Monday, January 26, 2015

hope.

Recently, I have been in conversation with wise, kind, adoptive moms about the reality of raising kids with histories based in trauma.

There is so much hurt associated with it.
Theirs and ours.

A few of these women expressed that no one in the adoption community ever voiced  just how hard this journey can be. How much discord broken children can bring into family dynamics.

And I realized, I might have done a disservice to fellow adoptive moms. I share my daily struggles with my closest friends, but I am not so quick to share with the public-at-large. I think before these new, raw conversations, I would have said I was protecting the privacy of the kids or that I didn't want to sound like I was complaining.

But as I examined my true motivations, I think I was protecting myself from judgement. Or worried that I would scare people away. Or make people think we are sorry about our adoptions, which we are NOT. Not even a little bit.

So what actually happens after kids move in?
Some children have a "honeymoon" period. I wish we did. We did not. We skipped that step. I know others have been so fortunate.

We went straight into a whole lot of turmoilI wanted to have those gushy-fuzzy-warm feelings when we adopted. But, I really did not. Part of it may be I am not a mushy, squishy kind of person. And part of it is that adoption is hard.

Every single adoption involves the destruction of a family, that is the reality.
Adoption is borne of brokenness. 
And I missed this truth, especially when we adopted older children.

I think I wanted them to move in, be happy, and realize that their life had improved.
And that didn't happen. Far from it.

They moved in, furious, raging, snarling, weeping, stealing, lying...
One of them really, super, hated my guts. I know this because he would write on his school papers (while refusing to do his assignments): Dear fake mom, I hate you. 

Then grief...
Not one single adoption has EVER, EVER, EVER turned out how I planned it in my mind.
Every adoption, I try not to maintain ideas about what it should and should not be like. Because I am always wrong. Without fail...utterly, horribly wrong.
And I grieve the loss of what I thought it should have or could have been. 

Not one single child has been adopted into our family untouched by prior tragedy.
At some point the kids in our house started talking, and what I would hear crushed my spirit

When are you going to smoke weed?
I get THREE meals a day??!! YEEESSS!!!!
Are you going to kick me out now?
Don't forget, you aren't allowed to kill me, my caseworker said so.
My grandpa used to hit me with a belt. That buckle really hurt. 

Sometimes it was the things they didn't say. It was the blank, vacant stares. The way they startled when I would move to fast. The tears over spilled drinks. The food hoarding. The money stealing. It was hiding when they thought they would be in trouble. It was ducking down in the car and crying when they saw a police car next to our vehicle. The scars. Emotional. Physical.

And oh, how I grieve the injustice of it all.  

For their losses. Their tragedies. Their learned, misplaced trust. For the loss of what I thought was normal. I grieved because I wanted a perfect rise-from-the-ashes story.
I wanted from death to life. Defeat to victory.
But, the truth is that my children may not ever completely escape their past.
Chances are it will affect them. Always.

And I grieve. Again. 

Behavior. 
The behavior alone in our home was crippling for a couple of years. We did almost nothing outside of our home. We spent the majority of our time managing behavior. Adjusting consequences. Enforcing consequences. Counseling. Psychiatrists. Doctors of all kinds. Readjusting according to specialists' recommendations. Readjusting again when specialists' recommendations didn't work.

In those years, the behavior could be debilitating at worst. Annoying at best. We just kept praying and plugging away. Chipping away at harmful behaviors. Reinforcing appropriate behaviors. It was exhausting. I was sure we were housing future criminals and it would never get better. But it did.

What do these kids need? 
My children desperately need consistency. Never wavering, totally inconvenient consistency.

They also need me to be calm. Which I am working on. Sometimes I panic a bit when a child (with zero filter) announces to strangers in the store: I was in foster care. My mom likes drugs and I know lots of curse words, but my new mom says I can't say them, so I try to remember. But sometimes I forget. I am never sure if the response should be, "Oh, what a kidder...heh heh" (weak smile). Or tell the kid to zip it. Or just walk quickly away pretending I heard nothing.

They need stability. Never-give-up attitude. Swift forgiveness. Time to heal. Grace during setbacks, there WILL be setbacks. Fun. Discipline. Direction. They need every good and noble attribute you can bring to the adoption table.

What I have found is that they need everything I have to offer. And when all I have is consumed, they still need more. And that wholly devastates me. Because my mothering may never be enough. And I have to be accepting of that possibility.

Aspiring Adoptive Families. Let's Talk.
I tell you all of this not to deter you. But to give you a realistic idea of what may happen when you get into real life with a new child that has lost everything. Because while you may be excited and happy and thrilled with a new child, the new child comes in lost. broken. hurt. traumatized.

And it is so easy to fall into the trap of being angry and resentful when your child doesn't fit the mold you set forth for him or her. And I promise you, newly adopted children never fit in quite the way our assumptions dictate.

The chaos made me doubt my capabilities.
I doubted the goodness of the world. The goodness of God.
I doubted that I would be able to raise functional children.
I still doubt frequently. And I think that is okay.

What is not okay is to fixate on the injustices dealt to us, the parents, by these children.
Because life is not fair, we have already learned that lesson.
It is not okay to become bitter. To become unforgiving.
It is not okay to constantly give in to doubt...instead of clinging to hope.

Because there is always hope...There is always hope.
Hope for healing. For new beginnings. For laughter and attachment.
Hope is what will keep you going.
When your resources are gone.
When you are so tired you decide 1PM would be a superb bedtime.
When the child you prayed for WILL NOT STOP SCREAMING.
When your teenager runs away.
When doubt eats away at what is true.
Hope.
























Sunday, December 28, 2014

2014 is almost gone.

2014 will be a memory in short order. For our family, 2014 has been wonderful and horrible. Exhilarating and frightening. It has been a year of extremes for me. Maybe that is standard...I don't know.

This year, obviously, one of our enormous life-changes was adding our two teeny boys to the family. I am not sure if I can adequately put into words how I feel about these two...

Some days, they make me crazy.

Adam is still attached to me like a sweet, squishy barnacle. And when he isn't attached to my person he is hollering. He is the most obstinate child I have ever encountered.  Because no amount of walking away, saying "no", or ignoring will make him stop begging to be picked up. Solitary trips to the commode are now a thing of a past life, devoid of Adam. 

Asher is an excrement machine. I have NEVER been excrement-ed upon as many times as I have in the last 8 months. Poop in the tub? I can clean it with my hands. Yes, people. My BARE HANDS. That poop-squealing girl from when the boys first came home? Gone. There was tub poo five times today. FIVE. And Nigel only cleaned it once...bless him. 

Even when they have pooped on me, peed on the floor (and belly-flopped into it), screamed, yelled, broken kitchen utensils, thrown shoes down the air vent, launched themselves (clothed) into an already-run bath, and stayed awake until midnight...I still just love these boys.

I love their sweet giggles and peculiarities. I love Asher's obsession with facial hair and chins. And I love Adam's excited scream when he gets to eat crackers for snack. Because in Adam's world, crackers are five star cuisine. 

I love these teeny boys.

My wonderful big kids. They have taken the 2014 changes in stride. I am so very proud of all of them. For some reason, they adapt much better than I do. I have not heard any of them lamenting over the time the babies take or that they are too loud or too smelly.
Not. One. Kid. Not one single time.

We are now a permanent family of eight kids. It just sounds insane. When I see pictures of us, I think "That is A LOT of kids!!" But in our real life, it doesn't feel that way. Our life is fairly normal and mundane in many ways. Doctoring visits, therapies, activities, church, friends...you know how it goes.

My bigger kids are getting bigger and more and more compassionate to life around them. Adam and Asher have taught them lessons that Nigel and I never could on our own...Let me list them for you, because I really like lists and lessons.

1. To be kind even with no reciprocation.

This is one of those lessons that I have been trying to teach my children for as long as I have been their mom. Be kind, even if kindness is not returned, be kind anyway. These little boys have taught this lesson in 8 short months.

For example: Today, Asher was all wonky. He was just mad. TC would pick him up and Asher would yell and cry and TC would just hold him. TC wanted Asher to calm down and be glad he was being held, but Asher just was not happy. But TC didn't give up and he didn't get angry.

2. To complain less. 

Knowledge of Adam and Asher's past life has really made a remarkable impression on the older children. You will very rarely hear anyone in my house say: "I'm starving" without being dressed down by a sibling. "No one in the house is starving, there are really people starving and YOU are not one of them."  Amen.

3. To be protective of one another, even when it is hard.

The truth is, this road we have chosen has been intensely difficult at times. But this has not kept the entire group of eight children from bonding. The six older kids love their new brothers more than chocolate. More than Christmas. More than new bikes, roller blades and roller skating.
Don't mess with the teenies.

The older six have been asked many questions about the little boys. Some nice, some not-so-nice. A word to the wise: Do not refer to Adam and Asher as "The Downs boys" or ask "What is wrong with their faces?" Just. Don't. The big kids will sharply explain how we use people-first language, or just their names, and the boys are not defined by their abilities or disabilities. And as the lecture continues on it gets more and more intense, all culminating with at least one child loudly proclaiming: "AND NOTHING IS WRONG WITH THEIR FACES!!!" 

4. To love. With no return

I don't mean that my kids have never loved before. But generally, they get something out of it. A nice smile, a kind word, a warm and fuzzy feeling. With Adam, you might get a sweet response that includes a fist bump and a lot of loud, purposeful babbling in reply.

With Asher. Not quite as much. Asher does not try to say TC or Celee or any of the other kids names. In fact, he still says nothing at all. And sometimes, tender-hearted Mia will ask in a quivering voice, "Mom, will he ever say anything?" and then I have to tell her the truth, I really don't know. And my sweet Mia will gather Asher up and squeeze him and say "That's okay, Asher, you don't have to talk, I can talk for you."

And then I cry. Again. Not from sadness. But from thankfulness.

Thankfulness for my eight children. Thankful for my kind, laid-back, up-for-anything husband that kept our six big kids for two months while I was in Ukraine to get one boy, and came back with two.

Just so thankful.

And that is how I will end 2014. With an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Because while this year has brought anguish and despair, it has also brought redemption and grace. Lives in our household have been altered. It has not been simple or easy. Change never is. But we are witnessing loneliness transformed. And beauty slowly being restored.

Goodbye 2014. We have laughed. A lot. We have cried. A lot. We have become better. I hope. We have learned many lessons, and have many more to learn.

Thank you for joining us on a portion of this journey.
Leaving you with a few pictures from this year...


Asher and Adam at their first meeting at the orphanage. 
Adam and Asher, their first day out of the orphanage. Ukraine. 
Home. Siblings meeting for the first time. 
Asher and Judsen, on Asher and Adam's first day home. 
Corban, Mia, and shaving cream. 
Celee and Corban. Renaissance Fair. 
Judsen, Joseph, and TC at Biltmore. 
Hilarious attempt to get a picture. It didn't work.
Joseph and Asher. Out to lunch after our sweet friend's adoption! YAY!! 
Three of the big boys. Making graham cracker houses. Sort of.
We do not take normal pictures. 
Asher.
Adam and Joe on an evening walk with everyone. 
Asher likes the tub. Silly boy. 
Asher's first Christmas. Sick, sick, sick.
Adam, determined to give Aunt Samie a smooch
Corban with Dad's Nerf gun
Mia and Corban calmly opening gifts.
TC and his light-up drum sticks. TC is so cool. 
Adam and Honey (my mother). December 26th. 
Celee. 
One of many attempts to get kids' picture

And another
Seriously
Happy 2015, friends. Many blessings.

















Sunday, November 30, 2014

adoption awareness.


I have spent National Adoption Awareness Month (aka November) trying to understand more about the workings of the Department of Social Services. It has been an emotional month.

I keep hoping there will be a great story. I anxiously await any of the former foster youths to tell me, "foster care made such a positive impact on my life." Or a caseworker to tout the efforts their county has gone to in order to serve vulnerable families. I want to hear a foster parent tell me, "DSS has been phenomenal. They have gone above and beyond to help these children." 

I wish that was the case.

But, as it turns out, foster children who make it out of this broken system and into the world as a functional adult seem to do so in spite of the system. And reality is that it is nothing short of miraculous when foster children become anything other than a frightening statistic, void of healthy family connections.

Caseworkers that genuinely seem to care about the kids move on to other jobs instead of fighting illogical policies and policy-makers, too burned out to continue.

I have wondered, a few times, if the entire social services system was out to destroy families and hurt children. The Department of Social Services. Often vilified. Frequently reviled. Unpopular and detested. The entire system is under-funded, overworked, and overlooked.

I want to blame some person or some entity for the current catastrophic state of failure that I see permeating from social services. A government system that desperately needs to be a well-run, well-oiled machine has a wrench in the gears.

I contemplate a solution daily, because a solution is clearly needed.

As much as I don't want to admit it. The solution is simultaneously hugely complex and annoyingly simple.

Complex. 
Emotions. Reigning in our natural, organic humanity is hard. We don't want to be annoyed, irritated, inconvenienced, or hurt. We have no intention of purposefully putting ourselves in positions of difficulty. And fostering or adopting can put a complex emotional strain on the most stable of adults.

Getting past the emotional complexity is going to have to be a choice.  At some point, if this (or any) crisis is to be solved, we MUST choose to put ourselves into a state of inconvenience. We must choose to lose our ego to a larger cause. We must exchange our faineant existence for others' needs. Not because our life depends on it, but because someone else's does.

We must learn what sacrifice really means, and it isn't giving up your soy latte on Saturday.


Sacrifice - an act of giving up something valued for the sake of something else regarded as more important or worthy.
   

Simplistic. 
The simple solution is usThe functional adult members of society. The non-felonious, hard-working, responsible, human, grown-ups. We CAN fix this.

Population of Children Legally Free Foster Children Waiting for Adoption in America: 110,000
Population of adults in America: 242,542,976 (dataceneter.org)

Based on purely numbers, all I see is an easily fixable problem. Even if only HALF of the adults in our country are appropriate parents, that gives us 121,271,488. Even just a FOURTH of adults would more than cover the need for foster families and adoptive families (60,635,744). 

In fact, we only need about .05% of the adult population of America to adopt ONE child in order to put state adoption workers out of a job. And that is the objective, right?

The Truth.
The truth is that the social services system is horrendously broken. It is aggravating to navigate. It is heartbreaking, overwhelming, and exhausting. However, at the end of the exasperating process is a child. A child. A human being. Worthy of respect, care, discipline, love. Worth every ounce of annoyance. Deserving of family. Needing an advocate. Screaming for a voice in legally-mandated silence.

The truth is that we are the solution to this madness. We can offer a voice to this muted, marginalized population. We can give of our time, our money, our hearts. We can offer our family to those without. We can choose to sacrifice what makes us comfortable in order to offer a modicum of comfort to these invisible children.

The truth is that this month has ZERO meaning without us, the adults, making choices that directly, positively impact the foster youth population. Complex or simple solutions hold no importance without willing adults choosing to act. We hold the power to vote, to speak, to demand, to choose what is right. 

It is the last day of National Adoption Awareness Month. I hope that all of us have gotten a bit more aware. But more than that, I hope that this awareness compels us to act.
To change the life of a child.


It is National Adoption Awareness Month. 
If you would like more information about adoption please email: 
thesometimes8irons@gmail.com





















Sunday, November 2, 2014

waiting every Sunday.

Today is Orphan Sunday.

I will spend today being generally grateful and heartbroken.

Grateful for all the preciousness in our house.

Heartbroken for all of the little lives without a family.

In honor of today, please take a minute to view/read about children still waiting.

Domestic. 
There are thousands of foster children in the U.S. that need a family.
You can view some of the children waiting at: adoptuskids.org.

I am not legally allowed to post pictures or profiles of these children. (I already checked) but I can link you to some of the profiles.

If you can handle large family life check out THIS group of seven. 
Or THIS group of four. 

If you prefer to pass the baby-stage check out THESE brothers.
Or THESE brothers.

If you just love babies check out THIS adorableness.
Or THIS sweet girl.  


International. 
Meet Emil.  This little angel is the same age as my eldest son, but looks like a toddler.
He is 15. He has Down syndrome and Cerebral Palsy. When he is 16 he will be ineligible for U.S. adoption. Chances are slim to none that he will be adopted in his own country.
He has a very large adoption grant, over half of his expenses are already covered.
And yet he is still an orphan.


emil


Meet Matthew. He reminds me so much of Auggie.


And Maureen

Maureen


Today, just like yesterday, and just like tomorrow, on non-orphan Sundays, and every Sunday from now until they are adopted, age-out or die, these children will still be there. Waiting
For a mom. A dad. A sister, brother. For someone to see their value.  
Perhaps today, that someone is you

Interested in foster care and/or adoption? 
Email: thesometimes8irons@gmail.com 






Wednesday, October 1, 2014

it's complicated.

Right now, in my state, there is a disaster of a social services system.
There is good ol' boy politics at play.
There is red tape.
Complicated bureaucracy at its worst.

There is insufficient accountability for what is done and not done that directly affects one of our most unprotected group of humans.

Foster Children.

The South Carolina political world has proven to be all narcissism and complication.

What I have witnessed is a group of cranky legislators looking only for political gain. I have heard lots of plans, promises and preaching. Law makers shouting about their disgust and disappointment in a social services system gone awry. But having little substantive plans to fix it. 

We have multiple problems at play here. 
But one of our largest, and in my opinion, easily fixed, is the issue of caseworkers. 

Caseworkers. 
Caseworkers are underpaid, overworked, and then hugely criticized when their absolute best efforts are mediocre. But what else could they be?

In one county, according to our DSS Oversight Committee,  ONE caseworker has 114 children on her caseload. One human keeping up with the paperwork and visiting that many children is a physical impossibility.

Which leads to...

Huge caseworker turnover. 
I was told it takes nine months from hired to working-a-caseload. So, one caseworker quits. Then the already-trained (and already overburdened) caseworkers take over his/her cases for nine months. And that is the best case scenario. It would only be nine months if they hired a new caseworker on the same day that the first caseworker quit.
When you give caseworkers double, triple (or more) what their caseload is supposed to be and pay them less-than-half of what their private-sector comrades are making, of course they quit.

Which leads to....

Tired caseworkers.

Which leads to...

Inadequate supervision by caseworkers. 
They are in a high-stress job. With traumatized children. With angry parents. With little support and very little compensation. So children can fall through the cracks and go unnoticed. Or worse.

Which leads us back to cranky legislators complaining once again that nothing has changed,
yet doing nothing to change it.


Legislators. The lawmakers. The people promising a better future.

I want to know: 
A better future for whom? Only the non-foster child?
Or is it possibly, only a better future for the legislators' political career?

It seems the future for foster children is only fictitiously improved. And the reality of
this "improved future" is just a figment of some legislators' imagination meant to temporarily soothe the masses long enough to get elected for another term. 

Shame on you. Shame on me. For not doing enough to change what we know needs to be changed.
For not calling to task the decision-makers. For not demanding less political complications and more common sense. For not being the voice that these hidden children so desperately need.

As functional citizens, isn't it our job is to speak for those who cannot?
And let's be very clear, the entire foster care populace is legally banned from having a voice.
They cannot speak publicly. They cannot vote for or against the ones making decisions that directly impact them. Their stories cannot be published. They are a population of virtually invisible children.

Foster Children need a voice. 
They need less empty politics and more logic in action.
These children need trained, compensated, rested caseworkers.
They need families, compassion, love...
They need you. And they need me.
Why is it so complicated?





































Sunday, September 14, 2014

Pictures and Perspective.

I love pictures.
I love to capture life's little split-second moments that leave my mind so quickly.

I need evidence on days that are tough that they aren't always that way.
I need reminders of where we were and hope for where we are going.

So, yesterday I charged the camera.
And started taking pictures...I did some practice while Adam and Asher were getting clean...
Adam looked more like a bubble-monster in one of them.

     





Then I started looking at the pictures I never deleted.
And I found this one...



This is a picture I took of the kids before we adopted our two teeny boys.
Before we knew Auggie was not available.
This was when we were getting one new boy.

This picture shows only one tuxedo shirt meant for Auggie...
This empty shirt was a place holder for our boy that wasn't home yet.
What makes me smile is that in my paperwork-induced stupor, while preparing for Auggie...
I accidentally ordered TWO of these tuxedo shirts.

I was feeling inspired.
And sentimental.
So we did this:





It seemed like everyone was in a quasi-acceptable-for-pictures mood...
And the teeny boys had handled tuxedo pictures rather well.
So I told ALL the kids to get their "family" shirts on and we would try and get pictures of everyone.
Let's just say it went downhill from there.

I wanted to get a picture of the teeny boys being held like potato sacks by TC...
Adam was not amused.
Asher was.








Sigh.
So then we decided to try and get the biggest boys and the smallest boys...
Asher (who is not affectionate) for some reason, for the first time ever, was determined to give Adam a hug...while on Judsen's shoulders. 
Adam, who wants to hug everyone all the time, did NOT want to be hugged.





That didn't work so well either...and the teeny boys were getting annoyed, so we gave them a break and moved on to the middle boys...Joseph and Corban.
Now, keep in mind, Joseph and Corban are silly boys. 
So silly, in fact, that I could not get a normal face out of either of them.
Not. ONE. Not one single one. 


  


  


So...moving on...to the girls.
Who are just so obedient. 





I tried to sneak in a couple of shots of Adam wearing a hat while the bigger kids were getting set up for our next round of pictures...He was not interested.



I quickly gave that idea up.

Now to attempt a picture with everyone in it...
Please be advised that my standards have dropped.
When Judsen was our one and only, I took him to a place and paid a photographer to make funny faces and take perfect pictures of my clean child with ironed clothes and slicked-back hair.
How times have changed.
Here is the craziness that followed...





Not pretty pictures...but we are getting there.
I could feel it in my bones.
Good kid picture...here we come.

And then Asher barfed on TC's head.

Poor TC. 



And everyone laughed.
Even TC. 
And lucky for all of us, TC is not a sympathetic barfer.
Nigel cleaned them up...




And my hope for a non-barfy, slightly-clean picture with everyone looking in the same direction died.
Right there. 
I gave up.
And got a little cranky.

Why can't these silly kids just look in one direction (of MY choosing), with eyeballs OPEN
and not puke on your brother's head. 

I just put the camera away.

Get some perspective.
This morning, the kids went and pulled out the camera and started looking at the pictures...and all I heard was "Ohhh, I looove this one!" and "This one is so funny!" followed by hysterical laughter. 
And that's when I realized, I have trouble with perspective. 

I am a perfectionist. I am Type A. In the extreme.

I wanted perfect pictures.
With 8 children.
Feel free to laugh.

My kids' picture comments reminded me that I might have been wrong.
Maybe.

Because what was captured on camera yesterday was not just wild children looking in the wrong direction and puking on one another...

  

It was silly.


Or maybe just completely ridiculous.


It was sweet.




It wasn't perfect...it was better.





It was real.