Today marks the one year anniversary of receiving our first child.

I will never forget the nerves or excitement I had going into the parking lot where we were told to meet for the pick-up. She was tiny. And beautiful. 3-years-old, looking at me like I was a crazy lady for talking to her in such a high-pitch baby voice.

The sweetest, silliest, and most compassionate toddler I’ve ever encountered. N is the first child I’ve ever fallen in love with and who I really believe loves me back the same.

Having her join our family was the biggest adjustment we’ve ever navigated. I certainly made a lot of mistakes.

Today she is no longer in our care, so it might not seem like a significant day, but I’ve felt tender and happy and sad and so many feelings, so I decided it was worth writing about.

Let’s take a trip down memory lane, shall we?

October 2017 – We brought N into our home and she quickly invaded our hearts.

November 2017 – We brought N’s twin sister, M, into our home and she made everything feel complete.

December 2017 – The twins started calling us mommy and daddy. I helped their mom get her GED (yay!) and both girls were finally potty-trained.

January 2018 & February 2018 – I went off the grid for two months and don’t remember much, proving that having pictures really is helpful, but I’m sure I was so much more attentive and present with everyone.

March 2018 – According to my journal, we felt like we’d finally gotten into a good routine and the girls were doing really well, but visiting and communication with mom was drastically decreasing.

April 2018 – We were all happy a lot this month. (So fun looking at pics and rereading journal entries.)

May 2018 – Mother’s Day officially became my favorite holiday ever. The twins showered me with love. E and I made sure they saw their momma that evening and I’m confident they made her feel just as loved.

June 2018 – We were given several options in the reunification process. E and I made the very hard decision to transition the girls out of our home to be back with their mom on June 2nd and it was the hardest day of my life.

July, August, September, & now October 2018 – The last few months have been weird. E and I both agree it’s been quiet, too easy, and less joyful in our home. I’m most grateful that we continued a relationship with the girls’ mom because we have been able to see them every other week pretty consistently. She is doing well, the girls and their little brother are great, and just yesterday I got to help out by taking N to another doctor’s appointment.

I’m sitting at my kitchen table, typing this post and it feels weird to be able to sit down and write uninterrupted. The only noise in my ears is the crackling sound of my wood wick candle. When I go over to the fridge to grab a snack, I see their sweet faces and the latest drawings from their sleepover here last week.

I can’t help but think about the things I would do differently if I could do it all over again…

  1. Savor the moments. Especially in our final months with the twins, I chose to multitask (which is what all parents do in survival mode, right?!) and didn’t always give my full attention to them. I think it’s because I suddenly had this false hope that we would be together forever. That belief took my focus off reunification and made me miss out on some of the moments I can never get back.
  2. Document every sweet and funny story. Throughout our ordinary days, there was always something super sweet or funny that M or N would do/say and I wish so badly I’d jotted them all down so I could go back to reread them. Aside from my journal entries, pictures and videos, everything is one giant blur, which is why I’m working on a resource specifically for foster families to document their journey in a way that is healthy and honoring to everyone involved.
  3. Try harder to prevent them from calling us mommy and daddy. This one stings to admit. We lit up when the girls first started calling us mommy and daddy, but we should have gently helped them stick to our names since this only created a deeper attachment for all four of us and heartache for their mom.
  4. Be a better ally and advocate for their mom. In some ways, I was a great ally, helping her further her education, meeting with her weekly, encouraging her and pushing her to reach her potential. However, throughout our journey I definitely tried to save her when she didn’t need saving. Because I had two of her children, I allowed judgement, fear, and assumption to outweigh grace, love, and the goal of reunification. Looking back I could have done a much better job had I really examined my intentions and given her the benefit of the doubt. I exchanged text messages with her yesterday apologizing to which she responded so gracefully.
  5. Make freezer meals. Might seem silly, but I neglected to do what most parents do when they welcome a new child into their home… make freezer meals! I feel like E and I made chicken nuggets and Mac ‘n cheese or frozen pizzas for dinner way too often. We also ate A LOT of late night cereal. I’m not complaining, but we could have been much healthier had we prepared better.
  6. Discern whose story I was really sharing. (Swallowing my pride as I write this.) This applies for everyone, but especially for people who write publicly like me: it’s important to discern if the story is mine to share or not before I put it out there for the world to read. As I went back and read some of my writing from our time with the twins, I tried to read it from the perspective of their mom or other family members and it wasn’t honoring to any of them. I definitely had the right to feel how I did… to be angry with their mom at times even, but I should not have written and published anything that would be dishonoring to her. I ache over the thought that N or M could grow up and be upset that I, their previous/second mama, shared things they would’ve rather kept private.
  7. Guard my heart. Not from the girls or my enormous love for them, rather from other people. People who have never done what we are doing or who don’t know us at all, yet cast judgement. I let those people (haters and naysayers) get under my skin and I should have put up my shield and carried on. They aren’t worth it. My energy should all be spent loving on the children in my home, regardless of who doesn’t approve.

I certainly wouldn’t do everything differently…

I’d still take them to their first movie at the theater. I’d still let them order whatever they want at McDonalds after doctor appointments. I’d still let them play with my hair till it’s tangled. I’d still let them climb in bed with us at 5 AM. I’d still wake up in the middle of the night to hold them. I’d still take them home to get to know our families. I’d still take them out for one on one time. I’d still buy them way too many outfits. I’d still take them to the park, the beach, and swimming at our gym. I’d still read them *one more* story before lights out. I’d still tell them I love them 75,000 times. I’d still tickle them. I’d still waste time watching Moana and Leap! with them. I’d still tell them how amazing, brave, smart, funny, and beautiful they are.

For the most part, I really believe we did well.

We sacrificed so much and gained more than we could have ever hoped for.

We’ll never be the same.

For the opportunity to be their second mama, I am forever thankful.

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Manda's weekly letters on faith, marriage, motherhood, soul care, social justice - and occasionally the collision of it all. 

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