Hope In That Moment

 

I blew it. For nine days I was calm. For nine days I spoke in a soothing and kind tone of voice. For nine days I faced the beast with compassion. Then on the tenth consecutive day of the screaming, flailing, kicking, shrieking, hours-long, full blown melting down tantrum, I finally succumbed to frustration. I may or may not have slammed a door. I may or may not have yelled something about being at the end of my rope. I may or may not have gushed ugly tears in a river of snot.

As I sat in my bathroom behind a locked door, I blew my nose. I shuddered and hiccupped in the aftermath of an intense cry. I frantically searched my mind for the trigger. Often I could pinpoint what triggered such an outburst and then take the necessary steps to head it off before it escalated. In fact I thought I had gotten pretty adept at de-escalating. But this time I was baffled and it scared me.

So I accused God. This is not what I wanted, I told Him emphatically. I want a butler and a nanny and a long vacation. I want a facial, a chocolate crème filled donut and an ice cold pepsi. I want family days at the pool, and game nights, and birthday parties where everyone is actually smiling. I want peace and control in my own home. I want a child who can love me back.

I want a child I can fix.

There on the cold bathroom floor, I stared down the long dark road ahead and wondered how in the world I could face endless days of just plain hard. And I doubted my calling. Why did I ever think I was cut out to be a foster parent! I yelled at God. He did not yell back. When I finally got quiet, out of tears and too tired to argue, peace came. And with peace came clarity.

I saw clearly that I was not called to be a foster mom for my own fulfillment or personal satisfaction. I saw clearly that maybe - just maybe - deep down, the painful truth about me is that I'm a hypocrite; that some days I like being called a hero and on other days, like this miserable day, I resent being dragged through the muck and trauma of fostering. Clearly, I wasn't called to be wonder woman. I was called for this desperate child on this difficult day.

Whatever I expected when I began my journey, I now understood that foster parenting is hard. Some days it feels like war. I've been kicked, slapped and bitten. Christ was pierced, nailed and beaten. Sometimes love hurts. Sometimes love bleeds. Sometimes love wins the victory through nearly unbearable pain. And sometimes love is just crazy enough to get up off the bathroom floor and open the door for the next desperate child.

I will never give up.

I collected myself. I unlocked the bathroom door. Ready or not, I opened it and stepped gingerly over the body of my child who was lying on the floor, rage spent, quietly weeping tears of exhaustion. 

I sat down close and picked up one sweet foot and began to massage it. All the love I felt for that child and for that precious foot flooded through me. I looked down into the face of innocence; of a child who had to fight to survive, who has known more grief and trauma in a few short years than most will know in a lifetime. I looked into the eyes of a child whose brain has literally been changed and damaged by separation, by suffering, by exposure in utero to drugs and alcohol, and who will struggle and be stigmatized by it for life. I thought about birthmom, herself a victim of horrible abuse who finally landed in the foster system until she aged out already an addict. What a painful history. What a heavy cross to bear. What a reason to rage.

"I'm so sorry I yelled. I'm sorry I slammed the door. Please forgive me. I hope you know that I'll always love you," I said as I continued massaging and my child continued weeping.

After a moment and one deep breath, I heard, "I'm sorry too."

It was enough. I felt my body begin to relax as I let out a long sigh of my own, thanking God for the calm. And then ever so softly came, "Mommy, I love you too."

In that moment I dared to hope that maybe we're going to be alright.

 

 

Answering the Call

 

Since answering the call to foster parenting, Scott and I have cared for more than 20 foster children in our home. I have chronicled our journey in the book  'Answering the Call' which will be available for purchase in 2018. In this blog, I've included from the book, the introduction. Please read it with an open heart and maybe even a tissue.

"The stories contained in this book are all true. I lived them and have recounted them to the best of my ability. Foster parents are bound by confidentiality. Therefore, I've changed names, I've been intentionally vague in referencing locations, and in some cases, I've altered chronology in order to obscure identity.

I've written this book for two reasons. First, my hope is to raise awareness of foster care and in the process to dispel some of the ugly stereotypes of foster parents that are so relentlessly reinforced in media. I want to be a voice for foster families and for the more than one hundred thousand children in the United States foster system who are waiting to be adopted.  I cannot type 'one hundred thousand children waiting to be adopted' without tears falling. I know I must do something about it. Writing our story is one attempt to make a difference.

Secondly, I've written this book for all my foster children. We all have a story keeper. For most of us it's Mom. Mom, who has your most awkward picture from middle school framed by her bed. Mom, who brags about your first word, your first tooth, and the time you won the spelling bee. Mom, who hangs ornaments you made in kindergarten on the Christmas tree and probably tears up at the memory. But it's a different story for foster kids. The number one reason most of our kids come into our care is 'neglect due to substance abuse'. Most of our kids have never had a birthday cake or a Christmas celebration. They don't know how to sit at a table for a family meal. Parents who are caught up in the destruction of addiction are probably not documenting their children's lives. So most of our kids have no story keeper. Foster parents are encouraged to compile a lifebook containing pictures and mementos of special days and milestones that occur while a child is in our home. When our kids leave, it goes with them as a way for them to keep track of, and make sense of, their own lives. But the sad truth is that statistically, many of our kids will end up back in the system. In the chaos of being shuffled around one too many times, their life books will be lost along with important things like immunization records, birth certificates, and siblings. They are left with severed ties and without a history.

This book is my attempt to say to my beloved foster children: I SAW YOU. I CELEBRATED YOU. I LOVED YOU. I think of you every day and I keep the story of our time together in my heart. If the road should ever bring you back to my door, you'll be welcomed home.

When I look back over the story I've written, I'm struck by how often I expressed exhaustion and times of crying throughout my foster parenting journey. I was very tempted to change this; to tone it down to make it less bleak. Ultimately I decided to go with the unvarnished truth. The truth is foster parenting is the hardest thing I've ever done. Each child we've fostered has been worth every sleepless night and every tear I've cried. If I had it to do all over again, I would."