Tres Semanas

Tres Semanas

That’s mine, huh?

I tricked you, huh?

You didn’t know that, huh?

 

Every single sentence ends in “huh?” Because at every single moment this one is looking for approval. Looking to be accepted. Looking for his place in the world.

 

When Boo first arrived he wouldn’t look at us, wouldn’t say a word. Before the social worker left we had him laughing, but it was short lived. That first night every time he found something he liked, he ran to put it in his bag “so it won’t get lost, huh?” And the next morning he was amazed when things were still there. Everything had to belong to someone and sharing was not okay. Even the ice in the ice cube trays was only for whoever had filled them up the night before.

 

He hid all the clothes we gave him under his bed and it took a few days before he was willing to put them in his dresser. I could go on and on about his insecurities and fears. Suffice it to say, this kid has been through trauma. He has seen and experienced more than anyone should.

 

The day he came happened to be the day we were celebrating my brother’s 11th birthday. So after settling in we headed out to dinner (where I blindly guessed what to order him as he still wasn’t too keen on speaking to me) and then went swimming. He let me change him into the bathing suit I bought him but wouldn’t go in the pool, instead he stood on the side hesitantly watching.

 

This week? He jumps into the pool, leaves his clothes and toys everywhere, walks confidently around the house and helps himself to food out of the fridge. We are learning each other’s routines and figuring out how we fit together as a family of four. He brings so much laughter and joy to our family.

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Some people say it takes 3 weeks to form a new habit. 21 short days. While that sounds attainable and hopeful, research has shown that there is in fact no clear cut timeline, and the amount of time varies from person to person. I imagine some habits would be attainable in 3 weeks, like going for walks everyday or drinking more water.

 

Being a parent to two children is not one of those habits.

 

The jump from one to two can be tough for anyone – suddenly dividing your time and energy, learning to care for a second child and establishing a new routine are all serious energy-suckers. Add the fact that this new child already has established preferences and routines, comes from a traumatic background, and is being forced to live with and trust strangers.

 

The first two weeks were exhausting and felt like we were barely staying afloat. When we opened our life to foster care we got off our comfortable cruise ship and jumped into a lifeboat. When Boo arrived it felt like we were shoved off the lifeboat and thrown one small life preserver for all of us to share. Even though he is an amazing child and honestly fits in our family quite perfectly, I am beat. I tend to take on the emotional burden our children carry. I think I had gotten used to the emotions with Princess. They had become a part of me and it wasn’t until Boo arrived that I realized how much weight I was carrying.

 

It’s been three weeks and we have not mastered this new habit in the slightest.

 

Boo came to us on a Saturday afternoon, scared, quiet and completely confused. Because it was a weekend placement, we wouldn’t end up getting the full story of his detainment until about 5 days later. Those first few days we guessed about everything. Would this set him off? Would he be scared of that? Even after we got the story, we still spend most of our days wondering and guessing and praying. We go somewhere and someone asks what my son likes and I can’t answer. When I was asked to fill out a developmental milestone questionnaire at the doctor’s office, I had to ask Boo about ½ the questions because I didn’t know if he could draw a person and include at least three features, or balance on one foot for more than 3 seconds.

 

But I am learning his favorite foods, and how to comfort him when he’s sad. I’m figuring out what scares him and what makes him feel brave. I’m beginning to understand his trauma and how my actions can help him heal.

 

It’s only been three weeks and already I can’t remember our life without my tiny backseat driver.

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Culture Shock

 

*Hi Blog Family!

It’s been a while since I wrote. May was Foster Care Awareness month, and I spent it posting everyday over on my InstaGram account. Check it out if you haven’t already and follow the hashtag #fosterchallenge2017 to read posts from some other inspiring foster mamas as well! If you do follow me on InstaGram you already know we were finally approved to take in more kiddos and received placement of a three-year-old boy over the weekend. Read on for a few of my thoughts on incorporating him into our family.*

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When you’re a white girl born and raised by white parents who were born and raised by white parents…your culture is basically non-existent. So when I married into a huge Mexican family, I had to start from scratch. While I did grow up eating Mexican food all the time, that was where my knowledge of Mexican culture began and ended. I could say “no habla espanol, lo siento” (I don’t speak Spanish, sorry) and count to 10, but beyond that I was totally lost. I took Spanish in high school, but ended up taking ASL instead because it was so dang hard to understand the difference between “el” and “la”, conjugating verbs was beyond my skill set, and I will never for the life of me be able to roll my r’s.

 

When we first got married, I didn’t understand the importance of culture, had no idea why we were gathering the entire extended family for every holiday and birthday and random celebration, and got a glazed over look in my eyes whenever someone started speaking Spanish. Over time, I grew to love and embrace Mexican culture. I’ve brushed up on my Spanish, and learned to cook pinto beans from scratch, along with other Mexican dishes. While I loved the culture, and enjoyed learning more and more about it, I still didn’t understand the true importance of preserving it. It was something fun to incorporate into my life, but beyond that, I never considered passing it on to my own children.

 

Until we took our foster parent classes. A lot of our training focused on respecting and preserving the culture of the children in our care. After the first training, hubby and I drove home and I voiced my concern about preserving culture. I admitted that I really didn’t understand why it was important, and didn’t have a clue how to do it. I quickly realized that the majority of white Americans don’t have a set of cultural beliefs or customs that we deeply cherish, so it can be difficult for us to understand other cultures, let alone commit to preserving them. Hubby slowly and patiently opened my eyes by explaining his own understanding of the subject. That conversation, coupled with more training, changed my mind. Just because I don’t have an innate understanding of the everyday role a set culture plays in my life, doesn’t mean that no one does. And embracing and understanding those cultures can enrich and expand in our lives in ways we never imagined.

 

This was a huge shift in my perspective, and then we were placed with a white girl. And then another one. I was doing pretty good so far, and then Saturday came, and my tiny little Mexican boy arrived. He swore he didn’t speak any Spanish, but a trip to the grocery store in which top items on his wish list were Limón chips and cucumber with Tajín, and I realized he had a rich cultural history. He slowly started slipping Spanish words into conversation, and I began answering in Spanish too. Each time he laughed and said, “you silly!” but I could tell it was getting through. When I was able to talk with one of his parents, they explained that he does understand Spanish and asked that we speak to him in Spanish whenever possible. This parent was so happy to hear that we knew enough to understand their culture, and all of the sudden, it all paid off.

 

Culture is a tricky thing. I still have A LOT  to learn, and spend a lot of my day googling “_____ in Spanish” or “_____ in English” trying to incorporate more Spanish words into my vocabulary and doing my best to never force our newest addition to switch back to English when he is speaking Spanish with me. It is definitely a learning curve, but I am thankful that three-year-olds are pretty gracious with my inability to differentiate between when to use “la” and when to use “el”, and he thinks my awful accent is hilarious. In just a few short days, he has opened up and gone from barely speaking at all, to non-stop talking in two different languages. He is trying new foods and enjoying traditional comfort foods and snacks. The small act of incorporating parts of his culture into my everyday life has made such a difference. Not only in his life, but also in the life of his parent, knowing that their boy is being cared for and respected for who he is, not being forced to fit in.

 

I am no expert. I am a white girl. I am not arrogant enough to think that I have this figured out or that I am even the best person for the job, but here I am. Believing that in my weakness, He is strong.

 

Please continue to pray for our transition from a family of three to a family of four. Pray that our boy continues to feel comfortable and settles in. Pray for Princess as she adjusts to having another person in the house – so far she is loving it! Pray for us as we navigate new behaviors and do our best to develop a loving and trusting relationship with our newest addition and his family.

 

Thank you all who have covered us in prayer and other tangible blessings! We have yet again been overwhelmed by the amount of support and love we have received.

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Family Planning

“I don’t care what those doctors say, I believe you can have children!”

“This is my friend Casey, she’s a foster parent. They decided to do this first and wait a few years before having their own children”

“When are you planning on having real children?”

“Well I guess this is good practice for when you have kids of you own!”

 

Those are just a few of the things I have heard about the way we have chosen to expand our family.

 

Honestly, it isn’t anyone’s business whether or not we choose to have biological children, but we are choosing to share because we believe others can benefit from our story.

 

Now, before I continue I want to get a few things clear. If you or someone you love is dealing with infertility or trying to conceive, your story is valuable and your struggle is real. I cannot begin to pretend I understand the pain and emotions associated with your experience. Your desire to have a biological child that is a unique and perfect combination of you and your partner is real and should not be discounted. I am in no way trying to say your desire or your story should be dismissed or blindly traded for a new dream or an alternative way of expanding your family. If I say anything that offends or upsets you, please please please reach out so I can hear your heart and correct my post to accurately reflect your story – because I know I am not equipped to tell it.

 

That being said, I assume it’s pretty obvious that we have not walked through infertility. We have chosen not to try to get pregnant and instead commit all of our parenting to foster parenting. We chose this for a few reasons.

  • First off, neither of us has a strong desire to have a child we are biologically connected to. We don’t feel we would love a baby we conceived any more than we love the babies placed with us. After all, hubby is my best friend and I love him more than anyone else on this planet, and we have NO biological connection (that we know of, ha!). I know this is a tough one for people, and a lot of people struggle with wondering if they could really love a baby that they didn’t give birth to. I come from a family of bio and adopted kids, and my mom swears she loves us all the same, even though we sometimes suspect she loves the adopted ones more. 😉 Just kidding mom!
  • Secondly, being foster parents has completely consumed us, and children in foster care require and deserve to be parented differently than those who grow up in stable, uninterrupted, biological families. We have the opportunity to give these kids ALL of our parenting attention and love without the added concern of having to look out for our biological children’s well-being in the midst of the chaos that is foster care.
  • Lastly, and most importantly, we just believe this is where God has us. If we ever do get pregnant, then it will obviously be what God wants and we will embrace that journey. We don’t believe that when we decided to be foster parents God looked down and went, “shoot, their DNA would’ve been perfect for my next rocket scientist/president/world changer. Guess the world will just have to wait.”

 

I say all this not to discourage people who already have kids from becoming foster parents – you can too! And you should! Children in foster care benefit greatly from living in homes with healthy parent-child relationships already in place, and biological children in a foster family grow and learn to love in ways hard to replicate elsewhere. I do say all this to encourage those of you who are yet to try for children, foster care and adoption don’t have to be Plan B, or C, or D. These kids don’t deserve to feel like your second choice, or your stand in kids, or your practice children. These kids, more than anyone else, need to feel loved, accepted, wanted, and absolutely cherished.

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Giving birth isn’t the only way to grow your family, and for a lot of people it isn’t even the easiest. Did you know 1 in 8 women experience infertility? I learned that this week! Women are silently struggling and longing for a family everyday and we don’t even realize it. I believe those women, the women who have wanted and tried and struggled and fought for children, make amazing foster and adoptive parents, because their desire to parent and willingness to fight is fierce like you wouldn’t believe. Some couples who have been through infertility don’t feel ready to foster and have their hearts broken, these couples want to only adopt, and that’s okay too!

This post is not meant to shame any one way of family growth, it is meant to get us thinking about our own motivations for parenting and begin the process of embracing everyone’s unique family story without questioning or making them feel inferior for their decisions or their struggles.

 

One more thing, and I didn’t really want to include this, I do occasionally get jealous of those of you who don’t live with the constant unknown. I recently found myself on a friend’s Instagram account looking at all the full face shots of their beautiful baby. This family has fully embraced parenthood and seems to be enjoying such a wonderful, carefree life. Now, before you go telling me that parenting is hard no matter how the kids get to your doorstep, I know that. I am only saying that some days I do want the security of knowing I get to see the fruit of my labor in my children’s lives. I want to know that I can build a relationship with them that isn’t going to end in heartbreak. I want to be safe, I want things to be consistent. Then I remember, so do my kids. I asked for this. I signed up and said yes. The kids I care for, they didn’t want this. They didn’t get seven months of preparation and training and opportunities to say, “you know what, that looks too hard, I’ll just stick with the life i have thank you very much!” And no matter how amazing of a foster parent I try to be, and no matter how awesome I make their lives, this was not their choice. So I can keep going, and I can stand a little (or a lot of) heartbreak, and I can live with the unknown. I can give these kids the gift of knowing I want them, I love them, I celebrate them.

 

If only for this short time.

Five Months In

It’s been five months since we began actively fostering (more than a year since we began the process). Five months in and not one thing has gone how I expected it.

 

It took longer than anticipated to become licensed, our first placement was shorter than I thought it would be, we moved, I quit my job, the list goes on. And even the silly petty things, like I wanted a baby boy and ended up with two girls. Rewind that – when we started the process I didn’t even want babies! We wanted kids who were school age, thinking they would be the hardest to place and since we were willing, why not? It turns out they desperately need places for babies to go, and at the time we only had room for one baby anyway.

 

About a month ago,after yet another thing went the exact opposite way I expected it to, I said, “I’m going to stop telling God how to do things, He doesn’t listen anyway and His plans always end up being better in the end.”

 

So I did.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I still very much have an opinion on how things ought to be, I always will, but I’ve been a lot more conscious of the fact that my way may not always line up with God’s way. So instead of telling Him how much He screwed up again, I go humbly and ask “WHY?!?” And you know what? He answers. Not always with the answer I want to hear (which is, “oh whoops! You’re right, messed that one up. Let me fix it so you’re comfortable”) but instead with a quiet whisper of “My thoughts are far above your thoughts and my ways are far above your ways” and “my strength is made perfect in your weakness”

 

That second one is worth repeating because boy do I feel weak, every hour of every day. Quite often I think, “wow God you must be incredibly strong because I am feeling incredibly weak.” I hold on to that when we have another sleepless night, or when I finally get an hour or two to myself only to watch it be whisked away in a slew of phone calls and scheduling.

 

We recently had yet another change in our life – we started attending a new church. We haven’t attempted to plug in yet, but just going and being in the presence of other believers for an hour on Sunday has been so refreshing. When we moved in December we left a church family that we absolutely adored. The commute to church was only about an half hour from our new place, but realistically it wasn’t happening. We held out and watched the sermons on YouTube and tried to stay connected with the friends we had made, but in the two months after we moved we only actually attended church once. So we decided to begin the hunt for a church – something I absolutely loathe. We prayed for a week before we even attended a service at this new church and before the service had ended that first day we knew it was where we were staying.

 

Sometimes in the midst of incredible chaos God brings a bit of clarity. It may not seem like much, but to me it was a beautiful reminder that the Lord is watching and He cares, even when he doesn’t listen to my suggestions 😉

 

Thanks for walking with us during these first five incredible months. Without the support of our friends and family we truly wouldn’t be where we are right now. Some days it feels like we are just barely surviving and others we are on top of the world. Through it all, God is good. I am reminded of the song It Is Well

 

Through it all, through it all
My eyes are on You
Through it all, through it all
It is well
Through it all, through it all
My eyes are on You
And it is well
It is well

So let go my soul and trust in Him
The waves and wind still know His name

The Hardest Part

The Hardest Part

At least once a week I tell hubby, “the hardest part is               

  • Court
  • Visits
  • All the appointments
  • The unknown
  • The grief
  • Fear
  • Scheduling everything
  • Longing for and fearing the same outcome

All of those things are incredibly difficult, and at any given moment one will significantly outweigh all of the others in a way that feels absolutely overwhelming. So I go crying to hubby and tell him what the hardest part is right now, and he listens and agrees and we commiserate and then we move on.

 

I got a phone call I didn’t want to get last week. The hardest part changed yet again, and my reaction to it was completely based in fear. I called hubby, then my mom, and got it out. Princess went down for a nap and then I went to the One who is over it all. I opened my bible to one of my tried and true favorite verses –

 

So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. – Galatians 6:9

 

I know this truth, and I also know that it isn’t some far off blessing I should be concerned with. The blessing is a nice little perk down the road, or tomorrow, or whenever it happens, but it isn’t my end goal. My end goal is not giving up. My end goal is to never completely reach a goal at all. My end goal is to keep going until the day I meet my maker and hear those blessed words, “well done my good and faithful servant.” My end goal is that day, the day I have no choice but to be finished with my good works.

 

Yet as I strive towards that goal I am reminded of the daily blessings that have come as a result of the life we have chosen. The greatest of those blessings is sitting on my lap as I type this. Every single day that I get to love this precious girl is a gift.

 

I took her to an appointment recently, and as I was leaving the person said, “It’s just so good to see her with a loving foster parent. So many come in here with their kids at arms distance, afraid to get too attached. But that’s what they need. These kids need to attach to someone, even if it isn’t permanent, it teaches them to attach in the future. You are building connections in her brain everyday.”

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Visits, therapists, court dates, appointments, the constant unknown – it’s all hard, but the hardest part? The hardest part is knowing we could take in 100 kids over the course of our lifetime, and there would still be a gaping hole in the foster care system. There would still be foster parents who don’t go all in, there would still be babies spending extra nights in the hospital because no families are available or willing. There would still be young kids going to group homes designed for kids much older and with much more severe needs, because no families are available or willing. There would still be kids aging out everyday without a permanent place to call home, without somewhere to come back to on Christmas, because no families were available or willing. Friends, I have a lot of days when I don’t think I can keep going, when the hardest thing of the moment overshadows the hardest thing of all. But we cannot stop. These kids – these families – they need Jesus. As hard as I try, I cannot change lives on my own, but I serve the God who does.

 

For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!  So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. – 2 Corinthians 4:17-18

Collisions

I got rear-ended on my way to work this morning. There’s this stretch of road on my commute that’s mostly downhill, with a single left turn lane that often gets backed up as people wait to turn onto the freeway. Unfortunately, that means it is often filled with lots of people braking abruptly as they realize that the left lane has suddenly stopped. And unfortunately, today I happened to be one of those people.

The damage really wasn’t all that bad on my end. And really, though it all happened in a fraction of a second, it didn’t come as that big of a surprise. I saw the brake lights in front of me. I pushed down hard on the brakes and felt the car slide a little. I managed to avoid hitting the car ahead of me, and once I had come to a complete stop, my thoughts immediately went to the car behind me, wondering if the driver would be quick enough to catch himself.

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He wasn’t. First came a jolt. Then a softer crunch.

The guy behind me got it worse than I did. He ended up sandwiched between two of us, with a crunch in his hood and a dent on his rear bumper where the driver behind him ended up. We got out and checked on him, making sure he was okay, and then all three of us pulled over to the side of the road.

This isn’t the first time I’d been rear-ended. Each time, though, I’ve been pretty fortunate to encounter gracious, patient drivers, as I know this often isn’t the case. This time, we exchanged insurance information and phone numbers. The lady on the end apologized, and we both gave our sympathy to the poor guy who ended up in the middle of us. And as we prepared to continue on our commute, thankful that no one was injured, the man who had hit me from behind mustered up a little bit of a smile and said, “Well hey, at least this day can’t get any worse.”

And while I briefly considered the multitude of terrible things that could happen today that would, in fact, be significantly worse than being in a minor car accident, I couldn’t help but dwell on this man’s moment of (probably somewhat sarcastic) optimism.

Today has actually been a very good day. And very little of that had anything to do with what has actually happened to me today. On the contrary, the quality of my day was very much connected to how I chose to respond to everything that has happened today. And apparently, it took a literal “collision moment” for me to really consider that.

As my wife and I move into our 5th month of active fostering, I can think back to all of the less-than-literal collision moments that have come our way. Very often, fostering feels like you’re navigating an endless stream of traffic collisions. Your life gets hit hard. You take a deep breath and get ready to assess the damage. You hope more than anything that the other party involved is a gracious driver. And then you keep going. Over, and over, and over again.

Day after day. Collision after collision.

My wife and I have had the incredible blessing of colliding with some pretty gracious “drivers” in the foster care system, though I know this won’t always be the case. And as our lives continue to collide with the lives of babies and birth parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, therapists, doctors and social workers, the collisions don’t get any easier. Some hit harder than others. Sometimes it feels like the damage that has been done is irreparable. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like an accident.

But then sometimes you collide with people who understand where you are, and understand what you’re going through, and who know how to make it better. Sometimes these people stick around.

As I drove to work today, I kept finding myself thinking about that guy who ran into me. I had never met him in my life, and chances are I won’t ever see him again. But I couldn’t help but wonder about who he was, beyond being just the guy who ran into me. Did we have anything in common? What kind of music is this guy into? What’s his family like? How was he going to pay for the damage on his car? Could he afford it? Would his insurance go up? What was his wife gonna think? How was this single moment going to impact the rest of his day? If I had met him at another point in my life, could we be friends?

I found myself genuinely concerned for his well-being, as another human. There’s this strange, forced trust type thing that comes along with getting in an accident with someone. You might not have any idea who they are, but in that moment, so much of their life is suddenly so wrapped up in your own.

As a foster parent, I am so incredibly grateful for the other people involved in this crazy, messy world called foster care, who see me as more than just the guy whose life collided into theirs.

Visiting Little Owl

When Little Owl left, her family member said she wanted to stay in contact and allow us to be a continued part of Little Owl’s life. We were cautiously optimistic when we heard this. On one hand, we were ecstatic at the thought of seeing our girl again, and on another – honestly, we weren’t sure what to believe. Was she just being nice? Was she just trying to appease us so we would hand over the baby and let her leave? Would she really follow through?

 

If I’m being totally honest – which I try to be – I was also a bit unsure how much contact I wanted. Would seeing her again just cause me to re-live the pain each time? Would her seeing us just cause her more confusion? What if I didn’t agree with the way she was being raised?

 

So we decided to wait a month. We told the family member that we appreciated the offer, but we needed a month to sort out our feelings and see how Little Owl had settled before we were reintroduced into her life. The first week after she left, I received a text and picture every day, and then it started to taper off and become a bit less frequent. By the time a month had passed we were getting updates about once a week and had settled into our new routine with Little Princess. I couldn’t have asked for it to go any better. That first week I needed the daily reassurance that she was okay, that she was smiling and eating and being cared for. Then I needed to let her go a little bit more and not depend on the constant updates. Finally, once we had another baby girl, I needed to love her fully and not feel like I was betraying Owl, or just waiting to know she was okay.

 

So after a month, good to her word, we were invited over.

 

On the way there my emotions were high. I had such varied expectations. Part of me thought I would just burst into tears, part of me wanted to turn around and go home, part of me was scared I wouldn’t be able to say goodbye again. But all of me couldn’t wait to see the girl who made me a mom.

 

You guys, the details of our visit are something I will treasure forever, but I won’t share. Little Owl is doing so well. She is surrounded by people who just adore her. As much as I miss her, all I ever wanted was for her to be in a safe, loving home and that is exactly where she is. She is growing, and smiling and doing what she does best – spreading incredible joy in the midst of a tragic situation. From day one that girl fed my soul, and she still does. I miss her everyday, and I cry for her often.

 

When the time came to say goodbye I wanted nothing more than to throw an extra carseat in our car and come home with two babies instead of one. But I looked around the house and saw evidence of love for her everywhere and it gave me the strength to hand her over once again and say “see you soon.”

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The other day someone told me they couldn’t do foster care because they wouldn’t be able to handle it if a child was sent back to an unsafe situation. I couldn’t agree more, it would suck more than I am willing to even think about. However, I have to hold onto the fact that though we have no control over where our kids end up when they leave our home, we have an incredible amount of control over how we use the time we are given with them. In this case, we were able to love our girl while we had her and develop a lasting relationship with people I now consider family.

 

And if we are being honest, no one has control over their child’s future, we as foster parents just deal with that reality a lot sooner.