Moving Day

Throwback to four years ago when our daughters came home!

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It’s moving day!

Yes, we are finally here ūüôā¬† Today is the day we get to go pick up our girls and bring them home to start FOREVER together!!

It’s funny how things are never quite as you imagined they will be.

Even though I’ve been waiting for this day for so long…now that it’s finally here I don’t really feel all those emotions I thought I would.¬† Well…I do, but they are alongside others that don’t fit so well.

I am so excited, of course…I mean, why wouldn’t I be?!?¬† My daughters are finally going to be here with me, where they belong.¬† I love them so much and I miss them when they’re not here.¬† I love our weekends together, knowing that they’re here within my grasp.¬† That feeling of walking downstairs after we’ve tucked them in and said goodnight a thousand times and gave kisses and backrubs and cuddles…it’s amazing.¬† I love knowing that they’re safe.¬† They’re just up the steps, safe in their pink room and pink beds and pink pajamas.¬† I will know and hear if they are scared or lonely.¬† I can take care of them.¬† When they’re two and a half hours away…I have no idea what they’re doing or how to help.¬† So I can’t wait to have them here with me.

But the last few days I have also been hit by this tsunami size wave of FEAR.

From now on…everything is going to be different…and I’ve never really been that great with change.

Never again will it be just my husband and I…our little family of 2 that I know and love and am so comfortable in.¬† From now on we will always be a family of 4, not 2.¬† This isn’t really anything to be afraid of…except that I have no idea what that is even going to be like or feel like all the time.¬† And I will miss being a family of 2.¬† I am so in love with my husband, and I will miss it just being the 2 of us.¬† I know what it feels like to have children, because we’ve had children in our home lots already…but other times it wasn’t forever.¬† Eventually, they always moved on and it was just the 2 of us again.¬† It’s overwhelming to realize we are really at the end of this¬†stage, of it just being us.¬† I know it’ll be good…and I won’t even think about it.¬† But I have so enjoyed¬† the last couple months, after having kids around so much in the past year, to just enjoy being a couple.¬†¬†I will miss that.¬† I know from experience that having children around does not make your marriage less rich or exciting, but I do know¬†that it’s harder.¬† It’s harder to find time to talk.¬† It’s harder to have energy to¬†do things that are fun and crazy…just for the two of you.¬† It’s harder to get in date nights.¬† It’s harder to know¬†every little¬†thing that’s going on in each other’s lives.¬† It takes a lot of energy and time to parent…and that often means other areas can get neglected a bit sometimes.¬† Lucky for me¬†I have a pretty amazing husband who is always willing to go that extra mile to make sure that I¬†don’t just feel like a harried mama, but also¬†the¬†love of his life ‚̧

I always imagined what this kind of day…the actual day of moving our child home…would feel like.¬† Immediately,¬†you get all these images running through your¬†mind of tears of joy,¬†hugging, kissing, smiling…perfect.¬† After all, there are tons of home videos on YouTube¬†of¬†parents meeting their child for the first time or bringing their children home.¬† But without having done this day yet, I know that’s not exactly a complete picture.¬†¬†To be¬†honest, I am dreading this day a little bit.¬† I wish¬†we could skip over it, because I’m not sure how to best handle it.¬† My girls are not tiny, wide eyed, oblivious¬†one year olds being passed over to their new Mommy and Daddy by cheering nannies.¬† My girls are 5 and 7, and they know exactly what’s happening today.¬†¬†We have been going over and over and over this for weeks now.¬† Today is the day they are saying goodbye.¬† They are saying¬†goodbye to the families they love.¬† They are saying goodbye to the only normal they know.¬† They¬†will see their foster parents cry today,¬†and they will not know what to do with those big feelings inside.¬† I know what it’s like to be a foster parent…and I have no idea how to stand there and watch someone else’s painful goodbye while I wait for my child to come to me.¬† How¬†do you do that well?¬† I’m not sure if it’s more or less complicated¬†that we’ve formed a friendship with these families over the last couple months.¬† Does that make it easier or harder?¬† I think that once¬†the last goodbyes and hugs are given and we are strapped in the van¬†on our way home…we’ll all be fine.¬† We’ve done that part a thousand times now.¬†¬†But it’s just that inevitable moment where you have to watch your little girl give her ‘Mommy’¬†that last hug and kiss goodbye.¬† There is no pretty way to¬†cover up that pain.¬† Right now, they don’t understand why this needs to happen.¬† They’re excited, they’ve bonded and they love us…but they don’t understand why it¬†really needs to happen.¬† Especially my 5 year old.¬†¬†It’s not fair that to get one thing she loves she must give up another.¬†¬† Those feel like adult decisions,¬†not something a child should have to grapple with.

But…that is the reality.

I’m nervous.

I’m scared.

I’m excited.

We will get through today…and maybe it will be better than I¬†could ever hope ūüôā

Tomorrow…on the first day of forever…things will feel pretty normal.¬† The girls will wake up around 6:30 am, start giggling and chattering to each other and creep downstairs¬†once the alarm goes off telling them they may get up.¬† We will eat breakfast…probably Fruit Loops…and go for either a walk or a bike ride.¬†¬†They will play with their dolls and maybe¬†run in the sprinkler if it’s warm.¬†¬†We¬†probably won’t be thinking about forever or goodbyes.¬† In the next week sometime, when they start feeling homesick, we will call and talk to their foster moms and tell them all about what we’ve been doing.¬† I’ll send emails and pictures whenever I think of it, to let them know we still value the love and energy they gave to our daughters and let them see their smiling, happy faces…because that is such a gift.¬† Eventually, after maybe six months or a year, when we know¬†it won’t do more harm than good, we will go back and¬†visit.¬† Maybe we’ll play at the park together or just hang out in the backyard.¬† We’ll build the tentative first straws of a new¬†relationship.¬† One day at a time we will become a family…us¬†4.¬† The girls will eventually have that first day where they call me Mommy every time they talk to me.¬† One day they will be able to talk about how they came to be here, in our family, without that shadow of fear and confusion in their eyes.¬† We will start our own traditions, build our own memories and life will become normal.

I’m ready to begin that.

So…if you read this before 1:00 pm today, June 24, 2014…please say a little prayer for us.¬† We could use¬†some help today.¬† Mostly pray for Akeisha and Alexa…because more than anything I wish we could become a family of 4 without them having to go¬†through this pain¬†and loss.¬† They’ve already dealt with more pain and loss than is fair.¬† Pray that they will be able to¬†do one day at a time, and that¬†they will feel safe and loved…always.

For the next few months we’ll be doing lots of hibernating here…spending as much time as possible just making sure we know who our family is ūüôā¬† Busy starting forever.

Cheers

AF

10 Wishes for my Daughter

Dear Daughter,

There are so many hopes and dreams I have for you tucked away inside my heart.

I know I don’t tell you these things, but I hope one day you’ll understand just how much of your mama’s thoughts and prayers were invested in your life as you grew.

Watching you grow is both terrifying and beautiful.

I love seeing you come into your own, even while I stand gasping for air at the edge of our nest.

I would give you the world if I could,

but because I can’t these are…

My 10 Wishes for You

  1. I wish for you to always feel beautiful in the eyes of those you love most.  I mean the kind of beauty that makes you glow inside and that lights up your eyes with happiness.
  2. I wish for you to learn the power of saying no.¬† Your heart bends toward nurturing and serving and pleasing those around you.¬† It is breathtakingly beautiful…but it can also be your curse.¬† Learn to say no to the things not meant for your story.
  3. I wish for courage when your heart is breaking; strength to stand up again and dust yourself off.  Life will break your heart sometimes, Babe.  The hardest part is choosing to believe that those painful moments are meant to build character, perseverance, hope and beauty inside of you.
  4. I wish for kindness and gentleness to reign in your heart, and that you would hold fast to those qualities.¬† The world would love for you to believe that you need to fight hard and conquer it all…but kindness and gentleness are the fruits that will grow peace inside yourself and teach you wisdom.
  5. I wish for you to have at least one friend who you can always be yourself with.¬† Someone you don’t need to filter your words with or try to impress.¬† Someone you can be honest with, and someone who will give you honesty in return.
  6. I wish for you to find love.¬† A soul mate.¬† A man who will carry your heart gently in his all the days of his life and love you unconditionally.¬† A love that will teach you to understand the height and breadth and length and depth of your Father’s love for you.
  7. I wish for you to enjoy your own company, and not be afraid of solitude and quietness.¬† Loving yourself is the first step toward loving those around you well.¬† It’s in those quiet moments of rest that you will hear the Spirit’s soft whispers in your heart.
  8. I wish for confidence to follow your dreams, pursue your passions and be yourself.  You are enough and those passions and dreams were placed lovingly inside of you by your Creator.  Little glimpses of Himself in you.
  9. I wish for people to love you as much as I love you…the real you, with no conditions attached.¬† You are enough, sweet girl.
  10. I wish for you to find your purpose and peace in the knowledge of your weaknesses.  The world would love for you to divide your soul in a thousand pieces and places trying to do it all, have it all, be it all.  I wish for you to find rest in the God breathed purposes your Designer entrusts to you and know you are doing what matters.

I hope you know I will always be here for you.

I will not always understand and sometimes I will hurt you in my attempts to love you.

But know that I will always be so proud of you and nothing you do could ever make me stop loving you.

Love,

Mom

-AF

Love Multiplies

They are less than 6 months apart.

Everywhere I go people ask me if they are twins.

I smile and say, “Not quite.”

They glance back at me, puzzled, and his little ears pick up the new word.

“Twins!” he exclaims.

I laugh and keep walking.

They are brothers in every sense, except that they have different biological parents.

They share a room, books, toys and clothes.

They share memories and siblings and for now…parents.

They share the same hazel eyes and sandy brown hair.

 

“It must be challenging raising another child that is so close to your son’s age,” she says to me as we are washing dishes side by side.

I tilt my head sideways, thinking.

Is it?

It’s challenging when they are fighting over the same car, the same book, the same car seat, the same seat of the double stroller.

It’s challenging when one does not want to sleep and pokes the other awake; when they both need to be potty trained.

It’s challenging when I need to go shopping and there’s only one seat in the cart so one toddler has to walk, the shelves easily accessible to his eager hands.

It is challenging when my son learns to shout “No!” and throw himself down just like his little playmate.

It’s challenging when they get in each other’s way and hit each other and scream at each other and both end up in an angry, sobbing heap on my lap.

But those moments just feel like parenting.

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They are¬†tricky, but not impossible or unlike any other young family’s experiences with two children close in age.

What I think about more is how incredibly full my heart feels every day watching the two of them play.

From the time my son was very small, my husband and I always knew we wanted him to have a brother.

It feels like a boy should.

Someone to play hockey with him, wrestle, and generally make a ruckus with.

And though it may not be forever, right now my son has a brother.

I love to watch them play side by side.

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They dig in the mud, stomp in puddles, run in that unsteady toddler gate chasing each other.

They topple over the back of the couch and giggle uncontrollably as they grab each other’s feet and pull one another to the ground.

My son adores his¬†‘big’ brother and follows him everywhere.

It doesn’t matter that he gets shouted at for wrecking the carefully lined up cars or pushed to the ground for touching a sandcastle.

It doesn’t matter that he gets water dumped on his head in the bathtub or snacks sneakily stolen from his bowl.

That one little boy has changed his life.

dscf5496.jpgHis life is so much more interesting and full of joy and life since O has come to stay.

While his big sisters go off to school, there is still a buzzing little ball of energy flying around the house; creating, exploring, chattering and laughing.

Love only multiplies.

This I am reminded of over and over and over again.

I try not to think about what it might be like for my son to lose his brother, because this is a reality for us as a foster family.

But even in that, I believe that these moments are worth any pain we may face down the road.

It is Little O who helped my son make the most progress with his motor skills and speech after his surgery.

It is Little O that taught him how to ride a bike and blow bubbles and pull the cushions off the couch.

It is Little O that makes him burst into that contagious belly laugh that fills up my heart with happiness.

It is Little O that prays for him every night.

When one more comes we don’t lose, we only gain.

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Love only multiplies.

When you think there might not be enough, suddenly your heart expands and you realize there is more than you had before.

It doesn’t always happen overnight…for a while you feel like strangers are in your home.

But suddenly, you look back and can’t remember what it felt like to be 5 instead of 6.

Suddenly, the days he’s visiting his Grandma are oh so quiet.

Suddenly, you see how full and fun and happy your life is because of that extra little person.

And this is the beauty of love;

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It only multiplies.

Little O filled a gap we didn’t even know we had, and we are grateful every day for his presence here with us.

Little O shares a lot of characteristics with one of my daughters…and this brings challenges to their relationship.

They both have a whole lot of feisty, spirited life tucked inside of them and it takes a very small spark to start a huge fire!

However, it was this child of mine that missed him most when we spent a week apart from him.

“I miss him so much, Mommy,” she would say to me every day.

Without him there, we felt a little incomplete.

And it is he that can bring the biggest smile to her face when he runs to her with his little arms outstretched, begging for a hug before she leaves for school.

Love only multiplies.

If you’re afraid that there¬† might not be enough to go around,

that your children might suffer,

that you might not be able to love the way you want to…

remember this.

Love only multiplies.

“May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.” [1 Thessalonians 3:12]

-AF

 

8 Things I Don’t Do That Other Moms Do…and I Don’t Feel Guilty

We can’t do it all.

We all have limits to our time and capabilities.

Sometimes as moms the lines get a little blurry and we find ourselves trying to turn ourselves and our families into people that we just aren’t in our desperate attempts to do it all.

I’m learning that while it’s healthy to be open minded and willing to learn, it’s also really important to know how to prioritize your life and just say no.

The Mom guilt will kick in and you will feel like a horrible person…until you stop and think about all the things that you are doing for your family.

If it’s just not that important to you or it raises your stress level to the point where you are grouching at anyone who moves, it might be time to just say no!

Here are 8 things I just say no to:

  1. Decorating Birthday Cakes – we all do it.¬† Child’s birthday approaches.¬† Mom scours Pinterest for the perfect decor, party and cake ideas.¬† Child tells you their dream birthday cake.¬† Mom does more research and blood pressure spikes.¬† A week before the birthday Mom scratches ‘make cake’ off her list and calls DQ instead.¬† To me, it’s just not worth it.¬† I don’t do decorating.¬† I have tried and it doesn’t turn out well.¬† I will spend the money to have someone else do that for me.
  2. Making Slime – Girl moms, you know what I’m talking about.¬† Made from glue, Borax, flour….you name it.¬† Homemade slime is all the rage.¬† I just don’t do it.¬† I don’t even have a good excuse, I just hate it.¬† I hate the mess, I hate it laying around for weeks, I hate seeing my kids sitting there playing with it, I hate looking up recipes for it…I just say no.¬† I am that mom, who just spoils all the fun and says they can do it with the babysitter or Sunday school or friends.¬† Not with me.
  3. Bathe my Kids Daily – I used to do this.¬† We used to have baths every night or at least every other.¬† Now…well…the goal is every other night but let me tell you it sure doesn’t always happen and I’m not going to sweat the small stuff.¬† With 4 kids in the house, I just don’t care that much.¬† I love tucking clean, shampoo smelling little bodies into bed at night but if their feet are still dirty and hair full of sand they sleep just as well.¬† I’d rather let them play longer than clean them all up just to get dirty again tomorrow.¬† As long as it’s more than the once a week bath I had as a kid, we’re good ūüôā
  4. Buy organic – I read this article once explaining how the label ‘Organic’ can be very deceiving as sometimes it simply means the product was not exposed to any legally restricted chemicals and can therefore be just as harmful or more as it may just have been treated with a new or not yet regulated chemical.¬† Ever since I stare at the price differences and I just cannot bring myself to buy the organic products.¬† To take responsibility for myself, I am just plain too lazy to do the work to investigate into how I can know whether the label I am reading is accurate or misleading.¬† I buy lots of fruits and vegetables, lean meats and stay away from too much canned, packaged or processed foods.¬† I cook homemade meals regularly and avoid sugary desserts and snacks.¬† This is how I attempt to feed my family of 6 without going crazy and I’m ok with it.
  5. Sort my laundry – Ok, I do this sometimes but not always.¬† There are days when I haul it all down and sort it by darks, lights, pinks, fancy clothes and dirty jeans.¬† And then there are other days where I just take all one kids stuff and stuff it in the machine.¬† Two hours later I’m folding it all and putting it back in their drawers and my child now has all their clothes cleaned.¬† I very much doubt it’s going to do more harm to the clothing than the way she slides on her belly on the grass, rubs up against the rock walls she’s climbing and smears Nutella all over the front of her shirt!
  6. Essential Oils¬†– I had really good intentions.¬† I even bought some off a friend and they’re sitting with a diffuser in my linen closet.¬† I listened to all the benefits and agonized over which oils might help my FASD children focus, which oils might heal my foster son’s dry skin, which oils might increase brain growth in my son who went through a brain tumour resection last year.¬† I wondered if lavender would help my daughter sleep better and if oregano would heal my cold sores.¬† But I just couldn’t bring myself to spend the money and chase after a cure for realities we have fought hard to accept.¬† No oil is going to cure my children’s neurological differences or erase their trauma or help them sleep perfectly every night.¬† When I really stop and think…I know this.¬† And while I certainly believe there are huge benefits that have been proven, it’s not for me.¬† Just like I don’t do yoga, take Vitamin D all year or eliminate sugar from my children’s diet…I don’t do essential oils.¬† And I’m just not going to feel guilty about that.
  7. Meal Planning –¬†Again, I tried this.¬† And I loved the part where you sit down with a fresh new notepad and pen and start writing down your favourite recipes and planning it all out.¬† But then real life happens and I’m just not in the mood for spaghetti tonight or we decided to go out for pizza instead of making homemade chicken noodle soup or it’s just too dreary and rainy to enjoy a chicken salad with chickpeas.¬† I also found that I spent a lot more money at the store each week if I planned out all my meals versus flying by the seat of my pants and using whatever I had in the house to concoct a meal.¬† For some people this works and is a lifesaver.¬† For me, I just don’t like it and it doesn’t fit my style.
  8. Mend Clothes¬†– Honestly?¬† My husband keeps a needle and thread in his desk drawer and he mends the buttons on his pants when they fall off.¬† I just can’t be bothered!¬† It’s ok, he laughs and me and rather enjoys his little mending sessions so it’s not adversely affecting our marriage if you’re wondering.¬† My daughters bring out their dresses with ripped bows and falling apart doll clothes to their grandmothers or our neighbour up the street if they want them mended because they know if they ask Mom, it just won’t happen.¬† I would rather buy a new one than repair an old one.

So there you have it.

The things I don’t do.

No regrets.

No guilt.

Just no.

What things do you just say no to?

~AF

Why Reunification Matters

It’s what everyone wants to know.

Where is his family?

Why is she in foster care?

Doesn’t anyone love them?

How could a mother or father abandon their child?

I can see it in their eyes.

Pity, judgment and confusion.

“They’re better off with you,” they say.

“I don’t understand how a mother could do that.”

“Doesn’t that scare you?”

I wish I could show them the other side of the story.

I wish I could describe to them the struggles of growing up surrounded by addiction, poverty and domestic violence.

I wish I could capture the joy on my foster child’s face as they run into the open arms of their mommy.

I wish I could show them how he cries every time he has to say goodbye to his Daddy, and the way his daddy has to turn away blinking back his own tears as we walk out the door.

I wish I could show you the bags and bags of clothing Mom has given me or the toys Dad brings…their desperate attempt to try to fix things.

I wish I could show you the pain I see in their eyes and the longing for some understanding.

 

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The amazing thing about love is that it thrives even in the most unlikely environments.  Even surrounded by chaos, it takes root deep within hearts.  When yanked up, it bleeds out pain and raw anger at the injustice of it all.

You would be surprised to know that most parents of foster kids are a lot like you and I.  Moms and Dads who love their kids.

Sometimes love is not enough.

Love isn’t always enough to conquer addictions and poverty.

Love isn’t always enough to change the trajectory passed down through generations of abuse and loss.

Love isn’t always enough to heal the wounds of abandonment and rejection.

So much grace is needed to see past the behaviours to the cause.

For a parent who is at the end of their rope, social support programs are sometimes enough to pull the pieces together.

If  you know you are out of options, you will be willing to try almost anything.

But it takes a lot of courage to accept that someone else might know how to raise your children better than you.

It takes a lot of discipline to tear apart the fabric of your life and try to implement completely foreign patterns and habits into it.

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I don’t know many parents who would react well to being told:

“You don’t know what is best for your child.”

“You need help raising your child.”

“You need to change major things about your life to be allowed to continue raising your child.”

“You need to move.”

“You need to break up with your partner.”

“You need to attend support groups once a week.”

We ask big things of these parents.

And we are right to…but it doesn’t make it easy and it’s important that we understand what we are asking.

From their perspective, they often feel someone is trying to rip apart their family and ruin their lives.

It’s hard not to feel attacked and lash back in destructive ways.

But under all that, most of these parents love their kids desperately and just need some support to pull together the pieces of a life that has disappointed, wounded, ensnared and deceived.

We often make the mistake of setting unreasonable goals for these parents.

We want instant results.

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But real progress usually happens over time, with lots of support, plenty of chances and grace.

Sometimes the children will suffer during the interim…as they wait for their parents to become healthy enough to parent…and this feels unfair.

But I’m beginning to see that it’s so important that we don’t rush things.

At the end of this story, I want to be able to look that child in the eye and tell them I did everything I could to help salvage their family.

It’s so important that we, the foster parents, are the ones there to offer grace and let these moms and dads know that someone is in their corner.

I am still working at becoming this kind of foster parent.

They are often intimidated, frightened and bitter when they meet us…so it’s a big shift to show them that we are not the enemy.

But if we can…

Well…we might just be able to be the babysitter they call when that little one returns home.

We might just be that friend they text, send photos and vent to on a difficult day.

We might just be that ongoing support that every parent needs through the long days of parenting.

We might just get beach days and walks and playdates at the park.

We might never hear from them again, except to watch them grow from afar on social media, their eyes alight with happiness through the camera lens…

and in that moment…

even when it’s obvious that not all is perfect…

we will know it is right and good.

God came up with this perfect design and called it a family.

The blood bonds that run through our veins are powerful and precious and should be fought for fiercely!

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I know¬†that¬†it doesn’t always work.

And I know that it’s a bloody, awful mess in the process.

But if it works…

well…

if it works…

we have just done something extraordinarily beautiful.

It’s called redemption.

~AF

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May 10th

I wake before dawn, my son’s cries prompting me to stumble out of bed and down the stairs to where he cries in the darkened kitchen.¬† He’s looking for his Daddy but it’s too early so I scoop him up and carry him close to my heart back up the stairs.

I wipe his tears and his nose, get him a drink, and then tuck him back into bed next to his love bunny.

“Goodnight, Babe.¬† I’ll see you in the morning.¬† Mommy loves you.”

Back in bed I climb between the cool sheets, but now I’m awake and the birds are chirping and it’s May 10th.

May 10th.

A year ago today my 18 month old son fell off the back of a pickup truck.

My husband and I did all the things you do.  We watched for drowsiness, nausea, vomiting, disorientation, swelling on the skull, lack of balance.

He seemed fine.

It was evening so we kept him up an extra hour or two and woke him every two hours through the night.  Each time he responded appropriately and by morning we were less concerned.

He had a doctor’s appointment scheduled for the following day–his 18 month check up and immunizations.¬† I took him in, deciding I would mention the fall he’d had last evening to the doctor just to¬† be on the safe side.¬† I could feel a bit of swelling over his left ear, and he reacted to some slight pressure, but otherwise was his normal happy self.

When the nurse called us in she felt the bump on his head and said she’d mention it to the doctor.¬† We looked at the 18 month developmental goals.¬† His speech was on the low side of average but I wasn’t worried.¬† Kids are all so different and I hate the way we put them all in categories so early in life.¬† His head circumference was on the larger side and I joked about my husband’s genes producing large heads.¬† He had two routine immunizations, which he handled well.

When the doctor came in to see us she agreed there were no concerns about development at this point but said she was going to send us for a skull x-ray just to be on the safe side with his head injury.

“I’m probably going to regret this because if they see anything at all they’ll want you to get a CT scan as well but I’m going to do it anyway, just to be safe.¬† We don’t want to miss anything,” she said.

I reluctantly agreed and we left with the x-ray requisition.

I had been through x-rays and CT scans and MRI’s before with an infant we fostered so I was not looking forward to putting my shy little boy through the process of an x-ray.¬† I knew from experience the contraption they strapped tiny people into for an x-ray looked more like a medieval torture device than modern medicine.¬† The worst part was that because the x-ray emits strong radiation waves, I was not allowed to stay inside the room with him.

I called my husband and let him know what was going on, irritation in my voice.  I was frustrated that we had to put our son through this when it seemed that he was fine.

I went to the hospital as quickly as possible and they conducted the x-ray, promising they would send the results to my doctor who would call me to let me know what they revealed

By the time we got home we were both tired and hungry.  I made lunch and tucked him in for his nap.

I had barely got back down the stairs when the phone rang and my doctor’s name flashed up on the screen.

“I’m sorry, they saw a small fracture so they’d like to do a CT scan,” she said, her voice apologetic.¬† She didn’t sound worried, and reassured me it was probably minor but that they had to be extra cautious with head injuries.

I grudgingly woke my son from his very short nap and called my husband again with the news.  By now I had let the frustration seep in and I felt like crying.

It had been a long day already and it was just past noon.

Immunizations, a skull x-ray and now a CT scan yet too.

We headed back to the hospital.

I felt horrible.

We were both grumpy and tired.

What did a fracture on a toddler’s head mean, anyway?

What have I done?

At the hospital the doctor reassured me it didn’t appear to be anything serious and gave him some sedation to help him stay still through the CT scan.¬† It was a relief to have him sedated for the CT so that I wouldn’t have to listen to his fearful cries as we strapped him to the table and I stepped outside the room.¬† It also gave him a chance to get some much needed sleep.

It was approaching dinner time and all I wanted was to be at home with my family.

Back in the ER unit across from the nurses’ station we waited some more, me trying to keep my son from falling and hitting his head yet again as he drowsily came out of sedation and tried to crawl off my lap.¬† He was tipsy and clumsy and I had to laugh watching him as I tried to restrain his movements to keep him safe.¬† Freezies and juice helped move the sedation through his body and reorient his senses.

I had no idea that day how often we would do this in the following months.

I kept my eyes and ears on the doctor as he came and went from the station across the hall.  I tried not to let the niggling fear creep in as I watched him studying the computer screen and talking in low tones on the phone.

I sent messages to my sisters and mother-in-law on our family chat group, letting them know where we were and why.  They promised to pray and sent hugs and kisses.  By 5pm my mother-in-law let us all know that they, too, were sitting in an ER room as my father-in-law had broken his wrist at work!

We laughed at the irony.

Finally the doctor reappeared and I sat up eagerly, waiting for answers and hoping he would be discharging us soon.

Now, I would be able to recognize the signs that something was wrong;

The vague explanations, the carefully side-stepped questions…

We might need to be sent to Orillia, the nearest paediatric centre, by ambulance for monitoring over night.

Did I have someone who could bring me some clothes and essentials?

I called my husband and updated him, asking him to pack a bag of things.¬† I wished he were here, and we discussed who should go and who should stay with the other kids.¬† Both of us felt frustrated and anxious and our conversation was short and stilted.¬† I didn’t want to go…I was scared.¬† But I certainly didn’t want to stay home while my baby went either!

He promised to bring me some things when I heard more and we hung up.

The next time the doctor reappeared his eyes held concern,

“Is there someone coming to bring you some things?¬† You will definitely be going to either Orillia or Toronto Sick Kids tonight.”

Sick Kids?

My heart dropped and I felt terror course through me for a brief second until I forced it down.

Sick Kids was not for minor falls.

Sick Kids was not for a small fracture or bruise.

“Is everything ok?” I forced out the words calmly, though my mind was screaming them.

He looked at me and said, “Why don’t we wait until your husband arrives and I will explain everything to you both.”

I knew.

Looking back now, I can see that in that moment something resonated.

Everything was not ok.

This time on the phone my voice broke and I pleaded, “Please come now.¬† They’re talking about sending us to Sick Kids!”

We both knew something had changed.

When he arrived the doctor came to us and pulled the curtain closed behind him.

I don’t remember the conversation except this.

Brain tumor.

Our son; our beautiful baby boy…had a brain tumor.

When they took a CT scan to examine the fracture more closely, they could see it.  A huge dark shadow on his brain.

It took a complete reorientation to realize that this fall, this minor fracture, was the least of our worries.

Our son’s life was in danger.¬† Not because he fell four feet onto concrete…but because he had a massive tumor growing inside his brain.

It wouldn’t be til almost a year later, sitting across from my counsellor with tears rolling down my cheeks, that she would help me see it.

“You know, He wanted you to know.”

We could see it faintly…the blessing in the fall…and spoke it.

But to hear the words, He wanted you to know.

He wanted to save your son.

Life.

When the doctor left with sincere, hushed apologies and a promise to return with more details of transportation soon, we crossed the distance between us and clung to each other, our son held between us.

We tried to process our new reality.

Details emerged.

We’d be transferred by air to Sick Kids by the ORNGE Medics team.¬† They’d be there to pick us up in an hour or less.

It is the little moments that I remember:

The numbness that took over my body as we went through the next hour waiting for the helicopter to arrive.

The way I collapsed in tears into my friend’s arms when she found me at the hospital just before we left, her shift just beginning.¬† Her words, “It’s going to be ok.¬† They can treat this.”¬† And the news of her pregnancy; a light in the middle of the darkness closing in.

The way the chopper blades cast a whirlwind on us as we approached in the dusk, whipping my hair and carrying my son’s frightened cries up into the sky.

The utter confusion I felt when they asked, “When is the first time you were told his head was larger than normal?”

Were we supposed to notice it?

All the times he’d ever cried inconsolably or been sick or hurt came rushing back.

Should I have known? 

Would another mother have known?

The way all of life seemed to hold its breath as we lifted up into the night sky.  I looked down on the bright lights below; at my son fallen into an exhausted sleep on the stretcher and the medics sitting quietly opposite me in the dark.  I heard the words almost audibly.

Steadfast Love.

They held me in that moment of terror and brought a quiet peace I cannot explain.

Over the next twelve hours they told us more.

They told us our son’s tumor had probably been there since birth, steadily growing.

It was shocking in the worst of ways.

I felt helpless and betrayed.

Robbed of my innocence.

So where was God?

Where was He when my son was diagnosed with a brain tumor?

Where was He when a hundred needles were poked through his smooth baby skin?

Where was He when we had to hand our son over to a scrub-clad OR nurse and watch them take him away from us, his cries causing sobs to tumble from our chests.

Where was He when our son’s IV line slipped out of his vein and sat unnoticed, leaving him without the antiseizure medication he needed and causing his little body to begin seizing every few seconds?

Where was He when we begged for healing for his hydrocephalus but instead he had to undergo yet another surgery to insert a shunt?  A shunt that causes other complications and dangers.

Why didn’t God heal our son when we asked him to?

Why him?

Why us?

***

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:
Who is this that darkens my counsel by words without knowledge?
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Who shut the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds it’s garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, “Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed?”
What is the way to the place where the light is distributed, or where the east wind is scattered upon the earth?
Who has put wisdom in the inward parts or given understanding to the mind?
Who provides the raven its prey, when its young ones cry to God for help, and wander about for lack of food?
Do you give the horse his might?  Do you clothe his neck with a mane?  Do you make him leap like the locust?  His majestic snorting is terrifying.  He paws the valley and exults in his strength; he goes out to meet the weapons.  He laughs at fear and is not dismayed; he does not turn back from the sword.
Is it by your understanding that the hawks soars and spreads his wings toward the south?  Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up and makes his nest on high?
Will you even put me in the wrong? 
Will you condemn me that you may be in the right? 
Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like this?
Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine.
Who is then he who can stand before me?
Then Job answered the Lord and said:
“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.¬† I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.¬† I repent.”
(Job 38-42 excerpts)

***

And I fall to my knees in worship.

Because He was right there.

He was¬†right there¬†through 18 blissfully naive months as a monster grew inside my baby’s brain.

He was¬†right there¬†when we turned our backs for a second…and he fell four feet down onto concrete.

He was right there when our doctor sent us for a skull x-ray, just to be on the safe side.

He was right there when the very same day that our son was diagnosed, my father-in-law broke his wrist at work, leaving him without work responsibilities for 6-8 weeks.  Instead he was busy caring for our two daughters and us.

He was¬†right there¬†when the surgeon smiled and said, “It went better than I could have expected.¬† We got it all.”

He was¬†right there¬†when my gut prompted me to go to the nurse and say, “I’m sorry, I know I am probably just being paranoid but I feel like something is wrong.”

He was right there in that chopper, breathing words of peace into my terror.

He was¬†right there¬†for weeks before our son’s fall, drawing me back again and again to the words in the Psalms…steadfast love.

He was¬†right there¬†when we heard the words…benign.¬† No cancer.¬† No further treatment.¬† Low probability of recurrence.¬† “I don’t see why he shouldn’t make a full recovery.”

He was there.

He was our Shield.

Our Protector.

Our Light in the darkness.

Our Hope.

I still don’t have answers to the why’s, but they become less important when I see His sheer Greatness and my own smallness.

Suddenly, I don’t expect to understand.

Instead, the why’s turn to why not’s.

Why not us?

As I look around the crowded dining room at the Ronald McDonald Charity House, smiling at the now familiar faces.  She bounces over, eyes shining and bright despite the fact that she and her family have been here for months now while her little sister fights the disease ravaging her body.  This room is one of the most beautiful displays of joy amidst pain, generosity amidst difficulty and hope amidst darkness.

The reality is that every one of us is dying.

The world is broken and so are we.

Sin cast its dark spell and we are all vulnerable to it’s snare.

Today, on May 10th, I watch my son giggle alongside his foster brother — two tow-headed boys covered in sand and water.

Today, I watch him chatter to himself, copying his big sisters’ words and tones.¬† For months he was oh so quiet and I feared he would never speak again.¬† But the words keep coming faster and faster.

Today he roars at me while sitting on the toilet, my little lion, and giggles uncontrollably when I cover my eyes in mock terror.  Potty training and copying his favourite story book.

I watch him run across the yard, one foot landing a little harder than the other despite the physiotherapy we’ve done.¬† It doesn’t make me fearful…instead it makes me smile and feel oh so grateful.

I track his fluids and we go get bloodwork done at the clinic.  As I pull into the parking lot I explain,

“We have to do a little pokey and then all done.”

He looks at me with wide eyes and points to his arm.

“Po?”

I smile and nod.

There is no fear as we go inside, take off his jacket and sit down across from the elderly couple.¬† I’ve never seen another child here.

He is a calm and adorable as we take our place and the nurse holds his arm.

After a few tears he is happy again and proudly carries his stickers outside.

Today I am not scared.

I am not angry.

I am not sad.

Did God heal my son?

Yes and no.

He will most likely have a shunt for the rest of his life.  He is still developmentally delayed and may suffer from learning disabilities as he grows older due to the trauma in his brain.  He has low sodium levels for a reason we are not sure of at the moment but that are moderated with a fluid restriction.  We do not yet know if he will need antiseizure medication long term.  He is still enrolled in three therapy programs; speech and language therapy, occupational therapy and physiotherapy.

But today I am just grateful.

Because I have my son, and in the last year I have seen my world shift on it’s axis, spin out of control and right itself up inside my Father’s strong grasp.

It’s hard to imagine how life can become more clear, more precious, more meaningful…until it does.

I don’t wish all this away.

I can no longer remember what it was like before.

I know I can’t protect my son…and that brings sweet relief instead of fear.

I know I can’t control my life by doing it all right — my two little boys are a testament to that.¬† One I protected fiercely from the minute I knew of his fragile existence in my womb.¬† He was given every advantage and still a massive tumor grew in his brain.

The other faced adversity and fought for survival from the second he came into being…yet he is happy, healthy and brilliant as he shows my son how to build a tower and “reads” him their favourite story.

Why did my son have to suffer?

I don’t know.

I don’t have all the answers and I cannot argue theologically through the why’s of suffering.

I just know that I have a good, good Father.

He is real,

He is good,

I believe

and I am grateful.

I can’t question the God I believe in because it is He who has sustained me, healed me, rescued me, and breathed hope into my terror.

He created a million galaxies in a single breath.

***

It’s getting light outside now, and my hand cramps on the pen.

I set my notebook on the night table and curl up to wait for the inevitable pit PAT pit PAT of my son’s sleepy, uneven stride across the hall.

It’s May 10th

But I feel peaceful, grateful and humbled by the love of my God.

-AF

 

What I Didn’t Know Before Adopting

There are a lot of things I didn’t know before adopting.

I love that God protects us from too much knowledge.

Out of His love he gives us just what we need to take the next steps.

Too little and we’d be stumbling around in the dark in confusion.

Too much and we’d be overwhelmed by the magnitude of it all.

I didn’t know that sometimes I would wonder what my life would be like if we had not chosen adoption as a way to build our family.

I didn’t know that I would be jealous of the natural bond between my friends and their children.¬† Healthy, established, natural-as-breathing bonds.

I didn’t know that I would feel guilty sometimes.¬† Guilty for being the one these children call Mommy, the one they run to, cry to and love so unconditionally.

I didn’t know that my worldview would shift to encompass the pain, trauma and injustice of my children’s early life…and that sometimes this would leave me feeling a little numb.

I didn’t know that sometimes I would feel all alone in this…like when people talk about what their kids were like as babies, how they have friends over to play or how great they are doing in school.

I didn’t know that sometimes I would be angry with the world, the church, the school, the neighbours, my family…for not understanding my children…or me.

I didn’t know that at times I would forget all about adoption and foster care, until someone comments on how tall my daughter is, how young I look to have a preteen or how busy I must be with all those children!

I didn’t know how personally I would take my children’s birth stories and how deeply I would love their biological families.

I didn’t know that our social worker would become one of my favourite people, and one of the people I would feel safest with.¬† I didn’t know I would consider her a friend and look forward to her phone calls and visits.

I didn’t know how grateful I would feel towards the people who invest in our children’s lives, whether for a week or a lifetime.¬† The people who throw their hearts into loving my children bless me in the deepest way possible.¬† I am so thankful to have family and friends who have literally dropped everything to be present in our lives and help us care for these children.

I didn’t know how proud I would be to be called Mommy by my daughter or how humbled I would be when she curls up by my side and says she missed me today.

I didn’t know that I would become a homeschooling mom for a while…and love it.

I didn’t know that I would be the one sitting in a counselling office and across the table from a therapist, instead of my child.

I didn’t know that even after three years of living in our home, my children would not always feel safe, and that I would not be able to fix that.

I didn’t know that love alone is not enough.

I didn’t know that choosing adoption in some ways meant choosing isolation.

I didn’t know that I would need a whole new toolbox sometimes for parenting and that I would learn to constantly read my children’s body language and behaviours instinctively.

I didn’t know that I would sometimes wonder if my children were really with the right parents.

I didn’t realize how much time and energy I would spend advocating for my children and how often I would feel misunderstood as a parent.

I didn’t know how many things would become insignificant in life.

I didn’t know how much grace I would need on a daily basis to do this parenting thing.

I didn’t know how many new people I would meet because of adoption.

I didn’t know just how much I did not yet know!

And for that I am grateful.

But for all that…knowing it now…still I will choose this again.

~AF