It took me awhile before I could walk past the dairy section of the grocery store without having flashbacks. In my memory, the song always came on right when I hit the yogurt, always the same song as if proving the use of piped in music or the predictability of my shopping habits or maybe both.
There it was – that song – playing as if to my ears only, and I looked at my darling baby and would cry. Right there in front of the yogurt. I’d put on the sunglasses, and it always helped to stick my nose in that sweet baby neck because nuzzles can hide tears and dispense genuine love all at the same time. Oh, this foster care journey. No one told me. No one could have prepared me for it.
I have died every day waiting for you
Darling, don’t be afraid I have loved you
For a thousand years
I’ll love you for a thousand more
And all along I believed I would find you
Time has brought your heart to me
I have loved you for a thousand years
I’ll love you for a thousand more
–“A Thousand Years” Christina Perri
That song. Was it written for me in that moment, or would I have found symbolism in any old something? Honky-tonk, concerto or liquid metal. I carried a lot of thoughts around in my head and heart those days. And when I heard that song, I looked around at the people in the store and thought…“Do you hear this? Do you see the pain radiating off me like the sun? You people do not even know that when this baby goes home, I will feel like my daughter has died.”
I would see mothers walking around with little girls a few years older than mine. They took my breath away. I felt as if I were leaving a trail behind me in that neighborhood store—small shattered heart crumbs, revealing from where I had come so I’d hopefully be able to find my way home.
That’s heavy for the dairy aisle.
But I wondered sincerely how I was supposed to find my way home while on this adventure of foster care. You get training, but it does not cover this.
There is no training on sacred suffering.
As soon as you say “yes,” you forfeit your right to ever see life the same way again. You cannot unsee the trauma and the stories and real life wounds. You cannot un-feel the bone-marrow-deep love that you have for a child. And you cannot escape the real and true uncertainty of what will ever become of them. Or you for that matter. Everything changes.
I wouldn’t go back even if I could.
This particular child of mine, content with waving a fat, little wrist at fellow shoppers, was my daughter in every sense of the word from the very beginning. I held her for the first time at four months old to the day. I kissed her belly and watched her breathe in her sleep. She was my daughter in every sense…except for legally, of course. It was a strange place to stand, one foot on either side of a dividing line. One heart— split—as if it couldn’t reside in the same chest. I couldn’t reconcile why she felt like my forever child, yet on paper and according to the court, this child was destined to go home. And I couldn’t reconcile wanting to keep this child while, at the same time, loving the birth mother and wanting her to succeed? What to do? What to think? What to pray?
Foster care is not for wimps.
So there I stood, hearing the words of the song, thinking I’ve loved this baby girl for a thousand years and didn’t know if I could ever shop in this store again. What would our life look like a year from then? Or ten? Would I always look at other people’s daughters in the grocery store and think of my own? Would I wonder if her wrists were still adorably fat or if she still waved at strangers?
If I saw her would she wave at me?
These are the things that happen in foster care. The things you don’t see on the surface. It’s the nearly impossible grocery store trips and seeing the children on birth parents’ Facebook pages dressed in clothes that you bought and posed in front of your furniture. It’s the true love for children and for their flawed parents. It’s the appointments and the wondering if the children will ever recover from their rocky starts. It’s walking the aisles, doing the things and kissing the necks with uncertainty and fear and great, great love. This is the foster care you might not know about. It’s brutal. It’s brokenness. It’s beautiful. All of it, because it needs to be done and needs to be done well.
Mother Teresa once said, “Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.”
So I did as all of us foster parents do. Really, what all of us parents do. Every day. I began and began and began again.
And I have returned to that store, for inquiring minds. Many times, in fact. With the darling baby now turned gorgeous toddler. I still hear music; they still play songs on a loop. Everything has changed — two years has a way of doing that — and she is now, in every single, possible sense of the word, my daughter. My daughter. The court has told me so.
And the crumbs I dropped? I faithfully kept dropping them, day after day, year after year, and I did eventually find my way home. With her. But I would’ve found my way home even if things had ended differently. I really believe that. The way I was called to love her was the same whether our path led here or there.
Love all in. For a thousand years. And a thousand more.
To read more of Katie’s stories, visit her blog, Operation Leap of Faith.