The Rimmatoop

Five years ago today I met my son. He was four years old at the time. Like most kids, he loves to hear the story of how he came into our family.

His entrance to our world is a different sort of tale than that of our other kids, but it’s sweet and special and one we all recall fondly. Here’s how it goes….

One day, in the middle of July, I got a call at work from Children’s Division. A four year old boy had come into care. His name was Caleb. That was all I knew about my boy when I left work a few minutes early to meet him.

I first laid eyes on him at a McDonald’s Play Place. He was accompanied by his case worker. He had eyes as brown as chocolate and the cutest, chubbiest cheeks. He didn’t speak.

I said goodbye to the case worker and loaded Caleb into my car. I peeked into the backseat a million times to see his sweet face. He would smile but the silence hung heavy. I began to talk. About nothing and everything just to fill the quiet. I told him about our home and our other kids. I talked about the cows we drove past. I told him we had chickens at our house. And a pool.

Then, out of nowhere, he began talking!! I was thrilled, but I couldn’t understand what he was saying. He repeated himself over and over again, growing increasingly frantic. “I need my rimmatoop! My rimmatoop. I NEED MY RIMMATOOP!”

Bless his little heart. I asked him to repeat himself a hundred times. I tried repeating what I was hearing and he assured me I wasn’t understanding him correctly. He was frustrated, I was beside myself. I needed to know what it was that this boy needed. I needed to understand him.

My cousin is a speech therapist. A brilliant one, in my opinion. I figured if anyone could distinguish his jibberish, it would be her. When we arrived home I texted her: “this kid needs his Rimmatoop. What the heck is a Rimmatoop?! Help!!”

Time passed. I introduced him to the dog and the chickens. He met the kids and my husband. He discovered some toys and was quickly entertained. He had seemingly forgotten about the Rimmatoop he had so desperately needed.

A while later I received a short message from my cousin. It simply said: swimming suit?  I asked, “Caleb, do you need your SWIMMING SUIT?” His smile told the answer. Of course that was it. He had begun *needing* it as soon as I mentioned we had a pool. And of course we promptly got him one.

Our story doesn’t take place in a hospital. No doctors or epidurals. No newborn photos or bitty baby inky footprints. But it’s one of my most favorite stories to tell. And one of his most favorite to hear.

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What’s Wrong?

Sometimes kids just need to be sad. It stinks and it goes against every fiber of my mom being. I want to be the fixer, the hero. I want to offer treats and trips and fun just to force a smile. I want to joke and tickle and “turn that frown upside down”. But I don’t.

Sometimes kids are legitimately pissed off. Like, legit. Not one of those “he’s looking at me” or “she’s breathing on me” but an actual injustice. Sometimes bad things happen and kids get mad. That’s ok too. Sure, I wanna go into momma-bear mode and right their wrongs for them. Sometimes I should (and do), sometimes I shouldn’t (so I try not to).

Occasionally they’re going to crawl into the crap and revel in the misery of it. Other times it’ll get dumped on them and they’ll have no choice. They can’t live in it forever but IT’S OKAY TO FEEL BAD SOMETIMES! In fact, I think it’s healthy. If they can learn to feel their feelings now and not push them away or ignore them or think there’s something “wrong” with them, I suspect they’ll be healthier adults than if I were to run to the rescue every time they hurt.

I’ll rub his back or brush her hair. I’ll pray with them. I’ll pray for them. I’ll sit in awkward silence or listen while they rant. I’ll (try really hard to) keep my advice and lectures to a minimum. I’ll reassure them of my love for them. I’ll try not to press too hard for a “why” because I know they don’t always know what it is. I’ll allow a safe space for them to feel what they need to feel. I’ll crawl into the crap with them if I need to so they don’t have to sit there alone.

Sometimes kids just need to be sad. And it’s ok. Sometimes I just need to be sad too.
 Sometimes (like the mighty hippo) you just need to wallow in the crap for a minute.

How It Began

I’ve kept a journal since the beginning of our foster care journey. It’s fun to look back on. Sometimes I can’t help but think, “Oh Abbie, how sweet and naive you once were.” 🙂

I often go back to my very first entry. When I was very first figuring it out. I was learning how to foster. I was learning about Caleb. Most of all, though, I was learning about how God works.

August 26, 2012. Six weeks after meeting the sweet boy that was to become my son. I had no idea. Here’s a glimpse into the mind of me:

“Today during church I was admiring the blue corduroy Gap loafers of the sweet boy sitting in my lap. I was thinking about how those exact shoes have been worn by two not so different boys who have lived 2 very different lives…or have they?

Both boys have loving grandparents who have entertained them, fed them, clothed them, and taught them. Both boys have loved Spiderman, Batman, Iron Man, and Hot Wheels. Both boys have learned to ride a bike (although only one has mastered the art of riding without training wheels). Both love McDonald’s Happy Meals.

I know jut about all there is to know about the first owner of those blue shoes. I know his birth weight (6lb, 10oz). I know how he got that scar above his right eye (New Years Eve, 2 years ago, he met the corner of my parents’ entertainment center). I know this difference in his ‘whiney’ cry and his ‘hurt’ cry. I know that he likes to hide the last puzzle piece and the be the hero when he ‘finds’ it. I know that he loves me and I love him.

I know considerably less about the current owner of those very same navy blue shoes. I don’t know where he was born. I don’t know if he has ever seen a movie in a movie theater. I don’t know who taught him to ride a bike or if he’s ever been to the zoo or had a pet. But I’m learning. I’m learning that ‘rimmatoop’ means swimming suit. I’m learning that he loves our dog, Maggie. I’m learning that he wakes up early but is okay to play alone for awhile.

I’m learning to love him as he’s learning to love me.”

Sweet memories!

Apparently I didn’t feel like mentioning the part about how the little cutie had a habit of running (in those cute navy loafers, or any shoes he could put on, or BAREFOOT) out of any door that wasn’t locked. We live on 5 acres and he is/was FAST! It is/was an incredible journey but it also is/was hard.

I’ve learned so much since that journal entry 3 1/2 years ago. I’ve gotten answers to many of my questions about Caleb’s past. I still have so much to figure out about fostering. On the job training, so to speak. I’m so grateful for the opportunity.


The owners of those cute shoes. Bros.

 

Buckle up

I drive a 2011 Ford Focus. Boring white. It’s got just over 130,000 miles and (currently) low tire pressure. It has survived an encounter with a wayward deer. It has a dent and and a big ol’ scratch right on top where Evan tried to shimmy up the basketball goal and he (and said basketball goal) came crashing down on it. It has safely carried our family of 5 on trips to the mountains and trips to the beach (“I know it’s cramped, guys. It’s character building. And cheap gas.”). It doesn’t have a nickname. We don’t refer to it as “him” or “her”. Depending on the day it can be described as anywhere from clean(ish) to disgusting. Fancy? Nope. Glamorous? Not on your life. However, it has never stranded me. It’s reliable. It’s a vehicle, a way to get from point A to point B. It’s not perfect but it doesn’t need to be…we don’t LIVE in it. We just need it to get where we’re going.

I think foster care is kind of like my boring Ford Focus. It is certainly not glamorous. On any given day it could be described as anywhere from amazing to horrible. It’s a means to an end. It’s the way to get from point A to point B. It is not perfect but it doesn’t need to be. It just needs to be reliable and get these kids where they’re going.

We take short jaunts (like baby H that we had for 24 hours and Miss B that stayed with us for 10 weeks). We take long drives (like Sassy S that lived with us for 10 months). We settle in for the long haul with our Caleb. We never start a trip knowing where we will end up but we have learned to appreciate the meandering, scenic drive in our cramped, dented, boring, reliable, amazing way.

(This is Caleb. July 9,2012. The day we met. Riding in the Focus.)

Sisterhood

I just returned from a ladies retreat. The topic was sisterhood. We had great fellowship and fantastic speakers and yummy food and uplifting worship. It was really, really great.
I’ve grown up going to church and I cannot count how many retreats/camps/seminars/encounters I’ve been to over the years. This one was waaay out of my comfort zone. The reason? Caleb’s biological mom went with me.

Our relationship has been blossoming over the past several months. It’s been a slow progression. When she initially reached out to me, I committed to an entire month of prayer before I made any decisions. My husband and I met with the elders at our church and asked for prayer (it’s worth mentioning that my husband (the most patient man on the planet) agreed to let me take the lead on this). I reached out to a close group of friends and asked them to pray about the situation. I prayed every single day of April 2015 for God to get right in the middle of things. And He did.

We mostly correspond via text and usually touch base once a week or so. Sometimes I get a “God nudge” to bring something up with her and more often than not she responds with something like “how’d you know I needed to hear that?”

It is the single most complicated relationship I’ve ever been in. Honestly, it’s probably the weirdest relationship I could dream up. We have every reason to dislike one another. Truly. BUT GOD.

We see one another occasionally but this was, by far, the most time we’d ever spent together. It involved driving an hour each way and an overnight hotel stay. WHAT IN THE WORLD?!?

In the days leading up to the retreat I was pretty cool about it. Yesterday, though, I kind of freaked the freak out. I am not normally an anxious person and I can put on a brave face like no one’s business but yesterday as I was driving to pick her up I was panicking because…….well, I am not even sure, really. I mean, obviously, it was a big step but I don’t even know what I was afraid might happen. Whatever tension I had anticipated just wasn’t there. BECAUSE GOD.

I met her and my mom at the library and introduced them. “Um, this is Caleb’s other mom. And, uh, this is my mom.” (I have strengths. Introductions ain’t one) Then we all loaded up to head to the retreat. Conversation flowed and it didn’t feel completely weird. It just felt like three ladies going to a retreat.

And we “retreated”. We visited and worshipped and ate and sang. I sang songs to God with my son’s birth mom. How completely absurd and amazing is that sentence? Overwhelming.

It wasn’t awkward or weird. We shared stories and joked about what to call each other. We settled on “baby momma” (no one can question our sense of humor). In my heart, she’s my sister. BECAUSE GOD.

As is my theme: I’m figuring this out as I go. And God is right there with me.

“My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness.” 1 Corinthians 12:9