Sunday, January 31, 2016

visits, chaos, and breathing easy

The past three and half weeks have found us struggling through new reactions to visits from Little Man, an obnoxious 90 lb. teenager of a puppy dog who thinks it is the best game in the world to race out of our door and run away from us through the whole neighborhood, and another child who is in a funk, unable to be motivated through either consequence or reward. It's been exhausting, literally, since we're not really sleeping at night for three days following Little Man's visits with his family. 

In our state, families are legally required to be given four hours of visitation a week once their children have been removed from their care. Usually this is done in two 2-hour visits each week. Sometimes, it's done in one big chunk, four hours once a week, but typically when kids are littler, they try to split them up so it's easier on everyone. 

When you live 25 minutes from the visitation center, two hour visits become a real pain. It takes me 10 minutes minimum to get six children, two in car seats and incapable of loading themselves, in the van and ready to go. It takes around 10 minutes on a typical visit to unload and get Little Man into the visitation center, sometimes much longer if we're waiting on his mom to get there. By the time I figure in loading and travel time, it is a ridiculous waste of time and gas to drive all the way back home during the visit. All of this means that we spend from around 5:30-8:30 every Wednesday and Thursday in the van. There's only so much grocery shopping I can do during those hours, and since it's dark this time of year, we can't even get out and stretch our legs at a park. It's wearing on all of us.

I will say that I do prefer this back to back schedule, however. What a typical visit schedule has looked like for us in the past includes the day of the visit plus two days of reaction from the child due to the visit, maybe one normal day, and then we're back to a visit day. So basically six days of the week are tumultuous and difficult. This way, we have two visits days, still around two reaction days, and three days of normalcy. It's far superior, I think. 

It seems quite likely this case will be stretching on for quite awhile yet. DJFS has custody of Little Man until October of 2016. When I think about doing this for most of the next year (and maybe longer), it makes me feel something akin to despair. Two days of our week, pretty much gone indefinitely. I wonder why we agreed to do this. How anyone in their right mind thinks this is a good idea. I see people's reactions when I tell them what the schedule looks like, and I know they wonder why and probably think it's dumb that we would subject our family to this kind of a schedule. It's not just visits, it's also home visits and team meetings and extra doctor appointments, all fit in with the rest of our five children's school and extracurriculars. There is not one night during the week where we do not have extra stuff to do. I get it. It's crazy. Our idea of normal family life has definitely changed. We now aim for two meals together at the table a week - and often are not succeeding at that - instead of the five to six that we were eating together before. We spend as much time in the van as we do together in our living room. 

There's not much I can say to make this seem normal. There's not a ton of defense I can give that this rigorous of a schedule is good for our children. All I know is that we believe this is what we're supposed to be doing. We believe Little Man's health and safety is worth all of this. We believe that love is worth the fight. 

I haven't been that successful at breathing easy in the middle of this chaos of late. I've been blaming it on the schedule. I've been blaming it on the kids. I've been blaming it on the system. Truthfully, though, it's my fault. My focus isn't where it belongs. There's only one way to breathe easy, and it's His breath in my lungs. When I continue to try to do this all out of my own strength and mental capacity, I will most assuredly fail. So this week, moving forward, I'm breathing in grace, breathing out praise.

All of it for Love.

photo credit: command central via photopin (license)

Sunday, January 10, 2016


My unexpected hiatus from blogging now over, I find myself with eight billion things to say and write and not enough time to do so. This year sapped the vitality out of my creative life to say the least. This past year found us in one of the darkest years we've had in a really long time, yet still my year was full of joy. In spite of those joys, it's a year I'd rather not repeat again.

I always choose a word for the year, and honestly, sometimes it's a stretch. I work so hard to land on something, and then I spend a lot of the year being dissatisfied with the word that I've picked.

This year was not like that at all. There was no struggle. No soul searching. I was in the shower, and a word just dropped into my head. A word that I never in a million years would have come up with if I'd had to work at it on my own. 


Really? After the amount of pain and grief that my schedule has caused me this year? After the stress and difficulty due to adding to our responsibilities? After bringing yet one more child into our home? More??

Yet, as soon as it entered my head, I knew this was it. This is the year that I no longer settle. Last year was hard, and if I had to think of a word to describe it, it would be this: adequate. What a word, right? Not exactly how I want to be describing my life. Adequate. This year, I don't want that to be the word that comes to mind when I attempt to describe my past year. Adequate is the worst. More is the future.

I don't want to settle for a pretty close relationship with God. I don't want to expect normal things from my spiritual life. I don't want to pray for miracles while still not truly believing that they'll happen.

I don't want to settle for a good enough marriage. I love my marriage, but why in the world would I just decide that it's good enough? Why wouldn't I want more from it? This year, I'm not settling for the comfortable relationship that we've had.

I don't want to settle for being a good enough mom. For being mostly ok. I have so much more within me to give to my children. I want more for them. I want more for me.

I am not settling for just enough. Or good enough. I want more. There IS more.

Along with the word, Scripture was right there at my ready. Guiding me into the calling for my life this year. 

"Now to Him who is able to do far more (MORE!!) abundantly than all we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus, throughout all generations, forever and ever, Amen."Ephesians 3:20-21

As one of my favorite teachers, Beth Guckenberger, likes to say, "God writes the very best stories." The stories I want to write seem fine, until I see what God has in store. He has more for me. He has more for my family. He has more for my marriage. He has more for my church. There is so much more than I can ever think or imagine or ask for. I want to access that this year, and the great thing about this particular scripture is that it tells me exactly how: according to the power at work within us. That same power that raised Jesus from the dead is already within me. It's not that I'll be able to do more or get more or have more all on my own, but it's because Christ lives in me. He's already given me everything I need which makes it all that more ridiculous that I've settled for just adequate.

MORE is the promise I'm claiming for this year. I am unbelievably excited for what it holds. The stories have already begun to unfold, in my life, in my husband's life, in our marriage, in our church. I cannot wait to see what God has for us. I cannot wait to bear witness to the resurrection stories, to the glory. It's all for Him. 

Remember not the former things nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing, now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.Isaiah 43:18-19

I don't have to live in the adequacy of this past year. Neither do you. God is doing a new thing. It is already springing forth, if we can just SEE it. He is making beauty from ashes, joy from mourning - living water in the desert and wastelands of our life. There's more for you too this year, dear friends. Seek it out with me? Be hopeful. All of God's promises are yes in Christ Jesus, and it is Jesus Himself that is the Amen. 

Yes and Amen.

Friday, November 13, 2015

day in the life

5:50 am – Middle school son’s alarm goes off. Continue to try to sleep.

6:30 am – Hear first toddler’s rumblings. Lay there anyway.

6:45 am – Wake up elementary kids. Endure both school girls’ loud stomping.

7 am – All children awake. Half of them are crying.

7:23 am – Yell at children to get out the door to the bus because no one happened to listen when I said “Watch for the bus” and so it’s waiting on them. One leaves without glasses. All leave without coats. 

7:25 am – Feed Bonnie and Clyde breakfast. They stand at the kitchen door like the goats at our local dairy waiting for the tourists to feed them their pellets. They scream at each other because they cannot be bothered to eat their own food from their own bowls even though both have been served exactly the same thing.

7:45 am – I try to consume some coffee. Two sips.

8 am – I try to interest Bonnie and Clyde in toys. They refuse. Running on the top of the table wins out. In between scolding, bribing, and time outs, I have to forcibly remove them from the top of the table approximately 85 times in the next 20 minutes.

8:25 am – Someone forgot to shut the eldest son’s door completely. I replace his belongings, I climb up into the loft to remove the child who thinks if they just crawl to the back corner that I will let them remain up there. I shut the door.

8:27 am – I realize that when I shut the door, I only managed to actually remove one toddler from the room. The other commences loud banging and MAMAMAMAMMA from the other side until I retrieve them.

8:30 am – I find the eldest daughter’s glasses in her room. I spend several minutes deciding whether or not I should take them to her. I decide to do it, if only because it means the toddlers will be strapped into their carseats for a half hour.

8:40 am –While I’m getting dressed, the toddlers find my laptop and change the screen orientation. Something they often do and something that I yet to figure out how it happens and exactly how to fix it without twenty minutes of four hundred steps and restarts.

9 am – I load Bonnie and Clyde in the van. I leave them in there for a bit so I can brush my teeth, pick up some toys, and drink a half-cup of coffee.

9:30 am – We return from the school, and I lock Bonnie and Clyde in the kitchen with me so I can work on dinner. I decide to try to save pennies by using a bunch of stuff we already have in the fridge. While I’m layering up what I’ve decided to call enchilada casserole, Clyde grabs the sour cream off of the counter, goes through the gate that apparently I did not latch tight enough, and proceeds to eat it in the dining room, on the carpet, by the fistful. I find him and the carpet and the dog covered in sour cream moments later.

9:47 am – After mess clean-up, I return to the kitchen, making sure the gate is securely shut behind me. While I’m chopping something on the cutting board, Bonnie and Clyde open the fridge, pull out a dozen eggs, and proceed to smash three on the floor and one on the dog’s head.

10 am – The dog and I have successfully cleaned up the raw egg mess AND prevented the toddlers from consuming raw egg in the process. I stick the dinner in the fridge for later, and we move on to the living room.

10:10 am – Is it naptime? I give Bonnie and Clyde a snack which only succeeds in kicking off thirty solid minutes of crying for lunch.

10:40 am – I try to distract them with toys. I try to distract them with books. We end up ‘playing the piano’ together.

10:55 am – I stick the popcorn chicken (non-hormone, non-antibiotic popcorn chicken, obvs) in the oven. Bonnie and Clyde get out their plates, cry for water, cry because their plates are empty, cry because I won’t give them candy before lunch, cry, cry, cry until the timer rings upon which they commence dancing and jumping “FOOD IS DONE! FOOD IS DONE!”

11:15 – Lunch is over. That was a short reprieve.

11:30 – Diapers changed, lunch cleaned up, and I sit down with Clyde to put him to sleep. Bonnie sits beside us with her binkie and blanket. 

11:45 – Clyde is asleep and in bed. I put Bonnie to sleep in her bed. 

12 noon – Here’s where I should accomplish adult tasks. Instead I find the rest of my cup of coffee, and I’m not proud of this next fact, but I drink it anyway. Then I nap.

I’d write about the afternoon too, but I’m too tired.
Blessed are you, mamas of multiple toddlers, for one day, they shall grow up and then you can rest.

photo credit: via photopin (license)

Friday, November 6, 2015


This afternoon, I was sitting in my living room, watching two toddlers, who finally seem to have found their groove, chat and play. One without words, one with more words than a two-and-a-half year old should rightfully have, one with a strong biting habit, one who is so used to being the adored baby of the family that it’s been a rough transition to sharing, one who has pain that we can’t begin to understand right now…these two are bridging that barriers and learning to be friends. Little Man wants to show affection; Mira is cautious. Mira wants to play ball; Little Man can only throw straight up in the air and bonk himself in the head. It’s been joy and delight to watch these two find their way in this transitional duet. It’s been pain and fighting and household destruction as well. It’s been hard.

A couple hours later, we drove to our run-down city to drop Little Man off to see his mama and siblings for the first time since he came. Four weeks to the day from when he arrived at our home. This is not at all typical for placements in our county. Usually, we begin visits within a week of placement. They don’t want to keep parents and children apart. I’m not quite sure what the delay was, but I do know our county is overwhelmed with kids this year. Foster care rates are once again rising, and there are still not enough homes.

The visitation center is packed full when we drove in. It’s been years since we’ve had to do visits at the visitation center. Our last two placements both had home visits with parent aides, so there was no need for the scheduling chaos that working with the visitation center requires. The snapshot of that visitation center on a packed full night is one of trauma and pain. Parents are crying, children are crying, foster parents and social workers are trying to wrangle children in and out of vehicles, trying to force them to stay in the rooms where they don’t even want to be, trying to drag them back to cars to go back to homes where they don’t want to be living. Fast food, sugary drinks, dye-laden cupcakes are on the menu for these supper-hour visits.

There’s a smell to this particular building. Not really a bad smell, just a very particular smell. Despite changes to the interior and a turnover in management, this building smells the same as it did the first time I walked into it more than six years ago. I wonder if someday these children will remember this smell – one of those trauma triggers that hold over from this part of their childhood. I wonder if Little Man will forever associate Happy Meals, this smell, and the sound of children crying for their daddy with this time in his life.

He took it all in suspicious stride. No visible reactions, as is his typical way. He keeps things tight to his chest, even at 18 months. There are a lot of people; it’s overwhelming, I’m sure. His lack of emotion saddened his mom, I’m sure. I wanted to make it better for her. I wanted her to look at his curly hair and feel like it’s well-taken of. Did she feel it, I wonder? Did you notice how well I’m keeping it moisturized? I hoped she liked his shoes. Name-brand on purpose, because sometimes those things are really important to people. The irony inherent in my desire to please birth families with how well I’m caring for their children is not lost on me, but the minute I start thinking of myself of better than and above ‘these people’ is the minute that I need to quit doing this job altogether. These families and parents are every bit as worthy of respect and dignity as anyone else on this earth, most especially me.

I have a lot of mixed feelings about visits. I have a lot of mixed feelings about foster care in general. Now we’re full into the middle of this case with visits and team meetings and all that goes with it, the familiar confusing emotions come back. Conflicting desires to reunite and to protect, to love and to keep distance come rushing all back. Most of my days are spent just living life normally, but in foster care, there is a constant weekly (or twice weekly, in our case) reminder that these children are not your own. No matter the groove you find yourself in, there’s a consistent off-beat because it’s not a completely harmonious normal life. Trying to keep our own beat steady with that conflicting rhythm will be a challenge during the next long while. We’ll just keep on singing our song of love and peace and safety, praying that those notes sound forth from our lives, not only into Little Man’s life, but also in the lives of his family as well. 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

grunge filter

In the line at a local dairy farm/ice cream establishment, I looked back at the nearly 15 people in our party and thought about the strangeness of my particular life. Birth family, adopted family, foster family, and some extra non-official children that we never really asked for yet can't quite seem to not love like our own to boot. Kids from 18 months to 20 years old, and I'm not quite sure what brought this woman who started her adult life insistent on only three children and fairly attached to her 1950's American dream view of how families are created and how they behaved to this place.

We sat later, in a row, on the farm wagon tour: myself, my kids' big sister's adoptive mom, their birth mom, their big sister, and then all of my kids....and my littlest was passed from person to person to person, affectionate towards every person in the line. The women bonded by being moms to the same kids, the children bonded by familial bonds that they don't seem to question whether or not they live in the same house.

Not that this was all rainbows and unicorns. Obviously not. There was pain underneath this whole family fun day, for sure. There are kids who are struggling through homelessness and learning to be adults in a world stacked against them when they've never been given the skills they need to navigate it. There are mamas whose choices have taken them a dark, dark road, with permanent scars to bear from those years. There are mamas who have struggled to make their families whole and healthy through the hard road to parenthood that they've chosen. There are little children with a lifetime's worth of pain and trauma in their little bodies. Our day may have appeared rosy from the pictures, but for those of us involved, there's always a grunge filter applied.

I've spent the rest of this week anxiously waiting for a caseworker call. I have no idea how court went last week. I have no idea what their case plan is, and what my part will be in that plan. Little Man settles in further, and every day that passes is a step up in difficulty. As he gets more comfortable, we see more and more evidence of the trauma he's been through. As he gets more comfortable, the harder it will be on him when we start visits with his mama. I want them to call. I want to know what my life is going to look like once the case plan starts for real. I told Wendell that today, and he says with this existential air, "Whatever it's gonna look like, it's gonna be nothing like we thought it was going to be when we got married seventeen years ago."

He's right. Our first date was 20 years ago this Thanksgiving. Twenty years, and I feel like we've barely started. Aren't most people established by now? Don't they have their big house and their family firmly in hand and their careers figured out and their crap together? I can't keep my house clean right now, and once again this week, I'm being humbled by my need for a friend to bring an evening meal. I don't even know how many children I'll have next week, much less what my schedule will hold. My kids have some semi-public issues, and I can't remember the last time I went to the grocery without it becoming somewhat of a spectacle.

But then today, I'm sitting on my couch writing this post while Little Man runs with a face-splitting smile towards my biggest boy, and my littlest girlie points to the big sister that she doesn't even realize isn't actually her biological sister in the picture on the wall, talking about when we saw her last. I scroll through the pictures of last Sunday's family visit on my phone, and I'm thinking that there's nothing in this world - no big house, no amount of well-dressed, perfectly behaved children who only ever belonged to me, no retirement account, no security about what my schedule will look like next week...there's none of that stuff that I would trade for what I have.

It's dirtier (quite literally. you haven't seen my house lately) than I imagined.
It's more beautiful than I ever imagined. 

 photo credit: It was here via photopin (license)

Monday, October 19, 2015

in the middle of the crazy

Little Man has been here a little over an a week and a half now. The house is filled with adorable as he and Mira are exactly the same size, though 10 months apart. The twins comments proliferate. He's warmed up. We get smiles and giggles and play. We still get scowls, but very little crying. We get glimpses of what he has likely been through, but I expect the bulk of it will come once visits start. This relative calm before the inevitable storm is a blessing since our household is anything but calm right now

No matter how good of a handle I think I have on things, a new placement always catches us unprepared. It's like having to constantly be prepared for the birth of a baby. People get things extra clean, they make freezer meals, they get all of their projects out of the way, they make sure the nursery is stocked with diapers and gear and clothes. While I do have minimal stock of a few items and the foster agency requires us to have the beds and car seats we need, I never have enough, and because our house is so small, we don't keep the beds in a constant configuration that leaves space. So the first night is inevitably filled with moving furniture, emergency store runs, loads of laundry (first to clean everything the child comes with and then to make sure the bedding and clothes are clean for his/her arrival as well), and purchased supper. 

Unfortunately Little Man came right at the time I needed to be switching out the kids' wardrobes for fall, which is a task that regularly brings me to near tears and/or violent murderous thoughts. So add that to all the stuff I listed, and even though I thought I was ready for this, turns out that was far from the truth. It's emotionally exhausting to bring home a new child, no matter the age, and while Little Man is a good sleeper, he does require a lot of supervision as he is not a respecter of boundaries or safety concerns. In addition, I was in the middle of a several day stretch where I had run out of one of my medications so I was beyond exhausted and not feeling super well.

Add to that a fairly serious medical issue with your tiniest of the bunch that lasts a whole day and brings back traumatic memories of hospitals and near-death experiences and compounds shame and guilt on top of all this stress I'm already fighting, and this is all an overwhelming recipe.

This placement, however, came right before a pre-planned evening away with non-refundable concert tickets so that I was forced to override my instincts and leave the new one for awhile to get away. We sat with friends who need nothing from us, who understand us, who follow Jesus the same kinds of ways that we do, who speak life and truth, and we ate well and listened to phenomenal music thanks to the collective efforts of three different babysitters (and let's be honest, a significant amount of cash)...since that's the kind of complicated shenanigans we go through to go away for a night. It was a deep breath in the middle of a week where everyday left me feeling like I was struggling a little for air.

Hope abounds because friends pull through. Whether it's the day-after arrival of an extra toddler bed, a double stroller, and some apple crisp, or the week-later gracious gift of a home-cooked meal, which I was uber-embarrassed to have to admit we needed (but after a week of hamburger helper and fast-food dinners, we WERE in need), sometimes God gives you the sweet sweet gift of a friend who shows up when your house is messy, you haven't showered, your kids are a circus, and everything is in chaos. 

It's hard stuff, bringing a new one into your home. No matter how many times we do it, it's still hard. It's emotional and exhausting, and there's always that moment a couple days in where my heart catches up with my brain and I get panicky because I know the hurt that's coming. There's no way this ends happily. It can end well, but someone is getting hurt in the process. And honestly? I hope it's us. I hope we're the ones grieving and missing him and fighting the take-your-breath-away pain that comes with sending a child home. I hope that's how this ends because that means this boy is back in a healthy and healed family. That means they've won. They've beat the odds and done the hard work to make their family work. That's the outcome we pray for right now. That's why we do this, all the crazy and the hard and the hurt. It's for restoration. It's for redemption. It's because, after it all is said and done, we still believe love wins.

photo credit: clean up time! via photopin (license)

Friday, October 9, 2015

compelled by love

There is so much indignity involved in a child being brought into foster care. There are caseworkers and law enforcement sometimes and intake exams and being stripped naked outside of homes to avoid pest infestations. There are showers with strangers and hours of hair combing culminating in strange pajamas and a strange bed and a strange mama to try to put you to sleep. These are just the mild cases. Some of the worse ones involve x-rays and pelvic exams and measurements and a gazillion documenting photographs of injuries.

The worst part is that the person a foster parent needs to talk to the most is unavailable to them. There's no mama or daddy interaction to ask about schedules and preferences and even what nickname you might use. You don't know if they drink from a sippy cup or a bottle or just disposable juice boxes. You don't know if they only eat twinkies or whether they like a myriad of vegetables too. You don't know this child because they are not your child. And yet they are. You're not a babysitter, you're the everyday parents for this kid now.

When we asked our eldest on Wednesday how he felt about another placement, he said, "yep." No questions. No hesitation. Just an immediate affirmation. This is what we do.

When we told our other kids, our oldest daughter, as typical in our family, replied with all the drama she could muster, "YES!! I LOVE what we do!!!"

But then later, she tells me that she really does love it, but it's just kind of 50/50 because when we get new kids in our family, it's because their families couldn't take care of them. And they're sad and they miss their moms. So it's not just all fun. 

We've always done foster care as a family. We've always approached it holistically and while we aren't really running a democracy, our children have voice in this. Not only do they have voice, but they have a huge role. We can't be successful in integrating a new child into our family without our children's participation. In fact, I would argue that their role is maybe even more vital at first than our own. Children look to one another for cues, to judge safety, to experience fun. Our kids are rock stars at foster care.

Our newest Little Man is cautious. He has a grown man's worth of suspicion packed into a tiny toddler body. He's spent far more time scowling than smiling, and the only thing that seems to have truly brought him joy is playing ball. Oh, and meat. Little Man loves meat. I don't think I've seen anyone enjoy meatballs as much he did this evening.

His story will unfold slowly, I'm sure, as all of our cases do. When we told our families, almost everyone asked 'how long'. When we first started foster care, that was a question we asked at the beginning often. I wasn't even tempted to ask this time. Whatever they tell us is going to be wrong. Things never turn out how they're expected. So we treat this little guy as we do all the others we've loved in the past. We love him with all we have for all the time he's with us. Beyond that, it's not up to us.

As with every new placement, the past couple days have been excitement and chaos and so much sadness. Babies without their mamas. Mamas without their babies. This world is broken, and sometimes I get cynical and overwhelmed. But in the end, we do what's put in front of us. We help the ones we can help, and we step up where we can step up. We give family to the lonely, and we do it all in the name of Love.

"For Christ's love compels us..."2 Corinthians 5:14

photo credit: JOHN WATERHOUSE, NOV 4, 1930-MARCH 25, 1992 via photopin (license)