One of the many common questions we are asked about fostering is, "How do you get ready?" and our half-joking answer is always, "Very quickly." Though we're hoping to some day celebrate the arrival of new family members with showers and thought-out fanfare (are puppy showers a thing?), for now our family grows quietly and quickly via frantic trips to Target and Wal-Mart and pleas to family and friends for anything they're not using that might be age or gender appropriate for our kiddo. Here's what I wrote the night we got confirmation of our very first placement - it's a little different that what we usually share, but it was some real-time processing of our whirlwind panic and emotion and under-preparedness for the first of our greatest adventures.
This is what our "yes" looks like. Standing at our kitchen counter together, sharing gross, cold, leftover spaghetti for lunch, jotting down the wildest of notes and to-do list on the back of a used grocery list, questioning how we've lived this long without an apple slicer.
Yes to one question. A million other questions follow.
Where will they sleep?
Our most obvious hurdle.
"From what I've read, a daybed would be a stretch for even just a three year old..." Ethan says. I sigh, staring wistfully at the convertible crib that I'd so intensely researched and painstakingly assembled (currently in its toddler bed conversion from preparation for a previous placement that hadn't ended up coming to our home). "We need a twin."
Our second hurdle.
An ice storm is moving in this weekend. A half inch of ice, one weather report predicts, Hazardous travel conditions expected. Plan on staying home this weekend!
Off to the store today, then. We've been given a gift, lead time to prepare before there is a child on our front steps. We're determined not to squander it. On the way I research IKEA twin beds online (Ethan is driving). Should we call people we know with IKEA beds and ask them about it? I ask. Ethan, ever practical, shakes his head. "A bed is a bed," he says.
What will they eat?
We have no idea what he'll like, what food he's been raised on, or what food he's seen in his short life, so we buy one of everything - applesauce, fruit snacks, frozen fries, popcorn, pretzels, gogurts, eggs, 2% milk, whole milk, apples, oranges, bananas, cookies, bagels, Spagettios, Chef Boyardee - it all goes in the cart.
"We'll eat all of this no matter what," I reason, tossing pop-tarts into our cart. Ethan is delighted. Junk food for days. We'll save organic parenting for another year.
Do they have clothing?
I head over to the kids clothing section, Googling sizing as I walk. Are they tall or small for their age, gangly and all arms and legs, or still carrying a sweet toddler belly?
It's best to buy three or four different sizes, says a recommendation from a popular foster care blog. I grab three different outfits, each a different size. Sweatpants, to allow for wiggle room.
"Save the receipts," Ethan advises, when I hold the outfits up for his approval. "Just in case."
What will they bring?
They can arrive with duffel bags or trash bags holding their only things in the world. The last placement we almost had would have come with nothing.
We have infant toys and a few stuffed animals. Ethan scuttles off to find more age appropriate toy cars and trucks.
As we shop an email from the social worker comes in - this sweet one is coming with toys, clothes, and books. It's a unique situation, but one that we're grateful for. Ethan hustles back to return the kids clothing we picked up.
We still buy a pack of cars - a peace offering for their arrival.
What does our time look like now?
We chat in the car about scheduling. Open up our shared calendars. Currently filling our weeks: two part-time jobs, church, youth group, rare social events, reminders to get the dogs groomed.
What now needs to be added to our iCals: doctors visits, therapy appointments, visitation for little one's parents and family, outings to make the first few weeks with us more kid-friendly.
There are already conflicts in the next two weeks where we're both scheduled to work at the same time. Future Ethan and future Lisa will work that out, we decide. "Yay! A reason to use my planner again!" I add. The organizer in me can't be contained.
Our cart is full. We're tired. There's a haircut appointment this afternoon that can't be rescheduled this last minute. A meeting tonight that needs to be attended. The regular hustle of work and life doesn't stop or even acknowledge that our life is changing at all - there's no grace period or adjustment period to rely on. We know our lives are about to change, but for now, it’s our normal rhythm for a few more days.
We get home and find our older dog has ripped open and eaten an entire bag of treats I'd left within reach. Normal rhythm, indeed. He burps in our face when we kneel down to discipline him. "You're about to be a big brother again," Ethan warns him, "You have to be better than this."
What are we going to tell people? What are people going to say? How do we share this? How do we bring him to church? What will he call us? Does this child even like dogs? Will our dogs like him? Will they scare him? Why does our dog's breath smell like dead fish now? What flavor were those treats?
Endless questions to be asked and answered. We're going to get really good at this.
How are we feeling?
We can't decide. One moment, stressed. Another, surprisingly peaceful. Equal parts terrified, nervous, excited, ready, not ready, okay, not okay, parents, not parents. Feelings that can't be reconciled, but will probably all simultaneously evaporate and multiply by a billion the moment he steps through the door.
For now: chipping away at the do list. IKEA furniture to assemble. Scheduling. House rules. Moving our bathroom things around to make room for little hands and feet. Grooming appointments for the dogs. Googling developmental expectations for his age. Unpacking the car seat and begging one of our already-a-parent-friends to tell us which strap buckles to what. Questioning if practicing buckling our younger dog in the car seat would be considered animal abuse (for the record: of course we didn't). And finally: getting back to the store at some point... We remembered the clothes and the food and the toys and the apples... But we forgot the apple slicer.