Foster Care Changed Me

There’s nothing quite like foster care. To raise a child that’s not yours by birth. Having to get out of your introvert bubble and dealing with people in your life and in your home. Powers that be examining every aspect of your life from your income to your driving record to what medicines you take. The invasion goes on and on. I get it, it’s important that no child slips through the cracks of the system. It sadly happens much more often that in should. So we don’t complain. At least out loud. We speed clean our homes, spiff up our children and smile and welcome yet another stranger in our homes. Sometimes with very little notice. I got a call once and set up the appointment and honestly could not remember who I set the appointment with. I had a name but no memory of who they were. Add special needs to the mix and you get even more people. Therapists, home health, Community options, public school teachers, and the list is ongoing.

We literally give our blood (blood tests). We give our homes, our hearts, our tears, and our laughter. And if we’re really lucky, that child gets to stay with us. Two of our four placements stayed. They were adopted. They became ours. Forever. After going through all the turmoil, the months, even years, of living in a state of unknown. Living with your life, not your own, and with very little control. Having to drop your life at a moments notice for a visit, a court hearing, a house visit, and any other number of necessary interruptions. Days of sitting in a tiny waiting room, waiting for a relative that never shows up. Hours of waiting in a court house for yet another no-show. Not being able to take a trip without permission. Many many many nights up in your thoughts, your worst nightmares, and just maybe daring to dream. We do this. For years.

Foster care changed me. It changed me to my core. I am not longer the passive mother I used to be. I used to think what everyone’s opinion of me, that is somehow mattered. I became stronger than I ever imagined I would have to be. I have my ducks in a row at all times. I have binders and binders of court records, visitation schedules, missed visits, no shows, medical records, and in the back I have two final orders of adoptions. In those paper it says that no matter what happens these two children are mine. NOTHING can change the adoption. NOBODY can dictate to me what to do with my children.

Foster care changed me. It changed my heart. To weep for children without a home. To mourn a child I raised for eight months, a baby who called me mommy. To mourn the loss of my first daughter and her blue eyes and curls. To rejoice when we were told by phone “he’s yours forever.” To be able to march into any doctors office and never have to hear “you’re not her real mother” when demanding a test.

Foster care changed me. Most I feel is for the better. My children have a level of compassion they would not have had without it. I’ve given speeches at churches overcoming my fear of public speaking. I have a voice for the voiceless even if that voice shakes when spoken.

Foster care changed me. I never knew what happened in court. I’d never even been a courtroom. I now know behind the scenes. I know what a GAL is, what a CASA worker is, I know the lawyers who love us and would defend us to the ends of the earth. I know the judges who have praised us for what I’m doing and will always be on our side. All I can say is that those two children are our gifts, we’re the ones who are blessed for having them. I know social workers who rave about us. I know a list of people who would vouch for our family.

Foster care changed me. I made friends with people I never would have any other way. I’ve been out of my comfort zone so many times, I can’t remember what my comfort zone looks like anymore. I’ve gotten the immense joy in picking my own family members. I’ve quietly rooted for birth families, relishing when they make good choices, if not for my child, then at least for the other children they have. I’m cried if it fails. I’ve had to share my child with those who share their blood. That is hard, but it’s what’s right for them. I’ve had to suppress comments, knowing they mean no harm. I’ve hugged them, laughed with them, commiserated with them, mourned with them, I’ve been angry with them, bewildered by choices. And I love them despite all of this.

Foster care has changed me. I have the fiercest mama bear protection over my kids. After all they’ve been through, I silently dare someone to mess with that. I would defend my children until my last breath. If anyone tried to hurt them, physically or emotionally, well let’s just hope they don’t. I know what it is like to say goodbye, I know the hurt, the empty place in my heart that no one can fill. There will never be another baby J, there will never be another Little Miss. I was blessed to have time with them, to share my love with them. I have seen my boys cry at having to say goodbye over and over during transitions. I know it made their hearts softer. These five children are mine. They are ours. They share our last name. We are a family and if anybody tried to mess with that, a mother bear would look like a kitten next to me. I sincerely hope nothing like that ever happens. It would be a mistake to all involve.

See what I mean, foster care changed me. There’s nothing like raising and loving a child you didn’t get the honor of bearing. “A child born to another woman calls me mommy. The depth of that tragedy and the magnitude of that privilege are not lost on me.” Jody Landers It could be switched to daddy as well. It’s not just me in this journey. My husband has shared in all of these emotions and supported me through many of them. If I’m a mama bear, he’s a daddy lion. No one messes with our cubs!

So if you’re considering foster care, please know it’s not easy. It’s messy and sad and causes more heartbreak that you thought possible. Kids are not in foster care because they came from happy healthy families. Something happened. Things happened that horror stories can compare with. We are broken while trying our best to heal them. It’s not easy and it WILL change you. But it will be for the better, and in the mean time you will fall in love and even if they are only with your for a little while, they will know that love. And it will stay with them. If you get the miracle of adoption, it will change you even more. You will never see the world the same again. Rose colored glasses are shoved in a drawer. The world of foster care is hard. So hard. But in the end whether they stay or go, it’s worth it. And if they stay, you become a family forever and nothing can ever change that.

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Kids and Differences, Voice, Spring

I teach a preschool co-op class of 3-4 year olds. Carlee comes to class with me and sits in her high chair near the tables. She does not talk or participate. I was worried about the other children, how they’d react to her. It’s been amazing watching them this year. They don’t ever question why she’s different. I’m not sure they even notice. She is older than most of them, and they know that. Yet, they talk to her every morning. They pick up her toys when the fall. They treat her like the other kids. They notice when she laughs and laughs with her. They rub her head if she falls asleep. It’s incredible to watch. I’m not sure when children change, when picking on someone is funny, but these kids, oh their hearts. I pray they don’t change, that they keep their hearts full of love as they grow up.

Carlee is amazing. She’s doing so well lately. We had her seizure medicine changed again. They seem under control for now. That’s always the case, until her body is used to the medicine and then we up the dose again.

Her verbalization is really coming along. She’s started forced breathing “ha ha ha”. It’s the first step into forcing words out of her. Her daddy has been working with her every night doing repetitive sounds, she really responds to him. We’ve heard “babababababa” and “ahahahahah” She’s seemingly responding to him, to repeat back what he’s saying. There still aren’t any actual words, but it seems very close. She opens her mouth and even mouths words, but the actual sound hasn’t come out yet. I’m pretty sure she’s just going to blow us all away one day and spit out a long sentence.

We’re dreaming of Spring here in Virginia. This winter has been long, gray, dark, and cold. We’ve gotten more snow this winter than in the last five years put together. We’re on the coast, and we are not used to this. We’ve had a few beautiful days, perfect days, and then the next day it snows. It’s surreal. 67 outside with winter storm warnings. I’m praying that winter is on the way out. And soon. Carlee on the other hand, she’s rocking some spring colors!

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The Love of Family

I know this is mainly a blog about Carlee, but I do have four other children :). Our youngest child came to us through the miracle of adoption through foster care. His story is cruel. We have no contact with his birth mother (if you can call her that) or her family. Matthew came to us at 35 days old and there was no doubt he was meant to be ours. When he was about six months old, the investigators in his case found out that the man we thought was his father, was not. We then found out his birth father wanted him. We did a three month transition to his new home. For his privacy and theirs, I won’t talk about what happened, but two weeks after we said goodbye, Matthew came back to us. Thirteen months later his adoption was finalized and he was ours forever. But that doesn’t mean his birth family vanished. The things that happened were not meant to harm Matthew. I know they would still throw down their lives for him. We entered into an open adoption with his birth father. I didn’t know that that relationship would give me the little sister I always wanted. Matthew biological aunt and I have grown very close. We claim each other as sisters. Matthew is the spitting image (what does that phrase even mean) of his Uncle. His aunt and uncles and cousins are getting ready to move across the country. I had them all over to my house last night for a birthday/going away party. As I watched Matthew play and run with his cousins, as I watched my oldest son fall in love with the newborn baby cousin, as I watched Matthew’s aunt and uncle play with him, my heart felt at peace. It’s not easy to maintain contact with birth families, there can be drama and heartache, but I know for Matthew it’s the best option. I saw his family loving him. We are his family, there is no doubt about that. I am his mother, my husband is his daddy and my kids are his siblings. My brother is his uncle and my parents are his Nanu and Grandaddy. But we’re not the only ones. His has people. People who love him, people who look like him. People who gave him his beautiful blue eyes and blonde hair. People who gave him his nose. He shares their blood. It’s hard to share my son, I’m so protective of him and his story, but they make it easy. I know they love him and that is all. There are no expectations, just the love of one little boy. The love of this one little boy has brought two families so close together. This one little boy has given me the little sister that I’ve always dreamed of. This one little boy has brought them a touch of the joy that he brings us all the time. I’m sad they’re leaving. They are doing what’s best for their family and I can’t argue with that. I hate to see them go, but I’m so blessed to have them in our lives. A child can never have to much love and this one little boy is covered in it.

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Out to Eat

 

Going out to eat with toddlers/preschoolers is enough to try anyone’s patience. Taking Carlee out to eat is a whole new experience. We’ve nicknamed her “Viper”. When she sees something she wants, she strikes. As fast as a snake. It’s actually quite funny when it’s not dangerous. She’s been known to dive hand first into a bowl of hot soup. When we’re home, it’s easy to keep her safe and away from hot food. At a restaurant, oh it’s an adventure. First we have to move all the silverware away. Then the cups get put in the middle. Oh, shoot, she went and grabbed a tortilla chip. Then the waiters bring drinks. They unknowingly put the cup right in front of us, which is correct. Carlee goes straight for it. We’ve had a few spilled sodas. Then the food comes. The “hot plate” gets put right in front of us. Swiper no swiping! She strikes and goes for the hot food. We will never ever exclude Carlee from our activities. We want to expose her to all the things a three year old should see. But it makes for some fun nights out. Now for some fun shots of Little Miss Viper.

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God’s Handiwork

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you, I have called you by name; you are Mine.” Isaiah 43:1

To be honest, most days I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing. I get up and I don’t know how Carlee’s day will go. Will there be seizures? Will she fall? Will she be happy? Every morning is a mystery. She’s usually quite happy getting out of bed. Sometime between her morning diaper and getting into high chair, she settles into her mood for the day. For someone who likes their day planned to the minute, this is nerve wracking.

Then there’s the day itself. Did she get enough one on one? Did I do the compressions on both sides? Did she get enough calories? How many seizures did she have today? Did we get through all our school work? Was I mom enough for my other four children? Was I wife enough for my husband? Did I spend one minute alone with myself and God?

I don’t always have the answers when I lay down. I question myself into the night. Carlee wasn’t born to me. I didn’t have any time to prepare for what was coming. I have to believe in God’s handiwork, that He crafted me to be her mother, their mother. I don’t know why my babies had to go through what they did to make it to me, but they did, they’re mine. And I want to be enough for them all. I don’t know why Carlee has to suffer. I can’t put it in a cliche, look at all the lives she touching. I’d rather her be pain free and have a normal childhood then touching strangers lives. Even touching my life. She’s taught me more about doctors and specialist and medicine and therapies than I ever thought I know. I’d trade all the knowledge for seizure free days and words from her lips. But there is truth in it. I have more compassion for other parents than I ever used to. I see the world differently. My kids see the world differently. I have more patience than I did my first ten years of parenting. I’ve met amazing mothers, amazing families. Yet, I’d give it all away for her to be pain free.

So I ramble. I write. I research. I vent to online groups. I pray for a cure. I stress. I have anxiety attacks. Then I dust myself off. Do a work out. Doodle a sketch. Read a book. I try to sleep and I wake up and do it all over again. Never knowing what that day will bring.

I trust in this:

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus, to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10

I don’t know what He saw in me, in my family. But He prepared us long before we knew she was coming. Long before we knew anything about special needs. He prepared us. prepared our way. He knows the ending. And it’s good.

 

She’s So Good

We volunteer at our church’s Clothes Closet each month. It’s a great mission the women have started. In 1998 they took the tiny old part of our church and turned it into small clothing store. Expect you don’t pay for anything. People can come once a month and get free clothes, housewares, shoes, etc. It’s been really nice getting to know some of the people who come every month.

The big boys take Matthew to the nursery and watch him so I can work. Carlee stays with me. She used to sit in her stroller then in her car seat. Today, I had the bright idea to take her high chair. She was secure and up high so she could see everyone. She was having a great time. She was laughing at people (and trying to eat their strings). She was making eye contact. I kept getting the same comment over and over. “She’s so good.”

One particular lady said it quite a few times. She rubbed her head and said how pretty she was. And then she said “That’s good parenting right there, for her to sit there so quietly and well behaved.” I smiled and said “thank you.” My heart tore open! Her sitting there silently has absolutely nothing to do with my parenting skills. She can’t talk. She doesn’t talk. She does sit there quietly. She seems well behaved. I know this woman meant no harm, she didn’t know. But, I wish I could get my 3 year old to tell me “no” “I don’t want to” or anything else of a defiant nature. Anything at all.

She is a sweet girl. I know I am blessed by her good nature. I know some children who could never sit there for two hours and be happy about it. I’m very thankful she’s a content child. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. But I wish for words instead of silence.

Self Care

We were snowed in today. Again. Yesterday was 67 and I was able to get out on Main Street with a friend and walk. Today it snowed four inches. I am over winter.

When we started foster care our first placement was such a joy. When he left, we had a baby girl. A sweet little girl who screamed bloody murder whenever I held her. She much preferred my husband. The screaming and her leaving caused me to end up in the ER twice with a “heart attack”. It was anxiety. I’ve been dealing with that issue for three years.

It’s mostly under control. I have learned that I need self care to keep the attacks under control. This winter has been dragging on and on and on. It’s been hard to get out and walk. With Carlee’s appointments, the snow, homeschooling, being a wife and mother,  I’ve been running myself into the ground. Last week I decided I had had enough. I started walking/jogging and while I’d never win The Hunger Games or out run a zombie, it’s a start. Taking care of myself is imperative to taking care of my family. My Carlee needs me at my best. Especially since we’ve been spending every night this week waking the middle of the night. I know a lot of special needs moms need ‘me’ time. It’s not selfish. It revives me and makes me a better person for them. We all need to cut ourselves some slack.

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