control

Today was supposed to be our official “home visit,” a major step in the adoption process, in which a caseworker conducts a three-to-four-hour interview with us and then inspects our home.

Even though we are used to having random people in our house on a very regular basis [that’s the life of a foster family], for some reason the significance of this step along the adoption journey put me into major stress-mode. The victim of my anxiety was our house, which I decided needed to be cleaned with a psychotic passion.

For two full days, my mother watched all three children, and I cleaned. I mean, I really cleaned. I vacuumed the crevices between the baseboards and the floor; I moved every piece of furniture in pursuit of dust; I wiped down every lampshade; I re-organized all of our bookshelves; I scrubbed the gunk off the kitchen chairs. You get the (crazy) idea.

And it’s not like our house is usually in disarray. I’m no Dottie Domestic, but I work pretty hard to clean up on a regular basis, but that usually involves picking up toys and making beds [and to be totally honest, the beds don’t always get made].

IMG_6484

When questioned about why I was making myself a tad insane with all of this, my reply was usually along the lines of: “it’s just that we haven’t been able to control any step of this fostering and adoption process, and finally I can control something. So, even if it is just the state of my house, I want to do something about it.”

Ah, “control”…such a lie we tell ourselves, yes?

And this particular illusion of control was broken Thursday evening, when Ryan came home from work very feverish and sick. Even though I insisted he lie down, I think he saw the crazy in my eye, so he opted to help pick up, amidst his shivers and aches. [I know!] At one point he commented, “you know, maybe my getting sick is a sign that we need to ‘let go’ more.” I brushed him off and said, “oh, I know we’re not in control of this process. Of course I know that. I just want everything to be as perfect as it can be!”

IMG_6522

Instead of seeing his sickness as a sign I should chill out, I pushed myself even more. And sure enough, he started feeling better Friday, so I felt justified in all of my hard work. “See, it’s all going to work out!”

Then, at 5:00 Friday evening we got the phone call that due to unforeseen circumstances (unrelated to J and N’s case) the home visit would have to be cancelled and re-scheduled for an undetermined future date.

Naturally, I cried some ugly tears and went on more than a few rants about “the agency” and “the system.” However, after I got all of that out of me, I finally waved the white flag.

Alright, Lord, you are in charge…of everything. No matter how hard I work, I will never truly be in control of our lives. I surrender. 

Even though my pursuit of control was well-intentioned [at my core is the deep, ardent desire to have these babies be ours, you know?], it didn’t lead to any more peace within myself. And it never well. Only by letting go of our own well-constructed plans will our hands be free to grasp onto His will, which is always more beautiful.

IMG_6539_censored

“The plan of God is absolutely beyond us, always; it cannot be narrowed or imprisoned within the limits of our imagination. But one who is always willing to change everything according to what God wants…circumstances, especially those that vex us the most, that are inevitable circumstances, these are precisely the ones that mark the road of God; the person who is open to this is not attached to anything of his own, and he’s free.” Luigi Guissani

[Since our Saturday was suddenly open, we thought we’d do something grand with the family like go to the zoo. But, by the time we were finally ready to leave the house, it was too close to J’s sacred nap time, so we opted for the little park at our nearby school. The Lord must have known we needed the Vitamin D that this freakishly warm weather provided. Also, after this post, an old friend gifted Philomena with the shirt she’s wearing. So sweet, yes?]

IMG_6497

five years

“What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later.”   John 13:7

5 years 1

Ryan and I purposefully chose Jesus’ washing of the apostles’ feet as the Gospel reading at our wedding for many of reasons. Obviously, it shows the other-before-self-ness inherent in marriage: “If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do” (John 13:14-15).

However, we actually chose it primarily because of an earlier line: “what I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later.” We saw it as the theme of both of our single years, that is, those winding and confusing roads that led to each other. We didn’t understand what was going on at the time, but it all made perfect sense when the Lord brought our two paths into one.

5 years 2

That said, little did we know our first five years of marriage would be marked by an even more dramatic lack of understanding. Sometimes we joke that it feels like we’ve lived a lifetime in this short time: becoming parents, buying a home, miscarriage, returning to school, secondary infertility, writing a textbook, hospitalizations, becoming foster parents.

And yet, we have absolutely clung to this verse over and over again. Even though we do not see the full picture in the moment, we know God is at work creating something beautiful with our marriage.

Happy 5th Anniversary to my favorite person. There’s no one else I’d prefer to have accompanying me through all my days.

[So, I wrote this post yesterday, and this morning I woke up to a very sick child…like, the messy-everywhere kind of sick. Thus, I will be washing plenty of feet, both literally and metaphorically today. Cheers.]

5 years 3

P.S. Ryan and I made a super lovey-dovey mix CD for all of our wedding guests who stayed in the hotel. I’d thought I’d memorialize that moment in our story with the Spotify playlist below, minus a couple songs that weren’t available on Spotify…I’m looking at you, Radiohead’s “All I Need.”

I’m having some trouble embeding the playlist, but here’s the link: https://open.spotify.com/user/124554819/playlist/6nWGGeifdZmZZmHONfXmQA

she doesn’t nap anymore…

…but at least she uses her free time to save the world…

with style.
princess superhero 1

princess superhero 2

princess superhero 3

[These were taken mere moments after she woke up her never-actually-naps 4-month-old foster sister. I *may* have lost my s**t. Just a little. Her consequence was entertaining said baby whilst I have my Internet zone-out time. #TuesdayisthenewMonday]

xoxo

When you have a four-year-old daughter who has recently become *obsessed* with holidays, specifically Valentine’s Day…and you totally blanked on getting her something…and you aren’t too great at cleaning out old candy…

 

Voila.

vday 1

Please feel free to pin this ingenuity.

Love, your very own Martha Stewart.

 

vday 2 blocked faces

the surrender of foster care

IMG_6498

The feeling comes at weird times. Like today as I was digging through some clearance items at Carter’s and saw a shirt in Philomena’s size that declared in sparkly letters, “Best Big Sister Ever!” I stood there internally debating whether it would be appropriate to buy it for her. Aside from the improbable superlative [I mean, what exactly is the criteria and investigation to prove the best big sister ever?], technically Philomena is a big foster sister, which is truly different than a natural, biological sister. Would it be dishonest for her to don said shirt around town?

Obviously, this is a silly train of thought. No one would actually care if she wore that shirt. But as I stood there, these musings reminded me that I would never be able to dress my daughter in a cute shirt like that to announce a pregnancy to the excitement of friends and family. Even if we are blessed to adopt J and N someday [God-willing!], it won’t be a big surprise to anyone.

As I placed the shirt back on the shelf, I had a pit in my stomach, tears in my eyes, and a thought in my head that recurs often: “this is just another surrender of being a foster parent.”

Like the shirt, some of the surrenders of foster parenting are really quite trivial. Like not being able to send out a Christmas card (technically, we could have, but we wouldn’t have been able to include J and N’s picture, nor use their full names, so that would have been a lame representation of our family). Or for my social-media-loving self, not being able to post pictures and videos of the children is more difficult for me than I’d like to admit. Then there’s the utter embarrassment that occurs when I always seem to get in the grocery line of the checker who is new and doesn’t know how to process a WIC check for formula, so the inevitably long line behind me is held up, as the employee calls for a manager.

IMG_6514

And there are other surrenders that are a little more profound. I wish I could nurse N to promote bonding and give her all the nutrition and goodness of breastmilk, but alas that will never happen. Also, Ryan and I have a long list of names that we absolutely love and that have meaning for us, but we will never be able to use them: if we adopt J and N, we think it best to keep their given names, even if the names are ones we never would have chosen ourselves.

Then there are the greatest surrenders. Like not being able to baptize our foster children. We long with every fiber of our beings to pass on the faith that gives us life and defines us, but until the children become ours, we cannot give them this gift.

This strikes at the heart of all of this: J and N are not our children. Not yet. Maybe someday. Maybe never. But, coupled with this reality, is the concurrent reality that on a day-to-day basis, they indubitably feel like our children, especially now that their biological parents’ legal rights have been terminated. We feed them, comfort them, heal their wounds, teach them how to be human. We treat them no differently than our naturally-born daughter, but still it is different.

This post probably sounds like I am complaining. Well, I suppose I am kind of complaining. Sorry. I am a broken, weak, selfish person, and this whole situation is hard on my nurturing heart.

And yet, I think this is part of why the Lord has led us to this particular path of parenthood. All of these surrenders are good, so good for me. I tend to think I am in charge of my own life, that I can control everything. But, I can’t. And I shouldn’t. The Lord is teaching us the type of letting-go that we’re often too stubborn to do on our own.

Yes, foster care demands a lot of surrender.  However, every aspect of our lives should be subject to the same abandonment. Only in this renunciation of our own plans, our own wills, can He truly work His beauty.

IMG_6492

my family: January 2016

IMG_6505

I love re-reading the little Philomena updates I used to sporadically write. I realized the last one I did was well over a year ago. It makes me tear up now, because so much has changed in her life in this time.

And the changes are the type that are beautiful, but so difficult when you are in them. I am not just talking about Mena here. I have been refined and stretched more in the past year-and-a-half than I ever thought possible. Last night in prayer I kept getting the image of this huge, jagged boulder. It was being slowly, painfully chipped away. So slowly. So painfully. And yet, in the end was this small, sleek stone that you couldn’t help but marvel in its smoothness.

I don’t think I need to spell out that analogy for you, now do I?

[I intended this post just to be a general update on the past few months, but now I’m getting all deep, huh?]

When I wrote this back in July, I felt so empty as a mother. I was at the point in which every moment of every day reminded me of my insufficiency. I didn’t think it possible for me to handle even one.more.thing.

Our Lord has a way of taking this kind of emptiness, fear, and vulnerability and doing something unimaginable.

In this case, it came in the form of newborn baby N.

IMG_2063 bw

The first week of October we received this unexpected gift, the full biological sister of J. We don’t know what is going to happen in their futures, but we know their presents are inter-twined with ours for a reason, so we are clinging to our foster children with a fierce love.

That said, suddenly becoming a family of five was very overwhelming for quite awhile. It wasn’t until about December that we started to feel the fog lift a little. And there is no way we could have survived those first couple months without all the extraordinary help from our friends and family. Sometimes I feel a little guilty about how good we have it.

Blessings without number; mercies without end.

***

Philomena turned four on Christmas. Goodness gracious. [Are four-year-olds still considered toddlers? Or are they called “preschoolers,” even if they don’t attend preschool? I feel like I should know these things!] Four is looking eerily similar to three, in terms of challenges. And yet, she has these fleeting moments of maturity that give us a glimpse of hope. For example, just now Ryan came into the office to ask me if I asked Mena to sweep the pine needles from the (still up!! we’re working on it!!) Christmas tree, because that is what she was currently doing.

I hadn’t.

And there’s the fact that she takes her picture “chore chart” very seriously. If she remembers she didn’t make her bed, she immediately runs upstairs to remedy the situation. Also, now she sometimes lets J walk in front of her when we’re going up the stairs. That might not seem like much to you, but she is obsessed with being the one in front, so it’s momentous here in our casa.

IMG_6495

In general, she is still very head-in-the-clouds and imaginative. She usually has some dress-up outfit on at any given time, and she can easily play by herself for hours. I do a *little* bit of not-really-but-kinda schoolwork with her, which she absolutely adores. I have no doubt it has very little to do with learning the sounds of letters and is much more attributed to having one-on-one time with her usually preoccupied Mommy. We also read “chapter books” with her now before bedtime (one chapter a night), and I think it is the favorite part of the day for all of us.

IMG_6497

Philomena was really “into” Advent and Christmas this year. I don’t think my heart could have swelled more than with her off-key rendition of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” every night around the Advent wreath.

***

is 20 months now, and there are almost no words to describe his wildness. He has this astute radar that tunes into exactly what he shouldn’t be touching or doing, and he goes after such goals with an enviable fervor. I am constantly finding him on top of the dining room table or running off with my phone or trying on Philomena’s most-favorite princess shoes.

He gets frustrated very easily and throws countless (extremely short-lived) tantrums throughout the day. His speech development is a bit delayed (in that, he doesn’t really talk at all, but he has quite a few baby signs), so we think that is the main reason for said tantrums. At least, that is what we hope.

IMG_5341

HOWEVER…he has one of the kindest hearts I have ever encountered. Seriously. He is obsessed, so obsessed with N. From the first moment he laid eyes on her, he has been giving her kisses and cuddles. Granted, this affection pretty much always goes too far, and she ends up screaming at the top of her lungs, as I sprint across the room. But it’s the sentiment, yes? Also, if any kid anywhere (even strangers at Target) starts to cry, he gets this very concerned look on his face and goes over and gives the child these very heartfelt strokes.

And he’s weirdly helpful when he wants to be. He likes to bring me N’s diaper and take his plate to the counter. And after he hits or bites Philomena, he gives her gentle pats of affection to make up for the offense.

IMG_6433

In all seriousness, J has gotten very attached to us. He is indubitably a Mama’s boy. He actually cuddles with me before and after naps (this never happened when he first came to us), and when he is upset (which is often), only my hug can satisfy him. Many of his tantrums result because he can’t sit on my lap or I can’t hold him in that moment. And when I do pick him up, he burrows his head into my shoulder and holds onto me with an unnatural strength. This has earned him the nickname from Ryan of “koala.”

***

is three months of chub and happy. She is nice and plump, with those thigh rolls that make my motherly hormones go crazy. She is starting to vocalize so much, and she can baby-smile on command like the best of them. She actually is an amazing night sleeper, but basically doesn’t nap for more than 20 minutes at a time. C’est la vie. You can’t have it all.

IMG_6491

***

As for me and Ryan, we just kind of hang out all day. I am always on top of the housework and never stress eat or stay up too late. We read dozens of books about which we have stimulating conversation.

Not.

Like I said, life is difficult. But the good kind of difficult. Ryan is taking on three (!!!) classes this semester, along with working full time. I predict he will be just as calm and cool as he usually is about all of it. And that is said without even a twinge of sarcasm. The man is as close to a saint as anyone I know. Or maybe a robot, because he essentially never sleeps.

Since I have so much free time, I decided to take on a few work projects. Like writing another entire textbook. And teaching a master’s course in the Fall. I can assure you I will approach all of this neither calmly nor coolly.

But, the Lord is making me into a smooth stone. So there’s that.

[I just realized that this blog read like a Christmas letter. Unintentional, I assure you. Happy Holidays?]

 

surviving #thethrees

surviving the threes

As I was carrying Philomena to bed last night, in between her hiccups as a result of a major crying session just minutes previously, she whispered to me, “Mommy, tomorrow I will listen and obey. I will!” With tears in my own eyes, I held her closely, caressed her hair, and said, “oh, my sweet girl, I know you will. It is so hard, but I know you will try your best tomorrow.”

Sigh.

So, “the threes” are completely draining my motherly self. Honestly, for us, I think it’s more than just her mere age. The gift of a younger foster brother has taken its toll on her. She was the center of our family and our extended family for her whole life until now. And I know the experience of gaining a sibling is a universal struggle; however, in her case it was even more difficult. All of a sudden, she had a BIG, crawling, rough-housing, toy-stealing baby in her life. There was no gradual transition from a little newborn.

I don’t want to go into too many details, because she deserves a certain amount of privacy from her overly-open, blogging mother. However, let’s just say that her adjustment has been rough. We have had days in which it feels like an alien is inhabiting my sweet girl’s body, and she does and says things that just seem so awful and foreign to her disposition. As much as she truly loves J, she can be terrible to him. And as much as I know she loves us, she has moments in which she disobeys and talks back. Like most three-year-olds, I suppose.

However, added to all of this is our parental guilt that we are bringing all of this upheaval into her life, but J very well may leave us one day.

Double sigh.

But! The good news! Things are getting better. So much better. Seriously. We’re far from the ideal, but for the first time in six months, I don’t feel like I have been run over by an emotional truck at the end of every day.

I thought I’d talk a little about how things got better for us. How’s that sound?

I want to be completely clear that is not meant to be an “advice” article. I mean, I am a freaking novice when it comes to parenting. This is my first child at the age of three. Most of my friends have parented through this age at least twice; I wouldn’t dare pretend to have some sort of special knowledge or ability other mothers don’t possess. Because I don’t.

Rather, I am writing this mostly for myself, so on those days in which I want to pull my hair out and just hide in our bedroom whilst drinking wine and watching Netflix, I can remember what really does work for our daughter. It’s to remind myself that disciplined, loving parenting does, indeed, reap results and that virtue is not going to develop through bribing and threats.

In other words, this is a reflection, not an exhortation.

surviving the threes 2

I totally recognize that one, two, three years from now, I will probably look back at this and laugh heartily at how “big” these little problems were. That said, when you’re in it, the difficulties seem almost insurmountable.

This should go without saying, but this is what has worked for us. Every child is a unique creation of God, with his or her own strengths and weaknesses. Thankfully, Philomena’s temperament is naturally very sweet and compliant…she just forgets that sometimes. ;)

[FYI at any given point of any day you could probably find me not following these guidelines. I am also veeeeeerrrrry much a work in progress. Most days I need someone to discipline me.]

1. Eye contact at eye level. Goodness gracious, I can be terrible about this. I have such a tendency to yell at her from another room, or talk to her while I am doing something else, like cleaning dishes or reading on the computer. Nevertheless, when I stop what I am doing, crouch down to her level, and look her in the eye and ask her to do something/stop something/etc. it can make a world of difference.

2. Speak positively. Or, Never say no to something reasonable. This is simple, but Mena really responds to it. For example, I try not to say, “no, I can’t play a game with you right now.” Instead, I replace it with, “sure, I’d love to play a game after J goes down for his nap!” Or, “yes, we can play outside after it cools down later today.” This has salvaged many potential melt-downs.

3. Affirm specifically. Words of affirmation just happen to my primary love language. Ryan and I have a strong suspicion that this is also Philomena’s way of feeling loved. Although we definitely try our best not to fall susceptible to the “good job!” or “you are smart!” traps [see here and here and here and here], we try hard to praise her specifically in the moment. For example, “I really liked how you listened and got on your pajamas right when I asked.” Or, “I know it was hard for you to walk away instead of hitting him when J was pulling your hair. Thank you!”

IMG_1777

4. Name emotions and have empathy. We’ve been doing this quite a while. Even before she could say the word, Philomena could do the baby sign for “sad.” However, this has taken on another level now that she is feeling so many new emotions. Now, we’re helping her use more complex words like “jealous” and “frustrated.” Also, we’ve found that for her a little bit of empathy goes a LONG way in learning to control her own emotions. Like, “it is really hard to wait for something! Sometimes I don’t like being patient either.” Or, “it really hurts when J bites me too. I wish he was old enough to know better.”

5. The do-over. This takes a lot of discipline and patience on our part, but we have really seen results. When she misbehaves or speaks rudely, we’ll simply say, “let’s try that again!” or “how would a sweet girl ask for that?” It is definitely easier to give into her whining or just ignore the poor behavior, but it’s not better for her in the long run.

6. Speaking softly and calmly. I will admit that this is probably my numero uno personal difficulty. By nature, I am a yeller. Heck, even my “normal” voice is as loud as most people’s yelling. And yet, I have a very sensitive daughter who responds much better to normal talking than to raising our voices. And like my favorite professor in college said regarding classroom management: “never yell, because they can always yell louder.” The same is true for a toddler.

IMG_1744

7. Giving her space for alone time. And Giving her special time with us. Philomena is almost-definitely an introvert, but since she’s been inadvertently “competing” with J for my attention, she was feeling the need to be around the two of us all the time. I could tell this was emotionally draining for her, especially because she doesn’t nap every day anymore. I started encouraging her over and over again to go play by herself in another room. I kept it very positive and made it clear it wasn’t a punishment. I usually frame it like, “it looks like you don’t want J getting into what you’re playing with. How about you go to the other room by yourself for a little bit, so he won’t bother you?” It took a few months for her to really embrace this, but I can definitely see a difference in her disposition when she gets some alone time.

I also try…really, really try [and fail a lot!] not to use the time J is at a visit with his birth family or down for a nap to “get things done” around the house. It is so tempting, because I can’t even empty the dishwasher with the tornado-of-crazy that is our 15-month-old. Instead, I have been making a conscious effort to make really good use of one-on-one time with Philomena by reading her books, playing games, doing art projects, etc. She even feels special when I ask her to “exercise” with me. [This is probably due to the fact that we greatly limit her screen time, so even a YouTube pilates clip is exciting for her. Oops.] For obvious reasons, this kind of special attention has been great for her.

8. Choices. “Do you want to brush your teeth before or after you get your pajamas on?” “Do you want to eat your lettuce or your carrot first?” “Do you want to put away your toys now or in five minutes?” You all know this approach. And it works for a reason.

9. Affection, affection, affection. When she blatantly disobeys us, deep-down she wants love. When she hits J, deep-down she wants love. When she whines and throws a fit, deep-down she wants love. How do I know this? Because that is what all of us want and need. This doesn’t mean we excuse her bad behavior or turn a blind eye to the necessary consequences. Instead, this means that after she has a “do-over” or she apologizes to J, we give her plenty of hugs and kisses. We love her through the struggle. This sounds kind of hippy-dippy and easy, but it’s not. This is because when she needs my affection the most is when it is most difficult to give it. Those moments I just want to scream at her and leave the house are the moments I should be opening up my arms to give her a big hug.

10. Teaching her apology and forgiveness. This is a two-way street. I apologize to her and ask her forgiveness when I lose my temper [which is more often than I’d like to admit]. I expect the same from her. I don’t see this as a lessening of my authority; instead, I see it as modeling humility, which is the true strength.

11. Prayer. This one should have been listed first, but whatever. For months, Ryan and I were praying for Philomena and her difficulties. Then, one day it dawned on me that I wasn’t praying with her about them. So, one morning instead of just mentally asking the Lord for help, I said aloud, “Philomena, let’s pray together that we can have a good day!” I will admit that sometimes she is feisty and says no, so I will just pray aloud for her. Ryan also has been encouraging me to ask our miscarried baby, Gerard, to pray for us: I think this is very beautiful and efficacious. I am convicted that when we added specific pleas during our family prayer time for our relationship with Philomena and her behavior, this is when her actions (and my reactions) turned a corner.

Alrighty, this may be my longest blog post ever…sorry/not sorry? Thanks for sticking with it. What are your thoughts? Any attitudes or helpful tidbits for #thethrees?

IMG_1746