Not “my” boy. Not her boy. Our boy.
That is how the woman who gave birth to my four-year-old foster son, whom we have nicknamed BlueJay, has started referring to him when she talks to me.
She tells me what a great job I’ve done with our boy over the past nine months. That she sleeps easy at night knowing he is safe and loved and happy. She drops hints here and there about the foster home he and his brothers lived in before us. I read between the lines that she was not sleeping so well back then.
She hands over a lot of control to us. She offers up her trust. She laughs when I ask permission to cut his hair, which I am required to do. She signs every travel consent I send to her through our caseworkers, then texts me to say how happy she is that he will be able to experience the beach or Thanksgiving with my family or a cabin in the Poconos.
“Just please send pictures,” she says. “Lots of them. So I feel like I’m there with you. I’m so excited for him!”
And I do. Nearly every day, I send her at least one picture of our boy. In return, she sends me baby pictures of him. We marvel at how darn cute he is – and was – and how he still looks exactly the same at four years old as he did at one year when he threw back his head in laughter.
When we call her, BlueJay talks to her first. She tells him how much she misses him, how she can’t wait to see him at their next visit, that maybe she’ll bring him his favorite strawberry milk. He tells her about how he played in the snow or had a particularly good snack. Then I tap off the speakerphone so she and I can catch up on the more adult part of the equation.
She thanks me. This woman who has had to watch someone else raise her son, if only temporarily, thanks me. Every time she talks to me. Every time she texts me. Every time I see her, since the very first time I met her, she has thanked me.
I wonder whether I would have as much grace as she does if our roles were reversed. She sets a high bar on grace.
She is not perfect. None of us are. I don’t make excuses for her, but she hasn’t had an easy life. I can empathize with how relatively straightforward it was for her to end up where she is. After all, so much of our lives is decided by circumstance. We are lucky if those circumstances are good. But for so many, good circumstances are not a given.
Mike and I, we root for her. We hope for her. We pray for her.
In the meantime, while we wait for whatever will be to be, we co-parent with her and we learn from her. We trade information about preschool parent-teacher conferences and the history of his favorite blanket.
We have learned, most importantly, that our definition of “family” is much broader now than it was nine months ago.