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.

 

Foster Parenting and Playing Pretend

 Photo by Kara DiCarlo

Photo by Kara DiCarlo

Yesterday at my gym we had a partner workout. As my partner and I, strangers before today, traded off at the barbell, we made joke excuses for our poor performance by complaining about our kids keeping us up all night. Whether that was the real reason for my bad lifting or not, it was fun to joke around with another father for a little while.

But in the back of my mind was a fear that I would be discovered as a fraud. You see, I didn't tell him my kids were foster kids.

That's partially because it isn't always appropriate to bring it up. But a lot of the reason is I want to feel like a normal dad, and that's easier with strangers than with friends who know our situation.

In February of this year, a 2-year-old and her 5 1/2 month old sister came to live with us. In that time, my wife and I have absolutely become their parents. Last week, I took our now almost 3-year-old (we call her Dubs online) to gymnastics class. As I carried her into class, she wrapped her arms around my neck and said "My Dada." Unprompted. I melted.

So while I feel like dad to these girls a lot of the time, there are frequent moments that remind me I'm not. A court hearing. A visit with a biological parent. Not being able to share my most recent adorable family picture on Instagram (I know that's lame, but it's sad not to join in with peers doing the same thing). Even a kind friend asking if we're going to be able to keep them (we still have no idea at this point) can be hard at times1.

So I find myself creating moments to help me forget. Whether it's a conversation at the gym, or speaking to the girls a little too loudly in Kroger to seem like their real dad (which I doubt is ever in question to begin with), these times are life giving for me. They temporarily free me of the anxiety brought by knowing what tomorrow will bring for our little family.

So forgive me if we ever meet and I don't disclose that my kids aren't technically mine, or if I'm a little obnoxious playing with them in public. I'm trying to make this strange and at times difficult situation feel a little more normal.

  1. Don’t read that as you shouldn’t ask! We always appreciate people asking. ↩︎

Sh*t's Getting Real, Y'all

(Pardon Our French.)

We’ve reached the point in this foster adventure where — you guessed it — sh*t is getting real. 

In the past few weeks we’ve had All The Feelings. All of them. Joy, sadness, fear, anger — basically your whole Inside Out crew. And they like to fight over the control panel. More than usual.

If I don’t step back and look at it every once in a while, I get bogged down in the frustrating minutia of parenting and working and fostering and annoying phone calls and meltdowns and nothing being simple. But when I do look at the big picture, I really can see God working in this messy story of ours. For that, and many other things, I’m thankful.

I will admit, though, that it can be exhausting. There are a lot of moving parts to our ridiculous life right now. A lot of people are involved at any given moment, which means I have to be a lot of different things to a lot of different people. A playdate/visit planner, an appointment transporter, a mommy, a mommy-but-also-someone-who-respects-your-bio-mommy person, a house-cleaner (but don't quote me on that because people would probably laugh), an advocate, a squeaky wheel, a high-maintenance question-asker, a dinner-maker, a writer, a dont-touch-that sayer, an animal feeder, an animal-yeller-ater, a comforter, a contact for the girls’ lawyer, a mentor of sorts, an encourager…while still trying to have a healthy grasp on what I feel and letting myself feel it and all that. 

Thankfully I kind of hit a breaking point and thankfully I have a husband who encourages me to let stuff go and just take a minute to go get a gel manicure (have you ever had one of those? I’m forever changed).

All that to say, sh*t is getting real. Soon Dubs will be transitioning over to live with her dad, which we fully support, but it will be a difficult reality, for sure. We have been ridiculously blessed by God that her dad is who he is. He is kind, humble, eager to learn, trustworthy, and he adores that little girl. We couldn’t ask for a better situation for us, either, because he is not only letting us be involved, but wants us to be. It’s Three’s Company up in here, y’all.

One of my favorite things that’s happened so far is Dubs’ dad commenting to Craig that due to their difference in college allegiances, Dubs will need a license plate when she’s 16 that says “My Two Dads are divided.” I mean, you guys. My Two Dads. That’s how he sees this. Like I said, we are ridiculously blessed by this.

None of us knows what we’re doing. He doesn’t; we don’t. But we are thankful to have someone in it with us who understands that and is willing to just come alongside us and stumble through it together.

As a side note, we are thankful also for a church community who loves our girls and loves Dubs’ dad and wants to support all five of us in any way they can. 

So here we are, just moving forward the best we can. We adore each of these girls with all we have. There has been a couple of moments lately where I’ve felt like I’m a true parent, and I wanted to share them, because I feel like they are irrational feelings only parents will understand.

A couple months ago P was carrying around this off-brand Croc we have (I don’t know) with a cap to one of her bottles in it. She was carrying it so carefully, and so pridefully from one spot to another, that I had this overwhelming feeling swell up in me that I would curb-stomp anyone or anything that threatened to dislodge that bottle cap from that shoe. Like she was so proud of this thing that she’d carefully constructed to be what she wanted it to be, however trivial, that I would not let anything happen to it or her so long as I was breathing. See? Totally an irrational parent feeling.

Similarly, I walked with Dubs up a hill at our pastor’s house the other day. She was wearing her bathing suit and shorts and flip flops and had come to play on the slip n slide. For whatever reason no other kids were playing on it, but she loved it. We had gone down to their swing set and were walking back up the hill toward the slip n slide. She was the only kid in her bathing suit but wore it proudly and was ready to go back in for more, and I had, again, an overwhelming feeling to never let anything bad happen to her or let anyone make fun of her or so help me they would feel my wrath.

I think this feeling just equates to their utter innocence and joy, untainted by anyone else’s opinions or feelings, un-muddied by self-consciousness or perceived limitations. They were just free. And vulnerable. And I wanted to protect that with everything I am.

Anyway, as always, this post rambles and wanders. But here are some things the girls have done that have given us joy lately:

-P’s laugh. It’s the best tiny person laugh and she blesses us with it daily, especially when Dubs makes her laugh.
-Dubs’ full sentences and addressing names on the end of sentences. “I love you, mommy” was my favorite so far. “I don’t want that!” is my least favorite so far.
-How proud P is when she stacks blocks by herself, one by one.
-Dubs and P holding hands (prompted by Dubs) and playing together
-How Dubs loves her bio dad
-Dubs drawing her bio dad a picture
-P saying “Dada!” when Craig walks up
-P saying “puppy” for the first time
-Dubs recognizing the letter A

If you’d like to pray for us or our girls or their families, we welcome it! We would love prayers for peace and God’s sovereignty and grace for all of us. Safety and protection and unconditional love for the girls, no matter where they are. And courage for us and Dubs’ bio dad as we walk into this new season.