Friday, July 5, 2019

Next stop: Atlanta adventures

Today is the day we start our adventure! Apparently I'm excited because I can't sleep; I've been up since 3:28 am! I was tossing and turning, which is unusual for me, so I decided to come downstairs, add a few items to our final to-do list, finish a book, and hopefully get another hour or so of sleep.

We have been saving money, saving Jim's vacation time, and planning for over a year for this epic East Coast adventure, and it starts today with our afternoon flight to Atlanta. Before that can happen, we have some last minute packing, a final tidy, an audiology appointment for M, our foster son, a facetime with K and A, our former foster kids, and M getting picked up for respite care. It shall be a full day, but at the end of it, vacation, family time, and memories commence.

The kids and I will go to the Atlanta History Center while Jim picks up our RV. If you're not on Facebook, I made the most delightful discovery on the History Center's website. When you purchase tickets online, the History Center allows you to choose your title from a substantial list of options. I oped for Countess. It sounds just perfect. I've been working on my Russian accent (something I was doing while laying in bed unable to sleep) so I can ask for my tickets at will call with style. Elliot has requested that I do nothing of the sort. I told him he can wait in the bathroom and I'll get him when I'm done. Clearly it's the little things that amuse me!

Here we come, East Coast. We cannot wait!

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

toddlers and teens

Remember those baby and toddler years when every single day, and sometimes every hour, felt like it brought a new development or change in your child. A new word. First tooth. First solid food. Potty training. Such adventure and amazement around every corner.

There's a bit of a lull in the action during the elementary school years. Yes, they are developing and learning, but it is not as visibly noticeable.

Cue the tween and teen years. I currently have a tween, two teens, a 5 year-old, and a 4 year old foster son. I see it all over here! Those oldest three are at it again, changing and developing and growing in new ways every day, and sometimes every hour. Body changes and voice changes and new interests and so much sleeping!

Today was a big day around here. Audrey got her expander in to prepare her mouth for braces. (This is how you know she didn't get her mouth shape from her big-mouthed mama!) We made sure we had soup and soft fruits on hand for her sore mouth. We also made sure we asked her to say hard words like key and annie. haha!

After I brought her home from her ortho appointment, I turned right around and dropped Isaac off to finally get his braces off. He was so excited! Audrey and I stopped at the store so he could celebrate with chewy caramels and salt water taffy. He was happy to rejoin the land of chewy food and popcorn after over 18 months away.

And this guy, my tween, decided it was time to retire from piano.

We have the most amazing teacher in town, but Elliot just wasn't enjoying it anymore, and practice was becoming a tedious chore. When he asked if he could stop taking lessons, Jim and I talked with him about our goals for when he started and if we thought he'd reached those goals. Once we decided he had, we were fine with him quitting piano. As parents, there are plenty of things worth fighting about and fighting for with our tweens and teens. Fighting over piano practice does not make the list at our house. (Drug use. Kindness. Going to church as a family. Those are three examples of things I'll fight about.)

These brothers. Isaac was in Arizona for 5 days, home for 2, then in Puerto Rico for 5 days. That's a long time for all of us to miss our Isaac. They have been having the best time together, playing and joking and razzing each other since his return. It is a sweet delight.

And, yes, that is a porta potty in our driveway. We are having our house re-sided soon, so this beauty was dropped off yesterday. As I posted on Facebook, I haven't done extensive research because who wants to hang out in a porta-potty for any length of time, but I don't believe it will transport us to Narnia even if it is located under a lamp-post. So disappointing! The funny thing is that we are super mature, and when people in our family are trying to trick us into telling us what we got them for Christmas or birthdays, they'll nonchalantly ask, "What did you get for me?" Our standard line is one of two things. 1) A trash box. 2) A porta-potty. Therefore, imagine our delight when an actual porta-potty showed up at our house during the month of June, the month of two birthdays and one Father's Day. Our joke lives on!

At any rate and regardless of the presence of a porta-potty in our lives and driveway, life is changing so quickly. I can hardly keep up. A new teenager and another teen about to get his permit and two middle schoolers and a high school, plus an almost 6 year old missing a whole slew of teeth and a foster son who is blossoming with all of his new therapies. I look at these growing up kids o' mine, and I catch glimpses of the little, itty bitty humans they were, and then I catch glimpses of the young adults they'll soon be. It is quite a trip. I'm not sure how we got here because I have yet to see a road map marking the way, yet here we are. Most days I'm one thousand percent certain I am the least-qualified person for the job, but God gave them me and me them, so I'll get up tomorrow and try again with hopefully a bit more grace, humor, and wisdom.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Boys of summer

My day started like this.

Asher's job for the week is to clear off the table after meals. In putting away the yogurt, the cucumber salad somehow ended up precariously balanced in the fridge. I was the "lucky one" who next opened the fridge. Yep. That's me. Lucky.

I thought, geesh, if this is 8 am on a lovely Saturday morning, maybe I should just crawl back into bed. But, alas, five kids, one grown up, one kid who needed a ride to the high school to run with friends, one t-ball game, and one baseball tournament meant there was no avoiding whatever the day brought my way.

After dropping Elliot off at a friend's house so he could get a ride to his first baseball game of the day, I dropped Isaac off at the high school so he could hit the trails with two of his running friends before taking the remaining three kids to Asher's t-ball game. This was his second to last game, and it is still as cute as can be. Once we got in the car he reiterated how happy he is that he gets to play t-ball this year. It's been a really fun season, as the smile indicates!
It was a stellar day to be at the ballpark
After his game, we hauled ourselves to Elliot's tournament. Their games were at 10 and 2, meaning we had a break right at lunch time. Another mom organized a team lunch with hot dogs, brats, fruit, and chips. We got there just in time to eat! Audrey, Asher, M, and I played at the park after lunch, then watched Elliot's game.
Asher, Audrey, and a friend trying to catch the breeze to get the kite to fly
His team is doing well in league play, but tournaments have been another story. They play against a lot of tournament teams, which means they're teams that just play tournaments and are some of the best players pulled from other teams. Sometimes the games are close; sometimes, to put it gently, they are not. For example, we were still knee deep in snow and rain before their first tournament game of the season. They'd had zero games and hadn't even had an outdoor practice yet, but instead had just been practicing in the middle school gym. Needless to say, that doesn't truly prepare a team for game situations. The team they played against, 10 YEAR OLDS, had just spent spring break together in Arizona where they played 17 games. We were out of our league, and the score indicated as much. What's cool is that they played the same team less than two months later, and our team only lost be a few runs. They still lost, but it was an actual game instead of a one-sided clinic. Today's games were disappointing because they didn't play up to their potential. It's one thing to lose; it's another thing entirely to give the game away because you're repeatedly bungling routine plays. Here's hoping they'll learn from their mistakes when they hit the field again tomorrow. We all love his coach who uses these games as learning opportunities, and not opportunities to shame or degrade players. Sadly, not all coaches approach losses, especially sloppy losses, in the same way.
Mr. Elliot up to bat

Mr. Elliot pitching

Now we're home, we had an early dinner, I'll get the little boys to bed after another rousing game of Sorry with Asher-boy, and the big kids and I will read a bit before an early bedtime for all after a lovely day spent outside enjoying God's lovely creation. It far exceeded my waist to toe cucumber salad expectations!

What do you have going on this weekend?

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

I could never do that

"I could never do that." It's usually one of the first sentences I hear when people find out we are a foster family. Or maybe they'll save it for after they've heard about our foster kids' histories or their needs or their appointments. "I could never do that."

In August of 2017, when we became a licensed foster family, there was a whole litany of things I was pretty sure I could never do. The day our first two foster children were dropped off at our door, I was almost certain I couldn't do this. When they were reunified with their parents after 11 months, I was absolutely sure I couldn't do this. When they dropped off our current foster son and I assumed within 10 minutes of his arrival that he had autism, I knew I couldn't do it. (They told us he was non-verbal when they called us about placement and left off the information about autism. There's a big difference between non-verbal and autistic.)

The thing is, we never know what we can do until we just have to do it. No one thinks they can handle their parent's Alzheimer's diagnosis or the divorce they never saw coming or their child's seizures or that out-of-the-blue job loss. When we're thinking in the abstract about what we're capable of, we sell ourselves short. We can't know what we can do because we've never had to do it.

Then, when the rubber meets the road, we rise up and get stuff done. Yes, we might first cry/sob/wail, wonder how we'll handle it, eat too many carbs, and beg God to take it away. Then we'll wipe our eyes and change out of our pajama pants back into actual clothes and get to the business of handling stuff. We'll make the appointments and cook the meals and run the errands and go to work and it'll happen. All of those things we were sure we couldn't do? We'll somehow do them. It won't be easy. It will be possible.

I believe in God. With that said, I am not of the opinion that God doesn't give us more than we can handle. It doesn't say that in the bible. Here's something the bible does say.

Image result for "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

I have walked roads in my life that were too hard for me to handle on my own. Foster care is one of those roads. The days that I don't wake up at 4:54 am to work out and read the bible and sit in the quiet of my house before the children's feet come pitter-pattering/stampeding down and up the stairs are the hardest days. On those days, I'm quick to forget that I can lean into God. I forget that I don't have to do it on my own. I forget that no one asked me to do any of it on my own. I forget that my job isn't to cure M's autism or have my kids behave perfectly. It's my job to show up with love and faith and consistency. A sense of humor doesn't hurt either.

The truth is, I could never do this either. It breaks my heart on a daily basis. The logistics of scheduling the activities of my four kids plus a foster child with all of his or her therapies and visits and appointments is a nightmare. The extra effort of parenting, supporting, and loving my children as they work through the many transitions of life in general and foster care specifically is a serious challenge. There are many days I wonder how I'll be all the places I need to be and all of the mama I need to be.

So I just keep showing up.

We don't know what we're doing. We don't know how to parent a child with autism. We're doing the best we can and we mess it up regularly. Would we have said yes if they'd told us M has autism? I don't know, and sometimes I feel bad for him that he got stuck with us clueless dummies who are totally winging it. But I'm applying one of my life mottos to this situation: "What I lack in skill, I make up for in enthusiasm." (I also apply this motto to singing. It might not be pretty, but it's loud and with passion!)

I'm fighting for this kid. I'm showing up every day. I'm making the calls and sending the emails and hounding the people in charge to try to get him the services he needs to help him have the future he so justly deserves. I'm playing with him and working through the tantrums and keeping his routine as stable as possible and going to all his appointments and loving him. Can't forget that important piece. Loving him. I'm often patient. I'm sometimes not. It's not perfect. I'm nowhere near perfect.

I could never do this. You could never do this either. Until we just have to do it. We find out we can.

Whatever you're facing today that feels too hard, too daunting, too impossible, please know that you are not alone. And you don't have to do it alone. We were not meant to do it alone.

And if you have any questions about foster care or adoption, please reach out to me. There are around 450,000 children in foster care every day in America. Read that again. 450,000 children. The need is so great. I know you could never do it. I couldn't either. We can "never do it" together.
M is in the blue shirt, chasing bubbles and having fun. When he first arrived at our house, Audrey sagely noticed that he never smiled with his eyes. His mouth would kind of lift at the corners, but he never looked truly happy. He smiles now. He laughs. With his mouth and his eyes. It's beautiful. There is so much pain inside of him, but he knows fun and joy and safety. 

Peace for the journey,

Friday, May 10, 2019

the cutest thing

The time has finally come. Our youngest, our 5 year old, our Asher boy, started tball. When he was born, our other kids were 5, 7, and 9. They were already in homeschool groups and dance, baseball and sunday school. This little boy has sat through all of their activities in all types of weather. And here we are. It was finally his time to play!

Tball remains as hilarious as it was when Elliot played. Approximately 8-10  teammates chasing a ball, a few diving for it, and one coming up with the ball, yet having no clue what to do with it next, so just holding it in the air like a trophy. Here is Asher's philosophy on those shenanigans: "Well, the ball wasn't anywhere near me, so there was no point in running after it." Instead, he watched his teammates like they were animals in a zoo exhibit.

He is having fun, even though he said he was nervous and excited before the first game because he didn't want to mess up. I didn't have the heart to tell him that the only reason people go to tball games is for the hilarity of watching every single kid mess up. That and the cuteness factor. Sooooo cute! As my oldest "retired" from baseball to play track, my youngest laced up his baseball cleats for the first time. How quickly this crazy ride goes. How fortunate I am to be here for all of it.

Prepare for cuteness, people. It is ridiculous!

His cheering crowd was here for it! Love these humans.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Tell Me More

I finished a book today. That in and of itself is not noteworthy. What makes it noteworthy is that it is a book I sincerely hope changes me. "Tell Me More: Stories about the 12 Hardest Things I'm Learning to Say" by Kelly Corrigan is a book that had me laughing and crying and laugh/crying with snot on my face. It was exactly as glamorous as it sounds. I was nodding along to so many parts and wishing my friends were sitting next to me so we could discuss it right that very second. It is deep, deep, deep on so many levels, touching on the pieces of humanity that make us us. As I read it, it felt like free therapy. It felt like I needed time to work through the layers of it. It felt like a gift. I finished it, wiped the tears and snot off of my face, and realized I couldn't put it in the library bag yet because I might need to read it again before it's due.
Tell Me More: Stories about the 12 Hardest Things I'm Learning to Say
Do you ever have those books that find you at the right time? For me, three come to mind immediately. Beloved by Toni Morrison. The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo. A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park. I think I might need to add this one to the list. I truly love discussing books with people, but the phenomenon of book meeting human at the perfect time can throw a wrench into my recommendations. When I read a book that I just needed to read at that moment, it is unlikely that another person will relate to it in the same way. How disappointing. But, hopefully they have their own book at perfect time meeting that I could never replicate. Such is life when you love books.

I had so many realizations when reading this stunning little book. It's one you could sit down and read in a few hours, but it actually takes much longer to unpack the insightful nuggets. And here's where I get really honest. I'm struggling. In reading this book, I realized the extent to which I have been shoving down my emotions. It's not healthy. At all. Our first foster care placement changed me. I wish I could say it changed me for the better, but that would be a big, fat lie. Loving them and having them leave and facing so many unknowns for their future and being mostly helpless through all of it changed me. I am less empathetic. I am less loving. I am more jaded. I am angrier. We have a new foster son, and I am scared to love him as much as I loved them. I cringe and cry as I write those words. How shameful. How despicable.

I am tired. I am hanging on. I am overwhelmed. I am stretched thin.

I am not unique in those feelings. The situations and experiences that got me to this place may be unique to me, but the feelings are not.

Corrigan's book reminded me that I'm not alone in those feelings, and feeling less alone can serve as a powerful start to a personal shift. Her book also reminded me that I don't have to stay here. Life is a mystery, constantly changing and shifting. It requires work and effort and reflection. Truthfully, I've been trying not to do any of those things because those three key components of growth really hurt right now. I don't like who I see in the mirror when I dig deep. If I keep it superficial, I can rest assured that I fed everyone and tucked them in and gave them hugs and kisses and didn't suck too badly. But that's not my goal as a parent or a person. Wow. I didn't suck too badly today. Whoop-de-doo. Nope. I want the people in my life, specifically the people in my house, to know how much I value and love and adore and treasure them. I want to give them the best of me. I want my love to point them to God and give them an inkling as to how much God loves them. Right now that's not happening, so it means working through some crap.

This isn't a post to get the four people who read my blog to compliment me or attempt to fix something or tell me I'm a great mom. It's honesty. It's pain. It's a book recommendation. Seriously read this book!** It's an "If you're struggling, I'm in it with you." It's a "Tell me more."

**Just know that she swears. And she doesn't know what or who she believes in, if anything. She doesn't have quick answers. Actually, she doesn't have answers. She just has stories to help us limp along this beautiful, painful, euphoric, tragic journey.


Sunday, April 21, 2019

Happy Easter!

As Christians, Easter is a big deal. Christ is dead no more. It is the miracle the defines our faith. Leading up to Easter is forty days of Lent and the Triduum, which is fancy Latin for three days. Lutherans take Lent quite seriously. We up our weekly church attendance from one Sunday service to a Sunday and a Wednesday service starting on Ash Wednesday. Then Holy Week comes around and our pastor faces the distinct possibility of losing her voice from sheer number of sermons given. Our church has church on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Saturday, and three services on Easter Sunday. It sounds like a lot, but when your faith is predicated on a crucified Savior who is risen from the dead to forgive our sins and give us the mind-boggling gift of eternal life, you celebrate, worship, and dig into the scriptures and meaning of this holy time.

(I don't go into great detail about my faith or our faith traditions on the blog. Religion can be so polarizing. My goal, one I fall short of by the minute, is to live and love like Christ. He walked the earth loving others regardless of their beliefs, background, or mistakes. This is our family's celebration. If it is not yours, I respect and honor you and your beliefs. I shouldn't even have to say this because it should be so obvious, but I just feel like I have to.)

Before church on Thursday, Elliot had his tutor proof for Memory Masters. If you're not in Classical Conversations, you have no idea what I'm talking about, but it's a big accomplishment. Elliot worked really hard all year, and all of his hard work paid off on Thursday. We celebrated with crepes for lunch downtown. Hooray!
one proud kid!

who could resist this fun tree to climb
Isaac was helping with the sound board at church on Maundy Thursday, but I thought I'd have to drop him off and have him get a ride home because Jim wasn't supposed to be back from Omaha until Friday. Taking a 5 and a 4 year old to church when it ends past their bedtimes is a rotten deal. Asher can handle it pretty well by now since he's had years of practice. Our foster son, M, has not mastered the fine art of quiet church attendance on a Sunday morning, much less past his bedtime. All three big kids really wanted to attend, so I worked out the logistics because when teens and tweens ask to go to church, you make it happen! I am so thankful that this isn't a fight in our family. They love our church, our youth leaders, their church friends, and our pastor. Anyway, hooray, Jim said he was coming home on Thursday evening instead, so he stayed home with M while I took the four kids to church. I'm so thankful we could attend because on Maundy Thursday they reenacted the Last Supper and Christ washing the disciples' feet. It was a great opportunity for Asher and I to talk about why we take communion. At the end of the service they strip the altar until it is bare, and it stays bare until Easter Sunday. The symbolism is rich and haunting as we watch all of the crosses and candles and communion pieces carried off one by one before we leave in silence. It was a powerful service for all four kids.

We could not attend Good Friday service because we were at Elliot's baseball game. His team had a great game! They've been hitting well all season, but fielding and pitching haven't matched their bats. Well, it did on Friday night. Elliot had a single and two walks in his three at bats and scored all three times. There were a few home runs from other teammates and lots of high fives! It was a gorgeous 65 degree night to watch baseball in the mountains.
leading off on third

On Saturday, Audrey attended a birthday party at an escape room. We did more work on our garage. . . yes, our house will always be in a state of disrepair. . . before heading to Isaac's track meet. His friend broke the school record in the 2 mile race, so that was the excitement of the day! We did not attend the Easter vigil on Saturday evening because it didn't start until 7 pm and we had to be to church at 6:45 am on Sunday morning. We needed some sleep since kids' allergies are kicking in over here, so it was early to bed for the whole bunch.
stretching before the 800
Sunday dawned crisp and beautiful. The kids wanted to find their Easter baskets before church, so I woke them up at 5:50. They tore around looking for baskets. I have two who still believe in the bunny and two who do not, but they are sweet and go along with it. Truthfully, I'd like to be done with pretending to be Santa, the Bunny, and the tooth fairy, but I've got a few more years with Asher. Elliot should soon make the switch to being in on the gig and helping plan fun surprises for Asher. It's hard to know what our foster son knows or understands, but, of course, he had an Easter basket, too. He didn't really understand finding it, but we gave it to him and he was excited about the bubbles.
blurry dark morning basket hunting picture

Bear couldn't understand all of the commotion

Asher found his in the microwave

Isaac's basket was under the bench

Audrey's was behind a cooler near the dog food container

The easter bunny brought oofo's for our runner boy

and a superhero towel for this guy
After baskets, kids got ready for church. Audrey was acolyting, Isaac was ushering, and I was reading. Jim decided to stay home with M because it was so early and church has been hard for us to manage with him. I told Elliot and Asher that they'd be sitting by themselves while I went up to read, so they had to be extra good listeners. Thankfully our good friends sat right behind us, so I asked them to keep an eye on the boys. They were fantastic and sat cute as can be the whole time I was up at the podium, but you never know when those two are going to start wrestling or tickling each other. I just hoped it wouldn't happen in the middle of the Gospel reading about Christ's resurrection!
lighting the candles to start the service

handing the plates to the ushers for offering-our church loves youth involvement!
Isaac and other high schoolers from church are heading to Puerto Rico to aid in continued hurricane relief and reconstruction, so they hosted an Easter breakfast at church for donations. Jim and M joined us for a tasty breakfast of pancakes, eggs, ham, and yogurt parfaits after church. Good food and mama didn't have to cook it. That's what we call a win/win! I'm so thankful for a church that engages its youth in service and teaches that part of being loved and saved by God is caring for and supporting God's people.
oh my stars, they could not be any cuter!

I could post one with Asher's tongue out or one with his eyes closed. ha!
Isaac stayed to work at the breakfast while Jim and I took the rest of the kids home. Audrey and Asher took care of a neighborhood dog, and Jim, M, and I walked our dogs. Elliot stayed home because his allergies are whooping his butt, and he needed some more rest. When my mom lived nearby, she did an Easter egg hunt for the kids. Since she moved, the kids asked if I would plan one. This seemed like just one more thing to do, but I actually had a blast. I did not want to fill eggs with a bunch of random, plastic, useless crap that I would find laying around the house and then throw away in a crabby rage. (Maybe I'm the Easter version of Scrooge?? If so, bah humbug! haha!) Therefore, I decided to do a scavenger hunt. Each egg had a small piece of candy in it, plus a clue as to the whereabouts of the next candy and clue. It eventually led them to an egg that said they were going to see the Lego 2 movie that afternoon. The kids loved it, and it didn't involve a bunch of cheap toys that they'd forget about in a minute. Of course the weather had changed drastically from the time we took beautiful outdoor pictures at church to scavenger hunt time, so it was hail and rain and winter coats, but it was still a blast! They thought it was so fun that they took the eggs into the basement and hid eggs for Jim and I to find. It was hilarious because Jim and I knew there were 18 eggs, so we were both intent on "winning" by finding the most eggs. Elbows were totally thrown, which wouldn't surprise anyone who has seen me play musical chairs!
notice the change in outfits from the church pictures. brrrr!

dashing to the first clue.

I was asher's reader and he was the dasher and egg finder

the happy crew found their final clue!

our scavenger hunt. Each kid had an egg color. I did the same clues in each kids' egg because I didn't want to think of 30 different clues, and I knew they'd solve them at different paces. They figured it out and raced to the next spot, but could only grab their egg color. It worked out really well. 
After a yummy lunch at home of omelettes, fruit, and biscuits, it was family rest/nap time. Jim and I actually napped on the couch while the kids were quiet in their rooms. It was magical. Then it was movie time! I stayed home with M while Jim took the kids to the movie. It was a really fun day of family and celebration.

Happy Easter!