It’s 6:30 a.m. as my son bursts through the bedroom door and flips on the bathroom light. Blinded by the glare, I squint and roll over—an attempt to trick myself into believing I might still get more sleep. I hear him digging through the drawers, collecting hair supplies to ready himself for the school day. He has already gotten himself dressed, made his bed, and brushed his teeth. At seven years old, he really is quite independent, for which I am grateful.
“Mommy, can you PLEEEEEEASE get up and do your morning routine???” he whines.
I blink my pasty, tired eyes and squint them open. If only he could drive himself to school. I hear the baby giggling and look over to see his tiny feet up in the air as he swats at them in his bassinet. As my brain begins to fire and wakefulness creeps in, I take in the other sounds. Through the baby monitor, I hear both of our eighteen-month-old daughters talking to each other and occasionally yelling for parental attention. Most of what they say, only they really understand. I hear my oldest son in the kitchen pouring cereal and can easily imagine he is also dressed for school—with messy morning hair—but has likely made his bed and completed some of his morning tasks. I don’t yet hear the nine-year-old boy, which is a sure sign he is doing anything but getting ready for school. There has to be one in every family, right? I turn and tell my wife good morning and give her a kiss. For a fleeting moment, I am amazed by all of these beautiful souls surrounding us. I’m exhausted from getting up at 3 a.m. with the four-month-old, but I can’t help the smile that creeps across my face when I see him. And so it begins.
By the time I’ve dragged myself out of bed and brushed my own teeth, the girls are full-on screaming. The baby is hungry and no longer satisfied with his amazing feet, so he is also crying in protest. Two of the boys are arguing because someone was mean and someone else was rude. Music is blaring from one of the echo devices somewhere in the house. My wife and I divide and conquer. Zone defense is the name of this game – she takes the Big Boys and I take the Babies. I begin to prepare a bottle with the formula machine while I change the baby’s diaper. God bless whoever invented machines that make perfectly warmed bottles at the touch of a few buttons. I take the baby upstairs to the nursery where one girl is standing stark naked in her crib with her pajamas and soaking wet diaper discarded on the floor and the other is sitting proudly on top of her changing table with about 100 clean diapers scattered all around her. They both frantically sign “hungry” while telling me enthusiastically, “need snack!!” Installing crib canopies to keep the girls from climbing out of the crib has now made it to the top of my To Do list today. We manage to get everyone in a clean diaper and get all 3 little ones downstairs with only a modest amount of kicking and screaming. And so it begins.
Time for breakfast! With both girls in their high chairs, I attempt to find that magical and mysterious food that the toddlers will find acceptable today. We begin a game of me asking “How about [fill in the blank with yesterday’s favorite food]?” Followed by one of the toddlers screaming, “Noooo!!!” in the exact tone she might use if someone suggested cutting off her arms. Many tears later, and possibly a few of my own, oatmeal is today’s breakfast winner. Despite the two minutes of irate fury from one little girl when I dared to cook her oatmeal in the microwave, we’ve now accomplished some momentary peace. They are happy with their oatmeal as long as they can feed it to themselves with their own spoons. I feed the baby the rest of his bottle while I brew coffee. As I sit to take my first sip, I see both girls are now covered in oatmeal and one is painting her hair with it. There is one oatmeal covered spoon on the floor along with many bits of scattered oatmeal as far as they can throw it. I add cleaning the floor to my list today as well. I put the baby down to play and begin to clean my oatmeal-covered children, high chairs, and at least some of the floor while the Big Boys prepare their own breakfasts, fill water bottles, pack backpacks, brush their own hair, and put on shoes and socks. I break up one more argument during this time while my wife is getting herself dressed and remind the boys that all brothers are in fact annoying, that it’s a great lesson in learning to tolerate—and even ignore—the people who sometimes drive you crazy! The boys file out the door while I’m dressing the babies and I think, “at least we are down to three for the next 8 hours”. How is it only 7:30 a.m.?
This is a typical morning for me as a mother of six children ages 0-12. It’s a crazy life. When my wife and I got married, we had both been married once before. I like to think that we learned so much about what worked and what didn’t that we were able to get it exactly right the second time around. We know ourselves better and we know a lot more about relationships. When we met, I had two boys and she had one from our previous marriages. We laughed when people asked, “Do you think you two will have more kids?” We thought they were so crazy that it was hilarious. I often replied, “Have you MET our kids? We do not need more!” Combining our families and step-relationships was challenging. It took time and intense patience to learn how to navigate. But somehow, as we became this new version of a blended family, we settled a little. We had space to breathe. And we reflected on how absolutely lucky we were. My wife and I are caregivers by nature and I believe we are both called to help children, albeit in different ways. I work as a nurse practitioner in the newborn intensive care unit and my wife built her career in the child welfare system. We looked at our home and saw abundance everywhere. We decided we needed to do more. And so it begins.
When we started our journey to become foster parents, we wanted to teach our children the most basic lessons in kindness: you should be kind to others simply because you can, and not because you have to. We do not belong to a church or practice a specific faith or spirituality. We tell our kids that our religion is kindness. On a freezing winter day after a freak snowstorm in central Texas, my wife and I had sat huddled under heavy blankets and talked about life. We discussed the things we would regret never having done. My wife told me she needed to be a foster parent. If you ask her, she will tell you that this is because she worked for Child Protective Services (CPS) and knew how desperately they needed foster homes. She will say that most people aren’t aware of how badly good foster homes are needed but once you know, you have no excuse and you have to try and help. All of that may be true, but I believe the truth is that helping other kids escape abusive homes and recover from soul-wrenching trauma is critical to healing the wounds on her own soul.
We decided that we would foster a new baby. It seemed like the most logical place to start. My wife was in a place in her career where she was burned out and did not know what the next path should be. We decided she would take some time off to allow us to give this baby everything he or she needed. We were anticipating lots of appointments, visitation with biological family, court hearings, as well as all of the other new baby business and sleepless nights. We found an agency that seemed like a good fit for our family (not church-based, open to LGBTQ+ families, organized, and responsive) and started the licensing process. In about two months, we had jumped through lots of hoops and over many hurdles, welcomed many strangers into our home to evaluate our house and physical space, our finances, and our intimate relationships. We completed training courses, CPR certification, and interviews. We were thrilled to finally get licensed and start this adventure! It seemed equal parts too easy and surprisingly difficult (given that we already had three, biological, children and had not had to prove any sort of parenting fitness for them!).
We began fostering our oldest daughter when she was five days old. She was a precious gift that melded so seamlessly into our family and the fabric of our lives that we soon realized we needed to do more. It felt so easy to love her. Loving her was as natural as breathing. Of course we knew she did not belong to us. People asked us how we could possibly foster and not know if we would be able to keep the kids. They would say, “I could never do that because I would get too attached.” This statement reminded me of my mentor and good friend as a young nurse whom I had once asked about getting too attached to my patients. I wanted to know if I should be worried about getting too bonded. She told me simply, “All kids deserve to be taken care of by someone who loves them.” And so we loved our daughter like she was our own. Because she deserves that. And yes, we would have been devastated if she had left us; and she deserves that too. We talked about how much we loved her, about how good it felt to love her. We watched our boys fall in love with her. So when she was a month old, when we were overcome with the joy of this beautiful girl in our lives, and likely influenced by sleep deprivation, we called our caseworker and told her we needed to expand our license for another child who needed a home. We are nothing if not decisive! Three weeks later, we got our second daughter who was barely 24 hours old. These two little girls have brought more love, brightness, and joy to our family than you could imagine. They have brought out the very best moments of kindness, love, and caring from their older brothers that I’ve ever seen. They make me laugh every single day with their shenanigans and they make me smile every day with their goodness. The day we adopted our daughters, my oldest son made me more proud than I’d ever been. He stood up in front of the entire courtroom and told the crowd that, “Today is not the enormous life-changing day everyone thinks it is for me – because they have always been my sisters and I have always loved them. So nothing is changing here for me.” And so it begins.
My kids are the hardest and most important work I will ever do. My house is completely crazy. My family calendar looks like a Tetris game when you are losing. My wife and I are sometimes too exhausted to change out of our clothes when we fall into bed at night. Sometimes I am convinced my kids are actually terrible people with no hope for ever being decent humans. This thought may make me laugh one day, or cry the next. Sometimes the toddlers have what honestly appears to be psychotic behavior and I feel like I’m negotiating with terrorists. But when one of my kids hugs me, I feel whole in a way I never did before I was a mother. When they turn and say “I love you, Mommy,” I think my heart may overflow. There is no joy, no pain, no stress, no love that can compare to motherhood.
We stress about so many decisions we make with our kids. We hurt when they hurt. We worry that if we get this wrong, they will be ruined. We struggle to learn how we can possibly be okay if our kids are not okay. Their feelings and experiences are so intricately woven into the fabric of our hearts and souls that it takes time and real effort to remember they are separate people from us who need to experience the full extent of life’s offerings—the good, the bad, and the ugly. And we can be okay, even happy and fulfilled, as individuals regardless of where our kids are in their journeys. We attempt to teach them resilience and grit. We attempt to teach them kindness and empathy. And we give them all the love we can possibly fill them with. We hope for the best. Motherhood has taught me love I had never experienced, patience I would never have otherwise cultivated, pain that feels sometimes unbearable, and exhaustion that can be bone deep. Love is what I always come back to. The tiny moments are what I think of when I reflect on motherhood. The sound of my daughter giggling as she tickles her sister and how I cannot help but laugh too. The weight of my son wrapping his arm around my shoulder as he now stands taller than me and how it fills me with wonder and pride. The sound of my son’s soft snoring at bedtime while I caress the soft chubby fingers resting on his tummy. Watching the genuine curiosity and amazement as my son crawls around exploring the backyard for bugs with his net and tiny box habitat in his hands. The joy and wonder as I watch our baby find his toes. All of these moments where love fills me beyond the brim are the moments where I reflect on the wonderful opportunities motherhood gives me and I feel thankful for all of the abundance. I believe these opportunities are in my life because we chose kindness. We chose love. We chose to open our hearts, our home, our family with love and kindness to the universe. My wife tells me that motherhood is scary because you have an 18-year commitment to create a good human but there are no quality checks along the way for feedback. The flip side of this is we get a chance to exponentially increase the love and kindness in the world.
It’s 7 a.m. and I am driving our Big Boys to school. We have a routine. We don’t discuss homework or academics. We discuss kindness. I give them their “kindness challenge” for the day—Give a Compliment Monday, Ask a Teacher if You Can Help Tuesday, Find a Friend (who is sad or alone) Wednesday, Thankfulness Thursday, or Free Choice Friday. Every day is a new opportunity to spread kindness. And so it begins.
Resources and more about the Grady-Greene family and their journey
The DePelchin Children’s Center is the foster agency the Grady-Greene family has used.
The YMCA is an important part of the Grady-Greene’s life—workouts for the parents and childcare for the kids. Here is a video the YMCA made about the family.