Our Village

We really must stop being afraid to support each other..jelousy isn't a good color on you ...

Many moons ago when Bobby and I decided foster care was our calling and signed up for this crazy life, we inadvertently signed up all of our family, friends, and co-workers.

The phrase “it takes a village” is a massive understatement in our life.

Just a few of our villagers…

The first night we had the girls, my cousin came up and gave Sweet a pair of boots.  She wore them everyday to school for the next three weeks.  But more than that, she connected to Kim.

Another cousin (I have lots) and his wife passed on toys from their little girl (can we say ELSA!) and bought them Christmas gifts.

Bobby’s aunt passed on her now almost-grown daughter’s treasure princess swag.  Salty now feels that she is the princess.  And Sweet found a great friend in Bobby’s younger cousin.

 

Our parents have spoiled them every chance they get.

My boss and my boss’ boss and my boss’ boss’ boss have all let me have time off when needed. They understand.  And they support us. Bobby’s workplace too. It’s really a gift.

Bobby’s co-worker and her mother’s church group from South Alabama bought Christmas gifts for the girls.

Our best friends treat the girls like we treat their kids – like family.

A co-worker who follows my Instagram page randomly asked how the girls are doing and calls them by name – Sweet and Salty.

My point is this – all of these people are strangers.  Or they once were.  On December 4th, none of them (or us) knew these two precious girls.  But in no time at all, they were invested in their lives.  By bringing these girls into our lives, they got new friends, a KK and a Tom-Tom, an Aunt Lash, a Kim, and many more.

And through these girls, we have also gotten to know two great sets of foster parents and become invested in the lives of their three siblings.  I have two wonderful friends that I connect with in a bond that is unique to foster moms.

Our village is huge.  And a blessing.  And so very loved and appreciated.

And by reading this, you are a part of our village.  Sharing in our life – investing in the lives of the children and families we serve. Not because we deserve our village but because they do.

A December to Remember

0c6d2aadc4cb763cf997fe902ef8db8f.jpg

We officially received our renewed foster care licenses in the mail on Saturday, December 2nd and we got that fateful call the following Tuesday. The call started with “Let me tell you about these sisters.”

I picked them up that day. And we have never regretted it for a second.

“Them” is two energetic and precious girls.

Sweet is 12 – she’s crazy easy-going and never complains.  She loves music, reading, and coloring. She is mature and wise beyond her years.

She’s seriously amazing.  Strong and resilient.

Salty is 3 and her personality fills up this house.  She’s wide open all the time.  She loves chocolate milk, the soft side of her princess blanket, and Netflix kids.

High.  Maintenance.  And we don’t want her to change.

IMG_7787
The girls decorated cookies for Santa. But Santa got a little extra with Salty’s cookies…she licked every M&M before placing them .

December was a whirlwind from start to finish. After the girls came, we had a wild snow day, I graduated with my master’s degree from UAB, we had family holiday gatherings, last minute Christmas shopping (thank you Amazon!), and finally Christmas and New Years.

IMG_7528
The shed in the backyard was a nice target until hitting Bobby seemed more fun.

I have some thoughts on sharing more of our recent journey including how Santa is real, spending the first week of 2018 with the flu, and finding new friends along the way.  Stay tuned…

IMG_0202
Having them at graduation was extra special.

Renewed

So we took a break.  After the three little ones left, we needed a break.  Needed to breathe.  But that break also coincided with some potentially big changes in our lives. After a job opportunity came up, we thought we were leaving Alabama.  But sometimes things happen that you never saw coming…God’s plans we will say.

Long story short, we spent the summer selling our house and buying a new one (about 5 miles away). Late summer and fall brought job changes when my office was reorganized and I was promoted.  And then this fall marked my last semester in graduate school. Whew.  It’s been a hectic few months full of changes.

But about a month ago we did a thing.  We contacted DHR and started the renewal for our process for foster care license.

And today we were approved for renewal.

What does that mean?  It means we are opening our house…and our hearts…back up.

Over the past few months while we have been on our foster care break, we have researching adoption. Our desire to have our child has been overwhelming recently. After exploring and even attending an event, we really felt led back to foster care.  We know that we have a place in our family that will be filled from foster care.

The goal of foster care is to reunite families.  And that is our goal too. But the truth is that some children can’t return home and that is when we will be there.

So now we are renewed. We are back and feel strongly that foster care is where we are supposed to be.

The Big Three and Big Changes

I haven’t written in a while.  I was avoiding it.  I knew that an update was needed and I would have to start with the Big Three leaving us. We were somewhat prepared for the heartbreak that would come when they left because we had had children come and go before.  But these kids.  The suddenly quiet and empty house. It was overwhelming. Missing them was hard at times. But having the opportunity to love on them for 3 months was so worth it.

p23.jpg

They left early on a Monday morning. And we didn’t want to come home that evening. The first few nights were hard. As the weeks and months have passed, we created our new normal. But every now and then, a memory or a photo sends us straight back…breaking our hearts a little bit all over again.

But that is foster care. Children come in to your life and you fall in love.  Because they need it. And when they leave, even for good reasons, it can be devastating. For us.  For our family.  For our friends.  Anyone who met the big three fell in love with them.

Even as I type this now, I tear up. I miss that sweet girl with so much sass, and that independent baby boy who preferred to live in diapers only, and of course the hilarious middle brother who sometimes chose to speak only in whisper.

I thank God for letting us meet them. For breaking our hearts for them because they were worth it.  For showing us the victories and the flaws of foster care.

Sweet B and her love of everything. She loved writing, playing house with her unwilling brothers, and curling up in Bobby’s lap to watch tv.

Middle man H and his hilarious obsession with Batman and that adorable wit. One of my favorite memories was eating dinner at a restaurant…when the waiter asked his name he didn’t skip a beat and answered “Batman.”

And my precious baby J who loved wearing mine and his sister’s shoes. How excited he would be to see you at the end of the day and run wide open to hug you.

In the time since the big three left us, we have had a lot of changes.  We put ourselves on hold with foster care to see where our life was taking us. Long story short, we put our house up for sale and it had a contract in 12 days. Now we close in 5 days. After contemplating a move to 280, we became sane again and put in an offer on a nice home in Moody. We hope to close this week as well.

As for a return to foster care, we decided that our hearts want our own child so we are now in adoption mode. Having children in your home is challenging and wonderful. And heartbreaking in so many ways. We are still involved with the foster care community but for the moment we are focused on waiting to meet our own child.  And creating our new home….which is another post entirely.

 

Three times the love

Three weeks we welcomed three tiny humans into our home and our lives have been forever changed. We have seen love in a whole new way the past few weeks.

Agreeing to take these three young children has been the most fun, exhausting, exciting, scary, fulfilling, and craziest thing we have ever done. Our quiet, and basically organized, home has been turned upside and sideways.   It has been the most eye opening experience to-date.

But we were made for this.

img_4417
Bobby…the human jungle gym

In that moment when a social worker asks if you will take a placement, you have so many emotions and fears and your head hurts from all of the questions your brain is throwing at you. Sometimes you evaluate and you say no. And sometimes, you take a giant leap of faith and say yes.  This time, we said yes.

img_4356
Playing…she was the mommy and he was the baby.

So meet the crew…

The Princess, or as Bobby sometimes calls her “the Informant,” is a four year old doll.  Seriously.  She’s adorable.  And she’s bossy and likes to tell you exactly what her brothers are up to.  Her favorite things are coloring and asking us “why?” about everything.  She’s smart and inquisitive.  Her imagination is huge and fun. She is not a morning girl. Her favorite colors are pink and purple. If it is sparkly, girly, or princess-like, she’s game. She is a big girl and let’s you know it.

Our little “Muscle” is three.  He’s the middle one – so much the younger brother and big brother all rolled into one.  When he watches tv, the entire house could fall down around him unnoticed. He gets crazy bed head and looks completely adorable in footie pajamas.  His favorite word is “alright.”  And I love to hear him say it.  If he is the first one up, and he usually is, he walks through the house turning every single light on.

The baby is our constant court jester and the “Brain.” He’s crazy smart and might be the most chill baby ever. He loves to give kisses but he equally loves to pretend to be mad at you.  He’s the one at the daycare who is so excited to see you that he runs over other kids to get to you and love on you.  This kid is probably our best eater…and he can put away some food.  He has an obsession with shoes…his, his sister’s, Bobby’s…it doesn’t matter…if there is a shoe in his sight, his foot is going in it.

After these few weeks, full of new adventures (and learning) and LOTS of sickness, we have found a routine. Because there are three of them, our house is loud and chaotic. But these are amazingly sweet and loving kids so it has been somewhat simple to create a routine for what works best for us and them.

But most importantly, beyond the chaos, beyond the 75 loads of laundry we do now, beyond the 25 packs of wipes that are never within reach, and beyond the fact that we went from a family of two to five, we really couldn’t see ourselves any different at the moment. Our house is full of love and laughter. There is nothing better than coming in from work and seeing them all excited to see you.

And that is really what it is all about – the love.

It’s all about the love. When we tuck them all in at night, we hear (from oldest to youngest…) “I love you so much, “I wuv you,” and “wuvooo.” And when the morning comes, the Princess wants to snuggle, the Muscle wants you to wake up with him, and that sweet baby is always in the best mood.

And that right there is worth every single crazy, chaotic (sometimes sleepless) moment.

All the love.

z1
So much love

The Holidays

I have started this post about three times to really get my point across about Christmas with foster care.  I started talking about family traditions then experiencing loss and then trying to be funny.  Now let’s just shoot straight…being a kid in the foster care system has got to be the strangest experience on earth.  There is really no good comparison and I cannot even begin to put myself in their shoes.

z1

So here is a brief summary of our first foster care Christmas.

We had a young man named Big Red with us for the holidays. An incredibly charming young man who knows endless facts about endless topics and pretty much lives and breaths to play sports, Big Red has been really fun to get to know recently.

This was my first time to have to wake a child up on Christmas morning.

Memories flooded me of being that kid who had to hold my brother’s hand while dad captured us on that enormous video camera. I didn’t think fast enough to make Big Red endure something similar.

After a few minutes, a sleepy mess of red hair came out and sat in the floor under the tree.  He carefully opened all of his presents and examined them all. So precise and meticulous with each item.z2

I can’t really remember what my brother or I asked for at 13 but I’m fairly sure my brother has never ever asked for clothes or shoes.  Big Red LOVES fashion and shoes so he was rewarded with clothes and two new pair of Nike shoes…he can tell you style and all kinds of other random information about them.  Oh and more sports items than he could handle. We had Christmas morning with my family and lunch with Bobby’s family, where Big Red ended up with even more items. He had so many new jackets that he couldn’t choose…not to mention it was 70 degrees and he wore shorts on Christmas day.

z3

We ended the day with our closest friends (their kids call us Aunt Mel and Uncle Bob…those kinds of friends). At this point, I think my nephew wants to grow up to be just like Red.

It truly meant a lot that our family included Big Red so seamlessly, especially considering many of them had not even met Big Red and didn’t know if they would have the opportunity to see him again.

For our first experience, it was a pretty laid back one. Good memories were made all day. Big Red handled the crazy day as chill as he normally is.  His only real comment about the day was “we are eating again?”  Yep, kid.  We eat for every occasion.

 

A Roller Coaster

Before beginning this post I searched for a fun roller coaster to use as a graphic to describe our ride in foster care but I failed to find one that truly shared my feelings.  Apparently they don’t build roller coasters where the track goes upside down and then disappears. And they don’t build roller coasters without proper seat belts or harnesses.  And they don’t build roller coasters that can randomly skid to a halt or go from zero to 543 miles per hour in 0.2 seconds.  And they don’t build roller coasters where your spirit is crushed while simultaneously feeling completeness, where you are both joyful and queasy.

They probably don’t build them like that because no one would ride them.

The past month has been that roller coaster ride.  The one that takes you up to the highest peek only to remove the track completely. There have been moments of joy and hopefulness followed quickly by moments of complete doubt. Where sweet moments are accompanied by a queasy stomach.

In the last month I stood in front of a judge and was so proud as I told him about the Tiny One. And I walked away knowing that Bobby and I did our job.

In the last month I stood in front of my mirror and thought “how can I parent this child?”
And I walked away wondering if Bobby and I are in over our heads.

In the last month I talked about planning a family trip for the new year. And I felt happy.

In the last month I talked about whether I could effectively parent a child. And I felt failure.

Roller.  Coaster.

I say all of this not to complain or whine about foster care.  This is a life that I was called to.  I say all of this to explain how vastly different each child can be. About the only thing two children in foster care have in common is the fact that they are in foster care and in my home.

Things that work with one child might not worth with another.  Some kids are like me – the mere thought of my dad getting on to me was enough to make me behave. And others have no fear (or respect) for rules.  They are intent on testing their boundaries.

I have heard that foster children are “broken” or the foster care system is “broken.” And the real truth is that these children are given impossible situations where they are expected to understand and come to terms with their own roller coaster ride – the one where they are flying high with no restraints and no ending in sight. Loop after loop.

After a week of high speeds and near-constant loops, our roller coaster is now coasting. What’s next?  Who knows…because remember – the track disappears at will.

I drove to work last week and prayed, as I very often do, about the ones in our home. I cried out of frustration, yelled out of not understanding, and pleaded for clarity. I was disheartened. But as He often does, God showed me once again who is in control.

Image result for Philippians 4:6-7

Image result for Proverbs 3:5-6

A foster friend told me that sometimes we are only meant for part of the story. Our influence and presence may not be for the long haul and we may not be the one to help a child get off their roller coaster. Whether for one day or one year, we are meant to meet these children…in their space…not ours.  We are the ones that have to deal with discomfort and feelings of inadequacy or doubt so that maybe for one minute, that child doesn’t feel those things.

Sometimes in foster care, you get to see completion.  You get to see their entire foster journey come to a close.  And other times, you are only a stop on their own journey.  As foster parents, it is our job to jump on.  To instill in them love, respect, hope. Whether they push you away or they firmly embrace you, you have to push forward.

Despite the roller coaster we have been on lately, I am thankful that God chose us for the journeys we have been a part of.  We have learned a lot.  And at the end of the day, we know that for some reason He chose us to do this….two completely inexperienced and unprepared people. So I guess even though I’m scared of heights and absolutely hate feeling out of control, I’m glad I know who has built our roller coaster.