Today was indescribable. I'm exhausted, but I really want to document the day before the details fade...
This morning we had our FST meeting for the girls. We woke up at 5:30, got everyone ready for school, dropped the big kids off ridiculously early and headed down the interstate toward the courthouse a county over. We were the first ones there, and we sat watching out the window for Mommy and Daddy to arrive. There were many people absent from the meeting; it was the GAL, case worker, supervisor, parents, one of the other foster parents, the girls, Amos and I. It sounds like a long list, but that's only about half of the number of people who could've attended. Dad's attorney conferenced in as well. We had a half hour scheduled for a meeting about seven kids.
The meeting started with glowing praise of the family, their efforts, progress with their plan, and general cohesiveness as a unit. Some of the details of the allegations and case were discussed, and talk began about adding time to visits. The plan was for visits to become 3 hours long for a few weeks and then, once the rest of the investigation came through, the visits would become unsupervised. As I sat in that meeting listening to the plans for progress, I was SO excited for our girls and for the parents.
Then it was Dad's turn to speak, and he articulated some very valid points and ultimately requested through his attorney that the children be returned home. I had just sat and listened to plans be made for a more lenient visitation schedule, so even though I'd been praying for this very moment for a couple weeks, I was not at all prepared for what happened next.
The supervisor and guardian ad litem stepped out of the room for a minute, and when they returned, the supervisor suggested that four of the seven kids be allowed to return home. Dad started sobbing and managed to ask, "When?" And then came the answer.
"Today. Right now."
And just like that, our leg of their journey was over. This was our stop.
God is glorious. Last week, we had asked our licensing worker to see what could be done about getting the girls back home. Both Amos and I felt strongly that they needed to be with their parents, that it was best for them. That afternoon, a little over a week ago, we got a call back from her and were assured that the girls would be here through the end of June. I began to prepare for that, but I wasn't giving up. I kept cheering on mom through our text conversations, and I kept praying. Today, God answered prayers! Their sweet family still has a road to travel before all nine of them are reunited, but they took a giant leap today.
After the meeting, we loaded the girls into our car and got to drive them home! The girls were beyond excited, especially big sister! Her feet didn't stop swinging, and every time I looked back at her from the front seat, her sweet face would break out into a huge grin. When we got to their house, we came inside for a minute. Big sister ran into her room and then came back to grab my hand. She was dying to show me her new bunk beds. We talked for just a couple minutes, and then started our goodbyes. I really wanted to leave them to enjoy the girls. We got quick hugs from the girls, big hugs from mom and dad, and then Big Sister walked us to the door. "Bye!" She said, and slammed the door as soon as we were on the porch. She wasn't chancing us coming back for her! Mom opened the door again as we were climbing into our van, and Big Sister's head of curls poked out. She started doing her robot walk, the walk that means she's a little unsure of what's happening around us, and in that moment, as I waved at her and met her eyes, I knew that we had done our job. That she had felt loved in our home. And I was at peace.
After we left, I started worrying about our kids. The whole change of events had caught us all by surprise, and we hadn't warned our kids that the girls could be gone by the time school was out. I was pretty nervous when I picked up Noah and Miriam. We sat in the van and I told them about the meeting and how the girls got to go home to their mommy and daddy. My silly kids took it in stride and seemed mostly happy for the girls and a bit relieved to know that their lives would return to normal. It was the initial reaction I expected. An hour and a half later, I drove up to the middle school to pick up J from track practice. She saw the two empty carseats and asked if we were having a girls' night. I didn't know what to say, so I just blurted out, "The girls went home this morning." I let the words settle in for a moment before I filled her in on the details of the meeting. I could see her mind reeling, processing the abrupt end of our family as it existed for the last two months. And then I saw her bite her lip... I just grabbed her hand and held it. I assured her that even though we were all happy for the girls, it was okay for her to feel ANYTHING that she was feeling. When we got home, I hugged her in the driveway, and she held on tight. She needed the comfort and the assurance that everything would be okay. I held her until she let go, and then we walked into the house and back into our family of five.
Tomorrow we will take the kids after school and deliver the girls' belongings. Hopefully, it will be a chance for our kids to have some closure and to say goodbye to their foster sisters. This is the part of foster care that I'm nervous about-- helping our kids transition BACK to our baseline. But we're taking it one day at a time and learning as we go.