Mothers Day 2013 Reflections

05/12/2013

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Mothers Day continues to be a roller coaster of emotions for me. I am thankful for the many wonderful mothers in my life. My own. Jason’s. My sisters, sisters-in-law and good friends who are journeys simultaneously with me into motherhood. Ali’s first mom who gave her life, loved her, did her best for her, and then gave us her blessing to raise her precious daughter. And now there is Buzz’s mom who is heartbroken and working hard to play by the rules and get her son back. She’s been very easy to get along with and loves her little boy and he loves her too. She sent me a happy mothers day text on my way to church and I sent her one back with a photo of these two beautiful children that I got to spend the day with, mothering. I’m an exhausted, blessed, weepy mess and I’m going to attempt to use this space to sort out my thoughts tonight.

I’m not usually the type who cries reading mothers day cards, but there I was at my parents’ church this morning crying over a Hallmark card before I even got to the handwritten note from my own mom, who is relentlessly loving and encouraging. Mothers Day never used to be an emotional day for me. I wrote about that last year. I always knew in my heart that I’d be a mom and I wasn’t sad while I was childless. I haven’t lost a mom or a child or dealt with other situations that makes women sad on mother’s day. And yet these past two mothers days I’ve been an emotional wreck.

People often tell me that they’ve talked about doing foster care someday. In my head, my response is “but then you decided that you like yourself and your life, so you thought better of it.” I’m joking, but not. Because I like myself too. In a clear-headed, God-focused moment Jason and I decided whole-heartedly to surrender our plans and dreams for what our family might look like and become foster parents. We feel called to it. Most of the time. Other times, I long for my former comfortable, easy, predictable life. I certainly have my fair share of “what the heck are we doing? And why?” moments lately. But I do know why.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

I can’t read this passage (Matthew 25:34-40) anymore without sobbing, because I’ve done most of those things and I’ve seen Jesus’ face in the face of one of the least of these. I can’t go back to putting myself first anymore.

Except when I do. Because I’m not perfect. I pour out my mama love until I’m empty. I’m strong until I buckle under the pressure and I crack a little. I need time to heal. To recover. To refill. This week has been hard. So very hard. And good, too. We’ve been giving this thing all that we’ve got and I feel completed poured out. Empty. I see that Buzz has made a tremendous amount of progress in a week. It makes my mama-heart so proud that he’s feeling comfortable and safe here now. Progress is tangible. Hard work is exhausting.

A woman at church yesterday told me that I’m living her dream. Huh? Her dream I think she said was “to adopt a some kids from Africa.” I didn’t feel compelled to tell her that both of these kids where born in Nashville and that one of them is in foster care. I’d love to know what my face looked like when she said that as I was wracking my brain to come up with a response. I hope I smiled politely. I kind of wanted to smack her in the face and say, “Do you have any idea what this week has been like?” But I know she’s seeing a different reality than me. I know because I do that same thing when I see a picture of a family with kids of all different colors and I think: How lovely! How beautiful! I want my family to look like that. She’s seeing the happy young white mom with the dark brown boy with crazy hair, a mischeiveous grin and a puppy dog backpack and the caramel brown little girl with a big pink flower in her curly black hair, with the infectious smile and owl backpack. And if I do say so, they were both super adorable yesterday. But it’s not all flowers and puppies and sweets around here.

There are tantrums and tears. (Sometimes from the kids.) There are butts and noses that always need wiped. There are accidents to clean up. Wanders to chase down. Slow pokes to pull along. Buckles to buckle, shoes to tie, velcro to fix, cups to fill…one thousand million times a day. In one week I’ve become the mom that’s shouting “Share! Play nice! Walk please! Slow down! Come on, let’s go! We don’t hit! Gentle please! Don’t bite people! Leave the dog alone!” way too many times a day. I’ve relied on the TV as a pacifier more than I care to admit. (Sometimes for the kids.)

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I have to stop and wonder: between me and that woman, which one of us is seeing the real picture? Both of us? Maybe neither? Perhaps we’re each only seeing one small part of the greater picture the Master Artist is creating.


Phone Photo Friday

05/10/2013

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Me time.

Most of my Phone Photo Friday pictures are from my Instagram feed. Follow me @mahlbrandt if you’d like!


This Time

05/08/2013

I have lots of things in my mind to process and share, it’s just a matter of finding the time this week as we’re all still getting situated. This is our first placement of Foster Care Round 2 and there are some really significant differences this time:

1. We have another child.

I know this is obvious. In a lot of ways, it’s made this transition easier. Our house is already pretty child-proof. We have lots of toys, a playroom, kids shows loaded up on our Netflix, bath toys and shampoos and soaps, high chairs, sippy cups, etc. We’re familiar with toddler behavior and have a lot of well practiced discipline and parenting techniques. We have toddler friendly foods and an understanding of little kid schedule. All of these things were a huge learning curve with our first placement, Ladybug, who was 16 months old. There are also some challenges that come because of having two kids. The fighting…I mean learning to share. Two kids running in opposite directions. Taking turns. Dividing our parental attention between two. Attempting to adapt them both to the same schedule. Double the: bodies to wash and dress, teeth to brush, butts and noses to wipe, shoes to put on, car seats to buckle, sippy cups to fill, backpacks to pack, toys to wrangle, boo boos to kiss. It’s also double the: cuddles, giggles, comforting hugs, smiles from strangers, sighs of relief when they’re both finally asleep, safe and sound at night.

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2. A community of fellow moms.

The first time we became parents we had a few friends who were already parents but not a ton. I wasn’t part of any groups or clubs. This time, holy smokes! It wasn’t just our immediate friends and family offering to help. I sent out an email to our neighborhood MOMS club right after Buzz was asleep on Saturday morning requesting clothes because he hardly came with anything. At 8:30 am the first mom was out my doorstep with a big box of clothes, shoes, underwear, socks, pjs, toys, diapers. (Some of which is pictured below.) Throughout the day, we got 3 more deliveries. I thought we could handle it from there but in a weak, desperate moment yesterday I put out another plea for a few grocery items and some babysitting help. Before I knew what hit me I was sitting at my computer weeping as phone calls, texts and FB messages started pouring in with offers to help. One friend left immediately for the grocery store with my short list of desperate needs. Another mom from the MOMS club called to set up a meal calendar. Another couple of friends offered to bring meals this week. I am blown away but the support from our community! Also humble enough to admit that I need help this time.

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3. Grieving people.

The most significant difference with Buzz’s placement is the emotions. Ladybug didn’t really show signs of grief. She was angry sometimes and I’m sure there was some confusion or frustration but she didn’t really seem sad. We never met her birth mom. The family member we did meet, the one who got custody of her, didn’t seem sad either; just frustrated and angry at the department. Ali was a little baby and as content as any baby I’ve ever met. Her birth mom was not outwardly sad, though I know she was struggling. She was very tough and didn’t let her guard down very much. Buzz has been much more sad and emotional than I expected for a 2.5 year old boy. He cries daily, says “I want my mom!”, pouts…it’s very clear that he’s grieving. When we first met his mom she was also very visibly sad and scared about how everything is going to turn out. That combination has just about wrecked us emotionally, too! The most significant thing God is teaching us right now is compassion. He wants us to know what it feels like to be near to the brokenhearted, the way God is near to the brokenhearted. If you ever feel like You can’t find God or you don’t feel His presence, get around some broken, desperate people. That’s where He is working, moving, healing, loving. That’s where He is. But let me clearly warn you: It’s a gut-wrenching, heart-tearing compassion.

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I’m still alive

05/08/2013

I feel like I should write another blog post but all I can think to say is: I’m tired. I sit down at my computer at night and nap time to try to catch up on work and I’m struggling to keep my eyes open. We’re doing fine in general. I hope I can write a more thoughtful, coherent post soon. Or at least some pretty pictures of something.


And then life got messy. Again.

05/06/2013

Friday night I fell asleep on the couch watching TV. I woke up and saw that Jason was asleep too. It felt like 2am but it was only a little after 11. We peeled ourselves off the couch, set the alarm, turned out the lights and crawled into bed. Early for us on a Friday night but I had planned to be up at the crack of dawn Saturday for Ali’s swimming lesson. A few minutes later Jason’s phone rang and he ignored it, too sleepy to take a call from an unfamiliar number, though we both knew what the call probably was… a few minutes later I couldn’t resist and went out to the kitchen to check my cell phone. 1 missed call. Our home phone. 1 missed call and a voice mail. While I was checking the voice mail, my cell phone rang again. As we had guessed, it was a placement worker calling about a 2.5 year old boy that needed somewhere to go. We had a full weekend planned with swimming lessons, family visiting, a surprise birthday party for my mom, a good friends son’s dedication celebration. Not to mention catching up on sleep. In the short moments I had to say yes or no, I realized that inconvenience was not an appropriate reason to say no. So I said yes. Two hours later, around 1am a terrified half dressed little boy was delivered to our house by two social workers. For the sake of this blog, I’m going to nickname him Buzz. (Because he loves Woody from Toy Story but I’m not going to nickname him Woody…)

It’s been a long weekend. Exhausting. Emotional. Full of family and friends. Busy. Fun. Tiring. Eye-opening. It’s been so many things. We have a very sad little boy living with us. We had a visit with his mom yesterday and she’s even sadder than he is. I can’t imagine the pain that they’re both going through right now; it’s been heartbreaking to witness. I’m thankful that we had the opportunity to meet her and have a visit away from the department and to hear her side of things, which frankly makes much more sense than the fragmented and inconsistent information we’ve gotten from them so far. We have a team meeting soon and we’ll hopefully find out more about the permanency plan for Buzz. Based on what we know so far, we’re whole-heartedly rooting for reunification and believe that’s best for Buzz; there is no reason to assume he’ll be with us long term or forever.

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We’re all adjusting. Ali and Buzz are getting along quite well, with just a few squabbles over sharing. Ali is having to share not just her toys, but her parental attention. It’s a big change but she’s doing pretty well. Buzz is responding pretty well to discipline. Jason has been doing an incredible job with him. When he’s getting out of control, Jason will take him aside and have a talk with him and he comes back behaving appropriately. I’m so proud of how my husband is doing as a fill-in father and Buzz is really taking to him. He’s attaching quickly to all three of us which is so healthy. I like the shy little boy when he’s timid about a new situation and wants to hold one of our hands or be carried, but I also like the confident little boy who runs around and plays with other kids with a huge grin on his face.

 

I assumed the first day he was being on his best behavior and that we’d start to see more acting out as he got more comfortable but so far it seems like the opposite is true. I think he was in flight/fight/freeze mode (mostly freeze) the first day which was clouding his communication among other things. Sunday seemed much smoother. For a little guy who is dealing with a tremendous amount of new people, places, things, rules, etc. and at the same time dealing with the trauma of being separated from his family—he’s really doing remarkably well.

This is hard, there is no doubt about it. But God is so close! We’ve had wonderful opportunities to pray over Buzz and even to hug/cry with/pray over his mama. It’s truly awesome to see someone’s tense, fearful posture relax and sigh relief as we pray for God to bring peace and comfort to their hearts. God hears and cares so much about his precious babies. Loving Buzz is the easy part in all of this. Adjustment is tiring. The emotions can be truly exhausting. It’s a blessing to see God move powerfully. He is near to the brokenhearted!

So our life got messy again. I guess that’s what we signed up for. Prayers are definitely appreciated. For Buzz. For his mom. For us. For everything!

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Note: I never share real names or pictures of faces of any kids who are in state custody. It’s for their privacy and safety.


Phone Photo Friday

05/03/2013

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Most of my Phone Photo Friday pictures are from my Instagram feed. Follow me @mahlbrandt if you’d like!


Two Long, Simultaneous Processes … Complete.

05/02/2013

It’s no coincidence that we started the process of building a new home and adopting Alianna at the same time. She arrived at our lovely little ranch home in September 2011 and we learned pretty quickly that she was going to need to be adopted. Although we anticipated we’d be fostering for a while before adopting any child, we were thrilled to move in that direction with the precious little girl we rapidly fell in love with.

But, we still hoped and planned to continue fostering kids who need a home and substitute parents for short or long term and we realized we were going to be limited on bedroom space and options for kids. We would have only been able to accept a placement of a girl who could share a small bedroom with Ali. So that’s why we began the process of moving to a bigger home. Originally we were going to buy an old fixer-upper so we could stay in our already established, historic neighborhood. When a rare piece of property came available (due to a house fire and then demolition of the previous home), my dad convinced us to consider building a custom house. The land was 7 houses down from my parents’.

We put an offer on the property before knowing for sure that we’d be adopting Ali. In November 2011, we got custody of Ali (through a dramatic turn of events that you’re well familiar with if you’ve been around here long), purchased the property for our future home, put our current hom on the market and started talking to architect Ryan Thewes to plan our new house. Eighteen months later both processes finally wrapped up. How about that?! If you’re a nerd for dates and timelines, here’s a breakdown of both of these processes that ended up running side by side.

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I feel an unexpected amount of closure. Two major, life-changing process have just completely wrapped up.

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Now what? Seems like time to start a new adventure…


Foster Care Round 2 Timeline:

05/01/2013

2/28/13 Home visit/inspection for reopening (exactly 1 year after we closed our home from Round 1)

3/22/13 Get approval letter in the mail, dated 3/7/13. We’re officially open

4/23/13 Call to case worker about some documents and mention we haven’t received any placement calls. Three hours later we get a Call #1 for a 2.5 year old boy. We say yes. Less than an hour later placement worker calls back to say they found a family member.

4/26/13 Call #2 for a 17 year old boy. I say no (due to age and circumstance).

4/26/13 – 4/28/13 Respite for Sunshine, an 11 year old girl (arranged directly with her foster mom, who is an acquaintance)