Play Alone Time

09/19/2016

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A: Why do I have to play alone?
M: Because Mommy needs some alone time.
A: Can’t you just pretend to be alone?

My 5-year-old hates to be alone. Whether it’s her personality, a result of her past, because she was an only child for most of her first 4 years or a combination of all of those; she wants constant feedback and attention. She loves to perform and loves to talk. When her little brother was born and as she started out-growing naps, it became apparent to me that we needed to institute some quiet alone time. For my sanity. And to teach her a skill she is lacking. As I’m writing this post right now she’s sitting at the desk next to me writing letters to “sick people” and chattering out loud the whole time, asking for my attention every 30 seconds or so.

Play alone time.

I think I found this blog post on Pinterest when Isaiah was an infant and I was desperate for 5 minutes without someone talking to/at me. It seemed like one of those obvious parenting moves that I had regretfully overlooked for four years. We should have been teaching her all along to play alone. Don’t misunderstand; kids need time with peers and time with parents and loads of attention. But learning to be content alone and play alone are life skills. Starting with 5-minute increments and working up to an hour, I’ve been teaching my kids to play alone. My 1-year-old can currently play alone contently longer than my 5-year-old. (Again, I wish I had started teaching her this skill a long time ago!) We’re up to 15-30 minutes now.

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It’s amazing what I can get done in 15-30 minutes alone. It’s like a deep breath for my mind. I can get the dishwasher unloaded or dinner prepped. I can respond to emails. I can write a blog post. I can finish a graphic design project. Rachel, the writer of the blog post I mentioned above, has some great tips for how to teach your child to play alone. One benefit that I’m not sure if she mentions in her blog, my kids are more eager to play together after they’ve spent some time playing alone. Do yourself and your child a favor and start doing this if you don’t already!

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Where is her Real Mommy?

03/06/2014

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Where is her real mommy?

I knew questions like this would come but it still caught me off guard. The three year old girl didn’t ask me directly; it was a question for her mom who was telling me later—and perhaps also asking. We’re loose acquaintances so she doesn’t know our story. That mom had suggested to her daughter that she ask Alianna. I told her Ali wouldn’t know how to answer that question. I left it at that. I could have said so much more and I’ve been mulling over what I should have or could have said for hours now.

The question bothers me partly because of the word real. Anyone who knows about adoption etiquette knows that’s a buzz word. I’m her real mom. Her biological mom is her real mom. Neither of us is fake or pretend. We’ve both very real and we’ve both very mom. Alianna is my real daughter and we’re a real family. It also bothers me a bit that this mother and daughter discussed the possible reasons for Ali’s adoption… “Maybe her real mom was sick.” The answer to this question is too complicated for a three year old and too personal for a loose acquaintance.

I’m pretty gracious with adoption questions and I don’t expect everyone to have the right words to use. However, the reason this poorly-worded, intrusive question made me sick to my stomach was the thought of a three year old peer asking it to my two year old daughter. Ali is confident and out-going but she would have no idea how to answer this question in 2.5 year old terms. I hate to think that it would give her a moment of panic… Is my mom not real? Is she not my real mom? Is she lost?

The three year old girl must be observing that often families match skin and hair colors. (Or has someone pointed it out to her?) We were in a fairly diverse setting but apparently transracial families and adoptive families are not common in her circles. I asked Ali later if she’s noticed that we don’t look alike—that she has brown skin and black curly hair and mommy has lighter skin—I stopped myself there because the look she was giving me said, No kidding. Why would or should we look alike?  I might as well have been asking if she’s noticed the sky is blue and the grass is green. Then I realized that adoptive and transracial families are very common in our lives. It’s probably never crossed her might that we “should” look alike. There is nothing unusual about her family from her perspective at this point in her life.

Since I’ve been over-analyzing this conversation, I’ve come up with a response for this three year old girl in preschool terms. Here it goes:

I am Ali’s real mommy. She had a different mommy before me. She grew in her first mommy’s tummy. Her birth mommy loved Ali very much but she wasn’t able to take care of her so some helpers found Ali new parents—us. We adopted Ali into our family and we’ve been her parents ever since.

If she wants to know why her birth mom couldn’t take care of her: She was dealing with some really big grown-up problems and she needed to learn how to take better care of herself.

If she wants to know who the helpers were: They’re social workers who work for agencies—Child Protective Services and the Department of Childrens Services—that watch out for kids to make sure that they’re safe and their needs are met.

If she wants to know what adoption is: It’s when a judge decrees that we’re a real, official family—real parents and a real child—forever and ever.

If she wants to know where her birth mom is now: I don’t know for sure. She still lives in Nashville but we don’t see her very often.

(Picture at the top is Alianna with her birth mommy—her other real mommy. Blurred for her privacy.)


The Good/Bad News

01/27/2014

I’ve had so much going on lately that I’m not even sure where to start with blogging. I haven’t had time to mentally pre-write any posts. Busy at work. Busy with family. Busy at home. I know: Everyone is busy. Blah blah blah.

The title of my post is in reference to this news: We got official word that Bee’s ICPC has been approved by both states. At this point we’re just waiting for the court date where the judge here will sign off on the transfer. I’m guessing it’ll be pretty quick.

It’s good news. Bee is 8 months old and hitting new milestones as fast as she can pull off her socks. She got her first two teeth while she was visiting her family over the holidays and I was happy they got that gift. She’s been THISCLOSE to crawling for a couple weeks now and I’m hoping they’ll get the gift of seeing her crawl for the first time. They’ll get to witness her first pulling up to a stand, her first steps, her 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th etc. words. She has a family that loves her and is able to care for her. It’s where she belongs. I’m grateful that it’s only been two months—for her sake, for her family’s sake, for our sake. Because, dang, we’ve fallen in love hard and fast.

It’s bad news because we’re going to miss her a lot. Bee is sweet, cuddly and easy to love. She’s been calling us Mama and Dada, which melts our hearts. Her family is kind but I’m not confident that they’ll stay in touch considering they’re 8 hours away and we’ve only had minimal phone conversations related to pick up and drop off in the past 2 months. Alianna has been such a wonderful big sister to her and I know this goodbye is going to be hard for her. She still prays for Buzz and his mom everyday. As soon as I got the news, Jason explained to Ali that Bee will be leaving soon to go back home with her family. “Why?” Because we’ve just been taking care of her for a little while. Remember why we do what we do? Just like for [Buzz], when kids need a safe place to stay and live while their family gets ready for them, we take care of them here. “Awe…” as she hugged her. “I love [Bee].” Then he reminded Ali that she’ll be staying here because she’s part of our family forever.

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Family Life Update

01/08/2014

One of these days I’ll get around to editing photos and posting about Christmas. We had a lovely Christmas and New Years. Did you?

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Before I get to covering Christmas, I think a little family life update is in order…mainly because I hope you’ll pray about these situations.

Bee
She has been up in Wisconsin visiting with her extended family since December 20. They’re bringing her back on Monday for her permanency plan hearing. It’s likely that she’ll return to our home that day. There is a chance that the judge will give custody back to her mom at the hearing. I think this would be best for Bee, but I’m not really positive. I don’t know enough about her bio mom to say whether or not I think she’s ready to have her child back. She does however, have a healthy and large family support network. Her family in Wisconsin is trying to get placement transferred to them through the Interstate Compact on Placement of Children. ICPC is a paperwork nightmare and is necessary when a child who is in the custody of one state (Tennessee in this case) is transferred to the custody of another state. They’ve already had their home visit done up there and now we’re just waiting for the papers to move to all the right places. It can take months. I really don’t think it’s in Bee’s best interest to stay with us during those formative months of the first year of her life if it’s inevitable that she will be moving with her family eventually—and I’m certain that is the case. It’s going to be hard on her family who would be missing out on a bunch of her firsts, hard on us as we all fell in love with her after only 1 month, and hard on her because she’s not old enough to remember people she’s away from for long periods of time or understand what’s happening. So, if you would, pray that she’s moved to her family very soon, maybe even at the hearing on Monday.

Trust
Alianna has a biological baby sister that was born at the end of August. I’m not sure if her official nickname on my blog will be Trust but that’s what I was calling her in my prayer journal before she was born. I chose that as a reminder to trust God with her future, her safety and her forever family. Without going into much detail here because it’s still a very sensitive case, I ask that you would pray for her custody trial on Tuesday morning. We were invited to attend by Ali and Trust’s bio mom. The girls’ oldest biological sister is also seeking custody and will be there. The baby girl is currently with a relative of her biological father. We have a good relationship with their oldest bio sister and I don’t feel like we’re fighting against her or anyone else here…we just want what is best for Trust. I’m not sure what to expect on Tuesday but I know that God can do anything and if He wants Trust to end up in our home, in our family, so that she and Alianna can grow up together—He will do it. He moved a mountain for Alianna to stay with us and I fully believe that He can move a mountain for Trust to join our family.

Based on the above two situations, you might have noticed that there is a chance we will have one, two or no baby girls in our home next week. Having one is good. Having none is OK. Having two is…? LOL! I know we could handle it, especially knowing that Bee’s placement with us is short term. Monday and Tuesday are very big days for our family. I greatly appreciate your prayers.


Transitioning Bee into our Household

11/30/2013

Thanksgiving marked our first full week with Ms. Bee. I would have liked to write an update sooner but my hands have been pretty full. A year ago when we were thinking about reopening our home as foster parents, I didn’t think I wanted to parent another baby. I was hoping for a child older than Alianna. God heard my heart and we got 2.5 year old Buzz Lightyear. It was hard; really hard. The closeness of his and Ali’s age; the fact that he was grieving and angry and missing his mom; the fact that they were both close to 2 years old; it was our first experience parenting two children…it was a very challenging season that ended up being very rewarding. We’re thankful we were able to support he and his mom during that time. By the end of it, I was starting to think about babies again. I take back what I said…I want a baby again. My fellow Facebook and Instagram foster mamas understand this as “foster baby fever.”

Again, God heard my heart and we got Bee. Jason and I are both really, really enjoying having a baby around again. I actually said to him the other day, “Maybe we should only foster babies. They’re so much easier.” This time around is much more relaxed: we’ve done baby before, we’ve done parenting two kids before, we’ve done the foster care system before. It’s taken a few days to figure out how much Bee needs to sleep each day and how much formula she drinks and how often. We’re gently nudging her towards a schedule we prefer. She sleeps well: 10-11 hours most nights and takes 3-4 naps a day. It’s kind of amazing how much more laid back we are as parents this time around. Oh, and babies are so easy to love and attach to! Jason and I are already smitten with little Bee. We’re pretty sure her stay with us will be short term but that doesn’t stop us from falling completely in love with her.

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Alianna’s transition into big sisterhood has been the biggest learning curve. We’ve seen jealously and regression. We weren’t able to prepare her much for this experience. I’ve told her many times that Buzz’s bedroom would soon belong to another child and we’d have someone else come and live with us for a while. I only had an hour warning about Bee specifically and I knew that even with that, it wasn’t a guarantee that she was coming until her case worker called back to say, “We’re leaving the office now.” That gave me about 15 minutes switch from, “There may be a baby girl coming here tonight,” to “Ali, there is a baby sister coming here tonight. She’s going to stay with us for a while just like Buzz did.” The second day I heard Ali tell Bee to go away a couple times. She asked me if Bee was going home to her mommy. We’ve explained many times that Buzz is home with his mommy so I’m not sure if Ali was hoping Bee’s going home with her mommy (now) or if she’s asking the bigger question that we’re all asking, is she going to leave?

I believe the jealousy and regression have a lot to do with the sudden influx of baby toys, products and contraptions. Within a day or two we had a bouncy seat, Bumbo, swing, Johnny Jump Up and some kind of activity center jumping unit. In addition to that, we have bottles, bibs, burp cloths, blankets, rattles, teethers, toys and crinkle books. I can’t blame Ali at all for being jealous and for wanting to try out everything and be a baby, too. A mom of three confirmed my hunch that we should both indulge and discourage her behavior. Allow her to check things out and pretend to be a baby but keep reminding her that she doesn’t need those things anymore because she’s a big girl now. She’s been pretty good about helping me, especially getting a new diaper and wipe and taking the dirties to the trash can. She loves Bee and most of the time wants to be near her, gives her kisses, asks were she is and what she is saying. I can confidently say that after a week things are feeling pretty normal.

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Foster Care Ch. 4 Prep: Looking Forward, Looking Back

11/06/2013

As I spent the month of October preparing for our fourth child, I thought a lot about our first three. I’ve had this idea for a while but finally did it: an 8×10 photo, an initial and a shadow box of significant items for each child. It’s the start of our hallway gallery wall that might one day be full of difference faces and memories.

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I also make a necklace in honor of my motherhood to these three sweethearts.

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I made a CD of my “songs for the foster mama’s heart.”

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I got our next kid’s room ready, including setting up the pack n play in case we get a baby. (And if we do, I’ll probably end up buying a second crib because Ali is still using hers.)

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Lots of time was spent reading and praying, usually right in this spot on the couch in the morning before anyone else is up.

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I spent half of a Saturday cooking several gallons of soup and stocking it in the freezer.

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Sometimes I feel like the house is ready and other times I feel like I need a day to clean and organize. I know it’s ready enough and we have everything childproofed to DCS standards but I guess it’s just a nesting thing.

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Then I rearranged the next kid’s room a little bit. This bed seems to only work in this one spot in this room and it kind of drives me nuts. I’m thinking I’ll eventually move it into Ali’s room and get some regular bunk beds that can be switched into twin beds for maximum flexibility.

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Then more time has been spent resting, waiting, preparing, breathing deep in the now. A cup of tea on a sunny afternoon is balm to my soul.

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Alianna and her “Big Girl Bed”

08/15/2013

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My last two posts on boundaries and solutions for bedtime wanderers were the groundwork for transitioning Ali to her “big girl bed.” With my hindsight glasses on from my experience with Buzz and with him back at home with his mom, I was ready to make the leap with my two-year-old daughter. She wasn’t climbing out of her crib, which is when most people make the change, but I was ready. I wanted to transition her before potty training and I wanted to make both transitions during a down-time as far as foster care goes (AKA no other kids in the house). I opted to do this even though Jason has been touring in Europe and I was on my own to deal with wandering, boundary breeching and whatever tantrums might ensue. It’s been 12 days so I feel confident calling it a great success and sharing what I did.

The morning after Buzz left, on Saturday August 3rd, Ali and I had breakfast and then I got out the tools and instructions for her crib. I showed her the illustration in the manual of the crib with sides and the crib with the side off like a day bed, ever after referred to as a big girl bed. She was game. It took me 15 minutes max. to take the crib side off and replace it with the side rail. Mostly she watched a show in the other room and came back just in time to “help” me tighten the last bolts. I moved it into place, made her bed and arranged her stuffed animals. She loved being able to climb right onto it all by herself. She immediately pretended to go to sleep. She posed for pictures. She was thrilled. Yay!

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We had some errands to run and on the way home Ali fell asleep in the van just a few minutes before we got home. I told my mom it was a gift from God! I plopped her right into the big girl bed and she stayed sleeping. I grabbed some pillows and blankets from another room to make a cushy landing on the floor in case she rolled out. I kept waiting and listening for a thud and crying but it never happened. I even snuck in to take some pictures. Two hours later I heard her calling me, “Mommy?” She was standing in the hallway looking confused.

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I was bracing for bedtime the first night so we started a little early. I explained how the OK to Wake clock works. She seemed interested but I knew without seeing it in action it would be hard for her to understand. For the first time, I was able to sit in her bed with her to read books and say prayers before bedtime. When I kissed her goodnight and left the room she immediately started crying and jumped up. (Side note: she had been loudly protesting bedtime for several weeks so this wasn’t a surprise.) She opened the door and came out into the hallway. I took her straight back to her bed and gave her simple, stern instructions. “It’s time for sleeping now. Lie down and go to sleep.”

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Three minutes later she came out into the hallway saying, “Mommy?” I took her back to her bed again. More sternly this time: “Stay in your bedroom. It’s time for sleeping. No crying. I’ll see you in the morning.” When I left this time I put the bells on her door handle so I’d hear if she opened the door again. She cried for less than a minute and then fell asleep.

One hour later I heard her crying and rushed in concerned that she had rolled out of bed. Nope, she was just sitting up. I said, “It’s time for sleeping.” She laid down and I covered her with a blanket and turned her music on. She started to cry again as I was heading for the door. “No crying,” I said. “It’s time for sleeping. I’ll see you in the morning.” She quickly fell asleep and didn’t make another peep until morning. She got up and came looking for me about 10 minutes before the Ok to Wake light was set to come on. She had never seen it work so I waited in her room with her until it changed so she could see the difference. She’s been very excited about “light! change!” ever since.

(Side note: I know I’m a mean mama for telling her to stop crying. But you know what? It works.)

The next day God blessed me with another easy transition from car seat to big girl bed for nap time. Bedtime went even smoother the next night. As the days have gone on we’ve had much less crying and fussing at bedtime. I love being able to sit in her bed and snuggle with her while I read books and say goodnight. The mornings have still been a little sketchy. Some days she’s been waking up pretty early and not able to wait until the light changes. She’s so sweet and cute when she cracks her door open and sticks her face out, saying “Mommy…how are you?” Nap times have been going very well, too. The light does not change when it’s OK to get up from nap time so I’ve explained that she needs to stay in her room until I come get her. She can call me or she can look at books quietly. I’m kind of amazed that it’s working, honestly! One day I went in and she had turned her Acoustic Lullabies CD on and she was looking at books. Just. Like. I. Suggested.

We’ve only had one little problem. Last Saturday morning shortly after I woke up I could hear her up shuffling around in her room. It was 7-something so I was just happy she was keeping herself busy while I scanned my Instagram feed. A few minutes later I heard paper ripping followed by “oh no!” and then more paper ripping. When I got to her room she was holding part of a page of a library book in her hand. Oops!

But overall, I think the transition has been going awesome! I’m sure there are a million variables with everyone as each family, kid, parenting strategy, bedtime routine, etc. is different. This is what we did and I’m thrilled. It was easy peasy. I took a few pictures of her room yesterday since I’ve moved things around a little bit. Now I’m pondering when to transition her to a twin bed. There is no rush unless we get placed with a baby and need the crib.

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Savoring

07/24/2013

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I’m thankful that I get to work at home on Tuesdays and Thursday so I can spend 4/7 days a week with this kid. I love her so much it hurts. (Pics from yesterday.) She is too stinkin cute.

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It was really difficult to leave for work this morning while she was calling out to me, “Mommy! Mommy!” and I had to just ignore her. Breaks. My. Heart. I love my job and somedays I’m thankful to be out of the house but other days I cry on my way to the office… it’s one of those days.

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I might be a little extra emotional due to hormones. Also, we’re savoring our time with this little guy because he might be leaving on Friday. There is a hearing scheduled for 1pm on Friday and as far as we can tell there is a very good chance he will be returning to his mom, which would be a good thing for everyone. But it will also be sad for Jason and I. And especially for him and Ali…they’ve become best friends over the past 12 weeks. Nothing is ever for sure until the judge makes his decision but we’re mentally preparing. We’ll wait until tomorrow evening to try to explain anything to the kids. Last time we thought he was leaving I ended up (surprising myself by) being an emotional wreck the night before. Praying for strength! He was outside with me this morning while Lucy was doing her business and came up to me for a spontaneous hug. He’s grown so much since he arrived at our house on May 3rd… I’ll definitely be writing about all of that soon.


Getting Settled

05/15/2013

I’m way behind on blog posts. I still haven’t posted about Ali’s and my trip to Florida a month ago or the swimming lessons she started. I have pictures of mid-century modern things we’ve bought and sold. I have pictures of our blossoming landscaping. I was behind before Buzz showed up 12 days ago but now I’m REALLY behind. However, it’s easier to write about what’s currently going on.

• Yesterday was Buzz’s first day of day care (in our care) and it was so good for all of us. The consistency of a daily routine, structure and opportunity to play with other kids all day will be great for him. It was also a much needed break for Ali who has been kind of stressed out (acting out for attention, yelling and hitting a lot) and we could tell she was craving down time, as well as some individual attention from Mom and Dad. I worked at home yesterday with just Ali. Holy Cow! I got so much done! I thought working at home with a child was challenging but after struggling all week last week with two, it was a piece of cake. Day care isn’t cheap and it will use up most of the daily board rate that the state gives us for Buzz’s expenses but it’s worth it for us. This is what Ali did after breakfast:

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• We all picked Buzz up together and went shopping for a new grill. I love when stores have double child seat shopping carts, especially when they’re shaped like a car. This is the first time we’ve taken both of these kids shopping. They were driving each other crazy. (Get it?) Seriously, they pick on each other like brother and sister. Ali is a pesky little sister constantly grabbing his steering wheel or flicking his hair. He whines and tattles and is always pushing her back into her side of the car. Then she smacks him. Then he fake cries. (Anyone have suggestions on how to foster sibling love and kindness?)

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• Our old grill was a surprise wedding gift from my cousin Dan. I was 18 at the time and I thought, A grill? That’s so…grownup. We’ve used the heck outta that thing over a decade and moved it to 7 different apartments and homes from Erie, PA to Nashville, TN. It was such a wonderful, thoughtful wedding gift. Now here we are 10 years later grilling our first dinner on the back patio of our dream house on a gorgeous May evening with a spunky little Hispanic girl we adopted and a playful little AA boy we’re fostering. I never in a million years would have pictured this as my life from that vantage point but here we are and I love it.

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• Speaking of love, it’s not all brother-and-sisterly squabbles. They do like each other. After dinner they wanted to swing in the hammock together and then they were working together to fill containers with rocks in the courtyard. And the sweetest thing yet… Jason was putting Ali to bed while I was putting Buzz to bed. He brought Ali into his room so I could give her a hug and kiss goodnight. As they started to walk out, Buzz said “Wait!” We asked if he wanted to say goodnight to Ali. (We’ve suggested this several times before and they usually refuse anything other than an occasional “night night” or wave.) They both leaned in for a hug and then a kiss. MELT.MY.HEART.

• Neighborhood moms are so generously bringing us meals 3 nights a week and it lifts a huge burden. If I haven’t already mentioned it, Buzz will likely be with us a couple months but of course anything can happen in foster care. I love his mom. We’ve been texting back and forth a few times through the week. She was super helpful in getting me his immunization records so I could get him into day care. (DCS…not so much. They pretty much dropped the ball last week and this desperate mama decided to take matters into her own hands…without of course “going over their heads” because, ah hem, we’ve been warned.) We’re constantly referring to ourselves as Mr. Jason and Ms. Martina to Buzz, both out of respect for his parents and because we believe he’ll be reunified with them soon. However, he has started calling me “Ma” and Jason “Da.” I’m not sure how to avoid this because Ali is calling us Mama and Daddy all day. Also, I don’t think he’s able to say “Ms. Martina” or “Mr. Jason.” I just hope his mom is not offended if/when he calls me Ma in front of her someday. I tried. I really did. Ali, on the other hand, sometimes calls me “Nina.” Or “Ali’s Nina.” Oh that girl!

So that’s where we are. Blogging has been a little scarce because I’m still fighting to recover my energy. At the end of the day when I have the choice of sorting out my thoughts here or going to bed, I usually fall asleep sitting up before I even make the decision. But we’re definitely getting settled and life is starting to feel more manageable. Thanks for hanging out here and sharing this adventure with us.


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.