Never Changing my Cell Phone Number

Elaina Avalos, Foster Care,

In the fall of last year, I taught my foster son my cell phone number. He’d already learned our address. When he first moved in, we had tried the cell phone number along with our address, but he wasn’t too interested.

So we worked on the phone number again in the fall. By December, he knew it by heart & would randomly bring it up.

He called me during a visit with his family.

He still knows the number. We talked about it a lot in the last couple of months before he left my home. In a card I gave him right after he left, I reminded him that he knew my phone number and that he could call me anytime he needs help.

He may never need to call that number. That is my hope and prayer.

But I’m never giving up that phone number. Like over my dead body will I change that number. I want him to know that he truly can find me and ask for help if he needs it. I don’t want him to need that. My heart longs for a hopeful, joy-filled life – one in which he never needs to call on me.

He deserves the absolute best. And I know he is destined for great things. But I needed him to know that I’m a phone call away.

We are inching closer to two months since he left. I miss him terribly. My emotions are all over the place. I wonder sometimes if I’ll ever feel able to do this again. But in my heart of hearts, I know I want to be a foster parent.

Risking my heart is worth it for them. Though I don’t always feel it right now.

I took a week off from work. Combined with the Labor Day holiday, it has been a good break. I hoped that during some time off from work, I’d feel a little more even.

Now that it’s time to go back {well, after the hurricane that is}, I’m not ready. I won’t tell a lie, I looked into ways to take a leave absence. But there’s no easy way to accomplish that.

I spent a lot of time doing nothing in the last week and a half. Quite literally. I felt guilty about it at first. Then I didn’t. Sometimes you need to just to do nothing.

While sometimes I feel like I could use about four more weeks of this, I know it’s time to keep marching forward.

But my heart is still in about September of 2018 – when I couldn’t imagine any other life than one with my foster son. Not because I didn’t understand foster care & its goals, but because he hadn’t seen his bio mom since March. And all signs pointed toward a plan change and adoption.

While I have come to understand foster care {and adoption} as deeply complex and not understood in black & white terms, I also know that I wasn’t alone in the belief that this would be our ultimate path. More than one person estimated by summer of 2019, he would be adopted.

We had a very different course. Ultimately, that course changed drastically in about a three-month period. I still haven’t wrapped my brain around it. So I’m giving myself a break.

I’m not ready to go back to work. But I’m going. When I go, I’ll probably won’t beat myself up much about the pace I need to keep – which is frankly probably more than I should keep anyway.

I’m not ready to stop being sad sometimes. So I will let myself.

Sometimes we should probably give ourselves a break.

And I’ll never change my cell phone number.

Childless Mothers – The Beauty & Grief of Being a Foster Mom

Jason Johnson, foster care, Elaina Avalos,

What makes a woman a mother?

Is it biology? I mean, yes. Duh.

But it’s more than that. Sometimes we are loved best by those who don’t share a single tie to us biologically. We’ve come up with a term for it – framily.

Sometimes a mom by biology doesn’t want to be or is not capable of being a mom.

I’m a mom. I was a mom. “My” boy isn’t with me anymore. But I love him fiercely and always will. Today, in this quiet house void of noise, chaos, and without the boy mess left in his wake, I fight for the words to express the love, loss, grief, and the hope I fight to find.

Beyond the grief of saying goodbye to my boy, I grieve the loss of the family that I had waited so long to have.

Motherhood was my biggest dream and deepest longing. As I’ve faced the reality of having said goodbye to this little boy who I thought made me a mom, I started to wonder if I had also lost motherhood too.

I mean, I was childless before. I’m childless again.

There have been more than a few times in the last three weeks that I’ve wondered if I can ever do this again {foster or adopt}. I don’t think I can answer that question for quite some time.

But I did begin to wonder what truly makes a woman a mother. For my friends who have never given birth, but love another’s child as their own, here’s what I know for sure . . . you are a mom.

I am a mom.

If you comfort a child in their grief and in the midst of them facing tremendous trauma, you are a mom.

If you wipe their tears, comfort them when they’re sick, and cheer them on when they are facing their Goliaths, you are a mom.

If you clean up the puke, the pooh, and your boy’s uncanny ability to get pee everywhere, you are a mom.

If you advocate, fight for, and sacrifice for a child, you are a mom.

If you endure court, biological families that may hate you, constant unknowns, lack of resources & support for a child you didn’t give birth to – but love with all of your heart, you are a mom.

If you endure school fairs with junk food, hyped-up-kids, and blow cash on crazy games your kid can’t win, you are a mom. If you endure Chuck e Cheese, you are also a saint.

If you held your child on his last day of school, when he sobbed, as he said goodbye to his friends and 1st grade teacher, you are a mom.

If you walked hand in hand with him as he started his first day of school nervous about the year ahead, you are a mom.

If you were physically pained because of your child’s pain, you are a mom.

I may not have shared biology. I could never replace his first & forever mom.

But I was a mom.

I am a mom.

You, my hurting friend, if you find yourself here – you are a mom. What you did for that little {or big} child in your care was and is a beautiful gift that will forever be part of their journey.

I know you worry whether it’s part of their healing journey {did I make a difference, you ask} – but I can say with confidence that the only way any child can heal from trauma, is to learn to trust adults, be nurtured & loved unconditionally, and to bond.

What you’ve built into your child, no matter how long or how short, will last forever and will not return a void.

Your pain, your grief, and your loss may not be understood. People may not realize what it feels like. You may feel alone. But you are not. You are going to hurt and grieve. Others may not understand. But I do.

Let yourself grieve. Rest in the knowledge that your grief is a sign of how deeply you loved. The depth of your love is woven into their story forever – the best and good parts of their story. That is a beautiful gift.

Goodbyes

For those who have been reading for a while, you know that I had a {foster} son I expected to adopt. He is now living somewhere else and won’t be back with me.

There’s not a chance I’ll share details here. But I will tell you for sure that I am grieving this loss.

I am heartbroken. Not because I didn’t understand throughout the last 16 months that the goal of foster care is reunification and I was dead set on having it go my way. But because you make choices to love someone, pour your life into them, and love them as if they’ll never leave and will always be yours {even if they won’t}, it tears your heart in two pieces when they do leave.

I am working on a few posts about foster care as a whole and motherhood as a foster mom. But I wanted to share. The last few months have been the hardest and most painful of my life. I think today I am starting to finally believe God has all of our best interests in mind. Sometimes it’s hard to understand this when nothing makes sense – when you can’t understand the why.

I’m not sure what my future in foster care is. Hopefully I will figure that out soon. I’ll trust God to make clear what isn’t so clear right now.

Learning Life Lessons from a Seven-Year-Old

Today didn’t go quite as planned. My disorganization at home has caught up with me. I was frustrated and irritated. It’s all an inside job. I could’ve saved myself the trouble by slowing down & relaxing. I turned a moment that should’ve been fun – baking Christmas cookies with my kiddo – into a chore.

Granted, I had plastic covering the walls in my dining room making unpacking my office a challenge, a hole in the wall of the hall closet (a closet I need to store boxes – now kept in the second kid bedroom), and other issues about the house. I keep putting off unpacking and the longer this goes on, the more frustrated I become. By the way, if I fill the closet with boxes again, I’ll just have to move them back out when the drywall and painting is done. Phew. So . . . it’s no wonder I couldn’t find my Grandma’s old cookie cutters.

I searched frantically – making even more of a mess. I had to have them. How could I make cookies, for the first time as a mom, without them? My office went from unruly to a disaster area (also when I ripped the plastic down from the walls – the room will get drywall and paint & I’ve been looking at plastic for weeks). Meanwhile, all my little guy wanted to do was bake cookies.

But I made it into a chore.

We started making cookies and then ran into another little kerfuffle & our baking came to a halt. My kiddo lost his electronics privileges, I was stressed and tired, and we still have about 3 dozen cookies waiting to be made.

After getting through dinner, we sat down to do our Advent devotional and read a verse from his Advent calendar. We read, “When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.”

The question was, “Why were the wisemen joyful? What brings you joy?”

I asked my sweet kid – who’d only an hour before gotten in trouble & who was driving me bonkers – what brings you joy? His answer? “You, Mama A. You bring me joy.”

Talk about a punch to the gut. Talk about learning life lessons from a seven-year-old.

The only thing that really matters is what really matters. In this season of rushing, picture-perfect wrapped packages and Pinterest worthy entertaining, I hope I’ll remember these moments with him, always.

My kiddo doesn’t care about all the extra stuff. He just wanted to bake cookies with me. Nothing is more important than his little heart and it doesn’t matter if our house is Pinterest perfect, if I have it all together, or . . . I don’t. All that matters is making memories with him. And that doesn’t require a picture perfect moment. It requires my presence fully there with him – not distracted by things that don’t last and don’t matter.

Hurricane Florence Through My Eyes

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On Tuesday, September 11th, I evacuated with my mom, dog, and kiddo after a mandatory evacuation order was released, for my county. We spent just over a week away from home, due to the dangerous road conditions and flooding.

We have had quite the eleven days. My beautiful eastern/coastal NC has been deeply marred by this hurricane and the flooding that followed. I know people who have lost everything – some homes, some businesses. I have neighbors, who have an entire floor of their home they’ve lost due to the intensity of rain (30 inches in my city).

It wasn’t just the event itself but the evacuation. My (foster) son had a hard time – any kid would. But his was a little more intense as his fear of losing our home and me was very real after what he’s gone through the last couple of years. I feared what would happen if we lost our home.

I’ve returned home now to the potential that there’s unseen water damage in my home as the smell of mold has intensified in the last couple of days.

Today and tomorrow, I’ll be volunteering at my church. The needs of others are so great. We have poor families, migrant workers, and so many elderly folks that have nothing to help them and nowhere to go. But Florence didn’t discriminate. And it doesn’t matter what your situation, when you lose everything.

The needs are great. And there is a great deal I want to say about this entire experience. There were funny things about our “Evacuation Vacation” as we’ve all been calling them. I want to share some of the experiences we’ve had along the way. So I plan to write a few posts to cover what this experience has been like. I just need a little time to figure out what’s happening with my house.

This isn’t my first hurricane. But it is my first evacuation – mandatory at that. And obviously the first time I’ve had to decide what to do in a storm – with a child. This has been an emotional and exhausting experience all around.

I hope I’ll feel up to sharing more, soon. In the meantime, prayers for my beautiful Eastern Carolina would be appreciated.

Back to School: Newbie Mom Firsts

elaina avalos, foster care, this is foster care, boy mom, mommy blogger,

Monday is my {foster} son’s first day of second-grade. The other day we attended his Back to School night. We met his teacher, saw his classroom, and turned in paperwork. I was a little overwhelmed. I’m not going to lie.

But as we took a photo in front of the PTO’s “selfie station,” and I talked with one of the parents about volunteering, I had this overwhelming sense of gratitude.

I never dreamed that being a mom would mean starting my parenting journey with a six-year old boy who is not mine and yet, may be.

But picking out his first day of school clothes, getting his backpack, and buying his school supplies, I am overwhelmed by the beauty of this time, in spite of how . . . mundane it all could be under slightly different circumstances.

I’m not sure I’d ever be a good helicopter mom. There are just some things I think he’s got to experience – even in failure – on his own. But I’m fiercely protective. In case you’re wondering if the mama bear thing only happens with children you give birth to, it doesn’t.

I worry over this year for him. In just a few short months, the court could decide that reunification efforts will be ceased. His plan could change to adoption. In just a few short months, it may be very clear that he will be with me forever.

I want him to have people in his life who will see how sweet and precious he is – even when his behavior is sometimes rooted in trauma. I want them to invest in him, in ways that so many kids just don’t experience. And so, as this school year begins – a year that could change everything for him, I pray that his teacher will invest in him.

I pray that I will know how to support him. And I pray that those who are part of the team of professionals that provide additional support, will know how to help him {and me}.

Here’s to a new school year – and hopefully soon – the permanency that my little guy deserves so much.

Are you ready for your kiddo’s new school year?

Thankful,

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Rejecting Pinterest Perfect

Pinterest, Pinterest Mom, Elaina Avalos, Chasing Dreams, Rejecting Pinterest Perfection

My son’s 7th birthday was last weekend. I am a first time mom at 42. My life is filled with firsts these days. He has been with me for a handful of months. He may be with me forever.

I don’t know what his life held before he entered mine – except in small bits & pieces. I don’t know what birthdays and holidays were like. I don’t know if they were a big deal or barely a mention. I don’t know if he had birthdays filled with family & friends.

In March, I started thinking about his birthday. What else would a Pinterest fanatic do? My Pinterest account isn’t quite as busy as it once was (see first time mom thing) but I still love it and it’s often the first thing I scroll, scroll, scroll through when I’m bored, have extra moments, or am dreaming of something I hope is ahead.

With his birthday, I guess I figured I should make it a big to do. Didn’t he deserve that after all? Either way – if his birthdays passed with hardly a mention or they were a big deal – shouldn’t I give him a special day? I somehow equated a special day with a perfect day. These are not the same things.

rejecting pinterest perfect, elaina avalos, pinterest mom

I searched countless pins – dreaming of the perfect party. I wondered who we would invite. And I envisioned how perfect it would be. The thing is – I know life isn’t perfect. I’ve encountered enough of real life to know that. But it sure is easy to lose sight of that sometimes.

It’s not the thing itself. It’s the power any form of social media has to distract you from what is in front of you. If I tried to keep up with a Pinterest perfect life, I would never find the joy in the every day normal – in life as it is – without perfect images and perfectly planned parties. It’s time to reject Pinterest perfect.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a social media person. I love me some Instagram. And clearly, I have a Pinterest addiction. If you look at the number of pins, boards (that doesn’t count my private boards), and Pinterest views I have each month & you’ll know that’s clear (haha).

But recently, I’ve become very aware of how significantly the perfectly curated images impact me. We spend an inordinate amount of time snapping photos, editing them with filters, and then uploading them to our various social media profiles often leaving out the real life moments. We search for the perfect something. But it’s just an image.

elaina avalos

Okay, so maybe some of those moments are real life. But how many other moments passed by while we were snapping more photos to keep up that image of the life we say we’re living? I want my kitchen to look perfect when I snap a photo of that cocktail I made (which by the way, I saw the recipe on Pinterest). But ya’ll, sometimes my kitchen is a mess behind me. Hashtag true story.

When I scroll through Pinterest, I am looking for the perfect thing. I’m looking for the perfect decor, the perfect quotes with pretty photos or backgrounds, the perfect outfit, or dreaming of the perfectly dressed baby or kiddo (along with their perfectly decorated room).

I followed a mom on Pinterest and Instagram for a while. At first, I was inspired by her images and pins. I thought . . . what a fun mom! But the longer I followed her the more . . . blah my life seemed to be. She was so colorful. Her kids always looked so adorable. And her photos and videos were always perfectly styled.

I felt like a slob. Can I get a witness? At that point, as there is now, I had clean laundry in piles in my living room and bedroom. I have a dishwasher full of clean dishes and a sink full of dirty dishes. My ceiling fans need cleaning. And so do our blinds. My bathroom isn’t clean and I’m pretty sure my downstairs bathroom isn’t either (see 7-year old son), even though I just cleaned it yesterday.

Her life may be perfect. They may be as supremely happy as they appear to be. Her husband is lovely. She is lovely. Her kids are adorbs. Their home is a dream. But the truth is, you never saw anything but that. Not the moments when the kids were a mess or something crazy happened in their day or she shared a funny story about the kids arguing or the time she left the kids at her mom’s house longer than planned, so she could stroll through Target in peace and quiet FOR ONCE IN HER LIFE.

pinterest, elaina avalos, pinterest mom, rejecting pinterest perfect

I know, I know. That’s not what she’s trying to sell. Her social media accounts are a business. And while I much prefer to buy from or take recommendations from a person that is real – flaws and silly stories and all – I get it. She’s got dollars to earn. I can respect that.

What I can’t do is base my life on the image of someone selling an image. I must choose to be content with the life I have. Can I find & make beauty in my life? Yes. Can I make my surroundings prettier? YES! Can I find ideas for events, activities, books, and ideas about raising boys, on Pinterest, that are helpful? Of course!

What we can’t or shouldn’t do, is assume that businesses that are designed to sell ads, generate revenue through web traffic, affiliate links, etc., etc., are living their best life. And we certainly should not let a business leave us feeling like our lives aren’t enough. No one is the perfect wife, mom, decorator, fashion-guru, or amazing chef – or all of those combined. No one.

I wanted my son’s birthday to be perfect. I decided on something quiet. And while the day was his – he made the choices for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (and of course his birthday cake & ice cream), we didn’t have a fancy party. He had balloons in his room when he woke up and our kitchen table was decorated when he came downstairs.

Before he’d even opened his first present he told me it was his best birthday ever. I had more hugs that day than I think I’d gotten from him on any day prior. He didn’t need a fancy party and perfect food and bounce houses, and a house full of people.

Rejecting Pinterest Perfect, Elaina Avalos, Pinterest Fail, Pinterest Mom, Mommy Blogger

I’m not condemning that if that’s what you do. Who I am hoping to appeal to is those moms like me – those women like me – that know we can’t attain that image. Maybe it’s because our bank account won’t let us. Or maybe it’s because it’s just not who we are but feel somehow it’s who we are supposed to be.

Regardless of the reason, let’s all promise each other we won’t let social media trick us into believing that other people’s lives are perfect? My kid had an amazing birthday and our decorations came from Dollar Tree & Wal Mart and he certainly didn’t get everything he asked for. But he sure did have a great day.

Let’s reject Pinterest perfect. Let’s reject believing a lie that someone selling us something on social media has it all together. They don’t. They’re just like us. Their kid pees on the toilet seat, leaves dirty smudges on the refrigerator handles, and back talks just like your kid does. They fight with their husbands, feel bloated sometimes, think their hair is ugly, and wonder if they’re a good mom to their kids.

There is no perfect life. And perfect images on Pinterest – or any other social media platform are just that – images.

If you’ve found a good balance in our social media driven world, how have you done that? Do you take social media fasts? Or have you found other helpful ways to separate out what’s real from what’s an ad? I’d like to hear your tips & tricks!

*Photos by Ylanite Koppens