Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Meet the Crew

We have had so many new people following our story that I thought I would take a moment to introduce ourselves. I use “nicknames” for us all, partially to help protect their identities and partially because several of my kiddos are still in foster care, so I try to keep details vague.

Jules: Mama of the crew 

A few things you should know:
  1. I am left handed, I will die sooner but at least I am creative.
  2. I am the HR Director for a local coffee shop, based out of Omaha, NE. I have worked there 5 years and have been everything from barista, to shop manager, to coffee roaster. I am still in love with coffee after all these years. I love walking through our shops and seeing people meeting over coffee; falling in love, dreaming up the future, starting a business or new friendships. 
  3. I have been vegan 9 years, a journey that started for health reasons but over time has lead me to live this lifestyle more from a stance of compassion. We have a vegetarian household, my kids eat the eggs we get from our backyard chickens and the occasional cheese. I teach my kids to be educated consumers, when we go out they choose what they eat. Sometimes they shame-free eat meat but they know where it comes from and we give thanks for that life that was shed for our consumption. 
  4. I am a true extrovert, I get “drunk,” with all the greatness of FRIENDS. Our parties quickly get out of hand, with 30-40 people packed into our house. I love entertaining, on a normal week we have friends over to join us several nights for dinner and a Saturday morning brunch with my gal pals. There is a sign that hangs in my dining room that reads, GATHER, we take that seriously. 
  5. I am an Enneagram type 2, the Helper. I don’t know what I need and will get around to figuring that out someday. Until then, I will welcome you in, feed you, take your coat and the load off your back. 

Charlotte: 11

Charlie is big sister to the crew, she has a beautiful smile with sparkly eyes. She is quick to help and loves to be involved in the plans and details. She is strong, a defender and guarded spirit. She has this ability to jump into any sport and excel.

A few things she wants you to know:
  1. I love pets, currently training our new puppy, Mabel. 
  2. I love being adopted because I have a new family.
  3. I like meeting new friends, I like being a good friend, quality time is my main love language.
  4. I love swimming. 
  5. When I grow up I want to be a doctor that helps people have babies.

Daniel: 9

My sweet boy, he is compassionate and has a heart for others. He inspires me, a few weeks ago he walked up to a man sitting asking for money and offered his hard earned last dollar to him. He is a kind soul, he thinks of others first and is quick to share with people around him. He is funny, silly and still loves to snuggle with me.

A few things he wants you to know:

  1. I like sharks, the story of Bethany Hamilton, created this obsession.
  2. My favorite thing to play is mermaids, I have a mermaid tail I love to wear and flop around the house in.
  3. I love swimming, takes me to my mermaid roots.
  4. I love doing flips, anywhere and anytime. We now have a designated “flip” couch in the house. 
  5. When I grow up I want to be a doctor for animals.

Kennedy: 7

This girl is fierce. She has her own thoughts on things and lets you know. She is quick to crack a witty joke, she often leaves people speechless. She makes friends everywhere we go, people are drawn to her but she makes you work for it.

A few things she wants you to know:
  1. I love wearing dresses, pants are the worst, great punishment.
  2. I am always hungry, even when I am eating. 
  3. She has an incredible imagination, making elaborate games for her younger siblings to play. 
  4. I love being a big sister, she is so delighted she can now pick up baby girl. 
  5. When I grow up I want to be a teacher.

Little Man: 4

This Little Man has been a part of our life the last year and a half. Recently he has left our home twice, returning shortly after. Each time we fall a little deeper in love, as we settle in. He has found his voice, healed and grown so much over our time together. His smile, still takes away my breath.

A few things he wants you to know:
  1. Paw Patrol is my jam. 
  2. My name starts with a “T” like turtle. 
  3. I have blue eyes that sparkle and light up the room. 
  4. I am compassionate and love our dogs. 
  5. I love keeping up with my big siblings, if they can do it, I can do it. 

Little one: 3

She is the biological sister of my older three. She left our home late May, 2016 for the second time to be with biological mom, they are doing so well. We have an open adoption and this Beauty gets to come to our home every weekend to help bio-mom out with daycare and to bless us all. She is radiant, smart and silly.

A few things she wants you to know:
  1. She is all about babies, eats, sleeps and plays them. 
  2. She loves giggling with Little Man, they are best friends. 
  3. She loves her big sisters. 
  4. She is smart and says these witty sentences. 
  5. She still walks up to me and says, ‘I hold you.’ 

Baby Boy/Henry: Almost 2

This boy is pure joy, he lights up the room and charms strangers. He was my first newborn and has spent every day with me since he was born. It feels like yesterday that I brought him home from the hospital. Current words; Mom, dog, car, Gaga, Papa, cup, banana, bye and hi

A few things he wants you to know:
  1. He is fearless, as in zero fear. 
  2. His dimples, make any correction very difficult. 
  3. His is obsessed with cars. Plays with them, sleeps with them. 
  4. He is a thumb sucker and I love that about him. 
  5. He is charming, smart and determined. 

Baby Girl: 8 months
She and Baby Boy share a biological mom, born just one year apart. She is her own little person, all smiles and rolls. She watches the world around her, seeming to soak it all in. You can almost always look up to see her smiling at you.

A few things she wants you to know:
  1. She weighs 17.5 lbs 
  2. She has zero teeth but loves real food
  3. She is rolling over and army crawling 
  4. Her jumper is her favorite thing
  5. She is sleeping through the night 

Sunday, July 29, 2018

I love you.

He snuggled up to me, and just said it. The words made my whole body jolt, I looked up at him, "what did you say?" He repeated it, "I love you." Just like that my heart was taken captive, tossed to and fro on the waves of love. For 462 days I have whispered, hugged and shouted these very words over him. For those 462 days his response was a simple, "okay."

A response that made me laugh inside, he doesn't do what he doesn't wanna do. Over the years my heart has learned to handle the unintentional punches thrown by hurting kids. This family is built on love, one day at a time we are growing into a family. Our love comes softly and over time, its a sneaky kind of love that shows up in the strangest places. In our home, you don't say words you aren't ready to say, there is no shame. I wait patiently and if it never comes, I will still whisper it over you.

I believe love has the power to heal the deepest wounds, the ability to pierce the darkest places. I have seen that miracle, time and time again. Love is a force unlike any other, I suppose that is why the world fights so hard for it. Love is messy, complicated, painful and beautiful. It shows up, committing day after day even when it is tired and worn out. Love keeps us moving towards health and healing.

Those three words are proof that we have healed and grown. Our two painful goodbyes over this last year, have made our 'hellos' so much sweeter. We have cried together, laughed together and just grown together. His blue eyes, are the wild ocean I sail upon as we navigate the uncharted and unknowns.

Our time together has no timeline set and our future is unclear but this last year and a half, we have known love and been forever changed by it. I am often asked how I can let them go, don't I get attached? People comment on how strong I must be. The heart can do amazing things when you fight to keep it open. I have felt the sucker punch of sorrow, to know love and to lose love is the great paradox of this life.

To love them is worth the risk of it all, their journey of loss is much harder than mine and so I will chose to love them be it a moment, a day or a lifetime. I choose them. #thisisfostercare

Monday, July 2, 2018

Entering In

I ripped open the envelope, knowing exactly what I would find inside. I peeled off the smiley face post it, reading the kind words from the teacher of my class, who also happened to be one of the directors of DHS. I looked it over, studying all the details, this was it. One of those moments when our lives are changed forever, I was officially a foster parent. 30 hours of classes, pages and pages of homework, gathering and preparing my home for the unknown. According to this paper I was ready to receive.

Later that night I laid in bed and just sobbed, wondering if I actually had what it took to enter in to this calling. A calling for me that came from God, a calling to love the most vulnerable in our city. The orphans, the wounded, the hurting little souls that are our future.

I was single and 27, still a child myself, it felt at times. In a joking tone, I wondered if I could actually do this, I am a person who loses my keys, forgets meetings and they want to give me children? Would I be ready to hear their stories, to know their realities? Would I know how to handle the behaviors, can I even parent? What if I fell in love with them and had to say goodbye?

My heart gently reminded my spiraling brain that this wasn’t about me, but them. That I was called to enter in, to step forward towards them, to say yes to them. I was trained, to help process and heal. I had the coping skills and the network to process anything that was thrown at me. I said ‘yes,’ and I entered in, in to the hurt, the brokenness, the ache, the loss, the stories, the trauma.

The call came, there were three of them, siblings ages 7,5 and 3. They had been in foster care over one year, I would be home number five for them in that year. They were hurting and in need of stability. I could provide love and stability that I was confident in. So, the yes came and so did entering in.

Entering in is weighty and costly, but the price we pay fails in comparison to the price they paid, without choice. It looks like long nights and exhausting conversations. It looks like court hearings, family team meetings, biological parents and trauma induced meltdowns.

I think to that night, four years ago, where I was so unsure of it all. Wondering what advice I would give myself, would I change anything. I wouldn’t because even in the moments of unspeakable pain, I entered in and that process changed me. Rarely are we ready for the road ahead, but if we say ‘yes’ and enter in. Embracing the teaching as it comes through experience, our lives will be filled with purpose and we will be brave.

Monday, June 25, 2018

The Cost

Being a foster parent is a very seasonal kind of parenting, to be fair all parenting is. Fostering has a tendency to just speed everything up. Traditional parenting typically has a 9 month preparation and then gradually you grow and change along with your child, each stage preparing you and them for the next. The sweetness of a baby warms your heart for the struggle of a toddler and that toddler prepares you for the teenager they will be someday. Fostering it all comes at once, you are dealing with the unexplainable tantrum of a little stranger you just met, that may or may not have had some trauma triggered. There is no preparation and often there is very little bond for you to fall back on when you are dealing with the meltdown.

The journey of foster parenting is filling the gap and loving these little souls while their families are healing and rebuilding. We desperately love borrowed babies, snuggling them, becoming experts on all their favorites and studying all their quirks. We learn them, we know them, we love them. Then the call comes, the one we all dread, time becomes short. In that brief moment we are jerked into a new reality, one of counting down and preparing. We wash load after load of laundry walking through our homes gathering their items, we make books, send clothes and write bio-parents a detailed schedule. Other times, we get the call and barely have time to get ourselves to their daycare fast enough to soak up just one more snuggle.

That moment hits and we find ourselves ramping up the grieving process. The loss of little souls we bonded with whether just weeks, months or even a year worth of love. Sometimes we even feel like we shouldn’t feel as deeply as we do for these little ones. It’s the kind of loss that when I speak about it, the lump in my throat grows and no words seem to only escape through hot tears filling up my eyes. The loss that dwells in the quiet and a loss so sharp when we find little socks around the house.

Our home has been in all sorts of transition and to be honest, I haven’t even processed a fraction of the change we have been through. I am putting that on the to do list, right after find new insurance company and before book a massage. Many of you have followed our story sometime now, so you know back in March our sweet four year old boy left us just shy of one year of being with us. We threw a huge party, rallied around him, made books, talked it through and cried a lot of tears as a family. It was my first experience walking through the loss he was going through, he was my first verbal processor that suddenly left without much notice. Six weeks later the call came again for his return, that time he was with us two months. Then another goodbye, less extravagant. A couple of my kiddos have come and gone several times that one is a hard one to juggle.

Then two weeks ago, a mere ten days after he left our home the call came. That night he was being dropped off at my doorstep. The heart of a foster parent is trained to be malleable, we are quick to adapt to change. We become parents overnight to strangers, with invisible suitcases filled with trauma. Attachment disorders quickly teach us that this is not about us but them. We are tossed to and fro on the waves of emotions as we are helplessly falling in love with these borrowed babies. At times the bonds are slow to form so we must press in and love well even when we don’t feel like it.

I am finding myself clutching a bit, holding tightly to the things I feel I can control with the reality of loss. Every time I look into the eyes of my babies, that may just be mine for a season I am learning to savor them. Oh, to hold a perfect memory of every look, smile and memory forever.

To love deeply is to lose deeply and what a bittersweet gift that it. To know a love so deep that when it is gone we can physically feel the void. May we find the strength to love these borrowed babies well, with our all, if even for just a season.

Monday, June 11, 2018

The Imprint

The ache of foster care is real, the longing, the brokenness, the hellos and goodbyes. Realities felt by more than just us, the foster parents (families). These Little Ones are no stranger to loss. The biological parents no matter how caught up in their addiction know well the ache that dwells in the silence and sobriety. That ache is what often drives them back to the escape of choice.

The loss that a bio-parent experiences is deep, overwhelming and covered by shame. In moments of sobriety they are confronted with the harsh reality of their choices. Their choices are the very ones they swore they would never make. Their choices have gotten us all here, to this reality. They hate themselves for becoming the very people they swore they never would. They have made their choices and have gotten to here but now that burden is there to bear and it is a heavy one.

As foster parents we are aware of the risk of stepping into this world. We have willingly stepped into this reality, loss and all. Subjecting ourselves and our families to the ache and pain that comes from loving borrowed babies. The moment we must choose to embrace the now and today for the unknowns of tomorrow, our hearts are in jeopardy.

At different moments, with each of my crews, I have crossed some sort of invisible threshold. A threshold where there is no going back, the moment I let my heart be clutched in these little hands. The moment, where it feels like I am beginning the long fall, downhill towards the reality of loving them, whole, with it all. Where the risk is great and loving them is the best thing I can give them, whether they are with me a week or a year.

I am not a big crier and this isn’t my first rodeo, but I have a moment with each of my Little Ones, where I weep over them. When I cry over the reality of our relationship, aching for the things they have known and will never know. My Mama heart breaking for them, not because of them but for them.

The ache that follows me through this life and reality. It is there in the quiet hours just before sleep. There in the early mornings filled with sweet baby snuggles and sunshine. It is there in my days, filled with court hearings, visits and hard phone calls.

The loss of a child felt by foster parents is in its own category, in a way we make the choice. We step into this journey knowing that our time with them is temporary, some people would even say we know what we got ourselves into. Every once in awhile what was a temporary time frame becomes forever. However, until that occurs loving a borrowed baby takes a balancing act of love and loss. A willful choice to press in, we know some people will come into our lives and some will go, no matter how much we pray and will them to stay. It is in that balance that we dwell, knowing the greatest gift we can offer is our heart.

The imprint of us on their souls and them on us, is what changes the world. No moment or act of kindness or love goes by wasted. Those moments are the very threads that weave our souls together, healing and transforming us into the very souls we were created to be.

Monday, June 4, 2018

If They Only Knew

The looks still come, at times it seems as if people watch me and my kids with their head cocked to one side like my dog does when I drop chips into a plastic bag. People watch us, seeming to make sense of what they are seeing, trying to figure our family out. We are a scene, they watch our van pull up and empty out. We command attention when we enter in the room, if not for our noise level but even just the sheer volume we all occupy.

People seem to cope with their observation of my family by a look of disapproval or with a comment, reflecting what they see. I am still trying to find a less annoyed response to the comment, “you sure have your hands full.”

ME: “YEAH, you should see my heart, or my new favorite, sure do...both of them!”

Some people, scan us assuming they have us figured out, the unringed left hand, tattoos, a Mama with the diverse group of children, no doubt living off the government. They walk by us with a look of judgment. Some people stare at us in what I am guessing is fascination, I mean who wouldn’t, look at this super cool Mama and all her adorable children. They watch us as they are trying to piece together if they are all mine and deciding if they should ask. Some people watch with a smile as they observe how kind my children are, stopping us to offer us a compliment.

Being a single mama who needs to get things done, means that my kiddos and I on outings are like a well oiled machine most of our trips are successful and enjoyable. There are some moments when trauma is triggered and the spiral begins, usually with lots of noise.

Early in my days of Motherhood, I was so consumed by what others thought. My first year was heavy motivated by the truth, that I had to prove I could do this. That made me parent my kiddos without much grace, in those days it was less about them and more about me. After realizing that was just a band aid and would not work long term, I have changed my tactics. I have learned to parent them with their healing at the forefront of my mind. That means sometimes, we do strange things in the aisle of the grocery store.

However, there have been some (many) moments when I have felt the social pressures around me and my insecurities are triggered that, I wish I had a shirt that said, “Please excuse his behavior, I have only been his mom three hours and I too am unsure why he is doing this.” Those moments in my days, where I just wish for a second, they could see the whole story, because if they only knew...then maybe they would give us more grace.

I was late to the meeting but if they only knew, that my little girl looked up at me and with tears in her eyes that she can not and will not go to school. Because in a moment of insecurity, she came completely unglued which resulted in me having to play detective to get to the bottom of just what she was feeling, knowing it was more than her being defiant. After figuring out what got triggered I then spent all my extra time giving her a pep talk about just how amazing she is.

My son is off task and fidgets all day, they want a label and medication but if they only knew what kind of internal struggle he has each day about his origin, his loyalty and the images he has seen that still lie in wait in the back of his mind waiting for just the right moment. Disorders and trauma share a lot of the same behaviors.

My daughter just shut down completely when the teacher asked about her homework but if they only knew that her keeping it all together is what she fights hard for each day. She avoids any kind of crack in her wall of perfection, in fear that one crack and the whole things will crumble. Perfection is how she has survived the things she has seen.

My son just completely lost it in the middle of the restaurant but if they only knew that he just got back from a weekend visit with his parents and in his exhaustion he begins processing trying to find words for all the strong feelings and chaos he feels. He is not a bad little boy, he is just a little boy whose heart is hurting and he doesn’t know how to say what he feels, so screaming and throwing things is how he gets it out.

The school calls we have been tardy 12 days this school year but if they only knew that most of those tardies was due to the fact that most mornings any given person in our home may decide to process their tragedies moments before we walked out the door. It’s not a matter of us needing to wake up early as much as it is, a conscious choice that healing takes time and is pretty inconvenient and creating space it to take place is essential and may make us late.

My daughter won’t respond to authority and laughs at the consequences given, but if they only knew she is not a defiant child but a scared one. In her three years she has learned that people leave her and her way to control that is to push people away, so she doesn’t get hurt.

To walk a mile in someone else’s shoes we have to get uncomfortable a bit, we have to willingly step into their world. Upon gaining better insight we will begin to understand just how our action must become counter intuitive to what we always thought. Empathy, has the power to heal this hurting world. Next time you see someone behaving in a way that is offensive to you, pause for just a moment, if you only knew….

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Fashioning Arrows

The call came, it is time for goodbye...again. We have been the place he calls home for over a year, this is our second goodbye. The moments where our story changes and we go in different directions. His time with us is finished, healing has happened and know we must send him forth. His mom has done the hard work of rebuilding and this time, she has the support she needs to keep him and his siblings all together.

I am up early today, my Mama heart is achy, he doesn’t know that we are counting down the days yet, but I do. One more hug, kiss, giggle and bedtime snuggle, I peeked into his room for one more glimpse. Seeing just how much he has grown and changed this past year. The Crew doesn’t know either, I am living in the limbo of when, how much time is the right amount of time, is it days? Hours? The goodbyes never get easier.

The last time he left, I talked about sending him forth that it was time, his biological family needed him. This past year+ was getting him ready to go back to them. I am sending him forth like an arrow of hope.

The hardest part for me sending “forth my little arrows” is all the unknowns, the what ifs and the hope that this time it will work. Those first nights back, when his four year old brain must be so confused and his heart divided. The first nights back when the routine has changed. The sounds have changed. The foods, details and rhythms have changed. The desperate Mama heart prayers that this time his family found all the healing they needed. The plea that his time with us was fashioning him into the arrow he needs to be, that he is ready. These are the thoughts that keep me awake at night, consuming all my thoughts, the places in my soul where the ache radiates from.

One of the most common comments I get in regards to fostering, is that people don’t know how I can do it, how I can give them back. Well, in four+ years that never has gotten easier, the ache feels just as overwhelming as the first time. Each situation is different and sometimes parents are more ready than others. In some situations I can see the “why” more clearly and that gives me a clearer target, of where we are going. Other times, I am just sending them forth with a prayer they get where they need to be.

In the days to come, I am packing bags and collecting memories for the goodbye that is coming. I am savoring the giggles and soaking in the hugs, living in the paradox that each one confronts me with our reality. I am reminded yet again that time is a gift. The time has come for this Little Guy to be sent forth from my quiver to another.