A story Patti Fisher told last week in the living room of her Lawrence home brought a peal of laughter from the 7-year-old listening from an adjoining room.
The story the mother related was of Prudence, or Pru as the girl likes to be called, insisting to take the regular route home from school instead of a new one.
Seated on a beanbag in front of her mother a few minutes later, Pru said she was “just being silly” when she made the demand. That was her go-to answer to many questions that evening, but with a few minutes of reflection, she added, "I knew where we were."
That, her mother said, gets closer to the reason for Pru’s demand. Her daughter likes to be in control, she said. Pru and her 5-year-old brother Shawn weren’t officially a part of the Fisher family until their adoption became official last month. Before that, the two children lived with the Fishers as foster children on and off for four years.
Maintaining control was how Pru dealt with the uncertainty of her life, Patti said. She said Pru was making progress in letting go of the reins to some things, though.
“We try to allow her to control the things it is appropriate to control,” she said. “We may know what she is going to pick, but she still feels like it is her decision. It reduces what she wants to control that she shouldn’t.”
Patti and her husband, Steve Fisher, have learned a lot about Pru, Shawn, parenting and the foster care system as part of their journey to become parents. Now that the process is complete, the family is hosting a community-wide celebration on June 11 that they hope will also cause people to consider whether becoming a foster parent is right for them. As the Journal-World has reported, the number of Douglas County children in the custody of the Department of Children and Families has hit new highs in recent months.
It is Patti’s hope that some people will step up to help with the need.
“Life is never perfect,” she said. “If you are waiting for that perfect time, you are missing a lot of other special moments.”
Shawn and Pru first came into the Fishers’ lives in July 2013 as foster children. They stayed for three weeks before being moved to family placement.
“Even then, we stayed in touch,” Patti said. “We took them to their first circus. They came back for what turned out to be for good in January 2014.”
There was no implied permanency to the arrangement when the children returned. There were supervised visits to the children’s birth parents during 2014, and the state ordered in 2015 that they be placed with their father, Patti said. The children’s foster care agency and the Kansas Department for Children and Families convinced the court a transition plan involving visits needed to be put in place before the father took custody, she said.
“Those didn’t go perfect, but they went well enough. The children weren’t at risk,” Patti said. “On the final overnight visit before they were to move back, it wasn’t safe to leave them there. We called the agency, and they said we did the right thing in not letting them stay.”
In early 2016, Shawn's and Pru’s birth parents relinquished their parental rights to the children. Soon after, the Fishers started the adoption proceedings, which became official May 8.
Those heartrending separation moments are one of the reasons foster care is the “toughest job you’ll ever have,” Patti and Steve said. There’s also baggage from the children’s unsettled lives, such as Pru’s control issue and her attitude toward her younger brother.
“She’s very protective,” she said. “We had to remind her a lot at first it was OK to be a kid. She didn’t have to be a parent. In some ways she’s very mature because she didn’t go through normal stages. She still has some growing up to do.”
For the Fishers, the bonding moments they experienced with their children in foster care and now adoption far outweigh any concerns.
“We’ve had a number for firsts with them because they didn’t have some of the things kids their age would have had,” she said. “They had never went to see Santa Claus. They never got to have a birthday party. It’s touching, because it helped me reflect on what we had done together even when we didn’t know we would be a family.”
Shawn and Pru weren’t the first or only children the Fishers welcomed into their home since they became licensed foster parents in April 2012. They have had foster children in their home from ages less than 1 to 16, the Fishers said. They were actually starting adoption proceedings on another sibling pair before Shawn and Pru came back to them in 2014.
Patti said she had been licensed to be a foster parent before she starting dating Steve. She didn’t go ahead with it because she got a job in Olathe and the commute made bringing a foster child into a single-family home impractical.
When she did start dating Steve, she asked if he would be open to having children, Patti said. Steve, who has two adult step-children from a previous marriage, said he was, but the couple’s attempt to have a child of their own was unsuccessful. That made them both open to foster care, an experience Patti encourages others to explore.
“We wanted kids in our family even if it was on borrowed time,” she said. “We have got so much from them. They enriched our lives because we opened our lives to them.”
Those curious about foster care don’t have to start by accepting children 24/7, Patti said. They could be respite care providers, be a mentor of a foster child or talk to a foster care provider.
The Fishers conceived of an event to help people learn more about foster care and adoption and to celebrate Shawn's and Pru’s adoption. Through the organization efforts of CASA, DCCCA, KVC Health Systems and The Shelter, the Fishers will be part of a “Give Them a Future!” play date from 2 to 4:30 p.m. June 11 at the Douglas County Fairgrounds community building, Patti said. There will be entertainment for adults and children, but there will also be representatives from foster and adoption agencies and foster parents on hand to answer questions from those considering accepting children into their homes or helping the agencies through volunteerism, she said.
Patti often hears Shawn looks like her with their shared strawberry blond hair, facial structure and wire-rim glasses. That resemblance will end soon enough when Shawn, already tall for his age, outgrows her in a few years, she said.
As he looks to his future, Shawn often changes the answer to the question of what he wants to do when he grows up, but one thing remains constant. He wants to be a father like Steve and “make silly faces.”
“I think it’s pretty special Shawn wants to be a dad, because he learned what it is to be a father from Steve,” Patti said.
Give Them a Future!
CASA, DCCCA, KVC Health Systems and The Shelter will sponsor play date and informational meeting on foster care and adoption from 2 to 4:30 p.m. June 11 at the Douglas County Fairgrounds community building.
The event will include live entertainment from the Chapter 5 Band, bounce houses, Ms. Sarah from Sunflower Music Therapy, face painting, fire truck visits, a petting zoo and more. In addition, representatives from foster care and adoption agencies and resource families will be in attendance to answer questions from those considering accepting children into their homes.
Contact Douglas County reporter Elvyn JonesHave a tip or story idea?