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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The Visitor

We encourage our kids to have friends over. It’s pretty common for there to be an extra kid or two hanging out for a few hours or spending the night. That’s why I didn’t think much of it when Mike brought a new friend home last Thursday after school.

“Mom, this is my friend, Darius. Do you mind if we go downstairs and play video games for a while?” Mike asked.

“Sure, sweetheart. Go ahead,” I replied, then I went back to making dinner.

About an hour later, Mike came upstairs and told me that Darius was going to need a ride home. I thought that was strange, but sometimes Mike offers our help without checking with us first, so I didn’t think too much of it. I told Mike that we were busy then but someone could take Darius home after we were done with dinner. Darius texted his mother and let us know that she was ok with that. Later that evening, my husband drove the boys over to the apartment complex where Darius lives. When they got there, Darius noticed that his Mother’s car was not there. He texted her again and she replied that she had to leave and wanted to know if he could just spend the night at our house because he couldn’t get in his apartment. We thought that was weird, but we weren’t about to leave the boy alone in the parking lot, so he came back to our house and spent the night.

On Friday morning before school, I pulled Darius aside and tried to get some more information about his home life. Mr. M and I had an uneasy feeling about the whole situation. As foster parents, we are required to report suspected abuse, but I refuse to make that call unless I am fairly certain abuse is actually happening. My gut told me that Darius was not being truthful, but I couldn’t tell what the truth was.  Darius assured me that his mother would be picking him up later that day, then he and Mike left for school.

Friday was a busy day in our town. It was homecoming week, and there were events all day long. I was busy taking care of My Littles and My Middles. Lu was not feeling well, and she was taking a lot of my attention. My Bigs and my Olders (whom I still need to write a post about) were all busy doing other things, so my day was completely consumed with caring for my family. Late in the afternoon, in the midst of the chaos, I noticed that Darius’s backpack was in the kitchen.

A while later, Darius walked into the house with Mike. I asked him why he was here and not home.  He explained that he was hanging out between homecoming activities and that he and Mike would be leaving for the parade and football game in a little while. His mother would be picking him up after the game. That seemed reasonable to me, so I wished him well and went back to my day.

The rest of the evening was busy but typical, that is until bedtime. I was exhausted, but I waited for Mike to get home before climbing the stairs and heading to my bed. When Mike came home, he was not alone. Darius was with him. I looked at them both in utter amazement. Darius stammered. He explained that his mom never came to pick him up and when he texted her, she had told him that she had gone to work. He sheepishly asked if he could spend one more night, insisting that his mother would pick him up here when she got off work the next day. I shrugged and told him, “That’s fine, but when she picks you up tomorrow, I am going to talk to her.” Then I went to bed.

The next morning, I woke up refreshed and determined to get to the bottom of our strange visitor’s story. I assumed he had been lying, but I was hoping to get a glimmer of the truth. I still was not sure if a call to protective services was warranted. I questioned Darius several times that day. I watched closely for signs of trauma and abuse. I repeatedly asked him what time his mother would be coming to get him, reminding him that I was determined to speak with her when she came. I had already asked for all of her contact information, but Darius was being less than helpful.

As the day wore on and the time came closer to when we were finally going to get to meet Darius’s mom, his story suddenly changed. Apparently, Darius’s mom had messaged him and needed him to be dropped off at the mall. I looked Darius in the eye and firmly explained that I would not allow that. He was not leaving my home until I met his mother. Darius squirmed. He stammered and came up with a lame excuse as to why he needed to be at the mall. I gave him another chance to be truthful, but got nowhere. I left Darius playing video games with Mike and went upstairs. Mr. M and I discussed all of the details and decided that since we really had no evidence of abuse, I would call the police. The police could take it from there.

Not long after my call to the station, an officer arrived at our home. (I really need to bake our local officers cookies or something. It seems like they are out here to help us out quite a bit.) We called Darius upstairs. He seemed shocked to see an officer there waiting for him. Darius started with some of the same stories that he had given us. The officer had him collect his things and get in the cruiser. They were going to drive around until they found Darius’s mom. As they left, I breathed a sigh of relief.

In the mean time, we had found a Facebook account that we were pretty certain belonged to Darius’s mother. We sent her a request. She responded the next day and asked why the police had been involved. I explained what had happened on our side. She explained her side, sending copies of the messages between herself and Darius. He had refused to go with her after school on Thursday and had gone to the basketball court instead. That is where he met Mike.  Once he came to our house he decided he was going to stay here as long as he could. No one knows why. Some mysteries are never solved.

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!

Court Review

Yesterday, we had a court review scheduled for 1:30. This is a regular thing in foster care. Case reviews are generally scheduled every 3-6 months. I didn’t attend court hearings for my younger foster children because it was not necessary, although I was welcome to go if I wished. The hearings were just formalities and there was not a need for me to be present. My little ones definitely needed me to be home with them more than I needed to be in court.

It’s different with older foster children, generally anyone past the age of 14. Although teens have the right to miss case reviews, I encourage my foster children to go. I encourage my kids to advocate for themselves and to be present when adults are making decisions for them. After, we talk about the proceedings and I make sure my kiddo has a good understanding of everything that took place. Yesterday was Mike’s review hearing.

I have to admit that I went to court with a feeling of frustration. I was so hoping that Mike’s adoption would be finalized by now. For some reason, it is taking FOREVER! We started the process back in February. We worked steadily, gathering and compiling everything we needed, and it was a lot. We submitted the last of our forms in May. Our home study, the official report on our home and family, and the adoption petition were sent to the state capitol for review on June 30th. It wasn’t until the first week in September that we received word that the state approved our petition. That’s a long time for us to wait, but for Mike, who is taking a huge leap of faith by joining a family again, it seems like an eternity.

We arrived at court on time and sat in the waiting area. We sat with our adoption worker and waited for our foster care case worker, who was in a different hearing, to join us. We also waited for Mike’s lawyer, known as his guardian ad-lidem or GAL, to arrive. We waited only a few minutes for our case worker. Then the real waiting began.

While we waited, we talked about Mike’s upcoming adoption, the high turn around rate in the child welfare agencies, and the frustration of time wasted in courtroom waiting rooms when case loads are so high that workers barely have time to visit all of the children on their load every month, let alone finish their paperwork. Our worker is one of the best I’ve ever met. Her load is almost twice the legal capacity. So much for laws.

More time passed, still no sign of Mike’s GAL. The prosecutor tried tracking the lawyer down, so we could just get our case heard. We knew it would be a short hearing. Finally, the GAL was found,  she was in another courtroom on another floor of the building. Upon further investigation, it was discovered that she had scheduled 4 hearings for 1:30. Apparently, ours didn’t take precedence. That didn’t surprise me. Mike has lived with us for 2 years and in that time, the GAL has never been to our house or so much as discussed Mike’s case with him on the phone. Usually, she pulls Mike into a side room a couple of minutes before we enter the courtroom and asks him if there is anything he wants to discuss. Sadly, the GAL represents this child to the court. She makes the legal recommendations and often, the judge listens.

Over two hours later, the judge got sick of waiting and called us in to her courtroom without Mike’s lawyer. The prosecutor was astonished; she had never seen that happen before. Our hearing was brief, about 5 minutes. The judge congratulated Mike on his upcoming adoption. (Our worker filed the adoption petition with the court that morning. It won’t be long now!) When it was Mike’s turn to speak, he expressed a desire to just have this adoption done. He’s been waiting so long.

Soon Mike will be done with court reviews and family team meetings and social workers coming all the time. We won’t have to get agency permission for him to spend the night at a friend’s house. I will be able to sign his medical paperwork and I won’t have to update the agency about every little bump. scrape, or bruise. Mike will be taking our last name and making a few changes of his own. I’m so excited to be on this journey with our son.

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.

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

the-road-not-taken

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.