Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Angel-Leah's life book

Psalm 40:2-3 (The Lord) set my feet on a rock, and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth.

Angel-Leah and I sat on the couch, looking through her life book. It contains pictures of her birth family. The more she looked, the more she cried, until she was crying great, gulping, body shaking sobs, saying “I want my mommy!! I want my mommy!!” I didn’t try to stop her. I just let her get it out.
She kept asking if her mommy was well yet, and if she could go back to her. She cried “I forgot to tell her bye!! Why didn’t you remind me to say bye??” I said, “You DID say bye, Angel-Leah, I saw you. You said goodbye, then you went to the door and blew kisses to her.” That made her feel a little better, although she doesn’t remember it. I finally put the photo album away, and began to get her ready for bed. She hadn’t had a nap that day, and I thought maybe she was overtired. I sat beside her on her bed while she kept crying. I explained as much, in fact, more than I thought a four year old could handle and understand. I told her it wouldn’t be forever, that someday when she was big; she WOULD see her mommy again. She asked how long that was, a few weeks? “No,” I said. “Years. A lot of years, until you are big like Max.” “That’s too long!” she cried.
I explained to her that I could not change that. It had been ordered by a judge, who wanted to make sure she was safe. I told her as soon as the adoption was final, I would let her write letters to her grandma, and maybe Mommy would write to her. That was good, but not near enough. I read her a book, got her under the covers, and she started to cry again. I said, “Why don’t you try and think of something else? Or go ahead and think of your mommy, and maybe you can dream about being with her.” She said, “I don’t want to dream it, if it isn’t real!” (Isn’t she amazingly smart for a four year old?) I turned off the light, lay down on her bed with her, and told her to put her feet on my feet, and go to sleep, and I would lay with her for a while. As we lay there, I prayed for wisdom to help this child!
April 13, 2006 was a wonderful day at our house. We finalized the adoption of our much loved son, Luke and I don’t know that there have been many days in my life as happy as that one. I was content for days to just bask in that happiness.
It was less than a week later, just as we were going to bed, that we got the call about a two and a half year old little girl who needed a home. An hour later, just after 11 o’clock, Angel-Leah came into our lives…
She was a precocious child, very verbal. The first thing she said to me after I was introduced to her was: “I’m wet, and you need to change me.” Surprised, I responded, "I think I can probably handle that."
She went to bed easily that night, and the next day, shopped happily with us at our town’s yearly garage sale. She loved the attention we showered on her.
But after couple of days, she began to realize that no one seemed to be coming to pick her up. She walked around, telling anyone who would listen, “My nanny’s coming to get me.” Her eyes would brim with tears and her lip would tremble, and it would bring my friends to tears to hear her say this.
It was apparent she was a much loved child. She had not been abused, but put in a very dangerous situation by her birth mother. Her mother’s drug habit had caused Angel-Leah to be removed at birth for a while, too, as she was born addicted.
Her biological family was very upset over the whole situation, and any CPS meetings and court hearings were well attended by them. I got to know the family very well as they worked for the next year to find a solution to this problem. I got many phone calls, and listened to their tears as they agonized over this beautiful little girl. They often expressed their appreciation that I was taking good care of Angel-Leah.
But as the year ended and the final court hearing approached, it was apparent the birth parents would not be able to work the plan that would get their little girl returned to them. The goal changed from family reunification to unrelated adoption.

April of 2007, Angel-Leah’s parent’s rights were terminated, and a final visit was planned. I explained to three year old Angel-Leah what was happening. She understood as well as a smart little girl can understand. When I came to pick her up after the two hour visit was over, I watched her birth mother give her a final hug, fighting tears, and as she walked backwards out the door, Angel-Leah blew her kisses. It was very sad.

One day, months later, as Angel-Leah cried for her mother, she told me “I’m afraid it’s all going to wash away!” I said, “You mean you’re afraid you’re going to forget everyone?” She said yes. I promised her I would not let that happen, and we went to Walmart and bought a pretty pink photo album. I gathered all the pictures we had taken over the last year, and the ones her biological family had given us, and we began to create an album. It chronicled her life from the day she came to live with us until the present time. A friend suggested I have it continue to show that Angel-Leah had gone on to gain a new family through adoption, which I thought was a good idea. We had fun putting it together, and once it was done, I told her she would be allowed to get it out every Sunday and look at it for a while. I hoped this was it would keep her from obsessing over it too much.

When I came out of the bedroom the evening that Angel-Leah had cried so, my older children were upset with me for letting her look at the album. But I had been researching foster care and adoption, and everything I had read so far suggested using a photo album or creating a book with their life story in it for them. I had also read that working through the grieving process like she had just done was actually very good for her.
And yet, I worried that what happened AFTER she lost her birth mother would never be as important to her as what happened before. She told me often that she didn’t love me, that she only loved her birth mother. I assured her that it was okay for her to love her birth mother more than me, but I did hope that someday she would love me too.
“Mommy,” she said often, “When I finally do grow up I am going to go back to my other mommy and I will never come see you again.”
“Angel- Leah, that would make me very sad,” I told her. “Because I love you and would miss you. I really hope you will change your mind, just think, if you never come back to visit us, you will never see Luke again or Mary Susannah or the grandchildren.” That gave her pause, but then she straightened her shoulders and said, “I am sure I will never visit you again.” I said I was sorry to hear that, and I let it go.
Recently, she came down with a raging ear infection. She was so miserable. I gave her medicine, and then I told her I would rock her until the medicine kicked in and she felt better. We rocked in my trusty rocking chair until she fell asleep. When she woke up a couple of hours later, she crawled back into my lap. I cuddled her. After a minute, she said, “Mommy? I guess I really do love you and my other mommy the same.” "I'm glad to hear that. I love you too." I answered.
This past weekend, after a really fun week full of grandchildren visits, she came to me, tired and full from her week, and said, “Maybe when I grow up I WILL come back and visit you. Maybe I will even just stay here, and not go live with my other mommy.” I reached down to hug her, "I will be very happy with either of those decisions," I assured her, and I felt like we had won a battle together.

Thought for the day: Foster/adoption is not all kittens and rainbows and butterflies, but hard work on the part of all parties. It’s about great loss, and great gain. It’s about taking heartache, and making a family. It’s about taking the loss of first best (an intact first family) and turning it around to a new beginning, which is a specialty of God!

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