Some days Motherhood Seems So Surreal

Super Tall Guy and I were in the battle. Lines drawn. Armor on. Advancing and retreating. Serious and big emotions. We’re matched weight for weight and almost height by height. And it was physical. Wrestling. Pushing. Yelling. I stood my ground. He pushed the buttons, clamoring for more power. Arguing for agency and the right to be his own boss.

“You are not the boss over me,” the argument continued.

“I am your mother,” I repeated countless times.

In the heat of the anger, the tears, and the chaos, I finally calmly asked, “Do you need to see your birth certificate? It has my name on it.”

Immediately he quieted. “Yes,” he whispered and followed me upstairs.

He sat on my floor against my bed as I pull out the fire-proof safe and got the key. He sobbed that kids at school had said there’s only one way to be someone’s mother and that’s to birth them. He railed against adoption.

I pulled out The Little Guy’s birth certificate. “See, under ‘Mother,’ there’s my name.”

Same for Mr. Ornery’s birth certificate.

Same for you.

“Well, I’m just going to tear it up,” he yelled. “Tear it up a hundred times,” I countered, “It will still stand. Always and forever, I am your mother.”

We’re going to wrestle about this quite a few times, I have a feeling. In every kids’ life there are times that we challenge our parents’ parenthood or angrily state that we want to go live with someone else, you know, because their “Mom is so much nicer.” But when it comes to adoption, the stakes are even higher. It was a choice I made in a court of law to “become” a mother but it doesn’t change the fact that the child has a sense within that there’s “another” mother out there somewhere. Another mother that “could” be Mom or “should” be Mom or is somehow missing from their life. Even without meeting their birthmom, my boys have to come to grips with the fact that they are being raised, and cared for, and loved by a woman who doesn’t look like them, doesn’t share the same genes, didn’t actually birth them.

Super Tall Guy is the first to express this internal wrestling. It took an all-out physical fight to uncover the core of his distress. Each boy will need to deal with the issue in their own way, just as I find myself needing to deal with it.

I woke up this morning on Mother’s Day, listening to the sounds of three boys stirring. Three boys who call me Mother. Three boys who have new birth certificates with my name in the “Mother” line. What a journey this has been.

Some days I can’t figure out how I got here. Some days I know that I haven’t assumed the mother role completely. The sacrifices. The exhaustion. The endless nagging and battles. The toys that creep across the floor in the middle of the night and sprout between the cracks of the hardwood.

Some days I look at my friends’ comments on all the great trips they are taking, the movies they are watching, the hot coffee they are sipping. I warm up my coffee for the third time and pick up another toy to put it in another spot from which it will sneak out another time.

But some days I cry with pride at the orchestra recital, cheer myself hoarse at the soccer field, and fill my heart with joy as I watch boys tear through Christmas wrapping paper. I wouldn’t change this for the world!

Happy Mother’s Day to all Moms, but most especially to those who have raised their right hand and sworn to be Mom through the ups and downs and received a brand new birth certificate with their name on the “Mother” line!

“Somebody Else’s Kids”

Somebody Else’s Kids. That was the title of the message at church this week. It was a good message by the CEO of World Vision calling the church to follow the Biblical call to care for “the least of these” and the “stranger” and “foreigner living among you.” The primary focus of the message was about the Syrian refugee crisis and the need for the church to step in and help. Half of the 12 million Syrian refugees are kids. Kids who are loved by their family and loved by God. Kids who have seen war and death and need a hope for the future. My heart breaks for what breaks God’s heart.

The title struck me in a different way, though. Somebody else’s kids. I looked down at the almost 10-year-old Super Tall Guy, sitting on the floor of the church creating a military battle scene on the back of the message card. He’s huge. He’s almost up to my nose in height. He’s wearing size 10 men’s shoes. He can lift me off my feet. He looks absolutely handsnothing like me. He’s Somebody Else’s Kid. Or, he was. He was born somebody else’s kid, but he’s my kid now. He never lived with anybody else. He spent two days in the hospital, but other than that, and a day here and there, he’s always been with me. He’s my boy. My son.

But it was a long process. For a while, Super Tall Guy and his brothers each were somebody else’s kids and the “somebody” was the state of Pennsylvania. I loved them and kissed them and rocked them to sleep every night, but I couldn’t make any major decisions about their care, including whether they needed a haircut. It took a court visit, an “I do,” and a signed piece of paper to remove the “somebody else” and make them my “kids.”

Yet I know that they started out as somebody else’s kids. They know it too. We don’t mention it frequently but it does come up every once in awhile.

The Little Guy will be five in a few weeks. At the dining room table the other day, he looked up at me and said, “I want to see my birth mom.” I don’t remember him ever using the word birth mom before. I don’t know why he was thinking about her or what sparked any thought about other moms. Maybe he was thinking about somebody else’s kids. Maybe he was thinking about adoption. Maybe he wasn’t really thinking about anything. Maybe he was just being five. But it’s something all of these kids are going to think about at some point and probably over and over again as they contemplate their journey and their place in the world.

And I’ll be right there alongside them as they go, figuring it out myself as we work on it together, grateful for Somebody Else’s Kids.

 

The Most Important Day for an Adoptive Parent

Nate cake

Mr. Ornery’s whale picture turned into his birthday cake

It has been a week of celebration. The anniversary of Mr. Ornery’s adoption was on Tuesday and his birthday was on Thursday with a party on Saturday. Super Tall Guy was adopted seven years ago on Friday. And The Little Guy’s “Adoption Day” was on February 12th. These are all big milestones in the lives of these boys. Not ones that they really understand yet, but ones that they currently look forward to solely by virtue of the fact that there are “gifts” involved! And that, as we all know, is really the key way to celebrate a momentous occasion!

But to me, the real “celebration” day was yesterday, two days after Mr. Ornery’s birthday. It was on that day seven years ago that my sister received a call from the foster agency that Super Tall Guy had a younger brother who needed a home and would we be available to get to the hospital in 15 minutes to pick him up?

You see, that’s how life functioned in the world of foster parenting. The phone was always nearby in case there was a call. And if we didn’t answer or weren’t available for a child, the next family was called. Some people have eight months or more to prepare for a child. We responded to a phone call, went out and bought diapers and formula, and spent the next few months without sleep at night. Life was chaotic, but exciting and good.

Yesterday, I quietly honored the day I met Mr. Ornery. That’s his birthday to me. That’s the day I looked into his small eyes and stroked his soft skin and said “hello.” That’s the day I lifted him into my arms and breathed in the secret baby smell. That’s the day I introduced him to his older brother and said, “Look who just arrived.” That’s the day my heart jumped and the journey began. The wait. The stress. The worry that he wouldn’t stay with us, that a biological family member might claim him. The long nights and the never-knowing. The ache to claim him as my son and the reluctance to grab onto that hope.

Yet for this child, the family court judge was realistic. She had seen this too many times. She offered birth mom her chance and when she didn’t respond at all, the judge moved the process along so fast that the Adoption Day happened two days before his first birthday!

And on that day, I welcomed my second son a second time.

You see, there are Birthdays and Adoption Days and in foster parenting there are “Change of Goal” days and “Termination of Parental Rights” days, but really in the life of an adoptive parent, the important ones are the “I just met you” Days. That’s where the story begins.

I am so glad to have met you, Mr. Ornery.

Thank you for becoming my little boy.

 

Do not “Play” with adoption

The First Guy has been abandoned by four “mothers” and he has yet to reach his 11th birthday. And the last woman is the one who promised to “love and hold” him forever. You know that term – a “Forever Family” – that’s what adoptive families are supposed to be.

When The First Guy was nine months old, he was placed with his paternal aunt as his mother was running from the drug gangs. She decided after three months that she couldn’t care for an active toddler given her medical conditions and her own children. He came to our house where he fell in love with my sister – the woman he bonded with – the woman he came to believe was his mother. And yet, that’s not how the “system” works. He was returned to his biological mother for a few months until he came back into care with us at age 3 and with his 18-month old sister. Once again, his mother seemed to stabilize so he was sent home until at age 5 he was “too much to handle” and was admitted to the mental health ward. After a crazy couple weeks, the judge ruled he needed to be in a “therapeutic foster” home rather than with the woman he considered to be his mother. He lived in this new foster home, was adopted by the family, and last week was abandoned to a group home.

He’s ten. His aunt gave up on him. His biological mother couldn’t handle him. From his perspective, my sister left him (against every bone in her body but by court order) and then his forever family visited him in the group home and told him, “I’m not taking you out of here.”

You do not play with adoption. Adoption is a choice. Adoption is a commitment to a child. Adoption is a responsibility. Adoption is a heart-ache and a joy. A loss and renewal. It is messy and difficult sometimes.

But adoption matters

To the child.

Did you know that about 5 percent of adoptive parents change their mind and “rehome” the child? It’s referred to as a “disruption” (I get them all day long… “Mommy, can I have…?” “Mom, where is my…?”) It is more common with children adopted from foreign countries or at older ages. It is a combination of families not being prepared enough before adoption and not having enough support services when trouble arises after adoption. And there’s a disturbing underground aspect to it as well as investigated by Reuters.

Let me tell you – there have been some hard days since my first adoption. That moment in the court room when I pledged to love and hold this child as my own – “as if he was my biological offspring” – was an incredibly solemn moment. It sunk into my heart. I held it in my hands. Tears streamed from my eyes as I looked into the face of Super Tall Guy and said, “Yes, I promise.”

I promise to hold you when the world gets too big and the emotions rage against the confines of your body. I promise to kiss away the bloody knees and put you back on the bike. I promise to clean up after you, make you dinner, nag you until the homework is done. I promise to forgive you when you hurt, to grant justice and mercy, to mete out consequences as needed and follow all with the reminder of my love.

When I whisper “always and forever and no matter what” every night with a kiss, I mean it. My promise is sealed within my soul.

Plaque I nailed to Super Tall Guy's wooden rocking horse.

Plaque I nailed to Super Tall Guy’s wooden rocking horse.

You do not play with adoption. Treat it with respect. Children actually are not as resilient as we’d like to pretend. We only say that to make ourselves feel better. To erase our own guilt. To comfort ourselves that they will be okay – they’ll “get over” being abandoned.

Adopt because the child needs you and you need him. Take the solemn vow. Hold it in your heart. Seek help and resources when you need it. I will not judge. I know there are situations more complicated than my own and that children with Reactive Attachment Disorder are so difficult to parent and to love. But I also know that we have witnessed the damage of breaking a child’s attachment and of moving them around. We have cried and we have held on to hope. We know the focus needs to be “what is best for the child?”

The First Guy started to visit my sister this weekend. He may once again become part of our family – this time forever. We are definitely open for prayers and wisdom. This would be a whole new journey.

Always, forever and no matter what.

 

The moments of parenting “expensive” boys!

I sat beside him crying. “I can’t keep doing this,” I said over and over. I’m sure it was lost on him, but the feelings just become so huge and overwhelming to me. Okay….so it’s just a window – I say days later. Yes, it’s the stained glass window that he kicked out – recently replaced and huge –  but it’s still just a window, and just the corner of the window.  Yes, it’s another expense (you know, in addition to the TVs he has destroyed), stained glassbut it’s still just a window. It will cost about $1000 to take it out and back to the store to replace the corner and bring it back, but it’s still just a window.

And yes, it’s another marker of  his inability to control his anger. But really, who am I to judge? Sometimes (a lot…) I don’t control my anger either and I’m 36 years older than him.

Sometimes though it all just feels so “Big” – that suddenly everything is crumbling – that my son has enough “problems” to be asked to leave a school (okay, so a private school that worries they can’t meet his “needs”…); that I’m an awful parent who can’t figure out how to stop the “antecedents” and triggers of anger explosions in my kid in time to diffuse the situation; that we’re never going to get anywhere.

You ever sink into this abyss?

So deep that you drive sub-consciously to Grandma’s house with the youngest child while tears stream down the cheeks?

And you remember sitting down on a date the other week and pausing at the question, “Do you ever regret it?” Tough question. Do I regret adopting three boys? My honest answer – “It’s pretty hard sometimes. But I don’t regret it. The boys need a mother to love them and I do think that the brothers need to be together.” And admittedly, I need them to bring depth and joy to my life.

But driving away from my angry and now grounded son, my tears return to that question. Do I regret it?  It certainly has been harder than I could ever have imagined. My mind briefly recalls reading about “reversed adoptions”…. “failed adoptions.” I remember being appalled (especially as it would completely undermine a kid’s sense of belonging and family and hope) and yet I think I can understand the draw to find an “easy” solution to the complicated mess called parenting.

Sometimes it’s easy to pretend that this parenting is all fun and games. It’s the cheesy Facebook photos. It’s the awesome crafty Pinterest project. It’s the hugs and kisses and gentle sleeping snores of tuckered bodies. It’s the fluff and love. But it’s actually so much more than that.

I talked to a mother of a two-week old last week in for a pediatric check-up. She lamented, “Everyone keeps saying ‘enjoy these wonderful moments,’ but I’m not really feeling it. What’s wrong?” I smile graciously, shaking my head, “Those moments – those moments are rare. So very rare. They will happen, so grab them and hold them in your heart. Because the rest of the moments range from mundane to pretty darn hard to down-right heart-wrenching horrific. But the good moments are just fantastic.”

The other morning the moody, grumpy, stained-glass-window kicking Super Tall Guy rolled over before completely waking and said, “I love you, Mom.”IMG_7706

A moment.

Grabbed.

Held.

Peace.

To us all.

No regrets.

 

How I made a Total Stranger Cry

He sat across from me at the optical store. We discussed new glasses and lenses.

He suggested progressive lenses.

I quipped that I wasn’t patient enough to wait for changing lenses.

He chuckled.

We chatted.

I suggested a new look.

He suggested the extended warrantee.

I agreed – “You never know what the boys will do!”

And then there I was explaining the foster care system to Brian, a young man with long brown hair, dark glasses and a curious mind.

“Yes,” I said, “they call and ask us to pick up a baby in 15 minutes.”

“It’s been so important to me to keep the brothers together.”

“We didn’t expect to be adopting, but now my sister and I have such a beautiful blended and crazy family.”

“Do you know that some kids ‘age out’ of the foster care system? They go through life, never having a ‘true’ family – no one to cheer at graduation, no one to walk them down the aisle, no one at Christmas….it hurts my heart. I would take many more if I could.”

“Do you know you can go on a local news website – click on a link and find photos of kids waiting for a family? Yes, almost like an animal shelter…sadly…”

His eyes welled up.waitingWP

He wiped a tear.

He paused.

“Wow,” he said, “I had no idea….about any of this.”

November is National Adoption Month.

Today is National Adoption Day.

Children are waiting.

 

We adopted a girl!

Her name is Roxy.

She is fourteen pounds.

A Bichon-Terrier mix who is five years old, little and very sweet.

(Gosh….that didn’t take too long in between my weekly posts….)

Super Tall Guy picked out a pink collar at the shelter,“since she’s a girl.” I was impressed by his thoughtfulness, and she does actually look cuter with a splash of color.

First impressions:

Super Tall Guy – very happy to the point of not really knowing what to do (and misbehaving at summer camp – which he attributes to being excited about getting a dog to which I say “baloney. You better behave tomorrow” – cuz that’s a helpful threat.) “I’m so excited we have a Roxy day one2dog! Finally! And in a couple years we can get a bigger dog, like a black lab, and then we’ll have two dogs!” “I’ll clean up the poop in the morning and The Flipper gets to do the afternoon one!”

The Flipper – thrilled and trying to figure out how to “share” this new joy as both of the older boys would like to be “the first” at everything – feeding her, walking her, cuddling up with her to read books.  “Can’t believe we finally got a dog. I love my dog,” as he dances around the room.

Mr. Ornery – impartial and doesn’t really care to be the first to do anything. But since this seems to be the best thing since chocolate milk was introduced into the house, he’s attempting to appear interested. – “Look, she knows me already, she licked my hand”

Mr. Trouble (with a capital T) – senses possible competition for the “Capital T” title and is determined to maintain his distinguished honor. Thus, within a hour, he has kicked over the water dish, opened and closed the crate door incessantly, tried to feed her people food, and opened the doors to rooms we don’t want the dog in.  It’s only the beginning…it’s only the beginning. Kathy already called the dog by Mr. Trouble’s name – a sure sign that this is going to be an interesting experience.

The Little Guy – semi-terrified and semi-fascinated. It’s an approach-withdrawal dance every single encounter. “Can I pet her?”-“Ah, Mommy pick me up!!!”  The key is that Roxy is half his body weight, so I’m hoping he’ll get comfortable with her soon, compared to the black lab at a friend’s house this weekend that left The Little Guy quaking and frozen in place any time the lab walked within 5 feet of him!

First reactions from friends:

“Are you nuts?!?”

“Do you need more chaos?!?”

“Aw….she’s cute.” (that’s if I text them a photo)

“Man, you guys just have ‘adoptive’ hearts, don’t you? If it needs love and a home, you’ll take ’em.”

“Awww!! Precious!!” (also to a photo)

“Congratulations”

“Are you serious?!?”

“Don’t forget, dogs get up just as early as kids to go out to pee!! LOL!” (to which I replied, “well, that’s just going to be the sister’s job then!” and I’m sure early-bird Super Tall Guy will be awake at 5:30 tomorrow to check on Roxy’s need to go out!)

Yep – that about sums up the responses from the first people who have heard. I’m sure it’s going to be a repetition of the above as the news spreads.

As if the kids don’t provide me with enough “writing material”….

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!

 

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.