Tuesday, August 16, 2016

What's it like with two kids?

Some questions are hard to answer.

For our family, we’ve come to realize there are a host of family-related questions that have no simple answers.

After our biological son was born (Big Brother A), we took a leap of faith and started our foster care journey. We’ve had four children in our home over the last 3 years. One of those children stayed in our home for a significant amount of time. Baby S came to our home at six weeks old and stayed with us until a few months shy of his second birthday.

That’s a year and a half in our home. We were mom and dad. We celebrated a birthday. We took family vacations. Then over a painful few months he transitioned back to live with his biological mom. Now we have an empty crib (when we moved to our new home Big Brother A asked to have the crib in his room because he missed Baby S). And we have family pictures on our walls that include a boy that people don’t see when they visit.

Then came Baby Gigi. Now about 2 weeks old, she is our second biological child.

And when you have a new baby, anyone and everyone wants to catch a glimpse and they have lots of questions. They inevitably ask about the labor. They always ask if you are getting enough sleep. And then they turn to Big Brother A and say some variant of:

How do you like being a big brother?

Everyone means well. We are not out to catch people with a “gotcha” whenever they ask this. But my wife and I often get a little chuckle and cast knowing glances to each other.

They tell him that they think he will be a good big brother. Yes. He will be a good big brother. He’s already got four other younger siblings and almost two total years of experience in this department.

This next question comes from people who don’t know us well. They know we have a new baby, but they aren’t sure what the rest of our family looks like. It’s a harmless question, but we are never sure how to answer...

What number child is this for you?

I feel like saying “two” doesn’t accurately describe our family and it definitely short-changes the impact those babies had on our family. But saying “six, but three were only here for a short time and one was for a year and a half but he’s back with his biological mom” is way more than they were asking for (like when someone asks how you are doing and all they are really looking for is “fine”).

I guess what they ultimately mean if pressed is “How many kids are in your home right now?” That’s a fair question. After I answer politely, the inevitable follow-up is…

How is the transition to two?

It’s about the same as the last four times we transitioned to two.

I absolutely love that this is a messy question for us. Our family’s unofficial motto is “Walk towards the mess.” Time and time again God did that for us. When humans were at their worst and running hard away from their creator, God decided to wade into the mess of humanity to bring a solution. He did it by choosing one man, Abraham, to build a unique relationship. He did it by choosing an unlikely king, David, to forge a unique nation. He did it by becoming a man Himself, Jesus, to bring us back to Him. Time and time again God has rolled up his sleeves and moved deep into the mess to make things right.

We want to do just that. When things are hard, we want to turn towards the mess and not run from it.

There are easier ways for us to grow our family. There are safer ways for our kids to engage with ministry. There are simpler ways for us to help those in need.

But God didn’t choose a simple solution. He chose to die for us.

The least I can do is try to figure out how to answer the messy question “What’s it like with two kids?”

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Ten Days

Hello, world!

Ten days ago, we added "Baby Gigi" to our family. (Gigi is the name Big Brother A calls her, so we'll borrow it for our blog.)

She's absolutely wonderful. We're so thankful for a second "forever baby". After a difficult pregnancy and a very busy month trying to get our new house all in order before the baby arrived, it's so great to just be home with our baby, settling in and making plans that don't include lists of home repairs or closets to organize and that don't require my phone timer going off all day reminding me to eat the right things at the right times and then prick my finger an hour after! Our new normal has been much anticipated and I'm so filled with joy and so excited that we are finally here.

As we've mentioned before, we're on pause from foster care right now as we settle in with our new house and new baby. We want to give Baby Gigi her time to be in the spotlight and Big Brother A time to adjust before we reallocate our time and energy into another little foster brother or sister. And we're still tracking with Baby S, too.

Even though we're not doing foster care at the current moment, it has changed things. It changes the way I see our current journey. I can't go a day without feeling the enormity of how blessed we are. Before foster care, I thanked God that we had a home and that we weren't living on the streets. I thanked God that we were healthy and that our marriage was better than we deserved, by God's grace.

But I've learned that our blessing goes so much beyond these things. I'm learning that I'm not a better person because of my good choices; rather, I'm a better person only by God's power working in me and if I had dealt with some of the situations birth families deal with, maybe I'd be surprised at how much I'd look like them. God is big enough to meet their needs and we are all responsible for our choices; difficult situations do not excuse sin. But my list of blessings that I thank God for has expanded.

In my home, we have the education to make wise choices for the health of our child, both in pregnancy and now that she's here on the outside. We have the resources to look up information when we're unsure of something. We have access to incredible and supportive doctors as well as a health insurance plan that allows us to receive their care when needed. We have a network of people to help us in an instant - with caring for Big Brother A when we were in the hospital, with meals to help ease the transition, and with moving our stuff and unpacking to make our settling-in process so much faster and smoother. I cannot picture an emergency situation where we could not get help from a dozen different families and this is a blessing bigger than I can describe. (Northridge is an awesome community of people who love Jesus and love each other; we'd seriously love for you to check it out if you've never experienced this kind of family before!)

The list goes on, but I think you get it. Blessed beyond measure. And I cannot see my newest little baby except through this lens.

Today, Baby Gigi is ten days old. I've been looking ahead and counting down to this milestone. It's been a bittersweet reminder to see this day approaching. Baby M was ten days old when he came to us. I've watched Baby Gigi grow and learn so much in the last ten days. She has learned that she can cry to communicate. She has learned that when she's hungry, mommy will feed her. She has learned my face; she will stop crying in my arms even before she's eating because she knows food is coming. She has learned that there are other people who come and go from our home; kind and gentle people who talk over her in sweet voices and stroke her soft hair. And she has learned that there are three constant, stable people who are always here with her. She's learning family. She's learning stability. She's soaking in love at every moment. We can't get enough of her.

But my Baby M? He had lived in FOUR places by the time he came to us. He could cry to be fed in three of those. He was physically cared for in three and loved and nurtured in at least two. But there was no stability. There were no attachments forming. He was learning aloneness. He was learning constant change. The smells were always different; the sounds were never dependable; he didn't know who would answer his hunger cry, or what the formula would taste like, or what kind of bottle he'd have that time.

And his mama? She was probably feeling a lot like I am right now, physically. Still sore and tired. Probably still dealing with a milk supply that wasn't going to be feeding her baby. A little hormonal and emotional, but without the happiness and peace and beauty of her baby to keep her going when she was tired and overwhelmed. Her nights were still sleepless, but she didn't have her baby there to feed. His baby things were set up and ready in her home, but he wasn't there.

So while I soak up all the sweet moments and kiss my baby for the hundredth time today, I choose to feel blessing, not pride, at where we are and what life looks like in our home. While I snuggle my sweet forever baby, I pray for the mamas who choose adoption for their little ones, who fight through long hard pregnancies and difficult labors and make the very brave and loving choice to let someone else walk out of the hospital with a new baby in their arms. I pray for the mamas who thought this would be the baby they could finally keep, only to have their child immediately removed into foster care; mamas going home with an empty womb and an empty carseat. I pray for the mamas who did succeed in providing their children care for a time, only to have them taken away later. I thank God that he has a role for us in a few of these families, and I pray that he could use us not just to love on little ones, but to help moms and dads to feel love, stability, and acceptance - maybe for the first time.

I want to say bringing home my biological baby is no different than bringing home a foster baby. It's simply not true. I love them just the same. But there's a kind of instant, fierce protective instinct over those little foster babies that is replaced by pure gratitude and awe in my forever baby. There's a part of me that rises up with a readiness to fight and an extra rush of adrenaline to answer every whimper before it's even escaped their lips when it's my job to teach an older baby the lessons of love and nurture and responsiveness that my newborn is learning now. I love them just the same. But there's something different about holding a child whose future is so uncertain. You have to do all your fighting for them right now, because you might not get a chance tomorrow. When I hold my forever baby, I hear all of the people who've held their forever babies and then asked me, "Isn't it hard to say goodbye to a foster baby?" My heart breaks a little because I cannot picture saying goodbye to my Baby Gigi. But then I remember the fight that rises up inside of you when you're loving on a possibly-temporary child; and because the bits of love you can give them might have to last them a very long time, you love them hard and you love them without reservation. Your heart can handle another break, because they need this and because you love them enough to break for them.

I am so thankful for my forever babies. I look ahead eagerly to the day where we continue foster care. Eagerly, and with a lot of sadness and some nerves, too, because it's never easy, and you don't go a day of loving a foster child without remembering that their future is uncertain and wishing desperately you could fix things for them. I continue to pray for the babies who left, because God is big and good and he has not forgotten them.

And I breathe in the smell of my baby's hair and stroke her tiny toes and find immense joy in storing up her clothes for the coming year knowing that she'll still be here to wear them.