The first time I was called “Daddy Mark” sent me over the moon.
I never thought those two words, put together, could evoke such feelings of happiness, love and delight all at the same time for three of the sweetest children on the planet — my foster kids.
The day I became a foster dad to that trio of adorable siblings — Charlie, 7; Nick, 5; and Ava, 4 — was one of the happiest of my adult life.
Now I knew what it was like for a brand new father standing outside the nursery window at the hospital giving out cigars to passers-by telling them of his newborn. The beauty of it was that I didn’t have to wait nine months to bring that new life into the world or wait a period of years to welcome two more into my little family.
It was instantaneous.
Surprise. It’s a boy, another boy, and a girl.
Prior to bringing those precious gems into our home, I had been a foster dad three times over for a period of nine months. But, the day that sibling group traipsed into our house made my life complete.
I would not trade that year-long experience of a lifetime for all the riches in the world.
Not being able to have children of our own, I was overjoyed when my wife Sharon expressed an interest in doing foster care. Since we were both certified school teachers — always being surrounded by children — I knew we could wrap our loving arms around these children and bring healing and comfort to their broken lives. Plus, my folks had been foster parents, so I knew a little bit about what we were diving into.
We no longer lived in Sampson County when our fostering experiences started.
We began taking the required foster parenting classes in June 2011. But before we could even complete the month-long training, we received a call about fostering our first child.
Nakhia, a 9-year-old girl, had been in and out of foster care since the age of 3. Not only was her mother unable to properly care for her, she had been running a prostitution ring out of her basement. Needless to say, this poor little soul had been through the ringer.
The mother had recently lost all rights to her daughter because she was in and out of jail, among other things. So the youngster was in the category of adopt-approved.
The third-grader had been living in a group home for the past year. The couple running the facility had no intentions of adopting her, so we actually had the opportunity to keep her as our own.
As it turned out, Nakhia was my wife’s great-niece. However, Sharon’s family was against the idea from the start. Knowing Nakhia’s mother, they knew it wouldn’t end well. Regrettably, they were right. After spending five months in our home, we had to send the youngster back to her former group home due to circumstances beyond our control.
It was a couple months down the road when we received another call — one of desperation. A caseworker had been forced to rip two little boys out of their home with nowhere to place them.
Eli, 11, and his younger brother, Trenton, 6, came to our house at 9 p.m. on a school night with empty stomachs and nothing but the clothes on their back. I was ready to give someone a what for. You mean to tell me that the caseworker didn’t have any money or a credit card in his wallet to feed those boys? I was hot under the collar and ready to smack someone silly.
In short order, we made a quick trip to McDonald’s where they devoured their food like they hadn’t eaten in a month. Then we went to the local Walmart and purchased pajamas, school clothes, and a teddy bear for the kindergartner.
I took those little boys to and from school for the remainder of that week and part of the next. Every morning I would, inevitably, have to tie Trenton’s sneakers when he stepped out of the back seat.
It touched my heart every time he would wrap his little arms around my neck. I would give him a tight squeeze and a peck on the cheek as I sent him off for another day of learning.
Our time with them was short-lived, only a week. Their uncle took them in after finding out the reasons behind why they were removed from their home.
Before Charlie, Nick, and Ava were placed in our home, we had time to make the proper preparations. We purchased a set of bunk beds for the boys and a toddler bed for our future princess.
Sharon met Charlie when he came bounding into her first-grade classroom. She quickly found out that he was part of a sibling group which had been living with a couple that already had three children of their own.
Befriending the mother of this large brood, my wife soon discovered they were going to have to send the foster kids packing due to an unexpected pregnancy.
Since sibling groups were very difficult to place, the foster care agency was more than grateful we were willing to take the little ones into our home.
Not having met the younger two children, our families both met at Pizza Hut after church on Sunday. There was an instant love connection. They each had their own little personalities. Charlie was ornery; Nick was talkative; and Ava was bashful.
Being the oldest, Charlie was the leader of the pack. And since he already knew and liked my wife, it wouldn’t take much convincing the other two as their “almost former foster parents” prepared them to make the transition to our home.
When the day finally arrived for them to come live with us, I gave them the option of calling me Mr. Price or Daddy Mark. I was overwhelmed when they chose the latter.
Mark S. Price is a former city government/county education reporter for The Sampson Independent. He currently resides in Clinton.