Is there anything more irreverent
than peals of laughter and the
of tiny dress shoes running in the hall?
Few are closer to heaven than disruptive children
bright church bells clanging in the sunshine.
It is incredible how much Rosalyn has to say, and how well she expresses herself when I just slow. down. and listen – when I can get on her level and speak her language. Today I said yes to (almost) everything she asked. We went for a walk and practiced riding her tricycle. We drew colorful shapes outside with chalk. She got chocolate almond milk instead of regular unsweetened. We played with her penguin coin bank and funfetti playdough. She ate her lunch in my lap. After nap time we got chocolate chip cake pops and ran all over an indoor play place for two hours. While in the Starbucks drive thru she clapped and exclaimed, “Mommy, I am so excited!”
Our house has been hectic the last two months as we work to get certified for foster care. It’s taking its toll on all of us, including or maybe even especially Rosalyn. Her eating, sleeping, digestion – it’s all out of wack. She’s a little extra sensitive and grumpy, though being two and a half it’s difficult to discern what’s age or circumstance. An entirely new development for her is the way she clings to me when we enter a new place or see new people. She’s always been a quiet observer before launching into insatiable energy and volume levels. But now she’s made a safe space tucked behind my legs and burrowed between my neck and shoulder. Her house is changing, her parents are shushing her while having Serious Conversations, the air is thrumming with nervous-happy-anxious energy, and (it bears repeating) she’s two and a half years old. It’s so much, it’s all so much. I worry with the deep guilt of a tired mother if I didn’t consider her needs enough before making this enormous, invasive, heavy choice for our lives. Should we have waited? Shoulds are suffocating.
Today, I said yes without hesitation.
“Will you play with me?” Yes, darling. “You play with me! We play! We do it together!” Her eyes lit up like Christmas and it is a joy burned into my chest.
I followed her exact instructions while molding the playdough. We made three ducks. We made a blanket. She tucked them into bed and named them. “Mommy duck. Daddy duck. Baby duck. They snuggle.” She looked down at them and cradled dimpled toddler hands to her cheeks. “Ohhh they’re so sweet, Mommy!” We fed them carrots and veggie burgers. They exchanged kisses and hugs. She had me make a fourth duck. “Mommy duck. Daddy duck. Baby duck. Baby duck.” They all snuggled again.
I’m not sleeping or eating well these days, either. As she wakes through the night and refuses to eat dinner and screams until her face is dark I just want to curl up and cry. What do you need from me? Ok. I hear you. I’m so sorry. I’m here.
We can’t have cake pops and trampolines every time she feels upset. And the number of times I have to divide my attention is just going to grow, exponentially. But maybe we can have yes days – and yes minutes. You and me, kid. We do it together.
I don’t know. I don’t know their names or their faces. Or why or what home they come from. I don’t know what they’ve been through or when or if they’ll go from here. I honestly don’t even know how we’ll do this at all. All I know is that we have to.
The day I found out I was pregnant with Margo I knew something was wrong. Hand to God the very second I looked down at those devastatingly blue lines, these words scrolled across my mind: “Something bad is going to happen.” But I swallowed them down and opened the bathroom door and on shaky feet brought the test to my husband. Five months later when we went to the hospital because I was leaking, the midwife tested the fluid and looked up at me. Not a breath passed by before once again, I knew. “We’re going to lose her. She’s not going to make it.” I knew, I knew, I knew and it did nothing. Knowing does nothing.
Two days later I sat empty and sad, hollow and soft in the thin, starchy, pink gown. The one with buttons for nursing your alive and well newborn. Hours before I sat crying alone in the dark, my arms wrapped around myself like a prayer. Like maybe if I held on tight enough I could stop my backstabbing uterus from contracting around my fragile daughter. Eventually my ever so steadfast crisis mode clicked on, the tears stopped, and I stood to pack my things for Labor and Delivery. And somehow my heart kept beating. Ever since that day it has been a whisper and an ache in my bones – foster.
I don’t know how, but I know I have to. There have been things in my life that I wanted to do. In fact, my anxiety makes anything I want to do something I want to do badly; I don’t like waiting. Even with all that urgency in my veins I have never felt anything like this. This is not a “thing I want to do”. I mean, it is. But, it’s not a thing. It is a calling. I like that word. Calling. I use it a lot in regards to my faith. We are called. We are called to do that, and that, and that. I am called to do this.
Call. It has become a heavy and fervent word.
Since beginning the process to get our license I have second guessed myself a thousand times daily. Save for the days when everything is magical and easy and I think to myself, “Oh hell yeah I’ve got this. Look at me – parenting the shit out of this tough cookie. Well done, Rachel.” Very quickly however, the universe realigns itself back into chaos and I wonder as minutes and routines pass by, “Where is a stranger’s baby going to fit into any of this?” At 8pm when my toddler is running naked through the house, being chased by her father wielding a toothbrush, I look inward and upward to ask, “How?” Faithfully the answer always comes, “Just show up.”
And you know what? Thats exactly what I am capable of doing. I don’t get it perfectly. A lot of the time I don’t even get it well. I curse and I shop at Target too much. Our house could use some new carpet and we have frozen pizza every week. But I can show up. Ragged, but here. This has become my mantra when I can’t possibly understand how my meager offerings will be enough. Just. Show. Up.
Just show up. With your store bought muffins and your dying plants. With your endless fatigue and no bra. Bring your OCD, your anxiety, your depression. Come with your car on it’s last legs and your walls with peeling paint. Bring your debt and your yoga pants. Show up and watch God feed the multitudes with your tiny townhome pantry.
They are here now – right now. They don’t have the time to wait around for perfect people. But they can make do with me.
“Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the case of the fatherless;
Plead the case of the widow.”
After reading a book and singing a few favorite songs and lovingly scratching her back, I gave her a kiss and walked out of her room. Ah, naptime. Time to sit and relax for a bit before tidying up the house. I sat down on my bed, sipping water and scrolling through Facebook, checking the notifications from my Gentle Humor Parenting Story of the day. Earlier in the morning Rosalyn had gotten ahold of the french press and dumped out the used, wet coffee grounds. Oh, toddlers.
It wasn’t long before she called out to me through the monitor. Unicorn needed a diaper before they could take a nap. Of course, how could I have forgotten? No matter, I’m a pro. I diapered the stuffed animal and soothed her back to a heavy lidded state before quietly padding across the carpet. Once on the other side of the door I chuckled and shook my head. Oh, toddlers. What a cute little scamp I have. Resume relaxation.
Somewhere, God laughed.
Approximately 4.5 minutes pass by and I’m about to consider turning on some Netflix because hey, the bathrooms can wait a little while longer, yeah? Especially after the action packed morning we had.
Softly, her voice comes through the monitor again. “Need help. Mommy? Need help.”
Aw, sweet angel. She needs a little more love today and that’s fine by me. Motherhood is a blessing!
I click on the camera to check where she is in her room. Sometimes she lays by her door and I’d hate to open it on her precious cherub face. That’s when I see it: a large dark mass sitting in the middle of her bed. Strange, the only stuffy she had with her was a white unicorn. Both her teddy bear and hedgehog are in her playroom, waiting patiently for a magical playtime session.
Once again, her small voice pleads over the monitor. “Mommy help. Poop.”
I leap up and span the distance across my room and down the hallway in four steps and fewer seconds. I slam the door open with little regard for the precious cherub face that was, thankfully, not in it’s path. (Email me for the address you can send my Mother of the Year trophy to.) Rosalyn stands in the middle of the room, her shit covered arms extended out to me. There is a package of wipes to my left. I grab it and begin to extract them in quick succession, throwing them forcefully towards the daughter-shaped feces monster before me. “Why?!” I ask her, deliriously expecting a response. “Why did you do this?!” If she had a much more advanced capacity for communication I imagine she would’ve said something like, “I don’t need a fucking reason, lady – I’m two years old. Try not being so stingy with the cookies next time, huh?” With her limited fine motor skills she tries and fails to make any sort of dent in the layers of excrement, dropping the wipes to the floor and reaching out to me again. “Wash hands? Rozzie wash hands?” She takes a step toward me and I’m unable to harness any sort of calm, gentle response.
“NOPE. NOPE. NOPE. YOU STAY RIGHT THERE. DO NOT MOVE. DO NOT TOUCH ME. NO. NO. NOOOOOOOOOOO.”
You’ve seen Chris Pratt taming the velociraptors in Jurassic World, right? That. Except covered in shit.
(Once again, I’m happy to accept any and all parenting award nominations. Call me.)
The next few minutes are a blur but when I come to Rosalyn is in the tub, fully clothed, water running. She gingerly sticks a few fingers into the stream and shouts victoriously, “All clean!” Omg no, child. Not even close. How have I failed you? I leave her to her rudimentary hygiene abilities, comforted momentarily by the containment properties of the tub. Once back in The Room I find myself dialing my mom for some sort of guidance because I’m on the quickly crumbling edge of a panic attack. I try mightily to give her childhood freedom from my OCD but my anxiety has a line and that line is poop. The phone rings and I inspect my surroundings for the first time, taking stock of the damage. It is smeared on the pillows, the bed rails, the sheets. The carpet, the window sill, the door. Bless her heart it is smeared on drawer handles as she undoubtedly searched for something with which to reverse her horrifying mistake. I’m now able to piece together the poop clues and discover what transpired in absolute silence during those 4.5 minutes. It wasn’t the diaper she had been wearing but one she had somehow retrieved and unwrapped from the garbage can. I imagine the first minute was play-based and then quickly derailed into a mission to wipe her hands clean on various surfaces. Naively, we never got a proper diaper trash can for her room as 90% of her diapers are cloth. Most poop is flushed into the pipes and away from me like God intended, not wrapped up neatly like a potential E. Coli hot pocket. Idiots.
Mom talks me down from the ledge and I then call my husband who is sitting at a grown up desk, talking to grown up people, and not covered in shit at all. Fuck him. While giving him a detailed tour of the horror in front of me because I desperately need someone else to suffer, Rosalyn cries out from her bathtub prison. “Raining! It’s raining, Mommy!” Um, what? I enter the bathroom to find she has discovered how to turn the shower on and is dancing in confused wonder. She has pulled her towel into the tub and proudly explains, “Towel bath.” Water is everywhere. But at least it’s not shit.
She is bathed and napping in my bed. Her room is disinfected. The carpet is pretreated, waiting to be shampooed. The sheets, pillows, and clothes are in the wash. I need a shower, I can feel poop smeared in the wrinkles of my brain. I’m hungry and need to pee but dare not to leave the bed in case it wakes her up.
Motherhood is a blessing. A shitty blessing.