Foster Care Awareness Month 2018

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It’s Foster Care Awareness Month! 

This gives me an excuse to write on this site. I go a long time without posting updates, because, as I’ve mentioned before, it feels very personal at this point and everything that happens (or doesn’t happen) is directly related to my girls’ stories. I feel strongly that I should keep those sacred and let them tell their own stories as they feel led to later on.

That said, for the sake of an update, in general we are doing great. The girls are thriving, and as much as I want them to stay little forever (especially P who is SO TINY still), it’s so fun watching them grow up. #Dubs is straight crushing it in her phonics class at daycare, learning all her letters and sounds. She nearly can write her name all by herself now, and it’s not an easy one to write. The things she says now sound so grown up, and her logical reasoning skills surprise me almost daily. We still struggle with meltdowns, but that girl has come so far and we are so proud.

P is crushing it at being crazytown, but in the best way. Her cuteness is in proportion to her crazy, so it works out. She has the promise of a great gymnast due to her small size and fearless nature, and she adores her big sister. She will do anything #Dubs tells her to do, basically, without question. She’s a great hype girl and sidekick. Energetic, loyal and great at the “yes-and.” 

They both think adding “poopie” onto phrases is the funniest thing to have ever happened. So we are deep in the potty humor already. But I digress.

The reason I’m writing is because it is Foster Care Awareness Month. I think this means that I should give you a glimpse into what foster care is like, and also help you understand that if you feel like God is calling you do it, you can do it. We are not uniquely qualified — though I do feel we have been called to this — nor are we specially equipped with hearts that don’t break. But we take it one day at a time (don’t we all?), and I think you could do that, too. If He asked you to.

Here are some things that make my life unusual because of foster care:

-My family is enormous. I say that because we have relationships with biological family of our girls on top of our own families of origin, so let’s just say these girls get about 400 packages in the mail for every major and minor holiday. It’s the strangest, most beautiful thing to watch unfold. Because at the end of the day, it’s just more people that love our girls. It makes things complicated logistically at times, but the girls having grandparents on grandparents on grandparents isn’t the worst thing in the world. It’s been really sweet to see how God is writing this story. Sometimes I’m blown away by how carefully He has orchestrated this entire situation and find myself going “what are the odds that —,” but clearly it’s Him.

-I’ve added a lot of seemingly random individuals to my phone contacts. Caseworkers, more caseworkers, lawyers, biological family members, you name it. Over the last 27 months I’ve had to get over my dislike for the phone (mostly) and call people I don’t know, try to advocate for our girls, but mostly just ask a lot of questions. A lot. Of questions. All the questions. Am I a caseworker’s worst nightmare? WHO CAN SAY.

-I understand a lot of acronyms that feel like gibberish to most people: CFTM, TPR, CPS, GAL, FML (LOL JK)

-I let people help me. I’m not ashamed to let people make me food or clean my house or donate stuff to me. This is mostly applicable for the first year of our placement, but I always tell people “don’t say it if you don’t mean it” because I WILL take you up on it. That includes babysitting. And yes, one kind sweet soul offered on more than one occasion to clean for me AND I LET HER because I am a giving and generous spirit but also my bathroom was gross and she didn’t even judge me once.

-Bedtimes are not easy. I don’t lay my kids down and say “love you peace out” and go binge Wild Wild Country. We have to physically lay down with our children to help them go to sleep, and sometimes that takes an hour (just the falling asleep part, not the bath/teeth brushing/stories, etc.). Now, we’ve managed to get a system down that allows us to do it simultaneously even though they share a room but we are still far from laying them both down in their room and peacing out. I say this not necessarily to complain but just to say it even to myself — my life is not the typical one, and that’s okay. I may not be able to do a girls night every week at 8:30 because my kids are not asleep by 8:30 even though their bedtime is 7:30. Some people may think we are being overly permissive or babying them. But when your kid comes from a hard place, you do everything you can to make them feel safe that first night. #Dubs and I ended up sleeping most of the night on the floor of her room together. She used to not fall asleep unless she was physically laying on top of me. We’ve graduated to side-by-side, but still. We set a precedent, so it's a process. What I was reminded recently at the Empowered to Connect conference is that connection and relationship is the most important thing. So if I have to lay down with my 2yo for an hour every night, so be it, because it connects us. I’m learning to not be bitter about that and embrace the blessing that it is. (THAT WAS LONG SORRY)

-Speaking of bedtime, I parent differently than a lot of people do. Craig and I learned about Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI) and Dr. Karyn Purivs about 4 or so years ago and everything we have done since then has basically been us just trying to do our best Karyn Purvis impression at all times (and failing because that woman was a saint and a hero and a blessing to the world). We do redos, we don’t really take away privileges, we try to teach our kids how to regulate their bodies, we grant snacks pretty much any time as long as they’re not just grossly unhealthy, we rarely do time-outs and when we do we stay next to them. It’s all about neuroscience and trauma and you can read about it elsewhere, but I’m sure it can seem weird or overly permissive to some people. But let me tell you — it works. It works so. hard. Ask me about it and I will be happy to gush over it to you.

If you’re still reading, God bless you.

Foster care has not been the easiest thing we’ve ever done. Far from it. But it has given us some of the greatest blessings and has shown us God’s goodness and grace in so many ways. It’s shown us how to live in the gray areas and shrug off the black-and-white. It’s shown us how to cultivate patience and compassion for not only our kids but people who are different from us. It’s shown us not how to avoid pain but how to trust that it will be okay if we do endure pain.

If you’re interested in foster care, please don’t ignore that gentle tug on your heart. Take a step. Talk to a foster parent (hi) or an agency. Just dip your toe in the water and see what happens. There are kids who need love and healing, and you might just be someone who can give that.

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.