Hope and Heartache

So, I think May was Foster Care Awareness Month. And, true to form as my life as a parent, I am behind. I thought I would write a post anyway. 

We have been foster parents for almost two years now, and have had the opportunity to parent eight kids — some for five days, some for 16 months. As we’ve gone along, it's been so cool to see people — some we knew already, some we met through this experience — take the plunge into foster care and get to be the voice of “you can do this” that so many others have been for us. It’s encouraging to see others step into a potentially heartbreaking (but beautiful) scenario out of love for these kids they haven’t even met yet, and the normalization of being foster parents (though our perspective may be skewed, admittedly). It’s been a blessing to see churches step up and support foster families, foster children and biological families, including our own.

Foster care is messy; there’s no doubt about that. It’s all one big gray area. There’s no right or wrong way to feel or to handle any of these atypical situations. The word “family” becomes nebulous and encompasses a wide range of people, all of whom have a vested interest in these little lives in which you’re investing day in and day out. Feelings become blurred. It’s no longer “happy” vs. “sad,” but both/and: happy, sad, scared, empathetic, angry, confused, hopeful. Fun fact: did you know those can all occur at once and usually they just all express themselves as tears and/or eating your feelings? (We suggest burritos or brownies.)

I haven’t been writing much online lately because so much of what we’ve been experiencing at this point doesn’t feel like our story to tell. We’ve been thinking a lot more about our girls’ future and their right to tell their own story, and their family members’ right to keep their own story theirs — not necessarily because it’s good or bad, but I’ve been convicted lately about how precious our girls’ stories are and that they should be protected fiercely until they’re ready to share them themselves. 

Without specifics, I haven’t known what to write. But I will say the past few months have been a blend of hope and heartache (a term a friend used to describe our situation perfectly).

I think sometimes people forget that adoption (and foster care) doesn’t happen without tragedy. I read that once, and it feels so real now. It’s not a one-and-done ‘rescue.’ And though all adoptions have a sense of tragedy and loss attached, with foster care, we are literally watching it unfold in front of us, which is tough, especially while you’re seeing hope unfold simultaneously.

What brings us so much joy brings other people so much pain at the same time. What becomes a glimmer of hope for us feels like a dagger in the heart to someone else. And those people also deserve compassion, too, because on top of simply being human, often the reason they’re in this situation themselves is because of their own past traumas.

Love shows up in different ways from different people who all want the best for these girls, whatever they feel that may be. And we are all broken. So, so broken. It makes life messy.

I think it’s okay — even necessary — to experience both. I think that’s probably what the Gospel is in some way. Messy, broken humans just clinging to hope from a God who loves us despite our continual rejection of him and screwing-up of things, simply because we are His. Heartache in this world. Hope for the next. Grace upon grace. 

I’d love to hear from y’all about what your experience (if any) has been with foster care thus far — whether hearing about it, being in it, interacting with families who are in it, and your thoughts on this paradox of hope and heartache. Or even how you’ve experienced that messiness in your own life.

If you’re thinking about foster care, let us know. We’d love to be a resource for you, even if you decide it’s not for you. There are a ton of ways you can help children in foster care!

365 Days

365 days ago, we met our girls.

We were having dinner with some friends at our house when we got the call: 1-year-old and 2-year-old girls (first rule of Placement is don’t believe Placement. Those ages were incorrect.) We were so excited to finally get a call after about a month of being officially “available” again.

Our friends the Addisons were so sweet, just helping us pass the time. We ate dinner anyway, and they prayed with us before the girls arrived. It was nice to have people there with us as we waited.

The CPS worker arrived brought P in her carrier inside, and Craig went to the car to get Dubs. I’m pretty sure Dubs was wearing purple pants, but I could be wrong. We filled out paperwork. The CPS worker told us that she would have to sneak out because P would be fine, but Dubs would break down (accurate).

SIDEBAR: Now, it’s painful to think about our girls being dropped off at a stranger’s house, but that’s what happened to them. I mean, we knew we were nice and kind and safe. But the girls didn’t know that yet. Just another reminder of how terrifying foster care is for children.

Then, we had no idea what kind of little people they would be. What they would love, hate, do, say. Now, a year later, we have two tiny individuals who run our house and take names. 

We know we have a Dory-obsessed, “coffee”-loving, jacket-wearing-hating, loud, hilarious, stubborn, sweet, smart, creative, fashion-conscious near-3-year-old on our hands who will do just about anything for ice cream and sings on pitch (mostly).

#neverforget ^

We know we have a tiny, easy-going, word-saying, shoe-obsessed, straight-up-adorable, hallway-running, baby-einstein-hypnotized, pigtail-wearing, baby(stuffed animal)-adoring, best-hug-giving, squealing, sassy love bug of a near-18-month-old who loves her sissy (which now comes out “eeee”) and says “yes” with her whole body.

But a year ago, we were handed these small humans — one who communicated only in “ehhh!”s for a few frustrating weeks and the other who couldn’t even roll over yet — only dreaming that MAYBE we would get to throw Dubs a birthday party four weeks later. And MAYBE we could even have them long enough for Easter. Or Summer. Can you imagine, having them for summer? What about P’s FIRST BIRTHDAY? We could throw a first birthday party? That would be so fun. And then, gradually, it all came to pass. Then it was fall, and we put together halloween costumes, and we picked out pumpkins, and we did all the cliche family things because WE COULD. And we figured out holiday schedules and endured road trips with toddlers and celebrated Christmas together as a family.

And now it’s been a year. We’ve learned a lot about grace and a lot about God enabling us to Do Hard Things. We’ve learned about the generosity of others. We’ve learned that sometimes the messier life is, the more beautiful it is. We’re stumbling through this thing, but we are mostly just so thankful for the people God has blessed us with, and the honor and privilege of caring for these girls and having them call us “mama” and “daddy.”

It’s certainly had its ups and downs, this foster care journey of ours. And it’s far from over. But as much as I miss  weekends of sleeping in and days without managing meltdowns, being mama to these girls has been an enormous blessing in my life.

To think that we are going to be planning a 3-year-old birthday party soon kind of blows my mind. It feels like we just had her 2nd. I suppose that’s what parenting is, though. 

Happy one-year, sweet girls. You are the biggest blessings in our lives (besides Jesus). It is a joy to watch you grow and teach you things and snuggle with you and laugh at your silliness. We love you more than you know, and we hope we get to celebrate many more years to come with you. 

 

Normal

This week, we find ourselves longing for normal.

The holidays were a blast -- especially with a nearly-3-year-old who just found out Christmas presents exist -- but they have been a whirlwind. Not only are we doing it for the first time with small children, but small children who sometimes struggle with transitions. The time of year has also brought out, we think, some trauma from this time a year ago, when the disruption in their little lives began. We can’t be sure, but with the weather changes, the Christmas lights…we think some triggers are possible.

Either way, feelings have been exploding all over the place lately, and we’ve run up against the reality that we are not normal. We are not a “normal” family. As much as we try to fit in with other families, do things “normal” families do, meet up with other families for a joint activity — this week has been a glaring reminder that a lot of times, we just can’t. It’s a painful reality check, to be honest. As much as we want to see ourselves as a regular, run-of-the-mill household with 2 kids, a dog and two cats — there’s so much more going on here. So many more factors at play. Factors that are often invisible to other people, which makes it even more difficult to manage the weight of. 

I feel it when we spend a Saturday at home and realize we spend the whole day in survival mode just waiting for bedtime, which results in guilt. Why can’t we just enjoy a nice day at home watching movies and hanging out? Why is this so difficult for us as parents when it feels like it should be something we are more than capable of handling? To be honest it makes me feel like a bad parent. Wishing the day away, not being able to get our kids to nap except in the car and then having to drive around aimlessly or sit in the driveway for an hour and a half reading. I feel like I should be able to manage my kids in the house all day or put them down for naps. But that darn meddler, Trauma, keeps seeping in and ruining everything, reminding us that we can’t. 

It feels isolating, maddening, heart-breaking, frustrating. It’s not their fault. They’re just tiny humans, as one of my favorite bloggers says, “made of SO much human.” But it’s exhausting, and it feels sometimes like we’ll never get to do things normal families do. 

Today, the kids are off from daycare, so I took them with me to my workout class. They have childcare, and the girls have been before, so I thought it would be no problem, even if they cried a bit at first. We’d had a somewhat tumultuous morning with a biting incident (I MEAN REALLY), but all had been calmed so I thought they’d be fine.

I spent 15 minutes of the class trying to get them to stay in the childcare room. Trying to salve the resulting panic-tantrums, I tried all my Karyn-Purvis-ing (and when that wasn’t working quickly enough, bribes) to get them to stay, but they just couldn’t do it.  So we had to leave. It was the straw that broke me after a hard weekend of tiny person breakdowns and rainy weather and stuck-inside-ness. I fought off sobs as I rushed them out and my sweet instructor asked if everything was okay. I just said I was overwhelmed (true) and kept going. One of my co-worker-outers, whose name I didn’t even know at first (but I’d definitely seen her before) offered to sit with Dubs while I worked out, but I didn’t think Dubs would do it, so I declined, explaining our situation a bit and that this happens sometimes (having to bail) — still fighting off tears because I am trying to be an adult who doesn’t cry over missing workouts (this was a built-in excuse not to exercise, right?). This woman later found me at my car, told me she felt like she was supposed to help me, helped me get Dubs in the car and immediately started telling her “you are so loved,” and Dubs went right to her, no problem. Her sweet servant heart shone as she gave me a hug and prayed for me right then and there as I sobbed (JUST A LITTLE) in an almost-stranger's arms. Allie was Jesus for me today (and my little community at Beatbox is no joke. I am so thankful for them.). I'd just wanted to do that one thing for me today. To wear my new, overpriced Lululemon pants and do some burpees and that one song I hate and be encouraged and pretend to punch some things and then go home. And somehow not being able to just broke me.

All that to say, sometimes we can’t do things like normal families. And it sucks. And sometimes the sweet childcare worker says kind things like “They did great before!” and “you can go! I don’t want you to miss your class” and you have to decline because you know it won’t be okay if you leave and the sweet older girls with their brand new American Girl dolls are looking on like they’ve seen a ghost while your kid screams bloody murder because she has issues with people leaving and it seems like you’re enabling by staying but really you’re just trying to help her heal and all you can hear is Sia blaring in the next room and all you can think is how much you just want to be in there with everyone else, but you can’t. And that’s the selfishness of being Made of Human, p.s.

If you made it this far into my ramblings, bless you. 

I think we got lulled into a false sense of complacency with our girls. Yes, we had some issues here and there but many of them had subsided to a certain degree and we seemed to have ended up with a family that yes, has two toddlers, but otherwise is fairly normal. But alas. Foster care actually IS hard, you guys. Even when they don't leave. Even when we've become “mama” and “daddy.” Even when it’s been nearly a year of looking them in the eyes and telling them they’re safe and trying to prove that to them day in and day out. 

Who knew?

But, lest you believe otherwise, we adore these girls inside and out. They are just as hilarious and joy-giving as they are frustrating and heart-breaking. And we would not trade them for anyone.