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I clutched the phone to my ear waiting for Lorie’s* response to my spontaneous proposition:
“So! I’m writing about Safe Families for Children …I heard that you’re about to take in three kids—wow, that’s a lot! Would you mind if I move in too?”
As the words fell from my mouth, I realized the request was a lot to add to the plate of someone who was already opening their home to three school-aged children for the next eight weeks.
“Just for a few days…no big thing…I’m low maintenance!” I blurted awkwardly, trying to convince her to say yes.
Luckily, I was speaking to the woman I now know to be “super mom.” She laughed at the request and shot back, “Sure! We have room!”
I approached the Smith’s front door and took in the rather ordinary look of the neighborhood. Their house could fit in on any suburban cul-de-sac in the U.S., from the well-kept grass to the welcome mat under my feet.
Lorie invited me into her home with the same openness she expressed over the phone and introduced me to the new extension of her family : three boys, ages six, seven and nine, who will spend the coming weeks with the Smiths as their mom finds a new job. It sounds sort of radical—this working couple with four grown kids opening their home to complete strangers—but it felt nothing short of normal.
I found Michael* and TJ*, the youngest two boys, engrossed in a Lego project strewn about the family room. They murmured a shy hello to me then returned to their work. Their older brother, Anthony*, came inside from an afternoon of playing with the neighborhood boys who embraced their new neighbors without hesitation.
In the kitchen, Lorie and her husband, Matt*, prepared dinner fit for their new guests: macaroni and cheese, chicken, green beans, biscuits, applesauce…basically, a meal to cover ALL the bases. Lorie and Matt’s own kids are now adults. But they obviously know children, and they know what it means to provide a loving, supportive home.
The Smiths joined Safe Families less than a year ago after hearing about the organization through their church.
“We decided we had a lot to offer,” Matt says. “(We have)—a stable home, a good marriage, plus the extra rooms, now that our kids are gone.”
I asked how their children felt about the idea, and he laughed saying, “When I told her, our youngest daughter responded with three words: ‘It’s about time!’”
Since they started volunteering with Safe Families in January, God has filled their home and their hearts with children. Lorie and Matt both work, so they agreed to take in school-aged kids and they are open to siblings as well. Nine children in total have called the Smith’s house their home through Safe Families.
The Smiths admit that each experience brings unique challenges, but in my time with them, they seemed to have many more sweet memories than sour ones.
I sat down for dinner with the Smiths and the boys with some trepidation. Michael, the youngest, was already goofing off, and he was (of course) seated next to me. Admittedly, I know little to nothing about parenting…especially when it comes to little boys.
My concerns vanished when Matt and Lorie began gently setting boundaries for Michael: feet under the table, use the spoon please and use an inside voice. These guys are pros.
It was just like any other family dinner. As we ate, Matt and Lorie told the boys that dinner was a good time to share about what we did during the day. We each took a turn talking about our day at work or school while everyone listened attentively.
After dinner, it was homework, baths, pajamas, a phone call to the boys’ mom and a little devotional time. Lorie, Matt, the boys and I sat down together for the beginning of what would become the bedtime ritual for weeks to come.
We read through the first story of an illustrated devotional while the boys sat, rapt in attention to the plot. At the end, we bowed our heads to pray. Matt prayed aloud for the boys and thanked God for bringing them to the Smith home. He then prayed for their mother, asking God that she be able to find a job and bring her boys back home as soon as she can.
His words summed up the interesting dynamic that makes up a Safe Families home. The Smiths are blessed by the presence of Anthony, TJ and Michael, but above all, Matt and Lorie want the boys to return home. In the interlude, they create a safe, steady place for the boys to continue living with a sense of normalcy—going to school, making friends and growing up.
Beneath the Surface
The next morning began at 6:15 a.m. with Fruit Loops, and toothbrushes followed close behind. Then, we packed bags, zipped coats and stood on the corner by 7:15 sharp to wait for the bus. When the goodbye moment arrived, Anthony turned to no one in particular and softly stated, “I need a hug.”
Lorie and Matt surrounded him quickly while, “Me too! Me too!” echoed from TJ and Michael. We all shared hugs and well-wishes then urged the boys onto the bus for their second day at a new school.
That afternoon was a blur of Legos and bike rides that masked the fact that these little guys were far from home. But at the end of playing around, TJ walked up to me, rested his head on my stomach and sighed, “I miss my mom.”
I tried to comfort him with a good hug and reassuring words, but I knew this was going to be a rough couple of months for him and his brothers.
It broke my heart to watch these little guys struggle to figure out their new home and new temporary life, and it humbled me to know Matt and Lorie volunteered to shoulder the burden of keeping them—not the burden of cleaning sticky fingers and washing sheets, but the burden of caring for them in this difficult time.
Matt and Lorie know they are only temporary parents to Anthony, TJ and Michael. They certainly love the boys. They practice spelling words, take them fishing, and teach them how to talk to God, but they never will—nor want to—replace the role of their mother who is working hard to bring them home.
They welcomed these boys knowing that they can never “fix” what is going on in their lives. Instead, the Smiths made room in their home and in their hearts to love these boys and to love their mother through a difficult time.
Most importantly, they’ve done so with the same eagerness that Lorie expressed to me on that initial phone call, “We have room!”
And because of that one simple declaration, their hearts are filled.
*Name has been changed
- Not from Indianapolis? No worries! Safe Families is in action around the country. Find what’s going on near you on this map: http://www.safe-families.org/whatis_locations.aspx
- Consider becoming a Safe Family. You can be a blessing to others by opening up your home and your heart to families in your community.
- Caring for children is a community effort. Make sure that you’re supporting parents in your area—lend a hand by baby-sitting, making a meal for the family when the parents are busy, or just by being a listening ear.
About the Author: Laura is a journalism fellow with World Next Door. She graduated from the University of Arizona, Tucson with a degree in Animal Sciences and a minor in Spanish. She is constantly learning, making friends, dancing, and trying to understand her role in alleviating the suffering of others. Laura also attracts a lot of awkward situations.