‘Don’t worry, little man. I’ve got you,’ I whispered. His amazing brown eyes locked onto mine.’: Foster dad’s ‘knees hit the pavement, sobbing’ after son returned home, ‘I could still hear him screaming’

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“My wife and I were foster parents for a city close to our home. It was my idea and my heartstrings were pulled the hardest. We went into it together and with our eyes wide open… or so we thought.

It took almost 8 months to get our license and another 2 months to get our first placement. We had said yes to an earlier call, but a jurisdictional issue arose, and that child was placed elsewhere.

On a Thursday afternoon shortly before Christmas, our social worker called.

‘Would you guys be interested in a 15-month-old boy with medical issues?’

I nearly choked and stammered out, ‘H-h-hang out lemme call Emily!’

I got her on the phone, she said yes, then I said yes and then we patched our worker back in. We said yes, we were sure. She told us he was likely being removed the next day and she’d call us that morning with some updates and confirmation.

We went home and nested. Hard. I made and remade the crib, shuffled toys around, put the car seat together and shoved it into my car and the other seat into my wife’s truck. We didn’t know who would be picking him up, so we needed to be prepared. I rummaged through our stash of clothes and got out what I thought would be the right size. I packed a diaper bag and put it in my wife’s truck, but (naively) didn’t put one in mine.

I had to take more than the regular dose to get any sleep that night and the next morning/day of work wasn’t much better. I was frantic all day long, constantly checking my phone and my email. After about a dozen phone calls, we finally heard that he was being taken to social services to get picked up.

My wife was occupied, so I jumped into action. The sun was already going down by the time I got into my car and snow was starting to fall. Let me just tell you, our city is NOT prepared for snow. At all. People start to drive insanely bad almost immediately.

Getting to this beige, intimidating building took what felt like forever. I pulled into the garage downstairs, snagged the make-shift diaper bag I had packed from a run to a dollar store and headed inside.

I was ushered into a large cube farm and a very tall man turned around, holding a beautiful, dark-skinned little boy in his arms. The toddler was completely passed out, wearing a too-small onesie with a printed tie on it and too-short pants. I took him into my arms and the moment his skin touched mine felt like electricity flowing through my entire body.

I didn’t care that I didn’t know him 5 minutes ago. I didn’t care that he smelled like cigarettes. I didn’t care that I didn’t know what color his eyes were or what his voice would sound like or what his last name was.

In a split second, this 15-month-old stranger became part of me. The entire focus of my world shifted and at the center of it all was him.

I stumbled into a chair, cradling this (rather heavy) sleeping toddler in my arms and managed to quickly sign paperwork without waking him up. As I prepared to leave, they handed me a gigantic coat and I clumsily covered him in it as I walked out of the office.

I rode down the elevator with the social worker, who opened the door to the parking garage for me and said, ‘Good luck!’ before I could even turn around to acknowledge and thank her.

At the car, I shrugged the coat off of him and carefully placed him in the car seat. His amazing brown eyes opened and locked onto mine. I froze and stared at him, taking in every part of his face.

‘Hi, K. I’m Jordan. Don’t worry, little man. I’ve got you,’ I whispered to him, tucking a blanket around the closed buckle of his car seat.

I got into the car and called my mom (with the hands-free option, obviously) and nearly hyperventilated as I slowly drove home with my first son in tow. She laughed at my hysteria in a supportive, ‘what have you gotten yourself into’ kind of way and we hung up as I pulled into our driveway.

My wife was home, waiting on pins and needles while our dogs worriedly paced around the downstairs. Apparently, they were keenly aware that something was up, but they weren’t sure what.

I gathered him up into my arms and carried him inside. Emily had Michael Bublé playing over the Bluetooth speaker downstairs and the fire was going. The ‘cozy’ vibe was unmistakable, and K sat up in my arms a little bit to look around as I stepped into the foyer.

Emily raced over and started to reach for him. I begrudgingly handed him over (I’m selfish, what can I say?) and smiled at her as she got the same electric feeling, I did at first touch.

‘He’s perfect,’ she said, grinning at me.

I grinned back and agreed: he was perfect. I made him a bottle, got them settled on the couch with the dogs close at hand, and went upstairs to find a diaper and PJs. We got him dressed, got all of his stuff into the washer, and I tore myself away from my little family to pick up the first of his many medications.

The first night, I barely slept. I was so terrified of having this baby in our house. What if he suffocated in his sleep? What if he threw up and choked on it and died? What if his heart just…stopped? What if he climbed out of the crib and smashed his head on the floor and died? What if they call us on Monday and say they’re taking him?

It was sheer panic.

The panic only intensified the next morning when we woke up at 10 a.m. to find that he was still asleep. This kid had been asleep for 14 hours already. Surely, we couldn’t be this lucky…he must be dead. I went in and heard his tiny (adorable) little snores. He was fine, just exhausted. We let him sleep and finally heard him stirring around 11. Yes, that’s 15 hours of sleep without waking. This would not be the last time this happened, either.

For the first few days, he was quiet and stoic. He was snuggly, fighting off multiple infections, and generally just zonked. By the end of the weekend, with 3 full days of antibiotics and an inhaler on board, he was ready to rock. Suddenly he was grinning and giggling and crawling all over the place! He was hungry almost all the time, constantly reaching for our food. Unfortunately, we had been told it was formula-only and so we had to keep his hands off our pizza.

We got him loaded up on clothes, since he’d come with none that fit, and basically spoiled him rotten. Toys and blankets and clothes and pretty much anything a little dude could ever want. He became best friends with our dogs in a matter of days and they were constantly nearby. Our little one, Browser, was fascinated with licking him directly in the mouth (which…ew) and our larger dog, Wall-E, simply kept a watchful eye over him like he’d done with every litter of foster kittens we’d ever had.

The first time we heard his voice I nearly fell over. He’d been so quiet, aside from small giggles. And then all of a sudden, he looked at me and said, ‘EH???’ Loud and shrill and focused at me. I looked at him and he did it again. He repeated this until I finally caught on: he was waiting for me to do it back.

I repeated his sound, albeit at a lower volume, and he smiled and turned back to the toys in his lap.

This exchange would become a fundamental part of his communication with us because he didn’t talk for 3 months. We referred to it as his ‘echolocation’. If we left the room and he wanted to know where we were, he would scream ‘EH?’ and wait for us to answer. He’d continue this conversation with us while crawling through the downstairs until he found us (almost always a short distance away in the kitchen).

Once he felt like we’d really gotten into the game, he started using it to check if we were still paying attention to him. He’d do it on the way home from school. He’d do it while eating if Emily and I were too busy talking to notice he’d finished his bottle and now wanted to go play. He did it to ask us to identify things, like each dog by name or a car driving past.

His first word to us was ‘dog?’ which came out more like ‘dah?’ We were floored. He knew exactly what a dog was. He’d point at our dogs and say ‘dah?’ and we’d confirm that yes, that was still a dog just like it was 15 seconds ago when you asked. He would also say ‘dah?’ anytime he saw any other dog (and sometimes cats because those things are confusing) and whenever he heard a dog in the neighborhood barking.

We took him to an Ikea once and he was having a whiney day. My mother handed him a stuffed lab puppy and he grabbed onto it with both fists. He never let the thing go. We had dozens and dozens of stuff toys for him to choose from at home but no, Puppy was now part of the pack. He took Puppy to school, used Puppy as a pillow, and chewed Puppy’s tail and ears pretty much constantly.

Eventually, the time came for him to return home. In 4 months he had learned to walk, learned 6 words, 12 signs, and had attended nearly 30 appointments ranging from pulmonary to speech therapy. Picking him up from school was one of the most painful experiences I’d ever had. His teachers were sobbing, we were sobbing, and there was so much confusion on his face as we woke him up from his nap and took him to the car.

We drove to the same building where we’d picked him up, played with him in the front seat while we waited for the clock to strike 3 and then held hands as we walked him through the garage with all his belongings. We had planned to wait there until his mother arrived so we could give him directly to her, but a social worker he’d never met came down in the elevator, took him from our arms, and told us we could leave. It wasn’t really an offer as much as it was a strong suggestion.

He looked at us in panic as we started to walk away and screamed at the top of his lungs, shoving against the stranger holding him. We waved goodbye, blew him a kiss, and walked out into the parking garage.

Before I knew it, my knees were on the pavement and I was sobbing into my hands. I could still hear him screaming and it took every part of my strength to not go back racing inside to take him back. Emily managed to catch herself on a wall to hold her up while she sobbed, but she was as crushed as I was.

There are simply no words to describe the feelings of foster care. We grieved for this child like he had just died, even though he was very much alive. We were thrilled for his mother to get him back, even while our hearts felt ripped from our chests. We regained our freedom, but our silent house suddenly felt empty and oppressive. No more giggles. No more echolocation. No more bottles or baths or bedtimes. There was just none of him left.

Foster care is a challenge. It tests and breaks and reforms every part of who you think you are. It was painful and exhausting and frustrating, but it was also rewarding and happy and the best thing I’ve ever done with my life.

Despite the shed tears, the anger, and everything else that I could rant about surrounding foster care…I’d do it all again a thousand times over if I could.”

Courtesy Jordan Shea

This story was submittted to Love What Matters by Jordan Shea. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

Read more touching stories like this:

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‘Are you willing to foster a teen?’ I was 19, single, male. I set up the interview, thinking I wouldn’t be taken seriously.’: Man who grew up in foster care adopts 3 children, ‘I want them to grow up loved’

‘I’ve never had real parents before. I’ve waited my entire life to be treated the way y’all treat me.’ Couple adopts 18-year-old who was ‘abandoned by his birth mother with no name’

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