Thursday, February 22, 2018

Who am I?

Here's a quote about parenting from Elizabeth Stone:



Here's a quote about foster parenting from me: "Making the decision to foster a child is to decide forever to hand your heart to people who have pulverized it before, hoping against all hope that this time it will be different."

You guys, I'm totally not cut out for this.

I can be having a seemingly perfectly normal conversation with someone about preschool for next year. Our oldest foster child is required to be in preschool because of some services that she receives. She attends preschool now, but we have her enrolled at a preschool closer to us for next school year.That's what people do. They plan ahead for things like preschool. But the reality is that it's unlikely she'll still be with us then, and certainly not for the entire 2018/19 school year. I get to the part of the conversation where I say that she probably won't be with us then and my face stays the same. Inside my heart starts racing. My palms get sweaty. I fight with my eyeballs so they don't fill with tears.

The having them here and loving them and working through therapies and visits and all of that is challenging, of course, but totally doable. It's just how our lives are now. Five plus months into our first placement, and it's become our normal. Weird challenging normal, yes, but normal, if that makes any sense. I get stuck when I think about the saying goodbye. When this weird challenging normal time ends and these kids return to their parents and we don't have minimally eight extra time commitments per week related to their needs. When we've said goodbye and are in a puddle of tears on the floor, clinging to the hope that our time together mattered and made a difference in their lives and things will be different for them now.

We'll say goodbye and weep and pray and cling to hope and regroup and get ready to say hello to the next child and family who need us for a spell or a season or forever. I don't quite know how we'll do it. It currently feels 1,839% impossible.

But these verses were in my bible reading the other day. Exodus 3:11-12 .

But Moses said to God, "Who am I that I should to go Pharoah and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?" And God said, "I will be with you."

Moses was a stuttering murderer with no power, and God is asking him to use his voice to inspire and lead his people out of Egypt. It's a valid question, his "Who am I?" God doesn't bother telling Moses why he can do it because Moses absolutely cannot do it on his own. God doesn't use lofty words to build him up or encourage him. God simply says, "I will be with you."

These are a few of my questions. Who am I that you would have me love these kids and work with these parents and then have to say a heartbreaking goodbye? Who am I that you would entrust these little lives to us? Who am I that you would call me to do something that will hurt so badly? Who am I that you would think I could handle this along with regular life stuff? Who am I?

God is with us. God is with us when we're not sure how we'll get to all of the appointments and finish school and read good books and love them all in their own special love languages. God is with us when we're frustrated with behaviors and boiling mad about situations totally out of our control. God is with us when it feels like all of the little kids need something right now, like snuggles and a diaper change and snack and a hug because emotions are big, and the big kids need to go to theater and talk about stress and set up a time to hang out with their peers.

God is with us in friends and family feeding us and offering to carpool and offering to come over to watch kids and dropping off clothes to fit our foster kids and sending all six of our kids Valentines and $5 in separate envelopes so they each have something to open and inviting us over to their homes even though it is quite a crowd. God is with us in tangible and intangible ways.

Who am I? Just a regular person doing stuff that feels mostly impossible because God is with us. I'm certain I could not do it any other way. I'll trust God in the day to day, hoping that I remember all of this goodness and faithfulness on the day we step into our next big unknown. It's all I know to do.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

14

I will have teenagers in my home for a long time, but my guinea pig child, my oldest, my Bugga bug, my Isaac, is the first. He turned 13 one year ago today. Which means that today he turns 14. I don't even understand these sentences I'm typing. Is this English or is this Croatian?

I was so scared to mama a teenager. Seriously scared! I know little people. I've been around little people through work or through parenting for about half of my life. They've been my people for lots of years. And then my biggest boy became a teenager, and it was ok. It was more than ok. It has been beautiful and right and good. I look this boy right in the eyes and he looks back and we talk. We talk about silly things and life things. We pretend that we have a secret handshake that is so secret that even we don't know it, so we just shake our hands in each other's general direction and then point. We pretend that our secret handshake is so powerful that it means we can read each other's minds. Then we talk about themes and characters in short stories and creation and evolution and the different sides of women in combat situations. This boy I've known since before his first breath sits across from me, bright and kind and beloved.






He's 14 today, so it goes without saying that he's also a stinker. But as I tell him, I'm sometimes a stinker, too, and I haven't been a teenager for a number of years. He's allowed to be a stinker sometimes because he's a human being learning to navigate this busted up world as someone in the beginning steps of preparing to do it away from this home. That's what these teen years are about. Equipping our kids boldly, loving our kids extravagantly, giving them more room to stretch as they begin to figure out their place in this big world. That's a big job!




This boy, this young man, made me a mama. It is a gift I could never properly earn. I will never deserve to be loved by, to love, to be a part of who this young man is going to become, so I will accept the gift of him with a heart of gratitude. They are born, gooey and crying and needy and perfect. Baby. And we are born, too. Sore and crying and needed and imperfect. Mother. And we can't possibly know what just hit us or what is about to hit us or what will hit us repeatedly for years to come. I just know I didn't understand miracles until I heard his heartbeat for the first time, and I didn't understand sacrificial love until they put him on my chest. I would have walked across a field of landmines to keep him safe one second after meeting him. I still would. Even when he's being a stinker.




Isaac and I got off to a rough breastfeeding start. I thought it defined me as a mother. I thought it was just the worst, hardest thing I could deal with. We worked through those hiccups and about 84,027 more and now we're here and I'm supposed to navigate internet use and smart phones and raising a Godly, kind, brave, strong son in a world that dumbs boys down intellectually and celebrates them for their power over others, their brutishness, their machismo. Uhhh, could I please just potty train 3 billion more kids instead and take a pass on these huge, heart and soul issues?

My job as Isaac's full-time, day in and day out mama is on a steep downslide. Can I tell you how much I hate that? Because I really, really, really, tears and snot streaming down my face hate that. I genuinely like this kid 99.7% of the time. I want to spend time with him. I want to laugh with him and play catch and talk about books we've both read and eat brie with him. I want that every day forever. I love him 100% of the time, but that's the easy part. I can love him because he's my kid and I'm wired to love him, but I like him because of who he is. He snuggles our foster son when he wakes up from nap. He plays tackle on the couch with Asher. He cooks dinner with Elliot. He plays board games with Audrey. He reads books to our foster daughter. He is kind and funny and a big stinker. And I love him so much that I am short of breath right now. And loving him has given me a clearer picture of the depth of the love of Christ. That is yet another gift that God has given me through Isaac.






His name means Laughter. Goodness have we laughed. We have also cried. Thrown things in anger. Raised our voices. Come back to each other with heads hanging in sorrow and shame. Loved again. Loved bigger. Laughed harder. I am in it with this kid. I am his and he is mine and our relationship will shift and change and grow and mature and my role will change drastically. But my heart will not. Never. It cannot. For he was born gooey and crying and needy and perfect, and I was born, too. Sore and crying and needed and imperfect. Baby and mother. And he's not a baby any longer, but he'll ALWAYS be my baby.




Happy 14th birthday to my baby, my first born, my son, Isaac. I love you million times two. Just in case you ever wonder.




Saturday, January 6, 2018

swimsuit shopping and I looked gooooood

If you're wondering how into fashion I am these days, this snippet into my life should give you all the information you need. I received a pair of cute winter boots and a coat from Lands' End for Christmas, but the boots were too big, and I don't need a new winter coat right now. Therefore, I had a few returns/exchanges to make, and I had the bright idea to use the money for a new swimsuit since we'll be hanging out at a waterpark soon. Then I had three very important realizations. 1) I never shop 2) Because I hate to shop and 3) I would never make the 45 minute trip to a Lands' End to do my returns in time to get a new swimsuit (due to reasons 1 and 2). So, here it is the day before waterpark fun and I still had my two piece swimsuit that is sure to take up residence in my hind end on every slide.
uhhhh. NOPE!!!

Our foster kids had a parent visitation today so I was going to be in a town with stores, but it was too early for a mall, so Target was my option. I dropped them off and took the two kids I had with me to Target. I asked if they had swimsuits available for purchase yet and was directed to their spot. I perused the options, getting a nice little kick out of the fact that one rack had swimsuits on one side and gloves and mittens on the other. I found two that were cute enough, grabbed them in two sizes each, and brought my boys to the dressing room. I parked them and the cart right outside my door while I had the grand honor of putting two Target suits on my pasty white body in really bad lighting in front of suspect mirrors. Sounds like a winning combination, huh?

Here were my strict criteria. Must cover butt. Must handle rapid drops on a water slide without permanent hind end residency. Both suits passed these rigorous tests on the first size I tried on, so I put them both in my cart and brought them home. (But only after spending over an hour in the toy aisles while one of my sons unsuccessfully looked for something to purchase with a Christmas gift card. If only he lowered his standards like his mama!)

So here I sit. Lunch has been served, kids are napping or reading or building with legos, and I'm sitting here staring at my Target bag thinking about how far my swimsuit requirements have sunk in the last 20 years. So there you have it. Swimsuit shopping at 40 for this fashionista!

I can assure you of two things. I will have a blast at the waterpark tomorrow, and I will be so thankful for my "strict criteria" regarding wedgies. Here's to family fun!

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Memory Jar

Last night, Jim, the kids, and I sat down in the living room to go through our 2017 memory jar. We usually do it on New Year's Eve, but we had company who might not be as excited about our 2017 highlights as we are. It would be like watching the slideshow of someone else's year, minus pictures. Sounds exciting, right?

This is one of my favorite family traditions, and it's so simple. You've probably heard about it often, but I'm here to tell you that if I can pull this off, anyone can pull this off. In general I'm great at dreaming up ideas, but my follow through isn't so hot. Yet, even I can make this happen and the kids love saving receipts and wrist bands and writing down our memories.

Here's how it goes.

1-Find a mason jar. 
2-Put it in an easily accessible spot in your house.
3-Put some scraps of paper and a pen next to the jar.
4-When you get back from a museum or fun event, stick the ticket in the jar or grab a scrap of paper and write a brief synopsis of what you did along with the date and put it in the jar.
5-On December 31, or whenever your guests leave, or whenever you get around to it in early January, open the jar and read about all of the cool things you did over the past year. 

after we emptied our 2017 memories, we added our first 2018 memory
It was so fun to hear what different people remembered most about certain events. It is just the most entertaining little walk down memory lane. I got a huge kick out of that fact that reading one of our slips of paper (Dairy Queen for lunch, 10/5/17) launched us into a fairly long conversation about what a disaster the ordeal was and how that made it so memorable. 

It was less than a month after our foster kids came to our house and our foster son had an appointment waaaayyyy across town. Asher had a DQ gift card that was a birthday gift burning a hole in his pocket, so I thought we could consolidate the doctor's appointment down the hill with finding a DQ to visit for lunch before heading back toward home for piano lessons. The best laid plans, people. The first Dairy Queen we tried, conveniently located 5 minutes from the doctor's office, was closed for business, so I googled the next closest, which was about 17 minutes out of the way. I decided to go for it anyway because I could not even handle the drama that would have ensued if I changed plans on the hungry 4 year old boy and the other little kids. We got there and the parking lot was a mess of construction, blocking many of the spots, which is pretty comedic for a woman in a giant Suburban with six kids. I finally managed to fit into a spot, executing my patented and perfected 86-point turn. We got inside and ordered. The food took ages to make and by the time it came, our foster daughter refused to eat her sandwich because she saw that other people were coming in and getting ice cream. Asher didn't want his sandwich either, but he's been around the block long enough to know no sandwich=no ice cream. Then I went to pay because, remember, we were here because of that gift card, and it was nowhere to be seen. NOWHERE! So I paid for crappy sandwiches with my own money while a 3 year old screamed for ice cream. As Murphy's Law would dictate, I found the gift card on the floor of the car the next day, but here it is, January 4, and we still haven't gone to a DQ to use it. Trust me when I say that I will not bring all six of the children. Maybe it'll be a fun little date for Asher and a parent! Oh, yes, that gave us quite a chuckle last night! On the actual day, I was sweating bullets trying to hold all of the pieces of the ridiculous puzzle together, but distance from the event makes it hilarious!
pile o' memories
We have a Christmas memory book that I bought when I was pregnant with Isaac. I found it in November after it was lost in a box since 2014, so obviously I'm really diligent about filling it out each year. . . or not! There's a spot for highlights of the last year, so once we go around reading and reminiscing, I write the memories and dates in that book. Then we can go back from year to year to see our highlights and funny stories. It is easy to forget all of the fun, from road trips to "not back to school beach days" to Elf the Musical at DCPA and everything in between, so this is a fun way to have them all in one spot.

Happy new year and happy memory making!


Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Believe

It was bedtime in early December. "Mom, when you have a few minutes to talk, can I ask you a question? I have a question for you that I kind of don't want to know the answer to, but I kind of want to know, too." Ugh. Needless to say, I made a few minutes for the talk right then and there, and she timidly asked me if Santa was real. We had a long conversation about the magic of the season, the love behind the gift giving, and how she went from being on the receiving end of the surprise to the giving end. A few days later I shared this sweet little book with her, which she said really helped her feel better about knowing and feel more excited about being a brand new "santa" helper. Another step in growing up is complete. Oh, mamas, why must they grow so quickly?

It wasn't the only thing that our kids stopped believing in this year, the only realization that our eyes were opened to. They stopped believing that all parents take care of their kids. They stopped believing all kids in our community are fed and clothed. They began to realize the impact that addiction, poverty, education, and mental health issues have on people.

We have read books on these topics, sponsored kids in different countries living in poverty, seen news stories, and talked about these issues on many occasions, but this year some of those issues showed up on our doorstep in the form of foster kids. In many ways, we are all seeing the world from a different perspective, and it's kind of hard and harsh and brutal. In truth, it's hard to watch my kids realize how broken and hurting this world is in such a personal way. There's so much about this that is hard, and so much of the hard is unexpected. 

But here's the beautiful flipside. For all the untrue beliefs that were shattered, a whole slew of amazing truths filled their places. We started really believing that our community will support and love us. From meals delivered to us every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for almost 3 months (seriously the most amazing gift!) to a carseat and bags of both new and used clothes dropped off, from help with childcare to gift cards to a restaurant on nights it was too busy to cook, from shoulders to cry on and people to talk to about our new situation, people have shown up in a billion big and small ways. It has been an immense honor to be on the receiving end of this kind of generosity, and more than once a child has said, "People are just so nice." In a world where the headlines are full of creeps, killers, and crooks, it's nice to look around and see such amazing humans blessing our lives.

We started believing that God would show up just when we needed it the most. We stepped away from what was comfortable and easy, and it was and remains Scary with a capital S. But just when we feel like we were at our wit's end, a friend calls out of the blue to offer us support or the perfect song comes on the radio or we read just the right book or any other "coincidence" that we don't actually believe are coincidences, but are really situations where God shows up personally and abundantly.  

We started seeing the world outside of our comfortable little shell. In the life of our family, our fridge has always been full, our car has always started, our roof has always kept us dry and warm. That's true for our friends, too, so it can become easy to believe that's true for everyone. It's just not, and it's okay for kids to know that and for grown-ups to have an up close and personal reminder of that painful, horrible truth. 

In August of 2016, when I couldn't have possibly known where life would lead, I got a tattoo of a floating purple balloon with a string that says believe on my right wrist. It meant a lot to me then, but it has even more meaning now. And as our family stretches and grows and contracts and grows again, our hearts will do the same and our beliefs and understandings might, too. It won't be easy, but it will be good and necessary and, if I know anything about this little family o' mine, we'll do it together with lots of words and laughing and crying and probably some singing, too.

As we get started on a new calendar, what are some things you learned, some things you stopped or starting believing in 2017?

Thursday, December 28, 2017

medical forms and silent night and tears

I scheduled a more in-depth eye appointment for our foster daughter based on a few of our observations and an inconclusive eye test at the pediatrician that could indicate a vision problem or could indicate that 4 year olds and their attention spans don't give a crap about telling you what shape you're pointing at for the 8th time in a row. The person answering the phone gave me the option of filling out the forms online or filling them out in person at the time of the appointment. Hmmm, let me think. . . online every time because filling out forms with a gaggle of small, medium, and large humans in tow is torturous for all involved, including the receptionist who has to pretend she doesn't see me crawling all over the floor to keep the 1 year old from driving his toy truck right under the desk. Do I speak from experience. Maaaaaaybe!

Tonight I went to fill out the forms, and there were so many I couldn't answer. Full term? Length and weight at birth? Surgeries? Parental vision history? On and on it went. I was again reminded of the little and big injustices of being a child in foster care. Children should live with the people who know and cherish their histories. Don't get me wrong. I fail the how much does your kid weigh and what size shoe does he/she wear every single time. But I know that Isaac was seven days early, Audrey two days late, Elliot three days late, Asher five days late, and each beautiful, tender, and, yes, painful, birth story that accompanies each miraculous arrival. I know that Isaac had a plugged tear duct surgery when he was about 13 months old and still feel the dread in my heart when I picture him going limp from the medicine. I know that he broke his leg running in a parking lot. I know that Audrey broke her leg twice, once on a slide in Jim's lap and once skiing. I know that I was pregnant both times she broke her leg. I know that Elliot threw up some mornings and we think it was related to low blood sugar, but have nothing conclusive to prove that and that he eventually outgrew it. I know that he went down a sledding hill and brained himself on a wooden playground. I know that Asher was a miserable newborn because his parietal and occipital lobes were overlapping, causing severe pain when he was lying down, but that our chiropractor taught us how to massage his still malleable, little, beautiful head so they would go back to their proper places. I can happily report that he is no longer miserable, which you know if you've met him! I know those things about my kids because we share a history that no one else shares. I don't wish I was our foster daughter's mom, but I wish she could live with, be loved by, thrive in the home of people who share her history. I can't guarantee that will ever happen, but I can do what I can do for as long as I am asked to do it.

We spent our first Christmas together, which will likely be our only Christmas together. My kids and I had many conversations about expectations and traditions and keeping things just for the six of us and making it special for all eight of us. We got all gussied up and went to Christmas Eve service. Two of our kids played the piano and all eight of us stayed in church the entire time, which is a new record. On regular Sundays, we take advantage of the nursery for our foster kids, but they were great at the 4 pm service. We always end the service by lighting candles, turning out the lights, and singing "Silent Night." I cry every single time. The hush. The dark. The light overwhelming it. The beauty, mystery, and miracle of Jesus. This year Jim and I were working overtime to keep the two littlest kids from starting their fingers and hair on fire, but it was still a peaceful, magical moment for me, showing that moms truly can multitask. Of course, I cried and even more than usual because of the seven other people taking up the entire row. I marveled the God who brought us together, our four kids who are sharing so much of themselves and their lives, our two foster kids who had their entire lives uprooted, who have endured so much, who have overcome so much, who learn and love and marvel and frustrate us daily, as kids are wont to do.

My foster daughter, sparkly new Christmas dress, shoes, and barrette shining in the candlelight, looked up at me. "Why is your face wet?" she asked in a slightly too loud voice. "It's ok,' I assured her. "Why you crying, mama?" she pressed. "It's ok. They're happy tears," I replied. Her answer. Oh, her answer. She rubbed the tears on my cheeks and sweetly spoke this truth, "Oh, it's okay to cry, mama." I hugged her. I looked at her baby brother. I looked at my husband and kids. I clearly couldn't sing anymore, what with the tears and snot. But I listened. No, I heard.

Silent night. Holy night.
Son of God. Love's pure light.
Radiant beams from thy holy face.
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus Lord at thy birth
Jesus Lord at thy birth.

This is our first personal experience with foster care. We know basically nothing. I'm relying on my instinct, prayer, and lots of questions for social workers. We are learning to care for and love other people's kids, knowing we will say goodbye. We are learning to support parents who had their kids removed from their home. We are adding appointments and visitation and preschool and therapies to our schedule. Does this sound easy, simple, and smooth? It is not. Somedays I don't know how we'll do what we need to do. Thankfully there was a man named Jesus. Love's pure light bringing redeeming grace. Grace for me and for my family, for our foster kids and their parents. And I pray I receive that grace with thanksgiving and then share it abundantly. Our lives are not silent or calm, as the song goes, but they are filled with love and grace. Tears, too, but it's ok to cry.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

A Conversation with a 4 year old about Foster care

When you open your family's life, heart, and soul to foster care, there are conversations like this.

Our foster kids spent time in respite care while I took the kids on a 2700 mile road trip. It was really horrible to leave them with someone else, but definitely the right decision because I could never have handled all of those miles, hotel rooms, hotel pools, restaurants, and rest stops with six kids by myself. Madness, I tell you. Plus, our foster daughter is terrified of elevators, so trying to navigate hotels with six kids and all of our luggage with one screaming and trying to claw her way up my body would not have been pleasant.



As we were driving, the kids were making up different names to call people depending on their age. They had a certain name for kids up to age four, then four to eight, then eight to 13, then 13+. Don't ask me for the specific names. . .my brain can't recall every silly and convoluted story that is told on our road trips. At any rate, our foster daughter turns four in the next few months, so they were talking about how she's currently a (whatever kids less than four are called), but soon she'll be a (whatever kids who are four are called.) Then Asher, sweet, loving, sassafrass Asher, our cuatro, who has had his youngest child status stomped on by two hurting kids, but loves them to pieces, but is still figuring all of this out, asked, "Will (youngest foster son) still live with us when he's four?"

Tears. Immediate tears. I attempted to swallow the lump in my throat that had to be the size of Rhode Island.

"No."

He won't. At this point we are a foster family. We are open to adoption at some point, but right now we feel that God wants us to foster, to love kids in the gap while their parents get the help and resources they need or until the parental rights are terminated and they are adopted by someone else. We are an in between, a safe space to rest, to get their bearings, to see a loving family in action, to grow, to be loved.

Make no mistake. We love these children. I cried packing their suitcase for respite care because it went against every maternal instinct in my body to send them to be loved, nurtured, and cared for by someone else for 10 days. Their hurts hurt me. Their laughter delights me. Their triumphs thrill me. Their pain haunts me. We change diapers and work on potty training and hold them when they're sick. We sing silly songs and read books before bed and share meals together. We are a family for however long they need us.

Yet, the fact remains that the day will come when their caseworker will call us, and we will pack their suitcases for good, and we will say goodbye. I don't know how to prepare my heart or the hearts of our children for that. I don't think I can.

We just take it one day at a time. one prayer at a time. We love. It's all we know to do.