When Jayme and Ashley Vella talk about how much "Pete," their first Angels foster care placement, loved bedtime stories, neither hesitate to recall his favorite. The toddler absolutely adores Fergus the dog from the David Shannon picture book series. Jayme smiles broadly as she recalls how Pete would sit on her lap and laugh when she asked about whether Fergus liked to be tickled. "He loves Fergus," says Ashley, explaining that Pete memorized every word of the books.
This is a far cry from how Pete responded to stories when he first arrived at the Vella home when he was 15 months old. He walked around the room and seemed unable to sit still. Sometimes he'd bite. But the consistent love and care he received from Jayme, Ashley, and their son Jackson, helped shape him into the secure and well-adjusted three-year-old he is today.
Sitting in their spacious home in a new housing development in Fallbrook, Jayme remembers a time early in Pete's stay when she picked up the toddler from preschool. "He saw me from across the playground, and shouted, 'Mommy, you came back!'" Ashley adds, "It's amazing to see a child go from being withdrawn and not knowing you, to complete trust." That trust was built through establishing a consistent routine and safety net. Ashley explains, "We told him he can yell and scream, and we're going to still be here and keep loving him."
Soon the toddler began to feel safe and secure. This isn't to say things were easy. Seven-year-old Jackson was elated to hear he was going to be a big brother, but the realities of going from only-child status to sibling had its challenges. The couple dealt with this by carving out one-on-one time with each child in addition to their family activities like hiking, camping, soccer, and baseball. And, of course, Pete's initial crying and pushing felt like a rejection of Jackson. Soon, though, the two formed a solid brotherhood. Jayme says Jackson learned a great deal from the experience - including putting away his dishes because he saw little Pete doing it. "Fostering can be so beneficial for your own kids," says Jayme.
Pete was recently reunified with his biological family, which was hard on everyone in the Vella family. "People think it might be hard to bond with a child who's not yours, but that's easy because they really need you," Jayme says. Saying goodbye was tough, but the family knows that their time with Pete will play a big role in the child's emotional development. Plus, they still have regular visits with him and plan to stay connected throughout his life, as many Angels families are able to do after reunification. Ashley says, "It's hard, but in the end it's worth it. There are a lot of laughs and a lot of cries."
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