Rest

I choose a word for each year, every year versus a list of resolutions. After a rough end to 2018, I kept coming back to the word, rest.

I haven’t decided yet whether this is ironic or not.

In almost every way I can imagine, this year has been anything but restful. It has been painful, hard, tense, a battle, and frankly, hope-sucking, bone-wearying exhausting.

For the most part, it’s not my story to share. It’s my foster son’s story. What he has been through, what he has put me through as a result, and how far we have gone to find some semblance of peace is just . . . not mine to share.

But for four months, I have battled things that have happened in his life and now here I am.

A little over two weeks ago, my doctor said he wanted me to have a blood test to determine if my health issues were due to heart failure.

What the heck? I’m 43 years old.

Turns out my symptoms were a combo of medication (I have rheumatoid disease) reaction and anemia. My anemia is bad enough that I have go in for two iron infusions (IV iron). But the fact that he was even willing to consider a heart issue stopped me in my tracks – as did my subsequent appointment with him two weeks ago.

I am not resting – not in any way.

Reality has set in. We’re nearing the halfway mark of the year and I know that significant and lasting changes must be made in my life. While my health is a continued work in progress, that takes some work with my doctor – there are other changes I have to make on my own.

It’s hard to know where to begin at times. One thing I know for certain is that saying yes for the sake of people’s opinion of what you should be doing, running without stopping or slowing to take a proverbial breath, and believing work, other’s expectations, or their plans are more important, certainly do not help.

I’ve been off work since Friday. While we went to the beach on Saturday (that wasn’t restful at all – like I’d planned), I have done a great deal of resting this weekend. I had a long list of household chores to accomplish. But rather than do everything at once, I ended up slowly tackling my list over many days.

I’ve still got a couple things to check off today, before going back to work tomorrow. At first I was critical of myself for not getting it all done. And then I beat back that condemnation with a stick.

That kind of stinking thinking is one reasons why I’m here. So . . . I did a little bit every day. Yesterday, I napped on and off for huge chunks of the day while my foster son played outside or watched movies. It was until almost 6:00 PM that I worked on one of my “to-do” items.

Friends – this life is hard and if you’re battling chronic illness, are a single parent, facing down childhood trauma in your foster or adoptive child, or any number of other potential issues – be kind to yourself. Take it one step – one day – at a time. If you have to go hour by hour than do it.

Rest. I’m trying to get better at it. I’m probably going to get it wrong sometimes. But now that I’m here, I know there is no turning back. I hope you will take good care of yourself. Learn these lessons now – before you’re functioning at an extreme deficit.

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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 

 

Healthy Attachment

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My son’s last day of school was more than a week ago. On the 7th, I was there for his end of year awards, which I shared about, here. The following day, I left work to pick him up at 3:30. When I arrived in the parking lot of the school, I realized there was a text from his teacher – he’d been crying for a half-hour – inconsolable, really.

I asked her if I needed to come in. Her initial response was no. And then within a couple of minutes, as I waited in the “car rider” pick-up line, she said he’d begun crying again. I parked, signed in at the office, and walked to his classroom, nervous about why little guy was feeling.

I could hear him before I saw him. When I walked in, he fell into me. He was weeping – body-wracking, sobbing, tears falling down his face, weeping. There were a couple other kids crying too. But my little man was beside himself.

He sat on my lap and I rocked him as his teacher walked the other kids to the bus and then the car rider line. We sat alone in the class as he wept. My heart has never ached so. The pain he was feeling was so real and intense.

And yet, this foster mama who knows, also knew this was a beautiful moment.

My little man is learning healthy attachment.

It hurts to lose people you love. But when you get yanked around from place to place and the people in your life can disappoint you, you don’t always know how to form healthy relationships and attachments. You build a wall. You don’t know what’s a good relationship or a bad one. You may feel intense emotions, but they may not always be about the actual thing you’re expressing emotion over.

My kiddo is so tired of not knowing a permanent home. He wants that so desperately. He aches for it. Truly. He wants forever. He tells anyone and everyone that he plans on living with me “forever.”

But after what he’s been through, attaching and forming the bonds and relationships most of us take for granted, is not easy. To say the least. His sadness over “losing” his teacher and his friends, was so very painful for him.

And as weird as it is to say it, that was such a good thing for him. His pain poured out of him and it’s like every pent-up emotion from the last few years of his life flooded to the surface.

Though I believe his emotion came from a few places, underneath it all was the awesome reality that my little guy is learning, in just a few short months in my house, what it means to form healthy relationships.

As I held and rocked him, I said so many times, “It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to be sad.” My heart has never ached more over the emotion pouring out of anyone. And yet, I felt it was a turning point for him and for us.

My little man is learning what it means to form healthy relationships. I am so proud of him.

He is a warrior.

He fights through some tough stuff (most adults don’t know how to work through), to be strong, smart, sweet, and full of joy.

He is brave. He is hilarious. And though he can be quite fearful at times – he’s actually fearless at the end of the day because he will not let anything hold him back.

I am convinced that I’m in the presence of a boy who will be a great man, someday.

What a sweet privilege I have to love on him and be there for him on days like his last day of school. He is learning what it means to love, form bonds, and say goodbye in a healthy way.

I am so very proud of my boy.

First Grade – Kiddo Update

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Today was my kiddo’s first grade awards & end of year party. He has been so excited about it all week. Yes, he asks about the last day of school. But he also asked how many days until the 7th.

He came to my bedroom door at 6:15 this morning, knocking loudly. I thought something was wrong. I got up & opened the door and before he could say anything else, he said, “Today’s my party!”

I picked out a shirt & shorts and left them for him while I went back to my room and got ready. When I opened my door again, I could see him going through his clip-on ties. A couple of minutes later he walked over to me wearing a mis-matched tie. He beamed.

He felt it was important to wear a tie today. So I gave him a little fashion advice and encouraged him to find a different color. He came back with it on. He looked adorable. He said, “I look handsome,” when he checked himself out in the mirror.

He is so precious and sweet.

When I arrived at his classroom, I got a, “Mommmyyy!!!!” He ran to me and threw his arms around me. It was the sweetest thing. He’s never called me mommy though he’s used a variety of “mom/mama” names for me. He tells the kids in his class that I’m mom. But 9 times out of 10 here at home, he calls me “Miss Elaina.”

He was so proud to show me his desk (which I’ve seen of course…lol) and his art projects. He could not contain himself. He was so excited. His “award” for the year was the “Snicker Starter” because he’s always snickering and making the class and his teacher laugh too.

His classmates voted him as having the “best laugh.” Between his smile and his laugh, it’s hard not to feel joy around him when he is happy. He is such a sweetheart. I’m grateful he had a teacher that was patient with him after all the changes he’s gone through.

I do have to say, I got a little teary-eyed. I was emotional not only to see him so happy, but because there was a time in my life when I’d doubted I’d ever have the opportunity to do something like that. He’s not “mine.” But how sweet for us both to have each other today. I had fun experiencing something I haven’t as a “parent.” But I also enjoyed seeing his joy at having me there.

I’m so proud of this little man and his determination. I have a playlist for him because he loves music so much. I put a few songs on it that he didn’t know, like “Overcomer” by Mandisa. I explained to him what that song means. We watched the video on YouTube.

I told him, “You’re an overcomer!” This morning I told him that I thought we needed a motivating song on the way to school. He said, “How about Overcomer by Mandisa?” I said, “YEP! That’s the one.”

He’s an overcomer.

His heart is so tender. And I know God has great things in store for him. I don’t know how long he’ll be with me, but I have a feeling that if he leaves my home, I’ll see his face somewhere – doing something incredible & awesome.

Love that little guy.

Trauma Mama

to my foster child

I haven’t provided much in the way of foster care updates on the blog. I’ve been trying to figure out the balance between privacy and what I want so badly to write about (because that’s what writers do). I have a private Facebook group of family and some friends. In that group I share some blog-like updates.

It’s challenging to be in the midst of something you’ve waited decades for and not be able to share. So I’ll do my best to update without diving into too much detail.

This afternoon through 9:00 PM was a little rough up in here. Trauma parenting is a thing. Hello, my name is Elaina and I’m a Trauma Mama. Most of the time I think my son’s past therapy, prior to meeting me, has made a significant and positive impact on him.

And then something like today happens and I wonder how I could possibly have the skills and abilities to help him through what remains. I do (in Him) but I still question these things.

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Today was not good. Today was a day that made me hate being a single foster parent. Today was a day that made me long – desperately – to be free of a 9-5 so at the very least, I’ve stripped off one layer of stress in my life – so I can be more present for him.

Truthfully, we’ve had some very hard moments since the week of Mother’s Day. I’ve wondered who this kid is lately, because the little boy his teacher knows, my mom knows, I know, the kids our street know – is not the little boy I’ve been seeing.

It hurts my heart for him. He bears so many burdens. I sometimes wonder how he keeps it all together. Today was hard. Recent weeks have had some very hard moments.

And then there is the rest of the time. I literally laugh out loud at him constantly. He loves being silly. He loves making people laugh. His smile lights up a room. He is sweet – so very sweet. He talks from the moment he knocks on my door in the morning until he falls asleep, at night. He talks about everything and anything.

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He is conscientious and anxious and must understand everything. His why questions are rooted in this inquisitive longing to understand…everything. Boy does he ever stump me. There are so many times when I’m like…huh. I don’t know. Let’s look that up. 🙂

Since the week of Mother’s Day, he isn’t far from my presence – ever. Until that week, he would happily play in his room, with me across the hall, before bedtime (our usual routine). Now, he needs to be with me. In the evening, after his bath, his cars and trucks have found their way to my room where he plays until it’s time for reading, prayers, and sleep.

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He’s only been with me a few months. But it seems like there wasn’t life before him. And honestly, I can’t imagine life without him in it. So I wait for what comes next. We have six more months of the status quo – per the judge.

Six more months of limbo for him.

I know. Three months with me and six more months of waiting, is nothing in foster care land. But for him, he has been in limbo for far longer (two years). He longs for security, safety, and the stability of his forever home. I want this for him so badly. Six months will pass in the blink of an eye, right?

I hope so. I hope that at the end of the six months, whatever happens, the little boy that stole my heart, will be a step closer to his forever home.

Are you a foster parent? What strategies have you found to help you and your kiddos out when the trauma rears its ugly head?