This is the story of how I became a writer…
One never knows what strange, yet remarkable opportunities life will throw one’s way.
Ten years ago, my husband Brian and I had no children of our own. This was no big deal to us. We had our careers—decent careers—and plenty of friends. We traveled extensively. We bought cool cars. We built a beautiful home in Pennsylvania overlooking the Susquehanna River. We did whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted to do it. People used to say things to us such as, “I’m sorry you can’t have kids.” And we would respond, “We’re not.” The last thing we expected, or wanted, was to become parents, but that’s exactly what happened.
In late spring of 2009, due to financial difficulties, my company had middle management layoffs. I was one of them. We had plenty in savings to tide us over, so I decided to take some time off and relax, stress free. I took long walks with my dogs every day. I practiced my Steinway—a dream gift I’d given myself a few years before. I got to eat dinner during the week with my hubby again! Every day, because I had nothing better to do, I read the old-fashioned, fingertip-staining newspaper. Not just the articles, but the classifieds, too.
Every day I read this: “Foster parents wanted.”
It took a couple months to broach the subject with Brian. What if I don’t go back to work full-time? What if I do something less stressful? We can cut back on our frivolous spending and still be comfortable. We have this big house with all this space, most of which we don’t use. What if we open up our home to a kid who doesn’t have one?
We chose the foster care agency, the Bair Foundation, because it was recommended by someone from our church. Soon enough our interviews were complete and our parenting classes began. The folks at Bair were in full agreement, Brian and I would take two placements—teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18. This was where we would be the best fit, both for the kids and for us. Brian and I certainly didn’t want anything to do with wiping snotty noses or diapering. No, we would do better with kids who were, for the most part, physically self-sufficient. We would be better with kids who primarily needed emotional mentoring. The older kids, too, were the ones other families were least likely to take in, weren’t they? And after all, what teenage boy wouldn’t admire an athlete and a drummer? Brian is both!
By November we were on the last leg of our 80 plus hours’ worth of classes. It was then that I received an email from our main contact at Bair. It said, “We have a sibling group of four and we thought of you and Brian. The kids are a boy 9, a girl 7, a boy 6, and a boy 4. What do you think?”
Yeah, well, I read that e-mail and started to cry. I forwarded it to Brian. I forwarded it to a close friend, one who’d been super supportive of what we were planning to do, and I wrote, “These are our kids.”
The rest of the questions came later. We didn’t know these children’s background. We didn’t know why they’d been taken from their birth parents. We didn’t know their nationality or race (not that this mattered). We didn’t even know their names. What happened to the plan of teenagers, ages 13 to 18? Not one of these kids was in the double digits yet! And what was this four stuff? We’d said two! Only two!
Our first week—our trial week—came in December just before Christmas. It has since been affectionately dubbed, “Hell Week.” These weren’t kids, they were monsters. They were belligerent, destructive, aggressive, and had no manners or boundaries to speak of. The ‘honeymoon phase’ we’d learned about in foster parenting class didn’t exist with these little hooligans! Wii game CDs were frisbees. Couches and chairs were tackling dummies. Hanging light fixtures were basketball hoops. Our dogs became horses, with their ears used as reins. Matchbox cars were broken in half (who can even do that?). Macaroni and cheese was stuck to the ceiling, not just in the dining room, but in the piano room on the other side of the house! I don’t even know how to describe what happened to the Christmas Tree. These were kids, who, when you attempted to send them to timeout, just laughed and said, “Make me.” Did I forget to mention that two of them asked for—no, they didn’t ask, they demanded—help to wipe after using the toilet? I’d thought my life in the working world was stressful. Ha! And this was only day one!
Many people told us we were fools, we’d be ruining our lives. Some of these comments even came from family. But we made it through Hell Week. Our pretty house may have been a little worse for wear, but it hadn’t burned down! Perhaps we were just stubborn. Perhaps we were gluttons for punishment. Perhaps our bleeding hearts were bleeding too much. Bottom line—we weren’t ready to give up. We developed a motto, so to speak. When things got bad, and things got bad, we said it. We said it to ourselves. We said to each other. We said it multiple times every day: “It’s not their fault.”
We learned about our kids’ past, some of it from Bair and Dauphin County, some of it from psychiatrists and psychologists, some of it from school records, but most of it from the kids themselves. They weren’t shy about speaking of what they’d endured in their short little lives. So we listened and we learned. And we adapted. We read books and took classes. We got individual and family therapy. We made up new rules and creative consequences. And we developed our own set of coping skills.
My coping skill became writing. Spending a few hours a day lost in another world—a world of my own making—had a huge impact on my ability to keep patience, offer guidance, and find ways to encourage the good in the kids to trickle through. The strides they have made since they first came to us have been extraordinary. I’m not saying this to toot our horns, but to toot theirs. They’re the ones who have had to overcome so much! They’re the ones who have the potential to be more!
For Brian and me, from the very beginning, it was important that our kids not feel like foster kids. We considered them ours before their adoption (March 2013), and we have always treated them as such. There is only one thing that we, as parents, have not done for them. I’m kind of ashamed to even say it. We have not set up college fund accounts for them.
So this past summer, while the kids were away at camp, I sat in my house finishing up my latest and greatest novel (#3), thinking, “If I ever sell any of these books, I will use the money for the kids’ educations.” This made perfect sense to me. Writing has always been a hobby, but I would have never actually completed a manuscript, or pursued publishing, if it weren’t for the kids. It was the best way I could think of to give back to them the wonderful future they’ve given to me.
So this was my plan, until I heard God’s voice. He said, “No, Elizabeth, you’re going to do this bigger. There are other kids out there who need the money more.”
I looked up scholarship funds for foster kids. They exist, but there are not nearly as many programs as I thought there would be, especially considering the number of kids “in the system.” I found nothing for kids like ours—kids who had been in foster care and eventually were adopted.
Who was I to disobey God? I hadn’t done so when the kids came into our lives—thank goodness! I looked into starting a non-profit. Brian came up with the name Third Chance Foundation. Soon enough, the business plan and budget were created, the corporate filing was made, and the 501(c) (3) and all the other federal and state paperwork approved.
My dream for Third Chance Foundation is to have many authors participate. I would like to have books in all genres, fiction and non-fiction, so that we can reach as many readers as possible. The more books we sell, the more scholarships we will provide, the more promising futures we will enable, the more lives we will change!
Promoting Third Chance Foundation will certainly keep me busy, but don’t worry, I will never stop writing. I can’t. I’ve got too many stories in my head just begging to be shared with the world!