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.
Saturday was the one year anniversary of our first placement, dubbed Ladybug here. I thought about her a lot the past week. I pray that she’s doing well. No news is good news, I suppose. If you’ve been reading here long, you probably know that while we still consider ourselves foster parents, our home is in closed status while we’re temporarily living with my parents and building a new home. Technically we haven’t had a child in foster care with us since November when Precious was moved into our legal guardianship. Specifics aside, we’ve been parents for a year now. July 28, 2011 is one of those dates that will be permanently etched in my memory. Ladybug holds a very special place in my heart. She was the first child ever to call me mama.
We started our our day with a get together of old and new friends who are all touched by adoption or foster care one way or another. I call it a community group: people on similar life journeys hanging out with no agenda but to support and encourage each other. If nothing else, it’s a place where people don’t ask dumb questions or use wrong terminology about adoption. There was one brand new foster mama there with her 10 year old first placement. There was a couple and their daughter adopted from Ethiopia 2.5 years ago. There was a woman with her one year old who was an unexpected domestic infant adoption. And there were several friends who are waiting for domestic infant adoption matches. An eclectic mix with a common thread.
From there, we spent the afternoon with some of Precious’ biological family. I have so much going through my mind since then but little of it seems appropriate to share here. Maybe writing will help me sort out my thoughts … Precious has 4 older biological half-siblings, living in 3 different homes. It was great to get them all under one roof, to see them all loving each other so well and getting along great. They’re all just as beautiful as Precious, if you can believe that. I got a few photos of the five together but I don’t feel it’s appropriate to share here.
With foster care, there is not really such thing as “open adoption.” All adoptions are closed for reasons you can imagine. But at the same time, unless a foster parent is really determined to avoid the biological family all together—or if the bio family is gone—they’re going to meet or at least know each others’ names. This was scary to me at first. Partly for Precious’ safety and emotional health, but also for selfish reason: I don’t want to make things more complicated. (Ha!) I’m finally starting to understand the sentiment I’ve often heard in regards to open adoption: a child can never have too many people who love and care about her. Seeing how excited Precious’ bio family was to see her and how they couldn’t wait to shower her with hugs and kisses confirms the value of maintaining those connections when it’s possible and beneficial.
I’ve written before about how valuable it turned out to be to have some visits with Precious’ birth mom, because not only did she show us how much she loves her, she told us and also generously affirmed us as her parents. It was so beneficial, even though it was uncomfortable. As Precious gets older, we’ll be able to give her a say in how much contact she wants to maintain with her biological family, as well as gauging how it affects her to see them. It’s so hard to know what to do but we want to keep the doors open. Anyone out there have experience with open adoptions have some insight to share?
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.
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.
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?
Splashing in puddles on the patio chairs.
Please pray for us today… it’s an important day. Thanks!
Perhaps you’re wondering why all of the photos of our little girl are faceless and why I’m not using her name. It’s not a strict rule from our training, but Jason and I have chosen to protect her identity. First of all, we’re not her legal guardians; the state is. Secondly, someone may be looking for her and it’s our job to keep her safe. So, her name for the purposes of blogging and facebook is L. Or lately, I’ve been calling her Ladybug. (Which is incidentally now a blog category in the “FILE UNDER” menu to the left, Family: Ladybug) I thought I’d explain that in case it seemed bizarre that I was cropping out the best part of the photos… her beautiful little face. And believe me, I am taking tons of pictures that aren’t creepily-cropped, for my personal use.
I need to come up with some creative, identity-concealing photo tricks. Any photographer friends or fellow foster parents out there have suggestions?