I want to explain what I needed to do once my daughter for real got that first call to place a newborn in her home. But before you can understand what I mean, I have to tell you a story about me.
My parents were from North Carolina and once a year we traveled down there to visit for about a week. Dad stayed at his mom’s, Mamaw’s, and Mom stayed with her parents, Grandma and Grandpa C. When us kids were little, we stayed mostly with our mom, so she could care for our needs. So that meant we spent more time early on with those grandparents.
Grandma C was intimidating. She could look very fierce, and demanded that everyone work as hard as she did. She prided herself on having the tallest corn around, made quilts out of the smallest scraps of material, cooked wonderful meals. She wasn’t really scary, but when I was very young I gravitated more to Grandpa C.
The house they lived in had the front near the road, and the back hung out over the side of a hill. There were stairs that went from the first floor down to the garden and farther down was a woods. Inside there was a stairway that went up into the ceiling, and you had to open a trap door to get into the rooms in the attic space, where my older sister and I were put down to sleep in a big bed together.
We had times when we would go to Mamaw’s for the day, have dinner, play with the cousins on that side of the family, but most of my early memories were of times spent with Grandpa C and my dad. I always felt they liked each other, that my dad thought more highly of Grandpa C than he did his own dad, for reasons I’ll talk about another day.
The main thing I remember doing was going fishing, on at least three different outings. A couple of times we were in a rowboat on some small pond, another time standing along the shore of a bigger lake where the water lapped up over our feet.
I also thought it was funny that Dad loved to fish with Grandpa, but he never went fishing at home. I guess it really was something Grandpa loved to do and wanted to share with us. We would come back to the house and Grandma would have bowls of cornmeal and buttermilk ready to batter up the fish and fry them for supper. I would sit in the dining room on Grandpa’s lap, looking out the back of the house and down the hill, smelling the fish frying.
If you asked me to recall Grandpa’s words I couldn’t do it. He talked, I probably did as well, but I was a shy, quiet child. It didn’t matter to me what was said, because we were communicating in a very nonverbal language. There was a softness in Grandpa’s eyes when he looked at me, a gentleness in his calloused hands when he picked me up and held me in his arms or on his lap, when he took my hand and helped me into or out of a boat, a playfulness when he threw a dead fish at me that was lying along the shore of the lake. He was patient, he didn’t expect me to be always busy, he didn’t expect it of himself. He was happy to be with me.
I could not have said in words what this all meant to me as a little girl. Not until years later did I understand that what I felt from Grandpa was unconditional love.
In the grand scheme of things this man that I loved deeply was only in my life a couple years. He died the spring when I was three. I was two the last time I saw him.
Just a couple short years later I would be in some hurtful situations that would affect me for the rest of my life, and I’d think there wasn’t anyone I could tell, anyone I could turn to for help. But in those experiences I held onto a feeling that I was loved by someone, somewhere, even though I couldn’t see him any more.
When my daughter decided to foster newborns, the curious comment I heard in a dozen variations boiled down to this: “How can you help take care of this foster baby and keep from getting attached? I couldn’t do it, I’d fall in love with her and not be able to let her go.”
And the alternative would be…
Sometimes you know it does no good to try to explain. But to the ones I felt would get it, I would answer like this.
When I was a little girl, I knew my grandpa loved me. He gave me his time, his attention, his affection. He opened his heart and his arms to me. He was patient and fun-loving and never too busy to sit with me and just be us. Grandpa loved me unconditionally. And it wasn’t just something I knew, it was something that shaped me more than he could ever have dreamed.
It helped me realize that when God tells me he loves me no matter what, he means it.
So I really had no choice, even though this whole fostering adventure was my daughter’s dream, even though while she was learning the ins and outs of it, I was helping my mom as she moved from life here into life in heaven. And later yet when her fostering classes were ending, I was pulling myself out of a time of depression and grief, never suspecting what grandfostering was going to mean for me.
I could only do one thing.
Love this baby, love any babies placed in my daughter’s care, fully and freely. I had to be all in.
Because this. My grandpa loved me unconditionally, and because of that I always knew I was loved no matter what by someone. I wanted this first baby, and those that followed, to know they were loved. And even if they were only with my daughter for a short time, I wanted to pour so much love over them that someday, when they hear someone say that God loves them unconditionally, they will know in the deepest part of them what that feels like.