When does a woman become a mother? Is it when she conceives for the first time? Is it when she becomes aware of her baby? Is it when she first holds her child in her arms?
I pondered those questions as I was decorating a nursery, taking infant CPR classes, buying car seats and driving a minivan. No baby was growing in my womb, known or unbeknownst to me. I had not see my first child’s face, breathed her name or held her in my arms.
Yet, I felt like a mother.
So, I asked God, “When does a woman become a mother?”
It’s simultaneously flattering and terrifying that I have a daughter who wants to be just like me. She sees the worst of me, along with the best. My biggest failures are most often toward those who I love the most: my husband and my daughter. I’ve had to ask her forgiveness so many times. She’s always gracious to forgive. She teaches me. When she offends me, I want to be mad; I want her to know that I’m mad. On the contrary, when I’ve lost my temper with her, she responds to my apologies with so much grace. “It’s OK, Mommy. Everyone makes mistakes sometimes. You just try again.”
The other day I was heading out to take care of the chickens. She asked, “Mommy, can I follow you?” She hurried to put her shoes on so she could shadow me on my chores. If I’m working, she wants to work. If I’m vacuuming, she wants to vacuum. If I’m cooking, she wants to cook. If I throw a fit when I’m mad, she throws a fit when she’s mad. If I bark commands at her, she barks commands at me (or others). If I sing and dance in worship, she sings and dances in worship. If I feel sick, she feels sick. When I see how much she wants to be like me, I’m humbled. I’m desperate to be more like Jesus so when she emulates me, she’s emulating Him.
Jesus, help me to be like You. Help me to love my daughter well. Help me to be on her side and to model love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.
A reader challenged me to write a day in the life post. (Hi, Gabrielle!) I started thinking about Tuesdays, one of my two work-from-home days, when I do all of my laundry between working and parenting. A lot of people despise laundry but I really don’t mind it. In fact, I kind of like doing it… I thought I could share some ways I make it efficient so it doesn’t consume too much of my life.
Pick One Day
I do all of my laundry on one day for the most part. Exceptions are a load of towels or sheets thrown in at a random time during the week. Other than that, I follow my mom’s tradition of Tuesday being laundry day. I typically do 3 loads on a Tuesday: light, dark and extra-dirty OR light, bright and dark. I put the first load in around 8:00 in the morning. By mid-morning, I shift the first wet load into the dryer and the second load goes into the washer. After lunch it’s time for the first load to come out of the dryer, the second load goes into the dryer and the third load goes into the washer. Mid-afternoon the second load comes out of the dryer and the third/final load goes into the dryer. By evening the last load is dry and folded and everything is put away, typically before dinner.
Jason and I have two laundry baskets in our closet: one for dark clothes and one for light clothes. When I pull out our two baskets and Ali’s one basket on Tuesday mornings, it’s pretty quick to sort hers into ours. If I have more than two loads worth, I’ll split out a brights load. Extra-dirty stuff is in a separate basket in the laundry room. (Examples: Lucy’s dog crate blanket, Jason’s outdoor work clothes, muddy things, baby bibs, wash rags, toddler accident clothes)
I fold the clothes immediately after taking them out of the dryer and sort them as much as possible right then, too. The clothes never leave the laundry room until they’re taken to be put away. Each time the clothes move it adds more time. (You will never find laundry piled up in my living room or in folded stacks on my kitchen table—it’s either in our bedrooms or it’s in the laundry room.) The first load is folded while the second load is drying and the third is being washed. It takes 10-15 minutes. Since Jason and I have two baskets that go to our room, I put all of his clothes into one and mine into the other to speed up the putting away process. Ali’s clothes are small enough that I can make three piles in her basket as I’m folding her clothes: one for pjs, one for tops and one for bottoms—these coordinate with the three drawers in her dresser, making putting away her clothes take less than 5 minutes.
Ali loves to be my laundry helper. Sometimes her “help” slows me down but I realize I’m sowing seeds for the future so I never turn away her assistance . She’s good at helping me move the loads from washer to dryer. She also likes “the matching game” which is simply finding sock matches. Her folding, sorting and putting away skills are not there yet.
First thing: colors sorted, first load in the washer (5 min.)
Mid-morning: first load into dryer, second load into washer (2 min.)
After lunch: first load out of dryer, second load into dryer, third load into washer. Fold and semi-sort the first load. (15 min.)
Mid-afternoon: second load out of dryer, third load into the dryer. Fold and semi-sort the second load. (15 min.)
Evening: last load out of dryer, folded and sorted. All laundry put away. (15-30 minutes)
There you have it. I do three loads of laundry in one day and it takes less than an hour. I admit, we have a few factors that make it easier on us. There are only 3 of us (for the moment). When we had two little girls it took much longer to sort through all their similar size and color little things. Also, Jason and I are not very big people so we can probably fit more of our clothes into a load than bigger people. And lastly, we re-wear a lot of clothes multiple times before washing, especially larger and heavier items like pants and sweaters. Oh, also, I very rarely iron anything.
As I spent the month of October preparing for our fourth child, I thought a lot about our first three. I’ve had this idea for a while but finally did it: an 8×10 photo, an initial and a shadow box of significant items for each child. It’s the start of our hallway gallery wall that might one day be full of difference faces and memories.
I also make a necklace in honor of my motherhood to these three sweethearts.
I made a CD of my “songs for the foster mama’s heart.”
I got our next kid’s room ready, including setting up the pack n play in case we get a baby. (And if we do, I’ll probably end up buying a second crib because Ali is still using hers.)
Lots of time was spent reading and praying, usually right in this spot on the couch in the morning before anyone else is up.
I spent half of a Saturday cooking several gallons of soup and stocking it in the freezer.
Sometimes I feel like the house is ready and other times I feel like I need a day to clean and organize. I know it’s ready enough and we have everything childproofed to DCS standards but I guess it’s just a nesting thing.
Then I rearranged the next kid’s room a little bit. This bed seems to only work in this one spot in this room and it kind of drives me nuts. I’m thinking I’ll eventually move it into Ali’s room and get some regular bunk beds that can be switched into twin beds for maximum flexibility.
Then more time has been spent resting, waiting, preparing, breathing deep in the now. A cup of tea on a sunny afternoon is balm to my soul.
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.
Mothers Day continues to be a roller coaster of emotions for me. I am thankful for the many wonderful mothers in my life. My own. Jason’s. My sisters, sisters-in-law and good friends who are journeys simultaneously with me into motherhood. Ali’s first mom who gave her life, loved her, did her best for her, and then gave us her blessing to raise her precious daughter. And now there is Buzz’s mom who is heartbroken and working hard to play by the rules and get her son back. She’s been very easy to get along with and loves her little boy and he loves her too. She sent me a happy mothers day text on my way to church and I sent her one back with a photo of these two beautiful children that I got to spend the day with, mothering. I’m an exhausted, blessed, weepy mess and I’m going to attempt to use this space to sort out my thoughts tonight.
I’m not usually the type who cries reading mothers day cards, but there I was at my parents’ church this morning crying over a Hallmark card before I even got to the handwritten note from my own mom, who is relentlessly loving and encouraging. Mothers Day never used to be an emotional day for me. I wrote about that last year. I always knew in my heart that I’d be a mom and I wasn’t sad while I was childless. I haven’t lost a mom or a child or dealt with other situations that makes women sad on mother’s day. And yet these past two mothers days I’ve been an emotional wreck.
People often tell me that they’ve talked about doing foster care someday. In my head, my response is “but then you decided that you like yourself and your life, so you thought better of it.” I’m joking, but not. Because I like myself too. In a clear-headed, God-focused moment Jason and I decided whole-heartedly to surrender our plans and dreams for what our family might look like and become foster parents. We feel called to it. Most of the time. Other times, I long for my former comfortable, easy, predictable life. I certainly have my fair share of “what the heck are we doing? And why?” moments lately. But I do know why.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
I can’t read this passage (Matthew 25:34-40) anymore without sobbing, because I’ve done most of those things and I’ve seen Jesus’ face in the face of one of the least of these. I can’t go back to putting myself first anymore.
Except when I do. Because I’m not perfect. I pour out my mama love until I’m empty. I’m strong until I buckle under the pressure and I crack a little. I need time to heal. To recover. To refill. This week has been hard. So very hard. And good, too. We’ve been giving this thing all that we’ve got and I feel completed poured out. Empty. I see that Buzz has made a tremendous amount of progress in a week. It makes my mama-heart so proud that he’s feeling comfortable and safe here now. Progress is tangible. Hard work is exhausting.
A woman at church yesterday told me that I’m living her dream. Huh? Her dream I think she said was “to adopt a some kids from Africa.” I didn’t feel compelled to tell her that both of these kids where born in Nashville and that one of them is in foster care. I’d love to know what my face looked like when she said that as I was wracking my brain to come up with a response. I hope I smiled politely. I kind of wanted to smack her in the face and say, “Do you have any idea what this week has been like?” But I know she’s seeing a different reality than me. I know because I do that same thing when I see a picture of a family with kids of all different colors and I think: How lovely! How beautiful! I want my family to look like that. She’s seeing the happy young white mom with the dark brown boy with crazy hair, a mischeiveous grin and a puppy dog backpack and the caramel brown little girl with a big pink flower in her curly black hair, with the infectious smile and owl backpack. And if I do say so, they were both super adorable yesterday. But it’s not all flowers and puppies and sweets around here.
There are tantrums and tears. (Sometimes from the kids.) There are butts and noses that always need wiped. There are accidents to clean up. Wanders to chase down. Slow pokes to pull along. Buckles to buckle, shoes to tie, velcro to fix, cups to fill…one thousand million times a day. In one week I’ve become the mom that’s shouting “Share! Play nice! Walk please! Slow down! Come on, let’s go! We don’t hit! Gentle please! Don’t bite people! Leave the dog alone!” way too many times a day. I’ve relied on the TV as a pacifier more than I care to admit. (Sometimes for the kids.)
I have to stop and wonder: between me and that woman, which one of us is seeing the real picture? Both of us? Maybe neither? Perhaps we’re each only seeing one small part of the greater picture the Master Artist is creating.
I was so influenced by Lauren (from Word from the Wallaces) open letter to herself pre-four-kids-under-the-age-of-five that I decided to write an open letter too. To myself. Pre fosterhood.
Dear Pre-Foster-Motherhood Self,
Life is about to change big time and you can never go back to normal when it was just you and Jason and the dog. Except for that time between placements, but that’s not really the same old normal anyway. Just listen up. Here are so things you should know:
• Keep toddler foods around. I know you don’t know what this means because you don’t have kids yet so let me make it plain and simple: Your first placement will be a toddler and she will arrive late at night while Jason is in Norway. You should always keep things like this in the house: bananas, cheerios, yogurt, applesauce, fruit snacks/dried fruit, crackers, cheese sticks.
• Freeze as many meals as you can and stock up on frozen pizzas, burritos, pasta, macaroni and cheese, frozen and canned veggies. Fresh is nice but survival is more important. Food is food. Well meaning friends will think you don’t need any meals brought to you because you’re not recovering from a pregnancy. They have no idea how overwhelmed and exhausted you feel. Which brings me to…
• Ask for help. Friends want to help, they just don’t know what to do. They stopped over for 15 minutes to meet your new daughter but didn’t stay long because they didn’t want to intrude. You should tell them you’re at the brink of an emotional breakdown and you desperately need adult conversation.
• It’s OK for the mom to cry. Related to the previous point. You think you must always be strong and have all the answers. You were thrown in to the heat of battle and you weren’t briefed on the past. Give yourself grace. Put the screaming kid in her crib where she’s safe, call your mom for help and then have a good cry until she arrives.
• Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today. You think you have no plans tomorrow. You can get groceries tomorrow. You can vacuum the house tomorrow. You can sleep in tomorrow. You have no idea if later today your life and plans will change drastically and you have absolutely no control over tomorrow. Or maybe you do. But do whatever you can today, just in case.
• You were wise to stock up on one outfit in every size range. It still won’t be enough but you’ll be happy you have something not cigarette smokey to put the new kid in before she goes to sleep for the night.
• Speaking of when the kid sleeps: this is your time to get things done. Also remember to sleep. But do as much as it’s healthy to do during nap times, right after the kid goes to bed and before she wakes up. That way when she’s awake, she has your full attention.
• The first few days, you will have very little contact or direction from anyone in the system. You’ve passed their vigorous inspection process already and they trust you with this kid (despite your own feelings of inadequacy). Don’t be surprised if you don’t hear from her caseworker until next week when she informs you of the meeting you’re required to attend the next day. Write all your plans in pencil.
• Journal and keep records of everything. Everyday.
• Take lots of snacks with you when you leave the house. Those little people are constantly hungry. Left unfed for an hour or two, they get cranky. Also note: they don’t eat much in one sitting. Hence the constant hunger.
• Be brave and adventurous but know that sometimes you will flop. It’s OK. It makes a good story and you’ll be glad you tried. (I’m referring specifically to the time you decide to take the brand new toddler on a plane trip alone rather than finding a respite home. By the end of the flight all of the other passengers will hate you and assume you’re a horrible mother because “your daughter” keeps hitting and biting you, throwing her toys and screaming like a psycho when you try to restrain her in your lap. It really doesn’t matter. You will never see any of them again. Focus on nurturing and disciplining that feisty little girl…everything you do will matter eternally to her.)
• You’ve heard many times “it’s a broken system,” after your first placement you will have a much broader understanding of this. After your second placement you will realize it was so much worse than you thought. After your third placement… wait. We’re not there yet. But I’m scared to find out.
• Community and support will start to include a lot of people you’ve never met in person. This is perfectly OK. Your current network of family and friends does not include enough like-minded people who are young foster parents (yet, anyway). Blogs and blogging will connect you to these more-costly-than-gold individuals.
• Throw your expectations out the door. No really. Again. For real.
• Surprise: You will be adopting sooner than you imagine to a child much younger than you anticipated. It will be awesome! Also the most difficult fight of your life to date.
• It’s worth it. Love is never wasted. God will provide exactly what you need as you need it. He will sustain you through things you do not think you can handle. He will MOVE A MOUNTAIN. You’ve been told all of this before but I’m sending this from the future to tell you that it’s been tested and proved true. Your mind will be blown. Hang on to your hat…