Don’t call us, we’ll call you

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.

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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

 

June 12, 2017

“But before I tell you that story, I have to tell you this one…”

Filed under: Family, foster parenting, Motherhood, Personal — Tags: , — llcall @ 4:58 am

Any Captain Underpants fans in the house? (Or if not fans, people whose obsessed children made them read every single book in the series to them?) If so, you’ll recognize the title. I’ve heard those words in my mind several times over the last few months as I’ve thought about finishing the story of baby B’s time with us and subsequent departure.

I wrote most of Day 135, our last day with him. Then I wrote some more a week later. And then the week after that, all sorts of things hit the fan in another foster parenting situation. Then there were two more children in quick succession. And then, a break. It’s been a long break now, much longer than we anticipated. There’s been ample time for writing, but I never could bring myself to even open up that document again. Until today when I heard in my head, “But before I tell you that story, I have to tell you this one . . . ” and I finally knew what I needed to do.

When I was 15, I met a girl who rapidly became my best, best friend. We were two peas in a pod, often inseparable. We wrote poetry about our friendship, made books for each other, took pictures with a bowling pin together (you had to be there! — actually, I take that back, even people who were there didn’t get it), shared joint custody of a favorite sweater, and took a senior road trip together for graduation. We went our separate ways for college but stayed in close touch until a falling out. Some people told me that I had to let that friendship go after all that had happened, but I said, “NEVER!” and we nursed our way back to closeness again. We went even further separate ways after college; I could sense both literal and figurative distance but I was committed to keeping our friendship alive. Twice I road-tripped to see her, bringing Neal because I couldn’t imagine her not meeting the most important human being in my life. She reciprocated with a visit and she and Neal and I walked around D.C. for several wonderful hours together. She made the great effort to come to my wedding, and I thought for sure we had reestablished a friendship that would never end.

But we saw each other only one more time after that. We were on different coasts by then, so I knew email and phone calls would have to suffice for awhile, but she increasingly stopped replying or answering. (Not that I can blame her about the phone calls; after all, my blog title.) Neal told me it was time to accept that she had moved on, or at the very least that circumstances had moved us both on, but I said, “NEVER!” I talked to her sisters for updates to make sure she was okay; they both said she prefers text messages. I had never sent a text message in my life at that point, but in a true labor of love, I T9ed a probably unintelligible message. And then again for her birthday. And then again. Neal said maybe she hasn’t just moved on, maybe she actively doesn’t want to talk to you again. I conceded the possibility, but for years, I couldn’t let her birthday pass without some kind of message. Once Facebook came into prominence, I found her there. I wasn’t sure if she would accept my request, but I was determined that one way or another, this would be my last contact attempt. She accepted my request, but I knew that I had to hang back in a way. I’m glad I’m privy to her precious few posts per year — it matters to me to know that she is okay and it still makes me happy to see a recent picture — but I never reach out anymore. I wonder if maybe I’m a reminder of a past she finds painful. Or maybe she feels we have little in common. Or maybe she just doesn’t think about me. I’ve accepted that I don’t know, will probably never know. I’ve accepted that maybe her version of this story is completely different or that perhaps she feels she reached out to me and I failed her in some way. I’ve accepted all that, but still I won’t let her go. She will always be a friend to me.

So many times over the last year, people have said to me, “I could never be a foster parent. I would get too attached.” I understand where this sentiment comes from. It’s an emotional wrestle I think anyone seriously considering fostering must confront, so usually it doesn’t bother me when someone says that. But in the lead-up to baby B’s leaving, it stung. I mean, truthfully, everything stung, even the happiness. But during that time, it felt more personal, like they were saying that somehow they felt more deeply than I did, or that I must not get that attached because I chose to be a foster mother even knowing it would entail many goodbyes.

Lest anyone reading this think that they are the one who said this thing that felt like a personal affront, or that I hold some bitterness about it, or that you have to carefully monitor what you say to me, don’t worry. I’m not one to hold a grudge. And even if I were, truly so many people said it at some point that it feels to me almost like everyone and no one said it. It’s all water under the bridge. But I guess it’s the reason I felt the need to tell you that other story: I’m a person that doesn’t let go. There will be no closure here.

January 30, 2017

Preparing for the unpreparable, Day 128

Filed under: Family, foster parenting, Motherhood, Personal — Tags: , , — llcall @ 4:56 am

13 January

How do I fit a lifetime of love into 2 or 3 weeks?

That’s the thought my mind rests on every few minutes. I have massive amounts of work to catch up on in just the second week of a new semester after one of the most challenging weeks of my life. (Literally. We moved into a new house. Took a new foster placement –this time a 16-year-old! Wowsa! The baby and I got the flu. Then I got strep throat because the flu wasn’t good enough.) But after the news this morning that baby B would likely be leaving us in just a few short weeks, it is practically impossible to think of anything else.

I tell myself that it is good to have some notice and prepare myself emotionally. But now that we’re facing it, I’m not so sure. Will I cry every 3 minutes for the next few weeks? (Based on my track record, yes, yes, I will.) What can I possibly do between now and then that will make it more bearable when that moment comes that we have to pack up his stuff and load him in the car for the last time? How will I keep from falling apart (at least until we’re out of sight) when I give him one last kiss?

If you have an answer to any of these questions, let me in on it. Quick.

April 30, 2015

2014 “Holiday Letter”

Clearly, the “holiday letter” thing wasn’t happening this year, but true to form, when the flu kept me up until all hours of the night in January, I jotted down some highlights of the year. I held off sharing it, naively thinking we could take a couple of quick family snapshots to go with it. The fact that it took 4 months to get said pictures is a testament to the photo aversion in our family. But without further ado . . .

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If 2012 was a quiet year, and 2013 was quite eventful, then 2014 seemed to be somewhere in between. In March, life in our small town got a little busier when I took a second job working in the community. I am a part-time case manager, connecting low-income individuals and families with needed resources to increase stability (I’ve written about a couple of my meaningful moments here and here). I love my coworkers there, so the side benefit has been getting most of my social needs met as well!

During the summer, I traveled (!): a work trip to Idaho, a family reunion in Utah for all of us, and a three-years-in-the-making family reunion in . . . wait for it . . . Hawaii! We couldn’t save enough for Neal and Addison to join me, but I fell so hard for Hawaii that I’m determined to go back with them someday! To round out the summer, I took Addison on a little mommy-daughter trip to San Francisco. If we were in any doubt that she’s still struggling with small town living, this trip kinda settled it. She was inconsolable when it was time to leave, wailing “But I LOVE San ‘Cisco! Please don’t take me away. I think I was supposed to be born to Mark and Sarah!” (my awesome life-long friend who graciously hosted us). So, apparently Addison would choose the big city over me and Neal. Duly noted.

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The fall brought some fun things like Addison’s new preschool and her first taste of soccer, but on the whole it was rough.

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I had to say goodbye to my dear friend Kaila very suddenly, followed closely by my Grandma receiving a terminal diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. I’m grateful that I was able to spend some time with my Grandma before she passed (at the end of January), but my heart has definitely been heavy for awhile. Neal was pretty amazing through the whole ordeal, supporting me so I could stay on top of my work and making sure Addison sailed through my emotional roller-coaster.

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Thankfully, December ended on a happier note when I received a promotion at my online teaching job (moving into a more managerial position in addition to my teaching) and the purchase of our house finally went through! We spent our first Christmas just the three of us in our own home, and it was beyond wonderful to just relax and stoke a fire all day.

Our big task of 2015 is to finally become foster/adoptive parents, something we’ve been slowly working on for the past couple of years. We spent a lot of last year priming and preparing Addison for what lies ahead. She was a bit confused at first, often asking us, “So . . . when will I become a foster child?” We think she gets it now, however, as she’s taken to coming in for a hug with “I love you, guys. You’ll always be my biological parents.” Our undying extrovert can’t wait to get some foster siblings, as evidenced by her rushing into the agency director’s office at our first meeting and demanding, “When will my foster kids come?!”

We’ve got a ways to go before then, especially in the home improvement department. It’s going to be no small feat to get our 962 square feet ready for a family of 5. When the foster home inspector first visited, he asked, quite nonchalantly, “So, are you planning on keeping all these boxes around?” More storage needed; duly noted. Neal, always a creator at heart, got to work on space-saving ideas, beginning with this fantastic children’s book display:

Book display

Have I mentioned you should vote for his entry (you can vote more than once) in this Ryobi Power Tools contest? (Oh, I have? 😉 ) Pop over before April 30 at midnight (EST) to help make his custom-furniture-building dreams come true!

I’m pretty sure 2015 is going to be a wild ride (but a calm one, Neal, a calm one)! We’ll probably continue to blog about it sporadically here and at Raised by my daughter. With any luck, we’ll add two more personalities to this family before the next “holiday letter”!

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 T-shirts courtesy of our crafty sister-in-law Marisha

July 15, 2011

We’re moving . . .

Filed under: Personal — Tags: , , , — llcall @ 2:46 am

Have I mentioned that on here?  I don’t think so.  It wasn’t really, really definite until last week.  But so we are, in just about a month and a half.  And I’ve started to think about how to say goodbye to this place and mostly the people in it.  It’s time to move on and I truthfully find change exhilarating, but the goodbye-part is hard for me.  I know I have some blog friends who have done big moves — in fact, I have some blog friends who are professional movers and shakers.  So here’s my question: what are the best/most helpful/most cathartic ways you’ve said goodbye?  Knowing I have a month and a half, do I try to see as many people as I can one-on-one?  Do I throw a going-away, open-house-type deal to say goodbye in one fell swoop?

Oh, and how on earth do I move my beautiful, most expensive-thing-I’ve-ever-owned rocker/recliner without it costing an arm and a leg?

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