A Night at the Foster Home

I often forget we work at an orphanage.

After all, we call it a foster home.  And, if you go there during the daytime hours, the place is buzzing with so much activity that one has no time to think about the fact that all of the children are orphans.  Compared to most orphanages, the place is paradise!  To be honest, on most days, the kids don’t even seem to notice what they’re missing!  Between arts and crafts in preschool, a game of hide and seek on the playground, and a big lunch in the main dining hall with all the other staff and students, it really feels more like a preschool or a daycare.  I usually leave at 5 p.m., and sometimes I half-expect to pass parents pulling into our parking lot to pick up their children after a long day’s work.  
But last night something changed…  I spent the night at the foster home.  All of the daytime management staff are taking turns spending the night at the foster home to show the night nannies that we recognize their contribution and hard work and to better understand what their job is like.  Last night was my turn.  On any given night, there are 3 nannies who care for the children.  Before I go further, I cannot emphasize enough how amazing they are!  Just like the daytime ones, they are loving, patient, and treat the children as if they were their own… but, they are at a disadvantage in that they are outnumbered!  It isn’t a big deal, since for most of the night the kids are asleep and they only need to tend to isolated incidents, and it is certainly a safe and appropriate staffing number, but when it comes to getting 21 kids to bed at once, that’s a lot of work for each of them!  
The foster home is a different place after-hours.  There are no visitors and very few staff (other than the night nannies) who stay past 6:00 pm or so.  I arrived at around 7:00 to begin my night shift.  I started in the downstairs playroom, where all the kids, fresh from their evening baths and with full bellies, were quite ecstatic to have this break from the routine.  From 7:00 to 8:00 it was me and about 7 toddlers, singing songs like Row, Row, Row Your BoatTwinkle, Twinkle Little Star, and the Wheels on the Bus, and playing Ring Around the Rosy and Duck, Duck Goose.  (We usually had about 5 geese at any given point; no one wanted to be ducks!)  The nannies were busy tending to all the little details that comes from mothering 21 kids — making sure everyone who needed it had their evening medications, changing diapers, brushing hair.  So it was just me and the toddlers in the playroom, and being the center of the children’s attention was quite fun — though occasionally a bit overwhelming.  They play until about 8:00 or so, when everyone lines up for a last cup of milk, their own toothbrush, and finally a drink of water — the requisite goodnight tonic for children around the world.  
That’s when I realized I was in an orphanage.
Since there are 15 children downstairs and 2 nannies to put them to bed (the other 6 babies and 1 nanny is upstairs), no one gets the prolonged nighttime routines familiar to many children around the world.  No stories.  No cuddling with mom before drifting off to sleep.  I put Cheryl to bed, and I think she knew I was a softie who was new at this gig.  🙂  As I turned out the light and left her room, she started crying.  (Most of the kids don’t cry at bedtime; it is business as usual and a common routine.)  Even though there was a part of me that knew since every night she has to fall asleep by herself, turning around was only giving her a taste of something she couldn’t have right now, I couldn’t keep going.  I turned around and sat beside her crib, gently stroking her face and singing her a song until her eyes grew heavy.  Cheryl is one of the children who tries to act very strong, yet I see her deep emotional woundings as clearly as I see her disabled leg.  It’s hard to describe, but I know her heart aches for a family…  For a mother to tuck her in every night.  (If we were 30, she’d be at the top of my list!!)  
She’s usually so strong — unnaturally so for a 3 year old.  But tonight in the dark quiet of her bedroom, I saw something in her eyes.  A brokenness… a vulnerability… an openness to and desire for love.  But she was so guarded.  I never let my gaze waver from her eyes, but she could only look at me for a few seconds at a time.  Her eyes would dart away, but then they were back again.  Back and forth she went, until her eyes couldn’t stay open any longer.  
As she fell asleep, I sadly realized something.  No matter what we call it, it is still an orphanage.  No matter what programs we offer and how much we try to make life happy for the kids, there is still an emptiness.  No matter how much we love them, there is still a longing.  And no matter how much we try to heal and bind up wounded hearts, there is still a brokenness. 
As I fell asleep on the couch in our foster home, listening to the soft sounds of a house filled with sleeping children, I dreamed of the day when each of these children has the family they deserve.
Hasten the day…

16 thoughts on “A Night at the Foster Home

  1. Hey CarrieWhat a beautiful picture you painted. What’s interesting is the look on my daughter Mimi’s face who is now 6 years old adopted at 1 from Hunan Province, she still has that sometimes stoic look on her face but holds my hand close to her face at bedtime, as a parent you know she’s been through something. I’m glad you turned around and went back, it’s o.k. blessings to you for a memorable night at the orphanage!


  2. Your post breaks my heart, I love your truth and honesty. It makes me want to hop on the next plane to China and bring home a couple of little ones…if only it were that easy! I still have faith and am trusting that God will allow us to go to China and adopt our 3rd child. There are 2 little girls in particular who I would LOVE to bring home and I would be honored to be mommy to either one or both!! Blessings, Keely


  3. Oh Carrie…I know exactly what you mean. Even though it IS the best place for them now because of their needs and all of the love and attention they get during the day and at night it is not a family.Please Father send families to these children. For little princesses like Cheryl, place your loving hand on their little backs at night and soothe them to sleep. I lift them all up to you and put them in Your Hands.


  4. Oh, Carrie, my tears are falling as I picture bedtime in the thousands of orphanages throughout China. And there are tears of joy … that the Father has sent people like yourself to love on these waiting children (especially as I envision the now-empty cribs of our 3 China-born children). Your post is just the boost I needed today as I fight the discouragement offered up by so many who don’t ‘get it’ when it comes to ‘the least of these.’ We are in the process for our 4th China-born child, and we will continue to heed His call. Blessings to you!


  5. Big tears! I praise him for your loving heart and willingness to serve. He is a mighty vessel through you!!!Oh, I hope one day I get the night shift! Precious babies you are covered in his arms.Keep turning around!


  6. Your post brings tears to my eyes. I see this look in my 8 year old daughter’s face at times even though she does have us as her family. The wounds are deep, having lost her birthfamily in China. I am so thankful we have been blessed with her, and her two sisters also from China. How I wish all children could know the love of a family.


  7. Thanks for your honesty. Yes even the “best” orphanages are not good because the children have no one person to call a forever mom or dad. Also, thanks for your service to Christ.


  8. When I first got Steffi, I sensed that sort of guardedness and closed in feeling. Slowly, she opened up. I read a post recently from the orphanage you worked in briefly before. There was a little boy there who was 13. Some volunteers begged to be able to bring him to the group foster home because they felt he was dying from sadness. They managed to do it. He was just skin and bones and had the saddest look on his face. Dear God, please look after these sweet ones. Virginia


  9. It does cause every atom of mother-ness in you to scream out, doesn’t it? God bless each one of them every day and every night, and may they all have parents to hold them and tuck them in at night.


  10. Your post has me in tears as I wait here in this house for my daughter who I pray is lucky enough to be in a place like yours.God bless you for being there and turning around when we waiting mothers cannot. We appreciate you and the other women who stand in your shoes more than you could ever know.


  11. Carrie, it humbles me at how beautiful your words our about the care and distress of these children. I commend you and Jacob for your ministry. I can’t imagine how this breaks your heart.. God is so pleased to have you two sharing your lives with these precious souls.. Love You!!!


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