Tuesday, November 14, 2017

T minus 88!

I'm counting down the hours until my boys are here for good! This last weekend was another amazing weekend in the books! The boys all experienced a little taste of school, church, and some cousin time. They finally got to watch "the pizza man throw the dough up in the air", went to a free movie at the theater, and revisited the sledding hill in town!  Amidst all the busyness of the weekend, there was a lot of playing, dressing up in costumes, building nerf war forts, painting, and just hanging out. 

It is so fun to watch each of the boys and observe how they are taking all this change in. 

 (6) is the most ready and excited to just be here already!  He wants a family, loves his siblings, and is attaching well to my hubby and I.  He is pumped to be the new kid at school especially after he had such a warm welcome on Friday! He is very conversational and asks a lot of questions, always starting with "can I ask/tell you something?" He is a natural firstborn - leader of the pack, watches out for the littler ones, coordinator of all the details. He was adorable in church when our pastor made reference to them being there. "Mom, how does he know us?" "Well the whole church has been praying for you boys for a couple months" "([huge smile spreading on face] Really!?" He raised his hand for prayer requests to pray for our army, and then his face lit up when the Pastor did so. 

(5) is a thinker. He processes things in his mind and then asks questions, always following our answers with, "ok, I got it!"  The first weekend we met them, I had picked him up and danced around the room humming a song from Cinderella, and ever since he asks me to dance with him. Melt my heart! He is such a sweetheart, he doesn't love kisses but he does love affection. He is attaching well, but still iffy on whether he will call me by my name or Mommy. Sometimes it's "Mommy. Mommy. Mommy! SARAH!" He will randomly be super sweet, like at bedtime when he said, "Hey, you know those things you put on your face instead of in your eyes?" "My glasses?" "Yeah! You look kind of pretty with those."  He's excited for school and asked me about 1,672 times what his teacher's name was again.

(4) is a little brute by appearance (and sometimes by action when interacting with his brothers), but don't let that fool you! He is the biggest softie of the bunch! "Mommy, can you hold me?" "Mommy, I love you." "Mommy, will you snuggle me?"  He has a mischievous little grin and a contagious little giggle. He, like (5), likes me to dance with him, and he loves his sister Caroline!  He liked seeing his class and meeting his teacher and Sunday School teacher, but doesn't gush about school like his brothers. He's so little yet, and this is all so new.  The exchange on Sunday was so hard. His emotions were on high as we sat in a conference room with his bio grandparents and colored. I colored something the wrong color and that let loose all the emotions he had been keeping inside.  When it came to say goodbye so that Grandma could drive them the rest of the way to their foster home he was still bawling, and when Grandpa lovingly took him out of my arms he scratched his nails on my arms trying to grasp tighter, screaming "Mommy! I want my mommy!"  Break. My. Heart. 💔

It's just so much for their little hearts and minds to understand.  They want and love their new family, but in order to move forward they have to say goodbye to the foster mama who has been with them through thick and thin the last 3 years. They have to say goodbye to their house, their school, everything that is familiar to them. I try to imagine my bio kids being in a situation like this and I can't even fathom.  

With adoption, it's easy to say "they are so lucky", but in reality they are so unlucky.  It's easy to assume, "they are so young, they are resilient", but they are not.  All kiddos who have experienced the system are deeply affected and suffer a profound loss.  Generally speaking, it doesn't matter how good their foster home(s) or foster parent(s) have been; they didn't enter the system because their home life was great. They endured trauma, or neglect, or exposure, or abuse, or some terrible circumstance(s) that made removing them from their biological family necessary.  It's so unfair that in one of the richest countries in the world, there are 428,000 kids in foster care and about a quarter of those kiddos are just waiting to be adopted. For these 111,820 kids, the biological parents and next of kin have all been eliminated as options. They've likely already tried to see if their foster family is interested in adopting and have explored any other non-relative connections to no avail. So there they sit, waiting for their "forever family". It's just so sad.

So now that I've gone down that sad reality of a bunny trail, I will pep back up and remember that in 88 hours we are picking up our boys and bringing them home forever! Yay!

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Final Weekend

We're coming up on our fourth and final weekend visit with the boys before they officially relocate to our home on November 17th! I shared about our first amazing weekend together in my last post. The following weekend we had our 2nd weekend visit. This time we brought all our kiddos and spent two nights at the hotel.  We had to rent two hotel rooms to accommodate all 9 of us, but seriously, if money were no option, I'd choose adjoining rooms regardless of the number of people!  We created a "dining room" on our side by relocating/rearranging tables and chairs and utilizing the couch as a bench.  We spent a ton of time in the pool and playing in the room and had to laugh when we made up half the occupants in the hotel ning area for the continental breakfast!  It was so nice to have the kiddos all together! I am so thankful though that we had that first weekend with just the boys so we could connect with them one on one... or two on three at least!  We finished off that weekend with a trip to a trampoline park, which was on the boys wishlist, before bringing them back home!

The third weekend, the boys' current foster mama brought them up to our home and saw them into their new space. I had set up the boys' room in a superhero theme and they were so excited and immediately put on the capes and masks that were hung on the wall. We had a super fun-filled weekend, playing outside, making homemade playdoh, sledding at the hill, and playing at the house. We carried on our Saturday Night tradition of pizza and root beer floats followed by popcorn and a movie party! We had to bring them home on Sunday so most of that day was spent driving.  My biggest takeaway from the whole weekend was the importance of pillow talk. 

We have a pretty well-established bedtime routine at our place. 
1.Hygiene - brush teeth, go potty, get a drink 
2. Clothing - change into pjs, dirty clothes in basket, next day's clothes picked out 
3. Bedroom - remove toys from room, discard any garbage, clear anything left on floor
4. Routine - read books, highs and lows, prayers

Justin took care of putting our bios to bed and I focused on the boys.  We went through the usual routine, but per the advice of many other adoptive families, I stayed in the room until they fell asleep.  There is something about bedtime that makes kids want to talk. That makes them want to share what's been going on in their minds all day or week or even over the years. I could not be more grateful for those who advised me to stick around after the bedtime routine - I learned more about them and their history, firsthand. I know it is valuable even with my bios, but truth be told sometimes I am just ready to clock out at bedtime. But after my experience that weekend, I want to stick around a little longer than I would usually stay.  And as it has been said by those much wiser than me, if they know they have this time with you now, they'll know they will have this time with you in the future. I'm looking at you, future teens of mine!

This weekend starts tomorrow! They don't have school on Friday so I requested a Thursday pickup and they approved it! We have a lot of fun things planned - their first school experience at ECFE, a free showing of a movie at the theater, pizza at "the place where the guy throws the dough in the air", sledding at the hill, homemade cinnamon rolls (we've got 3 new sweet tooths on our hands) and maybe even church if they are up for it! Can't wait to see my little guys!  
And by the way, I can't share photos publicly because they are not legally my children until we finalize in court, but man do I wish that you could see just how cute these boys are!!


Thursday, October 26, 2017

The first weekend

 It is amazing to me how a space you didn't even know existed in your heart can be filled so quickly; and how once it is filled, being separated from that which filled it can feel like the greatest void.

Last weekend was absolutely amazing.  We met with the boys' team and had the opportunity to ask questions and learn more about these kiddos.  We established the transition plan and then got into the specifics of how the weekend would unfold.  We arranged to meet the boys with their caseworker at a park later that afternoon.  

The drive to the park felt like the drive to the hospital when you are in labor - only the contractions in my stomach were butterflies anxiously fluttering around.  We got there a little early and they got there a little late so it felt like the longest wait before their caseworker's vehicle pulled up.  They got out and stuck close by her as they walked our way.  She introduced us and they politely shook our hands before they ran off to play.  I was so grateful for their sake that we had met at a place that allowed them to escape the awkwardness that I am sure they felt.  I felt a nervous anxiousness, I can't imagine how they were feeling!

We spent a couple hours at the park and as the time went on, the boys began to warm up to us.  By the end, the oldest was asking questions a mile a minute, wondering what his new house was going to be like, what kind of toys he would have, if he would get to have a birthday party... all the things that are important to a 6 year old.  The younger two were giggly, interactive, and sweet.  We left the park with plans to pick them up at daycare the next morning.

The next day we picked them up at 10 and had them until 5.  We got them each a little gift bag with some car tape and cars, a mask, a little imaginink coloring book, a themed straw cup, and their own copy of the book I wrote. They saw the gift bags right when we got into the hotel room and opened them, thanking us for each item (which they would continue to do many times over the weekend).  We enjoyed the pool, a pb & j lunch in the room, and playing with all the toys we brought from home - like half the toys we own!

The very most heartwarming part of the day was when the oldest casually asked,
"Hey mom, why is the pool cold?"  
I'm not sure what answer I gave because I was too busy melting over being called mom!

 It was a great day overall and 5:00 rolled around far too quickly.  They went home with their provider with plans of coming back on Saturday. 

We picked them up on Saturday morning and visited for a while at their place before heading back to the hotel.  We spent another wonderful day playing in the room and the pool, and finished off the night with a pizza and root beer float party! This was our first overnight experience and it went so well. 

They had told their therapist that one thing we should know about them is that they always say their prayers before bed.  So when bedtime rolled around we started winding down and going through the motions:
Brush teeth - the littlest one had to gargle and spit 3 times and the oldest
wiped off the counter and inside the sink when they were all done;
Go potty - nothing is funnier than all three boys ringing around the toilet to pee at the same time!; Snuggle/Story/Highs & Lows - The younger two ran over to the bed I was on yelling
"I want to snuggle Mommy!"
(cue me melting again!)
and they loved the book and pointing out their bird, names, and pictures;
and finally prayers

I had prayed with the oldest while the other two were bouncing around on the bed but when we turned out the lights, all three boys protested in unison "WE DIDN'T SAY OUR PRAYERS!!"
My hubby reassured them we could pray with the lights off, but they flipped the light back on, all flipped onto their knees on the bed, and did the sign of the cross (Catholic foster father) before the oldest began praying "Now I lay me down to sleep" with the little ones repeating each line after him.  So stinking adorable!

The next morning we soaked up every last minute playing in the pool and room with them and then packed a picnic for the park where they would meet their siblings!  Tears welled up in my eyes as we pulled and I saw my four kiddos waiting excitedly to meet their new brothers.  We introduced them and snapped a few photos together before releasing them to play.  It was so sweet to see how quickly they clicked and played together.  We ate our picnic and played some more before heading back to drop them off.  Our goodbye was not tearful, more so excited for when we would meet again.

We were able to Facetime them Monday and Tuesday and they were excited to see their siblings and a little bit of the house and some of the toys!  Now we are set to head back tomorrow to spend the weekend with them!  Praying the weather cooperates enough to allow us to get down there!

I could write so many details about the boys and the amazing first weekend we spent together, but suffice it to say I am in love with three amazing little guys and I can't wait to spend our second weekend together!!


Monday, October 16, 2017

Two Little Lovebirds

Every minute things get a little more real!  I bought a dresser for the boys' room, got all the car seats in the vehicle, and am working through the rest of the garden harvest to get it into the freezer for when the boys are here!  Today the kiddos and I will take pictures of our home and around town to make photo books for the boys to look through as they are waiting to relocate with us.  We are still working through the full transition plan, but will be meeting them this weekend!!!

Today these got delivered in the mail!!


After we switched to the adoption-from-foster-care path back in March, I had the idea to write a book for the children we would adopt.  I knew we would make a photo book, but wanted more of a story book that showed how our family grew through the years to include them.  In a conference I had attended in April called Empowered to Connect, they had mentioned the importance of families "sticking together" and I immediately thought of the phrase "Birds of a feather flock together".  And so, with the help of clip art from Etsy, this book was created. When we heard about the boys, I added their names and pictures to the book so that as they read through it, they would see themselves, and what kid wouldn't love that!!  The night we found out we had been chosen, I placed an order of 4 books (one for each boy and one for the house) and I am so excited to have them now in hand!!

Click HERE to read Two Little Lovebirds.  *Names and pictures have been hidden for privacy*

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Seven

I have 7 children. 
I have 4 sons and 3 daughters. 
I have seven kids, ages 8 and under. 
My 7 kids are all within 6 years of each other. 
My kids are ages 8, 6, 6, 5, 4, 4, and 2.

I've rehearsed how to share our new additions and there is no way to say this that it doesn't sound crazy! 
Crazy awesome, that is! 

The experience of hearing our worker on the phone today telling us that we had been chosen, that we would soon be expanding our family by three, was absolutely indescribable! 

The experience of telling our children that the brothers they have been praying for are actually coming home was even better! Teddy's reaction was literally priceless! Why, oh why, did I not have my phone to video it!?!

So many logistics to coordinate and figure out now, but I am so excited and ready to begin this next chapter! Homme, Party of 9!

Praise God!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Prepared

Yesterday morning, after I got my children ready for school and off on the bus, I had a few moments of peace and quiet to myself. I prayed for the meeting that would begin in a few hours and prayed for God to show me something He wanted me to see when I opened my Bible.  I randomly opened to Ephesians 2 and began reading. After getting through the first few paragraphs, I came to verse 10, a verse I have read before many times, but this time the last words really stood out to me.

God prepared in advance for us to pursue this adoption journey.  As a child, when I watched as my mom's friend brought a little girl, and later her little sister, home from Haiti. As a teen, when I went on a missions trip to Mexico and was able to help with the impoverished children there. Ten years ago, when I met a family at my church in Bemidji that fostered.  When I moved back to Warroad, more families in my church were growing through adoption. When I had my first child, I discovered the MN Adopt website and scoured the list of waiting kids. When we worked in the church nursery in Grand Forks, and we cared for a few foster kiddos during the church service. When we witnessed my sister's family going through their first adoption, and then second and third the following year. Two years ago when a beautiful 11 year old girl on the MN Adopt site stole my heart and we began to seriously discuss adoption. The following year, when we began pursuing a domestic infant adoption. This year, when we changed our path to adoption of a sibling group from foster care. God has been there, stirring our hearts for the needs of children. He has orchestrated every detail that has led us to this point.

Now it was the day we would meet to interview for the placement of the case we have had on our hearts and minds since mid August. The three and a half week communication gap that had happened in September had been the worst. The waiting and wondering were very hard. I had busied myself with cleaning and organizing my house room by room. The inside of every closet, cupboard, fridge, and locker had been emptied and reorganized. Projects we had been putting off got checked off the list. Each room had been thoroughly cleaned, even the exterior windows had been washed. My freezer was filled with meals. I prettied up my menu wall, created my "household helpers" wall, and made nightly bedtime checklists for my kiddos (and yes they are laminated, need you even ask!) Everything that could be labeled got labeled... that laminator really has been working overtime!  All of this to say that God used that window of time that felt excruciatingly long to allow me to physically prepare my home for the visit we were about to have.




My mother, who in case you haven't met her, is nothing short of amazing, took my kids to her house all day Sunday to allow us to finish everything we wanted to prepare and clean, and even fed us supper and bathed our kids there so we wouldn't mess up our freshly cleaned kitchen and bathrooms. All of this led to me sitting down before our interview, peacefully relaxing and reading about how God prepares us in advance for what we are made to do.

At Bible study last week, our pastor shared verses that made you reflect on your purpose: What is your passion; What are your God-given gifts: What are your skills; What breaks your heart?  I left feeling like I needed to "do" something.  Dig into women's ministry, start a youth ministry program, reach out to the community... something.  I knew I couldn't commit to anything with this ongoing adoption process, but it wasn't until I sat down and read this verse that I really understood that this adoption is my purpose.  My God-given gifts are administratively based - hello organization and lamination - as well as compassion.  My skills are organizational and relational.  And it breaks my heart that any child is not living with a family who loves them and is committed to them forever.

The meeting yesterday went very well and time will tell if we will be the family that they move forward with.  Until then, I can rest easy in knowing that God has prepared in advance the path we will walk.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Collateral

Our collateral meeting has been scheduled for this Tuesday!  Their caseworker, along with a county permanency worker and an intern, will come to our home and spend a few hours discussing the case.  There will be opportunity for us to ask questions and for them to ask questions of us as well.  Our worker has been so helpful throughout this process and has given us pointers and things to be prepared to answer.  We did find out that there are two other families interviewing, so they have it narrowed down to the top three candidates.  It is all a bit nerve-wracking, but I have a peace about it and hope that we can convey our interest and dedication to bringing these kiddos home.  

Our kids are getting more excited as this becomes more real.  
Natalie, my mother hen, told me last night, "Mom, what is good about me being the oldest is that if they are sad and you need to be with them, I can help take care of Ingrid and Caroline."  
Teddy is probably the most excited of all the kiddos.  He prays for them every night and brings them up in conversation regularly.

Four and a half days for me to prepare and get my home prepped and ready!!  Can't wait!!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Next Step

This morning I woke up especially bummed about the waiting and wondering about what is happening with this adoption.  I called my sister who said, 

"You sound sad, did you get a call?"  

"No," I replied, "just sick and tired of not knowing anything!" 

Later as I was in process of emailing my worker for this week's update, my other sister called and encouraged me to just give her a call.  I hung up, called my worker and left a voicemail, and called my sister back. 

One minute after hanging up with my sister, my phone's display lit up with my worker's number.  I answered it and forced my cheeriest "hello".  She greeted me and then said, 

"You'll never guess what I am looking at..."

"Please, please, please tell me it's an email!?!" I practically begged.  Scratch that, I literally begged.

"Yep! And I am forwarding it on to you right now.  Now let's see, where is your email... man I have a lot of Sarah's in my address book... ok now Justin's email...."

As she gave me this play by play of forwarding the email, I felt like I was a contestant on a competition game where they build up the suspense to say who the winner is.  I wanted to scream... "Just read it to me on the phone!!"

She sent the email and said that their caseworker contacted her to say that they had just finished reviewing home studies and were wondering if we were still interested in pursuing the case.  She wanted to set up a meeting and was asking about our availability.

So just like that, after moping around and feeling sorry for myself all morning, I found out that we are moving onto the next step!  This meeting is called a "collateral" and is where the team working with kids meets with the team working with parents and they share more information about the case.  In some ways, it is kind of like a job interview... except you are interviewing to be parents.

I do not know if there are other families meeting with their team, or if there are, how many.  I don't know if they will like us or if we will end up being the adoptive placement they go with.  But I do know that I haven't wiped the smile off my face all day and am THRILLED to even be moving on to the next step!!

Thank you for your prayers and keep them coming!!

Friday, September 22, 2017

Guarding my Heart

It has officially been one month since we received the call about the placement we are currently pursuing.  In my last post, I shared the timeline of up to the end of August when we had received an email saying that their team was still processing through home studies and would get back to us the following week.  Since that email 3 weeks ago, we have heard nothing.  Nada.  Zip.

Our worker has reached out via email and left voice mails but has not gotten a response.  I am sure that there are more pressing cases on their workload and trying to coordinate schedules to review the home studies as a team is a challenge in and of itself.  Our worker sweetly reassures us that this is not an abnormal timeline and says we should not lose hope yet.  She also encourages us to guard our hearts as nothing is cut and dry in the foster care world and we really won't know what will happen until they say "Let's make a plan to transition them into your home".

The thing is, I know that I shouldn't get attached, but I already have.

When I am making meals for my freezer, I am mentally portioning for the increased household size.

When we tuck our kiddos in at night, they pray for their siblings.

When we sit down to eat a meal together, I envision little bodies in the empty chairs.

When we are having family time watching a movie, roasting marshmallows, or shooting hoops, I can't help but wish they were here to enjoy it with us.

In a conversation with a couple of other adoptive mamas, they referred to cases they had not been selected to pursue and how it really felt like a miscarriage.  They had invested so much energy and thought and prayers into bringing this child home, and when it didn't happen it felt like such a loss.

I know that for the sake of self-protection I should prepare for the worst and mentally prep myself for the call that says we are no longer being considered.  But my glass half-full, optimistic disposition won't allow it.

So for now, I will continue to clean my house with a fine tooth comb, fill my freezer with meals, and organize and label everything in sight.  Prayers accepted!!

Friday, September 1, 2017

The Waiting Game

Last time I wrote on here, we had received what felt like "the call". The call we have been waiting for on this adoption journey.  The call where our case manager shared with us about an adoptive placement and I scribbled furiously on the pages of my notebook trying to dictate every word she spoke.  The call where the kaleidoscope of butterflies in my stomach began swarming and beating their wings at fever pitch. The call that I hung up the phone and then immediately picked it back up and dialed my husband at work to regurgitate every detail and get his confirmation to move forward.

What's ironic in all this is that while this call was good and promising and exciting, it really was just a call. It was our case manager presenting a case to us like she has done before on multiple other occasions.  Yet it felt like so much more. I can compare it to the feeling of when you are trying to get pregnant and you feel the slightest bit of nausea, or tenderness, or even just note that you have a heightened sense of smell.  You don't know yet if you are expecting, but you begin to get excited and think of all the other "symptoms" you've been experiencing. It's too early to take a test, but you cross your fingers and pray that this is really it, that soon you will see those two pink lines on the pregnancy test and confirm what you already know in your heart.

There isn't much to update on since this call, but I want to share the details of this journey with you in the off chance that you have been considering adoption yourself and want to experience it vicariously first! And you know, if you felt like praying on my behalf, I wouldn't turn you down!

The call was received on Monday, August 21st. Our worker had seen a new listing fitting our search parameters on the private listing service they utilize. She had emailed the listing worker expressing she had a family that might be a good fit and requesting more information. Within minutes, the listing worker called her having reviewed the short family bio our worker had attached to her email. She said "This family sounds perfect for this case! Tell more about them! What can I tell you that they would want to know?!" Our worker took down all the information to share with us and requested photos before ending the call and calling me. After we confirmed we wanted to move forward, our worker emailed the listing worker our home study, a formal 14 page document all about our family, and stated we were very interested in moving to the next step. On Tuesday morning, we received photos. They were just candid snapshots taken on the foster home's stairs, but my goodness... all the heart eyes!

Then nothing.

No updates Wednesday. Nothing Thursday. Friday we crossed our fingers that we'd hear something before the weekend, but still nothing. The weekend passed, and with it Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday...

This waiting business is for the birds!

Our worker left another voicemail Wednesday, but texted at the end of the business day that she had not heard back.  I began to write a script of what might be happening. Maybe another family was a perfect match and was already lining up placement arrangements. Maybe the current foster family decided to pursue adoption. Maybe the listing worker was too busy and hadn't even had time to review the case.

Meanwhile, we are in limbo. I am vacillating between the hopeful giddiness of awaiting confirmation that I am indeed expecting, and the realistic/pessimistic view that we very well may not be. All the while, the nesting instinct that takes over when you are in the final days of your third trimester has creeped in. "If this is happening, I need to prepare," my mind shouts. I clean out fridges and purge through the deep freeze. I reorganize closets and sort through clothing. I kick the bathroom renovation into high gear. I even sorted my husband's tools in the garage!

Finally our worker forwarded an email from the listing worker yesterday.  It didn't say much, but it was something!! She stated they were still reviewing home studies, but that our family was still on the list. She didn't anticipate calling until next week, but wanted to send an update in the meantime.

So now we wait!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Winds of Change

We have been home study approved for just over a month.  I am learning patience is not my virtue as this month has seemingly taken approximately 3 years to pass. Up until today the most recent referral we had was a very challenging set of 3 that also had a child older than our oldest (a parameter we are not willing to budge on).

We were called on Friday about an emergency placement. We are not on the list of families for emergency placements, but our worker wanted to see how we felt about this concept and decided to share with us. Three little girls needed immediate care until at least Tuesday. These cases are nearly always temporary and do not generally lead to permanency. They are the opposite of what we are looking to pursue, yet I felt a very strong resolve to say "Yes". I conferred with my hubby, sharing all the details that were shared with me, and he was on the same page, so I called back and confirmed that we were willing.

Our worker then shared what we should expect with emergency placements - late night or middle of the night arrival, check for lice, bathe, wash all clothing, provide pjs, feed them, prep bedding for accidents and have spare sheets ready, prepare for emotionally traumatized kiddos and the behaviors that may follow.  This dose of reality was hard to swallow. Not that I was unwilling to do these things or care for these kiddos, but that this is what their night was going to be like. I took mental notes before we hung up and was thinking through how we would rearrange sleeping quarters when she called back.  "The county has declined this placement because you are located too many miles away from the placing county".  She had prefaced our initial conversation with this possibility, but I was still taken aback.  I had felt so strongly that I was being led out of my comfort zone and now was being shut down.

Talking with my sister later that night she said, "maybe that strong feeling of resolve was a push toward foster care" (vs strictly adoption from foster care).  This ran through my mind over the weekend and conversing with another friend with experience in the field made me consider it more. After chatting with my hubby about it, I called our case manager this morning and asked about foster care versus adoption from foster care. We discussed some of the ethics of pursuing both avenues at the same time, and settled on continuing to pursue adoption as well as concurrent, (or pre-adoptive) placements, and adding our names to the emergency placement list. We spent a lot of time talking about how to prepare for emergency placements, what items to have on hand, and after we were done talking, the kids and I began making lists. Stuffed animals and blankets for them to snuggle up with, plastic mattress protectors and spare sheets, pulls ups and diapers in various sizes, jammies for various sizes and both genders, bags with a drink and snack for placements that we would drive to meet halfway, and maybe another twin mattress and boxspring.

I was really in this mode of thinking throughout the afternoon and when I missed a call from my worker and received a text asking me to call her I got butterflies in my stomach. Of course we had to play phone tag for a bit before I actually got ahold of her, but when I did, she said she needed 15 minutes of my time and that I needed a pen and paper.

Over the next 28 minutes she shared with me about an adoptive placement that had just been listed. It is early in the game yet, but I feel like this was "the call"! Adoption is never simple and straightforward, so I hesitate to share anything yet, but if you felt like shooting up a few prayers on our behalf - I would be grateful!!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Quick update

Just a super-short update (for those who are following this journey) to say that we were finally home study approved on July 18th!  I figured since it is 2:00 am and I can't sleep, I might as well post here! In addition to the 6 referrals I mentioned in my last post, we have been shown two more.  One was placed before we were licensed and the other was not a good fit with our family at this time.  I am confident that God knows what He is doing and the set He has in mind for our family is out there and will join us in His timing.  Now to pray for patience!!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Hurry up and wait

Hurry up and wait. That's how I am feeling about the adoption process currently. So many friends, family, and acquaintances have excitedly asked me for an update on our process, and I wish I had something exciting to share, but I don't just yet!

We had expected to have our home study approved on June 8th when they came for our final home visit. But because another state that we lived in within the last 5 years required a separate release form for our background check, we had to sign that that day and we are still awaiting our background checks to clear before we can be approved. The most frustrating part is that we have literally nothing to check!

Thankfully, our case manager is very sweet and has sent us a few referrals to look over as we are awaiting licensure.  We are looking to adopt from foster care which means that the children we are considering have already had their parental rights terminated. In other words, we are not fostering them while they work toward reunification with their family, we are strictly adopting. When our case manager asked if we were interested in a concurrent placement - or a foster to adopt scenario - we did say that we would consider it, but that we were leaning heavily in the other direction. 

Of the 6 referrals she sent, five were adoption oriented and one was a concurrent placement.  The latter was sent more as an FYI since the format of information is a little different and our case manager wanted us to see what the differences were.

One of our main objectives is to keep our oldest biological child the oldest child overall.  We are going to be licensed for a sibling set of 2-3 with the oldest being 8 years old or younger. Of the 5 adoption referrals that were sent, two were sibling sets of 2, two were sibling sets of 3, and one was a set of 4. 

The set of four was again sent as more of an FYI and was definitely the most heart-wrenching to read.

If you allow yourself to enter into their situation while reading - 

you see past the "is a harm to them self" 
and see that they haven't been shown their self-worth; 

you read "acts like a mother hen" 
and know that they have always been responsible to care for their younger siblings; 

you know that the reason they "rarely seek comfort in times of distress" 
is because they never found it when they did; 

and when you read that the four year old child has already been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and "worries about leaving his bedroom every morning without permission", 
you want to hunt down the person who instilled such fear in their baby and teach them a thing or two.

This set of four was out of almost every parameter we have set, so they were not a good match with our family. But thankfully, they have a match in process!

Of the four remaining referrals of sibling sets of 2-3 kiddos, three had kiddos older than our oldest, and one was within our parameters for age.

The very hardest part of this whole process (outside of waiting!) is feeling like you could justify adopting every single referral you receive! You read "these children would do best in a home where they are the only children", yet somehow manage to find a way that your four biological children would somehow still fit into that mix! You see that they are older than your oldest biological child - outside the parameter you have specifically set because of many conversations with adoptive families, perspectives from adoptees, and a plethora of best practices that have come out from studies, podcasts, articles, etc. - and still you daydream about bringing them home!

All that to say that until our home study is approved, our hands are tied, but we are hoping to find out more about the one set that was in our parameters and any others that may pop up on our radar once our profile goes live!

Monday, June 5, 2017

Unconditionally

Less than two and a half days until our caseworkers come to approve our home study!!  We will go live on the State Adoption Exchange - the website that caseworkers representing children waiting to be adopted from foster care, as well as caseworkers representing families hoping to adopt children from foster care - utilize to find potential matches.  I am finding myself thinking about these kiddos more and more every day! I am so excited and anxious and nervous and antsy to get to this step!

A friend sent me the link to this song. Although the song is about a romantic love relationship, it's lyrics are so perfect for this adoption and I had to share!!

Unconditionally

Oh no, did I get too close?
Oh, did I almost see what's really on the inside?
All your insecurities
All the dirty laundry
Never made me blink one time

Unconditional, unconditionally
I will love you unconditionally
There is no fear now
Let go and just be free
I will love you unconditionally

Come just as you are to me
Don't need apologies
Know that you are worthy
I'll take your bad days with your good
Walk through the storm I would
I do it all because I love you, I love you

Unconditional, unconditionally
I will love you unconditionally
There is no fear now
Let go and just be free
I will love you unconditionally

So open up your heart and just let it begin
Open up your heart and just let it begin
Open up your heart and just let it begin
Open up your heart

Acceptance is the key to be
To be truly free
Will you do the same for me?

Unconditional, unconditionally
I will love you unconditionally
And there is no fear now
Let go and just be free
'Cause I will love you unconditionally (oh yeah)
I will love you (unconditionally)
I will love you
I will love you unconditionally

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Journal Entry 6.27.15

Almost two years ago, I was pregnant with Ingrid and we were considering adopting a pre-teen girl from foster care. I started a journal for her then, just as I have for all my biological kiddos. I've shared on here before from this journal, and even though our focus has shifted from a preteen girl to a sibling set and some of the  pronouns or references don't make perfect sense, the thoughts and feelings behind them remain constant. 

Here is another journal entry from June 27, 2015:

"We are finishing up our weeklong beach vacation and all week I have found myself thinking of you. I've pictured you as the big sister in the water wearing a matching swimsuit to your three younger sisters. Would you find it cheesy and childish, or would you revel in this small visual confirmation that you are part of a family? 

I've imagined you cooking alongside me in the kitchen as we prepare our favorite beach foods and wonder what items you'll want to add to the menu. I've envisioned you smiling and laughing as we sit and play cards late into the night. Every time I think of you, I think of this beautiful, special girl who will be so glad to finally have a family who loves her to call her own. But I know that this may not be the case… 

I do not doubt you will be beautiful and special, and I know daddy and I will love you, and pray your siblings will love you and welcome you as one of them… But you may not be glad to be part of our family. You may resent being relocated up to the boondocks of northern Minnesota. You may find me annoying or overwhelming or may clash with the sudden role of big sister. You may try with all of your energy to keep your walls up and vow not to make a connection because you just can't bear to be let down again. You may fight me, physically or emotionally, and find satisfaction of seeing me hurt like you have been… Or you may try and pretend like everything is perfect, hiding your insecurities and putting on a show, constantly trying to earn my affection and praise, and desperately trying to fit into your new family. You may make a show of attaching to me as your mother, but deep down feel distrust and fear that you don't measure up and will never be like a real daughter to me. 

Likely you will fall somewhere between these two ends of the spectrum. You will take time to warm up to us and let your guard down, but will genuinely desire to be part of the family.  You will have your good days and bad days, as I'm sure I will as well. You will struggle with feeling loved and accepted for who you are, and fitting into the cookie-cutter image you believe there to be for a "perfect daughter".

Whatever the case may be, I want to make perfectly clear right now that 
I am here for you. 
I love you. 
I want you. 
I value you. 
I cherish you. 
And I will not give up on you. 

You may find this silly or think I am being insincere. After all, how can I make all these statements, these promises to you, when I don't yet know who you are? Well, I think it's no different than how I feel when I think about the tiny baby girl I am carrying within me right now. I know I am her mother and she is my daughter, but that is all I know for sure. I do not know when she will be born, only the date she is due to arrive. I do not know if she will be healthy, or if she will carry with her a lifelong burden of illness or struggle. I do not know if she will ultimately grow up happy and grateful to be part of this family or secretly wish she was someone else's daughter. But I know that I will love her. And just as with her, bringing you into our lives and family will be filled with unknowns and uncertainties, but you can rest assured knowing that I, your mother, will love you regardless of anything else you may think, feel, or believe - and I can guarantee this to be true."

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Final Stretch

We started our adoption journey in December of 2016 pursuing a Domestic Infant Adoption.  Fast forward to March and we changed our course to pursuea sibling set Adoption from Foster Care. Now it is almost the end of May, and if the acceptance of our initial adoption application was like the two pink lines on the pregnancy test, then following this analogy, we are now in the third trimester!  

We've been plodding along since Christmas, busying ourselves with the necessary paperwork, attending the required trainings and education, and reading books and attending conferences on what to expect when you're adopting. Now we are on the final stretch! Only a few more papers to fill out and our caseworkers will be here in 2 weeks to approve our home study!  

The nesting instinct you feel at the end of a pregnancy is also kicking in! I've organized closets and begun cleaning and sorting my way through the house. We sold our dining table and now have one with 10 chairs around it! We traded in our 8 passenger Ford Excursion for a 12 passenger Chevy Express van (I know you're jealous!) I joked with my friends that if they get nervous when they see a big white van frequenting parks and other places that children play, not to worry, it's just me! Haha! I know that joke is in poor taste, but you have to be able to laugh at yourself!

The kids are getting so excited to meet their new brothers and sisters! As we were laying down before bed last night, they were sharing their hopes about this adoption. Teddy wants a brother, BADLY! Natalie wants a sister that is her age, but NOT older than her. Caroline wants a girl named Eela... she is oddly specific.  They talked about going to the pool together and camping as a family; shooting hoops in the driveway and late night bonfires; experiencing the 4th of July festivities and County Fair together; Teddy even suggested that we should adopt more brothers and sisters every year!

They know that we don't necessarily get to choose the specific ages and genders of the sibling set - we are looking at all sibling sets of 2-3 kiddos who range in age from birth-8 years old available for adoption in MN.  We have also made a point of talking about the less "sunshine and rainbows" aspect of adoption, so they know that their new siblings might be sad or mad and might not really act like they want to be here. Some of what we have shared has obviously sunk in because Teddy prayed "... please help my new brothers and sisters to not have fear". 

Adoption is beautiful, but it is also hard. Kids that are "in the system" got there because their situations at home were less than desirable. They have likely witnessed or been subjected to things we only read about in newspapers. But their past shouldn't define their future. 

Can't wait to bring my kiddos home!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Perspective

I'm an eternal optimist. I look on the bright side with my glass half full. I believe that there is good in everyone and that some good can come from even the worst situations.

This perspective was shaken when I found out about my 4-year-old nephew's cancer diagnosis. But I am learning new things about perspective.

You see, my optimistic perspective is just my point of view, but the perspective I am learning about is the second entry in the dictionary definition,

per·spec·tive
pərˈspektiv/
noun
noun: perspective
  • a particular attitude toward or way of regarding something; a point of view.
  • true understanding of the relative importance of things; a sense of proportion.
Knox was diagnosed on a Monday. We all had a pretty good idea that the doctors would say it was cancer, but until we received the text from his mom following the appointment, we hoped and wished and prayed we were wrong.  That was a dark day. Reality hit hard and fear set in. In fact, that was the last day I wrote on here - unable to sleep and thinking about what the future might look like for my little nephew and his family and feeling so angry that this was their new normal.

Now Tuesday was PETscan day and we were all wracked with worry as we awaited the results. This would tell us if the cancer in his femur bone had spread anywhere else in his body. Now to keep things "in perspective", we had just learned on Monday that Knox had Osteosarcoma, a very rare bone cancer that when you take into account his age, is so rare that there may only be as few as 4 children diagnosed with it this year, WORLDWIDE. A quick Google search will tell you that the survival rate of this disease is 70%, and that is not a conforting statistic.  Now 24 hours later, I was keeping myself busy doing laundry when I received a group text message from his dad.

PET scan is clear!!!!!!!

Never had four words looked better! I'm pretty sure I jumped a foot in the air before running to tell my husband in the other room! Other family members recounted screaming aloud at receiving the news.

The diagnosis and treatment plan were still the same, we knew that. But somehow, it was if they had told us all that he was miraculously cancer free! I was filled with such JOY I couldn't wipe the smile off my face. This was the "true understanding of the relative importance of things" definition of perspective in play.

Now since then I have noticed more and more the importance of perspective:

Instead of being heartbroken about the reality that her son would lose his hair,
My sister thought of a way to build community support for him while raising funds for another cause

Instead of being frustrated that he got an uncontrollably bloody nose in the car
She was just grateful she was already en route to the doctor

Instead of being homesick as the overnight trip turned into 2 nights, and 3 and 4,
She was so happy to be in a hospital where they could monitor everything

Instead of being scared as she watched his levels plummet,
She said, "the chemo must really be working"

Instead of wallowing alone in her hospital room, 
She reached out to others going through similar circumstances

She met a little girl who had been born with a congenital heart defect and undergone multiple open heart surgeries as a baby...Whose father had died when she was two... Who was diagnosed with Leukemia as a toddler and was in the midst of chemo treatments... Whose stepfather had been diagnosed with a brain tumor...
...and my sister counted her own blessings

Her eternal perspective colors the lenses through which she views the world. 

Perspective is an amazing thing. 
If you just shift your focus, you may see things in a whole new light.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

cancer

c a n c e r

How can 6 little letters carry such weight? 

They arbitrarily place themselves in between,
forever distinguishing the before from the now. 

They enter our lives unannounced and turn them upside down. 

What once was, can no longer be. 

What was dreamed of, may not come to pass. 

They enter our ears and take over our minds, 
permeating every thought and overshadowing every hope. 

They rob us of our joy, crush our spirits, 
and drain us of our tears. 

They fill us with fear and dread and anger, so much anger. 

They render us helpless and weak, unable to function. 

They do not discriminate, anyone is fair game. 

Even an innocent child. 


Today, cancer has won. 



But tomorrow...

Tomorrow cancer better watch its back...

Because there is a posse coming for it...



Monday, April 10, 2017

Breaking the Cycle

We had our first in-home visit with the adoption agency last week and the ball is now officially rolling! She will be back in May, and between now and then we will complete Car Seat Safety Training, First Aid/CPR Training, and 20 hours of Pre-Adopt Education and Training. We also have a mountain of paperwork that we are working on throughout the whole process. She is still anticipating approval at the beginning of June!  I am praying we are able to match shortly thereafter and bring our kiddos home near the beginning of the summer, so we have as much time as possible to bond with them, and for them to attach to us and their siblings.

We also attended a conference geared toward those who work with "kids from hard places" called Empowered to Connect.  This was an amazing conference that I can't recommend enough, even if you don't interact with kids who have endured trauma! I signed up for it before we began this journey to learn how to connect better to my biological kids!

Here is a brief overview of my takeaways from the conference:

1. Our kiddos brains are capable of amazing things.  The brain is a complex organ with different areas responsible for distinct functions, and all these separate areas need to work together in order to properly function.

2. How the brain functions is affected by a variety of risk factors including time spent in utero, birth, postnatal issues, abuse, trauma, and neglect.

3. The brains of kiddos subject to the risk factors in #2 are different than those of a child who has not experienced these risk factors. Because of this we cannot view all children through the same lens.  Their level of maturity does not directly correspond to their chronological age.

4. The stress and trauma that some at-risk kids endure affects not only their brain, but their beliefs, behaviors, body, and even their biology.

5. Attachment is critical, especially in the first year of life. The attachment style of the parent will affect the child's view of the world and will likely be the attachment style that child defaults to when they become parents.

Those last few lend credence to the phrase  "you are a product of your environment".

-If a child experiences a healthy pregnancy, birth, and has no complications after birth, they have a great start! Their environment thus far has been conducive to good brain development and because the brain hasn't been affected by outside factors or substances, it will begin developing as it should.

-If a child experiences a difficult pregnancy or is subject to outside substances in utero, has a traumatic birth, or has postnatal stressors like extended NICU stays, their brain has already been affected.

-In either case, if this child is then raised in an unhealthy environment, or by a caregiver that doesn't foster healthy attachment; or worse, the child experiences neglect, abuse, or trauma, their brain's development will be greatly affected.

They talked specifically about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) which include the various forms of abuse, neglect, and trauma. Kids who endure ACES grow into adults that suffer the consequences. Unresolved traumas are a breeding ground for mental and somatic health issues, substance abuse, and issues with stress, anger, and sexuality.

A cycle is set into motion in these children's lives without their consent. But the good news is, we can help break that cycle.

We can help them learn to trust and appropriately attach. We can help them begin to believe they are worthy of love. We can help them learn to negotiate their needs, stand up for themselves, and be confident in who they are.

There was so much information shared on how to do this, and as someone who introduced one of the speakers said, "I don't have enough letters before and after my name" to accurately relay all that they shared. But this video, this video, and this book, among many other resources would be a great starting point!

One final takeaway that is valuable to any parent is this:


It is so important to take time to connect with each of your kiddos, one-on-one, for at least 10 minutes every day.  Let your child decide what you are going to do during this time and just focus on following their lead and having fun doing what they want to do! This is not a teachable moment, or a time to ask them excessive questions. It's a time to let them know that you WANT to spend time with them.

And when you say your head down on your pillow at night, you go through your kids one by one and ensure that you have taken this time to invest in them. If you realize you missed out on one, get up and go to that child's room and tell them you missed spending time alone with them today. It will be ten minutes well spent.