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.