It’s spring break in Grand Haven, but spring break or not, we’ve always been a family that travels. For a week or sometimes just a couple days, we hit the road whenever we get a green light to go. We are privileged in this way, having been able to show our boys so much of this country at such young ages. Their excitement each time they discover something unexpected, something new, makes the work of these trips worth it. Burrowing down into crisp hotel sheets at the end of a full day with all of my children gathered in the same room, I listen to them drift off one by one until I am the only one left awake. This is when I finally recount the hours, tucking the highlights away for a bit of warmth on a day when it’s hard to find the sun.
“Wagon Wheel” pounds from the radio, and we are headed south. “Louder,” shouts a kid from the back. I should insist on manners but don’t. I’m so tired of talking. “Where we going?” says the baby. “Mama! Where we going?” he repeats. “To the mountains,” I say. “Where?” “To the mountains.” “Where?” Forget it. It’s impossible to hear in this car, but the song and the sun beat against my chest, begging me to turn it up, so I do. We are calling in the good spirits to bring back that joy we lost all those months ago. Joy was a fickle friend last year, and the warmth soaking through the windshield says she promises to change. She means it this time; I want to believe it. As the chorus hits, my husband points out a waterfall charging down the rocky roadside, a scene created by heavy morning rain. The kids keep count of each stream leaping off the edge. Eventually, an argument erupts. There is a cheater in our midst, someone fudging numbers to claim all the glory for himself.
I have been blessed with children who do not look like me – which has always been a sore point, truth be told. I did all the work to get them here. It was my body, now stretched and tired, that carried each of these babies from seed to scream. Through damp, hot summers, I waddled around, thick thighs chaffing, sweat pooling under too-tight bras. It was my pelvic floor threatening to collapse with every step of those final trimesters. Then, in the chill of fall or winter, through piercing pain and force of nature, this body delivered them safely into the doctor’s hands. And when those freshly birthed babes looked up at me, all wrinkled and pink, hair matted, eyes searching, I saw nothing of myself reflected back. “Maybe as they grow,” I thought. Maybe once they’ve evolved from shriveled suckling to human child. Maybe once they fill out and start toddling around the house, they’ll look like me. When they hit 3 or 4 and their features become more pronounced, I’ll find my eyes or nose tucked inside those faces. But, no. I could never find myself there. Today, I understand why.
We sit around a bonfire, roasting hot dogs and s’mores as the daylight starts its slow transition to sleep. Our newest additions, a 10-year-old and her 4-year-old brother, stare longingly at the bag of marshmallows as they await their turn. They’ve been in our care less than 24 hours, and given the brief notice and Friday night arrival, our original plans for the weekend were quickly amended.
I am starting this year by claiming defeat. Last night, I fired off an email to my kids’ principal, begging the school to take them back. I tried. We all tried. And cried. And then tried again. But this is not working, and something has to give. If I’m not careful, it will be my very fragile state of mind. This past year has taught a lifetime of lessons, but one of the most apparent to me is that children are not meant to learn via blips on a screen – recorded videos from some revolving writing instructor sitting at a kitchen table 200 miles away, pages of social studies transformed to digital drivel, Michigan’s economy laid out before a third grader in 4 interactive maps, 2 color-coded graphs and 16 clickable boxes, each containing their own individual set of instructions. I watch my son stare into the monitor, eyes beginning to glaze.
I am shopping for Christmas pajamas to outfit our crew…again. I’ve already done this once. About a month ago, I bought matching sets. They were delivered and shoved in the back of our basement until this weekend when I pulled them out and was struck by a very obvious thing – the jolly Santa faces peering back at me were white. Like super white. Like, in all my life, Santa had never looked so shockingly white. I gazed around our freshly decorated house. Alabaster Santa stared back from every corner. On cookie jars, candles, plates and mugs, from oven mitts, towels and ornaments, there was Caucasian Santa with his pink cheeks and knowing smile.
Two years ago, in early November, we pulled a crib from the basement, pieced it back together and began wondering who might come along to fill it. We made space in the corner of our room. Pictures were hung, one with the alphabet, another boasting a beloved song lyric, and though the crib beneath those pictures was empty, anticipation filled our home.
2020 has taken its toll on everyone. Each of us feels the pressure building as the election year, an ongoing pandemic, and the continuous tide of racial injustice violently collide, one thing against another against another. And though our individual worries may differ greatly and our lives are impacted to varying degrees, few of us can deny the unexpected strain and frustration this year has brought.
I am meant to keep secrets. This is what I’m discovering as a foster parent. I am meant to stay silent about the great big things affecting our very small foster child in order to protect his privacy and that of his biological family. I can understand this need for secrecy. But as the white... Continue Reading →