Meet Jennifer: Special Foster Mama

This marks week four of Divine In The Daily’s 5-week guest post series titled Special Mamas! Every Wednesday in May, we’re honoring real-life mamas who have big hearts and stand bold and courageous in their unique mothering roles.

Three weeks ago, Jennifer Camp, blogger at You Are My Girls and mother of three from Northern California, kicked off our series with a guest post titled When Mothers Cry Rescue. 

Two weeks ago, Tamara, mother of seven, was honored with a family photo session and beautiful tribute from her husband and children in this post!

And last week, MNAutismMom, shared anonymously about the joys and challenges of raising her five-year-old son who has autism in this post.

This week, we continue the series with a guest post from my husband’s cousin, Jennifer! I met Jennifer almost 18 years ago. She is kind, loving, beautiful, and genuine. Anyone who has seen Jennifer around children knows she has a special fondness for them. I invited Jennifer to guest post as part of this series because I want to acknowledge the commitment she’s made to children in her life, and honor her special role as foster mom. Jennifer and her husband, Brian, have the great fortune of providing children stability in the midst of instability.

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a mom.

I was lucky to grow up in a family where my mom was able to stay at home with us kids while dad worked and provided for the family. Mom set the example of being a good, kind, fun, and loving mom. Her songs were endless, her cooking plentiful, and her love, never ending. I suppose it was because of her and the fact I loved children that I wanted to grow up and be a mom.

So I began this “mom” journey with babysitting. My first clients were my three cousins, Seth, Stephen, and Jacob. I had to be 12-years-old in order to babysit, and I couldn’t wait. I made $1.25 an hour for three kids and loved working four hours so I’d get a five dollar bill. I was a good babysitter. I entertained them with my musical abilities, knew enough to cover the TV screen when Charo from Love Boat came out in her skimpy bikini top, cleaned and did dishes, and often gave too much ice cream. Basically, I was playing house and I loved it!

As I got older I still loved to babysit. My jobs out of high school mostly involved children. I worked at the YMCA, taught swimming lessons, and worked in the nursery. I was a camp counselor at an overnight camp, and did a few summers as a day camp counselor.

My goal, my dream, was to be married by the time I was 19 and then we’d have children. I didn’t know then, that at age 44, I would still not have children. I was expecting things to work the old traditional way – meet someone, get married, and then have kids. Well, I didn’t have boyfriends in high school and didn’t date after high school either, so meeting someone just wasn’t happening.

In my mid-twenties, my youngest brother got sick with leukemia, had a bone marrow transplant, and after five months in the hospital, died.  This event, this illness, this death, and the impact it had on me and my family was overwhelming. As I look back on it, I feel like I lost a lot of years. Much of my free time was spent with my grieving parents keeping them company. Seven years after my brother died, my father died. Life got worse for me before it got better.

What was extremely hard for me during all these years was not having someone to share my life, my love, and hurt with. I felt so alone. I couldn’t understand why God wouldn’t help me find someone to share my life with when a mate and children is what I wanted more than anything.

During those years lost, I didn’t give that much thought to children, as I was so consumed with everything else. Then in my early 30s, I had my first boyfriend. Yes, it was THAT long! One day, he made a comment that “our grandkids would be running all over the house.”  I was somewhat dumbfounded. I had never thought about having grandchildren. I hadn’t even had kids yet! That boyfriend didn’t last long, but the spark for kids was ignited within me again.

I had made a decision. I called my local county social services department and inquired about foster care. After several months of trainings and meetings, I became a licensed foster parent and it wasn’t long before I got my first call to take in a child. One child turned into two children, a brother and sister, ages 10 and 11, and since it was school break for them, I got the class guinea pig as well.  There it was, instant motherhood! It was great. I got to cook for them, talk with them, play with them, and even tuck them in, then they’d wake up and I’d repeat. These kids were good kids – fun, friendly and yes, somewhat scared. They’d never been in foster care before and were careful to not share too much. Fortunately, their mom was decent and had just made a bad choice, so the kids were with me for two weeks and then went back to their mother.

Next, I had two brothers, ages six and seven. One quiet and reserved, the other a constant talker, dancer and singer.  These two children came to me with 11 articles of clothing between the two of them. I took them shopping a couple days later and bought them Batman Underoos. One of my greatest memories was seeing the joy of these two freshly bathed boys running around the living room and dining room pretending they were Batman, wearing their black t-shirts with Batman emblems on the chest and undies with thick yellow trim. They’d get up on the couch, give a bounce and fly off. I didn’t even care they were jumping on the couch – this is what boys do, so fly Batman, fly! As cute as they were, they came with challenges too. The younger Batman would constantly turn the dimmer light in the dining room on then off, on then off. Forget chasing him, because he was younger and faster and kept changing his direction, so I looked ridiculous chasing a six-year-old around a table. (How many of you have done this?)

I’ve had green olives tossed in my dining room, crayons dropped down my heater vents, and toys thrown against bedroom walls I’d spent hours painting and stenciling beautiful for the kids. I’ve had a teenager run away as I was showering and getting ready for a blind date. That’s a great date opener, “Hi! Nice to meet you! Um…sorry, but I have to call the cops and report a runaway.” We had a nice night, but with the police showing up, I didn’t hear from him again.  There was screaming, hitting, biting, throwing, everything other kids probably do, and then “You’re not my mother.”  “No I’m not, but I’m loving you as one right now.”

Many have said, “Oh, it’s so great you are doing foster care, how wonderful of you, you’re a saint, they are so lucky to have you.” But the truth is, I was and am lucky to have had them.

I got to celebrate a child’s 8th birthday! I was able to cook and bake for children, do their laundry, read to them, drive them to school, attend choir concerts, play games, teach them to swim, hug them and wipe their tears…all the things a real mom gets to do every day. I got to see Kat, a girl I had for respite care on weekends, grow in more ways than you can imagine – from hygiene, to school, to self-esteem. I got to see Cass, a girl who has been on her own since 16, maintain a job and pay rent, learn to cook for herself and actually clean her room. Both of these girls graduated from high school and Kat has done some college courses. I couldn’t be prouder.

While I still do not have children, I did meet a wonderful man, and Brian and I married the day after my 40th birthday. I knew if God was going to make me wait so long to find someone, he was going to be good man. And God didn’t disappoint!

After taking seven years off from foster care, Brian and I have become licensed together and can take in foster children again. We are excited about the journey of doing this together, having kids in our home and making memories. I’m trusting God will guide some children into our home so this can be their forever home. And perhaps one day, someone may truly call me “Mom.” Until then, I’m grateful for every hug and every hand I get to hold, and I’m happy to be their Special Mama for as long as I am needed.

Jennifer

 

  1. Corri Rhoades-Bragg says:

    My kids have never been so lucky to have a special Aunty and Uncle in their lives. You always do way more than you give yourself credit for!! Thank you for everything you have done for us. We love you!!

  2. KariLee Babin Pietz says:

    Really a nice blog. May is National Foster Care Month and your story is refreshingly optimistic about this amazing work!

  3. Sue Wentz says:

    This is an awesome article Jennifer Johnson, I’m so proud of you and happy for you and Brian.

  4. Becky Potts says:

    Jennifer Johnson you have been a friend for decades…. so glad that facebook has brought us back together…… billy and doug were close and that loss was so hard for him…. watching this opportunity for these kids to be privileged to be in your care is amazing…. they are so so blessed. I would love for you to take my name that my “bonus” daughters call me…. “bonus” mama. no step or foster…….. your bonus kids could not be more blessed to be placed in your loving home.

  5. Erica Carlson says:

    You are a special mama! I always think about this journey, but haven’t been able to try it myself (maybe one day…)

  6. Mary Bragg says:

    Jennifer and Brian I hope your dreams come true. I can never have too many grandchildren and all those kids called me Grandma. I loved them too. You make me proud Jennifer. Keep up your good work. Love you.

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