Thursday, May 21, 2020

My Heart, It Hurts

In all this fervor of distance learning and 1:1 Google Meets with students, sometimes all a student wants to do is talk. Which is arguably an incredibly good use of our time.

I have students who will spend half their time talking about a new LEGO project, or the Nintendo Switch they're hoping to get so they can play Animal Crossing outside. I have students who will tell me about a feral cat they're feeding, or frustration that they have become a primary caregiver for a younger sibling and aren't really allowed to be 13-14 right now. One student said that she keeps seeing other students on their SnapChat stories, having sleepovers and getting together and taking selfies and THEY'RE NOT WEARING MASKS. She said, "These are the people who are going to make the second wave come and keep us from going back to school." There was loneliness under her justified self-righteousness.

But yesterday, yesterday was something else entirely. I am still recovering, as it has thrown me back into a very, very sad place. 

My student in foster care is in a new placement (fun fact: the week we had our last day of in-school, she had her permanency hearing court date, and the SAME DAY her previous foster guardian put in for her to be removed and placed in a new home, so the day after that she had to pack up all her stuff and go from visitation to her new home, and adjust for two days before our worlds changed. Ugh.), and that new placement is still in the county but not remotely close. With distance learning, she can still attend our classes and meets and be a part of the school community she'd adapted to. 

But yesterday, she did not want to do any work. She was in a funk, and she said, "you can try all you want, but we're not doing any work today," and then she was silent. Which is unusual. 

I asked her if she wanted a break, if she wanted to have this time free and come back to work later, if it was all getting to be too much. That we all can need a break sometimes. And she said yes, but then stayed on. So then I said, "Do you just want to talk? We can stay on and just talk, too." 

And this is what happened: 

Student, after a silence: "You know how you said you and Mr. T couldn't have kids? Why didn't you do foster? Why couldn't you take in foster kids?" 

Me, after a deep breath: "Oh, oh boy. (Tearing up) So, normally at this point in the year you guys have more chances to ask me questions, and I'm happy to answer you but it's hard, it's so hard. We did five and half years of medical trying to have a baby -- I had to take so many injections, and have surgeries, and so much went wrong. Like, seriously wrong. I had a couple things that could have killed me, and I lost two babies. It was so hard. And then we tried to adopt, and we didn't know, we didn't know how hard it was going to be. Medical stuff was hard physically and hard emotionally, but adoption was really, REALLY hard emotionally. We kept not getting chosen. We had a long time where we didn't even have the opportunity to be up for choosing. It felt horrible. One time, we got a call and I was at school and had to keep the kids out of my room and there was a baby born in Buffalo that if we wanted to be considered we'd be reviewed that evening and then if we were chosen we'd have to go the next morning... It was so exciting to think we might be parents overnight, and then we weren't picked and I got that call at school and I had to go talk to the school psychologist because I was too sad to teach and she sent me home. It was awful, and then I got sick and I had to decide to stop. And I had to make a new life where we didn't have children, and have that be okay. 
Because foster, you know, you don't always get to raise that child for keeps -- and the thought of that temporary-ness, of all that possibility of loss after so much loss, I can't handle it. So we moved forward." 

It was a little unfair, because she had her icon up, and I was on the video, and I had zero visual cues for how she was taking this information. but then...

Student: "Well, what about me? If I go to foster adopt, you could adopt me, and my mom would be okay with it and she'd love you and I could be your kid."

THIS IS WHERE MY HEART BREAKS IN A MILLION PIECES BECAUSE WHAT DO YOU SAY TO THAT? Well, first I welled up with tears that just wouldn't stay in my eyeballs and leaked down my face. 

Me: Oh, honey. Oh, wow. I would be SO PROUD to have you as a daughter, that would be so amazing, but I can't be anyone's mom right now. I am not even qualified anymore. --" 

Student: "--You just have to take some parenting classes, and then you can be a foster parent and adopt me."

Me (pretty much failing at hiding any tears or sadness at this point): "Oh, yes, I know -- we had to take parenting classes before, and a social worker came and made sure our house was okay and we were okay, but for foster it's a totally different process and I am just not in a place to do that. I needed to leave that behind to be healthy. All those things that happened, they took something from me. But I would have loved to have you for a daughter, and I can be your friend -- I can be like a crazy aunt when you're not my student anymore and stay in contact and have another _____ Day like we did over Christmas Break, when it's safe. I would love that, I just can't be your mom." 

Student: "Another ____ Day would be amazing, and if you're my aunt I could come sleep over your house..." 

Me: "Um, probably not, but we can do a lot of fun things and I would love to stay in touch way past this year." 

Student: "okay, that sounds good." 

And then the conversation went to other topics and I got off the call and went to my next one, and my next one, and then I had a lunch break and fell spectacularly apart over my avocado toast. 

Raw, heaving sobs that came from a place deep inside that was newly exposed in a way it hasn't been in years. This wasn't a small tear, this was a motherfucking rupture, a hemorrhage. 

First of all, it was immensely difficult to recount my struggles, to summarize over 8 years of hideous pain that has changed me, that left me feeling cored. 

But then, to spend SO LONG not getting chosen, to be passed over time and time and time again, and then to have this beautiful child choose me, oh god that hurts so much. 

Emotionally I want to scoop her up and bring her home, for a hot minute, but then the logical and sane part takes over and I know that this is a beautiful child who is an incredibly hurting child, who has a trauma history that is sooo significant, who has needs I'm not prepared for, and our life is just not set up to upend it and go down that road again. 

I also had the chance to say that our house would be lonely, that she always said she wanted a family with lots of kids because she has so many siblings and she misses them, and my neighborhood doesn't even have a lot of kids, so she'd be so, so bored. That the idea of living with me is very different than the reality of living with me. We love our life but it's not very exciting. And I also said that all that mothering energy I have, all that love I have to give, it all goes to my students, and into school, and so she gets that...just differently than she asked. 

This was so, so, so hard. I still feel hollowed out by it. I feel so lucky to have the trust of this young lady that she felt she could ask. I feel lucky that she would want that. But I feel such a sense of stars misaligned, and guilt, and that push-pull of what's logically possible and what's driven by emotions. 

I called the school psychologist to tell her what happened, so if it comes up in a session it's not a surprise, and also because I wanted to make sure I handled it okay and nothing was inappropriate. 

She was so sad for me, but also said that I did it absolutely the best I could have (and Bryce said the same -- he said "you made it all about how great she is and what she would want, and how you can still have a relationship with her"), and then she said, "You know, no one has a relationship with her the way you do. No one. You can be really, really proud of the relationship and trust you've built with a student who needs that so very badly. And absolutely, you can have that relationship moving forward." 

Well, that's a relief. I'm still crying though. And feeling so sad about a world where kids like her get stuck with shitty family situations, and people like us don't get to be parents. 

Those stars just never quite aligned. 

Monday, May 18, 2020

If We Couldn't Adopt

I have a love/hate relationship with People Magazine. I love it for the fluff and the recommendations for what to read and watch, for the red carpet specials and the famous people's homes stuff, but I also hate anything having to do with the Bachelor (and will not even read those articles), with the Kardashians, and the obsession with celebrity babies and miracle pregnancies.

Seriously, there is never a story about infertility that does not end with a miracle child somehow, either a surprise pregnancy, an improbable pregnancy at 50, or a magic adoption that happened quickly or because the husband was an EMT or the wife was a labor/delivery nurse.

But the last issue I read featured an article about the couple from HGTV's Home Town, and that one took a different turn:

"We knew that if children weren't in the plan biologically, we would adopt. If we couldn't adopt for some reason, having each other would be enough." 

Whoa. It made me go find Bryce and read it out loud to him. Because it is ALMOST NEVER that anyone shares the actual reality that you can enter into the adoption process, you can spend years trying to adopt, and you can leave without those stars aligning. That it's possible to WANT to adopt, but to have it not work out.

Of course, they had a miracle pregnancy that she discovered on MOTHER'S DAY, so a little barf in my mouth there (but good for them), but still -- just that little nugget to place in people's brains that it is actually possible to go into adoption and leave without a baby, and that you can have a relationship that is absolutely enough if the quest for a baby doesn't work out.

This is the piece of our story that is most frequently misunderstood and even bewildering to people -- how can you GO INTO adoption and not COME OUT a parent? There's a thought that it's a heck of a lot easier than it is in reality. There's a thought that you must be somehow deficient or not patient enough. There's this very strange adoption folklore that people who have never known anyone to go through it have that imagines you going to a hospital and picking out your baby like so many perfect almost-ripe avocados at the store.

The concept of running out of the emotional capacity to withstand the process is incredibly foreign. The idea that if one kind of adoption didn't work for you, that you could just jump into another kind (domestic infant didn't work? Get your dossier set up for international! Not that most people who think you can sub methods easily know what an adoption dossier is). The complete obliviousness to the fact that waiting in the adoption process is a full time job, and your stores run out a lot faster if you are also trying to be a fully functioning human in all spheres at the same time. (Of course you can't admit that you are not quite a functioning human, because then it could jeopardize your home study.)

Long story short, THANK YOU to the Home Town couple for sharing that it's possible to not succeed at adoption and it's okay to evaluate your life and know that you have the kind of relationship that could withstand that loss and building a new life, and then take that exit off the family building heartbreak highway towards that new existence.

Want to read more #Microblog Mondays? Go here and enjoy!

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Soothing the Mother's Day Ache

Early May used to be a one-two punch -- first, my birthday, then Mother's Day.

This year I realized that a gift of resolution is reclaiming my birthday as a celebration of the life I have, and not what is lacking. My age is now separated completely from what I want in life. From 33 to 41 my age was a constant reminder that the clock was ticking, that the deadline was looming, that my eggs weren't getting any younger, that my tired and scarred uterus wasn't getting any younger, that my ability to bounce back was waning, that my attractiveness to prospective expectant/birth parents was slipping each time I blew out candles.

This year, I was like, "Huh, 44. Well, that's a pretty cool number, and while I can't wrap my head around the fact that now I'm as old as my parents were when I got married the first time, I'm okay with it. I'm grateful for 44 years. I hope I get at least 44 more. I'm pretty happy with where I've landed at 44. Yay life!"

It's a pretty amazing thing, to have the sting removed from a day that felt so foreboding for so long.

Which brings me to Mother's Day. That day has NOT lost its sting. Or maybe it's more of an ache, not quite as acute as it once was.

But still, Mother's Day weekend is hard, hard, hard. For a brief moment I slip into a melancholy state of feeling sorry for myself. Of feeling left out of a holiday that will never, never be about celebrating me.

Some of the things that trigger the Mother's Day blues aren't there -- I don't have cable and so I don't see a whole lot of Mother's Day ads, I can't go out shopping in public and see sales and heartstrings-pulling ads in person. I did have a few meetings this week where people said HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY TO ALL YOU MOMS OUT THERE! and various comments about how special moms are and how much they deserve the celebration. Which I agree, I'm all for celebrating your mom, but it's always a tiny bit stabby to hear that and then be like, "oh yeah, not for me, never for me."

I can avoid social media (sort of), but now that's one way to connect with people (or at least feel somewhat connected) now that we are all isolated and hunkered down. I will NOT be going up there tomorrow though, I can tell you that. Nope nopitty nope. Already it's full of people putting up memes and posts about the beauty of motherhood, and people who are receiving drive-by Mother's Day gifts from their "mom friends." Which is cool, but then brings me to that womp-womp moment of "no one's ever going to do that for me."

Then again, I did have a few people drive by to drop off birthday prizes and say hello, so that was something, to be celebrated in that way during this weird pandemic.

And today, I had a moment that took this Woe-Is-Me funk I'd been feeling and turned it into absolute gratitude and amazement.

One of my students, a girl who had been pretty challenging during the school year and who struggled mightily with social distraction and being the center of drama while also struggling academically, had her mom drive her to my house to drop off a bag of goodies. Normally this might be a touch creepy since it would mean googling me or something, but I had sent cards of encouragement to all my students and personalized them, and she was always a "save the turtles" VSCO girl earlier in the year so I made hers a pretty sea turtle card. So, my return address was on the envelope. And she loved it -- I got a text from her (yup, weird again that everyone has my number but such is COVID Life) that said it really meant a lot and she loved it. This is a girl that I've connected with 1:1 through the Google Meets, but still have to track her down and call her mom when she blows me off, and then she shows up regularly. I wanted her to know that her attendance mattered to me, that I wanted to help her be successful in this weird new educational world, and I was going to hold her accountable. And her mom totally backed me up. This is a girl who can be very difficult, but who also can be downright generous and caring and seemed to start turning a corner right before the buildings closed down. I was so upset, because we were on a really great trajectory and then BAM, closed. But I kept trying.

I guess all that made an impression, because a car came down the driveway this afternoon and I was like, "who is that?" and then I saw it was my student, with a gift bag. I grabbed my mask and went downstairs and did the 10 foot thing (6 feet is too close!), and waved at her mom and chatted for a moment. I went inside in a bit of a daze and opened up the bag.

A few things I can't eat/drink in here, but it's the thought that overwhelmingly counts
(and Bryce will pick up the slack, ha ha)

As I pulled each item from the bag, starting with the wine and the orange Bud Light, I laughed. And then I started sobbing. Deep, heaving sobs.

I cried because there was so much love and appreciation in each of those items. I cried because it was the most amazing moment, to have a student and a parent show up and bring a gift like that for me. Because I would NEVER EVER have guessed in October that this would be a young lady who'd do this kind of thing for me.

They were happy tears, and bittersweet tears. I may not have a Mother's Day that's meant for me, but how can I not see this for the beautiful thing that it is? I do not have children, despite desperately wanting them. But I absolutely get to love children and have an impact on their lives, and it's a gift. They have an impact on me, too. They are not my children, but they do take up a space in my heart that used to be a gaping baby-shaped hole.

As much as Mother's Day is still hard, it's moments like these that make it sting a lot less. And, for those of you still in the throes of the horrible Mother's Day blues, know that it gets better -- whether you end up a mom or not. The pain is still there, but the ability to see around it just grows and grows and grows.

Monday, May 4, 2020

#Microblog Mondays: That Was 43

Tomorrow, I turn 44. Today, I am still 43 (for 45 more minutes anyway).

Last year, when I started being 43, I was recovering from my hysterectomy, I was embracing my new life in my new house and starting new gardens and finishing out a challenging school year. I had a summer to garden and prepare for a new school year, and then a new school year with all new challenges. I had my first experience with a student in foster care, and my room was overflowing with trauma and social drama, but I was making progress.

And now, 43 is laundering masks along with clothes and keeping disinfectant wipes by the door, and getting a birthday drive by from my mom and stepfather tomorrow morning before my first Google Meet with a student. It's exhaustion from figuring out how to teach remotely and from just the state of things.

I'm not mad at my birthday anymore, 44 really isn't all that different from 43 (although I can't claim "early forties" any more... it's all mid). There's no deadline, no high stakes to it. But it's real weird to turn 44 in a pandemic.

Here are some pictures of my last days as a 43 year old... from the mundane to the outright bizarre. Some things stay the same, and some things have changed pretty drastically. But there it is, another trip around the sun, another chance to celebrate the beauty of existence.

Some cute mini daffodils I planted in the fall that are up and sunshiny by the new golden bleeding heart...and new mulch! 

The first of many plant deliveries, getting them ready to plant  (but now they are in the dining room since there's a freeze warning, ugh) 

My empty middle school, a picture taken by my principal and sent out this weekend (might have made me cry)

Oh yeah, wearing the mask. Hot look of 2020.

Surreal empty marquee at the movie theater

Bryce passed his Candidacy Exam! Two-ish years to go! (Do we both look tired? YES)

Sometimes catalogs come and you find treasures... because you know, the bench is special to us and this is called "Always Together," which is true and also SO TRUE right now. 

Ah, the last day of 43. Luckily I had a good hair day despite the creeping grays and fading color. The curls were cooperating!

Want to read more #Microblog Mondays? Go here and enjoy!