By Adi Adiredja
It was summer 2018 and I decided that I would start the process of becoming a foster parent by myself. I had a plan. It was the summer of my fourth year before tenure. I was going to complete all the paperwork to become a licensed foster parent over the summer. In the fall I would focus on submitting all the manuscripts I was hoping to submit for tenure. This way by the end of the semester I would be ready to take on a child (a baby!). I would just be revising papers till tenure as I adjust into my new role as a queer single parent.
Everything was going according to plan. I quickly graduated from the Foster Parent College. I child-locked all the cabinets. I bought my first ever fire extinguisher. By October, I passed the home inspection and became licensed. Then, a week before Thanksgiving I got a call from my licensing agent. She asked if I would be interested in doing respite for another foster parent. Two sweet little boys, a three-year-old and his ten-year-old brother needed temporary care for the weekend. As a junior scholar, I was still learning how to say “no.”
My weekend with the boys was both the greatest weekend of my life and also the most physically demanding. It was everything I thought parenting would be. I quickly learned the joy of eating the crusts of bread and the kids’ leftovers. I learned that it’s not the end of the world when your kid’s shoe fell into the animal exhibit at the zoo. Who cares if that messes up your day schedule and now your three-year-old is napping on one arm while the ten-year-old pulls on the other to go see the birds?!
That weekend I also learned that there was no resting for a single parent (kudos to all the single parents out there!). I was with the kids from seven in the morning to eight at night. While after-bath-time giggles and snuggles were literally the best thing, once the kids were read to and fallen asleep, I went on to do dishes, clean, and prep for the next day. Before I knew it, it was midnight and I had to go to bed and do it all over again the next morning. Three days of this and my body gave out. I was sick by the time I dropped the boys off with their foster mom. Work did not even cross my mind. I was barely taking care of my basic needs. With tenure in mind, I had to accept that I just could not do it. I had to make a choice between tenure and being a parent. I called my agency and told them to put my license on hold indefinitely.
Fast forward one year, my papers were getting published. I started a relationship and found a first-time home-buyer program that helped me buy my first home. I had to do another home inspection to update my foster license. The minute that finished in late October of 2019, I received another call from my licensing agent. This time to tell me about a special 14-year-old girl, M. She identifies as LGBT and was described to me as having “darker skin.” When we started the licensing process, I had told my agent that if there were any queer kids of color in the system who needed a home to let me know.
The first time I met M, she told me that her favorite school subject was math. I believed it was a sign! Of course, later I found out M had googled me and learned about my job. Did I tell you this girl was smart? M moved in with me and my partner last Christmas day, and I officially become a foster parent. M is a rambunctious girl who loves dark humor and physical comedy. I have learned that the joy of parenting a teenager is different. I don’t get the after bath giggles and snuggles of a three-year-old, but I do get to talk to her about her classes and what she has learned. M also likes to draw. It’s much easier to pretend to like a drawing of a teen than that of three-year-old. That said, I may or may not have teared up when she gave me the drawing… I also learned that I am that dad who would embarrass his kid at the checkout line. Turns out picking on my kid brings me joy.
Then the pandemic hit and everything was upended. The plans for M’s quinceañera in March had to change. Thanks to friends from near and far, we were able to have a simple Zoom quince, not with courts, but still with a dress, a crown, and a two-tiered cake! Pozoles, tacos, and hot Cheetos, all of M’s favorites completed the menu for the night. For the rest of the semester, I juggled homeschooling, learning how to teach online, paper revisions, and putting together my tenure dossier. Stressful would be an understatement. We tried our best to manage it as a new family.
Balancing parenting, work, and life during a pandemic is nearly impossible. That said, M’s coming into my life has made me a better person, a better partner, and a better scholar. I still have not experienced that awe of meeting a baby for the first time after birth, but I feel the same sense of arbitrariness with M. I try to remind M every day that she is excellent, that she is worthy, and that she is incredibly loved. She reluctantly listens for now. I just hope that M wouldn’t wait until tenure to believe those words about herself. It’s funny, I used to think that I couldn’t become a parent before I had a partner, bought a house and had tenure. M came into my life after I bought a house and found a partner. Perhaps it’s a sign that the third thing I thought I needed will come soon, or perhaps she came into my life to remind me that everything I have ever needed has been here all along.