Kari DeMarco had long wanted to adopt a child. Her husband, Andy, wasn’t on board.
“He’d say, ‘Let’s just try not to screw up the two we already have.’”
The DeMarcos’ two biological children, a boy and girl who are now grown, were still very young at the time, more than a decade ago. Life was busy for the Wenatchee family. How could they possibly bring another child into their home? No, thought Kari. Of course Andy was right. She tried to ignore the persistent tug on her heart.
But she couldn’t do it. She could not stop thinking about all the children who needed homes, and about how much she had to offer. But maybe that didn’t mean adopting a child from a faraway country. Maybe, she thought, that meant taking in vulnerable children from right here in the community.
So she read everything she could about the foster care system. And then a friend, Kris Collier, who happens to work for Children’s Home Society of Washington, gave the DeMarcos a fateful nudge.
“We’re having a training and you should come,” Kari recalls Kris telling her. But what about Andy’s hesitation? Kris’ response: “Just come.”
Off to foster care training the DeMarcos went, still not sure they’d actually go through with this crazy thing. Kari thought (hoped): “Maybe it will scare me off.”
But it did not scare her. She was more resolved than ever to become a foster mom and now, it seemed, Andy was coming around to the idea.
“I think he was tired of me wearing him down.”
The previous year, Kari had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She beat the disease, but the experience made her reassess a few things.
“It makes you go, OK, that bucket list cannot wait until tomorrow.”
And so the DeMarcos officially signed up to become foster parents. Almost immediately, they got a call from Kris. She said there were 5-year-old twins, a boy and a girl, who needed a home. Right away.
These children had been neglected and abused “in every way,” Kari said. In truly unimaginable ways. They were hurting and afraid. One of them presented major behavioral challenges. The DeMarcos loved them anyway.
After 19 months together, the twins were placed in a different home, and letting go was agonizing for the entire family. “I think about them every day,” Kari said. “I dream about them.” All these years later, she still hasn’t taken their artwork off her walls.
For about a year after the twins left, Kari couldn’t bear to foster another child. She was emotionally and spiritually wounded. Eventually, it was Andy who suggested they open their home again, this time for respite care only.
They wouldn’t get attached to the kids, Kari and Andy agreed. They’d just help out in short bursts of time, weekends maybe, or as a last resort for a few weeks at a time.
But almost immediately, a little girl came into their lives who would become their first adopted daughter. And a few years ago, they met and “fell totally in love” with a baby boy who became their son, and with his teenage sister, who is unofficially part of the family.
The DeMarco family is now complete.
Looking back on their years as foster parents, Kari recalls the tantrums, the calls from the principal’s office, and countless difficult situations that tested their patience. And yet, she would do it all over again in a heartbeat. “I love my kids,” she said. “They’re my heart. We’re so lucky to have them in our lives.”
May is National Foster Care Month, which seems like a good occasion to tell Kari’s story and to mention that there is a huge need right now for more people to do what the DeMarcos have done. The number of kids entering the foster care system continues to rise, and the number of foster homes isn’t keeping up. The opioid crisis, which has crippled so many lives, has strained foster care organizations across the country. In Western Washington, the need is so great that some foster kids are forced to stay in hotels.
“We have always had a placement crisis in the state of Washington, but it is worse right now,” Kris Collier said. She said she understands why a person may be hesitant about fostering. They are afraid, and that’s natural. Parents don’t want to let the unknown into their homes and around their kids.
But here’s the counterargument: These are children we are talking about. They are innocents who, in most cases, have been deeply hurt by the grown-ups in their lives. And they desperately need a stable, loving place to live. If only for a little while.
“I wish everybody could just meet a foster kid,” Kris said. “That just takes the fear out of it.”
But what about that other fear, the one I’ll personally admit to feeling? It’s the fear of a broken heart. The highest goal of the foster care system is reunification with the child’s biological family. And that makes perfect sense. But with that as the goal, how in the world am I to let a child into my life, love them and care for them and sing them lullabies at night, only to let them go? It’s just too much for this mother’s heart.
But again, Kris’ counterargument: These are children. They need us.
For information about becoming a foster parent, check out the following sites:
(This piece originally appeared in The Wenatchee World.)