This new phase of my life is full of rich experiences that ought to be written down- if only I had the time. Something about the addition of three preschoolers into a house full of hormone-infused teenagers has me running in circles. And probably the most interesting part of this journey is making a home for three children who called me "Mommy" the first day they entered my home. Yes, it is a strange thing to go pick up three bright-faced children in the parking lot of a restaurant, strap them into car seats in your own vehicle, and bring them home. I cannot imagine what it must be like to be so little, and have no idea where you are going, where you will sleep that night, and who will be taking care of you. What must it be like to watch the sun go down as the car moves along an unfamiliar highway and you notice the dark gray caps of the blue ridge mountains ahead of you- mountains you have never seen, as you leave behind the last place you called "home?" My three new babies were in their last "placement" for only three hours before the "potential adoptive parents" who had taken them, made a decision to give them back. One of the case workers told me that these parents complained: "These are not the children you described to us on the phone," before packing them up and sending them on their way. At this point, having no other in-county options, their placement team decided to call our private agency in Atlanta, and the decision was made to send the three little ones to the home of "Mr. and Mrs. Line." Imagine that! A couple made a quick decision in under three hours and these children came to us! It's a miracle, really . . . a strange, wacky, mixed-up kind of miracle, but a miracle nonetheless and I will take them any way they come.
Of course this experience is different for all of the kids. Our sweet girl, just 18 months old now, is full of life and bubbly energy. She is happy to be held, cuddled, tickled, or just smiled at. She knows us and trusts us now after seven weeks. She calls John Daddy and reaches for him whenever he is nearby. I have to admit that in the beginning I wondered if she would attach to us. She seemed ready to go with anyone who showed her the slightest bit of attention. She reached for strangers, smiled at all of us the same, but looked lost and alone in the floor of her nursery class at the daycare. So I must admit, somewhat ashamedly, that I was secretly happy the first time I took her to day care and she refused to let me go. She held on to my arms, crying, pleading with those dark gray eyes for me to take her with me, instead of leaving her. I felt a twinge of guilt at my happiness, not that she was crying- but that she was longing, and that she was longing for me.
My little middle monkey just melts my heart. He has these big brown eyes and the deepest little voice for a three year-old. Just the sound of the word "Mommy" from his lips is all I need in the morning. At first I wasn't sure how he would bond with me. He was so confused about where he was, and who was the boss. He attached to John so easily, clinging to him like an orphan - grunting instead of talking, flying into tantrums if John set him down. I realize now that I avoided him for the first two weeks. It was easier to let John handle him, and the other two were demanding enough. I'm not saying I ignored him- but I just didn't work on getting to know him. And then one day, I saw him sleeping in his bed, his little body so tiny and I saw this precious baby that he is, so desperate for a mother's love. I made a decision in that moment to hold him more, to reach for him more, to tell him how handsome and how sweet he is, as much as possible and to nurture him. I fell in love with him! And he fell in love with me too, and the nurturing paid off. Suddenly, he is even more charming and beautiful than the first day I saw him.
But the child who is probably experiencing this new stage of his life with the most difficulty is our oldest new child at five years old. He has hurt the most, I believe. He remembers the abuse and the violence he witnessed. He recalls those stories to me often. He remembers the places they have lived, the people who cared for him (or should have), and the way the house looked, the toys inside, and the beds they slept in. He remembers the names of previous caseworkers, caregivers, foster siblings, and family members. He has previously assumed the role of parent, and is just now learning to "let go" and be a little boy.
On his second day with us, while driving to my dear friend's house to play, he asked me "How long are we gonna live with you?"
I was shocked by his question, but I answered, "I hope forever."
He sat quietly for a minute before replying, "Why would anyone want to keep us forever?"
On the way into his home town for court nearly two weeks ago, he sat up in his car-seat and looked around. We had driven for over two hours, away from the mountains, away from the river, away from our front porch and two dogs, and the toys in the yard. He hadn't said anything about where we were going- he was just along for the ride. But as we approached the center of town, he took notice of an old, run-down looking hotel where shady deals go down in the light of day. He sat up straight and tall, and announced that he and his brother had once lived in "that house." Further down the road, he looked out the window anxiously, watching familiar buildings and sites go by. Quieter than usual, he softly said: "I used to live in this world."
My heart sank.
I guess when you are five, and you have had 5 different homes in less than a year, and some strangers take you home and feed you, bathe you and tell you that you can call them "Mommy" and "Daddy," you probably do feel like you have gone into a different world. And when you once lived in a scrappy hotel and witnessed unspeakable acts of violence, and suddenly you are whisked away to live in a big, bright house full of crankly but lovable kids and two giant hilarious dogs, and a constant supply of friends and toys, it probably does seem a world away.
Last Friday night, John and I volunteered (what we we thinking??) to babysit kids for a foster parenting class. So we watched eleven preschoolers who all live in different foster homes in our area, including our own. I was surprised that in the room full of rambunctiousness (7 boys, 4 girls!) our three little ones clung to us like laundry on the clothesline. They refused to let go, swapping my lap for John's, or vice verse. I could barely get up to hand out crackers to the other kids. But finally, one by one, they began to play with the other kids and toys. John was picking up blocks and I had moved to the other end of the room. A little boy named Alex had fallen over and was crying. I picked him up and sat him on my lap. He cried and cuddled close to me, and soon his foster-sister, an adorable little four-year old girl with crossed-eyes and blue glasses, came and sat on my other leg. Soon they were smiling and holding on to me, and no sooner did my five year old take notice.
"Hey!" He shouted, angrily stomping his foot, "That's my mommy! And I want to sit on her lap!"
"It's okay," I told him, "They just want to sit with me for a few minutes."
He stomped his foot again, "But you're not THEIR PEOPLE! You're MY PEOPLE!"
I smiled and reminded him that he was going home with me, and there was no reason to be jealous. But secretly I was pretty happy. I'm happy to be his "people."
I pray and hope we can be their people forever. We need each other.