Why My Son Has so Many Aunties and Uncles

“Say good morning to Auntie!”

“Look! Here’s Uncle!”

“Do you want to give Auntie a hug?”

There is a method to my madness. I’m not calling all of these people “Auntie” or “Uncle” out of courtesy, or an attempt to confuse the poor kid. It’s a setup for a lesson later in life.

I remember years ago asking a friend why she had her kids call everyone Auntie or Uncle even though they weren’t related. For her it was a cultural practice, as a sign of respect for elders or for a sense of community among good friends. I thought it was charming, and still cherish it every time one of her kids calls me Auntie. It makes me feel like an important part of their family.

I suppose there’s a part of me that wanted to adopt that practice for that reason alone, but once I started introducing people to my son, I noticed something significant. I only referred to people I trusted as Auntie or Uncle. Everyone else I simply called by their first name. I didn’t do it on purpose, but I noticed it.

My son comes from a tough background, and has been moved quite a lot in his very short time on this earth. I’m not his first home, nor his second. I’m not even the third. He has a hard time with the concept of “stranger danger”, and though it isn’t much of an issue NOW (aside from hugging random strangers in restaurants) – I have concerns about teaching him how to discriminate in the future. I realized my natural reservations might come in handy one day.

Someday in the future, not so very far from now. I will be able to use those words as a tool to help him remember. I will be able to say “Anyone I have asked you to call Auntie or Uncle – those are the people you can trust. Those are the people you may accept food or candy from. Those are the people you may go with if they ask to take you somewhere. Those are the people you may hug or hold hands with. Have I called that man Uncle? Is that man your teacher? No? Then you need to ask me first.”

Please know that if I have called you Auntie or Uncle it is so much more than a courtesy. It means I trust you. No, it means much more than that. It means I trust you with my son. And that means quite a lot.

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Two “mamas”

My son calls me “mama”, but I’m not the only one. For a few hours every week he spends time with the other woman he calls “mama”. The mama he lived with first. The mama who gave him life.

Yesterday I met her for the first time.

She was smart, and well spoken. She was easy to talk to and sweet with our son. She had a charming personality, and a funky sense of style I admired. In another life, she might have been my friend.

It would be so easy to hate her. I would love nothing more than to write her off as a terrible person. What a relief that would be!

Liking her makes everything so much harder on me, but it makes everything so much easier on my son and for that I am glad. We will see her for those few hours every week and maybe even chat together. We will get to know each other, little by little, and it might even be pleasant. We might even form a relationship with each other that will last through our son’s lifetime.

We will try not to think about what these visits really mean. We will watch our son play while rooms full of strangers make decisions about our lives. We won’t discuss the reports I have to send in about what happens during our time together and how well interactions are going. We won’t talk about the mistakes she has made, or the ones I haven’t made. We will do our best to not let our emotions get the best of us.

We will do all of this because this is not about us. It never has been. This is about our son. This mess we are all stuck in – My husband, my son, his other “mama” and me – is just a thing we all have to get through until ultimately a permanent decision is made on his behalf. The only one of us who has any sort of control over the situation is her, and I so completely envy her that privilege. All I can do is love, and hope for the best possible outcome.

If he stays here, I hope that she remains a part of our lives. I hope we can be friends. If he goes back to his other “mama” – well, I can only hope that she lets me do the same. Most of all, I hope our son never reflects upon this time negatively. I hope all that he ever remembers is having two “mamas” that loved him with all of their hearts.

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The Present

15 months ago, we made a decision.

12 months ago, we started taking classes.

7 months ago, we received our license.

2 months ago, our adoption home study was approved.

9 days ago, we met him for the first time.

5 days ago, he moved in.

And right now? Right now he is napping peacefully upstairs while I write this. All this time for him, and he was worth every second. I don’t yet know how long he will be here – it could be months, or it could be forever. But what we have is right now, and right now means everything.

Making Tough Choices

Two days ago we received an e-mail advising us that our adoption home study had been approved. It was a huge relief, because this meant we were finally all done with the application process. We’ve been licensed to foster since the beginning of the year and now, halfway through the year, we are finally licensed to adopt. We’ve been playing a long waiting game while we went through multiple interview appointments and signed a whole lot of paperwork and had an extra home inspection done. During the whole process, our social worker took us off of the call list for foster care placements because she didn’t want that to interfere with a possible adoption placement once she had finished her evaluation.

Ugh, I’m trying not to think about the possibility that a kid needed us while we were not accepting calls but now that’s totally all I can think about. Yuck.

We were aware that now we needed to keep our phones handy, because we could get a call at any time – but I didn’t expect to get a call so quickly! Not even 24 hours after we were informed that we were approved, I got a call from our social worker.

She started by saying she had hesitated to call us because the child was outside of the parameters we had set, but I told her to go ahead anyway. So she ran down a list of behavioral issues and data on the child who was available, some of which was concerning but nothing we couldn’t ultimately handle. The parameter issue? This kid was almost 3 years older than the oldest age we were licensed for.

I told her I wanted some time to digest the information and talk it over with my husband before I gave her an answer. She assured me that there was no rush, the child was totally fine in the current home and that I could take my time getting back to her. After I got off the phone, I felt the crushing weight of this decision sit itself on my shoulders. My husband and I were responsible for deciding if this child could come live with us forever or not. That’s a huge decision! Not just a huge decision, but a huge responsibility! Let me tell you, I was in no way prepared for deciding the fate of this kid’s life.

I called my husband and told him all the details. By the time we got off the phone, we had both felt like we were on the same page but agreed to spend some more time with the decision and talk it over in person as well. That evening, we hashed it out and ultimately decided to say no.

But that was so hard!! We’ve been waiting for what seems like forever. All we want to do is say yes! Yes, yes, yes a thousand times, yes!!! A kid needs a home? OF COURSE we will take them in. All of them. GIVE US ALL THE CHILDREN!! *sigh* …but we have to think about what’s right for us and why we set the parameters in the first place. We only have one open bedroom right now, and we want to adopt two children. The law says that two children can share a room if their ages are within 5 years of each other and they are the same gender. So, we are licensed for 0-5. If we take in an 8 year old, that means our 2nd child could be no younger than 3. We would never even have the opportunity to ever see a baby in our home.

That would suck.

Also we are entirely prepared for any child age 0-5. That means the room we have set up, including all the furniture, the toys, the clothes…none of them would be appropriate for an 8 year old. Not that it’s a HUGE deal to replace all that stuff – just that this child was not an ideal match for us. There is an ideal match out there, I’m sure of it.

It was hard to say no. I felt like an awful person. I’ll probably have to say no again, maybe multiple times. I’m not at all looking forward to that. I’m just trying to take comfort in the fact that I know I will eventually get a call that will end in a “yes” instead.

St. Sara, patron saint of people who hate Mother’s Day

Yesterday was hard.

I had expected it to be hard, and the anticipation of the impending holiday threw me into a pretty bad funk over the past couple of weeks. I didn’t want to say anything about it until it was over, because pooping all over someone’s celebration just isn’t my style.

Last year was pretty difficult for me too, as I had just recently come to the conclusion that my body just simply wasn’t going to cooperate and had made the decision to move forward in another direction than the infertility treatments. I still hadn’t given up on them yet, but Mother’s day still brought a pretty dark mood with it. I converted that energy in a positive way by starting down this foster care road. We made the leap to contact social services and started taking our classes. By last summer, I had pretty much checked out on the poking and prodding at doctor’s offices and committed myself to this path instead. By last winter, I was a licensed foster parent and I expected to be a mom by the end of the year or the beginning of this one.

Obviously that has yet to happen. I’ll tell you a secret though – I didn’t even feel confident enough to believe it ever would happen until just a few weeks ago. That’s how hard it has been for me to have any faith in happy endings.

So, here I am – nearly 6 months past when I thought I would be a mom and still poking my head into an empty kid’s room every afternoon to give the dust a warning glance.

I see you, dust. You’re mocking me. Let’s see how you like this swiffer!

As the day approached and my mood darkened, I tried to psych myself up for it. I managed to convince myself that I could be positive about it. I thought – hey, I know plenty of fantastic moms and I’m going to love seeing them all happy and celebrating their day. Maybe I’ll even suck it up enough to send out a few happy messages to celebrate them and how awesome they are!

What I did not expect was all the pregnancy announcements.

Normally, each announcement knocks the wind out of me. It hurts a bit, I wince and recoil – but then I rebound, gather myself together and congratulate the happy couple on the new addition to their family. But yesterday I didn’t just see one announcement. I saw five. That doesn’t feel like just one gut punch. It feels like an assault. I wasn’t able to recover enough to extend any congratulatory remarks. I’m hoping no one holds that against me.

See, the worst part is the guilt. It hurts too bad and I can’t bring myself to even attempt normal social behavior, and then I chastise myself for being negative and possibly hurting other people’s feelings and all of that ends up making me feel worse. I can actually feel myself retreating farther inward. As time goes on, I start to realize that I have been avoiding social situations more and more and I forget the last time I’ve seen any of my friends. They must think I’m awful. I don’t even think I have the strength to change that.

I spent the day with my family. My in laws kept me preoccupied talking about everything under the sun besides what day it was and I got to celebrate a woman who has done a great deal for me in the past few years. My husband kept me laughing for most of the day (until he had to go back to work) and I avoided social networking sites for the rest of the evening.

I don’t know what next year holds for me. I hope my next Mother’s Day isn’t such a struggle, but if it is I will have to try harder. I will have to do better. I will have to find a way to manage this pain and not be such a bummer. Nobody likes a bummer.

To end this on a lighter note, I googled “Patron Saint of people who hate Mother’s Day” and I got back this image of St. Cecilia playing the fiddle with a taco and looking thoroughly exasperated. I’ll leave it here for you to enjoy:

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The Worst

For most, the path to motherhood is a joyous one full of excitement, celebrations and plans for a bright future ahead. Rooms are decorated and miniature clothing is purchased and family and friends surround you with their happy, positive energy. I never expected to experience any of this.

You see – without going into too much awful detail and allowing myself to spiral into negativity, my past has been…difficult. I can swiftly sum up the road that led me here as a series of choices made to ensure my survival. It has been painful. It has been lonely.

I have managed to maintain a few unbreakable familial ties and create some lasting friendships, both of which have been extremely vital to me. I married a kind and patient man who is willing and able to help me shoulder the burden of every dark day. I cannot stress enough how important these connections are for anyone, especially those who have faced trauma. I can’t imagine where I might have ended up were it not for strong attachments and long hours of therapy.

While I craved all of the happiness associated with motherhood, I was also quite fearful. I worked hard to maintain strong connections with the people I loved, but I still expected them to let me down. I learned very early on to always expect and prepare for the worst, and it still proves to be a difficult habit to break myself of. When the worst started unfolding before me, I shrugged, gave it a respectful nod, and said “I wondered when you’d show up.”

I know it isn’t a healthy attitude. I’ve heard the speeches about self-fulfilling prophecies. I have several habits in place to ensure I remain as positive as possible, even in the face of this monster – The Worst.

I fight a silent battle with my invisible monster every day.

It’s hard to explain to someone else why I feel this way, why it’s such a difficult hole to climb out of. Most would jump to call me negative, but that isn’t quite accurate. I want to believe in the inherent good of others. I want to trust people. I want to expect happy outcomes. So I go through my life, accomplishing one task at a time all the while grinning and saying “Yeah! This will turn out totally awesome!”. The “fake it ’till you make it” attitude will get you through about 99.9% of life, trust me on that. Sometimes I maintain that attitude and The Worst doesn’t show up. Yet, there is always this nagging voice in the back of my head trying to spoil everything.

“She says she loves you and will always be there for you, but she doesn’t actually mean it.”

“It’s cute that you’re trying so hard but there’s really no point, is there?”

“Once this gets difficult, he’s going to start hating you.”

“Someone saying you’re “meant for great things” is just a nice way of telling you that right now, you’re a loser.”

“You mean nothing to anyone.”

After years of thinking these thoughts and seeing them most often come true, the voice of The Worst gets louder. You lose the ability to fake positivity. You get tired, and a little morose and eventually you stop trying at all.

I was lucky. I had someone nudging me. Every time that small voice made its way to my lips, he gave me a hug and pointed out why it simply wasn’t true. It was just enough push to keep me trudging down my path.

Then the unexpected happened. People who I thought barely knew my name offered their support. They wanted to hear my story. Everyone wanted to help. No one was letting me down.

The crazy result is I’m hearing that voice less and less. I’m learning to trust people, and I’m looking ahead instead of down at my feet. Even though that voice has told me a thousand times that it will never work out, that nothing ever works out – I am starting to believe that someday, maybe not so long from now – I’ll be a mother.

Take THAT, The Worst.

The Ups and Downs

This week’s been a bit crazy, and full of a rainbow of emotion. I’m not sure where to start, so I’ll just rewind to the beginning.

I spent all day Monday cleaning the house and making sure everything was inspection ready in anticipation of the adoption case worker stopping by on Thursday. Though I was exhausted by the end of the day, that night we went to a fundraising event for a great charity called Tara’s Chance. Click the link and check them out – they are a non-profit therapy program that partners horses and children with physical disabilities or behavioral needs. I got to give hugs and kisses to a couple of pretty adorable kids I know and visit with some friends I’ve been missing. I guess I got some slightly off-diet food to eat out of the deal, too.

Tuesday afternoon we met with a teen boy at the children’s home for the first time. It was one of the most awkward experiences of my life. I’d never been to the facility before, so I didn’t know where or how to check in and had no idea what the rules were prior to going in. When we finally got in to a visitation room and the boy showed up, he had very little idea what we were doing there. His social worker never showed up at all. We explained to him that we were foster parents, but didn’t have a room set up for anyone in his age group (we wanted to make sure he knew up front that we weren’t currently able to offer him a home). We went on to say that another foster parent we had met had told us about him and that he thought we might have a lot in common. We offered him our friendship. He sat in near silence while we nervously chatted him up. About halfway through the visit he started opening up and telling us about himself. By the end, we were so engaged in conversation that a social worker had to pop in and tell us that visit time was over. I gave him my e-mail address and told him we’d be back. I had done some reading on how to offer mentorship to young people, but I left feeling full of doubt that I’d done it right. I didn’t know what to expect from that point forward, or even if he would want to see us again.

Wednesday was hard. I didn’t have very much on my plate, but I was sort of stuck in a limbo between the mad rush to get the house ready and the social worker’s visit on Thursday. I kept thinking of the teen we’d met, and worrying about having handled myself well and where to go from here. I double and triple checked the remainder of my application forms to make sure I had everything ready. I cleaned a lot more than I needed to or probably should have. I tried to focus on my work, but I couldn’t seem to accomplish much. I may have barked at my poor husband more than a few times.

Thursday morning, the social worker showed up right on time. Her presence immediately made me feel nervous, as opposed to the previous social worker that had put me at ease. Many of the questions she asked brought confusing answers out of me. I remember saying “It sounds like we don’t know what we want. We do, I just don’t know how to say it.” I felt like a complete idiot. We had to fill out a questionnaire right there in front of her that had some extremely embarrassing and awkward questions in it. It felt exactly like taking a pop quiz in your least favorite high school class, in your underwear. She told us that this was the first in a series of interviews that would end with the home inspection. I was completely devastated. According to the checklist I had, this should have been the last step. Instead I was being faced with at least another month of the process before they would even start looking for matches for us. In the meantime, we would cease to get phone calls for placements until everything was complete. All that cleaning I had done was for nothing, because she wouldn’t be inspecting the home until the very end.

We did get some good news – that we were open enough to ages, gender, ethnicity and disabilities that we wouldn’t have to wait very long once our application process was finished. I still couldn’t help feeling that we keep taking more steps backward than forward.

My husband could see how upset I was, so in his infinite wisdom he suggested we go out for lunch. I ate exactly what my diet plan recommended, but it still felt like a luxury to eat food someone else cooked for a change! We ran a few errands and I tried to hold myself together, but my mind was a million miles away. I couldn’t focus on our conversation. I could barely focus on our errands. We eventually made it back home and I tried to cheer myself up with some trashy television – something about vampires and werewolves.

Then, I got an e-mail. From the boy we’d met on Tuesday. He was thanking us for visiting with him, and he said we were cool. I smiled so big I thought my face would break in two.

We knew this would be challenging, and we signed up for all of it anyway. The ups and downs are difficult. The downs seem so down that they might bury you. But the ups…the ups can so much more than make up for them.