Three Little Words

Yesterday, as I laid in bed following what felt like a very short night’s sleep, I attempted to determine how tired I still was on a scale of “the good ole days when it was just the two of us to we’re raising a soon-to-be-toddler and sleeping through the night is merely a privilege.” Even though it felt like 15 minutes, after glancing at my phone, I was shocked to learn I had just completed ten hours of uninterrupted, glorious sleep. That’s when I heard it.  The tiny chatter of our little one, our almost 22-month-old.  Awake but content to revel in an introverted moment while he expressed the language that is developing at a quick pace these days, in whatever terms he could manage.  I let him chill a little longer before going in to get our day started.

He greeted me with his infamous smile…the one that takes over his entire face and lights up the world around him…his toothy grin with a tiny little dimple placed perfectly in the lower left hand corner of his mouth.  He reached out his arms, and I scooped him up and embraced him with a morning “snuckle” (snuggle). And then I heard it. “I love you.” Three little words. Three of the most significant words a person can ever utter to another individual, and he said them to me. He’s already said them to his daddy, and even my husband’s daughter has heard them on her way out the door, but never me. We made eye contact and almost as if to assure me that I had indeed heard him correctly, he said it again. He smiled once more, and my heart overflowed.

As of today, my husband and I have officially been his parents for 90 days. In that short time, we have felt the pain of watching him struggle with attaching to a new, unfamiliar set of parents and environment. Our hearts have ached at leaving him at daycare for the first time in his life. I can still feel the way his little arms hold on tightly to my clothing as he attempts to scramble up my body when he knows it’s time to part ways for the day. While I know I’m coming back to get him, I can only imagine what his little mind is thinking as yet again he’s had to adjust to new caregivers. We have experienced the worry that only comes with watching your child struggle with an illness you can’t fix when he was hospitalized with pneumonia. We have been through two ear infections as well as a bout of bronchitis…all in the past 90 days. We have watched him express his anger, frustration and confusion at all of the changes by trying to bite us and himself and by attempting to pull out his curly brown hair. We’ve experienced the utter panic and cries of desperation that wouldn’t stop after we put him in the nursery at church.

In those 90 days, we’ve also watched our little guy transition from a quiet, scared little baby to a rambunctious, ball-throwing, chatter box of a little boy. We’ve laughed at his enthusiasm for identifying football whenever it’s on TV and how every time he throws a ball on the ground it becomes a touchdown! We’ve melted over the way he’s taken to his daddy and how his tiny finger points out every new detail he discovers. We’ve chuckled at the phrases he is learning to mimic and relished the quiet moments when he’s sleeping soundly in our arms. And today, we celebrated that our little guy stayed in the nursery and played the entire service!

We’ve been foster parents for close to a year and a half now. We’ve fostered three children and provided respite care for one; three beautiful teenagers and now our little buddy. We’ve opened our hearts and our home to each child with the promise that it was their last stop for as long as they wanted it and the Court agreed. We’ve grieved the absence of our teens when their placement with us came to an end. We’ve spent countless hours praying for them and asking for God’s protection in their lives despite the many difficult situations they will undoubtedly face.

I haven’t shared many details during this journey out of protection and confidentiality of each child’s story. I haven’t shared the nights spent crying over my inability to know how to “fix it” or the questions I can’t answer because I wasn’t there from day one. I haven’t shared how protective and hurt I feel when someone asks me if their “real” parents were drug addicts or when they want to know the most intimate details of my child’s background. I haven’t shared how offended I get when they ask how much we get paid to care for them. I haven’t shared how odd it feels when we receive comments about being saints for helping out a child “like that” or how it confuses me when a person says they couldn’t ever foster because they would get “too attached.” I haven’t shared how embarrassing it feels when you can’t answer the doctor’s questions about “has your child ever…” I haven’t shared there are days it feels like no matter how hard I try, this child will never be bonded to me in a way he or she would have if I had given birth to him or her. I haven’t shared the awful pain that comes when a child asks if they can stay for good if they promise to be good enough. I share this now; however, because I believe in the importance of providing the children of our country and our world with a loving, stable home no matter how hard it might be. I share this now to encourage those going through the same journey to remind them to never give up and to let them know they are not alone. I share this now to ask those unfamiliar with fostering and adoption to be sensitive to those in their communities who have chosen this path and to learn ways to surround them with support and encouragement.

I share this now, because despite all of that, there are incredible days when no matter how old they are, a child just wants a hug and to know it’s going to be alright. Despite all of that, I wouldn’t trade one moment for what I have learned about myself and our capacity as a couple to keep going. Despite all of that, I wouldn’t trade the small victories that come just in time to help you put one foot in front of the other. Despite all of that, I wouldn’t want to love or parent any other children than the ones we have been blessed to have in our home. Despite all of that, when it feels like I can’t go one more day or I can’t possibly screw up any more as a parent, my baby boy looks up at me with his precious brown eyes and says those three little words.