On this Tuesday morning, Mary’s been up for about an hour. She’s sipping a cup of coffee and finishing off her breakfast of scrambled eggs. Her four foster kids are still asleep upstairs. 

Mary: Alright, I’m gonna go get them. Wake up. It’s seven o'clock.  

11-year-old: Ok, ok, ok. I’ll be down in a second. 

Mary: Alright! I’ll see ya. My cousin was over the other day, and she goes, “Wow, you kind of have it figured out.” I say, “Yes, I succumbed to it.” I’m like, “You know what, this is it. This is how it’s gonna go. I’m in. I’m in.”

Mary tells me, in the first year with the kids, getting through each morning was a struggle. There were days when she didn’t make it out of the house in time to drop the youngest off at preschool. But the family is slowly settling into a routine. 

Mary: We eat in all the time. Before, it was always eat out. In the morning before school it was a stop at Dunkin Donuts. Because I just couldn’t figure out… People would be like “make a chart!” “Yeah, ok.” “Cook!” “Yeah, ok.”

Sofia: What did you do in your past life?

Mary: Oh my gosh. I didn’t get up and cook anyone anything. My husband cooked for me. I mean, seriously, it was a completely different life. And sometimes I really do miss that life. Becoming a foster parent was a split-second decision for Mary. As you can imagine, the days that followed were a whirlwind. It took a while for the full impact of her decision to sink in. 

Mary: Cus at first I didn’t think I’d have them that long. I thought, oh a weekend. And then the women that was working with me, she says, “Oh no, you’re looking at 2 to 3 years.” And then reality started setting in for me. And I think for them. Because after a while they started saying, “Well, when are we going home?” And I’m like, “Uh, you’re not.” 

That’s when she started looking for a permanent place for the family to live. She went to her church for help. The church let Mary and the kids stay in a house they owned while she figured out a long-term plan. 

Mary: I think the church house was probably, at that time, the most fun we had. Because I had just got them. I didn’t know what to do with them. We went out every day. We went out to dinner every night. 

11-year-old whispers: Cus Auntie couldn’t cook.

Mary: I couldn’t cook. Yeah, tell 'em. 

11-year-old: Auntie would have burnt anything, even water. 

Mary: Just tell the truth.

11-year-old: I’m telling the truth!  

Mary: But now I'm good at it. Now I’ve got it down. After two years I went from really not knowing anything to figuring out whose favorite meal is what. 

11-year-old: Cooking steak.

Mary: He loves his steak. He likes it medium rare. Just nice and juicy. 

She has learned how to cook. But that was just one of many things she had to learn about being a parent. 

Mary: Because it’s easy to be the aunt. It’s easy to be the grandmother. It’s easy to be the big sister. But when you’re the one every morning, every night raising them, talking to them – pick up your clothes, do your homework, brush your teeth, comb your hair, get in the car, get out of the car, where’s your shorts, where’s your bathing suit... It’s overwhelming. 

Raising four kids alone will always be chaotic. But at this point, Mary’s made chore charts for the kids, and everyone’s bedtime is posted on the fridge. This morning, Mary’s going through her youngest child’s backpack.

Mary: Because she’s young and I got her when she was in preschool, it was easier for me to set up homework habits and study habits. It wasn’t that way with the others. And that’s difficult.

11-year-old: I like math. Because in math we’re doing a math called exponents. And I was confused at first cus I didn’t know what he was talking about. I actually thought he was speaking a different language at first. But yesterday in math I blew threw it. I was the first kid in the class done. 

Mary: He is used to his own way, and I tried to change it and force it, but that doesn’t work. So I just have to let it be. But he’s very smart. And he has a great teacher this year, which I think is going to make a huge difference in his life. 

The biggest thing Mary’s still struggling to manage is the money. As she mentioned earlier, she and her husband decided to divorce a couple months after she took the kids in. She’s now on her own financially.

Mary: It’s very expensive, these kids in school. It’s outrageous, the money that you put out. 

Foster families often fight the perception that they’re in it for the money. But the reality is, Mary’s mostly retired. She relies on the money from DCYF to pay the family’s bills. DCYF’s standard board rate for foster parents is about 25 dollars per child per day.

She tells me, it’s the non-essentials, like school fundraisers, that are touch to manage. 

Mary: And I get it, but I’m also like, ok I have 3 children in school, each has to raise 30 dollars. So where are they gonna get the money? Me. 

She says that, for the past two years, she charged everything to a credit card and mostly ignored the debt she was racking up. Now she’s taking a financial planning course, and trying to pay it down.

Mary: And that credit card debt in this country is what’s keeping everyone poor. And I am going to bring our finances to the [kitchen] whiteboard, so they understand this is how it works.

She’s also setting up checking accounts for the kids, so they can start learning to managing their own money. 

Mary: He got money for his birthday. So we put three quarters of it in the bank and now they’re starting to understand finances. 

13-year-old yelling: Auntie! Auntie!! 

Mary: What, babe? 

13-year-old: Today’s picture day! 

Mary: Today’s what? 

13-year-old: Picture day! 

Mary: Picture day? Oh my god. What did you do to your hair? 

13-year-old: I don’t know!

Mary: Lemme see what you look like...

You can listen to the first part of Mary's story here. And we continue this family’s story with a look at one of the kids’ biggest challenges--how to make sense of the anger and love -- they still feel for their biological parents.