Sunday, February 8, 2015

My Letter to Ellen

I can't remember where we were going this particular evening, but I was trying something new with my hair. Clearly it wasn't working.

Last weekend I survived the most challenging day of single parenthood I have experienced to date.
It started like most days- Little Man was fussing a little bit around 4AM, so I went in there to help him calm down. A few minutes later, I was walking back to my room when I realized something was not quite right. My stomach felt a bit off, but I thought I might be able to sleep it off, so I crawled back into bed and rolled around restlessly for a while.
Thirty minutes later, Little Man woke up again- this time to eat. I picked him up, walked to the kitchen to grab his bottle, and knew it was only a matter of minutes. 
It's always odd to me how accurately we can sense our impending fate when we experience that type of nausea. I go years without getting sick- at least this kind of sick- but even so, I can instantly tell when my nausea is not just nausea.
I did my best to breathe slowly as he sucked down his bottle, laid him back in his crib as quickly as I could, and then booked it to the bathroom- where whatever stomach virus I had hit in full force. (Can you tell I'm trying not to be too graphic?)
When Little Man woke up a few hours later, I managed to pull him out of his crib and lay him on his play mat before laying down next to him- a safe distance away. Being the super baby he is, he played contentedly for an hour or so (seriously- he's the best baby) while I tried not to move.
Me. That entire day.
To say it was miserable would be an incredible understatement. But- once again- I was saved my the kindness of friends. One friend saved the day and coordinated people to come help me. Those people came and played with/cared for Little Man while I tried to sleep. Another friend brought a miraculous anti-nausea medicine. Others brought ginger ale and very light foods. One friend even spent the night to help with J's nighttime feedings.
By the next morning, I was pretty much back to normal- hallelujah. But, man... I really am not sure I would have made it without those kind, wonderful people. They truly saved the day.
So thank you to all of those who came to our rescue last weekend. I really am #blessed.


Now, on to the subject of this blog post.

A while back, I was talking to my sister about foster motherhood, and I joked that I was going to write a letter to Ellen (whom I adore) suggesting she change her Mother's Day show this year.

For anyone who isn't a fan of Ellen, 1) you're crazy, 2) she hosts a Mother's Day show every year where first-time moms-to-be fill the audience. It's awesome. I mean, look at all these baby bumps:
As I laughed at my idea, my sister excitedly encouraged me to "do it!" A few other friends gave me the same feedback when I mentioned it to them, so I decided to go for it. I mean, what did I have to lose?
I sat down, wrote a lovely letter, and then went to Ellen's website to figure out how to send it.
It was then that I discovered that the only way to write to Ellen is by typing it into a box on her website (as opposed to sending a hand-written note or attaching a Word document). I also realized that the box had a strict character limit- one that was far below what I used on my letter.
I cut it down as best as I could, but doing so forced me to leave a lot of the heart behind my suggestion out.
It seems like a waste to just delete the full-length version, so I figured I'd post it here.
That way, if anyone who sees this knows Ellen, they can make sure she reads it. If I'm only seven degrees away from Kevin Bacon, I can't be more than 5 degrees away from Ellen. She interacts with a lot of people and is just the best- surely we have some friends in common. 

So, anyway, here's the unabridged letter:

Hi Ellen!
My name is Kaley. I’m a 27-year-old single lady living in Waco, TX. I currently work as a school social worker- a job that is challenging but wonderful.  In addition to your show, I love spending time with friends, playing the ukulele, baking, enjoying a good glass of wine or a good cup of coffee, and- like you- shaking it on the dance floor (aka- any floor that happens to be under my feet).
I am also a foster parent.
This is a pretty new adventure in my life, and I could probably give you a chapters-long narrative of what led up to it, but- in an effort to be brief(ish)- I’ll skip through that and get to the more exciting stuff.
After lots of interviews, trainings, and home inspections, I became a licensed foster parent in September. Within three hours of signing my license, I received a phone call about a potential placement, but the logistics didn’t work out and it fell through. I waited around anxiously for two weeks, making sure I always had my phone with me- just in case. On Tuesday, September 23rd, I got another call. It was the program director of the child placement agency, who said there was a baby scheduled to be born in the next few days. The baby’s mom was incarcerated, so they needed to find a home for a few months until she was released. The director said she thought I’d be the perfect fit, but we needed to figure out childcare- and wait for the baby to be born- before things could be finalized. On Wednesday I found out the baby- a boy- arrived and was healthy, and on Thursday we confirmed details for childcare, which made it official: I was about to welcome a newborn into my home.
I was standing in Target’s baby aisle Thursday night- crying because I was so excited, overwhelmed, and confused by the number of almost-identical bottles (how do you know which one to choose??) when I received another phone call- this time asking if I could travel with the case manager to pick my foster son up the next morning- 12 hours from that moment.
I wasn’t expecting that, so I called my supervisor at work and left her a few frantic messages- which, in retrospect, were probably very confusing- and went home to try to prepare/rest. It was the first of many sleepless nights.
The drive to the hospital was about 4 hours long. I remember listening to a great 90s playlist and looking at people passing by- thinking about how we were probably heading to such vastly different places to do such vastly different things. Eventually, we arrived at the hospital and made our way to the Newborn Center. It was a zoo. Nurses were buzzing back and forth and babies were crying all around us. I had to wait at the front desk for what felt like hours while the case manager filled out paperwork. I kept trying to catch glimpses of all the babies as they were carried by- wondering which one was about to become my foster son. Finally a nurse led us over to two of those clear plastic newborn cribs, which were parked by the nurses’ desk out front. (As I type this, I’m realizing how odd that location was.) She pointed out my son, and I immediately knew he was the cutest and most wonderful boy in the world. The nurse then led us to the only empty room she could find- the circumcision room. It was the perfect setting for such a significant moment.
The nurse handed me a bottle and told me I could feed him while they waited for the doctor to sign off on his release, and then she left. I think she may have forgotten about us, because it was a solid two hours before anyone returned. I didn’t care too much, though, because it gave me time to stare at the precious baby in my arms and- of course- cry some more. Eventually a nurse returned with  a “Newborn Owner’s Manual” (that’s seriously what it’s called), which she summarized by telling me to always use a car seat and put him on his back to sleep. I wasn’t convinced that was all I needed to know to take care of a newborn, but she told us we could go home and left again. The case manager and I buckled the little guy into his car seat, prayed we did it correctly, and headed for the car. I was sure someone would recognize my incompetence and stop me as I walked to the elevator. I imagined alarms going off and a nurse running over to grab the car seat from us. “That was a close one!” she would announce to the staff as she turned to take him back to the nursery. I mean, seriously- what did I know about raising a newborn??
 Since then I’ve learned that what I knew is about on par with what most parents know when they leave the hospital- nothing. But in that moment, I felt terrified- and somehow, at the same time, very calm. The second I looked at him, I knew I was totally in love with this little boy. He became my son in that moment- surely I could just figure everything else out along the way.
To my amazement, the hospital staff didn’t stop us. We walked out of there, baby in tow, and, four months later, the little guy (who is not so little these days) is still living with me. He’s grown and changed so much, and I like to think I’ve grown- in different ways- right alongside him.
At this point, I’m not sure how much longer we’ll be a little family- he’s supposed to return to his biological mom once she’s ready to take him back. It could be days or weeks or months from now, but I’m trying not to think too much about it so I can focus on just being grateful for the time we do have together.
I’ve gained so much respect and appreciation for foster and adoptive parents over the past several months. This work is so beautiful and rewarding, but it is also very challenging- emotionally, mentally, and even physically. (Hauling around an adorable, chunky baby is no joke- nor is waking up for feedings throughout the night and trying to survive eight hours of work the next day.)  As a foster parent, you open your heart up to so much love and joy, which inevitably leaves it open to a lot of grief and pain. I cannot imagine my life without this little guy- but I know I may have to accept it as reality before too long. If there is a way to love this child completely while still protecting my heart from the grief of losing him, I haven’t figured it out yet. But, despite the uncertainty and heartache, I plan to continue fostering children- as so many parents around the country do- because there is such a tremendous need, and I know this is one way I can do something about it.
Segue into the purpose of this letter (obviously I’m amazing at transitions): Every May, you have a wonderful Mother’s Day show where you celebrate women doing something incredible- bringing a life into the world. Your audience is filled with women who are proudly rocking their baby bumps; it’s one of the best shows of the year. But over the past few months my eyes have been opened to the many mothers out there whose stories aren’t always celebrated- or even shared. From women who are led to foster care because they are unable (or choose not) to have children biologically, to women who become foster moms just so children can experience safety and love before finding permanency with their biological or adoptive family- there are many mothers out there who don’t necessarily bring lives into the world, but they certainly work hard to make sure those lives thrive. Their stories are complex and challenging, but they are also beautiful and very much worth telling.
I think it would be amazing to host a Mother’s Day Show celebrating these women.  Not only because they deserve it, but because it would inform millions of your viewers about a really important issue. Did you know that in the United States, 397,122 children are living without permanent families in the foster care system? 101,666 of them are eligible for adoption, but over 30% will wait more than three years in foster care before finding a permanent home.* There are so many things- big and small- that your viewers can do about this, and they may not even be aware of them.  They could donate items to children in foster care, they could volunteer with an organization that supports biological families working toward reunification, they could register to provide respite care for foster families, or they could become foster parents themselves.
 I’ve been amazed by how little most people seem to know about the reality of fostering. Many people tell me, “I could never do that!” without having an accurate understanding of what it’s like. I’ve become pretty passionate about changing people’s misconceptions by being honest about my experience- both the joys and the challenges- in my conversations and writing (I have a blog that I sometimes update when I’m not busy or exhausted from caring for an infant). But I know your voice can carry a lot further than mine. I also know you choose to use it to make a positive impact in the world- it’s one of the many reasons I admire you. I know you can’t support every cause people point you toward, but I at least wanted to ask you to support this one. May is actually National Foster Care Awareness month, too, so it could be perfect!
I’m not sure if this will actually reach you, but, if it does, I’d be so grateful if you’d even just consider this. Whether you think about making a change to the Mother’s Day show (it might be too late for that; I honestly have no clue how far in advance you prepare for each episode) or share this information in some other way, I think it could make such a difference for the kids across the country in need of safe homes and loving families.
Regardless of whether or not this letter changes anything, I am thankful for all you do to make the world a better place. You bring so much joy to so many people, which is why you always make my list when I answer the question: “You’re hosting a dinner party; what five people- dead or alive- would you want to have at your table?” There’d be so much good conversation and so many great dance moves.
Thank you for choosing to make a positive impact.
All the best,
Kaley
(ps- I realize it may seem a little self-serving to make this suggestion given the fact that I am a foster mom myself, but I would be totally fine if you did this and I didn’t go- there are plenty of other foster moms out there who could fill an audience.)
(I mean, I wouldn’t complain if I was there, but I’d be completely happy to see others there, too.)


*Source: The AFCARS Reports No. 20: http://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/cb/afcarsreport20.pdf