The Social Worker

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This essay originally appeared on the Respite Redefined Newsletter, which you can sign up for here.

The social worker is the person who decides the fate of our family.  She’s the one that presents us in the match meetings and to other social workers, telling them about our family and how we’ll be a great fit for children in the system.  No matter how much paperwork we complete, no matter how long I spend dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s, no matter how pretty Future Children’s bedroom is, no matter how prompt or late I am in replying to her emails, it’s all up to her.  She’s the one that has spent just a few hours with us over the course of the last few weeks and now she’s supposed to know everything there is to know about us. And she surely does know a lot.

She knows all the practical things, like how many bedrooms are in our home and if our first aid kit is locked away.  She knows where we sleep and that one of my daughters has a pink room and the other has a floral comforter. She knows that our kitchen is tiny but our living room is large and we have a playroom in our basement.  She knows by looking around our house that I can’t keep up with the laundry situation and that I will most likely always have dirty dishes in the sink, but she also knows that even though we have two dogs I always have clean floors.  Well, mostly.

She knows a lot of things about our past, since that’s what helps shape our character into the humans we are today.  She knows I have one sibling and that my husband has three. She knows I’m from Texas and he’s from Maine. She knows I grew up in a large house with two teachers and that he grew up in a smaller house with a machinist and a secretary.  She knows that when I was five I wanted to be a teacher and she knows that I achieved that goal. She knows that he wanted to be a pastor when he grew up and that even though he isn’t one any longer he does like his current job. She knows that before we ever met we wanted a large family that we grew through adoption.

She knows a lot of things about our marriage.  She knows we got married on a Saturday night in the backyard of my childhood home where I wore a long dress and he didn’t wear a tie.  She knows that we were both young and naive about where life was going to take us. She knows we’ve moved eight times in the last nine years and she knows that we’re tired of moving.  She knows that year five of marriage was pretty hard and that we make sure to talk every Sunday night about our week ahead so we’re always on the same page about our schedules.

She knows that I’m the talker and he’s not.  She knows that I’m the worrier and he’s even-keeled.  She knows that I would love a baby at some point and she knows that neither one of us really and truly care what age our next child is.  She knows that we both love a good movie and a good book. She knows that I’m indoorsy and he’s outdoorsy but we both equally love staying in on a Friday night and going on a weekend camping trip.

She knows a lot of these things because we’ve had to tell her.  She’s had to pry and pry and pry into our lives until it was awkward for all of us.  That’s how she knows that we lost a baby during our first adoption process and it was really really hard.  It’s how she knows that getting our first kids put us both through post partum depression because we just weren’t expecting what was going to happen.  It’s how she knows that we persevered well through our first unemployment season but that the second one almost broke us. It’s how she knows that we’ve wanted our next future children for a long time but that we waited until we were in a good place to bring them home.

She knows all this and thus our fate rests in her hands.  She holds all the power over who will come next into our home.  She gets to present all this information in the match meetings and to social workers with the idea of making us out to be the perfect family for that kid.  And so I have to trust this woman, who I have known only a few weeks, who has only been inside our home a handful of times, who knows a lot about me even though I know nothing about her, and she has now become the most important person in my life.

How am I supposed to trust that this woman whom I barely know will get all the things right when presenting our family?  How can I trust that even though she knows hard things and practical things that she also knows the most important things?

Does she know that the love for my current children overpowers me sometimes?  When we’re out running errands I just sometimes stop and look at them and marvel at how beautiful they are and how lucky I am to have them.  Does she know that my current children have become my best little friends? Oftentimes I have tears streaming down my face because they have made me laugh so hard.  And I can always count on them to hangout with me when I’m bored and lonely.

Does she know that though I have never even met Future Children that my love for them overwhelms me?  My husband and I are often on our knees every night praying that they are loved and taken care of that they know they’re wanted even if they don’t know by whom.  Does she know that I cannot wait to cry laugh at their jokes? That I cannot wait to hangout with them when I’m bored and lonely?

Does she know that a part of me feels missing because I know someone is out there who belongs in our family but I do not know who that person is?  Does she know it kills me that I’m not the one kissing the boo-boos and bandaging the scrapes and feeding them cereal for dinner? Does she know how much I’m worry about them?  Are they getting enough sleep? Are they getting enough food? Are their clothes warm enough? Did they get what they wanted at Christmas? Is someone giving them enough hugs? Is someone wiping away their tears?  Are their teachers nice to them? Are they doing well in school?

I don’t know how to convey this to her, this social worker I barely know, without looking like an utterly crazy person.  So instead I tell her all the things she wants to know and then some–because I’m the talker–and I answer her emails as quickly as I receive them.  I struggle with getting the paperwork in on time but I make sure all the i’s are dotted and all the t’s are crossed. I try to make it look like I’m being patient, even though I wish I could drive to her office and stand behind her and look over her shoulder as she puts our family profile together.  I’m working really hard to trust this stranger to fight for our family and present us in the perfect way at the perfect moment, but it’s really hard.

I’m glad she doesn’t know how badly I bite my fingernails when I’m worried or how I bake cookies and stress eat the batter or how I’ve stopped sleeping at night.  No, those are things she doesn’t need to know. She just needs to know everything else.

Pride in the Wait

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Pride often sneaks up on me. It’s always there, of course, asleep on my shoulders, but I’m not always aware of it until it wakes up and rears its ugly head in my face.

It’s been over 400 days since we started our second adoption from foster care process and we still have not brought home our child.

There was that first match meeting which was postponed for months only for us to not get picked. Then there was the adoption disruption. And then, more waiting.

We took family photos and captioned them things like, “Last Christmas as a family of four” and “Last time we’ll ever do ___" and instead we’re ending a school year and heading into the summer and still there are only four of us.

This was not how it was supposed to go. We were cocky. We had planned our calendars. We had requested maternity/paternity leave. We had postponed our own trips, wanting to save outings for next child. We knew we’d have one or two more children by now. We knew 400 days would not go by until we were a family of 5 or 6.

And yet we’re still waiting.

The feelings of failure have been strong. More so with this second adoption than we’ve ever felt in our infertility journey. At this point in 9 years of marriage it’s almost expected we won’t have biological children. No, it’s less shameful for us to not have birthed a child than it is for us to not adopt again. I mean, we attend our foster care support group regularly! So we need stories to add. We regularly speak and preach about why people need to enter into foster care! Where is our new child(ren)?!

It’s been hard. Dejecting and hard. It’s hard not to take it personally when you’re not the family that’s picked for a child (even though we make it a point to pray and rejoice knowing that child has a family). It’s hard not to take it personally when an adoption disruption (even though we’re rejoicing in seeing fruit from that hardship). It’s hard to put non-refundable deposits on summer trips and vacation homes and use pen to fill our calendars with plans because shouldn’t we wait? The What If Game is repeated over and over in our home.

At the end I know it will be worth it. I know because I’ve walked that road and even though it was significantly shorter I know the outcome will be similar.

At the end it will be worth it. I just wish we knew when the end was going to be.

Redoing The Room

I can’t bring myself to redecorate The Room.

I said I wouldn’t. I said and promised my husband I would. not. touch. it. until Future Child(ren) came and made her decisions because I once decorated a Future Children’s room four times before Future Children actually came into existence. So I swore I wouldn’t redecorate this room, even though the closets are wonky and the paint colors are terrible.

But then She came in and made the decisions and things started progressing and got done and the beginnings got decorated and then She isn’t coming back here. She decided on lots of white with a little bit of gray and I was going to surprise her with twinkly lights suspended from the ceiling.

I can’t walk past that room without seeing the comforter and sheets we picked out for her in the doorway, so we keep the door closed. I can’t go in there without seeing things She tacked to the wall, so the husband finally took them down. I can’t see that room without seeing her so now I need to redecorate it, even though I promised and I swore that I wouldn’t.

But I have to redo it and strip it of it’s character so i don’t keep seeing her. It’s what must be done.

Adoption Disruption

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Originally published through my Respite Redefined Newsletter which you can sign up for here.

Little things remind me of her.  Fried chicken. Cat-eye glasses. Dutch braids.  Cookie dough ice cream.

Everytime I make an online order, I hear her teasing me.  I baked a bundt cake yesterday and had all the ingredients but the bundt pan, and I could have swore she jumped in the car with me for the quick Wal-Mart trip.  We went to Portland and I kept thinking Look at what she’s missing.

We were a family in thought only, but for a brief time we were a family.  Paperwork was just barely getting filed when everything disrupted. We knew each other for only a few short weeks but we knew each other.  We knew each other.  

I keep thinking she’ll call.  I’ll say hello and she’ll start with, “Okay, question…”  But she doesn’t. And I still have the phone reminder ringing every night at 7pm to call her.  I can’t turn it off.

I keep thinking she’ll write…but who even does that anymore?  Not teenagers, that’s for sure. I keep picking up cards wanting to throw them in the mail for her but I can’t.  It’s not appropriate.

In the world of foster care I have to love a child I barely know and think of her often without ever getting the right to know how she’s doing, how she’s coping.  Did someone sit with her? Hold her hand when she heard the news? Did she cry? Did someone hug her? Did she walk stone face to her room, demanding she was fine?

My first two kids are 9 and 6 now.  My first two respite babies who spent 10 days in our home and forever in our hearts are out there somewhere, too, and I think of them just as often as our forever children who are in our home.  Did they get adopted? Are they doing well in school? Does she still like giraffes? Does he still like legos?

The door to her room is always open.  I understand those people who have to close it off and not look at it, but the difference is she never slept there, never left her mark, so there’s no lingering presence.  It’s just empty. She had grand decorating plans for it, though. We went to get paint samples and taped them all over her room so she could decide what to paint the dresser and what to paint the walls.  

I went in there the other day to find the smallest dog curled up in the bedding.  I wonder if he misses her too? And saw that someone had ripped the paint samples off the wall–probably Kevin–there was a mark on the wall wear the tape had worn off the paint.  

Now we just wait for another phone call.  We impatiently wait for the phone to ring or the email to ding and we guiltily feel so calloused (as this foster care life has made us) to worry and mourn one child while immediately anticipating the next.

You get it.  I know you do.  You get the simultaneous stomach butterflies of expectation and heartburn of loss.  You get it. I get it.

It doesn’t get easier.  I don’t know how it can get harder.  It’s just there. A side effect, a symptom, like morning sickness that never ever fades away.

When We First Met - Frost Family Story

by Caitlin Frost

Newly married with no job, no kids, and nothing to do all day, I obsessed over birth stories.  It was 2010 and pretty much every person on the planet was blogging about the minute details of their lives and I relished in reading them--all the blood and guts included.

I couldn’t wait to write my own.

Fast forward four years and I was ready to write that story.  I was ready to spill my own blood and guts--literally--and blog about it for other bored new housewives to read about.  But there was no baby.  Instead, there were two littles waiting for me somewhere in the state of Massachusetts and I could not wait to finally meet them.

And I met them.  I learned their names and their faces and heard their voices for the first time.  I got to run my hands through their hair and look into their beautiful eyes.  I was lucky enough to hear a laugh and to learn about who these people were.

I finally had a birth story to write. It wouldn’t really be like those stories I stayed up until midnight reading, but it would be just as special.  I was going to write all about the day I first met my kids and how amazing it was.

But for two and a half years, every time I try to write about that first day, there are no words.  I can’t do it.  It was just as amazing as I had anticipated, but there’s nothing I can really put into words, no matter how hard I try.

So I can’t tell you what that day was like and what we did and how I felt, although I certainly remember every single detail.  But I can tell you this.

When we first met, my breath was taken away.  I stopped breathing when I saw their faces for the first time.

When we first met, I couldn’t speak.  What do you say to a little person when you meet them the first time?  Everything felt so unimportant and cliche.

When we first met, I changed.  Looking back that was the moment I became a mother, though it wouldn’t be until months later that I broke down crying in my car in a parking lot at the therapist’s office because the idea of motherhood and the weight of what that meant had finally set in.

When we first met, I had no idea two little strangers could look and act and talk just like me.  It was if God had created a mini-me and destined us to find each other.

When we first met, I had no idea how I was going to mother another woman’s child.  I was so excited that my dream was coming true at the expense of my own daughters’ life.  That was when I first felt the tragedy enveloped in the beauty of adoption.

When we first met, I couldn’t leave.  I overstayed my welcome at the foster parents’ house (much to our social worker’s chagrin) and my husband had to drag me out to the car.  I met my kids and the idea of leaving them with someone else was so upsetting to me I cried the whole way home.

The days are long and the years are short but the memory of meeting my two forever daughters is as vivid today as it was when we first met, and I don’t think it will ever fade away.  I don’t need to write the details because we all feel them.  Every time I rock one of them to sleep or bandaged a hurt knee memories of that day surface and I feel so grateful that I get to mother these daughters of mine.  I’m so grateful for this birth story, even if I can’t write about it.

 

Halloween Links!

PHOTO BY  ERIN

PHOTO BY ERIN

Happy Friday!  Fall is in full swing and Halloween is right around the corner!  Whether you celebrate the holiday or not, here are some fun links from around the web.

Here's a great read about making Halloween fun for birth families and foster families...

...and another with some helpful tips about Halloween as a foster family.

Have some great barely used Halloween costumes?  Or are you just looking for a way to give back to the foster community?  How about donating costumes for foster families to use?

Littles will LOVE these free Halloween color pages.

We do a hand print craft every season, and I love hanging them up for each year and comparing the growth!  Here's this year's fall hand print craft.

An absolutely beautiful photo of a pumpkin patch.  Let's all go visit Erin!

Do you follow us on Pinterest?  You should.  This board is full of crafty autumn inspiration.

I've Got This

 

by Guest Writer Lauren

I've Got This.

The closest thing to a daily mantra I've had.

I say it when I stand in front of the sink to hand wash our dishes for the umpteenth time. I say it when I walk down the stairs, carrying another load of laundry I have every intention of finishing but never do. I said it when I found strawberries and bubble solution smashed all over my white comforter. When I uncovered 50 fruit snack wrappers and a half eaten rotten apple under the couch cushions- again.

I've said it after my husband calls at 6:32 PM to tell me that he's still working. That and a couple of expletives.

I've Got This.

I've been saying it all morning as I try desperately to type this, wanting nothing more than to word vomit all over my computer. But I can't. Because of all the kids. Particularly the baby. The one, the one who is by far the sweetest, quietest, happiest baby we've ever had. But is also the one who refuses to be put down- anywhere. Not in the swing. Not in the crib. The car seat or the carrier. But who just wants to be held, like he's eating, even when he's not. I paced around the kitchen for a while. He's wrapped snuggly now. Content. Safe.

I've got this.

I've been a Foster Mom for 3 years. Baby D is the 7th in our care, our 9th human we've parented. It's been a whirlwind and I'm never really sure how to explain our family. For the past six months we had five kids. A season I'm still trying to process. Then, just like that, we didn't. As of this writing, we have four kids. Two Biological, One Adopted, and the littlest on the track towards adoption. Our life is a crazy whirlwind of everything and anything.

If you are reading this, you probably already know. This life isn't easy. This parenting of other people's children.  It doesn't take a whole lot to feel like you're going to go over the edge. One day a few weeks ago I was super close to that line. I've been “done” a million times before. But this time, this time I was past the line. Exhausted. Wanting to quit. I was trying to find time to see the boys birth mom. Trying to homeschool. Trying to stay married. Trying to do just one- just one- load of laundry all the way through. Trying to wash the bowls before the next gourmet dinner of boxed dry cereal and milk. Trying to do it all at once. And it hit like a giant crushing wave.

The problem with my mantra.

I don't have this.

I never have.


He does though.

I still forget. Like today. When I was working through my thoughts. “I've got this” running through my head. Never really getting anywhere until I stopped to breathe, to remember:  He's got this.

It will get easier. The boys will get older. We'll find a rhythm, a beautiful one that fits us. We'll eventually get a dishwasher and I'll figure out how to get my kids to do their own laundry and I'll remember that I can always call the take out place down the street for dinner.  

But what really changes our day to day, now, what really changes it, is perspective. It's letting myself off the mat. It's not relying on myself to do anything. But on Him. The one who can, for real,  do everything.

You see, when your mantra is, “I've Got This,” it sucks when you clearly don't. But when it shifts to “He's Got This,” well, yeah. He just does. And then you can breathe again. And you can let all the small stuff slide and you can play a board game with your big kids. You can read a book to your toddler. You can sit on the couch with the baby. For hours. Because He's got this. He's got you and your kids and your dishes and your laundry and your meals. He's got your marriage.  He's got you so tight and so well and you don't have to do a single thing- except take it freely- and remember every once in a while.   

I'm with you in the trenches, mama. So, say it with me, as your fumble through your day drinking cold coffee and crying for no reason.

He's Got This.