My daughter’s brow can crease and bulge into quite an amazing frown. Like her entire face is squished both up and down.
“I hate you!” she screams, a very shrill scream.
There is so much feeling and sincerity in those three words. Despite the unkind phrase, directed at me like a strategically placed knife to my heart, I suppress a chuckle. At four years old, her intensity is just gosh darn adorable. And she’s beautiful. Not the traditional little-girl cute, but a deep and unique beauty in her features that will, no doubt, become even more profound as she grows up. Her olive skin is smooth and freckle free. Her curvy lips are presently pushed up to her wide nose, and her milk chocolate eyes are full of anger, her brows in a furious “V” formation. She does not resemble me or my husband. In fact, she is not even the same ethnicity as either of us. This little spit-fire came to us when she was two years old. A year and a half later we adopted her, then we were able to have her sealed to us in the Gilbert, Arizona temple.
Loving and parenting children with difficult histories is not a walk in the park. Opening our home to children in the foster care system is sometimes excruciatingly painful. My daughter has anxiety, extreme attention-seeking behaviors, is afraid of being alone, and sleeps with her bedroom light full on. Professionals have said that her defiant behaviors resemble that of a woman who suffers from battered-woman syndrome; she believes the abuse will come so she attempts to bring it on herself in an attempt to have some semblance of control. My daughter is also so afraid of being abandoned that she demands constant attention and affirmation. If ten minutes have passed and she doesn’t have someone’s attention, she feels we may have forgotten her existence in our lives. With these added complications to the (already treacherous) role of disciplining and bringing up a healthy functioning adult, parenting special children can look a little chaotic. Okay, a lot chaotic. (That’s another post)
For every story that accompanies the children who come to be with us, there is also the story of their first parents, their biological parents. It is easy for us to sit in our comfortable homes with the support of family and the church, and be glad that a particular child is no longer with the people who abused them, or the parents that abandoned them, or the mom who couldn’t get control of a serious drug addiction, or the family who simply couldn’t feed their child. Of course they are better off with us. Of course we saved them from horrible things. Right?
Two years ago I was standing in a checkout line at Target. My basket was full. I had shopped the clearance section for sweet little toddler outfits. I had collected a large stash of infant diapers and formula, groceries and cleaning supplies. Waiting for my turn to load everything onto the belt, I got the call. It was the one we had been waiting for. The call to tell us that the courts had agreed and the biological mother’s parental rights to my (then) foster daughter had been legally terminated. Tension that had been building for months melted from my shoulders. She was finally free. Then without much warning a deluge of grief hit me. I began to cry. Big, hot, silent tears poured down my face. I blubbered through paying for my purchases. I apologized several times to the confused cashier, along with a couple of concerned customers, assuring them that I was fine despite the fact that I, a seemingly competent grown woman, had just lost it.
I had received good news. It was what we had hoped and prayed for. The little girl that we loved so much was going to have permanency. She was going to stay in a safe and loving home. She was going to be ours. So, why was I sitting in the parking lot sobbing into my hands?
My heart was breaking for my daughter and for my daughter’s “other” mother. I felt the grief of everything they were both losing. I have always rejoiced in the blessing of motherhood. For the God-given strength of women that allows us to complete the task of giving heaven’s children a body, and helping spirits come to earth to fulfill their own divine purpose. That’s what our children are. They are stalwart spirits who Heavenly Father lends us for safe keeping, for protection, for nurturing, and teaching.
I have seen pictures of my daughter’s first mother on the county’s mugshot website from the various times she had been arrested. One picture in particular is so incredibly like my daughter. Her head is cocked to one side, chin up in defiance, those dark brows protruding with a deep frown. I think of her picture every day.
I think of her while I kiss my daughter’s cheeks, and remind her to behave, and while I try to coax her into a better mood. I think of her when my daughter tells me she hates me and I respond by telling her how much I love her. I walk hand-in-hand with my daughter, navigating through her past and trying to get rid of those unseen demons. Somehow, along the way, I have discovered that I love my daughter’s first mother. I feel hope, and healing, and the power of forgiveness towards her. I know she is a child of God and that Heavenly Father has not and will not forsake her. His love is unwavering. He has sacrificed his own child so that everyone: abusers, drug addicts, abandoners, alcoholics, everyone who is imperfect and broken, can find Him again. I put myself with those people. We can all find Him, can learn of his love for us and, in all our brokenness, be worthy of love.