June 21, 2013

Best Friends

My sweet, sweet Noah and his best friends Max Bear Terry and Toby Wan Kenobi Terry.  I want to freeze age six forever.

June 17, 2013

As The World Turns

Summer is beginning to feel like it is flying by!  (It's about darn time!)  We've had a much better week this week than the previous weeks.  The girls finally had a few good days together where there was no fighting.  It's so great because they are both such awesome, neat kids and they could really have a good time together if they'd stop fighting for the role of alpha female.  They said, "It's actually more fun to play together than to fight." and I said, "Duhlallujah"-  which is a new word that I am coining that is Duh! and Hallelujah! mushed together.  All the cool kids are saying it now.     

We've been spending a lot of time outside.  We spent a day at my dad's farm running around and catching crawdads in the creek.  One might think that the easiest way to catch crawdads would be to just jump in the creek and catch them with your hands.  However, we saw MANY snakes swimming around in the water and ain't nobody got time for that.  So we tied fishing line onto sticks and baited them with bologna.  Hours of fun.  It's the little things.

You can't tell it very well from this picture, but this child has pulled out all of her eyelashes.  Sadie has  trichotillomania and during stressful times, she pulls her hair out.  It started when she was about 6 or 7.  We are hoping that the worst of this episode is behind her- but if you could pray for some calmness for my girl, this mama would REALLY appreciate it.  She is entirely too precious for words and it breaks my heart to see her have such crippling anxiety at such a young age.

On a lighter note...

She drew this picture of herself lounging on the beach in Hawaii.  She has a Shirley Temple in hand, complete with umbrella.  Can you tell we need a vacation (and drinks with umbrellas?)

Our new house is soooooo close to being finished (we are hoping to move in about 5 weeks).  I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this will be an easy move being as how we left most of our stuff in boxes after the last move 5 months ago.  Last week, the water lines went in and I don't care how old you are, it's fun stuff to watch a backhoe dig up your front yard.  

I'm thinking that a year down the road we will look back at this time in our lives and say, "Holy crap!  You remember 2013?  The year that we moved twice AND started being foster parents?  I can't believe we made it through that." Then we'll clink our classes and vow to never take on that much at one time again. 

Our kids have all stayed about this dirty all summer.  The girls almost have dreadlocks that rival Miles'.  Just whatever.  I'm doing the best I can.  Plus, they mostly love each other and that matters more than cleanliness, right?

Soccer season just ended.  See what I mean about the dirt?  

That's Sadie in the gray shirt about to boot that ball.  She's decided she'd rather play sports that don't require running.  Perhaps table tennis or shuffleboard is going to be more her pace (she totally gets that from me)

Miles got his first every medal.  He raised his arms in the air before the game, knowing that he would get a medal at the end and shouted, "Yes!  It's my life!"  He's enthusiastic 115% of the time about everything.

We've goofed off... a lot....

We had a play date last week with my friend, Crystal, and her totally adorable 7 week old son.  Sadie was all about it and is now on her "mom, please get us a baby" campaign.  3 of my closest friends are all pregnant.  I'm not drinking the water.  I think I like my sleep too much. (I would pray about my selfishness, but I'd probably fall asleep during)

Summer swimming started.  Our two oldest and our foster daughter are all swimming on the swim team this summer and LOVING it.  Swim practice every morning really helps break up our days and gives us just enough structure every day to keep up functional.

Father's day happened.  On the morning of Father's day I found myself alone in a hotel room with my husband.  That's a whole other blog post (which will be very funny because for once, the mister made a fool of himself in public instead of me!).  The kids all made Kamron random kid crap that he loved.  Our favorite was this poster that Miles made for him.

It says: 
My dad's name is: Kamron
Dad is: 70 years old
My dad is great at: chopping wood
If you looked at my dad you might say he was: straight face
It would be cool if his name were: PacMan
Dad likes to cook: spaghetti and meatballs
When he's bored my dad likes to: sleeps and snores. I hear it from my room
My favorite thing we do together is: play and tickle monster
I love my dad because: he is so nice.

That 70 year old Paul Bunyan I married and I have laughed and laughed about that one.

Hope your summer is going well!

June 12, 2013

From The Corners Of My Heart- Foster Care Edition

I have so many thoughts about how foster care is going for our family.  None of them fit into a nice little flow, so some bullet points of the highs and lows are about as good as it's gonna get!  I always wonder if it's best to blog it out as I'm going through it or to wait until I've processed things before writing.  With Miles' adoption, I wrote it as I was going through it and personally, there was a lot of healing that came with being that vulnerable.  So vulnerable and imperfect, it is.

*  I hate to say, that up until this point, I didn't realize just how much progress Miles had made.  When we were in the throws of transitioning him into our home, it was horrible.  And then it wasn't horrible anymore.  But I didn't realize that over the years he has still steadily become more and more secure.  Having a new guest in our home has shown me just how cemented in Miles is.  I should have known this already, but having another child in our home has made it glaringly clear just how grafted in Miles is in every sense of the word.  It's all kinds of awesome to have that kind of revelation.  It gives me a new appreciation for just how hard he worked (and we ALL worked) to become a family.

*  There are so many things that are really different this time around.  When Miles came into our home, all of his frustration and confusion came out in behaviors that were targeted at me.  I'm a grown up and even though I didn't always handle it well, I did handle it.  With this addition, I feel like my kids are bearing 95% of the brunt of the fallout.  This is infinitely harder to watch it unfold this way that to take it all on myself.  I saw just how great our adoption was for our other kids- the worldview that it gave them, the compassion that it taught them- even when the transition was tough.  It may be that we are still in the thick of transition now, but I have yet to see any benefits for our kids.  And that is a hard pill to swallow.  I wish that I could say that we are all learning humility and selflessness, but those lessons have yet to come.  It may be the difference in the permanence of adoption versus the temporary state of foster care or the difference in ages- I don't know.  It's just very, very different for our kids.  And mostly in a negative way.  It brings me a lot of guilt and a lot of anxiety and worry that I've asked my kids to take this on.  They still overwhelmingly say that even when this placement is over that they want to continue to be a foster family- but they want a 6 year old girl with brown skin from Africa.  They don't understand that foster care doesn't work that way and I think that they are still grieving our failed adoption.

*  If I had all of this to do over again, I would do ONE MAJOR thing very, very different.   I feel like I did not do a good job of preparing my kids for why foster kids come into state care.  We told our kids that sometimes kids would be staying with us for a while while their mommies and daddies were working on getting skills to be better parents.  In other words, I gave them a Sunday school type answer instead of giving them the truth about what lands kids in foster care.  On the third night of our foster blessing being in our home, she divulged to our oldest the things that brought her to our home.  First, I panicked.  Then I cried myself to sleep at the loss of innocence for both of the girls.  Then I kept my Sadie out of school the next morning, took her out to breakfast and burst her perfect world bubble.  I gave her the nitty gritty of all of the awful things that adults can do to kids.  I tried to think of every situation that would ever put a kid in foster care and laid it all out for her.  I wish that she'd heard it all from me to begin with- I think it would have been less confusing for her.  So if I had it to do over, I'd have those conversations in advance instead of letting her hear it from the child in our home.  Our boys, at 6 and 4 were still okay with our generic answers, but for our oldest, there were just things that she needed to know the truth about.  As moms, I think that we all want to protect our kids- so explaining all the evil that exists and lifting that veil of innocence for my child was one of the hardest things I've ever done as a parent.

*  I dressed up our foster daughter in a beautiful dress and fixed her hair.  I took her to the gorgeous field beside our house with my fancy pants camera and we did a full scale photo shoot.  As she twirled around in her dress and smiled and posed, it hit me like a ton of bricks just how much every little girl deserves to be adored and doted on and made to feel like a beautiful princess.  We printed out all the pictures and made them into albums for her mom and dad.  She can't wait to give them to them and it was a great way to help her foster her relationship with her birth parents.

*  One thing about all of this that I will probably never feel comfortable with is the affection part.  Kids need affection!  If we sit down anywhere in our house, the kids crawl up on our laps.  I love it.  However, when I see our foster daughter crawl up on my husband's lap, it makes us both feel weird.  We absolutely know that she needs the same affection as the other kids.  There is nothing icky about it. But as a mom, I think that if my 9 year old daughter were in someone else's home, I would not want her sitting on another man's lap.  I know that it's because I'm thinking as an adult here and not as a child- but it just makes me uncomfortable and reminds me how vulnerable we are as foster parents.  There is such a strange balance of wanting to give kids what they need (including appropriate physical touch) and remembering that they aren't actually your child to give that to.  I always go back to the same example in my mind when I try to make sense of all of it- When Sadie was in kindergarten her bus was in a minor accident that left the back window of the bus shattered.  It absolutely scared her to death and she was crying a lot.  Her big, burly, bus driver held her tight and kissed her on the head.  Normally- not cool.  But in this instance, it was exactly what my scared daughter needed and I thanked that bus driver a million times over for taking care of my daughter so tenderly at a time when I couldn't be there.  I can only hope that I can get over my discomfort at providing what this child needs.

*  She also asked if Kamron and I were "for real married" or "just common law married".  Cause all 8 year olds know about common law, right?  Bless it.

*  Last week, we decided that it was best to move all of "our" kids into one bedroom together (for various reasons).  This is working out really well and has helped to alleviate some of the sibling rivalry issues that we were having.  However, in this rental, our three kid's bedroom feels a little like an orphanage.  I sent my friend this picture and her response was, "Should we send twin sheets or mosquito nets."

*  We have awesome support.  I have so many fostering friends that have been there to offer advice.  But even when you are really supported, there are days when it totally sucks. I'd be lying if I said there weren't times when I've wanted to throw in the towel. One night I had a complete breakdown- complete with tears. Usually my medication makes tears damn near impossible. (thank you God for meds)  As an aside, one time I asked one of my friends who was getting ready to take her family out on the mission field how in the world she was making it through the day.  Her response?  "Jesus and Zoloft".  It's my favorite answer now when people ask me how we do it.  Anyway- I was crying and telling my husband that I just thought that we'd "be better at this".  He said, "What do you mean."  I explained to him that I just thought that I'd enjoy fostering more than I do.  He said, "Oh baby.  You mean you thought this was supposed to be FUN?"  And then he looked at me like I had 40 heads.  Expectations, people.  My expectations of how things are supposed to go wreck me every single time.  One day I will learn to set the bar so low that I will live in a state of always being pleasantly surprised.  

* We are going on vacation in a few weeks to Hawaii.  It is a trip that Kamron earned through work and we had to book it almost 9 months ago.  It was not feasible to add a ticket at this juncture and I am having major guilt about taking a vacation without our foster daughter.  We have lined up a super fun week for her while we are gone and she will get to experience her own kind of vacation at a camp designed just for foster kids.  But still- there is major guilt over it.  And I feel like we can't talk to our kids about our upcoming trip and get super excited like we'd normally do before a vacation because I don't want to hurt her feelings- even though she's totally pumped about going to camp.  These are the things they don't teach you how to deal with during the classes.  I also feel guilt that I am really looking forward to spending the week with just the three kids.  I feel like we really need it.  I know that probably makes me an awful person, but just whatever.

*  It is so cool to give a child experiences that they've never had- doing organized sports and making new friends at church/the neighborhood/the pool are such a joy to watch.  We got to take her to the movies and she had never been before- and fishing, and wading in the creek, and four wheeling and late night bonfires in the yard.  Watching those new experiences and giving a bigger world view to a kid are so freaking much fun.  It reminds me of why this is so worthwhile.  And while I wouldn't consider the overall experience "fun" - it is rewarding beyond belief to know that you are impacting someone else's life in what is hopefully a positive way.

*  Having someone else in your home for an extended period of time has made me wonder one major thing- what would my kids say about our family? (This girl deemed it super important that we know that when her aunt toots that she runs away from it)  And what would my kids act like in another family? It's a strange transference of skills when you mix people like that.  Our foster daughter has musical armpit talent that could probably win her some sort of award on America's Got Talent.  She's tried to teach the other kids, but they just can't catch on.  But my kids have taught her all the words to Crazy Train.  Armpit farts and Ozzy.  It's like the mecca of kid skills.  Together, these four will change the world with their critical knowledge.  God help 'em.

June 06, 2013

Throw Back

Being the slacker laid back mom that I am, when I put new pictures in a frame, I leave the old ones behind the new picture.  When I take the backs off the frames, sometimes 10 photos fall out on top of me.  It's always like a stroll down memory lane.  I had a couple of frames that I wrapped up years ago and last night I pulled them out.  When I opened the backs two pictures fell out and nostalgia just rushed over me.

It's weird how time and perspective change so much.  The first one is of Sadie and Noah when Noah was about 18 months old.  I thought life with two kids was soooooo hard.  Now, when I look at that photo it seems like the golden age.  These two have always had such a loving bond.  It just makes me smile to watch them together.  This picture was taken on a beach in Florida and that vacation will always be one of my favorites that we've ever taken.

And then there is this one of the first Easter after Miles came home.  He had only been with us for about 6 weeks when this picture was taken.  He looks so tiny and his little eyes were so droopy (pre-eye surgery).  Sadie has always thought that she was the little mama of Miles and her hands on his shoulders just seem so fitting of the way that she steers him through life. And then there's Noah- just off to the side and giggling like Noah always is.

I don't do it very often, but sometimes it's so fun to look back and see how such key elements of their personalities were present from the very start. And crazy to watch how they grow and change so quickly.  Sometimes it just feels like it just rushes by...

Still entirely too cute...
And today feeling especially precious to me.

June 03, 2013

Defending our choices

A few weeks ago someone asked me why I'd turned my back on the Congo by choosing to foster in the US.  First of all, that took me completely by surprise.  And second of all, WHAT?  The funny thing is that when we were adopting from the Congo, this question was always asked to us in the reverse form. I think the old adage that you can't win no matter what you do applies here. (Except that I do feel like I won, so maybe just scratch that.)

There are very few things that one must defend harder than their family planning choices- especially in adoption.  Why is this?

This person felt that by us going the route of domestic foster care, that we were "slapping Congo in the face". (Nothing could be further from the truth)  I get the occasional hate email (yay) and usually let it go right on by me.  But this statement just cut me right to my core.  I wanted to explain to this person that by not currently adopting from the Congo, we were actually able to help more kids there.  I truly didn't think this person would get it though. It hasn't been only this person.  Many, many people asked us why we didn't go back to Congo to expand our family.  They assume that it's something scandalous or that I'm trying to "make a statement".  Dude- my kids aren't statements!  The basic story is that for a time such as this, Congo didn't feel right to me.  That in no way means that I've turned my back or that I don't advocate like crazy for the kids there.  So I just want to take a minute to share my heart about DRC.

I love the Congo.  I think the people there are amazing.  My heart soars when I hear beautiful stories come out on the DRC.  And my heart breaks at the grossly under-reported tragedies that occur there in rapid fire.

I love adoption.  I think that for the children who have no other options, that this is such a wonderful way to build a family.  I've read so many great posts lately on adoption ethics.  I'm glad that this is being talked about more in the mainstream.  I think that there are a lot of great conversations happening.  That being said, the climate of adoption in the Congo is a lot different now than it was when we began the adoption process for Miles almost 4 years ago.  Then, there were a handful of us going through the process (I think the online groups I belonged to then had maybe 25 families in them).  There were even fewer organizations facilitating adoptions from there.

Before I knew it, I was a part of online groups with hundreds of families in process and messages that said things like, "Our agency matched us with a pregnant mother who is set to deliver in a few weeks" and "is $2000 a reasonable fee to expedite an exit letter?" and "my agency won't give us an account of where our money went- what should we do?"  Once I even got an email after I wrote a post breaking down the cost of Congolese adoptions that said, "Our agency said that you are a liar and that it really does cost $45,000 to adopt a baby.  Are you lying?"

The climate shift wasn't gradual, it was sudden.  Very sudden.  Booms like this scare me and parents who have the best of intentions find themselves smack in the middle of a ring of corruption so thick that they can no longer see. I was worried that I would be one of them because I am emotionally charged and trusting by nature.  Hear me on this: I will always think that children in the Congo deserve families.  I still think that adoption for many children in Congo is the only way that this will be achieved.  I applaud the families who are willing to ask the hard questions and wade in murky water and make a big stink to make sure that the children who are being referred truly are orphaned and take on a Congolese adoption in these uncertain times.  But for my family- this wasn't the right thing.  I just didn't have the time to dedicate to making sure that everything was done properly.  So instead of signing up and hoping for the best, we chose not to sign up.  I will never be one of the those people who gets her child home and then tells other people they shouldn't do it.  I think that adoption in DRC is still necessary.  I just hope and pray that the people signing up understand the current pitfalls.  I wasn't up for it- but I'm glad there are people who are and who are fighting for change and an end to secrecy and corruption.

It was such a difficult decision for me.  For two years we investigated the orphan status of a little girl I met in the Congo and that investigation ended in a way that did not lead her into our family.  Twice we've committed to adopt an older child from a disrupted Congolese adoption and both times the family has changed their minds (how many times your heart can break over the same child you think is coming to live with you is yet to be determined).  When I put forth a vision five years into the future, I STILL see my family having another Congolese child.  But right now, the timing and the climate for me just doesn't seem right.

After much prayer and research we decided fostering made sense.  As an aside- can I just say that one of the things that really bothers me right now in all the talk about adoption is that you can only be "pro-adoption" or "pro-family reunification".  For the record, I will always be both.  I refuse to choose because I think that it's going to take both (and a whole lot of other models, too) if we want to really care for children holistically. Fostering allowed us to have more kids in our home and allowed us to use the adoption money we would have been saving to give to development projects in DRC and help other families with their adoptions.  I hate seeing comments made on blog posts about ethics about how "if everyone who wanted to adopt would invest that money into keeping kids with their families..."  Can I just say that there are SO many people I know who ARE doing this?  By the way- adopting is not charity.  It's just not.  It's a way to build a family- period.  If you want to do something "charitable"- write a freaking check.  For me, it's not comparing apples to apples.

As with all things that happen in adoption, that's just one more thing that doesn't have to be either/or.  It can be both.  Right now we are enjoying being a part of other people's villages.   Perhaps in the future, we will be ready to move forward with another adoption. (someone catch my husband, he just fainted) In the meantime, we are still committed to the kids in Congo and it broke my heart to have that called into question. (Ironically, this accusation came just one week after our raffle raised over $6000 for vulnerable kids in Congo.)

While I know that I don't have to defend our choices to anyone, I just wanted to put a few thoughts on record.  So- to sum up- it takes all of us doing something and this is just the something that we are currently choosing.  NOT to make a statement about whether kids from here or there are more worthy of a family or because we turned "anti-adoption" or whatever other reasons people have asked me about.  One thing that I've learned is that we all have ideas and paths that we take and just because we don't always agree with each path that another takes doesn't make it wrong.  I love both of the paths we've taken and the people who have been on them with us and I love how they intersect in ways that have blessed us (and challenged us) beyond our wildest imagination.

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