Snuggle Puppy

Snuggle Puppy by Sandra BoyntonI say, “Oooooo, Snuggle Puppy of mine, everything about you is especially fine! I love what you are, I love what you do, fuzzy little snuggle puppy, my little Shih Tzu, I LOVE YOU!”

I will always think of E3 when I think of this book because he just loved it so stinking much. I tried to track down copies of it when he was with us and couldn’t find it in stock anywhere, so I bought him a used copy and I resigned myself to not finding this one again. But apparently I was wrong and didn’t look very hard because tonight I found four brand new copies at Walmart (and bought all of them) and when I looked it up again on Amazon, behold: there it was. I’m looking forward to starting this one with the boys tomorrow and, of course, sending one with them in their bag when the time comes for them to move on.

Loves me some Sandra Boynton. For sure.

Advertisements

A Tale of Two Sundays and One Changed Perspective

Compassion SundayThe photo set above is from a year ago and so this post is a year in the making. You see, my family hosted Compassion Sunday 2012 at our church last year and I will admit – I had high expectations for the time. I will go so far as to say my expectations were too high. My family loves Compassion. We lived in Colorado Springs for many years where the Compassion headquarters are located. We have friends who work for Compassion. We have friends who also support Compassion. So why wouldn’t anyone else not want to hear about or also support the work of Compassion? Yep, that was pretty much my mentality last year. So I ordered the “host a Compassion Sunday” kit and we prayed over the time and we really hoped all of the packets we walked in with that night would be gone by the end of the evening.

I’m going to make a long story short and say that I was disappointed last year. We had one person turn in a filled out sponsor sheet and it ended up being a goofy joke from an 8yo who filled it in with silly information. The whole time we were standing behind the table we had nobody make eye contact with us and perhaps only two people even stop by for a second to see what was there. For the most part we were party decs at the back of the room and we were ignored.

And as I was packing the whole display up at the end of the evening, I did so with tears. At that moment I was ashamed of my church and angry at everybody in the room. I know not everyone can sponsor a child, but seriously, NOBODY? I take it back, one family did take a packet that night and I was grateful, but I was still extremely bitter. And that’s my sad story of the day – I made Compassion Sunday about me and when you do that, things go south in a hurry.

Now then, before I go on, I want to point out that yes, I glossed over the one packet that was picked up when I wrote the paragraph above. I did so in writing because I did so last year. I was not overjoyed that even ONE child was released from poverty in Jesus’ name last year. Because I wanted to see 10.

I look back now and I’m still sad about that Sunday, but not because of what happened, but because of my heart in it. I have learned enough in the past year alone to know that the calling God gives to me and my family is not the calling He gives to EVERY family and that’s just the way it is. And I had no business being bitter last year. I had no business being anything less than absolutely thrilled that one little girl was rescued. Even one.

So fast forward to this year. Compassion Sunday was approaching and I will confess: I did not initiate hosting it this year. So when we were asked to do so, I agreed reluctantly. I said we’d do it, but that we’d keep our expectations low. That was my theme of the night: keeping expectations low. I even said as much to Compassion when I requested the packets. I said, “You might not want to send us very many because this event didn’t go over so well last year.”

I’m so full of faith.

So, to make another long story short, we had one major difference between this year and last year (aside from the fact that our entire church has had a full year to grow themselves) and that’s that the event wasn’t all about me this time. Yes, my family set up the table and yes, I introduced the video (after I mismanaged the microphone because, well, I don’t really do the public speaking thing very well…), but we’d recruited others to man the table and our pastor did a nice job talking about it too and he even passed packets around during the service so that everyone would have to physically touch one and either keep it or hand it off – I didn’t really see that one coming this year and it was good.

I remember a distinct difference in my prayer from last year to this one – last year I prayed all the packets would get picked up. This year I prayed for 3.

At the end of the evening, when it was all said and done, FOURTEEN children had been sponsored. Fourteen. And I packed up the table, once again with tears, and they were once again tears of shame, but this time they were directed squarely at myself. Because I didn’t really think my church had it in them to pick up this charge and go forth, but they did.

God will do what he wants and use the people he wants to use and he will do it in his way and in his timing. And thankfully, he’s not dependent upon me to get it done. Because if he’d been depending upon me, those fourteen children would still be faces on packets in an office in Colorado Springs, waiting for someone else to believe.

The Cuddle Game

Hammock CuddleI know I have to cut them some slack. They were gone for the weekend and when I went to pick them up on Sunday, they were surprised to be coming home with us again even though I’d told them about a bajillion times that I would be back for them. They just adjust to whatever situation they are placed in and those people become mom and dad, even for two days.

I can’t even imagine 1) taking any of my girls to a stranger’s house for the weekend (either when they were preschoolers or NOW) and saying, “See you in two days!” and 2) If I *had* done that, seeing my kids just, you know, be okay with that. Kids who get shuffled around like checkers on a board just learn to survive with what they are given, but they don’t really get to form deep, lasting attachments.

So the boys were a bit of a trouble brew last night after they came back to us and today was more of the same, with some fun and sweet mixed in as well. And I don’t know how much of it is a foster shuffle problem and how much of it is just typical little boy behavior. Seriously. Today Chloe was wrestling with the boys a bit and R3 pulled his shorts down, stuck his underwear-clad bottom right up next to her face, and shook it at her while shouting, “BOOTY, BOOTY, BOOTY!” And there is just this little part of you that laughs because, y’all, *that’s* pretty hysterical, and there’s this huge part of you that’s mortified because, y’all, that’s completely inappropriate behavior and it MUST be addressed and not allowed to happen. “R3, you are to NEVER pull your pants down and stick your bottom in someone’s face ever. NEVER. Not here at our house or anywhere. Do you understand?” And he nods like he does, but it will happen again.

But then you get moments like the one pictured above where first he thought the idea of me taking a break in the hammock just too novel and surely I needed a preschooler to push me at warp-speed. So he did that for a bit and then he crawled right up for a little cuddle break. And later at the bowling alley tonight he and his brother wanted to play “bubble gum, bubble gum in a dish” and I’ve really just had my fill of that for one lifetime and I said that any of the girls would be happy to play that game with them, but I play the cuddle game. And what that meant was that every time R3 would finish bowling, he’d run right over to me and insist I play the cuddle game with him, whereby I’d pick him up and he’d put his head on my shoulder and I’d just hold him until it was his turn again.

I can tell you right now, inappropriate booty talk or no, the cuddle game is my kind of game.

After bowling we headed to Braum’s. Today was the culmination of them earning an “ice cream party” because of our sticker reward chart which is as simple as we give stickers for good choices and we remove stickers for bad choices and with these two, it pretty much takes a full month to earn the reward and that’s with us being generous. And after we left the bowling alley, complete with several serious talking-tos about how we behave and how we treat each other and how we act as a family, we were walking to the van and A4 said, “So are we still going to get ice cream?” This was shortly after trying to use the little kid bowling ball ramp as a slide, which was right after…a ton of other unfortunate decisions. I asked him if he thought he deserved an ice cream party. He thought for a moment and quietly said, “No.” I agreed with him and told him that we were going to go anyway, not because he’d earned it, but because we loved him and we wanted him to have it. We explained that’s what grace meant – getting what you don’t deserve, which is exactly what God gives to us by way of Jesus on the cross to pay for our sins – salvation, not because we earn it, but because He freely offers it.

And the boys don’t understand that, not really. They’ve been around the block enough to know a lot of people who they’ve lived with have had a lot of things to say about God and I know they are trying their preschool best to make sense of it all. But for tonight we showed grace in the form of a jr. sized scoop of mint chocolate chip and we hope it finds a way not only to their bellies, but to their hearts.

OKC Memorial Marathon

OKC Memorial Marathon Kids' Run
About the only way I’m going to make it in the OKC Memorial Marathon is as a mom accompanying kids in the Kids’ Marathon. I was proud of my girls for completing today and was happy to be part of the other Veritas families who were there. I’ll never be fast, but if I can just keep running I’m good with that.

Walk & Roll for ALS Awareness in Tulsa

ALS Walk & RollWe hitched up the wagon and headed back home today. Okay, we didn’t quite make it all the way home, but we did make it to Tulsa where we participated in the Walk & Roll for ALS Awareness with my mom. You can see her and my girls in the photo above, with my dad popping up in the back. My sister and most of her crew came too and a lot of my mom’s friends, so it was a meaningful time. Only…I just wish this cussed disease didn’t exist and there would be no need to raise awareness for it. That’s all.

Fish Photo Bomb

DSC_0024 3

Katie, eager to show off her newly minted Wikki Stix mask, asked if I might want to snap a photo. Not to be left out of the fun, Millie’s Wikki Fish decided to swim in as well. And that’s pretty much how this day rolled.

The boys are spending the weekend with a sweet, sweet couple and the 5yo girl they are fostering. I was a bit surprised by how conflicted I actually was when I dropped them off. I really only anticipated being relieved to have a little break for the weekend, and believe me, I am, but I still felt this weird, “When would you EVER drop any of your kids off with strangers for the weekend?” guilt. Alas, and sadly, the boys are SO trusting because they’ve learned to be and they were shy, but they didn’t question the situation. We did hug them about 4 times and I promised I’d be back on Sunday to pick them up before church. Here’s why they are away for 48 hours:

We’re heading to Tulsa super early tomorrow morning (okay, super early may be a slight exaggeration, but we have to leave at 7:45 on a Saturday morning and it’s going to feel super early…) to participate in the Walk and Roll for ALS Awareness on behalf of my mom. There are a lot of unknown variables to this time and it seemed best to have the boys stay elsewhere. Then we will dash back to OKC to prepare for the Veritas 8th grade class Oral Presentation Night. Once again, not the best environment for two preschool boys, particularly two who have been on the go all day and not napped as would have been the case had they been with us all day. Then on Sunday morning we will participate in the kids’ one mile run at the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon. Remember that bit about unknown variables? Just seemed to make more sense to pick them up afterwards.

As it is, the six of us are enjoying what is perhaps the first Friday night we’ve had in 2013 with just the six of us at home, quiet, on a Friday night.

Blessings.

Oklahoma Foster Care Forum, April 2013

Almost exactly one year ago I attended what was then called the 8308 Conference here in Oklahoma City (so called because that was the current number of children in DHS custody at that moment in time). Almost exactly one year ago our family felt the tug to get our hands and feet dirty. Almost exactly one year ago we started the process of becoming a foster family.

This year the conference was renamed the Oklahoma Foster Care Forum. Among a host of many others who presented yesterday, I was asked to give a nine minute word picture of our experiences since we began. What follows is the written version of what I said.

=================

I describe myself online as a Jesus follower, wife, mama, freelance writer, occasional crafter, hybrid homeschooler, and Mary Poppins wannabe. As of January 3rd of this year, I also added foster mom to that list.

Craig and I have been married for 16 years and we have four daughters: Maddie 14, Chloe 12, Katie 11, and Millie 9. When we moved to Oklahoma City from St. Louis almost 2 years ago we came with one dog, Peaches. Our second dog, Boomer, came with the house. And for the past 63 days we’ve included two preschool boys in the mix: A4 and R3. (As I refer to the kids online by their first initial and age and will do the same here.)

Before these two boys, we had a 4-year-old and 1-year-old sister set for 3 days. Before the girls, we had the sweetest little newborn baby who came to us at 2 days old and left us at 33 days. During that time, we also had J5 for 10 days, and before him, we started with E3, who was with us for 3 weeks.

After attending this very forum one year ago, completing the application over the summer, then participating in the training with Angels through the fall, our entry into the world of emergency foster care has seemed more of a deep-end dunking than a gingerly walk into the shallow end of the foster care pool.

It would be easy to gloss over the past four months with a “Yes, this has been one of the hardest but best things we’ve ever done” – and in many ways it has – but I’m not sure that would do our experience justice or give you the fullest picture of our story.

This time last year, I was sitting in that corner of the room at the 8308 Conference, playing the part of City Presbyterian representative. I’m no hipster, but I play one online, so I was doing due diligence to tweet all the profound things presented. Things like:

  • The problem isn’t the system; it’s the condition of my heart and yours to allow these kids to become nameless and faceless.
  • God has given us everything we need for this, and either you believe that or you don’t.
  • If we’re really about the sanctity of life, we have to do something.

And somewhere in the midst of all that tweeting, the orphan care crisis that had been the state’s problem for so long suddenly became my problem. And I felt this pounding in my chest and these tears popped into my eyes and I said, “Seriously, God? Don’t we have enough going on already?”

I went home that afternoon and prepared dinner. My family came home from their day at school and we ate and caught up on the day. As can sometimes be the case with four girls at the table, we broke up an argument, sent one child to her room to chill for a bit, and dismissed the other three to clean up dinner.

It was then that I looked at my husband and said, “You know we’re going to have to do this, right?”

He looked at me. He looked at the crumbs and dog hair on the kitchen floor. He glanced over at the mountain of unfolded laundry on the living room couch. He thought of Miss Attitude chilling out in her room upstairs and he said, “Does it make a whole lot of sense to expose another child to our particular brand of chaos?”

And I said, “No…but could it be that our particular brand of chaos is a haven to a child who has lived in hell before us?”

He was silent because he knew. I knew. Together, we knew…it would indeed be a better kind of chaos.

Within a month, we’d made contact with the 111 Project and sat through orientation meetings with two different foster agencies, beginning the paperwork process. Significant extended family health issues hit during the summer, which forced a delay. And before we knew it, it was September. Fast-forward through the fall and we were finally approved by the end of 2012. Our first placement was January 3, and we’ve had seven different children in our home since then.

I never set out to blog my way through our foster care experiences, but as I’ve always processed the world better through writing, that’s what has naturally happened. It’s been super-helpful to process the joys and challenges we’ve experienced and (though unintentionally) put foster care more on the radar of our friends and church family. We could not do this alone, and we’re so thankful we don’t have to.

While I don’t buy the recent buzz that my children are not mine, with my own kids – and especially with foster care kids – community is key. The 111 Project’s “1 church, 1 family, 1 purpose” motto should be prescriptive, not descriptive. I suppose there are the Lone Ranger types who think they can foster self-sufficiently, but if that’s your goal, I’m just old and bold enough to suggest that you’re not doing it right.

I’m not saying, “It takes a village.” I’m saying it takes a church – one that understands that when James, the brother of Jesus, talks about what true religion is, a third of his explanation involves caring for orphans (the other two-thirds involves caring for widows and keeping our tongues in check – just two other ways we in the Church are failing to live a life worthy of our calling).

From the very beginning of our experience, we had only to post on our church community website that we had a 3-year-old boy coming the next day and didn’t have anything for him. The next day two different families brought over bags of 3T clothes. Two weeks later when the baby came into our lives, so did a host of baby gear we’d thought we’d seen the last of 9 years ago: car seats, swings, bouncy seats, and the onesies…so many onesies.

When the 5-year-old walked into our house with NOTHING, a family showed up with a duffle bag stuffed with pajamas, clothes, and toys.

Families in our church have provided support at so many different levels: financial, food, formula, diapers. We’ve even had a few become overnight respite-care approved so they can help us out on occasion.

But more than those practical things, here’s another picture of what can happen in the context of community:

When the baby left us for his kinship placement, my heart broke. I knew all along he was never ours to keep. I knew he could and would be picked up at any moment of the day from the day he came to us. But after nurturing this little newborn for a full month, I’m telling you, he was mine. And I cried for days and days and days when he left. When the day arrived to take him to the meeting place, a friend of mine from my church knew it was going to be more than I could bear on my own. She drove to my house, brought me lunch, and drove me and the baby to the office. She walked in with me while I handed him back and she stood with me in the parking lot as the full weight of my grief became apparent.

Y’all, this business of babies in foster care? It’s just not the way things are supposed to be.

Craig and I intended to take a break for a few days after he left, but as is the case with emergency placements, emergencies keep happening. The girls came the next day and the boys arrived two days after that.

This was on February 22 and when their worker brought them inside she indicated they would either be with us just over the weekend or for a very long time. I started at her while silently wondering what a very long time actually meant.

The not-so-funny joke with emergency placement is that you can do anything for 30 days, right? Because that’s supposed to be the longest kids are in emergency care. And we plugged right along to 30 days which turned into 35 and 40 and 45 and so forth. Somewhere in the middle of our 2nd month, I was sharing with the small group we host each week that I was just spent. It could have been that I don’t speak “boy” very well (I believe I mentioned we have four girls). It could have been that we’ve been out of the preschool stage for a while now (our youngest is 9). It could have been that I’m simply not used to being around 3-year-olds who casually throw around the “f” bomb like so many frisbees in a park. It could have been a combination of all of those things. But two women in my group saw the desperation in my face that night and one of them insisted on taking the boys for me the very next day. The other, who is approved for overnight care, insisted on taking them the day after that and keeping them overnight. It was a balm to my weary soul.

But the story gets better: While the boys were at my friend’s house on Friday, one of her neighbors was taking a walk and stopped in and asked who the two little guys were. Janet explained and the neighbor said, “Hey, we just started the process of fostering-to-adopt! And…these guys are exactly what we we’re looking for!” And she was serious.

I remember this clearly: I was in Sam’s Club with my two youngest daughters and I got this text from Janet that said, “Not kidding. My neighbor wants to adopt the boys.” And I’m telling you, when you get a text message like that, I don’t care where you are, you pull the cart over and make a couple of phone calls. It turns out, this family had already made contact with Angels, and they are serious about the boys. They want to get officially approved before taking them as a long-term placement, but in the meantime, they’ve been approved as overnight respite care. They kept the boys for us last Saturday. The boys are with them today so I could be here and we have three overnight weekends scheduled for May (so far…). I’m both hopeful and completely amazed. If and when this all works out, what a great story it’s going to make!

I want to end this talk with excerpts from a blog entry I wrote the night before we gave Baby M back:

I do not know how to parent without getting completely emotionally involved. I’m not sure parenting any other way is really parenting. I don’t know how to keep a newborn baby alive for a whole month and then give him back as though the last month never happened. It did happen and we will have the formula-stained blankets and residual baby laundry and empty bottles left behind to prove it, for weeks after he’s gone.

This love – it is love – it comes at much too high a cost. And I have very little left in which to pay.

And once again I’m left with my own personal cliché, that I repeat over and over to myself, to my girls, and to every friend and stranger who looks me in the eyes and says this is something they could never do (as though my heart is made of stone and it’s easy for me): If it didn’t hurt so much, we didn’t do it right. But even that knowledge brings little comfort to me tonight.

Because it hurts, dammit. It just does. And the truth is, I don’t know how much more I can do this either.

Maybe that’s the point? That we really can’t do it on our own? That we must lean so heavily on God to parent through us, to love through us, to give back the babies through us? If only I could lean that heavily on God tonight. Maybe I am, but I don’t know it because I’m just sad. So very sad.

Foster parenting IS one of the hardest things we’ve ever done. But we do it anyway because it’s right. And doing the right thing downright sucks sometimes, yet we do it anyway. Because we should.

Bye-bye baby

Guilt by Apple Pie

Mrs. Smith
Today you could call me, Mrs. Smith. And purchasing four of these went against everything in my being, but it ended up being the right decision. I know how to make a killer apple pie, crust included, so it seemed an easy thing to sign up for for the 4th grade Founding Father’s Festival. So easy, I went ahead and signed up to make all four of the requested pies. Because I float around in a semi-constant state of denial most of the time.

Then Monday hit and it was a doozy. And I was sitting in the Walmart parking lot because I needed to get something else and before I knew it, these four pies magically appeared in my shopping cart. Oh, and I’d just been texting with Katie’s teacher who was all, “Just BUY the stupid pies, woman!” Okay, she didn’t say that at all, but she did imply that it would be no big deal if I didn’t hand peel, core, and slice 4,000 apples that night in order to provide pie for 22 very undiscriminating 4th graders. In the end, I agreed.

When it was all said and done, they really only needed three pies, so one came back to us. We had some after dinner and I must say, I can definitely tell a difference. And this will never do for a proper holiday pie, but for all the goofiness we experienced in this house yesterday, Mrs. Smith could very well have saved the day.

 

We are Fam-i-ly

Big SisterFirst off, if you’ve never had a sibling photo bomb your picture by giving you horns or finger-ears or some such, then you haven’t really lived. Millie is just making sure A4 has a proper childhood here. That is all.

And in this photo, you see the four kids I took with me yesterday to the opening of the Century Chest at First Lutheran Church. You can imagine what a life-changing event it was for the boys. *groan* But as I can’t leave them at home and I wanted to go, they had to come with me.

Yesterday wasn’t one of our best family days. The dry cleaner lost 4 of Craig’s shirts and half-heartedly offered store credit as an apology. I became super discouraged upon hearing that several attempts for respite care for the boys for this weekend have fallen through. The girls left all of their piano books at home and we didn’t discover that until we arrived at the teacher’s house. The boys refused to take naps yesterday. Millie accidentally threw the final draft of her writing assignment in the kitchen trash and we didn’t find that for…a while…And the list goes on. I actually have three massage gift certificates in my possession that I keep “saving for when I really need it” and I can’t prove it, but I think maybe I should have cashed one or three of those in yesterday.

With a race to the finish line of an 8pm bedtime for the boys, it was a huge relief to say, “Boys…good night.” And as I was walking down the stairs the potential for human whack-a-mole began when I heard A4 call out, “Mommy!” I paused, quietly. Then again, “Moooommmmyyyyy!” I turned and said, “What do you need?” He insisted I come back into his room. I’m not proud of this, but I sighed with frustration as I turned around to walk back up the stairs and head back into his room. I got in there and said again, “A4, what do you need?” And his reply? “I love you so so much!”

This, the kid who always answers with, “Okay,” when I tell him that.

And, of course, I melted when I heard that. I climbed up the side of his ladder and said, “Oh, thanks, Buddy! Did you know that if you said that to me it would make me give you a big fat kiss on your forehead?” He grinned and nodded.

And I said good-night again and we called it a day. Because that’s what families do.