At first, he had no words, just lots of screaming. The toddler, a newcomer to their home, would not connect with their eyes. He hardly smiled.
When he cried in his crib, his foster parents dutifully came into his room. They were building trust. Attachment. A human connection to a 17-month-old boy they were just beginning to understand.
Unlike most toddlers who smile and raise their arms in a universally understood expression to say, ‘Pick me up,’ the boy turned away from them.
When they held him, the embrace was not returned.
He didn’t seem to know how to play and threw toys.
This is how life began for the Masons — Wendy and Stephen, and their four children — with a little boy who dropped into their lives and stayed with them for a year.
They have been foster parents for five years. Ten children, from newborn to four years old, have come through the doors of their ranch home in rural Fort Erie, staying for a few days to at most, a year and a half.
They function as a team. Mom, dad and four teenagers from 14 to 18, all tasked with a common goal: consistent love.
In Wendy’s words: “You pretty much have to love with abandon.”
And so they did. Everyone. Did.
They created a play room for the boy in their living room by building a barrier of plastic totes and filling the space with toys. Everyone took turns playing, singing, lying on the floor with him. The kids set a timer for 20 minutes, and rotated shifts.
“It was demanding,” says Stephen.
They smiled at him. Touched him. As a family, they walked together, bounced on a backyard trampoline and made trips to a local zoo park.
When he screamed — and he screamed a lot — Wendy reassured her children: “This is not his fault. He doesn’t trust that we will meet his needs.
“And it’s our job to help him trust.”
In Niagara, there are more children needing foster care than there are local homes to put them in. Family and Children’s Services Niagara has more than 470 children in care, and 141 approved foster homes, said Ann Godfrey, director of development.
That means that some children are placed in homes outside out Niagara. Specifically, there is a shortage of infant homes.
Last fall, there were 20 new foster homes, and just as many who left because of retirement and moving away, she says.
The average family fosters for about five years.
For every 10 calls from people interested in fostering, one becomes a foster parent. The process takes about nine months.
The rewards are deep, said Andrew Sinclair, FACS resource worker.
Indeed, many people have started the process to become a foster parent because they know the Masons. “They say, ‘We think we can do this too’,” he says.
Wendy also helps to train prospective and current foster parents, alongside a FACS worker.
Attachment is critical. Children in care often come from homes where they could not fully depend on and trust a parent. The basic human needs of children — I can go to sleep at night and know I’ll be fed in the morning or if I cry, someone will comfort me — is not a guarantee for kids living in situations of neglect, lack of attention or angry environments, says Sinclair.
Attachment — a crucial human bond between parent and child — is damaged. But not forever.
When the boy came into the family, the remedy was love. Consistent, dependable love.
It was simple and yet very complicated.
At night, when they boy screamed in his bedroom, Wendy and Stephen came to him. He had no words to tell them his needs. They held him. Fed him. Rubbed his back. And there was lots of singing.
Stephen pulled a song from his past. “I see you,” he’d begin in a calm, soothing voice. Again. And again.
His words delivered a powerful message: “I see you. You are seen for who you are, as a child that’s precious.
“Even when you are the most challenging. Even when you are in a fit of rage. I see you.
“We are all a mix of beauty and brokenness.”
When FACS called, requesting that the Masons keep the boy for longer than planned, they said yes. But asked for a weekend break, so they could have time to themselves.
Someone once asked Stephen, a pastor at Redeemer Bible Church in Niagara Falls, a question he often reflects on himself: “Is this a doable hard or is this a destructive hard?”
Is caring for a child with challenges destructive to his marriage, his children, or himself?
Each time, he answers without a doubt: it’s a doable hard.
The life lessons learned will shape their journeys in life, says Wendy.
“It teaches selflessness,” she says. “You grow as a person.”
And part of growth includes loss. Even though the Masons understand their foster children are with them temporarily, letting them go is hard.
“The degree you get attached, you also experience grief and it’s real,” says Stephen. After each of their foster kids have left, they’ve come together as a family to talk, cry and regroup, “without any expectations to get over it at any certain pace,” he says.
Their first foster child was a baby girl. She came to them in 2013 and lived with them for over a year and a half. They watched her take her first steps. Say her first words.
Their son, Jonathan, was 12 when she came to them. “I was skeptical at first,” he says. He held her for the first time at his grandparent’s house.
“She was so small. I remember thinking that she felt so delicate and fragile,” he says.
“I thought, ‘OK, this is some very, very precious cargo.'”
And then she grew on them. “She basically just became my sister,” he says.
The family has learned patience and perseverance. They learned the beauty comes in small moments, like when the boy rested his head on Stephen’s shoulder.
Eight months after he came to them, the screams slowly, gradually were replaced with a limited few words. He learned trust by being held in a family pool. One day, he jumped in from the deck, into awaiting arms.
“You feel like, wow, finally,” says Wendy.
And when they leave, the sadness of loss is replaced by hope.
“You hope you’ve planted a lot of good stuff,” says Wendy.
And then, they welcome another child.
Source: St. Catharines Standard