Be a lifeline to someone

I have a story to share and I need to do it now, while I’m still raw and charged up and emotional about it. So forgive any typos or run-on sentences. I may go back later and clean things up.

As many of you know, Steph and I have been foster parents for 4 years. When our older twins were 8 months old, we started the certification process and right after they turned one, we took our first placement. It was a doozy and we almost quit. The kids we had were hard – really hard. And we were tired from having one year old twins. But that’s not the point of this story.

Fast forward almost a year and we had the honor of providing help to a sibling group of three – I’ll call them Annie, Connor and Sam. Annie was 11, Connor was 5, and Sam was 3. Their mom and dad were – and are – good people, but struggling. We kept the kids for about 3 months while they picked up the pieces of their family and shakily sewed them back together. The kids went back to their parents, but we’ve stayed close in touch with them throughout the years. They come to all of our parties, and we help out when we can.

As vulnerable families often do, they’ve fallen into hard times again. I won’t go into specifics, but  I was in the position this morning to help Connor, who is now 7. He is whip smart, and he had missed his bus from the local elementary school that would take him to his gifted program. His mom called and asked if I could bring him because he was crying in the school office. Money is tight and time is tight and driving kids around means using up precious gas money. “Of course”, I said, “Absolutely.”

Let me tell you how Connor’s face lit up when they called him to the office and he saw me. It made me crumple, but in a good way. This little child, in the midst of some pretty big chaos at his house, had a huge smile for me. I ruffled his hair and told him how happy I was to see him and that his mom had called to see if I could take him to his gifted program.

We walked out of the school and climbed into our big passenger van. He was wowed with the bells and whistles – “Man that’s some pretty sweet technology!” he told me.

In between his interviewing me about the new van, I carefully interviewed him about what was going on. I thought for a second about not prying, but quickly dismissed that as a stupid idea. I asked him a series of questions for several reasons –

  1. To make sure everyone was safe.
  2. To make sure no one was hungry. I can’t bear the thought of a hungry child. It makes me want to throw up.
  3. To make sure that he knew that he was loved and cared for.
  4. To make sure that he knew he had somewhere to turn.

Assured for now of his safety after our talk in the car, we walked into his gifted school and I kept my hand on his head. (You have to be careful about displays of affection with 7 year olds, but I couldn’t help myself. He needed some extra love and protection.)

On the way up that long walkway to the school office, he told me that DCF had come to his school that morning to ask questions of him and his brother about what was going on at home.

He was practically skipping into school, in the way only a child can do in the face of tough emotional times.

“But I know that I can trust DCF, you know why Heather?”, he asked me quietly.

“Why buddy?” I responded.

“Because they brought me to you the first time. And you’re safe. I know you’re safe.”

“That’s right, buddy. I’m always here for you. If you ever need me and Steph, if you ever don’t feel safe, or are hungry or need anything, you know we’re here.”

I made sure he had my phone number, and sent him off into his day at gifted.

And then I came to my local coffee shop to drink a pumpkin soy latte and feel like an emotional mess. That’s where I am now.

I’m sharing this story not because I want any praise – Connor and his siblings will be fine. Their family will be fine. They are good people – good parents who are just going through a very, very rough time. Very. Rough. Time.

I’m sharing this story because Connor’s words keep repeating in my head over and over, like the refrain from your favorite song that keeps playing in your mind “I Know that I can trust DCF because they brought me to you the first time, and you’re safe.”

Connor and his family have a life line. Thank God for the blessing that I  – and others- are able to provide that for them. So many families do not have a lifeline. For every Connor, there are moms and dads that are 2 seconds away from snapping with the stress of life.

For every Connor that has somewhere to turn, there are children who have no safety net. Their families are closed – they have no support, nowhere to turn when the lights are about to get shut off. Nowhere to go when baby’s formula is running perilously low.

And don’t tell me like a marching chant  “There are programs! There are programs!”

Yes, there are. But not everyone can access them. Sometimes you just can’t get your shit together  to function enough to get yourself to the welfare office. Or you don’t have enough bus money. I know this, because I’ve been there. And programs offer what they call on the bottom of Maslow’s Hierarchy “Physiological needs”. You know, food, shelter – the things we take for granted. Those things are important, but what I’m talking about is the next level up on the rung – safety.

For every Connor that had somewhere to turn, there are children who have no safe places. They have children whose parents are failing them. We have a horrible drug epidemic, and a huge mental health crisis in our country (and in much of the world). These parents and children need us. Or, maybe drugs or mental health issues aren’t involved. Maybe there are money problems and mommy can’t take the stress of trying to pull ends together and is about to have a nervous breakdown. Again, I’ve been there. Ask me about the time I found a twenty dollar bill in a cemetery in New York City and felt the immense temporary relief of having money to feed my children that week. (Don’t ask me about the Coca-Cola I also bought myself because that probably wasn’t my finest moment, lol.)

Please consider being a lifeline to a Connor. Or a steady shoulder to a parent of someone like Connor, who is trying to do their best to navigate this world, but keeps getting knocked down.

Please, be a lifeline. If you don’t know of any families in need, reach out to me. I do. They’re out there all around you, in the woodworks, in varying degrees of isolation, and they’re waiting for someone to reach out and show them they care.

Do it without expecting anything in return, because it’s actually a gift they’re giving you, allowing you the chance to get outside of yourself and be of service to others. I am not a religious person, but I imagine that the preachers of the world preach that every weekend from their pulpits. “Service.” “Giving to others.”

If you don’t know where to start, here are a few places:

  1. Become a mentor though the Boys and Girls Club
  2. Consider becoming a foster parent. Call your local agency. Hey – all the cool people are doing it – I was rooting Randall and Beth on in “This is Us” last night as they struggled with whether they were strong enough to do it. It’s not as scary as you think. It’s hard work, but has been one of the most rewarding experiences of Steph’s and my life. Because I would have never met Connor and his family if we hadn’t become foster parents.
  3. Become a Guardian ad Litem. These fine folks are the voice of children in our broken child welfare system. If you’ve never been to a dependency court hearing, I can tell you about them. You have caseworkers, parents, foster parents, therapists, attorneys, magistrates, and guardian ad litems. The guardian ad litem’s job is do one thing – be the voice of the child. This is excruciatingly important, because that is not generally what happens in a courtroom. Advocating for what’s in the best interest of the child. Being a part of that child’s team of safe people.
  4. Contact your local elementary school and ask if they have any volunteer programs that will pair you up with a vulnerable child or family. They can likely point you in the right direction.
  5. Contact your local elder services program to see how you can be of service.

Those are a few places to start. There are many many others, so nobody come be snarky and say “But what about the {insert neglected population here}” The point is that there is a vast amount of need out there. Our fellow human beings are suffering and we can do something about it. The world is crazy right now, and shitty and broken. We’re fighting over politics and gun control and health care and nuclear arms and well, pretty much everything. Just remember that fabulous quote from Dr. Seuss (or whoever it was – I’ve seen it cited to like 500 people)

Now I’m going to go back to drinking my privileged  pumpkin soy latte and move on with my day. Until the next call for help comes, and then I’m going to answer that, too. Because this, my friends, is what we need to do in our broken world. We need to be there for each other.

Without judgment.

Without expectation of something in return.

We need to show up for each other because we are all human, and because in the ebb and flow of what it means to be human, it very well could be us one day that needs the help.

We give and receive. We give and receive. We give and receive.

That is the beauty of the cycle of life. I am grateful that today, I am the one that can initiate giving. Please consider doing the same.

A little faith, trust, and pixie dust

I have a little shelf of journals that I keep in my office. Last week, for some reason, I reached down and pulled one out. I flipped open randomly, and found something that brought tears to my eyes. I wanted to share it, because it was kind of a magical moment for me.

The Backdrop – almost 7 years ago, I had just had the first of many miscarriages Steph and I would go through. It was December, and feeling the hope of the new year, and the emptiness of my womb and home, I wrote the following entry in my journal.

December 30, 2010

For 2011, I will create…BABIES! This miscarriage has been eyeopening for me. I want babies more than I’ve wanted almost anything. And, yes, that’s plural. Two at a minimum, three would be better, four even merrier!

Stephanie and I have created a beautiful home together – a peaceful life – and I am going to create a big, boisterous, busy, loving family to inhabit that life – richness that will be so full, it will seem to burst at the seams. 

Stephanie has given me the love and stability I have always craved, and I feel so grounded I could cry. Now I need to build something beautiful on that cleared, prepared ground. That something for me, is my family. Our family. Big, beautiful, bustling.

We’ve been on this baby-making journey for a year this January and I ask for help from God and all celestial beings to help me create this dream. I want it so badly I taste it in my mouth, it comes out of my pores. A big family. Filled with love.

I remember when I was young I thought perhaps I would have 5 children. I will create this, I will. I am open to what that looks like, and how it will happen. My giving birth, egg donor, adoption, or however. I am open to the how. I smile with resolve when I say I will create it. We will try 6 IVFs before moving from the dream of carrying my own babies. We have done one. My job is to try to build a strong healthy vessel for my babies to come to me. There are souls waiting out there – waiting for Steph and I to be their mamas. My job is to keep trying to build a healthy vessel.

If anything, this miscarriage has shown me how much I want this dream – how ingrained it is in my DNA. How it is not a fanciful thought. There will be at least one child in 2011, my family will be complete by the time I am 42. Plenty of time to take care of my beings, prepare them for the world, love them.

I am open and invite my souls. The souls – whether biological or not – that are bound to be ours. We are here and we are ready. We will not be perfect, but we are ready. We invite you, my perfect and lovely souls.

…….

For those that know me, you know that I did get my four babies. Two sets of twin boys to be exact! Though I did not having my first babies until 2012, I was finished with my family by the time I was 43. It was not easy, and it required a lot of faith.

Sitting here on this side of things, I have so much compassion and admiration for the woman who wrote our her dreams that December evening. I had no idea what our journey was going to be like, but I do know that I was committed to being on that ride 100%.

What I knew: 

  • That this was not just up to me – I needed the backing and grace of the universe.
  • That the journey would require strength and I would  need to find a way to summon it.
  • That the journey would require money, time and patience.
  • That I had to be open to how I would reach my dreams. Flexibility was critical – otherwise I would fail.

Here’s what I didn’t know: 

  • That three more miscarriages would come our way.
  • Where the money was going to come from to fund the journey
  • That August would be born with Down syndrome, and make me unsteady on my feet for a bit.
  • That we would also become foster parents  and care for a dozen children as our own in 4 short years.
  • That we would transfer two perfect donor embryos from a 29 year old woman, and miscarry yet again.
  • That because I’d miscarried a young woman’s embryos, we’d decide we had nothing to lose and use my aging eggs one last time, which would give us our second set of twins.

The list of things that I didn’t know far surpassed what I did know, but honestly, I didn’t have a choice. I had to go after my dream and be in it 100%. To do anything else was not an option.

Looking back, I have nothing but gratitude for my journey and for my children. And for Steph, who, gave me a safe firm ground to dream big and embrace the “not knowing” that came along with going after that dream.

For anyone finding themselves with a dream – whether it’s to have a baby, to start a business, to move across the country, to take the kids out of school and travel the world, or to change careers – you don’t have to know how your journey is going to unfold. You can’t know what the journey is going to look like. You just have to take a leap of faith that this is what you were meant to do. And then you go about making it happen.

One foot in front of the other. One moment at a time, asking for the grace and humility to regroup when things don’t go as planned, and the strength and courage to keep going until that dream is filled.

I’m reminded of the Peter Pan quote…

All you need is a little faith, trust and pixie dust.

Faith that you are supported and loved by whatever higher power or order you believe in.

Trust that you are strong and courageous enough to make your dreams a reality and that the path you are on is the right one.

And a touch of pixie dust that is the magic of the universe….working with you to create what it is that is your heart’s desire. You are not doing this alone.

 

 

My night in ten pictures

An hour ago I posted a beautiful thing about how God fills the hearts of his homies with extra chromies with an extra dose of love and hugs. It was so feel-good and I teared up and thought “how did I get so lucky???” And then poop happened.

Here’s my night in ten succinct pictures.

1. Before the storm. My “God gives special children to special parents” picture.

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2. Here’s Aug, eating his black beans and rice.  I came back in the room and there he was, posing nude while eating. I snapped a pic, and thought of my caption. “I always eat my black beans and rice in the nude – don’t you?” And then I walked away , laughing, to post it.

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3. That’s when it started. The mayhem. August had pooped. All over his chair. Smashing it with his bottom and feet, and then hopping down off his chair, traipsing across the floor yelling like a madman. It was everywhere. I walked in, scooped him up and deposited him in the tub to assess the damage. I called H in to clean the floor – she has a stomach virus so I couldn’t ask her to clean the poop chair. I thought about it, though. She’s already throwing up, right?

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4. At this point, I wasn’t sure what was black beans and rice and what was poop. Anything black on him was suspect.

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5. Here is where I was reminded of August’s extra does of hugs that was scooped into his heart by God.

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6. My other children, fending for themselves whilst August is defumigated. They’re in the background. Think of it as a painting. It’s really a great composition here.

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7. Wine break in the middle of everything. Totally. Because poop. And because it doesn’t take long to guzzle a few sips of wine, but it does take a long time to eat. Who has time to eat? Also, I had lost my appetite.

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8. Aug is squeaky clean and is as good as new – rocking that extra chromosome like nobody’s business. Pay no attention to the Al Bundy hand down his pants. Sigh. I have a humper, folks. Fun times.

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9. Now the Aug has been defumigated, all the other urchins are bathed. Don’t worry, I totally sterilized the bathtub before putting in the other kids. This moment captures the second before Jude pushed Luca backwards into the water. I had to throw the phone down and rescue him to be a responsible mother.

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10. Ok, I lied. I didn’t clean the tub before washing the other babies. Who has time for that? I’m the “good enough” mom. Here’s Jude. He looks betrayed. Sorry my sweet boy. Tomorrow’s another cleaner, calmer, and hopefully poop-less day.

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Night y’all!

 

The years are short

Twenty minutes of quiet today by the river to help me focus as Steph and I shift our family energy yet again. I listened to Enya by the water, earbuds in, while I sat on the park bench. The breeze was light and the sun shifted in and out of the clouds.

Water

The thoughts that came to me on that bench…

“Simplify.”

“Let that which is unimportant fall away.

“Slow down.”

I’m so keenly aware of how quickly time moves. The big boys are about to turn 4. The little boys are 8 months old. I swear I was 34 yesterday, and suddenly I’m 43 and Steph is 44. Our prime isn’t sometime in the future – it’s right here, right now. Our big family that we hoped to create – we created it. It’s time to truly sink in and enjoy it even more than we have been already

I read something several years ago that keeps coming into my mind over the past few weeks, as we think about the shifting that needs to happen in our family. “The days are long, but the years are short.” I am so grateful for these years with the boys, where we are their whole world. What a treasure….

 

 

The end of a quest

Steph and I have been on an epic journey since 2009. For 6 long years, growing our family has been our sole purpose. It’s taken every extra ounce of energy and every dollar to create our dream. We lived and breathed babies for so long it was hard to think of anything else.

Our story ends in happiness. After $50,000 and 4 miscarriages, we have FOUR beautiful boys. Two sets of twins. It feels like we won the lottery. And yet I’m acutely aware that not all stories end that way. The most heartbreaking stories are the ones that end with no baby. They, too, have spent a small fortune on having a child, and have nothing left but a second mortgage, to be paid over the next twenty years, while they have nothing to hold in their arms.

But even while acknowledging that, I’m facing my own loss. The loss that comes when you know that you are done and that you won’t be pregnant again. That you’re no longer on the quest. For six years, I made it my mission to grow our family. I refused to stop, until it happened. I was open to it being with my own eggs, donor embryo, or through adoption. We pursued all three with intensity. But here’s my question…now that our quest has been completed, where do I go from here?

It’s easy to say “Now you switch gears and enjoy your family.” We DO enjoy our family. Immensely. But it’s hard to just rest when you’ve been on an epic journey. How do you switch gears when every fiber of your being has gone into achieving a goal? I imagine it’s like a phantom limb. You feel it intensely until you remember it’s gone. I pass by the pregnancy tests, and ache to buy 3 packs. I offer advice to a friend who is starting IVF, and want to pull up my calendar to decide when to start our next round. I think about money, and want to cash in part of my 401k to fund “one more try”. And then I remember – we’re done. And, despite our intense happiness, remembering this makes me sad.

This is what I’m struggling with right now. In the midst of the joy of our newborn sons, I feel an undercurrent of loss. It’s embarrassing to admit this, but it’s the truth.

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Home Stretch

This is my eighth pregnancy. Sometimes I have to pause and really let that sink in. My first two were back in my late teens, when my body was young and nimble and didn’t know any better.  The next five were in my mid to late thirties. Four of those pregnancies turned to miscarriages and one became a twin pregnancy that I gratefully carried to full term. I don’t remember feeling tired or run-down with any of them. I think I was just so intensely focused on my goal of having babies that everything else was a blur. And during all that time, I knew that I wasn’t even near done with my epic fertility journey.

But this – my eighth pregnancy – where I am in my 40s and pregnant with twins again – this time I know I’m done. It will be my last pregnancy. Ever. And though I have sadness over it, what I have more is an overwhelming sense of relief. I can finally allow myself to get off the fertility rollercoaster. The ups and downs of “Did my $10,000 procedure work? And if it did, am I going to stay pregnant?” After four miscarriages, I’m painfully practical. So is Steph, and I know she’s more than ready to get off the rollercoaster.

In my online fertility groups for women over 40, one of the most often asked questions is “How do you know when to stop trying?” The best answer I’ve been able to come up with, is, you don’t know until you get there. We’ve been trying to have another baby since August and Liam were 10 months old. They’re three now. When I transferred these three blastocysts in March – the product of a mere 5 eggs that we were able to get from my 4th IVF – I knew even before I got the positive pregnancy test that if this didn’t work, we needed to be done. I needed to turn inward to my family and move on to other things. It was nothing short of a miracle that I somehow managed to get not one but two good eggs, and here I sit 23 weeks pregnant with twin boys. Let me restate that. Here I sit, tired, 23 weeks pregnant with twin boys! But I know that in the whisp of a hope, it could have gone the other way. My little embryos might not have implanted and instead just dissolved away. Or, worse, one or more could have implanted, my hopes would have soared, and then I miscarried. This is the reality of fertility. It is particularly the reality of fertility when you are older, and up to 90% of your eggs can have a chromosomal issue that will prevent them from ever being able to turn into a viable pregnancy.

Transfer Day! Transferred the three blastocysts we got from my 4th and final IVF

Transfer Day! Transferred the three blastocysts we got from my 4th and final IVF

The moment of embryo transfer captured. It's always so quiet in the procedure room as the doctor carefully guides the embryos into the womb. The little + is where the embryos flashed into my uterus!

The moment of embryo transfer captured. It’s always so quiet in the procedure room as the doctor carefully guides the embryos into the womb. The little + is the exact moment when the embryos flashed into my uterus!

 

Steph had an important conference call that she took in the car while I had my transfer. I texted her when I was done and I got a front door pick up at the hospital!

Steph had an important conference call that she took in the car while I had my embryo transfer. I texted her when I was done and I got a front door pick up at the hospital! 

Steph and I started to try to grow our family 7 years ago. During that 7 years, we did 2 intra-uterine inseminations, had 1 surgery for a cyst on the end of my fallopian tube, learned that both of my tubes were damaged and that even if I had a male partner, I would never be able to get pregnant naturally. I had 4 in vitro fertilization cycles, where Steph shot thousands of dollars of stimulation drugs in my stomach and butt. I collected somewhere along the lines of 55 eggs. I produced, and transferred, 20 embryos, over the course of seven years. Of those, only 5 ever implanted. We lost three of them at various stages – 6 weeks, 8 weeks and 12 weeks. We also along the way transferred four donor embryos from a 26 year old woman. Only one of those implanted, and that embryo stopped growing at 6 weeks. Of my 20 embryos that I created – 20 potential lives, we have 3 year old twin boys, and are expecting our second set of twin boys in 14 weeks. I can honestly say that I put my all into growing my family.

First of about 20 home pregnancy tests that I took that showed positive! This was at about 3 days after my transfer.

 

Ultrasound where we found out we were expecting our second set of twins!!

Ultrasound where we found out we were expecting our second set of twins!!

So much fun to announce that we were expecting our second set of twins!

So much fun to announce that we were expecting our second set of twins!

Our two little dudes

Our two little dudes

It was definitely a test of will, and if we hadn’t had a resolve of steel, we would never have had our dreams realized. But, every day in the fertility groups that I’m a part of, I’m reminded that a resolve of steel alone isn’t enough. Our story has a happy ending. Many do not. I will never, ever take for granted the privilege of being able to carry and birth a baby. I am ridiculously blessed. To the point where I’m embarrassed sometimes, and am so humbled.

I had wanted very much to savor this last pregnancy. To spend wistful moments rubbing my belly, letting the miracle of my babies’ development truly sink in. But, after my stormy journey, I just can’t be present with that. I want these babies here, safely in my arms, away from my womb, which seems to giveth and then taketh away so freely. I also want my body back. After seven years of drugs, surgeries,  and the hormonal surges of 8 pregnancies, it is tired. And it has asked me for an eternal reprieve. I must, in good conscience, grant it. And get on with the business of raising two sets of twin boys! My body would have asked for an eternal reprieve even if I had no babies to hold in my arms. For all the women who have to make the painful decision to stop the journey, my heart aches with you. Because I know how easily my own story could have turned out differently.

What’s next for me? And not the me that is going to be a busy mom to four boys. I’ve got that down, especially since I’ve done it once before, with my now grown children. I’m talking about the me that is separate from my caregiver role. I have other parts of me that I want to nurture, that I haven’t been able to to for many, many years, with all of my energy going into creating a family. Like traveling, and writing. And allowing my body to heal by becoming active. I’m so looking forward to this next stage – my 40s, where I will undoubtedly struggle with balancing raising my busy family while nurturing the other parts of me. But I am so relieved to be turning that corner and putting the baby-making phase to rest forever. It’s been a long run and I’m on the home stretch. I’m looking forward to resting and taking a big, deep breath before pivoting to this next stage of my life.

Just for fun, here are a few of the pictures I have collected so far for this pregnancy.

Only about 8 weeks and SO BIG!

Only about 8 weeks and SO BIG!

Starting to show! About 10 weeks

Starting to show! About 10 weeks

About 18 weeks! We were headed out to the Yacht Club to swim.

About 18 weeks! We were headed out to the Yacht Club to swim.

 

20 weeks!

20 weeks!

24 weeks! Only 13 more weeks to go!

24 weeks! Only 13 more weeks to go!

More of this….less of that

I’m not a good New Years resolution maker. Count me in with the 88% of people who fail each year. Changing patterns is hard, and abruptly changing patterns is even harder. I stink at it.

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You’d think I’d give up, but I still love the natural timing of making intentions in the new year. It’s a poignant time to pause…to reconsider, assess, and tweak. As I get older, “tweaking” (not to be confused with twerking) is more my speed. I’ve crafted a big, beautiful life that I love, but we change and evolve, and what might have served us in the past no longer might. So instead of die-hard resolutions, I look at this as a time to decide what to tweak…what I want more of in my life, and what I want less of. A “tuning up”, so to speak.

Which brings me to my tweaks…in no particular order.

1. Travel more. It’s funny – when I was younger and decidedly less financially stable, I traveled the country. I guess I had less obligations and was more keen to drop everything and trek across the country on a shoestring budget. Two favorite memories of my life are the long cross-country road trips I took 10 years ago and 5 years ago. Traveling and being outside of my normal life makes me feel fresh and alive. It feeds my spirit of adventure, which honestly is a little neglected these days while we happily take care of twin toddlers. Having little ones is an adventure in its own right, of course, but I’ve always loved traveling, and I intend to do more of this in 2015.

2. Move my body more. Ugh. Just ugh. I am not a naturally athletic type. I’ve never been into sports, or the gym, or..well, anything more athletic than turning the pages of a good book. But, now I don’t have the power of youth on my side, and it’s just flat-out time to take care of my body. I’m not looking forward to this, and in fact I kind of resent it, but it doesn’t matter. It has to be done. And with any luck, I’ll learn to enjoy it. My mantra this year is “Some kind of activity, most days.” Walking, riding bikes with the boys, doing some yoga on DVD, maybe even some crappily-played tennis. Doesn’t matter what it is, it just needs to happen. Need to work the cobwebs out of these joints, cause they truly are getting kind of rusty.  And even if I don’t want to do it for me, I want to be around as long as possible for my children. So, time to smack some balls on the court.

3. Less “yesses”. Last year, I went to a blogging conference. One of the keynotes talked about how it’s just as important to know what to say “yes” to as it is to know when to say “no”. It’s  easy to say no to things we don’t want to do. Saying no to things we WANT to do is harder. The emotional energy and time we can spend on things is limited. We simply can not do everything we want. We have to choose or else we end up doing things half-assed. This is the story of my life. I’m a passionate Leo, and throw myself into things I care about. I start out with the best of intentions, but after a while, I putter out, because I just have too much on my plate. I realize this will always be the case, but this year, I intend to be careful about what I say “yes” to. Just because I want to do something, doesn’t mean I should. Turning things down that we want to do is a grown-up thing to do.

4. Less social media. Oh dear. I love Facebook. And I also hate Facebook. It’s a way to stay connected with people, for sure, and to share the things in my life that I love and am passionate about. But, it’s also overwhelming. It’s not just a time suck – it’s an energy suck. When I’m too plugged in, I’m distracted from my life that’s right in front of me. In 2015 I have to be more present in my own life, and the lives of my close friends. I have to unplug in some places, and social media will be one of them. I’ve already started making this shift.

5. More time for hobbies. Hobbies is such an understated word. It kind of trivializes what it really means – paying attention to your passions. The things that fill you up. That make you feel so grateful to be alive. I love reading, cooking, crafting, entertaining, traveling and writing. These are the things that make me feel content. Like I could never get enough of them. This year, I intend to have a special emphasis on traveling and writing.

6. Less TV. I really have nothing against tv. It’s a great vice to have. But, having children, the only time I have for aforementioned hobbies is at night. Something’s got to give. So, less The Good Wife  and more of the things that make me feel peaceful. It’s been fun Alicia, Kalinda and Will. Until we meet again…

7. More writing.  I used to write voluminously. I was decent at it and enjoyed getting my thoughts down on paper. As I’ve gotten older, my writing has fallen to the wayside. This blog has been my humble attempt at nurturing that part of myself , but I’d like to do more. I’ve always had a dream of becoming published. (Scary words to put out in the universe.) I’ve never thought I had enough talent, but I just had the most amazing conversation with a dear friend a few months ago. She said something pretty profound, that I think about almost every day. That when we were younger, she used to think that authors were published because they were extremely gifted. Now, she realizes that if you have just a modicum of talent, and extreme disclipline, you can get published. Many of the published authors out there have no more talent than us – they just have extreme discipline. I just think this is brilliant. And terrifying, since I have no disclipline. Hence, my New Years tweaking.

7. More money. I believe in the power of intention, so I’m just going to put it out there. 2015 needs to have more money rolling around. Stephanie and I are very fortunate, but there are experiences that I’d love to be able to create with my family, and those experiences require money. Good sums of it.

8. More babies. Yep, I mean it. Stephanie and I would love to welcome a little brother or sister for August and Liam in 2015. We got pregnant with the twins the first week of January in 2012, and we will be continuing our fertility journey this year. I so hope that it will be a part of our family’s story to have at least one more baby.

So there you have it. My tweaks for the year ahead. Slight changes that I hope will make a big impact in our family’s lives.

Happy New Year everyone! Would love to hear about the changes you have in mind for you and your family…

 

 

How many kids do you have? Let me count…..7!

What a beautiful weekend. I’m sitting here on Sunday night at 9:30pm out on the patio. There’s a nip in the air for Florida, which means it’s a brisk 78 degrees.  I’m drinking a glass of Rodney Strong Cabernet, and just feeling so full of joy for what life has brought us.

Let me backtrack, though…..Last week was hard. Our 17 year old foster daughter ran away, and we ended up having to file a police report. I was sure she would show up the next morning, but by the 24 hour mark, Steph and I were both pretty scared. Turns out she was ok, but was ready to move on. They found her a new foster family and she was placed with them on Tuesday. Steph and I breathed, and honestly looked forward to our little family of four again. Six months of fostering a teen was hard. But that’s not was to be in store. Tuesday at 4:30pm we got a call from Family Support Services. They were following up with Monique to see if she had been placed with her new home. I said that she had. “Great!”, the lady responded. “Would you be interested in taking another placement?” “Absolutely”, I said. “Especially if it’s just one, and it’s a baby. What do you have?”. “I have a sibling group of three – a 4 year old boy, 6 year old boy, and 9 year old girl.” Crickets on the end of my line…….”Ok, let me talk with Steph.”

Steph and I had decided we were NOT going to take three children again – no way, no how.  The first trio about did us in – between our own twins and them, we were so exhausted, and honestly the only reason we were able to do it was with the help of tons of our friends. I like to tell people it was a little bit like war. Our main goal was just to survive. But, the woman from placement said that they’d have to split them up if we didn’t take them and would we be willing to just give it a try. So we said yes. We couldn’t bear to have them split up a sibling group without us at least trying…

And so our quiet little family of 4 turned into a bustling, hectic family of 7 overnight. We were going to give it a weekend to just try it out. Here are a few pics below.

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This was about an hour after they got to our house. It was about 9:30pm. They had just been taken into shelter care that afternoon, so it had been a long day. They were eating pizza 🙂

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10pm on the first night at our home. Playing on the patio!

So how did our weekend go? GREAT! This is a totally different experience from when we had our first set of siblings. The kids settled in really well, and we hustled to get their rooms together. Thank God for Facebook – I made one post, and we had an outpouring of support from people offering clothes, beds, a dresser, gift cards. It was amazing. We spent lots of time Wednesday through Friday getting things organized. Then, on Saturday we took them out to Mellow Mushroom for pizza and then watched the River City Pride Parade. After that, we went to the park.  We basically were able to do all of the things that we normally do with our twins – just with a much bigger posse! I do have to admit, at one point I had to see what it would cost to put them all in Kid’s Park – the local drop-in child care center, if we ended up keeping them and needed to have time to ourselves.  I can’t stand the thought of being tied down to our home, the way we were when we had our first sibling group of foster children. Steph and I love to be on the go, visiting parks, restaurants, events…you name it, we want to be there! So, just in case, I looked it up. $14 an hour for us to be able to have freedom if we needed it. SOLD. I know that sounds awful, but I couldn’t go into this knowing that we might have to be tied down to our house on the weekends. Plus, we needed a way to be able to spend time with just the boys.

At Gay Pride! Had to provide a cultural education to all the children. :)

At Gay Pride! Had to provide a cultural education to all the children. 🙂

So, that was Saturday, Today – Sunday –  was amazing. We took all of the kids to a friend’s birthday party. It was at a park, and we were actually able to keep up with all five of them! It wasn’t easy and I’m not sure I ever finished a sentence with an adult, but we did it! We arrived with five children and left with five children – SCORE! After the party, we brought our new foster children to another family to stay with for the week. This had been pre-arranged because we’re going out of town on vacation this week. Once they were safely at their new place, Steph and I spent some time with just the boys. We went to the new Fresh Market that just opened this week, and then to the River City Pride festival, where we got a sweet picture taken of our little family. Not a bad pic for being in our 40s and taking care of 5 kids all weekend!

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Inaugural weekend at our new Fresh Market! Doesn’t get better than chocolate chip cookies.

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River City Pride 2014!! Wearing my extra-fancy twin mom t-shirt. The hashtags are the best 😉

After that, we went to an event called “Picnic at the Park”, where neighborhood families meet up in local parks once a month for a big community picnic. I had a fabulous time —- the perfect bookend to a great weekend getting to know our new foster kids. At one point, someone that I had just met asked me how many children we had. I had to count. 1, 2, 3…4, 5, 6…..7! Yes, 7! Ophelia, Dakota, August, Liam, L, B, and C. That’s a big brood. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

******Below is a post I made on Facebook a few nights ago. It sums up our first few days:

Update on our foster kids – they’re doing GREAT! And the Buckman-Shaar family of 7 is doing great, too! This is night three. We are beyond grateful for everything that we’ve received for them. They came with one small backpack each and nothing else. We’ve been given tons of beautiful clothes, a dresser, a fancy daybed with trundle, back packs, sweet little pillows, gift cards, mattresses, books, brand new underwear, brand new socks, shoes, and more. And it keeps coming!! It’s so awesome you just want to cry. We had all this stuff before, but sent it all home with Briq, Teagan and Zarek when they were reunified with their mom, because they didn’t have much.

L is almost ten and is the caregiver of the trio. She is in awe of our house, and has decided we’re foreign. She LOVES her new room. They were all living in a motel room before this so she is happy as a clam in her “princess bed”, which is a daybed with fluffy pink bedding. She told us that being a foster child is pretty neat and that she hopes her mom and dad let her come stay with us whenever they need to go out of town. She wants us to take her camping. L loves plain pasta and chicken nuggets and HATES broccoli. She said it’s the best thing in the world to have foster brothers and sisters. She walks around the house carrying Liam on her hip. Liam loves her and calls out “L….? Where are you????” and then races to find her. She’s very protective of her brothers. I heard her say to her brothers yesterday in the car “You know boys that mom and dad sent us away so that we would be safe. So it’s ok. We’re safe.”

B is almost 6. He’s a sensitive little guy. He’s in kindergarten. He loves games and he plays independently. He and his brother both love the rollercoaster that we have on the patio. They have gone down it about 3 million times. He has played with pretty much every toy we own all over the house. I found him tonight up in the boys’ nursery, playing with forgotten toys that we had in a basket in the corner. B loves hamburgers and also HATES broccoli.

C just turned 4. He’s the little guy, but is almost as big as B. I try to hoist him on my hip and about wrench my back, he’s so big! Last night he was teary a bit and said, “What are we doing tomorrow?” I said, “Well, I’m going to take you to school and then I’ll pick you up again like I did yesterday and come here.” “Ok, but can that be the last night here? Can we go home after that?” Broke my heart  I just told him “Soon sweetheart.” C love Thomas the Tank Engine. He loves to climb and if I can’t find him, then I have to look up, and he’s somewhere dangling – off the stairs, standing on a chair, up a doorway, etc. C loves spaghetti and LOVES broccoli.

It’s 10:15 and all five are down for the night. Hoping the weekend is good to us as we all continue to get to know each other.*******************

That’s all I‘ve got for tonight. Looking forward to a great week ahead! And looking forward to calling their case worker on Monday and saying that WE CAN DO THIS!! 

 

 

My short-lived career as a Stay-At-Home-Mom

One year after I left the workforce to stay at home, I’ve conceded defeat, and have re-entered the workforce. I pretty much sucked at being a full-time mom, and I’m not saying that in a judgmental way – it’s more of a fact. If I were to receive a performance evaluation on my past year, I would not have been a top performer. I would not have gotten a promotion, a bonus, or even a 3% cost of increase raise.  I would have been written up on a probationary plan with concrete goals to make my performance acceptable to the boys.

Here’s the thing – I love those boys with all of my heart and they give me so much joy. But, I am a happier woman when I have time to pursue other things that are important to me, like a career. It makes me feel like a bad mom to write those words, but it’s the truth.

There are very real mommy wars going on out there in the world. If you haven’t heard that term before, consider yourself lucky. You have career women who think that working keeps you intellectual and that staying at home immediately sheds 50 points off of your IQ.  Then you have moms who stay home who wonder “If you’re not going to be with your kids, why have them in the first place?” Those are the extremes, but the values and beliefs are very real, with each side believing they’re raising children the “right way”.

It’s ridiculous. There is no right or wrong way. People are complex and need different things to feel fulfilled. For me –  I don’t think I’m cut out to be a stay at home mom. I struggled with remaining present, feeling accomplished and fulfilled. I found myself being physically present with the boys, but my mind was elsewhere, thinking about all of the other things I enjoy doing – reading, working on the blog, organizing community events, working. That stuff was stimulating to me, and I started using the TV more and more while I would sit in front of the computer researching things – anything. Elmo became my babysitter while I looked up stuff like vegan restaurants in NYC (not going anytime soon, but so what?), that spiritual ecology Ph.D. program that I turned down 10 years ago (not interested in it anymore, but was it still out there?), or the Disney Princess Half Marathon (I’ve only ever “run” one 5k, and even that ended in injury.) I was escaping.

I posted on Facebook asking for help getting perspective. Mostly, it was the sense of accomplishment I struggled with. I understand that taking care of two boys is a HUGE accomplishment, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the part of me who for my entire life has been “goal-driven”. From the time I was a child, I always had some big goal I was working on – graduating with the highest GPA I could, getting accepted into the best college, getting my Masters, moving up the career ladder.  It may be ego, or a North American mentality, but I am just used to moving throughout my life kicking ass….crossing things off the list, excelling, moving up.  Being with babies all day every day is a good blow to the ego. That Ivy League education you fought so hard to get? The babies don’t care! You ran a sales and marketing team? Silly! Those dreams of writing a book, or starting your own business? WhatEv! “Be present now. Be present now”, those babies were telling me.

But I couldn’t, and it was making me feel like I was a bad mom. When I was in it day in and day out, I couldn’t be present the way I wanted – the way those boys deserve.

I was a year into this and I had not found my groove. I felt isolated, unstimulated, unaccomplished, and unbalanced. And yet I looked around me at other amazing women who stayed at home and they weren’t struggling with these things. Yes, it was hard and they had their moments, too, but they felt secure in their choice and mostly were succeeding at it! I was in awe and wanted to be like them, but just couldn’t figure it out.

So, I started thinking about re-engaging in work. It’s been a struggle and there are still times when I wonder what’s wrong with me. Why couldn’t I feel fulfilled being with the boys full time? I fought so hard to have them and I love being with them. But, if I’ve learned anything in my 41 years, it’s this…there’s no sense in wishing we were a different way, or could do something better. Creating a good life is what it’s about, and I think in life you’re constantly tweaking the recipe – adding a little more of this, a little less of that.  It wasn’t working for me, so I decided to change things up.

My new career in real estate is one where I am fortunate to have the ultimate in flexibility. The boys go to the sweetest preschool 5 mornings a week from 9am – 1pm. Almost every day, I pick them up from school and watch as their little faces light up when they see me. Steph also works from home, so she’s there most days, too, peeking in the window and then opening the door to watch them rush to us. Then, we bring them home to take a nap. When they wake up at 3:30, Steph and I trade off being with them. Soon, the infernal heat will let up, and we’ll start taking afternoon wagon walks around the neighborhood, exploring.

We’ll see what this next year has to bring, but my main goal is to be present and enjoy every single moment I have with my boys.

***One last note about the stay at home moms I know – YOU ROCK! I really mean it when I say I’m in awe of you. I watched many of you create awesome schedules and routines for your children. I know it’s not all fun, and yet you do it day in and day out. I have seen both sides of the equation and respect so much what you do.

Pics from the boys’ new preschool below!

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August was so tired on his second day of school and took it upon himself to take a nap – right there in the middle of the classroom!

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Wiped out on his second day of school!

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First day of school with their teacher Miss Amanda! She and her mom own the school.

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Love the look on Liam’s face. Hi brother is probably deconstructing what he’s working so hard to construct.

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Building towers!

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Music time! With August’s signature look – one shoe off.

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Hey! I have a chair like this at home! Gotta love Ikea!

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August’s new friend, Le Chat.

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Lovely things

This momma is tired.

Weeks of getting up at 6am to bring M to the bus stop are wearing on me.

Liam not sleeping through the night at 20 freaking months old is wearing on me.

Continuously trying to prevent two sweet toddlers from inadvertently killing themselves is wearing on me.

So, today, when my daughter came to watch the boys, I decided not to work, and instead got into the car and drove to a place where I could be surrounded by lovely things…Anthropologie.

I know you’re not supposed to shop as entertainment, and we are constantly trying to money diet because we’re on one income, and I know consumerism is the root of everything evil, and blah blah blah. But, frankly, I didn’t care. I took the debit card that you get paid on when you’re a foster parent and went and bought lovely things. The foster children bought me lovely frivolous things.

Sweet Perfume

A 1920’s headband

My favorite candle

And, for good measure, a gorgeous sundress.

I was even going to take myself out to a private lunch and drink the most expensive glass of white wine I could find. Instead, I was tentatively ready to re-enter the world, and I texted Steph.

“Want me to pick you up for lunch?”

“Yes!” she answered – ready to get me as far away from the stores as she could.

So we went somewhere close to the house and I drank the most expensive glass of white wine on the menu, picked at a salad, and popped hot french fries in my mouth.

Sometimes, you just need peace. Sometimes, you need to be able to pick up a bottle of perfume – carefully smell it, slowly absorb the words on the box, feel the weight of the bottle in your hand. All, without being in a rush.

Today was one of those days. The moral of the story is that playing hooky every once in a while fills you back up. We should all do it more often.