On July 28, 2011 Jason was in Norway. I was lying on the couch reaching Choosing to See, feeling sick and sorry for myself. My phone rang around 9 or 9:30. It was a placement worker from DCS wondering if we were available to take a 16-month-old girl that night. I told her probably but asked if I could call her back in 5 minutes. I attempted to call Jason but it was around 2am for him and he didn’t have his wifi turned on. I called my mom and asked if she could help. I called the placement worker back and said yes. Just like that, I snapped out of my self-centered mood and started scrambling around the house. I regretted not keeping up with the house cleaning, dishes and groceries…I had been lazy since Jason was out of town. I made sure the crib had clean sheets, even though I had checked it 100x already. I pulled out whatever toddler clothes I could find. It seemed like just minutes later she was at the door with a social worker. She looked tiny, shy and scared as we filed out paperwork and she hid behind the worker on the sofa. As soon as the worker pulled out of the driveway, my parents came over. They helped us get settled in, sort through her minimal belongings and make a plan for the next day. Ladybug fell asleep quickly drinking a cup of milk as I read her The Little Engine That Could. I laid her in the crib and she stayed sound asleep all night. I, on the other hand, was up most of the night keeping vigilant watch like a dumb first time mom, which meant I was exhausted by the time she woke up. While she was eating breakfast in the morning (cheerios and a banana my parents brought over the night before), I set up my computer so Jason could meet her through Skype. He had called me as soon as he got the message in the middle of the night for me, morning for him. When she saw him on the screen and he said hi, she said hi and smiled back at him. That was the first word she had spoken since she arrived. Just like that we became parents!
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.
Both of our little girls so far have adored Jason and vice versa. “Is she a daddy’s girl?” people always ask. I’ve dearly loved our girls too and they’ve loved me back, but there is just something about that father daughter relationship that’s hard to explain.
I used to come home from work and scoop Ladybug up into a big hug. More often then not, I could smell Jason’s cologne on her. I’d suck in the fragrance as I hugged our first daughter and my heart was full of joy that she had a daddy who loved her so much. I could always tell when she’d been spending time with her father because she had picked up his scent. (Picture above, from here.)
Precious is too little to give hugs but she has gigantic kissable cheeks. At her first doctor’s appointment, the pediatrician gave us a prescription for a rash on her face. We had never noticed the rash before. I actually didn’t even realize I was filling the prescription for a rash cream until the pharmacist explained what it was for. I looked back at Precious in the back seat. She didn’t have a rash on her cheeks. Later that day we realized when Jason’s scratchy beard brushes against her cheeks she gets a red dotted rash. It doesn’t last long but he must have been kissing on her cheeks right before the doctor walked into the exam room. Now, I always smile when I see a dotted patch on her cheek. She has a daddy who adores her.
We’re part of a system (as foster parents) where good dads are rare…in birth families and in foster homes. A friend just loaned Jason the book, Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters: 10 Secrets Every Father Should Know by Meg Meeker. He’s not much of a book reader but he dove into it immediately. I noticed as I was falling asleep that his eyes were full of tears as he read. I wasn’t sure if he was going to end up brokenhearted or fired up, ready to fight for his daughter.
As far as policies go, the department of chilren’s services doesn’t prefer a mother/father household over a single parent household. Jason feels such a heavy burden for Precious (and he also did for Ladybug) knowing that he will probably be the only daddy she ever has. There are a lot of wonderful single parents out there who are doing a great job raising their children and fostering children and I admire them for all they do on their own. But statistically, there is no question that it’s better for children to grow up with a mother AND a father. The statistics for girls who grow up without strong fathers in Meeker’s book are…repulsive.
It’s just one more thing that burdens our hearts to think of Precious being taken from our home.
Oh sweet girl, we are doing everything we can to fight for you.
Our first 4 days went really well with Precious,* our new little baby girl. (*Not her real name.) I’m learning lots about babies, bottles, burping, etc. She’s amazing. Very pleasant and easy going most of the time. Sleeps like a champ. Gives me the best gigantic, slobbery baby smiles. I have to say, at least in my limited experience, a 2-month old is SO MUCH easier than an almost 1.5 year old. I don’t mind a middle of the night diaper change and feeding when the ability to cook dinner, do dishes, clean up the house, etc. comes along with the package. I mean, I can set her down somewhere, sleeping or awake, and she doesn’t move. Ladybug required constant attention unless she was asleep.
Don’t get me wrong, Ladybug was an awesome child. I’m just saying, toddlers are way more challenging than newborns in my book. Speaking of Ladybug, we’ve been missing her like crazy the past few days. It was about 3 weeks between the day she left and the day Precious arrived. We had been doing pretty well, feeling pretty good, and when we got the call Jason pointed out that we really didn’t have a good reason to say no to this one. He said the only reasons he could think of where born out of selfishness. My only reservation was Is it too soon? I wasn’t expecting sadness to be stirred back up quite like it did by bringing in baby #2. Precious is great and our love for her is growing rapidly, but she’s not Ladybug and she isn’t going to fill the Ladybug shaped holes in our hearts. God, we miss that sweet little girl so much.
Now I’m crying. I’m tired and very emotional lately. Sheesh. I have no idea where this blog post is heading…
Let me at least end on a high note. I have the most amazing friends and family. Ahhhhmazing. We didn’t ask them whether or not they wanted to be strung along on this crazy journey with us but they’re right there with us anyway. Have I mentioned that Jason had to leave town the night Precious arrived? Of course I didn’t mention it because I don’t ever tell ya when he’s gone. So yeah. That’s a crazy coincidence. He was in Europe for a week when Ladybug arrived and the night we got Precious he had to take off for a long trip around the mid-west. He’s a wonderful daddy and he can’t wait to get back in the game here at home. While he’s been gone, though, my mom and his mom have been a HUGE help to me! My sister-in-law has been great with answering my questions since my niece is just 5 months older than Precious. Plus, she lent us a bouncy seat and a bunch of blankets and bibs. (This blog post is brought to you by the Letter B.) Also, a bunch of friends have been super kind and helpful, too. Precious is getting tons of love. Despite the sadness we’re still dealing with, overall things have been much smoother with this second placement. God is good.
Thursdays have been my unofficial foster parenting update day. It’s been 3 weeks since Ladybug left. It’s been hard. Probably the hardest thing we’ve ever done. But considering all, we are doing well and moving forward little by little. A few days after our goodbye we left on vacation. The timing worked out perfectly for us to get away although we had been really hoping to take her to Disney World with us. The week away was a great distraction. The house felt so quiet and empty when we got home. We returned to a bit of a mess. Nothing major but you know, the typical post beach vacation 6 loads of laundry, pile of mail, tall grass, expired milk, stale house. You should always clean the house and make the beds before you leave on vacation. My mama taught me that. But I ran out of time and didn’t do it. So we came home to a filthy house.
By the end of last week our house was dusted, vacuumed and mopped. The refrigerator was cleaned out and restocked with groceries. The 6 loads of laundry were all put away. Mail was sorted. Bills were paid. It was such a relief. Not just to feel “caught up” but because I was feeling so unprepared for our next placement. Feeling physically prepared has really helped me start moving towards mental, emotional and spiritually preparedness.
We’ve been getting a lot of calls but all of the calls have been for school age kids. Not only are the kids a bit out of the parameters we’ve set up (birth-5 years old) but it was still a bit too soon for us. I think we’re almost there though.
(PSA: If you’ve been considering becoming a foster parent, please take the first step today and call a local agency to request more information. There seems to have been a big influx of school age kids into the state system due to the start of the new school year. The kids we have been called for have all been siblings between 5-12.)
When Ladybug arrived, Jason was away on a long trip and I was totally bumming around the house like a bachelorette. The floors needed vacuumed and I hadn’t been grocery shopping in a while. Those two factors made me feel so unprepared for her arrival. I didn’t even have a banana or Cheerios to give her for breakfast the next morning. (Thank God my parents live so close and could bring those 2 things over at 10pm!) I’m making it a point to always have bananas in the house from now on. I know it’s petty but it’s a tangible symbol of our preparedness.
God is very generous. I didn’t ask Him to give us a sign that Ladybug was supposed to be our first placement, our first daughter or to confirm the specialness of the day of her arrival. But He did.
First it was the pregnancy symptoms. I think I’ve made it clear in the past that I’m not trying to get pregnant. However, in the two weeks leading up to Ladybug’s arrival Jason and I were completely convinced that I was pregnant. Without going into detail here, let me just say there were things going on that don’t normally go on in my body. We were sure. An app on my phone was pretty sure too. It said 7/28/11 was Test Day. I woke up that morning and took a pregnancy test. It was negative. We were perplexed.
Later than night I was sure I wasn’t pregnant (AHEM) and I was wallowing in my own world of discomfort, reading Choosing to SEE by Mary Beth Chapman, when at 8:30 the phone rang. It was the same placement worker who had called Jason 4 days earlier and we missed the placement because he was on a plane. “I told you I had your number on speed dial,” she said. I suddenly forgot how crappy I was feeling as I sprung into hyper-nesting-mode, trying to make sure everything was in place to receive her in just 1 hour. If we hadn’t missed that first call, the placement worker wouldn’t have been able to reach either of us.
About a week after Ladybug’s arrival, I was back at work looking at my planner. I flipped back to July so I could write “Ladybug’s arrival” on July 28. I was shocked to see “Ladybug’s Due Date” already penciled in on July 28. Then I smiled. God. How funny that You would do that. I have a co-worker named Ladybug (L’s real name… work with me here) who had been pregnant. I emailed my co-worker, who had just given birth to a baby boy, to share the funny news with her. She responded back, “it really is funny how God works because my due date was actually the 29th.”
Ladybug’s due date was marked on my calendar…on test day, when we were convinced we were pregnant.
There were a few other little confirmations, too, though not as significant. Like that her birthday is Jason’s half birthday and some personality traits there were so much like me or so much like Jason that it was humorous to us.
The last surprise came a couple days after our goodbye. A sweet friend, Brooke, called to let me know that her husband was dropping off a gift on our back doorstep. When I got home, I found a vase of 10 bright pink Gerber daisies. I love daisies. I walked through the back door, set them on the counter and bust into tears as I remembered. The night Ladybug arrived at our house, she was carrying a fake hot pink Gerber daisy. The twisted stem had a sharp wire at the base so I tucked it away in her bag the next day. No one knew about that daisy except my parents and the placement worker who dropped her off (and who had given it to her.)
I’m not sure exactly what that means but I don’t believe it was a coincidence. It’s Ladybug’s flower. Maybe it means God is going to take her 1 twisted fake flower and multiply it into 10 living flowers. Maybe it means Ladybug was the first of 10 kids. (Ack! Jason came up with that idea.) Or maybe it was just a sweet reminder that God loves us. He knows what we’re going through, He cares and He weeps with us.
We said goodbye to Ladybug yesterday. It was very sad, and there may still be some waves of grief coming. However, we are doing much better than I expected. I knew God would equip us for this journey He asked us to take and we have so many friends and family praying for us. I’m not sure if we’re on the other side of the storm or if we’re in a big safe bubble but I am so thankful for God’s grace. It truly is sufficient for us and His power really is made perfect through our weakness.
Including this little guy who was on our front door yesterday morning. He turned around and looked at me for the photo.
Today is the day.
The day that Ladybug’s future is decided by some robe-wearing guy in a court room.
At least that’s how it looks from the outside.
But we know the Truth.
He knows what He is doing. He doesn’t make mistakes.
Will you join us in praying? For His will to be done, not ours. We know what we want but we don’t truly know what’s best for Ladybug. He does.
Do you have someone who can give you that kind of reassurance?
That’s My King. I wonder, do you know Him?
Our kids are not ours. We are not promised any number of days with them. This is especially evident for foster parents but it’s actual true for ALL parents. If we feel like we own our kids, we are mistaken. If we believe we can protect them from everything and keep them safe in our arms forever, it’s an illusion. I think the sooner all parents can grasp this, or un-grasp their kids, the better it is for everyone.
On the morning of our big team meeting where we knew we’d be hearing the details of how and why Ladybug will most likely be moved to live with a family member (as you can imagine a complicated, heart-wrenching decision which will ultimately be made by a judge…tomorrow), I decided to read the story of Abraham and Isaac again. It’s in Genesis 22 if you’re unfamiliar but the gist is this: Abraham had been promised a son and waited a really, really long time before his wife got pregnant. When Isaac finally arrived, Abraham absolutely adored him. He idolized him to the point God needed to test Abraham’s allegiance as it seemed that Isaac—the answer to Abraham’s prayers and a promise from God—had moved before God in Abe’s priorities. God had some really important plans for Abraham and Isaac so it was essential he stayed on course. The test was that God asked Abraham to give Isaac back to Him, to take his life as an offering to God. It wasn’t until God was sure that Abraham was really willing to do it, that He stopped him. After reading that story, I got out of bed and went into the bathroom picked up my quick daily devotional read, Jesus Calling by Sarah Young.
On August 23rd, this is what it said:
Entrust your loved ones to Me, surrender them to My protective care. They are much safer with Me than in your clinging hands. If you let a loved one become an idol in your heart, you endanger that one–as well as yourself.
Remember the extreme measures I used with Abraham and Isaac. I took Isaac to the very point of death to free Abraham from son-worship. Both Abraham and Isaac suffered terribly because of the father’s undisciplined emotions. I detest idolatry, even in the form of parental love.
When you release loved ones to Me, you are free to cling to My hand. As you entrust others into My care, I am free to shower blessings on them. My Presence will go with them wherever they go, and I will give them rest. This same Presence stays with you, as you relax and place your trust in Me. Watch to see what I will do.
At some point every parent has to figuratively put Isaac on the alter and admit they don’t own their child, the Creator does and entrusts children to us as He sees fit.
Recognize each day as a gift. When you come to the place of accepting that you are not promised tomorrow, it’s easier to appreciate today. This is true not just for parents but all people. As a foster parent it is blatanly obvious – I have today. After that, I have no promises. You better believe we are making the most of everyday we have with little Ladybug.
Since this post is getting pretty heavy, here is some lightness…
Other beneficial side effects of [foster] parenting:
My biceps are huge! I mean, I’m a petite lady so my arms are still pretty scrawny but considering… I’ve got guns! I didn’t have the ease of working my way up from a 7 lb. baby to a heavy toddler… we went straight into parenting a 25 pounder. The first week my arms and lower back were killing me. Now, they barely hurt at all.
I’ve learned some pretty slick parenting techniques through our training and also just from living and learning. Of course, most of these tricks only work a handful of times so it’s an on-going cycle of learning, trying, succeeding, failing and moving on. For example, this temper tantrum technique worked beautifully and impressed some witnesses: Temper tantrum started. I laid the kid on the ground and said, “OK, go! Go ahead! Tantrum! I’m ready.” She looked at me bewildered. I said, “Come on! Yell!” I raised her arms above her head and jiggled them around fake screaming “Ahhhhh!” “And kick your feet!” I stomped her feet up and down and growled, “Ugh! I’m so mad!” By then she was laughing and the tantrum moment had past. I felt brilliant. But then it only worked a couple more times before she was on to me. Ten days later, the worst tantrum ever. I had to put her in her crib and walk away to keep her from hurting herself or me. You win some. You lose some.
People are so friendly to us in public. Strangers stop to comment on how beautiful she is. Ladybug is super friendly and says hi and waves to everyone at the grocery store, even if their backs are turned. An older woman at the grocery store even offered to return Jason’s shopping cart after he unloaded groceries into the silver bullet. “I remember what it was like grocery shopping with kids,” she smiled. An elder putting away a cart for a 28 year old dad. Imagine.
I can’t promise I’ll post everyday this week. We’re heading into a storm…
Your Love Never Fails
by Chris McClarney
Nothing can separate
Even if I ran away
Your love never fails
I know I still make mistakes
But, You have new mercy for me everyday
Your love never fails
You stay the same through the ages
Your love never changes
There may be pain in the night
but joy comes with the morning
And when the oceans rage
I don’t have to be afraid
Because I know that You love me
Your love never fails
The wind is strong and the water’s deep
But, I’m not alone here in these open seas
Cause Your love never fails
The chasm was far too wide
I never thought I’d reach the other side
But Your love never fails
Thank You Jesus, thank You Jesus, ooh
You make all things work together for my good