Tomorrow will be six months since our second foster son was placed with us.
And on Tuesday, in about 58 hours, we will adopt.
Look. I want to be honest. I have had a hard time figuring out what to post publicly because I want you guys to know what this process is like, I want you to know what I am learning and unlearning, and I also want you to want to do this (that is my
super secret motivation for this blog there I said it), but I also want to be careful of how my kiddo learns about his past and his situation in the world.
The truth is, this relationship, my relationship with my son, started out shall we say… less than idyllic. I don’t want to be romanticizing things here. We had a little boy dropped in our living room, 4 days after the first time we ever heard his (first only) name, by a CPS worker and an ECI worker who barely knew him, with two rather impressive ear infections and five changes of clothes and pretty significantly behind on sleep. We didn’t know a nap schedule, didn’t know what he ate, didn’t know his bedtime routine, didn’t even know how to interpret the sign language he knew. He had been at another temporary home for 7 days before coming to us, so by then he was GOOD and mixed up.
This little boy was dropped at our house SIX days after we learned that our first little boy would be leaving. I don’t know exactly how to unpack the mourning process of that period, although I’ve tried, but what I can tell you is that there were TWO people in this house for a good bit of time that were busted up messes. Two people with extremely short fuses and two people prone to temper tantrums. Two people who would burst into tears at the drop of a hat. Two people who wanted to love each other but didn’t really know how. I thought of it for a long time as HIS transition issues, and sometimes I thought about MY difficulties with sending home our baby, but the truth is we kinda went through the wars together.
[It is worth noting at this point that I am talking about ME, not WE. Dane and I processed all of this very differently. I don’t know how to explain the type of person that he is but I can say that he fully loves/d our baby, fully mourns/ed his leaving, and also fully welcomed our toddler with wide open arms. I am so envious of his ability to not self-protect even when his world just got blasted apart the same as mine did. I can tell you that during this most difficult 6 weeks-ish, the most common words out of his mouth were “How can I help?” “What do you need?” “What can I do?” Go play trains for two hours so that I can think by myself in my own brain and also not feel guilty about how I’m not attaching to my child or giving him Lasting Lifetime Special Family Memories? Sure thing. Do bath time like five nights in a row because I can’t do any more battles today? Absolutely. Junior Mints? Wine? Already bought them. Back rubs? Listen to me cry and blubber for 3 hours? Done and done. Double stroller on Craig’s List so we won’t have any more parking lot/traffic chase scenes? No problem.]
But our little man and me, we had more week days together, times when it was me and both boys rather than when Dad was around and we could divide and conquer. I tried so hard to be the grown-up, the one with tools to use to process and to behave correctly, even when I didn’t want to. And sometimes I actually managed to.
I comforted him in the middle of the night, when he would wake up, or half-wake up, just sobbing. Not baby-crying, not wailing, often not even loud. I don’t know if you realize this but this is not something you hear very often – a two-year-old crying in a way that really isn’t intended for someone to hear and respond to. I went in often even when I wasn’t sure I was even comforting; when he’d jerk his head up every few minutes off of my shoulder and look confusedly at my face with his infinity-deep brown eyes, and I would just be like “neither of us even know each other. What are we doing here?” (not out loud obvi) and then he’d put his head back down, and then do it again a few minutes later.
I did go in… until sometimes I just couldn’t. Sometimes I knew we both just needed actual rest and sleep, and when I went in, he never ever slept. Sometimes I knew I was just a reminder that the Mama he actually wanted wasn’t there. Sometimes I would think of my baby doing this exact same thing in a few weeks at someone else’s house. And so I said to myself, “I will be here tomorrow, his tummy will be full, he will be warm and dry, and we will have fun tomorrow. He will have to just go through enough nights where the morning comes and we are there, that he will eventually not be afraid.”
I don’t know. Maybe I should have gone in every time. But the truth is, this poor little guy got a broken Mommy, the not first but final Mommy he knew. We lashed out at each other sometimes. We both cried. I wasn’t a rock and I wasn’t a perfect refuge, like I thought I’d always be able to be for foster kids. But I was a human, and I think that we now have a sort of deeper respect for each other than we would have if he met me at my “best” and I thought I knew what I was doing.
I feel like I can say this now because truthfully, truthfully, I look at that now, that one or two months where we were just a hot mess held graciously but barely together by God and Dane and sheer willpower, and I want to say I’m sorry to my son that he had such a hard time and I’m sorry that I had such a hard time, but we suffered together and we’re both all done now, and we’re us now, and we couldn’t be us the way we are without having been through what we’ve been through, together.
You know what though? We’re not all done. I am not all done mourning my baby and he is not all done mourning his biological family, not by a loooooong shot. But now we mourn as a family, not alone. I don’t spend trying to say goodbye to the baby and then spend trying to be his mom. Now he fills me up. He is my sweet, brilliant, hilarious, precious son and when he hurts for his family that he lost, I hurt with him, instead of wringing my hands and saying “What on earth do you want from me??” the way I did that first month when I thought I had nothing to offer, when I thought I was failing and I wasn’t what he needed.
And I also look at it, and I think: Come Tuesday, you will be my son forever. For the actual rest of our lives. What I want is for people who look at fostering and see that possible difficult month or two (or six even) of transition and say “I can’t do that.” – I want you to know that I would go through that month or two over again, even just for the 4 months that have come after. I would do that month or two over again a million times for the 10 months we got to spend with our baby. But when I look at that month or two, the hardest of my whole life, in comparison with the rest of our lives with my son??? You look at me and say that month or two is not worth it??? I look at you and say you’re crazy.
I also look at that month or two and what I learned about my God and myself that I just plain wasn’t going to learn any other way. I will never hear the words “gave his only son” the same way, ever again. The advent season – where God took his son, who was affirmed and loved 100% purely 100% of the time, and sent him out into a world of broken people to be at their mercy – will never be the same to me.
I learned the truth that every single human life, no matter how seemingly arbitrary or bizarre or tenuous their connection to you is, how unfamiliar or even completely unknown their background, every single person has the potential to be an irreplaceable, essential part of your family, if you can humble yourself and just learn about them.
I learned that I am not a strong or gracious or patient person, I am a person who up until now has had a relatively trial-lite life, and I now know better than to think I am all great at coping or at managing or at Being Compassionate better than anyone else out there.
I learned that my marriage, and all marriages, are intended to be places where you honor and uphold each other, and you stand up when the other person is dissolving onto your shoulder in tears, and then they do that for you, and sometimes you dissolve on each other’s shoulders, and that you can do more than you ever thought, and you can survive more than you ever thought, and you can love more than you ever thought if you just keep your promises and consider the other person as higher than yourself.
Six months. The first six months. Of many, many six-monthses. My sweet boy, you are so, so worth every single minute of it.