Thursday, December 31, 2015

A year later

It’s the last day of 2015, and I’m reflecting on the impossible number of major events that have happened. The events are spilling from the edges of my memory, which is too full to keep everything in its place.

A year ago, I parked in front of a suburban home in Sacramento for the last time. We were there to pick up E and S, take them from foster care and into our permanent home. Everything the girls owned fit into our Civic, and we drove away with the four of us and all their things. I expected the girls’ sadness, anger, or fear, but the transition was easy. They were excited, and we were too. I remember willing myself not to cry, as we drove the 90 minute drive home. I couldn’t believe the moment was finally here – we were taking E and S home.

The sadness, anger, and fear I expected that day came later. The first few days we became accustomed to each other, and throughout the year we eventually learned how to be vulnerable and honest too. Kate and I learned how to be parents and accept our authority and decision-making roles. We learned what to expect and the type of parents we want to be (right now, at least).

During those moments I stopped posting to the blog because the story changed. It was now the girls’ story, not ours, and I do not want to tell their story without permission. There were fewer and fewer things I could share that felt like my story, not our story.

Kate took maternity leave. I went back to school when the semester started. We enrolled the girls in school, met their teachers, and began a routine. The newness wore off, and we were still left with amazing kiddos. Kate went back to work. We counted our blessings daily. We still do.

I trudged through law school, but was constantly worried about my job prospects. I knew I didn’t want to become a lawyer, but what? I volunteered in a middle school once a week, teaching.

At the end of the semester, we had a friend, M, over. I invited her because she wanted to become a science middle or high school teacher, and I though Kate’s experience as a middle school science teacher might help M. I was surprised at my own voice at the dinner table. As I was talking about my volunteer position, I suddenly realized how much I loved teaching adolescents. Two days later I decided to look into teaching.

So many people thought my descent from law school to middle school history teacher was a terrible idea. Salary, prestige, loan debt, and ability to get a job were some of the many reasons people attempted to dissuade me from the profession. I am a stubborn person, and continued despite their doubts. Now I’m in a teacher education program and it feels perfect. It feels like I found my calling.

Birthdays happened. We cycled through the Jewish holidays. We set our Shabbat table every week. We prayed over our food every meal. We blessed our children – our children! – we sang to them, read to them, and watched them develop.

We expected it would take over a year until we got the call for the girls’ adoption, but just eight months after they came to live in our home, we were in a room with a judge. She proclaimed our new family, and it took less than fifteen minutes to make it official. Kate and I signed papers, we took pictures, and then we left the room. One of the girls cried. Her heart both broken and full that day. She lost so much when we signed those papers – her relationship with her biological parents severed by my signature – and her heart hurt so much. She gained so much too. Such a big moment for the girls.

Our other girl is defiant in her happiness; we are her family she says sternly. She refuses her biological family’s company or existence, until she’s in the middle of their bear hugs and love. Then she consents – for just a moment – to their love and care.

We celebrated their legal adoption and Jewish conversion with a party. Each girl accepted her place in our big extended family. I held my family under my tallit. They are my sukkah of peace, my unstable shelter of love and kindness, joy and wonder. The four of us stood in front of everyone and declared ourselves a family – now and forever.

But not everyone was there to celebrate. Important people in Kate’s family didn’t join us – some because they were too sick, some because they were too old, and some because it was impractical to fly or drive to the Bay Area for a ceremony.

Cancer has struck Kate’s family twice and the anxiety of illness has weighed down our family. One person is recovering; the other person is terminally ill. There have been many tears. Our hearts are heavy and divided. What amazing joys came this year! And what incredible sadness came this year!

We look to the future. We talk about buying a bigger home so we can have more children and so I can work and live in the same school district. We visit our huge family, incorporating E and S’s family into the mix. We try to plan for a future, even as family members’ illnesses drop hints at an uncertain future.

In a week I’ll be 28. My mom was this age when I came into this world. I look forward to the wonder and beauty that will confront me in our next year together. I pray that there will be more good than bad. I pray that next year, I’ll have just as much joy in my life, and that we’ll have all our family members here to celebrate. But I also pray that if death is to come, it will be a good death – filled with those who love him because he’s brought so much love into this world. There cannot be joy without sadness, and I am grateful that this year has brought so much with it.

I pray for another year that is full. Though maybe a little less full. So much has happened, and while I wouldn’t miss a moment of it, it would be nice to cram a little less into our lives.

I can’t believe it’s only been a year since we drove E and S home from their foster mom’s home. I remember my hands tight on the steering wheel, afraid to ruin this incredibly precious cargo we were carrying in our backseats. Despite the hardship and exhaustion of this year, it’s been my best and most rewarding year yet. The children are incredible and both Kate and I are working toward a better future for ourselves, our family, and our communities.