Fostering Words: Love Isn’t Enough, But At Least It’s Something

As a fresh spring chicken of a foster parent, I was given by one of my dearest friends a candy-pink shirt with the words, “Love is Not Enough” boldly stated for all to see. This puzzled me just a bit. “Hmm…we’ll see”, I thought to myself, as I wore it with pride.

That was about fifteen years ago.

Love, most definitely, is not enough.

Sometimes, I truly feel that I may have learned more about things through unfortunate experience than the professionals to whom I have brought my children for expert advice. I have felt the thoughts of some:

“You are making this up.”

“This is not a big deal.”

“I just don’t see it.”

Others, certainly, have sympathized. Many have been helpful. Some have been compassionate. Some have made me feel like I am doing it all wrong.

To that, I turn to look at my grown children, who come home to us, who remember what kind of soap I like, my best coffee drink, or what era vintage pottery makes me happy, who carry my groceries, who make a positive difference to others in their adult lives, who love me and whom I love, desperately.

And how I have loved, too, the little ones. Love alone, though, as I have seen, isn’t enough.

It’s not enough to melt what’s frozen inside, nor is it enough to erase the things that happened, perhaps, at the hands of the unknown. Not love, not anything, can make the hurt go.

It can, though, make the path just a little easier.

Lots of people talk about trauma these days, and it’s effect on the developing brain. Trauma changes people. Trauma also changes people that love people that have endured trauma.

As a foster parent, I learned a lot about behaviors that children who have been abused or neglected may exhibit: puzzling, disturbing, hard-to-handle behaviors.

Over the years, I have participated in several trauma workshops and classes. I have taken my children to therapists, neurologists, psychiatrists, psychologists, naturopaths, spiritual healers, and other specialists that may or may not have been able to make things easier or more understandable.

I have lain awake even on the rare nights when everyone else slept, worrying, wondering, and feeling all the things that could possibly fit inside of me.

Not long ago, a thought came to mind:

  • “Are we really helping these children to whom we have opened our doors? Are they better off in our care than they otherwise might have been?”
  • Sometimes, the answer is obvious. Often, though, it is more elusive.

    Multiple children come to the door wearing only the clothes on their backs but carrying much more than we can see. They bear witness, as do I, to the pain of one another until things are so mixed up that we can’t tell where the behaviors began.

    One child finds a peaceful space, but another must interrupt with his own, new found chaos as this is all he has known.

    So in trying to offer a safe place, have we just added to what is hard?

    I know there is no real answer to that question. There can’t be.

    Earlier in my tenure as a foster parent, I had often thought that it would have been helpful to know as much as possible about the pasts of the children in my care, but over the years that has really changed for me.  I feel like my job is to meet them where they are, and to help them embrace who they are, even the hard parts, and to let them tell their stories as they are ready.  It’s a hard job: it’s hard to be okay with just being, instead of always attempting to be helpful or trying to find a solution.

    I just hope that they will look back at the footprints one day when I am an old hen and see that they were deeply loved through the silence, and though love may not have been enough, at least it was something. And just maybe, they will return, with or without coffee.

    As for the pink shirt, I am not sure what became of it. My friend, though, was right.

    The Long Winter

    On most nights before the boys go to sleep, we have been reading the Little House books for close to a year now. I love the stories of honesty and simplicity, of struggle and triumph, of bravery and tenacity. Here at the farm, we love tapping our maple trees, picking dandelions and Queen Anne’s lace for making jelly, gathering eggs, and harvesting what we have planted in our garden. We love exploring the forest and sitting by the fire when the moon is up with the stars in the sky, and the boys love when their musical daddy sings to them or plays music on pretty much any instrument that he comes across. We also love coming in to our warm house which is bursting with the conveniences of today, and where we don’t have to worry about a bear sneaking through a makeshift curtain to torment us (or worse) in our sleep while we wait for Dan to build a proper door.

    We don’t have to go back to some of the hard things. We have come so very far.

    Last year at this time, as the cold set in, we were planning for a wedding. Our visions were often blurred through the snowflakes, which seemed to come with more strength and fortitude than in other winters. As the seasons turned, the weather didn’t, until the rain replaced the snow and ice. We reluctantly imagined wedding guests wearing rubber boots and holding onto their hats and skirts during what we had hoped would be a midsummer night’s dream.

    And it was, because despite the fierce winter, and the spring that really never came, the sun came out to shine brightly on that beautiful June day.

    When I first visited the dispensary, preliminary medical cannabis card in shaking hand, I hadn’t considered that there would be so many options. This is so typical for me: I can’t see the forest for the trees. For so many years now, my focus has been on the addition of autism to the list of conditions treatable with medical cannabis, and the attainment of what we felt would be the key for our son, without understanding that there would be more decisions and adjustments to follow. There always are.

    The snow was melting, but the ground was yet frozen.

    During the past year, our son’s behaviors have become more manageable. We have still struggled, but there has been significantly less physical aggression and combative behavior, perhaps due to maturity, therapy, karma, or some combination therein. The little boys often tried to provoke him, to try to recreate the chaos that they knew so well. It was what they were used to. This, to me, was surprising and unsettling. He would react in harsh anger, fueling the reaction that the brothers sought.

    I worried about letting them out of earshot for too long on the farm property, doing what most little boys want and need to do: run free and explore. What if I was unable to intervene in time, if they fought too hard and I couldn’t get to them?

    He doesn’t like the taste of the edibles that I chose from the dispensary; I hadn’t expected that he would. He is, though, cooperating. That, in a sense, is our first victory. The strain that we got in pill form had a hyper-focusing effect, which led to arguing and, ultimately, aggression. Though this felt like something of a defeat, the nighttime strain had promoted peaceful, easy sleep. After a bit of experimenting with a hybrid strain, we have a self-declared calm boy who has had the best consecutive three days that I can remember.

    I wasn’t expecting the snow in mid October, especially since I was still thawing from last winter. In some ways, it just seems like one arduous, multi season continuation of challenges. It’s beautiful, some days. And there are breaks from the cold, breaks to fuel the next part of the journey.

    I wonder if Laura and Mary expected to move around so much during their times on the prairie. If they had known what was ahead, would they have put themselves into each moment, would they have noticed the layers of sunset and the secret bird nests? Perhaps that was what kept them going.

    The littlest boy, in particular, has been relentless the past few days, trying hard to make his brother angry by throwing toys, turning off his video game, or sneaking his food. This hasn’t worked as well with the new sense of calm. For this, we are so grateful.

    Already, the pumpkins and chrysanthemums are frozen hard into the window boxes, and I haven’t had the chance to cut back my hydrangeas. I may not get to them, but they are magical in their own way, standing resilient with wind-dried, straw-colored blooms.

    The winter will turn in rhythm. Tomorrow’s hard things will be different from those of today. We can’t go back. We may not want to, but remembering will make us know just how far we have come.

    I will be returning to the dispensary this week for more counsel (and hopefully a hybrid in pill form for our boy) but, clearly, we are closer.

    *********************************

    “These faces of dust and stone are, the dirt and bone of loss.”

    –Ben Howard, “London”

    ********************************

    I share these things not to highlight my family’s personal struggle, but in hope that others can relate to parts of the journey, and that we can reach out in kindness and peace to one another. Please share with others, if you are so inclined.

    XO

    Where We Are: My Medical Cannabis for Autism Update

    “I had a great time. Can’t wait until next week.”

    Well, that was a relief, because the faces he made during the hour-and-fifteen-minute basketball clinic had me believing otherwise.

    We have come a long way, but we have so far yet to go. Four years ago on this day, I stepped out of character and shared testimony to a room full of people at the Holiday Inn in Countryside. I described, in two-and-a-half minutes, what it had been like to parent my son, and the frustrations and challenges that had led me to this place, on this day, pleading to have autism added to the list of conditions that could be legally treated with medical cannabis.

    On this day, four years ago, autism was recommended but ultimately rejected by Illinois’ medical director. What followed was much campaigning seemingly to no avail, and a series of legal appeals that led nowhere but to disappointment.

    Meanwhile, we struggled in the trenches through a few more hospitalizations, many medication changes, trials of alternative treatments, more physical holds, broken windows, damaged property, and defeated spirits.

    We love our son. Thoughts of the future were overwhelming, as he continued to grow bigger and stronger, and the effects on everyone else were glaring.

    Our psychiatrist recommended in-home applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy; eighteen months later, the services began, with a provider working in our home six days a week. Our son continued to attend the therapeutic school where he had gone since the second month of kindergarten.

    It seemed that he would struggle each spring and fall, but we would manage to come out on the other side. Very slowly, we had seen some of the aggression subside. And then, a transition of one of the workers would set the shaky ship off course yet again.

    We have had some successful times, and some good family times, even in the community. We have also had to drag ourselves through the dark waters of fear just as we thought the light was coming.

    Time marched on. Late this summer, as my mind had been full of many, many things, I received surprise word from an attorney’s office and also the patient advocate (connected to us by our older son) who had sat by my side in that auditorium four years ago on this day. There had been no fireworks, no great celebratory feasts of which I was made aware, but autism had indeed been approved as a condition treatable with medical cannabis. This seemed to be the culmination of a fight that I had all but walked away from, only to have it circle back, it seems, in God’s timing.

    The angst has begun to rise once again. It seems the boys take cues from one another, modeling negative behaviors and forgetting to be kind. We seem to forget where we were. We need something, and maybe this is finally it.

    I was excited to contact our psychiatrist, a doctor who had been supportive of our journey to try to help our boy with medical cannabis, and who we first traveled many miles to see, and who we now see by virtual office as she has since moved across the country.

    We were all set, it seemed…until the need arose for standardized testing which resulted in an autism spectrum diagnosis. I have a cabinet of paperwork on this child, and many files hold hospital reports, office notes, and clinical diagnoses of, among many other things, pervasive developmental disorder and autism spectrum disorder. The elusive standardized test, though, was nowhere in that cabinet, because it had never been done.

    Lots of bad thoughts ran around in my head. What if, when we were this close, we were actually in a place where it never could be? What if, after all of this, his autism diagnosis could not be “officially” confirmed? Did it matter?

    We have been hoping and rallying for about five years now. We owed him the chance. Our kind lead behavior analyst recommended a psychologist that could do the requested test. We waited about two weeks, made the trip for the testing, and waited three arduous weeks more.

    The report came, and I wondered what I had wondered about, when, of course, we had known all along.

    It was good to see our doctor’s response when I forwarded the report: “Received, thank you…I will move forward with the application…”

    So we wait, once again. And again, we will wait when the application has been submitted to the state. But like everything else, it’s going to be okay. In this very moment, we are okay.

    We are back at basketball clinic again, and our boy is smiling and joking around with the other participants. He misses a free throw, and still he smiles.

    It has, though, been a rough week at home, for not just this boy. My body is sore from a few too many physical holds of writhing boys. I am glad the sun came back out today, as that always beckons a sense of hope from the darkness.

    I am hoping that the time, this time, finally, is near.

    *Many thanks to EVERYONE who has helped and supported us as we have desperately tried to make our way!

    Occupation

    They’re a bit like my children, hummingbirds. We never know how long they will stay, or when they are going to come back. I have made a point to keep my eye on a hummingbird when it comes to the feeder outside the kitchen window; I have taught my children the same, those that will listen, anyway: to take in the fleeting magic until it is gone. It’s a lesson I am still trying to learn. The hummingbird’s time is short, and it is worth one’s complete reverence.

    After making fresh nectar in the early summer, I hadn’t given it another thought until just a few days ago when I noticed one of the tiny birds hovering nearby but not stopping to feed. Again, I forgot to refresh the nectar. I have had a lot going on inside my head.

    A few days later as I was sorting basil leaves for pesto, a hummingbird brighter green than my garden harvest stopped to take nectar from the neglected feeder. It came back two more times, each time for just a bit longer than before. I felt kind of sad for the bird, because the weeks-old sugar water could certainly not have been what it had hoped for.

    Please come back, little bird. I will offer you the freshest nectar, as much as you care to drink.

    My adult daughter came to the house as she often does, unannounced, with her boyfriend. I do not discourage this. There were days during the tumult of her high school years where I wondered if she would ever return once she closed the door behind her.

    “Ooh! Are you making pesto? Could we come for dinner?” Her eyes had that little sparkle that I loved best.

    Though it shouldn’t have, her question caught me by surprise, and I told her that I was leaving town to go to a visitation. Someone would be coming to watch the boys, Dan was taking one boy to baseball practice, and another’s therapist was here, so dinner guests might be hard this time.

    “Oh, I think I am going to cook fish tonight.” She was still smiling, no evidence of disappointment detected on her face, even as she was denied the dinner invitation.

    Sometime in the string of days that followed, I refilled that feeder with sugar and water and returned it to its spot outside the kitchen window. No one should need an invitation, not even a hummingbird.

    On a recent morning which offered a hint of the impending change of season with its crisp breeze, I had a couple hours in the garden, which now seems more of a congested jumble of weeds than the painstakingly planned plot that it once was. It was gratifying and almost effortless to pull ridiculously tall weeds from the rain-soaked earth. The late spring and summer months had brought seemingly endless rainfall with time stolen on the dry in-between days for painting and barn projects, a much anticipated family wedding, summer camps, one child’s surgery, all the regular farm and work chores, and some transitions that were hardly celebratory; all snatched would-be gardening hours and contributed to the wild, unkempt result which now faced me.

    My young son wants to be a Boy Scout. Actually, he has been campaigning for this since about first grade, and when the invitation from a friend to accompany him to a meeting came early one morning, he somehow ended up at the Elks Club that night, only to return with an application and yet another skip in his step.

    We had a Boy Scout nearly two decades before. I remember a living room full of popcorn, hours spent whittling a wooden car, fingers sore from the lost art of sewing patches, and tents threatened by storms and imaginary bears. Looking back, things could have been much, much worse. The rhythm and expectations had offered a sense of purpose and helped to instill a drive in our older boy that he holds today. Perhaps this will be a good thing for a boundlessly energetic little brother who likely hopes the bears will not be imaginary.

    The application was a triplicate form. I filled in the boxes with identifying information but hesitated on the line that asked for my “occupation”. I have been a few different things across the years, but in this moment, the “answer” to what belonged in those boxes eluded me. What was I, anyway?

    I don’t want to cry because it’s over. Rather, I would like to celebrate that it happened, and that I was part of it. I would like to rejoice in how it changed me.

    This time, the hummingbird stayed for a long while, flitting from one side of the feeder to the other as I held the smallest boy before me on the counter. We watched this moment of magic together, captive by what was clearly the orchestration of a higher power. As it finished feeding, the bird flew off. My little one returned to his toy tractors and I to my breakfast dishes with both of our souls a few drops richer.

    There were no wooden pickets to contain my thoughts which rambled as the creeping charlie and the wild carrots inside my garden fence that morning.

    Maybe there isn’t a word for my occupation. Maybe there is, though, and maybe it’s the same word that would describe how it feels in those captive seconds while we watch a hummingbird at the feeder.

    Something showed itself under a particularly stubborn clump of thatch that had been growing alongside and trying its best to stifle my young blueberry bush. It was just a little plastic tag, an identification marker that had come with the plant when I had first planted it at the farm, when I had chosen it because it bore the name of my son, my faraway scholar, my one-time Scout, my first little boy, my inspiration for all of this…”Elliott” blueberry was stronger than thatch and here to bring me back to what this was all about.

    It’s worth the magic. It’s worth the tiny moment in time.

    Onward, Scout!

    Afterthoughts: A Foster Family

    It has been a few years now since my identity has fallen away. It was just a piece of paper, kept in a drawer most days, but it represented so much more than I would ever realize while it tied me to the words written in simple computer-generated letters. We had a family identification number, a maximum capacity, and regular licensing reviews and social worker visits. We no longer have any of those; our foster care license has long since expired. Now, though, we have much, much more.

    We have the reality that comes with signing on to a somewhat mysterious, intriguing, wholly encompassing and challenging pursuit.

    While the reasons that some have for fostering are different from those of others, our initial intentions from before we began echo much the same as they do nearly a decade-and-a-half later: we were not really sure where this journey would lead us.

    We have opened our doors and our arms; we have fought, fallen, and pulled ourselves up; we have been broken by the very acts of trying to ease the pain. We have realized that with more experience comes more uncertainty, and with more advocacy comes greater anxiety and fear.

    On the days when we have been so spent, so vulnerable, so completely usurped by the waves of emotion, we look forward to the quiet dark of night, and the comes a primal cry from someone who, unaware of the emotional states of others, needs what you didn’t know you had left to get her through yet another surge of hurt that has pulled her from her sleep.

    It’s your own box of burdens, maybe things that you would never have otherwise recalled, that opens up to haunt you, that begs to be set free, as you desperately try to make sense of how it has come to this.

    There’s a loneliness in the way that he hugged me. It made me believe that I, too, am lonely in a far-off, hollow, unidentifiable way.

    Some call foster carers “angels” or “saints”. Some of my children have called me “the devil”. I am none of those. I am human, as are we all, just trying to make sense of the nonsensical.

    We are all who we always have been.

    Foster care means a new rhythm to your days: a rhythm that holds no rhythm at all. Sometimes it means allegations thrown at the easy target. It means investigations, questions, and our own questioning of the very motives that brought us to this day.

    It means nearly forgetting who you are, or who you have been, in favor of becoming guarded, hardened, and weary. It means questioning yourself and wondering if even your own instincts are to be trusted in a place where blame and hyper vigilance abound. It means forever wondering if you have done the right thing.

    It means looking for the smallest things, the tiniest triumphs, in a field of fury.

    It means that once your license is gone, your life will not be as before. You are at once simpler and more complicated. Your family may have expanded, your limbs may be scratched or even broken, and you may no longer recognize yourself in the mirror. You may not look, too, for fear of what you might find.

    You will, though, have forged relationships with people and places that have caused your soul to grow. You will have stood arm-in-arm with others and will have borne their pain along with yours.

    You will lose your sense of purpose, only to realize that this was not up to you in the first place.

    You will look, eyes wide, to the Maker, and cry out from your soul for putting you in this place, in this life, because though we are torn we are all of this earth, for this moment of time.

    We’ll always be a foster family: all of us, collectively, through the connections that we have often fought to let go. There’s nothing separating us from the next person…not a piece of paper, not a harsh word, not a judgment.

    What I have learned, I guess, is that we will never know.

    *******************************

    The need for foster caregivers is always strong. Consider this if it may be part of your journey.

    The Purple Couch

    If ever you were a visitor to our family at the house on the hill near the university, the Third Street bungalow, or our current homestead, you sat on the purple couch, or, at the very least, took note of its presence.

    The purple couch was like an old friend. It accepted us, its people, where we were, with our dirty baseball cleats, fevers, and bad attitudes. It has been sat upon by State of Illinois caseworkers, librarians, hundreds of children, and a chicken.

    I nursed my last birth son well into toddlerhood on that couch. I spent the night there with a mug of chamomile tea after disagreeing with a seafood salad from a local sandwich shop. My children lined up on the cushions through nearly two decades for our annual Christmas photo. I sat there waiting for my teenagers to return from first dates and movie nights, and I sunk into the plush purple pillows with my tissues in hand, bracing myself for a good cry as I watched my almost-grown children close the door behind them, crossing the threshold to seek what their futures held for them.

    We first spotted the purple couch in all its magnificent glory showcased in a lifestyle magazine in an advertisement for flooring. Much to my great delight, a mom-and-pop furniture store in a neighboring town was able to special order the purple couch.

    It arrived on a truck just as promised, with five loose back cushions and two throw pillows which, when folded just right, were the perfect support for holding a sleeping little one (or twenty). Over time, all seven pillows have morphed into somewhat lumpier versions of themselves, having had many runs through the washing machine, and having actually spent more time on the floor than on the couch as intended. Our next couch, I swear, will not have removable cushions.

    Over the years, the couch aged gracefully…until recently. In addition to the hairy and puffy cats that we have had over the years, all of whom seemed to prefer this couch as the best nap spot, we added a dog: an old one that loves to roll on fabric things and sheds in the process. The purple couch became his favorite place; this only added to the charm and personality of this beloved piece of furniture.

    To some, it was just a couch. Others have fond memories of what this couch meant to them:

    “It was a very comfortable couch. It looked good under the painting in the old house, with the green couch (which, also, is now just a fond memory),” recalled one frequent visitor.

    One son remembers being bullied by an older brother’s friend, and being told: “you are what you eat, and you eat poo.” He said that he then sat on the purple couch which gave him comfort and made him feel better.

    “I liked it. I loved it. It was amazing,” offered another.

    In later years, the purple couch began to stab us in the back, not intentionally, but because the cushions were always strewn about, and because the wood and springs were gradually wearing through the fine purple fabric which had so many memories woven into its threads.

    “I want a black leather couch. To replace it,” chimed one small son who perhaps didn’t fully appreciate what the purple couch stood for.

    And then: “it smells like a butt. And bad feet.”

    Oh. No.

    What about the wedding? How could we replace the purple couch before the wedding, when it had borne witness to so many other celebratory moments with us, it’s family? Should we take it to the burn pile? That was a heartbreaking thought, but, after all, it smelled bad.

    After a little online research, out came the baking soda and the vacuum cleaner, followed by a thorough essential oil spritz. The cushions went through the laundry. Guests to the morning-after wedding brunch sat on the purple couch, and I don’t think anyone suspected a thing. It had seen our family through another rite of passage, and it had served us well.

    Soon after the big day, its freshness faded with the wedding flowers, and we knew it was time.

    I just couldn’t bear to think of all those years of life lived going up in flames. I decided to try passing it along on a social media marketplace site. But why would anyone want the purple couch? How could they not? How could we not? We did, but…it was just time.

    While cleaning out the purple couch, I found a fork, a whole lot of legos, and two phones.

    Within the course of a few hours after posting the ad, which apologetically offered a well-used candidate for a college apartment or basement, seven locals expressed interest in the purple couch. One by one, appointments were set, and excuses were made.

    “I wasn’t able to get the truck.”

    “It’s too big.”

    “I forgot that I had to work.”

    “Go on to the next person.”

    Until it came to the polite lady at the end of the list: “yes! I will be there soon!”

    Within about ten minutes, she appeared on the front porch, where the purple couch was already waiting for her. She was so gracious and grateful. As our husbands strapped the couch to the roof of her vehicle, she shared that just a short time ago, she had lost most of her possessions in a fire. She was so happy to have a couch again, and it was so ready for its new adventures.

    We rolled out our forty dollar estate sale find from the extra bedroom into the living room to stand in place of the purple couch. It was never intended as a replacement, for no one couch could ever hold as much meaning within its cushions. But we needed somewhere to sit.

    People that come to the farm for the first time will never know about the purple couch. The lady that came for it sent a photo of two of her cats resting comfortably on the purple couch. It makes me wonder, just a little bit…did we act too soon?

    The legacy of our beloved couch carries on. At our home, it had enabled teenage romance and supported my coffee habit. It had been the seat of numerous video game battles, a retreat for grieving children who had come through our doors bearing burdens deep within their souls, and simply a place to just rest with one’s feet up.

    The purple couch was not ready to go up in flames. We have trusted it with our secrets, which we know it will not share. It has room to hold another family with more animals, more butts, and more bad feet.

    We love you, purple couch, and we will always miss you, though we are kind of glad you are gone.

    XO

    Photo Credit: EMILY STRATTON

    The Kindest of Wolves

    “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not into thine own understanding.” –Proverbs 3:5-6

    “Shut up, you stupid idiot, or else I’m going to punch you in the eye.”

    “Hi, Miss K. I love you.” I am secretly just a bit jealous of the spontaneous embrace that my little boy gave to his teacher. After all, I was still recovering from unsuccessfully dodging the sippy cup that had been hurled at my head just moments before. And it was me, not her, that had made him waffles for breakfast.

    My child skipped off to join the other four-year-olds at the playground. I watched as he offered his friend, clad in Dalmatian spotted pajamas and cowboy boots, a boost onto the climbing apparatus. “Thank you,” said the polite Dalmatian child.

    “You’re welcome,” piped my son, who, apparently, does actually have manners, evident only when he doesn’t think I am watching.

    On a given day, it seems as if someone has swapped out my child for a ghoul, a monster, or a demon. He’s a little boy, but he’s also a fierce child who came into this world fighting against things over which he had no control.

    “Is that your grandson?” I have been asked this question many times. He’s not, but he certainly could be. I wonder if I parent more permissively than I did in the early days, if I am less aware of my surroundings, or if the often baffling behaviors really are bigger than me.

    It’s defeating to be overpowered by someone that weighs one-fifth as much as I do. It’s more than defeating when, after nearly three decades of parenting, I really have no idea what to do. And really, I don’t.

    At just the same time that the nation was thrust into World War II, a seedling, called simply “3-35-40”, was being developed in France. During this period of unthinkable devastation, a thing of great beauty was born. This seedling, further propagated after being sent to the United States, became the world’s most beloved rose, called “Peace”.*

    I wonder, if I collected all of the hours turned to days, and strung them together into weeks that I have spent sitting in an unforgiving vinyl recliner, waiting for someone with a name tag to make a decision about the next supportive action for the mental health of a child in my care, how much idle time has slipped away in favor of the angst of things out of my control?

    Parenting is relentless.

    “He doesn’t act like that around me.”

    Well, he acts that way around me.

    “You’re his safe person. He knows he can let his true feelings flow, and he will be okay.”

    Well, I don’t think I like this. It’s tiring living in a cartoon where body parts and random expletives spin in circles over my head, and I feel poorly equipped to tame the wild that has been given me. And when the child is bigger and stronger, when the fight burns hot inside, when the child is almost no longer a child, when I don’t know what to do…when I cannot draw on my vast parenting experiences of pushing strollers in the park, school shoe shopping, rescuing frogs from the basement, and sewing laces on pointe shoes to manage a child who, eyes filled with rage, takes on a strange state of being, writhing, nearly foaming at the mouth, tossing heavy objects into newly-painted walls, and, perhaps the hardest to bear, expresses the wish to no longer be part of our family.

    There’s no answer here.

    The wolf is revered as signifying loyalty, guardianship, and spirit. A young wolf may leave the pack, trying to fend for itself in search of independence and freedom.**

    Pushing away, fighting, searching…

    We are here, maybe along for this journey, but definitely not running the show. It’s hard, a different hard from the physical labor of turning a compost pile or carrying a 40-pound bag of layer feed to the barn.

    It’s hard, as in “how could this possibly be happening?” and “how could there be any more than what has already been?” and we know it.

    I look at my image in the mirror and wonder, bewildered, who is this shell of a person raising, or struggling to raise, these children?

    As I turn to the Maker for strength, no longer for reason, my grown son appears through the hospital doors with an iced soy milk latte and a single Peace rose.

    It was hours later when, through eyes bleary and body weary from the emotional weight of the recent days, I sent my son a message thanking him for what he had done.

    His formative years included many scenes where burdens of trauma and pain were indelible, yet he recalls the good, too. He returned my message of thanks with words that will not be lost on me:

    “I was raised by the kindest of wolves.”

    When I am called home at the end of this life, I wish to look back with peace, if not understanding, knowing that all of my wolves have returned to the pack, with or without Dalmatian pajamas or cowboy boots.

    References:

    *www.starrosesandplants.com

    **www.pure-spirit.com

    Thank you for reading. Kindly share if you have found meaning in my words.