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. ūüėČ 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!

 

8 Ways Parenting is Different When You’re Older

I was 18 when I had my first baby – almost 40 when I had the twins. A lot has changed since I did it all the first time around. Food comes in pouches now, cloth diapers have made a mad comeback, and there are all sorts of wonderful inventions that make it easier to have an infant. I’m a fan. As my grandmother likes to tell me – don’t let anyone lie to you about the “good old days”. Everything was harder back then. It was HARD raising babies.

But accoutrements are not the only thing different this time around. The biggest difference is me. Parenting when you’re 18 is a wild ride. In some respects, it was easier. I honestly didn’t know any better. I remember distinctly when I found out my first year at Barnard College that I was pregnant with my second child. Ophelia was 10 months old. “Whatever,” I told their dad dismissively while on the pay phone. “Two can’t be that much harder than one.”¬† Ignorance definitely got me through that time.

Just how different is it being a mom at 40? Here’s my two cents.

1. First, let’s start with the obvious. You’re no longer the “young hip mom”. And if you try to be hip, you end up like this. No words. I can not.

2. You get tired more easily. We actually weathered the twins first year pretty well. We were tired, but I don’t ever remember being exhausted. That may because I now have brain damage from sleep deprivation, but hey. They were easy babies.

3. Your body doesn’t jump back. Honestly, it kind of just sits there – all obstinate. When I was 18, I popped right back up. Now that I’m 40, I’ve got these changes that just make me raise my eyebrows. You know how women will hoist their boobs in, and then UP? You know – bend and snap? Yeah, well that’s what needs to happen to my butt. There’s some serious spread going on there. Sigh. WTF? In and up, ‘tocks. Get with the program.

4. You have a strong sense of your mortality. I was 38 when my first two children were adults!¬† Now, I’ll be 60 when the boys are grown. That’s retirement age! Having a child with special needs makes you particularly thoughtful when you’re older. August will likely never live alone. When he’s 40, I’ll be 80. His life expectancy is 65. That would make me 105 – ain’t gonna happen. These are the things I think about.

5. Parenting is the journey and the destination. When I was young, I was on fire. I went through wanting to become an architect, doing child abuse research, becoming a famous young writer, getting my Ph.D in spiritual ecology (I’ve got my acceptance letter for that one!), becoming a neurologist, moving to DC and studying American Relations. I could go on and on. God that was exhilarating. The whole world was there for you to craft. Today, I still have tons of interests and I’m still driven, but my family is my crowning piece of art. When you’re older, it becomes more about your relationships and less about what you’ll accomplish. Your family is your accomplishment.

6. You become a worry wart. I thought I would be an old hat this time around. I’m an experienced mom – I’ve successfully raised two children. Not so fast. I have this sense of dread and anxiety that often follows me around that I have to get bossy with to make it go away. I worry about accidents constantly. I think it’s because when you’re older, you don’t take for granted that things will be okay. Because sometimes, they’re not.

7. An intolerance for drama. Now that I’m older, I’m able to brush things off more and focus on what’s most important. Because I. do.not.have.time.for.petty. I’m able to quickly rid myself of drama and crazy.

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Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

 

8. More $$dollars$$. Now I can buy formula AND fix my teeth!

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Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Being older can mean you don’t struggle as much with money. Raising babies when I was 18 was some crazy shit. It was Maslow’s Hierarchy all the way. Thank God for paper food stamps and WIC government cheese!¬† You can raise happy healthy children on very little money, but it sure is easier when you’re stable.

And there you have it. 8 ways parenting is different when you’re older. Now, I’ve got to go downstairs and do some squats and give my butt a talking to.

 

Buckets of Hope – Surviving Multiple Miscarriages

This week, I had my third miscarriage. According to the numbers, 1-2% of women will experience 3 or more miscarriages. Not really something I would have chosen to be an overachiever on, if I’d been the one making the decision.

It’s a truly humbling experience, and the grieving is exhausting. I go back and forth between being numb, then jealous of others who seem to get pregnant at the drop of a hat, then angry, then feeling more than a little sorry for myself, then numbness again.¬† Not pretty emotions to contend with. It’s embarrassing. Steph is my rock through it.

I’ve always said that fertility treatments are not for the faint of heart. Fertility treatments when you’re 40 bring that up another notch. It takes a resolve of steel, a willingness to be on a roller coaster of emotions, a willingness to not be in control, flexibility, and great big buckets of hope.

But, our story is not a sad one. After our 3 year journey to get pregnant,  we won the baby jackpot last year with our twins, Liam and August. Their birth story is here. Honestly, given my repeated miscarriages, they are my little miracles. I am beyond grateful for them, and get an immense amount of joy being their momma!

But, as my friend Lindsay said, “Grieving what you’ve lost does not make you less grateful for what you have. They are two separate things.” She is a wise woman. And so I go about the messy business of being grateful one moment and being devastated the next.

You’d think I would stop the roller coaster, but here’s the thing. I have this vision for my family of a house filled with children. Whether it’s right or wrong, it’s the vision I have. Messy, bustling, loud, filled with cute little beings working hard to grow up into big, kind, beautiful beings. I know the path is not always a rosy one- I’m not oblivious to the trials that come along with teenagers. Please. I’ve raised two children already. They excelled at being rebellious teenagers. We did not slide by on that one in any stretch of the imagination.

And yet, it’s still my dream. I just have to be open to how and when that will happen. That’s continued to be my mantra from day one, and it still is.

My blogger friend Ashley, of Baddest Mother Ever, told me that things changed for her the day that she realized she was meant to be someone’s mother, not necessarily have a baby. A gentle but profound shift in thinking. That’s a good reminder to me. If these rounds with my last little frosties (what we in the fertility world call our frozen little embryos) don’t work, then I will gratefully accept the embryos from some very young chick who was so fertile she only needed a small portion of the eggs she produced and is selflessly donating them to chicks like me.

We also are starting the path to becoming foster parents, and plan on pursuing adoption through that path. I am cracked wide open with fear and excitement going down this path, but it feels right. We have so much love to give.

The thing is, I will get my brood of children, but I must be open to how. That’s always been my mantra, through the first two miscarriages. This will happen for me, I just have to be open to when and how.

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I’m a fairly private person, especially when it comes to sharing things that are still painful, but I wanted to share this with others who may be struggling to make their dream a reality – whether that’s having a baby, or getting a degree, or making a move.

My best advice to myself and others is to get crystal clear about what you want, and then go for it 110%. In the times when it seems impossible, or you have no control, lug out your heavy, sloshing buckets of hope. They’ll get you through. They’re getting me through right now.

Onward to the next step. Healing, standing up, dusting off, and trying again.

 

2 Months of Crazy – A Big Fat F For This Stay-At-Home Mom

I’m just finishing up my second month staying at home with my 11-month old twin boys. I wrote a post about my very first day here.

Since that first day, things may or may not have gone a little bit downhill.

What’s been going on in the Buckman-Shaar household? Where do I start?

In the last 60 days, we’ve hosted a baby blessing for a close friend, planned and executed a Great Gatsby-themed fundraiser for almost 100 people, hosted a vegan potluck brunch for 50, hosted a fundraising event for our local Equality Florida folks (gotta do our part to help get gay marriage passed in Florida), and lord…I don’t even remember what other events. They were all fabulous, and I wanted to do them all.

During those 60 days, I also went to Chicago to a blogging conference for a week, and decided to throw myself into this blogging business.

We had three different sets of house guests in our home.

We bought an above-ground pool off of Craigslist and have been working our butts off making it nice and neat and lovely. What I thought would be a small job (how hard can it be to slap up a pool?) turned into an entire backyard excavation project.

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I could go on, but the purpose of this post is not to brag “Hey, I’ve so GOT this stay-at-home thing. I do 20 Pinterest projects every day, BAM.”

It’s actually the opposite. If this were a job, I think I can officially say that I failed my 2-month review of staying at home.

Why? I did not meet my goals and objectives. I left work to be able to spend time with the boys. To really enjoy this. To do it. I dreamed of play dates (I’ve had one) and trips to the library for book time (nope) and really nesting in my home. (this place is trashed.)

Instead, what happened is I filled my plate up to overflowing, because I could.¬† They were all things I loved, but it didn’t matter. I heard something wise at the BlogHer conference I went to in Chicago. The things you say “no” to are more important than the things you say “yes” to.¬† Saying no to things you don’t want to do is the easy part. Do you want to travel through Texas on a cramped sweaty-smelling Greyhound bus? No thank you.

But, saying no to things you are passionate about – that make you feel on fire – that is the hard part.

But we have to do it. Why?

Because if we don’t, we end up depleted, exhausted, cranky. And that doesn’t much make sense, does it?

So, my challenge for myself over the next 60 days is to chill the fuck out. I mean seriously. There are no awards to be won for staying busy. I have worked so hard to be able to be present in my life – filling my hours with things and beings that I love. I have got to turn things down – to say no more often. And I need to stop fancying myself an unpaid event planner. My new mantra is this “Just because you CAN do it, doesn’t mean you should.”

Why? Because this is how the boys look when I fill my plate up too much:

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Because I want more moments like these right here:

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This post was in response to a writing prompt that asks you to talk about a current challenge you’re undergoing. You can read more on this topic from my lovely blogger friends here.

 

 

 

Back to School? 4 Reasons We Might Homeschool Instead

The boys are the ripe old age of 11 months, and I’m already thinking about school. Why? It’s back-to-school for Duval county today and my Facebook news feed is packed with kids starting kindergarten, or 3rd grade, or high school. It makes me nostalgic from when Ophelia and Dakota were in school. The excitement of seeing them running up the steps of their elementary school, with their new backpack, freshly cut hair, and smiles on their faces.

It also makes me think of my own schooling. I adored school, and abhorred summer. To me, school was a place where I could excel. I loved the discipline, my friends, the learning. Those first few weeks of school were always a tonic to me – fresh, clean and potent with possibility.

But my rosy school experience is not everyone’s. People choose to homeschool for a wide variety of reasons. The U.S. Department of Education very wisely decided it should know why, so conducted a study to see why homeschooling has become the biggest trend in education, with over 1.5 million children being educated outside of traditional school.

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SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Parent and Family Involvement in Education Survey of the 2003 National Household Education Surveys Program (NHES).

The graph above is interesting, but I think that 9% other has a lot going on in it. We are considering homeschooling, and for us, it’s about the following. I reserve the right to change my mind, but here’s why I’m considering it, at least while they’re young.

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1. We want to travel the country.

The thing about school is, you’re suddenly on the school’s schedule, instead of your own. Steph and I love to travel, and do so quite frequently. We have dreams of taking the boys to all the national parks, one by one. Of taking cross-country road trips to visit historical sites. We just found out that because August has Down syndrome, he – and up to 4 car passengers – all get a FREE LIFETIME PASS to all of our national parks. I’m pretty obsessed with our national park system, so we will be all over that one. And, I’d prefer to do that traveling in off-seasons, when most of the country is in school.

Traveling to all these places is going to take a while!

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Image credit: Maps of World: http://www.mapsofworld.com/usa/national-parks/

 

2. We want to “learn in context” as much as possible.

When I went to school, a lot of my learning occurred in the context of a book. Let’s take history, for example. When we were learning about the paleolithic period of human history, we read about what that meant in chapter 7, and then took a quiz to see what we remembered. The problem is, I remember none of that now. I actually just had to Google it to see if paleolithic dealt with the history of the earth’s development, or of human development. I’d rather our learning be experiential and “real-life.” To learn about geothermal pools in Yellowstone, and about the erosion that caused the Great Canyon to occur. To learn about geometry because we want to build a new playset in our backyard, and need to pay attention to angles.

3. We want the boys to grow up with a healthy sense of self-directed learning.

My caveat is that I know a lot of schools aren’t like what I’m about to describe, but many are. Teachers have to teach to a standardized curriculum and a test of basic skills. In Florida, it’s called the FCAT. When I was in school it was the CTBS. My older kids have been out of the public school setting for a while, but I know there’s a huge debate going on and that a lot of teachers are incredibly unhappy, because they can’t focus on learning what their students find interesting – they have to teach to the test. To me, that’s bullshit. I realize there has to be some accountability and standardization, but we have created a system where not only has a child’s self-directed learning been abnegated, but the teachers’ have, too. It makes me cringe.

4. I have a son with special needs.

August has Down syndrome. His twin brother Liam does not. Most classrooms are still not integrated with children who have special needs and more typically-developing children. I would like for both of them to learn in a mixed environment, where each can help the other.

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Home-schooling philosophies – like much in life – run the gamut from radical unschooling (where there is no curriculum, and a child has 100% autonomy in deciding what he/she wants to learn) to a “school-at-home” approach, complete with a desk, workbooks, quizzes and tests.

Where do you even start? Here are a few quick resources:

1. A super quick explanation of the main forms of homeschooling.

2. Something that goes a little more in-depth on the homeschool philosophies. Lots of links here.

3. A really, REALLY  good article on why the hell someone would consider homeschooling in the first place.

4. National organization of homeschoolers, which publishes research.

Our philosophy?

Honestly, I don’t know yet which path we’ll go down. It’s really not a decision to be made lightly, and thankfully,¬† we’ve got time to do some solid research and soul-searching. My guess is that we’ll err on the side of unschooling, but with¬† direction, and accountability.¬† I’m also pretty intrigued by Waldorf.

Some homeschoolers can be a touch militant, and are staunchly anti-school. That’s not me. I think that different settings work best for different children. And, I think there’s more than one way to get an education.

Who knows – we might make a different decision when the boys are older. But for now, I’m dreaming of owning our own schedules, of the boys growing up with a sense of personal responsibility for their education, and of traveling the country to learn about things “in real life” as much as possible.

What are your thoughts on homeschooling?

White Chica In Spanish Harlem

I’ve just become part of a small group of rock-star women who are writing their way to internet fame…one post at a time. One of the things we’re doing is a weekly link-up, where group members each write about the same topic.¬† You’ll find links to my blogger friends’ posts at the bottom of this post.

This week, our topic is “The Scariest Thing I Ever Did”.

Here’s my story. It’s actually been one I’ve been wanting to tell for a long time, because I think there’s a message in it for my 40-year old self.

When I was 17, I got knocked up with my daughter Ophelia. That’s not the scary part. When you’re 17, nothing much is scary. It’s just like “WHATEVER, I CAN TOTALLY BE A MOM, I’M SO MATURE.” So, I went on with the business of being a senior in high school, going to graduations, and being sick as a dog in the bathroom next to Mr. Lipp’s Physics class. (Turns out you shouldn’t swig anti-nausea medication, because it actually makes you more nauseous.)

No…the baby wasn’t the scary part. The scariest part is what I decided to do next. At the ripe old age of 18, full of wisdom and spunk, I took my daughter and moved from my home in Jacksonville to New York City to go get the best education I could find. My son Dakota was spared some of what follows, because he wasn’t born until I was all grown up at age 20.

I’d been accepted into Barnard College – the sister college of Columbia University – and having a baby didn’t seem like a good enough excuse to let go of my dreams of going to an Ivy League college.

And, so I went. I moved there with baby daddy and found a sweet little duplex for $1224 monthly on Columbus and 107th. Holy mother, I was so naive. I thought it would be safe because it was within walking distance of the college. I was wrong – at the time it was one of the most drug-infested neighborhood in the NYC metro area.

I’ll never forget stepping outside my building with Ophelia in a stroller to a gang of men running past me with guns. One of them stopped and grabbed my arm. “Do you want you and the baby to live?” he asked me. “Yes”, I announced, smartly. “Well then turn around and go back in the building.” Which I did. With a quickness.

I broke my lease soon after, tired of seeing people shooting up in windows of the building next to ours. I was naive to the intricacies of poverty and addiction, and couldn’t comprehend how people would choose to fuck up their lives like that and shoot up. It terrified me.

We left that hell-hole and moved up to Spanish Harlem, to 151 and Broadway, where I felt much safer.¬† I became known as the “white chica”. I got heckled A LOT, but it was harmless. “Hey sister!” guys would smirk at me.¬† One in particular thought I was cute and yelled “You have a fat ass! Can I take you home?”

I kind of think he meant “phat” as in awesome, because I was poor and scrawny, and had no padding, but whatever.

After 107 and Columbus, Spanish Harlem was like a pleasant, gated community. I lived 6 blocks away from the subway station, which meant that I only had 6 blocks to walk before I got to the safety of my apartment complex, where we had a 20-year-old Russian as our guard. I kid you not.

Our rent was something like $995. I cobbled together enough to pay living expenses through student loans, Western Unions from my mother, and welfare.

We were so exquisitely poor. And not the kind of poor that’s like “Oh, we were all happy, so we didn’t even know we were poor.”

Bullshit.

While I was busy learning about music theory, 19th century women’s literature, and physics in the big halls of Columbia, my daughter and I were busy being broke-ass poor in our little hovel of an apartment.

So poor, I would run out of diapers and have to put Ophelia in the bathtub.

So poor, I would borrow money from my friend, Saint Liz, so that I wouldn’t have to walk in the snow with Ophelia from 151st to 107th street to her babysitters because I didn’t have $1.25 for a subway token.

So poor, I left my daughter with a complete stranger¬† while I went to school. Minerva – who would feed her “mucho Farrina” and smile and nod at me, because we had a huge language barrier. Turns out Minerva was a gem, thank God.

So poor, that I put my daughter’s sleep area (certainly didn’t have money for a crib) in the little closet. I can close my eyes and see it now. A blanket folded up on the floor , in the nook of the closet. A kind man came to exterminate one day, and saw Ophelia’s nook. “Does your baby sleep there?” he asked me. “Yes.” “Well, you shouldn’t put your baby in the closet. They’ll call DCF on you.”

I – who can’t remember huge chunks of my life – remember that interaction in excruciating detail.

One day, I was walking in the cemetery in Harlem and honest to God saw a $20 bill lying on the freaking ground like a holy grail. I caught my breath. And quickly raced over with my crappy-ass baby stroller and snatched it up so fast you would have missed it if you blinked. I bought cans of formula (they were $2.50 a piece back then for the concentrated kind), and a 2-liter bottle of Coca-Cola. Because when you’re 18 and are poor and come into money, you decide that Coca Cola is what will cure your ails.

I was naive, young, and poor – so out of my league, I didn’t even know there was a league. I know I had¬† angels watching over me – the entire lot. Gabriel’s Gang.

Why did I do it, when I could have (should have?) just gone to school here in Jacksonville?¬† One day, Ophelia and Dakota’s father described a scene to me, that I didn’t remember.¬† We were living in Brooklyn at the time, and it was snowing and he looked out of our 2nd floor window to see me pushing the double-stroller with all my might through the snow so that I could make my way to Barnard for yet another class on something that had absolutely no relevance to me at the time.

That day, many years later, he asked me a simple question “Why did you keep pushing that stroller in the snow? Why didn’t you just turn around and come back inside?

The simple answer is that I was so young and driven that I didn’t even know that turning around was an option.

When I was 19, I just did the scary things without second thought. Like there was no other choice. Because my life was in front of me and I needed to do the scary things in order to create the life I wanted Рeven if it meant being broke-ass poor. Even if  it meant wandering around in a huge city, with my one friend Liz, and my army of angels to help.

Now, at 40, I think long and hard about the scary things I do, because I’m more mature and realize that my actions affect others- like my children, who if given a choice, would prefer not to live in poverty. But, I wouldn’t change any of my choices from when I was young. It’s a part of the fabric of each of us – me, Ophelia, Dakota. It was our journey.

Today, I try to capture the ignorance of being 19 and mix it with the wisdom of being 40 to constantly push myself to do what I’m afraid of.

Is She Your Mother? Explaining my Same-Sex Relationship to a Child

Well…it’s been happening more and more often, now that we have children. Other children, seeing us with our twin boys, ask the inevitable. “Who’s babies are they?”, or “Which one is yours?” Children who don’t know us look at us quizzically – back and forth, trying to make sense of it all.

Tonight, we had family visiting us from Texas. Our sweet 7 year old niece K was quietly watching Steph and I, and she looked utterly confused when I called out several times to my “honey”. Finally, she couldn’t take it any more.

“Is she your mom?”, K asked me, while she floated in the pool.¬† I quickly gloated (I’m so blessed to look so youthful) and then said “Nope.”

FamilyPhotoBeach

Oh my! I look so youthful, it’s almost embarrassing.

 

“Should I say more?”, I thought. But I distracted myself with keeping the boys upright in the pool.

I didn’t need to wait long before the next question came.

“Do y’all live here together?”

“Oh yes”, I said. And made funny faces at the boys.

More swimming and silence. I continued to gloat about my youthful charm.

“What is she, then?”, K asked me.

I had to tell her then. “She’s my partner.”

With no pause, she asked “What kind of partner?”

“My life partner.”

“Oh.” She nodded, like she understood.

But the thing is, she didn’t understand. She was truly trying to make sense out of everything, and I was not being helpful in the least. In fact, I was being rather obstructionist.

It really bugs me that I didn’t have the hutzpah to tell her what Steph and I are to each other. To take this experience and turn it into a teaching moment and explain to K about how two women can love each other, or two men, and that there are all different types of families, and that they are all beautiful. That God, or spirit, or whatever you believe in, doesn’t make mistakes. To show her that we are just like other families. To help plant the seed of tolerance, so that it spreads.

K is a very sweet girl, but ignorance breeds hostility, and if we can show others that we’re normal, loving, parents that are no different than their own parents, then that’s probably about the most important thing we can do.

But, I didn’t say or do any of these things. Instead, I continued to float in the pool, acting like I had no elephant to address in the room.¬† Why did I sit there floating, like a spineless idiot?

Honestly, I’m shy about all of this. I feel like it’s not my place to explain it – that it’s their parent’s place. I don’t want to overstep my boundaries. I say that, and yet I have the gut instinct that I need to get over myself. That parents would probably prefer if I explained it in my own words. And, honestly, I really irritate myself when I am quiet about it – like there’s something wrong.

I’ve never once in my life felt like there was anything wrong with being in love with a woman, so I’m not sure where my hesitation comes from.

Thoughts?  Should I get over myself and matter of factly explain things to a 7 year old? Or should I leave that to her parents?

Liebster Award – Wherein my spunky lil blog strives to get noticed

Liebster Award

Liebster Award

 My tee-niny lil blog was nominated for the Liebster award by my friend РI mean independent judge РSpring. Spring blogs over at Tilyou Triplets. Thanks Spring! It took me a month to respond, but better late than never!
The Liebster Award is a way for  bloggers to help a sistah out and give other  bloggers an extra boost in exposure.
Here are the rules: 
– Thank the Liebster Blog presenter who nominated you and link back to their blog.
РPost 11 facts about yourself, answering the 11 questions you were asked and create 11 questions  for your nominees.
РNominate 11 blogs who you feel deserve to be noticed and leave a comment on their blog letting them know they have been chosen.
– Display the Liebster Award logo.
РNo tag backs meaning you can’t just re nominate the person who nominated you.

The questions asked of me are below:

1. What was your reaction when you found out you were expecting multiples? We had just had two miscarriages, so being pregnant with two seemed very meaningful to us. We always say that those little souls wanted to be born together, as twins.
2. What was your spouse’s reaction? Yes! Buy one get one free!
3. How did you tell your family/friends?
It was a huge shock to everyone, because my first two children are grown. So I went around telling people “I have some news to share. I’m pregnant.” Usually the response was something like “OH MY!” and then I’d say “With Twins” and people’s eyes would get big and they’d say “OH MY!”. My favorite response was one of my colleagues. Apparently he had some PTSD and his gut response was to tell me “They’re not mine!”.
4. What is your favorite activity to do at home with the kids?
We love to hang out in our mac daddy play room and…well, play. With toys. In the play room.
5. Where is your favorite place to go as a family?
We are an on-the-go family! You can find us at restaurants, out shopping, taking a walk, at the beach, at the park, etc. No one favorite place, yet.
6. What is your easy, go to meal for the kids?
Umm, jarred organic baby food. ūüôā
7. What do you do for yourself for fun?
I used to read, crochet and generally engage in fun, quiet tasks. These days I read celebrity magazines for fun, because my attention span is
8. What is your dream family vacation?
Road trip in an RV Camper across the country to all the National Parks! Imma do it one day with my little family. Hopper gets a lifetime “Access Pass” to the National Parks because of his disability. It entitles him – and 4 adults- to free admission to all national parks for life!
9. DIY or store bought?
In my idealistic world, DIY. In my real world, store-bought.
10. Are you a routine/schedule follower or fly by the seat of your pants type?
I don’t like to keep a routine. I like to have a world of possibilities.
11. Where is one place you would NEVER take your multiples?
The circus. We’ll never do that, because of animal exploitation. I feel very passionately about that. I can barely take them to the zoo! I do, but I feel a ton of guilt over it.
Here are the blogs I’m nominating:
That’s all I’ve got for now. I realize that’s not 11, but the verdict is out. I need to start reading more blogs! If you have a new blog that you’d like nominated, and you’re clever and spunky, let me know!
Questions to answer:
1. If you could go on any kind of vacation with your kids, what would it be?
2. Regular school, homeschooling, or unschooling?
3. What is an average day like with your children?
4. How involved is your spouse/partner?
5. What is your favorite place you’ve ever lived?
6. What type of friend are you?
7. What do you look for in a friend?
8. Are you done having children?
9. Gourmet cook? Short order cook? Take-out?
10. What’s your dream date?
11. What do you enjoy most about blogging?