Homecoming

It is eleven-thirty on a Wednesday morning. I am at home, having gone to work earlier today even than this morning person cares to. My career obligations at a satisfactory point to wait until tomorrow, I sit at the chair in front of my computer, an old piece inherited by K and made from quality wood worn smooth by hands running across it, arms resting upon it and socked feet perched upon its lower supports, the padding where I sit long collapsed to a thin suggestion of cushion. It strikes me vaguely as a chair-shaped worry stone, smoothed by time and comforting to the touch. But that’s a matter of my perception more than the state of the chair itself.

Today, Abe and Bess embarked on their first visitation with bio-mom since their removal. A case worker from CPS kindly picked them up while K was at home and I was working and will be returning with them soon. So I sit here, typing to escape from worrying about what happens next.

Tomorrow, they will have been with us for five weeks. Time they’ve spent getting settled in, coming to trust us, starting to feel safe. On the one hand, I cannot imagine what their mother has been through this past month, walking around with two empty spaces following her where children had been. She should get to see the kids, and they should get to see her. K and I long before this process began decided we would support visitation with biological family during and even after the process of fostering and adopting, so long as it’s healthy for the kids.

As with so many things we think about intellectually and completely fail to really grasp until we’re in the moment, my thoughts are selfishly not on the good that will come from the meeting with bio-mom, the potential establishment of some sense of continuity and the reduction in long-term trauma that can come from the maintenance of relationships where appropriate, but instead about where my relationships will be when the kids return. The work K and I have done in loving and caring for Abe and Bess, their development of love for us, will it all be dashed against the rocks of remembrance?

In my heart I know that it’s foolish to think so, that the belief that love is a zero-sum game we play with the world is a falsehood that leads so many of us astray. It is not K and I against bio-mom, and only our making it so will push things in that direction. The insecurity I feel now is about me, not about the kids. It’s about my selfish desire to claim ownership over the children. There’s no place for that here, and no good to come from it. So instead, as I write, I try to use these words to center myself, to remember what I’m about and who I want to be to these children. This post is my pseudo-self-therapy of sorts.

And it seems to have worked. I feel ready for the kids to come home, done worrying about what will happen and ready to constructively start thinking about what I can do to make things easiest for them when they arrive.

Thrown a Curve Ball

K and I met with our DePelchin Clinician and our CPS Case Worker this past Wednesday afternoon. In general, the meeting went well, and it’s clear that the kids have settled in, feel safe and are happy. But our CPS worker threw us a curve ball–a doozy of a curve ball.

When this placement was first pitched to us, CPS had told DePelchin (and thus DePelchin had told us) one story about the reason the kids had been put in CPS custody. As part of that reason, we were told that the parents had reported that they had no family members available to care for the children. Since K and I are fostering with the goal of adoption, that seemed like a lower risk that the children go back to the parents or family than could be the case. When the children arrived later that day, we got a different story about the reason for the kids’ placement with CPS. That was annoying, but we had committed and weren’t about to change our minds about this placement simply because wires had gotten crossed somewhere.

On Wednesday, though, the CPS worker told us thata not one, but two family members were trying to go through the process to have the children placed with them. For the time being, this would be for interim care while the case proceeds through the court, but these family members would also have priority over us for adoption if parental rights were terminated.

These family members will have to go through all of the training, review, background check and other process that we had to in order to be cleared for possession of the kids. We have no idea of the likelihood that either could actually successfully complete the licensing process, but now we have a huge “what if?” placed in our way and the risk of us not being able to move all the way to adoption has greatly increased. To be sure, we had nothing close to a sure thing to begin with, but the new information shot into me fear, trepidation and anxiety. Understandably, I think, I’m angry and upset about CPS’s willingness and ability to share accurate information.

How much does this really change? Practically speaking, very little for the time being. I have fallen in love with Abe and Bess and I’m going to treat them as my own for as long as I can. What has changed, I suppose, is the realization of a certain conflict related to my own parental feelings. I now find myself unapologetically praying that the kids’s biological parents and family will fail so that they can be my forever family. Make no mistake, I am ready and willing to do whatever is necessary for the best interests of the kids, including letting them go if needs be, but I’m also pretty convinced that K and I are their best interest.

This potential struggle of conscience is something we’d anticipated early in this process, and I thought I’d come to terms with it quite some time back. What I didn’t anticipate was the fierce protectiveness and attachment of parenthood that settles deep in your heart and gut and latches on. This puts me in a weird possession, but perhaps one every parent feels–that unrepentant resolution that, if it’s the kids or someone/something else in conflict, it’s the kids every time. I’m not settled on the morality of this position, its righteousness or its place in my theology. Not by a long shot. For now, all I can do is describe how I feel as I sort through things.

Just Give Her the Damn Goldfish!

I should have expected that having children would be a study in the human need for control. Our training for foster care on trust-based relational intervention (TBRI), which K and I found very helpful, made sure that we understood that there would be issues of control and authority in raising children (how could there not be?). That said, the intellectual knowledge of the thing and the experience are two things separated by a sometimes expansive gulf.

And so, it should have been no surprise that I’d have to spend some time thinking about my own need for control—both in the microcosm of my relationships with my children and in regards to life in general.

We are not allowed to withhold food from the children as a tool of compliance or discipline—nor do I think that doing so would be constructive, effective or beneficial. But that doesn’t stop food from sometimes being a struggle. There are very few things that we’ve discovered that Bess doesn’t like to eat, which is a blessing in and of itself. Sometimes though, she tells us that she wants one thing and then changes her mind, or gets served something we know she likes and she demands something else. This sort of a struggle is frustrating, to say the least.

There are some things we don’t make available to Bess—we don’t give her soda (she came to us already familiar with drinking straight from the can) and we very much limit her access to sweets (making me quite a hypocrite given my own sweet tooth, but it’s a hypocrisy I can live with). Otherwise, when she’s hungry we feed her and she gets to eat until she’s full. We serve her a lot of fruit, yogurt, milk, cheese and other things, and now that she’s settled in a bit more we’re trying to focus the offerings to be as healthy as possible. But sometimes, she just wants Goldfish, and nothing else will do.

At times like this, my initial instinct is to refuse her. I took the time to make her something else to eat, and she ought to eat that, dammit! Both the training we received and common sense dictate that this is not a fight worth having. So why do I feel a need to “win” that fight rather than avoiding it altogether?

Concerned about my own parenting skills, I started reflecting on this. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s about my own need for a semblance of control. Suddenly adding two kids to the picture has thrown everything in disarray—my schedule revolves around them and I have somehow to find the time to make a living and get some writing done. There’s not a great sense of control in my life overall at this juncture—though is there anything but an illusion of control in our lives ever, really?

I think that my desire to win arguments rather than focusing on the important stuff is about me trying to work out my own issues. Our parenting class instructor was wise to tell us to be on the lookout for exactly this sort of thing.

Perhaps above all, I tend to think of myself as someone who is more self-aware than most and, to a great degree, in control of himself to the extent that one can be. This experience has given me doubts about that self-conception.

At the end of the day, though, if I don’t learn from these experiences, I will certainly never have the kind of self-control I think that I do. So, I’m trying (“trying” being the operative word) to get over myself. If it’s not a matter of health and safety or some other significant issue, there’s not much reason for me to fight with Bess about it. Especially not so that I can feel I have some tiny amount of control in my life—there’s simply no there there (to borrow from Gertrude Stein).

When she wants to put on her own shoes, fine. When she wants things a certain way, we can do that. And when all she wants to eat is Goldfish—provided she’s generally still eating healthy—I’m just gonna give her the damn Goldfish. We’ll all be better for it, I think.

Fatherhood

Our housekeeper came yesterday. K’s been trying to work half-days to prolong her time off since I’m off work for a few weeks, so I had the kids by myself.

She kept calling me “Mr. Mom” because I was tending the children. I tried to shrug it off—I’m spending a lot of time lately learning to choose my battles. But it really bothered me.

You see, I’m not a babysitter; I’m not a guy playing at being a mom. I’m a father. That means caring for the children, spending time with them, being present, and doing all of the not-so-pleasant things that come with parenthood. It’s not a burden only for the female sex, nor are the privileges and the accomplishments of parenthood reserved for mothers.

We often say, “It takes a village,” to raise children, but we seem to mean that it takes a village of women. Predetermined societal roles and expectations do not appeal to me much; in fact, I find many of them detrimental to living life in ways that would be more meaningful, fulfilling and joy-inspiring.

I am pleased by the prospect of more stay-at-home dads in the world, both because it empowers women to be the breadwinner in a family and allows men who are excellent caregivers to take on that role within the family. This arrangement shatters pretenses of bygone ages that a man’s role is to make money and a woman’s is to bear and raise children. The fall of these societal obstacles allows us to be more complete people, to use all of our skills and fulfill more of the life-roles to which we’ve been called.

Even more, we live in an economic era where single-income families are less and less feasible—particularly if both spouses want to have work-life balance. Y’know, that phrase, “work-life balance” is a very telling one, when you think about it. There’s work and there’s life, and never the twain shall meet it seems to say. I’m not sure that that’s entirely true, but it’s something worth keeping in mind.

Neither does a such a gender-defined set of roles allow us to understand same-sex couples or other non-cisgendered parents in any respectful (or even truly understanding) way. My experience tells me that anyone can be a great parent. Sure there are aspects of personality or expertise in certain skills that make some better suited than others, but neither of these have anything to do with sex or gender.

I consider myself a pretty traditionally masculine guy. Not the most masculine to be sure—I’m not much impressed by bodybuilding or machismo and such—but I do fit a lot of traditional male roles: I like the outdoors; I like to participate in martial sports; I’m a “identify and fix the problem, let’s not talk about it too much” sort of guy.

Gender definitions aside, I could see myself being a stay-at-home dad. If I could make a living writing and spend much of the rest of my time focused on the kids, I would find that very fulfilling. I like practicing law, and I do a lot of good work for people about which I can be proud. But pondering big thoughts and writing about them is my passion, and I’m very excited about the role I get to play in raising our children. To combine both would be amazing. Realistic? I’m not sure; making a living as a writer is extremely tough and not necessarily based on skill. But maybe it could happen.

My own desires aside, let’s keep in mind that parenthood is a calling for both parents; and our expectations of parents should follow suit with this: we should both expect fathers to be active parents and then not treat them as second-class surrogates for mothers.

 

Ask and You Shall Receive

No sooner had I published my post about our false alarm earier this week, than my phone rang. One of our placement workers on the line; they had another potential placement for us. This time, a 3-month old boy (We’ll call him “Abe”) and a 2-year old girl (we’ll call her “Bess”), just taken into custody by Child Protective Services today. We didn’t have much information to go on about the situation they’d come from, but we were ready to take the plunge. A quick conference between K and I and we were back on the phone with the placement worker.

She submitted us for consideration for the placement and we waited  an hour and a half that seemed to drag on forever. We got a call back just before noon that we’d been accepted and that the kids were coming to us that day. I rushed home from work to make sure everything was in order. K joined me sooner thereafter and we tried to busy ourself as we waited for the call from CPS that Abe and Bess were on the way.

They arrived around dinner time Thursday evening. After signing all of the CPS paperwork, our time as parents had begun.

I had intended to post something on Thursday, but I found no time to do so. Here we are, two mostly sleepless nights, and the sun is coming up again. We managed to get Bess to go to sleep around eleven last night (for some reason unknown, trying to put her to bed is one of her triggers, although after last night we may be easing our way thr0ugh that), so K spent most of the night up with Abe. Since I’m a morning person who doesn’t nap, K let me try to get as much sleep as I could last night. She’s a night owl who would much rather sleep in, so we switched off with Abe about twenty minutes ago.

Abe is asleep (only so long as he’s behing held–he’s currently comfortable in one of those wrap-carrier things so that I can type). Bess is still in bed and has a decent sleep debt from Thursday night (when she wouldn’t go to bed until after 5 a.m.) to catch up on. K is resting while we can. I sit at the kitchen table, a mostly-empty bowl of cereal beside the Ipad and a pot of coffee brewing. It’s the most peace and time for myself I’ve had in two days. We’ll see how long it lasts…