Tonight when I was doing the bedtime ritual with Lizzie and Cole, I realized how far we have come in the past ten months. Now, ask me at a different time- like when Camden referred to me as "Woman" in the van on the way to school this morning, and I might break down and say sometimes it feels hopeless. But lately, it feels like we just might be okay. Bedtime was such a nightmare in the beginning - John and I still laugh about it. The first night the kids were "home", we expected it would be hard, but we had no idea - and for awhile it only got worse. Nighttime was horrendous, complete with inner-ear-rupturing screaming like you only hear in horror flicks. In the first two months, it took an average of three hours for Camden to stop screaming at bedtime. His screaming kept everyone else up, and needless to say, nobody got any rest. Neither of the babies had any type of nap schedule, and crankiness was an art form. We tried every trick in the book- reading stories, playing soft music, rocking in a big rocking chair, singing songs, counting sheep, "herbal" home remedies, begging, pleading, attempts at coercion, various night lights, rides in the car, all forms of stuffed animals, and of course, punishment. Nothing seemed to work. But slowly, miraculously, over a very long period of time, we developed a routine. The routine is nice.
After dinner we bathe the children, put them in their pajamas and we watch a little TV together. Most recently this is "Go, Diego, Go" which the kids all love and they especially think it is hilarious that John answers every one of Diego's questions with the wrong answer. They think John really is that stupid and that makes them howl with laughter, except for Lizzie who isn't quite sure why she is laughing, but everyone else is - so why not?
After Diego (or Go Dee Go, as Lizzie calls it) we brush our teeth. After this spectacle of spitting and foaming at the mouth and arguing about doing it without grown-up help, Cole and Lizzie have some play time in their room, where for about twenty minutes that can just cook imaginary food in the play kitchen or dress the baby dolls and feed them with play bottles. I swear my kids have a nicer (play) kitchen than I had in my first house. They certainly have a better toaster. Anyway, this is a nice, quiet time because I watch them play and remember the nights when my heart ached for them and I had no idea where they were.
Tonight of course, followed Camden's weekly therapy session which is turning into Melissa therapy as well. It seems like every week, the light comes on more and more for not just my six year old, but for me, as I realize the enormous task ahead of us, but also as I realize all the baggage my little one has to overcome. It seems like every week, I am a little more aware of all my babies have had to live through. Maybe I shared this on my blog a year ago but we finished our adoption home study at the end of October in 2011. I can honestly say that as soon as we were "approved" to adopt a sibling group, I knew they were "out there" somewhere. I could hardly sleep for thinking of them (imagine the irony/ I couldn't sleep when I should have been storing up sleep!) At night before I drifted off, I would lie awake praying for my babies and for the hands of the person who was caring for them. I prayed that someone was tucking them in, singing to them, praying for them, and loving them and telling them everything was going to be okay. I ached for them and wrote journal entries and blogs about my desperate search and longing for them to be with me.
Part of my little ones' very sad and mixed-up story is that they lived in five foster homes before coming to us. Lizzie went into foster care when she was just four months old. She learned to sit up, crawl, and walk in the home of a caregiver who was later accused of abusing children and the home was closed. In a series of therapy sessions, and over the past ten months, Camden has disclosed more and more about the different homes he lived in, and sadly, the caretaker who had my children when John and I were first "officially approved" was not caring for them appropriately. My babies were broken down, screamed at, pushed into the floor and threatened. Bedtime was a sad time, and a lonely time for them. And that just tears at my heart because all that time I was here longing for them, and I didn't know their names or where they would come from.
So sometimes during the play time just before bed, I have to hold back the tears as I think about how grateful I am to have them here now. I sit in a big pink rocking chair and watch them playing so happily - securely - safely. I delight in them and cherish these moments. Sometimes Cole puts the dollhouse mom into Handy Manny's work truck and hauls her off to "jail". Sometimes he picks up a baby doll and beats her bottom, shouting "you go to bed, bad girl!" and I wonder why he has to remember those things. But most of the time, they are just sweet and happy little ones. Lizzie looks up at her clothes hanging in the closet and says, "My dress! My shirt! My hat! My pants!" and Cole points to the letters in his name and says "There's my name, Mommy!" I am so thankful that they recognize this as their home, these are their toys, we are their parents. I cannot describe the joy that it brings me just to have them call me "Mommy," and to be so happy to see me every morning and again in the afternoon after work/school.
After a short play time, I let Cole turn off the lamp and they crawl into my lap. We sing (in this order every night):
Old MacDonald (had a horse, chicken, cow, pig and sometimes when we are in a crazy mood, dragon)
Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star
You are my Sunshine (and you are my Cole-bug)
I see the Moon
Skinamarinkeedinkydink (or however in the heck you spell it)
and finally . . . Jesus Loves Me
And what is really strange is that my three little ones who never attended church or heard about God's love before coming to live here have absolutely SOAKED UP our faith. Cole asks every morning "we go to church today?" and is sad and disappointed when the answer is no. The boys went from shouting out cuss words while we attempted to say a blessing before each family meal to literally arguing over which one of them gets to ask the blessing. Camden says "Thank you God for the food, Amen." and Cole-bug just says "Thank You God, Amen." but it's just the sweetest music to my ears. And although they love Old MacDonald and You are my Sunshine, the room becomes slow and still during "Jesus Loves Me." What follows is generally a conversation about God, Heaven, or Jesus. Once last week, it went like this:
"Mommy, where is Jesus' house?"
"It's in Heaven,"
"Where Porky lives?"
"Yes, Porky lives in Heaven."
"Does Porky watch Jesus?"
"I'm sure Porky loves to watch Jesus."
"I want to go to Heaven and see Porky and Jesus."
"You will one day, buddy."
"Mommy? What is "Tells me So?"
"What do you mean buddy?"
"It says, "Jesus loves me this I know. For the Bible tells me so. What is tells me so?"
Trying my best to explain to a three year old that the Bible teaches us about God's love through Jesus Christ, I chattered endlessly about the Bible and its simple yet profound truth. And what's even harder to explain is that this song isn't saying "Jesus loves me" because of something I did, or "Jesus loves me" because I'm good, or because I love Him, or because I read my Bible, or because I go to church, or even because I believe in Him and follow Him. The song says Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me So. It's not a feeling, it is a fact. It is as much a fact to say Jesus loves me as it is for me to tell my children how much I longed for them before they ever came to be mine. They can read in my journals or my blog and say "Mommy loved us before we even became hers. Mommy's journal tells me so!" This is a love based on blind faith and on a choice. God's love for me - not based on anything I say or do, is a simple fact repeated over and over again in the Bible. Jesus does love me - this I do know - for the Bible tells me so. He loves me in spite of my many imperfections, in spite of my past, in spite of my wildly ranging emotions, in spite of my struggles with faith. He loves me not because of anything I can do for Him. He just loves me.
And so tonight, in the middle of my nighttime ritual with my precious children, I was stopped cold in my tracks. As if I was three years old again, in blind faith, I reached out and took hold of that promise. A promise I will pass on to my children.
Yes, Jesus loves me.
Yes, Jesus loves me.
Yes, Jesus loves me.
The Bible Tells me so.