Tonight, after all three toddlers were asleep and the husband had tucked himself into bed, I went to Target alone. We needed milk. And bananas. Diapers and Pull-Ups too. And a gingerbread soy latte.
There were a few other things we needed that I likely forgot and a lot of other things we didn’t need that I remembered to throw into the cart.
I pushed the cart out to my car, the wind whipping at my cheeks, and I wanted to cry. I still want to cry an hour after arriving home, putting the groceries away and filling up yet another trash bag of food to be discarded from our refrigerator (evidently our family of five is not a fan of leftovers; sorry, Grandma and Grandpa).
It was 18° when I left Target and a brisk 17° when I arrived home. I wanted to stay outside in the cold all night. There was something about the cold that felt real to me.
This past Saturday marked 100 days of parenting three toddlers. We celebrated with donuts that morning and then a date night that evening. Then a Sunday with me sick and a week beginning with a virus making it’s way through every tiny human.
Those 100 days don’t seem quite real to me, and yet, at the same time, the past 100 days feel the most real days that I can remember.
It’s been hard. Achingly hard. I have felt alone in ways I can’t even explain. And I have felt completely inadequate almost every single day. I have seen the worst sides of myself. But I have also felt more loved in those 100 days. I have seen the best sides of my husband. I have heard baby giggles that tickle my heart. I have wiped away real tears and ignored many, many fake tears. I have wiped runny noses with my sleeve and finally started carrying both tissues and boogie wipes in my car. I have stepped on blocks and alphabet magnets.
I stopped talking to God. I even thought He wasn’t quite real in my life. I have struggled in ways I don’t think I’ll ever be able to quite put into words. And I have felt as though I’ve conquered parenting for at least a minute or so.
I’m still afraid to walk out of the house, and go anywhere but the daycare, with all three toddlers, but I am getting braver. I still don’t know if I’m quite cut out for parenting and I wonder if I am doing more harm than good. But I am trying – every single day I am trying.
We went from zero children to one child and a grandchild this summer then back down to zero children and my heart hurt. Then we went from zero children to three children, and I thought it would be okay – maybe even slightly easy (why – I have no clue). And my heart hurt.
I don’t know anything about plain parenting. I have no idea what it is to plan for nine months (sometimes longer) and wait for a baby. I don’t know what it is to have a bond to a newborn baby still covered in goo in your arms. I don’t know the endless sleepless nights or the fear of breaking a baby that weighs less than my Ugg boots.
I only know foster parenting. I only know the parenting that occurs on a day-to-day basis with questions in your head about how long you will have the children and if anything you do really works. I only know scrambling – buying three of everything all at once and catapulting yourself into a world of fevers, potty training, hiding vegetables in food, shuffling the work day around, monthly visits with OKDHS workers, and the ever present question of “are you going to adopt?”.
I don’t know if I could do any other kind of parenting. But I’m trying to learn.
I explain our situation to people. And they tell me how amazing I am, how impressed they are with everything I juggle. I appreciate those words of affirmation, I need them somedays, but I always joke and say I’m just dumb or crazy or a synonym of those words. Because what sane 28-year-old couple opens up their home and hearts to three children all at the same time?
What I’ve found, though, is that I look at our three (or at least I used to) as foster children, I saw them as temporary. And maybe they are. But I can’t see them as that. Instead, I need to (and want to) see them as mine – for however long they are here. Because they deserve to know they are home, they deserve whatever stability I can provide for however long I can provide it.
Tonight, before my husband tucked himself into bed and I went to Target in the blissful cold, he said, for what was likely the zillionth time in these 103 days, how hard it is to have three children. And I agreed. It is hard.
But oh is it love. A kind of love that I fought so hard because I simply wasn’t cut out to be a mother. The kind of love that I never really understood until all of a sudden it was just there. The kind of love that never quite goes away (not for any of the children we’ve ever cared for).
I don’t know how we are doing this. I don’t. I couldn’t tell you. And I couldn’t really tell you what we need right now because it changes daily and sometimes hourly. I couldn’t even tell you what I need right now because I simply do not know anymore.
What I can tell you is that it’s worth it. I can tell you that God has worked on me even during the times when I refused to talk to Him. I can tell you that I have been reminded of how loved these children are, and I can tell you that I will never, ever regret fostering – not these three and not the two we had before.
I can tell you that it’s a calling. And even when it’s a calling, there are days when it doesn’t quite feel like a calling. There are days when both Justin and I wonder if we can even do this for one second more – days when we lock ourselves in our bedroom and allow ourselves to ignore the sounds of a 4-year-old who refuses to sleep or even just simply stay upstairs in her bedroom.
There are days when the guilt outweighs the love. Days when I feel like I need to explain to every single person that I am a working parent – that we both work full-time jobs – and that I just need someone to tell me that it’s okay. Days when I feel like I am less than. Days when I feel like I just can’t give any more and wonder if I should even give anything.
But then there are days like today. Days when the almost two-year-old is sick and simply wants to be held. Days when I hold him for hours, his arm tucked under my shirt and kiss his forehead numerous times just to see if he has a fever and just to remind him that he is safe. Days when I’m glad to be at home for the time he needs me for. Days that I know I’m doing the best I can and really that’s what matters.
This is life. And it’s messy. Foster care makes it’s a bit messier. And it makes my house a lot messier. But it’s worth all the mess (especially since I plan on paying someone to help me pick it up).