Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Mother's Day

“It’s going to be your first Mother’s Day, isn’t it!” says a friend. 
I should be excited about this, right? I should be thrilled, overwhelmed with joy! But for some reason this “first” Mother’s Day seems a little haunting to me.
Last year I wrote a poem right around this time about how much I longed to be a mother, how I would be a mother no matter what it took. Now I am a mother…a kind of mother, anyway. But what kind of mother am I?
It would be easy for me to go on and on about all the guilty feelings and selfish longings that are burdening my heart, but that’s not really what this post is about.
Today was actually one of those good days. I got dressed and ready before taking the kids to school, met a friend for coffee, did laundry, went to yoga, and chipped away at the to-do list. After school I patiently helped the kids with their homework (the four-year-old is spelling words!), took them to our neighborhood trail where they rode bikes and I jogged, even stopped by the park on the way home and chatted with neighbors. I made dinner (a new recipe!) and let one of the kids help, knowing he was needing some individual attention, needing to feel special, and it worked really well (and so did the new recipe!). We sat around the table as a family, and they all sung my praises, "Mom, you make the best dinners ever!" Then I cleaned it all up, helped with more homework, folded laundry, tended to wounds...aloe for sunburn, cream for a sore bottom, cream for an itchy bug bite, hugs and kisses for ever-hurting, ever-longing hearts. We read two bedtime stories, the boys snuggled close. I could tell they were feeling loved, and so was I.

My life isn’t anything close to a fairy tale, but that kind of sounds like one to me (minus the laundry).

Of course, today was my “day off.” Perhaps my life would be a little more like this if I was a stay at home mom more than one day a week…but probably not, right?
Because there are also all the things I left out of the story…like that I forgot to give the kids their meds this morning, only fed them cereal for breakfast, and barely got them to school on time; that after school the four-year-old’s teacher basically told me she was giving up on him (meds might have helped!), and also gave me a paper that said I needed to buy him black pants, black dress shoes, a straw hat and a red bandanna by this Thursday for pre- pre-k graduation photos (I find myself feeling super annoyed rather than excited about pre-k graduation, and then guilty that I feel that way); that we got report cards today and the nine-year-old is currently failing two major subjects; that today there were plenty of moments when the boys were disrespectful and dishonest and mean, and also when I was short-tempered, impatient, and harsh.
 So…what made it such a "good" day? I don’t know. Maybe it was the lack of stress here in the beginning of a new week, on my “day off,” that allowed me to look on the bright side. Maybe I’m still reaping the fruit of a very recent relaxing vacation. Maybe it’s the beautiful weather.

But what I think I need to learn from today is this, every day there is plenty of good and plenty of bad, and most of the time it’s up to me to choose what makes the day (sometimes there is more pain, sorrow, stress and true tragedy than can be overcome with a positive attitude, I don't want to fail to acknowledge that, but most days...). Furthermore, no matter how much bad there is, no matter how many mistakes I make or how much guilt I feel, or how much I long for something else, there are still plenty of opportunities to mother well, to love well, to be the kind of mother I want to be.
Today someone posted on Facebook one of those little word art sayings, “UNTIL YOU’VE…counted little fingers, counted little toes, held a little hand, kissed a little nose…YOU HAVEN’T KNOWN LOVE.” I have to admit it made me angry (did they really have to put that last line in ALL CAPS!?), but it also might have cured me of my Mother’s Day blues.

Because I HAVE known love. Infatuation with an adorable infant in my arms, no, I haven’t had that privilege, but love, that I know. Love is a choice, an action, a way of being. Love is really hard work.
The “love chapter” in 1 Corinthians was written for the church, for the way we should all relate to one another, but it can also be used as a good guide for what motherly (or any kind of) love is all about.

Love is patient. (This is REALLY hard work!)
Love is kind. (This is tougher than it sounds, much tougher than I thought it would be!)
Love is not envious or boastful or arrogant  or rude.

It does not insist on its own way. (Thankful for “Parenting With Love & Logic” on this one!)
It is not irritable or resentful. (Deep breath…Those are tough ones for me, especially the first, but also the second.)

It does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (I really should meditate every morning on this line alone.)

Love never fails.

This was a proud mommy moment...
I got onto one of the boys for hitting his brother and he went and hid in his room,
pulled out a piece of furniture and hid behind it. I realized he was dealing with
fear from ways he was disciplined in the past, so I stopped being mad and asked
to join him in his hiding place. We built a fort, and then paper airplanes, and the
other brother came to join us. No more anger, no more fear.

This kind of love, this good, hard work never fails. It matters. It makes a difference. It changes those whom you love and it changes you.

I HAVE KNOWN LOVE, gosh darn it! I HAVE LOVED!  And I’m not always good at it, sometimes I’m downright terrible, but there are moments when I love really well.
And there are days like today when I know my boys feel loved because of the work I have done, when my time was well spent, when there were lots of really great loving moments of motherhood.
So here’s what I’m going to do, and I hope all of you mothers will do the same. I’m going to say goodbye to my guilt. I’m going to acknowledge my pain and my longings but not let them have the last word. And this Mother’s Day I am going to allow myself to feel good about the ways I have loved well.
I want to try and hold onto this truth, that love never fails.

I may not always cook delicious dinners, or even cook at all. I may not always feel positive or enjoy the work of motherhood. I may not ever get to be anybody’s “real” mom. I may not get to mother the children I’m mothering now forever. I may not ever feel the certainty I desire about who my children should be. I may not be the baking, carpooling, party-throwing, volunteering, super soccer mom I always thought I would be...and I may NEVER finish the laundry.
But every moment that I love is a moment of success. Every act of unconditional, intentional love is something to be proud of, and when I look at it that way it’s clear I do have much to celebrate on this “first Mother’s Day.”

And also much to aspire to.
“It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”



Monday, April 8, 2013

Bracing for the Storm

I think I said, "I love you guys!" four different times as the boys were getting out of the car this morning and heading into school. They have no idea what this day is going to hold, but I do. When I pick them up from school today I will have to tell them.

Today they will say goodbye to their mother.

Three months ago she signed the papers to terminate her parental rights, but she had bargained in three extra visits, stretched out over three months, one of which she didn't show up to, the last of which is today.

Today she will explain to them, or at least try, why she made the decision to terminate her rights, and they will be told that they will not be seeing her anymore.

I am glad for this end of the roller coaster that monthly visits have kept us on (making progress with emotional issues and behavior and then everything falling apart again as they encounter another painful reminder of their former life), but the feelings of sadness are far greater.

I can't imagine how this mother must feel. This sounds crazy considering what she has done but I will be proud of her if she makes it today. A woman who continues to battle addiction, who hasn't found a way out of the violent, drug-filled, poverty-stricken life she was born into, now has decided to give her three boys a better chance. And today she has to look into their eyes and tell them goodbye.

The boys will handle the news differently. Joe will be sad, and hurt, but relieved at the same time. I anticipate he will feel some sense of freedom, no longer having any worries that he will have to go back and endure the abuse of his early childhood. But at the same time I'm sure there will be feelings of abandonment and loss. It will be like a death, in a way, and he will have to mourn the loss of this mother who didn't show him love him the way she should have. Oh, our dear, sweet Joe. It amazes me how sweet and nurturing this boy can be when he wasn't given an ounce of the love and nurture ne needed and deserved.

And Michael, well, Michael will be heartbroken tonight and for quite a while. He will be angry, too. He won't understand why. At four years old, he just can't. He will feel confused, frustrated, abandoned, and I fear he will be overcome with sadness. Michael is already struggling with these emotions in his current situation, not understanding why he can't see his mom more often, why he can't live with his other brother, feeling torn between that family and this one. Last week he was sent home from school because he bit a child over a toy he wanted and the day before he slapped a little girl in the face.  He already has so much anger and aggression and sadness inside, and today his mother is going to say goodbye. She's going to leave him. And as much as I will hold him and hug him and love him, I won't ever be able to take her place, not completely. He will always be a boy who lost his mother.

John and I are bracing ourselves for the storm that is about to set in over our household, and we have no idea how long it's going to take for it to pass. The last 8 months of our lives have been crazy and overwhelming and so much harder than we could have ever imagined, and we're pretty sure it's about to get a whole lot worse.

We would appreciate your prayers, today and throughout the next couple of weeks, for the boys, of course, that God would protect their hearts as much as possible and comfort them and bring them peace and healing. But also for John and I, that God would enable us to love unconditionally, to be patient and kind and gentle, to know what to say and how to say it, and for the strength to give ourselves completely to the care and nurture of these broken little boys.

Lord, have mercy. Let the storm pass quickly and give us the strength to endure it.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A Day to Remember

Today was a good day, but I have to admit, I didn't expect it to be.

When you thrust yourself into parenthood as John and I did, going from being a busy couple with very demanding full time jobs to exactly that with no changes plus two kids ages four and nine, overnight...well, it makes you a little bit crazy.

It's kind of like we've been in overdrive for the last five months.

Eventually, you realize that something's gotta give. But we're still not sure exactly what, or how.

As a full time pastor who has not yet figured out how to do my job well with the thirty five kid-free hours I have to work with each week, thanks to the public education system (and that's best case scenario...as long is there is no doctor/psychiatrist/dental visit, suspension, illness, therapist phone call, or foster agency paperwork to do)...I tend to have negative feelings about days off from school.

And then I feel guilty for having those negative feelings, and so it just gets worse.

This particular school holiday I was feeling even more guilty because on top of the issues mentioned above, I had made no plans to adequately celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

I looked into the service opportunities I could find online and nothing looked quite kid-friendly enough. I thought about organizing a project with my church, or going and doing something with the kids at the apartment complex where our church meets, or even just organizing a breakfast and inviting people to come and share a meal together. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I didn't have a single ounce of energy to give.

What I ultimately decided to do was to simply take the day off of work, not to write any work emails or do any studying or planning, and to just let the day go and spend it with the kids. I made pancakes and eggs for breakfast, did laundry, went to the park, played, carried, hugged, snuggled, broke up fights, managed meltdowns, and had some good conversations. We drove out to Fort Worth for bowling with one grandma and dinner with another, then came home and watched a movie as a family.

It was a good day, much because my focus was not on my work, not on my productivity or lack thereof, not on myself or my feelings or desires, but on the boys. And it wasn't even about teaching them something, taking them to some great place, creating an experience to remember, or doing some kind of super-mom Pinterest project. What little energy I had (and there really wasn't much) was simply put into loving and caring for M and J.

As the day came to a close I began to think...maybe giving what little I had to M and J today was a legitimate way to celebrate what this day is all about. Maybe, at least for today, the service involved in loving and caring for two children who are not really my own, but certainly have the right to be loved and cared for, was enough.

Just a week ago the boys' mother made the decision to relinquish (give up) her parental rights. The papers are signed and the judge has made it official. M and J and their brother W are now legally parent-less, officially wards of the state, orphans.

John and I are supposed to be happy about this, because we're supposed to want M and J to become our forever children, to adopt them as our own, and this makes that possible. But its just not that simple. Happiness has not been our loudest and fullest emotion this week. Instead, we have felt mostly angry, frustrated, tired, and afraid.

We are heartbroken for the boys, boys who have and do and always will love their biological mother, who will forever be missing her presence in their lives and the assurance of her love for them. Last Monday we watched as this broken woman, trying desperately to declare her love for her kids on the same day she signed away her parental rights, visited with the boys. She showered them with gifts, took pictures, fed them candy and juice, and for the last ten minutes of the visit she held and rocked little M and cried on his shoulder. It may have been the most uncomfortable, maddening hour of our lives as we watched all of this take place through a two-way mirror.

There will be three more visits like this, each a month apart, the last being the "goodbye" visit during which their mother will tell them about the decision she has made and why. Until then, and probably for a good amount of time after, they will continue to live in limbo between the alternative realities of the family they once knew and the daily lives they now live, two different and competing realities of who and what is their family.

So John and I, in addition to our anger and sadness for the boys, are frustrated and tired because we're living through the effects this situation has on them, which include all kinds of emotional instability and troubled behavior. We're doing the ridiculously hard work of caring for them and loving them in the midst of all of this...and we're still trying to do all the things we used to do before they were in our lives. And when we can't, or when we can't do those things well, emotions of guilt and frustration abound.

And that, I think, is why today was such a good day, because I was able, somehow, to just live in the moment, to forget the rest and just remember M and J.

M is funny and forgivng, so full of love and eager for affection, a great hugger and a happy snuggler. Sometimes I forget.

J is open-minded, eager to learn and try new things, and comes alive when he's given just a small amount of loving attention. Sometimes I forget.

They are such awesome kids, with great needs, and great potential, and they have come so far. To have them and to love them is a gift. Sometimes I forget.

But today, with no school or work, no teachers or therapists, no events or distractions, today was a day to remember. Today was a good day.