Saturday is September 1. Isn’t it funny how a date can be insignificant for so many years and then instantly become important. September 1, 2011. Since then I’ve been referring to it as the hardest day of my life. It was the day we said goodbye to our first daughter, our first child, the little lady that made Jason and I parents for the first time… Ladybug. I was looking back at my posts from last year and I don’t think I ever wrote much about that day. We had a vacation to Florida planned (coincidentally) for just a few days later and I was in get-the-hell-out-of-here mode.
We had been parents for exactly 5 weeks. She was our first foster placement. We knew little about how the child welfare system worked at that point. Ladybug’s social worker and the rest of the department did not want her to exit state custody to go with a relative but they knew it was likely to happen in court on September 1. We trusted their judgement but we prayed for God to lead the decision, wanting nothing but the best for Ladybug. Her case worker was convinced it would be a mistake to release her to this relative and that if the judge made that decision, for sure Ladybug would be back. And she would call us back to be her foster parents again.
We knew her case was on the 9am docket on Thursday, September 1. The night before I reluctantly packed up her few belongings into her bags, with the addition of some new outfits and toys. I put a picture of the three of us in there with a note on the back, knowing that no one really recalls memories from that young. But I hoped that somehow she would remember us, remember being loved and cared for, remember having a daddy—even if it was just for 5 weeks. I prayed that she’d remember the things we taught her…not to hit and bite, to say “tank you” and “no tank you” and “peez.” I prayed and prayed and prayed for that little girl, still clinging to the hope that maybe she’d stay a while longer or maybe she’d be brought back to us.
I assumed that Ladybug’s case worker was going to tell us where to be and when but she assumed we knew. I was trying to resist the inevitable so I didn’t call for instructions. We went to our favorite coffee shop to wait for her call. Ladybug sat on Jason’s lap and played with a toy light saber while I snapped my last photo of her. Her bags were packed in the car. Her case worker did call, just before they were called into the courtroom. We were supposed to be there, with her bags, but we didn’t realize. We got directions and got there quickly to wait outside the courtroom. The courthouse was noisy, filled with kids, parents, foster parents, case workers, security guards, police officers and court workers. It’s a mostly awful place.
We sat on a bench in the hallway waiting for the session to end. When Ladybug’s relative emerged from the doors, we could see on her face what the judge had decided. She was thrilled. Ladybug seemed to have no attachment to her at all but willingly went to her (as she did to anyone). Her case worker filled us in on the details and asked if we’d brought in her bags. We hadn’t. Jason and Ladybug’s relative went out to the parking lot to exchange L’s things. I had a few more minutes to hold her and love on her until they returned.
There were so many things I wanted to say to her but none of it felt right. Jason and I each took a turn giving her one last hug and kiss. After my goodbye, I knew I had to hand her over. But I desperately didn’t want to. How could she possibly understand what was going on? This sweet child had been abandoned once already by the one she called “Mom” and now her new “Mom” was going to pass her off again? I wanted her new custodian to yank her out of my arms. I wanted Ladybug to feel my resistance…I wanted her to know we weren’t rejecting her, we weren’t giving her away, she was loved and wanted. And yet…I had to let go.
It was the hardest thing I have ever had to do.
She took a huge chunk of my heart with her.
As Jason and I grabbed hands and started down the stairs, I looked back at them. Ladybug never looked back. She never saw tears welling up in our eyes or the pain on our faces. As we walked out the courthouse doors, empty handed, we clung to each other and cried. The words of an older friend at our church echoed through my head. “You will get through this. You hold her up. And you hold him up. Support each other and you will get through this together, you hear me?”
I was expecting a storm to follow that moment, a dark valley, a night of mourning…but it never fully came. We were sad, yes. We went over to my parents house to make calls to our friends and family and to cry some more with my mom. I know a lot of people were praying us through that time. I knew in my mind that God wouldn’t ask us to do something seemingly impossible without miraculously equipping us. After going through that experience, I now know in my heart, without a doubt, that He will come through for me every time. It felt like I was in a bubble for the week to follow that dreaded goodbye. I kept thinking the bubble was going to pop and the world would come crashing in, but it never did. We were sheltered. There are still moments of grief and we’re reminded of her all the time. Her picture still hangs on the refrigerator, on my cubicle wall, in an album on my phone. I don’t know when I’ll be ready to take it down, if ever. I will always miss her and I will always love her.