August 8th, 2015 § 2 Comments
It was all going according to plan … and yet, driving away, all I could hear were the sobbing cries of my wife and daughter.
Last Friday, we handed our foster child over to his family. After months of steps, moving forward and back with his parents, out of nowhere, his grandparents were suddenly approved for a temporary placement. A month ago, all we knew was a looming court date. Then one morning, my wife gets a call from the social worker about the possibility. Two weeks later, we were dropping him off. Just like that. After ten months of holding, kissing, changing, walking, playing, feeding … it took all of thirty minutes to say, “Good bye.”
I know it sounds embittered. I can only tell you that we are not. Was it too abrupt? Yes. Would a different timetable have helped? Probably not. Did we want to keep him. Yes and no. You see, there in lies the complexity. We all – but especially my wife – loved this boy like our own. Unreservedly. Almost immediately, my wife dropped her guard and opened her heart. He was hers. It’s exactly what he needed. A real mom … well, while separated from his real mom that is. It’s what made him chunky and smiley. Can any real mom want to give that up?
All the while, we spent eight hours a week with his real parents, doing everything we knew to help them get their son back. Praying. Encouraging. Hoping. Coaching. When together, we longed with them that one day their son would be returned to them. We exhorted them, even pleaded with them to do all that was mandated.
Paradoxically, the only way to do this was to work ourselves into wanting to keep him while remaining unwavering in our commitment to return him. My wife did this. She did it well – just like we’d planned. And by so doing, she guaranteed for herself a broken heart. And in a way, this broken heart is her last generous gesture … a parting gift given to a boy who will not be forgotten.
July 3rd, 2015 § Leave a Comment
I’m always working on myself. Mostly, I’m not content with who I am. Come to think of it, I’ve never been content. Whether it was spending countless hours on the basketball court to get my jump shot right or burning out the blow dryer to get my mullet into that feathered perfection, I’ve always worked hard at becoming a better me.
If this sounds like a confession, it’s because it is. I have to clarify because our culture loves self-improvement. Get educated. Get ahead. Get thin. Get healthy. Get married. Get financially independent. Get happy. Work, work, work. More, more, more. In a world in which busyness doubles as significance, not only is my malady easily hidden, it can be re-appropriated as something positive. “That guy … he’s a self-starter.”
Yes, there is a fine line. It takes a keen eye to spot that line and rightly identify what lies on either side. Activity driven on by quiet desperation can be passed along as good ole fashioned hard work. And we can justify laziness with being comfortable in our own skin. Walking that line of a healthy self-love requires the sort of honest assessment and a “hell with the world” commitment to finding our proper bearings that is rarely even attempted.
Just the other day, I may have found my inspiration. In an exasperated attempt to help one of my kids understand something, this question crossed my mind: “Do I dress up my discontentment with my kids with flowery nonsense about believing in their great potential?”
That’s not to say I do not believe in my kids great potential. God knows I do. And of course I’m not saying I shouldn’t instruct and correct. But when I feel the nearness of that familiar darkness, the closeness of the despair that gets my gut turning a desperate pace, I think I work on my kids the way I’ve always worked on myself.
Maybe the love for my kids will get me over the hump to actually love myself.
May 14th, 2015 § 2 Comments
You’ve heard of the projectile vomit. Last week, I had a run in with its uglier cousin, the projectile diarrhea. We had one of those fierce stomach viruses rip through our family. Yes, all you imagine and more. No one got a pass, not even our nine month old foster child. Who knew so much could come out of so little a person?
At the rate and volume he was pumping, the super absorbent diaper had no chance. If anything, the diaper acted as a diverting obstruction adding pressure to the flow. Like a thumb pressed over the nozzle of a hose. Every few hours, it was as if a canister of yellow paint detonated from his butt. Splat. It was everywhere.
One time, after an initial blast, I picked him up, hoping to create a little room between the nozzle and the diaper. I waited for the real eruption that didn’t come. “Are you done?” Rookie mistake number one. Of course he wasn’t done.
I put him on the changing shelf of our Pac ‘n Play. The initial shot was substantial but contained. Feeling optimistic that I’d be getting away with a standard change, I proceeded to clean and remove. What I did not do was place a new diaper underneath to overlap as I removed. Rookie mistake number two.
As I reached over for a fresh diaper, I felt something hit me in my lower abdomen. Not hard but with weight and force. Before I could react, there was liquid splatter at my feet. It was what getting hit by a large, very fragile water balloon might feel like.
“The hell?” When I looked down, I saw that diluted, curdling yellow paint. When I looked up, I saw the nozzle stairing back at me like a barrel of a gun. The thing might as well have been smoking. My wife, who saw me get blasted from the kitchen came running with … not a towel, but her phone, which she couldn’t use to take a photo because she was laughing too hard.
When I peered past the nozzle, to look my assailant in the eye, I swear the kid had a smirk on his face.
May 1st, 2015 § 2 Comments
My kids are more than I could have ever hoped for. Seriously, by any measure, they’re great kids. Simultaneously, they can be complete disasters. Parents among you know that these are not mutually exclusive realities. An hour into any given day, I can correct them a half dozen times. “Hey, get out of bed. You’re going to be late.” “Don’t get on your phone while you’re eating.” “Really? You’re going sprinkle sugar on your Fruit Loops?” “Hey, don’t give me that look.” You get the idea.
When my kids were quite a bit younger, probably as I was correcting them for the umpteenth time, it dawned on me how difficult it is to receive correction.
I’m forty-five now. I’m hardly ever corrected. I go about most of my day without a single person pulling me aside and saying something like, “Hey, you might want to walk a bit faster. You know, have the look of someone who’s got somewhere to go.” Yes, true, I do walk slow. But regardless of how accurate the info, my initial impulse is to react defensively. I like to think that I’m mature enough to measure my response, but hard to say for sure.
The point is even for a relatively mature adult, who is infrequently corrected, receiving correction is tough. When I realized it, I decided to put myself on a correction allowance. Three. That was it. I could correct each child three times in one twenty-four hour period. This little exercise in self-restraint had a couple unintended benefits. For one, it helped me prioritize. I found myself asking, “Do I really want to burn one of my three on this?” The second thing it did was help me store things in my mind for an opportune time. The goal isn’t personal satisfaction; the goal is instruction. The heat of the moment is not always the best for delivering or receiving correction.
Teaching a child to respond well to correction is part of a parent’s job. It’s not easy. A limited allowance makes a tough job easier … especially for your kid.
April 20th, 2015 § Leave a Comment
The thing I’ve heard about poverty is that it removes the steps between what is by all appearances a normal existence to a life of utter destitution. In other words, the steps between a poor person and the streets are fewer and in many cases non-existent compared to those of a middle class person. Most of you – maybe all of you reading this would have to have multiple things go off the rail before wandering the streets, not knowing where you were going to lay your head for the night. The chances of you not knowing where your next meal will come are so remote that words like “impossibility” would best describe the unfolding of such a scenario. For the poor, not only is it possible, that world lies just on the other side of the door.
Ever since we’ve had our foster child, we’ve spent six to eight hours a week with his parents. As you might imagine, they are not without their flaws. One thing they cannot be accused of is lacking interest in their son. Despite the many challenges, their determination to try to regain custody of their child is undeniable. In a significant way, we believe he is an anchor that keeps them resistant to the forces that would shove them out the door. It is their love for him that stirs in them a certain, healthy love for themselves, and a love for life itself.
Early in our pondering about foster parenting, a good friend helped us look beyond the child to the plight of parents. She put us in the shoes of parents whose child was removed. And by so doing, stirred in us an empathy for those who deal with the unthinkable: Losing a child.
Like countless others in their situation, our foster child’s parents are a jump, skip and a hop from a destitute existence. Their unlikely savior is the baby they hold in their arms for eight hours a week. And the love they have for him is the thing that keeps them standing on their tenuous foothold on life.
April 8th, 2015 § Leave a Comment
It was one of those times. Somehow, I just knew that what I was hearing needed to be stored away for safe keeping.
Two older men, both in their sixties were talking. One was asking … well, really more complaining to the other about a child who had long since stopped listening to him. The child in question was a daughter who had moved away – clear across country. While there, she fell in love with a man. Naturally, the man was not one who met her father’s approval. They got engaged anyway, and were planning their wedding when the subject of an open bar came up. And that was it. On this, he wasn’t budging. It was the proverbial straw buckling the camel’s back.
As the father went on and on, the other older gentleman carefully listened. Finally, he got an invitation: “What do you think?” I don’t remember his exact wording, but in essence what he said was that no matter what it took, as much as it was in his power to do so, a father needed to stay connected with his child. As long as the child didn’t bolt the door shut, he was going to be a part of the child’s life. Then he recounted a trip he took, across country to visit his daughter who likewise had years before left them. She had moved in with a man he didn’t even know. They took a road trip together, just him and her. No demands. No efforts to redirect. Just spent time with her. Let her know, no matter what, he was going to be around. She was always going to be his daughter. She was always going to be loved.
Then he asked, “Do you really want to close the door over an open bar?”
There’s a certain indignity in going to a child who’s out there because they decided they weren’t going to listen to you. It’s something to suffer speaking to a child in and about the place that is their rebellion. To pay for an open bar of a wedding you never approved. I think the man’s point was that a father committed to love his child at all costs had little use for dignity.
I’m pretty sure he was right.
April 4th, 2015 § 4 Comments
For all interested in fantasy football stuff, I started writing a weekly fantasy post on a start-up website. Please head over and give it a read. Gracías.
Here’s the link to last week’s post:
March 10th, 2015 § 2 Comments
I got a problem with dating. Not all sorts. I’m not one of those who use words like “courting”. I don’t think you have to be thinking marriage before asking a girl out for dinner and a movie. So don’t clump me in with that group. But when I see a pimply faced thirteen year old who couldn’t find his own butthole with a map, draped on a twelve year old, drowning her in his slobber as he tries to eat her face, I think, “There’s something terribly wrong going on over there.”
First of all, what exactly is dating? No one knows. Everybody is doing it, but nobody knows what it is. And let’s get this straight: Everyone calls it dating, but it’s not just going on dates. It’s having someone be your girlfriend/boyfriend. Yours … my – it’s about possession. A pseudo commitment. And who decides what all this looks like? The majority. Everyone from that thirteen year old kid to Kanye and Kim – they set the status quo.
The whole thing is bought and sold, totally unexamined. It bothers me. But what bothers me more is the pressure it puts on kids. Like I said, dating is really an illusion of commitment where a real commitment does not exist. It’s making yours that which is not yours. Insecurity is built in. The last thing a teenager needs is help feeling insecure. Grasping for security, they’re left reaching and overreaching for a distinguishing mark. “I guess we better get physical.” Hold hands. Hang on each other. Make out … and then there’s unleashed one of the more irreversible forces in the universe – a teenage boy with a hard on. Your average fifteen year old is not prepared to deal with all the stuff swirling around once the spit gets swapped and the “I’ll love you forever” gets dropped.
I don’t know. Can’t we get some sort of legal age limit going? A thirteen year old can’t just walk up and drive a car. Why should he be able to walk up to a girl and say, “You’re mine”? Can we get a petition or something started? Get it on some sort of ballot? What age? I don’t know … how about … how about like twenty-four?
February 28th, 2015 § Leave a Comment
As a parent of teenagers, I get this sentiment a lot. “They’re mostly good kids. And with these things, you have to be realistic.” Be realistic. The trouble with reality is that far too often it sucks. I have no intention of being realistic.
That’s not to say I am unsympathetic to the harsh realities of being a teenager. It can’t be easy being judged by a jury of your peers when your peers happen to possess the devastating combination of being the most judgmental of people while being of the least sound judgment. Walking that five-year gauntlet would be rough without having to do it while everything about you is changing. Mind, body, and heart are shuffled about. Hormonal effects are real. Girls become women and boys become men – the body first, while the mind usually lags. And how do they feel about all this? Who knows? So, yes, we can all agree that teenage life is not all roses and cupcakes.
All the more reason not to be realistic, no? Let’s be clear, I’m not talking about style or availability. They’re going to dress funny. I get that. They’re not going to want to hang with Dad. A given. Nor are we talking about a dumb decision here and there. Of course that’s happening. What I’m talking about is accepting as a part of their nature things like being self-absorbed, like they can’t be bothered to be considerate, respectful. I’m talking about their acute vulnerability to be people pleasing, to go with the crowd. Treating them as if they are incapable of courage, sacrifice, self-control.
“They’re mostly good kids. With these things, you have to be realistic.” Have you seen reality lately? It sucks. “Realistic” is not where I intend to lead my teenage kids.
February 12th, 2015 § 5 Comments
If ever you’ve wondered whether or not you could love a child, not your own, don’t. The answer is you can. Definitely. Our foster child has been with us since October. We’re at about the four month mark. And I can tell you without a doubt, I love this boy. Initially, the fact that he was someone else’s kid was the backdrop of all our interactions. I was a caretaker in a “place holder” kind of way. I understood this. No, I more than understood it, I relished it. In doing so, initially, I kept a certain distance between us. That’s all changed now.
The shift can be measured in any number of ways, but one clear metric is the number of times I kiss him. The first month, I don’t think I kissed him once. The thought was, “I wouldn’t want some dude kissing my kid.” This baby has a father and he, not I, ought to be kissing him. Right. This knowledge kept me guarded in my interactions with him. Remember his place; remember my place. That’s all done now. I’m kissing him all the time. When I get him from the crib – kiss. When I put him down – kiss. Holding, bobbing – kiss. Walking – kiss. Kiss here. Kiss there. Can’t help myself. And I’m Korean. I’m genetically predisposed to disdain public displays of affection. But this kid, he’s turned me into a gay French dude at fashion week in Milan. Kiss. Kiss. More kiss. I haven’t kissed so much since … well, since my own kids were babies.
So, yes, definitely, you can love a child, not your own. As I write this, I realize I need to amend this declaration with this caveat: Yes, you can love a child, not your own, provided you love the child well. My calculated interactions turned to uninhibited embraces through the hard work of 2 AM feedings, diaper changes, soothing inconsolable cries, through sacrifices. By labor, I grew to love. By doing, I began to feel. Love as a whole is not what we’d like it to be – an effortless response to a bottomless reservoir of passion. It’s not so simple, not so one-dimensional, not so linear.
And maybe we ought to esteem this sort of love – the kind that begins with our hands, and runs through our heart, and ends with a kiss.