So I wasn’t even going to make this a real blog entry but here we are. Because I should be doing something for the class I’m taking but I’m too depressed and scattered. I keep switching tabs, type a sentence here, type a sentence there.
Last year there was a little floral dress at Baby Gap and I loved it and I wanted it for my daughter and I looked at it all the time, and then it went on sale or I had a coupon code or I was anxious over foster care and binging on children’s clothing, and I bought it. As an adult, I was in love with it, because it was just the perfect, most magical little dress ever.
It came in the mail and my then two year old daughter grabbed it, hugged it, and exclaimed with the utmost sincerity, like some kind of inspirational film, “THANK you, Mama!” It was like watching some poor homeless child who had never had nice things get a dress. (For perspective, she had and has more dresses than she could wear in her closet).
I’ve never pushed or prompted manners at all and my children have become spontaneously polite, thank you for everything, over and over and over. I cannot buy them something without hearing about it.
“THANK YOU FOR MY BOOK, MAMA.”
“THANK YOU FOR GETTING MACARONI AND CHEESE.”
“THANK YOU FOR TAKING ME TO THE ZOO.”
It is precious and sincere and it sounds entirely too saccharine, but it is true. They say it to each other. “Oh, thank you, sister!” …and they call each other sister and brother and now we sound like some kind of weird cult. They’re toddlers, it isn’t weird in real life but typed out it looks odd. I honestly don’t know why they are so polite, except I think they are truly very sweet, and I think they are kind. And I try, and often fail, but I think I do genuinely model some of it. I thank them for helping me out or for handing me things.
So on one hand, I am super proud, and this is certainly not something to complain about. On the other hand, though, I get weirded out by the potential for anyone to connect it to some weird and dramatic projected foster care narrative, or some “adopted children should be grateful” trope. They are not effusively polite due to deprivation. (This is not what deprivation looks like). They are not needy, they are not (and were not) oh those poor foster kids because honestly, at that point? I had them and we were a family and I was drowning my sorrows in Carter’s. And yes, foster care is hellish, but they were not lacking for parenting or love because, you know what, I was parenting them and loving them. I was declining Christmas gifts because there are children in foster care that actually need them and mine were getting literal vanloads of toys between me, my parents and grandparents and their birth family.
So this is my PSA, if they thank you for a straw wrapper, or a single piece of tape, or some other weird bit of debris, it isn’t because OH THOSE POOR CHILDREN ADOPTED FROM FOSTER CARE, LOOK HOW GRATEFUL THEY ARE, it is because they are insanely polite for reasons I haven’t fully figured out and they take immense joy from practically everything.
THE STRUGGLE, LET ME COMPLAIN ABOUT IT MORE. MY KIDS SAY THANK YOU AND LIFE IS SO HARD.
I was browsing through my sent mail because my sent mail is the closest thing I have to an actual diary, and I just need to apologize publicly, to everyone involved with the kids’ case, to the internet at large, I AM SORRY ABOUT ALL THE EMAILS. THERE ARE SO MANY. SO, SO MANY.
And I am also VERY SORRY for anyone that ever had to wade through our monthly foster care reports. Monthly foster care reports are the closest thing I have to a baby book and oh my. Actual phrases I wrote:
“Noelle traced an oval and it is a big deal for me, so much of a big deal that apparently I need to spent two full paragraphs talking about my feelings on oval tracing” (AND THEN I DID).
“…in the presence of strangers… I look like I’m exaggerating or like some crazy motor skills pageant mom.”
“looks like Rainbow Brite decorated it, if Rainbow Brite was a hoarder”
“Evaluators telling me how wonderful I am for parenting them as though I had taken in a pack of wild coyotes”
“Speech therapy is still difficult. That is an understatement. Speech therapy is horrible. Our therapist is lovely.”
“Our Help Me Grow… person(?)” – I was questioning her correct title, not her humanity, but that’s not really how it comes across, is it?
“Noah acts out all of Let It Go from Frozen… with more drama than a high school theater production.”
“Trying to figure out what goes on in Noah’s head is a task I am not fully qualified for.”
“He sings Row Row Row Your Boat and correctly applies it to situations.” WHAT EVEN. LIFE SKILLS, WE HAVE THEM.
“For some reason, Noah has been asking me for weeks to go to Meijer, despite the fact that he hates Meijer.”
“The neighbors gave FULL SIZE CANDY BARS which they definitely did not do when I was a child”
I have neither the time nor the interest nor the secondhand embarrassment tolerance today to reread them all progressively but I feel like if you took the first monthly reports and compared them to the last, there would be an exponential increase in CAPSLOCK and non sequiturs. I think for the last ones I initially titled them “The Artist Formerly Known as [Birth Name]”.
I think some part of me was subconsciously, or fully consciously, trying to establish some kind of legacy based on one time I attended a training saying how you needed to provide useful documentation, like don’t just say “this kid is wack” but say what they did, and I took that advice and ran with it to some new place of wanting to earn a spot in some “weirdest statements ever typed in a monthly report” hall of fame.
You don’t have to be perfect to be a perfect parent. I am living proof.
This post started as a comment on Janet Lansbury’s blog post, The Most Powerful Way To Love A Child. I debated posting it there, then I debated emailing it as she often shares parent feedback on her facebook page. Then I realized I’m paying for webspace I don’t use, and that for so many years, I wanted to tell some of our stories and couldn’t. For the first few months we spent as a family together, this quote and photo were constantly present in my mind. Gradually I forgot. Life got busier and more chaotic and the “honeymoon period” – from my side, not theirs – faded. (Interestingly enough my children never had a “honeymoon” phase, what I got with them from day one was what I have had ever since. I need to state that very clearly now because I think it makes the following story even more meaningful. I also need to state that I don’t think that is normal and that ours is only one single story).
Around the time that I met my children, more specifically when I met my daughter, since we met first, I came across an unattributed quote on the internet, something to the effect of, do your eyes light up when you see your children? I’m not really into unattributed quotes so I searched for the source, which turned out to be Toni Morrison in this video with Oprah:
As usual, the video and actual context is better than the unattributed quote.
The information I got regarding my children before I met them was overwhelming negative and remains shockingly nonrepresentative of who they have shown themselves to be. For both children, I was painted a picture of nonresponsive, avoidant, near feral children. I was told they wouldn’t make eye contact. I was told they ignored adults and purposely (at 15 months!) avoided their name. I was told they screamed for no reason and banged their heads on their cribs. I was handed a plethora of armchair diagnoses as if they were free magnets at the county fair.
Before we met, I had no idea what to expect.
I took the following picture of my daughter within 2 hours of her arrival. It may have been within one hour. It may have been within 45 minutes. I can’t be certain because I can’t pull my phone records from that day without calling AT&T and sitting on hold for a while, and to be honest, it doesn’t really matter that much anymore.
We played peekaboo with the Baby Faces book.
But they don’t make eye contact. They avoids adults. They doesn’t listen when their names are called. They scream for no reason.
(Everything has a reason).
We were essentially strangers. When these photos were taken, I had spent less time with her than I have spent with the guy who repaired my hot water heater.
I have more photos from that weekend and the weekends that followed. Hundreds, if not thousands. I have videos. At first it was unconscious. I was photographing her because it felt completely right and natural. I had had a previous sibling group for respite, the same situation in which I found myself with my children, with my daughter that first weekend. I had only remembered pictures existed on the second or third day. I took a few pictures of those children playing with soap suds in the sink to remember them. That was about all. It was an afterthought. And I loved them as much as I could that weekend. They were my little buddies and I took them to a visit and I missed them. That was what made me realize this could work, because it went from BUT WHY WOULD YOU ENTRUST AN ACTUAL LIVE HUMAN CHILD TO ME?! to hi, I’ve never met you before, guess we’re in this together, come live at my house for a while.
But with my daughter I was taking photos like a mama. It just happened and I didn’t realize it until much later. As we went on, I also began taking them as a meansof amassing an arsenal of evidence. Evidence of what, I wasn’t entirely sure. Evidence of who she was: a beautiful, engaging, funny little girl. She loved to play peekaboo. She exchanged in a playful give and take with me at every turn, feeding me Cheerios, crawling away and turning back for me to chase her, sharing her excitement over toys. I have videos of her hysterical giggle, videos of her attempt to say woof “fffff”, videos of her feeding me Cheerios in the backseat of the car.
It was in the context of all of this that I ran across the Toni Morrison quote. In the midst of Cheerio exchanges, picture taking for some greater purpose I didn’t yet know, and “fffff” at the neighbor’s dog, I found the quote that resonated with me. Does your face light up when you see your child? I think that mine did during those late spring months. I can see it reflected in her eyes. My intention in writing this post isn’t to call anyone out for being a liar, except, you know, if the shoe fits… (as an aside, my son’s didn’t. Fit, that is. He has new shoes now. Lots of them. So many shoes. Tiny shoes, everywhere. I can’t stop buying shoes. Send help).
My intention is now to say this: regardless of what was true or not true, look at her eyes. Look at her eyes.
That’s the difference between your face lighting up and the “critical face” Toni Morrison describes. It’s the response to what Dr. Karyn Purvis refers to as “gentle eyes”. When my daughter was placed in my arms she ducked her head and turned away. Her response was completely appropriate for being handed off to a stranger. I remember in that moment feeling that if that reaction was the extent of our relationship, it would have been enough. I remember feeling a flood of overwhelming love and protectiveness for the child I didn’t yet know. I remember thinking that if she never spoke to me, never responded to me, never looked at me, it would have been enough because I loved her like I have never loved anyone or anything. And I saw her. I held her. I think she knew it. I had no expectation, because I had no idea what to expect. I certainly didn’t expect to feel like I was holding my daughter. Regardless of what was or wasn’t true about what came before, what was true was this: the behaviors that I was told to expect never happened. Not during that weekend. Not during the next. Not during the next six months.
It’s since been two and a half years.
There was behavior. Some of it was not in keeping with my parental ideals of pacifism. But the behavior that I had been told about never happened. The descriptions I was given about both my children were so inaccurate in light of who they are when they – I hope – feel safe and feel loved.
That’s the difference, I hope, of being seen. That’s the difference of “does your face light up.” The children described to me in the paperwork were never the children in front of me. Are they ever? The children described in the paperwork were either a lie, or a textbook example of the human fight, flight, or freeze response. They were children living in extreme stress and fear. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter, because both are equally inaccurate, tragic, and nonrepresentative of who they actually are.
Hello! My name is Sarah. I chose to become a single mom through foster care adoption. I've been at this for a couple years now and am still referring to myself as a new mom because most of the time I have no idea what I'm doing. I'm trying to unlearn a lot of things from working in childcare and the church.
I have two awesome twins, a couple degrees in education and one more on the way, and a lot of opinions.