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!

 

Getting ready for summer!

I haven’t quite figured out when to “change out” the boys’ clothes and finally switch seasons. We had a spell of warmth that demanded the window air conditioners….and then we pulled out the blankets!

But as June arrives, there are just so many wonderful things to do. Check out this list by Pittsburgh Mommy Blogger! Of course, my kids’ favorite is anything that involves water, so I’ve decided it’s time to switch my car over to summer! (And according to the Farmer’s Almanac, it’s going to be a Scorcher this summer!)

My advice after 8 years: This is what you need to have in the trunk this summer:

  1. Swim bag for each kid
    1. swimsuit
    2. beach towel
    3. plastic goggles – the cheap ones because they constantly lose them, bite them to pieces, or otherwise mangle some part of them
    4. sunglasses – which go by the same rule as the goggles
    5. a change of clothes.
  2. Mommy’s swim bag (my favorite bag is a tote by LLBean which they don’t seem to carry any more, but it’s held up!)
    1. Sunscreen
    2. Extra towels
    3. Snacks for rumbly bellies
    4. Cash at all times (replace when used up!!) to buy more snacks for rumbly bellies because they don’t really want the healthy ones that you packed.
    5. Bandaids – you know that they will actually never abide by the “no running” rule around a pool!
    6. Tissues – love when the boys surface from below the water with boogers streaming down into their mouths, completely oblivious, and I try to pretend not to notice ….while motioning dramatically in one of those “get-over-here-and-wipe-your-snot!!” fashions.  Must have tissues….though baby wipes or the towel can be used in a pinch!
  3. Insect repellant – the tick season is upon us and Lyme Disease is hitting epidemic proportions in Southwest PA. Here’s some information from a friend of mine who is THE Lyme Disease expert in the whole world….or at least in Pennsylvania! Dr. Andrew Nowalk’s Lyme disease frequently asked questions
  4. Baby wipes – I can’t say enough about the importance of having these in the car at all times! They clean chocolate off the steering wheel (it happens!), sticky fingers, forgotten-mashed-smelly banana pieces, and so much more. In fact, I love baby wipes so much, I wrote a whole post about them almost 2 years ago!
  5. Bottles of water – this is particularly important for boys who are almost always thirsty, especially after running around under the hot summer sun. But they also come in handy cleaning up messes when you’ve decided to let the younger twoNate mud 5-14wp play by themselves on the other side of the soccer field while Super Tall Guy has practice and you, for the first time ever, spend the session talking with another mother. And then the younger boys return covered head to toe, very literally, in mud and you remember why you never stand and talk to another mother!!  It was particularly humorous, though, to hear another parent find the two boys (as I stood rustling in the trunk for the water) saying, “Um….does anyone know who these kids belong to?” in that unmistakably disapproving tone.  Yes – me… the negligent mother who is happy the boys found dirt, yet slightly distracted by finding ways to keep too much mud from settling inside the car! (Side note – a head full of mud-laden ringlets leads to a very long bath punctuated with clear joy that beckons the other boys to see that the water has become “poop.”  An inspiring conversation about this episode on Facebook has me contemplating the name for a new daycare center or boys’ school – “Boogers, Poop and Bugs.”  Has a fine ring to it, doesn’t it?!)
  6. Rounding out the back of my van, it also helps to have an umbrella (because it suddenly storms), fold-up camp chairs (because I get tired of standing for soccer/flag football), miscellaneous balls to toss around, and $20 cash hidden in the car for the spontaneous pull-over to an ice cream stand moment!

Summer is a joy! Savor every hot sizzling moment and pray there’s an ice cream truck in your neighborhood!

The Arrival of Mr. Trouble….and the house was never the same…

Pudgy, chubby little cheeks. Pink fingers and toes. Soft downy blond hair. We stared at him….he was so fair, so pink, so….white!  We had to keep checking him to make sure he was breathing and alive and he was okay….because he was so white! One day, handswhen he was a couple months old he was crying and crying and his cheeks and skin got all blotchy red. Kathy panicked and called me over to evaluate this problem. I turned to her and said, “He’s white. White kids do that when they cry. You know….if you had birthed a baby, he’d do the same thing” (our family is so freckled and fair).

And, this baby was so quiet when he arrived a week after he was born. He slept, he ate, he slept some more. Nothing – no sound…..for about ten days….and then never again (except once when he had a fever….he actually sat on the couch for more than 10 seconds….and we knew he was sick. It was almost a shame to give him Tylenol and perk him up!).

Almost four years ago, we welcomed Mr. Trouble. I confess that I only vaguely remember the day of his coming – must have been some craziness happening in my life at the time. But I do remember instantly loving his blue eyes and soft hair and falling in love with his endearing smile.

Yet, he comes by his nickname with great vigor. He is a cross somewhere between Dennis the Menace meets Curious George….meets the Tanzmanian Devil. There’s the saying that if a toddler has been quiet for 10 minutes, you better figure out what they are doing. We had to keep Mr. Trouble on a “2-minute leash” – doesn’t matter how exhausted you’re feeling, if you haven’t seem Mr. Trouble in the last 100 seconds, you better stand up and go looking….or you’re just going to be wiped out by the mess you’ll be cleaning!!

It’s pretty clear that he’s going to become a future Nobel Prize winner. His inquisitiveness has no bounds:

  • If I knock over this gallon of milk, how long will it take to travel across the dining room table and splash onto the floor (forming what diameter puddle under the table?)?
  • If I open this box of crackers and toss them delightfully into the air, how far will they scatter?
  • Is there anything in this refrigerator to eat?!?

    kris2

    How about this? Hurt?

  • If I pee on the Legos, how long will it take for the yellow puddle to be discovered?
  • If I bite you on the inner thigh….does that hurt?
  • If I mix and swirl liquid hand soap and Jif peanut butter on the hardwood floor, does it actually clean the floor or just leave a greasy residue?
  • Is there anything in this refrigerator to eat?!?
  • If I knock down the cardboard fort painstakingly created by Super Tall Guy, will he let me join him in play or chase me out of the room in anger?
  • If I be Jake and the Neverland Pirates with my sword and backpack, Little Guy – will you be Cubby?
  • Is there anything in this refrigerator to eat?!?

I am sorry to say it – but this kid is so BUSY all the time, that I am constantly using the “tag, you’re it” policy….ie, “Not my kid!”  My sister….she’s a saint…..and she deserves a HUGE award for keeping him out of the hospital and out of the ER so far. She’s also amazingly patient with him. I’m amazingly hands-off. I know my limits. “Yep, he’s yours.”

But he’s growing up. He’s almost four. We actually let him play for 3 minutes at a time now before getting up to check on him….unless we hear a squeal, then it’s NOW!

Love you, blue-eyed Trouble!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top Ten Trophies for Boys under Ten….and their Mom

My boys love awards. They love medals. They love trophies. Our house is full of “awards.” We have the cheap plastic ones that they walk around the house wearing on odd dress-up occasions. We have the “everyone’s a winner” medals from doing the Junior Great Race in Pittsburgh. We have medals won in competition by hard work and 3-times-a-week gymnastics practice. We have trophies for completing a season and for being the best. We have “Student of the Week” awards and “Clean Desk” awards (but I don’t believe that one at all….given the status of said child’s room). In fact, the boys like medals so much that they give them out to each other sometimes.IMG_0165

And many of these recognitions are fine and good, but I would like the boys to actually earn some of them.

So I’ve decided that here are the Top Ten Trophies to be Awarded to Boys under Ten (at least in my house….in this season of life):

10. The “Thank you for saying Thank You” Award.

9. The “Just Try One Bite without a Fuss” prize.

8. The “Getting off the brother you are sitting on the first time I ask you” Medal of Honor.

7. The “You went in to use the bathroom ….and came out ….without leaving a puddle at the base of the toilet!” Most High Praise

6. The “Most Costly Child” Honor (in terms of total cost of two 42-inch plasma TVs, countless light bulbs, numerous chairs including the portable camp chair I just purchased yesterday for soccer! and so much more)

5. The “You gave the toy back after grabbing it out of your brother’s hands” Certificate.

4. The “Stopped when asked to stop before running in the parking lot” Award for Safety.

3. The “You actually washed your hands after using the bathroom….with soap!?” Amazement Award.

2. The “Wow – your little brother just hit you and you DIDN’T punch him back!” Trophy

And finally…

1. Bronze – “You got dressed without being asked.”
Silver – “You got dressed AND brushed your teeth?!”
And the Gold Medal goes for – “You put on underwear!!” – The crowd cheers!!

Some possible future awards….not yet attained:
• Put the toilet seat down award.
• Ate something green on your own initiative certificate.
• Woke up and didn’t whine within the first five minutes winner (oh, that might not ever happen)

These thoughts ran through my head this week as I thought about the “stars” I write on pieces of scrap paper magnetted to the fridge. When the boys earn twenty, they earn a prize. It’s been a good system for a bit of time. But sometimes there doesn’t appear to be anything that alters their behavior.

This was particularly the case in church this morning. “The talk” was provided before we got out of the car. Reminders were sprinkled over the course of the first few minutes. The five year old was removed to the parking lot for a few minutes for a more intense reminder. But by the time the 7-year-old had racked up an hour of time-out for making noise during the service, the 3-year-old entered screaming for communion and the 5-year-old was playing in the baptism fount…..All three were unceremoniously removed to the car.

My head exploded. My blood pressure shot. My face was red as a torrent of admonitions flowed in anger…..a diatribe reviewing the “inappropriate” behavior and noise during church. That was it. Grounded for the day – 5 year old banished to the third floor and 7 year old restricted to the second. I handed them bagels and bananas and left….zombie-like to the door of the back porch where I sat and cried. Embarrassment makes me angry. Anger makes me sad. Parenting makes me exhausted. Emotions make me clean the house for two hours…..and weed the garden… and send boys back upstairs over and over all day……and realize that with all the awards that I dole out and the stars I reward and the praise and the high-fives, the real award goes to me. Me.

The Bounce Back Award goes to me and every other parent who hits the end of their limits. Who let themselves embrace the hardship of parenting. Who sit and cry at how overwhelming the responsibility is sometimes. Who have learned to forgive their children and forgive themselves. Who get up again and brush off the dirt and say – Here I am. I love you and will never give up. Ever.

Congratulations to every single parent who Bounces Back. Here’s your gold star. gold-star-sxcTreasure it…

….just as you treasure those who cause you to earn it.

Finally writing Part 2: The Arrival of Mr. Ornery

There are three things that I remember about the arrival of Mr. Ornery (well, four if you include the fact that he wasn’t “ornery” from the beginning….it’s just that he’s earned the name from learning over time that he’s so stinkin’ cute that he tries to get away with things!).

1. You should never ask someone, “Are you sitting down?” unless you’re a bus driver about to take off and you genuinely want to make sure your passengers are safe. But if you’re my nate newsister and you’re calling my cell phone fifteen minutes before the start of my second-ever board meeting at my new job, I start panicking that something has happened to one of the two-year-olds at daycare! (At least our day care center has the courtesy to call and say, “Hi, this is KinderCare and the boys are fine. Now, could you please turn in that health physical form before our inspection next week!!)

My sister, however, asks, “Are you sitting down?” “Um, should I?” “Well, Super Tall Guy has a brother.” Then she paused. And it took a while….but then I got it! Oh, my goodness, a new baby was coming into the house!

2. Which leads me to “thing” number two about his arrival – I was about to go in to a 4-hour-long board meeting (oh, I’m sorry, a “strategic planning session”), and, I was just four months into the job and really worried about my role and what I was supposed to be doing. So when my sister said that they wanted us to pick up the baby in 15 minutes, I said that she should go (she was working from home at the time) and I’d get home as soon as I could. I have regretted that decision for 5 years now. I’m not entirely sure why….but it sort of feels like I missed his “birth.” I know that’s not the case, but I missed being “there” the very moment he joined our family and I mourn that in a way. And particularly because I have since figured out that my boss would have been fine with me taking off to go pick up my newest son….had we known all this looking back. I know it’s not that big of a deal in the scheme of things, but isn’t it funny what events really stand out to each of us in terms of wishing we had been present at that moment.

2.5 (I have trouble counting, so I like to sneak in numbers in my listings). Let me go back to that, “when do they want us to pick him up?” “In fifteen minutes, but I asked for an additional fifteen minutes to find the infant car seat.” Let’s think about this. The baby has been in the hospital for 2 full days. The mother is in the county jail (where children do NOT go), so we all know that the baby is not going home with her. And we know that the baby is going to foster care. And we know that the CYF agency is going to call the foster parents who have the sibling first in an attempt to keep siblings together. So, knowing all these facts….they still want to call FIFTEEN minutes before they would like this little tiny baby out of the hospital!?!? This is why I sometimes say that most people have around eight months to think about the fact that their family is about to expand….we have fifteen minutes!

3. The third thing that I remember about Mr. Ornery is walking into the house later that Friday afternoon and seeing Kathy holding him while sitting on the couch. I sat down beside her and she handed him over – my second son. A beautiful tiny little bundle with soft fine hair and a sweet sweet smell, and do you know the first thing I said to Kathy? “You put THAT outfit on him to bring him home??!?” Isn’t it funny – 5 years later, you could put all our newborn baby clothes of five boys in a pile and I could pick out that outfit. I see it in my mind still. Guess I didn’t like it much!.

Okay, one more thing that I remember about Mr. Ornery’s arrival. Kathy told me all the “facts” about the newborn….I vaguely remember that he was a little over 8 pounds (much heavier than the 6 pounds 4 oz of Super Tall Guy who rapidly grew into his enormous hands and feet). What stuck in my head, though, was that he was “white.” That made sense. He was fair and we knew the birth mother is white. A few days later, however, I took him in to the pediatrician’s for his first check-up. I told her the story of his arrival while she examined him. I was telling her how brown Super Tall is and that his brother is white….when she said, “Actually, I don’t think he is.” And that’s the moment I learned how to identify races in newborns (ahem, shading of the “privates”….if you’d like to know. So when they said the same thing when we picked up The Little Guy a couple years later, I just thought in my head, “I’ll see….wait till I get him home and undress him a little”). Of course, the skin coloring of the boys doesn’t matter to me at all. Their ethnicity doesn’t matter to me at all. The fact that they are beautiful and healthy boys… the fact that the brothers are growing up together….the fact that they are my sons…..that’s what matters to me. That’s what matters.

 

 

Thoughts on video-gaming and young children – There goes the TV

(An intermission from my “The Story of the boys” of the past few weeks ….for obvious reasons…..)

Sometimes when I think about it, I think, “Wow, for having 5 boys in the house, we really haven’t had any significant injuries or damage.” But as of this moment, the cost to my checking account is adding up.

It’s unpredictable, really, when Super Tall Guy will lose control and let a Wii remote go flying.

So here are some thoughts on video-gaming.

There are definitely some studies suggesting improvement in eye-hand coordination, spatial reasoning and critical thinking skills. And, from my medical perspective, peer-reviewed scientific studies have found video-gaming linked with better skill in laparoscopic surgery, a field which has cut down complications and recovery time for many types of surgery. This is good.

As I lay on the couch the other day (at 6:05am), trying to pretend like I was going to get a little more sleep, and The Little Guy puttered around while Super Tall played Star Wars Wii, I had a brief moment of thinking how persistent he is while trying to accomplish something in video-gaming. Super Tall will try the same level over and over until he’s successful. And this seemed like a good quality to be practicing, yet in my reflective process I couldn’t figure out if that translated to persistence in any other activities for him. He certainly doesn’t persist in practicing his handwriting and he expects to be an expert in a sport without practicing it….. Hmmm, maybe not so good.

Video-gaming does offer a social component, though. It requires the skill of asking another person if they’d like to play, negotiating the game to be played and arguing over who will be which character, and navigating the consequences of accidentally making each other “die” on a particular level. It also helps in social situations to be able to talk about the games you play, “Guess what? We ‘bought’ the Emperor on Star Wars Wii!” or “What level are you on Donkey Kong?” Developing social skills is a good thing. Yes.

In our house, though, there’s a tendency for these social-skill negotiations to crumble and some “shouting” and name-calling to commence. At this point, a parental figure often steps in with the threat of “You keep yelling at each other and I will turn this thing off.”

I walked into such a threat yesterday morning after returning from the I-can’t-survive-a-full-day-with-5-boys-if-I-don’t-get-a-mocha-in-my-system run. It seemed innocent enough. Kathy repeated that she had warned Super Tall and Mr. Ornery already about getting mad at each other about the game. And then she proceeded to say, “Okay….turn it off.” I had just walked into the living room and in my mind was thinking, “Now, this is a great time to start talking to Super Tall about how we calm ourselves.” (Having just read an editorial in the New York Times about a new strategy to teach children to calm themselves and, having thought it was the topic I most needed to help Super Tall with, I was ready to start addressing it).

I think I literally opened my mouth when my brain switched gears to “Oh no, he’s not really going to….oh he did….oh, he’s dead meat!!” Super Tall jumped up and ran to lock himself into the second floor bathroom. I ran and pounded on the door and yelled, “You better open this thing up or you’re in serious trouble.”

Well, he’s in serious trouble for sure. My Amazon log indicates that April 2, 2012, was the last time I purchased a flat-screen TV due to the effects of “de-pixilation” from a thrown object (and then that TV was stolen and we replaced it in September! Two years….three TVs….). I’m still seething.the TV2

“Why in the world did you do that?”…. “I don’t know.”

“Guess what, boy! ‘I don’t know’ is NOT an acceptable answer!”

I’m still working on what will be his “consequence”! The “natural” one of course is “no more TV”….you know, until I buy a new one (for the other kids). But it has now extended to “no more screens” (including the DS handheld games that have been in time-out for 3 months and were scheduled to return to him April 1). And, most definitely, absolutely, 100% (until I change my mind) “no more Wii until you’re 18!! …or 21….or sometime around there…..some time long after Wii’s become obsolete! And that’s final. Until I think of something else I’m going to add!”

You see, in our household….at least on my “side” of the household….video-gaming is NOT good for young children!

Addendum (3/31/14)

So, I’m putting Super Tall and The Little Guy to bed when Little Guy points to the window and asks, “Why is that broken?”  Good question. “So, Super Tall, do you want to explain why 2 days after breaking a TV by throwing something that you have now DSC_4010broken a blind by throwing something in your anger this morning?!? Do you have an answer other than ‘I don’t know?’ Do you have a plan for changing this?” Do I have to surround you with only soft toys? Sigh. We’re going to work on this….definitely going to work on this.

In the Beginning: Part 0.5

I know you are all waiting for Part 2….and yes, I will write more of THE story. But it just seemed important to back up to Part 0.5 (and maybe even fill in 1.5 at some point), because there’s quite a bit that shaped us before Super Tall Guy arrived.

So….I take you back to the beginning. Back to early 2005 when I stumbled off an airplane after spending a month on rotation during residency in Kenya. Emotionally exhausted from a month of international medicine and more childhood death than I had ever witnessed, physically exhausted from staying up night after night for a month prior to journeying home, yet so delighted to be back to friends and family. I was greeted at the airport by my wonderful sister. “Hello,” she said excitedly…. “so, while you were away, (I think she forgot to say “hey, how are you? how was the trip?)…. I was contemplating the Biblical principle of ‘taking care of the widows and children’….and since we don’t really care about old ladies (ironic, as we had just had a widow in our house for 4-5 months before she left for the mission field), I signed us up for Foster Parenting classes….which begin next week.” Next week….right. Okay.

And that’s how it began.yarn bridge-wp

We sat in classes week after week, confirming again and again that we were in the “foster parent” track and not the “foster-to-adopt” track (you know how that ended) and learning all we could from the Children, Youth and Families (CYF) caseworkers who stood in front of us. There were probably 7 or 8 other couples in the class and I think we were among the few professionals. We were certainly the only sister pair. And some of the trainees were family members of children that were already living in their homes. When classes ended in June, we had our “Home inspection” and passed. Naturally, Kathy then left on a business trip, and our caseworker called. Little Girl S (age 3) and Baby Sister V (age 2) came to spend two nights with us for what is called “shelter placement” (did I mention Kathy was out of town?), that is, temporary care of children while suitable family members are sought. The two were incredibly delayed in development, cowering and shy little blond-haired girls who sparkled after some food, clean clothes and a bath. They went to live with a doting aunt who kept in touch for about a year.

The day after they left, we were called for our “first true” foster child. Sometimes CYF caseworkers bring the children to you. Sometimes you go to pick them up. I drove to the other side of town to pick up The First from his aunt’s house. I knew he was a couple days away from his first birthday and I pictured a crawling cute little helpless baby. I couldn’t wait to meet him.

Knocking on the door, I entered into a world of clutter and confusion, and a little toddler literally running through the house with a bottle of grape kool-aid dangling from his mouth (I knew that instant that we were in trouble 🙂 ….. but I got the cute part right). He was being chased delightedly by the aunts’ older children as she tried to collect some toys and clothes to send along with him. She explained that much as she loved the little guy and appreciated watching him for the past three months, her multiple sclerosis illness and the needs of her 3 biological children were getting to be too much. She handed me the belongings and gathered The First into her arms to walk to my car.

As we approached, a pick-up truck skidded to a halt and the little boy’s biological father jumped out. He shouted expletives and grabbed The First into his arms. The aunt whispered that we were going to tell him I was the CYF case worker (if he asked) for it was apparent that he was intoxicated. The man squeezed The First tightly in his arms, mumbled a bit, and then flung his sun-glasses to the ground in frustration. (At this point, it dawned on me the potential danger in these situations, but I was strangely not fearful.) The aunt took back the child and buckled him into my car seat. She kissed him good-bye and promised to call us and visit him often. A week later, The First returned to spend the weekend with his aunt, but the visit ended early due to his multiple episodes of diarrhea. That was the last time we heard from the aunt and the father’s side of the family.

This little guy was adorable. We loved him. But I was a fourth-year resident and had some rotations where I spent every 3rd night in the hospital and I barely saw his chubby face. My sister, though, bonded immediately. She took The First with her everywhere. They shopped. They went to the park. They hung out at the mall playground. They visited friends and lounged at my parent’s house. They went on trips together and he came on our annual beach vacation. The two were inseparable….. until CYF called. The mother had completed her “checklist” of “things you must do to get your child back”…. and he returned home. I could hear my sister’s tears late into the night some nights. We knew it was going to happen. We knew that The First had weekly and sometimes 3-times-a-week visits with his mother. We knew that she was “making progress on her goals.” We knew that foster children are supposed to reunite with their parents.  Yet we didn’t know the pain of releasing a beautiful, giggling, joyful boy back to his mother.

And we didn’t know if we’d ever see him again.

But we did.

Finally, starting “The Long Story”

I was never one of those high school girls who knew how many kids I wanted, but I knew I wanted kids and I knew I wanted to name my daughter “Katelyn” (a combination of my sister’s name and mine :). I didn’t have a boy’s name picked out and I never knew that I would be adopting….

Last month was a celebration of my adoptions (Feb 12, 24 and 26th). Sometimes I sit and look at the boys bouncing around the room. Sometimes I wonder why I’m so exhausted. I mean, many families have 5 kids. But few families have 5 boys in a five year period – my eldest is about to turn 8, the youngest is almost 3, and my sister’s two are in between these.

So it seems about time to “explain” our situation a little bit (since I’ve alluded to the “long story” before). Almost nine years ago, we became foster parents and had a one-year-old boy for over ten months. He returned to his mother and we had a set of siblings for “emergency shelter” for two days prior to getting a call about Super Tall Guy. I was on rotation in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit as a fourth year resident when my sister called me and said, “Lynne, they have a newborn baby boy that we can pick up….and J.P. has already agreed to watch him.” Yes, J.P. is a dear woman, a foster parent who was fostering 4-month-old twins at the time, and yet agreed to watch Super Tall (at a whopping six pounds four ounces) for the first six weeks of his life until he could be in a daycare center. It was noon and we had to pick him up before the social worker left work at five.

My co-workers were awesome and let me leave a bit early. I met my sister and we found an infant car seat in our basement that someone had loaned to us and we made our way cautiously into the hospital’s nursery. The social worker asked for our driver’s licenses and then showed us to a bassinet with a little tiny baby swaddled in white. We both held our breath. We couldn’t believe it. We were going to take a newborn home. We were clueless. And we certainly didn’t have a “diaper bag” or anything prepared. The social worker disappeared and returned with a pair of blue pants and a striped blue shirt that she put over the hospital long-sleeve shirt. We buckled him into the seat and quietly walked out of the door. We might have started to breathe again once we got out of the parking lot, but it’s unlikely.

We couldn’t do anything but stare at him all night. Kathy ran out and blitzed the store – baby bassinet, diapers, wipes, clothes, bottles, formula….anything and everything that we needed. We had nothing. Nothing except an incredible love at first sight, joy at cuddling a soft sighing newborn, and unending gratefulness for the foster mother who was willing to make this possible for us.

It wasn’t too long before we reached a rhythm. I finished residency with tiny Super Tall Guy in my arms at every event – award ceremony, graduation ceremony, anything – I took him everywhere. Though it was hard to leave him during the day, I was chained to the dining room table that summer to study for two board certification exams (pediatrics and internal medicine). Day after day, night after sleepless night….and one day, I sat at the end of the table when my cell phone rang. Kathy said, “hey, Lynne, they have a two-week old baby that they need a home for.” I said, “oh….well….you see, we have a baby in the house.” Her heart started, “I know, but…” My brain responded, “we have a baby already….” “Aw man, I’m supposed to be in a meeting – I’ll call you back in a few minutes.” She hung up. I returned to mitochondrial disease manifestations. The phone rang. The caseworker wondered, “Do you want to pick him up….or should I drop him off?” I replied, “she said ‘yes,’ didn’t she?”

Enter the Flipper – two weeks old and tiny – a little African American baby with the softest hair I’d ever felt. I spent the next year asking every patients’ mother, “What do you use in your child’s hair,” until we finally found a product that seemed to tame some of the wild. He barely uncurled from his ball-like position. He mewed and sighed and stole your heart the moment we met.

But in the middle of the night, he was inconsolable. He fussed, he wept, and once he got going he shrieked with a sound no human could imagine. I was the “night time” person ….the one who got up all night with the babies. The one who kept diapers and wipes and binkies and bottles of formula on my bed stand. The one who paced and rocked….and fell back asleep before the babies did.

I’m also the one who finally told my sister, “I just can’t take it anymore. His cries in the middle of the night just tear at my soul. I can’t handle him. Either you’ll have to do the nights….or we’ll have to call CYF to find another family.” I just couldn’t….and I’m the “Baby Whisperer” who calms any child…but I couldn’t do anything with this little guy.

I sometimes think about the Flipper’s cries at night. Sometimes I’m sorry that I couldn’t do it. And sometimes I think about the fact that he came to us (foster care) because a couple years prior, an older sibling had been found with over 20 broken bones at the age of 3 months. It broke my heart to think of that baby. And I wondered if that sibling had had the same heart-wrenching, mind-numbing cry in the middle of the night….his mother would have had a real struggle. I who hold three kid-associated degrees and have years upon years of experience working with infants…. I couldn’t stand the noise. Wow.

But Kathy could. She could rock him. She could pace around the house. She could put him in the car and drive around town until he settled down. She could love on that boy….and I could love on tiny Super Tall….and soon we figured out who was “mommy-ing” who.

That’s how our “twins” (separated by 7 weeks) came to be.the first two

Whew…getting late…and Super Tall has come downstairs…is scratching his back and arms….yawning….and giving me “the look”….the “hey, put me back to bed” look (he’s also rubbing his ear and picking his nose, but I probably shouldn’t mention that).

So….the story of the next three boys is just going to have to wait.

I have a Super Tall little man to tuck in again.

Love at Christmas

Love – the final candle in the Advent wreath. Each week I’ve been writing around the themes of Advent, and this week I kept thinking what I would write about in terms of love.

It’s actually more complicated that one would imagine. Probably because love is actually really complicated.

I could throw around a bunch of cliché’s about how I love my kids – how I love watching them engage in sports, love seeing twinkling smiles light up their faces, love their excitement about hunting for hidden Advent Gift Bags and the fight over who gets to open it tonight!  There is so much I love about the boys.

Yet, sometimes love is really hard. It started early with this crew – each of the boys came to me from hospital discharge – age 2 days, 2 days, and 5 weeks (for methadone withdrawal). Each boy was “placed” in my house as a “foster child,” which means I was tasked with “treating them as if they are your own child and yet be willing to give them up at the drop of a sudden phone call.”  So you try this odd sense of love – I love this little baby, but he is not “my” little baby, so I don’t want to get too attached in order to not break my heart too much when he leaves. Hmmmm.

And I ask you? How is it possible to love and not “love/attach” at the same time?  Because you do love – the soft skin, the first smiles, the nestling of the downy head in the crook of your neck. And you love watching the baby learn to coo and sit and crawl and walk and talk-back. You love it all….while you wait for the important “milestones” of foster-to-adopt: decrease parental visitations, “change of goal” (when the agency stops trying to get the baby back to a biological parent and instead starts making other long term plans), termination of parental rights, appeal period, and finally “cleared for adoption.”  And then you await the court date – and stand excitedly as the judge pronounces you mother for life!  And one day, a birth certificate arrives with the child’s (new) name and right under that:  Mother – Lynne Williams.  Wow.

That is patient love. That is love which has survived the trial period. Love which has built up strength and resilience. Love that is true.

Now that the boys are all moving out of the toddler period, a new kind of love is settling upon the household. The “I love you, but….” kind of love.  I love you, but wish you had not thrown that huge plastic car mountain down the staircase just because you liked the noise it made the first time The Rascal threw it down.  I love you, but could do without the whine, the screams, the deal-making attempts (which honestly, make no sense at all, Super Tall Guy). I love you, but would really like it if you stayed in your bed the whole night….rather than smothering me in my slumber.

This is also that true love. The love that says – no matter what you do, I still love you. And the love that says – no matter what I do (get mad, frown, discipline you, go to work, seem busy on the phone), no matter what, I still love you.

Each night as I tuck the boys into bed, I whisper to them, “I love you. Forever. For always, and no matter what.”

My gift to them each and every day – complete, unconditional love. Their gift to me – bouncy, bumbling, blubbering kisses and hugs and love.Nate-light-2013

Love at Christmas and every day of the year.

Glimpses of joy

As you might imagine, I “generally” try to only tell my boys the truth (for example, there is no Santa in our house, though Super Tall Guy still wants to believe in the Leprechaun due to the damage in his pre-k classroom thanks to a creative teacher). However, when I tuck them into bed and try to creep out of the room and they say, “stay.”  I reply, “I’ll come back in 5 minutes.”  They counter, “one minute.”  “Okay, one minute,” I’ll say….and nine out of ten times I do not come back and probably 99% of the time certainly don’t make it back within a minute. The other night, though, I tucked in Mr. Ornery, walked some dirty clothes downstairs and then came back up to “check on” the little guy. I bent over to his small form tucked into a sleeping bag and kissed his forehead.

A slow smile spread across his face as he acknowledged the warmth of my lips. And I thought – “joy” – that was it.

It could have been happiness, but I’m going to argue for joy. That at that very moment, Mr. Ornery knew of my indescribable intense love for him and he was filled with joy. (Or maybe he realized that his mother actually stuck to her word this time and that made him happy!)

These boys bring me joy. They bring me stuffy noses and colds. They bring me sleepy eyes and a tired body. They bring me incredible frustration and a wildly sharp temper. They bring me poopy diapers and Legos underfoot.  They bring me a range of emotions that I had no idea existed. And they bring me joy.

I have great joy in adopting The Little Guy this year and making him a permanent part of this wild family of boys. I see joy in the rare and yet incredibly touching ways in which IMG_3506the boys show each other brief moments of tender love.  I feel tremendous joy when the Little Guy whispers “I love you, Mommy” in the middle of the night when I tuck him in for the umpteenth time….melts my heart and makes me just a little less frustrated to have been called out of bed again and again.

And I know of just so much joy as we trim the Christmas tree, unwrapping porcelain ornaments of the boys over the years and we smile at “how cute” they were and how much The Little Guy looks just like Super Tall Guy when he was little.

We are not always a happy family….but we sure have many moments of “intense and ecstatic” joy.