My One and Only

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I’m going to let you in on a well-known secret: I don’t like to watch TV. I don’t like the lights. I don’t like the noise. And I hate realizing that I just lost 30 minutes of my day because I sat through an entire episode of Kid Danger- again.

My aversion works well for my kids because, in general, I don’t torture them with boring, adult programming. They are free to argue amongst themselves about whether they want to watch Disney, Nick, Boomerang, or Cartoon Network.

On rare occasions, I do take over the TV. My kids all moan as I turn on the History Channel or PBS. If I really want them to scatter, I turn on Downton Abbey. Nothing sends them fleeing like the theme song of that lovely, British drama. But even the lure of watching Maggie Smith play the Dowager Countess does not have me turning the TV on very often.

I do have one show, though. One that has had me captivated from the first episode. One that I will fight to watch. Once a week, that TV is mine. And no, I don’t care if it IS the middle of March Madness. We do have a DVR, for goodness’ sake!

At 8:45 on Sunday evenings, I make sure the littles are in bed. The middles are sent to go do something- anything, as long as it doesn’t disturb me. Evening meds are distributed and everyone is warned that, “This is My Time. Do NOT disturb me. If you bother me the house had better be on fire or someone better be bleeding out.”

I think those are clear instructions. What is difficult to understand about that? Why do they have such a hard time following those simple directives? Even their father warns them to leave me alone. It’s for one freaking hour! How hard is that?

Apparently, too hard, as this week Shaun had a TOTAL meltdown ten minutes into my show because- get this- his ears were hot. What the heck? Mind you, he was fine all day. He had no pain, no swelling, nothing other than a slight redness on the tips of his ears that completely went away by the next morning. He had been in bed for almost an hour at that point. What could he possibly have been doing? Thank goodness for my DVR.

Now, do you think the drama ended there? No. Lizzie, who is always worse at night, had a full flare-up. Her head started pounding. She started hallucinating and having delusions. Then, just for fun, she had a seizure. I had to fight to get her meds in her and then monitor her until she finally fell asleep on the small sofa. Again, my DVR came to the rescue.

About the time my show was supposed to end, things calmed down enough for me to sit and watch. It was also about the time for Simon to go to bed. He was, as usual, in the basement irritating his big brothers.

Trey and Joe took Simon’s bedtime as their moment to exact revenge. The hollering and riotous laughter made it nearly impossible for me to hear what was happening on my show. I had about had it. I threatened to take away everything they hold dear- namely, their electronics.

The big boys were exasperated. “But Mom, your show is supposed to be over. We’ve been waiting to watch the game!”

My eyes shot daggers and smoke started escaping out my ears. Wisely, they backed away, into the kitchen to look for a snack while they waited to take control of my TV.

Here’s the thing about Trey and Joe. They are low key and soft spoken all day long, but in the evening, they come to life. After 8 pm, the two of them are incapable of doing anything quietly, and their noise level rises exponentially when they are together. They barely escaped the evening with their lives- and more importantly, their electronics.

So, I ask you, am I asking for too much? Should I give up on my time to escape reality to relax in a post-apocalyptic world ridden with Walkers and Saviors? I’m sorry. I can’t. I just love The Walking Dead.

 

 

 

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Mike’s Day

20151117_130847282_iOSToday has been a big day for us. One that has been long awaited. This morning, the whole family piled into 4 vehicles and headed to the local county courthouse to take part in Mike’s adoption.

He’s ours! He’s finally ours! Forever!!!

It feels like I have been waiting for this day for ages; like Mike has always been mine and I have just been waiting for everyone else to realize it. This is the 4th adoption we have finalized. None have been easy. The adoption process is exhausting. Home studies are invasive. Foster parenting is tedious. But, oh my, this child is worth it. I love him. I always have. I always will. He is my son.

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Hope

“A great hope fell

You heard no noise

The ruin was within.”

— Emily Dickinson

I sat in the courtroom, holding my son’s hand, both of our eyes fixed on the boy sitting in front of us. Our hearts were begging for mercy. The situation was beyond us. We had no control. My mind flashed to tender moments from the weeks before. We had had a hard time of it, but the tender moments gave me hope, kept me going.

“In joined hands there is still some token of hope, in the clenched fist none.” — Victor Hugo The Toilers of the Sea

A cloud of sadness loomed over the courtroom. The boy sitting in the chair in front of me was no stranger to moments like this. Dark days had defined not only his life, but also the life of his brother sitting next to me. It had been a fight, but we had finally won the battle to get custody of Mike, his adoption scheduled for later this year.  Mike was thriving for the first time in his life. We had so hoped the same would happen with his little brother. But, at least for now, it was not to be. The sadness inside had been too frightening for the boy; he chose anger instead. With anger he felt less vulnerable.

We had been given six weeks to try to be a family. I treasure the memory of those weeks. There had been progress and glimmers of hope. But it had also been an exhausting journey. The boy needed so much. He watched my every move, searching for signs of insincerity. A battle raged in his mind– could this be real? Could he trust us not to give up on him when everyone else had? Would we be able to love him at his worst? Could he really be successful as a member of our strange and diverse family? He tested our limits and tried to make himself unlovable.  He pushed me away all while watching to see if I would stay. I loved him harder as he continued to push. I also loved him carefully. Too much affection would frighten him and set him off. He had learned that adults could never be trusted. We had been walking a tight rope.

Then there was that moment, the moment when rage blinded the boy I so badly want to call my own. He did not want to be this way, but as he became overwhelmed with emotion, he returned to old behaviors. Logic, love, hope, and trust were invisible to him in that moment. There was only rage, and the boy I love acted on that rage without an ability to think of the consequences.

The storm blew over, but the damage was done. Thankfully, there were no physical injuries but the emotional ones were immense. There was damage to our house, but that didn’t matter.  It did not compare to the pain in my heart. I saw the hope disappear from the boy’s eyes. We both knew that his chance was over. The court would take him away.

So Mike and I sat, holding hands and daring to hope that the judge would make a decision that was different than the one we knew she had to make. But it was not to be. The boy we love was taken away before our eyes and we were powerless to stop it.

Then, in the middle of the gloom, another ray of hope emerged. Our boy would not be allowed to come home immediately, but he would be able to receive another chance. There is a program designed to help children like him. If our boy completes the program, then he can come home again. Mike and I have a job to do. We need to keep on loving and encouraging our boy. He has work to do, and our job is to help him never give up on the hope of a family.

Moments from My Week

Don't bother me, I'm concentrating.

Don’t bother me, I’m concentrating.

It’s been a busy week here, as usual. I thought it might be fun to post some moments, in photos and quotes, to give my readers a glimpse of what I hear and see in a normal week’s time. I hope you enjoy.

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Where’s Jimmy?

“Jimmy, GET OUT of the pantry!!!

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Let’s see if the Vaseline top will flush.

“Mom, he just flushed your good pen down the toilet.”

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Because there is no bad place for a monster truck.

“Give that to me! Do you want me to bite you?”

One tired Princess.

One tired Princess.

“Mom, my body and my brain don’t like my teachers. I like my teachers, but my body and brain don’t.”

What? I'm just reading a book.

What? I’m just reading a book.

“MOM, he’s in the dryer again.”

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Let’s hide the chips in the toy cabinet. Mom will never find them in there.

“I need more blood.” (Fake blood- that’s for a later post.)

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Quincy both resting in and chewing apart his toy bin.

“I got in trouble at school today because I burped in my friends’ faces.”

You mean it's not supposed to hang like that?

You mean it’s not supposed to hang like that?

“They locked us out!”

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Because you can’t have too much of a good thing.

“Night night, Grandma.”

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Jimmy couldn’t wait to try the zucchini. He didn’t like it.

“Mom, he put my toy in the tortoise tank!”

Because putting the toilet paper on the roll is just asking too much.

Because putting the toilet paper on the roll is just asking too much!”

“Mom, do you hate me now?”

“He wants to see you. He does not want to see his workers, but he wants to see you.”

“Mom, I’ll stay with her. You go rest on the couch and I’ll get you if I need you.”

“I love you, Mom.”

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.

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.