Don’t call us, we’ll call you

November 20, 2017

Phase One complete.

Filed under: Family, foster parenting, Motherhood, Personal — Tags: , , — llcall @ 3:25 pm

That baby I’ve been grieving is long since gone. It’s been 10 months (exactly, today) since he went away. Life has moved forward in so many ways, some completely unexpected — like I’m going to give birth again in about 6 weeks. WHA???!!

I’ve asked myself sometimes why I’ve been compelled to finish those last two chronicles of our journey with Baby B when the emotional toll has sometimes been heavy and the tears (and thereby headaches) have flowed freely. I stumbled on this quote, which is just about right:

Gloria Andzaldua

 

What does the real world not give me? Time, for one. Life moves at a frenzied pace — I mean, how is 2017 almost over, am I right?! Addison moves at a frenzied pace, often leaving little surprises in her wake (this week: mosquito repellent lotion in the dryer. Why? No clue.) Foster parenting moves at a frenzied pace. It took months to get those first couple of phone calls . . . and then we might get 3 or 4 calls in a week for a while. As I’ve observed and listened to veteran foster parents over the years, I’ve marveled at how they embrace (accept? tolerate?) the constant change. I can’t help but feel different in my need to think, and process, and write. Repeat. I guess writing is a little bit like my pause button. And I must pause; there is no other way.

One day as I was in the midst of trying unsuccessfully to write those final pieces of the fostering journey, around the one year mark, Neal mentioned quite offhandedly that he sometimes checked the Facebook pages of Baby B’s mom and grandma and saw more recent pictures of him. This is perhaps not shocking to anyone else, but I was absolutely bowled over! I suppose you have to understand my very limited Facebook habits: scroll through my friends’ posts; keep up with messages here and there (admittedly, not my strong suit); and click on interesting posts about politics, religion, or parenting. I seldom do the “stalking” thing or go to anyone’s page that I’m not “friends” with, and so it had never crossed my mind to seek out his family. But once I knew that a picture of the little guy was just a couple of clicks away, I couldn’t help myself. Oh, how grown up he looked! Still totally recognizable, but not even a little bit baby-like anymore. I wept with even greater intensity than usual, much as I’ve imagined I would if we ever crossed paths without warning at a park or grocery store.

I’ve wondered if healing should mean that I don’t weep anymore . . . about seeing a picture of him, or writing about that time, or just remembering him. Finally now, about two and a half months after I had intended to finish writing this “story,” I feel it’s complete. Ultimately, there was just a little mist in my eyes, a couple tears here and there in the finishing. But rather than healing, that feels a little wrong to me — like I should have many more tears for something/someone so significant. But maybe that’s just because I am a person that would hit the pause button forever if I could. (Or I’m instinctively drawn to pain. Also true.)

As I’ve alluded to a couple of times, we’ve fostered several other kids besides Baby B, ranging from 8 months to 16 years. But for a variety of reasons I haven’t desired to chronicle those experiences in detail: shorter duration = less bonding and emotion to process; older ages = more high-stakes situations and trauma. We’ve kept a running list of our lessons learned (emphasis on our because it’s more about figuring out our own path through the system rather than widely applicable advice):

  • Social workers are always about the kids (not a bad thing) so you have to guard your own family. (We also encountered one social worker in that period who obviously didn’t care at all for the child, which was 1000 times worse.)
  • Relevant information will always be left out.
  • Document everything. (Even if it will make a social worker’s eyes bulge at the level of detail and specificity.)
  • Teenagers are a whole different ballgame (and also super freaking expensive)!
  • Teens require more work ahead of time to determine family rules and boundaries.
  • Speaking of, the fastest way to figure out your most hard-and-fast rules is to listen to your child explain them to new kids in the home: “You better eat that because she does NOT feed people after dinner. No snacks, nothing!”
  • Children coming into the system for the first time may be crazy hard no matter what age.
  • School-age kids are the way to go — built-in breaks! (Neal’s preference)
  • Don’t say yes to placements that you wouldn’t be willing to keep forever; “temporary” doesn’t always turn out to be temporary and vice versa.
  • Snuggle kids as much as physically possible even if it’s way past bedtime. (Not Neal endorsed, for obvious reasons)
  • Don’t forget to take pictures.

We’re not entirely sure what the future holds on the foster parenting front. There were definitely some times when we weren’t sure we could continue, but I think we successfully worked through those feelings. Now we’re on hold until we get this new baby here, determine her health status, and adjust to infant life again. While we’re keeping our foster certification (now legally called “resource family approval”) up-to-date, Foster Parenting: Phase One is officially complete.

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November 19, 2017

Aftermath, Day 143

Filed under: Family, foster parenting, Motherhood, Personal — Tags: , , , — llcall @ 8:59 pm

28 January

Walking by the playroom was the hardest part. Even though we had sent almost all of the toys and many of the books with Baby B when he left, there were still so many reminders in that little space. He lived in this new house with us for only two weeks, but there was the corner I used to sit in and read board books or toss balls at him. There were the French doors he loved to open and slam, sometimes upsetting himself because he felt trapped by his own efforts. It didn’t help that the playroom is adjacent to the front door, so every outing or errand could trigger a breakdown just beforehand. (Thank goodness I can literally go days, weeks without leaving the house if needed!)

My mind played a lot of tricks on me in the days after. Addison and I both would hear his noises and momentarily forget (or attempt to forget) that he was gone. “Maybe he’s just hiding,” Addison would say, and peek into the pantry or laundry room. But the nights were the worst with my long history of vivid dreams. I would frequently wake up panicked, drenched in a cold sweat. We never put the baby in the crib last night! I know I never put him in the crib. Where is he? Did we leave him somewhere? In my half-sleeping stage, I would sometimes bolt out of bed to look, starting with the pack-n-play still assembled in our room. Neal packed it up for the garage shortly thereafter. Both waking and sleeping, there was often this vague feeling of not knowing how many kids I have. Who am I responsible for? Have I taken care of them? Have I forgotten someone or something important? It was an eerie feeling to walk around with (one that did not dissipate quickly since 4 more foster children would join us in the weeks and months after).

Just before Baby B went away, we had printed scads of pictures to share with his mom and grandma. Afterward I had intended to stash them all in my “loss box” with the clothes, casts of his hands and feet, and a few other mementos. I was sure it would be emotionally counterproductive to display any to be seen on a daily basis, but as we continued unpacking and placed photos on the mantel, Addison begged to frame one of the baby’s pictures and leave it up. That was the first real wrestle to reconcile what I thought would be best for my coping with what Addison seemed to need. Eventually I agreed to let her frame her favorite picture and place it alongside other momentous family events, from our wedding to her birth and beyond. Emboldened by that, she took several more pictures out of the stack and placed them in strategic locations. It especially melted my heart when she put one on the back of the passenger seat in the car so that she would be able to “see him everyday on the way to school!”

One day a couple of weeks later, I walked out to the living room to see Addison standing on the sofa, holding the picture we had framed together. “I just wish this were real,” she said as she tenderly touched the glass. “I just wish I could reach through the picture and touch his tiny hands again. His skin was so soft. I wish I could feel his soft cheeks. I wish I could smell him.” It was a special moment with my little girl, reminding me that she’s not always a bruiser and perpetual-motion machine. I knew then that Baby B’s picture was right where it was supposed to be, among our family’s most significant moments of life.

November 16, 2017

Goodbye, Day 135

Filed under: Family, foster parenting, Motherhood, Personal — Tags: , , — llcall @ 1:22 am

20 January

What began as pick-up-Baby-B-and-keep-him-overnight-at-least on Labor Day 2016 became plan-to-have-Baby-B-until-December, and eventually plan-to-have-Baby-B-until-June. Until a Wednesday evening in January when there would be no more plans; just bring the baby and all his things to the Social Services lobby on Friday at 9:00 a.m. The week before, the social worker had indicated that the process of transitioning him to grandma might take several weeks, but that was not to be.

I spent Thursday night alternately packing and sobbing. The clothes were the hardest thing. Thanks to the generosity of several people, we had an abundance of clothes for him. Some he had never worn, but was oh-so-close to fitting into. I was preemptively missing getting to put him in a little tie/vest/suit combo. (But I was preemptively missing everything; that’s grief for ya.) As pragmatic as I tend to be about relentlessly using up anything that costs money, there were two pieces of clothing, in particular — a pair of footie pajamas and a collared shirt — that I couldn’t bring myself to pack. I rationalized that the footies were almost too small, so he wouldn’t get much more use out of them. But the shirt had plenty of good wear in it. Still, I just kept hugging it and weeping into it. I hadn’t intended to keep any of his clothes, but after watching me wrestle for way too long, Neal convinced me to just keep them and move on. Nobody would miss one shirt among 3 boxes of clothes.

Besides the clothes, I had always planned on including some type of painting with the baby’s handprints in my “loss box.” But in his perfect Neal way, he suggested that casts would be so much better for me. He knew that I would want to press my hands into something more tactile, and run my fingers along the imprint of his little fingers and toes. So early that Friday morning, he worked out some clay and made me an external imprint to go with my internal one. And then we packed up the car and drove through a hard rain to drop off Baby B for the last time.

The lobby hand-off was exactly as hard as I thought it was going to be. I cried, of course, but kept it from becoming full-on sobs. Grandma seemed taken aback at first, got a little misty herself, and said, “Oh, of course, you’re sad. I know you’re very attached to each other.” She invited us to a birthday/Christmas/welcome home party for him the next day, and to come visit whenever we wanted, which surprised us a little bit. Some foster parents maintain a relationship after the transition but we had a strong conviction that he was too young to benefit much from that. He needed to replace me in particular with other mothers in his life; we certainly didn’t want to prolong that for our own sake. (Since he had few, if any, male figures in his life, I do sometimes wonder if having some contact with Neal would have been a net positive for him. But since we’re kind of a package deal, I’ll never know.)

After we got back in the car, the full-on sobbing came and came . . . and came. Neal asked what we should do and I just said, “Drive.” And so he drove with no particular destination, through alternating mists, drizzle, and heavy rains. It was one of the darkest days we’d ever seen in this hot, sunny place. A perfect pairing of moods.

A couple of times we ended up near our house, but I just couldn’t bear to go in. With both girls at school, the quiet emptiness would be too much. Not to mention all the little reminders, including his breakfast remains still crusting over on the high chair. We ended up in a Macaroni Grill parking lot. I wanted to go in and eat but a fresh wave of sobbing was coming on, so we just parked instead. Mostly we talked about all those “I would get too attached” comments, which had so recently begun to sting. I was feeling what too attached feels like — can’t breathe, can’t eat, breaking apart from the inside out. And still it was inevitable and right. How could I feel anything but this in saying goodbye to such a special little person?

Neal said, “Maybe what people really mean when they say they couldn’t be a foster parent because they would get too attached is, ‘I worry I might be so broken afterward that I wouldn’t be able to put myself back together again.'” That seemed right, the very thing I had spent years grappling with myself. It was a leap of faith to decide that I have the mental health and coping skills to do this thing; now would be the test of whether I was right. That Ernest Hemingway quote I’ve long loved kept coming to mind: “Life breaks us all, and many are strong at the broken places.” Now was yet another moment, week, month, year for becoming strong.

We drove and parked and talked for hours until it was time for school pick-up. I had a new strategy, born out of necessity, for getting through the after-school hours:  bribery. Never one to sit still for long periods of time (or 2 or 3 minutes), I told Addison that if she cuddled with me she could watch shows or download new games on my phone. I held her for two straight hours, all the while wondering how people do it who don’t have another child to hold onto, to keep them tethered. (Perhaps that’s why in all the foster support groups we’ve ever been to, the veterans told us to say yes to a new placement as soon as possible after a goodbye.)

Beginning that night and for several days after, I listened to one of my favorites on a loop:

For child I am so glad I found you 

Although my arms have always been around you

Sweet bird although you did not see me

I saw you

 

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