I'm not gonna say it's not what I thought it would be. I'm just gonna say it's a whole lot harder than I expected. (Warning: I swear a lot).
The Lesbian Shoe-ins
If you've read any of our other posts, you might have gathered that we thought we were foster parent shoe-ins. Like, this is what we were made to do. Our whole lives, as individuals, then as a couple, moving in a direction that culminated in THIS; Foster. Parenting. Which is why it's a little devastating to feel like I'm drowning in it.
Back in January, a dear friend of mine, and the birth mother of 3 girls, wrote to me & shared the following: "Know what word I associate with parenting? Surrender. Even more than sacrifice, even more than dozens of other words...it's a complete letting go of yourself and your world to enter that of another, and to completely meet that person where they are, needs and wants and history and future and all. And in the midst, realizing how much you can give of yourself, how much you can do without, how resourceful you can be, how moved and awed by another. It's like falling in love, but even more epic, because without choice, those littles have already surrendered to us...they trust us. They believe that they are wanted by someone (you), and they hope that that someone will take the same leap and cherish them and surrender to them right back. Holding hands and walking the path of childhood together, even when you have to carry their sweet small selves. Even when you're too exhausted to do much else beyond gaze at them and wonder at making it through another day of life."
I remember reading this 3 very long months ago and thinking, yes. THAT. All of it. I reread it often & shared it with my wife, as if it was some secret message we needed to hear frequently. There was empathy, validation, love, maturity, honesty, encouragement, compassion, beauty and real talk all wrapped up in this warm sentiment; surrender. I remember thinking, ok, I can do this. This is normal. This is what people do. This is motherhood.
A bit about me
I was the oldest of 3 from a divorced home. My parents were babies when they had my brothers & I, and my siblings & I were separated from one another in that youthful, blazing divorce. I babysat sloths of my neighborhood kids for money as a young teen. I coached basketball. My first college internship was with teens in a lockdown facility. My first college job was a camp counselor. Obviously I wasn't headed toward chemical engineering or robotics or whatever. Kids! I wanted to take care of them. Especially the really damaged ones. I wanted them to feel like they matter. I wanted to teach them the skills necessary to negotiate the fucked up world they would eventually enter. And. I wanted my own someday.
This is crazy
Fast forward to today. 4+ months solid as full time foster parents, there exists some primal gnawing at my gut, reminding me of what I already know: that I'm stuck. Smashed between two very different worlds. In one corner, busy mourning the life we had without kids and in the other, getting excited about a life with kids. How does one even make the leap to pop-up family?
I wonder about really big things like, what the fuck are we doing? I worry about whether we're ready for the life we've created and the responsibility we've taken on in raising two boys until further notice...or maybe forever. I grieve the life we had before despite loving them so much. I find myself fantasizing about a do-over and saying "no" on that day we got the call for 6 week old Tiny.
I'm in love with these kids. I don't question our capacity to care for them. To love them & help them be the best little humans they can be in this world. I'm in love with my wife, whom, as no surprise, is a wonderful & talented mom. And. Everything is different in this new world. Everything. Most of it is a hard different. If I had to categorize this, here's how it would go:
1. The Small Stuff
No sweat. Barely noticeable on a good day. Like bugs on a windshield in a humid summer drive, innocent until they cloud your vision. Other little things like... how unsafe people drive, how inconsiderate other parents can be, how I never want to be a SAHM, how slow lines move all the time now or or how gross public bathrooms really are (insert plea for universal baby changing stations here). Further, diapers never go into the trash when you shoot them like a basketball. I can't get anything done. The kids are always sick. The dogs have moved beyond shock to mutiny. Something always breaks. I'm behind in everything. I haven't touched my art since Thanksgiving. We still don't have daycare for Tiny. The garbage men always make a mess of our trash, as if we don't already have enough to pick up inside our house, we can trust that even the garbage men are conspiring against us outside our house. Tiny is teething for at least the next year. Both boys never go to sleep at the same time and by the time they do, my wife and I are too tired for time together (see #5). I can't even talk about our cars. Did I mention I'm in the midst of a career change? lol.
Some days this stuff is funny. Some days I just roll my eyes & smile about it. Chalk it up to some humorous higher power just fucking with me because, of course. Obvi everything will go wrong at the same time. When the small stuff stands alone, these things are pretty manageable. Until they're not.
Where to begin. We go through dishes like toilet paper/wipies & the dishwasher has a 50% return on cleanliness. Bottles are made up of 6 parts; the base, the airflow thing, inner top cap, spinny thing that holds it all together, the nipple and the outside cap that keeps it from leaking. 2 bottles equals 12 parts, 3 bottles equals 18 parts & so on. We use 9 bottles. 54 parts.
The dust and dog hair piles up to a radical degree and as luck would have it, both boys seem to be allergic. Despite trimming our own selection of clothing to 'yoga pants' (tight sweatpants for me) and a couple tshirts, our laundry is a round the clock enterprise (shout out to my wife for recently teaching me the concept of going to seed, because she thought my self-esteem could handle it?). Both boys go through at least 3 outfits a day, often soaking linens along the way; laundry is officially the bane of my existence. Then there's the house. One week, our 1st floor flooded because the pipes backed up, the hot water heater shit the bed & our furnace stopped registering accurate temperatures. One week. I actually laughcried. (See: Tom Hanks in the Money Pit). I just cannot.
3. Physical & Psychological Demand
Everything hurts. All of the time. No, really.
4. Co-parenting with the system
One of the hardest things I've ever done. We are opposites. Put every healthy, intuitive thing you can imagine about parenting into a bucket, shake it up, add some of whatever, then scatter it around several cities with the expectation of putting it back together so that it somehow resembles real life: this is what parenting with the system feels like to me. I am most grateful to my wife on this front. She is the face of our family. Articulate & timely, pragmatic & wise, she manages the front end. For this reason & several thousand more, I absolutely adore her.
Probably the biggest one for me. Let's start with how nobody in our life understands what we're A) doing and B) experiencing. Yes, we are real parents. Yes, we are up all throughout the night because both boys have trouble sleeping. Yes, we are sleep deprived & this impacts our job our friendships our routine our relationships our lives. Yes, we begin our evening routine at 5:30pm. Yes, they have siblings who live in another foster home. No, they are not moving in, too. Yes, we really were sick all winter and no opening the windows for fresh air doesn't magically clean out the bugs. We tried. So yeah, there's that. And we have really good people in our lives. They just don't get it. They can't. And I'm not bitter. I'm just frustrated. I'm working on it.
Then there's us. We weren't parents before we started raising kids. Obvious, right? We had a lot of professional experience working with kids and families in the system. We have several nieces & nephews and a handful of friends with kids. We were hotline foster parents, but never long term. We started with nothing and collected along the way. Blankets, bottles, onesies, diapers, car seats, clothes, food, toys, books. Every weekend was a scavenger hunt for quite some time. We scoured mom's lists & craigslist & clearance racks, etc. We did it without help from the state. We also had some awesome friends chip in their old goods like trainer potties, baby gates, diaper genies. It started as an adventure and quickly lost its appeal for me. It was too much, too fast. It happened so quickly that one day we stood up & didn't even recognize our home. Or worse, each other. But only a teeny bit. We've always found our way back to each other. Not nearly enough or for long enough, but we're working on that, too.
You feel me?
I love having the boys in my life. My life is enriched with them in it. I love learning from them & teaching them things. I love bearing witness to their growth. It amazes me like science amazes me. They are a wonder.
I suppose if I'd had more time to prepare things would be different. I suppose maybe that's false hope. I suppose if my body had 9 months of getting ready, and whatever time before that, then perhaps sleep deprivation wouldn't be so severe & I'd manage better overall. I suppose if we only had one of the boys, we wouldn't feel like we're compromising in every aspect of our lives. I just know that this is so hard. Perhaps if I could just surrender, the real beauty in all of this would explode. I suppose only time will tell.
Hollar if you hear me.
Foster mom (the artist)