I have only as long as he sleeps…
The acorns are falling from the trees. We call them ‘carns, after Delaney’s adorable mispronunciation; I am not sure if indeed they are acorns. Every couple of minutes you hear one hit the earth, bounce off the wooden deck, land with a loud thud in the empty plastic pool. Birds are happy today, chirping loudly, and the squirrels squabble and chatter atop the fence. The only hazard to being outside are the buzzing cicadas which have leapt forth from their tree branches deciding collectively to reign hell onto the earth below. They’re huge, ugly, and do not seem afraid of darting towards an unsuspecting human. The only reason I am braving this taste of the forthcoming apocalypse is that I know these mornings will soon be gone, and I will want for warm air against my skin in place of the cold, quiet winter.
I’ve stepped away from this computer twice since beginning – the baby is restless and would prefer to lay against his Mama’s chest, but he will do just fine for an hour while I tend to my soul. I do anticipate at least two more trips to the nursery to return paci to lips, but I do hope he endures his nap – I have much work to do here.
Oh, what a ride! Several weeks ago we laughed with nervous yet obedient anticipation at the unknown child soon to be in our home. We stayed up late talking about the reality that soon a brand new baby would be ours to care for…
This journey … a deep sigh just flowed from my lips … This child.
He has brought so much light and purpose to our family. Each day we grow more in love with him. My daughters each with their own tenderness for their baby brother. Delaney has taken to “hug” him while he is strapped in the carseat, hanging from my arm. She yanks on the seat bottom, secures his legs in her grasp, and smooshes her face closely into his. Most of the time he whines with disapproval because I’m pretty sure Delaney has the hardest noggin on the planet (it’s all that milk!) but I think it is sweet that she calls him her baby. “No, he is my baby, not yers!” Jemma will hold him all day, every day (unless her friends are playing outside in which case she is out the door). If he is not where I left him, Jem has him cradled up next to her, or he is laying against her tummy while they laugh on the floor. She cried when it hit her that he might not stay forever – sometimes, she still asks if we know yet that baby brother will stay forever. I am honest with her, with them, and no matter what, I will believe and think that this is good for all my children – whether he leaves or not. One can never go wrong giving love where love is needed. Layla is particular about when she holds the baby – I think still getting accustomed to the feeling and routine of a new baby – as the oldest child she has the greatest capacity to decide for herself how attached she becomes; she loves him for sure, but prefers still to kind of let me lead her with him. If I ask her to make a bottle or feed him, she will do it, but then easily sets him in the swing and goes about her business. It has been so wonderful to watch them all grow, give, and love on this child.
This new role, this facet of the journey – I am constantly amazed at the capacity I have to adapt to this, and surely I know that is from the Lord. It was not easy to go from normal nights of sleep to up every two to three hours; not having prepared for 9 months which culminates in a birth – all of which primes you for the little sleep you get when baby comes – I’ve never been handed a newborn for 24 hour caretaking who was not born from my belly. More than just the practical aspect of a new baby but I’ve had to emotionally process all the aspects of this reality, some all in one go, but learning that some of this will have to evolve as we go forth and experience this unique path of fostering. About two weeks after he was placed with us, I sort of broke down for about a good day or two – struck with the love I felt for this brand new human and the reality that my heart will break if he goes. I could not back out, give him back, say no. He became my responsibility, with all the details, appointments, doctors’ visits, paperwork, drives to parent visits 40 minutes each way once a week, CPS visits to my house, court hearings, oh, and the intentional giving of my heart, my sleep, my patience, and my faith to a baby I have no legal guardianship over. He is mine, but he belongs to another mother and father. It hit me what it means to do what we are doing.
We love him so hopefully he can feel it and learn to receive it, and to give it back to others. We meet his needs, so hopefully he can learn that he can trust his caretakers and form bonds with those around him. We decided to change everything about our life – Our home, the day-to-day of life here now forever altered. Our minds – we have stretched outside our comfort zone, had our world opened to some pretty dark places in society, and we are being asked to love, forgive, and pray for perhaps the most broken among us. Do this while we step forward to parent their child. Our hearts – we feel the contradiction of emotion pulling us two ways: As foster-to-adopt parents, we desire to raise this child if God gives us that chance, yet we also see a place for deep compassion, and prayer for redemption in their lives – and in that way, if God wills it that they can find true healing, we would love to see their son get to grow up with his true parents. Such a place as this – to dream that he might be my forever son, and start to imagine him as a toddler, as a little boy (oh, my heart swells with affection even now to imagine it; tears begin to form in my eyes…) I have dreamed of having a son my entire life, and I would love for Baby Bear to answer that prayer forever. Then, to meet his parents and look into their eyes. To shake their hands and have the only words I could get out besides hello be, ‘we are praying for you’ because that is the one thing I could think to say before tears welled up behind my eyes and the lump in my throat made it impossible to talk. The exchange was swollen with emotional tension, and my husband said all the right things as we stood there all together. I heard a bit about my son’s father’s story – from his own mouth, ‘they have the same hair,’ I thought. I searched my son’s mother’s face for physical connections – her eye shape, her nose, her lips (Baby Bear has the most smoochable sweet baby lips ever!) trying to divert my head quickly in case she noticed me studying her. It was no more than three minutes of time together – but enough to embed in my very soul a desire for their redemption. After all, I love their son; they chose life for him – and God chose us.
One thing I’ve had to learn through is what to say to people about our journey, and our son. Not meaning whether I say his “story” or make it obvious he is my “foster son” (I do not tell his story, and if anyone asks, I simply say, “that’s my son” unless they press further in which case sometimes it is appropriate to say it). What I mean is, when I write something like the previous paragraph – or I talk about this journey to friends, I hear often things like, “That is amazing what you are doing, you guys are awesome!” I hear, “Oh, I could never do that – good for you!”
I honestly do not know what to say to these things. Because while it may seem amazing or different or hard, when it comes down to it, I really do not feel like we are special because we are foster parents! We simply chose to meet two needs: The community around us, because once you realize the sad and prevalent need of your neighborhood orphans, the abused, the neglected – it becomes PRETTY HARD to turn your back from it – and the second need is one that makes it very hard for me to feel like “I am doing something so amazing”… I want my son! I want to help raise a little boy into a man. I want to teach him about Jesus and how to treat a woman and watch him learn from his daddy because he is always holding mama’s hand. I want to sit in the stands at sports games and paint his number on my cheek and be that obnoxious mom taking way too many pictures. I want to teach him how to drive a stick and make sure his dad helps him change the oil and tires. I want to be the arm he holds escorting me to my front row seat as he marries the love of his life – knowing I will always be his Mama, his first important girl.
My son. Need number two, in my mind, pulls harder – gets the most mental attention. Therefore, I do not often feel like we are deserving of praise for being foster parents, because the need is my own.
I guess too it is a strong belief of mine that a lot of families could do what we are doing… that, specifically, because I know how we are as a family – we are not scheduled and lack consistency in certain areas (see: Laundry), and I lose my temper sometimes and tell the kids if they don’t stop arguing I’ll pull the car over and make them walk home (which, come to think of it, I should probably not say that specific empty threat anymore – sort of a “foster care language” rule! Man…) The point is, we are not superheroes, we do not have our entire lives figured out, and this CAN BE REALLY CHALLENGING at times trying to make it all fit – BUT we simply said yes. We said we would give it a go – and it really was that, just that, the desire to act that sets us apart. We chose to meet a need, a local, important, meetable need, and in the process of meeting that need, we get to raise a son! We get to give more love, feel more love, and yes do a bit more driving than previous days, but seriously if someone like me can do this…
The sun has come out again after two weeks (maybe more) of continuous rain. It began with a boisterous, colorful thunder and lightning storm a few weeks back and the sky has remained grey ever since. Today I can see great swaths of blue – I think that is partially what makes the birds so happy, otherwise it’s eating cicadas midflight (which I hope to God they’re doing because I swear these bugs are minions from Satan).
I know that soon my baby will actually rouse and not fall back to sleep, thus I should wrap this up while I have the chance. I am grateful for this easy morning. For the simple moments that make breathing easy.
Funny how God has written our stories as they are. Right now – presently. We all are in the midst of a divine weaving, and I see each thread to my tapestry with great clarity and gratitude, if only in this exact moment. Perhaps I will walk away from this computer screen, back into my house, and the dog will have peed on the floor, I’ll remember that I have to buy a tiny plastic piece to fix the dishwasher but I’m pretty sure they don’t manufacture it, and the toilets need to be bleached. I will zoom back into the reality of being a mother while my husband is on a business trip – the sole caretaker to 4 children after school bells ring. I’ll need to run errands today – make appointments, update paperwork that’s due every month. . .
Such a delicate balance, this moment, but I am really good on my toes.
Another long night awaits, but not for me. The wonderful thing about not breastfeeding an infant is that I do not have to do all his feedings; the burden, the joy of this work, does not fall solely on me this time. This is a new experience for me, and I look forward to an uninterrupted night of sleep tonight.
We are all doing our best to adapt to this new little guy.
The girls have been restless and needy, I expected this. It makes for longer bedtimes, more cuddles and reassurance to my baby girl (who, by the way, is almost 3 – where does the time go?) I have to remind myself, and John, that things will need time to settle in; baby bear is a great blessing to us all, but it has surely changed the dynamics of our unit significantly.
As I reflect on these past several days – since the fateful July 3rd when we officially became foster parents, I am left in awe of what we are capable of. Of the way my family has been willing to change and grow to accommodate this new baby. None of us could have known quite what to expect as we have never ventured here before, but all the while, I find myself certain that this is the right path for all of us.
How could more love ever be a bad thing, anyway?
Though, at the end of the night, I am here wondering what is to come. The uncertainty strains my heart if I am not mindful of our role here, because I already see the looming fear in their eyes that this might not be permanent. We are all opening our hearts here, doing so while we have no control of the final outcome of this child’s experience in foster care.
Today I got all three girls and the baby in the van for the 35 minute drive downtown to the CPS office. There, we handed a carseat and its special cargo to a stranger with a badge. We said goodbye and went about our hour and 15 minutes wait until his return. I carefully and thoughtfully packed his diaper bag before we left. I made his formula and stored it in the bottle thermos, packed extra clothes and a blanket. I included a note that read,
“Hi! Your son is doing very well! He had a visit with the pediatrician yesterday and he is gaining weight, and doing very well! …”
The rest is for them to know… I wanted to be sure they knew if even only in some small way, I was in their corner. And I am taking care of their son as best as I can. I wanted to give them the opportunity to share in the joy of their child, even knowing it must be painful – what they are going through.
One thing I heard during our training for foster parenting was that it can be hard at times to support the birth family, when the end game for the foster parents is adoption (there is an entire segment of foster parents, like us, who are doing this to find their forever children and will foster until they adopt). It is hard to encourage them, and help them, because if they succeed and reunification takes place, you “lose” your child…
My heart went out to them today, even as it felt thick in my throat as I let my baby bear go, because it must be hell to be in their shoes, after all they are the reason this little child came into my care…
I just want, ultimately, for redemption to take place for my son’s parents, because whether or not we adopt him they will always be an integral part of his story.
After he was carried away to be with his mom and dad, I had to take a deep breathe and trust. Trust that this is all going to go according to a plan much more sound than anything I can conceive in my mind; trust that God knows this child’s future, and ours, and his parents’, and we will all be okay.
It is not always easy to believe it, but I feel with each passing day that there is a plan here and this precious son of God will be given exactly what is right for his story.
Right now, he is ours. He is our borrowed son, our most precious gift from the Lord, and exactly where he was supposed to be. I like to focus on the here and now, the reality of him being here is proof that this is in His hands… and He has entrusted him to us for a reason.
For me, it is love.
Last night, in the wee hours, I rocked him as he laid against my bare chest. I was exhausted, somewhat frustrated with the lack of sleep that I so desperately needed, and I felt moments wherein my love for this baby was so evident; I wear it in my eyes, I give it with my gentle touch stroking his hair, and in the way I can fight through little sleep to give him what he needs…
Am I afraid he will leave? I ask myself that a lot, actually. . . It is the most common question I get; the answer changes a lot, but deep down, yes – but I know that we will get through that if it happens, it just is not a very pleasant thought when we all really want him to stay forever.
I keep reminding myself that we signed up for all of this, though even in that knowledge, I could not have prepared for how much, and how deeply, I would love this baby boy. That makes it creep around in the shadows a lot, this fear of his departure, because I look at him and I see my son.
The son I have prayed for all my life… yet I have no idea how this will go, and whether or not he is, indeed, our forever son.
I am putting in the work, giving him my all, and it might be for a season and a day will come when he will leave and we might not ever see him again. That is the reality, the fine print, the work of a foster parent that keeps us so entangled in the here and now, because this may be it – the only time we have to love a child so desiring of the most basic human need.
So, we love him. While he is here. We love him. And we keep going. Despite the fear, through the fear, and on to a future that God knows while we wait to discover it.
Who knew I could do this.
“I could never do what you are doing,” they say, often. I hear this almost every single day. People hear the stakes… to love and maybe let go… and they tell us we are “so good” for doing this.
What I think, honestly, is that it really is just love. It is, indeed, the most basic human need – and if you can give love, if you can dig deep, educate yourself on the great need of loving foster parents in this country – if you can realize how much these children need something so vital that was robbed from them, then you too can do this.
We aren’t different, or special, or brave. We saw a need, a hole in our society that we need to shed light on, and we saw an opportunity to grow our family in a different kind of way. We said yes to someone who needs love. And everything else that comes with this: The fears, uncertainties, questions, doubts – they melt away when you finally hold that child. We held him, we hold him, and we just keep going, knowing that he needs this, and if we can give it to him, why would we not do it?
I am grateful to be here. It is a privilege to love this child, and I fall more in love with him each day; knowing what I know about him, his story, I believe any loss I might feel in the end, well, it will be a small price to pay in comparison to giving him what he needs.
He needed a mom, so I stepped in, and he became my son.
He will always by my first son. Hopefully my last – but that’s the thing about foster care, we won’t know until we know. Until then all I have to do is love him.
For months leading up to last Tuesday, I mentally tried to prepare myself for the addition of another child. Carefully selected nursery room-décor, sweet and soft blankets folded neatly under the changing table, moseying about materially preparing for what was soon to come. We had long conversations with the girls, talking about what it means to be a foster family – asking them what excites them about having a baby brother – we made sure they understood, as best they could, just exactly what laid in wait.
Up until we matched with Baby Bear we had to try and imagine what these changes would look like. As the Real World would say, “you think you know, but you have no idea”…
Driving to the hospital, empty car seat at the ready, diaper bag full, we giggled at times, others sat in silence, hands tightly clasped. Steps towards the doors, elevators, nurse’s station. I wondered, “how will this feel?” anticipation coursing through my pulsing veins.
This moment, right here, might be the last, or it might have been the first of many like it; only God knows the end of this chapter –
We washed our hands, glancing back and forth at one another, nervous, excited. Unsure but so ready to dive in, finally.
John was the first to hold him, feed him. I helped the nurse with our part of discharge; she asked questions about our parenting experience, coached me on proper nutrition, watched as I drew up a syringe to the appointed dose. I switched my eyes from hers, so she knew I was paying attention, to this little bear in my husband’s arms, itching to have him in my own. “So this is him,” I mused to myself (and to God), nodding my head as I answered questions and returned my gaze to fill out yet another stack of paperwork.
Gown yanked past my wrists and pulled atop my shoulders. Back upright, gaze fixed, arms… full.
I had wondered, and even sometimes cried about, what this moment might feel like. I doubted the notion that this child would receive my love from the first moment we made contact; ‘surely it will not be like it was when I held my daughters for the first time – he is not mine’…
Funny, how we underestimate divine love. How we question its power…
God appointed this child to us. For this time and space. He chose him, turned the cogs, and a series of events transpired that, at last, we meet.
None of my children were born as small as this babe felt in my hands. I pulled him close to me, smelled his hair, and pressed my lips against his cheek. Primal, really, so natural. In an instant, I knew. THIS.
This is love.
The days pressed forward since he has been home, and my family has done a rather stellar job of getting along. Of adapting through these changes. We use words like, “boy, he, and his” – “brother…” “Son.”
Vocabulary changing our hearts every time spoken or heard. Changing the landscape of our family – forever.
I remember the day we officially became verified foster parents, signing papers and doing the final home walk-thru (who knew we had so many expired medications!?), one of the Directors of our agency mentioned, atop the mountain of paperwork still left, that we will not really let it sink in – the ongoing paperwork and process involved in being foster parents – until we get our first placement and all these things become relevant. He said it won’t sink in how many appointments, meetings, and drop-in visits we will have once we become custodians to a child of the State, until we are driving halfway across town to yet another required engagement. I sat and listened, intentionally engaged in their preparations for the coming weeks, but they were right – you can not “know” until you are thrust into it on top of the excitement and change of accepting a new child into your home.
We were prepared very well, and excited for the changes they said were to come once we became, officially, a “foster family” – 6 months of agency meetings and trainings, paperwork, inspections and the home study itself. Long, deep conversations between John and me until late hours of the night, pouring over the details of life as we know it with the girls, trying to imagine how this new adventure will shift our relationship with one another and our kids. We prayed a lot, read books, watched YouTube videos of other foster parent/child experiences. We continued adding on to an ongoing conversation with each of our daughters, talking out feelings and concerns, explaining the process of reunification, and what it might look and feel like if we have “brother” come, and then leave… We laughed about the love he will bring, and how even if it gets hard at times, and even if he eventually leaves our home, he is now inside our hearts, and he will always be treasured.
We thought we were… Prepared. I thought.
For the past 6 nights, I’ve been roused in the deep night by cries for cuddles, bottles, and burping. For changed diapers, re-swaddling, and kisses on chipmunk-cheeks. I’ve bathed him, dressed him, and strapped him against my chest in the carrier.
I’ve watched my girls, each attaching to him in her own unique manner, hold him tightly, smiling at his yawns, his smiles, his stretching hims muscles so big!
I’ve watched my husband become misty-eyed finally holding “his boy”. Today I crept downstairs to hear him telling baby bear, “You really are a part of this family now, come sit with daddy”.
He really is a part of this family now.
I am so grateful for his presence in our home. For his sounds, his neediness, and all the time it takes to figure out how he needs our love best. I am thankful that my daughters are in this, supporting us and loving on him every single chance they get. I am so amazed at the endurance, devotion, and sweet tenderness of my husband- how he picks up the slack when I need a nap with the baby, and does not mind missing a night of Jiu-Jitsu because the girls need someone to run outside with and I can’t do it because of the baby in my arms. I am humbled by the grace of God, that I have the energy to love and serve my family after long nights awake with a little bear, and we are finding joy and connection together as now a family of six.
Today, we got a visit from our case manager for our agency. She is bubbly, easy to talk to, and eager to help us navigate this process. I opened my heart to her quickly as to maximize our time together, she held him as I spoke, smiling down at this sweet little guy in her grasp. She understood my concerns, my feelings, and my fears – assuring me that what I was thinking, and how I feel, is a normal part of this experience.
(Every day I’ve been grateful we chose this agency. They have been exceptional; their heart for “their kids” – the energy and heart they put into this calling – is God-driven, and such an amazing display of God’s kingdom at work).
God has placed the right people beside us to navigate with. And he has placed the perfect child in our home. He is so wanted, adored, and loved – and really that is what we set out to do; bring love and light, and hold God’s healing in our arms.
I am trying to think of how to wrap this up. The hour is late, my eyelids are beginning to resent the light of this computer screen, and soon baby bear will need to have another round of sustenance, sweet cuddles, and belching. I will do my work, the work of a mother. . .
His Mama –
I could not have known what this was going to feel like. I prepared as best I could. But love knew, and rested in a single moment when all of this time, all these prayers, would be given a name.
It was that moment, when John placed him in my arms. When the months of planning, dreaming, waiting, and working became just the starting point of this amazing journey. I could not have anticipated that I would be “his mom” from the moment I placed my lips against his sweet-scented hair. A child not born from my womb but delivered to me from God in a brand new way. One not born from my body, born from my love, but instead born from tragedy, pain, and loss – but this will not be his story, for now he is mine. And I will do what he needs, no matter the cost to me, because he is worth it.
Love makes me do this. It is changing me, and I will take what comes as we walk forward in trust. Because God appointed this time, and this space, for me to be the Mama to baby bear, and I will ensure I am up to the task.