Baby J: The Sequel

heart

Baby J. came to stay with us again, for a week this time. Yesterday morning I kissed him on the head and buckled him into someone else’s car seat and watched him drive away.

Afterwards, God and I had a big long chat and let me tell you, it was not polite. I won’t reveal the exact content, but I will say there was lots of swearing involved.

When Scott and I got the call that Baby J. needed a week of respite care, we looked at each other with less of a sense of adventure and curiosity this go around. After the baby left us last time, I felt like someone had disemboweled me with a butter knife. I pulled the car over to cry about every seven minutes for two whole weeks.

We knew that the phone call basically translated to: “Would you like to take this baby and not sleep for a week, until everyone gets cranky and starts snapping at each other-because you’re taking care of a baby and babies are annoying, even awesome ones. Oh, and this baby is particularly awesome and you will fall madly in love with him and then he will leave you and you may never see him again. Whaddaya say?”

Well, shucks, yeah! We thought you’d never ask!

Of course, we said yes.

We had such a fun week with him! We hung out and made little drum beats with him for hours on Tariku’s old toy drums. We took him to the school carnival. He brought the house down at Whole Foods with his epic cuteness- I could barely get my shopping done. And we all got grouchy and stressed and sleep deprived and sick with baby cooties. All that good baby stuff.

star

And then we said goodbye, again. And I cried a lot a lot, again.

I’ve been thinking about how to model dealing with loss. I really like plans, so I tried to come up with one, but I just couldn’t. It all happened so fast and we were in survival mode. So instead, I simply told Tariku the only way through loss is through it. We cry and have our feelings and hold each other and talk to each other and take care of each other when we’re not strong. And we breathe and breathe and get up again the next morning and make breakfast. And everything eventually changes- it doesn’t hurt this much forever.

nannynt

I’ve been thinking of the nannies in Tariku’s orphanage: tireless, strong-armed, their heads covered in blue kerchiefs- who held and bathed and fed my son, and showered him with love. They kissed and kissed his face, even though they knew the day would come that they would likely never see it again.

There were also the anonymous women who held me for the five days in between when I was born and when my family came to adopt me. For five days, someone I will never thank held and loved me.

I tried to look at this time with Baby J. as my thanks to them. With every round of our “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” I did my best to honor their strength and generosity of spirit.

And I breathed and got up this morning and walked past the empty space where the pack-and-play was the day before. And I made breakfast.

Comments are off for this post

When Big Baby J. Came To Stay

IMG_8396

As many of you know, Scott and I are in the process of adopting through LA County DCFS (Department of Child and Family Services). As of a few weeks ago, we’ve got our stamp of approval, so we’re officially certified and ready to do this thing!

We got a call last week that there was a six-month-old baby in need of respite care, which is when a child needs an emergency place to stay for a few days. We had not remotely expressed interest in doing respite care, but there is a crisis-level need in LA County for foster parents, and so they called us anyway.

My first response was: no way! I’m super busy and also that sounds really hard and also…ummmm…also nothing. So I called Scott, fully expecting that he would say, no way! No luck. And then we talked to Tariku, to see how he’d feel about it. You see where this is going, right?

And that was how we wound up with Big Baby J.

Big Baby J. had the best chunky baby thighs you’ve ever seen in your life, and the deepest, brightest, most gorgeous eyes. He had a funny off-kilter smile and sweet dimply cheeks. He had us all laughing and laughing.

Tariku was remarkable with him. He fed him and played with him and helped bathe and dress him. He was even kind and funny when the baby woke him at 4am. His exact words were, “Dude! Can he just whine a little quieter?”

I talked to Tariku’s teacher daily, and watched closely for any signs that he was having a hard time. His teacher told me that he actually had his best week yet since school started, and that he was communicating in a very matter-of-fact and enthusiastic way about Baby J.

As for me, I decided that I was going to love this baby with everything I had for the short time he was here. I put away the to-do list. I lay with him on the bed for hours. We banged Tariku’s old toy drums on the living room floor. I looked him in the eye as much as possible and held him on my chest while he drifted off to sleep.

I figured- 3 days, right? We know from the very beginning that we’re giving him back, so how hard could it be?

It was very hard. I spent the whole last morning with him pretty much just crying into his hair. I handed him back, held my head up, and I told him I hoped I would see him again one day.

Tariku said, “I hope he remembers me.”

I told him, “He may not remember you in his head but he’ll remember you in his heart.”

I’m still pretty wrecked. And I’m also happy. I’m proud of us as a family for how we said yes to something scary, and then all came together to make it happen.

What a wonderfully surprising life we have. It snuck up on us. It was never like we sat down and said: gee, I hope we get to be foster parents someday. Honestly, I’m not strong enough for this. I’m not very strong at all. I was in bed all day after Big Baby J. left, gnawing on a vat of industrial strength Maalox, because my stomach felt like I had chugged a gallon of acid.

But I think- who’s strong enough for this? The people who aren’t super-sensitive? Maybe, but why would they say yes? It’s paradoxically always going to be up to the people who are perhaps least equipped: the marshmallows, the kids who were always described derisively as “overly-sensitive” on our report cards.

I just kept looking in the mirror and telling myself: you’re strong. You’re a warrior. You can do this. This isn’t about you and what you want. This is about a baby who needs a place to stay and a lot of love. And you have all of that to offer.

I’m sure we needed Baby J. as much as Baby J. needed us.

When I was in Africa last year with Help One Now, my friend Jacob Combs  gave me this Giving Key necklace, with the word “HOPE” on it. The idea behind the necklace is that you keep it for as long as you need it, and then you pay it forward to someone you think could use the message. I liked mine so much as a piece of jewelry that I held on to it for an entire year!

This seemed like a good time to let it go. I gave the key to Baby J.’s full-time foster mom, when she came to pick him up. It’s a message I’d love to offer to all of us- parents, kids, everyone- who have a more circuitous journey than most to find the place we truly belong.

Baby J- I know you are for big, bright things here in this world. I’m blessed to have met you and held you and kissed your perfect face. I am so lucky.

Comments are off for this post

Making Space

 

IMG_7463 - Version 2

For those of you who don’t know, we’re in the process of getting certified by Los Angeles County to adopt a child through the foster care system. That’s a picture of our CPR/first aid training (if you’re looking to do it, we highly recommend Ron Calloway).

Whenever I post about some new phase of our progress, I inevitably get 20 well-wishing texts, thinking that we’re bringing a baby home tomorrow. I forget that most people have no idea how this thing goes. There are about twelve million steps: paperwork and meetings and doctor appointments and rabies shots for the dogs and replacing windows because there are no regulation screens and and and…

We’ve been slowly chipping away at it for about six months. Staring at the final hurdles, I found myself feeling paralyzed. I kept landing in an overwhelmed face plant on the bed.

One morning, I decided to throw myself into it guns blazing and just get the thing done. I sat down with my trusty legal pad and looked objectively at every item on my list, with the intention of prioritizing and then attacking it systematically. It was immediately clear to me that the thing I needed to do most was to make space– in the garage, in Tariku’s room, in the disastrous kitchen cabinets.

Most of all, I needed to make space in my heart. I needed to make space in our life for another child.

One of the hardest things about the adoption process is that there’s too much time to overthink it, and a million legitimate reasons to get cold feet. Scott and I looked at each other every night and said, “Are we crazy? This parenting thing just got a little easier. It just got fun. We’re traveling. We’re going out in public without a scene. He’s in a great school. We relax now while our kid cannonballs into the deep end and swims the entire length of a pool. I don’t even have to get my hair wet anymore! And now we’re gonna go F it right up?”

We’re asking for trouble. No, really, we are. We know exactly what early childhood trauma does to the brain. We’re looking to adopt a boy around 3-5 yrs through the foster care system, who will inevitably carry trauma, loss, and deep grief. And then there are the risks involved, which terrify me. The worst being the possibility that the child will not be able to stay with us, which can happen. Sometimes I think we should just call a stop to all this immediately. And then I wonder if I’m having genuine reservations or I’m just scared.

Phew. That’s a lot. Even writing it gives me a stomachache. No wonder I was feeling paralyzed.

In the midst of all this, I happened to read Marie Kondo’s absurdly popular and totally psychotic organizing book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Yes, it’s that book that suggests you talk to your clothes.amess2

Well, I did it. I took two whole weeks, working all day every day. Everyone pitched in. We took everything we owned out of every drawer and cabinet and closet in the house and mostly we just gave it all the hell away, if only to avoid having to put it back. It was miserable.

It was also exactly what I needed. I’m not sure it changed my life exactly- check in with me in six months and see how we’re doing. But I did have ample time to reflect on what we truly needed and wanted, and what was important to us.

As I worked, I left space. I cleared drawers and left them empty. I left empty hangers in Tariku’s closet.

I wrote our child-to-be little notes as I went. In some cases I actually printed them on label tape and stuck them to drawers. I thought the visual reminders would help Tariku start subconsciously making space of his own.amess

I wrote:

We love you little brother!

This is your dresser!

In the garage, I created a bin for keepsakes and put it next to Tariku’s. On the bin, I wrote:

Welcome. We love you. We are waiting for you.

The current update is that we’re probably just a few short weeks away from completing our certification, which will make us eligible to get a placement at any moment, although it could take a while. Whenever it happens, the empty drawers are ready.

As I organized, I told myself that if after all that work, I found I ultimately didn’t want to go through with this adoption, that would be fine too.

Instead, I looked around and it was clear to me: we have a beautiful home, full of so much love and music and joy. We’re not at all crazy to want to share it with a child who needs a home. It’s okay to have ambivalent feelings. It’s okay to be scared of the unknown. It’s okay to start getting excited about it, even though the road ahead may be a rocky one.

And just look at all this room in my heart, after all.

IMG_7547

Our Experience with Foster Care/Adoption Training

faces

Scott and I spent the last two weekends getting our foster care training certificate through a private agency called Five Acres. The Five Acres mission is to provide safety, well-being and permanency to children and families in crisis. We were inspired in part by the journey of our friends Shawna Kenney and Rich Dollinger (Shawna wrote about it here), and also by the fact that we want to grow our family and are not sure the route we want to go yet. We’ve often talked about fostering a teenager at some point in the future, so we figure why not start learning all we can about it now.

So we’re out there gathering information, soaking it all in, waiting to have that feeling of rightness I had when I first looked at photo album of Ethiopia, immediately turned to Scott and said, “That’s where our kid is.”

During the intense four days of training, we grew to feel close to the other eight expectant faces we faced across that long white table, eating our lunches out of paper bags while gamely participating in role plays and discussions. I was moved by everyone’s willingness to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is such a rare and brave thing. We shared our questions, our doubts, our losses, our hopes for our families.

We learned the nuts and bolts of the foster care system, as well as talking in depth about loss, abuse, attachment, trauma and family. Together, we made lists on chalkboards:

What are things people need to feel safe?

What is an expected loss vs. an unexpected loss?

What are some reasons children are removed from their homes?

We watched a few documentaries that were uniformly well-made and heart-wrenching. I highly recommend them to anyone. They included Aging Out, From Place to Place and, one of my favorite movies about adoption, Closure (see it if you haven’t!).

After posting about the training on social media, I’ve had a deluge of emails and messages, all saying the same thing: I want to talk to you more about foster care. Clearly the daunting amount of children in the social services system (20,000 in LA county alone, 500,000 nationwide) is on the minds of a lot of people. And I’m so glad, because, wow, do these kids ever need help and love.

Hearing some of these children’s stories reduced me to a trembling, mascara-streaked mess. But they also left me feeling inspired to participate in some capacity, as well as empowered with the tools to do so. I’m not sure if we’re going to try to adopt through LA County, but the options aren’t just foster or do nothing. There are so many ways we can all help. Here’s a really great post about it from Kristen Howerton at Rage Against the Minivan: What you Can Do. You can also just call Five Acres and ask.

By the end of each training day, I was so drained that I pretty much came home and crawled into bed with Tariku, using afternoon movies as a bribe for snuggles.

As I’m reflecting on the experience, I keep thinking about a discussion our group had near the end of the training.

“When things get hard, asked the woman leading the workshop, “What will you have in your back pocket that will keep you committed?”

I answered that, when facing situations that might inspire fear or judgment, I try to build a bridge to my own life. Watching the movies of those teenagers, I was reminded of my own angry and confused adolescence. I was reminded of my brother- an epic seeker/wanderer- and so many of my friends who have struggled at various times. I was reminded of a time not so long ago when Scott and I held our heads in our hands every night, completely overwhelmed and despairing in the face of Tariku’s trauma-related behaviors. I would never for a minute think that any of us was undeserving of love, or help, or a home.

I believe this even now, when T is standing at the foot of the bed insisting that I listen to him belch to the tune of Gangnam Style (true story).

Here’s the other thing I keep in my back pocket…

I remember first holding Tariku as a baby, burying my face his little nest of hair and thinking that he smelled like powder and cookies and everything good and sweet on God’s earth and that he was truly perfect and I’d never be that happy again. I didn’t require anything in return. I didn’t require anything at all. I had everything I needed.

It was a small moment. I probably thought the same thing a thousand more times before he started smelling like french fries and dirty feet and all the rest went out the window. But for some reason, that moment is the embodiment of love for me. The memory of it can sometimes give me superpowers. I go back to it all the time when the waters get choppy.