I introduced baby #1 in June 2017. Baby #2 came to our family in September of 2017. She was much different than baby #1, partly because she wasn’t a baby. She was a thirteen-month-old bundle of energy and destruction and yes, cuteness. The cheeks, the chunky thighs, the poofy pom-pom ponytail that sprouted from the top of her head in a fountain of black curls, were so very different from any of our biological kids or foster baby #1.
She came as an emergency placement in the wee hours of a Friday morning and we knew very little about what she ate, when she slept, or whether or not she had a lovey (she didn’t arrive with one). As the caseworker went over paperwork she sat in my lap, rested her cheek against my chest, and was content to be held.
It was soon apparent that we had received a child with no operating instructions. She had arrived with only the clothes on her back and a blanket supplied by CPS, a can of formula, and some diapers. We discovered baby #2 loved bananas. And screaming. And opening all drawers and cabinets, and pulling all books from bookshelves and dumping the dog’s food and water and yanking blinds and smacking dogs and picking up anything and everything that wasn’t a toy and putting it in her mouth. Clay and I spent hours following her around and trying to toddler-proof what we thought was a pretty safe house.
We knew she was exhausted, and most likely afraid, bewildered, and anxious. So was I. She clung to me and I tried to keep my composure and not break down into tears. Our sweet, quiet home had turned into a disaster zone. Over the next few days it became apparent that while baby #2 was awake, one of us was one hundred percent on duty.
But Baby #2 had no interest in books.
Baby #2 had no interest in stuffed animals except to body slam them to the ground and chew on their noses.
Baby #2 had no interest in sitting still. She crawled or cruised from place to place, stopping only long enough to throw or hit or somehow destroy whatever was in her path.
Those were the first two days. Hour by hour we began to figure baby #2 out. Clay thought music might help distract her and calm her so he told Alexa to play some jazz. Baby #2’s hand shot up like a conductor and she began to beat perfect time with the rhythm, shaking her hips and shimmying her shoulders. We had made our first breakthrough!
We decided a warm bottle right before bedtime might help her sleep through the night and lo and behold, she slept over twelve hours. We learned that sometimes she just needed to wail in her crib for a while to wind down. We’d give her a few minutes and she’d roll right over and sleep twelve hours. She grew to tolerate, and then love, her bath. She started reaching for Clay, and allowing me to the leave the room without breaking down.
We got baby #2 at an exciting time in her development. She went from cruising along furniture to letting go and taking her first independent steps.
She went from saying one word (“gog”, everything was “gog,” from the dogs to her cup to Clay), to ba (bottle?), guh-gog (same as gog?), cuh-cuh-cuh (cracker?), and mama. Oh, that one was hard. I was not her mama, but when she was sad she would cry “mama” and reach out for me. And I would take her. Because for a time, hour by hour, I realized I was the mama, in all it’s scary, frustrating, rewarding glory.
She was placed with another family a few weeks after we received her. I sent her onward with a few operating instructions, notes about what she liked to eat, when she slept, and the small victories of learning not to pull the dog’s nose hair.
I have to admit we were a bit shell-shocked, being thrust back into the toddler years, and not just any toddler years but the life and times of a distraught little girl who had been through too much in her short life. It took a Vulfpek concert with Nate and some of his buddies . . .
A big bag of Larry the Cable Guy Cheeseburger Tater Chips at the airport . . .
And a trip to visit Alayna, who spent her fall semester abroad in Grenoble, France, plus a giant pot of melted cheese . . .
to fully recover. What did I learn from this whole experience? Baby #2 reminded me I’m never really in control of my life. She reminded me to delight in small victories like discovering jazz and watching first steps. She reminded me I am flawed. I still have a lot of growing to do, just like baby #2. I am grateful for the reminder, humbled by the experience, and fully re-integrated into “normal” life. Until the next phone call . . .