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.


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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First Chores

08/19/2013

Ali is at the age where she loves to do whatever I’m doing and she loves to help. “Ali help Mama!” I’m taking full advantage by encouraging her to do more jobs around the house. After her bath I have her take her clothes to her hamper and put her shoes away in her closet. If the playroom or her bedroom need cleaned up we usually do it together before nap or before bath time.  When I’m doing laundry she still sets me back more than helps BUT I’m finally finding ways she can help, handing me clothes out of the dryer to fold and sort, or pushing the wet clothes into the dryer for me. Other than that, she likes to unfold everything I fold and mix it all up.

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Lately she’s learning to do a job that Buzz had mastered right before he left – feeding Lucy in the morning. (Side note: Our dog has a crazy complicated feeder with five compartments that rotate on a timer. The spaced out meal times through out the day help her blood sugar stay up and she has less seizures and vomit — actually she rarely ever has either anymore.) Ali still needs help lifting the bag and scooping the food but she’s getting the hang of it. Here’s a recent picture of Lucy, the poor old cocker spaniel who doesn’t get photographed much anymore.

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What are some of the first chores you gave your kids? Any other suggestions for appropriate jobs for a 2 year old?


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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Solutions for the Bedtime Wanderer

08/14/2013

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1. Consequences

2. Bells

3. OK to Wake clock

Consequences

Honestly, I can’t remember the first time Buzz wandered out of his room at night. I remember one night early on Jason and I were surprised when we turned off the TV and walked toward our bedroom at 11-something and found Buzz sitting on the toilet in the hall bathroom. He was mostly potty trained to it makes perfect sense but we were surprised that we hadn’t heard him or that he hadn’t called for help when he was done…he just sat there until we noticed him. We didn’t enact any consequences for leaving his room at first, only for leaving the house or for helping himself to things in the kitchen without checking with us first (this was to ensure he didn’t attempt the toaster or something else dangerous without supervision). But, that one time he did let himself out of the house we had several very serious discussions about why it’s not OK. A few times in the days to follow he let, or attempted to let, himself out of the house in the evening when we were home. That resulted in another serious conversation as well as 2 minutes in time out. Followed by another talk, because we were freaked out about what could have happened. That lesson was learned pretty quickly.

Bells

I started waking up at the slightest sound every night, afraid that Buzz was out of his room and could get hurt. (Reminder: he was 2.5.) Obviously we couldn’t lock him into his room. He was much too tall (the height of a 4 year old) for a crib or a baby gate to be a consideration. I was looking for an inexpensive solution so this is what I came up with: the jingle bell shaker from Ali’s musical instrument set hanging on the door handle with a pipe cleaner. I used a wreath hanger to keep the bells out of reach during regular hours and after he was in bed at night I’d quietly slip the bells on to the handle. He was not able to open the door lever in the morning without the bells falling to the floor. I think this was a set back to his night time potty training but we all started sleeping better.

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OK to Wake Clock

The bells allowed me to hear and wake up when Buzz exited his room but it didn’t help me recover my morning time. (See my previous post on boundaries.) The time that the bells hit the floor was still varied a lot, and often related to when my alarm clock went off in the morning. His room was right next to ours and he seemed to hear me open my eyes in the morning. I needed a way for him to know when it was OK to come out of his room. I remembered a friend writing about an alarm clock that lights up at the time it’s OK for the child to come out of his room so I asked for advice. Susan used this stop light design with her boys and it worked great. She also suggested the OK to Wake! clock but said that she had better success with the stop light since young kids seem to understand the red means stop, green means go concept better. I ignored her advice and got the more visual attractive clock. I’m a designer…I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. After reading a gazillion reviews. I decided to go one better than the OK to Wake! and I got the Teach Me Time Talking Alarm Clock. It has the same features plus some others. I will say – the clock face glows a lot even when the light is technically off so the change to on is subtle. If the child’s bedroom is not dark enough it could easily be unnoticeable. I’m not sure if Buzz ever totally grasped the concept of this clock but it gave me something concrete to show him when I took him back to his room and said “You need to stay in your room until 8:00 when the light comes on.”

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This is part 2 of a 2 part prelude to my post about transitioning Ali to her big girl bed that’s coming later this week.


Boundaries

08/13/2013

I don’t think much about my personal space—the imaginary hulu hoop sized air around me—until someone invades it. I’m sure it’s happened to you, too. You meet someone for the first time and within minutes she’s talking with her face less than a foot from yours. You take a step back but she doesn’t get the hint and moves towards you again. Similarly, I had boundaries in my life that I wasn’t aware of until they had been crossed by Buzz, our recent foster son. The two major ones were related to sleep/wake times. These are personal and different for every person, but I hope to encourage you if you have boundaries you’ve allowed other to cross – reclaim your personal space!

First it was at bedtime. Buzz would get very emotional and needy (AKA stalling…) at bedtime. In order to help ease his transition, I would put Ali to bed first and rush because he was a distraction to her. She would get upset but I knew she’d recover and go to sleep on her own. I’d end up reading him a couple more books in his room, saying night time prayers, letting him watch videos his mom sent saying goodnight, put on music and then, by his request “stay,” I’d set at the foot of his bed until he fell asleep. After a while of this, Jason challenged why I was doing this. It was dragging out his bedtime longer and later and eating up my very limited time at the end of the day for me (doing dishes, tidying up, writing blog posts, showering, laundry, spending time with Jason, paying bills, etc.). I started reducing the time I would sit in his room rather than waiting for him to fall asleep. 10  minutes. 5 minutes. I stuck at 5 minutes for a while and Jason challenged me again – “LIke a bandaid, ” he said, quoting Seinfeld, “Right off!” The first night that I kissed him goodnight and left his room without answering his plea to “stay!” he cried for a minute, then Jason went in and told him to stop and go to sleep. He cried for about 30 seconds more and then went to sleep. That was the end of that! I got my nights back. I also realized that it was unfair to Ali to be rushed to bed and to lose that one-on-one time at the end of the day. At that point I started alternating. One night I would read books to both kids in Buzz’s room, tuck him in and then go with Ali into her room to tuck her in. The next night I would read books to both kids in Ali’s room, tuck her in and then go with Buzz into his room to tuck him in. They both really seemed to like and understand this system and would always remember which night it was for books in which room.

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The second area of boundary crossing was in the mornings. Parenting Buzz was our first experience with a kid who sleeps in a bed rather than a crib. That was a level of freedom around the house that required us to set boundaries for his safety. We were totally learning as we went. The first time he let himself out of the house during nap time was a huge eye opener. After some very serious talks and consequences, we didn’t have any repeat incidents, though we had to remind him several times (during waking hours) not to let himself out of the house without permission. He’s a smart kid but also very resourceful. The problem with mornings was that his wake times were all over the place. 5:30 one day. 7:00 another day. I’d have to wake him up at 8:30 another day. My pre-Buzz morning routine was to wake (gradually…)  at 6:30, spend time with God and a cup of tea from 7-7:30, take care of the dog and get ready for work from 7:30-8:30. Ali would get up around 8:30 too. Buzz’s random wake up times hijacked my mornings.  I lost my easing into the day, my alone time, my quiet time with God, my chance to take Lucy for a walk, my time to shower and get ready uninterrupted. (Side note: I’m very intentional about being the first one up so I can prepare for my day and prepare to receive my family in the morning.) It took me two months to realize that I didn’t have to give up my mornings. I was my choice. I am the parent. I could set a boundary line around this sacred time and enforce it. We got a special clock for Buzz’s room that lights up when it’s ok to come out of the bedroom. It took him a while to get the hang of it but it restored my mornings for the most part. I’d often have to take him back to his room, where he’d pout and fuss but eventually he would look at books or pick out his clothes for the day and wait until the clock lit up (at 8 am, if you’re curious).

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There were lots of other areas where boundaries were crossed and then more clearly established (just as with parenting any child) but these two areas were key to my sanity and my relationship with the rest of my family during the 3 months that Buzz was with us. They also gave me some wisdom and experience before we gave Ali the same freedom.

This is part 1 of a 2 part prelude to my post about transitioning Ali to her big girl bed that’s coming later this week.


At the Nashville Zoo

08/05/2013

One morning last month had the chance to take my little punkin to the Nashville Zoo (my first time, her third time) and it was so fun! She loves animals and has a general zest for life so it was exciting for me to see her reactions to everything. In general I just love hanging out with her; she’s so cool! My sister-in-law got us in as guests with my niece Eliza and a friend. We also met up with Ali’s friend JeeJee (Jaron) for a little bit.

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Respite and IKEA

07/16/2013

While we were out of town kid-free Jason and I had to find places for Ali and Buzz to stay, of course. Ali was easy. My parents were willing. Since we lived with them for 10 months last year and Ali goes there all the time, it was a pretty easy transition for her. We did a lot of FaceTime and sending photos and videos back and forth, which helped a lot. I’m so thankful for technology!

Buzz was a little trickier. It was too much to ask anyone to watch both kiddos together (I totally understand!) so we needed to find another home for Buzz to stay. Our new family case worker was awesome about sending out an email and locating a family that was willing and available. The other family’s case worker sent their contact info with a little note “heart in the right place” next to their names. I can’t tell you how much peace of mind that gave me! I talked to his respite foster mama at length before the trip and sent her a detailed list of his routine and likes/dislikes. They were grateful for all the info and I was thrilled that they cared enough to ask in advance about his favorite foods, books, activities, etc. She sent me reports and some photos during our trip reporting that he was doing great and such a sweet boy. She also kept in touch with Buzz’s mom through texts, pictures and videos lik we usually do. Buzz’s mom and I both hated for his sake that he had to be away from our home for 9 days, but it went as good, if not better, than we could have hoped for. It was a little rocky transitioning back to our house the first day. It was hard to interpret his emotions…sad, confused, scared…but I’m not exactly sure why. We did our best to explain to him everything that was happening and what to expect next. By the next day, he was pretty much back to his usual self. It sounds like he didn’t talk much at their house but he came back with some new words and expressions, and it’s been fun to hear what he learned: “that way!” “wait!” with his hand held out, “oh ok.”

I had planned to have an extra day of staycation when we got home before returning to the work/daycare routine but we ended up with 2 days (because Jason opted to drive through the night!) I’m really glad we had that time to transition back to a family of four again. Both of our kids caregivers did ALL of their laundry before pick up so I only had 3 loads to do when we got home, rather than 4 or 5. Thank you, thank you!

I looked at tacky over-priced Key West souveniers for the kids at several shops and just couldn’t bring myself to do it. We stopped at IKEA in Orlando on our way home and I picked out a big stuffed animal for each of them…or in Ali’s case a stuffed vegetable. She loves broccoli so I thought it would be funny to get her a big stuffed broccoli. There’s a video of her showing off Miss Bocki on my Instagram feed. Buzz loves dogs so his toy was an easy choice, too. He acted completely uninterested in it while we were still at his respite house but then fell asleep holding it on our drive home and has slept with it every nap and night since then. I asked him if dog has a name and he said “Woof Woof.”

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We got a few things for ourselves, too. Some of it won’t appear until future posts when it’s assembled and/or photographed. These were easy, though. New towels, bath rug and shower curtain for the hall bathroom:

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