May 1, 2015
When we were preparing to foster, I thought happily of all the baking therapy that would take place in our home. My love language is baked goods (that’s the sixth love language, the book doesn’t talk about it for some reason), and I planned to show our child love primarily through chocolate chip cookies. I envisioned bringing our child to my side, seeing their excitement at making cookies from scratch using wholesome ingredients like flour and eggs and real vanilla and real butter (I know, I know, I used the word “wholesome” right before the word “flour”), laughing and chatting as we worked, sneaking a little science and math into it for good measure, smelling the cookies bake with anticipation, the child expressing love and gratitude to me for what a wonderful lady I was as we ate them fresh out of the oven with a glass of cold milk.
Then our girl came, and
the crap got real things were really hard, and nothing we ever did with her felt remotely Mary Poppins-ish, and I began to feel slightly overwhelmed. Then I was horrified surprised to discover that I was pregnant, and “slightly overwhelmed” turned to thoroughly overwhelmed. Pregnancy took away my enjoyment of food and its preparation, and exhaustion took away any motivation I might have had to push through and do it anyway. And even if my stomach hadn’t been all tied up in knots, and even if I hadn’t been so tired that I’d fall into a dead sleep if left alone on the couch for more than nine seconds, I wouldn’t have baked cookies anyway. You see, I said baked goods are my LOVE language, and I wasn’t feeling particularly loving for a while there. I KNEW cognitively that I loved our girl and everyone else around me, and I CHOSE day after day, hour after hour to demonstrate love as best I could, but I didn’t FEEL very loving.
If I had baked chocolate chip cookies then, they would have sat there on the counter top, four dozen ooey-gooey sweet-and-comforting soft-and-crunchy accusations, silently reproaching me for my lack of sincerity. If I had sent cookies to school in my kids’ backpacks for them to eat at snack time, people would have seen my children eating those cookies, and they would have pictured a calm, smiling woman, smelling of lavender and chocolate and clean linens as she happily busied herself in the kitchen, and they would never have known that the baker of those cookies was actually a skinny blond demented lady who was chucking forks across the counter and doling out lifetime bans on McDonald’s and shutting herself into the van alone in the garage to yell and swear and cry where the kids couldn’t hear her. I couldn’t bake cookies for my kids. I couldn’t! Baking cookies was something the pre-foster-mom version of me had done, and the foster-mom version of me felt very different, and I began to wonder if I had ever really known myself.
Pregnancy and the postpartum days always send me into a bit of an identity crisis, and in this case it was like I had two children back-to-back. I was experiencing the postpartum days of one while being pregnant with the other. And the one was no baby but a large, opinionated, bossy, angry, hurt child, who required so much more of me than I felt able to give. And my boys, who did not require as much, received even less, and their mom had stopped baking for them.
I was driving one day, back in the thick of it, and heard the Tenth Avenue North song “Worn,” and I really should have stopped driving rather than continue plowing along on the freeway half-blind due to tears. (Whenever I worry that I might get pulled over, I now also tack on the added angst “and I’m a FOSTER parent!” Like when the cop is writing out my ticket and discovers that I’m a foster mom, he will arrest me instead. I have no realistic reason to think this, I just imagine the consequences for anything being tenfold because of that title I now carry. But it’s a moot point, because I was not pulled over while weeping that day, so never mind.) If you don’t know that song, or even if you do, here are some of the lyrics:
I’m tired, I’m worn
My heart is heavy
From the work it takes
To keep on breathing
I’ve made mistakes
I’ve let my hope fail
My soul feels crushed
By the weight of this world
And I know that you can give me rest
So I cry out with all that I have left
Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That you can mend a heart
That’s frail and torn
I wanna know a song can rise
From the ashes of a broken life
And all that’s dead inside can be reborn
‘Cause I’m worn
People, I was worn. That was the best word for it. I knew it, and I accepted it, but I didn’t want to feel that way forever. I wanted to KNOW the struggle would end. And I finally realized that, though we are given periods of rest and many, many beautiful moments, we will always struggle on this earth, regardless of our circumstances. And the struggle WILL end, but probably not this side of heaven.
I still struggle with our girl. She can be so lovely, but she can be a real piece of work too. Knowing the reasons why she’s that way doesn’t make it NOT difficult. If anything, it makes it MORE difficult, because dealing with her behavior is so stinking complicated. But now when I hear that song and it makes me cry, it’s not my own weariness that I’m thinking of, it’s hers. She doesn’t realize it, but I see a heart that’s frail and torn, and I see the ashes of a broken life, and I want to see redemption and beauty come out of that for her.
At some point, I started baking again. I made chocolate chip cookies the other day, and I was happy while I made them. I packed some into baggies which I put into backpacks, and I hoped that when my kids took them out at snack time, they would feel loved. Probably that simple gesture didn’t carry QUITE so much weight for them as it did for me, but it doesn’t matter. They had a taste of home while out in the world, and they knew that at the end of the day, they would be coming back to that home, where their mom loves them.