We celebrated our daughter's 9th birthday this weekend.
A couple weeks back, we were talking about what was best to do for her birthday. At the time, she had been kicked out of her pre-adoptive home and was living in a children's shelter. As each day passed, we began to witness a little girl we love deeply go from being a kid in a family to being an unwanted kid to being a homeless kid. A part of us went quiet inside. Because we care so much about her. Because no one, especially a child, should ever have to live in a shelter anywhere, particularly in a country as rich as ours. Because she was the 3rd generation of Black women in her birth family to be currently living in a homeless shelter.
As each half day passed, we continued to talk together. We were processing, planning, reflecting, talking to her on the phone and trying to visit her. We were told we could visit her on-site for an hour for her birthday. Something inside went quiet again. We labeled the tags on her clothes with her initials in permanent marker, a prerequisite for any kid in an institutional setting so that when your laundry is thrown in with all the other little kids living in an institutional setting, there is at least a chance that your favorite t-shirt will come back to you each time it gets washed. Forget about matching socks. Brushed teeth. Shutting your bedroom door for privacy or if you need personal space. Forget about quiet. Forget about bedtime books and lavender anti-monster spray. Forget about touch. The lights were never turned off. The sensory overload itself is hard to imagine managing. She was living with a rotation of kids ranging in age from 1.5 - 12 years.
We know these things because we've both worked in these types of environments. More than 15 collectively to be precise. So we knew there was no fucking way we were leaving her there to wait out the surfacing of another potential forever family and another potential disruption. She belonged with us. So we brought her home.
I felt only hate in my heart for the women that abandoned her. I am still so angry at them and wish for them to be held publicly accountable, given they live such public lives. In my mind, they pop up in the form of Skype and our several, late night video calls as they begged for more stories, more history, more details about the little girl they planned to call their daughter and raise as an empowered Black woman. As they leaned into each other with heart eyes and took detailed notes. When I think about all the layers here, feelings of deep betrayal surface at every level. And deceit. I think of them now as the worst kind of white progressives; resourced and reckless with a daunting privilege that allows them to disengage and discard. They turn their back on anything they're not into with an entire following of misled women who prop them up as community leaders. Brands built on blood and sweat and bullshit. "When I'm finished with a project, I don't look back. I just move on." A direct quote from one of them and I think, in the end, testament to how they viewed this entire adoption; A DIY project. When they share the building of their family in the future, I want people to know that there was another child. My child.
I know many will say that hanging onto that anger isn't healthy and I agree. And a lot of people don't understand how this all unfolded, or why she didn't stay with us originally. That's ok. All the people in my home are having nightmares again right now and we're working to strike a lot of balances, so my late night writing is my way of stealing myself from the depths of that anger, understanding fully how holding so much hurt impacts one's ability to be a whole person. A healthy partner. A good parent. It's hard for me to give them a hall pass on this. The internet has a short memory, but I will not forget. I wasn't raised on the forgive and forget doctrine so it isn't a strength of mine. It's actually not even a philosophy I subscribe to. And yet, let me tell you how many times that philosophy has invited healing into my heart, helped build relationships or opened the door to opportunity for me: zero.
And so here I am. And here we are. Expanding. Contracting. Rallying. Asking. Extending. Because that's what good people do and I want my kids to know me as being a good person in the world. That's more valuable to me than anything. Our most important endeavor is to raise kind and resilient kids - I'm aware that these early moments in our coming together as a family of 5 are the ones that matter most. I feel it in my bones.
Awhile back, our couples' therapist asked each of us what our long-term family vision looked like. Therapist Mom had powerful, well-thought out ideas and I hadn't thought concretely about it, suddenly aware that I should probably come up for air more frequently and join her on that journey. This was well over a year ago, so I've worked to be more intentional in thinking through it. Which, I've discovered, is really just code for: all the values I want my family to embody, I have to be able to do myself. I'm never not working on being a better self.
Which is why my phone isn't in my hands as often. Which is why you'll see me stretching just about everywhere. Which is why I'm chugging water. Which is why I take a deep breath every time I see one of our dogs do it because they do it all the time. Which is why, when my patience is unbearably thin, I just pick one of our kids up and tell them I love them. Which is why, when Sweet said he felt left out this morning for the first time ever, we celebrated him, scooped him up and taught him how to crack eggs.
Our kids need to be physically close to us right now. I feel that intuitively but they are also demonstrating it in some way almost every moment. Our work right now is to pull them all in. Our love is to pick them up when they lean in. To puppy pile in our bed before hitting the ground running in the morning. To balance who & what & when & where so that everyone's needs get met. So that everyone feels like they are just as valued and special & loved. So that no one feels left behind or left out. Tiny climbs out of his crib and slides into our bed so seamlessly, neither of us can report on his exact arrival. We've come to expect him every night. Sweet talks and talks and talks and just as he's wrapping up a stream of thoughts, we'll notice he's gone from sitting across the table to sitting on our lap. Big Sis quietly leans her head on my arm. Something she's never done before. And she's sleeping on her bed, in our room, nearby, until further notice.
We have 3 kids now. These feel like the most important moments of our young family life.