Adjusting To Our Sons This Summer

The folksy, soulful timbre of Brandi Carlile fills this home most days. I soak in the blend of energy and calm as power toward my day parenting five kiddos who call me Mama. While my wanderlust waxes jealous looking at all your adventures in my social squares, we are finding our new rhythm housebound as we adjust to being a forever family of seven.

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I’m used to being a yes mom. A go-find-the-day’s-fun mom. The four year old asks out of habit and hopeful expectation what we’re going to do today. The olders blink as I spin arms wide to indicate an answer of this. This is what we’re doing today. Home. Being. Being together. Learning to belong together.

It seems like holy healing should blossom more extraordinary, more exquisite, more noticeable than the whole lot of nothing happening in our day to day this summer.

It seems like it should feel a little more kumbaya and a little less kitchen sink full of kid dishes.

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In actuality it is sibling squabbles and slammed doors.

It is a million snacks and a million more redos (for the kids; for myself) as we teach our two new boys the permanency of belonging.

It is pitchers of iced tea with lemon slices from the neighbor’s tree and icy bowls of banana swirl, and silly face selfie sessions to make those late afternoon hours finally move along until daddy gets home.

It is toddler tantrums followed by recovery cuddles and humbly asking for help and acutely feeling my limits.

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The ubiquity of the phrase “You Are Enough” is inescapable. I have never felt less than enough. My newest son climbs onto my lap and clings for dear life. I wonder where this child’s mom is and am swallowed again by the enormity of it.

Me. That’s me. I am the mom. His mom. Thank you, God.

Help.

Grace. Grace is enough. I am not. But grace is. I don’t have to perfect this. I can loosen my worry, loosen my fear, loosen my perfect expectations.

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I sing U2’s lyrics Grace over the boys as they nap – at least sing the same three lines I can remember. I sing and it’s meditation. I sing and it’s medicine.

Every day more furniture and toys are banished to the garage as I hush our home, scale back the things in my face in response to the overwhelming needs. Every day I think this is the day we can make it to the beach. Every day we victory lap simply making it to dinnertime.

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Parenting. Healing. Belonging. These are the long game. One sliced peach. One tantrum. One popsicle. One correction. One cuddle at a time.

I am overwhelmed by the children. Overwhelmed by the need. Overwhelmed by the grace that allows it all to be okay.

 

 

For The Mom Who…Our Talks About Foster Care

For the mom who is genuinely confused about how many kids I have:

There are three.

We are still hoping to grow our family through foster to adopt. Ideally with a kiddo from the two or under crowd. That’s kind of our sweet spot and where we know we can offer a physically and emotionally safe environment for current and incoming kids.

Meanwhile, we wait.

While we wait, we offer respite care for other foster families in the thick of it.

I say thick of it because parenting is hard. Parenting foster kids who may or may not want to be with you and have a train-load of trauma is extra hard. Parenting a mix of bio kids and foster kids together is a whole other level that can only be understood by those who live it: words simply can’t imbue the experience.

Recently our family hosted five kids within three weeks and we jumped onto that elliptical of learning curves that happens every time you venture into a difficult arena. At the end, it was an affirmation that we want to do this and we can do this.

For the mom who said she isn’t emotionally strong enough.

Previously daunting things become normalized. For instance, I am capable of meeting birth parents. That felt scary before. When trading kids after visitation in a fast-food parking lot, we are, in fact, standing on the same ground. There is no more “us vs. them”. There is only an us together for these kids.

I am not “stronger” than you, more “ready” than you, more “figured out” than you. This is something our family values.  We simply said yes. Clearly it hasn’t all been worked out yet and has only been an uphill journey. We are confident that fostering and adoption is worth it. What a greater privilege than offering life and hope to what was previously void?

For the mom who told me she could never do that [foster care] to her real kids:

I’m going to skip over that “real kids” part for now.

I get it. It’s scary. I would be lying if I said we never signed off from a day hard-drawn asking if our children will spend their adult years in therapy overcoming these years of childhood.

No, our bio kids don’t always like every minute. Let’s remember that no one in this family actually likes each other every minute. We don’t shy away from doing something because some parts look hard.

Here’s the worth-it news. Our bio kids actively learn compassion. It is not a stale Bible story or an abstract idea. It’s making silly faces at the baby to entice a laugh because giggles are healing. It’s fetching a sippy of milk for the toddler because food means safety. It’s moments when their specific personalities are highlighted and utilized to meet the need of another child sharing in their home.

Our kids have to wait sometimes and be late sometimes. It is not always their way, their choice, their moment. When did this become a bad thing? That’s just called being a part of a family and being ready to grow into a socially responsible human in relationship with others.

For the mom who calls me superwoman and for the other mom who thinks I’m a frazzled spaz-case:

Yes. You are both correct.

It is true that I have a high-capacity for life, however there is no time for me to be fake with you. Adding kids into the mix means simplifying and shaking off non-essential commitments. There is not space for doing it all, people-pleasing, or perception campaigning. I have a much more resolute “no” to peripheral requests because the importance to create space for this “yes” is bigger.

Respite & foster care for our family makes a very real physical and metaphorical mess. Each mess creates an opportunity to see traits of generosity and kindness in our bio kids, an invitation for me to remain close to the vein of God’s heart, as well as an opportunity to continue healing for the foster kids.

It is shaking it all down, and knowing God’s loving compassion and fierce resilience is holding it all up.

Detoured But Not Deterred

I asked you not to sanctify me. I begged you not to sanctify me. When you do,  it makes telling you even harder, letting you down like this. It makes this feel more like failure than it already does. I’ve been reminded by my wisest advisors, my husband and best friend, that I’m not on the defense so I don’t have to explain the decision to anyone. Still, you’ve been walking with us, heck, practically wheel-barrowing us through this process at times so you deserve to know main pieces.

The kiddos were picked up by their social worker yesterday and driven back up to Riverside County. To a home without other small children. To a home where they can make  small mistakes and big mistakes safely. To a home where every ounce of attention is about them. We were prepared for tantrums and can get through those fairly well. Behaviors are only the flailing arms of the octopus. The need is at the core, the brain telling those arms to move. As weeks progressed into months and the behaviors increased and intensified it became evident that what we are able to provide these two did not meet their needs. You don’t know what you don’t know. We did become fairly attuned to their intricacies, so I am praying communicating that knowledge can help guide their future placements. I’m scared they are on the road to becoming statistics, but I am reminding myself that I believe in the One who can grow beauty in the midst of mess.

What do you do after you buckle the child you thought would be yours forever into the back of a social worker’s car on their way to destination unknown? I walked inside and started rearranging furniture. First things first, sort out the physical mess then I can deal with figuring out the emotions. Outside in, in this case. As I mentioned in the last post this hasn’t been a time for emotions because we’ve been living in crisis. Crisis is about action. It’s survival. So don’t ask me how I’m doing. Beyond the immediate layer of confusion and relief (can I say that without you hating me), I don’t know what I feel yet.

Next steps. Rest. There will be no steps forward until we simply rest well with sleep and family down time and outings filled with laughter. Heal. Mend the little chunks of our hearts that have been torn. Possibly provide some play therapy for the kids. Give. Once we feel rested we’d love to provide respite care for other families, taking their foster children for a few days to week at a time. Try Again. Stand up, square off, and start again. We are detoured but not deterred.

Borrowing the mantra from Glennon in this season: Next Right Step. The dream is the destination but haven’t found footing yet on the road and definitely can’t see the whole path. We just have to keep taking the next right step and pray we will make it eventually. I’ve never been one for being on time anyway.

Grasping For A Tether

So many of you are asking what keeps me sane in the midst of our crazy. Just so we are on the same page, by crazy we mean coaching our foster children through intense tantrums and defiant behaviors that make simple tasks of Get To School and Go To Bed daunting, Everest-looking feats.

How is it possible to remain grounded when life situations make you feel untethered?

1. Take emotion out of the equation. I am a heavily “feely” person so in the midst of cradling a child through a tantrum I can’t have emotion. My own emotion will quickly turn into anger and betray me. Calm, even voice. Slow movements. Out of body observation within the boundaries of my own personal frame. Those are my hands being calm. That is my voice remaining steady. Our bio children giving me sideways looks wondering who came and body-snatched their mother.

2. Know your THING that transcends you. Mine is music, that insta-touch portal to another mental realm. Yours might be the sky or a book or feet slapping pavement. For me, music. Specifically, our youtube is one click shy of explosion from overuse of Jeremy Jordan videos and Breaking Down the Riffs with Natalie Weiss segments. Not that I will ever sing these to you in full belting voice, it’s just fun to hear riffs puzzled apart and taught in a way that feels like you and I can actually tackle them. I tried to play it cool about my obsession with Jeremy Jordan’s voice but by now we all know I’m a total fangirl. Marriage counseling to commence soon, if not for what is turning out to be a very difficult foster/adopt scenario, for my fangirldom. Still love you most, Nate!

3. Being cared for. We are spending SO much mental, physical, and emotional energy caring for our family right now. There is nothing left. But you keep coming. You keep showing up on our doorstep with bags of Mickey nuggets and baskets of laundry detergent and packages of books and gift cards and essential oils and post-it notes. I tell you it’s been (another) hard morning/bad day/tantrumpalooza bedtime and you send me text messages that make me cackle and burst with love and friendship instead of tears. You rally around us so we rally around ours.

The unspoken and underscore of this is Holy Spirit all through and around and in. The other truth is that sometimes the concept of God with us still feels out there and far away and let’s face it, not very in the moment practical. The tangibles of hearing a song, reading a sarcastic text, and enjoying the bitter aftertaste of a first-sweet blackberry, those are what feel real. Those are what meet us immediately in the very visceral moment of what is untethering us and offer us a grounding rope back to earth, back to sanity. And yet, those simple tangibles are God with us.

Thank you everyone for encouraging us through. Special thanks to Jeremy and his voice.

Still, still love you most, Nate. But I’ll call our therapist for us…

 

Two Week Update on Foster/Adoption

Rough. We’re a little over two weeks in and you’re asking how we’re doing.The answer is rough. Adding any new baby into the family takes some adjustment time. Adding a six year old and three year old who have had their hearts, minds, & bodies torn? Let’s just say we’ve never been tired the way tired has met us right now as we teach all five of our children (“big 6”, “new 6”, 4, 3, & 2) what it means to live in a family where parents instruct & discipline from love and where we encourage each other.

Words. There are words, unkind words getting flung around our house as the children battle through some sibling rivalry and while we absorb anger from their grief. When I am being called names that shall not be named, it is easy to feel my own heart hardening. But I am a grown up. These words do not have power to define me. These are the same words that were yelled in anger to my fost/adopt kid when he was a tiny, malleable human.  They did define him & he took them in as his internal speech & replayed them so often that in moments of intense tantrum, they are the molten lava bursting from his core.

Why? Why on earth are we doing this? We ask ourselves daily. We know for a fact we are being obedient to what God is asking us to do. Not a general everyone kind of us, just us – me, Nate, and our family. Yes, it’s scary. Yes, we fret about our bio kids. Truthfully there have been nights when we go to bed thinking we’ve just ruined seven lives.

Resiliency. Do I truly believe God cannot redeem this or do I believe that our children (both bio & fost/adopted) are resilient enough to get past the hard and strong enough to allow their lives to be a day-by-day God-story?

Consistency. We do the three (or four) hour bedtime it requires, we fall exhausted to sleep, we worry, we pray, we tell God that this obedience doesn’t make sense, we promise to do our part of the hard work while demanding/begging the One Who Heals to do the healing. We trust healing comes through our consistency. So we sleep, wake up, and do it again.

Nuggets. We find the good nuggets in the day, cup them in our hands. We hold them up to ourselves to light our way out of the claustrophobic tunnel of “this feels hard”. We hold them up to the children to look in wonder upon. This children, THIS is what love/truth/justice/grace is about.

On The Reality of Having Feelings and Hope

You keep calling me brave and I keep receiving it with a confused look, because in my heart I know that there’s anxiety.

Approximately six months, one billion forms and documents and house projects and many hours of trainings and books later, we are near the final hoop of being certified for foster-to-adopt in California before being placed with kids. This is the good news. This is the obeying God’s call for our family news. This is the over a decade of dreaming news.

We had a hiccup in our final walk-thru this week that’s pushed things back a bit and made it all a little more “scrambly”. I’m not good at backing off a pursuit or waiting with grace or pretending like I’m not disappointed when I actually am, so that anxiety made me a little emotional. Presenting itself in nausea. As in drinking a Coke at 6:30am instead of coffee to combat the nausea, nausea. I am, however, much more familiar with The Scramble and the keep-moving-forward-when-things-get-trickier tenacity that life requires from us.

So you call me brave and I know that the sleeve of Thin Mints I ate between the sheets suggests otherwise. There is no question or anxiety around adopting or the messiness that is sure to follow. It is seared on our heart. My fear is tangled in the fact that we don’t even HAVE kids in our home yet, just empty beds waiting, and I’m already a mess of emotions, feeling attached to children that aren’t even mine yet. Not caring is so much safer, isn’t it? Caring requires a certain amount of vulnerability of the most dangerous kind. They are all the layered, both/and feelings of happy and worried, elated and unsure, so I doubt myself and the doubts whisper lies wondering if I’m actually strong enough to do this if I’m already experiencing emotions. God says we were ordained to connect through emotions. Fear says emotions are dangerous and put-together people don’t have them. As we all know, fear is a liar.

What if, actually, bravery is holding space for sadness when we face a disappointment, the honesty to walk through it, the resiliency to continue to hold our heart open and tender.  Hope is always what that choke-weed fear is trying to wrap around. Hope. That faith of things hoped for and the assurance of things unseen (hebrews 11:1)

When our kids (whoever they are) do come home with messy, wrecked hearts we will hold hands together down the long road of the healing process. We will ask them to face all their sadness and rage and uncertainty and we will hold space for it. We will walk through it. We will ask them to do the Big Scary of tenderizing their hearts again. We will whisper God’s love. And it will take every ounce of courage their tiny little bodies can muster to trust in this, in love, our love, God’s love.

So keep telling me I’m brave. Because I’m going to be telling them.

But, you know, drinking all the Cokes and eating all the cookies too!