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Our first foster care placement – 10 lessons learned

Our three foster children were reunified with their mom last Wednesday. This was our first placement after graduating and completing all the requirements in November.

I remember in December, waiting impatiently for the call from placement, having no idea what to expect. I also remember finally receiving the call, on December 31st. New Years Eve. I was at Publix, getting groceries for New Years Day dinner. I walked around the store after getting off the call, filling the cart to overflowing with kid-friendly food. Treats. Stuff we would never usually buy. Our three children came that night – an 18 month old boy,  a 2 year girl and a 5 year old boy.

Fast forward three months, and I can finally relax and say “We did it.” For anyone who’s been following my blog, or Facebook posts, you know that we struggled. I honestly didn’t think I could get up each day and do it. But, somehow, we did. For three months, we tried hard to make a difference in these kids’ life, and to help their mom. We made a lot of mistakes, and honestly I’m not sure that in the end we did the right thing by keeping the children when we knew we were over our heads. Our friends told us “Yes.” That the consistency we provided them was worth way more than feeling like all we were doing with them was surviving.

Along the way, I learned a few things about the system, and ourselves. Perhaps another new foster parent might come across this one day and know they’re not alone.

1. THIS WILL BE MUCH HARDER THAN YOU THOUGHT.  I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I may have envisioned fun-filled evenings around the dinner table while we regaled each other with cute stories of the day. Didn’t happen. Really, every day was survival for us. I know it’s not like that for all foster parents, but that was our reality. It was not fun. It was not joyous. And we honestly didn’t feel like it was rewarding until the very end.

2. IT TAKES A VILLAGE. I wrote about this in a previous post, but we really called in the troops to help, and the troops responded. We had friends donate beds, furniture, clothes, shoes, toys, food, emotional support – you name it, it was given to us. Many friends- new and old –  send us money and gift cards. I honestly lost track, but it must have been close to $1000. Every cent was spent on the kids – clothes, an educational tablet for the 6 year old, gas for all the driving around, and we still have more! A good friend of mine who lives in the DC area sent the sweetest note along with a hundred dollar check. She knew I was struggling emotionally and urged me to use it for babysitting. But since the kids have gone back with their mom, I actually used it to buy Easter baskets for all the foster kids!

3. PEOPLE WANT TO HELP. This goes along with #2. Fostering is intense, and can feel overwhelming. Not everybody is able or has the desire to be a foster parent, but people really do want to help in small, tangible ways. Just ask for help. I really got over my shyness with this one fast. There’s no reason to be a martyr. One of the kindest things people did for us during this time was to come over with dinner. There were a group of about 6 different couples that would rotate and bring us food – often making two different meals for the foster kids (who didn’t take too kindly to anything more exotic than a chicken nugget), and a vegan meal for the rest of us. These friends would stay through the evening until we got the kids upstairs to bed. That help was a godsend. We knew we weren’t doing it alone.

4. DON’T BE AFRAID TO CREATE A SCENE. I’m very non-confrontational. And I have this annoying quality of liking to be liked. And I usually am – I’m relaxed, easy-going, nice. I don’t have a strong personality. But, I had to put all that aside when I became a foster parent. The system is flawed. You think you are going to work with a system that has these children’s best interests at heart. And on the macro level, they do. But at the micro level, in many decisions made every day, they don’t. Placement workers need to get kids in a home – any home, and the structure isn’t in place to really try to make good decisions about fitting children with the right family. In our short three months, we managed to piss off placement and I’m pretty certain they think we’re annoying foster parents who won’t just do the job that they signed up for. It frustrates me, but really…we’re in it for the children, NOT to impress agency workers.

5. WORKING WITH THE WHOLE FAMILY IS INCREDIBLY REWARDING. Ok, this is a long one, because it’s so important. In social work school, we learned about PIE. Person in the environment. As a friend of mine said, I put every cent of that MSW to work when working with this family. Very early on – like the first week – I decided I didn’t want to go to the visitation center to drop off the kids for their visits with mom. I’d rather be there. To work with the entire family, instead of just the children. I knew their mom didn’t have a car, and how hard it must be for her to get to the center. So, after meeting her at a park a couple of times, we began inviting her into our home. Three nights a week, for about 12 hours a week, she would come over to eat dinner with the kids, do homework, play, and do the bathtime and bedtime routine. It was a lot of work doing it this way, but it was the right thing to do.

I got to know this whole family, and was able to advocate for the mom, who honestly needed help infused into her home – not pejorative actions taken against her. As I said to the caseworker a number of times “We can barely do this ourselves – and we have a huge network of support, the benefit of stable jobs, and not much stress in our lives. I have no idea how she can possibly do this on her own.” Getting to know the mom as well as I did qualified me to make a recommendation to the judge. Based largely in part to my testimony, we were able to get these kids home to their mom a month earlier than they would have otherwise. 

6. BABY GATES ARE GODLY INVENTIONS.  I felt like my family was hijacked for the three months that the children were here. Our quiet, joyful home became obnoxiously loud and filled with fighting toddlers and ubiquitous time-outs. In a fit of despair, I parted with the best $50 I’ve ever spent and bought the tallest child gate you’ve ever seen. As in a Great Dane could not get past the gate. The three year old wreaked havoc at the beginning, running around the upstairs floor screaming her  head off, waking up our twins. She overflowed our toilet, and generally destroyed upstairs and my sanity until a friend said “Why don’t you try a tall babygate?” Amazon prime couldn’t come fast enough.

7. IF A PLACEMENT IS NOT WORKING OUT FOR YOUR FAMILY, IT’S OK TO SAY NO.
I alluded to this above. I’m honestly not sure that in the end, it was the best thing for us to keep the children. If it’s too much,  it’s ok to say no. Like many things in life, learning when to say no is often harder than knowing when to say yes.

8. FOSTERING CAN BE HARD ON YOUR FAMILY I guess I expected for fostering to be a strengthening experience for our family. And maybe in the end it will be. But in the short-term, it was very hard. Our nerves were shot, and Stephanie in particular had a really hard time with all the screaming. At the end, I knew the kids either had to go back to their mom, or go to another family, because it was hurting our family. And that’s not ok. Steph and I have a responsibility to take care of our family first, so that we can help others.

9. WHAT SEEMS LIKE A DROP IN THE BUCKET IS NOT. It’s hard not to get overwhelmed with the need. I have always been passionate about children – I did my undergrad thesis on the effect of media coverage on the reporting of child abuse. I worked in a therapeutic child care center in uptown Manhattan. But how do you stay energized to do something good when there’s so much suffering around? It just seems like a drop in the bucket sometimes. But it’s not. These are people’s lives. These are children’s lives. These are families that can make it…or not. And you have a chance to help. It doesn’t get much more meaningfull than that.

10. FOCUS ON THE SMALL THINGS
This placement really rocked our world. Most times, it felt too hard, unrewarding, and that we were just barely surviving. How was that good for the kids? But I had great friends point out that just by providing stability, we were doing good things for them. It’s too easy for me to remember all the screaming and time outs and general ugliness. I need to focus on the good stuff, like how B started talking more the longer he was with us. Or how Spitfire T would talk in a voice like she was a three pack a day smoker. And how she called Steph “Miss Toe-fan-ee”. Or how the 5 year old did so much better behaviorally when we instituted a rewards chart. When everything seems overwhelming, it’s the small things that count.

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Playing in the playroom on their last day here. Their older brother was probably on the iPad in another room. He looooooved an iPad and called it his “tablet.”

 

That’s our journey so far. When the children went back to their mom, we knew we needed to take a long break. The long break turned into two weeks – we have a new 17 year old foster daughter coming to live with us on Monday! Though Steph and I both still have PTSD from our older two being teenagers, we’re excited for the chance to help love and support this girl. I won’t lie, though. We are hoping for it to be a bit easier this second time around.

Note: For anyone interested, here’s a film told from the perspective of a young girl being removed from her home.

Free government cheese? SIGN ME UP!

Call me cray-cray, but one of the things I’ve been excited about in this whole fostering process is getting approved for WIC – the government program for women, infants, and children that gives you what the wise ones in power deem to be “powerful, nutritious foods”. It’s a great program, and I’m all about getting things fo free, so when we got our very loud and very hungry sibling group of three, and two of them are under 5 (age cut-off)….well, I couldn’t take it one bit longer. I had to apply!

Here’s my experience, in case anyone is as obsessed with WIC and government beans as I am. (I’m expecting approximately one person fits that bill and will read this post)

On Wednesday at 10am, I call the central WIC office to get an appointment. I’m on hold for an entire hour, but I will NOT be discouraged, and go about my business while waiting patiently. Someone answers and I stumble for the phone to get my appointment. I’m shocked when I get an appointment for the next day at 8:45am! But then the woman on the phone tells me something horrifying. I MUST BRING THE CHILDREN IN TO THE APPOINTMENT.

I’m sorry. Bring a 21-month old and 2 1/2 year old into a government office for what is likely to be hours? Is this worth it? Still, I will not be swayed, and I furrow my brow and clench my jaw to prepare for THE WAIT.

The next morning, I drop off Z at school and take T and B to the WIC office. We check in and wait about 45 minutes until we’re called into Room 9. The kids were terrific! They sat in the double stroller and ate non WIC-sanctioned Scooby Doo cereal with red dye 40 while I watched on loop the epic WIC movie about which foods are WIC-approved and which are contraband. 45 minutes is a long time when you’re in a stifling waiting room with two toddlers, so I pretty much memorized the entire thing.

When you take your WIC checks to the grocery store, pay attention to what is allowed and what is not allowed. Ask for store assistance if you have any questions.

With your checks, you will receive beans. You may purchase 16 ounces of dried beans, or up to four cans of any type of bean. Gourmet beans are NOT ALLOWED.

Just hold on one cotton-pickin minute. What the hell is a gourmet bean? I text Steph and she tells me I must clarify with the workers and ask them to re-make the movie. I sigh and continue to memorize the movie.

When purchasing WIC juice, you may get up to 64 ounces of APPROVED juice. If you purchase Juicy Juice brand, only Apple is covered. The rest are NOT ALLOWED.

WTF? Why is WIC all sketchy about juice-blends? It’s still 100% juice – just different ones, all mixed up in the same can. I’m truly perplexed over this one, but don’t text Steph about it because I’m tired of her shenanigans and impractical demands.

Finally, we are called back into room 9, which is perfect timing, because the children have just finished eating their red dye 40 and are starting to become monsters. The first room is where we get certified. I show the worker the children’s court-orders for placement in our home. We also weigh, measure and check the children’s blood level. Apparently if they’re anemic, we get Super-WIC. I don’t know that we’ll ever find out what that means, because both of their iron-levels are fine. This vegan momma is doing a-ok. T is pretty much a demon in the room because….well, they got their fingers pricked. Who wouldn’t be. I try to tell her about future child-birth and surgeries and things that will hurt way worse than getting her finger pricked, but she has the audacity to not care.

Once we leave room #9, we head to a second waiting room before seeing the WIC nutritionist. She asks me if I have any concerns or goals I’d like to work on before our next visit.

Well….T won’t touch vegetables with a ten foot pole. But what do you do?

She whips out a laminated chart. I am not joking. I wish I’d had the prescience to snap a pic, but all I could do was stare. It was a beautiful 1980’s chart of cute little faces and animals made out of veggies. Like funny faces and caterpillar kabobs that use 10 different raw vegetables to paint a scene.

Ummm….I have five children in the house.  I’m pretty sure I won’t be making a rainbow face from multi-colored peppers and cherry tomatoes that T won’t eat anyway. But thanks!

Next up, we went to another waiting room before being called to window 12 where we picked up our WIC checks. Hooray!!! This was the moment we’d been waiting for. I had to sign for each check we got, and we got a lot. They gave me three months worth for T and B.

The kids had deteriorated and were throwing their shoes and screaming at me and the worker, so at that point I gathered my checks, my kids and my will-power and walked out the door. OH! But not before asking if I had to bring the children back the next time I come. I don’t. 🙂

The next day, I had my daughter babysit the kids while I hauled my butt up to Publix to use the first round of checks. I only used half my checks because I’m a little unclear about what to do with 6 gallons of milk. I’ll use the second half next week.I used my trusty WIC pamphlet to help me navigate the complex world of WIC-sanctioned foods.

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Here’s a zoomed-in version of the milk section.

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When I went up to the register, I dutifully separated my WIC items from the rest of my purchase (wine, soy milk, gourmet beans) I told the cashier that I was a virgin WIC-er, and she gave me a small frown. I’ll tell you what, though. That frown turned upside down super-fast because I got an A+ in selecting the right foods! She told me I did better than most people. I was proud of my 100% accuracy rate!

I snapped a pic of my spoils below just because I am ridiculously proud. Remember – this is just half my loot for the month!!!

My loot:

* Six boxes of Cheerios (You get 36 ounces. Boxes are 12 ounces each and they were BOGO – Hollah!!!! )

* 1 pound of the proverbial government cheese

* 1 dozen (cheapest version from chicken) eggs. (Yes, they clarified that)

* 3 gallons and 1 quart whole milk.

* 2 loaves 100% whole wheat bread.

* 2 bunches of Chiquita Bananas.

* 1 gallon orange juice

and last but not least

*4 cans of NON-GOURMET beans.

Total savings this trip? $50!! It might have cost me $70 in babysitting and 3 hours of my life in order to get this, but WHATEVER! Free food!

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Can’t wait til my trip next week! I basically get all this stuff again, except I’m going to switch out and get some JJ apple and peanut butter instead of the beans. It’s ok, though, because I’m a fancy beans kind of gal. 🙂

PS. On a serious note, I am super appreciate of our government programs, and gladly pay my taxes to help those less-fortunate than our own family. I had WIC for my older children about 20 years ago, and am not at all ashamed to say that food stamps and welfare helped us survive during many hard years. To all the haters that think that people on food stamps are sitting on their couches eating bon-bons – you’re wrong. I am the face of welfare and WIC. And I most certainly didn’t sit around eating bon-bons. Gourmet beans? Maybe. But you can’t judge me for that.

 

 

 

 

Taking Exquisite Care…Foster Kid Update

Someone here in Jacksonville, FL  won the lottery many years back. As in literally won the big bucks. They live in the Riverside area – a beautiful sunlit historic district with homes dating back to the 1840’s. The neighborhood is gorgeous and quaint – tree-lined streets, tons of parks, locally-owned businesses, and charming and unique houses.

The house that the lottery-winners own, though, has honestly become an eyesore. Knick-knacks crowd the windowsills, and stuff spills out onto the yard. At some point, the owners got the house coated with a paint that should last the life of your house. Honestly, paint shouldn’t last forever. It looks weird and plasticky and I can’t help but shake my head every time we pass the house.

The paint – seeing as how it’s everlasting –  is still there, as bright and garish as ever. But under the paint, the wood is rotting. The window boxes are falling off the house, drooping depressively. The whole thing just looks sad – the utter excess of the clutter coupled with disrepair.

What the owners aren’t quite grasping is that you can’t just take care of something once and then leave it alone to rest on it’s laurels. You have to take constant and exquisite care of the things in your life – whether that’s a physical thing like a house, a car, your animals, your friends, your children, your partner…..anything in your life that’s worth having is worth taking exquisite care of.

That being said, I’m doing a shitty-ass job of heeding my own advice. Steph has forsaken me and left for an out-of-town work trip. This morning, I found myself trying to wrangle 5 children into the car for the morning deposit of the foster children at child care. FYI – when you have 5 screaming children, you forget to do things like STRAP THE CHILDREN INTO THEIR CAR SEATS.  That would be 2 that I somehow forgot. I’m pretty sure that doesn’t constitute taking exquisite care of my beings. I’m also pretty sure I might be an unfit foster parent, but for some reason they’re still letting me do this.

Right now, life is overwhelming with 3 foster kids in the house and 16 month old twins. Often, it’s complete pandemonium, with children screaming, kicking, flailing and generally proving the theory that when children are taken from everything they know and placed in another home with strangers (us) – all hell breaks loose.

In the spirit of not being able to take care of all my beings, I had to call uncle and tell the children’s caseworker, guardian ad litum and placement specialist that WE ARE IN OVER OUR HEADS. Even with all the help we’re getting (we have the best friends and family!!!), I feel like I’m running a child care for about 1 bazillion behaviorally disturbed toddlers. Don’t believe me? Count the shoes below. That’s a bazillion shoes!

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It’s just too much. I can’t take good care of all that I’m responsible for. Late last week, we had the big call where I told  7 people-in-authority that we couldn’t do it. It was awful. I felt judged. Like I was the annoying high maintenance foster parent who wouldn’t do her job and leave them alone.

It was embarrassing making that call, but it had to be done.

Because it’s mine and Steph’s  job to make sure that our family’s  life doesn’t end up looking like that god-awful house in Riverside. Spray-painted perfectly on the outside, but falling down on itself underneath the shiny. Ain’t happening. We care too much about this family to pretend that we are stronger than we are.

We’ll see what happens next with the foster kids….it’s still day by day. In the midst of the hard days, though, I feel like we’re learning a valuable lesson about resolve, care and tenacity. Our family is definitely richer for it.

 

We’re brand new foster parents! The down and dirty of our first two weeks

Steph and I got our first foster care placement on December 31st. I was at the grocery store, choosing a perfect avocado, when my phone rang and I saw who the number was from….

The call was for a respite placement – a foster mom had a death in the family and needed to go out of town for a week. Could we take an 18 month old, a 2 1/2 year old and a 5 year old sibling group while she was gone? YES! SIGN US UP! I was so excited, and immediately called Steph, then posted on Facebook. Tons of warm wishes came flowing in and I walked around Publix humming,  busily filling my cart with all kinds of kid-friendly foods.  I checked out at Publix and told the cashier what was going on. We laughed because I had come in for 5 things, and come out with $200 worth of groceries. She wished us luck and I walked out beaming. We were ready to do good work!

We were going to have FIVE children in the home! This was the minute we’d been waiting for – what all the hard work was for. Our house was about to be filled with laughter and joy!

Oh dear. The reality and my vision couldn’t have been more polar opposites.

I’m not sure what I was expecting when we signed up to become foster parents. But I might have had an image of a busy, bustling, happily noisy home, with Steph and I taking time out to attend, sequentially, to each child. A loving gesture here, a firm but kind redirection here. All the while feeling like we are good people and we have this.

What we were not prepared for was for our house to feel like a war zone. I don’t want to speak for Steph, but this is definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done. So far, there are very few happy moments. Mostly, it’s just hard. Really, really hard. We’ve been told that being a foster parent is one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do, and honestly we’re not feeling that. People tell us it will come.

Kids do well with routine and structure, and when their little worlds are turned upside down, all hell breaks loose. I joked with the caseworker that we had more screaming in our home in the first two days than I had experienced in my entire life. Except it wasn’t a joke. It was real. Poor August hates loud noises and every time T (2 1/2 year old girl) would start screaming, it terrified him and he’d melt down. Liam got pushed, hit and screamed at that first week, which had never happened to him before. And the kids were unpredictable – one minute Liam would reach for a toy and it would be fine. The next minute he’d do the same thing and they’d whack him on the head. Poor little guy.

In one of my low points, I told a friend what we were going through. She said words that really resonated with me. “You must feel like your family has been hijacked.”

We almost didn’t take the kids on long-term, because we felt way over our heads and because we were worried about what it would do to our kids. But the foster mom they were with was worn out. She was a single woman, worked full-time and then came home to take care of the children. She was exhausted and wasn’t wanting to do it long-term. And, it seemed like we were making huge progress in the one week we had them. So, Steph and I had a long talk and decided we could do it.

With the behaviors and intensity of the children, and the sheer number, we knew we couldn’t do it on our own, so I turned to Facebook and asked for people to sign up for shifts to help us with dinner/bath/bedtime routine. Within a day, I had 15 people reach out and sign up for their turn to help! It feels so good to know that we’re not doing this alone, and when someone walks in the door at 5pm, I feel instant relief like someone strong is here with fresh energy.

On the hardest day, when the oldest had a meltdown at the hospital where I had taken my son August for a check-up, I came home and felt defeated. We weren’t strong enough to do this. The kids needed someone who could give them more. That night a friend came over armed with kid-friendly food from Publix (apparently my idea of kid-friendly and what the kids would actually eat were very different!) and helped whip everything into shape. We sighed and knew we could do it for another day.

Having these kids have given the phrase “one day at a time” new meaning for me. Every day it’s a new challenge and I’m not sure we’re the ones to do this work – maybe someone else could do it better – be more patient – or have better success. But we hate to have the children move yet again to another home. We don’t want them to feel like they’re being given up on. So each day we start new and gear up to do it all over again.

Things have started getting a little easier – we’ve engaged with their mom and met her twice out at a park and restaurant before having her come to our home last night for the first time. She helped with T’s hair, and did the dinner/bath/bedtime routine with us. I may or may not have had a glass of wine while she handled her children and did “mom” duty. It actually went great. The kids act better for her than they do for us.

I also asked for a behaviorist to come into the home to help us with some of the troubling behaviors. Specifically, the oldest “Z”(5), is defiant, and won’t do things like…oh, go to bed, get up in the morning, get dressed, put his shoes on, etc, etc. That has been really difficult for us because in order for us to keep a household of 7 running smoothly, we need for the children to help us out. We also wanted help with the two younger two and their aggressive behavior. I’m not trying to get my throat grabbed and scratched again….The behaviorist came in today for THREE HOURS and met with me to go over each child and the behaviors that are a problem. We have a good game plan and are going to initiate a token system for the two older ones to help give them immediate feedback for good behavior. I also felt like all I was doing was penalizing and taking away privileges for bad behaviors, instead of turning it on it’s head and rewarding for good behaviors. So, the therapist is going to help me do that. I’m so thrilled!

That’s a snapshot of our first two weeks. Everything changes from day to day, so I’m going to try to do a better job of posting to the blog – even if it’s just short snapshots of how our days went.

For now, we’re barely holding our heads above water. Every time I think “I can’t do this anymore” I literally get a text, phone message or Facebook message telling us that we can do this. Yesterday I had four people randomly reach out to us, including one message that started out “You don’t know me, but…..” After I finished reading that message, I smiled, and knew we could do it for one more day.

 

 

Fall 2013 – Birthdays, Buddy Walk and Christmas, Oh My!

Fall 2013 was BUSY. It was so busy that I never got around to posting anything for the boys’ birthday, Buddy Walk, or any of the holidays. So I’m going to wrap that all up here in one epic post for the boys to read when they’re older. Warning, this post has 50 trillion photos.

Fall started off with a bang – the boys turned 1 September 12th! This involved about 2 months of planning, shopping and decorating. Everything turned out great, and I had a lot of fun with our Alice in Wonderland theme.

PARTY TIME!

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The candy display. Everyone loved it!
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We got giant subs from a local sandwich shop and added chips, applesauce and a few other snack-type things.
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I made all the cut-outs with my new Cameo Silhouette. That thing is awesome! There was a bit of a learning curve, so it took me staying up tip 2am several nights in a row, but was worth it!
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I made three dozen vegan cupcakes, and decided to ditch the cake (except for the boys’ smash cake.)

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Found this idea off of Pinterest and instead of paying $30 each, had their sister Ophelia make them with chalkboard markers. They turned out great!

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Seriously, you want me to eat this whole thing? That’s cause for concern, mommy.
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The boys having a blast with their cake smash.

Whew! Themed parties are a ton of work! I’m not sure I’m going to do one next year – we may just skip town and go camping 🙂 We had a great time, though, and a wonderful turnout.

A GROWING FAMILY

Another big theme for us this fall was growing our family. We have had 4 embryos frozen from our last IVF that resulted in the twins. In late August, Steph and I transferred two of those little embryos. After lots of waiting and a million pregnancy tests, we found out we were pregnant. We were so ecstatic! I had never had success with a frozen transfer. The excitement was short-lived, though, when  I miscarried on the boys’ birthday – I was 5 weeks. A positive thing that came out of this pregnancy is that I did get pregnant on a frozen round. I had half-way convinced myself it was impossible.

Though it was incredibly painful, another beautiful thing that came out of us miscarrying was that Steph and I made the official decision to become certified foster parents. We know we want a big family, and both feel like we’re running out of time. We had learned about the foster to adopt program from friends of ours who adopted a sibling group of 3 boys through the foster care system, as well as another boy. From zero kids to 4 overnight, they were an inspiration to us.

We started the classes in early October and on December 17, we got the news that we were licensed foster parents! We are licensed for 3 children, but I am not so secretly hoping that they’ll give us a sibling group of 4 children. Thanks to the kindness of our friends, we have two amazing rooms set up with beds, dressers, clothes and toys. Now we’re  just waiting for the call, and my cell phone is basically surgically implanted to my hip. We are so excited to see how this journey unfolds for us, and the children that will come our way to be nurtured and loved.

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MORE PARTYING!

We also hosted our annual Halloween party in late October. The boys were bikers. Everyone thought they were pirates, but whatever they were, they were CUTE! We had a great turnout and did a fun costume contest. Steph made appletinis and this year I broke with tradition and asked everyone to bring their favorite spooky dish. It’s too hard with the boys now to cook, and a bit pricey to cater in. We had tons of great food and I think people really enjoyed being able to contribute! My favorite dish was the cat litter cake, which was served in a cat litter pan, with a litter scoop as the serving utensil. It was pretty disgusting.

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Biker hellions and their mommy
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We probably shouldn’t have been smiling. We were supposed to be bad ass.
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Great costumes!
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We had a costume contest and the hot dog won the day!

 

BUDDY WALK TIME!

November 9th was our second Buddy Walk. We had a great group of friends and family turn out to show their support for our team, “August’s Light”. Dozens of our friends donated to August’s team. That, coupled with the money we earned from the Great Gatsby silent auction and a “Name Your Price” garage sale, helped us raise over $3500 for our local Down Syndrome Association of Jacksonville! It was a beautiful day at the beach!

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THANKSGIVING

Thanksgiving came, which meant 2 days of cooking and lots of wine with my mom. She doesn’t know how to do anything on a small scale, and we had a feast as we hosted 20 at our house. If you know me, you know that I love a pretty tablescape. You also know that I use words like “tablescape” in everyday conversation. 🙂 This year’s table was beautiful! Ophelia and I did it together.

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Fifi and Da Hoppa

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DECEMBER FUN

December finally arrived! My favorite month of the year. We started the month off with a photo shoot by our photographer Christina Block. She always does such amazing work, and I’ll look forward every year to doing a shoot with her that’s a combination of the boys turning a year older, and taking pictures for our Christmas card. Here are a few of our favorites…

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Dakota has been in Asia since March. We miss him so much!!

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From the photoshoot, we chose a few pictures for our annual Holiday card. I know this is hokey, but I’d like to find a way to turn our annual cards into smaller Christmas ornaments. I’m sappy like that. I’ll have to turn to Pinterest. You know somebody’s done that shit.

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This is what I posted Christmas morning. Hopefully I didn’t cause Christina Block to roll her eyes at me, with my deconstruction of her photos, hee hee 🙂

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In December, we also visited my grandparents in Indianapolis – the boys’ 4th plane ride! It was much harder flying with them this time around. Steph and I were pretty frazzled even before we pulled back from the runway. Steph decided we were never flying anywhere again. Umm, which is pretty much impossible because we plan on visiting my grandparents 3 times a year, and we’re not making that drive!

It was great seeing them – I love my grandparents so much, and wish we lived closer.

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After we got back from our trip, we got busy trying to get into the Christmas spirit – buying a tree,  decorating the house, buying new Christmas PJ’s, and watching the best holiday movies in the world – National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and Elf. I’m still trying to find my copy of Love Actually, which completes the holy trinity of holiday movies 🙂

We decided not to get the boys too much this year because they need nothing! Seriously, they got so much stuff at their birthday, we just got them a Little People Barn, an Elmo DVD, an Elmo bath mitt, some Elmo books, Elmo fork and spoon. Is there a theme here? Christmas morning was lots of fun, though we really missed Dakota, who is still in Thailand. I tried to get him on Skype for Christmas, but no luck there.

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The cutest little Christmas elf you’ve ever seen.
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The other cutest little elf you’ve ever seen.
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Christmas JAMMIES!! (You have to yell it when you read it)

 

As I sit here and write this, we are a few days away from the New Year. I’ll have a post on my resolutions later on, but it may or may not involve trying to slow down the pace a bit. I’m not sure if I’m going to be successful, but another big theme this fall for me was purging….trying to curate my house and getting rid of anything not useful and used. It’s been a huge undertaking, but I’m committed to having a clutter-free, simpler 2014 for our growing family!

Much love from our family to yours!

Twin toddlers are NO JOKE, folks.

The boys are 14 months old now, and shit just got hard. Seriously, I thought having two infants was going to be the challenging part of the twins experience. During the boys’ first year, I  met lots of experienced twin moms who all told me the same thing – “Don’t worry…hang in there…it gets easier.”  THEY LOOKED ME IN THE FACE AND LIED!

Babies are a breeze. Having twin toddlers is NO JOKE, FOLKS.

You want proof? I’ve got proof.

First, babies are immobile. You put them somewhere, and they stay there! Here is photographic evidence of the immovability of babies.

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They pose like gingerbread men…and hold the pose.

 

Oh look, I'm just chillin in my tux, sitting here patiently on the couch.
Oh look, I’m just chillin in my tux, sitting here patiently on the couch.
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Who poses their babies with stuffed animals, anyway? We do, because they’ll just sit there so WHY NOT!

 

Now, every picture I take is a blur.

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Also, because of their newly mobile selves, you have to booby trap your house. And even when you booby trap it, they still do contraband things like stand up perilously on their wagon – the concrete floor reflecting ominously back at you.

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What else? Babies are also more portable than toddlers. Tuck those sleeping little angels in a quiet spot at a restaurant, and you’re usually golden. The first year, we went on 4 plane rides, to countless restaurants, and all over the ever-lovin city of Jacksonville.

With toddlers? GAMES UP. You can no longer go where normal people go. You are a prisoner in your own home. Now, when we think about going anywhere indoors, I become like a frightened animal. My eyes get wide, and I envision all the scenarios.

Proof that I’m not making this shit up – We got kicked out of our first restaurant last month! I’ve managed to go my whole 40 years behaving sweetly in restaurants. 13 months into having twins, and the owner of the new vegan-friendly restaurant that we go to comes to our table and admonishes to me “If they keep acting like that, I’m going to have to ask you to do what I did when my babies were young, and take them outside.”

August was constipated and was loudly telling the restaurant about his troubles. Sigh. He charms you with his smile, but DON’T BELIEVE HIM!

Deceiving smile. Notice his razor sharp teeth. He hones them daily. On us.
Deceiving smile. Notice his razor sharp teeth. He hones them daily. On us.

 

Toddlers are also violent. August does NOT like my curly hair, and so he tries to pull it out, ringlet by ringlet. He also doesn’t like my glasses, and gets a resolve of steel until he pulls.them.off.my.face. Then, I am blind. Which is probably better, honestly.

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I’d write more, but these days my attention span is shot to hell and my ability to put together a coherent sentence is suspect. So I’ll stop at that.

To all those moms who told me it gets easier, cheers! I think it’s a survival thing – like DON’T TELL THE NEW MOM THAT IT GETS HARDER. SHE’LL FREAK. I’m actually glad you lied to me so that I could be oblivious during that first year.

Like in this pic….little did I know. I look so glowy and dare I say….refreshed. 🙂 Love my little bugs!

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A Brief Autobiography in Books

Books – I’ve intimately known mountains of them. A small portion of them are still in my possession, worn and highlighted, a page earmarked. Many were sold during a time in my life where money was scarce and I needed groceries more than tomes sitting on my book shelves. Still others sit in the dusty digital annex of my iPad.

Allow me to explain my life-long love affair with books.

I was the kind of girl who’d get in trouble for reading books at the dinner table by hiding them under the table while eating.  A simple look of admonishment from my mom or dad would make me sigh. I’d flip the book closed, roll my eyes, and keep eating my pot roast – all the while wondering, what happens next?

As a child, books got me outside of my small world where I wasn’t in charge yet. They meant adventure, possibility, solving mysteries and making things happen. If you couldn’t find me when I was 10, you only had to walk to the side of our house, shield your eyes from the sun and look way up into the oak tree. There you’d find me on a limb, most likely reading a Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys mystery. I wouldn’t climb down until the mystery had been solved, and not until I’d sat there for a while, gazing at the book with a fat sense of satisfaction. Later, I’d dabble in more torrid books, like the Sweet Valley High series. But I always came back to my trusty mysteries. I solved problems and moved worlds in those books. It was the grand theme of my childhood, trying to decipher what I was going to be when I grew up. My big mystery.

cover:  Nancy Drew--The Secret of the Old Clock * Carolyn Keene

 

As a teen, I took myself very seriously and moved on to the classics, particularly Russian literature. I thought it made me look very smart and complex. You would find me on a park bench, looking quite aloof, reading Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. My love of Russian literature later led me to take two years of the Russian language in college, an exploration of Russian history, and a brief foray into Russian Orthodoxy, before deeming it much too sexist. But I was proud of my explorations of something so foreign. I could embrace the unfamiliar and be comfortable in it.

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Around the same time, I was introduced to Anais Nin, an American author famous for her voluminous published diaries. Having kept a diary myself from the age of 14, I was inspired, and fancied myself as talented – if not as bold – as Anais. From that point forward, I chose diaries as carefully as one might choose a new house – looking carefully at the outside design, while examining the blank pages, just waiting to be filled with my words. I have boxes of journals now, which I’m not sure I would ever be self-possessed enough to try to publish. Anais could get away with it – she was surrounded by artists and celebrities. But, the idea was formulated that I could become a published author one day, and it didn’t have to be fiction.

Blog Quote - Anais Nin

Immediately after college, I became obsessed with ecology and the environment. A simple book called The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight caused me to pursue, apply, and be accepted into a Ph.D program in spiritual ecology. That book also played a part in me becoming vegan over a decade ago.  It gave me one of the most profound statistics I have ever come across, which is that 99% of the species that have ever existed on earth no longer exist. That book shifted my mindset from trying to save the earth, to realizing that in the end,  the earth will take care of itself. My life has been chiseled and refined from this book.

With my children getting older, I became a bit more thoughtful about the world I was bringing them up in. I moved on to more contemporary literature. Books by authors like Jodi Picoult, who tackled modern-day issues like shootings, suicide, and medical emancipation in books like My Sister’s Keeper, The Pact, or 19 minutes. I spent hours flying through these books, closing the last page and wondering about our world.

These days, my attention span can’t handle Russian lit or heavy ecology books. I’ve taken a mid-life break and most of my repertoire are cookbooks by my nightstand. I read them the way I would any fine book of literature. I touch the cover, flip through lovingly, and browse the pages to see what culinary adventure I want to go on. I intersperse my cookbook reading with books the New York Times tells me are worth reading. What am I currently reading?  The Book Thief.

As my family grows, and time becomes more precious, I choose less television, less Facebook, less trash-magazine reading, (my guilty secret) and I choose books instead. What books will travel with me over the next 5 years? What happens next? I can’t wait to find out.

Note: This post was in response to this week’s writing prompt “The last hand-written letter I wrote” No, this post has nothing to do with a hand-written letter, but it does have to do with my obsession with words and stories, so I figured I’d get a hall pass 🙂 Please check out my blogger friends’ answers to the prompt by clicking here.

Road Less Traveled

 

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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