Unicef has a program called “1,000 Days.” It focuses on good nutrition during the first 1,000 days from the beginning stages of pregnancy until a child’s second birthday. Their website declares,
“Good nutrition in the 1,000 days between a woman’s pregnancy and her child’s second birthday sets the foundation for all the days that follow… We are the leading non-profit organization working in the U.S. and around the world to improve nutrition and ensure women and children have the healthiest first 1,000 days.”
What an admirable mission!
The “1,000 days” period since my foster son came into our care (not since he was conceived, not since he was born) has now also come and gone. He has been a “ward of the state” (I shiver at that term) for almost 1,100 days in fact, still with no end in sight. For anyone not quick at math, yes, that’s three years “in the system.” Yes, that’s double the time that Federal law allows a child to live like this. Only there’s no one enforcing the law; the judge can flip past the case number literally as many times as it conveniences his grace’s schedule.
So… what does it look like when ALL the days of your life are spent with no certain future? Here’s what it looked like for my son:
He smiled his first real smile.
He spoke his first word.
He started walking.
He calls me “mommy” and my husband “daddy.”
He wears shoes and plays in the snow and waves at me from the top of the sliding board. He points out airplanes and hides when he has a dirty diaper and whines when he’s hungry. He plays with Duplos and colors with crayons and eats cake and goes to the doctor’s and rides in the van and gets sweaty and takes naps and looks under the rug for candy and cleans up his toys.
He also exhibits signs of trauma and displays huge amounts of stress. He is inconsolably clingy and has to be in contact with my skin and weeps before visits and vomits afterwards.
Then he yells peek-a-book and pulls his hood up and says that a sheep says ‘moo’ just to make his brothers laugh. He builds with blocks and asks me to take his picture and tries to read over my shoulder. He asks to call my mother and bangs his feet on the stairs and sits in the laundry basket like a boat and licks the window and claps his hands and pets the dog for hours.
People ask me so often when they see the very real struggle to cope with the realities that pop up for me as a foster parent,
“How do you do it?”
Every time, I think,
“How could I NOT?”
These 1,000 days, just like the Unicef nutritional period, are foundational to this little person’s future. He has learned to smile looking at my face, to form words by listening to his brothers, to walk by standing on my husband’s feet, to dance (most unfortunately) by wiggling along with me to The Beach Boys, and to bow his head to Jesus before meals—he’s learned all of this by being in our family and by living in our life.
Foster care isn’t just about keeping him safe today (although that is inestimably important); it’s also about helping to establish who he is so he can grow into who he will be.For more resources for learning about, and dealing with foster families, please visit our Hope 4 Hurting Kids Foster Families Help Center.