By Nick DeConna | Photo by Sincerely Gone Photography
On the afternoon of Jan. 28, my wife and I got an unexpected phone call from the Florida Department of Children and Families. My 6-month-old nephew had been removed from his home with his parents in Delray Beach and placed in a foster facility. As his closest blood relatives, they asked us if we would be willing to shelter him, and without hesitation we responded, “Yes.” That Saturday we had about five hours to get our house inspected by DCF and get the things we needed for him. Thankfully, we have some amazing friends who came over and set us up with everything we needed — even a trash can for diapers!
The first week was intense. My wife and I both have very busy schedules (who doesn’t?) and throwing a baby into the mix really threw us a curveball. There were a few nights around 3 a.m. when the baby was crying and nothing would get him to go back to sleep when we wondered, “What are we doing?” Most parents have nine months to get ready for a baby. We had 18 hours and no instruction book.
We quickly learned a few important things. Days are not always going to go as planned, and you should make the best of any situation. My wife and I had to understand that each of us was trying our best. A little patience, perspective and understanding goes a long way. We also learned the importance of making sure our needs were met. That first week there were times we went without eating, and those days did not go so well. Now, nine months in, we think ahead and make sure we plan our meals and budget time for other things we need to get done for ourselves. The most important lesson? Routine, routine, routine! After about a month of caring for him, we finally settled into a routine that works, and we stick to it as best we can.
On a personal level, I found a new appreciation for time. Pre-baby Saturday morning would find me on the couch watching a Denzel Washington movie for the 15th time, wasting away two hours. On post-baby Saturday mornings, I know that when he goes down for a nap I have between 30 minutes to an hour to myself. That is so much free time! I can do all the dishes, clean the kitchen, start my laundry and clean the back porch. Today, give me 30 free minutes at home and I won’t waste a second of the opportunity to get caught up on chores.
As foster parents, we also had to adjust to giving up some up the freedoms we took for granted. We are subject to home inspections and drug tests. There are no more Saturday mornings sleeping in or running over to our friend’s house on Friday night for drinks around the fire. Before we had the baby, my toughest decision after work was whether to go the gym or meet up with friends for happy hour. Now I need to be at day care on time to get the baby to bed on schedule. Before the baby, we kept a very busy social schedule and never turned down an opportunity for a night on the town. Now our social circle has tightened. We rely on a group of close friends that we know we can call at any time, and we hang out with our friends who also have kids. Before the baby, I never knew people had birthday parties at 10 a.m. That seemed crazy until I started thinking about routines and nap times.
Family and friends often say to us, “You’re doing an amazing thing taking care of your nephew.” For a long a time I did not know how to react when people said this to us, and it took me a while to figure out why it seemed strange to me. It is because when we got that phone call, there was never a question as to whether we should take the baby in and whether, if given the chance, we should keep him. The only answer in our minds was “yes.” We will take care of him and give him all the love and support we can for as long as we can.
This whole experience has made me truly grateful for the wonderful people in our lives. So many friends have offered to babysit for us without knowing that all babysitters of foster children must have a background check. The Junior League of Gainesville provided home-cooked meals most nights during our first few weeks of figuring things out. Most importantly, I am amazed every day at the amount of energy and love my wife puts into making sure our nephew is taken care of in every way possible, from being dressed and ready for day care to having all his medical records up to date. This fostering experience has been a true team effort.