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.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Are they all yours?

When I go out with even a portion of our current brood, much less the whole gang, I am sure to be asked, "Are they all yours?" at least once. I never quite know how to answer.

Kind of.
Mostly.
Sort of.
Currently.
Yes.
No.
Maybe so.

I am the one who puts band-aids on owies and searches out the latest hiding spot for the beloved stuffed animals before bedtime. I am the one who rubs hair and sings lullabies at bed. I am the one who cuts the food into tiny, bite-sized pieces and has baby-sized food handprints on my sleeves, along with food wiped on my shoulders from messy mouths. I am the one who saw a baby's first steps and changes looooots of diapers every day. I am the one teaching a baby games like "sooooooo big" and "this little piggy." I am the one holding a crying little one when they're scared of the dark or aren't sure I'll come back. I am the one driving them to parent visitation, prepping them for that as best I can with such little people in such a confusing and horribly difficult situation, and then helping them transition back to our home after seeing their parents. I am the one playing peek-a-boo and cleaning up blocks and reading night night stories. I am the one teaching a young child to say, "Can I have more?" instead of "WANT THAT!" I am the one helping a toddler learn to stand up and brush herself off when she takes a small stumble instead of laying on the ground screaming like an elephant sat on her. I am the one teaching baby signs and how a 3 year old can help clear her spot at the table.

I am the one talking to my kids over and over about my love for them and how hard it is for them to be patient with our foster kids, but how necessary it is because they are experiencing so many new things right now and have lived with so much pain. I am the one watching my 4-year-old scream, "mommy mommy mommy, don't go," because that's what he's heard one of our foster children say to me anytime I have to leave the house. I am the one trying to find special time with each of our biological kids so they never think to question how much I love them, even as my time and attention are divided into a few more pieces.

I am doing everything in my power to support reunification for a family going through a difficult, stressful, painful, lonely time right now. There are social workers coming to my house at least once per month, weekly parent visitation, doctor's appointments, Guardian Ad Litem visits, paperwork, checklists, and more. I will start a communication log with the parents soon so they can get a better picture of how their kids are doing through our meals, games played, bedtime routines, and songs sung. I will meet their parents soon, in hopes that they will see our family as their ally and not their enemy. In hopes that they will see that we want the very best for their kids and will care for them to the best of our abilities until, we fervently hope and pray, they can care for them again. I can't possibly predict the outcome, what any of our lives will look like two weeks, three months, one year from now. (Honestly, I couldn't predict even 1/329th of what will happen tomorrow. This is a wild ride, and it's our first time at this particular rodeo so every day is something new.) I can only use my time and energy to love the people in my home and support a family as they try to learn how to best take care of and love their children.

The line between mom and foster mom is not a solid line for me. There are six kids in my home who need love and attention and help in learning how to navigate the world and food and a routine and support. Four of them have had it their entire lives. To two of them, it is a novel idea and they are absolutely eating it up. Given a little attention and direction, they want all of it. Given a little song and laughter, they want all of it. Can you blame them? I certainly can't. I give as much of that as I can to every single one of them every single day, regardless of whether they have the word foster in front of the words son and daughter.

You see; it's complicated. "Are they all mine?" Not in the way we think of parenthood. Not forever. But for right now, in all the ways that matter, they are all mine.

Monday, October 2, 2017

when the world holds too much pain

We woke up to bad, sad, horrific, awful news. There are new hashtags and prayer chains informing us that we should #prayforlasvegas, so we search our favorite news source and feel the vomit rise in our throats as the tears well in our eyes. If you're like me, you're almost equal parts horrified and not surprised. We are, after all, busted up, broken, hurting people with many hurdles to proper mental health care and not enough hurdles to weaponry meant for war, not hotel rooms and concerts.

We cry and hold our kids tight and lament the state of the world and bake lasagna and feel a migraine coming on and crave chocolate croissants because, while sweet carbs won't solve the problem, it certainly can't hurt. (unless you're lactose intolerant/gluten free. then you'll have to find your own sweet goodness.)

I don't have the answers. . . not a single one. I just feel the need to pull together in some sort of community and hold each other's hands and wipe each other's tears and ask questions together, because there's power in numbers and relief from pain in solidarity.

When I ask what we can possibly do, here's what I come up with.

1) take a nap.
These are the skies outside of my house today.


It is the perfect day for a blanket, a book, a couch, and some shuteye. Rest. Get yourself together. Clearly these big world problems are not going to be solved in a day, what with war and pain in the bible, war and pain painted on the caves, war and pain in the history books, war and pain all over the world and in every living room at one time or another. You can regroup, take a walk, take a nap, sit with a cup of tea and some stupidly depressing music.

2) act.
Act with your life and your money and your time. Whatever your passion, live it. It is impossible to feel utterly helpless when you are using your life to better the world through your passion. Someone once asked me what I believe in, meaning what makes me tick, what inspires and excites me to get out of bed each day. I believe in childhood, the chance for every child to play without fear, make mistakes without fear of punishment, get changed when they're wet and fed when they're hungry and comforted when they're hurt or sad or scared. I can't do that for the whole world. Don't I wish. But I can do it for the four kids in our biological family who call me mama and the two foster kids currently napping upstairs who hold their arms up to me and also call me mama when they go boom, who already know we will respond to their needs, who look to us when they feel scared. We can't do everything, solve everything, but that absolutely cannot be our excuse to do nothing. We can't bring back the people who were murdered in Las Vegas yesterday or who died in hurricanes or protect all the kids whose parents abuse and neglect them on a daily basis or feed every hungry person on the planet. But shame on us if we don't search within ourselves for the hurt of the world that speaks to our soul and makes us sick to our stomach and then act accordingly with our life, money, and time.

As a Christian, I'm all for praying, but praying without action feels foolish and trite. I always try to follow up the statement, "I'm praying for you," with "can I come hold your hand while you cry? Can I bring soup and bread? Can I watch the kids for you?" I serve a strong and powerful God who calls us to be God's hands and feet on earth. That requires action in addition to prayer.

3) make the lasagna.
If cooking gets you through the day/week/month when tragedy strikes, then by all means cook. Make a big old pot of stew or three pans of lasagna or six pies. Then consider inviting your friends over. Or bring it to the church down the road that hosts dinners for people experiencing homelessness. Or put it in individual containers and load up the car with tasty food to share with people living on the streets or in the shelters of your city. Or bring a meal over to the new mom, the grieving widow, the friend with the new diagnosis.

4) accept help.
Maybe the headlines have you so down and out that functioning, getting out of bed, showering, feels overwhelmingly impossible. Maybe life's circumstances have you so busy that feeding the family is blowing your mind. We all, every single one of us, runs into these times in our lives. It is an unfortunate byproduct of this wild, brave, terrifying world. Find your people and trust them with your truth. Welcome them into the lovely little world of your brain and tell them what's going on and let them help you. Let them give you the number for a trusted counselor or psychiatrist. Have them make the first call if you're too low to do it yourself. Let them bring you meals for two weeks. Let them pick up your gallon of milk and oatmeal from the grocery store. You're not alone. If you feel like you are, email, call, text, message me. Seriously.

5) play.
The world hurts and we are literally murdering each other and we feel divided in ways I can't even articulate, but just feel in my bones,, and hurricanes and starvation and nuclear weapons and cripes, what's a human to do? Wallowing is always an option and often near the top of my list, but I can't stay there for long without needing someone to call a counselor for me (see #4) because I sink and I sink fast. So, play the board game, work the puzzle, take the walk, build the epic ball ramp, watch the movie, read the book, go to the comedy show, spend time with friends doing nothing in particular, etc. Laugh. You won't regret it.

6) snuggle closer.
These poochies have it figured out. The world can be a cold and dark place. For Pete's sake, don't go it alone. We're all in this together.

I don't know. It's just a dreary, damp, cool Monday from my perch on the couch. People are hurting and dying and I feel lost. Maybe you do, too.

What would you add to the list? How do you get through these days of bad, sad, horrific awful news?

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Time with my smallest sweetie

Tonight my three biggest kids went to our friends' house to watch a movie and have pizza. Jim got home from work and we had dinner with Asher and our two foster kids. Then, the moment Asher had been (impatiently) waiting for all the livelong day. Surprise time! He didn't actually care that he knew exactly what we were had planned; he still called it his surprise night.

This boy is easily amused, and I will love him forever for it. Among other reasons, obviously! Jim and our oldest kids volunteered at a wood splitting and stacking event at a church a few weeks ago and got coupons for free frosties at Wendy's. Therefore, part one of our surprise was a free frosty. I'd already taken Elliot earlier in the week and he was allowed to get fries, so Asher asked if he could get "those stick things" with his frosty. Clearly we eat a lot of french fries, since the 4 year old didn't even know what they were called.

He picked our seat and I slid in next to him. He gave me a few bites of Frosty and a couple of fries and we chatted, mostly about whatever crossed his mind, but I also asked his favorite part and his hardest part of sharing our home with our foster kids.

Favorite part: "Playing with (3 year old foster daughter). How I play with her and she plays with me."
Hardest part: "The way they poop in their diapers."

haha. Well, if that's the hardest part so far, I'd say we are doing well. He is the most obviously put out by the addition of two littler kids, so spending time alone with him was stupendous.

After the Frosty and "stick things," we headed to Staples to get supplies for a poster he and I are making for his presentation in his CC class on Monday. (OK. Before that we got into the car, got buckled in, and were about to drive away when Asher said his stomach hurt and he really had to go to the bathroom. #2, if you catch my drift. You don't mess with a 4 year old and his bathroom time, so we unbuckled and hauled ourselves back into Wendy's. Lucky me. False alarm, but he did have to potty, so at least it wasn't all for naught. Silly 4 year olds! I couldn't even be impatient because he was just giggling and talking and having a blast. We time starved, grouchy grown ups could learn a thing or two or 3 billion from our little humans.) The suggested topic is Favorite song or music, so we're going to make a poster of a current favorite rhyme, "Five Little Pumpkins." He had to choose just the right poster board and felt like quite the big and important man strutting through staples at 7:30 pm wearing his sunglasses and carrying poster board. He is an absolute hoot.

I mess up on an hourly basis at a bare minimum. There is seriously always something going on and at least three humans who want full, in my face, one on one attention at any given moment. I can't be everything for everyone at all times, but a little special time with each kid is so fun and necessary. We have a few more kids queued up for our Frosty dates. I can't wait!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

How's it going?

This is a question that we have been asked often in the two weeks, fourteen days, since we welcomed two beautiful foster children into our family. Just writing that socks me in the gut. . . how has it only been two weeks? It is so hard to imagine our home and family without them. All indications are that they will be with us for, minimally, 6 months. Today Audrey was talking about how weird it will be when they leave, especially since they'll be part of our family for so long. We'll celebrate birthdays and holidays, go to basketball practices and doctor's appointments, bake muffins and build car ramps. We'll share all of life as a family of 8. That's a lot of life. We don't talk about it with our foster kids, but we do talk about it amongst our biological family because we have to prepare ourselves for all of it. The coming, the loving, the leaving. It is the honor, joy, and heartbreak of being a foster family.

So, how are we doing? Most days I have no idea. It is a constant stream of feeding, hugging, holding, teaching, redirecting, reading, playing, putting to bed, diaper changing, cleaning up, loving. There isn't much time to breathe, much less reflect on all of it. My usual answer is that we are busy, but good. There is nothing specific to having foster kids that makes our lives difficult. It is just the sheer quantity of small humans, their varying needs, and the fact that two of them want 100% of my attention all day long while four of them are like, "hold up, everybody. . . that's our mama! We want her, too."

Our foster children are doing amazingly well. We see progress, growth, and attachment every day. Our biological kids are doing well, too. Their adjustment is a little different. Some days progress smoothly. Asher says things like, "I see your hands are full, mama. I'm holding the door for you." He's also the first to tickle toes when babies cry and help get shoes on when 3 year olds need help. Elliot plays this hilarious game of keep away with our foster daughter that gets her giggling like nothing else. Audrey feeds our foster son and teaches him baby signs, using her gifts of communication to help him grow. Isaac reads books to our foster daughter and takes a break from school to build block towers for little kids to knock over. It's amazing to see how they have just become a part of our family. I will forever marvel at the many ways God can create family. I will forever mourn the fact that I need to care for other people's babies because they are unable.

Other days bring 4 year old temper tantrums because mama has to hold a baby who is really attached to her all day long or 13 year old annoyance that I'm not as readily available to help with schoolwork or 11 year old confusion that other kids call us mama and dad or 9 year old irritation that so many people want to talk to me at the same time.

It's so good and so busy and so hard and so exhausting and so beautiful and so worth it. It is every emotion every day, sometimes every hour. It is having a great day and thinking we're making our way to a new normal and then waking up and having a really, ridiculously hard Tuesday. It is life, love, pain, beauty magnified.

That's how we're doing. It's complicated. It's busy. It's good. It's worth it.
morning walk with two kids in a double stroller, one on my back, and two doggies. See? Busy. Good.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Wednesday really sucked

For those of you that know me, you know that I take the HOME in stay at home mom and homeschooling quite seriously. I do not like running around, errands, or being gone all day. Those things make me crabby, and I do not like being crabby, so I avoid them when I can. They could not be avoided on Wednesday.

Our foster children had their initial doctor's appointments at 9 am on Wednesday morning. They need these done within two weeks of entering our home. It was a looooong appointment. Isaac had an orthodontist appointment at 11:50. It was less than 6 minutes, but it still involved six minors in the car, three car seats, a double stroller, a dirty diaper changed on my knees while I did a squat in the bathroom of the office since there was no changing table, and a quick announcement that we need to turn the expander 6 more times and then Isaac is ready for braces.

Audrey and Isaac had a cross country meet down the hill, which involved dropping them off at the middle school so they could ride the bus down with the team, coming home, packing food, drink, and entertainment, then driving four kids in three car seats down to watch the meet. While we were there, our foster daughter hurt herself at the playground. Much screaming ensued. I couldn't tell if she was screaming because she was hurt or because her feelings got hurt or if she was overwhelmed or if she was kind of hurt but I wasn't comforting her like she wanted or, or, or. I am still learning what makes these little people tick, and I just wasn't exactly sure how to read this situation. Plus, her little brother is going through some major separation anxiety when I'm not holding him, so there was lots of screaming coming from our general direction. My stress level was approximately a billion and a half. My biggest kids ran and did better than last week and had tons of fun, so that was good, but, gosh, I was so distracted! Thank goodness my friend was there to help. Jim couldn't get off of work to come to the meet, so I can't imagine if I'd been there on my own.

We left the meet to go to confirmation, and our foster daughter stopped crying as soon as we got in the car. I breathed a sigh of relief that she was ok, and we were on our merry way. Then Audrey piped in from the backseat, "Mom, she's really not using that arm." I took back my sigh of relief. Dang snabbits, as Asher likes to say.

Jim picked our foster kids up at church so they could go home for dinner while I stayed at church for confirmation since I'm the confirmation coordinator. I told him to ice it and see if being home would help, but to let me know if she wasn't using it, at which point I'd take her to Children's.

When I checked in via text, she still wasn't using her arm, so we decided I needed to get home to take her in. Two friends came to the rescue and offered to take our four kids home after confirmation and kingdom kids ended. I really have generous, kind, amazing friends.

I got home and called the proper agencies because having a foster kid hurt is a whole new ballgame involving phone calls and paperwork. I was seriously freaking out. I couldn't believe this was happening on day 8 of foster care. I had thousands of worst case scenarios dashing through my overactive imagination. The man on call at our agency was very reassuring about it and talked me down, but I was still sick about it. I imagined bringing them to their second parent visit and having her in a cast and having the parents so angry at me and wondering how this could happen to their daughter in my care. Did I mention FREAKING OUT?!

We got to Children's, got checked in, and waited. Paw Patrol and "huggies," what she calls hugs when she's sad, kept her calm, but she screamed her bloody head off anytime anyone manipulated her left arm. I expected the worst, but just kept praying.

After the x-ray of her forearm showed no break, they brought her back for an elbow x-ray. As I held her to put on our aprons, she started using her arm. When we sat down for the x-ray, she banged the x-ray table with her left pointer finger and shouted, "I don't like this thing." They did the x-ray for good measure, but they felt pretty certain nothing was broken. Apparently while they manipulated her arm for the first set of x-rays, they popped her Nursemaid's elbow back into place. Nursemaid's elbow is when a tendon pops into the wrong spot and just needs to be adjusted slightly to get back into its spot. (Or at least that's how I understand it. Google it if you don't want to take my word for it.) Nothing broken, no scars, no follow up treatment. I was told to "go home, put her to bed, and have a beer."

I started crying when he told me that. I was so relieved and she just kept saying, "My arm all better." I did get her home and put her to bed, but I did not have a beer. Instead I went directly to bed, too.

You guys, yesterday was so hard. It was non-stop and exhausting and I just wanted to go to bed early. In fact, I told Jim on Tuesday night that my Wednesday night goal was to go to bed before Isaac. Ha! Instead I didn't get home from urgent care until about 10:15. But, it really was the best possible outcome. She got hurt. I did the right thing by taking her in. It reinforced the fact that we will take care of her and help her feel better when she is hurt. I called the proper people to inform them of the incident and no one thought I was negligent or lazy. They just thought that accidents happen and it was crappy timing. She is fine. We are fine. And so, so thankful that it wasn't worse.

So, Wednesday really sucked. Thursday was much improved, partly due to the fact that I didn't have to get into the car even once, and no diapers were changed while doing a squat. Look at me winning at life over here. :)

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Tears

He never cried when a stranger dropped him off at my house and left.

He never cried when he left his parents after his first visitation.

But I've known him for seven days, and he often cries when I leave the room. He calls mama for me. He reaches his arms out and smiles when he sees me.

For the tears he didn't cry when he should have and the tears he cries now, I cannot stop crying.

We are helping to raise two beautiful children. They are exceptional. The life they have endured is too much. The pain they have endured is too much. We will love them for however long they need us. Then we'll keep on loving them after they've left because they're part of our story, part of the fabric that makes up the quilt of our life as a family. We will feed them and change diapers, kiss scrapes and read night-night stories, sing their favorite songs that make them giggle and help them learn table manners, teach baby signs and take walks. We'll do it day in and day out because that is what family does and I want them to know what it feels like to rely on someone and to have that person be who you need them to be.

The changes we have seen in these two children in seven days are absolutely mind-blowing. I'll say it again. These are exceptional and beautiful children. We are finding our way. It is so hard and exhausting and non-stop redirection and reminders and meals and diapers and all of it. We knew it would change everything, but we could never, ever have been adequately prepared. I equate it to first time motherhood. You read the books and take the classes, but you can't really know what motherhood is or means until the baby is in your arms. Same for foster care. We were as ready as we could be until two small, fragile, strong, hurting, amazing children showed up at our house.  We have a clearer picture of what foster care means every day. It is every emotion at once many times every day. And it is so worth it.

I've never prayed more in my entire life. I've never felt such reliance on God in my entire life. I've never felt so loved and lifted up in my life either. People are feeding us and bringing us groceries unannounced and a neighbor offered to help with laundry, so I dropped off dirty laundry for a 4, 3, and 1 year old tonight because, apparently, there is no shame in my game.

I will never run out of tears about what these kids have endured. But I'll also never forget what I whisper to them every night when I put them to bed. I sing them Jesus Loves Me. I sing a lullaby. I pray. Then I whisper, "Your story doesn't end here. This is just the beginning for you. You have such a big, beautiful life ahead of you. You are special. You are beloved. God made you just perfectly you."

And then I cry more tears. Tears about the pain they've endured, but also tears of gratitude, love, and hope that we can be a part of their story.