Baby #2: No Operating Instructions

I introduced baby #1 in June 2017. Baby #2 came to our family in September of 2017. She was much different than baby #1, partly because she wasn’t a baby. She was a thirteen-month-old bundle of energy and destruction and yes, cuteness. The cheeks, the chunky thighs, the poofy pom-pom ponytail that sprouted from the top of her head in a fountain of black curls, were so very different from any of our biological kids or foster baby #1.

She came as an emergency placement in the wee hours of a Friday morning and we knew very little about what she ate, when she slept, or whether or not she had a lovey (she didn’t arrive with one). As the caseworker went over paperwork she sat in my lap, rested her cheek against my chest, and was content to be held.

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It was soon apparent that we had received a child with no operating instructions. She had arrived with only the clothes on her back and a blanket supplied by CPS, a can of formula, and some diapers. We discovered baby #2 loved bananas. And screaming. And opening all drawers and cabinets, and pulling all books from bookshelves and dumping the dog’s food and water and yanking blinds and smacking dogs and picking up anything and everything that wasn’t a toy and putting it in her mouth. Clay and I spent hours following her around and trying to toddler-proof what we thought was a pretty safe house.

 

We knew she was exhausted, and most likely afraid, bewildered, and anxious. So was I. She clung to me and I tried to keep my composure and not break down into tears. Our sweet, quiet home had turned into a disaster zone. Over the next few days it became apparent that while baby #2 was awake, one of us was one hundred percent on duty.

But Baby #2 had no interest in books.

Baby #2 had no interest in stuffed animals except to body slam them to the ground and chew on their noses.

Baby #2 had no interest in sitting still. She crawled or cruised from place to place, stopping only long enough to throw or hit or somehow destroy whatever was in her path.

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she loved pulling everything out of cabinets

Those were the first two days. Hour by hour we began to figure baby #2 out. Clay thought music might help distract her and calm her so he told Alexa to play some jazz. Baby #2’s hand shot up like a conductor and she began to beat perfect time with the rhythm, shaking her hips and shimmying her shoulders. We had made our first breakthrough!

We decided a warm bottle right before bedtime might help her sleep through the night and lo and behold, she slept over twelve hours. We learned that sometimes she just needed to wail in her crib for a while to wind down. We’d give her a few minutes and she’d roll right over and sleep twelve hours. She grew to tolerate, and then love, her bath. She started reaching for Clay, and allowing me to the leave the room without breaking down.

We got baby #2 at an exciting time in her development. She went from cruising along furniture to letting go and taking her first independent steps.

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She went from saying one word (“gog”, everything was “gog,” from the dogs to her cup to Clay), to ba (bottle?), guh-gog (same as gog?), cuh-cuh-cuh (cracker?), and mama. Oh, that one was hard. I was not her mama, but when she was sad she would cry “mama” and reach out for me. And I would take her. Because for a time, hour by hour, I realized I was the mama, in all it’s scary, frustrating, rewarding glory.

She was placed with another family a few weeks after we received her. I sent her onward with a few operating instructions, notes about what she liked to eat, when she slept, and the small victories of learning not to pull the dog’s nose hair.

I have to admit we were a bit shell-shocked, being thrust back into the toddler years, and not just any toddler years but the life and times of a distraught little girl who had been through too much in her short life. It took a Vulfpek concert with Nate and some of his buddies . . .

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A big bag of Larry the Cable Guy Cheeseburger Tater Chips at the airport . . .

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And a trip to visit Alayna, who spent her fall semester abroad in Grenoble, France, plus a giant pot of melted cheese . . .

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to fully recover. What did I learn from this whole experience? Baby #2 reminded me I’m never really in control of my life. She reminded me to delight in small victories like discovering jazz and watching first steps. She reminded me I am flawed. I still have a lot of growing to do, just like baby #2. I am grateful for the reminder, humbled by the experience, and fully re-integrated into “normal” life. Until the next phone call . . .

 

 

 

Baby #1: A Strange New World

We are not allowed to share names or identifiable pictures of the foster children we care for, aren’t allowed to share details about their backgrounds. What I can share is how these tiny bundles of flesh shape and change my family and me personally. How they make us slow down, realign priorities, and inspire us to be better people.

Without further ado, I’d love to introduce you to Baby #1.

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After a lot of prayer and discussion, Clay and I decided we would only foster babies, taking in children ages 0-6 months. We could have these children anywhere from one day to two years, and we weren’t ready to care for children over two. Let’s be honest, I don’t know if we are ready to care for children of any age that aren’t our own. How do you prepare for potential brokenness coming through the door? How do you prepare for the unknown? This will be an exercise in letting go on many levels.

We were officially licensed to foster babies on Friday, May 12, 2017. We were told we may not get a call for months – not many babies in the system recently. That was fine. We were busy with the end of year senior activities, thesis week and graduation, plus Alayna was coming home to intern and Benji needed to practice driving . . . basically, we were busy. There was a crib in our exercise room/library, and a bouncy seat and foldable bassinet shoved behind a chair in our bedroom, but they had blended into the tapestry of graduation gifts and laundry. Fostering a baby had been pushed to the far corners of my mind, something to be dealt with in the summer, once school was out.

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We got a call Monday, May 15th. That’s right, three days after getting our license. I was sitting in a senior’s thesis presentation when I saw our caseworker’s name pop up on my watch. I hit “ignore” and tried to keep listening, but it was impossible. I figured it was most likely a problem with paperwork or something, but the possibility lingered that it could be something more. Indeed, I discovered after listening to her message and then a quick phone call, that there was a baby who needed a home. It happened fast, as it often does. By that evening, Baby #1 was in our home. We were told it was respite, we’d have her no longer than two weeks.

We stepped into the unknown with equal doses of fear and excitement. We had to borrow a car seat. We had to google how much a twelve-week-old baby eats, and how often, but none of our ignorance mattered once I saw her. I swooned as she was lifted from her car seat. She came out in the classic little baby pose, her arms bent by her head, elbows to ears, her legs folded up and her diaper-padded booty sticking out. She had the most darling elf ears you ever did see. They stuck out from her head like little sonars, perfect dishes of pink flesh. She examined the world around her with wide eyes. I could already tell she was exceptionally observant and intelligent.

She was passed from friend to friend in our community those first few days, she was loved well by strangers and marveled at by our family as we hovered over her. But eventually, it got real. When babies are tired, why do they cry? Why can’t they just go to sleep? Apparently, lots of parents have the very same question. They congregate online, everyone asking the same desperate question, bastions of disillusioned parents. She woke up around midnight, again around 4AM, and then she was up for good by 6. Even splitting the shifts between Clay and Alayna and me, it was rough. During the day, she was happy in the same spot for about fifteen minutes and then she wanted moving, or holding, or maybe she wanted to sway and bounce, or we tried going outside, a stroller ride, a car ride.

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Babies require a great deal of attention. I knew this, we were ready to give this, and yet no matter how willing you are, it is still exhausting. We began to wonder if we would be  “one and done,” as in one baby, and call it quits. We were only kind of joking. Don’t get me wrong. We loved her, oh how we loved her. We took dozens of pictures and videos I wish I could post. We lost our minds when she rolled over, tummy to back, for the first time. We laughed uncontrollably, giddy and in love, when she had her first belly laugh. Clay discovered Baby loved rasberries. He made a fool of himself and got the biggest smiles out of her.

Once a week we took Baby to see her biological mom. We gradually learned, from various sources, a little more about Baby’s history. We were asked if we would be willing to have Baby for longer if things didn’t work out. It could be a year, maybe two, if right were terminated and she was adopted. We said yes. We went there. We went beyond babysitters to something more, and then we got a call. It was Wednesday, June 7th, a little more than three weeks after Baby came to live with us. The woman was from CPS.

“Can I pick her up this afternoon?” she asked. I put her on speaker so Clay could hear because I was certain I hadn’t heard right.  “The judge has granted kinship care,” the woman said. “I can be there in a couple hours.”

My stomach dropped. My heart flipped. Major organs rearranged. While Baby napped peacefully in our exercise room/library/nursery, Clay and I cried on the couch. We got it all out. Then we woke up Baby so we could hold her, and play with her, and feed her one more time. We packed bags, did laundry, washed bottles, and by 5PM, she was gone. Whisked into a stranger’s car, gone to live with her aunt.

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By the next afternoon, all the baby stuff had been packed up and put in the attic. Our house was quiet. We slept all night. We got all those things on our lists done. And we scrolled through all those pictures and videos of Baby. We did it. We brought her in, loved her well for as long as she was with us, and we let go. She made us slow down, and it was good. She made us be patient, and it was good. She reminded us that we aren’t really in control, that it’s okay to let go of calendars and to-do lists, and it was very good.

I want to say we are ready for the next call, whenever that call may come. Maybe months. Maybe tomorrow. But I don’t know if you can ever really be ready for the unexpected. You can just be willing to step into the unknown. The world of fostering is a strange new world, but we’re willing to keep stepping for now. Towards Baby #2, and beyond.