Sunday, July 28, 2013

A Photo List of Smiles

It's been a stressful week or two, but we've had lots of reasons to SMILE too! 

J came home for the day, and we got to take a road trip so that she could meet her newest cousin. It was SO good to get a little mother-daughter time in with her!

Watching J open her package full of Octocat stickers... oh priceless! Amos mentioned to a guy from the company, GitHub, that she loved their mascot, And he sent her a giant pile of Octocats dressed in all kinds of silliness!

It's the little things, like latte art... 

Miriam performed in her second recital. And so did Amos! 

Little ballerinas always make me smile!

My parents added a sidewalk. J and Noah enjoyed watching concrete be poured. All three kids got to add their hand prints. J got to come home for Grandma's funeral. It made everyone in my family happy to have her home for the night, and she was thrilled to see her out-of-state uncle and aunt too. 

I acquired a TEENAGER!

The little ones went on their first train ride last weekend. It was a lot of fun for them, and fun for me to watch them enjoy the experience- especially walking to the cafe car. Moving between cars was the highlight of their trip! 

And at our destination, we got to go to the zoo and see a really entertaining polar bear who did back flips off the glass wall of his swimming pool, a tiger who was pouncing on the netting of his cage, and for the first time, kangaroos.


Thursday, July 25, 2013

Foster System Lesson #3 and A Home Study Meeting

I woke up to the sounds of Noah and Miriam bickering over seating arrangements for morning TV time. I knew better than to think the day would be peaceful. All I wanted to do was go back to sleep, to take a day for myself to process my feelings about having lost my grandma. But there was breakfast to serve. A dozen rooms to tidy. Questionnaires to complete. A yard to mow. Reality wouldn't wait, so my feet found the ground. My hands poured cereal and milk, and my mind set itself on deep cleaning and organizing.

By noon I was wondering how we'd ever be ready for our home study meeting. We had 24 hours left to prepare and 48 or more hours of preparation left to accomplish. I wasn't handling the stress anymore. I felt feverish, overwhelmed, and as if all motivation was gone. My sweet husband sent me to nap and took the kids to town for lunch. I thought about my grandma and cried myself to sleep in my silent house.

I could have slept until Friday. Instead, I awoke two hours later in much the same mood but feeling physically strengthened. And I moved on to work on our bedroom. In that moment, sitting on my floor in a pile of storage to be sorted, not a single part of me cared about the outcome of our meeting. By now, the kids had been through ten days of constant activities and were also sad about grandma. No one was getting along, and Amos and I were both scraping the bottom of our patience reserves. I wanted to cancel the meeting altogether, even if that meant abandoning our entire adoption plan. I voiced these thoughts as I continued moving through the motions of organizing, cleaning, and typing answers. At 2 AM, I typed the final period of the final answer to the final question. The to-do list wasn't finished, but I was.

I read recently that stress is one of the enemy's greatest weapons, and last Thursday he used it well. It was truly only by Jesus' hand that I managed to limp through the day, and only by the grace of God that I awoke Friday morning feeling rested and content with my cluttered house.

When Ms. S arrived and I realized that she really did expect all of our paperwork to be completed, I felt content working through the last of it as she read through our questionnaires. I didn't offer excuses for the unfinished paperwork or clutter left around the house, probably because she didn't seem at all concerned with it. She seemed less than concerned with a bedroom that still waited for a door to be installed or with the medicines that had yet to be secured under lock and key. She didn't seem worried about the household chemicals that were stored at ground level and didn't even seem to notice that our island counter was sitting unsecured on the cabinets below. I expected a dozen things to be on our fix-it list when she left, but it was simply: 1) email a reference's address and 2) post our fire escape plan. I asked her if she had any other items that we would need to complete to be licensed, but there were none. She'll visit once more where she'll look at "anything changed that we want to show her" and finalize paperwork. It should take about 15 minutes.

My most recent foster system lesson: #3 is

Don't stress over your home study! 

A home study feels like the be all and end all of foster licensing. In reality, it is only a part of what is necessary for licensing. Our social worker and her supervisor (who teaches our class) will also have a say in the decision. I'm wondering, now, if their opinions will matter more than the home study. We were told on the first night of class that the entire nine weeks would be like a very long interview. At the time, I thought it was a metaphor, but I'm learning how true that really is. The social workers observe us from the first contact we make. They see what our priorities are, how organized we are, how respectful, cooperative, and willing. It is the social workers who get to know us. The home study is simply a double check of what the social worker has already seen, a verification that there isn't a red flag that may have been missed.

Amos and I were far more concerned with the condition of our home than Children's Division was. I think that is probably the case with most responsible families.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Ninety-Four Years.

We're 36 hours from our first big home study visit. THE visit. And my concerns are limited to making sure that dirty clothes are picked up and that there is no food lingering under the counter top. I haven't given any thought to the giant questionnaire that we are to fill out. I haven't read past the second question. I'm not at all concerned with the yard or the kids' rooms. I couldn't care less that a shelf in Miriam's closet fell down yesterday, leaving several holes in her wall and a pile of clothes in her closet floor.

I lost my grandma on Sunday. She was 94 years old. 

She came into this world as the first world war was ending and spent nearly a century watching, working, learning, and loving. She grew up with very little but happy to share it. Her teenage years were lived during the Great Depression but weren't so depressing. She learned to work hard, to save and to support her neighbors and family. 

She married and dove into homemaking with determination and love. She raised five children in a four room house. Those five children married. My grandma rocked thirteen grandbabies, twenty-six great-grandbabies, and three great-great-grandbabies. My grandma loved to rock babies. 

When J was little, Grandma invited her for sleepovers. My grandma was always ready to send "cookies for the road" with Noah. When she moved into my mother's house, Miriam would snuggle up with Grandma and talk about all sorts of things. My grandma called her sister nearly every day. She was grateful for her family. She loved. And I loved her. 

Ninety-four years is a long time to live on this earth, and Grandma told me many times that she'd had a good, long life. Still, it shocked me to lose her. I wasn't done listening to her wisdom, appreciating her sympathetic glance toward me when Noah and Miriam were bickering, and watching her love on my kids. I hadn't told her about the possibility of our adoption. What I wouldn't give to hear her thoughts...

The funeral was today. It was beautiful, and just what she would've wanted. 

Every day this week has seen me cry, trying to juggle mommying and grieving and failing miserably in my attempts. 
All I want to do now is stop and breathe. 

But there are tasks to tend to. Paperwork. Check-lists. Cleaning. Children to care for. No time for dwelling. No time to recoup. No time to catch my breath. There were moments this week where I was sure I wouldn't be able to keep our meeting. The one that couldn't be pushed back any further than Friday. 

When sharing about parenting and life Grandma told me so often and so simply,

"Kelley, you've gotta do what you've gotta do." 

No use worrying or whining about it. Just start in and tackle the jobs one at a time. 

Friday will come, and when our home is studied, clutter will be found inside, weeds outside. BUT what will also be found here is the legacy that my grandmother left. A family who values hard work, lives dedicated to each other, and loves simply.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Foster Care Licensing Class: Loss

Four weeks of licensing classes down, five to go! 
Then two more weeks for our Spaulding adoption class.

Last week, we spent the class discussing abuse in its many forms and the effects that might be seen in foster children. There wasn't a lot of new information for me, but we did view a video of hypothetical abusive situations. The sexual abuse instance was brief and only alluded to what was happening, but it was by far the most uncomfortable to watch. It makes my skin crawl to think about it.

After that particular video was over, the class had a lot of questions about reunification efforts for abusive situations. It was difficult to wrap our minds around the possibility of sending a kid back into a situation where they were ever abused. The best answer I heard was that often the child is removed from the two parent household but is reunified with a non-abusive parent when the abuser is no longer living there or is in jail. Still, what a thought... 

Tonight's class was only slightly easier. The topic was loss. I expected to talk about foster kids who loose their parents, extended families, school, home, innocence, self worth. And we did. What I didn't expect was to spend a good chunk of the class talking about the loss that foster and adoptive families experience. I appreciate that the Children's Division acknowledges and appreciates the loss that comes with committing to adoption or foster care. I've been mulling over this issue lately. Our family is fairly typical. We have amazing kids who occasionally mess up. We aren't even close to perfect, but we have a rhythm that comes with having 5 people living together for 5 years. We're comfortable and we're mostly peaceful and we're innocent. As the matriarch of this family, I'm going to feel the loss of all that. I'm going to have to trust in God's plan for us more than ever when our new kids are sharing too much information, when night terrors awaken the house, when tantrums prevent us from traveling often. I worry about our bio kids. I worry about the loss they will feel as much as I do the loss that our adopted children will have suffered.  My three sweet babies will be losing their normal. They will be sharing their home and their parents with a stranger, possibly several strangers. The loss, while minor compared to the lists that some kids have suffered, will be very real and very big to them.

As I voiced these concerns tonight, I felt my heart race, my face flush with color, and a lump grow in my throat. I stared at the picture on my name tag of my whole gang, and I had to hold back tears. I am fiercely protective of my kiddos. They are my life, my responsibility not only by law but by God. I've nurtured them to the best of my knowledge and abilities, always being mindful of what elements I allowed into their lives. It's going to take great commitment to continue the same mindful parenting. 

As an adoptive parent, I will play the roll of Loss Manager. I will be finding ways to walk our kids through the grieving process that comes with all losses. The role of loss manager won't be played for our adoptive kids alone. I'll also be playing that role for our bio kids. The one helpful thing about their losses, however, is that we can predict them. Being able to predict what losses will be felt allows us to prepare our kids and hopefully minimize the loss. 

A friend told me recently there will be lots of changes in our kids because of our adoption. Some probably won't be so great. The awesome part, however, was that most of the changes would be great ones. They will grow in compassion, generosity, and love.

If you think about it and are willing, we would SO appreciate your prayers for our family, particularly our kids, both biological and future adoptive. 

I pray for our sweet children, that they would indeed grow in compassion and love, that God would prepare their hearts to welcome new siblings into our family, that they will feel the added joy more than the losses that will come with adding to our family, that we ALL may live joyfully, rejoicing in the Lord ALWAYS!

Monday, July 8, 2013

July 8th Daybook

For July 8, 2013


Outside my window... 4 hours of yard work has resulted in a yard that looks only slightly overdue for a trim. Trying to keep up with 3 acres of wooded "yard" isn't the way I prefer to spend my summer mornings and evenings, but enjoying the fruits of the labor is huge incentive! It's SO close to being hammock and lemonade ready! 

I am thinking... about all the inquiry calls that need to be made this week. Calls about driveway work, carpentry work, tree removal. I sure hope that at least some the cost quotes we get sound low enough to hire out. I do not look forward to trying to DIY that list! 

I am thankful... for my kids and my family. They are a blessing from God to me every day. I sometimes get distracted, selfish, and lazy, forgetting to share fully in their lives. I'm thankful for daily reminders of how precious their lives are to me and how exciting life is when sharing someone else's excitement. 

In the kitchen... It's simple and basic lately. Summertime tends to be like that around this house. Cereal for breakfast most mornings, sandwiches and fresh produce for lunch, and quick dinners. Last night Amos grilled burgers, so we'll probably have leftovers for lunch, and I think I'll use the rest of the ground beef for enchiladas later this week.

I am wearing... grey athletic shorts and a blue t-shirt. I've already been out weed eating our yard this morning.

I am creating... these "envelopes" for a mission trip that my sweet friend is leading later this month- The prototype is finished, now to tweak the design and whip up several of them! 

I am going... with J to visit my sister this week! It'll be a whirlwind road trip, but it will be good to have the time with my sweet almost-teenager to blast music, sing loud, and snuggle some sweet kids before we turn around and head back toward home.

I am reading... Love Does by Bob Goff. I keep reading snippets to my husband, and he keeps asking if this is fiction. What an incredible life Bob Goff has lived. It's an easy read, but it's not as easy to consider living life in the way the author has. I'd definitely recommend the book! 

I am praying... for my sister who is starting her first week solo with two kids, for my grandma who wasn't feeling well this weekend, for my kids as God continues to work in their hearts in preparation for this adoption process, for my J as she travels with her dad, for those serving God and for those in need of His mercy. 

I am looking forward to... the end of our summer activities this week! Ball season and the dance year both wrap up this week, and while it's been great fun for the kids and for Amos and I, I'm ready to have our evenings back for a while. We'll be going from being busy four nights a week (and Saturday morning) to only having our foster care class on the regular schedule. It'll be amazing while it lasts!

I am learning... that foster care adoption is complicated, and there's no way that we'll learn everything we need in our class. There isn't a support group or social group for foster parents close to us, so the thought of starting one is already in the back of my mind. 

Around the house... We're in home study preparation mode. Knives need a new place in our kitchen, a bedroom door needs to be installed, a countertop has to be finished to name a few. I'm sure it won't all be complete by the first visit, but the goal is to check it all off the list before our class is over. Six weeks and counting... 

I am pondering... the gospel reading from yesterday, Luke 10:1-12. "The Kingdom of God is at hand." Jesus sent pairs of men before him to the towns he would visit. They went empty handed to prepare the way of the Lord. Empty handed but fully equipped to do the work they were tasked with. Less of me, and more of you, Lord! 

A favorite quote for today... "We get to decide each time whether we will lean in toward what is unfolding and say yes or back away... So the next time God asks you to do something that is completely inexplicable, something you're sure is a prank because it requires a decision or courage that's way over your pay grade... say yes." (from Love Does)

A few plans for the rest of the week: Swimming, STARS foster class, ball practice, KC trip, dance class, ball games, dress rehearsal, dance recital! Praise God that our days are mostly free, because our nights are enough to sink us this week! 

A peek into my day...
Tie Dyeing with the littles!


Walking into foster care adoption is a scary thing for me. I feel stress when we're in transition, be it a job transition, a move, or a major milestone (our youngest starting kindergarten in a few weeks, for example). With my distaste for transitions and the unknown, it surprises me that I welcome changes in our life. When I know life is about to change, I am excited, but I just want to make a decision and get on with life. I struggle with waiting for God's perfect timing, and it's even more difficult to make use of the transition time. I'm just now learning that the transition time isn't so that we won't feel the change. It's so that we'll be ready for it. It's not a time for transition at all. It's a time for preparation!

God let the Israelites wander the dessert for ages- 
FORTY YEARS before they were permitted to cross the Jordan River. 
They weren't ready.

In the same way, I know that God won't ask us to enter into something that we're not ready for. I also know that we won't be able to do His will unless we allow ourselves to be molded and armed for the work ahead. With this in mind, I've been trying to give more time to God and less to the world. Because I DO want to walk the path he has planned for my family. I WANT to be ready, and I want my husband and children to be ready.

I'm trusting God's plan and timing. I'm trusting that He knows what armor my family will need for the road ahead and that he'll equip us if we are obedient and faithful. 
Today is not about transitioning after all. 

Today is about PREPARING. Not just preparing, though. 
Today is about allowing God to PREPARE me. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

Foster System Lesson #2, Bundles of Joy, and Bio Parents

What a whirlwind of a week this one has been! God is ever present, even in the midst of the endless driving, the to-do lists, and the appointments. How blessed I am! 

Before I share about last weeks' class, I have to tell you about the beautiful way that God orchestrated the timing of my sweet new nephew's arrival! During our Tuesday foster licensing classes, my parents have agreed to keep our kids, and we all knew it was possible that I'd have to call in last-minute reinforcements when my sister went into labor with her baby #2. 

On Monday night, I got a text. "If I had to bet, I'd bet tonight is the night." Man, what a sad thought it was for me to have to miss being there to hang out with my niece while her little brother made his arrival... and have to wait to cuddle him! I wasn't happy to have to choose my class over helping my sister. I texted back. "Keep me posted! And tell your son that he'll be my favorite nephew if he waits until tomorrow night!" Contractions disappeared overnight, and on Tuesday afternoon, my sister reported that there was no activity that warranted a back-up sitter for the evening.

In class that night, I kept my phone silenced but close just in case my parents would get called to KC. At 8:55, my brother-in-law's number showed up on my screen. Ten minutes later, we were finished with class and on our way to get our kids home. I tucked them into bed, threw a few items into an overnight bag, hopped into the car with my parents for the four hour drive to my sister's home. I arrived at her house before my niece awoke and spent the day playing and bonding with my niece while my parents and hers were at the hospital. I got to snuggle my brand-new favorite nephew and spend a few precious moments with my sister before I came back home. Everything worked like clockwork, and it was another little affirmation that God is clearing this path as we walk.

Now. About our class. On my papers from last week, I wrote, 


This is my lesson #2. In dealings with the foster system, ask questions. Annoy your social workers, the bio parents, your fellow foster/adoptive parents. Ask the dumb questions and the unimportant ones. Ask questions about the process, the paperwork, the kids. Ask TONS of questions about the kids. Write them down. Write down the answers. Ask questions in person, through email, or over the phone. Don't be afraid! Information is power, and you'll have to gather it from many people. It's better to ask too many questions than not enough! 

During our first meeting and walk-through with our social worker, I had a list of something like seven questions I wanted to ask. I only asked two of them. I wanted to ask for her opinion on family counseling through the adoption process, but I didn't. I haven't. In the back of my mind, I was afraid she would think it was unnecessary or that using a counselor would mean something negative, like we couldn't help our own children navigate stresses in their lives. These were silly little fears that kept me from asking. 

In class last week, our licensing officer asked us a question. "If you were unable to take care of your kids, what kind of person would you want to care for them?" This question, one that I've thought about quite a bit, was an easy one for me to answer. I would want someone who is the most like me- in values, personality, and faith. The point was made that bio parents of foster kids are like every parent. They want their children to be cared for by someone who is going to communicate to them about their kid, someone who will provide a loving and supportive atmosphere and who will support the kids' cultural identity. 

Matching adoptive families to waiting children is a tricky task. The more cultural similarities there are, the easier it will be, in theory, to bond and transition. The less similar our child/children's background is to our own, the more time and attention will need to be paid to celebrating two cultures. 

Amos would LOVE to adopt a deaf child. In fact, he has mentioned it so many times that I'm beginning to wonder if it's not a hunch but a little heads up from God. Amos and J have been learning to sign for over a year, long before this journey officially began. Now, the whole family is learning to sign. Should we end up with a deaf child in our family, it will mean a commitment to his/her culture. We will be doing our best to connect him/her to the deaf community and immerse ourselves in the culture as well. Should we end up with a child from another cultural background, at least we'll be able to talk to each other across a room without shouting! 

Much of last week was spent learning about the biological parents' role in foster care and the relationship that foster parents have with bio parents. Ideally, foster parents are committing to the bio parent as well as the foster child. When the goal is reunification, a foster parent can become a mentor to the bio parents, teaching them child care, parenting. and life skills. It truly is a beautiful calling, one that I would love to have. I left last week's class praying for a bio mom that I know whose kiddos are in foster care right now-- and I left more sure than ever that we will be adopt-only parents for now.