Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Baby Z. A little post cause I'm a little tired.

We are four weeks into life with baby Zander. He is hairy and tiny and beloved. He looks like a kitten when he's just waking and when he's tired he curls into a heap on my chest. Here is an interesting tid bit: transitioning a fifth child in = easiest transition. So far. But as I said, we are only 4 weeks in and he sleeps about 20 hours a day. Also, his four waking hours are mostly during the darkest part of the night so my judgment could be suffering from sleep deprivation.

I remember when my oldest son, Haven, was born how long those early weeks were. I remember dreading the night because I knew I would be tired but would not sleep enough. It isn't that now I love to be woken a thousand times per night, but I know for sure that this phase is short. It is only a matter of months until he will sleep for longer periods and then start to eat solid foods. I know this because this is my fourth time doing this. But you know, when I was a new mom to infant Haven if somebody told me, "Oh it goes fast. And PS, you'll do this with 3 more infants" I might have flipped out a little bit. Because when my mom told me "it'll get a little easier once he is 6 weeks old" I was 95% sure I would not survive the first 6 weeks of parenthood.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Everybody's Hungry Every Day

Today I want to talk about food, because I am a food person. I just finished a lunch of spicy corn chowder and spinach quiche, really enjoyed it and just want to share my excitement. I have some ideas, so here you go.

I find everybody has their homemakery thing that they really enjoy and are good at. I love to shop for, prepare and eat food, food and more food. Even when I'm not pregnant. Food is the thing I mostly keep up with on a consistent basis. It could be because we literally have to eat to survive that this has become such a priority. Or it could be that Dave and I both enjoy it and were raised by parents who love cooking and eating. Either way, it's central.

Here is what I do:

1. Plan. I am not naturally a detail person, but motherhood has forced me to hone this skill. I much prefer to go with the flow and hope for the best. Unfortunately this leads to a lot more stress than planning does, so I've tried to plan things more. If I get myself to 4:45 PM without a pre-established plan for dinner I can promise one of two things will happen: everyone will eat plain pasta or we will drop fifty bucks on take out. Either are fine occasionally, but terrible night after night. My plan includes a list of 7-10 dinners for which we have all of the ingredients. Then it takes about 20 seconds to decide what to make when it is time to start cooking.

2. Shop online. I just have to force myself to sit down and do this every 7-10 days. I use Shoprite but there are different regional options. For $6 I can select my groceries online then pick them up at the grocery store door. I guarantee I save that $6 and more by not wandering around the store and throwing all kinds of random, junky crap into my cart.

I save additionally by checking out what is on sale, then creating dinners based on that. Which brings me to the next step.

3. Use the interwebs and your kids for inspiration!! Most people have several go-to recipes that are tasty and quick and they make over and over and over. Wonderful. We have those too. I like to try new things or even just a new take on the same old thing, so I often use online recipes.

So, maybe your favorite fish is on sale this week. Google a recipe, add all of the ingredients to your virtual cart, and boom. Done. I usually email myself a list of links to the recipes I decide to try. This saves me from running to the store and spending $85 on something for dinner and then a "couple" other things we could use.

For a shortcut on the menu plan, sometimes I ask the kids or Dave what they'd like to have for dinner that week. It takes some of the thinking work off of my plate and the kids love when it's time for the dinner they chose. I can get 5 ideas out them in no time.

In all it might take me an hour or 90 minutes to plan and order our groceries for a week or so. It alleviates a ton of weeknight stress, so to me it's worth it.

I guess it's really pretty simple but it makes the craziest time of my day (4-6 PM) a little, tiny bit more sane. Plus, for all my hard work, I get to eat food I like.

Have any tips to add?


Saturday, March 05, 2016

When I was pregnant with Haven I kept a weekly blog. It's so cute! Maiya also got her own blog, but with fewer entries. Probably because while she was no less amazing, pregnancy was less surprising and new. My pregnancy with Tristan got a few entries on the blog I already had (this one) and Baby #4 has had only a few references. So. This one is for me and him. Because in years to come, I'll be so glad it's here.

It is 5:00 AM and I'm awake because there are so many heartbeats in this house and one of them loves to wake me up at least once per night. Usually it's our cat. Tonight it was first Tristan and then our cat. After putting Tristan on the potty, in my bed, I fed the dang cat, put him outside and was then wide awake. So I lay in bed awake, pressed between two snoring dudes who both seemed to think the whole king size bed was for them, for an hour. I finally gave up and let Tristan and Dave enjoy their rest while I found something else to do.

Tonight Dave and I are going to a party which starts at 7:00 PM, which is exactly my typical wind down time. So this early wake up call might turn out to be even more of a bummer. But maybe I'll get a nap. I can't even type that with a straight face. I will not get a nap.

This pregnancy has been the easiest and the hardest. With every pregnancy I experience new weird things, all of which I decline to list. This time, however, it is the itchiest skin you ever did feel. I am covered in scratches. However, I have not had sciatic pain and I did not get that linea nigra (yes, I had to google that, no I'm not that technical - it is the dark line down the belly). I am generally uncomfortable and whining is my main mode of communication. As the doctor flatly told me: "everything has been stretched out multiple times, so it's going to be less comfortable. Stop getting pregnant if you don't want pregnancy symptoms." Okay, okay, he didn't say those exact words.

This pregnancy is similar to my pregnancy with Maiya because sitting for long stretches of the day is not an option. Energetic toddlers are not big fans of sitting mothers. This time around we have 2-year-old O with us (our precocious, I meant to say precious, foster daughter) and there is no slowing her down. She thinks it's hysterical when I call her and she runs in the opposite direction and the term "quiet hands" turns her hands manic. She loves to find the markers the older kids leave out and she can climb better than this guy:




So, I should probably thank her that I've only gained 30 pounds. Because the way I've been eating, I deserve a whole lot more. Fortunately she doles out a whole lot of energy and needs to refuel for 2 hours every afternoon, so I have a built-in rest time for myself and Tristan. We sit on the couch together. I read and like all of your posts on Facebook while he watches shows I would have NEVER let 3-year-old Haven watch (like Phineas and Ferb).

Another thing that has made this pregnancy easier is that I have help. I have three little servants who do whatever I ask them to without complaining and they do it impeccably. Okay. What, nobody believes me?! Okay, fine, they complain and make faces and do it halfway, but they are WAY more helpful than they were when I was pregnant with Tristan four years ago. For example, they vacuum and clean the bathrooms. Which is exactly why my bathrooms and floors are not clean an ideal way, but more of a theoretical way.

All of this to say that this pregnancy went real fast. Every time I complain that I have so much longer to go, a week or two fly by. The last time we had a sonogram the tech guessed that this is a big baby. Each of mine have been gradually bigger, so we'll see! More to come...

Friday, November 06, 2015

a really chill update because it's the chill time of day

As I put away size 3T clothes, it's hard to imagine Tristan is too big for them! It's fun to think about another little guy wearing some of them in a few years. I still don't think it all goes fast, per se, but it does go. Crazy days lead to beautiful memories. Our minds are kind to us in that way.

As we get ready for a fifth (!!!) child to join our family I realize we are moving away from Regular Size family to Big Family. I notice this most at dinner time and laundry time. We've grown out of meals like one pizza or one box of pasta (we heart gluten). Some of my recipes just don't cut it without the addition of toast at the last minute. As for laundry, well. Come on over, and we can work on it together. I'll make coffee.

Recently Maiya told me, "You're not the kind of person who likes to work." I believe she was referring to the fact that I am no longer working for pay (or so I hope). I left my counseling job when the office moved to a different town. I've been away from that wonderful place of solitude and productivity job for almost a whole year. I miss it, I thought I was good at it but it just does not fit into our life right now. Someday I'll go back and I'll have all this experience and wisdom and real-life knowledge and I'll be a lot more effective than I was before. (These are the kind promises I make to myself.) The truth is, that is one job I loved to work. I shall show my daughter just that at a later date.

Right now life is about pacing myself. Finally, as I prepare to bring a fourth baby into the world I realize the importance of rest. Yesterday I recited the events of my day to Dave, including, "Then I sat on the couch." He said, "You sat on the couch!?" I could not tell if he was incredulous or if it was mock-judgement. Our 2-year-old foster daughter naps religiously and Tristan's afternoons are often filled with his own nap or afternoon preschool, so this time of day is prize time. It is quiet. I barely answer the phone. I mostly eat and watch TV and GROW A PERSON. The girl who went to grad school, worked full time and grew a baby in her twenties is all grown up and she's learned the importance of rest and solitude. As the weather of the family, taking good care of myself is important. It's only taken me almost 9 years of motherhood to realize that one freak out from mom can turn a perfectly good day into a zone of tension and misery. So I rest. I catch up on Madame Secretary. I drink molasses milk and eat Halloween candy all by myself and I love it.

I recently heard a quote by Chuck Swindoll about the holiness of rest and recuperation. I don't mean to misquote him but that is the part I filed away. Whether that's what he meant or not, it is definitely holy when I can handle the drama and the intensity my family can provide without totally losing my you-know-what. I've tried losing my you-know-what and it kind of freaks everybody out, and that's not my goal.

Anyway, this is how I have decided to transition to Big Family. By chilling out. Taking everything but the family down a notch. As Dave Ramsey says, "Learn to say no. It's liberating." So if I say no to you or I don't volunteer it isn't because I'm so busy and crazy I can't get myself together to do it. Okay, that could totally be the case. But it is ALSO because I'm making this gang of six-almost-seven my priority. These days are filled with real beauty and I have to assume someday I will think it went too fast.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

We did that hard thing and we survived

Most people don't do foster care because of the whole "good bye" thing. Nobody wants to give parent-level investment and then say good bye. I can tell you from first hand experience, moving a child out of your home is simply unnatural.

But we did it. Our girls left and now they've been gone five whole months; almost as long as they were with us! The other day we completed our re-certification, an annual meeting during which our home was rechecked for safety -- yes, smoke detectors still working, we still have empty beds, we have not adopted an exotic animal. We said, yes, it was crazy but we'll do it again!

"How was your first year as foster parents?" Our home finder asked me. It was a kind and open question and I just unloaded all of the good things that happened to us. It was our privilege. That's not pious BS; months after their departure I see what a mark they've left. I see that we were changed. We gained so much.

For example, when I was in the car alone today actual tears came to my eyes as Meghan Trainor came through the radio singing, "I'm all about that bass, bout that bass, no treble." I can remember when our girls first sang that song together, out of nowhere but in unison as sisters sometimes do, and my anxiety spiked. My babies are hearing a song about big butts and boys liking a little more bootie. How do I handle this? Shut it down? What will that say to the girls? But if I allow it...? Ohlordhavemercymakeitstop.

I was intense. I really like to do things exactly right; sometimes gray is a hard place for me. (I can hear my husband saying, "sometimes?") Fast forward a bunch of ups and downs and lessons learned and last week All About that Bass came on the radio. The kids and I sang that chorus loud and proud and giggling. Not because we are all about that bass, per se, but because it reminds us of two little girls who came into our family, messed us up, changed us, and then left.

Not only did I loosen up about songs regarding butts, but our kids' eyes were opened to people who are just different than us. One of our kids said, "When I first saw her, I wasn't sure if I could like her because she looked so different than me. Then I learned she's just like me." You know what, people? That's an invaluable lesson. That is a lesson about race that I couldn't teach. That was our benefit. That is a clear and definitive gain for our family.

Less definitive are the ways that we grew relationally. I'd like to say I have more patience, but I'm not sure it's that. It is more like when your skin is really, super stretched out and then just never quite holds onto things like it did pre-stretch. I was really stretched emotionally and the aftermath is that I just can't bother to get quite so worked up about every little thing. It's a little easier to let my family be people, it's a little easier to see where I should tune in and when to let it go. A little, I still have a long way to go and everyone I live with can vouch for that. But I consider moving in the right direction progress.

"It was so hard, it was really intense and someday when I look at a picture of all 5 kids together, I know I'll think they are all so little! That was crazy!" They were 2, 3, 4, 6 and 7! By the way, I happen to know lots of moms who could handle that many at those ages forever like it ain't no thing, and my hat is off to you and I'll bring you dinner sometime. So, I laughed during our meeting this week. You know, 5 months later, now that I know that they are doing okay with their family and so are we, I can laugh. I can see clearly it was more of a who-helped-who situation than it was us rescuing them.

Really good things come from really hard places. It's easy to let difficult things harden you, but if you lean in and let them soften you instead, goodness can happen. This is not where I pitch foster parenting to you, unless your one and only reason to say no is cause you "just couldn't" say goodbye. You could - you've said goodbye to people before and you will again. We did it and you totally can too!

This is where I pitch life to you. There will be times when you struggle, but down the pike you will check out your rear view mirror and I bet your heart will swell with gratitude for the journey. You will see how far you've come, you will see your muscles are stronger and your heart is softer and you are more flexible. You survived that hard thing and you are better because of it.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Helpful Mother's Day

A year ago I wrote about the woman whose children I might foster or adopt. Now I can match that imaginary woman with a face, a story and voice. I think of her often. I pray for her. It only takes a little to bring tears to my eyes when I think of her.

The ability to be the mom you want to be is a blessing. Some days it is a choice, but we make choices based on the strength inside of ourselves, the support around us, or a combination of both. We need one another.

This weekend I heard a birth mother speak about her experience with an unplanned pregnancy. She gave her child up for adoption not because she had several options and chose adoption as the best. She gave him up for adoption because an adoption agency was the only place where she felt support and acceptance during a crisis. 

(Insert long essay about the job of God's people to spend more time helping and less time picketing.)

Still with me? Nice! I propose that we take some time to support one another and to cheer for one another. High five to you if you've let your heart envelop a child, if you've given selflessly of time, energy and quiet. If you can feel what they mean when they say "your heart walks outside of your body" then I applaud you.

Now, we are real good at applauding people. That's why there is a Like button on Facebook! It's fun! Here's my Mother's Day challenge to all of the moms and like-moms: fetch yourself some help and support. Keep looking until you find it. Don't let it go. Find somebody or lots of some bodies you can call when you're not okay, when you're less than your best and when you (wait for it) need help.

Recently one of the social workers we work with mentioned to me, "you don't have to do everything yourself, but you try to. That's what you do." Aghast, I asked Dave how she could know this about me. He said, "she did our home study, she knows you." Dang it. They really got in my head.

So, if you happen to be like me and try to do everything yourself (and, ps, like, all the moms I know do) why don't you make it a point to ask for some help. I bet somebody will enjoy offering the support as much as you appreciate it.


Sunday, March 08, 2015

Grace for the journey

There are so many reasons you should not become a foster parent, but they are not the reasons you first tell yourself. If you have a propensity for violence, if you are single and work 80 hours a week, if you are a non-recovering addict, if you are in jail or if you just don't like kids then please, do not become a foster parent (actually, if I may, do not become any kind of parent).

The reason I did not want to become a foster parent is probably the same as anybody else. I don't want to love then lose. I don't want instability. I don't want unpredictability. I don't want to get all that involved in somebody else's mess. I don't want to lose control at that level.

But then I realized we lived in home with plenty of space for more than 5 people. We had 3 open seats in the car. Becoming a foster parent was a relatively simple process of training and screening and paperwork. Foster children have their own health insurance and social services covers some of their expenses. After a series of events and conversations my mind changed. Suddenly it became as simple as: we can help so we will help.

Big changes often start with simple intentions. The desire to be helpful has forced me toward grace like never before. After six months as a foster parent I see my failures and limitations with alarming clarity. At first it consumed me with self doubt but since then has dragged me to the feet God, I am so aware of my need for grace. I pray way more than I ever have. I pray because I have to, not just because it feels good.

Big neon signs are pointing toward our two girls moving. It is very likely that I will experience what it is to move preschoolers out of my home. It will be unnatural and it will be unnerving. I think of the control I am about to lose. I think of the influence I want to have. I think about getting them tattooed with all of the things I want to make sure they know in years to come, but I assume social services would frown on that.

These next few weeks are the reason many people do not choose to be foster parents. To love and lose that love is the greatest fear we have, isn't it?  Foster care reminds me of the reality that we do not control how long we will have anyone we love. In foster care, this reality is just impossible to ignore. It is in conversations with social workers, it is in conversations with bio parents, it is in vacation planning and it is in little moments in between. Even though nothing is certain, we do not filter plans with our biological or adopted kids with, "If they're still here, then we will..." We just make plans with the beautiful abandon that we will be together as long as we live.

Whenever I think about the act of packing up two children so they can move out of my house, hugging them, smiling like everything will be okay and saying goodbye I kind of want to lay in my bed and sob. Visions of the next 15 years of their childhoods shoot through my mind and I wonder how their first day of kindergarten will go, and who will help them navigate middle school and their periods and shaving and mean girls and sports and difficult school projects. Will somebody comb their hair even when they hate it? Will somebody teach them that their worth is woven into their being and there isn't anything they can do to be worthless? Will somebody look into their tearful eyes and quivering lips and speak confidence into their little hearts? All I can hope is that something we have done will stick with them and that we might continue a relationship after they're gone. And all I can do is pray. Pray like never before.

In all of my anxiety and turmoil I know that these children, just like Haven, Maiya and Tristan, are God's children. When they go and if they go, they will literally go with God. In that there is the peace that "passes understanding."

So, here's the thing, I'm not sure how you could be a foster parents without God's help. People do it, but I don't know how. There are plenty of reasons to avoid it and to stick with the seemingly predictable lives we have. But grace is there for every journey, even the ones we just don't think we could ever do.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Growing

This won't be long, but I want to put a bookmark in the now. I just realized Haven's size 6 pajamas are too small for him and that he will turn 8 in a couple of weeks. He finally, at long last, has a couple of loose teeth. But, you see, I just gave birth to him. He was just as tiny as my brand new nephew Judah, like, a minute or two ago.  I just made a few dinners, gave a few baths, decorated some Christmas trees and went on a couple of play dates and now he is no longer an infant but halfway through second grade. So I want to just grab him and kiss him and hold his hand in public until he absolutely will not go for it any longer.

Since we became a foster family our life has been a little dr-a-ma-tic. But I notice bio kids are really good at foster care. And not just my kids. Two of my friends are foster moms and their kids are pretty awesome foster siblings too. They are so literal and in the here-and-now that they can embrace their new buddies relatively easily.

I offer ginger conversations about the unknown part of our future as a family of 7. We could revert to a family of 5 at some point. Or not. We won't know until we know. "What if they stay? What do you think that will be like? What if they can't go home?" I pose these open questions hoping to keep the reality of foster care on my children's radars. They are so less swayed by feelings than me. After one litany of questions Maiya looked at me like I'm nuts and said, "If they can't go home we'll adopt them and they'll stay forever." Like it was just that simple. Like that involved nothing intense at all.

At this moment we are a family of 7 and I will make some more dinners, bathe some kids, and schedule some more play dates and look up and we might be a family of 5 again. Or a family of 8. Or some larger number I am not prepared to think about. Just the picture of us invites stares and questions. We have some questionable behavior in public. We see the absolute best and worsts parts of ourselves on a pretty much daily basis. We are always behind on laundry, but there is always somebody to play with. Hide and seek is way better than it used to be. We have a little girl who laughs so loud it sounds like an emergency. We have another little girl who chirps, "I love ya, Dave!" every time anyone but she is in trouble. We have children who are growing in awareness and stretching their little hearts into big, deep spaces.

Most days I look like Haven does in this picture. I'm kind of covered in the day. But he didn't go to bed looking like that and he didn't wake the next morning covered in finger paint. Because things change. We take baths. Holidays come and go. Children grow. Situations change.

So today I place a bookmark in the messy pages of our life. I will probably never again have three preschoolers (many days I promise myself I won't). But there won't be better Christmases than there are during these young-children years. Someday there won't be so many kisses on my face or little hands reaching out to "help" me in the kitchen. So I will embrace it for what it is, because in the fog of my rear view mirror I will someday only remember the cuddles and not the sleepless nights.