I’m writing this blog entry having just come to the end of our “foster family” journey and the beginning of our “adoptive family” journey. As I reflect on the past year, from the time when our girls moved into our home, to the time when their adoption was finalized, it’s hard to remember the beginning since we’ve all grown and changed so much. Old fears have subsided or been replaced with new fears. Evaluations have been completed, and services provided to help them learn and grow. Limits have been tested.. again.. and again.. and again. Mistakes were made. As the court day approached, I began to reflect on different metaphors that describe the experience of adoption.
An onion came to mind early on. Getting to know kids in foster care is a lot like peeling an onion. As time goes by and you peel back new layers, you find the child has learned new skills, overcome old fears, or developed new fears. Or you learn about something they really like, or really don’t like. Sometimes you learn a new way to communicate, or you better appreciate the motivation behind a behavior you’ve observed.
A pirate ship amusement ride also came to mind, especially with limits and behavior. My daughters are headstrong little girls who, like so many children in care, can be very controlling. You see them push, and push, and push, until a behavior finally starts to subside and another behavior rears its head. And then a few weeks or months later, the pendulum has swung back and you find yourself saying, “I really thought we were over this weeks ago!!” This definitely happened with potty training, as we thought we were home free with a toddler who, after about 4 or 5 days, was in underpants both day and night and basically never had accidents. Until we got the wake-up call we deserved; it took the sight of my daughter standing in the hallway at 6:25 A.M., standing spread-eagle, with a gallon of pee on the floor beneath her, to bring me back down to earth and realize potty training is a process. That, and it taught me NEVER to hit my snooze button… never ever!
Mom Brain and Imperfect Parenting
I think, too, about how many different things I’ve compared my new “mom-brain” to (truly this diagnosis should be in the DSM-5). Chop suey comes to mind first- a confused hodge-podge of neurons struggling to connect and make coherent thoughts. There was the time I left my purse on my front door step for a good two hours- just opened the door and forgot to pick it up and bring it inside. Then there was the time I had to call the fire department because I’d locked myself out of the house and school pick-up was in less than half an hour and my husband was on a business trip 3000 miles away. My door frame now bears the scar. There was also the time I had to bail at work because I sent my husband to pick up the toddler from preschool with the car that didn’t have car seats.
I mentioned earlier that mistakes were made. Oh man, have mistakes been made. I can point to some really specific ones. Enrolling in dance class where you have to pay for May recital costumes in December? Not wise. Other mistakes were less specific, like a general habit of ignoring problems because we didn’t understand what our daughters were trying to communicate. Relationship-building is hard, and honest communication is even harder. And so many times I made the mistake of not stepping in when I should have. But the truth was that my daughter was still a stranger to me, and let’s be honest, you don’t talk to strangers the way you talk to friends and family that you’ve known for years. I’m trying to learn how to forgive myself for the mistakes I’ve made. And let’s be honest here, still make on a regular basis.
Being a parent has taught me so much. In honor of the “top 5” lists that are so ubiquitous in the news, I put together some lists of my own:
Top 5 Things That Parents Can Neglect (in no particular order)
- getting cars inspected (as long as you keep an eye out for cops)
- gardening and lawn care (there’s always next year)
- laundry (as long as the underwear hasn’t run out. Not valid if poop or pee is involved.)
- baths (just wash the sheets if they go to bed dusty)
- spoiled pets (they will survive being supplanted as the “most cherished beings” in the house)
Top 5 Things Parents Really Can’t Neglect (in no particular order)
- cultivating patience
- searching for perspective
- taking breaks for self-care
- developing a sense of humor
- sharing love
Seeing the Right Things
And, on a more somber note, sometimes adoption hurts, like having nails pounded into your heart. My older daughter is going through a phase during which she’s refusing affection from me, and it hurts each and every time. This seems to swing like that pirate ship ride, too. Sometimes she’ll relax and we’ll connect, and then 20 minutes later the ship will bounce back in the other direction. It’s truly caused me to question my competence as a mother. Then, every once in a while, something will buoy me up, like the time her babysitter tells me how my daughter initiated a conversation about court and the finalization. My daughter explained how her name changed, and how she “wasn’t in foster care anymore”. And you realize that all those difficult conversations you had are helping her make sense of the chaos that was her life for years. My first thought was that those buoys always seem to come when they’re needed most, but that’s not really true because it was really a lightbulb in my head that went off and told me, “you’re not paying attention to the right things.”
About the Family
From a family of four in the Merrimack Valley.