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Reflections from the Maybe Finish Line

08/01/2013

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It’s been three months since a shy and wide-eyed little boy showed up in our kitchen at 1am on a rainy Friday night. When I look back at the pictures from his first weekend with us my first thought it, wow, he looks haggard! Poor guy was exhausted. The first week he had a hard time sleeping and would get out of bed, turn on the light, pace around, sometimes curl up with a blanket on the floor or in the chair in his room, dropping books and sippy cups and generally keeping everyone awake. By the end of his first week he was sleeping in his bed with the light off and it was no small victory. Several times in the weeks to follow he would get frightened by a sound a night, jump out of bed, put his shoes and jacket on and get ready to haul out of there. I’m happy to say that hasn’t happened in a long time. He’s even been fairly good about staying in his room in the morning until his Ok To Wake clock lights up. (More about that another time.)

I’ve already written about his progress in expressing his emotions. Buzz doesn’t talk well. He talks a lot but doesn’t articulate very precisely. That means it’s often hard to know what he’s thinking or feeling or even asking for sometimes, and it’s frustrating for all of us. Through a combination of learning and attempting lots of new words and me learning his “language” I feel like we’ve made great strides in our communication. He’s great about saying “thank you” and “your welcome.” He still defaults to “I want more” instead of “more please” but he’ll ask nicely (vs. tell me what he wants) if I remind him. He always wants milk to drink and we’ve progressed from pointing at the fridge and saying, “right there” to “ba” to “bilt” to “milt” sometimes. Progress, see! He’s getting better about apologizing after hurting someone/something or being disrespectful, though it still sounds like he’s saying, “I die” instead of “I’m sorry.” But it’s wonderful that he’s starting to develop true remorse for his actions rather than just seeing what he can get away with. Here’s an example:

Sometimes Ali and Buzz play together in the playroom while I’m in the kitchen. Often it results at some point with Ali crying and Buzz meeting me in the hallway to say, “Sorry!” This happened recently. “Don’t apologize to me. Apologize to Ali,” I said…again. I followed him into the playroom. Ali was upset but didn’t seem hurt. I’m guessing he had pushed her out of his way to go down the slide and she had fallen down. He told her he was sorry just as I had asked. I suggested he help her up. Much to my surprise, he bent down and gave her a hug. And then a kiss. And then helped her up. Oh my heart! This is the boy who usually loudly protests and pushes her away anytime she tries to give him a hug. I think he must have actually felt bad for hurting her!

He can be so sweet and helpful when he wants to be. I believe this is one of his gifts and a strong pillar of his character. I affirm it every time I see it. He can be so defiant and mean sometimes, so careless—pushing other kids out of his way or stepping on other kids’ hands or toys. And then other times he’s the most thoughtful, helpful kid I’ve ever seen. The other day I was helping Ali practice peeing on her potty chair. He went off to her room to get a new diaper for her without me asking. When she’s done, he’s always eager to take care of cleaning out the pee pan. Sometimes I have to ask several times but he is an amazing help for cleaning up and organizing. He remembers where every bit and piece goes and makes sure everything is in it’s place—all the blocks are accounted for, Ali’s babies end up back in her crib, his shoes goes in the organizer in his closet, his empty cup goes in the sink, an old sticker or bandaid goes in the trash can, his backpack is hung on it’s hook. Yesterday I was scrambling to get both kids ready and out the door on time. He helped me out by feeding Lucy, picking out and putting on his own shoes (wrong feet but good enough!), picking out Ali’s shoes and putting Lucy in her crate when it was time to go. Gosh, I’m going to miss that! I guess I need to do better about giving Ali chores. If he was with us longer, I think I would start making specific chores for Buzz to do everyday to earn rewards – he really seems to flourish there and is so proud of himself when he’s accomplished a task I’ve asked him to do.

I could tell he had grown a lot since he’s been at our house because pants and shorts that were loose now fit snugly. I weighed him the other day and not surprised to see that he had gained 3 lbs. in 3 months! He’s a tall and thin little guy. He’s also grown 2-3″ taller. Is that possible?!  He’ll be 3 years old next month and he’s been wearing 4T clothes (3T bottoms when he arrived but now they’re all getting too tight, and pants are definitely too short) and size 9 or 10 shoes depending on the style. He’s pretty clumsy…falling, tripping, running into stationary objects and other kids…which is probably due to how fast his body is growing. At the same time, he’s very athletic. He’s got a great arm for throwing balls and is great at riding on the balance bike we’re borrowing from a friend. He runs fast and is a great climber.

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September 1, 2011

08/30/2012

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.


Jason

09/16/2011

My love. My husband. My best friend.

What a year this has been.

You traveled the world by plane, tour bus and van.

Played on stages big and small.

I saw you on TV and in a magazine.

Your quiet confidence was never boastful

…except maybe about all the good food you ate on the road.

This year we became parents but not in the way we had expected.

Or planned. But an idea was planted in my heart and it grew.

I strategically brought up the need for foster parents in the US.

I secretly prayed that God would open your heart to this crazy idea.

You jumped in with both feet.

We sat through long, boring classes together.

Homework, physicals, blood tests, home studies.

You painted the bedroom and assembled IKEA furniture with me,

And then let me go hog-wild with the rest of the kids room design.

You were right by my side through every step.

Praying with me, for me, for yourself and for our future kids.

In July I got the phone call that changed everything.

You were in Norway but I knew what you would have said to this one.

The next morning you met your first daughter through Skype.

I watched you fall in love with her, grinning from ear to ear.

It was the first time I had seen her smile and say hi in her first 12 hours.

Three days later we picked you up from the airport.

It was getting late but you wanted to take your little girl to the park.

You pushed her on the swing and chased her through the grass.

As I stood back to observe and take photos, I was witnessing a transformation.

You became a daddy right before my eyes.

In your strong arms she felt safe immediately.

She was stand-offish with some new people but never with you.

You taught her what a father’s love looks like; what Daddy means.

And I fell in love with you all over again.

We taught her how to kiss. It took 2 weeks and several demonstrations.

I’ll never forget when you called me at work at say,

“Guess what I got?”

A kiss! Her first kiss was reserved for her daddy.

I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

On September 1st we walked into a courthouse carrying our first baby girl.

And walked out without her.

We clung to each other as we went down the steps and crossed the street.

I’m not sure who was holding up who as we tried to hold back the tears a little longer.

Then we cried together.

This past year has been wonderfully difficult and full of joy. A beautiful mess.

You have grown so much as a man.

I am endlessly proud of who you are,

And thankful to call you my husband.

Happy 29th, Jason.