This is How I Became a Mother

The story began in March of 2011. A case manager called asking if I’d be interested in fostering “a 3yr old girl with a severe brain injury. She’s likely very delayed.” I said yes.

A few days later, the brightest and most articulate child I’d ever encountered arrived on my doorstep. I wasn’t expecting a fair skinned child with blond hair and blue eyes. The last name had conjured another image in my mind as I hastily prepared. Turns out the brain injury was linked to a fall as an infant. The hospital reports had been slow in coming. And the injury was possibly exaggerated in order to qualify the child for specialized care.

The social worker explained Raine had a younger sister who had remained at the previous foster home. A family doctor recommended the separation since Raine was thought to be aggressive towards her sister.

Before leaving my caseworker said, “I’m praying Raine’s sister moves here and you get to adopt both of them.”

I laughed. It seemed utterly impossible. Even when Athena, Raine’s sister, moved to my home three months later I didn’t expect the girls to stay. There were other plans moving forward. Everyone else in my world seemed pretty certain, but I wasn’t.

Then, suddenly, adoption was on the table. I told the social worker I was interested. Still, I wasn’t sure this was where our lives would head. The social worker was thrilled and determined to make our family a reality.

The case moved over to an adoption worker who wasn’t thrilled with me. She decided Raine and Athena would fare better in another adoptive home – specifically a two parent home.

My heart broke when I received the news. Upon the advice of a friend, I decided to appeal that decision. Filling out the paperwork, I remained unsure if God would open this door or keep it closed. But I felt compelled to do everything in my power to keep Raine and Athena. If they left, it would be with the knowledge that I fought to keep them. I wanted to imprint on their spirits the fact that I wanted them – something contrary to the message they’d received up to that point.

Three years ago I sat before a panel of three women. Facing off against the director of the adoption department and the lawyer for Children’s Aid, I had to prove I was the best mother for Raine and Athena.

I was intimidated and lacked the resolve of the witnesses who testified on my behalf. I’m certainly not the best mom in the world. My case wasn’t built on that, it rested on the fact that I’d been successfully parenting Raine & Athena for over a year. As far as I could see, that mattered. Another foster family had found the task too difficult and asked for the girls to be removed from their home. I knew the challenges involved in caring for them. Without any illusion, I was willing to sign up forever.

The lawyer for Children’s Aid highlighted my apparently obvious disadvantage in being a single parent without a steady job. My income at that point was entirely from fostering. Even with the newly instituted government subsidy for adopting sibling groups from foster care, my income would remain meager. I listened to all the reasons why Raine and Athena would be better off without me. I remembered the adoption worker’s statement when she informed me that she’d chosen someone else to adopt the girls. “You think the kids care, but they’ll forget you in a week. Once they’re somewhere else with new toys and things, they won’t even remember you.” I hadn’t won Raine and Athena’s affection with things but by steadily proving myself to be safe and trustworthy. I’d created an atmosphere of peace for them by being clear and consistent. Everyday, without knowing what it would hold, I’d been building for the future. I wanted them to be secure and satisfied – not with things – but with heartfelt connections.

In my closing argument I presented not my perfection but my certainty that I want to parent these children. You’d be shocked to know how many adopted children are returned to foster care when families find their challenges more than they can manage. I understand how and why that happens. But I was sure it wouldn’t happen in our case if I were given the chance to adopt Raine and Athena. That sort of commitment has nothing to do with income.

I also appealed to the importance of stability. Athena, not quite 3yrs old, had lived with 4 different families. Gaining her trust had taken a great deal of time and care. The specialists involved with her had seen her with the previous foster parents. They were amazed watching the terrified little girl gradually grow deeply attached to me. The team begged to testify as to the importance of that connection and the possible harm in breaking it.

After three days the hearing concluded. I waited nervously for the response. It came one day when Raine and Athena were at daycare. I was home alone – my older foster children being away at camp. For about 10 minutes I stared at the envelope delivered by courier. I was afraid to open it. The ruling of the review panel was final.

Bracing myself for the decision, I pulled out the official document. My eyes couldn’t read beyond the initial statement that it was in Raine and Athena’s best interest to be adopted by me. I sat down at the dinning room table and wept. The fight had taken all of my strength. I was relieved that none of us would face the heartbreak I’d foreseen.

Hearing the news they would stay with me.

Hearing the news they would stay with me.

We would be a family. I would be an official mom, no longer just a placeholder or temporary care giver. Without pregnancy or the difficulty of labour, I became a mother. Never having gone through that natural process, I make no comparisons. This was our unusual journey. Three years into the adoption, I don’t regret the decision. It’s not always been wonderful. But it has remained unusual. When they’re grown, I trust, it’s a story that will make my daughters proud. I’m not a perfect mom, but I really wanted to be theirs. And I still want to.

Missional Living

I grew up in the church. It was, and is, an important part of my life.

Athena at church

Athena at church

In children’s classes, I heard about missionaries going to far away places. I learned there were abandoned children languishing in places I’d never been. I wanted to help. I wanted to go. I really wanted to be a missionary serving countless children.

Mothering is in my DNA. It’s the most natural instinct for me. I knew I could do it. And that’s what my heart set sights on. That’s where I expected to find children I would adopt.

Although my dad was in and adopted out of the child welfare system in Canada, I had no knowledge of it. That’s not something that came up in lectures at school or lessons at church. No one, in my vast community, had anything to do with that system.

It didn’t come to my attention until I was in my late teens. Discussing it with friends and family I was met with a great deal of resistance. Me going across the world to work in an orphanage was seen as noble. Me wanting to foster and adopt here in Canada was labeled as selfish. “There are lots of good Christian couples doing that.” The problem became the fact that I was single.

So I waited for that to change. When neither that nor my desire to parent vulnerable/abandoned children changed, I made a choice to step into missional living.

Eventually most of my family and friends came around. But it’s still a hard sell. The government graciously pays me to foster. Since I care for special/high needs kids I receive a bit more than average. The provincial government has come to recognize the challenge of adopting wounded children. They now offer a subsidy to adoptive parents. That enables me to remain at home working on connecting with my daughters and helping them to heal.

I’m very grateful for the financial support that makes my everyday life possible. I do my best to steward that responsibly. And add to it by making tutus, selling tea, doing some catering, making freezer meals for friends, editing manuscripts for fellow writers, and anything else that I can manage.

My children want for nothing and, hopefully, my efforts will instill in them a proper work ethic. Overall, we manage fairly well. But now I’m faced with the necessity of buying a new vehicle. Our careful budget doesn’t leave much room for that.

The daily struggles I share with you here aren’t glorious. Much of my mission is not. Some days it’s nothing more than meals and dishes in the midst of lots of anguish. The progress I make is slow and, at first glance, insignificant. Like my foster child not fully melting down over an unavoidable everyday task that usually undoes her. The fact that she argued, stomped her feet, and then eventually did what was required is huge progress in her own journey.

Parenting in this context is vastly more difficult than I ever

Athena at a princess party at the book store

Athena at a princess party at the book store

imagined. I don’t always do it perfectly or even well all the time. But I’m doing it. And that matters.

It’s not countless children I reach, but a small number who I walk with on a daily basis. Rarely is it picture perfect. But it’s an opportunity I can’t leave to lots of other couples. It’s one I am compelled to complete in my present state.

And, at the moment, it’s something I need your help with. We’re in need of a newer van to get us to things like church and princess parties and doctor’s appointments and what not. I appreciate the time you take to read my ramblings. And would appreciate your help as I forge on in this wonderfully unusual calling.

It’s not as exciting as heading overseas, but I can’t help believing that what I do matters. The lives I minister to matter. And I know you feel the same. Thank you for journeying with me.

Progress on the Adoption Front

I expected my second adoption to be typical. That’s why I set forth the plan to post an update each Thursday. The process began so long ago I can’t find my initial post.

As with all things in my life, this is not usual.

I’ve waited ages for the homestudy to be complete. In November, all my paperwork was handed in. And then there was nothing but silence. My adoption worker said she was busy with a few other families but would soon come to my file. Time has passed.

At last, on Friday, I sent an email trying to conceal my desperation. Immediately she replied saying, “Funny you should be in touch today. I just got approval to complete your homestudy.”

That amazing news was followed with the information that she is going to be away for three weeks but will be in touch upon her return. With that time line now in place, I’m working hard to get everything ready. There are some projects around the house I need to complete and so on.

One of the things I need in moving forward is a new vehicle. Mine, a 2001 that I bought 004used from a friend 5yrs ago, has served me well. But the body is being eaten up by rust and the kilometers are adding up – currently at 395,348. Though never having given me much trouble thus far, I really can’t expect it to go on forever.

I could explain in detail how I do my best to economize and accept every odd job that comes along. I work diligently to add to the government subsidy that I receive with the adoption. Most of the time we manage reasonably financially. But at the moment, there’s no way I can swing a newer vehicle.

And so, a friend has launched a crowd funding project. It’s incredibly unusual for me to request help – of any sort. This comes with incredible trepidation. I know a second round of adoption is where I need to head. And if you’d like to contribute in any manner to my present need, I’d be eternally grateful.

Don’t Take It Personally

Our new addition, J, is doing pretty well. The girls have their moments, but overall they get along amazingly.

Of course there’s been a wrench thrown into all that harmony. A few weeks ago I went to the women’s conference at church. J went to my friend’s, a fellow foster parent. Raine & Athena went to my mom’s.

It’s rare that I’m away from the kids at all – let alone for a whole weekend. So I expected some backlash, especially from Raine. But it was so much worse than anticipated.

Life at my mom’s is pretty decadent for the kids. They get to pick whatever they want at the grocery store. Understandably, that’s a lot of sugary processed food – things we don’t usually have. Time is spent watching TV or jumping over furniture. There aren’t many rules. Controlling and rude behaviour is overlooked. Grandma is indulgent as grandmas should be. In a normal situation, that would be all well and good.

However, we don’t live a normal life. So….Raine returned with theIMG_20150611_163223 idea she ought to be adopted by my mom. Life with her is far superior to life at my house. Yes, for a 7yr old that is certainly how it appears. And for a child who is consciously aware of the loss of one mom, choosing another seems perfectly reasonable.

My resistance to Raine’s choice, created a great deal of conflict between us. The more I tried to pull her close, the more she pushed me away. After this length of time together, it’s hard not to take it personally. It’s nearly impossible.

Those who watched the struggle play out were mostly sympathetic. Some suggested I try harder to be more fun. I did. But that went over like a lead balloon. Walking to the park, Raine was running much too far ahead and nearly into the road a few times. So I had to reign her in. She wasn’t happy. I bought wooden skewers as she requested for a craft. She poked a visiting child repeatedly. So I had to speak to her. That resulted in an hour of screaming while I tried to get everyone ready to go see a movie. Even in her pain, I feel obligated to keep her and everyone else safe. That’s not fun. I know. There’s a lot of things in life that aren’t fun.

In all my years of fostering, with all the kids I’ve had, I’ve only ever had one meltdown at a time. They are prone to trading off but, thankfully, everyone doesn’t go off at once.

Friday, after weeks of difficulty, Raine passed the baton to J. Our foster child completely unravelled in response to an upcoming visit from my brother and his family. They live out west but were in the area for a week. Apparently, uncles are not trusted by J. The more Raine & Athena talked about the visit, the more destraught J became. Until she was wearing the meltdown hat – throwing things, ripping up paper, and contemplating jumping out of a second story window. I hastily transported her to a friend’s house so I could visit with my brother without causing J further distress.

And that snapped Raine out of her funk. Now I’m back to being the best mom ever. Maybe because the sugary, processed food had worked their way out of her system. Maybe because it was time to go to the cottage and she didn’t want to miss that like J had missed the fun of family visiting. I don’t know. Now that the struggle has ceased, I’m working on shaking off what’s been said. Trying not to take it personally. Trying.