Mommyhood: The Sweet & Lowdown

Never in all my years of infertility did I comprehend how much richer my life would be with a child.

Each day brings a new lesson not only about the development of this human being I created, carried and birthed taking her from helpless being to self-sufficient adult, but also about myself.


My mom, who raise four children of her own, told me right after Dagny was born that having a baby would bring up all my own issues. My childhood, my subconscious fears, dreams and desires.

Mom knows best.

Something I learned about myself in these eight months – that I could be very happy making someone else the center of my world.

It’s not a lesson you’ll learn easily. A fellow mommy friend told me once, rather openly and bitterly, that I better enjoy my life now before it becomes “all about someone else.”

The transition from single girl to married woman seemed a larger leap than married woman to married mommy. Perhaps it’s all that getting used to sharing living quarters with a man (I never co-habitated).

In each new experience – from eating her first piece of banana to sprouting her first perfect tooth – makes me feel reborn.

But it’s not all roses.

I’m tired. All the time. I feel so drained at the end of my days that I sometimes fall asleep on the couch – a habit I detest.

I’m growing rather indifferent to her cries and find myself distinguishing between “real” cries and “it-can-wait-til-I-brush-my-teeth” cries.

My body’s become a beat up vessel to carry me around the world. Working out used to give me a mental break and now, when I do go, the time flies as I tick off my many chores back at home.

Work’s been a main thrust of my life. A job well done gives me immense satisfaction.

But that takes a back seat more often than I would like. Yet I know the more I work, the better her lifestyle will be growing up.

But what’s more important? More money or more time with mommy?

As I tried to sneak out for a business meeting this week, I heard her make a noise of greeting from the living room.

I paused in time to see her crawl around the corner of the couch, see me and light up like the Fourth of July as if to say: “See what I’m doing?”

Her chubby, wobbly hands marched forward, her knees kept up making careful advances. I stood still, making her meet me in the kitchen and when she did, she grabbed my shoe, pulled herself up and reached for me.

My eyes welled up with pride. I bent down to meet her excited little face, kiss her soft round cheek and hug her.

“Oh, little Bird! Look what you did!” She giggled and hugged my neck, absolutely tickled with her big accomplishment.

It’s a moment too beautiful for words – one worth every struggle.

“No One Will Understand What You’re Going Through”

Angels Foster Family Network classes really take you on an emotional ride.

One session, we talked about our first experiences with grief and loss. Thankfully, I was the last one to talk and I breezed through the suicide of the brother’s friend quickly because everyone was drained.

In another session, we talked about actual foster baby cases that dealt with everything from physical and emotional abuse to basic care neglect and failure to thrive.

Thankfully, most of the faces in the room went blank when the words “spica cast” were used, which is a cast on an infant from ankle to under the nipple area due to a femur break. Breaking an infants femur, due to it’s relative flexibility, is pretty tough.

The reason for these emotionally-charged classes: we will indeed experience grief in knowing how these children came to be in the system, loss when they go back to their birth parents and perhaps the worst – anger. Anger at a system that sometimes fails these kids, who we will most assuredly love.

We are not fostering babies with the express intention of adoption and knowing how we’ll deal with that sadness becomes vital to how well we do as foster parents.

Our most recent session a couple nights ago brought us face-to-face with foster parents, their foster babies and a birth mom whose baby is currently in foster care.

The first couple had tried to get pregnant for seven years – seven! They finally decided to check out being foster mommies and the orientation sealed the deal. Their cases ran the gamet from having a baby for a couple weeks to more than a year before reunification. In one case, the reunification failed and they’re now adopting him and a second baby, whose reunification also failed.

The child they reunified with was born with severe heart defects, which they were unaware of at the time they first picked him up. A system loophole allowed him to reunify with his father, a known drug user, and the baby somehow ended up in the care of another family member. He was taken to Children’s Hospital when he became very ill. That’s when Angels called the foster parents to meet him at the hospital and found him “grey, almost blue.”

The other mom said, while holding her 10-month-old: “You have all these thoughts in your mind what these bio-parents are going to be like. It’s nothing like what you think; sometimes you end up feeling like you want to foster them too. They came from the same circumstances their own kids are coming from when we get them.”

The second couple foster just to help out families in trouble with no intention of adopting. They’re on their 9th placement with a baby girl, whose mom was there. Mom currently resides in a rehabilitation facility. Her first child lives in Mexico with his grandparents.

“Fostering fills a place in our family, our hearts,” said the foster mom. Referring to two of her present foster children: “This is my baby, this is my baby. They’re all my babies.”

The young mom, who shed a few tears, said: “The first foster family who cared for her was really mean to me. They would sit at visitations, arms crossed and look at me like I was a monster. I’m not a bad person. We all make mistakes; some of us just more than others. I’m so glad I have this new family for my baby until I’m ready.”

Overall, she’s making excellent progress in her program and could be reunified as early as the six-month trial. She’s hopeful, saying: “It’s all on me to do this and I want to succeed. I don’t have any family of my own. She’s all I’ve got.”

Our caseworkers cautioned us: she’s not a typical birth mom.

The last couple still has their one and only placement. At 10 months, the little boy has seen his mother very little since he was born positive for drugs. At the six month trial, the judge rendered what he considered a generous offer to continue offering county rehabilitation services. She’s spent less than a week in any one program.

The foster mom expressed as much sadness as confusion about the birth mom, who had her first child at 15. She comes from a family of nine siblings, and from what she can tell, all but one suffers from some form of drug or alcohol problem.

“She’s made an attempt at visitations maybe two or three times in 10 months,” the foster mom said. “During a second round of visits, she suddenly showed up with a brand new baby blanket saying it’s his favorite. He was six months old at the time.”

Their county caseworker recently changed the recommendation to terminate services for the birth mother, which is a step toward termination of parental rights. Despite what might seem like a possible path toward adoption could easily take a turn, depending on the judgement of the court.

I asked the couple how their friends and family react to their being foster parents and their situation.

“No one will understand what you’re going through,” she said. “They just assume he’s staying because they look at the case as black-and-white. We know that nothing means anything unless the courts decides it’s so. We have to keep telling ourselves he could go back tomorrow.”

I asked them all the same question: “Would you do this again?”

All gave a resounding “yes,” saying that the satisfaction you feel in helping a child in need outweighs any amount of grief you feel in the separation.

As we left, I realized this isn’t just be about us being foster parents. It will affect everyone in our lives and in ways we cannot know.

Unlike coming from the hospital after a nine-month pregnancy, we could be sitting at dinner with friends when we get an emergency call to fetch a child from a variety of situations in a multitude of conditions.

Prospects seem as exciting as scary and all the while, you hope you might do some good.

The first couple took in one 9-month-old girl for a few months who experienced severe neglect. She was so stiff from lack of physical interaction and activity that she couldn’t crawl. In just a couple months, she went from crawling to standing and eventually, tried to walk.

“You’re so overwhelmed sometimes and then you have one of those moments,” one foster mom said. “It’s hard to imagine life without these kids.”

It’s the closest to saving the world we may ever come close to.

Good Cindy Hunting

A “back-to-school” shopping commercial the other day brought back memories of the dreaded first day. The desire to fit in, be popular, wear the coolest clothes, carry the best backpacks, try the latest hairstyles … it’s all so nerve-wracking.

Compared to life today, filled with serious “adult” responsibilities, I suppose it’s easier to say life was better back then.

But dear old Mrs. Fuller made sure I experienced a memorable elementary school career.

My second-grade teacher resembled a Muppet. She had reddish-orange, tightly permed short hair, a haggard face with a long, crooked nose and beedy eyes. Her attire reminded one of a gypsy: jangly long earrings, gold bangle bracelets and flowing drapery she passed off as dresses.

In the second grade, we were learning addition and subtraction. Very basic mathmetics. Plus, we began taking spelling tests. Nothing too major at that point.

And while I enjoyed reading and books, math made for a strange and difficult concept for me to grasp. The numbers and symbols on the chalkboard baffled me, terrified me actually and I resisted learning it.

From Brad, the boy who sat behind me, I learned that Mrs. Fuller might be a tad crazy and also, consistently lazy in her grading.

I began testing the boundaries by turning in homework I knew full-well to be incorrect. Sometimes, I would even ride beside a classmate on the bus to school and copy their homework without asking if it was correct. But typically, my method employed the old “pick a number, any number.”

Yet each time, my ditto lesson smelling of toxic blue smudged ink returned with a gold star. Sometimes, a gold star with a plus sign beside it. I’d beam with false pride, just as everyone else in my class who hadn’t applied any sweat into the assignments.

My little games continued.

Not long after, I started brushing off my vocabulary lessons and soon, I was a regular scammer. I lied at every chance I had; it became something of a game.

I even lied at Sunday school and told a sustitute Sunday school teacher my name was Cindy. You can only imagine the suspicious looks she gave my father when came to pick up “Erica.”

But soon, the games came to a screeching halt.

“Boys and girls, next week your parents have been invited to come in and see your work, talk with me about your progress and learn about our lesson plans so far,” Mrs. Fuller announced to the class in her screechy voice.

A trickle of sweat ran down my spine. My parents were nobody’s fool and despite the wool being pulled over Mrs. Fuller’s eyes, my folks would “cut the shit real quick.”

The night of the open house, I yanked my parents around speedily to view my little desk, pictures I had drawn, and all my “star/ star-plus” lessons.

Mrs. Fuller gave a vague, glowing report to them of my incredible work and how well I was doing in school.

“She’s a bright child, but she talks too much,” she said. The phrase “excessive talking” appeared on every report card until the day I graduated high school.

At first, my mom began asking prodding questions of my work and then my father took over. Before you knew it, Mrs. Fuller’s own lies were unfolding as I tried to distract them. My father’s deep Southern voice began to boom in aggitation and like a true Mississippian, he began to repeat phrases.

“Now you say, you say that she’s doing well?” he asked. Mrs. Fuller exposed the whites of her eyes.

“Why, yes, Mr. Warren,” she said, appearing timid.

He walked his tall, lankey frame over to my desk, snatched up my math homework sheets in his fist and walked back shaking them in her face.

“Gold star, gold star plus, gold star … ” he said, displaying each page.

“Yes,” she said. “Why, she’s doing very well.”

“Really?” he said. “So, 5 plus 5 is 15?”

By this point, my classmates and their parents could no longer politely ignore the argument. Other scamming students were discovered and many classmates blamed me for being a sloppy liar.

My father, a math wizard, became my full-time tutor. Each night, we sat at the kitchen table and tried to make quick progress with less than a couple months left in the second grade.

The frustration hit dramatic highs; I would cry and protest that I couldn’t learn it hoping he would just let me fail.

“I’m too dumb,” I would say. Will Hunting would have stormed off shouting: “Do you have any idea how easy this is for me?” 

But my dad remained steadfast in his determination to catch me up.

While I was allowed to pass to the third grade, my math and my reading skills remained firmly at the beginning of second grade.

I was in real deep biscuits and gravy.

After Mrs. Abraham recapped our addition and subtraction tables, she moved on to multiplication. Each day, I dreaded a math quiz almost as much as a vocabulary quiz.

When she would instruct us to rip a sheet in half, I would begin to cry. It was a truly frustrating time for everyone.

“One day, the light will go off and it’s gonna make all the sense in the world,” my dad said over and over.

The phrase haunted me.

I began praying for that light to go off every day. I wasn’t sure if I would see it, if it would feel like when I got hit in the head with a baseball or if I would have the kind of holy miracle like in the Bible.

However it would be, I wanted it. I wanted the struggle to end so I could get back to the most important thing in a child’s life: fitting in.

Half-way through the year, my father grew less patient and started to think I was resisting his tuteledge.

While waiting for my dad to come home from his saleman job one day, I sat staring at that blasted multiplication table sheet and the worn-out stack of flash cards. The idea of facing another frustrating night sitting at the kitchen table lay ahead.

All of a sudden, something clicked. I turned over one flash card, then another, and another testing myself.

“MOM!” I shouted. She came running downstairs, expecting to find me bleeding from the head.

“What is the matter with you?” she asked.

“I understand it,” I said. “I don’t know why I was making it so hard.”

She grabbed my study materials away and began to quiz me. I was right every time. We danced. My dad came home, I showed him, and we danced some more.

By the fourth grade, I was not just passing, but excelling in all subject areas. In high school, I took advanced English and math classes all thanks to my parents who wouldn’t take a gold star to mean anything more than a sticky piece of foil.

Good thing they were there to be my greatest teachers because I never really fit it. One out of two ain’t too bad.