Wednesday, June 23, 2021

The Trouble With Babies

I love babies. I love the feel of their tiny hands wrapped around my finger. The smell of their hair and the smoothness of their skin. I even love the squeaky cries they make when they are merely weeks old, which grow lustier and more opinionated as weeks turn into months. I love it all. And that's one of the reasons we've chosen at this stage in our lives to only foster babies.


The trouble with babies is they do not know, when you hold them in your arms, that you are not forever. They have no memory of before, only of you, day after day, giving them food when they are hungry, changing them when they are dirty. Smiling down at them every morning to lift them from their cribs. Kissing their cheeks, one side then the other. 

A baby can't understand the difference between temporary and permanent. Can't understand when you say, "Court is next week, and then someone other than me will decide your future." No child can truly understand such a thing, but a baby? A baby just watches your mouth form the words and babbles in reply, certain your words are just more of the love they have come to expect from you. 

I love the way babies grow and change so fast their first year of life. Everything is new, everything is a first. They are astounded by the simplest things and clap their hands in delight when they try applesauce for the first time. 

But the trouble with babies is they have no reason not to trust you. Many older children in foster care have been hurt before. Betrayed before. Maybe been in and out of care before. They are wary and streetwise beyond their years. But a baby has not yet learned the world is a difficult and unfair place. I love babies, but I don't love being the one to teach them that.

Whenever the time draws near that I will be sending another baby on his way to a new life, I start giving him extra kisses and praying that somehow--somehow--he won't miss me like I will miss him. That he will hardly notice when I suddenly disappear from his life. That instead of a memory of pain and loss and confusion about why I abandoned him he will have only a memory somewhere deep in his heart of a brown-haired woman glancing back at him from the driver's seat with a smile and saying, "Almost home."

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

There's no plan for this

Image by Amanda Randolph from Pixabay

I've always been a planner. I knew the when and where of what everyone in my family was up to even as a young child. I was meticulous with school work and schedules growing up, which helped me achieve a 4.0 GPA even while involved in numerous sports, activities, volunteering, and work.

Planning has also served me well as an adult, allowing our family to get by on one income by sticking to a planned-out budget. Keeping my day-to-day life under control enough to carve out time for my writing career. Decreasing the stress in my life by having family meals planned out a week at a time.

Yes, planning can be a useful and beneficial thing. And I used to think it was the most useful and beneficial thing.

Then I became a foster parent.

You can't plan which evening you're going to receive a late and desperate phone call from a social worker wondering if you will take a placement. You can't plan what a foster child's parents will or will not do, what the court can or can't decide. Can't plan for how it feels when you meet a new child. How it feels to love them. How it feels when they leave you.

Being a foster parent has taught me--by force, I suppose, but taught me nonetheless--about the beauty of living in the moment. Living for today. I like to plan ahead. I like being prepared. But there's something really special about holding a child close right now, today, and letting it be enough that you got to do that right now, today. Not stewing about how many more days they will be with you or who will decide what about which part of the child's case. Not trying to plan for this to happen, and then that, and then this. Just being thankful for today.

I wonder what it would be like if we could all love the people in our lives as they are right now, one day at a time. Not wishing for more or waiting for change or running around too busy and distracted by everything coming up to appreciate what we already have.

Planning ahead makes me better at a lot of things, but living for today makes me a better foster mom. It's hard, but I'm called to love each child that comes along as much as I can, while I can. I'm called to surrender my need to know what's coming. My desire for order and schedules. My carefully thought out calendar. And I'm called to trust that God will take care of all that stuff while I do the job He gave me to do.

So...I guess that's my plan.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

The Purple Bowl

For me, it was a purple glass bowl I had set down on the counter. For Ellie in the movie Instant Family, it was a beautiful crystal dish she'd tucked away in the top of her cupboard. Both smashed to pieces by foster care.

Both symbols of devastation...and love.

Have you seen that movie? It's about a married couple who become foster parents to three kids. Their lives are flipped upside down as they learn to parent kids from hard places and discover what family really means. As a foster parent myself, I relate to so many of the scenes in the movie, but the one that always strikes me the most is when Ellie's dish falls from the cupboard during an incident with the children, breaking beyond repair.

I was heartbroken when it happened to me. My 2-year-old foster son was "helping" me make biscuits. I set my best mixing bowl, a glass Pyrex we'd received as a wedding gift, on the counter and turned to grab a spoon from the drawer. In a flash, he swiped at the bowl, and I turned back just in time to see it fall. I gasped. He screamed. A frantic cleanup commenced. And I continued to find tiny purple shards of glass in inexplicable places in the kitchen for weeks afterward.

It was my absolute favorite bowl. One I used almost daily. In the movie, Ellie's dish was important to her too. But then, foster care.

We've been foster parents for almost five years now, and these broken dishes have come to mean something very important to me. I have learned you can't love kids from hard places, kids who are not "yours," without being broken. Shattered. You can't be what they need without giving up your ideas of the perfect family. Your hopes for a clean house. Your time and attention. Your favorite bowl.

If you have kids, you might be thinking that all parenting is like that. And you're right. Biological children break bowls, too. But choosing to step into foster care breaks you in a way other kinds of parenting cannot, because you're giving up all those things for children who are not going to stay. Who will never be yours.

It's devastating. But isn't that also what real love is? Allowing yourself to be broken for the sake of another? Even when you know they could be whisked away tomorrow, leaving behind shards of glass that will keep piercing you long after they are gone? Real love isn't safe. But it's what kids from hard places need.

I still miss my bowl. It was just the right size. It was easy to clean. It was pretty. But I miss that little boy more. Would my purple bowl still be intact if he had never come? Would my heart? Probably so. But would I undo it if I could?


Are you afraid of being smashed to smithereens? Are there any special items in your home that you would hate to see destroyed? If so, then maybe you think foster care is not for you. But if you have room in your heart for some real love--if you believe that broken things can be beautiful--well, then, just maybe it is.