On December 22, 2014, two brothers, five and two years old, came to our home. I can’t tell you why they were removed and eventually placed in our home, and I can’t tell you how long they will be with us. What I can tell you is that our lives were flipped completely upside down, shook violently around, placed upright again. Now our lives balance on a see-saw, delicately resting for now, but without any warning, at any moment could go topsy turvy again.
The first day they were here, I probably cried a total of two hours. Mostly after all of the kids were in bed. I had the crazy notion to just carry on life as usual, which meant cooking an actual dinner. In between meltdowns (our kids, the boys, and me), diaper changes, runs to the store for baby things, and a general dream like stupor I floated around in, I did manage to make dinner. We sat down two hours later than normal and hardly anyone ate anything.
Let’s not forget that we were days away from the biggest holiday of the year, and everyone’s emotions were off the chart. It’s very romantic for people to imagine, “Oh, this will be those boys best Christmas ever!” on the contrary, before we even got them I imagined it wouldn’t be at all. We were strangers, period. No amount of presents, magical traditions or even just being in a nice house with a cozy bed could erase the pain that comes with removing a child from their home. The evening of the day the boys arrived, Santa was due to drop in to check on our kids. I wish I could remember it as all good, but I remember feeling very chaotic. I remember crying, a combination of seeing the wonder on the children’s faces and from sheer emotional exhaustion. Dimples was visibly uncomfortable with the excitement, and knowing him like I know him now, looking at the pictures I can see the stress all over his face. It was a hard day and I hope that seeing Santa was a bright spot for him.
After an hour and a half long bedtime wrestle, I came downstairs nearly shaking I was so emotionally jarred. I told Nick through choked sobs, like the kind of sobs you hear small children make, “My heart is too soft to handle all of this pain.” I felt it so strongly. Dimples- the five year old and Grizzly-the two year old both coped in their own way. Our own children, wide eyed and scared at what they saw that first day. Thinking of the boys’ parents and their heartache. It was like an avalanche of grief and pain that was suffocating me. I couldn’t make it better, for any of them, at least not that night, and that killed me.
I’ve always been the kind of person who takes so much joy in tucking in my kids at night, smelling sweetly of lavender and cedarwood essential oils from their nightly foot rubs. We read books, sing songs (In the previous post I wrote about how each of my babies has their own special ones. Brynn’s is “Baby Mine” from Dumbo, Nicholas’ is “The Way You Look Tonight” by Frank Sinatra, and Josie’s is “Go to Sleep You Little Baby” from O Brother Where Art Thou?), I pray over them and then it’s lights out. Then it’s a glass of wine with the husband, catching up on a show and each others’ day and lights out for us. My days are hectic, but between 7:30 and 10:30 pm, all is right in the Vanoven home.
So when our first night felt more like a war zone, and my eyes were puffy slits on my face from crying, and Dimples wanted nothing to do with anyone in our family…I didn’t think I could do this. I had real thoughts of what the foster system calls “disrupting” which is code for “giving them back”. I felt utterly unqualified and unprepared.
That was three weeks ago. Oh, how I wish I could jump back in time and show that Rachel just how much would change in three weeks. How bedtimes resemble a manageable circus rather than a battlefield and that Dimples loves oils just as much as my own babies. That his song is the simple “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and he sings along with me every time. That his favorite part of nightly prayers is when I ask God to send angles to f-o-o-o-o-ld their wings over him to protect him and make hand motions that show great feathery wings making a canopy over him, and if I don’t do it, he pretends to be scared until I say it. That out of all the books in our house, Grizzly loves “The Owl and the Pussycat” the best, but hardly ever stays awake through all of it.
I thought I had ruined our “perfect” family and my kids would never be the same, yet the exact opposite happened. It has brought out the best in all three of our own children. Brynn is having less meltdowns herself and showing us how tender she can be with little ones. Nicholas is realizing that little brothers, while super annoying, make better wrestling partners than little sisters. Josie has a sidekick in all of her shenanigans–who loves tea parties and plastic dinosaurs as much as she does. I’m a much more patient mother to a toddler than I remember being with the kids, and my heart just melts to pieces when I see Nick teaching Grizzly how to hold a football the right way in his chubby little arms, or twirling around the kitchen just to hear his growly little laugh (earning him the nickname Grizzly!)…every day is a challenge, but it’s so freakin’ beautiful.