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I picked up the pen and began to write.

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After taking a break for the last two years, I have decided to return to my blog (among other related projects on the horizon). Why did I stop? Well, life. Specifically my children’s lives.

The last two years offered up many challenges. The details are not my stories to share. I was in the trenches with them, barely able to come up for air. I am grateful for an amazing life partner, and friends that showed up offering their hearts, time and relief from the chaos.

Trauma is a peculiar thing, it manifests in people differently. Trauma is contagious. Whether it’s second hand trauma, or it awakens buried trauma from the past, one does not live with someone(s) with PTSD without experiencing it.

What have I learned in the last 2 years? I have learned that there is absolutely nothing I wouldn’t do for my children. I have learned that no matter what they do, how empty my cup is, my love for them still grows. Sometimes slowly, but it’s always moving forward with them.

After gaining weight, eating bad, and generally not taking care of myself, I learned self care is not just important, but critical, and required of caregivers. Compassion fatigue is real.

Mostly though, I have learned all about the brain. I have devoured anything trauma related. I went back to school  and earned a certificate in holistic mental health. I spent 32 hours in trauma-focused parenting classes.

At one point our family was in therapy 14 hours a week. This does not include alternative therapies that we were involved in. But, the truth in that, is that we were getting help. When other Moms were shuffling their kids between dance and karate, I was shuffling between IEP meetings, therapy and  trauma-focused classes.

I joined facebook groups looking for support and answers. I learned what resources were hard to come by, and which resources were non-existent for parents.

We made big changes, this included tightening our circle of friends. Letting go of relationships that no longer served our family. We created new habits, and let go of old.

Our lives are calmer now. Healing will do that.  Looking forward, we still have a lot of work to do. This isn’t a quick-fix, and this is a life long journey. We still don’t have all the answers, but we uncovered enough to find a little peace, and let go of the chaos.

Welcome to the next chapter on our journey.

Turn! Turn! Turn!
The Byrds, Words-adapted from The Bible, book of Ecclesiastes
Music-Pete Seeger

To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)
There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time to every purpose, under Heaven

A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep

To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)
There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time to every purpose, under Heaven

A time to build up, a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together

To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)
There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time to every purpose, under Heaven

A time of love, a time of hate
A time of war, a time of peace
A time you may embrace, a time to refrain from embracing

To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)
There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time to every purpose, under Heaven

A time to gain, a time to lose
A time to rend, a time to sew
A time for love, a time for hate
A time for peace, I swear it’s not too lat

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It Takes A Village: The Guardian Ad Litem

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In the county I live in, right now there are over 600 plus children in the foster-care system. Each one of these children will be appointed a Guardian ad Litem. This is a volunteer position, and currently our county is in desperate need of people willing to step up and become a child’s advocate.  Guardians ad Litem serve as court-appointed advocates for abused and neglected children who come to the attention of the juvenile court system. Judges depend on testimony and reports from the Guardian ad Litem to inform their decisions about how to protect each child from further harm and meet their needs.

We were very lucky! Our Guardian ad Litem was/is an Angel. She took this position seriously, and never missed an appointment, court date or home visit. She did it with a smile on hr face and love in her heart. She has become an extended family member, and knew and fought for the protection of our children before we even met them.

A lot of people I encounter are concerned about the amount of children in the foster-care system, but are unable to adopt or foster a child. This is just one more way that someone can help the children without making a life-long commitment to the child.

What exactly does the Guardian ad Litem do? This is taken from the website:

Volunteer Responsibilities

  • Visits the child and keeps the child informed about the court proceedings.
  • Communicates with the Attorney Advocate to develop legal strategies to further the best interests of the child.
  • Gathers and assesses independent information on a consistent basis about the child to recommend a resolution that is in the child’s best interest. 
  • Interviews the parents, guardians, caretakers, social workers, and other service providers, and reads records related to the case.
  • Seeks cooperative solutions with other participants in the child’s case. 
  • Writes fact-based, child-focused reports for court hearings.
  • Attends and participates in court hearings and other related meetings to advocate for a permanent plan thatserves the child’s best interest. 
  • Testifies, if needed, to inform the court of the child’s situation.
  • Ensures that the court knows the child’s wishes.  
  • Keeps all records and information confidential.
  • Monitors all court-ordered services and keeps the court informed about the needs of the child.
  • Consults with local program staff for support and guidance.

If you have love in your heart,  passion for justice and a little extra time these children need YOU!

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Needing Help, Doesn’t Mean You’re Helpless

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It’s OK to ask for help. I have always been an “I can do it myself” type of person. I like not having to need/or lean on someone for help. I also like the satisfaction of knowing that I can do something new if I set my mind to it. I  am the type of person that will read everything I can on a subject matter, so that I can know what I am doing, and how to do it.

I have embraced adoption, fostercare and childhood trauma in the same way. But with this said, my children have brought me to a new understanding that asking for help does not mean you are helpless.

This last week has been the most challenging week of parenting we have had to date. T’s outbursts and meltdowns have gone from internal to external: kicking, screaming, raging, throwing stuff. Nothing works. When we tell him to do something he doesn’t want to do he replies with a raging “NEVER”! Taking privileges away do not work, he seemed unfazed that his siblings got to spend the day at the zoo, while he stayed home.

This led me to send a letter out to our ‘team’ this week asking for help, and admitting that some of this behavior is out of our ‘skill set’ to manage. It’s amazing how much our children can change us, and force us out of our comfort zone. It reminds me of the line from The Blind Side:

Beth: I think what you are doing is so great. Opening up your home to him… honey, you are changing that boy’s life.

Leigh Anne Touhy:  No, he’s changing mine!!

 

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Adoption: It’s Not All About Bassinets & Pink Elephants

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When we were waiting for L&D’s adoption to be final and for them to come home from Guatemala our nieces threw us an awesome baby shower. After all, we were first time parents and expecting ‘kinda-twins’. Two infants within 3 mo of each other. We were so lucky and appreciative of all the love and support we received from friends and family.

The truth is only about 2% of the US population adopts, even less become foster parents, and less than that end up adopting their foster children.  That means more than 98% of the population may be at a loss as to how to show support to new adoptive parents.

I recently took a class on foster-to-adoption. In the class they spoke about when we ‘claim’ our children. For adoptive parents it’s usually not when the papers are signed and they are ‘legally’ ours. It’s in that moment we decide to love them unconditionally, care for them, and bring them into the fold of our family forever. From that day forward they are ours!

I was recently at a baby shower for a great friend. I adore her and her husband, and they are expecting their first child. There were balloons, and toasts, and stuffed animals…and anticipation. The love and support that showered this couple was beautiful and deserved. There I sat with babygirl…all snug in her sling. She had just called me Momma for the first time that morning. But for us…there are no stuffed animals, or toasts to mark a special day of support, but I felt no-less a  new Mother.

When our 3 new children came to us…we didn’t even think it was going to be permanent. When we made that choice for them to join our family, and our hearts ‘claimed’ them,  there weren’t cards of congratulations overflowing from our mailbox, or baby booties wrapped in ribbons. After all, one of our new children is already 5.

So…not sure what to say to the new adoptive parents…what to do…what did you say to the last person in your life that just gave birth to a new baby…or the couple that just got married and started their journey…Congratulations!

*This is meant to educate on an unfamiliar topic. If you area friend/family member of ours plan on coming to an adoption ceremony next spring to help us ‘formally’ celebrate the LOVE of our new family! Until then…it’s OK to say congratulations…We just became parents to 3 new children!

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Size Matters…

Well, I am sure many of you are not surprised to hear that baby-girl will be joining our family. She is still with her foster family, because when we got licensed for foster care we were only licensed for 2 children, so we have to be re-licensed with the state for 3 children. We thought nothing of this, by this time we are  very familiar with all the paperwork  involved in fostercare and adoption, so we took it in stride.  Until we got a call stating that our house was too small? WHAT?

I was really surprised. Culturally, yes our house is small, but we have never paid much attention to cultural norms. Our house is about 1200 sq feet. We have a living room that is mainly where the family gathers, there is plenty of room for all of us to play, read, and watch TV here. We have a large table in the dining room where Georges and I work, the kids do art, home work and of course this is where we share our family meals. These two spaces are where we spend 80% of our time TOGETHER!  We have a Backyard that is about double the space of the house. We have Georges studio, a gardening shed, chicken coop, and our veggie garden. This is where we spend the other 19.9% of our time. The kids love exploring and playing outside.

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Backyard with view of Georges studio

The kids pretty much use their rooms for sleeping, getting dressed and ‘storing toys’. This is just fine with me. If they want to play with a toy, they bring it into the living room, to be with everyone. This has developed on their  choosing.

They never play in their rooms. Not because there isn’t enough space. Both L&D have loft beds. Or, apartment beds as we like to refer to them in our home. They sleep above, and then ‘their’ things are stored underneath. This is their personal space, in a shared room. We plan to get T his own loft bed in the next few months, he’s 5 and ready for his space. In the girls room, bug has her space, and toddler bed, baby girl has her crib, but doesn’t really need her own space yet.

Why do we want so much space? Is it for all our “stuff”? I see it as one more deterrent to spending time together as a family.

2007 = 970 (2,521sqft/2.6 people)
1954 = 125 (1,000sqft/8 people,)
1950 = 289 (983sqft/3.4 people)
1947 = 208 (750sqft/3.6 people)
1845 = 150 (150sqft/1 person)

What if we had a  large McMansion? Would we have been approved right away?  Personally I think this is less conducive to a close family. With family members spread out, throughout the house and possibly spending little time as a family unit.

Not to say that this will be an ideal situation when the children are a little older, As their little bodies take up more space, and more bathroom time, and ‘retreat’ time takes over in their teenage years, yes, we will need a little more space. But I will try to keep it at a minimum, and try to hold strong to our ‘No Screens in the Bedroom’ ideals.

Oh, and in the end Social Service agreed that a happy loving home was the most important thing, and the request has been sent to the state for them to approve baby-girl.

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*Heart to Heart is The Best Way to Wear a Baby!

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I mentioned a few posts back that T*Bug have a younger sister. She is now 10months old. When she was removed from her bio-mom and placed in another foster home, our caseworker talked with us about our obligation to arrange sibling visitations.  T*Bug had just lost everything and everybody, including their baby sister. Not only did they miss her, they had concerns for her. Where was she? Was she ok? So this was an obligation that I had no problem fulfilling.

Our caseworker mentioned that we did not have to meet at the social service department for visitation. We were welcome to meet anywhere, and that we could even arrange to take baby-girl for an afternoon each week, and spend time as a family together.

I liked this idea, because the idea of going to the SS office and sitting in a sterile room for an hour and having the kids try to ‘force’ this hour together was not appealing. I also didn’t want to have to take T*Bug back to the SS offices. They have bad memories of the offices and going there might be confusing for them.

We are now in our fourth weekend with baby-girl, she is fitting into our family weekends nicely.  I think it has been good for T*Bug to be with her and L*D are bonding with her as well.

I have to admit that after I take her home, for the next 24-48 hours I miss her. I carry her in a babysling  when she is with us. I am a huge advocate of ‘baby-wearing’. Georges and I carried L*D for the first year that they were home with us. I think it was great for bonding and attachment with them. So, now I use the same sling to carry baby-girl. My hands are free to wipe snotty noses, tie shoelaces or give extra hugs to the other four. But this has the added benefit of bonding time. We have gotten to know one another, baby-girl and I. And here it is…I am falling in love. Every Saturday…there she is cuddled up in the sling, heart to heart, we breathe in unison.

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This weekend Miss N is going out of town, so baby-girl will be dropped off after school on Friday, and I will take her home on Sunday afternoon. This will be an interesting weekend, not because we will have her all weekend, but because it’s a busy weekend, filled with soccer games, Lola’s 7th birthday, Kadampa Center, and I have a women’s circle that is meeting this weekend (not to mention my usual weekend chores…laundry, clean house and grocery shop for the week.)

With all the chaos a fifth child will bring to our home this weekend…I will be happy to have my second heartbeat back, it’s easier to breathe with two breaths.

*Heart to Heart is The Best Way to Wear a Baby! This statement isn’t intended to say that it’s the number one way to care for a baby, but instead to signify how great it is! Try it, you’ll like it.

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A Meditation on FosterCare

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Bug….

When we were in our Map (foster care) classes, they lead us through an exercise that now, seems so relevant. Follow along and try to imagine…

..Imagine you are five, you are in your home, and it’s 3 days before Christmas.There is a knock at the door. It’s the women that has been visiting your family for the last year, Miss J. This time she tells you that you and your sister will be coming with her. You gather up a few items of clothing and you are able to pick one special toy…you choose the nightlight animal (even though it doesn’t have batteries). You say goodbye to your Mom, you say goodbye to your baby sister and you get in the car with your younger sister and Miss J. You are crying, and through the tears wondering…where are we going? When will we see our Mom again? When will we see our baby sister? What is going to happen to them? How long will will be gone?

You fall asleep, during the ride, and wake up in the driveway of a home (not an apartment) in a neighborhood that is not familiar. You enter the house, and  you are greeted and overwhelmed by two big dogs (you have never been around dogs), two kids that seem to be about the same age, and a man, a big man.

The house smells different than your house, there is no carpet under your feet, just wood floors and throw rugs. You walk down a hall to a bedroom that you are told you will be sharing with the young boy. There is a bed…this will be your bed.

Days pass, weeks pass you try to adapt…the food is different. At each meal you are presented with food that you have never experienced and asked to just try a bite.  The music you listen to is different than the music that your Mom often played at home. Even though these people are nice, they look different, sound different and even smell different. Your senses are overwhelmed and your heart aches.

There are different rules in this house, and words and actions that no one seemed to notice at home, bring unwanted attention in this home. You keep wondering “When will we go home?”

One day you go to a large office building and at the top of the stairs you see Mommy and your baby sister…FINALLY! Today is the day, I am going home, you spend time with your family in a room, playing and laughing, then you are told it’s time to go. You put your jacket on, take the elevator down and then your Mom kisses you goodbye. Wait? What? She’s leaving through a different door, what is going on? You scream, cry! You get back in the car with your younger sister and the lady you have been staying with. You have started calling her Mom, because she is sweet, and gives you hugs and kisses your forhead when you are scared, she listens to your words and you know that she genuinely cares about you…but…she is not your Mom.

You look out the window of the car, and tears stream down your face and you wonder “What is next?” You enter the house where the man (that you now call Papi) and the two kids are laughing and playing. They don’t know that you just saw your Mom, and now she’s gone, they don’t know that you cried all the way home. You try to jump in and laugh with them, so that they don’t see the hurt you are feeling.

You wake up the next day, eat breakfast, and drive the new route to the new school you have been attending, where you sit, with new classmates, and learn from a new teacher in a new style of learning (Montessori).

You can stop imagining now, and return to the safety and warmth of everything you know. As for T and over a million other children in fostercare, they can’t this is their reality.

I try to remember this lesson, daily with Bug and T. I try to mend their hearts and let them grieve. I try to be their new safe place.