Lessons from the Foster Dog

03/13/2013

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“We’re becoming foster parents,” I explained to the young woman I had just met.
“Oh! Like for dogs?!” She asked.
Dogs?! Are you freaking kidding me? 

That was 2 years ago.

It bothers me to no end that searching for “adoption” and “foster” yields as many listings about canines as human beings. I love dogs, but that love is worlds apart from my love and value for people.

The other day I was walking my loved cocker spaniel Lucy. We don’t usually walk far this time of year but it was the first sunny day we had had in a while and we both needed exercise so I decided to go around our whole block. Halfway, a cute shaggy little white dog ran across the street to us and started sniffing Lucy. They both seemed playful and unintimidated so I let them check each other out for a while thinking this little guy’s owner wouldn’t be far away.

After 5 minutes I decided we needed to start back home. Puppy followed us. I kept stopping and shooing him away. “Go back home, little dog!” I felt like I was luring him further and further from his home as I walked with Lucy but I wasn’t sure what to do.

When we finally got back to our house, little pup was still with us.

I left home with one and returned with two. The metaphor was not lost on me as a foster parent. My mom commented later, “He heard you take in strays.”

Jason and I discussed what to do and I decided I’d walk him alone all the way back where I found him and try to figure out where he lived.

When we got back, still no one was looking. The yard he came out of was actually a vacant home for sale. Shoot. I tried the house next door wondering if they recognized him. No answer. Meanwhile he’s running around in the street, almost getting hit by cars and I’m debating whether or not I care enough to do something about it. When he had gone a ways from me, I started back home. He chased after me at first but then saw a teenage boy across the street and ran to him instead. Then a couple walking their little white dog caught his attention. (This is a lesson in itself: he was desperate to follow someone. Anyone.)

I was free from this not-my-responsibility dog. I walked back home looking back every few minutes, half expecting to see a little white fluff ball following me. I went back inside relieved and tired from walking almost 2 miles and sat down to work.

Jason was still outside planting and digging in front of our house. An hour later I heard him shout from the garage for me to open the door. There he stood holding the little white pup in his arms. He had found his way back to our house.

I should back up and say that my husband just barely loves our dog Lucy. He’ll let her out, clip her nails when they get annoyingly loud and help me give her haircuts if I ask but I can’t remember the last time he’s pet her. But there he was holding this stinky, muddy little dog in his arms explaining that he picked her up for our next door neighbor to take a photo and the dog just settled into Jason’s arms.

Oh dear! How pitiful. 

I really don’t want another dog and this one not our problem or responsibility. Lucy looked at me longingly, reminding me that she doesn’t get as much attention as she craves and she really needs a haircut. I hardly have enough time for the dog we already have. I put some of Lucy’s food and water out in the garage for the little dog. He ate and drank a little and wandered back off to follow Jason around the yard. I went back inside because Ali was waking up from her nap.

Our neighbor posted the photo online somewhere…our community has several online forums, general and pet related. I’m not sure where she posted it, honestly.

While Ali had her snack, the little dog came up to the front door a few times, looked at Ali, Lucy and me and barked at us. Then he returned to Jason in the front yard.

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Lessons Learned from the Foster Dog:

Compassion is what made me stop. Compassion for the dog… sort of, but also for his owners who I was sure where looking for him. Compassion is what made Jason pick him up when he returned to our yard the second time.

Selfishness is what made me walk away and attempt to ditch him…twice. He’s not my responsibility! Find someone else to care! Why did you choose to follow ME?!

Pride is what made us explain to the people he jumped all over and the cars that he ran out in front of “Sorry, he’s not our dog!” We will not be held accountable for his unruly behavior.

Sympathy is what made us decide we’d keep him in our warm garage overnight, in Lucy’s crate with a soft blanket so he would not freeze or get run over outside.

Love is what drove us to give him snuggles and a bath and blow dry later that night. I realized this is how I would want someone else to care for my dog if she was lost. Also, we wanted him to be well presented if we did need to find a new owner for him. Love is why we started calling him Stuart instead of just “dog.”

Empathy is what made me look at stinky, tiredly little Stuart in my arms and ask, “Is someone missing you?” and wonder if he was asking himself the same question.

Hope is why I posted his picture and a description on Craigslist, attempting to locate his owners or at the very least line up new ones if we couldn’t find his within a few days.

Joy came when we got a message from our neighbor that she had found a listing from another neighbor, half a mile from us, listing that her neighbor boy across the street had been calling for his shaggy dog Whitey that evening. We believed we had a match. It was 10pm when Jason got ahold of the neighbor and he ended up taking Whitey to her house for the night. She said she’d take him back to the boy after school the next day.

It was a short lived foster experience—fostering a DOG—I can’t believe I’m even calling it that. But it was packed with metaphorical lessons. I’m thankful for how much God is speaking into my life right now and I’m very thankful this lesson was relatively painless. The Teacher is doing a lot of teaching and I know the test is coming soon.

Update: The next day the dog’s boy came by and thanked us for finding his dog. Apparently his grandma let him outside unchained and Whitey was long-gone when he got home from school.

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Eliza is 2!

03/12/2013

My niece Eliza turned two a couple weeks ago and I haven’t yet shared the photos from her party. I was looking forward to doing a lot of testing with my new camera with all the cute little subjects but neglected to make sure my battery was charged. Oops.

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Ali and Eliza are good buddies. They talk about each other ALLTHETIME. Eliza is always asking for “Please See Ali” and Ali is always asking for “Ey-za.” These two cousins who are 5 months apart could not be more different in appearance and personality. They balance each other out wonderfully and I hope their friendship gets deeper and deeper as they grow up.

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Happy 2nd Birthday, Eliza! You make me smile. :)

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The party is over. Everybody get out of my room so I can chill out!

 


Why?

03/11/2013

I keep asking myself why? Why are we doing this? Stacks and stacks of paper work. Vigorous home inspections. Fingerprinting. Background checks. Physicals. Classes. Appointments. Poking. Prodding. Drama. Purchases in the name of home safety. Sacrificing all privacy. All to be foster parents. Really, when I’m asking, I’m asking God. Why? And He’s kind enough to answer me sometimes. When I’m willing to hear, this is the answer: Listen and obey.

It’s a funny answer because that’s what I tell Ali when she’s doing or about to do something disobedient. At first I may warn her playfully that we don’t stand on furniture but as she teeters near the edge of the sofa, my tone gets serious. “Ali, listen and obey! Sit down!” So when He said listen and obey, He got my attention. I know Father means business.

After another day of feeling knocked around, while I was getting ready this morning I asked the same dumb question again. Why are we doing this?! It wasn’t the same kind of loud and clear answer as before, but I had the immediate realization that they are worth it. These kids are worth it. Ladybug was worth it. Our Precious Ali was worth it. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat if it was about my daughter. All the paperwork, time and prodding from the first time around … looking at those sweet faces, especially the one I still get to kiss everyday, remind me that these innocent kids are so worth my plight.

My plight? And here’s where I gave myself a real (much-needed) kick in the pants: Seriously?! Do you want to tell a kid who has been emotionally and physically abused by the adults who are supposed to protect him, who has been taken away from the only people he’s ever loved, who has been bounced around from stranger’s home to stranger’s home with his few belongings in a trash bag, who is way behind in school because he keeps getting moved around, who doesn’t know how to express himself because his emotions are all mixed up…do you want to tell HIM about your plight? About all this dreadful paperwork you’ve filled out and how much time all these processes and appointments consume. Do you want to tell HIM how hard your life is? How hard you had to work to get to where you are? Good grief, woman! Where is your perspective!

We’re in it for the kids.

Jason and I remind each other of this often. When we’re taking things personally. When we’re feeling unappreciated and unwanted by the system. When we get frustrated.

I’m amazed that I can still be so selfish after all this time; after all we have learned.

Thank God that everyday I get to snuggle a beautiful reminder of why we are doing this. Even though it’s hard, each and every child is worth it.

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In high school, when I had something I wanted to remember, I would write it on the palm of my head…where I’d see it for a while and then it would eventually wash off, hopefully when I didn’t need the reminder anymore. These days I use my smart phone for notes-to-self but when I thought, where can I put the answer to this why question I keep having?, this is what I came up with.


Blog Update

03/06/2013

I updated a few things on the ole blog design last week. If you, like me, use Google Reader or some other RSS feed to digest blog material, you might not have noticed. Click here to check it out.

I updated my blog header (which still had pictures from from 1-2 years ago).

I changed some of the main links at the top. Now I have:

Home | About | Inspiration | Timeline | Tour – New | Tour – Old | What is “MCM”?

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I also updated most of the pages those links go to… Inspiration is a combo of 3 pages I had before. Timeline is new and gives an overview of our lives. Tour – New is a landing page for the New Home Tours I’m gradually revealing. Tour – Old is a tour of our old house. The others didn’t change.

Thanks for coming to my blog! It’s means a lot to me that people enjoy my ramblings enough to come back over and over again. I love interaction and it keeps me going to know that others read what I write. Please feel free to comment or email me anytime! I read each comment and respond to most.


Approved?

03/04/2013

Not so fast.

We had our home study visit with our case worker on Thursday to reopen our home for foster care. We went through our piles of paper work to make sure everything was there. A quick scramble to reprint the form Ali had torn the corner off of, print our her adoption decree (and explain that no, we still don’t have a birth certificate for her even though her adoption was finalized 7 months ago…), and print out our 14 pages of 2011 tax returns to attempt to prove that Jason, who does not get pay stubs because he’s self-employed, does indeed make money.

Then we moved on to the home tour and inspection. Tennessee Department of Children’s Services has been in the news a lot lately and it hasn’t been good news… That seemed like a valid excuse for our case worker to open every drawer and cabinet in our kitchen to make sure there was nothing potentially harmful within reach of a small child. The child lock on our knife drawer failed. When she yanked on it, it popped right open. So we spent a good 10 minutes talking about the danger of knives, potential scenarios and possible solutions. Jason insists on fixing the lock. Her suggestion was to put the knives up high, which to me, means they’re still accessible to a determined child AND I’m more likely to drop one on my head while I’m cooking dinner.

We also need doors or a more invasive metal screen on our fireplace. I thought this might be the case. Ours has a metal mesh screen and since the safety checklist said “fireplace screens or guards are in place” I thought it was worth a try. Glass doors for our extra wide fireplace cost $1500-3000 so…yeah. I’m hoping that a big ugly metal screen will get the job done.

Honestly, I was surprised by the things that were meticulously inspected while other things (that seemed important in our first home approval 2 years ago) were just glanced at or discussed this time around. We were also surprised to find out that Jason has a black mark on his criminal record from a speeding ticket in Virginia 7 years ago.

But nothing was more surprising than to find out that some people at the DCS office are still upset about how things went down 18 months ago which led up to a judge taking Ali out of state care and giving us custody so we could adopt her. It seems there’s been a game of telephone going on around the office and the story has, in Jason’s words, turned us into the Giant Purple People Eater. (In other words, the story has been twisted over time.) We got slapped on the hand and warned “don’t do that again, or else…” I have to admit, I’m kind of proud of the fact that we still have a reputation around the office after all this time. Jason asked if the person who approves our home study knows about everything that happened and her response was “EVERYBODY knows.”

Let the records show: We never broke any of their policies; we passionately questioned a policy that was broad and obscure because it didn’t seem to be in the best interest of the child in our care. I would not hesitate to do that again. We take it seriously when they tell us to advocate for the child and we’ll do that, even if it’s messy. Clearly we were not the only ones who felt their policy was in conflict with Ali’s best interest and ultimately it was the magistrate who made the call. We had not even asked for custody (we didn’t know we had the right). So as far as the accusation that we “went over their heads” … no, we just prayed, spoke our hearts and God went WAY OVER your heads! Also, we did NOT hire an attorney to represent us until after we were given custody and had to peruse private adoption at our own expense. Thankyouverymuch.

It was a little angering, not at our case worker who is sweet but was instructed to give us a warning, but at the system as a whole. Welcome back into our lives DCS drama! More than anything though, it was motivating. It reminded us of why we’re doing this: we are in it for the kids. We will parent, love, protect, nurture and advocate for them for as long as they’re living in our home. We’re not at odds with the system…unless it’s at odds with the child’s best interest. Then you better believe we’re going to do what we’ve been asked to do.

So, I’m pretty confident they’re going to approve our home. As long as a knife drawer, fireplace screen and criminal record for a speeding violation 7 years ago can be resolved. We’ll find out soon enough. The main reason I’m not at all worried about it is that we feel called by God to do this. It’s not fun.* It’s not easy. I’m perfectly content as Ali’s mom and if we simply wanted to have more kids, we’d pop ‘em out of my body (assuming it all works down there). We’re in it for the kids because we feel called to care for the fatherless, defend the weak, clothe the naked, house the homeless, feed the hungry, heal the sick. If this doesn’t work out with DCS, I know God will use us in another way. This was His idea first, after all.

*Parenting is fun. Dealing with the child welfare system is not. The kids are worth it.

Tomorrow we’re going to get fingerprinted for the third time in the last two years. We assumed that our prints would never change but apparently the government wants to make sure they’re still the same as they were in May 2011 and January 2012.

I’ll keep you posted if/when we’re approved to start receiving placement calls.


New Home Tour: Den/Playroom

02/28/2013

Depending on the angle of the photo, it looks like a den…

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But 98% of the time it’s a playroom. (Technically, it’s a guest room, too, though it hasn’t been used as such yet. Someday it’ll be a bedroom.)

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The closet is full of books, toys and games.

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A few things to note about this room:

The sofa is vintage. We’d like to reupholster it someday but it’s not in bad shape and the pull out mattress is in excellent shape.

The rug is from Urban Outfitters. I purchased it for a staging project right before we moved in. We had it in the living room for a little while but it was way too small in there. It’s perfect in here.

This room is the smallest bedroom in the house but the super high ceilings make if feel big and the high windows and concrete wall make it very unique. I’m hoping a teenager will love it as a bedroom someday.

The play stove is second-hand, hand made but someone. I got it at a yard sale. It was Ali’s adoption day gift.

Ali’s navy table was a Christmas gift from Grandma and Grandpa. The metal folding chair is vintage from an estate sale in my neighborhood. I got it when I was putting together our first room for future foster kids.

The small guitar was a baby shower gift before our first placement. It’s still a bit too complex for Ali but she likes to bang on it, August Rush style. The blue guitar is really special to me. It was the guitar Jason first learned to play guitar on…it deserves it’s own post.

The TV is not attached to anything except power. Eventually we plan to get another Roku box for this room (which we use for Hulu and Netflix) and attach a DVD player. We’ll also need some kind of shelving for that.

The robot decals I won from a giveaway on Design Mom. Ali loves to give them kisses.

Ali’s favorite activities right now are the slide (going down and sending toys down) and sitting at her table to play with stickers

FYI, our architect is Ryan Thewes.

Related Posts:

New Home Tour: Kitchen

New Home Tour: Living Room

New Home Tour: Dining Room

 


Buried in Paperwork

02/27/2013

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OK, not really buried. See that small stack of paper work? It’s 25 or so forms that I need to fill out before the home visit with our case worker tomorrow.

(The big binder jammed full of paperwork in the background is from our training, home study and 1st year classes from almost 2 years ago.)

I’m on deadline at work with one of the three magazines I design. I have worked the past two evenings trying to get that all wrapped up. One more day…maybe two…and I’ll be able to take a good, long, deep breath.

In other words, the post I had planned to write for today didn’t happen. Tour of another room in our new home coming tomorrow. I’ll be back soon.


And Then There Were Two

02/26/2013

Oh, but not a foster placement. Boy did I confuse a few people on facebook! On the foster care front, our case worker is coming out on Thursday to check out our new home and move us back into open status, assuming all goes well. (GULP.) We could potentially start getting placement calls this weekend. (DOUBLE GULP.) Our home is as ready as it’s going to be, which made it easier for us to agree to watch our friends’ little boy Jaron for 4 days/nights with less than 24 hours notice. We joked that it would be good practice for life with two kids but dang… it was good practice! We learned a lot. It was almost as big of an adjustment as suddenly being parents to a toddler (our first placement). That was encouraging on two levels – 1. It was not as big of an adjustment. (We’re experienced now! Woot!) and 2. With our first major adjustment it got better after a week or two so I know that it would get better with two kids, also. The major difference, of course, is that we already knew and loved Jaron and his parents and we knew it would just be a few days. They also gave us a ton of directions on how to care for him, clothes, food, toiletries, etc. All of those things made it easier. It was still very stretching to have two almost-twin toddlers, and I know it was hard on little Jaron, too. One of the biggest things I learned: Being out numbered by munchins is no joke! It was much easier when Jason and I were both there to split the duties. He’d put one kid to bed, I’d put the other to bed. He’d carry one kid into the store, I’d carry the other. We both had at least 1 day where we were solo parenting both kiddos. Oy! But again, I know it would get better the longer we had to settle into a ruetine and get used to each other. Ali did really well sharing her parents. I hardly noticed any jealousy. There were a few periods when both kids wanted the one-on-one adult attention that they’re used to and I wasn’t able to meet both of their needs at once. They weren’t upset with each other but at one point while I was trying to warm up some leftovers for dinner (no way I was going to be able to cook!) and I had one kid clinging to each of my legs. It would have been comical if the shrieking/crying/whining wasn’t making me lose my mind. I even attempted to take a photo so I could laugh about it later but it don’t turn out. And I realized…What am I doing?! Just get the dang food in the microwave so I can sit on the floor and hug both kids at the same time.

So on to the fun stuff. These two are so sweet together.

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This boy is a messy eater! Lord, have mercy…He’s so stinkin’ cute though. Smiles and laughs easily.

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They two both get kissed a lot by their parents so they love to kiss each other as well. So cute!

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Ali thought the chalk would make good lipstick…her latest obsession.

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Hi, Lucy! Yes, I still love you.

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Flashback… one year ago:

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Introducing… Marcus James

02/20/2013

If you recall, last week I explained that the reason we were unexpectedly watching our friend’s son is because the friends who were planning to babysit him had to suddenly up and go to Kansas to pick up their new one month old baby boy. They had been matched with a birth mom and had less than 24 hours notice to decide and go. They filed their adoption papers on Valentine’s Day and are currently still waiting in Kansas for the Interstate Transfer documents to come back so they can leave the state. Here are a couple photos of their little sweetheart:

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They’re still in need of funds for their adoption if you’re interested in helping out. More information on their blog site.


Ketchup

02/19/2013

I’m really thankful I had President’s Day off because I’ve had a very full weekend. It started on Tuesday night when we started watching our friend’s 15 month old son Jaron for 2 nights and 2 days. When he left to spend the weekend with his aunt and uncle, Jason was already gone to Orlando and I got hit with a cold. Ali and I had a couple low-key days and then Jason and Jaron came back on Sunday. Little J is heading home this morning with his parents. Yay for him, and for them…and for us! We joked about how it was a trial run with having 2 kids (since we’ll be reopening our home as foster parents soon) but, boy, we really did learn a lot.

I’ll be back soon to reflect on what I learned, as well as share a ton of cute pictures of these two little buddies. I also have a bunch of photos to share of our house that I was finally able to upload but haven’t edited yet. I need a little time to play catch-up and today I’m back to work. Bear with me. I’ll be back soon!

I leave you with this one picture for now. One of the few times we braved leaving the house with two kids was to go to Lowes to get mulch. They did awesome! Having two adults helped a lot! I pushed the car cart with the munchkins while Jason pushed the big flat cart with the mulch.

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