Our 18 month old, Oakley, SMACKED our foster son (age 3.5) tonight. Like – hard. I wouldn’t have blamed him if he had smacked her back, especially with his skills and experiences. But – he didn’t. He said, “Show me gentle hands. We don’t hit in this house.” Moments like these honestly blow me away. How can children who have been so hurt be SO resilient? I am sure they are so much stronger than I am. I started typing this, and then I heard someone cleaning downstairs. Alyssa, who didn’t even play in the play room tonight. I asked her what she is doing. “You do so much for us – I didn’t want you to have to clean this up tomorrow.” Are. You. Kidding. Me? A lot of people, social workers included, have commented on how having six kids in the home must make it impossible to meet everyone’s needs. There are certainly moments we would agree. But – they teach each other so much and there is so much to be learned in an environment where people HAVE to chip in in order to stay afloat. To use gentle hands, and to walk gently in the lives of others.
I started packing some of the boys’ things tonight, as in 17 days they will leave our home and start life with their forever family. I am emotional, but I am at peace. I am grateful for our time together and the lessons we taught each other. Two families will become one for the next three weeks, and then we will go our separate ways. Gently.
Sometimes kids are mean. Sometimes people don’t understand our family. “Sometimes adoption sucks,” says Alyssa. Yes. Sometimes it’s really, really hard. “But that’s not about you. And that’s not about me,” she added. Truth.
I am reminded how much “adoption sucks” by the tears flowing all of our house lately as we prepare to say “see you later” to our foster sons. It will be so bittersweet – they need to get where they are going. With this new perspective, I look back to when our kids came home, and I can so clearly see that we didn’t leave enough space for the grief of losing their foster parents (whether they were great or terrible) and their history. We were SO excited they were coming home that it was hard to pay close enough attention to their pain. It’s funny, because I have noticed that the more we “get” that, the more the kids talk to us. The closer we get. I used to feel threatened or something by their past. I was jealous. I wanted to look forward! Inadvertently, I think we sent the message that we couldn’t completely hold that space of grief for them. I like to think we understood this more than the average bears going in give our lines of work, but sometimes you just don’t know what you just don’t know.
A month or so ago, a kiddo was crying. “I miss my Mom.” This was quickly corrected to “I mean, my birth Mom.” It JOLTED me. That was corrected to protect ME. Oh. My. Gosh. In that deep place of sadness, my own child felt the need to protect me from a silly qualifying word. I felt terrible. I vowed to give off a different energy (which sounds weird – but I didn’t honestly say anything about it, I just felt determined to be the protector vs. the protected). This weekend, I heard – “Mom, I miss my Mom.” I have four/six kids, and I love them all. Who is to say we can’t have/love more than one “Mom” or “Dad?”
Jacob, Alyssa, Oakley, and I were on a walk tonight. One of them randomly said something like, “I love our house! I really love that we have trees to climb and stuff.” They asked how we found it, and I told them we looked at a TON of houses, but we looked at each other as soon as we came in this one and said – “This is home!” Jacob laughed, and said, “that’s funny…I felt the same way.” So…yes. Sometimes adoption sucks. Most of the time it doesn’t.
We are still a family of eight, for another month or two. And then we will be six again. For awhile. Until we say “yes” again someday, despite many reasons to say “no.” I’m not sure if that will be the day after the boys go or 10 years from now, but I know our paths will cross with the right child(ren) at exactly the time when we all need it most. The amount of healing we have all done in these last 8 months is hard to even articulate.
I was home with five of the kiddos last night, and Jax and Oakley were goofing around while I put the boys’ pajamas on. Jax jumped into monkey’s crib, and monkey got a little upset. “Dat is MY bed. Dat is my safe and cozy bed.” It was so adorable and heart-breaking. I let the meaning of that sink in during bed-time books. My eyes welled up, as they often do at bedtime these days. Safe.
We have had a lot of questions about what’s going on, and it’s a tough balance of needing to maintain privacy, needing to get support, and wanting to educate people about the process of foster care. A generic review – reunification is always the goal of foster care. Biological families have about 6 months to make positive changes (this can be extended if needed, but timelines are becoming more important). After a minimum of 6 months, parental rights may be terminated if there is not adequate progress. This sucks. At this point, “they” try to find a relative to be a permanent option. If that can’t happen, foster families are often asked to adopt. If that can’t happen, families who are already homestudy ready are recruited and selected (the point we were at when I started this blog when we were matched with our forever kids). At this point, our forever family is complete. We are grateful to be a stepping stone of their journey. And also, that part can feel really, really crappy. Guilt and grief are not strangers right now.
We are food and rules and clothes. We are healthy food and hugs and diapers. We are sippy cups and doctors. We are blankets and comfort. We are warmth. We are healing and high fives. We are love. We are structure. We are play and adventures and happiness. We are a safe and cozy bed, but we are not forever.
We are quickly approaching the moments people talk about when they say “I could never foster – it would be too hard to let them go.” I felt ready for this, for the most part, until this invisible clock started ticking in my ear yesterday with some changes in court. Six kids is a lot. It’s slightly exhausting. The thought of “only” having four is appealing. And yet – I have this pit in my stomach that won’t go away. This week, I will hold the hands of two little boys as they say goodbye to their biological family forever. I will buckle them back into my car and drive away from all they have ever known. We will stuff our faces ice cream and I will apologize on behalf of everyone in their life. I am sorry. I am so, so sorry. Someone has to be responsible for this…it can’t be them. It wasn’t their fault. They are lovable and amazing and they were no mistake. Someday soon, I will buckle them into someone else’s car. I will watch them drive away from me, from everything they have known for the last 8 months. Our house will be so quiet. (Ok, quiet-ish.) No more “ahhhh morning!” from monkey first thing every morning. No more “maybe it’s a mystery!” from rabbit when I lose things, 42 times a day. No more of the millions of other happy memories I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
I brought “rabbit” some new pajamas home today, and he threw his arms around my neck. “THANK YOU, MOM! I LOVE THEM!” He kept those sweet little arms around my neck for the better part of five minutes. I couldn’t even get through our bed-time book without crying. “What’s wrong?” he asked. “I just love you so much and I want you to be happy. So much.” He laughed – “I *am* happy! I love you.”
I don’t know how their story is going to end, but it has been an absolute privilege to be a chapter in it.
I had a hard week. Nothing was different, really, but it was hard. Like…sort of mental health crisis hard. I felt like changing careers. I felt like being done fostering after this round. I felt kind of like running away.
I spent the last 24 hours getting a game plan of sorts, and thinking about what was so much harder this week. This is the life we have chosen. I have the incessant urge to heal people who feel broken, which results in constantly being immersed in other’s pain. It’s what I do for a living, and it is the way our family is formed. Anyway…for some reason, what popped into my head was the advice of the nurses after I had Jax’s c-section to “stay ahead of the pain.” Once you get behind, they told me, it’s hard to catch up. Take the pain meds even when you don’t feel like you need them. Stay. Ahead. Of. The. Pain. That’s a hard thing to do when you aren’t feeling pain.
This feels a lot like self-care, to me. It’s hard to remember when you aren’t in crisis. But for the love of GOD, you have to do it. For me, self-care means working out, having an hour of quiet time somewhere in my day, monthly respite/date night, blogging, music – playing or listening, getting time in nature, and practicing daily gratitude. I am focusing tonight on my 3 year old foster son thanking me for letting him stay here. I am choosing not to let that break my heart, but to feel peace about being a stepping stone on his journey. I am grateful for my kind 10 year old daughter, who felt my stress and asked – “can I fold a couple baskets of laundry to help you?” I am thankful for my circus clown of a husband, who brings constant joy (and maybe a little confusion?) into our home that could have the potential to have a different feeling when all of us had such different beginnings. I am thankful for the grace and chaos from our six kids and the love in our home. I am re-centering and vowing to stay ahead of the pain, because compassion hurts.
So – our family is the size of the Brady Bunch. THE BRADY BUNCH! I don’t know why that incredibly random thought came to me today, but it did. You’re welcome for sharing.
UNLIKE the Brady Bunch, we have a lot of big feelings here. The kids do, but also me. I have had a few friends inquire lately about fostering, and I participate in adoption panels when I can. What usually comes to mind is that all the feelings feel so much bigger. All. The. Feelings. When I used to think of fostering, I thought of it as pulling kids out of their “story” and into ours. The reality is that we very much get pulled into theirs. It’s pretty painful sometimes. As our forever kids get bigger, we are navigating some new territory with birth family “stuff.” It’s kind of hard. But also, moments of peace take on a new meaning. I feel a new level of gratitude for small things. They thank us for things most parents don’t get thanked for. And then hit us, because feeling happy and grateful is scary. Must. Create. Chaos.
Lately we are getting a lot of the “I couldn’t foster – it would be too hard when they go.” We have experienced the full range of fostering from “I. Can’t. Do. This. One. More. Day.” to “I might not ever really be ok again after they go.” All of that is okay, in the end. These kids deserve our grief. They need someone’s heart to be broken over them. I’m ready to take that on. Sort of. But I might cry in my car every day. It’s fine. Stop staring.
We just passed the 3 year mark since our two came home. That seems bizarre – because in the grand scheme of things, three years is nothing. Yet…it seems like an absolute eternity! Facebook has this newish “look back” feature, so I frequently read back on blog posts from 3 years ago. It is energizing, because it is almost a tangible way to see progress. I remember so, so well wondering if our kids would ever be healthy. If our family would ever be “normal.” If we were ruining our lives. Oh, how much peace I would have had back then if I could have seen a glimpse into the future. To see Jake covering Jax $2 when Jax began to tear up about being short for a lego set. To see Alyssa helping me with Oakley on her hip while the two of them giggle. To see the level of kindness and empathy and overall awesomeness.
We just came back from a great family lake weekend. While we were cooking supper tonight, J asked me if I thought it was a mistake. Was what a mistake? “Like…did I accidentally grow in my birth Mom’s tummy? Did someone mess up? Cuz I feel like I should have been in yours.” He asked me if I agreed. I know he wants me, on some level, to say – “yes, buddy, there was a terrible mistake. You should have been our birth child.” And yet, it is part of his and our story, and that. is. ok. His story is okay!
Our bonus boys went to respite care this weekend so that our forever family could have a little re-charge time. We called it a “slumber party.” When we were heading back to get them, J summed up foster care pretty clearly in one sentence. “My whole life was like one giant confusing slumber party until you gave me normal.”
A giant confusing slumber party. Isn’t that the truth?