Wednesday, January 25, 2017

TC. Foster care. His younger-self letter. And all the tears.

For a long time, foster children and foster care systems have been a part of my life. It has been 25 years since I was introduced to my first foster sibling. And 12-ish years since my husband and I became licensed foster parents for the first time.

As a child, I was confused by the grief and fury that I saw coming in and out of our house. As an adult, it completely makes sense.

My oldest son, TC, is an emerging grown-up. I cannot even handle this.
I sometimes still feel like he should still be 9-years-old.
Angry. Sad. Hurting. All the stealing.
Using thievery to make sure he could provide for himself in case I failed to do so.
Covering up his fright with false bravado.

As he has grown older and wiser, 
he has begun working through what being tangled up in foster care means. 
What it feels like. 
What it looks like. 
How it bleeds into adulthood, staining joys with tinges of sorrow. 
Sometimes inexplicably. 

TC sent me this letter a few months ago, while he was wrestling with his reality.
I am sharing it, with his permission (the only way I share things).

Take a minute to see the foster life through the eyes of someone who has been there.
And survived. 

And then multiply. Times about 104,000, 
the number of children available for adoption in America. 

Or multiply by about 400,000,
the number of children in foster care in this country.

While you read, know that every 2 minutes a child will enter foster care.
And many of these children will be separated from their siblings, not just their parents. And remember that there is an enormous lack of appropriate, licensed, experienced homes available. So foster children go into congregate care. Or emergency shelters. Or hospitals. Or caseworkers' office floors. Temporary placements become the permanent plan.

This is not okay.
This has never been okay. 

Read, friends.
And then DO. 


Dear Younger Me,

You are 6 years old right now. You don't really know what is going on. Drugs are coming in and out of the house. You are watching your mom getting abused. You think it's normal. You are always moving. You don't know, but your life is about to change. You are about to wish you were dead. Don't run or hide. Just let them take you.

Don't believe the people that say they love you. Always, always take care of your brother and sister. Don't lose them. Because for the next 2 years, they are going to be the only thing you have. And you will get separated. 

You are going to be going from foster home to group home to mom to group home to foster home to group home. It is a cycle. You are going to feel like you don't belong. And you don't. No one in foster care belongs in foster care. For a long time, you won't know what good is. Even if it hits you square in the face.

You are going to let your past define you. Don't do that.
You are going to lie to people and tell them that you are okay. But you aren't.
Don't do that either. 

You know deep down that our whole situation is tearing you apart.
It's hard. Yes, I know. But you are going to have to ask for help. 
DON'T GET COMFORTABLE. 
Learn how to control your anger.

A healthy relationship is something you may never have with your mom. You are going to wonder why you lost something you never had. You are going to be sitting in a room, required by a judge, to visit a parent you don't know, while a visitation supervisor is watching, taking notes. 

As you get older, you will think your life is a joke. But that's where you are wrong. Yes, it feels like hell. But trust me, it gets better. You are going to live with a foster family. You don't know it yet, but they will be your forever family. So, get to know them. And like them. I know you've been through some b.s. But, at this point, you are just happy to have food in your stomach, clothes on your back, shoes on your feet, and a roof over your head. 

The thing that will confuse you the most is the question: Do you want to be adopted?
Say, yes. Don't hesitate. 
You know that the situation that you were in was definitely not healthy for you. 
Trust me. It's worth it. 

Yeah. You are going to be struggling with pain and always with the what ifs.
But, just know, you can't fix anything. You are a kid. Mom did what she thought was best. Except for the fact that she's gone. She is not coming back. 

Christy and Nigel are your new mom and dad.
You will say and think: I wish I was never adopted and you don't love me.
Stop. Because if that were true you would still be in a group home or switching from foster home to foster home. You have a SECOND CHANCE at life. Take it and embrace it. 

You will do stupid stuff. It is going to take time for you to know that God has a plan for you.

Younger me, I wouldn't change one thing about our life.
Because we wouldn't be where we are now. 

Love like crazy, because it makes you happy. 
Show your family you can succeed. Because you can. And they always knew it
Be honest. Be kind. Be humble.
And for Pete's sake, think twice. 

We can do this. 

TC



Saturday, December 31, 2016

I am you.

I hear all kinds of things since beginning our foster and adoption journey.

You are a saint. 
You must be so patient.
These kids are so lucky you saved them.

These comments put us in a group of humans in which we simply do not belong. An unattainable group of parental perfection. Impossible.

Let us address these often-heard comments one-by-one:
(my favorite way to address things)

I have never been, nor will I ever be a saint.

If you know me in the flesh, you would agree. I am less sweet and more salty (translation: completely offensive on accident). Too much blunt. Too many opinions. I have ALL THE RUDE OPINIONS. all the time. out loud.

A couple of silly people suggested that I run for office. No, friends. Just no. I would get fired. I am not good at making nice. I try. But I am just very bad at it. very. If being an anti-lobbyist was a real political thing...I could definitely do that. 

Patient. What is that?
If you consider patient giving away all the things the kids fight over. Then sure, I'm patient. Is stomping up the stairs with trash bag in hand and loading said trash bag with ALL THE TOYS ON THE FLOOR and giving them away, patient? I feel like possibly, no.
  
Lucky to be saved.
The idea that our children are lucky. Eight of our nine have been abused. Eight of our kids have been removed from their family of origin. Through the state or by abandonment. This is not lucky. Please be very aware, that in a perfect world, adoption would be entirely unnecessary. There is nothing lucky about adoption. It is a beautiful picture of redemption within our broken humanity. But it is not lucky. And to say this, especially in front of our kids, is to derogate their experiences. And minimize the life they withstood prior to adoption.

The idea of being saved. Know this: I am no savior.  I am a fractured, in-process human. Just like you. Did we save them from longer time within the foster system? Maybe. Did we save our Amerikrainians from death? Maybe, again. But it could have just as easily been another person, another family.

Our children were offered a family, and now it is up to them to save their futures from the evil, chasing ghosts of the past. Which, unless you have lived their life, is much, much harder than you may imagine. Rational thought processes evaporate in the shadow of knee-jerk decision making brought on by years of abuse, neglect, fear, anger...I cannot save them from their own minds. We can walk them through it. Offer support, discussion, explanation. But we cannot save them.

Normal and Boring.
Sometimes I feel like the saintly-savior-patience comments are a way to separate the "you's" from the "me's." To exclude the you's from the pool of foster/adoptive parental possibilities. It is human nature to put a separation as an explanation or an excuse for why we don't or haven't.

I have known since the beginning that I am boring and normal and slightly rude. There is nothing extraordinary here. We pay bills. We raise kids. We stress out. We have fun. Many Fridays we sit on our tails and watch too much television. Some of us like football. Some of us are excellent dancers. Some of us only think we are excellent dancers. We are overbooked and under-rested. We can be cranky and goofy. We can be your basic run-of-the-mill disaster. We are dorks. We make fart jokes. We are obnoxiously loud at times. We love one another. We have friends. We like road trips. Our family is big, but not as different as you may imagine. There is nothing super special about us.

There is no special-ness in my genetics that makes me more qualified. Nothing amazing. Nothing spectacular. These children are not looking for superheroes. Not perfection. Nothing that is any more beautiful or exceptional than a family.

Parents. Appropriate, responsible, adult humans. I am talking to you.
When did the decision become fostering and/or adopting isn't for us?
That we need a different and better job, house, car...
That idea that we must offer an ideal instead of reality is entirely problematic.

Can't the time be now? In this house? This car? This job?
Being saintly or patient has never been a prerequisite for parenting.

These are lives. Lives of children. Your neighbors. Your children's schoolmates.
And still they wait. In hotels. In hospitals. In the offices of their caseworkers...listening to phone call upon phone call being made to find them a temporary home. Listening. As query upon query is answered with...no, not here, not now...rejection. Time and time and time again.

And for some reason, I still hear the comments of separation....
Good for you...
You are so great...
I could never...
You are a saint, a savior, so patient, so kind....

No.

You see, the problem with the "you and me" separation is very simple...

I am you.
And always have been.




 













Wednesday, August 31, 2016

#8. one year.

One year ago we stood in a tiny Ukrainian courtroom. Explaining to a judge why Auggie should be adopted. Why children need families. Why we should be Auggie's.

One year ago, I was told we may be adopting a terminally ill child.
As it turned out, he was simply starving.

One year ago, Auggie wore two, TWO newborn sized diapers because his legs were too thin for one.




One year ago, I was scared. 
I still can be. So can Auggie.
And honestly, it has been a slightly scary year.
We have had surgeries, many hospital stays, infinite doctoring visits.
We tease him a bit about all of this...he is slightly high maintenance.


It has been a year of ups and downs.
Our plate is full. Our schedules overflowing.
We need naps. A lot of them.

Auggie is still very nervous around new people.
He still startles very easily.
He still hyperventilates a bit. But not as much.

Auggie has been our teacher this year. We have learned about patience and perseverance.
We have learned about hurt and healing.

I have learned that I possess very few answers. I cannot tell you why such tragedies occur in this world. I cannot explain away 4 years and 7 months of too-little nutrition. There is no explanation for the sedation, starvation, and absolute neglect that our boy endured. 

I do know there is redemption. There is life beyond beginnings.
I also know there are many that are not offered any possibility.

Auggie is now 23ish pounds. And 32ish inches long.

He grows.

September 2015


August 2016

He smiles.  Big and beautiful.




 He has people. A tribe of protectors, cheerleaders, helpers, friends. A precious, silly, amazing group.










Every adoption adds new elements of adjustment to a family. Auggie's was no different. I look over these pictures and I remember. I remember holding Auggie for the first time. I remember his bones poking into my arm. His sunken cheeks. His baggy, newborn sized clothing. I remember explaining again and again to people who would ask, how old is your baby? 

I have spent some of the last year being angry. 
And all of the year being thankful.
For this life. This child. This family. 
As in all things, there is purpose. Even in the difficulties.

If you ever wondered if you should adopt...
If you ever need another reason...
From orphan to brother and son.
One year. 

August 2015

August 2016

      








Saturday, July 9, 2016

#1

I have long called my kids by numbers on social media posts. 
8 years ago TC legally became our #1. 
TC. My most elderly child is going to a military program to finish up high school. He is 17. 
And that is super old.
 

I am 36. I think. Someone correct me if I am wrong.
I met TC when I was 26. He was adopted when I was 28 and he was 9.


When TC first came to live with us, he was a terror. A goofy, angry, furious, raging, terror. TC is a survivor. Dealing with some of the darkest parts of humanity as a child will alter the world view and create extreme compassion and bitterness, simultaneously. Which describes TC so well. We have witnessed healing and growth. But the scars remain, like so many of his former-foster-youth comrades. 

And here we are, a few years later. And he is moving out. 
It went by so fast.  


Adoption Day



I have known TC for 10 years. In parenting land, that isn't long. 
Seasoned parents, when your child leaves, do you have SO MANY THINGS YOU WANT HIM TO KNOW? My brain is a mush of advice, sayings, bossings...I have so many bossy words. 

Bossy Words From A Bossy Mom 


Doing stupid things make life harder. But you will do stupid things. 
It is how we handle the stupid that defines our character. Apologize. Make it right. Accept the consequence with a good attitude.  And move on.

Be a good friend.
Be a good friend and you will maintain good friendships. You will have people, community, cheerleaders, shin-kickers. All the things we need. Being a good friend will bring about purposeful friendships that begin with a small kindness and are fed and flourish with honesty and trust.

Love. Not hate.
Even in deep-rooted, horrid, angry disagreements, there is no place for hate. There is always another side to hear. Another story to hash out. Your generation will never drive out injustice by drawing lines in the sand and touting obnoxious ultimatums. The resolution will almost always be found on the other side of a kind word, lovingly said and well received.

Always choose to forgive. 
Even when the person doesn't ask for forgiveness. Even when you are still mad. Even when you want to throat punch someone. Forgive. 

Stuff is irrelevant. People aren't. 
The name brands. The phones. The silly things that are so easy to get attached to are not what is important. People. Search for the value in the people around you and you will always find it.

Which brings us to...

Always fight for the marginalized. Whoever they are. 

Marginalize - 
to relegate to an unimportant or powerless position within a society or group

Son, this is where your heart is split open for the world to see. How we treat the incorrectly stereotyped, repressed, and persecuted populations broadcast who and what we value. Value people. Value life. Value what is good and kind. It is so, so easy to jump on the high horse of judgment and self-righteousness. But please remember, we are only one decision, one mistake, one step away from the hungry, the orphan, the homeless. We aren't as far removed as we want to believe. 

As you go from man-child to man, remember all of this. And if you forget, come visit and I will happily remind you.  

Choose what is right, noble. Go to church. Love Jesus. Love your wife, your children, your friends, your family. Work hard. Speak kindly. Value what is actually valuable (and it is absolutely, 1000% not your cell phone.) Fight against injustice. Remember where you came from and make a plan to get to where you want to go...wherever that may be.

You have a voice. A compelling story. Use them to change the world.
Life is quite a ride and almost never what you expect.
So hold on. 
And off you go.













Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Auggie is five.




Auggie turns FIVE TODAY!!
I can't even contain myself. I am not sure if I should cry or clap or I don't even know.

Can I please tell you, I love this kid.
He has not had easy beginnings.
But, how he has come alive.

Let us peruse the photographic evidence.
My favorite kind.
It is the easy answer to the question, Why do you adopt?
Because. This.


Auggie getting admitted for Refeeding Syndrome upon entrance to USA.

Auggie getting his first round of fluids. Wearing 0-3 month size clothing.

Getting weighed in after gaining some weight. (weight is in kgs)





It is Auggie's birthday today. My five-year-old now weighs 17.6 pounds. More than double his weight in September. He has grown almost 4 inches. He has chipmunk cheeks. And the sweetest smile. 
He LOVES to hear his oldest brother call him "Tater"...poor Auggie will probably never be called Gideon. He has ALL the horrible nicknames. Tater. Sweet baby boy. Bebe Gaga (Adam's version of "Baby Auggie") Sweetness. Tiny. Tiny Hiney. Teensy. Bitty Boy. It is pretty gross. We are gross people.

This boy has had four hospital stays in five months. Auggie has not been very good at being sick. yet. He is getting progressively healthier and will have surgery to begin fixing his airway as soon as he is well for 4 weeks in a row. This 4 week-in-a-row rule is proving rather challenging. But we are working on it.

 Big kids. The big kids are just so cool.




The oldest. And the teeniest.

Auggie. And his sweet cheeks.
Auggie and his sister.
#8 and #9.


They love little Auggie.
They squeeze him and love him and call him all the horrible nicknames.
And he laughs. 
And I smile.

Auggie turns five today.
He is smaller than an average 12-month-old.
His tiny, weary, body bears witness to years of an entirely deprived existence. 
One that no human should ever have to endure.

I will not sugar-coat...this has been hard.
Some days we are tired. And some days I cannot sleep thinking of his little friends.
They will always haunt me. Living and dying in my dreams.
Alone. Cold. Hungry. 
With no one to hold their hand as they drift between this life and the next.
I can never erase the images. The smells. The horrifying silence from my memory. 
I wonder if Auggie can.

Today, Auggie will hear us sing a very out-of-tune, obnoxiously loud "Happy Birthday."
He will see us smile and he will smile back.
He will tolerate us squishing his face. A little. 
Today, he will spend his first-ever birthday out of a crib and in the thing every child should have...
a family.

Today, we celebrate this boy. 
The one we never thought we would meet.
This precious life. 
Our tiniest of tiny boys.

Happy Birthday, Little Auggie.
How we love you.





Sunday, September 27, 2015

The New #8. In a semi-long nutshell.





Well friends. We are D.O.N.E.


We always considered the possibility of Auggie. The possibility of the little boy with the big eyes and the gaunt face. That boy. The boy that started us on our road to international adoption. The boy that became unavailable before we could get him. So we got our sweet and wild teeny boys, Adam and Asher.

But, Auggie was still there in the back of our mind...the "what if" of our life. The missing piece to our ever enlarging crew of people. The child we talked about getting if  everything was perfect, we could afford it, our house was done, and our kids were doing well.

Laugh with me, or at me.

Our life was entirely the opposite of ready. Completely the other side of perfect.

We found out Auggie may become re-available (is that even a word?) in the midst of absolute craziness. In the midst of one of our children falling apart. In the black, dark pit...In that time was when we got information that we may be able to get Auggie out. In the most inconvenient, inappropriate time. So we thought that surely, surely we just could not. We could NOT.

We prayed. Sweet Moses, how we prayed.

And in a decision that went against all my rational, logical upbringing ever taught me...we said yes. But only sort of. The possibility that Auggie would still be unavailable was rather large. And we knew he was in a delicate condition...could he travel? Would he survive? I prepared myself for the probability of Auggie not ever getting home. We did some paperwork, but assumed chances were strong that it just wasn't going to work. 

Then door upon door opened.
Resources made available.
One mountain after another moved.
And the Lord clearly, graciously whispered: GO. 
And when I ignored and fought and disregarded what was so clear...
He yelled. 

So off we went.
To Cherkasy, Ukraine.
To meet a boy we were not prepared for.
An 8 pound 4 ounce 4 1/2 year old.
A starved, emaciated, withering bit of humanity.



A precious, weak, broken boy.
With the sweetest smile.



There is no part of me that was prepared to hold a starving child. I could feel every. single. bone. jutting out of his little body.

But he was alive.
His breathing was labored. His skin color was a pasty white-ish gray. All his veins and arteries clearly visible through the pallor. I could put my thumb and forefinger around his thigh with space to spare.

And I was so sad for this boy. And the others there with him.
And the series of injustices that put them in this forgotten Ukrainian orphanage.

After the cross-oceanic commute. We had court. And the orphan previously listed as "Augustin" aka Auggie, became Gideon David August. Loved son, big brother, little brother, grandson, nephew...a beloved, precious and important member of our tribe.
Thank you, Jesus.

Because of his fragility, we left him in the orphanage as long as we possibly could to keep from shocking his system and to stave off refeeding syndrome until we could get to the states and the blessing of American medical care.

But his day of freedom did come.
Former orphans leave orphanages with nothing. They own nothing. I brought 12-month-old clothing for him to change into. It was completely enormous. He was entirely swallowed in blue and gray fabric. The nannies tucked his pant legs into his socks to keep the pants from dangling long past his feet. And rolled the arms up repeatedly. We made it work.



I walked my son out of that place forever. 
He was scared. So was I. 

We waited in Kyiv for his visa and then we were on our way home-ish. Via the large children's hospital 3 hours from where we live. This turned into a two week stay to stabilize our boy. 

Many times it was a frightening visit. And long. And tiring. And beautiful. 
We met the most wonderful doctors, nurses, therapists, case managers. I am forever, forever grateful for the beginning they gave Auggie in his new country. When I was a blubbery, bumbling mess, these sweet doctors and nurses and staff guided, encouraged and treated Auggie with tremendous kindness. 

There were days when Auggie just felt bad.



And days when he would perk up for a bit. 
Which was so much fun.




And slowly.
Bit by bit.
Life was restored.

Our gray-ish boy is, in fact, olive-skinned. Dark hair. Dark eyes.
Completely and wholly beautiful. 




During all the testing and doctoring...nothing was discovered out-of-the-ordinary with Auggie. He has cerebral palsy and was severely malnourished. All other medical issues are secondary to his severe undernourishment. Our boy needed food. And has needed it for a long time. It just seems so simple. 

Auggie is now home. And adored. His bigger siblings cart him around constantly. And his only younger brother, Adam, kisses him 500,000 times (or more) a day.

I will absolutely never understand why and how we live in a world with simultaneous epidemics of gross excess and gross want. Why my son was left to starve. Why his little roommates are starving still. There is no person that will ever acceptably explain this. Because there is no acceptable explanation.

Auggie should never be 25 + pounds lighter than his younger brother.
And smaller than his 4.5 month old cousin.



I have become convinced that to be indifferent, to do nothing, to ignore, to refuse to act, to stand back and allow broken and wounded populations to continue to suffer...this is the great sin of our lifetime. We are a generation of emotionally paralyzed people, and thus our behaviors become paralyzed. We spend so much time waiting for a sign, a signal, a calling...that we forget to DO. This simply must change. We as humans, as fellow travelers in this life, in this moment, must work, and work HARD to change what is unjust. The moment is now. Stalling has only ever cost us liberties, time, and lives. The procrastination just isn't worth the price.

So, I end this Auggie adoption nutshell (with bonus morality lecture) saying:
GO and DO.
Change the world.
Change a life, and in so doing change YOUR life.
Pay attention to the brokenness. 
Give generously. 
Love big and refuse to look back.
Even when it is hard, you will never regret it. 

It is a life of service. Full and beautiful. Broken and hurting.
Exactly where we are supposed to be.
If we had gone with our initial instinct and decided we just couldn't squeeze in another, new #8 would not only not be with our family...He would no longer call this world his home.

So please. Go.
Say yes, and simply begin with go. 



Sunday, May 10, 2015

from another mother.

Happy Mother's Day, Moms.

Adopted.
Biological.

To all the moms.
This is your day.

This morning Asher pooped on my foot, the bath mat, the floor, and the tub.
Again.

Happy Mother's Day to me.

I used to think today was about me.
wrong and wrong.

Mother's Day around here brings about BIG emotions.
Because four of our ten family members remember biological moms.
And sometimes, it hurts.

We spend Mother's Day carefully celebrating the mothers that gave our children life.
Our kids need to know that we still love mothers.
Especially mothers that aren't me.

Some people think celebrating the women that wounded my children is a bit odd.

Our kids have different histories.
Physical abuse. Emotional abuse. Domestic violence. Arrest. Lots of alcohol.
One of our children was shaken. Until his brain knocked against his skull and began to bleed.
Many of our children were exposed to drugs in the womb. Some were exposed after.
One of our kids really wants to meet her mother one day.
One of our kids wishes he could forget his mother in one second, and in the next he wishes he could save her from herself. And falls apart from guilt. from hate. from feeling guilty about hating.

This is our Mother's Day.

Our kids need to know we do not hate biological moms.
We choose to love. Even when we do not understand.
And I really do not understand.

Several years ago, while I was bemoaning our children wanting to celebrate their biological moms once again, Nigel (also adopted) set me straight.

It isn't that adopted kids don't love their adopted mom. It is that they need to know that their origins are still important. That their biological mother is not evil, even if their actions were. Biological moms are a part of their biological children. No matter what. And if we exclude biological family memories from celebrations we are just telling our children that their past doesn't matter, or that it is shameful. And that isn't the truth. 

So, today we will pray.
We will choose to forgive.
And choose to love.
We will hang out with friends and act slightly normal. Slightly.
We will remember the precious women that gave our children life.
We will choose to be grateful instead of bitter.
We will celebrate other mothers.

Happy Mother's Day.