We really didn’t mean to drop off the face of the planet for the past three months.
Many people know that in January we got our first foster placement, and since then we've been hiding away in our hobbit hole trying to process the entire experience. Privacy is a dear and sacred thing in the foster world and though we wish with all of our hearts we could share each and every bit of our foster babes, we can’t. Ethan and I agreed we wouldn't post much about any of our foster kiddos until they weren't living with us anymore, and after this first placement, we took a couple months to reset and we're finally ready to share a little bit of our first little one with you. Many people know his "real" name, but on the interwebs we call him Little Ninja.
Foster care is every bit as hard and much harder than we ever expected (we think that might just be parenting in general) and we'll be honest in saying that our weeks with him were the hardest weeks we've experienced as a couple. Adding a tiny human to our mix threw off every rhythm and routine we had, and we scrambled to create new rhythm with Little Ninja, who was old enough to understand that everything was different, but not old enough to really understand why. We can't even pretend to understand the emotions involved with being removed from everything you've ever known to live with two strange people and their dog, but we can say that it's a big, big mess of feelings for a little one to feel.
The first few weeks drained all three of us in every way. Little Ninja cried for his mom at bedtime almost every night. One night, Ethan had to take over bath time and bedtime routine because I started crying and couldn't stop. Another day, Ethan had to call into work last minute because Little Ninja was struggling with some big feelings and desperately needed both of us home to help him through it. Still, squeezed into the margins between all these hard things were the tender and precious moments we shared with him and those are the ones we are choosing to share because those are really the only moments that matter.
There is nothing more surreal than watching a caseworker pull into your driveway and lead a child into your house - the child who made us "parents" for the very first time. He stood silently in our doorway, stone-faced and expressionless, while his big eyes took everything in. The awkward silence was broken by a quiet whimper from our dog, Bilbo, who was waiting in his kennel. This prompted Little Ninja's first words to us:
“Is that a dog?”
It was like magic. Suddenly we were temporary parents to a bubbling little boy who started talking (and kept talking and talking and talking and talking and talking)... And so it began.
Sweet Bilbo accepted his position at the bottom of our attention totem pole with all the grace of a good dog. Little Ninja was working on not being too rough with animals and Bilbo was learning how to play with tiny humans so they didn't always get along (#siblings), but even in the most difficult of moments they were the best of friends. One night after they'd had a small tiff, Little Ninja burst into hysterical tears and sobbed, "I can't apologize to Bilbo... I don't speak dog!" I think Ethan and I both laughed out-loud, but we hid our smiles and assured him that Bilbo understood apologies even if he didn't understand the words. Truly, I think Bilbo understood more about Little Ninja than we'll ever know, because our little puppy grew up overnight into a calm and nurturing companion. These two chased each other silly, snuggled, and shared secrets on a daily basis, and if you've ever wondered about the therapeutic nature of dogs, I invite you over to meet ours.
There are entire forums dedicated to supporting foster parents whose own families struggle with accepting foster children, but fortunately, we didn't fear that issue one bit. Little Ninja met every member of our immediate families, and over the weeks he was with us they climbed into blanket forts, brought toys, read books, fixed us coffee, babysat, texted us encouragement, and reduced me to tears every time they did any of these things because having two families who accepted this sweet foster kiddo into our family tree without question is a humbling and precious gift.
And then there were all the other moments:
The first night he hugged us goodnight.
The time he had a really good day and we celebrated by going to breakfast, the aquarium, AND (after some pleading, mostly from Ethan) Legoland.
The time we were at a park and a sweet woman told me that "he had my eyes".
The first time we took him to church and our church family welcomed him in without hesitation.
The day he'd had a really difficult morning, but then voluntarily cleaned his room up by himself to surprise us and turn the bad day into a good day.
The first day he conquered an issue he'd worked hard on and we all jumped up and down in our living room celebrating like it was Christmas morning.
The night he asked us alllll about our wedding and our marriage and looked through all our wedding photos and, after some quiet consideration, told us that he hoped some day he'd be married like us.
The day we asked his daycare if we could pick him up early and their sweet director placed both hands on my shoulders, looked me in the eyes, and goes, "Sweetie, you can pick him up whenever you want. He's yours."
Our "stay home weekends" when we built an obstacle course in our house and he and Bilbo ran that course until they were both exhausted.
When Ethan and I tried that same obstacle course and Little Ninja laughed himself silly seeing us struggle to squeeze through some of the obstacles.
The nights he cuddled with Ethan and rocked while they read bedtime books and played our special letter game.
The nights he and I "slow danced sadness away" in small circles around his room.
And on and on and on.
We'll be upfront and honest in saying that Little Ninja was moved to another foster home for very, very hard, but necessary reasons and we intentionally took this long break afterwards to reset and honestly question if we were actually cut out for this. Yep - we'll admit we've questioned ourselves and debated whether we were way in over our heads doing this. There's a tap out button for us; we can shut our doors at any time. But if we can sing "Oceans" at church on Sunday, we need to actually be willing to go to the places that force us to keep our eyes above the waves. God calls us out of the boat for a reason, right?
We really don't mean to be too TMI-ish, or weirdly over-emotional in sharing all this. We just think the Internet has more than enough horror stories about foster care, and not nearly enough stories about the good in this messy system. At the end of every horror story is a child walking through every child's worst fear, and we wish people would remember that those bad stories are only chapters of a novel. The bulk of Little Ninja's story isn't ours to tell, but when we do share our chapter, we want the world to know that he is an amazing, super SUPER smart, sweet, precious, treasured little boy with the sweetest smile and the most tender heart, and he's forever part of the good.
You are so worth it, Little Ninja. Forever and ever. We love you.