Monthly Archives: October 2013

Welcome to Holland – One Year Later

Today is the last day of Down Syndrome Awareness month. It’s also a little over a year since we found out about August’s diagnosis. Today, something reminded me of a simple poem that was so meaningful to me when we first found out about the diagnosis  – “Welcome to Holland”. Dozens of people – mostly strangers – sent it to us in the weeks following his diagnosis. It’s about learning to accept your new journey when you find out you’ve had a child with a disability. I’ve included it at the end of this post.

People are able to accept a child’s disability at their own pace. Some people seem to do it almost effortlessly, immediately. Others struggle for some time to accept that that the child they have is different from what they had dreamed about. Others still are never able to accept a diagnosis and struggle to bond with their child. Some don’t feel like they are able to raise a child with a disability, and make an adoption plan.

It didn’t take long for Steph and I to rally and accept August’s Down syndrome. But, we were fortunate.  August was healthy. He didn’t need a feeding tube. He didn’t need open heart surgery. He spent only an hour in the NICU. I could not possibly sit around feeling sorry for myself when other little babies with Down syndrome were struggling, not thriving, and even dying. That felt disrespectful.

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Our little bug

 

I think it was also easier for us to accept August’s Down syndrome because we had the immense joy of having two babies. In terms of the poem, one took us to Holland, and one took us to Italy. I love them both equally, and consider myself richly blessed.

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Liam still makes this face!

Here’s the beautiful poem that meant so much to me in those early weeks and months.

Welcome to Holland

copyright 1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley. All rights reserved

I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability – to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It’s like this……

When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.”

“Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”

But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.

The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a different place.

So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.

It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around…. and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills….and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy… and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”

And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away… because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.

But… if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things … about Holland.

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Operation Home Study – Isn’t our home lovely?

As part of our journey towards becoming foster parents, we have been getting ready to have a home study. The words “home study” are enough to put fear in many an adoptive parent’s heart.

A stranger comes into your home and peeks into cupboards and closets and bathrooms to make sure you’re a good housekeeper and that everything’s kosher. Our housekeeping these days? Meh. Back when I was working full-time, we had a housekeeper come every two weeks. Now that I’m no longer working, that fun task falls to Steph and myself.

We had to have the bedrooms ready to show – with space for each child that will be placed with us. We will be licensed for 3 children, and we won’t know genders or ages, so Steph and I busted our butts over a 2 day period to turn two rooms from this:

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To this:

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Gorgeous Girls’ Room
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Sweet little boy room

Our house was also the cleanest it has been in a long time. Here’s a pic of the play room with Liam making an appearance:

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For our home study, we had to do the following:

  • Have beds and a week’s worth of clothing for each child we are going to be fostering
  • Purchase 2 fire extinguishers and have them tagged and officially inspected.
  • Lock our alcohol up (thank God we have a liquor cabinet!)
  • Lock all of our medicines and cleaning products up
  • Show that we have a first aid kit
  • Show that we have a ladder for the second floor, in case of fire
  • And a lot, lot more

Five minutes before our case worker arrived, I did a once-over on the house. How would we look to an outsider who was considering putting children in our care?

Everything looked good, except for the two tommy guns by the front door. WTF, I asked Steph? She shrugged. Must have been left over from the Halloween party we threw on Saturday, because we don’t have guns in the home. Except for on home study day.

I wandered in the kitchen. Four bottles of wine sitting on the counter in various stages of full. At this point, I about gave up and left them there. If the state doesn’t want a bunch of winos, then so be it. 😉 Again, it was from the party, so I quickly put them in the very full liquor cabinet. I squished them in there, like how my belly goes into my pants these days, and slammed the door shut.

Ok, ready for action. The case worker showed up while I was upstairs in the attic helping Steph put away shutters that have been precariously leaning on our upstairs railing for oh….about 6 months. Suddenly, today, we decided they needed to go up in the attic. Ophelia let the case worker in and I hustled downstairs, out of breath from hoisting shutters up to Steph.

Welcome to my home.

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The caseworker was super nice. She’s very young – I won’t make any silly quips about her age in case she reads this one day. We really liked her, and she really seems to have her shit together, which is a relief.

Before the walk-through, we sat down with her for some time, and she asked us why we are interested in fostering, about our jobs, and what we like to do as a family.

We talked about how quickly the certification seems to be going. Her goal is to have everything in place so that the day we graduate from class, she can submit our packet to the state. She said that in her last class, she had a family certified 5 days after their class ended. She called to tell them that they were certified and she said the woman burst into tears, she was so happy. She had to interrupt her and tell her that there was more – that she had a 2-week old baby that they would like to place with her. I don’t know whether to smile or cry at this, so I did both.

We also talked a bit about reunification. Reunification is always the goal when children are removed from their home. But today was the first time that I heard a stat from her that 50% of the time, children do not go back home. That gives me such mixed emotions – sad for these families that are torn apart, and anticipation and excitement that adopting through foster care WILL happen for us!

The walk-through went great. She loved the rooms, and didn’t raise an eyebrow at anything – even the copious amounts of Halloween decorations we have up that make us look a little obsessed with the dark side. As she walked out the door, she turned and said “Let’s get you some children here!” I closed the door and smiled.

I still can’t believe sometimes that we’re doing this, and at how quickly everything is going. At first I was thinking we would have children by Christmas, but now I’m thinking it might be by Thanksgiving! Though it makes me sad to think of children being removed from their homes during the holidays, I hope that Steph and I can make it a little easier by making them a part of our busy, fun family –  for however long they are here.

Next up for us is our inspection by the Department of Health on Thursday. They’re visiting to make sure we don’t have any sink holes, craters in our walls, or otherwise dangerous things going on in our home. I think we should be okay there. Especially now that I’ve gotten rid of the tommy guns. 

 

 

It Takes a Village

Things have been so busy, I forgot to post this last week! It’s important to me to share, though, how much people have helped, so even though it’s a bit late….

We are one month into our journey to become foster parents. One of the next things on the agenda is to get a home study. I thought it was a month away, but nope! It’s going to be on Monday. As in, one week from today.

This is just the first visit (they come back a second time), but we are still supposed to have the rooms ready for the children. We have nothing.

So I did what any smart person would do – I appealed to my Facebook friends.

Within two hours, I had 25 responses offering

Toddler beds

Mattresses

Twin beds

Bedding sets

Toys

Books

Girls clothing and shoes

Boys clothing and shoes

Dressers

Gift cards (When we get our children, we’re going to take them to choose a toy or something special for their room to make them feel as “at home” as they can while they are with us.)

Isn’t that amazing? We are blessed with so many giving friends and family.

After my post, I promptly spent the next 2 hours personally responding to everyone and arranging for pick ups and drop offs. There were so many, I had to write it all out on a sheet of notebook paper to make sure I didn’t double book or take more than I needed.

Here’s the truth. People are good.  They’re just good. For every terrible thing that happens, there are loving, giving people out there who want to help in meaningful ways.

It takes a village to take care of our children. It takes everyone coming together to show our love to these children who have experienced loss and trauma. And though nice “things” don’t necessarily equate to love, the fact that 25 people (and even more from an earlier post) all rallied to provide us with items for children we haven’t even met yet – that means something more than just the clothing, or the bed, or even the gift card. It means a true wish to help a child and show them that there are people that care about them – people that they haven’t even met. I hope I can convey that in a way that is meaningful to these children.

I’m scared to be able to do right by these children and give them all that they need, but people’s generosity in helping us prepare makes me feel stronger. Because I know we’re not doing this alone. We’re all in it together.

PS. Since I’m publishing this post after the fact, I’ll share a sneak peek of the girls’ room!!

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Becoming Foster Parents – Our New Journey

Steph and I have made no secret about wanting a large family. After our third miscarriage last month, we decided to change course and get started immediately on something we’ve thought about for a long time.

What’s our path to our Brangelina-esque family? Steph and I have always known we wanted to adopt. We actually started down the adoption path after our second miscarriage, before we got pregnant with the twins. At the time, we went through Children’s Home Society, and were looking at adopting a baby. I desperately wanted a baby.

Now that we have two babies, I don’t feel that desperation, which is a relief. We want to adopt, but it’s ok if it’s an older child. In fact, we would welcome that! I’m ready for full-length Disney movies, running at the park, and soccer games. I’m not sure our 1-year-olds would take kindly to any of those.

So, after the miscarriage, I made the call to enroll in the “Foster to Adopt” program. We know a couple who adopted 4 boys through foster care, and that was the road Steph and I decided to go down next. In that program, you are fostering children who’s parents are in the process of getting their parental rights terminated.

Turns out that program no longer exists. You can’t just go into fostering saying that you want to adopt the children that stay with you. It doesn’t work that way. The goal of foster care is always re-unification with the parents. Most of the time, the children do go back home. It’s only when the parent can’t complete their case plan that parental rights are terminated and adoption becomes an option. If you have been fostering children for a long period, and their parental rights are terminated, the judge typically looks to you first to see if you want to adopt.

So, after some thought and talking with Steph, we decided to go down the foster parent route, knowing that we will have to give back most of the children we help.

I would be lying if I didn’t say that I’m scared of what it’s going to feel like to give children back that I’ve loved as my own. I’m not sure I’m cut out for that. Especially when it comes to abuse and neglect, and knowing that a child that you love may be going back into a hostile or dangerous situation. But, you have to be strong enough to try to do what you can and then let these children go.

Really, in a way, a foster child, who may be with you for a day, a week, a month, or a year, is no different than your own children. Nothing is a given and you have to pack in all the love you can muster in a short period of time.

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We’re 3 weeks into the 7-week classes to become certified. Every Wednesday and Thursday, from 6:00 – 9:00 pm, you’ll find us in class, learning about grief, trauma, hope, and raw humanity. The first class was a doozy. I came home with a splitting tension headache from the stories I heard. And that was just the first class.

After we finish, we have a home study completed to make sure that our home is safe and sound. Then, everything is submitted to the state to get certified.We are hoping for children by the holidays.

Who will our children be? How many will we foster? The state allows each family to be certified for up to 5 children, including your own. You also aren’t allowed to have more than 2 children under the age of 24 months. We already have those 2 children, so we are hoping to foster a sibling set of three children between the ages of 2 and 6 years old.

That means that our bustling family is about to get even crazier! I’m not sure where this road will lead for Steph and I – whether we’ll end up fostering for years, or whether we’ll adopt children quickly. I just hope that we can do the best job we possibly can in truly making a difference to children who need our love. It’s a privilege to be able to give that love.

We’ll keep everyone updated!