Not the End

 

15 months ago, a little girl joined our family through foster care. She was on the verge of turning 9 but the size of a 5yr old. I can’t say she’s grown much. But she has been completely transformed. And so has our family.

J brought a peace and unity to Raine and Athena. The three girls connected on the deepest level. Their days were spent playing joyously together. Raine has become so much calmer and can even whisper now. (If you’ve ever met Raine you know she pretty much always sounded like she was speaking through a megaphone.) Athena has grown in confidence and will actually hug people – something she wouldn’t do with anyone but me prior to J’s arrival.

There have been struggles as J deals with all the emotions that come with foster care and the reasons a child must be there. But she’s embraced a measure of healing. The girl here now is nothing like the one that arrived 15mths ago. She’s taller – though still needs to gain a significant amount of weight – happier, and more at peace. I’ve not been a perfect parent to her. But she knows she’s loved by our family.

And that’s why the news that J almost quite certainly will be leaving us August 19 caused Athena to run away from me crying. It made Raine go quiet. Eventually, Athena asked if I could take down the pictures we have up of J around the house. Once she’s gone, Athena doesn’t think she’ll be able to bear seeing the face of her lost friend.

The news of J’s departure isn’t really a surprise. It’s something that’s been a year in the making. Her mother has finally met all the requirements necessary to have her children returned. The social worker expects the judge to confirm this in court next week. Then J will need to go.

This is the heartbreak that keeps many from entering the world of foster care. The truth is not every child fully enters your heart. Often their brokenness keeps you from getting close. Sometimes in spite of your best efforts, there’s no connection with a child in your care. So every departure may not be completely heartbreaking. We’ve had some children with us temporarily or for a length of time and the moving on hasn’t been hard.

But in the case of J, there has been a deep connection. Her absence will hurt every member of our family. And, no doubt, the loss will affect her as well. It’s love that has changed each one of us as we’ve grown together. Whenever J’s social worker comes to visit, she’s always on the verge of tears seeing the relationship that has evolved. It saddens her to know it will come to an end. This isn’t the outcome that seems best. It’s not what we were expecting. And it’s not what we want.

Still, it is always possible in the world of foster care. So we bless J as she prepares to move from us. And I pray that Jesus, the one who calls us to love the needy, will comfort my children as they say good-bye. They’ve loved J so well. Their unconditional acceptance has enabled J to discover the beauty within herself. That revelation will go with her – that she is loveable, that she is valuable and to be treasured. Those truths are not coming to an end even though it appears J’s time with us is. She will take with her the deposits we’ve made. And we will keep the imprint of her on our hearts.

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Mother’s Day

Tomorrow I will make my own breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I’ll do dishes, clean up, and likely put away laundry. There won’t be gifts or accolades. I have no spouse and my children are too young to do much for me.

That’s alright. I look at them and my lovely house and think, “Not long ago this was all just a dream.”

It hasn’t been easy, but I’ve arrived at the place I always wanted to be.

I’m a mother to 4 exceptional children. Two are completely mine. One is in my care possibly temporarily. The newest addition will soon be completely mine. April 5 I got the long awaited call saying I’d been selected to adopt a little boy. After a transition period, he officially joined us on April 25. In about 6mths the adoption will be finalized. Unlike the process with Raine and Athena, I’ve been informed I can’t post anything identifying about him until everything is completed in the courts. So, sadly I can’t share his cute little face yet. But will tell the story of how he came to join us in a future post. It’s a wonderful tale.

I don’t really mind that my Mother’s Day will be filled with the usual mundane tasks. It’s a blessed reminder of the miraculous fact that I am a mother.

The Gift of Community

Normally our 9yr old foster child is at her birth mother’s on weekends. Because of this, J has only been to church with us a handful of times. The last occasion was a total disaster.

When J decided not to go to her mom’s this weekend, I understood but was nervous about how she’d cope. Raine and Athena were singing in the children’s choir Easter morning. I worried J would prevent us from getting there because of a major meltdown. Happily, she rose and got ready without any issues. In fact, all the kids did so well getting out the door (usually our greatest challenge) that we arrived at church early.

J hadn’t eaten her bagel and pear during the drive. She and I sat down in the foyer while Raine and Athena went to their final practice. It’s rare for J and I to be alone. She loves my daughters and always wants them around.

Saturday, while we were waiting in line for pancakes at a local maple syrup bush, J ran through the nearby pine trees with Raine and Athena. The three form a neat little pack. I was struck by how special it is to find a place where you belong. J has shed much of her insecurity and found a place of joy. She is loved and she loves. It’s a gift to have a tribe to run with. I grew up with a sister and friends who nurtured my spirit and soul. That has been on my list of experiences I’ve wanted for my kids. I rejoice that Raine, Athena, and J have that.

As J and I sat in the foyer, people began wandering in for church. Many faces were familiar to me. They knew J was my foster child. Though most had not met her, they stopped to say hello. The grandmotherly women, put their hands on J’s shoulder. Looking her in the eyes they welcomed her. Some told her she was in a blessed home. Others told her she was lovely. Everyone had a smile and kind word for her.

She’d done nothing to warrant their attention. J was simply sitting there eating a bagel (or not eating since she’s been reluctant to eat after being at her mom’s over March break). The people knew her status and went out of their way to speak into her heart. They honoured her with kindness not because of anything she’d done. She has no connection to them. They aren’t her grandmother. They bear no responsibility to her. Yet, they made a point of connecting deeply with her. I watched J’s spirit and soul drink in the love and acceptance lavished upon her.

It took everything in me not to cry. Growing up in the church, I’ve known this kindness all my life. Until today, I’d not appreciated the magnitude. There are so many things I want for my kids – adopted and fostered. A home church has always been on the list. Growing up, that was my community. There were families in my neighbourhood who also went to our church. We spent time together during the week and saw each other on Sundays. I realize there are many other ways to build community. But I doubt there is another place where a dozen people will stop to speak to the heart of a child because they know she’s living a displaced life. Today, J received the gift of community. She was loved, accepted, encouraged, and affirmed simply for being there. It was beautiful and exactly what she needed.

Thank you.

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Live Your Life Filled with Joy and Wonder

This is the phrase I’m keeping in mind. Social workers have informed me that studies show weakened immune systems in children who have been in foster care and a tendency to be accident prone.

For six days Raine has been under the weather. Her appetite is gone and she’s not her usual energetic self. Refusing to admit she’s unwell, Raine keeps making up silly excuses for her symptoms. For example, she’s arguing that the bathtub is now dreadfully too small for her 8yr old body. Because it’s so painfully small, her head is hurting from trying to washing her hair. Despite the statistics, she doesn’t know much about being sick.

The last time she suffered was at age 3. Shortly after receiving the required flu shot, she came down with the flu and step throat. Then there was the time she burned her leg our first Christmas after the adoption took place. That healed remarkably fast without a trip to the ER.

In the midst of Raine’s lingering flu like illness, Athena managed to give herself a black eye. She has a way she likes to do things. Something mimicking modern dance or creative movement is how Athena goes about the house. While retrieving a stuffed seal from the floor, she somehow managed to cut her eye on the dinning room chair. No one knows exactly how since the rest of us were upstairs. Athena’s scurrying feet and tiny howls made me think she needed to go the bathroom. (Often she waits until the last minute then runs around in circles, panicking at the thought of not making it to the toilet in time.) I was about to shout, “Get to the bathroom,” when I realized she was crying.

Rushing downstairs and gathering Athena into my arms, at first I didn’t realize she was bleeding. She buried her face on my shoulder and I managed to calm her. When she lifted her head there was a stream of blood coming from the corner of her eye. I mentally prepared for our first trip to emergency. Staying calm, I put Athena down and went to get the first aid kit. With a bit of pressure, the bleeding stopped. The cut was much smaller than I expected. Athena assured me she could see perfectly fine – and found my constant questioning and testing annoying.

Later when I put Athena to bed, I tried to discover if she’d been afraid when she got hurt. The idea didn’t make any sense to her. “I wasn’t scared,” she told me. “Jesus was there standing right behind me.”

Well, that’s a crisis averted, I thought to myself. Athena isn’t gripped by fear or anxiety. She’s still dancing through the house and happily eating meals on the chair that maimed her. Her eye is swollen and black – but not in an overly noticeable way I’ve been told. Of course it is noticeable to me.

Looking at it, I’m filled with joy and wonder. It’s a miracle that the injury wasn’t more serious. And it’s a miracle that it’s been years since Raine was sick. In the midst of illness and injury, I’m filled with joy and wonder.

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Athena’s still happy and eager to make me laugh

 

 

Peace on Earth and Mercy Mild

Six years ago I served Christmas dinner in my pajamas. It was a miserable moment summing up the state of my life. I was renting an old farm house that turned out to be infested with mice. Though my greatest fear, I’d dealt with that in a few other places I rented over the years. But when sign of the rodents showed up in my bed, I must admit I never did sleep well again in that house. Turning the dinning room into my bedroom kept the critters out of my bed but didn’t offer me much peace of mind.

That Christmas, my teenage foster child forgot to take her morning medication. After she opened her gifts, I was busy getting things ready for the family get together. She wanted to help. Normally, she did a good job of remembering the pills and the medication helped her to function. The hyperness I mistook as being related to the excitement of the holiday. Then she dropped the turkey on the floor while trying to dance with it. I thoroughly washed the bird and got it in the oven. Everything was a struggle that morning. I shed a few tears when family and friends arrived and I was still in pajamas.

I was still a relatively new mom, having been caring for a teenager for 2 years. I wanted everything to be magical and perfect. I wanted to give my foster child shiny new memories to help balance out the years of pain and heartache. That child grew into an adult. She left with all the life lessons I could cram into her head and the memory of laughing at me repeatedly that Christmas as I served dinner in my pajamas. By the time everyone arrived, slightly early, getting dressed seemed much too difficult.

Having been at this now for over 7 years, I’m no longer a new mom. With every passing season, I’m excusing myself more and more from the pressure I put on myself. I can’t always make it magical. I certainly can’t make it perfect.

Yesterday, I decided to get dressed if I felt so inclined. Despite my parents being late, I ended up receiving them in my new Christmas pajamas. There were no tears over this fact. It was a rather conscious choice. The kids were in the pajama pants I’d made for them and their cousins. Since the adoption, our tradition has been to either buy or make matching pajamas for Raine, Athena, and all their cousins. At first it was very significant – making them feel connected to a family that had previously not really been theirs. It was a tangible item that helped Raine make the leap from being a foster child who took part in our family celebrations to an actual member of the family. My parents and siblings had never treated her as anything less than part of the family but Raine had considered herself a visitor when she was a foster child. The pajamas were something she could look at and say, “We’re the same because we’re family.”

This year, I made the pajama pants for our 9yr old foster child as well (whose face I can not show).

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Christmas Eve 2015

Raine’s acceptance of family has expanded to the point that the matching pj’s are likely redundant but it’s a tradition I enjoy keeping. So all the cousins received a pair of pants with a shirt I purchased. Raine, Athena, and J had the same shirt. Getting them Christmas Eve, they wanted to keep them on Christmas Day.

They sang Hark the Herald Angels Sing repeatedly as they have been for weeks. They were thrilled with their gifts. They were joyful. And peace reigned. I’d been secretly bracing myself for a major upset – particularly from J. She’d been to her mother’s for two days prior to Christmas to celebrate with her family there. Things hadn’t ended well due to some miscommunication between the worker, the mother, and myself. I informed J of the scheduling information I’d been given. But turns out there were alterations I was unaware of. J’s birth mom told the volunteer driver I’d completely ruined Christmas for J because of the misinformation. I expected J to fulfill her mother’s wish of having a miserable holiday. But J was mercifully mild. She went along with our traditions and my instructions. She even seemed to enjoy herself. At bedtime, she hugged me tight saying, “I won’t let you go. You’re my special Christmas present.”

There was no perfection. The tree was slightly haggard from an incident

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The Stockings were Hung

last week when the kids tried to shake a bunch of needles off to use as food in the play kitchen. I’d been upstairs sewing pajamas. The floors weren’t mopped. And somehow Athena broke a curtain rod in the dinning room while my parents carried in the gifts they brought. I wasn’t impressed. There’s now no hiding the dirty sliding door. This is life with all it’s imperfections. I’m not a great housekeeper. But the kids have matching pajamas, stockings I knit, and so much more.

And I appreciated the joy and peace in our home as I moved through the day in my pajamas.

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