“Hey, sweet child, it’s time for bed. Close your eyes and rest your head ...”
If the opening lines of Stephanie Ellison’s new book, Always Forever (Winn Publications, 2020) sound like a bedtime story a parent would read to a child, you’d be right. It’s also a lullaby, with accompanying music available online.
The last time we caught up with Stephanie was in the Summer 2015 edition of Buckner Today. Stephanie, a former Buckner foster child, had relayed her inspirational story of growing up in foster care to becoming a mother of three girls: Abby, Emma and Molly. Since then, she and husband Danny have added a fourth girl, Willow, to the family.
Stephanie, a school counselor, said a number of factors – her job “planting seeds” in children’s lives, her reflection and gratitude for her time as a foster child and the impact it had on her life, along with the love she felt for her four daughters, sparked the idea to write a children’s bedtime story parents could use to connect more deeply with their children.
She said she was determined to write Always Forever one night as she struggled with the chaotic outcomes of her family dysfunction when she was growing up.
“I was rocking Molly to sleep and reading a story to her every night and reading her the book I’ll Love You Forever,” she said. “And I was like, ‘Why did it feel like my family was so messed up? A lot of times you just felt unloved. I felt unloved. And so I carry that with me and those little struggles, and it was a battle within my chest.
“As I’m holding my little girl, I’m singing the song that I wrote for her,” she recalled. “It just says ‘Always forever, you’ll be my sweet baby, always forever. I’ll love you like crazy.’”
The idea became the genesis for the book, which she wrote as an interactive lullaby and bedtime ritual for parents and their young children, even parents and children who might not be in traditional roles or homes, she said.
“Children who look like me growing up. Sometimes it is a foster parent. Sometimes it’s a relative. Sometimes it’s not a mom rocking her baby back and forth. Sometimes it’s a grandparent or a foster parent,” she said. “Not only can this be read to your own biological children or your bonus children, but also to your foster children or your neighborhood kids or your classroom. I’ve had teachers buy it and read it to their classroom and share it as like a social, emotional lesson for kids.”
Stephanie said writing the book – and overcoming her anger – has brought healing and perspective.
"It’s a very simple, short read," Stephanie said about the book. "It has children from different races. It has children with disabilities in it. I also wanted to honor my brothers who both passed.”
She said the book is also a reflection of the care she received from foster parents and others as a child.
“The message is love,” she emphasized. “Always the kind that’s unconditional, the kind where they, beyond a shadow of a doubt, loved you. This is my thank you to everybody who planted seeds in my life, including Buckner, including my foster families, including the family that took me in my senior year, including all of them, my teachers, this is my thank you to them.”
Wherever you go, Near or far,
I will love you, Always, forever.