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Life in a Foster Family

Julia Kraus, 17, has never been lonely. How could she be, growing up with hundreds of brothers and sisters? Here is her inspiring story of sharing her home—and her parents!—with foster siblings.

I grew up with my mom and dad in a nice house in Wichita, Kansas. Sounds pretty normal, right? Then again, I have 278 brothers and sisters? Uh, definitely not normal. But it's because mine is a foster family. My only "real" siblings are my younger brother Brandon and older brother Brian.

Foster families take in children when their parents can't take care of them for one reason or another--maybe they're abusive, some are addicts or alcoholics, or their houses are uninhabitable. As a result, the kids are placed in protective custody by an agency or the police.

In my state, foster families usually take care of those children for three days until the child's situation is sorted out, but some stay much longer--weeks, months, even years. To be honest, I couldn't name all my other brothers and sisters because the list goes on and on.

Babies Galore

My parents had thought about fostering kids for a long time, but I didn't know it really was going to happen until I was 9 and they were shopping for a new van with car seats. "Why car seats?" I asked. My parents explained that they wanted to help kids in difficult situations. My mom had been a nurse in a children's home for many years and, since she'd stopped working there, she missed being surrounded by kids.

It sounded like fun, at first. But when I found out the first baby was coming to our home, I thought, "No way?" I was totally jealous. I had been the only child at home--Brian was away at college, and Brandon wasn't born yet. But I took a couple fostering classes and realized I had nothing to worry about.

The baby was only a few hours old when he arrived. I had never held a newborn before, and it was so exciting to have a baby brother. We had the little guy for six months but, during that time, we added several other kids. Usually, we only had two children at a time because it can get kinda hectic.

Even though I loved the kids, I continued to have some freak-out moments in the beginning. I told my parents, "I don't want anyone in my room, and I don't want them touching my things?" So they suggested I simply keep my bedroom door shut. And, sure enough, it was never a problem and I managed to carve out a little space in our house just for me and my stuff.

And, yes, there were times I worried about getting enough attention from my parents. On a few occasions, I even stormed into my room because I was sick of so many kids being around. But my parents have always reassured me that they love me as much as ever.

Big Happy Family

People have asked me if it feels weird to have so many sibs of different ethnic backgrounds but, no, it's never been odd to me. In fact, I make a point of showing off the kids to my friends, saying, "Meet my new sister!" It was pretty funny, since we always had someone new.

There have been many times when I'd come home from school, look around and say something like, "Hmm. I wonder what happened to Isaiah," and he'd be gone, just like that. It can be really hard, because you get so attached so quickly. But that element of surprise isn't always a bad thing, especially when I knew a child was going to a permanent safe home or back with his rehabilitated birth parents.

My parents have kept their sense of humor about our foster family. Like, my room won't tell my dad we're getting a new baby and he'll suddenly say, "Wait. Who is this?!" Or she'll drop off a newborn in the morning and bring back a 6-month-old, and Dad says, "How did he grow that fast?"

I really fell crazy for a couple of kids. One little girl Angel stayed with us a year before being adopted by a family we know, which is great because I still see her. I also truly loved one baby boy who was shaken very badly. He had lots of physical problems and so many needs that I got totally attached to him.

Then, of course, there's my little brother Brandon. Yep, we got Brandon when I was 12 and he was 6 months. We never expected to adopt him, but his mother had serious problems so we had him for two years. The whole time Brandon was with us, we all totally adored him. So when we adopted him, it wasn't a big decision. We all just knew he was meant to be part of our family.

The Hard Truth

Over the years, I've noticed how some people don't want to face the reality of my siblings' situations--and it makes me angry. It's like people would rather shut their minds to the problem we have in our country. Most of my sibs come from houses that are beyond filthy--garbage, feces and food piled high on the floor, and a smell so bad that police officers say they could pass out.

Many kids are terribly abused, like a 3-year-old girl who was stripped naked in her front yard, doused in cold water and force-fed. She was very ill when she came to us.

The baby boy I became very attached to was shaken so hard that his brain slapped against his skull and his eyes popped out. His abuser pushed his eyeballs back in with his thumbs, causing permanent damage to the baby's eyesight. We've had crack-addicted babies, who twitched violently, and children who were molested by family members.

There was one 7-month-old who stayed with us for just a few days. A year later, I read in the paper she was dead as a result of being abused in her own home. It's so heartbreaking. Many times, I've looked at a baby and just cried.

Lessons of Love

On the up side, fostering has made me and my family who we are--and I love that. I mean, I'm just a normal teen who daydreams about looking prettier or dressing cooler--but seeing kids in dire straits puts things in perspective. It helps me realize just how lucky I am.

It's been great to help every one of the kids feel like they have a loving home--even if it is only for a short time. Right now, I don't know if I want foster kids when I'm older, but I am pretty sure I don't want children of my own. I've had so many in my life already. But I want to be a pediatric nurse so I'll always have kids around me.

All my sibs have shown me a lot about being unselfish and knowing life doesn't revolve around me. When I was 9, I thought I ruled the world. Fostering was a crash course in learning that I'm not the only person on the planet. Hey, who would have thought?

But I always know I am loved, and I also know it is important that my sibs be treated like they are the center of the universe, because they need that. My biggest lesson is that there are lots of kids in the world who are less lucky than many of us and that it's possible to love those kids like family. And it's important to do just that.
 
By: Sandy Fertman Ryan

POSTED ON 11/25/2009 7:01:00 AM

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