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.

 

Dear Foster Momma

by Guest Writer Erin

Dear Foster Momma,

I know you’re not who you thought you’d be.

I know how you nodded your head in the foster care classes, agreeing with DCS and their system. I know how you put trust in caseworkers to do what’s best for your kids. While you knew that your babies were one case out of 30 they had to carry, you felt confident. But then the contact with their family case manager dwindled. And all of a sudden things didn’t seem to be in the best interest of the children. And you know it’s your job to support the system, but it’s becoming difficult. When surprises continue to arise, you grow weary. Very quickly you see the flaws of the system and you wonder how you could be so naive.

I know that while you waited to become licensed you read and read and read on how to advocate for birth families. You educated your family and your friends. You prepared your heart. You reached out and asked how you could help. You pleaded with the Lord to change hearts and situations. But then all of the trauma that the children in your care begins to surface. You begin to feel anger about circumstances beyond your control. It becomes harder and harder to see the good.

I know how you anxiously awaited your first placement. I know how you believed that you would love with all you had and yet hold on loosely. I know you said that while it would be hard, you would be able to say goodbye- that goodbye would be a good thing. But then you brought home a baby from the hospital and you didn’t sleep for 3 months. Those sleepless nights bonded you together. Your heart grew in ways you never imagined. All of a sudden ‘goodbye’ seems unbearable. The thought of not hearing their first words or watching them walk is unfathomable.

I know how you wonder if all of this is worth it. I know how desperate you are to change the system. I know that this is harder than you thought it would be.

I also know that you are doing the best you can. I know that you’re a good momma. I know that what you’re doing matters.

 

Homeschooling and Foster Care

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by Guest Writer Lauren

My oldest was a newly fledged five year old. It was the year that we had to enroll him in a Kindergarten. We had been, for lack of a better word, “homeschooling” for preschool and loving it. What I didn't want, going forward, was to isolate ourselves from our community. I was worried that if we kept going, if we kept homeschooling, it would be for all the wrong reasons. I was also worried that if we sent him to public school, if we changed things because the financial burden was suddenly minimal, that it would be for more wrong reasons. I was worried we were going to be sending him off on some save the world mission. Something not fair of us to ask.

Basically, any way you looked at it I was worried.

We seemingly had two choices. To enroll him in the local school, the one that tipped above the poverty line, or to keep him home, in our nice little bubble. I couldn't decide. I'll never forget the day we sat in the car after touring a homeschool enrichment program. After more lengthy conversation, I told my husband I couldn't decide. I asked him, point blank, to tell me what to do.

As a wannabe feminist, it was terrifying. He said, “Let's homeschool. If it sucks we'll just send him to school later.”

So, we did. We continued to talk and work our way through what we were hoping and wanting.

We decided (together, I should add) that our goals as a family and our vision for his childhood included him staying at home with me. We would later figure out the curriculum and ideology but for now we just wanted more time at home. And time we had.

I'm increasingly grateful for it as the years go on. Our hearts have always had an inkling of aching for more and a little after this life decision we made another. Little by little, email by email, orientation after orientation, in what felt like eternity but now seems like a blink, we were certified Foster Parents. The dichotomy never really occurred to us. Taking our kids out of the system while at the same time opening our homes to the kids incredibly deep in a different one. It seemed to fit all those initial worries going into the educational system. About isolation and community and vision. It was too much to ask my five year old to save the world on his own but it was not too much of us to do it together.

I laugh at myself now. I never really quite realized the impact foster care would have on our schedule. Vision or no vision. The family visits and doctor appointments and home visits and therapy (both in and out of the home). The behavior curve and emotional needs of everyone. How changing any one thing can alter your rhythm incredibly. How important rhythm is for a homeschool.

I know you are curious as to how it works for us. We've been in the thick of it for three years now. Somedays I'm curious too. Especially on bad days.

Usually after an initial placement we tuck into our little home. Cancel classes and events. We work slowly through our books while we coordinate with the county. We do all the things any foster family does. We just do it together. You see, for us education is our life. It's not the math textbook or the penmanship. It's not history or civics. It's our life as a whole. And that life includes, on a daily basis, kids that need a home that loves them.

We have a saying in our home: “the baby is the lesson.” And that applies to our foster care commitments too. “The system is the lesson.” A lesson in patience. In hospitality. In sharing space and time and materials. It is a lesson in community. In homelessness. In the effects of drug use. In the prison system. It is a lesson in a family unit. A lesson in the pain that comes from a broken one.

A lesson in Grace. Overwhelming Grace. A lot of lessons for all of us.

While, at times, foster care feels more disruptive to our homeschool than conducive. It works for us because we've chosen, very intentionally, to do it as a unit. That means driving to visits together. That means the kids are home during home visits. Sometimes that means meetings in public with homeless bio parents. It means therapy waiting rooms together. It means making beds and laying out stuffies and showing the house to a new friend, together. It means tears on the stoop, together. It means welcoming their little brother home, in the middle of the week day, together.

The end of it is, the day to day is the simple stuff. Anyone can pick up a curriculum and give their kids an adequate education. Math will get done. Writing will happen. Books will be read. History will be memorized. The hard stuff is the life stuff. The overwhelming and confusing stuff. For that I'm beyond grateful that we get to do it all together, as a family, with bountiful time and curious hearts and open arms.

From Foster-Alum to Foster Mom

by Guest Writer Alexis

I remember the day they told me they wanted me to talk to my school counselor about the “situation” at my house. I was twelve years old. They spoke ever so gently to me about how my mom needed some time to “get better,” and how they would split the four of us up and send us to different family members. I remember the feeling of dread that crept over my body as I attempted to spit out the words, “but I can’t live without my mom,” before erupting in tears. They explained that it would be temporary, like summer camp. I soon realized it wasn’t my housing and guardian situation that would be temporary, but rather that I would be temporary in so many different families.
We were a wild brood, but we had many aunts, uncles, and cousins that tried generously to take us in. 

Life was different. There was structure, food in the fridge, clean clothes on my back, no unwelcome guests, and a clean house with no little critters running around. There were expectations and consequences, chores, and (my absolute favorite) rewards ;). People were always asking me how I felt, or if I had something I wanted to say to my mom or dad. They asked if I wanted to scream, cry, or even punch a pillow to express anger, but I remained stoic and composed, never wanting to ruffle any feathers. In truth, I was angry, sad, depressed, mouthy—a typical teenager, and then some.

Flash forward 16 years and I beat the system. According to the most recent research, only 50% of foster youth graduate high school, while fewer than 10% of foster youth graduate from college. This May 2017, I will be graduating with a Master’s of Arts degree in Elementary Education. Did I do this on my own? NO WAY! Every family placement I have been with had a hand in creating my eclectic personality that is driven, determined, educated, creative, stubborn, and just a pinch of awkward. They are more responsible for who I am today than anything. Because of this, I knew I was going to be a foster mom, even before I knew I wanted to get married or be a teacher. 
I knew God not only created me with a great desire to care for children, but also with a heart that had endured hardships in preparation for my own personal ministry.

When I look at my children, I can identify with the hurt in their hearts and the confusion in their eyes. I know what it feels like to think, “Will there be any dinner? I must shovel it all in before I lose my chance!” I know what it’s like to feel abandoned, alone, worthless, or to just want love and attention. As much as I know there are no words to make all the hurt go away, I know there are words that can offer solace, just a quick distraction from the emotions wreaking havoc in their hearts. 

I am a foster mom for many reasons, but this one alone is my driving force: it doesn’t matter where you came from, it only matters where you’re going. Every child deserves a chance to succeed. Many are met with opposition very early in their lives. Many doors are closed for them before they can even walk or talk. All eyes are often on them looking to see if they are going to follow in their parents’ footsteps, or venture out on their own, forging a new path for those to come.

Teach your children to blaze new paths. Show them they are worth so much more than they will ever know. Love them not “like” they are your own, but because they are your own. Know this: no matter how long you have them, they will always carry a piece of you, whether it be in a quirky personality trait they inherited from you, or their newly-discovered love of asparagus. Although they may only be your “temporary” children for a short period of time, you will always carry a piece of them, too. In its toughest and most painful moments, emptying your cup of love on your foster children will be reflected tenfold, and that is a beautiful thing to be a part of.

Coming Out Okay

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by Corrie

A few months ago our dryer began to make a high pitched noise. The manual we found said it was manufactured in 1982, so it made sense it was finally saying enough and asking to be put out of its misery. We bit the bullet and bought a stackable washer/dryer set on a Memorial Day sale. We were a lot like the Heck family from The Middle when it was finally delivered and installed.

“Does it seem like it’s putting in enough water?” Phil asked, “Because it doesn’t seem like it’s putting in enough water to me.”

All six of us crowded around the gleaming machine to study the water flow.

“I don’t know…” I mused, “I’ve never had this kind of a washer before. I hope it’s doing what it’s supposed to.”

For the next 47 minutes, I sat in front of the washer and watched. The clothes churned one way and then abruptly stopped and churned the opposite direction. It was oddly soothing in a mind numbingly boring kind of way.

For some reason, it made me think of the cycle I find myself in with my kids. Because listen, I love them like crazy, but underneath adorable freckles and overbites, my kids are kind of tyrants in school aged bodies. I recently bought my daughter a pair of pink and grey Velcro sneakers she absolutely begged for in the store. Literally the next day she came into the kitchen, threw them on the floor and screamed, “I’m never wearing these ugly shoes and you can’t make me!” The door shook the house when it slammed behind her. My mornings are spent measuring milk for cereal with a gallon in one hand and a ruler in the other so that every kid has the same amount. Still, though, there's complaints about getting too much or too little. My response time to “Mama!” isn’t quick enough, my answers to questions not entirely satisfactory. The demands and urgency of the needs seem to tumble over and over in an unending stream.

If I were a helicopter mom, this might be my shining glory. But I’m not. I’m a “your-lopsided-ponytail-is-good-enough, pack-your-lunch-from-what-you-didn’t-eat-yesterday” kind of mom. I sign permission slips with crayon. On my steering wheel. While I’m driving them to school. The demands for more, different, and now from the little people in my care clashes dramatically with my natural bent. So parenting high need kids is summed up in a single word: hard. Unbelievably hard. There are so many days where I feel like my favorite pair of jeans, swirling around in the wash, worn to their thinnest fiber. Hanging on by a thread.  

One of my kids asks for things with, “How come I can’t {eat an apple/play outside/get down some games}?” She’s always ready to be disappointed. I know I’m a good mom. But things like this remind me not all my kids believe that yet. So I’m working to step up my game. To pack snacks before outings and anticipate triggers. I’m learning patience for the incessant use of the M-word and the whiney voice it gets said in. I’m determined to win the hearts and trust of these little dictators even if it means not hitting the snooze to pack a fresh lunch. Because you do for family, right?

But yet…

I won’t be their God. I won’t teach them I can meet the deepest needs of their hearts. Never in my pursuit to be their safe and loving mama will I allow them to think I could possibly replace their constant, all fulfilling Father. I will never sense or meet all my kids’ needs. Thank you, Jesus! You knew them all and provided perfectly before the creation of the world.

After that 47 minutes of careful study, I know our new washer works just fine. Clothes come out clean, stains removed. And we tumble on against each other, my demanding kids and me, their laissez faire, let-it-float mom. Somehow in the cycle, by God’s grace, we’re coming out okay, too.

{whoop}

Corrie and her family live in South Carolina, where she spends her time raising kids (foster and bio) and doing diy on their old cape cod home.   She is a staff writer for Respite Redefined and you can follow her on Instagram @corrievanderploeg.

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.

The Mom and the Foster Mom

 by  Guest Writer Amber

I park my vehicle in front of the courthouse, turn off the engine, and lean my head back to take a deep breath. It doesn’t matter how many times I do this, it doesn’t get easier. Or more predictable. Or less heartbreaking.

See, today is the first time I will meet my seven year old foster daughter’s parents. I will walk a sterile courthouse hallway hand-in-hand with their little girl and introduce myself as the person who has had sole care and custody of their daughter for four months now. I will be the third home she has been in since coming into care over a year and a half ago but I will also be the first foster parent they will meet.

Once inside, my foster daughter recognizes her parents sitting in chairs lined down the hallway and immediately runs to them. Hugs, kisses, the normal conversation of a separated parent and child all run together. Slowly they realize that there is a short redhead who is standing suspiciously nearby and they make eye contact with me. I brace myself for this moment because in the 20+ children I have cared for, meeting the parents is a wild card event. Do they hate me on sight because their kids are thriving with me? Do they love me because I am the sole reason that their supervised visits with their kids was restarted? Do they see me as another player in a game stacked against them? What will they say to me in front of everyone sitting here?

I immediately put a smile on my face and reach my hand out to the woman I recognize from the pictures “Hi, I’m the foster mom!” I chirp as I try to set everyone at ease with some friendliness and good cheer. “You must be the mom, it’s so good to meet you.” I say this to acknowledge immediately to this woman that I recognize her position in my daughter’s life. She is The Mom. I am Foster Mom. We don’t get to switch and we both have to deal with the reality of where those names put us. She has her daughter’s history and is supposed to fight for her future. I get the present. Somewhere out in the world there could be a third mom. A woman who doesn’t even know the name of the girl who will one day be her adopted daughter.

Just a few seconds go by as this woman in patterned leggings, blue hair, and a ripped tank top eyes me and has only a moment to decide how to react to my presence. She gets up and shakes my hand. More introductions pass as I meet the dad, the dad’s girlfriend, and the mom’s boyfriend. I go and sit a few chairs away to give them some semblance of separation so that neither of us has to endure finding a safe common topic and to keep our daughter from having to choose between us.

After a few minutes the mom comes up to me and asks how The Girl (lets just call her that) is doing. I fill her in on dentist visits, how the new school year is going, that a few weeks ago The Girl learned to ride a bike without training wheels, and the accomplishment of finally getting The Girl off all (unnecessary) medication. We both continue sharing details, she gets to tell me bits and pieces of childhood tales, I get to share all the growing and changing that has happened this summer. The Girl is happily sitting on her daddy’s lap and telling him all about her life.

This is how it should be. The Mom and Foster Mom coming together and putting aside anything else but how much they love The Girl. And for those 15 minutes before the court hearing begins, we are able to do just that.

I wish I could end here. Draw the curtain over a happy ending. That wouldn't be honest though, or even fair to cover up the ugly reality that is so prevalent in foster care. What happened in the court room is typical but heartbreaking. The story of drugs, neglect, poverty, abuse, and addictions is a common one in the foster care world but to hear it in black and white, almost dragging the truth into the light, is bound to stir up dark reactions. For parents to be told they are coming up on their last shot. That instead of a lifetime with their children they are facing weeks before a judge will hand down a decision that would legally separate them forever. It is a harsh reality that when the parents are faced with it- their instinct is to strike out. To avoid. To justify.

My daughter left that courthouse in tears as her mom stormed down the hallway, unable to control herself long enough to give her daughter a hug goodbye or any reassurance at all. I was reduced to a villain in the parents eyes and the few moments of camaraderie we shared in the hallway was long gone. I was left to console a seven year old girl whose questions had no answers that I could share with her other than I loved her, that I understood her sadness, that I wanted everything that is right for her. 

In the end, you do your best. You fight. You pray. You overcome. What you can't do is control who hurts your kids. All you can do is be there to pick up the pieces and help put them back in place as best you can.

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.