christmas Eve and ran, leaping and laughing, to the van. I opened all the doors, even the trunk, remotely, so it looked as if the van were opening its arms, welcoming us in from the cold, the rain at the camp site, a hard day at school.

For eight years, this van had sheltered us like a second home. It was part of our family, and I wasn’t ready to say goodbye.

But I did. I patted the dashboard, closed the door, and went inside the showroom where Fred, the straight-talking salesman was waiting for me, smiling behind a mountain of paperwork.

It wasn’t until I was driving away in my new car that it hit me. I liked this car. The roof rails and raised suspension. Puddle lights and new car smell. It was tight and sporty and nothing like my minivan.

It wasn’t my van I’d been mourning. I was mourning a part of my life—the room parent/carpool/Mom-in-charge phase—that was over. It had been over for a while, and I’d been milking it, driving the van well past its prime, ignoring not just the whine under the hood, but the thin voice inside me saying, It’s time to move on.

As I pressed the gas and felt the kick of the CVT transmission, I sensed a curl of joy in my chest. If my sons needed me less each passing day, then maybe it was time to reinvent myself, hang up my chauffeur’s cap, take up a new cause.

Like that, I was ready for a new adventure. And grateful for new wheels to take me there.

Rebecca Lanning lives with her family in Durham, North Carolina. As a former editor and advice columnist at Teen magazine, she admits that writing for teenagers in no way prepared her for the humbling experience of raising two of her own. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications including Brain Child, The Washington Post, Sunday Reader, Southern Magazine, Haven and Woman’s Own.

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