This morning was glorious because all the kids, all six kids, which means I am including the baby, all the kids actually slept late. Really late. Past 8am late.
I, of course, could not sleep late, because my body is used to being jolted awake by a screaming child just minutes before my peaceful brain would have awakened itself quite nicely.
I didn’t get up, though. I just laid there, relishing it. I didn’t move. I rolled over and faced the baby monitor, where I could watch the lights dance just from her breathing, waiting for the little box to light up like a Christmas tree once she really was awake and started screaming.
Except she didn’t.
So finally I got up, risking all things sane, daring to take a shower while the water was still hot, daring to take a few moments to myself before the kids started needing everything.
It was glorious, I tell you.
I got dressed and came out of the dressing area into the bedroom. I walked across the room to my glasses, and then over by my bed where my “ears” charge at night. Still now, the baby monitor was still. Strangely still, actually, with not even any breathing-lights moving.
I threw my ears on my head (that must sound like some funny English to people who don’t understand cochlear implants), and darted out of the bedroom to head to the baby’s crib. It was one of those moments where I was going to totally regress to naive and hovering mother and wake up the baby just to make sure she was still alive.
That’s when I stopped in my tracks, just as I turned the corner into the living room, because I couldn’t believe what I saw.
All five kids were awake and dressed, sitting on the couch quietly, having already brushed their teeth and their hair.
Who are you, and what have you done with my kids?
They laughed at me, except for the 7 year old girl who reminded me she isn’t my kid.
She won’t ever be. No matter what happens with her case, regardless of whether her parents finish their treatment plan on time or not, she will never belong to us. She will always belong to them. We could love her well, do everything right, and she could get along with us just fine. But she will not ever belong to us. She is cut from a different cloth, made of different material, and determined to resonate to notes we cannot hear. She can be delightful, and she is a creative genius, and most of the time (when we can catch her) we adore her. But she will always, no matter what, belong to her parents. Even if it’s another decade before she ever sees them again.
The new kids? They belong to us like molecules of water. I don’t know what that means, and it’s a mixed up metaphor. But there is something about them that is of the same stuff we are, and something about our connection that clicked from day one like no other kids.
Except the two we might be adopting.
That’s a connection I haven’t dared to write out loud before, and it’s too early to know anything like that about the new kids. But they are the best behaved kids we have ever received, and they are good helpers, and mostly very kind. All three of them together are easier than some of the single kids we have had, and unless they are just on some honeymoon phase that can pop the bubble at any moment, it is like a dream to get kiddos that old for fostering and it be this easy.
Sometimes I stand there, watching them, and wonder how it is even possible this is our story? How is it we all landed together? How is it that we match? How is it we fit together so seamlessly?
It is like the feeling I had when I first saw 5 after receiving his adoption papers. There was something my heart felt, something my spirit knew, that my mind had been trying to block out until it was time. The walls are coming down, maybe already down, and I feel completely in love with that little tyke, even when he is a complete mess and such a handful.
Except he is a mess, and that is terrifying.
We talked about it again this morning, all of us, during our Saturday morning story time. We read Maybe Days and Kids Need to be Safe because our middle boy is really struggling with understanding how the process works and why it is his problem. In the middle of our reading, 5 busted out randomly with his entire narrative of the events that led up to him being brought to us. It was bizarre. I mean, I knew the story, but that is the first time he told it all start to finish, with some details even I had never heard, and I had no idea he remembered it. Of course he does, but I didn’t think about him thinking about it.
Maybe it was me in denial, not wanting to think that was still part of him.
Maybe it was me being motherly-naive, hoping he was healing from all that.
Maybe it was me being selfish, hoping that had never been a part of him.
Except it is, and that’s why he’s here, and that’s how we got him.
So we talked about foster care and adoption this morning, and we talked about what they mean and where in the process each of the kids are and what that means for them and what will maybe happen next and which pieces we know for sure and which pieces we don’t know yet and which pieces we don’t know at all.
That’s when we lightened things up with a construction paper extravaganza. Turns out that ripping paper and cutting out shapes for hours is a good way to slowly release all the cortisol and aggressive juices a kid feels after foster-issues get stirred up and all yucky feeling. We played Christmas music on the old vinyl records while we cut and pasted, learning classic holiday songs and singing and dancing far too much than we should have with scissors in our hands.
But it was good, and they had a blast, and it passed the time, and it kept them happy, and it means we will have tree decorations without me going through mom’s ornaments before I am ready.
I made lunch somewhere in that process, and then got them showered and clean and ready for their day of parties.
The first event was the TSHA holiday party for deaf kids and Emily’s kids, and it was amazing. The kids had a blast going from table to table for different activities, and I enjoyed chatting with my Deaf friends that I see so rarely. My friends finally got to meet my kids, and everyone was so sweet to them (and patient with them) during the party. 5 only ran away once, and I managed to get all the kids’ pictures taken with the Santa that was there. They loved meeting a Deaf Santa, and showed off their mad skillz in sign language just enough to confuse everyone they tried to “talk” to in sign. But it was a memory they will always have, an incredible cultural experience, and very special to me.
We had to leave that party early to drive all the way to attend the nativity at our new ward, where Nathan’s parents attend. This conflict happens every year, where they have this big fancy nativity collection (mom loved it last year, and we spent hours in there, so tonight I went in okay but really couldn’t look around). They also have a musical concert, for which they always want Nathan to play something, but it is at the same time as the TSHA party every year – which for me is the biggest cultural event of the year, and once of only twice a year I get to see my Deaf friends, and so completely non-negotiable. So every year we have this scheduling conflict between TSHA and the nativity event. We made it in time for cookies, though, which is all the kids were worried about – and I did have to remind them that this was not Sunday, so it will not be so exciting with as many cookies once we start coming when it is our new ward.
We left in time to make it all the way back home to our own ward party, excepting as I started driving and realizing how important the careful transition is for these specific kiddos, and how much better they felt after realizing that would be their new church building, I thought maybe they should see the new house, too. So I turned back around, even though it ended up making us late, and drove back to our new house to show the kids. It’s only a few streets away from the stake center there, where our ward meets, and there was just enough light left that the kids could see the house. We still could have made it on time barely, but they were so excited about the house that I let them con me into opening the back gate so they could run through the back yard and check it out. They were so excited, and ran around the way the puppies run around when I first let them out of their crates in the morning.
We did make it to the ward party, just in time to be last in line for food. It was a downhill crash from there, as 5 fell down on the ice, knocking the oldest boy down as well, and it cracked their moods as much as anything. They ate well, but all of them were too full of sugar to sit still or follow directions (worse than usual). 5 was still dressed in his Santa suit from the first party (I have to pick my battles while Nathan was gone). All the other kids wore their new holiday hats in also, and we looked a mess at the fancy party. The primary went up to sing a song, and 5 was right in the middle of them all, in his Santa suit and sticking his tongue out at other kids. I would have been frustrated with him for being naughty, except that once they started singing, he did the whole thing in sign language, all by himself, and it made me cry.
That’s my son, I thought.
During the part where the ward sang together, it was my 7 year olds that got in a fight during the middle of Away in a Manger, tackling each other over some leftover potato casserole. As soon as the final prayer was over, one of the twins came up to tell me which kid was throwing their Santa hat in the air instead of folding her arms, and the other twin came to trump that with how the first twin stole extra cookies during songtime.
Oh, the tattling.
It took me, two home teachers, and four young women, and somebody’s boyfriend (awkward) to get all my kids rounded up after that, and more than 45 minutes to get them all actually loaded into the van.
It’s not usually that hard.
But they were still vibrating from the sugar of their day, after having been stuck at my house in detox all this time, and they were all really just vibrating.
Coming home was not an easy transition to bed, as they had all their gift sacks and stockings from the other parties to go through. This worked out, though, because it meant by the time they were in pajamas and settled down, Nathan’s show in New York was out and he could FaceTime with us for evening prayer and back me up on the whole listen-and-follow-directions thing, with a side of what-are-you-actually-choosing-right-now.
I normally would not overbook a day like today was (and in fact missed a work party last night), but the structured activities of the day kept them organized and playing nice (until the end), while the quick pace of the afternoon helped time to pass for all of us instead of just being stir crazy.
This is important because I wasn’t just pacing for today. I was pacing for until-Nathan-comes-home-again.
I was so grateful today, for Nathan’s parents and our friend Cherokee, and for my friends at all the parties. Each time I found friends that the baby would go to, which gave me time to rest, or to chase the other ones, or to just go to the bathroom finally. At the ward party, our home teachers helped with the boys (and also looked at my broken tooth right there in the cultural hall in front of everyone), their primary teachers all spent some time with them, and friends held the baby while I just collapsed for a moment. I was so grateful, and it really helped me, those small moments of help caring for the kids in such small ways.
It made me sentimental, realizing this was one of the last few times to be here as a part of this ward, and so grateful for the love I have felt there. It was in this ward that I learned what family means, and was loved into loving. It was in this ward that I learned to hear so that I might obey. It was in this ward that I learned to speak so that I might testify. It was in this ward that I learned to be bold in my teaching and diligent in caring for others. It was in this ward that I learned to love and be loved, that I discovered and received Nathan, that I endured my years of grief and celebrated the miracles of life. I am so very grateful. It was in this ward that I grew up, from a mess of a convert to a woman of faith who is also (still) a mess.
I check on the kids, for one last diaper change and to be sure everyone has blankets covering them, and my heart is stirred with a softness that only sleeping children can bring.
Then I get to talk to Nathan, and we say our prayers, and he sends me a picture of our picture. We read the conference talk last year about always having family pictures when traveling, as part of a safety plan and reminder of priorities. When he settles into a new place on his travels and sends me our picture, it makes me feel so special and safe because I know he loves me well.
And that’s the difference. That’s the thing.
It’s not just that he loves me. It’s that he loves me well.