You were always my son

Dear Gav,

I can’t believe I am writing these words: Today your mom and I adopted you. We imagined this day before we even met you. And today it finally happened.

Over the past few weeks I have been thinking about this day constantly. I still don’t understand how we got here. It doesn’t quite make sense, and something still doesn’t compute.

Last summer your mom and I packed up your books, clothes, and toys as we prepared to return you to your biological mother. We tried to fit in as many “lasts” as we could–one last time camping, one last trip to California to meet your baby cousin, one last visit to our favorite restaurants.

In late July we dropped you off, congratulated your bio mom on everything she had accomplished, walked back to our car, and wept. We thought that was it.

But somehow you were returned to us. Your legal case continued for several more months. And now–25 months after we brought you home–you are officially ours.

My sweet boy: one of my deepest wishes is you never learn how tumultuous the first two years of your life were. How hard it was for you even before you were born. I want all your early memories to be of love and happiness, and I never want you to dwell on why you became a foster child.

I hope that today–as much as it means to your mom and me–never really means anything to you.

Because more than anything else, I want you to believe something that has been true the day I picked you up from the hospital: I was always your father, and you were always my son.

Love,
Dad

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Again, thank you

Thank you for…

  • Setting up a Meal Train when Gavin first came to us.
  • Bringing us food. Sending us food.
  • Hosting a baby shower.
  • Hosting a virtual baby shower.
  • Giving us hand-me-downs: clothes, a car seat, cloth diapers, a glider, toys…
  • Gifting us every other piece of baby gear (we had nothing!).

 

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What awaited us outside our front door when we got home one night. (The packages- not the baby, though if he were, it wouldn’t be far from the truth for foster care!)

 

  • Mowing our lawn.
  • Inviting us over.
  • Pretending to not be mad when Gavin’s dirty diaper leaked on your floor when you had us over.
  • Babysitting Gavin – sometimes for free, sometimes at way below market rate.
  • Willingly jumping through the bureaucratic hoops required to babysit a foster kid.
  • Being understanding when we had a crazy visitation and medical appointment schedule to work around.
  • Knitting Gavin blankets.
  • Sending Gavin a personalized bib with a joke that took us months to get.

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  • Sending us flowers on a court date.
  • Sending us a plant and chocolates when we thought Gavin had gone home.
  • Facetiming us. Calling us. Texting us. Emailing us.
  • Sending us cards. And more cards.
  • Crying with us and for us.
  • Flying out to visit us.
  • Flying out to be with us during a court date.
  • Sending us lucky pennies you found on the ground.
  • Donating breast milk to us. Having your sister donate breast milk to us.
  • Donating funds so that we could purchase breast milk. Having your coworker donate funds so that we could purchase breast milk.
  • Visiting us when Gavin was in the hospital at seven-weeks-old.
  • Being understanding when we never knew our schedule or whether Gavin would be with us for an upcoming event.
  • Being understanding when we were hesitant to make plans because we feared it might be our last weeks/weekend/days with Gavin.
  • Listening to us hash out every nuance of the legal case, over and over.
  • Packing a bag for Gavin when he unexpectedly came to Hawaii with us and we weren’t in the state to do it ourselves.
  • Praying for us.
  • Praying for Gavin. “Storming the gates of Heaven,” as one of our wise friends pledged.
  • Extending your visit with us in March 2016 so that we could take a little 4-day-old baby boy home from the hospital to live with us.
  • Understanding when we were grumpy, or withdrawn, or short with you. (We’re sorry.)
  • Loving us. Loving our little boy and doting on him like crazy.

Thank you

Many foster care blogs have written thoughtfully about what you can do to support foster parents and foster children. A friend of ours has started a local non-profit in Colorado to do exactly that. For us, now seems like a fitting time to acknowledge and celebrate all that our friends, family and community did to support us on this journey.

Our other post has an almost-exhaustive list of what people did for us. It was A LOT and we feel incredibly, incredibly blessed to write such a list. Our people did amazing things for us and our child. Here, we touch on three things that you did that stood out:

  • You thought about us and prayed for us – and told us you were. We believe strongly that the petitions that went up to God about us and about Gavin ultimately changed the outcome of this case- and for that we are so thankful. We know your prayers were heard.

But being told over and over again that we were being thought of and prayed for- that mattered a lot, too. Foster care can be extremely lonely and isolating. Having contact from friends- friends who were thinking about us every day, and took a few minutes to send a text or call or write an email, to tell us they were thinking about us- was invaluable. It is one thing to be in the forefront of someone’s mind – but being told that you are matters, too.

  • You were willing to simply be with us. We were not very good company over the last two years. In fact, we were often quite poor company. We were frequently exhausted, sad, and stressed. Sometimes, you listened as we vented or discussed the nuances of the case. We had little else to talk about. Sometimes you cried with us. But the fact that you were willing to be with us and around us mattered the most.

I have learned, through this process, that it is hard to be around people who are hurting. We were not funny. Our conversations focused on only one thing. We were withdrawn. And yet, you stuck by us. Having friends and family around mattered so much to us. It gave us something to look forward to, and a way to feel like ourselves again. I have so much appreciation now for those are able to show up– emotionally, physically-  for those who are hurting. It might be awkward, and you may not know what to say or do. But just saying or doing anything is, 99 times out of 100, the right thing to do. To be with others as they hurt is a gift as valuable as any other.

  • You loved our child like he was our own. This mattered so much to us and to Gavin.

If he had returned to his biological parents, Gavin would have known the immense love of a community for the first 16 months of his life. That is invaluable to a tiny baby.

We know this was not easy for so many of our family and friends. We have been told that, when we would send out an email update, you would brace for tears. And yet you read those emails anyway, and scooped Gavin up in a hug the next time you saw him. We saw that you loved Gavin knowing he may not be part of our family for forever. What an incredible gift for him and for us.

“I think we should take him”

On March 22, 2016, Steph and I met our foster care support worker W for the first time.  It was a Tuesday.

We had been wondering when we we would officially be certified as foster parents.  W told us it had happened a couple weeks ago, and that we should expect a call at any time. She said that we should probably buy some diapers and a pack and play. W knew that we wanted as young a child as possible–ideally under 3 years old.

Why a baby? Well, at some point Steph and I decided that since we hadn’t been parents before, it would be better for both us and the kiddo if we took a baby. We figured caring for a baby wouldn’t require us to exercise parenting skills that we didn’t have.

We also figured that we would have some time before we had any placements. In one week we were excited to fly to Seattle for a long weekend. We also had Memorial Day tickets to Mexico City. We assumed that we would get our first call about a possible foster child in mid-June, after we decompressed from our travels. But just to be safe, we planned to get the pack and play and diapers on Saturday.

W called us that Friday around 9 am. She told us that four-day old Gavin needed a home. He was still in the hospital. We only knew two things about him–his first name and that he was white.

I had always imagined we’d get a girl. Stephanie had imagined a non-white baby. But this little white boy was (potentially) thrown into our lives, and we had two hours to decide if we would take him.

I canceled my lunch plans so Steph and I could  talk. As we spoke, I started feeling that we should accept this placement. I don’t know why, but it seemed right even though we were thoroughly unprepared for it. I think I was about to say that when Steph said: “I think we should take him.”

We did. And the rest, as they say, is history.

On crying

Although I am a pretty emotional guy, I don’t think of myself as much of a crier. I didn’t cry at either my wedding or my PhD thesis defense–two events where I thought I would cry. And much to Stephanie’s annoyance, I don’t get that emotional in sad movies. I do vaguely remember that as a young kid I would cry easily. But in the last 15 years or so, I think I only cried occasionally–when my cousin died, tough moments with my family, etc.

The Gavin situation changed all that for me. As his case progressed and got more and more grey, I became, for lack of a better term, kind of a cry baby.

It took a while to develop. For almost a year, I don’t think I cried even once. Instead I would get this pit in my stomach feeling that left me drained and weak.

It often happened randomly. At work I’d be talking about something like SQL Server versions, and all of a sudden it would hit me. I wouldn’t be able to concentrate, and I’d walk back and forth from the snack room until it passed. Once it was so bad I went to the bathroom and just sat in a stall for a while.

Starting last spring–about 14 months after we got Gav–I found myself crying more. It was looking more and more likely that he would be returned to his mom. I often brooded about that possibility, and when I did, I started crying.

This especially happened as I drove. I had a pretty long, traffic-filled commute that lent itself to lots of negative thoughts. Almost every day in June 2017 I would cry for a few minutes on either the drive to or from work, and usually both.

As Gavin’s case dragged on through the summer and fall, I stopped crying as much. I simply became resigned to the fact that we would lose him. When I found out that we were wrong, that we were going to get to keep him forever, I wouldn’t blame you for assuming that I cried tears of joy. But I didn’t. I smiled.

Today we said goodbye

Note: I wrote the following letter in late July 2017 after I thought we had lost Gavin forever. Our case took several unpredictable turns after we returned him to his mom. We have since gotten Gavin back.

Today we said goodbye to our son.

We said goodbye to you, Gavin.

Sixteen months ago, you came into our lives with a phone call and a simple answer: “Yes, we’ll take him.”

I will never forget the first time I saw you, later that same night. You were so tiny. You were swaddled and asleep, hanging out with the nurses at their station in the maternity ward. You were with them because on that night, you had no one else.

As we walked up to the counter and I laid eyes on you, I knew you were the one- that you were ours. And I was right.

From that moment on, there was no doubt that we would move heaven and Earth to provide whatever it was that you needed. And today, it does indeed feel like we gave up everything for you. We gave you to another family – we gave you back to your family – and in the process, lost a piece of ours.

Foster care is equal parts beauty and brokenness. It is the hardest thing we have ever done. No advanced degree, challenging job or physical feat that we have achieved compares to what it is like to be a foster parent. At the same time, foster care gave us you, and because of that, we find it beautiful.

And, it is beautiful because you are returning to a family who would also move heaven and Earth to provide for you.

What a privilege it has been to play a tiny role in that. And to be your parents for sixteen months.

Gav, you are capable of great things. Everyone who meets you immediately falls in love with you, and I don’t think that will change as you grow older. I pray that you use your gifts to further His kingdom, and to love other people. That is our constant prayer for your future.

And, we pray that God will protect you when we aren’t around to do so. We know He has a great plan for you. We are just so sad that we may not get to see it unfold.

But we want you to know, above all else, that you are loved – by Him, by us, by your mom. You are so loved, little boy.

To those of you who walked alongside us for the past sixteen months: thank you. You never signed up for this crazy world of foster care, yet you willingly became grandparents, aunts and uncles, and a community to a boy who would otherwise have had none. We know this has been hard on many of you, too. Thank you for helping us show Jesus to him. We could not have done it without you.

Dear Gavin

Note: I wrote the following in late July 2017 after I thought we had lost Gavin forever. Our case took several unpredictable turns after we returned him to his mom. We have since gotten Gavin back. When I have the energy, I will post updates.

Dear Gavin,

For months your mom has been telling me to write you letters. Instead, I would lie awake at night, brood, get angry and cry all at the same time. But as so often happens, I realized that your momma was right all along, and I finally decided to write to you.

My dear son: In 2015, after your mom and I decided to become foster parents, I knew I was ready to start a family. I was even excited to become a father. But I never imagined how much would love being your father and how much I would fall in love with you.
Being your dad came to define me, and I cherish every moment we had together.

One day, Gavin, you’ll probably learn this cheesy saying: It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved before. I’ve been thinking about that sentence a lot. I used to think that it applied to romantic love–the kind your mom and I have for each other. Now I’m not so sure. Romantic love is complicated. For some people that sentiment may simply not be true.

But now that you are leaving me, that saying has never felt truer. I will miss everything about you my son, even the things that may not sound like they were much fun. I will miss waking up to change and feed you (you know how your momma loves to sleep in!). I will miss doing your therapies every morning. I will miss taking you to all those doctor’s appointments. In some strange way, I’ll even miss washing those ridiculous cloth diapers your mom made us get. Losing you hurts a lot, son, and I don’t know when I will recover.

But the pain I feel is dwarfed by the happiness you brought me the last 16 months. As hard as it is to imagine my life going on without you, it’s even harder to imagine my life as if you were never there. Gavin: along with marrying your mother, becoming your dad is the best thing that ever happened to me.

My sweet, sweet boy: Though your new mom is being incredibly gracious and promised that we will remain in your life, I can’t help but feel that you are gone forever. I don’t know how many more times I will hear your infectious laugh or have you fall asleep in my arms. I don’t know if you will get to know your baby sister coming this November, or if I will see you grow up. But whatever the future holds, I like to think that we did right by you. Perhaps selfishly, I hope your mom and I made a lasting difference for you.

Our–your–friends talk about things like how we helped your brain develop, how much we read to you, and how we addressed your medical problems. Yes, those were important. But that’s not what I’m talking about. Rather, I hope we introduced you to three things you’ll come to love.

First is camping. You may not believe it, but you first went camping when you were just three and a half months old. In retrospect it was probably a bit too cold for you, and we may have been a tad too aggressive. But your mom and I are certain you loved it! You also loved it when we went several more times that summer. At one point we liked to brag that you had been camping more than 2% of the days of your life. I hope one day you note that fact on your LinkedIn profile. I also hope and pray you continue to love camping and the outdoors.

Second is frisbee golf. I know it’s kind of crazy Gav…but your dadda loves the quirky sport of frisbee golf! I like to imagine that one day you’ll have the chance to play, and that the first time you step onto a course, you’ll wonder why it feels familiar. You’ll say to yourself: “Why do I feel like I’ve done this before?” Well son: you have! You’ve been with your dadda lots of times! When you eventually start playing, you can thank me for your familiarity and your incompetence. I surely played a role in both.

Finally, son, I hope we vicariously introduced you to Jamaica, the land of my childhood. Jamaica means a lot to your mom and me, and we wanted so badly to visit it with you. Although we won’t be able to take you ourselves, I hope one day you find yourself there. And as with frisbee golf, I like to imagine that the first time you encounter it, you’ll find it oddly familiar and comfortable. You’ll step off the plane and wonder why you seem to understand what everyone’s saying. Maybe at that moment you’ll have a faint inkling that I was once a part of your life, and that I constantly spoke to you in patois. Gavin: You will always be my likkle yute.

Dear son: I feel like I have so much to teach and give to you, and that I’ll never have the chance. I will have to be content with writing letters like these–ones I know you’ll never read. Nevertheless, the father in me feels the need to close with three instructions I hope you follow forever: Always love God with all your heart. Always treat people with respect–especially when you don’t want to or you think they don’t deserve it. And finally, never let anyone tell you that frisbee golf is not a real sport.

Forever and always,
Your loving father