A Year. Chaos. Joy. Blessing.

Seventeen days ago marked the one-year anniversary of my {foster} son, moving in with me. The month of March 2018 was one of the worst months of my life. I’ve never felt more alone, more exhausted, and more certain I’d made a horrible decision.

My son moved in with his little sister. And the combination of the two of them was too much. From my vantage point in March of 2019 I understand so much better why this was the case. And now, I know that saying yes to these two children was a tremendous gift though they needed to be separated. It wasn’t a horrible decision – it was God at work in all of our lives.

When our placement was disrupted & FD5, went to live with another foster family, our world changed so much. She has done well. She is doing well. And my son? He is a different boy than he was in March of 2018.

We’ve had our struggles. He has had his struggles. But his fear has lessened. The joy that makes him literally scream with excitement and pure happiness, as he plays in the waves at the beach, is such a beautiful thing.

He has a tremendous capacity for joy. I have only learned in tiny little chunks why this great joy is sometimes beyond comprehension. One of the things I hate most about foster care is how little I’ve been told about his case & life. You’d think someone would want me to know. And yet, well…no. They don’t want me to know.

But I’ve learned more of his story recently. And my heart grieves for him. My heart grieves because it’s not supposed to be like this. The world is so twisted and sick. Innocent kids are caught in the midst of family strife, cycles of poverty and loss, and so much more.

Yet, in spite of this, he is determined, joyful beyond belief, so caring & kind, and absolutely adores life. His excitement over the biggest and smallest moments in life are honestly mind boggling. They’re mind boggling because in this passion for life, I am reminded of the mercy & grace of God. My boy’s life could have been very different.

He refuses to sink. I refuse to let him.

Tonight, his eldest sister sleeps in the bedroom next to his. It’s odd how life works out. The baby of the family moved out at the end of March of 2018. And in mid-February of 2019, the eldest girl, in a family of seven children, moved into our home.

I didn’t think our journey would bring us here. And if you would have asked me in November of 2018, after meeting their beautiful mama {whom I weep for} if this would have happened, I would have laughed at you. And possibly flipped you off. Mostly because I am hated by his family. I so wish this was not the case. But I am – because I’m white. That’s pretty much the gist of it. So who could imagine that this smart, beautiful, determined young woman would agree to stay here?

It’s funny how life works out.

My sweet boy is growing and changing every day. We have a long road ahead of us. His case is not as clear cut as I’d come to believe. It seems to get more complicated and hopeless with every court hearing. I grow fearful and desperate at times – thinking we’ll never reach the end.

Or worse? That he’ll be taken from me. I fear for his future in those moments and want to claw my way out. And then, when I cannot stand the desperation one second longer, God reminds me that He is writing a story. It’s one I’m just not going to be privy to the ending of until it’s upon us. Lord knows I’m not good with ambiguity and confusion.

But “through all of this chaos, you are writing a symphony.”

So though I do not trust family court in this county, DSS {because of the resources & manpower they lack}, nor do I trust that justice prevails, I trust the One who loves my sweet boy more than I ever could.

I trust him, his sisters, his brothers, and their mama to the One who loves them so desperately that He’s chasing hard after them. There’s nothing I can do to change what’s happened before, what happens in the coming days, weeks, months, and years, or where this road leads.

I can only love and respond.

So in the midst of the chaos, I’m trusting Him to write this beautiful story.

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?

Life with a Six Year Old Boy

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Yes, this is how I often feel in the mornings too, Buddy.

My foster son is so very smart. He’s also a six-year old boy. Which means he says and does gross things and he almost never stops moving. Luckily, I have a high tolerance for sometimes gross boy behavior (see working with a couple hundred Marines every day for 8 years). He also has a lot of fears and anxiety. He’s much too old for his six, going on seven, years. But I’ll just keep working on giving him a stable, safe home so he has space to be a kid.

Now that it’s just the two of us, we’ve had some great days doing normal kid/family stuff. He’s been riding his bike in the cul de sac, doing his chores, and learning what not to do with the dog (he took her bone from her and she nipped him), while also learning how to care for her. He was upset, but that’ll never happen again. She absolutely adores this kiddo. Abby the Wonder Dog has totally forsaken me (except when we go to bed). She even “tucks” him in at night when I do. She has to get right there, in between me and the bed. You think I kid. She really and truly loves him. They’re pretty adorable together.

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FS6 was riding his bike ahead of us. This was a BIG deal to him!

We went to Fort Macon last weekend. He literally could not contain his excitement and questions. He has a ridiculous amount of energy which is exhausting (haha) but we’re doing our best to keep up with each other. It has been much better since I have gotten rid of most of this bug that followed me all of March. Thankfully, I got a remicade infusion last week and my joints already feel better – which helps everything.

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Standing on top of Ft. Macon

It is the best feeling to see how excited he gets when I pick him at school or at childcare. It does my heart good. In recent days he’s:

  • Asked if he can have a dad.
  • Asked if we can have a baby come to live with us (and/or a little sister or brother)
  • Asked if he can change his name (that was today).
  • Asked if I can give him a nickname & referred to himself as his first name & my last name.
  • Has informed me that “flicking” boogers is not okay (Thanks, Bud. I wasn’t clear on that before.).
  • He’s obsessed with tobymac which has meant we’ve watched videos on YouTube and listen to him on Spotify nearly every time we get in the car. I so need a break. Haha.
  • He eats constantly. But he never stops moving (so there you go).
  • To quote his sister’s foster mom, “He’s a jolly one.” He sure is! His smile lights up a room.
  • My mom fixed his alarm clock. He said, “She knows magic.” LOL. And then at dinner he said, “I wish your mom lived next door so she could walk over here anytime.” I can’t even.

I’ve had some moments. Last night was one of them. I took him to Cub Scouts to try it out. I was overwhelmed. It’s hard sometimes to know what he’ll be able to handle and what he won’t get. There are just some things he’s never learned. It may be too soon for Cub Scouts. I’m not sure he’s ready  – and I’m not sure I’m ready.

But adding to the struggle was being around the family types. You know those two-parent household types. Haha. I so wished for him that he’d have a dad that will teach him what it means to be a godly man. I might’ve cried all the way home. Okay, I did. And now I’m crying again.

Today, his teacher walked him to my car in the pick up line to let me know he’d had a really great day. It has been a bit of a hard week. He was all smiles and told me that he stayed on green all day. She told me he’d had a great day and she just wanted me to know. I am so thankful he has such a caring & understanding teacher.

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We went to the beach today after school. He was the most excited I’ve ever seen him. I wish I could share the photos and videos. He was ecstatic. The first thing he said, “Oh, so that’s the ocean?” I think he’s been to the beach before. But he was fairly young. He had so much fun.

I love his little heart. I’m exhausted most of the time. But super thankful we are finding our way and that God has given me the gift of building into this little guy’s life. I don’t know where this path leads us. But for now, he’s home.