Friday, January 23, 2009

Sometimes you say no

I just finished a phone call that made my day end on a happy note. For the better part of the afternoon, it looked like the possibility of hitting my beloved memory foam pillow with a contented sigh just wasn't going to happen. No ... it was going to be one of those nights where you close your eyes and try to slay the dragons of the worries that just won't die when the daylight fades.

I had, after all, just turned down placement of a little girl that I know personally ... and adore.

This particular girl is just two and a half. Cute as a button. Smart as a whip. Chatty as they come. Engaging. Curious. Fun. A delightful little girl who is still young enough to be unaw
are of the mess her biological family has made of her life, but wise enough to begin putting together the pieces that spell out "d-i-f-f-e-r-e-n-t."

And now, while she sits on the cusp of discovering that she is "just a foster kid," the state is intent on bungling her life even more.

I won't go into the how and why and wherefore. Let's just give each other the knowing, wizened look that says, "Oh, one of those cases," and move on. The
specifics don't matter. What matters is this precious little girl who deserves a home.

And I have a home. And a bed. And all of the things that little girls need in their lives, like love and cuddles, family breakfasts, siblings and ponytail holders. I have an open spot on my foster license. I have a willing placement coordinator and a state social worker who'd be delighted to move this little girl into my home tomorrow.

But I said no.

My agency's placement coordinator didn't even ask for a reason, but I found myself pouring it out anyway. It was guilt, I think. Guilt over knowing I could help and yet was withdrawing the cup of water that I could have so easily extended. Guilt over seeing a need and saying no.

The reason, you see, is Atticus. Before you ask, no--nothing is wrong with Atticus. Nothing that some intensive one-on-one parenting time and a concentrated helping of spiritual guidance and a whole lot of love won't solve. Atticus has entered that tenuous, heartbreaking stage that I remember so well with Jo: the "who am I?" season that finds little bodies beginning the slow climb that will lead to eventual puberty and little souls grappling with deeper truths than their brains can as yet handle. The season of hand-holding, of long talks and of explaining the world with new depth.

The time when the world that you had previously painted with black and white suddenly must be filled in with shades of grey, green, red and blue.

Growing up, part one, in other words.

Jo made it through this initial stage of maturing with the finesse that defines who she is. A few months of trying on her new skin and shaking the wrinkles out and she was as good as new. No more sulking. No more holding herself up to the images of others. Just Jo--confident and sparkling, assertive and magnetic, always the center of every gathering.

But Atticus is not Jo, and I do not suspect that the first few threads of silk in his own cocoon will adhere quite so comfortably. Atticus takes after his father. He is prone to anxiety. He worries. He is far too intelligent for his own good, and this leads him to try to jam every piece of knowledge and feeling into the small, tight box he has labeled for it, ready to be placed on a shelf in his brain where it can be accessed at his leisure.

Atticus will feel the changes of maturing in his life and his heart, and he will be uncomfortable with the raw emotions that it brings to the surface. I have begun to see the first birth pangs of this new movement in flared tempers, sullen moodiness and irritable impatience, and I am realizing more and more that this will be a hands-on, hearts-on parenting experience for Mr. Blandings, Atticus and me.

With this is mind, I said no to the placement of the little girl.

She needs a home, but I need to fulfill my promise to both God and my son. Atticus needs me. He needs--and deserves--more than a few scraps of my attention as I try to settle a new toddler into our busy household. To give him anything less would be unthinkable.

Even knowing this truth, my heart was heavy. I had put my feet to the path I knew I was meant to take, but not without a glance over my should to apologize for not being somehow more capable of doing it all. Maybe if I were a better mom all around, I could have said yes to both the little girl and Atticus ...

Because I am Supermom, don't you know. Cape and all.

Sometimes, the Holy Spirit rushes ahead of our prayers and brings our requests to the feet of the Lord. This was one of those days. As I changed Manolin's diaper, the name of a fellow Christian foster mom of five came to mind. The voice of doubt that had been whispering my shortfalls receded, and a new voice echoed in my head. Can't hurt to call her. See if she's got an open spot on her license. Why not?

So I called. She did have an empty spot. She loves toddlers. The girl's racial background almost matches one of her kiddos. "A little girl? Absolutely. Who do I call?"

A flurry of phone calls and email exchanges. A long wait. And then, this:

"Mary Grace, I just wanted you to know that we've got it all worked out. She's coming next Friday. I can't believe it! We're so excited! THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THINKING OF ME!"

Even unsettled days can end like that: with happy, satisfied sighs that bring you back to the goodness of God amidst the ongoing flux that we call life. Growth, change, discovery, hurt, joy, frustration ... the world is still moving forward, uninterested in the individual experience. But what's this? A family is being expanded next week. I believe in my heart that the Lord is looking upon that fact and calling it good, very good.

Atticus will weather the storm of his emotional upheaval. He'll figure out a few things about himself and in the end, he will walk away from this short period with a few more tools in his arsenal of self definition. If we are careful, he will learn more about relying on God and start taking the baby steps into a more mature relationship with Him. And he'll learn that he can turn to Mr. Blandings and I no matter what, because our love is not conditional.

So sometimes, you say no. But really, what you're saying is YES.


Sarah said...

Amen, sister! :)

Rachel said...

You are so right. I am reminded of John Piper's essay (can't remember the title) which discusses the fact that every time we choose to minister one way, we are--in essence--saying "No, I won't minister in another way." We are finite, but thank God, He isn't.

Praise the Lord for another growing home!

Torina said...

I loved how you wrote this. I am all bleary eyed. You still wore your cape today. You did good, mom.

Ashley said...

unbelievable post about the true struggle of every mother, balancing the opposing forces of her heart's tremendous capacity for love and her limited time and attention to give.

thanks for putting it into words. was just pondering on how/when to grow my own family this very evening, and considering/worrying over the same issues.

Liz said...

yay! i hate saying no to any referrals. i am the foster parent who keeps calling to check that they found someone for the child i could not take myself.

Overwhelmed! said...

What a beautifully written post. Bless your heart for seeing the need of you that Atticus has right now, and for finding a safe and loving home for the little girl you weren't able to take in. You are truly a supermom, with or without the cape.

We've had to make a similar decision in the past. About 7 months after we had our current foster daughter placed with us, we got a call from our agency asking if we'd take in twin girls. We would've LOVED to have taken in those precious girls and provided them with a safe and loving home for however long they needed it. However, we knew that our current foster daughter as struggling emotionally with the changes that her case had brought about. We understood that it was in her best interest NOT to take in these twins because it would've meant less one-on-one time for her when she needed it most. So, we said "no" to the placement.

Although it was a tough call, it ended being a very good decision.

Amy Jane (Untangling Tales) said...

Praise. God.

He is so *good*!

Big Red Driver said...

I struggle with the pride sin of "no one could do it like me" in these situations. You are right of course.

AllyJo said...

Bless your heart for a lovely post and blog. Thanks for stopping by mine and I'll be sure to return to yours. I hope you'll come back. A few years ago, I got my tubes untide. While anxiously awaiting more children to add to our family, I was hit from behind by a man with no insurance and suspended license. Thus, my back is ruined forever and I don't know if more of those children will ever come. It's in God's hands. Anyway, I tell you all this because we had a boy name picked out and it was "Atticus". :)

God bless you. Take care.

Luke said...

How do you do it? Another great post. Amen and amen! Yes, yes, yes.

Our God is good [smile].


FatcatPaulanne said...

Mary Grace, I have a question for you. We have our foster care recert this Friday and honestly, I'm struggling with whether to say yes another year of foster care. We don't have a placement right now. We've only ever had one baby placed with us. The thing is, my husband is just going along with something I want and the kids are okay with fostering (marginally) but absolutely opposed to ever adopting. Would you back off it you were me? I can't decide what to do, but if a child were to be placed with us and parental rights then terminated, I would want to adopt, but I know it would hurt my 12-year-old daughter's feelings.

I also know I wouldn't consult her for an opinion if I became pregnant, whether to keep that child ...

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