Thursday, December 18, 2014

This Boy.

Five months ago you rounded a corner and looked up at me with surprise as if you hadn't been expecting to see me. My son, I sure wasn't expecting you either, but I am so thankful that God placed us together. 



I know this life you're living right now feels three sizes too big. I see your eyes, always watchful and alert. I watch you try to get bigger when you start feeling small. But I want you to know that it won't be this way forever. I am here for you, son. You are safe, you are cherished, and you are loved just as you are. 

There are moments, son. Moments. I notice your tensed shoulders relax. I hear a genuine, joyful giggle escape from your belly. I see you comfortable inside yourself. I want you to know that I am fighting and praying for those moments. And I want you to know that I will wait with you for those moments to stretch into hours and then into days. 


Son, God is working on us both. He moved mountains to bring us together. He was preparing me to be yours long before I knew of you. He is teaching me to be your mommy. I wish I was a faster learner. You deserve a momma who knows just what you need, and you don't deserve the wait for it. My sweet boy, you've waited long enough. But PEACE IS COMING! In our weakness, God's power is made perfect. My sweet boy, God is going to get us there together. 


My son, I want you to know, truly know that you are GOOD! I want you to know that and FEEL that in every part of yourself. You are God's son before anyone else's, and I am blessed by each day that he allows me to be your mom. 

I love you, Sweet Boy.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Giving Credit where Credit is Due

This morning after family therapy, as I was following up with our counselor, he mentioned to me that I had an incredible ability to keep my composure as a parent. I've had enough training to know that was the start of an Oreo Cookie, and sure enough that compliment wafer was followed up by the creme filling- the concern that I internalize my feelings. I smiled and assured him that I has several women with whom I could be candid as well as a couple fantastic Facebook support groups that have been phenomenal resources. I reminded him that I was blessed with empty school days to take care of myself and be ready to tackle parenting each afternoon. I don't view family therapy as a forum to pour out my own emotions. I'm still a parent there, and my job is still to be a confident leader of my family. 

This week, our counselor witnessed my reaction to fear. I wasn't pretty. I was barely able to hold myself together in front of the kids. I had a lot of "what if's" floating though my head. Seeing a fist mark on the side of a kid's face will do that to a person. I lost my faith for a moment. That day I struggled with my own knee jerk reaction to protect all my children, and I was very afraid we would be unable to do that. It was my rock bottom, and we called in help to navigate the situation. Calling help when you're in The System is unnerving! After all, these people have the authority to dismantle our family. The week snowballed  in reaction to my emotions, and before we knew it, we were sitting in an informational meeting about intensive services that felt much more like an investigation. My whole week was completely consumed with talking to Children's Division, and as the hours and days wore on, I became more and more frustrated and felt less in control of my family, as if CD was making all my choices for me. I felt an incredible need to set boundaries between us an them, and at the end of it all, I think we did a decent job of standing up for our rights and for our family.

As an adult, I've always been comfortable to be at peace within my crazy. It is truly the most freeing for me to remember that life will always come with trials, and that God is going to keep carrying me through them. I wish that had been my response to the therapist's concern this morning. I tend to think talking about my faith in a clinical setting won't cut it... as if God won't be deemed a good enough outlet for my stress. But there is no way we could be walking through this darkness without the light of Christ. He has carried Amos and I through this maze of parenting experiments, protected the hearts of our bios, and has done wonders in healing our new additions. 

In therapy, Amos and I are commended for these accomplishments, but I know we have had little to do with it. All we've done is seek God's will in our life. I want to do a better job of giving credit to HIM.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Check-In. Random Updates from Our Pre-Adoptive Home

I'm relieved to say that life in the King family has been much more enjoyable in the last ten days! I am so very thankful for the peace that has replaced some of our turmoil. There are so many elements at play in our family dynamic that I don't even try to figure out the reasons behind our happier days. I just know that God's grace is allowing us to fumble through the crazy. 

We took our first road trip together last weekend. I was a little nervous about driving a full seven passenger mini-van four hours away, but we accepted the challenge. I booked two adjoining rooms (because we are apparently that family now), bought a third car-friendly video game device, and packed our essentials. We woke up early, attended 8AM Mass, and headed west.  We saw my sister's family, spent a couple hours in the hotel pool, visited Crown Center, and did some quick shopping before heading back home. 

We started an experimental reward system with the youngest three kids. Hourly (or close to hourly), I assess each child's behavior toward others. Each child who has used only kind words AND a loving tone to speak earns a star on my phone app. Kids who ear all of their stars get to play video games on the next car ride that is longer than 30 minutes. So far, the system seems to have produced more loving relationships-- and more peaceful van rides. I am praying that 1) I am able to keep up with it and 2) that the newness of the system and games holds out long enough for the loving words to become habit. 

Mr. J called Noah his brother the other day. I wish I would've captured Noah's face. It made me smile and want to cry all at once. That sweet kid is dying for acceptance from his little brother. He is doing an amazing job of hanging in there and being patient. I've watched Noah mature in leaps and bounds the last few weeks. It has been amazing to watch. Don't get me wrong. He's still an 8-year-old boy, but his self control alone has matured a year's worth in just a few weeks. My sons aren't best buds yet, and they may never be, but they are learning to live with each other. For now, I'll take it. 

Miriam had us pretty worried at school when she started showing some signs of stress there. We hadn't seen much of anything concerning at home, so we were blindsided when her behavior at school spiked. A meeting with the teacher. Typical Miriam issues. Strategizing. Lots of praying. Her behavior coincided with end of our honeymoon at home, and for that I was thankful. I bought her a sketch book and was startled to see how much she poured into the pages. All her sadness and frustration that she'd been saving up spewed out in words and pictures on her pages. After that day, she was back to her best self again. 

My teenagers are doing well. Miss J is helpful as ever and is learning how to be a big sister to A instead of ONLY a friend. It's been a great blessing so far. 
We have a few unknowns that we are working through with both girls- I think that comes with teenagers. I'm always half-expecting some giant issue to surface. In the meantime, I am working teaching the girls about self-respect and serving others... and I am enjoying both girls as much as possible while the going is good! 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Wash Day

I dislike dwelling on the negative in my life. Honestly, I am blessed with so much daily grace, and my children are full of love for each other and our family. In the interest of giving a transparent look into our foster adoption, I'm going to be real for a moment.

Life in my house is a mess! 

We tend to have several decent days in a row, and by decent I mean that we have no physical fights or raging meltdowns from anyone. Is it sad that I call it a win when no one screams at or hits anyone?

Every few days, we have a "wash day", the kind that leaves me so overwhelmed that I can barely make myself sleep because I know I have to wake up to do it all over again in the morning.

On these days, the boys are typically extra irritable. The teasing, kid-parenting, and hatefulness are ridiculous, and I am baffled by their seeming inability to just LEAVE EACH OTHER ALONE! On wash days, Amos and I spend the majority of our time refereeing the boys and trying to keep the girls from jumping in and dog-piling the arguments. It's a whole lot of awesome.

Wash days consume two days because it takes my crew a day or so to recover. I am beyond blessed by my weekday respite while the kids are at school, but the aftermath of wash days usually leaves me wanting to curl up in bed after the kids are delivered to their buildings. I usually settle for laundry and Hulu. There is always plenty of laundry.

I've watched this cycle for a few weeks now, and we are strategizing with family therapists and each other. The general consensus is that our boys are competing for Dad's attention. It seems to make sense. Mr. J is so excited to finally have a dad, and Noah has been Amos' only right-hand man for eight years. There is some major turf marking going on! Amos and I are trying to treat the problem and the behaviors simultaneously-- as much as one can ignore, nurture, and reprimand all at once.

Each week, Amos and I revamp our parenting strategies to try another approach. First we spent two weeks ignoring hatefulness that was, at the time, largely directed toward us. Next, we attempted to implement a time out strategy for all five kids. We used time out when they had any physical contact or hateful words. Most recently, we have been focusing on giving the kids choices instead of telling them "no." This has been particularly helpful with Mr. J who seems to ALWAYS require us to threaten a consequence before he will obey. It is exhausting to retrain myself AND my kids on a weekly basis, yet I am thankful to have a coach looking at our larger picture and helping us keep our heads above water.

We are weary, so weary. But I catch glimpses, when the boys are tree climbing and bike riding or when they are chuckling together over cereal bowls, of what our life will look like when the dust settles and the pieces start to fit together. When Miss A invites Miriam to play director while she practices for band, when my teenagers sit whispering together in the back of the minivan, I see the beauty that will remain when the push and pull of claiming each other subsides.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Goals and Game Plans. One Month into Pre-Adoptive Placement.

There is less newness in our house these days. I know what to expect with each day, and while I'm finding it impossible to keep up with the demands of a house and life as a family of seven, I am slowly making peace with the dishes, the piles of shoes by the doors, and the endless loads of laundry.
One day the clutter will be a priority again, but in this moment, it is trivial. 
Resting in that knowledge has given  me so much more energy this week. I am exhausted, yes, but I do not feel to-my-core worn out like I did last week.

Last week, we were clearly transitioning out of honeymooning (finally!), so there were days of watching and learning and bracing myself.
This week, we have a goal and a game plan. 
Our younger three have resorted to pretty hateful language when they are not getting their way. Outbursts can range from "This is stupid" to "I hate you" and may be directed toward each other or toward Amos and I. They have also begun to intentionally get under A's skin, and her response is not always pretty. These new parenting demands have left J on the sidelines much of the time. We consulted our experts and decided that these behaviors are partly habit but mostly attention seeking efforts. The suggestion was to completely ignore all angry words used when the kids are upset. The counselor asked me if I thought the kids were all getting enough one-on-one attention. That question struck at my heart.
WHAT??? 
I am SUPPOSED to be able to give all FIVE of them enough one-on-one attention right now? 
Is that seriously a reasonable expectation of me a month into our new life? 
NO, sir, I am not giving them enough one-on-one attention. 
I am lucky to give them all breakfast and clean socks in the morning!

After I got over feeling like a failure, I sat back and reflected on our parenting. It is not new for me to feel like the kids need my attention every moment of every day, and it is not new for me to be on the receiving end of verbal anger from both Noah and Miriam. In the last couple weeks, those angry behaviors have escalated dramatically, but they have always been present to a lesser degree. I always thought that these behaviors stemmed from Noah's general personality and possibly his giftedness which often comes with a lag in social skills. And I just assumed that Miriam had mirrored his behavior. It may very well have started this way, but I'm pretty certain that I've allowed it to become a habit. 

This week, I have one goal-
1. Decrease the number of hateful outbursts in our family


This week, I have a game plan-
1. Avoid giving any attention in response to angry outbursts.
2. Coach the kids on ignoring ugliness from one another instead of responding.
3. Institute a weekly FAMILY NIGHT. 
4. Check in with both boys, one-on-one, every day. 

I'm feeling pretty good about how our last couple days have gone. We've had several outbursts, but I've been able to connect to the kids on the receiving end and coach them through the drama. Sweet A usually ends up blowing her top before the behavior subsides, but even she successfully distracted herself in the car last night while Miriam was doing her best to get under my skin. It's going to be a slow process, but I have faith that these outbursts will begin to decrease and eventually dissipate. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Thankful

Someday I'm going to look back on the last two months here in blog land. They will be nearly empty. And I will remember this time in my life as a time when I was learning about service. Service takes on a whole new meaning for me these days, and I am thankful. I am thankful that I wake up five children, most of them grumpy, every weekday morning to prepare for school. I am thankful for the times when I have to help my eight-year-old get dressed in the morning because he just needs someone to do life with him once in a while. I'm thankful for the five hours I have each day to cram in loads (and loads and loads) of laundry, paperwork, errands, and appointments. I am thankful for the hour of rejuvenation I have some afternoons. I am thankful for the drive to pick up my youngest from her school and the much needed one-on-one time it affords her. I am thankful for crazy evenings filled with chores, appointments, practices, games, homework, and lessons. I am thankful for children who need bedtime stories, backs rubbed, and prayers said.  I am thankful for teenagers who crave time with me after the younger ones go to sleep. I am thankful for the sheer exhaustion that I feel every night.

In this moment, our life is hectic, complicated, sad, and scary. There are many unknowns, many bridges to cross, mistakes being made, and tears shed. I've watched our bios show signs of stress and begin to work though growing pains. All five of the kids are starting to show their true selves to each other, and with that honestly comes the need to learn how to be post-honeymoon siblings. There are hurt feelings. There are rude comments. There are stolen front seats. There is a frazzled mom who can't find time to cook a real dinner most nights. There is a phenomenal dad who seems to be holding the mom together (honestly, he's amazing) and desperately needs a day to himself.

In all this coming apart, there is a foundation of trust being built. Every time a disagreement resolves itself, we get to show the kids that we're committed, that we're not going to ask them to leave because they have a bad day... or week. In all this coming apart, there is Christ, and there is LOVE. There is FOREVER.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Overdue Care... of ME.

Over the last two months, I've been pouring all my energy into preparing our life for two more kids. And I haven't dedicated any energy whatsoever into taking care of myself. I'm probably 10 pounds heavier, definitely 10% less energetic, and 10% more depressed. Life is finally getting real around here, and I'm feeling the effects of my physical self-neglect BIG time.

I've had to nap during the day to have enough energy for the evenings. I can't seem to get remotivated during my days if I take a break. That means I either do nothing for entire afternoons, or I work myself into exhaustion because I'm afraid to stop. This is NOT ME! I learned long ago that I feel like my best self if I'm eating crazy-healthy and exercising intensely 3 or more days a week-- duh! How can I NOT give my family my best self?

For myself, and for my family, it's time to rededicate myself to taking care of myself, inside and out. Yes, I've added two kids to my crew.  I have three school-aged kids who need constant supervision and help learning how to be each other's sibling. It is mentally exhausting to wrap my mind around all the adapting that needs to happen.

BUT what I'm seeing in embarrassing clarity is that I simply cannot focus ALL my efforts on my children. I HAVE to take care of me first. I have to make sure my own oxygen mask is on before I can rescue my kids.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Years are Fleeting

This afternoon I drove past my girls' future. Groups of incoming college freshmen orienting themselves with campus. For me, back-to-college weekend in recent years has been one filled with nostalgia and reminiscent smiles. It's been filled with excitement for the kids who left their homes to soak of their final years before adult responsibility. Images of soaking up sun on front porches, listening to music in a nerdy fraternity's back yard, and walking into classes nearly skipping have filled my mind as I watch the students' nervous excitement all over town.

This year... this year was different. This was the year I realized that I had just a handful of years to prepare my girls to do life away from home. The briefest of years are ahead of us, and I find myself wondering how we are ever going to be ready. J has had 14 years of careful nurturing and guidance. Even with nearly a decade and a half with her, I feel like there is so much left to teach. Which makes me a little panicky about our sweet A. There is so much lost time, and more time that will be spent getting to know and trust each other before teaching can be the focus. It's overwhelming and leaves me breathless just thinking about the tiny number of days she has under our roof.

Miss A is a phenomenal kid. Truly, we are so blessed by her each and every day. She is a phenomenal big sister and daughter. She is happy to help out and seems to want to be around Amos and I more than alone. She is extremely intelligent, witty, and a great listener. And then there are moments when I can see the loss from years without consistency, without adults to invest in her and love her enough to give her boundaries. Those moments strike my heart and knock me to my knees. The responsibility is huge, the lost time vast, and my wisdom small.

Two weeks ago, a guarded teenager moved into our home. Praise God, each and every day, I have watched her begin to trust and to love and to rely. The layers are becoming slowly and steadily thinner, and I know that God is working miracles in her heart.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Homecomings

Written a few days ago... 

J came home last night from her Dad’s, and it was a happy happy evening for us! As thankful as I am that she has her dad in her life, the six weeks that she spends with him every summer seem like eternity for me and for Noah and Miriam. Life just isn’t the same without my firstborn around! Although we have plenty of parenting to do with her, she is growing up so much. She is incredibly helpful with the littles and is so happy to play pretend games with them. She and Noah, in particular, have gotten close over the last year, bonding over all things fantasy and science fiction. I’m so thankful for that bond- otherwise I’d have to be carrying on conversations about Dr. Who and Star Wars on a regular basis! J’s homecoming was another huge date in our transition into our family of seven. 

We have three kids back under our roof, two left to come. 


Our daughter, A, will be coming home to stay forever in just THREE DAYS!! It is a scary and exciting time around the King home. Things are about to get real around here. The fun dating phase of our transition is coming to a close, and true colors are going to start to show. My hunch is that A’s transition will come with some growing pains, but with patience, perseverance, and prayer, I have faith that we will get through the worst of it. The plan is to pray our way through one day at a time, or one hour if necessary. 

Friday, August 1, 2014

Last Day of July and School Plans

I cannot believe that July is over! We started the first day of the month with our staffing interview, and our new daughter is sleeping in her bed here as we roll into August.

Our life continues to unfold, slowly but surely. Miss A has been here nearly every day since she met the kids last Sunday. Tonight is her second overnight visit. She seems to be doing really well, and my biggest concern is how crazy Noah and Miriam are making her. Those two have been maniacs when A has been here- LOTS of negative attention seeking going on around here! The crazy thing is that as soon as she went back to her foster home on Monday, they made a complete turn around and were best friends for the rest of the day. I'm doing my very best to be patient yet firm and to give both littles as much individual attention as possible. Honestly, though, I'm barely keeping my head above water. There are moments where A is able to see Noah and Miriam as the sweet siblings they are, and I am thankful for the few glimpses that she has had.  I'm just not sure how to navigate everything. It seems nearly impossible to juggle everyone right now. We are trying to get to know our new daughter and allow her to know us as parents. Simultaneously, we need to give the kids time to get acquainted and also nurture and reassure the bios. It is a crazy mess!

Mr. J will have his first overnight visit this weekend. His meet the kids day last weekend was pretty calm, and everything really seemed completely natural. Noah and Miriam were vastly different than they were with A. I think the reason may be that J was more interested in playing with the kids, and A is more interested in being around Amos and I. Maybe there is more parent sharing with A and less of a  play date atmosphere.

In just eleven days, the school year will begin for three of our kids. A few days later, Mr. J will begin his year, still with his foster parents, and Miriam will enter the small Catholic school a town over from us. The classes there are blissfully small. The 6 kids in her grade will be paired with the second graders, and the entire classroom will be less than a dozen kids. There are only about 30 kids in the entire school. I could not be more thrilled with the path that God has provided for my youngest child. She is ecstatic about attending Mass with her class, and she is slowly coming around to the idea of dress codes.

With all five kids in school, I hope we'll be able to settle into a routine and find out what the new dynamics of our family will be. I'm trying to move forward with little expectations, but over and over I start to make assumptions.  There is a constant need to hand my family over to God. I have to remind myself that I am powerless without Him. But with Him, amazingly beautiful things are possible!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Meetcha Day and Random Photos

Meetcha Day was pretty amazing. I didn't expect the surreal motherly feeling that I had meeting our new son and then our new daughter.

Watching our son walk around the corner toward us was every bit as awe-inspiring as giving birth, and our first hours together were every bit as awkward yet perfect as those with our newborns. There were scared eyes and stiff backs, there were periods of silence that weren't so comfortable. There was a string of simple questions and answers shot across a table of ice cream. And then- THEN- there was a moment when I was able to mother him, and he was grateful. A sparkle in his big searching eyes. And a genuine giggle of delight. As soon as we broke through the discomfort, it was time to say goodbye.

As we walked toward our new daughter, I saw a glimpse of shyness that was so much like her brother. I had to hold myself back from turning into a sappy mess right there under the heat of the summer sun. This was my daughter, the one I'd been praying over and working for for I offered a simple hug. We drove an awkward five minutes to the coffee shop that Amos and I frequent, ordered, and sat down to visit. The two hour visit was much like a first date, lots of get-to-know-you conversations and stories and a few awkward moments. We dropped her off after a quick photo to commemorate the day, and that was it.


I'd like to spend some time reflecting and forming words from my emotions, but life is a whirlwind of mothering, home reorganization, kids' schedules, housework, and school year preparations.

Teenage Organization-- if only it could stay like this forever! 


For now, my quiet time is all but obsolete, and that is ok. This is what it means to welcome children to your family-- functioning on less sleep than any person should, realizing that it is 2:00 and you have yet to eat a bite, and resenting the 30 minutes that it takes to become half-presentable in the morning.

Three of our seven bracelets

My life right now is filled with giving my three kids who were already here voices and validation, managing attention-seeking behaviors, and offering praise and cuddles any chance I can find.


14

I'm feeling the need to find care for them while I work but an unwillingness to send them away from me. My life right now has a business that is truly more than I have ever known

Quick trip to visit Aunt J!



Saturday, July 19, 2014

Meetcha Day Eve

Meetcha Day is tomorrow! We are still scrambling with final preparations (what do you wear to meet your kids anyway?), but Amos and I cannot wait to finally, FINALLY meet our son and daughter! 


After church, we will go to our visits. It will be Amos and I with each child individually. We'll meet our son first, then our daughter. Tonight, I am thankful that our new kids are the same age as Noah and J. I'm hoping that all the practice conversing with them and their friends will make it easier to avoid the awkward silences. 

Our daughter texted last night to see what the plan was for our visit. It was my first (sort of) direct interaction with her, and it made me want so badly to start this transition and have her home to stay. I pray that she feels the same way! 

I keep wondering about our son who we know so little about. I wonder what he's thinking, if he's excited or nervous. I can't imagine tomorrow from his 7 year old perspective. I hope we are able to connect with him tomorrow, at least in little ways, and that when we say goodbye, he feels hope and a seed of security.

As for the other three kids, they will wait for our stories from the afternoon and hope that tides them over until the kids all get to meet next weekend. 


Monday, July 14, 2014

Growing into Seven

Our Shutterfly books came in last Thursday, and they are beautiful! I'm so excited to give them to the kids so they can see a bit of their new family. 

A friend of mine suggested that I make bracelets for all seven of us to wear until we're under one roof, so I spent my many recent car rides knotting threads. They are finished and four of the seven of us are wearing them. I'm praying that all seven of us will have them by the end of the weekend.

No official word on a transition schedule yet. There are some strings that have to be tied up this week, but we are supposed to be forming a visit schedule and setting a tentative move-in date in the meantime. It's been pretty quiet on the Children's Division end. I'm trying to be patient and appropriately pushy. I have a feeling I'll become a little less appropriately pushy if we haven't set a meetcha date by the end of the week.

While we wait, there is plenty to keep up busy! We've been a family of five for six years. I didn't realize how tailor-made our life is for that number: living room seating for 5, kitchen seating for 5, water heater meant for 5, beds for 5. There are so many home adjustments to make, and it seems more daunting with the older ones than when we were getting a new baby. Maybe it's the shorter time frame or maybe it's the ages. Either way, we hit the ground running last weekend and haven't stopped!

Friday was Miriam's dress rehearsal for her recital. 


On our way home, we visited this place-- 

and scoped out a new dining room table, kids bedroom furniture, and extra living room seating.




Saturday before the recital, we drove one of these babies--

a TWELVE passenger van that was a little intimidating to maneuver. My five feet did not feel like enough height to operate the thing, but we're supposed to give it another try before we abandon ship. It would be really great if the kids were able to bring friends in our vehicle. We'll max out our current minivan with the seven of us. 

We've visited furniture store after furniture store over the last four days, so many that they are all a blur. The shopping list is prioritized, and if the budget runs out, we'll table the rest of the list for later.


I found beds for the teenagers online-- I'm really hoping that they work and are sturdy! 

http://www.overstock.com

Everything else is yet to be purchased. I am beyond ready to have the house set up. I feel like if the house is organized, it'll be one less thing for me to stress over once the transition starts.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Navigating Christian Parenting

28 'Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest.
29 Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
30 Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light.'

Yesterday's gospel reading (Matthew 11: 25-30)... God's perfect timing once again. I sat listening to message of giving our sorrows and burdens to God... and taking up His yoke of LOVE and FORGIVENESS. 


Delivered with simplicity, the words have settled in my heart. I need to get better at remembering that burdens and labors are part of life, and that it's OK to be at peace while I work through them. My success at this ebbs and flows, perhaps because I've been trying share the burden with my God but haven't replaced its weight with the absolute beauty and feather-lightness of Jesus' love and mercy. 


When it comes to raising children, I struggle so intensely with what is looks like to give them grace and serve them in Jesus' image. Sometimes I wish Jesus been married with a brood of little ones. What I wouldn't give to have that concrete image of him correcting children. He loved and welcomed then, no doubt, and taught extensively about Christian family and parenting. In the midst of defiance, tantrums, or disobedience when our kids don't seem to be responding to love and mercy, I loose sight of all the lessons. I keep correcting with love as best I can, but sometimes I feel like a pushover and wonder if I should be yelling or punishing more harshly or if I'm at all cut out for the task of mothering. In the midst of all the struggle, I forget that marriage and family is my calling. I don't stop to pray in the middle of getting an eight year old to brush his teeth. I shake my head and wonder why in the world we're STILL struggling with this after eight years of teeth brushing, and I never think to offer it up in the moment


These children are not my own, they are God's, and I am to be an instrument of His love to them, just like our priest was a vessel for God's message yesterday. 

The Christian family is a community of faith, hope and charity. I need to get better at keeping that image in the front of my mind and demonstrating it to my children. 

When I can let go of the heavy, helplessness of our trials and channel Christ's love and forgiveness, parenting gets simpler, more joyful, and (go figure) more effective. God's good like that. 


After the closing song yesterday, I knelt with Miriam and prayed that God would provide the grace we need to take up Jesus' yoke of gentleness and humbleness of heart. 

Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Call

I am so unworthy of the incredible trust God has placed in me. We are officially on our way to being a family of SEVEN!

My cell phone rang Thursday at 4:00. It wasn't the main CD number, but it was the same prefix, so I wasn't surprised to hear Miss A's voice when I answered. We'd been waiting 265 days for this call.

"I have good news."
pause...
"You and Amos were selected as the adoptive placement."

And with that, our lives are forever changed.

I cannot begin to explain the perfect way that God has knit our stories together. Maybe someday I'll be able to find the words to do Him justice. I'm standing in this little corner of the world watching His plans fall into place in a way that only He could have designed.

Thirty-eight weeks ago, Amos and I walked with our three kids through a carnival of kids in matching T-shirts. We stood just a few feet away from our daughter as she visited with Miss B before we did. That day, she and her brother snuggled into our hearts, and we found ourselves making a follow-up call for the exact children that J and Noah had been praying for, a 12-year-old girl and 7-year-old boy.

Over the last thirty-eight weeks, we've done a "Say 'Yes' and Let it Go" dance. We called, then prayed, then waited two weeks. We got a call back, said yes, prayed, and waited nearly 6 more months. Their sweet profiles showed up in our email on March 18th. We said "Yes" and waited a few more times before we finally got the call yelling us that our kids were ready to start heading home to us.

We've had a busy week telling the kids, reorganizing, making plans to adapt out home for our new additions and reading up on adopting with a vengeance. While we can't guess the timeline or even the day that we'll meet our kids, we know where we are headed, and we are thankful.

Life Books for Adopting Families

Life Books in foster care are important. It's a universal way to keep track of the children's lives, a book of memories that can grow and travel along with them if need be. We haven't actually made one. When the girls were here, they went back home right away, so I just shared pictures with their mom.

At the end of our staffing interview, they asked if we brought a life book with us about our family. That threw me more than any other question. It was a huge, "That wasn't supposed to be on the test" moment! I had never heard anyone mention making a life book for my family. It sure made sense after it was mentioned. After all, what better way to make our family real to the team than through images. But in all the conversations I'd had about the staffing, no one ever asked that we bring one along. We missed the class on life books during licensing, so I wondered if our crash make up course had just skipped that aspect of life booking altogether. I didn't think much more about it. It was water under the bridge. And then we got the call.

I started realizing that I needed something visual and tangible to help the kids feel like they were going to be safe and maybe even happy in our family someday. A introduction to all aspects of our life in a lighthearted, no-pressure package. Then I realized the importance of a life book for adopting families. We wanted to give both kids their own book, but the reality of our time constraints meant that hand scrapbooking was out of the question. To Shutterfly we went. In no time, we had two age and gender appropriate themes chosen (it helps to have the same age and gender sitting next to you!). I laid out pictures on each page:

The front of our home
Our family
Amos and I
A page for each kid (we left two pages with empty frames for pictures of our new arrivals)
Our pets
The inside of our home, especially bedrooms
Our neighborhood and community
Several pages of what we do for fun (we included extended family in this section)

I started to write on each page, and I'm stuck. The words on Little brother's pages come easy. A seven year old isn't ready for a novel and probably isn't concerned about much more than the basics. However, it is extremely difficult to guess what and how much a teenager will want to know about their new home. It's a lot of pressure to put our first impression onto 20 pages! I overanalyze every sentence I type, trying to find the line between too much pressure and too little. I want her to know that we're so ready to make this work, that all five who live here have been praying for her for months, years even, that I'm sad for the loss that it took to get to today, and that I believe with all my heart that healing will come. But... that might be a little heavy for a Shutterfly book.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

What is a Staffing? And Now More Waiting.

I am more exhausted than I have been in weeks, but our staffing interview is complete.

We dropped Noah and Miriam off at my parents' this morning, stopped by our favorite coffee house for a peppermint latte to calm my churning stomach, and headed down the familiar path to the Children's Division a county away. We pulled into the parking lot that we'd parked in many times for our girls' visits. Today, as we sat with ten other people trying to find out in 90 minutes time whether we were a good fit for these 8 and 13 year old siblings, I longed for the simplicity of that placement. I liked being a foster mom so much more than being as adoptive parent so far. The fear and insecurity that come along with this new role drive me nuts!

Here's the truth. I don't look at the facts on paper and think "We've got this is the bag!" Whether or not we would work as an adoptive family for these two is anyone's guess. Looking at the faces and expressions of the team members during our interview made me believe that they were on the same page.

We sat at a table with ten team members who took turns asking us questions. We were in our interview for nearly two hours. They asked more questions than I could remember, at least twenty because they went around the table twice. There were predictable questions like, "Tell us about your family routine." There were some that caught us off guard, such as, "What are your expectations with name changes?" Overall, I think we did a decent job giving them all the information we found relevant. We were able to ask all of our questions. We asked, "What's the one thing about each of the kids that makes you want to hide in a corner and cry?" I HOPE and PRAY that they weren't sugar coating their stories because they certainly didn't scare me off. Even if their stories were truly the worst, I feel confident in one thing-- if the team decides that we are the best option for a successful placement, we have to be prepared for a tumultuous year in order to say yes.

As I walked out the doors of the office, the next couple being staffed sat waiting. They were sweet looking, had a few years on us, and I found myself praying for their interview. I've been praying off and on all day for the team, for the other families, and that there is a perfect fit for these kids. One that the team was in full agreement on. That could be us, in which case we'll be saying yes and diving in. And it could be another family, and I'll be so happy that there was a family well suited for the kids.

I am more exhausted than I have been in weeks, but our staffing interview is complete. Apparently, this is the part of the story where we wait some more. The part where the waiting makes me crazy, makes me second guess every move we've made in the last two years, makes me joke away encouragement and shrug off wishes of good luck. This part is tough for me. I don't do vulnerable or unknown well. I just want to know SOMETHING! Waiting on this call feels a lot like waiting on labor to start, only we don't know if we'll end up with more children at the end of it. 



And just to lighten things us a bit-- a little Independence Day silliness-- 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Respite Prep, Head Lice, and Swimming Success

This time next week, we'll either be preparing for our adoptive placement or nursing disappointment. I've been reading and rereading the profiles of the sister and brother. I've kept and every growing list of questions to ask at staffing. I've gotten to visit with my sweet friend who is a licensing/adoptive worker herself and ask her a pile of questions about the staffing. Amos and I have talked through some potential questions and tried to form coherent explanations our very personal relationship to these children whom we've seen but never met. It's stressful to have just an hour to share as much about our family as accurately as possible.

It's not about making the team see our best selves. It's about making sure that they know our true selves- strength and weaknesses- so that everyone involved has the best chance at a successful adoptive placement. 

It's not about passing a test, it's about FITTING-- we either will or won't. I'm not nervous about what they'll think about Amos and I. I'm not really even nervous about the outcome. I'm only nervous about being able to articulate my thoughts clearly. As long as we leave our meeting feeling like we painted and clear picture of our life, we'll have peace.  


In other news-- 

Our respite care has gone pretty smoothly so far with the exception of having to treat for head lice. Lesson learned- find a way to check heads even when they're coming from another foster home. I felt so bad having to send a late night text to their foster mom. These things happen in foster care, but I knew she'd feel bad, and I just didn't want that. As a precaution, we treated everyone and everything, added tea tree oil to our shampoo and conditioner, and I've been checking heads daily just to ease my mind and phantom itching. 

Blondie and Brownie are a week into their stay, and they are still kind and helpful and happy. 

J came home from camp and connected with Blondie right away. She shared her passion for reading, and since Friday, Blondie has been bringing books any time we leave the house. 



Brownie started the visit thinking that she wasn't a swimmer, but today, I watched her swim the entire length of our pool, deep end to shallow, with great confidence. It was a proud foster mother moment for me. As I type, she's jumping off the diving board, swimming alongside the rest of the kids and having a ball! 





Thursday, June 19, 2014

Blondie and Brownie

More sisters are here! Poor Noah hasn't seen another boy in this house since January. He's such a good sport about it. These girls (Blondie and Brownie) will be here for ten days while their foster family is traveling out of state. It's a different world, welcoming slightly older kids (8 and 10) into our family. In a lot of ways, they are SO much easier. No one is hanging on my legs, begging to be picked up. No one needs help bathing. No one needs to be rocked to sleep. On the other hand, they talk more, share more with our own kids, and struggle with deeper emotions than the little ones have. There hasn't been anything truly concerning shared, but a more mature listener recognizes the clues to their story.

Blondie and Brownie are also tragically funny. 

One of the last things their foster mom warned me about was the tendency for Blondie to make up stories. She said, "Only believe about 10% of what you hear." I wasn't quite prepared for the vastness of Blondie's stories. In the first ten minutes, I "learned" that she played the violin, guitar, and drums. She told me that she had a doll sent straight from England where the princess lives. She listed about twelve pets that she had at home as well as 18 siblings. She said was allergic to milk just like her mom. This was all literally in the first ten minutes. Who was I to decide that her tales weren't true?

A couple hours after they arrived, they mentioned that the little sister had a birthday coming up. I asked how soon, and they replied June 20th, which would fall during their stay with us. I certainly don't like to distrust kids, but I was pretty sure their foster mom would have mentioned a birthday. Sure enough, she confirmed the fib, and we both had a little chuckle over the girls' clever scheme. The next time they mentioned the birthday, I asked if it was perhaps on a different date or if someone had written it down wrong at CD. It took about a half a second for Brownie to waiver. Blondie, however, didn't miss a beat.

I'm really not sure how to respond to the exaggerations. So far, I've taken them seriously and occasionally, in a very excited way, asked Blondie to put her money where her mouth is. For instance last night, we got the violin and let her show us her mad skills. She sure did her best, and no one called her out for being clueless. I stepped in and showed her how to hold the bow and rest her chin on the violin. I was prepared for her to shrug me off and claim that she already knew, but instead she gobbled up every last bit of my attention.

Brownie brought a book along that she is to read each night. We sat down to read it together and I discovered that she is very behind in reading. She's going into third grade, but I'd guess she reads at the same level as Miriam who just finished kindergarten. I'm SO looking forward to finding more enjoyable reading for her. Reading science books about coral repeatedly doesn't seem to be sparking her interest.

The difficulty and blessing of having our bio children along for our foster care ride is that the kids play together a TON... which makes it difficult to connect to the kids on a meaningful level. I'm going to make a point to have some one-on-one time with each of them every day- even if it's just for five minutes while we do the dishes.

Friday, June 13, 2014

A Staffing, A Staffing!

It's 1:30 AM, I've promised to take the kids berry picking early in the morning, and I can't sleep. I've visited with our adoption worker many times over the last two days. 

The staffing for our sibling group is scheduled for July 1st!!!!
That day, the kids' team members will gather together and interview each potential adoptive family. There are 2-4 families being interviewed. We will have time to ask any questions we have about the kids as well. This is the day we've been waiting for. We'll finally be able to ask the foster parents about the kids' real life and needs.

I was shocked to learn that they will interview all the families interested in the kids and decide which (if any) family will be the most likely fit that same day. Our appointment was originally scheduled for 2:30, which would have given us about an hour to make a final decision about whether or not we could offer a successful forever home. The last time I talked to our adoption worker, she had scheduled us for 9:30 AM instead. In theory, that will give us most of the day to pray, discuss, and discern. And then we'll hear whether we are "the family" or whether we will are meant to be simply prayer warriors for these two kids who have nestled into my heart. If we are selected, the kids will begin to transition immediately. We'll meet them, they'll meet our kids, spend a weekend with us, and then, one at a time, they will come to stay. If we are selected, we will have another child in our home, if not two more, by the start of school. 

I warned myself not to get attached, to keep praying for God's will and not my own. But I find myself planning room arrangements for two more children. And my peace and confidence that we are meant to belong to each other grows in spite of the lectures I give myself. 

Fourteen years ago, my desire to reach out to young women took root. That desire was a huge part of my decision to become a high school teacher. Three years ago, it was the teenagers waiting for homes who tugged at my heart and made tears spill down my cheeks though I never thought I would consider adopting them until my children were grown. A year ago, J asked if we could adopt a girl her age, and Noah asked for a boy his age. I laughed at both of them and said they should pray for what they wanted. And now we're three weeks from a staffing for the very siblings they prayed for.  I can see so many events in our life culminating. So many mountains have been moved, security nets set in place, and affirmations received. And now we wait. We might wait just seventeen days, or many more months. 

Nine months ago, I was so nervous about the idea of adopting a teenage girl, but today I'm more scared of being told that another family has been selected. 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

A Smiley Baby Weekend and A Submitted Home Study

We're off to the beach soon, and when we return, we'll be ready to dive into our summer. We did respite care for a 3 month old baby full of smiles over Memorial Day weekend. When the worker called, I was so happy that we were able to help out after the string of "no" that we'd given lately. 

It was another painless experience. We met Smiley, and 30 minutes later I left with her to take Miriam to a birthday party. The baby came along to bring flowers to cemeteries and to a Memorial Day barbecue at a friend's home. She woke up every three hours to eat at night and promptly went back to sleep. She was a pure delight, and Noah and Miriam were thrilled to hold her, tell her stories, and feed her. I was sad that J missed out on the little bundle, but there will be more chances. 

As I was talking to the worker about Smiley's respite, a call came in from Children's Division. When it rains it pours! It was our adoption worker inquiring about the siblings that we'd been asking about for the last nine months. It was finally time for staffing, and she wanted to ask if we wanted to be considered as their adoptive home. Many weeks ago, we talked to the kids' social worker who had promised to set up meetings with the current foster parents so that we could get more information about the kids' needs. That plan had never come to pass. After relaying the story to our adoption worker, we officially submitted our home study for consideration! I'm a little sick thinking about it. Now we wait. There will probably be weeks of silence, and all the while these two kids sit waiting for a family. 

It makes me crazy if I stop to think that we asked about them nine months ago. NINE MONTHS they've sat knowing they were headed for adoption but not moving. NINE MONTHS. A whole school year. And it will likely be months longer before they are placed in an adoptive home. The waiting is excruciating for me as a foster/adoptive parent. I can't begin to imagine what it is like for the kids. For our sisters who we knew needed to be back home after two weeks but who waited two months for their reunion. For the Brothers who were supposed to be here overnight but stayed five days waiting for the adults involved to get their ducks in a row. I'm realizing that these are not unique cases. They are the norm, at least in our experience. If waiting for certainty drives me crazy, just think what it does to a kid without the maturity to understand the big picture. 

Saturday, May 17, 2014

One Month. Foster Updates.

As I was sitting in a MOPS meeting, two faces popped up on my phone. Two brown haired girls in cute little bathing suits grinning happily. And for the first time, my heart ached to snuggle them again.

Today marks a month since our girls reunited with their parents. What I've found in the past weeks is this. What we offered to their parents mirrors the interaction that we have had since the placement ended. We have been blessed beyond expectation with pictures, texts, and happy answers to my occasional check-ins. It has made me even more resolved to be involved with birth parents to the fullest extent that is safe and healthy for all involved.

We never heard anything more about our potential adoption placement. The last time we talked to their worker, we were the only family who had expressed interest in the two of them, and we were supposed to be arranging meeting with their foster parents to get more insight into their history and needs. Again, we have left it in God's hands and continue to pray for the two of them.

We've received three placement calls in the last couple weeks. We declined two that were within our age range. We offered our home as a last resort, then prayed like crazy for God's will, for the social worker making calls, and for the foster families answering their phones. We were never called back to say they needed us, and I felt ok with our choice to let our kids breathe a little while longer. The third call was for a child we are not equipped to care for.

I've been watching my kids over the past month, and I think, for the most part, they are ready to take on another placement. I am happy to have our vacation coming up in just two weeks. It gives us a nice, legitimate reason to wait on a placement and makes it easier for us to stick with what we believe is best for our kids in the long run.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Educating... At Home.

 I've been avoiding this post... 

As if our life wasn't already filled with constant change, God threw another curve ball at us two weeks ago. I am a full time teacher again, and in the last way I ever imagined. Our sweet Miriam has had a heck of a year in kindergarten. We had a couple blissful weeks in August, and then we watched as our gal struggled with the rigor and structure of kindergarten. I watched my daughter, who was joyful and who flourished in preschool, flounder in her new environment. In the second semester, she started learning new information that I never would have imagined could come from a kindergarten kid. She was told she should start smoking. She learned vulgar language. She had a child show her rolling papers and a ziplock of a substance that Miriam described as PopRocks. The child had snuck it from his parents and told her how to smoke it.

She- we- just couldn't do it anymore.

It absolutely tore me to shreds to sit with her teacher and tell her that we were going to see how homeschooling worked. She spent the year investing in my sweet girl and pouring everything she had into ensuring that Miriam was successful in school. I hated telling her that, after nine months of effort and worry and love, we were walking away. Who am I kidding? I hated that we were walking away. It was terrifying, and I was nauseous with self-doubt for days. I still am at times. It was possibly the hardest thing I've done as a parent, most definitely the most difficult decision we've had to make for Miriam.



So here we sit, two weeks into our homeschool life. To my surprise, Miriam has been a great student most of the time. She works hard and truly enjoys what we are doing together. She's reading for me, something that I hadn't been able to get her to do without a fight. We've done science experiments, met authors and illustrators, and attended play groups. We've attended Mass with at the nearby Catholic school and watched their kindergartners read from the bible in front of the entire parish. We have worked on phonics, math fact fluency, and handwriting. We have learned about place value, ocean waves, and the chemistry behind lip gloss. Exercise, music, and art fill our play time. We learn in segments and take breaks as Miriam needs them. Yesterday she insisted that we continue playing with math fact families 30 minutes after I was finished with her lesson. Miriam has written and mailed letters to some of her favorite people. Khan Academy and Teachers Pay Teachers have seen  more traffic from us than ever before.


I think to myself, "why weren't you doing all of this before?" And I remember the kid I picked up from school each day. The one who was so exhausted from holding it all together that she would melt down into a tantrum before I even had a chance to feed her a snack. The one who sometimes fell asleep on the way home from school and slept straight through to bedtime. The kid who just couldn't handle the idea of another second spent learning.



Yes, there is fear and doubt. There is much for this high school English teacher to learn about early elementary education. There are failures and there are still a few tantrums. But there is magic too. There is excitement and progress and a spark of genuine love for learning that I haven't seen from Miriam- maybe ever. It is the goodness that I am clinging to.



I'm not sure what our life will look like come fall, but over the summer, I'm turning this house into a school for all three of my kiddos- and any new ones who may come along. We're going to be exploring, stretching our minds, and searching for a LOVE for learning. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Fitting the Pieces Back Together.

I returned Easter dresses over the weekend. The crib is disassembled. Toddler clothes are washed and stored away. Blankets, sippy cups, and plastic dishes returned to boxes. Car seats have been scrubbed and sanitized.

I am slowly getting our life back in order, and it feels good. It is nice to have a list of tasks to busy myself with. It makes the silence in my house on this Monday morning less noticeable. I'm making phone calls for home services: yard care, carpentry work, driveway repairs. The last two months showed us the impossibility of juggling new children and home ownership. We're calling in the troops before we get the next placement call.

We don't expect to take a placement (unless an adoption placement falls into place) before our family vacation in a few weeks. I say we don't expect to because it seems everything I say I won't do comes to pass. If we are going to foster successfully, we need to make sure that our family has a chance to heal and reconnect between placements. Miriam in particular needs a breather. The girls took a lot of her world away. And she was such a trooper. Thursday night when I was tucking her into bed, back into her room, she told me, "Mom, I really wanted to say, 'I don't want them to have my room anymore!' but I held it inside because I knew they needed a room to stay in." Poor, sweet thing... I felt a huge desire to spoil her with gifts over the weekend, but I resisted.  Instead, I tried to spoil her with attention. J is already looking forward to our next placement, and I guess Miriam is too because she asked today if we could get a twin for her and one for Noah too next time. I reminded her that people weren't searching for kids for us but let her imagination run a little bit just for fun!

Me? I'm doing fine. We were able to take all five of our crew to the park Friday to drop off the girls belongings. We stayed for about 45 minutes, long enough to visit a little bit and love on the girls. When our visit was wrapping up, we talked about barbecuing together. The girls' dad said that he'd told their mom that he knew exactly who they were going to call when they go on a trip, and I offered to watch the girls when and if they needed because they won't be able to leave the children until the case is officially wrapped up. It is entirely possible that none of this will truly come to pass, that we'll never see the sweet faces of Big and Little Sister again. But for now, I'm resting in the fact that they thought enough of us to want to keep in touch. It didn't feel like goodbye when we drove away Friday afternoon.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Giant Leaps. Back to our Baseline.

Today was indescribable. I'm exhausted, but I really want to document the day before the details fade... 

This morning we had our FST meeting for the girls. We woke up at 5:30, got everyone ready for school, dropped the big kids off ridiculously early and headed down the interstate toward the courthouse a county over. We were the first ones there, and we sat watching out the window for Mommy and Daddy to arrive. There were many people absent from the meeting; it was the GAL, case worker, supervisor, parents, one of the other foster parents, the girls, Amos and I. It sounds like a long list, but that's only about half of the number of people who could've attended. Dad's attorney conferenced in as well. We had a half hour scheduled for a meeting about seven kids. 

The meeting started with glowing praise of the family, their efforts, progress with their plan, and general cohesiveness as a unit. Some of the details of the allegations and case were discussed, and talk began about adding time to visits. The plan was for visits to become 3 hours long for a few weeks and then, once the rest of the investigation came through, the visits would become unsupervised. As I sat in that meeting listening to the plans for progress, I was SO excited for our girls and for the parents.

Then it was Dad's turn to speak, and he articulated some very valid points and ultimately requested through his attorney that the children be returned home. I had just sat and listened to plans be made for a more lenient visitation schedule, so even though I'd been praying for this very moment for a couple weeks, I was not at all prepared for what happened next.

The supervisor and guardian ad litem stepped out of the room for a minute, and when they returned, the supervisor suggested that four of the seven kids be allowed to return home. Dad started sobbing and managed to ask, "When?" And then came the answer.

"Today. Right now."

And just like that, our leg of their journey was over. This was our stop. 

God is glorious. Last week, we had asked our licensing worker to see what could be done about getting the girls back home. Both Amos and I felt strongly that they needed to be with their parents, that it was best for them. That afternoon, a little over a week ago, we got a call back from her and were assured that the girls would be here through the end of June. I began to prepare for that, but I wasn't giving up. I kept cheering on mom through our text conversations, and I kept praying. Today, God answered prayers! Their sweet family still has a road to travel before all nine of them are reunited, but they took a giant leap today. 

After the meeting, we loaded the girls into our car and got to drive them home! The girls were beyond excited, especially big sister! Her feet didn't stop swinging, and every time I looked back at her from the front seat, her sweet face would break out into a huge grin. When we got to their house, we came inside for a minute. Big sister ran into her room and then came back to grab my hand. She was dying to show me her new bunk beds. We talked for just a couple minutes, and then started our goodbyes. I really wanted to leave them to enjoy the girls. We got quick hugs from the girls, big hugs from mom and dad, and then Big Sister walked us to the door. "Bye!" She said, and slammed the door as soon as we were on the porch. She wasn't chancing us coming back for her! Mom opened the door again as we were climbing into our van, and Big Sister's head of curls poked out. She started doing her robot walk, the walk that means she's a little unsure of what's happening around us, and in that moment, as I waved at her and met her eyes, I knew that we had done our job. That she had felt loved in our home. And I was at peace. 

After we left, I started worrying about our kids. The whole change of events had caught us all by surprise, and we hadn't warned our kids that the girls could be gone by the time school was out. I was pretty nervous when I picked up Noah and Miriam. We sat in the van and I told them about the meeting and how the girls got to go home to their mommy and daddy. My silly kids took it in stride and seemed mostly happy for the girls and a bit relieved to know that their lives would return to normal. It was the initial reaction I expected. An hour and a half later, I drove up to the middle school to pick up J from track practice. She saw the two empty carseats and asked if we were having a girls' night. I didn't know what to say, so I just blurted out, "The girls went home this morning." I let the words settle in for a moment before I filled her in on the details of the meeting. I could see her mind reeling, processing the abrupt end of our family as it existed for the last two months. And then I saw her bite her lip... I just grabbed her hand and held it. I assured her that even though we were all happy for the girls, it was okay for her to feel ANYTHING that she was feeling. When we got home, I hugged her in the driveway, and she held on tight. She needed the comfort and the assurance that everything would be okay. I held her until she let go, and then we walked into the house and back into our family of five. 

Tomorrow we will take the kids after school and deliver the girls' belongings. Hopefully, it will be a chance for our kids to have some closure and to say goodbye to their foster sisters. This is the part of foster care that I'm nervous about-- helping our kids transition BACK to our baseline. But we're taking it one day at a time and learning as we go. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Respite Reflections and Little Sister

We had the best possible respite care experience. The girls were so excited to go and have a sleepover, and I have no doubt that they received the best possible care while they were away. The girls weren't thrilled about coming back to the Blue House, but they cheered up before the van even left sight of the respite home Saturday afternoon. It was the best possible experience, but the days that followed were a testament to how confused and scared Big Sister is about her life right now.

The last few days have seen clinginess in overdrive. Big Sister asks dozens of times each day if she can go with me. "Sure!" I say. Where do you want to go? Nowhere. She just needed to be in my sight-- and in my arms-- at all times. I could feel flattered. I could feel annoyed. But I just feel guilty for leaving her with strangers (even though they are fantastic people). I feel horrible for throwing the pieces of her life back into the air. I feel great sadness for her frantic arms begging for solace, for her searching eyes that are once again filled with fear and confusion, and for her cries of distress when I have to give my arms a break.

I'm learning that stability is precious for these sweet littles. A fun weekend away can still be wrought with worry. For a three year old who cannot wrap her mind around explanations and promises to return, respite with unfamiliar families may not be a great idea. I think, in the future, we'll want to either leave them with the same family, with families that she knows well, or not at all. She needs all the normal she can get because when I walk out the door, she doesn't know if I'm coming back.

Little Sister seems unaware that anything was changed over the weekend, It makes me sad to see her so content everywhere she goes. I'd much rather her be fighting to stay with someone she trusts. In the last few weeks, I've seen her making progress all around. Her tantrums have all but disappeared, and I'm working every day to connect with her in meaningful ways. We're working on language development, and I've been happy to see her starting to ask, "what's this?" about everything in her little world. Her annunciation isn't fantastic, but I can understand many new phrases and sentences. There is less gibberish and more understandable communication. For that, we are thankful. I'm guessing the ability to communicate more maturely is a huge factor in the decrease in tantrums. She's stopping to say, "I have that please" instead of taking what she wants. And I am careful to say yes as often as I possibly can. We're determined to let her know that words (nice words) work magic around the blue house!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Fear and My Own Broken Promises

We’re praying our way through the inquiry process of 7 and 13 year old siblings that God has planted in our hearts. I’ll be honest. It’s terrifying to think of starting to parent/build trust/love a kid that late in the game! The fear is paralyzing. I'm supposed to make a call to the kids' worker to set up meetings with their foster parents for more information. I can't quite make myself pick up the phone. 

Here's the kicker. I felt something with these two. Not "Oh, they're beautiful!" Although they most definitely are! Not the "I want to scoop them up because their stories are sad." Although I do, and they are. In my heart of hearts, I felt that this time was for real

I promised myself things over and over in the last couple years. We would never foster. We wouldn't get attached to a kid before we were chosen as their adoptive placement. We wouldn't entertain legal-risk placements. We wouldn't consider older children. Oh, the things I promised! 

One by one, I've let go of every promise I made to myself... and now we're standing with one promise left- 
Follow God's plan and don't box him in.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Receiving Respite

Respite care. We've provided it, and now we're getting to see what life is like on the other side. Amos and I are attending a foster care/adoption conference this weekend. We registered for the conference two months ago, about three weeks before the girls came. Until a week ago, we had accepted that we wouldn't be able to attend, but one last effort led to another, and we found ourselves in the receiving end of respite care. We were in licensing classes with the family, and we've sent a few facebook messages back and forth recently. I'm so thankful to have had those opportunities to get to know them. I feel very comfortable leaving our girls with them.

We delivered a crib on Tuesday evening to the home where the girls will stay and gave them a chance to play a bit. Hopefully that will make the drop off go smoother. At least they won't be dropped on a complete stranger's doorstep. Since Tuesday, Big Sister has been asking nonstop if we can go to "Her" house now.

One hard part of respite is splitting the kids. I hate that we're sending the bios to my mom's and the girls somewhere else. We might have decided to split the kids between houses anyway (because who wants to ask someone to keep your FIVE kids overnight), but separating them into "old" and "new" makes me crazy.

All the work it took to arrange child care, pack bags for three different destinations, and prepare the kids has left me wondering if it's worth it. Then I think of Amos and how much I miss him. I know that we are both craving time to reconnect and take a deep breath. Sadly, it is all too easy to forget about each other in the crowd of kids and the endlessly busy schedules. I know that those first moments after the last goodbye will be worth all the hoops we've jumped through. Here's to 24 hours of adult interaction!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

All Good Things Come to and End... Goodbye Honeymoon.

I haven't talked much about my bio kids, but today, I'm feeling the need to be open and honest about their adjustments. It has been a mess this week. 

When I heard that there would be an initial honeymoon phase to each placement, that seemed logical. And when I thought about that period coming to an end, I expected the foster kids to start acting out, pushing boundaries, and being generally less controllable. What I wasn't prepared for is that my own bio kids would also have a honeymoon phase, that their phase, too would end, and that there would be a surge of misbehavior once it did. This week was most definitely the end our our honeymoon in every area. 

The sisters were exactly what I expected: more defiant, more difficult to please, and more unhappy. They required more redirection, more affection, more discipline and more entertaining. All of this I was prepared for.

J has been a dream. She is helpful, loving, and selfless for all four of the other children. She has given me hugs when I was losing it and ushered Miriam away when she was needing extra attention. The biggest trouble with J has been my guilt over how much sacrifice she has made. She has stepped up to be a supporting parent, a nanny figure, and I have been so grateful but so sad for her all the same.

Miriam was ready to have her life back this week. She was tired of a three year old who was disagreeable. She was tired of being shoved off of her chair, tired of having her toys taken out of her hands, and tired of NOT being the baby of the family anymore. There were fights, there was shoving, and there were a few times when Miriam cried and asked me if they could leave because she didn't like them. 

Noah has been even more out of character than Miriam. I've been on my knees in tears, begging God for wisdom and guidance. Noah has been obstinate. He refuses to follow almost any direction. He gets enraged if he looses a privilege. And he screamed at the girls for wrecking an origami project he was working on. Once, I had to quarantine the girls in my room with a movie to give Noah enough space and time to calm down. It has been a hell of a week with him. I texted my sister during the worst of it, and she wrote back, "Sounds like Satan is trying to kick you in the knees today. I hope you kicked him back!" It was exactly what I needed to hear, and it has helped me tremendously to keep her words in mind since then. 

We are by no means through the woods of this transition. There are likely many more growing pains to endure. BUT I have been able to be more patient, more careful with my own behavior, parenting, and reactions to the stress. I've been praying for baby steps forward, and so far, God has been faithful. Today was still full of disputes, but the intensity of bad feelings has been far less that earlier in the week. 

Court on Tuesday determined that the girls would remain in the system; the next court date was set for the end of June. For Amos and I, this meant a huge deep breath. I thought I had gotten to a place of acceptance of long term care, but finding out that were were actually living it really rocked my world. I saw our Easter, our family vacation, and a dozen kids' extracurricular events altered. Even though I was aware of the huge possibility that the girls would need to stay, it was disappointing and sad to loose the simplicity that comes with our "base" family of five. It felt selfish to be focussing on my own loss when the girls and their family were dealing with so much devastation, but I think it's important to acknowledge and feel the emotions that come with fostering. Once I sat with the idea for a few days, it seemed less like loss and more like honoring a commitment. 

Yes, the honeymoon is over... for all seven of us.