Photographs and Memories and Tears

by Brenda on

Dear Google Photos, I love and hate you. Tomorrow is our son’s surprise 16th Birthday party. I have spent hours this evening, pouring over photos in my Google Drive just to find the perfect (ahem, 700 and counting) photos for a slideshow. I spent hours, Google. You threw me off guard. How? For some reason, no matter what year I looked at, you kept showing me pictures of M. We only had M for 14 months between 2010 and 2011, and yet, he kept showing up in various months & years. Then. Then. I thought I was doing ok. I was ok. But…I got to my 2010 photos and I stared at the faces, and I had to stop creating my monster-of-a-slide-show album, because the grief overtook me. Their faces….

It wasn’t only M that we lost. First it was D, then many months later, M, K, and baby D. We loved them. Oh my heart aches for them now, and they left us more than 7 years ago. I wanted so badly to take in a sibling group and keep them together. It was a noble idea, and an enormous feat. That call–the caseworker, making sure “can you do this? It will be hard work. There are four of them, and under the age of 4…” I wrote an email to several friends and titled it “Better than Christmas!” We were adding FOUR children to our family all in one day! Adding to the four we already had, that would be EIGHT kids. We were SO BLESSED!

The work that followed was intense and could fill several blog posts. The four little blessings had been neglected, and neglected kids do not behave like well-loved and cared for children. We wanted to keep them together….We wanted to ADOPT them. We were in the foster-ADOPT program, and we thought that’s what we were doing. One of the case workers said that there was “no way” these kiddos were going back to their birth mom. She lied. But we didn’t find that out until later.

First, it was D who left our home. She had learned behaviors in her young life that no child should learn. I felt awful for her. I also felt scared of her. I felt scared for the safety of the other kids. I felt scared because she was a kid who wanted so desperately to be loved that she would agree with any suggestion that anyone offered her. I’m not joking–I wouldn’t try this, but if we had asked “do you want a dirt flavored cake,” she would have said “yes!” with enthusiasm and a big smile. I have heard far too many horror cases of foster parents who were falsely accused of things that happened to kids before they ever came into care. I was so scared of this little girl and what her readiness to agree to any story might do to our family. I know–she was so little, how could I have so much fear? But my fear was real. Mostly, I was scared about what she would do–and had already done–to those younger than her…We didn’t have the skills or enough bedrooms to keep everyone safe. I cried when I packed her things because she was moving to another home. I grieved. I felt like such a failure. I wanted to keep the sibling group together!!! Why God? Why couldn’t this big giant gift, better than any Christmas present, work out?

She was only with us 2 months, and during that time she turned 4, and we learned a whole lot about what she had lived through. And I loved that little girl. Had people not done horrible things to her, I might still be her mommy today. I loved her….I think us choosing that we couldn’t safely parent D was the nail in the coffin for us and we didn’t even see it. There was no way we were going to be able to ADOPT the other 3, when DHS’s primary goals are 1. Return to birth family and 2. Keep siblings together. We were just cheap babysitters while they worked it all out, to DHS…

For fourteen long months those kiddos were woven into the fabric of our family. They were our babies. We read to them, held them when they cried or even screamed (!), brushed their teeth and their gums where they had lost teeth due to poor nutrition and poor hygiene. M was animated and fun and loud, and threw fits like no other. I adored him!! K was quiet, would not smile at strangers, had an anxious attachment to me and preferred to be in a baby carrier always. I want to hold her again!! Baby D was far too independent at 6 months, and I worked with her to let me hold her while she drank her bottles, to make some eye contact, and eventually she even cried for diaper changes. I long to see her big dark eyes!

It has been more than seven years since I have seen those kids and the tears still flow and I ache in my gut and my throat as my body processes this grief, all over again. I loved them. I love them. And we didn’t get to keep them. We didn’t get to adopt them. It went from “Better than Christmas!” to worse than anything I have ever experienced in my entire life, when I buckled them in to the van they were riding in to leave us forever. I stood in the driveway and waved and sobbed, and then went in the house and could not peel myself off of the couch as the tears, ugly tears, poured out of me. Ouch, it hurts….Still…

I can’t write the whole story in one post. Foster care is messy and can also be a beautiful blessing. We had another, redeeming foster care experience 1 year ago–we didn’t keep those kids, but that wasn’t our goal from the start. I think the mindset matters. See, I thought I wouldn’t ever do foster care. I am a softy. I’m sensitive! I cry over things that other people seem to handle so maturely. I know crying isn’t immature, it just feels like it sometimes. The first time we did foster care, returning to birth mom was not our goal. We ere not aligned with the case worker who eventually took over the case, because we wanted the kids to stay forever (like we had been told would happen), and her goal was to return them to their mom if it was safe to do so (as it should have been). We were in the “foster-to0-adopt” track, not “foster care,” and we hadn’t even gone through the training that would have taught us this primary goal and so many other things.

I know God is sovereign and that His plan was at work, in spite of a flawed system. I know that He knew that D would be in our home only 2 short months, and that I would feel like such a giant failure of a mom after that. He knew that energetic M, cuddly K and big-eyed baby D were only going to stay with us 14 months. He knew the emptiness we would feel after that. He knew that, even still, 7 years later, with 5 kids (we’ve adopted another since then), I would still feel like something is missing here. He knew. And somehow, in some way, this whole thing glorifies Him. And I trust Him, even though I don’t get it. I trust Him even though, still, every now and then, it keeps me awake at 2 am, crying, aching, and longing to hold those kiddos I haven’t seen in seven long years…

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