Sunday, January 31, 2016

A Week Later

We have had so many people support our family and pray for us with Baby S's departure. I am so thankful for the love that has come our way. Thanks for the prayers, guys; we crave them, and we believe they make a difference.

How's the week been for us?

It's a little surreal. We are used to long stretches without Baby S. We are used to waking up in the morning and doing the quick calculation of "how many kids are asleep in our home?", or hearing a child during naptime and thinking "is there a baby in our crib, or is there another kid in the building?". So there are a lot of moments where I know he's gone, but then the reflex response takes over, and I have to recalculate in my head and realize Baby S is not here. The natural next calculation is "how many days until?" and the new answer is "maybe not again" and "one day at a time".

We are really mostly okay. Every day of foster care is a little bit of the grieving process. Every trial date, every visit, every overnight is a little bit of the goodbye grief surfacing. A foster parent isn't just starting the grieving when the child leaves. The grief has been real for a while, and the coping mechanisms that get us through every other day of foster care are still there for us the day the child leaves and the days after. There are tears in the days and weeks leading up to each tentative goodbye, and there are tears following the goodbye when it really happens. But they are mostly controlled, because we are used to holding it in when our minds and hearts are crying and hurting in court, and in meetings, and when we're with birth families. I try to let Big Bro A see some of my grief, so I can help him know that it's okay to grieve, too. And then the rest I am able to save for quiet moments when I can have some healing tears all to myself.

There are the unexpected tears, too. That's going to happen for a while. Like finding Baby S's sweater in the wash after I thought I had all of his clothes sorted and packed into clothes to go and a small pile to stay just in case. Or the moment when Big Bro A heard me talking to the cat and came in from the other room, asking if I was talking to Baby S. Or when I wake up at 5:05 AM and think "he'll be up soon!" before I've done my recalculating. The planned pain is manageable, like when we know he should have been coming home at night; the moments that sneak up on us are the hardest to cope with.

I have learned that I often don't know what to pray for in these moments, and in the many tough moments that foster care has brought in the last year. I have learned that sometimes I simply need to cry out to God for help. Help for me and my husband; help for Baby S; help for Big Bro; help for Birth Parent. Help for a broken system in a broken world. Help to know how to pray, what to hope for, how to process each painful interaction. Prayers as simple as "please help" have carried me through a lot of days. They're real, and the small number of words doesn't lessen the relief I feel when I bring these heavy things to God. When my babies cry out for help in the hardest, most hurting of moments, I don't need to ask them what they need. It's clear. And I reach out and help them without asking them to figure out the plan first.

As far as Big Bro A, I didn't know what to expect with his reaction. I've been a little surprised by how matter-of-fact the whole situation is for him. He's looked at pictures of his little brothers gone home every day since he can remember. He was only two when we started. He doesn't know siblings any other way. We've been telling him since Day 1 that Baby S would probably leave, but if he needed to stay, we'd be here for him. Big Bro loves birth parent, with a very real, innocent, childlike love. It is straightforward for him: Parent is better, Baby S is living there now, and now we will get the visits and he will spend his nights there. There haven't been any tears (other than a suspicious case of "sweaty eyes" at school the day of goodbye). But there have been prayers for Baby S that make my husband and I tear up. He talks about missing him "so so so so so so so much" (with a lot more so's, but you probably get the picture about as far along as I do, so I'll spare you). And some moments, he talks about Baby S as if he's still here, and tells us he keeps forgetting when we remind him that Baby S has moved out. He's used to the big stretches without Baby S, and the calendar is a little fuzzier for him, so it's going to take him longer to absorb what's really happened.

While I'm surprised that Big Bro's emotions don't match mine, I have no doubt that his compassion passes mine. He doesn't see all the details, and he's genuinely happy for a job well done. He says he wants more foster brothers and sisters. So if you're thinking about fostering and wondering if it would be too painful for your older children - I can say that I have been amazed at the strength and compassion of our 4-year-old. It is beyond what I could have expected. I wouldn't take these experiences away from him for a minute. He is absolutely, undoubtedly, better at this than I am. And having him here with us, a joy and a bit of hope in the hard places of unknown and goodbye, is a blessing and gift beyond description.

It's going to be a long process. We are going one baby step, one day at a time. Life on this side of goodbye doesn't really have any fewer unknowns. So we just live in each day. Some days, we move and laugh and talk about next time. Some days, we let ourselves shut down just a little. Sometimes Big Bro and I don't come right home after we're out, because I don't want to see the too-empty apartment or eat lunch with an empty chair that should have a booster seat in it. We just call it a day at a time.

We're figuring out how to grieve someone who is only gone for us, how to move out forever someone who might actually need us again someday. We're grieving, too, the changes that will come for Baby S under his new normal. He will not be the same. He is going through something painful and traumatic, and he has fewer ways to cope than we do. With our other goodbyes, we did not have follow-up with the children. That was its own kind of pain. While seeing Baby S again is joyful, it brings along a different sadness and a lot of extra goodbyes (he still gets so happy and thinks he's coming home when he sees us). Returning to a birth family is a goal to strive for; but things are sadder and a bit more confusing when the child doesn't remember another family before the foster family. This is not so much "going back" as "starting out" for him.

We probably won't get grieving just right. Saying goodbye doesn't get easier for me each time, but I do gain more tools for coping. So we are really and truly okay, and part of that is smiling and laughing and making more memories, and part of that is curling up and crying with one of Baby S's loveys every now and then. We continue to try to love on him and Birth Parent, and we appreciate your prayers as we go through the joys and pains of working alongside a birth family reunited, and watching the sadness and heaviness of this transition for our baby.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Baby S Went Home Today

Baby S returned to his mother today.

Starting today there is a car seat in our van without a passenger.
There is a crib that nobody will be sleeping in.
There are toys that will not go played with.
There is one particular car ramp that won't be seeing any races.
There is a spot at the table that will be empty.
There is a sink that will have far fewer dishes.
A special nighttime song will go unsung.
Mornings will start an hour later than they used to and bedtimes will be an hour shorter.
Family movie nights will be less frantic.
Going to the store will be less of an adventure.
There is baby shampoo that will sit unused.
And a bath towel.
And mittens.
And a hat.
And boots.
And a raincoat.

His favorite possession? His toothbrush, oddly enough. That went with him. But now there are only three in the cup by the sink.

Over a year and a half in our home comes to an end.
There is a young boy without his younger brother to follow him around.
There is a dad without his youngest wrestling partner.
There is a mother without her baby.
There is a cat that is likely happy about it all. (We really can't tell either way)

We hear people say, "We couldn't do foster care because we'd love them too much to give them back."

But you would love them enough to give them a safe, consistent, caring home when they need it, wouldn't you?

If you think we do foster care because we are strong, then you should come see us in the days before each of the times our foster son was supposed to leave. You'll see a home where we've given up on cleaning, because sitting on the floor and playing is more important. You'll see a couple lying awake and talking because it's too hard to sleep. You'll see two people that simply can't hold it together. Certain toys are just catalysts for sobbing sessions. Still other toys are reminders of a broken world filled with ineffective systems (which leads to further sobbing).

If you think we do foster care because we have something in us that others don't have, then you haven't seen us answer at length the "Why do you do foster care?" question. You'll see a "tough guy" take long pauses and extra breaths trying to say, without tears and as succinctly as possible, why these kids need it. You'll see a mom, unable to hold onto the children she has called her own, find some reason why the pain is good despite her maternal instincts screaming otherwise.

We are far from capable. Very far from capable. We get frustrated too easily. We get annoyed too quickly. We are more cynical than ever. And we find no hope for the future in this world.

We are NOT foster parent material.

So why bother?

Simply put, there is a gap. A very large gap. Between what the world should be and what the world actually is.

These kids can come with all of their possessions in a trashbag. We keep extra duffle bags in our closet. They will leave our home with dignity.

These kids might already feel like an outsider. We keep full wardrobes for many different sizes. They will leave knowing they were one of our kids.

These kids have left what they know and been thrown into a stranger's home. We will tirelessly remind people that this is the same child as last time. They will leave knowing that our home was a constant in their lives.

These kids have likely experienced trauma that many of us will never face. We will sob at night and "get it out of our system" by morning. They will leave knowing they had someone to hold them and someone to cry on.

These kids might not have had even their basic needs met. We will always keep random canisters of baby formula in our cupboard and plenty of food in our fridge. They will leave knowing they always had what they needed.

So we will stand in that gap. We will do all that we can to build the bridge between what should be and what is.

We love them too much NOT to take them. Because they need the love more than I need to avoid the heartache of saying goodbye.

Their lives are messy. So we will choose to wade into the mess.

That's what Christ did for us.