"Do you know what this is? That’s right lettuce. What about this, do you know what a carrot is? Good job! You are so smart buddy! Let’s count how many banana’s momma is getting. Do you like apples? Do you want strawberries, aren’t they your favorite?"
Shopping with a foster placement can be rough. There is a lot of stimulus. They see a lot of food options from their previous life that are not the healthiest. You try to get things they will like or try. And lastly there are limited options if/when a meltdown begins. But we keep trying. Because it will help him be a successful adult. Facing triggers in small, controlled opportunities helps him rebuild a narrative of what being in public means. And let’s face it. Sometimes you just need to go to the store because you have no food to feed your three toddlers and you are home alone again so you have to take your said three toddlers with you.
Our last trip was not as successful. Bear (3) did not earn the sucker at the end of the trip after repeatedly making poor choices. He was determined to earn it this time. And he tried very hard because he could sense that I had already had a pretty rough day. I needed this win and much as he did. So we gave each other some grace. And we said some extra I love you’s as we walked up and down the aisles.
I had precariously stacked the cart with all I could fit while have three children in the cart as well. My boys remained occupied with deli chicken poppers and their water while baby girl slept up front after finishing her bottle. I braced myself and made my way to the check out.
"Ok, you are so close to earning your treat. You have been such a big boy and made great choices. Give me some knuckles! I’m going to need you to do one more thing, can you stand next to the cart so we have somewhere to put our groceries after we pay and can you walk like big boy to the car?" He smiles at the opportunity of freedom and I can already see he is reaching his stimuli limit. I take him out and show him how to help open up the grocery bags for our cashier like my mom taught me as a toddler to keep me occupied. Cue a woman walking up behind us to check out that had smiled at us several times in the store.
We get a lot of stares at the store. So this wasn’t particularly unusual. First, my kids are freaking adorable. But second, we live in a predominantly white, elderly, town. So a young white woman with three very dark children who are so close in age is not a common sight to behold.
She smiles again. "Are you the one I heard asking if he knew what a carrot was?"
"Yeah!" I said oblivious, reminding the kids to use their inside voices.
She leans in and whispers "You a foster mom?"
"Yeah!" I breathed a sigh of relief being in the presence of someone who understands the secret community I am living in that moment.
"We fostered for two years until my parents needed full time care. I wish we could do more. It is so needed. I would like to pay for your groceries."
"You really don’t have to!" I said stunned.
"I know. I want to. Save up for the holidays that are coming. Thank you for all that you do."
And I knew this was meant to be. And it did not have to do with me, or my ability to pay for my humble grocery cart that I had raced through to get. No, this was not about needing monetary help. This was about my need today for feeling embraced by others who get it. And this was about her feeling like she is still able to help in the way she currently can. And this was about our children, even as young as they are, seeing there are good people who want to help us. This is about showing them to look for the helpers. And to be the helpers.
"Oh my gosh, thank you so much!" I said still very stunned after the awful foster care day I had had and in complete awe of the thoughts racing in my head about the gravity of it.
Even as this is happening Bear is hitting his limit and becoming overwhelmed. He is trying to get away from me, not listening, becoming increasingly louder, and beginning to rev up into a panic attack. I ask him if he needs a hug and pick him up and he melts into my arms. I caught him before the breaking point.
"He is one of our newest, so he is still learning how to be in public."
She looked at me with the smile of someone who understood what I had just said on a level only another foster parent can.
"Can I give you a hug? Boys can you say thank you to this nice lady?" I try to hold it together as she puts her card in the machine and then before I know it she whisks back to her cart and she is gone.
"Why you cryin’, momma? You sad?"
"No baby, have you heard of happy tears? These are happy tears. Momma is really happy. That was a very nice lady. She helped us because she could. And that is what we do. We help others when we can."