Monday, June 25, 2018

The Cost

Being a foster parent is a very seasonal kind of parenting, to be fair all parenting is. Fostering has a tendency to just speed everything up. Traditional parenting typically has a 9 month preparation and then gradually you grow and change along with your child, each stage preparing you and them for the next. The sweetness of a baby warms your heart for the struggle of a toddler and that toddler prepares you for the teenager they will be someday. Fostering it all comes at once, you are dealing with the unexplainable tantrum of a little stranger you just met, that may or may not have had some trauma triggered. There is no preparation and often there is very little bond for you to fall back on when you are dealing with the meltdown.

The journey of foster parenting is filling the gap and loving these little souls while their families are healing and rebuilding. We desperately love borrowed babies, snuggling them, becoming experts on all their favorites and studying all their quirks. We learn them, we know them, we love them. Then the call comes, the one we all dread, time becomes short. In that brief moment we are jerked into a new reality, one of counting down and preparing. We wash load after load of laundry walking through our homes gathering their items, we make books, send clothes and write bio-parents a detailed schedule. Other times, we get the call and barely have time to get ourselves to their daycare fast enough to soak up just one more snuggle.

That moment hits and we find ourselves ramping up the grieving process. The loss of little souls we bonded with whether just weeks, months or even a year worth of love. Sometimes we even feel like we shouldn’t feel as deeply as we do for these little ones. It’s the kind of loss that when I speak about it, the lump in my throat grows and no words seem to only escape through hot tears filling up my eyes. The loss that dwells in the quiet and a loss so sharp when we find little socks around the house.

Our home has been in all sorts of transition and to be honest, I haven’t even processed a fraction of the change we have been through. I am putting that on the to do list, right after find new insurance company and before book a massage. Many of you have followed our story sometime now, so you know back in March our sweet four year old boy left us just shy of one year of being with us. We threw a huge party, rallied around him, made books, talked it through and cried a lot of tears as a family. It was my first experience walking through the loss he was going through, he was my first verbal processor that suddenly left without much notice. Six weeks later the call came again for his return, that time he was with us two months. Then another goodbye, less extravagant. A couple of my kiddos have come and gone several times that one is a hard one to juggle.

Then two weeks ago, a mere ten days after he left our home the call came. That night he was being dropped off at my doorstep. The heart of a foster parent is trained to be malleable, we are quick to adapt to change. We become parents overnight to strangers, with invisible suitcases filled with trauma. Attachment disorders quickly teach us that this is not about us but them. We are tossed to and fro on the waves of emotions as we are helplessly falling in love with these borrowed babies. At times the bonds are slow to form so we must press in and love well even when we don’t feel like it.

I am finding myself clutching a bit, holding tightly to the things I feel I can control with the reality of loss. Every time I look into the eyes of my babies, that may just be mine for a season I am learning to savor them. Oh, to hold a perfect memory of every look, smile and memory forever.

To love deeply is to lose deeply and what a bittersweet gift that it. To know a love so deep that when it is gone we can physically feel the void. May we find the strength to love these borrowed babies well, with our all, if even for just a season.

Monday, June 11, 2018

The Imprint

The ache of foster care is real, the longing, the brokenness, the hellos and goodbyes. Realities felt by more than just us, the foster parents (families). These Little Ones are no stranger to loss. The biological parents no matter how caught up in their addiction know well the ache that dwells in the silence and sobriety. That ache is what often drives them back to the escape of choice.

The loss that a bio-parent experiences is deep, overwhelming and covered by shame. In moments of sobriety they are confronted with the harsh reality of their choices. Their choices are the very ones they swore they would never make. Their choices have gotten us all here, to this reality. They hate themselves for becoming the very people they swore they never would. They have made their choices and have gotten to here but now that burden is there to bear and it is a heavy one.

As foster parents we are aware of the risk of stepping into this world. We have willingly stepped into this reality, loss and all. Subjecting ourselves and our families to the ache and pain that comes from loving borrowed babies. The moment we must choose to embrace the now and today for the unknowns of tomorrow, our hearts are in jeopardy.

At different moments, with each of my crews, I have crossed some sort of invisible threshold. A threshold where there is no going back, the moment I let my heart be clutched in these little hands. The moment, where it feels like I am beginning the long fall, downhill towards the reality of loving them, whole, with it all. Where the risk is great and loving them is the best thing I can give them, whether they are with me a week or a year.

I am not a big crier and this isn’t my first rodeo, but I have a moment with each of my Little Ones, where I weep over them. When I cry over the reality of our relationship, aching for the things they have known and will never know. My Mama heart breaking for them, not because of them but for them.

The ache that follows me through this life and reality. It is there in the quiet hours just before sleep. There in the early mornings filled with sweet baby snuggles and sunshine. It is there in my days, filled with court hearings, visits and hard phone calls.

The loss of a child felt by foster parents is in its own category, in a way we make the choice. We step into this journey knowing that our time with them is temporary, some people would even say we know what we got ourselves into. Every once in awhile what was a temporary time frame becomes forever. However, until that occurs loving a borrowed baby takes a balancing act of love and loss. A willful choice to press in, we know some people will come into our lives and some will go, no matter how much we pray and will them to stay. It is in that balance that we dwell, knowing the greatest gift we can offer is our heart.

The imprint of us on their souls and them on us, is what changes the world. No moment or act of kindness or love goes by wasted. Those moments are the very threads that weave our souls together, healing and transforming us into the very souls we were created to be.

Monday, June 4, 2018

If They Only Knew

The looks still come, at times it seems as if people watch me and my kids with their head cocked to one side, like my dog does when I drop chips into a plastic bag. People watch us, seeming to make sense of what they are seeing, trying to figure our family out. We are a scene, they watch our van pull up and empty out. We command attention when we enter in the room, if not for our noise level but because of the sheer volume we all occupy.

People seem to cope with their observation of my family by a look of disapproval or with a comment, reflecting what they see. I am still trying to find a less annoyed response to the comment, 'you sure have your hands full.'

ME: 'YEAH, you should see my heart, or my new favorite, sure do, both of them!'

Some people, scan us assuming they have us figured out, the unringed left hand, tattoos, a Mama with the diverse group of children, no doubt living off the government. They walk by us with a look of judgment. Some people stare at us in what I am guessing is fascination, I mean who wouldn’t, look at this super cool Mama and all her adorable children. They watch us as they are trying to piece together if they are all mine and deciding if they should ask. Some people watch with a smile as they observe how kind my children are, stopping us to offer us a compliment.

Being a single mama who needs to get things done, means that my kiddos and I all run our errands, we are like a well oiled machine most of our trips are successful and enjoyable.  There are some moments when trauma is triggered and the spiral begins, usually with lots of noise.

Early in my days of Motherhood, I was so consumed by what others thought. My first year was heavily motivated by the truth, that I had to prove I could do this. That made me parent my kiddos without much grace, in those days it was less about them and more about me. After realizing that was just a band aid and would not work long term, I have changed my tactics. I have learned to parent them with their healing at the forefront of my mind. That means sometimes, we do strange things in the aisle of the grocery store.

However, there have been many moments when I have felt the social pressures around me and my insecurities are triggered that, I wish I had a shirt that said, 'Please excuse his behavior, I have only been his mom three hours and I too am unsure why he is doing this.' Those moments in my days, where I just wish for a second, they could see the whole story, because if they only knew...then maybe they would give us more grace.

I was late to the meeting but if they only knew, that my little girl looked up at me and with tears in her eyes that she can not and will not go to school. Because in a moment of insecurity, she came completely unglued which resulted in me having to play detective to get to the bottom of just what she was feeling, knowing it was more than her being defiant. After figuring out what got triggered I then spent all my extra time giving her a pep talk about just how amazing she is.

My son is off task and fidgets all day, they want a label and medication but if they only knew what kind of internal struggle he has each day about his origin, his loyalty and the images he has seen that still lie in wait in the back of his mind waiting for just the right moment. Disorders and trauma share a lot of the same behaviors.

My daughter just shut down completely when the teacher asked about her homework but if they only knew that her keeping it all together is what she fights hard for each day. She avoids any kind of crack in her wall of perfection, in fear that one crack and the whole things will crumble. Perfection is how she has survived the things she has seen.

My son just completely lost it in the middle of the restaurant but if they only knew that he just got back from a weekend visit with his parents and in his exhaustion he begins processing trying to find words for all the strong feelings and chaos he feels. He is not a bad little boy, he is just a little boy whose heart is hurting and he doesn’t know how to say what he feels, so screaming and throwing things is how he gets it out.

The school calls we have been tardy 12 days this school year but if they only knew that most of those tardies was due to the fact that most mornings any given person in our home may decide to process their tragedies moments before we walked out the door. It’s not a matter of us needing to wake up early as much as it is, a conscious choice that healing takes time and is pretty inconvenient and creating space it to take place is essential and may make us late.

My daughter won’t respond to authority and laughs at the consequences given, but if they only knew she is not a defiant child but a scared one. In her three years she has learned that people leave her and her way to control that is to push people away, so she doesn’t get hurt.

To walk a mile in someone else’s shoes we have to get uncomfortable a bit, we have to willingly step into their world. Upon gaining better insight we will begin to understand just how our action must become counter intuitive to what we always thought. Empathy, has the power to heal this hurting world. Next time you see someone behaving in a way that is offensive to you, pause for just a moment, if you only knew….