Monday, September 25, 2017

"I am Cool!"

Today I saw I bumper sticker on the back of a van that read, “I used to be cool.”

When you become a parent the reality is your life will drastically change. Your once cherished free time becomes consumed by the tiny human you are existing to keep alive. Your quiet mornings are replaced with early wake up calls, trips out take careful planning and organized orchestration, There is no question that once you become a parent everything, and I mean everything changes.

As I drove down the road I reflected on that bumper sticker. I disagree, in fact I have become cooler in my role as a parent. Trading in my little red Ford Focus for an icy blue Town and Country, more recently upgrading that to a Black Nissan Passenger, aka a 12 passenger van. Which I rock, I get hit on in that thing an unbelievable amount of times. If only they knew, the back is not piled high with trendy art pieces or our band instruments. This sleek sexy black van is filled with car seats...five to be exact!

Life is different and at times I hardly recognized myself. Giving up my Friday night wine nights for pizza and movie nights under homemade tents. I can't remember the last complete conversation I have had. I still talk about politics, religion, pop culture and news but I am attacked mid sentence by sticky hands touching my face, declarations of unfair sibling treatments and toddlers who need a snack...NOW!

Most days I hardly recognize myself, the woman I was just 4 years ago has changed. She has not been lost or slipped down the ranks of some invisible popularity chart, the transition that took place over three years ago has changed me but in all the good ways. Here is a list I thought about, things and ways I feel I have gotten “cooler” in this role as mom. 

1. My Style Undercut, purple pieces, feathers in my hair, double nose ring and tattoos. Being a Mama, has boosted my confidence and courage in all areas. I don’t really care what others think, unless you are my fashionista six year old. The courage I have found in single handling cleaning up the vomit of a child that just rained down on me from the top bunk makes the all peer pressure or judgement of others just fade away.

2. My Compassion I would tend to say that empathy has always been pretty high on my personality assessments. Having children that I have had to fight and advocate for has taken it to a whole new level. Walking the path of this journey has made me so aware that everyone has a story that we don’t always get to know. We all have baggage we are bringing into relationships, daily interactions and life, I have learned to sit often and help unpack, organize and clean up the baggage. All the while keeping mine zipped up and not spilling over. When my three year old is throwing a category 5 fit, it is not because he is a brat nor is it a reflection of my parenting. It is in fact the reality that his story is hard, his little world was flipped upside down in the course of 24 hours he lost a father, a mother, three siblings and went to live with a stranger. His favorite toys and his routine, gone. No matter how dysfunctional it all was it was his normal and he lost it all. We must look around and SEE the world of hurting people around us. We must realize the weight of every interaction we have each and every day, the Target clerk who was polite, the waitress who was forgetful and that #$%^ that just cut you off in traffic. We ought to be a little kinder than we want to be, for we are unaware of the battles that are being fought all around us.

3. My Perception Nothing challenges your view of God, politics and social issues like children. When your kids look to you for the answers. When you are the one setting the benchmark for everything they will believe in, you better know your facts and convictions. You are the one that will shape their worldview and set their foundations. There is a pressure that goes along with that, to be kind, thoughtful and to sow seeds of love. I want my kids to SEE the world and other humans, as souls, not enemies, agendas or different.

4. My Confidence Our parents were right there will be a day where you care less what the world thinks. You will find your place to shine, despite what the critics around us are saying we step into something we are created to be. I love being a mom, I have never felt more alive, more attractive or more accomplished. What I am able to do in a day is incredible, the balls I can juggle is worthy of any talent show. I have learned to sit in the mess of our story the unfinished lines and question marks, it is there I have found peace. I do not need to justify to the world who I am or explain why we are, who we are. Instead, I make the effort to step out into the world with my little army of kindness warriors following closely behind with an effort to change our world. We are challenging what family looks like, what singleness looks like and what foster care looks like. One of my foster mom friends and I joked about getting a t-shirt that said, “I don’t know what is wrong with him, I have only been his mom two hours.” or even more so, “I didn’t do this to them.” People will see what they want to see until you show them otherwise, I want to show the world otherwise. I want to challenge their thoughts, judgements and assumptions. I want to show the world that labels do not define us.

5. My Time It seems I have less so I try to make the most of it. Choosing to steward the moments I have well by pressing in, creating space, having the hard conversations, loving hard and open, pouring out to the world around me. I am late often, I don’t have enough hours in the day it seems but I do know that I live each one of them with all that I have, because I don’t have another choice. Our days are filled with moments of pure joy and deep sorrow. We are breaking and celebrating each day through this unfolding story.

Each day I am being refined by my story, my life is not ever what I thought it would be. The addition of my children has only made me better, cooler even. They have not been the end of a legacy/good old days, life did not stop when I became a mom. In fact my life got richer and my influence grew, I have found my partners in this life and they are awesome. So I will live this story of beauty, brokenness, refinement and redemption, confidently winking in the mirror as I walk by.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Right, Mama?

Lately #3 has been finishing every sentence with the statement, “right, Mama?” Looking up at me with his big blue eyes and smile. These sweet words are a victory, just a month ago speaking was hard for him, what he could get out was hard to translate. Surgery changed everything, a clip of his tongue and he is unstoppable. His pairing of the phrase, right, Mama is a sign of bonding and healing, somewhere over the last five months he learned to trust me.

A few years ago I heard a speaker talking about creating healthy family culture he said, “every time a child hears information on a new topic they use that as a benchmark that they measure all other information on that subject against.” That day I decided I would be sure to set my children’s benchmark on everything that I could. Setting the benchmark means we have a lot of conversations, we do a lot of pressing in, breaking down and talking through all of the topics.

A typical family dinner or car ride is filled with promptings that allow my kiddos to ask questions and share their thoughts about things. I don’t shy away from the hard or awkward. At times, I will tell a child that they and I will talk about certain things later when the other kiddos aren’t around or when they get a little bit older. I do my best to let them talk and ask questions instead of me just dumping information at them and on them. This practice has stretched me and I often learn from my children, having my own views challenged.

My crew’s abuse stole from them the child-like freedom of naivety. We have spent these last several years digging out too much information and replacing it with age appropriate information. Innocence is something I can not give them back, there is no refund policy, once it’s gone you are forever changed.

We fight hard to restore some sense of normalcy, removing the element of shame. We fight hard to rewrite their narrative on parenting, sexuality, alcohol, smoking, trust, safety and physical boundaries. We have had to create certain rules in our home or avoided certain things to ensure that we can dwell in a place of healthy thinking.

I am so proud of my crew, they have come so far. My mama heart delights when my babies come to me with something they heard at school, bringing it to the table asking me what I know. We have been working together fighting for their innocence, seeking to bring healing to the depths of their little souls. I desire to equip them with the confidence and information they need to make choices that are life giving and soul healing. Creating for them a safe haven, a home that is built of truth, not shame.

These days as I hear for the 1,000th time, “right, Mama?” May I slow down and listen so that I may set the benchmark. May I pause for a moment before I answering knowing the power of my words. As a single parent I sometimes feel the pressure of raising my children, I am bestowing on them my thoughts, preferences and beliefs. I am creating for them new neural pathways and benchmarks, the very foundations they will build their character on. May I pause long enough to ensure that I give them information that teaches them be strong, kind, loving, brave, teachable and confident.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Family Album: Being Mama

I still am getting used to being "Mama." My heart still flutters at the title. I love being a mom, it has been the hardest, most life changing thing I have ever experienced. At times I look at my self and hardly recognize who this woman is.

I have a few more gray hairs and wrinkles, I start most day extracting myself from bed and from under the arms and legs of whoever found their way into my bed. I am late and distracted most of the time. I have hair held together by dry shampoo (cocoa powder and cornstarch) and layers of makeup I just add to in the morning. I have boogers on my shirts and sticky little hands to hold. I have traded most of my hobbies and habits for convenience and practicality.

And I wouldn't change it for the world. Being a mom has changed my entire perspective of life, love, problems, the world and priorities. This post is filled with several pictures that I love, they show sides of me that have been refined by motherhood. Moments in my life that are weighty. These moments that of refinement that go far beyond what happens in the lens (these moments captured by my dear friend Melissa).

This picture was taken one month after she came back to us.
Little did we know that we would have about 7 months before we would
have to let her go again. This picture is a perfect reflection of my heart,
I was holding on, praying "it is well..."  

This was our first family photo taken Spring 2015.
I had been mom just a 9 months. Days before this picture
was taken I celebrated my first Mother's Day, we also said goodbye
to Little One for the first time. I love this picture, it had
been a hard few days. For a moment this picture
captured us just laughing and smiling. 

This Little Beauty struggled with appropriate attachments.
Their year of foster homes before me left her unable to form
healthy attachments. This picture was taken in the midst of a 9 month
battle for her to bond. We worked hard at it, we got there but it was a
long, hard journey. I love this picture of us. 

This is adoption day. The day we made our family forever.
He was crazy running around saying hi to all of our friends.
He zoomed by me and paused a moment diving into my arms.
It was one of those moments where the weight of it all faded away.
He just soaked me up and I him, with a squeeze and
a kiss we walked into the courtroom. 

This was the moment we made it final,
the whack of the gavel and they were forever mine.
Little One was so fussy the entire time,
she wanted to only be held by me. I wonder
if she sensed what was about to happen?
It would be one of our last days together. 

I love my face in this picture, we emerged the courthouse
a forever family. The weight of fear and uncertainty was gone.
We walked out that day with the freedom of forever.
A burden we didn't realize we carried so long. 

Our adoption ceremony, we threw a huge party
with hundreds of our friends and family!
This is one of my favorite moments,
in this shot I am reading to him the vows to forever
be his Mama. Declaring over him
his new identity. 

This picture is us doing our unity exercise. Charly had
designed this in a therapy session. She took all of our
hands tracing each one inside of mine. Across
the top she wrote "family" We had been a family
for many years but knowing nothing could
take that away, changed everything. 

We had a long hard summer and this picture
 was a sweet moment of connection. Her and I
had been butting heads a lot and were struggling
to get on the same page so that sweet moment of
connection was one I was so thankful for.

I love this one. This sweet baby boy has been our healing balm.

I love this moment. When I said goodbye to here nearly 11 months
before this picture was taken. I assumed that was it. Now
this Little One is in our home every weekend.
As a Mama my lap is always full.

This is a moment that was candid and real.
We all are doing our own thing, in a big pile.
May these moments keep my eyes on what matters.
Each picture reminds me of hard, long,
seasons praying my heart out for these babies.
Being their Mama, is the greatest gift. 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Agenda

Today the courtroom agenda reads termination of parental rights, we have arrived to this bittersweet transition yet again. Addiction is not the cause of this one, this time it came down to competence. Moments after birth the nurses and doctors realized that this parent did not have the skills or resources to take care of herself let alone a baby. So on that cold December day, I got the call.

She knew I was coming, aware that she would leave the hospital empty handed, when I walked into the hospital room she began to cry. The cry of a child just 18 who was losing something she wanted. She handed him over to me barely looking up, as I gazed upon this perfect baby my heart was overwhelmed.

Moments later I was experiencing that pivotal moment of leaving the hospital with a tiny human. A human I was now in charge of. He didn't make me a mom, but this was my first hospital exit, a scene I have only seen in the movies. He did not wear a special outfit or have balloons, I did not have 9 months to be ready for this moment or to prepare for him. I had hours to ready my home and life for this perfect little boy. He came into the world in the afternoon, in a hospital room where his mother scared and confused gave birth. He came into the world while I did my grocery shopping and after school routine with my kids. He came into the world and I did not notice, that day was just another day. It would be four days before the call came, a call that forever changed my life.

The dance of foster care began, birth mom had grown this baby, bringing him into the world gave her rights. Today those rights will disappear as if they never were. The sobering paradox of her loss and my gain.

For the first month bio-mom came around, showing up for visits, awkwardly trying to dress and calm this baby that she did not know. One day she never showed up. Today is the end of the road, her rights will be gone and so begins the next chapter.

Adoption will be around the corner, his name will change and he will forever be sealed into our family. This time the journey was different, no back and forth visits, or long weekend visits with birth parents in treatment centers, trauma, chaos, stress and fear. This time we did not have the neural pathways to correct or the external trauma to heal from. This time I got to bring him home to the only home he has known.

This place is always bittersweet, the tragedy of brokenness, the loss and grief overpowered by the joy of redemption and security. Birth mom knew him the 9 months he was inside of her, he has her eyebrows, her fair skin and her red tint in his hair. I have gotten to know him these past 9 months, I know his milestones, his cries, his likes and dislikes, I know him.

This is the moment everything changes. His path has changed, the road he travels now so different from the one before. The weight of these days are felt, I carry them around forever, seeing the gift I have and aching over the loss they must feel.

This is foster care, it is hard, beautiful and bittersweet. 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

My coffee...

The coffee I drink is never hot. Autobrew setting on my pot, bless you for brewing coffee magically at 6:45 each morning. I come downstairs with a baby or two in tow, grab a mug and pour. I have a habit of letting it sit, preferring a temperature somewhere between molten lava and warm bath water. The mug usually sits untouched for about 1 hour, when I finally walk by it again and remember my liquid sunshine is within reach waiting for me. I take a sip, my coffee is never hot or really even warm.

These last 30 years on earth have taught me, if nothing else that life is seasonal. Our existence is a blip in the realm of history and eternity. We have but a moment, a season, one chance to live well. This is the mindset I keep in view in this season. Cold coffee, minimal showers, interrupted sleep, social potty breaks, pokes, boogers, “Mama, me see you” these are my realities.

It feels like yesterday I was sitting there wondering who was going to join my life and fill my bedrooms. I merely blinked and they have grown up, lost teeth, started reading and tying their shoes. Three and half years later my rooms are full (we still have one open), my days are a blurred production of diapers, chaos, homework, meltdowns and snuggles. I don’t want to blink because time doesn’t stop, or even slow down.

These past several weeks something has changed. Each day that goes by it seems I am settling in, deeper to this role of Mama. It’s been several years now but something this time feels different. I have a range of ages and different level bonds in my house right now. Babies who have been with me months and some years, some I have been there for all the firsts, others who I am still putting the pieces together.

It was a rough week for our Baby Mamas, we had two that relapsed. The longer I am here in this the more I realize how devastating addiction is. One of our mom’s wrote me, feeling such shame about it, she was afraid I would think differently of her. I sat on her message quite some time, wondering if I did. I can’t say I do, I don’t see her differently, sensing her shame my heart was filled with compassion for her. These moms miss so many sweet moments that I get to collect. They miss the first steps, words and daily snuggles, the cost of these moments, is great.

Being a foster parent has some weighty requirements, we are not replacing our birth parents but standing in the gap, advocating for them (the parents and our children). We are place holders, sometimes we turn into forever fixtures. Collecting, soaking and breathing in hope and healing. The cost is great, the risk is much but the reward that is priceless.

Yesterday at breakfast I looked our half full table, hopeful of what is coming. In this season, I want to soak it all in and for now may my coffee always be cold. May my days be full, may my to do list go undone, may my soul find peace in the beautiful chaos of it all. May I soak us in, may a collect the treasures of these little souls. Our story is still unfolding, we have chairs yet to fill, we are growing together, healing as we go. May our lives be full and our coffee cold. 

Sunday, September 3, 2017

The Perspective of Thriving.

Lately, I have been really just soaking in my little world. Just flat out thankful for what God is doing in my life, my world and my heart. My days are filled with moments of pure joy, quickly followed by sorrow and heaviness. Opening my heart and home has shown me that the beautiful and broken are present each day. These past few weeks have been really hard, I have felt I am running on empty.

We have dealt with surgery, healing, flu, teething, lots of nightmares (processing), adjustment back to school and this mama is feeling worn. Early on my parenting journey I learned of the analogy of a full cup, each part of my life pokes another hole in my cup, draining it a bit faster. To be honest these last few weeks it was as if the entire bottom of my cup was cut off. It seemed I can't keep it full, or even close.

I am weary.

The past few days I have found my extroverted self wilting as I have been house bound two days with a sick little baby. I have delighted in extra one on one time snuggling this gift of life but I have spent these last few days just aching. I have spent a lot of time unsure what I need these past couple of days, but I am aching. This past year I picked the word "THRIVE" for my mantra this year and I have to be honest, this year has thus far felt like a simple survive.

We have had a huge transitional year. I am struggling with feeling like I am thriving. I am tired of survival mode and want to get off this crazy ride but I just can't seem to find the exit. Since 2017 started, I started in a new position, I bought a house and moved us, made our house our home, joined a new church community, took on three more kiddos, bought a new vehicle and processed a lot of grief, pain, lies and insecurities, mine and theirs.

It's now September and the year is nearly gone. I have decided to shift my perspective and look through this next season with a different lens. I am processing what thriving really looks like. Thriving doesn't mean I have it all accomplished or figured out it looks more like getting up every day, pressing in. Each interaction, has the potential to plant a seed of hope for tomorrow.

Thriving is investing in the next generation. Thriving is opening my home to this community. Thriving is teaching my kids how to love well. Thriving is admitting when I can't do it all. Thriving is getting up every day, changing diapers, packing lunches and doing power poses in the car on the way to school. Thriving is doing our grocery shopping with more kids than food in the cart. Thriving is bed time snuggles, lots of kisses and loading our bus like a boss. Thriving, I am learning is not really something to be achieved or checked off but really a mindset. 

Its in the small moments of our days, do we eat the cookie or the apple? Do I practice gentleness with my kiddos or am I harsh? Do I open our doors to another? Do I press into the hard conversations? It shows up at dinner time. Loading the bus and at bedtime. Our hearts are all a bit more healed. The smiles a bit bigger. The burdens a bit lighter these days.

So if I really reflect on these past nine months, I am seeing that I (we) have in fact thrived. It just showed up differently than I thought. I was looking so hard for it that I nearly missed it.