I recently stayed up entirely too late finishing How to Love by Katie Cotugno. Estelle mailed it to me and on a highlighter pink post-it note, said it had to be my next read. How was I to turn down such a request?
Estelle’s already reviewed How to Love here on the blog so I’m not going to dive into all the nitty gritty details, but I’m feeling like I just need to explore a few particulars that sort of parallel Reena’s and my life right now. Reena is 18 years old. She’s a young mom to a little girl that she wasn’t planning to have. Her baby girl, Hannah, is the best, most unexpected surprise of her life. Reena’s plans have been completely derailed; she was going to move on and do bigger things with her life. Travel the world. But now she’s tied down to her hometown, needing the support of her family and attending community college.
You are all aware that this year I’ve become a mom to a foster daughter. I’ve never been a mom before and while I’m 28 and not 18, becoming a mom seems like it happened in such a whirlwind. The night we got the placement phone call, I was five minutes away from the restaurant where I was supposed to meet up with my book blogging friends for dinner. I was at an intersection when Dustyn called and said, “Sweetie, we’re getting a baby girl. She’s seven months old.” I had no idea what to do. If I drove straight, I would be at Dustyn’s work in two minutes. If I turned right, I’d be sitting at a table sipping margaritas and discussing books. I immediately hung up the phone with him and drove straight. I shakily called my friend Jennifer and said, “I won’t be making it tonight. We’re getting a baby girl.” I had no idea what to do. I wanted to laugh and cry. I think I did both. I was afraid to drive because my whole body seemed to be electrified with this scary anticipation and anxiety.
Fast forward almost eight months and my life has completely and significantly changed. Dinners are a lot more difficult to schedule now. We live a much more routine life. I feel like I have a more regular bed time than I ever have in my life. I can’t sleep in to save my soul because my body has an internal alarm clock that naturally goes off every single day. I don’t have nearly as much time to read books that are of my choosing and often read the same children’s books over and over to the point of having them memorized. But those are all things that most people accept (and expect) when they make the leap into parenthood. I definitely wouldn’t change a thing and don’t regret a single moment.
But perhaps the single-most interesting element is the fact that due to circumstances lately (that I can’t fully disclose for our foster daughter’s privacy), I feel like I’m sharing custody of this child. I’m having to learn what it is to let go and not be so uptight and stuck in my ways. I am having to let go of a lot of personal feelings I have with her biological family to embrace and love them in ways I didn’t even know I was capable of. I am getting to know people I never anticipated meeting and I’m having my eyes completely opened in amazing ways. Months ago when we found out we were expecting our own baby, I recall agonizing over our housing situation and what we might do if we got to adopt our foster daughter and have Baby Blasig. The question that kept me up at night was, “What are we going to do about a guest bedroom?” In my defense, our parents are here weekly and often spend the night with us. We love having guests and I was extremely worried about the comfort and safety of all parties hypothetically involved.
But these days… that question makes me blush with embarrassment. Having now been to our foster daughter’s biological home, I thank my lucky stars every single time I’m there. I feel extremely grateful and overwhelmingly blessed. I feel so selfish for ever thinking that we needed to have more. We can be a cozy family and despite what arrangements we may have, I feel our families would still make it work. How in the world do you think they’ll stay away from our foster daughter and Baby Blasig? There’s no way!
Some of my favorite stand-out moments are when Sawyer (Hannah’s father) re-enters Reena’s life. He didn’t know Reena was pregnant and was absent for two years, only to make a surprise return one random day. Once he finds out he’s Hannah’s father, he awkwardly tries to weasel his way back into Reena’s life (maybe for reasons more than just his daughter…) by participating in activities with Hannah. They go to the park and push Hannah on the swings. They go for long drives. He takes Hannah when Reena’s at a loss for who else to turn to. Reena and Sawyer? They have some major baggage and a ton of history they need to work through. But when it comes to Hannah, all those feelings are pushed aside for her sake.
Reena flawlessly accepts motherhood, despite how difficult it may be and how derailed her plans may have become. Cotugno beautifully describes her relationship with Hannah and difficult moments for her. One that gave me chills was when Hannah was between the ages of zero and six months and extremely colicky. Nothing would help her sleep more than a long drive. Recently Dustyn and I were reminiscing our very first frightening night with our foster daughter. She’d never before slept in a crib. She didn’t know who we were. We were so scared and nervous. We didn’t know her sounds or sleep/eating patterns. When it was time for bed, she wouldn’t go down. It just wasn’t happening. I recalled something my mom said she did with me when I couldn’t sleep: She’d load me up in the car and just drive. Without fail, I still fall asleep in the car (when I’m a passenger) thanks to all those long drives as a baby. That’s what we did that first night. We loaded her up in the car seat and just drove back and forth on the highway until she was coaxed to sleep. I sat in the backseat with her and cried over how beautiful she was. How scared and nervous and excited and overwhelmed I was. How I had absolutely no idea what the next day was going to be like. How I was out of my league and had no idea what to do.
The lesson, though, is that whether you’re like Hannah or more like me, parenthood is such a beautiful journey. Scary as all get out, but amazing. It all depends on our support systems to get us through, and sometimes we’re most surprised by the changes that can occur because of the children in our lives. And not to be totally corny, but in many, many ways, the children teach us, quite literally, how to love.