The anniversary of Ali joining our family and some recent news I got about her biological mother has stirred up a lot of sadness in me. I’m keenly aware that Alianna is my daughter because she was taken from another mother. September 21, 2011—day that I look back to and reflect on with joy and gratitude is a day that another woman’s heart was deeply wounded…not for the first time and not for the last time. I cry for her because I know what she is missing out on and I can’t imagine the pain of loss after loss.
It seems to be hard for others “on the outside” to understand why I have such sadness about this. Yes, she made mistakes and losing her child(ren) was a consequence. Yes, she released her to us and gave us her blessing. Yes, life is good for us and Ali doesn’t exhibit any signs of trauma or loss. But this woman who I barely know will forever be important to me and honored as such. We have a unique bond as two mothers to the same little girl. She carried for nine months, gave birth to, loved and did her best to care for my daughter for the first two months of her life. That’s a reality that will never be erased or replaced by adoption. Ali had a mom before me—her first mom—and I love and bless her for the gifts she gave to Ali of life, love, beauty.
The best analogy I can conjure for how this feels is to imagine a heart transplant. In the movie Return to Me, the main character Grace is painfully aware that she received a new heart because another woman died. She and her family gained because another family lost. That’s how it goes with adoption. Most of our family and friends only see the benefit to us but we also see the damage done to her original family. So, it is with heavy hearts that we celebrated this past weekend. Saturday we celebrated being a family but Sunday we spent time talking about Ali’s first mom, reflecting on events of the past two years and praying for her.
(Face covered and identity concealed for her privacy.)
The first picture I have of me with Ali:
I felt a little funny about this “mommy adores me” shirt that came to our home with Ali until I realized how much her biological mommy AND I (her foster mommy at the time) both adored her. She was the most content and happy baby I’ve ever seen.
I doubt that Ali’s first mom will ever see this post but just in case you do read this one day:
We will never forget about you. We will include you when we tell Ali the story of how she became part of our family and we will show her photos of you. We always speak about you with respect and dignity. We won’t lie to Ali about the realities of you and her and the part of your lives that was spent together and when she’s ready and old enough to understand we will answer every question we’re able to answer. We think about you and pray for you all the time. We love you.
Jason’s Kickstarter campaign for his Christmas Classics album ends tomorrow just after midnight. Last chance to preorder a CD and help fund this project. Thanks for considering.
It feels almost like Ali has three birthdays and they’re all within two months of each other. In July she turned two, in August we celebrated one year since her adoption finalization and on Saturday we celebrated our “familiversary” or family day – the second anniversary of the day she joined our family. At that time it was through foster care and we had no idea that she would eventually be part of our family forever. She has been an amazing blessing and has brought me so much joy as a mother. God’s plans are so much better than anything I could have come up with on my own. She stuck her tongue out a lot as a baby (and consequently drooled a lot). She was dealt a pretty bad hand as a newborn but I guess she was showing what she thought about that…
Thankfully, Jason got home on Saturday so we could celebrate our family day all together. We asked Ali what she wanted to do to and she gave us the same answer she almost always gives: Chuy’s! I’m not sure why she loves Chuy’s so much. She pretty much just eats the chips and beans. Maybe it the rainbow sherbet push up the server always gives her for dessert.
On the way home from dinner our picture perfect family day celebration started to crumble. We’ve been trying to teach Ali to stop taking her shoes off every time we get in the car (a habit learned after our two recent road trips.) She wasn’t listening so I climbed into the backseat so I could address her correctly and attempt to reverse the behavior. She wasn’t having it. In fact, the more anger and frustrated I got, the more she just laughed and laughed. I was losing my temper and the only consequence I could come up with for her defiance was to not allow her to have pie for dessert when we got home but to go straight to bath and bed. I had made the peanut butter pie especially to celebrate our familiversary and Jason’s birthday, and I had specifically planned to have her blow out candles on it since she’s been recently obsessed with the birthday song and blowing out “crandows.” I gave up on the shoe battle and got back in my seat. When we got home, I stuck to my guns and took her straight to her bath. She was still as happy as could be. It was me who was having a problem. I looked at my beautiful, joyful daughter and released that I was allowing our family’s enemy to steal the finalé away from our family day. I quickly changed my mind about my consequence and asked her to forgive me for losing my temper. She’s always quick to forgive.
I dressed her in her “daddy’s little girl” pjs—my favorite. Ali almost didn’t grow up with a daddy, twice. But now she has a great daddy, a daddy who fought for her and continues to fight for her everyday. Her birth mom told us she hoped that Ali would be a daddy’s girl and she is—they have a very special bond. When Jason’s not on the road his schedule is very flexible. From the time Ali came home she was his sidekick, hanging out with him in his studio during recording and practice sessions, going with him to the bank, lunch, coffee shop. Despite him being a touring musician, he gets to spend a lot more time with her than most parents who work away from home M-F/9-5. It’s truly a blessing! I love seeing their father-daughter relationship growing and changing as she gets older.
Clean from her bath and cozy in her pjs, we celebrated our familiversary, singing, “Happy family to me!” and Ali blew out 2 candles for our 2 years together. Then we sang “Happy birthday to Daddy” and he blew out candles for his 31st birthday which was last Monday while he was away. I’m so thankful for my little family and excited to discover what lies ahead for us in the next year.
Friday morning Ali and I celebrated that we only had 1 more day until Jason got home from his recent Canadian tour.
Then Friday night we had a girls night out, dinner and frozen yogurt. I love hanging out with her. She’s so much fun!
Saturday morning we had a light breakfast and then went straight to the airport to wait for Jason to arrive. Then we went out for breakfast together.
Can you tell that Ali was happy to see her daddy? I wish I would have gotten video of her jumping up and down and screaming, “Daddy! Daddy!” when we watched him walking toward our van with all his luggage and guitars. We sure love this guy.
I had a heart-to-heart conversation with my sister-in-law the other day. She lovingly mentioned that based on my online presence it looks like I always have it all together. I do not. It’s not my intention to present a dishonest picture, rather, I just don’t imagine anyone wants to see pictures of the messy corners of my house where laundry is waiting to be put away and school papers have no home, or the hear stories about my two year old waking up every two hours the other night and me finally losing my cool at 2am and telling her she could scream and cry all night—which by the way is “bad behavior! very bad behavior!”—but I’m not coming back until morning…and I didn’t. So, see? I’m most definitely not perfect. I lose my temper. I have messes that need cleaned up. (Please don’t ask for a picture of the inside of my van.) I still struggle with worry and obsessive planning.
I read blogs, A LOT of blogs. I have enough mess in my own life that I don’t particularly like to read about other people’s messes. I prefer to be inspired by beautiful spaces, pictures of happy kids/family, stories about discovery, growth, appreciation, revelation, encouragement, truth, beauty of all kinds. That’s what I prefer to share, too.
Part of the art of photography is composition—deciding what to include in the photo frame and what to leave out. Sometimes it’s done after the fact by cropping the photo. I do a lot of exclusion with the camera…changing my angle to avoid capturing the messy countertop or pile of shoes by the door or whatever it is. I also use Photoshop to edit my photos. Here’s an example from Instagram on Tuesday. I cropped this picture of Ali painting in the driveway to block out part of the garage that’s not so pretty and also to cut out our neighbor’s house for privacy. I do the same with all of my writing and sharing in general.
So there you have it. The truth is that my online presence is a cropped version of my real life. Part of it is for privacy (as I mentioned yesterday) and part of it is for art’s sake—to look past, around, or over the crap to capture the beauty.
I want to write from the heart, to pour out and sort out all that’s swirling around in my mind, but blogging requires a balancing act between public life and private life that’s tricky to manage. Perhaps it’s especially tricky as a foster parent, because a child in state custody is never legally mine and their stories are not mine to share. I say all that because I have a lot of heavy stuff going on in my heart and my head and I don’t know what, if any of it, to share here. The complexity of that stuff makes writing a blog post about sewing a toddler purse or making a peanut butter pie seem terribly superficial.
Here are a few random bullet points from my brain swirl:
• On Thursday we started getting placement calls again out of the blue. I was under the impression we were on hold status because we hadn’t gotten any calls since…well, since May 3 when Buzz arrived. I had a discussion about that with the third placement worker and she said she would be glad to make a note on our file that we’re not available until the end of October, when Buzz’s 90-day home visit trial period is over. Placement workers are the sweetest people working for DCS and they have one of the most discouraging jobs. All three of the placements we were called about—4 kids in total—were under the age of 2. That’s extremely rare in our county. I’m sure they were able to find homes for them but it’s still heart breaking to say no. If it were November I would have said yes to any of them. I’m now officially hoping for a baby next time after mentally imagining saying yes to each of those placement calls.
• I called back the sweet placement worker on Friday morning to clarify that we would make an exception to the hold status for any previous foster kids or their biological family members.
• On Saturday morning Ali and I met Buzz and his mom for breakfast. It was the first time we had seen them since the beginning of August when they were reunited. It was also Buzz’s 3rd birthday. I’m so glad we could celebrate with them. I got the impression his mom has had to close their world in so tight that they really don’t see many family and friends. Both kids ask about each other a lot. Apparently Buzz asks to see pictures of “Mama and Ali”…it really means a lot to me that his mom told me that because I was afraid it was hurting her that he calls me Mama. He calls her Mommy, thankfully, so he has a different name for each of us. Buzz was quite nervous when we walked into the IHOP. I’m sure it stirred up a mess of emotions. We both assured him that he was going home with his mom and we were just visiting because Ali and I miss him. (Jason too but he’s traveling.) He was pretty quiet through breakfast. It looks and sounds like they’re doing great. I’m so proud of them both! We all got hugs when we said goodbye and tentatively made plans to get together again next month. I’m blessed to get to keep in touch with them. We’re certainly not required to but we both just want to keep in touch. I love that!
• I keep coming back to the word trust, over and over again. Trust. With all of the unknowns. WIth all of the maybes. With all of the secret hopes. With all of the dreams for the future. WIth all of the worries about situations and individuals way outside of my control. With all of the confusion and mess. TRUST. I started looking up Bible verses related to trust on Sunday afternoon. “Trust the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” Proverbs 3:5. That verse has been popping up in my head for several weeks. And the follow up to trust is wait. Be patient. Wait. Trust.
We’ve celebrated a lot of birthdays this past week so Ali has been randomly singing the happy birthday song. My favorite is when she sings “Happy Birthday, Daddy. Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to Daddy, Happy Birthday Daddy.” Today is Jason’s birthday. He’s in Nova Scotia and we’re in Nashville so we’ll have to hold off celebrating together for a few more days.
We love you SO MUCH! You are an awesome daddy to Ali and a wonderful husband and best friend to me. We are blessed to have you. I hope you have a great day. We can’t wait to smother you with hugs and kisses when you get home!
Update: If you want to give Jason a virtual birthday present, you can pledge a preorder for his upcoming Christmas Classics acoustic guitar album! ;)