Every day is unpredictable, crazy, fun and the unexpected finds a way to make its face known- this is a day in the life of a QCA foster mom/teacher at the beginning of June during the COVID-19 Pandemic in rural Iowa.
A day in the life of a QCA foster mom is about what you’d expect in any ordinary home. We have the same joys and challenges of any family full of life.
My day starts early in the morning, usually as the sun is just rising about 5:30 AM. I wake to a baby or toddler talking or crying, ready for extra love and hugs to let them know they are in a safe place and I’m still here. It never takes long once one child, any one of the four or more, is awake before the whole house is busy and full of life: giggles, crying, and excitement for what the day holds. I quickly throw some clothes on-anything will do-as I know we will not be leaving the house today (nor in the near future due to the coronavirus). I promptly brush my teeth, pull my hair back in a messy bun and go to the bathroom by myself -knowing it will be the only time today that I am not joined by several littles staring at me and asking for my help opening, tying, zipping or ‘fixing’ something.
I always start the day by ‘waking up’ and greeting the children with a song and putting into the song phrases like “Good morning (name)! What are we going to do today? What are we going to play? Today is Tuesday!” The consistency and routine of our daily tasks are so important for children who do not know what lies ahead in their future- regardless of whether it’s in the next hour or two or what lies ahead this week.
The children have the opportunity next to pick out their clothes, and try to put them on themselves. This is a great confidence builder and gives them the power of choice – although sometimes it does backfire when a child is frustrated with getting their arms into the right holes. It also usually consists of at least one little running around without a diaper and the quick pursuit before there is an accident on the floor.
In this house, there is no verbal labeling of “foster child”, “adoptive child”, or “biological child”. They are all my children living under my roof at this time and I will give them as much love, support, and guidance that I possibly can in order to set them up for a brighter future. The older children do an amazing job of helping the younger children with getting dressed, putting socks and shoes on for the day, and helping each other down the stairs as we greet the sun. In our house, we choose to make it a happy day!
For breakfast, we try to do healthy things like waffles, pancakes, or multi-grain cereal, along with fruits such as bananas and grapes and strawberries are favorites in our house. We keep our antennae alert to new foods that might stir up trauma or past negative associations for the kids. Often I feel like I am whipping out an assembly line of bowls and sippy cups quicker than tapping on the brakes when I see any random car in the median of the road, thinking it’s a radar cop.
During breakfast, we verbally plan out the day so that the children and I know what to anticipate. We talk about whether there are any special doctors’ appointments or foster children’s virtual visits with parents or guardians (due to C19, in-person visits ceased). On this day in the life, we also discuss homework for our school-agers, classroom virtual meetings and posts (because mommy is also a teacher) and other things we would like to get done today.
I am usually walking around the kitchen preparing the food for the children as I quickly shove food (usually a banana or protein bar) in my mouth and mix myself an electrolyte energy drink for my jump-start to the day.
As the older kids hop on to their tablets to start their homework for the day, younger children do free play in the playroom. I do my best to guide the big kids in their classroom work and activities, but like to allow them some space to read and figure out their assignments on their own.
After some morning work time, we head outside to play and explore. We usually end up spending anywhere between 4 to 8 hours of our day outside playing, discovering, and “making them tired”. We do our animal chores first and then kids can play whatever they’d like outside.
Mid-morning: A foster child may have a virtual visit with a doctor for a development evaluation, virtual physical therapy checkup, virtual feeding therapy checkup, or more. All of these things are very difficult to do virtually, however, as parents we try to do the best that we can for our children during these times. At least a virtual check-in or evaluation gets the child contact time with the professionals and keeps them on the calendar for future routine appointments.
Due to the baggage and trauma that any foster child carries, at any time during an evaluation or virtual visit (or physical visit), a child may break down in distress or be overwhelmed with stimulation or assimilation of past experiences. We do our best to parent, comfort and love through these hard times. Before the virus hit QCA, visits were in-person and were a very different experience for kids compared to the ones we do now over a tablet.
We hop back inside for lunch, and as the kids wash their hands and help each other buckle into their booster seats I whip out their lunch trays and assembly line their fruits and veggies first. In our house, this has become known as the “starter”. I do tend to serve lunch and dinner in courses as I have found that they tend to eat up all of the first things I put on their plate. Keeping in mind food trauma, we try to be sensitive to what we feed and put in front of the kids. Sometimes they let us know that they do not like something or that they do not have fond memories or experiences associated with a certain food, and sometimes they cannot tell us and it results in a breakdown.
After lunch I know that we are in the home stretch before naptime, a.k.a. my most productive time of the day. If I can get all the children to nap at the same time -during the Pandemic especially-it is a banner day! The kids have some free play time as I help them clean up lunch. I also get out my computer so it’s ready for me to jump into work chats and work on lesson plans to post for the day.
I make sure that everyone has clean diapers and full tummies before laying them down for naptime. Warm bottles & 40 ‘Last drinks’ of water before they snuggle in. Can’t forget each kiddos’ favorite comfort items, snuggies, blankies & pacis- some which look like they’ve been through hell and back as the only consistent in a child’s life.
Now it’s go-time for this mom and her work. I hop onto the computer to check emails- from caseworkers, lawyers, legal guardians, Family First facilitators, and more. I try to respond to as many as possible and read updates and case plans through to see what the week might hold.
Then on to multiple team-planning sessions and google classroom chats that quickly fill my screen and nap time. I upload videos of my daily virtual teaching and lessons- that I did voice-overs for at in bed at 10 the previous night. As I glance at the clock I see that the past two hours have flown by. The kids will need to shift out of naptime soon or they won’t sleep through the night. If I have a few minutes to myself to unwind, I have a piece of chocolate & a big glass of ice-cold water, glance at Facebook, and see what the world ‘looks’ like today.
Facebook is a funny thing for any family that fosters because by law- in order to protect their privacy and safety rights- you cannot post images of your foster children and label them as such. This is something that we have grown accustomed to. It is hard to swallow though, when friends have biological babies and share their monthly pics, milestones, and firsts like riding a bike, getting or losing teeth, first/last days of school, summer adventures, family activities, birthdays, etc.
We love to see what you’re doing- but a tiny piece of me is jealous that you get to share your cutie-pies, and I cannot. During this pandemic- when my lifeline to the world is social media and the TV news, it’s difficult not to take it personally. I have to remind myself that what I’m doing is valid and worthy, even though there is no social media sharing of our heart’s mission. Being a foster mom is a silent mission, often unseen and thankless, but these kids are so worthy of our time and love.
Then it’s time to rouse everyone from naps and move onto the afternoon mission: exploring, playing, swimming, biking- things that make us tired so they sleep soundly later.
Dinner, showers, baths, books and bed finish up the kids’ evening on a typical day in the life with our family. I tuck them in soundly with so many “I love you’s” and “sweet dreams”, or sneaking out in silence (depending on the age), never promising that “tomorrow we’ll do X!’” because nothing can be promised. Things in a foster home can change on the daily-kids come and go- the duration is never a known. But they WILL know that in our home they are loved. They will be fed, tired from play & in good company while they are here. I have to stay awake yet to record teaching lessons for my students to see later. This mama is TIRED! Who knew that I’d be balancing raising littles from home, teaching my own kids, and my communities from home?
My home is full but so is my heart. My heart is full of joy and a determination to be the support and guidance that these children need, now more than ever. As I reflect on this particular day in the life, my heart swells. I think of the giggles and laughter over silly jokes. I remember funny things that we saw or were drawn and painted today. I know in my heart that every moment of this mountain of a day as a foster mom- raising children in a pandemic, while allowing life to go on within our walls where they are safe- was a success in ‘letting them be little.’
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Our drive to become an Iowa foster family sprang from my husband and I and our biological children wanting to help kids. It is imperative that ALL people who reside in the home agree to fostering & loving the children. We were wanting to also build a bigger family, having struggled with secondary fertility and trying to conceive for over ten years with two rainbow babies and two earthly baby blessings. We wanted to make a positive difference in the world.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say that our faith played a big role in us taking this path as well. After becoming a state-certified foster and adoptive family through the local Four Oaks agency-we started getting calls for children in need of a loving, for-now family. If you’re interested in learning more about fostering, Contact Fostering Hope in Scott County, or Four Oaks Family & Children’s Services.
Elise N. Ward, BA; MATLT
PreK-6th grade Visual Arts Teacher
@North Scott Community School District
*Author-Illustrator* Foster Mom* Hobby Farmer *Owner/Seamstress @The Country Button