grunge filter

Thursday, October 22, 2015

In the line at a local dairy farm/ice cream establishment, I looked back at the nearly 15 people in our party and thought about the strangeness of my particular life. Birth family, adopted family, foster family, and some extra non-official children that we never really asked for yet can't quite seem to not love like our own to boot. Kids from 18 months to 20 years old, and I'm not quite sure what brought this woman who started her adult life insistent on only three children and fairly attached to her 1950's American dream view of how families are created and how they behaved to this place.

We sat later, in a row, on the farm wagon tour: myself, my kids' big sister's adoptive mom, their birth mom, their big sister, and then all of my kids....and my littlest was passed from person to person to person, affectionate towards every person in the line. The women bonded by being moms to the same kids, the children bonded by familial bonds that they don't seem to question whether or not they live in the same house.

Not that this was all rainbows and unicorns. Obviously not. There was pain underneath this whole family fun day, for sure. There are kids who are struggling through homelessness and learning to be adults in a world stacked against them when they've never been given the skills they need to navigate it. There are mamas whose choices have taken them a dark, dark road, with permanent scars to bear from those years. There are mamas who have struggled to make their families whole and healthy through the hard road to parenthood that they've chosen. There are little children with a lifetime's worth of pain and trauma in their little bodies. Our day may have appeared rosy from the pictures, but for those of us involved, there's always a grunge filter applied.

I've spent the rest of this week anxiously waiting for a caseworker call. I have no idea how court went last week. I have no idea what their case plan is, and what my part will be in that plan. Little Man settles in further, and every day that passes is a step up in difficulty. As he gets more comfortable, we see more and more evidence of the trauma he's been through. As he gets more comfortable, the harder it will be on him when we start visits with his mama. I want them to call. I want to know what my life is going to look like once the case plan starts for real. I told Wendell that today, and he says with this existential air, "Whatever it's gonna look like, it's gonna be nothing like we thought it was going to be when we got married seventeen years ago."

He's right. Our first date was 20 years ago this Thanksgiving. Twenty years, and I feel like we've barely started. Aren't most people established by now? Don't they have their big house and their family firmly in hand and their careers figured out and their crap together? I can't keep my house clean right now, and once again this week, I'm being humbled by my need for a friend to bring an evening meal. I don't even know how many children I'll have next week, much less what my schedule will hold. My kids have some semi-public issues, and I can't remember the last time I went to the grocery without it becoming somewhat of a spectacle.

But then today, I'm sitting on my couch writing this post while Little Man runs with a face-splitting smile towards my biggest boy, and my littlest girlie points to the big sister that she doesn't even realize isn't actually her biological sister in the picture on the wall, talking about when we saw her last. I scroll through the pictures of last Sunday's family visit on my phone, and I'm thinking that there's nothing in this world - no big house, no amount of well-dressed, perfectly behaved children who only ever belonged to me, no retirement account, no security about what my schedule will look like next week...there's none of that stuff that I would trade for what I have.

It's dirtier (quite literally. you haven't seen my house lately) than I imagined.
It's more beautiful than I ever imagined. 

 photo credit: It was here via photopin (license)

in the middle of the crazy

Monday, October 19, 2015

Little Man has been here a little over an a week and a half now. The house is filled with adorable as he and Mira are exactly the same size, though 10 months apart. The twins comments proliferate. He's warmed up. We get smiles and giggles and play. We still get scowls, but very little crying. We get glimpses of what he has likely been through, but I expect the bulk of it will come once visits start. This relative calm before the inevitable storm is a blessing since our household is anything but calm right now

No matter how good of a handle I think I have on things, a new placement always catches us unprepared. It's like having to constantly be prepared for the birth of a baby. People get things extra clean, they make freezer meals, they get all of their projects out of the way, they make sure the nursery is stocked with diapers and gear and clothes. While I do have minimal stock of a few items and the foster agency requires us to have the beds and car seats we need, I never have enough, and because our house is so small, we don't keep the beds in a constant configuration that leaves space. So the first night is inevitably filled with moving furniture, emergency store runs, loads of laundry (first to clean everything the child comes with and then to make sure the bedding and clothes are clean for his/her arrival as well), and purchased supper. 

Unfortunately Little Man came right at the time I needed to be switching out the kids' wardrobes for fall, which is a task that regularly brings me to near tears and/or violent murderous thoughts. So add that to all the stuff I listed, and even though I thought I was ready for this, turns out that was far from the truth. It's emotionally exhausting to bring home a new child, no matter the age, and while Little Man is a good sleeper, he does require a lot of supervision as he is not a respecter of boundaries or safety concerns. In addition, I was in the middle of a several day stretch where I had run out of one of my medications so I was beyond exhausted and not feeling super well.

Add to that a fairly serious medical issue with your tiniest of the bunch that lasts a whole day and brings back traumatic memories of hospitals and near-death experiences and compounds shame and guilt on top of all this stress I'm already fighting, and this is all an overwhelming recipe.

This placement, however, came right before a pre-planned evening away with non-refundable concert tickets so that I was forced to override my instincts and leave the new one for awhile to get away. We sat with friends who need nothing from us, who understand us, who follow Jesus the same kinds of ways that we do, who speak life and truth, and we ate well and listened to phenomenal music thanks to the collective efforts of three different babysitters (and let's be honest, a significant amount of cash)...since that's the kind of complicated shenanigans we go through to go away for a night. It was a deep breath in the middle of a week where everyday left me feeling like I was struggling a little for air.

Hope abounds because friends pull through. Whether it's the day-after arrival of an extra toddler bed, a double stroller, and some apple crisp, or the week-later gracious gift of a home-cooked meal, which I was uber-embarrassed to have to admit we needed (but after a week of hamburger helper and fast-food dinners, we WERE in need), sometimes God gives you the sweet sweet gift of a friend who shows up when your house is messy, you haven't showered, your kids are a circus, and everything is in chaos. 

It's hard stuff, bringing a new one into your home. No matter how many times we do it, it's still hard. It's emotional and exhausting, and there's always that moment a couple days in where my heart catches up with my brain and I get panicky because I know the hurt that's coming. There's no way this ends happily. It can end well, but someone is getting hurt in the process. And honestly? I hope it's us. I hope we're the ones grieving and missing him and fighting the take-your-breath-away pain that comes with sending a child home. I hope that's how this ends because that means this boy is back in a healthy and healed family. That means they've won. They've beat the odds and done the hard work to make their family work. That's the outcome we pray for right now. That's why we do this, all the crazy and the hard and the hurt. It's for restoration. It's for redemption. It's because, after it all is said and done, we still believe love wins.

photo credit: clean up time! via photopin (license)

compelled by love

Friday, October 9, 2015

There is so much indignity involved in a child being brought into foster care. There are caseworkers and law enforcement sometimes and intake exams and being stripped naked outside of homes to avoid pest infestations. There are showers with strangers and hours of hair combing culminating in strange pajamas and a strange bed and a strange mama to try to put you to sleep. These are just the mild cases. Some of the worse ones involve x-rays and pelvic exams and measurements and a gazillion documenting photographs of injuries.

The worst part is that the person a foster parent needs to talk to the most is unavailable to them. There's no mama or daddy interaction to ask about schedules and preferences and even what nickname you might use. You don't know if they drink from a sippy cup or a bottle or just disposable juice boxes. You don't know if they only eat twinkies or whether they like a myriad of vegetables too. You don't know this child because they are not your child. And yet they are. You're not a babysitter, you're the everyday parents for this kid now.

When we asked our eldest on Wednesday how he felt about another placement, he said, "yep." No questions. No hesitation. Just an immediate affirmation. This is what we do.

When we told our other kids, our oldest daughter, as typical in our family, replied with all the drama she could muster, "YES!! I LOVE what we do!!!"

But then later, she tells me that she really does love it, but it's just kind of 50/50 because when we get new kids in our family, it's because their families couldn't take care of them. And they're sad and they miss their moms. So it's not just all fun. 

We've always done foster care as a family. We've always approached it holistically and while we aren't really running a democracy, our children have voice in this. Not only do they have voice, but they have a huge role. We can't be successful in integrating a new child into our family without our children's participation. In fact, I would argue that their role is maybe even more vital at first than our own. Children look to one another for cues, to judge safety, to experience fun. Our kids are rock stars at foster care.

Our newest Little Man is cautious. He has a grown man's worth of suspicion packed into a tiny toddler body. He's spent far more time scowling than smiling, and the only thing that seems to have truly brought him joy is playing ball. Oh, and meat. Little Man loves meat. I don't think I've seen anyone enjoy meatballs as much he did this evening.

His story will unfold slowly, I'm sure, as all of our cases do. When we told our families, almost everyone asked 'how long'. When we first started foster care, that was a question we asked at the beginning often. I wasn't even tempted to ask this time. Whatever they tell us is going to be wrong. Things never turn out how they're expected. So we treat this little guy as we do all the others we've loved in the past. We love him with all we have for all the time he's with us. Beyond that, it's not up to us.

As with every new placement, the past couple days have been excitement and chaos and so much sadness. Babies without their mamas. Mamas without their babies. This world is broken, and sometimes I get cynical and overwhelmed. But in the end, we do what's put in front of us. We help the ones we can help, and we step up where we can step up. We give family to the lonely, and we do it all in the name of Love.

"For Christ's love compels us..."2 Corinthians 5:14

photo credit: JOHN WATERHOUSE, NOV 4, 1930-MARCH 25, 1992 via photopin (license)
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