We knew New Yorkers were tough, but foster mom, nanny and substitute paraprofessional Elizabeth Gormely takes it to a whole new level! This 32-year old mama of two has called Brooklyn home since she was born, and so have two generations before her. Elizabeth was an only child raised by her mother and grandmother, whom she credits as making her into who she is today. She also grew up in a huge Italian family, which she says were big on three of our favorite things, “family, friends and food!”
Elizabeth has always had a passion for working with kids, which led her to become a nanny at the age of 18 and graduate college with a Liberal Arts degree focusing on Human Services and Early Childhood Education. While it seems obvious that Elizabeth’s career path was going to involve working with kids, not even she could have guessed that at 32 she would be a foster mom to two adorable boys, with adoption on the horizon. Elizabeth’s story is amazing on so many levels. You go girl!
Little’s Names & Ages: James (11 years) & Eddie (will be 4 years old on Thanksgiving).
Tell Us About How You Became a Foster Parent: I never saw this coming. If someone would have told me five years ago that I would be 32, single and in the process of adopting two children, I would have told them they were crazy. My mother knew James’ birth mother’s family for years but they had lost touch. In fact, when the invitation to his baby shower came, I remember telling my mother, “I am not going. We hardly know these people. We will never see this baby.” After James was born our families reconnected and I ended up seeing that sweet baby on occasion, after all. In 2011, James and his mother moved in with her boyfriend and we lost touch again. We had heard she was pregnant but didn’t see any of them for most of the pregnancy.
A few weeks after Eddie was born, my mother (who at the time had been diagnosed with the chronic lung condition, C.O.P.D and had undergone a double mastectomy) got a call from their birth mother asking, “If something ever happened, would you take the boys for a while?” Of course my mother told her we would. Two days later, I was at work when my mother called and said the boys were coming to stay with us. That night an ACS worker brought the boys to our apartment and we thought they would be with us for a few weeks.
Before we could even process it all, we had mountains of paperwork to fill out, people were coming to check our home and we were licensed foster parents. As we went through the process, took the kids on visits with their mother at the agency and slowly adapted to life with them, I kept thinking, “This is only temporary. Their mother is going to get her life back together and get them back”.
Weeks turned into months, months turned into two years and the next thing I knew I was being told that the goal of the agency was being changed from unification with the parent to adoption, and that if I didn’t want to be a pre-adoptive resource they’d have to find someone who would be. At the same time, the paternal grandfather hired a lawyer and was ready to fight for custody. In my heart, I knew that if these boys weren’t going home to their mother, I couldn’t just give them away to anyone and lose all contact with them forever.
Fast forward two years and after countless court hearings, meetings with lawyers and many tears, their birth mother has signed a surrender of her rights to me to ensure that I would be the only one adopting the children. This avoided a custody trial and the grandfather and I have worked out a visitation schedule. Some days, it still feels very surreal.
Since Eddie started school, he’s started referring to me as “mommy”, and it took me months to realize that’s exactly what I am to him. James refers to me as his aunt. He knows his mom, he has a bond with his mother and he understands what this adoption means for all of us involved, but Eddie doesn’t . Eddie hasn’t seen her much in almost four years. I am the only mother he knows, and he and James truly are my sons.
Some people who have heard about this have said things like, “How will you ever find a husband now that you have two kids? Don’t you want your own family? You’re giving up your life.” Those are the people who don’t understand that DNA doesn’t make a family. They don’t understand that these boys are mine in every sense of the word, even if I didn’t plan on becoming a mother this way. Motherhood literally fell into my lap. My life will never be the same again.
Some days are hard, really, really hard. There are times when my mom is in the hospital, I have to work, the kids need to be cared for and money is tight. There is no husband to call and no in-laws to babysit. I have the most amazing supportive group of friends and family but some days this is a one woman show. It all falls on me and it’s stressful. I cry but then I ask myself, “If you knew that it would be forever would you have gotten involved in the first place?” I look at James’ and Eddie’s faces and I know without a doubt, the answer is yes.
As hard as some days are, for as much as some days I really do miss just worrying about me and my old life, this home wouldn’t be home without the boys. We are a forever family now. I don’t know exactly how we are going to do this — I just know we are going to do it together. And when they’re grown, happy successful young men and I’m dancing with them at their weddings, every sacrifice and every tear will have been so worth it.
Tell Us About Raising Boys: I am a girl’s girl. I was raised by my mother and grandmother and I have always said I wanted a little girl (maybe one day I will have one), so raising two boys is an adventure for me and I am learning as I go. The song “Let It Go” comes to mind, because I’ve had to let a lot of things go as I raise two young boys. They’re energetic, they play loudly, they’re fearless, they don’t see if their shoes don’t match their outfits, they don’t mind being dirty, they like bugs, they don’t always want to ‘talk about it’ and sometimes they just want to dive in and do it.
I’ve learned to embrace all of that, even if I don’t understand it. I realized as much as I want to, I can’t shelter them, I need to let them figure it out and work out things on their own, even if their way is different than mine. My boys are very kinematic learners, so they (especially the almost four year old) want to touch everything.
They’ve taught me how to loosen up too. The toy cars are going to crash and the superheroes will “fight the bad guys” — that one came from school. The first time Eddie told me that I immediately said, “But we don’t fight,” and my friend quickly reminded me this is how boys play. Sometimes my almost four year old boy is going to do gross things in public (like, you know pick his nose while I’m in line waiting for an ATM machine the one time I don’t have a wet wipe or Purell in my purse) and people will stare and probably judge, but it’s okay…it’s all part of being a little boy.
Things People Don’t Know About Fostering A Child: The most surprising thing for me was all of the training and rules that come along with being a foster parent. It’s not just a twice a month home visit to ensure that the children are being cared for and living in a suitable home. There is a complete medical check on every person living in the home, an in-depth family history evaluation, fingerprinting and mountains of paperwork to become a licensed foster parent.
There is also ongoing training and classes foster parents are required to take. One of the most frustrating things (but I understand and respect this rule) is that anyone who wants to be with the children without the foster parent around needs to be “cleared” by the agency. So if biological relatives or people in my family or anyone we know and trust wants to take the kids (even for a walk around the block) without me, they can’t until they fill out the necessary paperwork first and are cleared…and that can take weeks!
Another thing that shocked me was the amount of responsibility, yet lack of “rights” foster parents have. When a child is in foster care, his or her birth parents are still the ones who make all the medical and educational decisions for the child. If you have a child who is failing in school, as the foster parent it’s your responsibility to help him, but you don’t have the right to ask for an evaluation from public school to get the child services — only the birth parents can sign off on that.
The sad truth is of all the people involved in a foster care situation it’s the foster parents who have the least amount of legal rights and the least legal representation in court, which is why it’s so important to be on the same page and work closely with your worker, foster care agency and foster children’s attorney because they are the ones who speak to the judge. At the end of the day, it all comes down to the judge’s ruling.
Getting your foster children the services they need is hard because there are so many channels to go through. For example, when Eddie was two he wasn’t talking. My experience and my gut told me he would need speech therapy. I spoke to his pediatrician and she dismissed it. (Something else a foster parent has no say in — you take the kids to the doctors they tell you to, wherever they may be and if you’re not happy with the doctor you’re out of luck!) It took several months to go through my case worker and the agency to finally get him an evaluation, and eventually the speech therapy he needed.
Social workers make a world of difference in a fostering experience. Like with every profession, some are wonderful and some are not so great. If you are a family that happens to get one who is not so great, there’s really very little you can do about it. In meeting with and talking to other foster families I have heard some horror stories, but we have been so lucky! We have had great social workers who work with us to try to get the boys what they need. They also try to accommodate our schedule as much as they can. We’ve had three caseworkers and one supervisor leave the agency so far on this journey but they’ve all been amazing to us.
One of the most surprising things (and the most frustrating) about being a foster parent is how many chances the birth parents get. Sometimes it feels as though their rights trump what’s best for the child. It’s the foster parent’s job to facilitate weekly visits between the children and the birth parents. A birth parent can skip visits, show up under the influence and yet regardless of how this impacts the foster family and the children, it’s their right and their visits can’t be stopped.
I had no idea foster care could be such a long journey. There are laws, but there are also a lot of loopholes and some really great attorneys. If a judge is lenient with the birth parents, children can stay in the “system” for years. They can grow, excel and bond with their foster families, only to be removed and placed back with their parents.
A lesson I learned during this journey is that we as foster parents do make a difference, but we won’t always see it. These children (especially the older ones who understand what’s happening) have suffered trauma and experienced a great sense of loss. That sadness doesn’t just disappear. Their broken hearts can’t be mended overnight as much as we want our love to mend them.
It took James almost four years to fully adjust to his life with me, and he’s known me his entire life. Imagine what it’s like for a child who is placed in a stranger’s home. In the beginning I always felt so guilty, like I was giving him everything I could to make him happy, but I wasn’t doing enough because there was still sadness in his eyes. It took me a while to realize that the sadness may never completely go away, but that doesn’t mean he won’t thrive.
The other lesson I learned is that while environment has a huge impact on a child’s development, there are certain traits in all of us, some good and some not so good, that really are hereditary. I see that when I look at Eddie. I’ve had him in my home since he was three months old. I gave him a solid foundation during his most formative years, but certain elements of his personality and of his emotional development are from his genes.
Being a mom is hard work — period. Being a working mother is just as hard. Being a foster mother, working with limited financial resources and “man power” (because I really do believe it takes a village to raise a child) is even harder, but it is so worth it.
The Most Surprising Thing About the Adoption Process: How long it takes!! ASFA (Adoption and Safe Families Act) requires that states move to terminate parental rights for children who have been in foster care for 15 of the past 22 months, but there are SO many exceptions to that rule. Each time a court hearing is adjourned, it’s usually about six months before we get another one.
February will mark four years since the boys have come into my home. In May their birth mother actually surrendered her parental rights to me and the boys became free for adoption (I was lucky because that saved us the time and energy of going through a trial to terminate the rights). But as of today we still do not have an adoption date. November is National Adoption Awareness Month and while we are hoping to have a court date to finalize this adoption during that time, there’s no guarantee!
Give Us a Glimpse Into an Average Day: On a work day I wake up at 6am, I take out lunches, coats and backpacks, and set them up for later in the morning. I shower and throw my hair up (no time for makeup or to actually do my hair) and then dress the little guy while he sleeps so it’s less for my mom to handle later in the morning. I am usually on my way to work by 6:45am.
My work day starts at 8:00am. I just started a new job with a 4 month old so my work days are filled with all of the glorious things that come along with having an infant (stories, play dates, snuggles, feedings, changings, etc.). I also help my employers get and stay organized and establish a schedule with the baby. My work day usually ends at 6pm (if I’m not working late, but I can’t just clock out and run, so if someone’s late getting home, I’m late leaving work). On a good day I’m home by 7pm.
I pick up Eddie from the babysitter, get him home, feed him dinner, give him a bath, and if I’m really lucky we’ll have 30-45 minutes of playtime. By that time of the day he’s either in a great mood or very cranky — it’s a 50/50 chance. Then we read stories and he goes to sleep by 8pm. From 8-9pm I hang out with James, which now that he’s 11 usually means sitting next to him while he plays on his iPad.
He goes to bed at 9pm and then I lay out clothes and pack lunches for the next day. If laundry needs to be put away, I’ll do it at this time. I’ll usually run to Walgreens or the supermarket before they close around this time too. I’m usually showered and relaxing by 10pm and sleeping whenever my brain shuts off…somewhere around midnight!
Fridays are my favorite work day because I work in school, so I’m able to finish work at 3pm, run any errands I have and get Eddie from his after school center by 4-5pm. We will pick up James and then go to the park (now that it’s getting colder we’ll go home and do a fun craft or activity) and go out for dinner (usually pizza), then to our local sweet shop for dessert. Friday is like Mommy & Me date night.
On the weekends, when I have them for the whole weekend during the summer, we are at the beach every single day we can be. There’s something about being by the ocean watching your children play together in the sand that soothes the soul. During the colder months we wake up, have breakfast together, get dressed and go on an adventure. I fill my weekends with them with activities such as trips to museums or visit friends for play dates. Then we will come home earlier than we do on weekdays and have some quality wind down time together before starting the bedtime routine. On the weekend I’m usually sleeping by 10pm!
One thing I’m learning is to take it easy on myself. Sometimes I feel so guilty that I’m not spending enough time with them during the week and when I am with them it’s all “business” (eat your dinner, take a bath, brush your teeth study, etc.). On days when there are errands to run after work I get even less time with them and consequently usually feel worse. Then I realized these kids don’t count the hours. They’re not counting the minutes of awake time I have with them — they are remembering what we do.
So if I get home and it’s 7:30pm and James wants to play basketball, even if it’s 15 minutes, we’ll go outside with the ball. If I get home and realize we need groceries and I have a million things to do around the apartment when they go to bed, I can take Eddie with me to the store and make it fun time together (i.e I’ll let him bring his little shopping cart and help me shop or we will walk there so he can ride his bike over).
How You Keep Your Personal Balance: I still struggle with this. Between my job, raising the boys and keeping an extra close eye on my mom and her health, it’s easy for me to forget to take care of myself and do things for me. I’m getting better at it though. My boys have to go for an overnight visit every other weekend to their grandfather’s house. In the past I would use that time to organize, clean, run errands and shop for the kids.
Now I squeeze all of that stuff into the other days of the week and try to make a point to do things for myself when the kids go to grandpa’s house. I get my hair done, I get dressed up, put on heels and go with my girlfriends to dinner or a movie. Simple things like doing my hair and makeup and going out with adults sans kids gives me a sense of balance.
A few weeks ago I left the boys with their aunt and went to Chicago for a weekend by myself. I slept in, dressed up, dined out and explored that awesome city. My mind was always with them (there were countless text messages exchanged and several face time sessions) but it was nice to rediscover who I was before kids and what I enjoyed doing. In addition to our family vacations, I’m going to try to make it a tradition to go away without the kids, one weekend out of the year to help me keep that balance.
Illustration by The Unexpected Type
If You Had A $1000 To Spend On Yourself What Item Would You Buy: This is a hard one! If I could splurge on myself and buy one thing it would either be a Balenciaga City Bag (because the cute tiny purses aren’t cutting it anymore) or a pair of Christian Louboutins. As Marilyn Monroe said, “Give a girl the right pair of shoes and she can conquer the world.”
Activity You Love To Do With Your Kids: Does taking pictures of them count? I love taking them to the beach in the summer and to all of the museums NYC has to offer once it gets colder outside…always with my camera in hand.
Your Secret Obsession When You Get an Hour to Yourself: I am either playing around with photos on different apps or binge watching my shows (Law & Order: SVU and the Chicago shows. Basically if Dick Wolf created it, I’m a fan of it and will binge watch any chance I get).
Closet Staple That You Can’t Live Without: My iPhone. It’s my alarm clock, my calendar, my radio, my photo album and my connection to friends and family when they aren’t with me.
Your Favorite Snack or Dessert Recipe to Make for Your Family During the Fall/Holiday Season: Cake pops. The boys love decorating desserts, so cake pops are a favorite because they’re quick and easy to make so we can get to the “fun part” of decorating faster!
SHOP ELIZABETH’S FAVORITE THINGS