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 unaware 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.