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He’s Crying

I’m 33 now.  I don’t think that’s old, but I sure feel old some days.  I never used to wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, but now… sometimes I do.  I figure it’s a little bit of not being as young as I used to be and a little bit of this being a crazy stressful life.

Our foster sons have been with us for about a year and a half now.  S came when he was 6, now he’s 7.  C came before turning 2, now he’s 3.  Something we learned quickly is that these boys can sleep!  Mornings are not their strong suit.  We’d have trouble getting S to wake up before noon at first.  Slowly, he adjusted.

Part of the problem was… he couldn’t get to sleep at night.  Whether it was his routine to stay up stupid late, or whether it was the trauma and the fear from being pulled from one family and placed in another… probably both.  He’d lay in his bed, fidgeting, sometimes going crazy.  Some nights I wonder if he even slept at all.

Trauma sucks.  Broken families suck.  This stuff is hard.  Kids shouldn’t be subject to this.  This is not news.

So, why am I writing here, before the dawn?  It’s 5am, and I have to pee.  No big deal.  I roll out of bed, walk down the hall, do my thing, walk back to bed…

Oh my gosh, that poor kid is laying in his bed, awake, quietly crying.  That’s horrible.  He’s just a little kid.  At 5am, he shouldn’t be crying.  He should be sleeping.  How long has he been up, how long has he been crying, is there any shot he’s going to fall back asleep on his own?  I have no answers to these questions.

I just know it’s 5am and a little boy is crying and that’s not fair.

He’s been with us a year and a half, but he’s moving to a new family tomorrow.  His mom has failed at doing what she needs to do to get him back.  And for a variety of reasons we have decided not to adopt him.  And there are other circumstances that I won’t even hint at hinting at.

Good God that sounds so horrible.  The poor kid.  He’s been through so much at age 7 that no one should ever go through.  Anyway, after 500-some nights sleeping in that bed, tonight will be the last time.  And he knows it.  And he’s scared.  Because OF COURSE he’s scared.

I haven’t been the best dad to him that I could be.  I wanted to.  But I’ve fallen short.  I yelled at him when I should’ve been patient.  I was too physical with him when he was out of control and misbehaving.  I didn’t hug him enough.  God, that kid wants to be hugged and I didn’t hug him enough.  I tried, but I didn’t try as hard as I should’ve.

Anyway.  Tomorrow morning, we ship out.  And we’re going to leave him and all his stuff at a new house.  New parents.  New school.  And then we’ll come home.  Without him.  And we’ll move on, and we’ll be ok, and he’ll be ok, and God’s in control, and now I’ve been crying for the last 45 minutes too.

And I don’t want to stop crying.  Because crying feels really appropriate.  Because I want this placement to be over, and I want my life back, but it wouldn’t be ok for everything to just suddenly go back to normal and not also feel tons of pain and guilt about all of this.

Because it’s not just the birth parents’ fault.  It’s not just the social services system that has royally fucked up everything.  It’s not just our society’s fault.  It’s not just drugs and sex offenders and the decline of the nuclear family and the ………..

………………………………………..

It’s me.  I failed too.  It’s not just everyone else’s fault.  It’s mine.  No one’s fault but mine.  Not society.  Not television.  Not Adam or Eve.  Me.  I’m responsible for this.

I believe that God is going to make everything right.  I believe He’s doing that.  Even now as that poor boy is crying in his bed before the dawn because he’s scared to have to move again, to start over, to leave another family.  Even now, I believe God is making all things right.  And in the end, I believe all things will be made right.  But right now, I need to focus on me and my role in this.

And I’m so sorry, God.  I’m sorry that I’ve failed.

I’m sorry, little boy, for the pain and the fear and the rejection that I’m guessing you feel right now.  I’m sorry.  I’m sorry for how this is.  I’m sorry for the pain.

This is not how it should be.  God.  Why.  Why does it have to be like this.  I trust you.  But I don’t understand.

I am a proud owner of a Jon Kitna #3 Bengals jersey.  

I’m not ashamed of this.  He’s not a Hall of Famer, but neither were any of his Bengal QB predecessors, nor does it appear will be any of his Bengal QB successors.  He had an undoubtedly better career than Klingler/Akili/Frerotte.  And he is, by all accounts, a quality human being.  And when one’s formative years as a football fan occurred in Cincinnati in the 1990s, a quarterback who didn’t totally suck and was a good guy was someone worth rooting for.

A much thinner version of myself with a much smaller version of The Tobe — this may have been the day of “The Kimo Game”

Of course, Carson Palmer was all the rage near the end of Kitna’s time here, and rightly so.  My little baby boy had a Palmer #9 jersey while still in the womb.  So I asked for (and received) a Kitna jersey for ME, even though we all knew Jon wouldn’t be the starting QB any longer.  Kitna was the older, wiser veteran; Palmer was the younger, unseasoned one with all the potential in the world.  

As the father of a baby wearing a #9 jersey, I thought it was fun and symbolic to wear Kitna’s #3.

The jersey has been hanging in the closet for most of the last 9 years.  Enter random googler Aaron from Washington state:

Long shot here. Do you still have this Jersey? I’d love to take it off your hands. I can’t seem to find one anywhere so I’ve resorted to digging through old forums and blogs. I’ve got a friend who is a big Cincinatti fan, and my store has partnered with Jon Kitna’s charity organization for an event. I’d trying to find a jersey and get it signed for him.

It’s on the way across the country, Aaron.  Hope new owner of the jersey enjoys it.  If you happen to meet Jon, tell him I’d be happy for him to come back to be Cincinnati’s backup QB.

Toby and I are both a little bigger.  And he no longer fits in his baby Carson jersey.

Toby and I are both a little bigger. And he no longer fits in his baby Carson jersey.

Originally written back in 2008, I’m also adding the newest chapter.
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Bill is a throwback. A former Marine, he doesn’t hesitate to confront those punks who have the audacity to wear a baseball cap into church. Bill is always the lone man in the building wearing a suit. In my years in church with Bill, I’ve never seen him without a tie.

In 2004, my church and Bill’s church merged to become one.  The congregation he came from was the one without the “rock band”. I figured it was only a matter of time before he and the other older folks quit coming because of how loud it was.

Bill was easy to not get to know. He didn’t make any effort to get to know me. When he wasn’t being the hat police, he was quiet. He didn’t stand out, even though he was the only one dressed up. 

One thing I did notice was how committed he was to serving communion. At the end of service, he would leave the main room, carry the bread and juice to the Sunday school classes, then backstage for us musicians. He took it farther than any of the other servers. When other servers did deliver outside of the main room, they’d simply hand us the elements.  But Bill, in his deep monotone baritone…

“Jesus on the night he was betrayed took bread broke it and said to his disciples take this all of you and eat…”

After about a year as a merged church, it was decided that communion would no longer be served. If you wanted communion, you’d just go and take it. No big deal, right?
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It took me a while to realize that Bill had lost his ministry. For decades, every Sunday, he served communion. Then, all of a sudden, he didn’t.  One Sunday after service, while his wife was off being a social butterfly, I saw him by himself. I walked up to him and asked if he’d serve me communion.  

It’s like he had been waiting for someone to ask him.

He smiled an I’m-not-supposed-to-let-you-see-me-smile at me and went into his “Jesus on the night he was betrayed…” without missing a beat. I didn’t think much of it, except to think that I probably made his day.  Almost every Sunday since then, Bill has served communion to me.

Now, it makes my day.  
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It was always just “Jesus on the night he was betrayed…” and our time was done. Then, one Sunday, I put my arm around him and prayed, thanking God for the time we share and asking Him to bring us back together again next Sunday so we could do it again. Bill thanked me and held on to my hand for a very long extra couple seconds. 

More time passed, and one Sunday I told him we should go out to dinner… us and our wives. He looked into my eyes and simply said “I would like that very much.”

A few more months passed. One Sunday, before serving handing me the bread, the stoic ol’ Marine simply said “I really enjoy this time we get together.” His comment meant the world to me. I didn’t think 80-something-year-old former Marines were ever trained to talk about their feelings. 

We double-dated on Sunday night (back in November 2008). Bill, Edie, me, Robyn, Toby (a toddler at the time), & Aimee (an infant at the time). LaRosa’s, then back to their place at the retirement village. We talked about our families. We talked about the church, how the music is too loud. We talked about Bill’s tooth problems.  It was completely uneventful. And it was such a wonderful night.

I can’t wait until he next tells me about Jesus, on the night he was betrayed.
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It’s been almost 5 years since I wrote all that. I can’t tell you how many times I almost called Bill & Edie over the years.  I never drove past that retirement community without almost dropping by.  But, if I’m gonna be honest, that double date was one of the last times I ever saw Bill, and I always had a good excuse why I couldn’t call or visit.

Bill died earlier this week.  I was so mad at myself when I found out.  I thought about him so much, but he had no way to know it.  And now he’s gone.

I’ve always felt that the purpose of a funeral was to support the loved ones who survive the dead.  And since I don’t know any of Bill’s family, I wouldn’t do any good trying to comfort them.  Heck, I didn’t know if Edie was even still alive, or if she’d even remember me. (Our friendship was ultimately a pretty small window in a 9-decade lifetime.)  And I have 6 kids and an exhausted wife so I should probably just spend Friday night at home…

But I had to go.  For me.
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Edie looked frail, but she looked really good.  I was unsure if I should approach her, but she drew me in.  When she saw me, her eyes lit up, she sat up straighter, and she reached toward me. (It was an Oscar-worthy scene, although I doubt anyone saw it but the two of us.) I dropped to a knee, my face met her gentle extended palm, she smiled and she said slowly and deliberately with as much sincerity as I’ve ever known…

Edie: “Oh, I still think about you all the time.”
Me: “You have no idea how much I still think about you.”
Edie: “It is so good to see you.”
Me: “You, too.  You look great.”
Edie: “Oh, thanks, my body is starting to fail me, I’m having some trouble walking, but I guess that’s what happens when you get to be… 87?  or 88?  Oh, whatever it is…” (laughing)
Me: “Well whatever it is, it’s pretty great, isn’t it!”
Edie: “You bet it is!”
Me: “I’m so sorry I haven’t come to visit.  I’m so sorry I didn’t visit Bill while he was alive…”
Edie: “Oh, you should have, sweetie, he just would’ve loved to see you.  We still talked about you all the time.  And… I feel terrible, but I can’t remember your name…”
Me: “That’s ok. It’s Scott.”
Edie: “Oh, Scott, that’s right, it’s so good to see you.”

The whole exchange took less than a minute. Tears.  So many tears.  Even now, hours later, so many happy tears.

I guess this is the final chapter in my friendship with Bill.  But something tells me there might be communion in eternity, and I will run to that man if ever given the opportunity again to do so.

And it would be a crime if I let five years go by, now, without visiting my friend Edie.

Timing

File thus under the category of bizarre, mysterious, and maybe coincidental.

The day we accepted this foster placement, Robyn was sicker than a dog.

She hasn’t been sick since.

Until today. The day the kiddos are slated to go home.

Court is this afternoon. She spent her overnight bowing to the porcelain god.

If there is a reason for this, I’m curious as to what it is.

#unsure

I have much more to say, but given the schedule, the ever-present list of responsibilities, and this time of year, who knows if I’ll get to it.

What’s Next?

In the last post, I said what we’re doing is not natural and that I’m not naturally equipped to handle this.

As a brief follow-up, this does not mean I think we’re supposed to stop doing this.

To be perfectly candid, I’ve spent many many many waking moments longing for the day our foster placement ends.  I’m very tired, I want a break, I miss my wife, I want to be able to play with the 4 kids who carry my last name, I want to sleep, I want to go on dates with my wife and I want to go out with the guys. Et cetera.

But that doesn’t mean I think we’re supposed to stop doing this.

Quite the contrary, actually.  The theme of adoption follows me everywhere I go. It haunts me. If I was to quit, I’d never be able to have any peace… Because I believe so firmly that we must do this.

And I don’t know the timing, but I don’t think we’re done. I prayed earlier today for “our next child(ren)” — not “maybe we’ll do this again” or “God, if Your will is for us to do this again…”

There’s just too many orphans out there. And we still have empty beds. (I just acquired a couple more beds, you know 🙂 because we never know when we might need them.)

Robyn has done better than I have with this placement. She has good perspective, good long-term vision. She knows that this is how God is shaping us.

We are clay, but we’re stubborn clay. God is using this time to challenge us, to make us better, to make us more beautiful, to prepare us, to make us into what He needs us to be.

And He needs me to lay myself down — to lay down my selfishness, my pride, and my worldly desires — and even to lay down a lot of “good” things that I desire — so that He can show me a world I’d never otherwise be able to know.

So, if you’re the praying kind, please lift me up. That I may give myself fully to the One who is worthy. That I may take steps to truly lead my family. That I would beg God to lead me, and that I would follow Him and not be so distracted by the things that take my focus and energy away from what matters. That my faith and focus be as strong and clear tomorrow as they are today — you know, or maybe even stronger. (No sense asking for a low bar, right?)

Thanks.

Our family has grown quite a bit.  At first, it grew very naturally.  Robyn and I dated for several years, then we got engaged, then a year later we got married, then a couple years later got pregnant and 9 months later had Toby, then a couple years later got pregnant again and 9 months later had Aimee…

All of these changes in our family dynamic happened a season at a time, the way God designed it to happen.  It was all very organic and natural.

And then, we felt it was time to take the step toward fostering. We signed up for the training classes.  Then the homestudy, and background checks, and references.  All those things took time.  And then we waited.  And then, after investing and waiting, the phone rang, and suddenly we had 4 kids instead of 2.

With Toby & Aimee, there was a pregnancy, and months of wondering whether it was a boy or a girl, and then waiting for them to be born, then they were here, then they grew, and we learned how to be parents to a baby, then we learned how to be parents to a toddler, and there were seasons for all the growth.

A little bit at a time.  Dip your toes in, feel the water, then put your ankles in, then waist deep, then tread for a little while, then hold your breath and be fully immersed.  God’s design is for babies to be born into families with a Mommy and a Daddy who are married to each other, and to grow up in that stable, consistent environment.  Organic.  Natural.

This whole foster thing?  Not so much.  Phone call, baby in our arms 2 hours later even though we weren’t pregnant.  We didn’t know we were going to get a baby.  We didn’t know it was going to be a girl.  But that night we went to bed as new parents again.  We had prepared ourselves the best we knew how, but it’s hard to prepare when you have no idea what you’re going to get — 1 child?  2 or 3 children?  Boys?  Girls?  Newborn?  Toddlers?  Pre-schoolers?  Surprise!  It’s like spinning the Wheel of Fortune.  It’s a newborn baby girl!  Come and get her!  She’s yours!

A week later, Lucy moves in.  Suddenly, we have another toddler, even though we never had her as a baby.  We missed the first time she smiled at someone, rolled over, army-crawled, said her first words, and took those first steps.  Here she was, running all over our house, already partly potty-trained, already with her own opinions and ideas and favorite foods.  Not even close to organic or natural.  Just really weird.  This wasn’t slowly going into the water from the shore.  This was getting smacked by the hurricane.

But things didn’t really get crazy until we added a couple more, again, when the phone rang last May.  If you thought having four kids ages 6, 3, 3, and 1 was interesting, try having six kids ages 6, 3, 3, 2, 1, and 6-months.  Uhhh… organic?  Natural?  No!!!

Ever have 6 kids 6-and-under?  Ever have 5 kids under the age of 4?
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I’ve never had much of a temper.  But it didn’t take long for the chaos of our new reality to take its toll on me.  Whatever patience I had been accustomed to having got lost a few weeks in.  The extra noise, the diapers, all the additional needs… In hindsight, I don’t remember which kid I was dealing with on this particular night, but I remember being shocked at the sounds coming out of my mouth.  There were many more decibels than usual, and my tone was angry and harsh.  My usual playful, gentle communication with my children was gone.

I was screaming at my child.  I had lost control.  And it felt horrible.  If it would’ve been posted to YouTube, there’d have been a mob of people with pitchforks lining up outside to take me away.  It wasn’t good.

It didn’t take long for me to see that God’s natural design makes it impossible to have this many young kids at one time, and that I am not naturally equipped or prepared to handle it.

What will it be like to have 2 little kids, for an extended season, and then send them “home”?  They came to us at ages 2 1/2 and 6 months, and time is not frozen… and every minute that elapses is a minute no one can retrieve.

The little boy, who is now 3, is very acclimated to our home and our family.  He clearly loves being with our kids and our dog.  He’s comfortable eating at our table, being bathed in our tub, and being included in everything we do.  He has done very well in our home — our home has been a good place for him.  Don’t tell him he isn’t a part of our family. He would say he is, and he is correct.

The little girl who is now 1 is more attached to our family than she possibly could be to her birth parents.  The only mommy she recognizes is my Robyn — the amazing woman who pours everything she has into the 6 children who live in our home.  She’s now spent more than half of her life with us, which is certainly the only half of her life she can remember.  First time rolling over?  First time crawling?  First time pulling up and walking along the furniture?  First words?  All of those, and 7 months worth of bottles and diapers and baths and cuddles and playtimes, have happened on our watch.

Oh, and both of these kids call us Mommy and Daddy.

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On the other hand, the little boy certainly knows who his birth parents are, and he longs to be with them.  He especially seems to have a wonderful and healthy attachment to his Daddy.  Nothing makes him as happy as getting to visit his Daddy.  And he calls him Daddy.

And the little girl will be fine.  She’s a happy little girl, and her Daddy has a kind face and a gentle voice, and she’s going to be fine with him.  And time is on their side… as hard as it is to accept, after a couple months with Daddy, she’ll feel more at home there than she does now with us.

Gulp.

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Robyn’s family is pretty amazing.  They are the predecessors of the Happiness Hotel.  They were practicing extreme hospitality* long before Robyn and I ever could.  We would not be doing what we’re doing today had they not blazed the trails for us and shown us, with their lives, how it is done.

(*21st-century Western connotations of hospitality invoke thoughts of the hotel industry, cruise ships, inviting friends of the same socioeconomic class over for an evening of drinks and boardgames, and Martha Stewart.  That’s not what I’m talking about.  I’m talking about opening up one’s home to a stranger, caring for them even though it costs one their time/money/energy.  Thank you, Bob & Sharyn, for leading the way.)

We invited their Daddy to Thanksgiving dinner.  I’m sure it’s not unprecedented to invite a birth parent over while the foster placement is still in effect, but it sure as heck isn’t customary, either.

I thought about inviting him for several weeks before the holiday.  Robyn had been thinking about it, as well.  But it wasn’t until late one night Robyn broke a lull in conversation with “so… I’ve been thinking” and I interrupted with “me too!” before she had even said it that we learned we were on the same page as the other.

Seeing the joy on the boy’s face as he ran to his Daddy… seeing the joy on Daddy’s face as his boy ran to him… seeing Daddy loving on his kids before and after the meal gives me hope that all of this is going to work out for them.

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Did I mention that this is hard?