Grandparents Brunch for the girls at school. I just got the notice, and thought nothing of it. But driving to school one gloomy morning, I started crying and just couldn’t stop. My mom would have LOVED attending a grandparents brunch. I mean LOVED. Cause that woman…she was fierce with her affections. And I am just so sad she missed the whole grand-parenting gig. I am sad for her. I am sad for me. But not so much for my girls. They don’t know. They don’t know that their grandmother would have made a bazillion ten-hour trips to see them – to be with them – to breathe them in. They don’t know that she would have made sure they had a softball, or basketball, or tennis racket in theirs hands as soon as they could walk. They don’t know that she would have brushed, braided, curled, and styled their hair. They don’t know that she would have played and played and played with them. They don’t know that she would have rocked them endlessly. They don’t know that her laughter might have frightened them because it was so full, robust, and LOUD. They don’t know that she would have danced and danced and danced with them. They don’t know that she would have hummed them to sleep as she lovely gazed upon their faces. They don’t know that her hugs would have left them breathless. They don’t know that she would have loaded them up in the car and set off on adventure after adventure. They don’t know that she would have fought for them. They don’t know that she would have loved them well…so very well. They don’t know. But they will. One day, I will tell them. And we will laugh. And cry. Because right now…childhood…they are unaware of what they are missing out on. They don’t know.
Today is the beginning of a new year. And it is my wedding anniversary. Well, one of them. The one that happened 24 years ago. This day is a day of sweet memories….of joy and tears. Always the tears.
One of the gifts of grief is the richness it adds – to all of life’s celebrations. And the comfort it promises – for all of life’s trials. The ones we lose – the ones who become a part of us – they stay. I remember during grief counseling, my wise adviser said, “The goal is to go back to the moments before death, to pick up the memory of your loved one, and bring him along for rest of your journey.” And I embraced that idea with all my heart. And because of that, Chuck is here. He was at my wedding to Phil. He was in the delivery room with Eden. He was at our adoption hearing for Denver. He was in all of the sweet moments of my life as a Tessier – and in all of the painful ones.
So today I celebrate – the union that began this glorious journey.
I miss you, buddy. Thanks for the memories. Thanks for helping to create the beautiful life that I now embrace.
So, we’ve been fostering for about three years. And in that three years’ time, we’ve been assigned the crème de la crème of case managers. I wish she could say the same for us…or for me. But she has informed me…laughingly, “Jan, you are not a good foster mom. You are a great mom. But you treat these foster babies like they are yours. And they are not. You must remember, they are not yours.” Yep. It is true. I struggle greatly with the disparity in my parenting style for my “own children” versus my parenting style for my precious fosters. Risk management? What’s that? I figure, as long as the consequence is not fatal…or near fatal…let ’em figure stuff out for themselves. Right? Let ’em play, and tumble and climb and explore. Let ’em be bold and courageous in the face of the play scape or the slide or the tree. Yeah. No bueno for my Peas. No. Bueno.
And in my quiet moments, I realize, I am NOT a good foster mom. There are aspects of this gig that I forget time and time again. But I am learning. Slowly. I am learning. The babies belong to another woman. And my haphazard approach to risk management probably leaves her frustrated…and worried. And I am starting to realize, my inattention to detail is…unkind. Sigh.
Though it will feel crazy unnatural, I am going to try to parent in a way that is…against every instinct I have. Now, I won’t stop being me…and I’ll make mistakes…and the fact that I am currently parenting a dare-devil of a toddler comes into play. Up til now, my focus in parenting has been for the love of the babies in my charge. My passion for their good. I am going to try to parent in a way that is loving to my charges’ mama. A consideration for her vulverable position of leaving the care of her babies to another.
Here’s to becoming a more loving foster mom…a fit foster mom.
We are a foster family. Phil and I have willingly gone into this endeavor…we’ve counted the cost. Not so for Eden and Denver. Nope. The girls are coming along for the ride…actively participating…though they’ve had no say. And I wanted this for them. I wanted them to live the gospel. I wanted a life for our little family that meant, “We’re in this thing together.” I wanted this…in theory. The reality hurts my heart. But still, I want this for them.
When it comes to fostering, a great deal of attention is given to the fear of losing a child and the grief that comes with that. But make no mistake, grief happens in fostering…whether or not a child stays with the foster family or departs. And I failed to recognize this for my girls…and for me.
I am a fan of grief. It has been my best and truest teacher. Yet, I am almost always blindsides when it pops up in unexpected places. Like in the delivery room…where a beautifully healthy baby is put into mama’s arms….or in a wedding chapel…or when foster babies find a safe haven. There is grief …sometimes deep grief…in the change in seasons.
I was unprepared for the grief Eden and Denver would experience as our family blissfully welcomed two little girls. Yet my dear ones…my babies…they want their mama…they want the mama they had before the girls came. They want more of me than there is. And that mama is gone…forever.
I wanted (and still want) so desperately to ease their suffering. I saw it in Eden first. Weepy…so very weepy. I recognized her grief…but not the importance of her feeling her grief. I pulled the ol’, “But Eden, you are doing something so wonderful for these girls…” number.
Then I saw this quote by John Piper:
Occasionally, weep deeply over the life you hoped would be. Grieve the losses. Then wash your face. Trust God. And embrace the life you have.
I was not allowing Eden to weep and sit in the yuck of losing me. Nor Denver. They needed to moan and cling and cry. So, right now, our girls are in the yuck…the yucky, yucky yuck. Don’t get me wrong, they love Chick Pea and Sweet Pea already. Eden and Den are gloriously helpful and sweet and kind and gentle and patient. There is lots of laughter around here…lots of joy…and lots and lots and lots of tears.
Together, we will grieve this joyous event…receiving Chick Pea and Sweet Pea. We will grieve the life we lost…the dynamics…the extra time to cuddle and snuggle…the attention.
Then we will wash our faces.
And embrace the life we have.
As a family.
Denver…oh Denver. I am so proud of this girl. On the evening of March 4th, she was my little…my baby. By the end of the night, she was a big…and a heck of an older sister. She fell right into the role. Seems she likes to guide and help…and be da boss, a bit. Mainly, her little chest swells as she shows her little charges the ropes.
At two years and six months, Denver:
- distinguishes each guest that enters our home by genitalia…so be prepared. “Her has vulva.” OR “Him has penis.” It’s a thing right now. She is starting to grasp the concept that she does not, in fact, have a penis…she. has. a. vulva.
- is infatuated with the movie Home and reenacts the scene in which O runs to the Gorg ship…with Gorg “egg” outstretched in his hand…shouting, “Gorg! GORG!!!” It has been a most gratuitous month for her…March was filled with plastic Easter eggs and all. (This kid is adorable.)
- begins each morning with, “I need candy.” She repeats this statement several times an hour…every hour…all day.
- got into my glucotabs. First kid…kept Kyser out; kept Celis out; kept Kilian out; kept Eden out. Found Denver sitting in the car…open bottle of glucotabs…mostly empty. Stinker. (For the uninitiated, glucotabs are basically sugar pills…candy, if you will. They raise blood sugar quickly.) For each child in my life, I explained, “No! You may NOT have one. That is my medicine. ” Worked with every kid…until Denver.
- asks for privacy…for diaper changes…or just to tinkle IN her diaper. I think it’s almost time for potty training.
- is afraid of bugs. This breaks my bug-loving heart. She’s not totally afraid…she just does not want to touch them.
- has my frustrated growl down perfectly. Per-fect-ly. She even follows with, “I’m. So. Frus-ter-ated!!!” It is the most adorable imitation.
- has pronoun confusion. Eden did not really go through this phase, and it almost killed me. Denver’s in the thick of it. “Her is my friend.” “Him is silly.” Etc, etc. Swooooon.
- repeats questions with the answers…ad nauseum. In all honesty, I totally love this stage. She is rehearing a conversation…and rehearsing it…and rehearsing it. Now, this past month has been filled with lots of visits from two of our favorite boys, Landon and Maxon. So, this little number was played over and over:
- Denver: Him has penis?
- Me: Yes, he has a penis.
- Denver: He is a big boy?
- Me: Yes, he is a big boy.
- Repeat…twenty times…give or take.
- OR, this one:
- Denver: I have penis?
- Me: No, Den. You have a vulva.
- Denver: I have vulva?
- Me: Yes, babe. You have a vulva.
- Repeat, repeat, repeat.
- (Note, Phil does not find this rehearsing thing to be nearly as fun as I do.)
- tells us, “Shhhh. The baby’s seeeeping” when Sweet Pea is taking a nap.
- has pretend phone conversations with Nana…all the time.
- is growing up! She’s not the baby anymore.
- is definitely grieving. Sniff, sniff. This whole change…two more babies…is fun and NOT fun. She’s been very clingy…and wants to sit in my lap or near my lap or just be near me. She cries. A lot. And she doesn’t know why. But I do. And I try to love her through this transition…and let her cry and be held and be grumpy. So proud of what she is doing…even if she has no clue she is doing it.
Spoiler alert: we are not pregnant. We do not “officially” hope to get pregnant…but we hope. I waited two days upon completing this before testing. It was negative.
I wanted to capture this moment from the inside…from the middle. It may be the last time. Maybe. So for my precious fellow dancers, I offer you my heart. I hope it comforts yours.
I am doing the dance again. I’ve done it over and over…and yet it seems new each time. For twenty years…give or take…I have been doing this crazy fertility dance. This time, I want to capture it mid performance…this time…as it may be the last time…but in reality, that little fib is an integral part of the dance.
It begins with blood and tears. Again. The blood. It begins with the blood.
Failure to conceive.
Failure to breathe.
And then quickly…hope…always with the hope. Why? This whole dance would be so much easier if there wasn’t this crazy, starry-eyed hope that accompanies each failed pregnancy. And I don’t know how to stop the bubbling up of hope. With the blood and the tears comes an immediate response…next time. My heart cries next time. And no matter how ridiculous this hope thing is…no matter how many years go by…no matter how much explaining I offer my heart and beg it to STOP IT, FOR THE LOVE OF PETE, that glimmer flickers. Next time.
I realized just this morning…hmmm, I have been irritable for two weeks…too long. I have exactly one week of extreme, mind-numbing irritablity. And right now I’m on week two.
So I counted. Thirty five days. Last cycle began thirty five days ago.
“Phil. I think we’re pregnant.”
How many times have I said that? How many pregnancy tests? It has been positive exactly TWO times out of the countless pregnancy tests I’ve taken over the past twenty years. TWO. I should have bought stock.
I have been here before. I have been at day thirty five before…and tested…and failed the test…miserably.
And this stupid hope just hangs around. And I fall for it every time. And I feel like such a fool.
Once more, here I sit. In hope. In humiliation.
I will take another test…submission to potential indignity…again. Perhaps I’ll wait a few more days? This is, after all, the sweet spot…the point between late cycle and definitive no. This is the space of hope.
We just happen to have a pregnancy test tucked away in our closet from the last dance. (I bought two last time…just in case. Something about having a test on hand eases the mortification of seeking out and purchasing my box of hope.)
And so…here I sit…in hope.
A day frozen in my heart and mind. It is set apart unlike any other day of the year. I am transported back to that moment in which God held me steady while I breathed, breathed, breathed with Chuck until the breathing stopped. That exquisite moment of release and loss.
And so it was, my life with Chuck ended on August 20th. Our hopes, our dreams…all gone.
Oh, but it was Chuck Picciuti, the elder, who first said it. We were standing in line at the social security office and I was musing over the end of my writings about the hospital…how I never would have guessed the ending of our love story. With the tenderness only a father has for a beloved daughter, he assured me, “Jan, your life is not over.” It needed to be said. I needed to hear it. Though I did not believe it at the time, those words were a blessing from father to daughter…a promise that is being fulfilled…even as I write this.
“Your life is not over.”
It wasn’t long before I joined a young widow’s group and wrestled with others concerning how…how in the world does one move forward? How can life ever, ever, EVER have sweet peace ever again? How?
I learned…moving forward did not mean leaving Chuck behind. I found that convenient since my DNA had been altered…transformed by the power of marriage. I could not leave Chuck behind because he had been intricately woven into the fabric of…well, of me.
And then God sent Phil. Oh, Phil…a man of honor. Phil who esteems Chuck and the fiercesome creature Chuck helped fashion through fourteen years of marriage. Ah my brave Phil! How grateful I am for your gracious courage.
Together, Phil and I have created a life…in which Chuck is intertwined. He is in our daughters…he is in our marriage…he is in the laughter, the tears…the life.
And today…we honor you.
Chuck, because of you: