Sunday, May 27, 2012
Big Decisions. Huge Decisions. Super-size Decisions.
I’m standing in the shower semi- alone parenting from afar. I am diligently trying to organize my thoughts. I know. TMI. But it’s one of the few places I can block out some of the distractions and try to think clearly. I stand under the warm water a long time – between shouts to my 2-year-old asking him what he is doing – and reminders to my 3, 4 and 6- year-old that I just told them “No balls in the living room!” (It’s amazing how much you can tell from the vibrations on the shower wall.)
Anyway, I’m praying and trying to ask for clarity for a very important decision our family must make. Do we grow again from super-size to unfathomable? Are we willing to take the risks associated with taking in yet another older teen and her baby – knowing that her child’s father will also need to be integrated into the home at some level. Knowing what I know. Doing this as many times as I already have. Recognizing that it takes many years of a committed relationship with both mom and child to transform lives. Experiencing - first hand - that success (at least in worldly terms) is not guaranteed.
So, the questions remain:
Am I prepared to guide yet another young woman into her role as mother to her child – acting as part mom to the teen and part mom to the baby – instructing, teaching, leading and sometimes yelling, demanding and ordering?
Can I offer enough to everyone? In the past three days I have driven 3 hours each direction to bring 3 of our kids to the wedding celebration of their biological aunt – so that they can continue their relationship with the members of their biological family who want and deserve to know these children. Arriving home at midnight, I am awakened at 6:30 a.m. by a phone call from the biological sibling of two of our adopted children, asking me to rush to the hospital for her delivery. This could have been exciting, BUT this day had been set-aside for the graduation party of my current high school senior. The phone call disrupted the well-made plans and meant that everyone had to pitch in to clean and cook and get ready for the party so that I could stay at the hospital. I left the hospital when she was 7 cm -- just in time to help my mother and older daughters find the necessary dishes, sweep the floors and clean up the children. I never changed out of the clothes I threw on in a rush at 6:30 a.m. I never got to put on make-up so that I wouldn’t look like a freak of nature in pictures with my daughter. I never got to brush my teeth. I was sweaty from the last minute rushing around. But I tried to stay fully focused on her celebration – enjoying the company. I didn’t want to short-change the graduate by focusing on the baby that was likely being delivered while I was at the party.
As the last guests left the party, I grabbed a toothbrush and a clean shirt and raced out the door to return to the hospital – hoping I would make it in time for the baby. I missed it by about 15 minutes. I was okay with that, but I didn’t want to short-change my child in labor either. I didn’t want her to feel less important than the graduating child. All I could do was tell her that her baby “broke in line and he and I needed to have a long talk. “ He was due the next day and my plans depended on him coming on schedule. He didn’t. Which is the story of my life.
And then there is the question of the rest of the family. How did they feel? Many times. In fact, most times, the question is really what “I” can handle as mom. Unless my husband has a very strong indicator otherwise, he always defers to my saturation level. If I can’t handle one more, then he certainly can’t do it. Sometimes I tell him that I can’t do it without his help so I have to know that he fully agrees – even if he doesn’t always want to make the sacrifice. But, in a few situations, circumstances demand that we involve the entire family in decision-making. This is one of those times. Because it is clear I am already overwhelmed. It is clear I already have too much on my plate. It is clear that I am only one person and that I can’t do this alone. So I need to know whether they are willing to make the sacrifices necessary to make this work. We hold a family meeting.
Two hours later, we have hashed out many of the issues. We talked about the importance of the biological links to this child and her new baby. We talked about the positives and negatives. We prayed together. Tried to determine our likelihood of success. Discussed balancing our mission as a family verses the needs of our kids to find their own path and do whatever it is God is calling them to individually. We talked about how hard these choices are. About how we need God to be direct and tell us what to do.
And while these thoughts swirl in my head, I think about how I would persuade a judge that our family deserves a chance to offer this young mother and her new baby a chance to make up for past mistakes. Lots of past mistakes. How would I convince the welfare agency or the family court judge that in spite of our super-size nature, that we have nothing worldly to gain from this endeavor except the gratification of knowing that we were willing to try -- knowing that success is not inevitable. How could I explain that we understand that this teen mom has the potential to disrupt the entire family – but that she isn’t the first person with that potential and we have survived thus far.
And then our 2011 Christmas picture came to mind. It contains 20 people – which is most of our kids, some of their spouses, and most of the grandkids. But when I start counting I realize that 10 people are still missing! One was in Japan working Tsunami relief. Two were on their honeymoon. Two were in New Orleans. Three were at another family gathering. One can’t be seen because he wasn’t born yet and the last one passed away last year in a car accident.
And this image made me think about a few weeks ago when my husband and me took our three biological children to a wedding. At about the same time, we all realized that it was one of the few times we had been in this particular combination in years. We have been raising other people’s children for so long that it is rare for the original five of us to be separate from ALL the other kids. It was remarkable enough that it lead to a “what if” conversation about how our lives would have been so different if we hadn’t accepted our mission. Although we enjoyed that night together immensely, none of us wished that our lives had turned out differently. We laughed at the possibilities.
And in the shower, under the warm water, while shouting to one of the big kids to check on all the little ones so I could think for just a few more minutes – I realized that our super-size family Christmas picture represented not just numbers, but lives that were different because we had been willing to take risks and sacrifices. Because we had been willing to make a lifetime commitment, in spite of less than stellar conduct. That if we had taken the easier road, we would have been able to fit our charming little family on a single greeting card – but we wouldn’t have had the honor of joining others through this journey called life.
I still don’t have a clear answer. But I know that it is worth it. Even when I feel like a failure.
Post Script 1.
It keeps occurring to me that we can’t make any promises of success. And that isn’t very reassuring. Especially to lawyers and judges. And we have problems and issues much like the rest of the world – just condensed in time and space. And while I can’t ensure that this teen mom will overcome all of her obstacles and successfully parent her child, I can say that we traditionally work through the issues in the context of our family and our community – not through the state welfare agency. The state exists for those that cannot manage through their own support networks. Our children are safe. Our children are loved. All of our children face many difficulties and challenges – even my biological children and the ones who came as newborns – but we are working together. Helping each other. Learning from each other. Supporting each other. In the context of family. And that is the way it should be.
Post Script 2.
We made our decision as a family. It will be hard. Very hard. It will require sacrifices – including changing rooms – again. It will require team work. But we are willing to try to do it. We are willing to take mother and baby. Now lets see if we can convince the attorneys, social worker and the judge. Praying as I sit in court.
Post Script 3.
Mom and baby are home. They are ours.