After bearing my soul in a most detailed manner, I picked my 4yr old up from school. Made lunch. Watched a documentary on sustainable farming while making bread. In other words, the day went on as usual. But I … Continue reading
“When I get married it will be to a guy who does all the work,” Athena
recently announced. “I’ll just sleep all day long. I’ll never leave my bed. He’ll have to bring me food. And I’ll have kids so they can unload the dishwasher.”
Clearing her dishes after meals and unloading the clean dishes from the dishwasher are a few of the chores Athena must do. Evidentally, she doesn’t really enjoy the tasks.
Raine quickly reminded her that the kids would be babies for a while. “They won’t even be able to do it until they’re like 4.”
“That’s fine,” Athena replied. “My husband will do it until then. He’ll do everything – the cooking, cleaning, all the stuff. And I’ll do nothing.”
My comments did not cause her to amend this dream. Considering Athena is a bundle of energy and hates being alone even for a few minutes, I seriously doubt she’ll live in this ridiculous manner. So, parents, there’s really no need to worry if she does, eventually, catch your son’s eye. I have at least another 15 years to get her ready for a proper relationship. Really, there’s no need to worry yet.
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).
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 incidentlast 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.
“You need to go play,” I told Raine again. She hovered around the entrance to the kitchen. When I shooed her away, she ran down the hall to the other entry point.
Her booming voice listed off all the details of her imaginary horse, Sarah. Dr. Phil was rolling on my laptop and the radio was playing in the background.
“Go play upstairs,” I’d said more than a few times. Up there Athena and J were building dragons with Lego. Raine refused, remaining close by and vying for my attention. I ended up giving it more than I should. Her complicated story line drew me in.
The enchiladas took forever to make. But were met with shouts of joy when the kids arrived at the dinner table. After a few bites they were strangely quiet.
“What’s wrong?” I asked from the kitchen where I was trying to tidy up a bit before sitting down with them.
“It’s spicy,” J answered.
“It’s fine. Eat.”
I sat down and had a taste. It was spicy. Eating a few more bites, I wondered why. I’d not done anything different. It was the same brand of enchilada sauce we always bought. But it was definitely spicy.
The kids pushed things around on their plates. I loaded them up with more sour cream and glasses of milk. They picked at what is usually their favourite meal. I gave up on encouraging them to eat. Clearing the enchiladas, I gave them apples and cereal.
After dinner, putting the empty sauce can in the garbage, I discovered it was hot sauce instead of mild.
After a good laugh, I told the kids, “This is why you need to be quiet in the grocery store when I ask you to.” Our trip to the store had been particularly frenzied as three ADHD kids shouted endlessly, “Look at this!” What they pointed out had nothing to do with what I was actually trying to find on the shelves. Seems I accidently grabbed the wrong sauce.
“And Raine, you should have gone to play upstairs,” I added. Seems I’m not as good at multi-tasking as I need to be.
“Otherwise we end up with a spicy supper,” J commented, through peals of laughter.
“Exactly. This is why I need you to be quiet sometimes.
I’d like to say, ‘lesson learned’ but that’s unlikely.
“We are not at war,” is something I find myself saying quite often. It was my 9yr old foster child who introduced the concept. She was sent to her room for being very disrespectful to me one day. With a history of explosive behaviour, it’s best to have her in the safety of her room when this sort of anger starts to bubble up.
In her room, we talked about why she was upset. Her response to being removed from the game she was playing with the other kids was, “Now you’re going to pay. You’ve blocked me from doing what I want so I’ll block you from doing things.”
“That’s not how it works. I’m the parent and you’re the child. There are consequences to how you behave because it’s my job to teach you the right way to interact with people,” was my explanation.
J disagreed, informing me, “We’re at war. You do something to me and then I do something worse to you.”
“We are not at war,” I assured her. “We’re not enemies. We’re really on the same side. We’re both trying to make your life as wonderful as it can be.” The truth is, being a child in foster care who has suffered a great deal of trauma, there is a limit on just how wonderful things can be. J is often overwhelmed by emotions that are far from wonderful. But there’s still the possibility of carving out a degree of wonderful in the midst of what she’s going through. There’s always that possibility for each of us.
“No,” she argued. “We’re not on the same side. We’re at war.”
“I am not your enemy,” I answered. But in the moment, we certainly seemed to be on opposing sides. I was struggling to pull her out of the darkness wanting to overtake her. J was adamantly opposing my efforts. In truth, we are not at war. We are not enemies. Yet so often I find myself in the midst of a battle zone as I fight against fear and insecurity. It arises in the children; it comes out in me. There’s a fear in loving, in being together. That’s what we’re fighting against. But we are not warring against each other.
Raine was quick to pick up J’s philosophy. And my new mantra has become, we are not at war. We are not warring against each other as J and Raine suggest when they find my correction unwelcomed and, as far as they can see, unnecessary. It’s not something to put on a plaque but something I say more than you can imagine – like when Raine is sure she needs to put on underwear from the dirty clothes bin when it’s time to go to church. We’re all on the same side and we’re all fighting against the things that seek to derail us. As I say it, taking a deep breath, I remind myself we’re not enemies. We’re working together on something wonderful.