After bathing the two little ones, I came down to see the three older girls applying my black nail polish to their fingers and toes. When questioned, Ainsley* was discovered to be the culprit.
“I thought she asked you,” Dana* insisted.
“Even if she did, you know your foster mom doesn’t like you wearing black nail polish.” All three of the girls are with me for the weekend only. Ainsley is a new addition but Dana and Natalie* are regulars. They know not to touch my nail polish. And they know their foster mom has forbidden black or bright red nails.
Ainsley, on the other hand, had a few things to learn. This was the second time she’d been with me. The first, last week, came unexpectedly when her foster mom called wanting to drop her off late one night. Things are falling apart in Ainsley’s world. She and her three older sisters have been in foster care nearly a year. It’s a complicated situation I lack the details of. I do know recently, surprisingly, all the criminal charges were dropped. The girls are set to return to their mom. Attempting some sort of continuity, Children’s Aid has decided to wait until the end of the school year. Ainsley is deeply torn between wanting to go home, because she loves her mom, and dreading it because she knows what it will be like. There were days without food. Times when no one cared for her. And likely so much more. Since finding out she’s going home, Ainsley’s been out of control at her foster home. I’m not sure what that looks like, but I know it resulted in her seasoned foster mom wanting to drop her off with me late one night.
Ainsley pouts at the kitchen table. I begin making the bedtime snack (a special treat of s’mores). Do I want to confront her on this? No – my evening will be much more enjoyable if I just let it go. If I do confront her will Ainsley have a melt down? Probably. Will I be able to manage that? I don’t know. Is it fair to lay down the law when she’s going through so much right now? No, but life really isn’t fair.
For foster kids parenting is like a patch work quilt. There are many influences molding these kids. Shirking my responsibility in this moment isn’t doing Ainsley any favours.
“As a guest in this home, you do not go into my cupboards and take things without asking,” I begin.
She shrugs and offers an excuse. She was in the cupboard looking for something else……not sure how that ended in applying my nail polish.
“Ainsley, as a foster child you will be in lots of different houses. Do not use or take things without asking. I’m telling you this to help you. I want things to go well for you here and anywhere else you go.”
She turns away, still pouting. Generally the children I encounter don’t know how to respond. I tend to tell them, in case they’re wondering.
“You need to say, ‘I’m sorry for taking your nail polish without asking. Next time I’ll ask if I want to use something.’”
Her back remains to me. While putting chocolate and marshmallows on graham wafers, I’m bracing myself for an onslaught of rage. This spirited little girl came into foster care with a tendency to steal. I don’t know if her birth mother addressed it. Certainly Ainsley’s foster mom has.
The screaming doesn’t come. Ainsley refuses to apologize. Silently tears stream pulling mascara down her cheeks (something else I’d warned her against earlier that day. Her older sisters tend to put makeup on her. I said, “Not at my house. You’re 8yrs old!”) Tears are a completely normal response and show some remorse! After five years of interacting with extremely volatile children I have to refrain from gathering Ainsley up in a great big hug. When she finally looks at me, Ainsley appears to understand. I pass out the s’mores. Everyone’s happy. Glad I took the opportunity to speak to her. Hoping it’s truth she’ll apply. Because really, taking things out of people’s cupboards isn’t going to endear her to anyone.