Believing in My Bigs

My Bigs

My Bigs

These three are my teenagers. They keep me up to date on the latest apps, games, music, and pop culture. They are smart, funny, artistic, and completely different from each other, but they have a close bond and, boy, do they have each other’s back.

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Mike enjoying the ocean.

Mike is our 16 year old. He is one of the most resilient people I have ever met. He joined our family almost 2 years ago, after months of visits, meetings and preparation. I can’t imagine our family without him. He is brave, loving, and kind. I am proud to be his mom; thankful that he chose to allow us to adopt him. Because the adoption is not finalized, I cannot post any identifying pictures of Mike.

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Mike & Sirius

Mike loves dogs. He has taken a special liking to our 10 year old husky/ lab mix, Sirius. Sirius now enjoys sleeping in Mike’s bed and lounging in the quiet, though messy, solitude of Mike’s bedroom. Like most teens, Mike is a video game enthusiast. He also loves basketball, pizza and sugar. Mike is well spoken, and because of his history with foster care and adoption, he speaks at events encouraging other foster children not to give up hope.

Leo

Leo

Leo is our 15 year old. He is tall, smart, athletic, charismatic and engaging. He loves history, architecture and science as well as video games. He hates having his picture taken, so I don’t have a lot of photos to choose from. Though, I’m fairly certain he uses Snapchat without a problem. Leo attends a charter school and is enrolled in an IB (international baccalaureate) program. More importantly, he just received his driver’s permit. If you think of it, say a prayer for us.

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Leo catching in a tournament.

Leo also has an intricate knowledge of baseball. He has played travel baseball for several years and is developing his skills as a catcher, pitcher and first baseman. This year, he will be trying out for the local high school team.

Lu

Lu is our 13 year old. I wrote about her and her service dog, Noel, here. Lu is our artistic one. She is sweet and empathetic and wise beyond her years. Her illness has exposed her to a darker side of life, which has given her an even deeper compassion for others, especially those with mental illness. She was on track to attend the same school as Leo until she became ill, just under 2 years ago. Since then, Lu has worked on finding other areas to excel in. She has become an amazing dog handler, she has applied for and was accepted as a co-owner in 1 of her favorite band’s Instagram fan sites, she is learning photography, and her new passion is special effects make-up.

Lu loves coloring her hair.

Lu loves coloring her hair.

Lu is home-bound most of the time, so we do things here that help her to feel better. One of those things is changing the color of her hair. Lu has so much fun picking out the new colors and changing her make-up to accentuate her features and her hair. Her hair has been blue, green, pink, purple, red and mixtures of all of those. Right now, Lu’s hair is bright red. I love how it accents her skin color.

Mike, Leo and Lu keep this house filled with fun and laughter. They are quick with sharing a joke, a meme, or a funny video. I love watching their personalities grow and develop. They have so much potential. I really do believe in them.

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Mad For My Middles

My Middles

My Middles

Oh, these three. Life is never dull with my middles. I was trying to come up with words that start with “M” to describe them. I thought about words like mischievous and misunderstood. But I think I would do better to think of a list of most likely to do. Most likely to say anything. Most likely to join in the adventure. Most likely to try something new. Most likely to think outside the box. Most likely to speak up. Most likely to help someone in need. Most likely to be ok with who they are. These three are heroes in my book.

Eddy is clearly awesome.

Eddy is clearly awesome.

My oldest middle is Eddy. He is 12 now. I have never met a kid so concerned about helping others. If Eddy sees a person in need, he helps. It’s just who he is. It’s not unusual for me to find him running to open doors for people, or carrying things for strangers, or going out of his way to help a little kid in need. He is my biggest helper in taking care of Lu. The two of them have been inseparable since he was born, and when Lu got sick, Eddy took it upon himself to stay by her side. I don’t know what I would do without him. Eddy doesn’t want recognition. He is happy to keep to himself, preferring time spent on his own projects than being with groups of friends. Not that he doesn’t have friends, he just needs time alone to recharge.

Eddy reading to Jimmy.

Eddy reading to Jimmy.

Besides being a Minecraft junkie, a computer whiz, and just a regular old smart kid, Eddy is an adventurer. He recently joined Civil Air Patrol. The program fits perfectly with Eddy’s thirst for adventure, love for aeronautics, and his desire to serve his community. I love that he is learning leadership skills and has found an activity that is his own.

Marie

Marie

Next in line, comes my Marie. She is 8 years old and in the 3rd grade. Marie is my tender hearted, animal loving thespian. When she was 2, she would perform during the 7th inning stretch at baseball games. Most recently, she played the role of The Ace of Spades in Alice in Wonderland Jr. at our local theater. Unfortunately, Marie has a milder form of the same autoimmune disorder that Lu has. We caught hers much earlier and so far have been able to keep her stabilized.

Marie and Lu after the play.

Marie and Lu after the play.

Marie is an awesome sister. She is good at keeping SJ and Jimmy entertained and she is Lu’s sidekick. She knows how to change diapers and feed babies. She can also make a mean cup of tea. Few have the capacity to love others like Marie has.

SJ

SJ

Do you see this kid? Can you see the mischief in his eyes? SJ is my fun loving, question asking, everything moving all of the time kid. He doesn’t stay still, even when he’s sleeping. He loves trucks, cars, planes, super heroes, and most of all . . . Dirt! If there is a pile of dirt, you will find SJ in it. Last year, he came home so covered in dirt and sand that he infested his bedroom with sand fleas, and that was after we showered him and took his dirty clothes- we think the culprits hid out in SJ’s shoes.

SJ is going to school.

SJ is going to school.

This is the big year that SJ joined Marie on the school bus and headed to the big kid school. I figure the sign SJ’s holding is fair warning. Thankfully, I haven’t received any calls from his teachers yet. The notes home don’t count.

My middles baking a treat.

My middles baking a treat.

I mentioned that these kids are heroes in my eyes. They really are. This crew has been through a lot. They know how to love hurting kids that join our family. They know how to encourage a chronically ill sibling. They know how to follow safety plans and how to react in crisis. They know how to have fun and the know how to make me smile after a hard day. My middles are amazing.

Loving My Littles

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Most mornings these days start with my little guy, James, rising before the sun. If he isn’t already in our bed, Jimmy climbs in, dragging his blankie behind him, and announces that he wants to go downstairs. This is my cue to get up and go because this kid is a bundle of energy and waking his siblings is the first thing on his agenda for the day. If he wakes his siblings, it is NOT a good day.

My granddaughter, Love.

My granddaughter, Love.

Introducing Love, my oldest granddaughter. Both she and Jimmy are 2 years old, and they are best friends and partners in crime. It doesn’t take long for Love to hear Jimmy’s antics and come down to join in.

Breakfast

Breakfast

“Wuv, do you wanna eat?” Jimmy asks. Then they both climb into their seats. We can’t put their seats too close to each other or there will be a battle, stolen food and sippy cups, dumped cereal, and a brawl.

Coffee, you complete me.

Coffee, you complete me.

Most mornings start off with a Leapfrog video while the littles eat breakfast. That’s how I get my coffee and quiet, well almost quiet, the two essential things I need before I can function.

My 2nd granddaughter, Princess.

My 2nd granddaughter, Princess.

Princess is my littlest little in the house. (I have another little grandson that is younger, but he hasn’t been here yet.) Princess brightens our days with sweet baby smiles and coos. She stole my heart the moment I laid eyes on her. Thankfully, she is an easy baby, because Jimmy and Love keep us busy.

Jimmy, Love, & SJ playing with water on the deck

Jimmy, Love, & SJ playing with water on the deck.

We try to have fun and keep the little ones busy. Pouring and stacking is one of their favorite activities, so I thought it would be fun to set up a water station the littles could stand at to play.

It's NOT a pool!

It’s NOT a pool! Get DOWN!

Jimmy had other plans. I can’t turn my head for a second with this kid.

One tired little boy.

One tired little boy.

The poor, sweet boy tired himself out. Doesn’t he look innocent? Adorable, even?

You're resting there?

You’re resting there?

And this is what he was really doing.

Jimmy opening the diaper rash ointment.

Jimmy opening the diaper rash ointment.

 And seconds later, he was into the ointment that was left on the table.

Jimmy warming his blankie in the dryer.

Jimmy warming his blankie in the dryer.

And then he decided to warm his blanket in the dryer.

I won’t show you the pictures of Jimmy in the dog’s crate, swinging on the stairway gate, undressing himself, and escaping up the stairs. He also had fun reading some of his favorite books, playing on SJ’s iPod, pouring Princess’s formula from her bottle into my Pepsi, feeding the dog from his plate at dinner, and throwing his sister’s iPod in the toilet. (Yes, this was all today.) Jimmy walks on the wild side.

Love and her Combos.

Love and her Combos.

Love usually just tags along behind Jimmy and watches. She doesn’t want to get in trouble, she’s a good girl. But don’t eat chips or snacks near her. She will give you big, sad eyes until you give her every last one.

Trying to get a picture of the three littles.

Trying to get a picture of the three littles.

These little ones certainly keep us busy. But oh, how we love our littles!

Runaway

I’ve been a mother for a long time . . . A. Long. Time. There are things I just know after all of these years. I know that each child is different and that you can’t parent them all the same. I learned the hard way that parenting adopted and foster children is a lot different than parenting biological children. I have learned to read my children’s body language and behavior because most of the time behavior is a clue to underlying issues. If we address the issue, the behavior can then be addressed. I am also keenly aware that, as the mother of the home, my attitude sets the tone in the house. I KNOW all of this and I’m usually decent at parenting with this knowledge in mind. Then there was yesterday.

Yesterday was an exhausting day following two overwhelming weeks. September is always a tough month here. All of the kids are getting used to their new school schedules. The month is full of triggers for my kids with PTSD and emotional impairments. Illness runs through the house making its victims miserable but also exacerbating symptoms in my two daughters with autoimmune disorders. Then we add in our normal meetings and appointments plus school meetings and the month is full. This year is tougher because our young adult daughter is staying here while she gets some things settled and we are helping care for her two babies. Yup, I’m just a little stressed. No excuse.

Back to yesterday. Mike, our almost adopted 16 year old, has had a rough week. He is struggling to get back on a school schedule, work through some pretty tough therapy, deal with the stress of his upcoming adoption, manage some serious trauma triggers, and is balancing the heaviest academic load he has ever had. Normally, I try to see things from Mike’s perspective. He’s been through more than any 16 year old I have ever met and he’s an incredible kid. I am extremely proud of him, he has accomplished so much since he has been with us. He is MY SON! But yesterday, after the 5th e-mail from the school, my patience had worn thin. Mike hadn’t really done anything wrong, but he was becoming increasingly agitated, and in the process annoying his teachers and the school staff. These were clues that I needed to step back from the situation and get to the root of what was causing Mike’s agitation. But I wasn’t watching the clues. I was at the end of my rope.

Mike walked in the door as the 3 month old was screaming. Immediately, I began interrogating him. Why was he annoying his teachers? (Foster Parenting 101: Never ask Why.) The argument commenced. Soon, Mike was blaming the whole situation on me and as our voices raised he said something that struck a nerve. I had had it!

“That’s it! Go to your room!” I yelled.

“I’m leaving!” Mike spat back.

“Fine, then leave!”

“Fine, I will!”

“FINE!”

“FINE!”

“Mike, you can’t leave. Just go to your room.” I said as I determined to bring my emotions back under control.

“You said I could leave, so I’m leaving.”

“Go To Your Room!” my voice again raised.

Mike walked into his room, threw some clothes in his backpack, and headed toward the door. I again told him to stay, but he was set on leaving. He walked out the door as I stood there seething with anger. I sat and tried to get my emotions under control again. I knew I would have to go after him, but in the state I was in, it would do no good. After about 5 minutes, I walked outside to see where Mike had gone. I saw him walking down the sidewalk with Leo, our 15 year old. I figured Mike would walk it off and as long as he was with Leo, there was nothing to worry about. I would apologize for acting like a crazed lunatic later, when we both had a chance to cool off. I went to give the baby her bottle.

About 20 minutes later, Leo returned to the house alone. Mike told him that he was going to keep walking. Rolling my eyes, I decided it was time to go find my wayward teen. It took a while to get all of the kids set so I could leave, but I was reasonably confident that it wouldn’t be too hard to find him. Wrong again. After an hour of driving around, I went home and started making the necessary calls. I made dinner and waited for the police to show up.

Thankfully, the officer that came is an old friend, so I was able to relax a little as I told the story. We drove around to check a friend’s house and some other areas that Mike might go. Still no luck. The officer came back to our house and made sure that he had a detailed description of what Mike was wearing when he left and then updated dispatch. I went back to watching the little ones and began their bedtime routines while my husband took Lu and Marie driving around to look for our son. Leo printed out a map, estimated how fast Mike was walking, and drew circles around how far Mike could make it every 2 hours. Then he took a bike and rode around, joining the search.

As the hours passed, me heart sank further. I watched out the windows hoping my boy would come home. I thought of the story of The Prodigal Son and understood how the father watched the road every day. Finally, at the little ones’ bedtime, Sergey was able to take over for me so Eddy and I could rejoin the search. We drove around until it was too dark to see. With a heavy weight on my heart, we returned home. I sat at the window and watched some more. I tried hard to push away the frightening thoughts that kept popping into my mind. Five hours had passed, then six, then seven, still no word. I fell asleep.

After midnight, there was a knock on the door. I don’t think I have ever jumped up so quickly. Through the window I could see an officer standing there next to my son. Waves of relief and joy passed over me as I saw my boy standing there in one piece. The officer told me that he had been found walking along a major highway. He was hungry and exhausted and just wanted to come home. Mike had told the officer about some of the bad things that had happened in his past but then told him of our home, how good he has it here, how we love him and take care of him. I thanked the officer as he left and turned to Mike. He looked at me apprehensively, waiting for me to start scolding. I reached for my son with trembling hands, pulled him to me, and held him. He is my son. He is home.

Enjoying the moment

IMG_5175 “Enjoy the little things in life, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.”

Two years ago, our lives changed forever. Our Lu came down with strep throat and suddenly everything changed. Overnight, she went from a straight A Honor Roll student on track to attend a prestigious academic high school to a girl that could barely function, let alone concentrate on schoolwork. Her body has turned on itself and her immune system is attacking her brain. For the first few months we were just trying to get a diagnosis. Finally, we found a specialist that could give us answers. Our Lu has PANDAS, pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorder associated with strep throat. Thankfully, through a PANDAS parent site, we were directed to a wonderful neurologist that has become a PANDAS expert. But, even with months of treatment, our Lu still could not stabilize. That’s when we learned that she also has Lyme Disease. We are on a big learning curve. I am hoping to share what I am learning, but most of all, I want to say . . .

Find joy!

Look for small moments that make you smile. Hold on to these treasures, because in the end, these are the things that matter.

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Our Lu is finding joy. Last autumn, in a desperate search to find anything to help our girl, I contacted a service dog company. Miracles happened, and our daughter was matched with a dog immediately. Noel has been a life line to Lu, even in some very dark and scary places. The two are inseparable. Noel keeps Lu safe and gives her something to feel good about. See, Lu can’t go to school. She can’t be left unattended. She has seizures, memory loss, her eyes have trouble focusing and that’s not the half of it. But Lu is really good at training her Noel. So good, in fact, that we got two more puppies for Lu to train. She may not be able to go to the high school she had heart set on, but she is a darn good dog trainer. Right now, this is where she finds her joy. And watching Lu work magic with these dogs fills my heart to overflowing.

IMG_4256This evening, like most Wednesday evenings, we were at dog training class. Lu had a seizure and collapsed to the floor. Noel jumped into action doing exactly what she has been trained to do. Noel has a vest that she wears in public to identify her as a service dog. We all agree that her vest is really a cape because Noel is a super hero.

Just Keeping On . . . to whom I write

I write to parents, to encourage them to keep on, because this parenting thing is hard and we never know what is going to come our way.

I write to new parents that are just starting this adventure, to encourage them to keep on through the sleepless nights and the long days and let go of guilt and just enjoy this time while their little ones are still little.

I write to the parents of children with chronic disorders, to encourage them to keep on fighting for their kiddos, to do what it takes, though the battle is long.

I write to the parents who have adopted their children, and daily fight the monsters of trauma and loss, to encourage them to keep on helping their children to heal and become whole.

I write to the foster parents who are ready to take in a child at a moment’s notice, those that give their love, time, money, and resources to help a child in need, to encourage them to keep on though the road is rough and uncertain.

I write to the host parents of international exchange students who take in teens from a different culture and show them love and give them a family while they are away from everything they have ever known, to keep on loving, learning, and teaching.

I write to the parents of teens in difficult places, who know the feeling of helplessness when their children make decisions that hurt and destroy, to keep on loving through the pain.

I write to the parents of large families, whether biological, adopted, foster, host, or a mixture of any of these, to keep on smiling through the chaos that their lives bring.

I write to share my story so that I might encourage others to keep on, because I’m on the journey too.

A Day in the life . . .


In a busy house like ours, you never know what’s going to happen next. And, as every mom knows, the most likely time for catastrophe to strike is when she is taking a potty break.

True to form, I came out of the bathroom first thing this morning to find that my puppies, under the watchful eye of my husband, had chewed a good size hole in my leather couch. What was a small tear is now a gaping hole. They literally removed a chunk of leather, batting, and foam. It’s gone. How am I supposed to fix that? My husband patched it with duct tape.

After breakfast, when things were relatively calm, I started to clean the turtle tanks. Carefully, I set the pet supplies on the bench next to me. Wrong move. James, the two year old, reached over the couch, grabbed the container of fish food, uncapped the top, and poured flakes all over my newly ruined sofa. I ran over to stop the miscreant, grabbed some cloths and started cleaning the mess. James seized the moment. He and Alex, the one year old golden, were in cahoots. James ran to the front door, opened it, and charged outside, laughing the whole way. Alex followed.

Now, opening doors is a new trick for James and we are not used to it yet. I stood there dumbfounded for just a fraction of a second, still holding cleaning cloths laden with fish flakes. I considered the possibility of letting them both go find a new home to destroy, but the paperwork I’d have to fill out just isn’t worth it. I ran out and caught James pretty quickly. I’m still faster than he is. Unfortunately, that’s not true for Alex. The neighbor’s dog was outside and Alex has been waiting for the moment when his collar for our invisible fence would be off so he could go greet and intimidate this friend from across the street. He was running back and forth in our street, trying to decide on his approach when the neighbor came out and grabbed her dog. Seeing that the fun was over, Alex walked into another neighbor’s yard and pooped. With a satisfied grin, Alex returned home to spend the next hour in his crate. I had turtle tanks to clean.

The morning had been exciting enough for me, so I sent James upstairs to spend some quality time with Eddy, the 12 year old. Somehow James ended up in Eddy’s military backpack. They were both pleased with themselves, so all that was left was to take a picture.

This afternoon, I got word that our daughter and two granddaughters need a new place to stay. It looks like I will be spending the next few hours getting the basement room set up for them. This is how we live. We never know how many people will be staying here at any given time. Life is unpredictable. I can plan all I want, but only God knows what will happen from one moment to the next. I’m just trying my best to enjoy the ride.

Everywhere and Nowhere

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Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Excerpt from “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost

I have always felt different, like no matter how hard I tried I never quite fit in. When I was younger, this made me uncomfortable. I just wanted to be accepted and part of the crowd. But as much as I wanted to be normal, I didn’t want to be either. As a teenager, I fell in love with Robert Frost’s poetry, especially “The Road Not Taken.” I knew I wanted to live differently. Eventually, I became comfortable in my own skin. Being different became a blessing, not a curse.

As a teen, I knew that I wanted to adopt some day. I also knew that I wanted to have a large family. I told anyone that would listen that I wanted to have twelve kids. Now, I want more than that. I hope that I can continue to adopt older children for a long time to come. But, having a large family with children in many different age groups and from different backgrounds, races, and cultures makes me far different from the other mothers I know. I fit everywhere, and nowhere at the same time.

I have a toddler that will be potty training soon, but I am not a new mother. I have a child that will be going off to Kindergarten next week. This is the seventh child I’ve sent off to school for the first time. It’s lost its nuance. I have another elementary aged child and two middle school aged kids. One of my daughters is home bound. She cannot attend school so a teacher comes to her, but I am more than just a mother of a chronically ill child. I have one child in our local high school and one in a charter high school. I get requests to volunteer frequently, but that is usually not possible. I am not a mom that has the freedom to plan ahead. One of my kiddos is in a juvenile detention program. Some of my kids have histories filled with severe trauma, abuse, and neglect. Some of my kids have been abandoned. My kids have a lot of needs, but I am not just a special needs mother. I have a son that is a young adult in an independent living program, and two more young adult daughters that are out on their own making a way for themselves in this world, but I am not an empty nester. I have three grandchildren that are precious to me, but I am not just a grandmother. I have host sons from all over the world, and one host daughter. They worked in professional baseball or were exchange students. Some came and went, some stayed for a while and then went on their way, and some stayed and became permanent fixtures in our family. They are all my host sons, some are more than that. But I am not just a host mom. I am all of these, but by fitting in all of these categories, I fit in none. My brain and heart are too full to concentrate on just one or two of my mothering duties. I’ve seen too much.

My hope is that I can encourage other mothers out there. Ours is a difficult job, but well worth the price. Let’s lift each other up. Let’s help the moms that don’t quite fit in.

It Begins

It’s almost quiet here tonight so I am taking this opportunity to get my first post in. Quiet doesn’t happen here often. Most of the kids are in bed. The big boys are downstairs watching TV. I’m stealing this moment. I should be in bed, but the idea of finally starting this blog is too tantalizing.

I’ve been thinking about starting a blog for a long time now. Many of my friends suggested I should. My story is a long one. I’m not sure how much I am ready to tell, but we will start here and see where we end up together, ok?

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First, a look into my life: My name is Mandy. I am a wife and mother. It’s that simple. I am married to Jeff. He’s an incredible man that keeps our family going. His passion is technology and he works as a computer programmer. The depth of his knowledge amazes me. He is a devoted husband and father and I am blessed to be his wife.

We have seven children living at home right now. That number can change at any given moment because we are foster parents. Our youngest is two years old. Our oldest living at home is sixteen. Our youngest is adopted. Our sixteen year old will be soon. There are four biological kids in the middle and one more adopted kiddo in the middle as well. Then we have three more adopted kids that live out on their own and one foster child that is currently out of our home, but we are hoping he can come home soon.

Then we have our five exchange students, two of whom still call our place home. They are from all over the globe, making our home multicultural and multilingual. And then there’s our baseball host sons and daughter that left us with a passion for baseball and a deep love for baseball players, especially the ones we call our own.

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I can’t forget to mention our furry family members. We have a slightly obsessive love for golden retrievers. There is a story behind that. We have three Goldens that share our home. We also have an old lab/ husky mix that keeps us safe from anyone that would dare to come to the front door.  Yes, that is four big dogs, if you were counting. I told you we have an obsession. Our dogs are kept amused by our three degus that occupy a large cage in a corner. Then we have our turtles and our tortoise. What can I say, we like animals.

That’s a quick overview of our family. I hope you enjoy getting to know us as I post more about each member of our family and our adventures together.