lord have mercy

“We hurt others when we have been hurt. What we hate in others is what we hate in ourselves. Nobody is wholly good or bad. Nothing is in a vacuum.” I am a broken record with these words. I imagine I drive people crazy with it sometimes. I drive myself crazy. Trapped in an erratic and confusing ping pong cycle of trying to honor my truth and experience without losing sight of someone else’s whole entirety that does not include me. I don’t know how to entertain anger and grace at the same time. Maybe that is the point?

I have so much grace and compassion for Parent A. I hurt, I ache for them. I deserve no humanitarian awards for this – it is so easy for me to feel this way. It requires no effort or growth on my part and I imagine most of you would feel the same way if you knew.

Parent B? I feel anger. I feel disgust. Contempt. Frustration. Rage. When I hear from or about them I am often unable to steel myself against the guttural scoff that escapes.How could you? What have you done? This is all your fault. Yeah, right. How dare you. From where I stand I cannot find a redemptive path.

Thank God I am not God.

They are undeserving of my understanding and forgiveness.

And yet. That’s it, isn’t it? That’s the thing. Of course they are undeserving. So am I. So are you. (Don’t shoot the messenger.) That is mercy, that is grace, that is forgiveness. It’s messy and complicated and heartbreaking and beautiful. I cannot hold back until someone proves themselves. Grace is not a trophy for redemption – it IS the redemption.

We love boxes. Neat, orderly. Tidy. We like black and white. We try to tie everything up in a nice, pretty bow. But the damned truth of the matter is that there are no good people and evil people. We are just people with nice bits and not so nice bits battling it out inside of us every second of our grey lives. Do not be mistaken – whatever good I am able to put out into this world is not there to counteract the bad created by Parent B, or anybody else. My good is about my bad, my evil. My disgrace. God’s mercy.

Unfortunately, I’m not done fucking up. If I live a long life then I’ve barely even started. But I’m not done fixing up either. There is redemption for them, because it’s there for me too. We hurt others because we have been hurt. And on and on it goes. We just gotta keep trying.

the other mother

“Where are your socks at, bud? You need socks.”

I rifle through the pile of freshly laundered blue, yellow, green hand me downs for the lone pair of socks. Tiny socks that are still impossibly big on his newborn pink feet. We don’t wear socks in our house. I was raised barefoot in the country, dirty calloused feet in the creek, in the woods, in the house. To this day I can walk on gravel without wincing in pain. (They aren’t pretty though, so don’t look too closely.)

I never put socks on Rosalyn’s feet as a baby either. I could barely keep up with the onesies, swaddles, muslin blankets, cloth diapers. Ain’t nobody got time for hunting down and matching baby socks. We live in Georgia, it’s 60-90 degrees most of the year – perfect bare feet weather. People stopped me all the time though, so concerned about her bare feet. “You put some socks on that poor baby’s feet!” “What a pretty girl. Tell your mama to get you some socks.” Some how, some way she survived her sockless infancy. Even now, if I can’t find her socks and I need the sweet serenity only a iced chai sipped in the clean, bright aisles of Target can provide I just toss her in the car and she swings those naked piggies to the market and all the way home.

Socks are important though. Not everyone shares my devil may care attitude about them. We talked about socks in foster training. “When you bring babies to visitation they need socks.” It seems so trivial and harmless. But when you see your child for only two hours twice a week every detail matters, everything becomes a message. Are their clothes stained, do they match, did I buy them or did you, how much did they cost, is it something I would have dressed them in, is their face clean, do they have any scratches or bruises or rashes, is their hair tidy and styled appropriately? Do they have socks?

Did you know foster parents are not allowed to have the child’s hair cut without explicit permission? It is a strange balance beam we walk – all of the responsibility and none of the authority.

I had to find his socks.

I finally find them tucked inside his bag from the hospital. They are white and in the babiest of blues read, “I Love My Mommy.”

Did she pull back pieces of baby shower tissue paper to find these at the bottom? (“Aw, thank you, Karen!”) Did she walk into Babies R Us post pregnancy test, desperate for something tangible for the poppyseed in her uterus? Did she buy these for him, his other mother? No, his mother. His other mother? His mother. I am the other.

We have an invasively one sided relationship, her and I. I have on my kitchen counter a thick envelope with intimate details of her labor and delivery, of his hospital stay and discharge. She doesn’t know my name. She doesn’t know I type this with one hand as the other rubs our son’s back after his bottle, mildly terrified because I am bravely/stupidly wearing my favorite sweater.

Our son. Her son. All of the responsibility and none of the authority.

As we feel joy at how seamlessly he fits into our family, is every moment of her existence filled with panic, anxiety, sadness? Where is her son? Is he ok? She doesn’t know.

I’ve thought about dressing him in Mommy clothes for their visits. Will she see it as my intention of honoring her place in his life? Will it sting of mockery and overcompensation? Is it wrong if he wears them while he is in my arms, being cooed at by playground strangers? (“Aw, thank you Karen! He’s a week and a half old today.”)

I put on the socks. His toes look nothing like mine.

Walk the balance beam, hold the baby, don’t slip.

foster sister

You didn’t sign up to have your heart broken, I know. You didn’t volunteer to have your space invaded and doled out to strangers. You didn’t want to halve your time and affection. You didn’t give your opinion because we didn’t ask. As we muscle our way through this transition and a thousand more I hope you know I am with you always. Hard stuff can be good stuff, too. I hope when it breaks, your heart heals bigger.

baby duck

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.

loaves and fish: on showing up anyway

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.”

Isaiah 1:17