Trial by Fire

Well, you might notice I haven’t posted as much recently as I did before. I know it’s the lamest thing ever to talk about not posting, and then to talk about talking about not posting.

I mean but honestly, that’s kind of part of this whole thing. I want to share with people what it’s like fostering, what I’m learning about life and myself and humans and God, and about what happens when you take two people from completely different lives and stick them in a house together (when they stop being polite and start being REAL…. the REAL WORLD). Except instead of producers deciding what you see like a reality show, you get a massively over-thinking over-emotional over-verbose run-on-sentence-loving 30-yr-old’s perspective. That’s what I want to do.

But in several different ways, this certain toddler who has come to be a part of our family in the past 3 months poses a really different set of circumstances from the baby we got almost a year ago. We’re running a lot more into the “it’s not my story to tell” category. Because his story (his history) is different, because the situation (current) is different, and because the kid is different.

I may well have learned more in the past 3 months than in any other 3 month period of my life. Not all good, I can tell you that. You know how you learn humility? You know what they say? Sometimes you learn humility by being sweetly taught and by practicing it… but sometimes you learn it because you thought you were a reasonably altruistic, loving, gracious, patient person and then you find yourself consistently being none of those things, and your pride is not so much gently pruned as it is charred to the ground.

I will say this, and hope that it’s helpful and not cryptic: I have learned a LOT about what I believe “family” means. I have learned a LOT about what it means to want something, and when that ‘want’ is the most important thing, and when it is NOT. This is the most true with human beings. To want, for example, a husband or a wife – this isn’t bad. To want children, not bad. Obviously. But when it’s people, and particularly when it’s permanent – there is a lot, lot, lot more at stake than filling the role that you want to be filled.

We want kids, and we want this kid, but that is so far from being the point in any of this discussion that it’s hardly even part of the conversation any more. We are not filling up bedrooms, we are doing our best to be responsible with little lives. (While I’m on this topic, maybe I’ll go ahead and link here for a good perspective on making sure we’re adopting responsibly and not just focused on getting what we want.)

I have had a lot of questions about sovereignty and fate and chance. Cliche, yes, but again, one of those things humans keep coming back to because…. it’s kind of a big deal. Never has this conundrum been more obvious to me than in this particular field, when (for example) a child’s permanent home/family can be decided by who on a call list picks up their phone first.

Is God in that? Is human decision in that? Is God in human decision? Sometimes; I don’t believe he is all the time. Sometimes it’s just people, and sometimes people screw up. Ultimately, does it matter? I like to think no. I like to think God is a director of steps when people allow him be, but he is a redeemer of all things regardless* (when people allow him to be).

I have learned a lot about Mom. About the idea, the role, the figure, the person of Mom. I had an idea from the perspective of daughter; I got more of an idea when my friends started having kids and then even moreso when my sister had her babies… I learned even more when we had our baby placed with us.

Mom is the answer to your cry, the meeter of your needs. Not always, but during the infancy phase. Baby wants it, baby gets it. Mom teaches you that you will not die, and that you are not alone. Mom develops massive crick in neck because you finally fell asleep and she refuses to move and disturb you. Mom thinks ahead so that diapers are stocked and formula is plentiful and bottles are washed and naptimes are respected. Mom takes you to unfamiliar situations and experiences and is your traveling Home Base so that you can start to see new while still in the arms of home.

This is an entirely different thing than that. We skipped ahead about 11 months developmentally from the baby to the toddler; from a little tiny lump when the baby was introduced to us, to a mobile, semi-verbal, already-fully-attached-to-a-different-Mom person. I had to be a lot of those things to a kid that did not want them from me, not at first. He wanted them from someone else, and had no idea why she wasn’t there. I also had to be a lot of things I had no idea how to be, because I’ve never remotely parented a kid this age. I have to start to teach manners and sympathy (“we don’t hit because we don’t want to hurt people”), good behavior and FOOD (omg food) (“we can’t eat bananas and milk for every single meal of every single day, we HAVE to find something else to eat” “[HANGRY MELTDOWNZ 4EVER]”). And this without even the remotest understanding of what he comprehends in terms of cause/effect, words I am saying, what rewards/consequences he expects or responds to, etc.

But it’s getting so much better. And mostly I guess I am starting to learn that I am not terrible at it (and at life).

I am starting to learn that every time I get tired of answering “Mama” from the backseat 184,592 times per car ride, or every time I get to my parents’ house and am practically giddy with the thought of sitting down for a minute and letting them chase him around, or every time he yanks a toy away from another kid and I am mortified and feel like I have failed to teach him to be a decent human being and I want to (but don’t!) smack him upside the head… that does not mean I am failing at attachment. It does not mean I am failing to love him as he deserves. It does not mean I am terrible at this and he deserves someone better.

It came so easily with the baby; partly because he was a baby, partly because of his personality, and partly because I was so fresh and so new at the whole thing, rather than in the middle of one heartbreak as another situation started.

The thing is, we have a ton of fun. We have dance parties in the living room and we have family inside jokes, and he and I have been to parks, playgrounds, the library (he LOVES books!), the pet store, the Arboretum, we draw, we spend toooonnnnssss of time outside learning tooooonnnnnsssss of things. He learns about a hundred new words a day**. He gives FANTASTIC hugs. Sometimes, when I put him down for bed or a nap, instead of sobbing like he used to, I hear him singing made-up songs that basically go “Mama, Dada, [his name], Mama, Dada, [his name].”

But most of the lessons are coming from the hard parts, and I have been afraid to post because I was afraid it would sound like he’s HAARRDDD and I’m WHINING and I don’t want that to be what people think of this kid, that he was a challenge that served to teach me a lesson. He is a precious, invaluable, entire person, whom I am only just beginning to get to know, and won’t completely know even if I know him for 70 more years. He, like everyone else, has the capacity to be gracious, loving, selfish, generous, cruel, President of the United States, convicted felon, Harvard valedictorian, middle school teacher… any old thing in the world.

The situation is kind of a b—-. If you’ll pardon my Fr—-. I am afraid people already have a subconscious tendency to see foster kids as a challenge or a hardship or even a ministry. There are some people who I think expect (as my friend says) “carpet-burners”, but also I swear some people look at me when I reprimand him like “I can’t believe you yelled at this poor orphan!” as though he is some kind of saint that deserves charity. Foster kids are just people. They are no better or worse than your kids, or your selves. He is not more or less difficult, he is not more or less worthy of the unconditional love of a parent. Our toddler is not a challenge (well… any more than any other toddler is). The situation is a challenge; the situation is hard. For no one more than the kids themselves.


*This goes for marriages too, btw. Maybe one day I’ll write a post about that too. It’s obviously best if we make God the director of our steps in choosing a spouse. But I actually do think anything can be redeemed.

**Slight exaggeration.

Posted in Fostering, Posts by Abbey

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