May is Foster Care Awareness Month, and we couldn’t think of a better way to wrap up the month than with a guest blog by our dear friend Sally Kim. Sally is an Orange County local, affectionately titled a “Mister” by her brothers, a newlywed, and a mother to her honeymoon baby girl, Scout. She’s passionate about foster care and spends her free time representing foster families in the Huntington Beach High School District, and content managing for The Yellow Conference. She is also a wonderful story teller, and we are thrilled and honored to have her share her story with you all on our blog today.
I am a Mister.
People are often taken by surprise when I use this as a description for myself… I’m about 5’5”, blonde, a buck o’ five…you get the picture. I’m a petite, long-blonde newlywed, with blue eyes and a big smile…and I am a Mister.
You see, this title (a term of affection) was given to me by a thirteen year old boy, just a few short months after he had been placed in my custody by Child Protective Services.
I was 22 years old, just months out of college, pursuing good things— I thought I was going to be a missionary overseas or get my Masters in Social Work, or open a safe house for trafficked women… I had big dreams of good things— like a lot of you. But everything changed one night when I received an alarming call from the police: your brother and grandfather have been in an accident, please come right away.
So I went. I went right away, driving on the silent and hallow 405 North at 3am. The only sound keeping me company was my tires hitting the cement, and my fears screaming at me—all the what ifs.
When I arrived at the hospital, one of my what-ifs became true. A tow truck had hit my grandfather and brother while they were sleeping in a car in a small neighborhood. You see, my three brothers and single mom were living with my grandfather, and my birthmom had made a hobby of coming home, drunk, and beating up on one of the free. Almost daily.
I had no idea this was happening until the police informed me that my grandfather died in the accident, and that social services was on the way.
When I was 16, social services got involved after I showed up to my dad’s with a black eye (my stepmom called). I agreed to move out, and told them it was all my fault, out of fear that they would take away all my brothers. In my mind, I had never seen my mom hit any of my brothers, only me. So I thought I was doing the right thing. And I moved on to go to college and even spend holidays with my mom, without living with her again. I had no idea how truly bad things had gotten since I left six years prior.
That morning, I left with one of my three brothers in my care, and went that evening to pick up the other two: ages 2 and 7 at the time. I became their sole guardian, foster parent, that same day.
And one day, some months later, after the chaos of the initial placement came to a cease, after we figured out ride and homework routines, chore charts, and potty training, my thirteen year old brother approached me and affectionately titled me his Mister: mom-sister. And I wear this title like a badge of armor everyday. You may not see the badge, you may not see my story behind my blue eyes and blonde hair, petite frame, but there is a story there, and I am proud of it.
After nearly two years of caring for three, my heart was ripped by the two younger boys being reunified with our birth mother suddenly. Hear me, I am not anti-reunification, but I am anti tearing families apart and placing children back in harms way, simply because there’s lack of proof of abuse when visits are being closely monitored, and the mother wears an anklet that detects alcohol consumption. We had to kiss two of the three boys goodbye, pretending it was a good situation, when inside, we all knew what the reality looked like. My heart still agonizes over what their new normal looks like, after two years of healing, stability, and safety being stripped from them. A few months later, my fiancé, and now husband, and I were able to adopt my teenage brother, now sixteen years old. This is the small hope we carry in our hearts, when hope seems distant. We have this victory. But we also carry with us the daily burden that there are thousands of children in need of a home, protection, and someone to diligently fight for them.
A lot of people hear my story and say things like I don’t think I could ever foster, because I couldn’t say goodbye, or That’s good for you, I’m just not called to it… or Wow, you are so strong… Strength and calling and comfort had little to do with my journey, and even less towards my decision to foster my brothers. I saw a need, I filled it, and I was weak and tired and worn-out every. single. day. The court dates, the visitations, the tantrums…they were exhausting. But the giggles, the snuggles, and the victories, both big and small? Those all made it worth it. Every second of it.
This is my story; and there’s much more to share. But I am one of many. And this is my story of how I stepped in the gap for three foster kids. Not everyone can be (or should be) a foster parent…but everyone is able to do something. Are you a teacher? You are in the front lines of preventing child abuse and neglect. Are you a police officer? Protect them, even if it’s inconvenient. Are you a student? Be the next generation of activists. These are our voiceless. And we have a responsibility to do something.
To read more stories from Sally’s journey, visit her blog.
Come learn more about how you can use your time, skills, and resources to make a difference in the lives of foster children and families at our Foster Care Awareness Event tonight, Saturday, May 30th, at 7:30 PM. We will be screening two award-winning short films, Removed and Remember My Story, and hosting a discussion panel of local Foster Care professionals, organizations, and parents in our area.