My husband, Steven, stepson Sam and I were already waiting at the park early that summer evening when their car pulled up. I was both nervous and excited about meeting this little boy whose picture I had carried with me for weeks. Six years old at the time, Chandler had been in foster care on and off since he was 2 ½ years old. That picture and the background information the agencies had given us were all we knew of him.
Erin, Chandler's care manager, introduced us to him. He smiled shyly as he quietly said, "Hi." He carried a lunch box with him, and so we all sat down together underneath the picnic pavilion. When we told him we liked his cartoon character lunch box, he explained that his foster mom had packed him dinner since the timing of our visit meant he would miss eating with the other foster kids.
He had also brought some action figures. As he told us about them, he grew more comfortable. From then on he barely paused for breath as he jumped from one subject to the next, beginning nearly every sentence with, "And guess what?"
His speech wasn't very clear so we spent a good amount of time asking him to repeat things that first evening. He was so sweet and innocent, and with his shaggy hair, his long, skinny legs, big brown eyes and ear-to-ear smile I decided he was just about the cutest little boy I'd ever seen. He was a happy bundle of energy and excitement. How in the world could he still be in foster care, I wondered. I couldn't understand why people weren't lined up at the door to be his parents.
Once he finished eating we went out on the playground. We had given him a Nerf football thinking he might like to play that with us, but Chandler was far more interested in being chased up and down and all around the playground equipment.
"You can't get me!" he yelled as he laughed and ran off again, fully expecting that I would continue chasing him. And I did. Up the steps we climbed and down the slide we slid over and over. I was glad I had worn sneakers and shorts — it had been a very long time since I had run around a playground.
After a while, we all walked down to a small bridge overlooking the water. I asked Chandler if he was okay with me lifting him up so he could see the picture in the window of the building at the bridge's entrance. He said yes, but only let me hold him for a brief instant before he asked me to put him back down. We watched from the bridge for a few minutes in hopes of seeing an alligator, and then it was time to go.
As we walked back to the pavilion, the care manager invited us to follow her back to Chandler's foster home so that we could meet his foster mom. During the drive, Steven, Sam and I were all a bit apprehensive; Chandler was the first child we had been matched with and we'd never been to a foster home before.
The home was a large manufactured house at the end of a long asphalt driveway on a large plot of land in rural Hillsborough County. From outside the entrance gate, we could see horses roaming underneath the tall trees in the fenced area alongside the driveway. As we got out of the car, we heard goats in the back yard, and we could see a pool. It looked like a good environment for this energetic young boy.
Chandler and his care manager walked up the steps with us following close behind. As we reached the stoop, the front door flew open and we were suddenly surrounded.
Ranging in age from toddler to a little older than Chandler, all of the children talked at once. "Are you going to be Chandler's mom and dad?" they asked over and over again. Caught off guard, Steven and I didn't know what to say so we simply replied, "Well, we're his friends." It was like looking inside an alternate universe as I realized these kids lived in such a continual state of transition that getting new moms and dads was a normal occurrence to them.
We met the foster mom, and I was immediately grateful to this lady who had kindly opened her home to so many children. Still talking all at once, the children followed as Chandler showed us the bedroom he shared with his foster brothers. He excitedly pointed out his bed and his toys, and then also showed us which beds and toys belonged to the other boys.
It was a short visit. As we prepared to leave, all of the children wanted to hug us and we obliged. We told Chandler how much we enjoyed meeting him and one of the older girls excitedly said to him, "I know they're going to be your mom and dad."
I knew we were going to be, too.
Michelle Schumacher is a marketing freelancer and foster adoption advocate who blogs about foster adoption at fosteradoptions.blogspot.com.