The Final Little Guy (at least currently)

(My sister informed me this morning, “Hey, I didn’t receive a Middle of the Madness email yesterday!” I replied, “And do you remember that I had something stuck in my eye last night and couldn’t hold the right one open?” So….I’m a day late…but here.)

Almost exactly at this time, three years ago, on an ordinary Thursday morning, I was presenting to a group of doctors about the concept of a crisis nursery like Jeremiah’s Place. My cell phone vibrated in my pocket and I ignored it through the talk, through the questioning time and as I walked out of the building with my colleague. Reaching my car, I returned the call to my sister. “How busy are you?” she asked. “Well, things are pretty busy,” I thought of all the work to be done on the nonprofit, raising two boys, working 3 part-time jobs.

“Super Tall Guy and Mr. Ornery have a little brother.”

Huh.

I called the caseworker back and she asked, “Are you ready to adopt another boy?” I couldn’t answer. Wow. There was no way I could commit to that in fifteen minutes. Adoption is a big decision. I finally replied, “I can commit to fostering the brother, but I can’t say I’m ready to adopt today.” (Of course, you all know, that the moment I said the first “yes” – I was also saying the “adoption

And so there was The Little Guy! He was ready to be discharged that afternoon, after spending 5 weeks in the hospital for methadone withdrawal. We were leaving for the beach in two days – Saturday morning. So I drove home, picked up a car seat, chose a “cute” take-me-home outfit and headed off to the hospital.

The Little Guy was tucked in the corner of the nursery. He had a little MamaRoo swing that he apparently had loved spending time in. He had a whole lot of nurses who had loved him for the past month. He had a few outfits and apparently a grandmother who had visited a couple times. I met with the resident who was “discharging” him and walked out with a little bundle. We went straight home so I could have a little time with him before the brothers arrived.

Then we went into hyper-drive – packing even more than usual for a beach vacation – diapers, baby clothes, bottles, formula, binkies, pack-n-play, blankets. It was a hectic start but in a way it was nice to go away. We all had time to bond some with this little guy, rather than returning right to work as is typically the case for us in getting newborns.

The Little Guy came to us at the “oldest” age for an adopted boy. Sometimes I’m sad about missing out on those first few sweet weeks (though I guess for him they were difficult fussy weeks of crying and sleeping through medicated stupors). Sometimes, though, I wish the “System” would have called me right after he was born so that I might have visited him during those weeks. After all, with the birth mother in jail, they knew the baby would go to a foster home and they always try to place with siblings first. And yet, the “system” is that the Child Protective Services aren’t even notified until right before hospital discharge. And maybe it would have been hard for me to see The Little Guy struggling to clear drugs from his body. And yes, it would have been hard to squeeze in time to sit by his bedside at the hospital (likely it would have been late into the night). And yet, I would gladly have been there – for everyone needs to feel love and comfort – and a new little guy certainly needs that.

It was a “rockier” time with the adoption process for the Little Guy. I had started blogging by then so have shared several of the stories along the way. Long story, shorter….therenot-the-dad-2 was an identified “father of the baby” who was incarcerated, but who wrote letters to the baby at least 1-2 times a week. I finally became weary of this “relationship” and asked for paternity testing…which revealed that he was “not the dad.” That awkwardness ended but I still had to face the birth mother during a “contact visit” at the county jail before the adoption (yes, I made the commitment) finalized just before he turned two.  (Three years later, I’m hoping that my advice to seek contraception was in fact followed. My hands are a bit full.)

Part of this “rockiness” led me to talk to Super Tall Guy a bit about the situation with The Little Guy and the birth parents. Apparently Super Tall Guy then had some hope that The Little Guy wasn’t going to be staying around and taking up attention and space and toys. Even just last month, as an 8-yr-old, Super Tall Guy lay in bed one night and said, “I wish we didn’t adopt The Little Guy.” It seems life is still rough to be sharing time and attention. I’m sure that all families struggle with how many kids to have, and for us foster-to-adopt families, it’s hard to predict how all of this will play out. Will the foster kids stay and become adopted….or will they tear your heart in two as they leave? As hard as it is on the adult, it also has implications for the kids in the household as well.

Three years later, The Little Guy is still “the little guy” (though he’s finally solidly on the growth chart!!)I used to tell people that The Little Guy got the “memo” that he was Boy # 5 and life would be easier as a calm, mellow little dude. And he sure did get a “memo” – the one that said, You’re Boy # 5 – you better be extraordinarily loud, stubborn, and strong-willed. I know these characteristics are going to be fantastic strengths one day, but in a 26-pound three-year-old, they are an expressive, argumentative, whiny, outspoken little guy!

 

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The beginning of “motherly love”

The pastor this morning asked us to think about that “moment” when you felt a mother’s love for your child. She started by describing the pregnancy and the feel of the baby within and the developing love as you bonded with this new creation. And then those first few moments after birth….and the first days and weeks when your love grew. The process is so very different when you are part of a system – the foster care system.

I was “in love” with Micah from the moment I first saw him in the hospital bassinet….barely listening to the social worker tell my sister and I about him. Yearning to pick him up as she briefly left to find a set of mismatched clothes to put on him. Staring at him in the back seat of the car….well, staring at the back of the carseat facing the other direction. Giddy about getting him home and holding him. In awe during the first few middle of the night feedings. I was in love.

But it was not a “mother’s love” – I was not his mother. There was a qualifier in front of the word.  “Foster.”  It was always there – “I am a foster mother.”  This is my “foster” child. We have “foster” children. It was not until Micah was 22 months old that I could jump over the “foster” word and leave it out altogether. Not until that moment in the court room with tears welling up in my eyes and my heart so full of love that I could fully claim to be a mother….that I could claim him as my son.

So that love was a journey….a push and pull….an embracing of the little boy and a slight holding back in fear and worry that it might not work out….that he might return to his biological mother. Yet I had a sense with him that it was almost 100% okay to love him. Similarly, it seemed so certain with Noah. He was two days shy of his first birthday when I was told that I was his mother, though the love had blossomed long before then.

And then there was Seth. Seth began with a phone call that asked if I was ready to “adopt another?”  I honestly wasn’t prepared to answer that within the 15 minutes that they wanted a call-back. I knew at that time that I was struggling with Micah’s behaviors. That Noah was just embarking on his two-year independence regime. That I was ramping up work on a new nonprofit organization. It was a busy time. Yet….and yet…Seth was blood brother to the boys. My answer was “yes to the fostering… time will tell about adoption.”

Two days after picking him up from the hospital, we went on vacation to the beach. I spent the week bonding with him – shocked and nervous about another boy. Trying to convince myself that this would and could work out. By the end of the week I was ready to be mother to another. And….a letter sat in our mailbox waiting for us to come home. A letter from a man in prison professing his love for his newborn son. Happy that he had a home to stay in until his father would be free to come get him. Struck down, I cried.

For months I received at least weekly letters and drawings from the alleged father. For months I tried to offer Seth a mother’s love while trying to protect my heart from the pain that was coming. For months I tried to talk to Micah about this “father” who would take Seth someday. Months and months (8 months and 6 days to be exact)….until the Not the daddypaternity testing.  We celebrated with a cake and my heart began to take away a brick or two, a shingle, a siding…open up some space…and let the mother love take hold.

 

 

  • To love is a very precious thing.
  • To become a mother is a very difficult journey.
  • To know of motherly love is very ephemeral
  • It is only in moments that you might touch it
  • Moments when you kiss the head of the sleeping child on your chest in security and comfort
  • Moments when you rejoice in the first touchdown or goal, heart welling with pride
  • Moments when you point to an adult and tell your 5-year-old “Someday, boy, you can be just like him. You can do whatever you want to do,” knowing of the dreams you have
  • Moments when you realize they are the air that you breathe, the last thought before you sleep, the face you delight in in the morning.
  • Cherished, loved, (entirely frustrating and maddening at times) and so delightfully mine.

My three sons…(minus the “foster”).

Happy Mother’s Day!

Celebrating the Foster-to-Adopt completion

I’m not going to lie – parenting is exhausting…especially if you’re starting to get a cold (two weeks of wiping aside snot and I’m finally starting to succumb). So hosting a party of 15 boys (under the age of 9) and 2 girls was definitely tiring – and yet so much fun. Yesterday we had a party to celebrate Noah’s 4th birthday and Seth’s adoption. This brought together the 17 kids for the birthday and about an equal number of adults for the adoption. Today I reflect on how wonderful it is to be surrounded by so many people who care about my boys and our family.

For many people, families and friends celebrate the birth of a child. Friends gather around the new baby and the beaming parents, visitors come and go (and people make you food!), and gifts pour in. Mothers stay home from work for some time (and it would be nice if we let fathers do so too)… cooing over how gorgeous the baby is, who he or she looks like, and “napping when the baby naps” (or at least that’s what people say they do!). It is very different when you adopt a child through the foster care system.

This week I have looked down at Seth every night as I plant a kiss on his forehead and say “goodnight, my son.” It is the first time that I’ve been able to call him my “son.” And it is the first time that I realize I can bond with him as my son. It is a very strange thing. As a foster parent, you are asked to “love the children as if they are your own” and yet to “keep your distance” as your job really is to hand them back to the biological parent (when at all possible).

So there’s this closeness of rocking them to sleep every night, and this guarding of your heart in preparation of possibly losing them. You pick them up when they fall and kiss the “boo-boo,” and wonder how long they will still be in your house. You bounce them and tickle them. You praise their every milestone as they grow. You hold their hand and protect them. You take them to day care and pick them up. You take them to doctor appointments, you sit and pray over them as they recover from surgery, you worry about every cold or fever or wheeze. You ache, you agonize, you cry, you comfort….you love. You know the baby needs a “mother” and you play the role of the “mother,” but you never know if you are the one who will be the forever mother. Until that very moment, years later, when a complete stranger in a black robe declares you to be the mother.

Then you sigh. Then you cry. Then you gather your friends and family around you and say “Celebrate with me. Sing with me. Dance with me….on the “birth” of my son.”

Micah – I met you May 22, 2006, and became your forever Mommy on February 26, 2008.

Noah – I met you Feb 27, 2009, and became your forever Mommy on February 23, 2010.

Seth – I met you on June 2, 2011, and became your forever Mommy on February 12, 2013.

Tonight I lay on Micah’s bed beside him as he snored and looked around the room at my sleeping family. My sons. Beautiful each one.

And I love each of them….

now with my whole heart.

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