Doug & Linda
My visit to Doug and Linda's home was a re-acquaintance with old friends who have fostered for many years. We met while I was serving as foster parent licensor for New Hampshire Division for Children, Youth and Families. I remembered them as active foster parents who were instrumental in establishing the local foster parent association and support group.
The trip to their small town took me over country roads and eventually to the Archers modified cape-style home. Several attached additions had been built as various foster children joined them over the years and additional space became necessary. Entering the driveway, it occurred to me that, even though Doug Archer has longevity at a job that pays well, the family is firmly committed to fostering, forsaking the traditional middle class dream of owning a stylish, modern home for the challenge of fostering.
When I arrived, I found Doug alone in the gravel driveway playing basketball. "I have to practice to stay in shape," he explained, "My boys are already better at it than I am and I won't be able to keep up unless I practice," referring to his teenage son, Charlie, his two adopted sons, Will and Marty, whom he and Linda fostered for some time prior to their adoption, and their various friends. "Come on in, Linda's inside," Doug said. A large white cat waited patiently at the kitchen door and all three of us went inside. Even with their hectic schedules, Doug and Linda found this evening free for my visit. They are very busy with trips to soccer games, wrestling tournaments, basketball and baseball practice. The kids are all involved in sports, except for 3 year old Annie, their current foster child."Annie's asleep," Linda said. Looking over her shoulder toward her son, she warned, "don't you dare wake her up, Charlie!" Charlie, who is inclined to tease his mom, slipped out the back door taking both the keys to the family truck and his friend, Bob, with him.
The Archers and I reminisced. They told me about their son Will, for whom they originally provided protective day care in the first months of his life so that his teenage mother could attend high school. Born prematurely he had sustained some damage. Over the years, Will has courageously coped with some fairly serious health problems and overcome many of them.
When Will was an infant, his teenage mother and father realized they could not cope with his medical problems in addition to their own problems and asked Doug and Linda to raise him. An "open" adoption was arranged which gave Will's parents the opportunity to continue to be involved with their child, should they choose to do so. They did not. Currently, Will's mother is married and doing well. Linda saw the wedding announcement with her picture in the paper and cut it out for Will. "We tried to stay in contact with her but she has a new life and feels that she made the right decision. Will's father moved away and we lost contact with him. Will is doing very well. He is accepted and loved by all family members."
Marty had a more difficult time due to his mother's mental illness. His was also an open adoption and his mother contacts him occasionally. Marty's grandparents are involved with him and visit from time to time. He, too, fits in well with the family. In another situation, the Archers fostered five year old Mickey for about a year. Various relatives and both of Mickey's parents were involved with him off and on throughout the placement. It was obvious to Linda and Doug that Mickey's parents and his grandparents loved him. Unfortunately these relatives had made choices in their own lives that made it unsafe for Mickey to live with any of them. His mother chose an abusive partner and gave Mickey to his father, Steve. Steve was young and unprepared to parent Mickey. The situation deteriorated and Steve lost his temper. The grandparents reported abuse and Mickey was placed with the Archers.
Steve was the lead guitarist in an active local rock group. Drinking is often a temptation in that profession; Steve succumbed to it and became an alcoholic in the process. Steve knew he was in trouble and was glad his son was in foster care. He met with Doug and Linda. They encouraged him to take charge of his life, but they didn't judge him. Steve thought about his situation and decided to improve it. He began counseling and attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings three times a week. "He really tried," Doug said, "and it was very hard for him." Steve began visiting with Mickey at the Archer foster home. "With all the meetings, counseling, trying to hold a job and playing in the band, it was a lot for Steve. He had no time for himself, yet he made time to visit," Linda added. "We really like Steve. He loved to talk, once he got to know us. When things improved enough for the Agency to allow Mickey to visit with him over night, he'd ask us if he had handled various situations right. If we praised him, he'd try harder and it made him feel good about himself," Doug said. Will made friends with Steve and they talked about basketball a lot. This made Mickey feel good. He seemed to really want his foster family to like his father and his grandparents, as well.
During a lull in the conversation, my eyes wandered to a cup which sat on the table. On the cup were the words, "A Grandmother is God's way of teaching us about love." "My granddaughter gave it to me," Linda said, picking up the up and turning it in her hand. Though Linda seems too young to be a grandmother, the sentiment of teaching love rang true. Doug resumed the conversation, "Steve has Mickey with him now. He visits us and talks about how his life is going. He still asks for advice and sometimes I tell him that I would have handled it the same way he did. Steve responds to encouragement. He had such a poor image of himself. He told us that he came from a `good family' and that he lived in a city north of here." "He's like one of our own children, you have to push him a little and encourage him a lot," Linda commented.Steve has had Mickey for about a year now. The Archers help out with child care now and then and take Mickey to the stock car races. His grandfather used to take him frequently but has since moved away. Mickey misses going to the races with his grandfather and the Archers help fill the gap. Doug noticed that Mickey is a natural athlete. He was particularly good at soccer and was on the soccer team when he lived with Linda and Doug. Steve can't afford the fees for Mickey to remain on the team.
Steve wants to do it all and be responsible for everything. Doug feels that this is commendable and doesn't want to interfere. He told Steve about Mickey's skill and the availability of soccer scholarships. Steve wants Mickey to participate, but finds it hard asking for help. Doug had been the league soccer coach for years and just retired from coaching this past year. He is considering a return to coaching to help Steve because Mickey can get a reduced rate if the coach enters him.
"Between all of us, we came up with this idea and I think it will work out to everyone's satisfaction. Steve is pleased. He is doing so well!", Doug said.
Annie stirred on the couch and soon came toddling into the kitchen, rubbing her eyes. She has been with the Archers since infancy. Her mother and father live in a distant state. Her grandparents live nearby and visit as often as possible. A relationship has been built up between the parents, the grandparents and the Archers. In fact, the parents designated Linda and Doug as Annie's God parents. "The parents got involved in one of those advocacy groups for folks whose children have been removed from their home and placed in foster care. I don't necessarily agree with what these groups do or say, but I understand why Annie's parents feel the need to belong to it. I might have done the same thing if my kids were placed in foster care," Doug said. "It is important that we all become part of the team and that includes foster parents, social workers and the child's family. We all need to be involved in planning for the foster child's future." Linda continued, "It's hard when they leave. Once, we had a little brother and sister in our home for about 2 years who became freed for adoption. The Agency asked us if we were interested in adopting them. We had to take a realistic look at where our lives were going. Our kids were growing up. Several had already left home and now have families of their own. We felt it would not be fair to adopt the children at that point in our lives. It was very hard. A good adoptive home was found and we were able to help with the transition into the new family. We knew it was the right thing to do, but it still hurt, even though we liked the new family. We all missed the children terribly.
You don't have to be born into our family to bond with us. Our kids love the foster children, they always have. Once you come into our family, you're a member. That's just the way it is."
I remembered this story as Linda retold it. I thought about the wonderful job the Archers had done with those two children, how they encouraged and assisted the new adoptive parents, - and how they wanted to close their foster home when the children left as they advanced through the grieving stage. "Then Joan, the children's social worker, called me and told me that she had a sweet little girl with some medical needs who needed to be placed in foster care. I told her that we were closing our foster home. Joan just said, `Let me bring her out to show you, so you can see her. She's so cute!' and she hung up quickly before I could answer," Linda said. Joan arrived at the Archer home shortly thereafter bringing with her a tiny premature baby girl with a mop of dark curly hair. The child looked up at Linda with big, trusting blue eyes and Linda was hooked. Annie has been with them ever since. I remembered what Linda had said, "You don't have to be born into our family to bond with us. Once you come, you're a member."
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