Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Klepfer Party of 6!

“I got the order today!!!”

The order for termination of parental rights. The DHS worker called exactly one week after court. I was shocked, that was the fastest return of order I have experienced. Our family is growing and Baby Girl will officially be a Klepfer, this calendar year. She will just be shy of one year when her adoption will be complete, giving her a new name and a forever home. We will celebrate and cherish the sweet side of adoption.

Henry (who is almost two) and Baby Girl share a biological mother, their story is different from others in my home, I brought both of them home from the hospital. My older crew has memories, trauma and a relationship (old and new) with their birth mom. My youngest two, only knew their biological mother’s womb, she faded quickly into silence weeks after they were born.

Charlotte asked me a couple of weeks ago if the babies would know they were adopted. Without hesitation, I exclaimed, “of course.” I hadn’t really thought about not telling them, I just figure that adoption is the very blueprint of our family, a reality we can’t escape. A reality I don't want to forget. 

I am thankful Baby Girl and Henry are together and share a commonality in their story. One day the bitter side of adoption will settle in and they will have to process the weight of it all, I am thankful they will have each other and their older siblings to help pave the path with understanding. They will have to process their value, the reality and they may even have to offer forgiveness.

After processing Charlotte's question, I decided what worked best for our family was to just keep adoption at the center of who we are. Not dwelling on the past or the bitter element but the precious gift this family is. We will continue celebrating our Gotcha Days each year, we will hang pictures and tell stories of how I met them and what my first thoughts were. I will tell them of all the things I know about where they come from. I will tell them about the day the call came and when I walked into the hospital to bring them home. I will tell them how scared I was but how that all went away when I laid eyes on them.

Early on in my foster care journey, adoption wasn’t the plan. I honestly didn’t believe I could do it. I didn’t believe I was the best option for my crew. I was wrong. Adoption is intentional love pouring out, empowering others, granting them a new identity. Every adoption story has an element of tragedy. Adoption steps in and fills the void, it is the redemption of brokenness, neglect, orphanhood, addiction and abuse.

Adoption is the vehicle that brought us all together, the tool used to build our family. Adoption is the conduit of a special kind of love. A love not birthed but found, not inherited but given, not created but discovered. A love fought for, found and chosen.

I am humbled by our story, we got to grow into a family, one day at a time. I love that my crew was so patient with me as I grew into a mom. I love that I got to know them, watch them heal and blossom. I love that together we picked their new names, breaking the bondage of their past and giving them a vision for their future. I love that as we grow as a family that foster care becomes a family adventure, all of us making room to love those coming into our home.

Jody Landers beautifully sums up this bittersweet journey with this quote, A child born to another woman calls me mommy, the magnitude of that tragedy and depth of that privilege are not lost on me.” What a beautiful privilege it is to be their parent. The story that once was filled with sorrow, loss and grief is now a story of hope.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Some hard truths about foster care...

There are over 420,000 kids in the United States who are in foster care, that number is overwhelming and unacceptable to me. These kids find themselves sleeping in a stranger’s home, in a facility and living out their days with little stability and lots of trauma. The need is great. Why so great? Because so few believe they have what it takes to be a foster parent. I believe we are scared to enter in, we have misunderstandings, we assume and we look the other way because it seems hard, messy and complicated. I have had the opportunity to speak to many families who are trying to figure out if foster care is the next step for them. I have had them over for dinner, met them for coffee and answered their questions, calming their fears. This post is comprised of realities I often cover in those meetings.

First thing I tell people is that the system is broken. Foster care is a necessity due to brokenness, when something is in existence due to a need, it can’t ever be fully void of that initial need. The brokenness of addiction, neglect and abuse, has caused the state to get involved and that complicates everything. Foster care begins with a noble purpose, to rescue a child(ren) from a toxic or dangerous home. But then, from that point forward it’s all about management, case plans, attempting to help parents get healthy, sober and stable enough to get their kids back. It is a long, drawn out process that is costly to all involved, the child(ren) carrying the biggest piece of the burden. In order to protect from burnout you have to find within yourself something to cling to besides the system and all the red tape. For me a combination of my faith and them, is what gets me through. I am here for them, to advocate, to love, to provide a safe space for regardless of how long. They are the reason I show up and do this. I simply tell people that you can not foster parent to fix or even change the system. You can’t do it to just build a family, you can’t do it for the money, you must do it for them. Them alone, letting every word, tear and trauma induced meltdown fuel you to press in.

The achy reality is that you are not their only parent, you are but a member of a herd of parents, biological and former foster, you are another step, stop or forever. You co-parent, to differing degrees with people who are addicts, who have harmed, forgotten and neglected these kiddos. Parents who are consumed by the cravings, their own hurt and selfishness seemingly unaware that the kiddos carry the brunt of the consequence of their choices. You partner with them, for doctor visits, back to school, visit pick up and drop offs, as you all work towards reunification. You interact based on your comfort level with bio-parents and that can include weekly updates, letters passed back and forth, shared baby well check ups and consent for hair cuts. In my state (and I would assume all states) the number one goal is reunification with biological parents or biological family, if parents can’t provide safe care for the child. This is the goal from day one, until it is proven otherwise, by missed appointments, failed UAs and blown off visits. Reunification as the primary goal in all cases is hard, the pricetag is the kiddos to pay. This is the part of foster care that feels the messiest. We are wiping away the tears of missed visits, heavy hearts and little to no coping skills due to the lack of security and stability over the years. 

Your house has an open door policy, monthly workers come to your home to see your child(ren), every other month support visits need to happen. Yearly you have an unannounced visit where they look in your cupboards, question your mountain of laundry and tell you where to store your things.You are are asked questions about income, backgrounds and preferences. You, your home and your family becomes an open book. They search and ensure that you are a safe home for these kiddos. Expecting your home to be clean, orderly and stable. The reality is that is the environment best for these kiddos to heal but at times, they are quick to judge the dishes in your sink and the fact that you forgot to lock up the medicine. You have to be open to that invasion, I have had plenty of weeks, depending on my caseload where 3 or more state workers are in your my home that week. My reality is I have nothing to hide and I have a very open home generally but at times it can feel like I’m under scrutiny.

Most choices are completely out of your hands. We are there to provide a safe space for these kiddos. Loving them and raising them as our own flesh and blood but when push comes to shove, we have little to no say in what actually happens. We are to advocate for them, we document, share and become their voice. Depending on the case and your worker, you may never feel heard, feeling as if your opinion is just that, an opinion. You buckle little loves into car seats week after week for painful, confusing and exhausting visits. Only to get them back hours later in a heap of tears and ache as you do your best to rally and make it through the rest of the night. You love these little ones, learning their favorites, kissing their owies, tucking them in night after night over months or even years and then in a moment you get a call and it changes everything, the cost of this reality is known. As foster parents we know what we are getting ourselves into, we step into their world knowing the cost. Knowing the cost vs. living the reality is so different. You underestimate how much you will fall for them, how hard you will fight for them, how many meltdowns and toxic thought processes you will walk them through. You fight for them and with them but at the end of the day, that is all we can do, until you say goodbye or the court report reads termination of parental rights and adoption can become the end of this story.

You don’t always get the answer you need or want. Our workers are overworked, the demand, need and reality of the system is great. They often don’t have the resources to get done what they need in a day, a week or a month. Sometimes, kiddos get dropped off and you have so little information on them, over months you gather where they have been and who they are. I have had children months and years before learning their middle names. Behaviors documented in reports are not always what you get. Being a foster parent is like doing a jigsaw puzzle with only the blank side of the pieces, its it’s a lot of guessing and trying and occasionally you will get the piece to fit. The process is long. Two years is not uncommon especially for older kiddos. Those years are filled with visits, missed visits, disappointments, court hearings, little movement, question marks and no level of certainty. All of this happens as you are falling in love, fighting for resources and cleaning up after the storms of trauma.

Foster care is messy, hard and uncertain. There are bumps along the way and lots of heart crushing moments. This journey has changed me, I have learned a ton, my perspective has shifted and the very world looks different. When I started out on this journey 4 ½ years ago as a single woman, I underestimated how much it would bless my life. I have had the honor to mother 12 little people whether it be for days or forever. I have had the honor of adopting four incredible kids out of foster care and countless others I have seen reunited successfully to bio parents and sent forth to be adopted by bio family. It has not been easy and I have experienced some of the deepest aches of my life because of it. On the flipside I have seen and known a beauty and love so intense that all other fails in comparison. It is what makes my heart joyful and broken all at the same time.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Self Care

Self care, for me is that never ending chase. The reality of self care in my life is a double edge sword. I am a more balanced (less yelling, kinder words, more patience) Mama when I get time to refocus, but pulling that off feels impossible some weeks. Here are some ways as a single parent, I work self care into my daily life.


My Job
I am one of those fortunate souls that absolutely enjoys my job. My role for the last nine months has been Director of HR, my job absolutely hits all of my strengths, I so enjoy my daily to do life. Thriving where I spend a descent chunk of my day because I am working in my strengths and passions, allows me not to dread my work week or dropping my little ones off at daycare. My role with this company has changed right along side of my life, I was not a mom when I first started here as a barista a little of five years ago. We are a growing local business, with over 40 employees, three locations with an in house bakery, coffee shop and roasting facility we are always growing. This job allows me work life balance and brings life to my soul, it is my extrovert outlet and I am so thankful for this piece of self-care in my day to day. 


Travel once a year, in the fall I get the chance to get away for a week. My kids get divided up between our community and this Mama heads to the mountains.  This year, in just a month or so I am heading to beautiful North Carolina. This first picture was from my 2017 trip to Utah and the Grand Canyon. The second picture was from my 2016 trip to Oregon (a frequent stop). Seeing the world and changing my perspective is the best way I recharge. I like mountains because they remind me how small I am in the scheme of things. 



Community we are all in different life stages but they have embraced me and loved me well. They are the friends who come for brunches, late night wine on the porch and for loud and messy family dinners. They bring activities for my kids, help me pull of gigantic adoption parties, show up to the courthouse, snuggle my neglected dogs and make me laugh. I am so beyond thankful for the tribe of humans who have surrounded us. Without them all I would be lost. There are so many more than what this picture can contain. 


 Food I love good food. After going vegan almost 10 years ago, I have learned and loved food so much more. I love food that is fresh and nourishing. I love to cook, after a long day, I put the baby gate up, turn on a podcast and start chopping. My spiritual practice is trying to ignore the little ones screaming at the gate, as if that cheap $10 gate was drawbridge equipped with a moat.


Hosting the greatest moment of fear as a new mom was realizing I was locked inside my house from about 6:30pm each night. My survival technique, as an extrovert, early on was to make food and open my home. If you build it, they will come. So several times a week, we host dinner parties, brunches, family dinners with a table full. We live life around our table and we share it openly. I host a Saturday morning brunch and my table is filled until well into the afternoon as we eat, sip on mimosas and talk about life.



Adventure whether it is in our backyard or something completely brand new we love adventure. We load up, suit up, waiver up and find out the next new adventure. I am so thankful for brave kids who have conquered their fears to try new things. 




Renovate my space I don't talk about my house enough, I am beyond blessed, proud of and humbled by this space. One and half years ago we took over a 4 bedroom, built in 1900 home, filled to the brim with character and charm. This space has allowed us to double our family and entertain all our people. I learned early on that once the crew was all tucked into bed, I could do anything with a paintbrush and a podcast. I would work late into the evening painting and creating space. Most of my projects start about 8:30pm until 3am and I have the bad habit of starting three things at once, this picture shows, the tile I painted and in the background you will notice the carpet I tore up to reveal wood floors that needed refinished and a beautiful built in I am stripping. 
Three projects I decided to start all in one night, I like the challenge. 


Them they have the unique ability of being able to zap all of my everything, leaving nothing behind. Then somewhere along the day of baby snuggles, morning snuggles, middle of the night snuggles, hugs, kisses, pictures drawn and kind words said, my cup is overflowing. I love hanging out with them, knowing them, and being their Mama. They bring life to my soul and purpose to my days.



 


Also this hot tub... from our MI vacation we took in June. I drank all the beverages in this hot tub, just out of the frame, is literally all of my children watching me, but they could not touch me, for 30 mins. It was delightful. 




Monday, September 10, 2018

Our Ecosystem

Two years ago I experienced a really painful break up. Recently, I have realized that a lot of fear crept into my heart with the end of that relationship. As an effort to fight my fear, I signed up for online dating. I have many friends who have met really great partners through online, my current day to day life has minimal viable male options, so online seems to at least make my pool a little larger.

I share with you a section of my online dating bio.

‘...four and a half years ago I followed a call from God that radically changed my life, to pursue foster care as a single woman. I am the adoptive Mama of 4 awesome kids and foster Mama to 3, yes, that is 7 kids total. God told us to love orphans, widows and foreigners and I take that very seriously. Our dinner table is full with visitors of all backgrounds and realities. We are a packaged deal, quite a big one but we are also some of the coolest people on the planet.

I am a single mom, of seven through foster care and adoption. Finding a life partner is hard enough as it is, adding seven other humans into the mix feels impossible. I am upfront in saying that I need a man who can handle the package deal, I am looking for a husband and father. My days are full, time is limited and most days I have snot somewhere on my clothing.

Early in my journey of motherhood a well meaning relative made the comment, ‘well you’re certainly not making yourself more attractive to man by doing this.’ I must (and did) say, I disagree, for the wrong men I may be less attractive but to the right man I am just right. I have gotten used to the reality that my story will always be a little a-typical, so I know that it may take me a little longer to find that life partner.

When I jumped into the foster care world over four years ago, I thought my singleness would limit me, as if my being one person instead a couple meant I had less to offer. What I once viewed as a handicap was actually a gift. Raising children exposed to trauma, in our case at the hands of men, means that we do life a little differently. Our daily life rotates around healing, we fight for it, seek it and ease into it.

My crew, needed a single mama, they needed some time to heal. They needed to be the main recipients of my energy and love. Choosing to be a single mother of traumatized children has a price tag, there are days where I just don’t feel like I have enough to offer, where I am tired and depleted myself. I would be lying if I didn’t say that my heart aches for a partner and I have a deep longing for my kids to experience a healthy father figure.

I truly believe our family will heal much faster when a man does enter our world but I am not interested in rushing or forcing that. There is a deep kind of pain that can only find healing when pressed a bit by circumstances. Deep healing that takes place over time, layer by layer. For now our healing is talking about our someday dad, discussing both the good and hard things about having a dad. Most days we cry about it because trauma runs deep and healing comes slow.

If I can be a little honest I am scared of him too. Scared for how it will affect our beautiful ecosystem and change our unique family. I worry that no one will ever love them as much as I do. I worry about the logistics of switching off single mom brain, allowing a co-parent to join us. I am afraid of getting hurt again. My step towards healing this season is stepping out and pressing the wound a bit.

My kids make me brave, I have watched these past 4+ years as they have pressed in and healed. So this is my act of pressing in, the vulnerability of writing these words in a effort to declare that I will not shy away from even this. Dating for our family means new healing but also change, it feels bittersweet to me.

Most days there is this very real part of me that thinks if I am going to pay a sitter then I am not going to risk that time on a bad date. Most days, if I got a sitter I would rather drink wine on a patio with my girlfriends, take a shower or just wander through Target.

There are days when I can’t imagine one more person needing something from me. Days when it seems I have lost all communications skills. Days when the thought of change is overwhelming and the calendar seems so full. I am in no hurry to step out of single motherhood but I also don’t want to be opposed to it.

These last 4+ years have made me better, my kids have changed me. They make me brave, fierce and more compassionate. They cause me to slow down, communicate better and stand taller. The silver strands that have popped up recently have been earned and my snot covered attire reflects my love. This calling has not halted my status change but enhanced it and each day we live is one day closer to finding healing and to meeting him.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The darkness.

Countless times I have had conversations with people, that the only reason they haven’t done foster care is because they can’t imagine letting kiddos go. Today I answered someone with a simple, “that is exactly what they deserve, someone who is aching to let them go.” These kiddos have been viewed far too long as disposable. In four years as a mama, I have said seven different goodbyes to children I parented, and I hated every moment of it. Two of those five goodbyes were sending kiddos to loving relatives so their departure was far less achy but five of those goodbyes gutted me.

I used to be afraid of the dark, like sleep with the bathroom light on afraid. I hated the dark, the dark felt scary and lonely. I didn’t like how it made me feel, as I grew older my fear lessened and my appreciation grew, I began to see the beauty of darkness, one of my favorite are the stars. I live outside of a large city so we have the gift of the stars, such unexplainable beauty exists in the skies that can only be seen in the contrast.

My journey of motherhood, has shown the reality of the beauty that dwells in the midst of darkness. My faith is my guiding force and in the midst of those painful moments, I have found a greater understanding of who God is. We are drawn towards light and it is easy to stay there, light is comfortable. Darkness can feel bad, there are so many unknowns and it is there in the dark that we lose a sense of control. In the dark we see hidden lights, the magic of glow sticks and it is the place where my heart lets go and the tears flow as the chaos of the day comes to an end.

So as gut wrenching those goodbyes are, in the days that follow them there is some kind of unexplainable beauty that happens. The gift of connection even for a moment changes our lives, so I delight in the hellos I get with my ever evolving crew and I love well until one form of goodbye changes our lives. I am no longer afraid of the dark, for I have found the beauty that exists there.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The Shirt

He sat under the tree as all his friends ran and played. I watched him on and off distracted by the friend who had joined us, deep down I knew I had made the wrong call. In a moment of frustration, I completely dismissed him, his trauma was inconvenient and I pushed it all aside for my ease. His sister had packed the pool bag and she had forgotten to put his swim shirt in the bag, he panicked and in my impatience I gave him a choice he either can sit out or take off his shirt and just swim.

He wrestled with the depth of his fear and the fear of missing out. I watched him attempt to take his shirt off a few times only to drop his hands and give up. Trauma won that battle and in that moment I chose not to be his partner, I didn’t put my loving arms around him, encouraging healing to flow. Instead, in my impatience I left him alone to fight the hard battle alone, my heart was heavy for I knew I had missed an opportunity.

Trauma parenting is hard, frustrating and exhausting. Behaviors and coping skills surface without a moment’s notice after some mysterious trigger. Trauma parenting takes time as we untangle the root system of lies planted in our children’s hearts. Trauma parenting is counter intuitive. Some days it feels carefree and light, other days it is like brushing your teeth while eating Oreos; hard, unsuccessful and tiring.

We packed up and headed home, we didn’t talk about it as our night progressed. Once my house had fallen quiet, the interaction at the park came flooding back, tears filled my eyes as I pictured him under the tree all by himself. I felt mad at myself, I believe one of the keys to successful parenting is forgiveness, so I write this post not from a place of shame but from a heart that was broken by the reality of my son’s experiences and my lack of support for him in that moment.

I played the scenario out in my head and wondered what was the big deal, why couldn’t I have let him wear the t-shirt he had on? We were going straight home afterward and getting that wet was no big deal at all. Am I taking the approach of teaching and training my kids to healthy adults meeting them where they are at or am I using shame to get them to perform a certain way, the way I expect because getting them to just act a certain way is easier for me?

I processed and refocused myself, his healing is my main objective, it is the reason I make most of the parenting decisions I do, the reason we go to therapy, the reason we press in and address the big and small behaviors. It is the reason why I spend many hours a week talking through the hard things and big and small choices. It’s why we do power poses and lead with kindness. I take our trauma seriously and we do whatever we can to help that healing take place, here and now.

I asked myself a simple question, do I want my parenting techniques to merely force my kiddos into compliance or do I want to continue to attack the root of the fear in their lives? That day I was not united with my son and we both knew it. He was hurting and I left him in that pain to spiral and process, overwhelmed by the thoughts swirling in his head. Walking with people through trauma is a long journey but it is there on those paths I have found deep gratitude and my own healing. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

The fade of summer.

We have officially reached the end of summer, our lack of structure and routine is catching up to us. We can only thrive for so long without those boundaries that exist in our daily lives. Boundaries that help keep our trauma triggered responses at bay; the air is filled with such anticipation this time of year as our bodies begin the shift towards routine.

My three oldest are all in school. I am so thankful for our small community and the school we attend where our teachers know us and our story. I am also so thankful to see that schools are beginning to have training on trauma and its effect in the classroom. Navigating new teachers and classroom dynamics is a change for any child; kiddos who have trauma, often have unhealthy coping skills that can be intensified with things change. This time of year is hard on my kiddos as coping skills and trust are put to a test.

We have had fabulous teachers that are willing to learn how to best teach and redirect my kiddos and also are quick to partner and find solutions for classroom. I am encourage this by talking with them upfront about what sometimes shows itself when change is introduced. My crew has healed and grown so much over the years that these conversations have become fewer and farther between. Our story is unlike so many other kiddos who have endured foster care, none of my children have IEPs but our hurt shows up in attachment disorders and anxiety that overwhelms them.

My oldest is beginning a whole new chapter of a new building as she enters middle school. With this change she will go from one to six teachers with the new challenge of changing classrooms. She is motivated by success and getting things just right. This time of year with all the unknowns and questions causes her to be insecure and filled with the desire to retreat. We are working on staying present and the things we can control.

My son will begin 4th grade, a pivotal year of growth where many new habits are made that will affect the rest of his education journey. His greatest struggle is the what others think of him; when he feels insecure the impulse control goes away and the struggle to focus becomes the greatest challenge of our day. I watched this week as he spent several minutes deciding where to sit in his new classroom, that was insightful as I watched his process. We are working on anything we can do to help him feel confident as he starts this new year off. This kid has a heart bigger than the moon and he cares so deeply.

My daughter will begin her 2nd grade adventure, her baby teeth are gone and she is growing in taller by the second it seems. I think back to our first two years together in preschool, at that time I was still foster mom and she was still healing and learning to trust. She has grown so much from our days of me getting called to pick her up early from the principal’s office due to behavior. Attaching to new people is a struggle, when she doesn’t know you, she doesn’t trust you and therefore she will likely not do what you asked. Each year as she heals and grows and with that her trust comes quicker.

School has not always been easy for us, we have had teachers that have worked with our family and our needs. I have advocated, had after school meetings and shared resources as I partner with this team to help my kiddos be successful. This time of year is filled with opportunities and hope for success. We are excited to kick off the this new year as we move towards healing.