The Story of Our Staycation

In an Easter miracle that feels every bit proportional to Jesus rising from the dead, we managed to pull off a school vacation that didn’t suck.

Easter 2017

I am awed and grateful. I’m not even sure how to describe it, so I’ll just post a bunch of pictures with a few words to record this moment in time.

First, we had the two year anniversary of the day we met the Cherubs. We did not celebrate this, however. I tried that last year, asking #2, “What do you remember about that night?” to which she replied, “We just cried. We didn’t want to leave where we were to go live with strangers.” Yikes. So this year, we left this one right alone. Next month, we’ll celebrate Adoption Day, and then Moving In With Us day in June. But now we leave Nice To Meet You Day out of the picture. Lesson Learned.

We DID celebrate Easter, my favorite holiday.  At church we had art by Grace & Reena, and music about the incredible things we believe.

I preached about the Boston Marathon, and how cool it is that, four years after the Marathon Bombing, no one talks about who did it or why. Instead, everyone talks about the overcoming that happened in the aftermath, and how the words Boston Strong define who we are and what we love about living here. There are Boston Strong signs and t-shirts everywhere. I love it.

Then we prayed for Gwen & J.J. our two friends who’d be running the next day.  So inspiring.

Speaking of inspiring, Steve & I had a date afterwards! The Cherubs went on an overnight with their grandparents, and we went out for long relaxing lunch, after which we came home and RIPPED UP our bedroom.

And no, I don’t mean that as a metaphor.

Remember I told you about the stairs? And how that led us to some conclusions about the gross, hazmat-y rug?

Well, the project expanded in scope almost immediately. Replacing the floor somehow led to repainting the bathroom sink cabinet, pulling up all the baseboards, and taking down a wall.

Here is my inspiration photo:

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Here is what I woke up to this morning:

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Really, we’re practically there.

But I’m happy to report that there are now 10 contractor bags of gross rug down in a bagster next to the driveway, and our floor is now covered in lovely maple boards on which no dog has peed. I’m taking that as a win.

Perhaps the most exciting part of the week was watching Gwen finish the Marathon. Her friend J.J. flew up from Florida to run with her, and spoke at church about how friends run all different kinds of marathons together, cheering each other on and helping through the touch stretches. A bunch of us gathered in an office space overlooking the finish line to watched them cross, and as they crossed, we all pretended to have something in our eyes. Tissues all around for the big wins.

Finish Line Gwen and JJ

 

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Then Steve, the Cherubs & I walked back over the bridge into Cambridge. It felt like such a long distance, but our attitudes were kept in check by all the tinfoil wrapped people we passed who’d just run 26 miles, and the glorious sky over the city, and the fun of having something like this happen for people we love, in a place we love. Really, it was all the gushy feelings, accompanied by some sore legs.

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Speaking of sore legs – I went to the gym. Three times. My first session was with a trainer who is Irish and seven months pregnant, which means we looked like twins. I won’t post pictures of that. I’ll just say that I’m glad I can slide in my socks across the new wood floors as a form of travel rather than having to pick up my feet for each new step.

Happy Monday, All.

He is risen, indeed.

The First Days of Adoption

Friends of ours just met their kids for the first time!!! They’re adopting older siblings from foster care. For obvious reasons, this makes my eyes fog up. I am so excited for this new family. And aware of how vulnerable it feels to attempt this. As much as we all want to imagine these moments as beautiful scenes where orphaned children run into the arms of their new parents with bright smiles, grateful hearts, and the sun shining down on us all, that’s not exactly what it looks like.  At least that’s not what it looked like for us.

For us, it looked like equal parts wonder, awe, and terror.

I’d forgotten about this until our friends sent out a picture from the night they met their cherubs. They were on a couch together, arms around one another, looking for all the world like a ready-made family. It was GORGEOUS. It reminded me of sitting on a similar couch, taking a similar picture. And the surrealness of the whole, “Hi, so nice to meet you, I’m your new mom/dad/kid.”

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Don’t we look happy? But #1 is CLUTCHING that conversation ball for dear life. It might be the best present we brought that night. 

After that night, we started the visits and the process of getting to know each other. Our kids liked us okay. We were white, which wasn’t their favorite. But we said we’d get him a basketball hoop for the driveway, and that she could paint her room any color she wanted, and we had a dog. So that all worked in our favor.

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Steve & #1 assembling the basketball hoop. This took approximately 5 hours, at which point we could see in both kids’ eyes, “Wow, this guy might be serious about being our Dad…”

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Paint swatches on #2’s bedroom wall. She had hundreds of these, and was so excited when she found the perfect shade of lavender.  

We spent the next day with them. We shot baskets at court near their foster home, then went out for lunch. We went bowling, and for frozen yogurt. On the way home, #2 Cherub commented, “Wow, you guys spent A LOT of money on us today.” We didn’t know how to respond. She was right (who knew fro-yo could cost almost $30?). We hadn’t realized how soon we’d be navigating real parenting questions. How should we convey to them the truth – You guys are worth so much to us, of course we want to spend money on things like this, and the other truth – No, this does not mean we’ll buy you every single thing you ask for, like real Uggs or $200 sneakers – when we barely knew them? I think we said something about how we try to be frugal about some things so we’d have extra to splurge on things that really mattered.

Sometimes you just punt.

The next time we saw them was Wednesday.  I drove the 45 minutes to pick them up after school, then we came back to Cambridge to wait for Steve to get out of work so we could have dinner together. There was a weird rule I don’t quite understand that we weren’t supposed to take them to our house until we’d had a couple weeks of visits, so we ended up doing a lot of driving around and activities. I’m not good at planning activities, so this was super stressful for me.

Okay, let me get honest: this part was just awful.

I already loved these kids. But they were so unhappy to have their lives disrupted. They loved their foster mom, and her family. That was the best life they’d ever known, and they were ANGRY that they had to leave it. They hated the music I played in the car (all we could agree on were a few songs from the Jackson 5. Shake Your Body Down To The Ground will forever remind me of being stuck on 95 North in Friday traffic). They hated missing out on time with their friends and foster cousins.  On some trips, they’d both cover their heads with the blankets we kept in the backseat, just to get away from me.

This gave me lots of time to figure out activities for us, what with all the not talking.

This went on for two months.

Most transitions go WAY faster. (We have one set of friends that met their daughter on a Saturday, then she moved in The following weekend.) Often this isn’t based on what’s best for the kids or the new parents, but a more practical need: there aren’t enough foster homes available in Massachusetts, so if DCF can move two kids into a pre-adoptive placement and free up those beds for other kids? That’s the top priority. Fortunately for us, our kids’ foster mom was retiring, so there was no rush. We were able to spend two months transitioning. This let the kids finish off their school year where they were, and allowed them to process some of their feelings of loss, fear, and anger along the way, which made a little room for some excitement to creep in there.

That first Wednesday, we painted ceramics.

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Then we picked up Steve at work, ate dinner out, then drove them home. They were clearly relieved to get back.

I share all this to let you know: this takes time. It didn’t stay this hard forever. It’s been more than a year since either kid hid under a blanket on a car ride (I mentioned this to #2 last week, and she’d forgotten all about it.) But it was rather rocky for what felt like forever, as it ticked by, one minute at a time.

What helped us turn the corner? There were a bunch of things. Their foster mom did an incredible job helping them wrap their minds around the concept of adoption. We showed up on time for every visit and seemed glad to see them, which counted for more than we ever would have guessed. But the unexpected factor was THIS DOG.  The kids loved her, and she loved them. They agreed that she was awesome, even though the jury was  still out on us. And so they let her nudge them along those first few steps of becoming a family.

A pivotal moment was the night we brought Bergie with us to drive the kids back to their foster home. They got out of the car, hugged us and her, and then headed in. Bergie looked out the car window as they went up the steps and in the door, and then began to howl.

She’s part Great Pyrenees (you can read about our best guess at her genetic heritage here), bred to protect sheep. From Day One of meeting them, The Cherubs have been her sheep,  and she takes her job seriously. She was MOST UNHAPPY that night when we drove away without them.

This was, I suspect, the thing that helped the kids consider the possibility that our house might be an okay home, and we might be okay family.

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Waiting for #1 to come home. She has subdued an invading bear and has things on lockdown. 

Every family has its own unique story. Our friends’ experience transitioning will be different than ours. They’ll have their own ups & downs. Life might look long sometimes. They might wonder if they’ve ruined all their lives with this crazy idea. (Okay, I’m sure THEY’LL never wonder that. Surely that was just us…) But you do what you do in any challenge in life: you hang on, pray, and watch for small signs as things get better.

Over time, we’ve seen a cycle, where what used to feel like miracle moments of unexpected closeness become the new normal. Then we climb up on that new level and reach for the next step. This is my hope for our friends.

And for YOU when you adopt your cherubs from foster care :)

 

Laughing & Crying

I didn’t realize how schizophrenic my weekend was until I sat down to write this post.

First, the funny part:

Have you guys noticed that the way clothes look on Pinterest & style cards isn’t AT ALL how they look on a live body? I think this is a metaphor for EVERYTHING.

This weekend, Steve & I both had boxes arrive from Stitch Fix. I am incredibly in love with this service, ever since they sent me a pair of jeans that fit right out of the box. My round #2 came at the same time Steve got round #1. The results were…mixed.

Here is Steve’s face when he opened his box:

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I laughed so hard I hiccuped. You can’t really tell from the picture, but that plaid shirt looked like it had been made from men’s swim trunks as part of a Project Runway challenge. The look is best described as metrosexual surfer. It even had those loop things on the sleeve with the button!

If you have met Steve, you know that there is no way he would ever wear something like that. The man is a hockey goalie. He buys his clothes at Timberland, NorthFace & L.L. Bean. Next he pulled some grey Sperry-type boat sneakers from the bag and I had to gasp to get enough air.  He tried it all on under protest. The Cherubs were speechless.

We looked at the little style card they sent with the packages and realized something: There is a GARGANTUAN GAP between how things look in 2D, set out flat on a style card with coordinating pieces, and how they look in 3D, on a living person.
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(I’m sad to report that Steve would not let me take a picture of him wearing these items. This shows once again that he is wiser than me.)

Here’s the thing: If you’d shown me this card in advance, I’d have said, “That looks great – he’ll love it!” (Provided I didn’t notice the little sleeve loops). But there’s this collision that happens when we try to transition things from 2D to 3D. Not everything survives the trip.

Honestly, I cannot stop drawing deep metaphors from this experience.

***

Yesterday, I gave a Palm Sunday sermon inspired in part by this Stitch Fix experience. I talked about how disappointing it is when something you hope might be the answer to your prayers comes within reach…and then turns out to be not at all what you expected.

At least 5 people in our congregation have asked us recently some version of the questions, “How do you deal with disappointment? How do you stay faithful to believing God’s promises when you’re in pain?” As silly as it sounds, Stitch Fix gave me a starting point. It was a low emotion example that helped me think this through, and share it in a way that we could all laugh at. Because we’ve all had the experience of seeing something in a picture and thinking, “That would be great!” only to have it collapse when exposed to the challenges of real, 3D life.

So I told them about how, in order to face getting dressed in the morning, most of us have to die to the idea that we’ll look like a supermodel, or a flat style card. We all laughed.

That was the easy part.

Then came the harder part, because some things are a big, pain-filled mystery and we just don’t know where God is in it all, or what He’s doing.

I talked about the pain of losing Princess Peach four years ago – the devastation Steve & I felt then, the hurt look I still see in her eyes when we see her, how she tries really hard not to ask why we let her go. (Two years ago we gave her a doll for Christmas and her first eager question was, “Does it smell like you?”) I’m still looking to God to make this right when it looks so very wrong.

I know it’s obnoxious to compare this loss to an unfortunate Stitch Fix delivery. But I need both examples.

Steve has already forgotten that that plaid shirt ever happened. (He’ll be quite surprised to see another box arrive in June, with selections from a updated style profile and a Pinterest board I made from pictures of clothes hockey players might wear.) This low-bar example gives me space to think through how I deal with disappointment: in most cases, I trust that there is a something better is possible, and that it’s coming.

The challenge is applying this to bigger things; to real hurts where the emotions are  too live for me to figure out what response my faith suggests, because I’m simply surviving. There are so many swirling questions when we’re in pain. How do I trust that this is God’s best for Princess Peach? For us? What do we DO? How do we move forward? Of course, learning about adoption from foster care led us to The Cherubs, which is amazing. But I don’t think God leaves one little girl out in the cold so that two other kids can have a Mom & Dad. I have to believe that the story is not over.

Closing out the sermon, I shared one special memory that helps me:

It was our last day with Princess Peach. We were in the car, driving her to where the social workers were meeting us to take her away. They were over an hour late, so we had a lot of time to fill. Steve prayed a Father’s blessing over Princess Peach, speaking love and a vision for her life. Then we drove around Cambridge, all three of us numb with disbelief. Princess Peach starred out the window and stroked the soft fur of the stuffed puppies we’d bought to take with her to keep her safe. We had the iPod on shuffle to fill the silence. Then a song came on and Princess Peach lit up. “Play THAT ONE again, please!” she said.

It was a song by CeCe Winans, called “It Ain’t Over.” It’s one of those songs where you stand up in church and stomp your feet and clap. It’s a BATTLE song. Princess Peach kept saying “Play it again?” So we did.

So you gave it all you had

And you still came up short

You’ve been faithful through it all

And you answered the call.

Keep your eye on the prize

Don’t give up the faith

God has a plan for you

That’s why we say…

It ain’t over.

It felt like God was right there with is in that awful moment, challenging us to believe.

And so we do. It’s been four years. I still cry every time I hear that song. We’ve seen Princess Peach 3 times in those years. I don’t know what God is doing, but I know this for sure: It ain’t over.

We pray for her every day.

We move forward with life, trusting that God will reconnect our dots someday.

And we take joy in small things, because they add up and make a difference.

One of the hardest things for me after we said goodbye to her was figuring out how to LIVE. To laugh at something funny, or enjoy a good meal, or be excited about cute jeans that fit…it seemed like such a betrayal of her. We lived in a suspended state for months after that, certain she’d be back.

We were surprised when Easter came, so to speak. How Jesus showed up and reassembled us, giving us new life where we were dead inside. It’s been miraculous. The pain hasn’t disappeared. But we’ve grown into the ability to carry it and live on. And in that, I trust that He is doing something similar in Princess Peach, because she loves him and so is covered under the promise of Romans 8:28 (“For we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him and are called according to His purpose.“) I hang onto this verse like a lifeline. And then I entrust this sweet girl to Jesus, and get on with everyday life.

***

My Stitch Fix box turned out better than Steve’s.

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There was another pair of jeans that fit, which makes me want to hug my stylist “Katelyn,” whether she’s a person or an algorithm. I kept a top that was not at all something I would have picked for myself after Steve walked in and said, “Wow, that looks great on you!”

The other three things – a blazer like one I already own, a top I loved thats didn’t quite fit, and a wool scarf – went back (and made me realize I need to take the cold weather outfit pictures off of my Pinterest style board). I didn’t get the 25% discount you get if you keep all 5 items. But even at full price, it was worth it. I spent five minutes placing an order, rather than three hours at the mall, and came out with a new outfit. I don’t look like the perfection on the style card. But I’m a nicely updated 3D version of me :)

I’m taking every bit of joy I can out of that small, silly win.

To sum it all up…

Listen to this song. Pray for Princess Peach, and for the big questions you still have about what God is doing in your life. It’s okay to clap and have some fun with it. I think part of heaven coming to earth is that it brings a lot more joy than we expect, even in the midst of pain:

And if you need some clothes, or feel like you’re style is hopeless and you can’t face the mall? Try Stitch Fix. If you order for the first time through the link, I get a $20 referral credit, which makes jeans more affordable.

This life is both/and, you guys. It really is.

The Full Weight of Adoption

I just tried on all my summer clothes. Nothing fits. Again.

I have not worked out in any meaningful, sustained way in at least 8 months, and yet I’m shocked (SHOCKED!) to discover that I am facing yet another warm season with a wardrobe that consists of one pair of jeans and a single billowy blouse.

This, my friends, is what I’ve come to call The Full Weight of Adoption. Because another thing no one tells you when you enter this process is that it will make your body absolutely bananas in ways you never thought possible.

When Princess Peach lived with us, we were under JUST A LITTLE BIT of stress. There was learning the basics of toddler care & maintenance, of course. But beyond that, the sweet child only slept through the night twice. Total. In the whole year. Every other night she woke up in the midst of a night terror that had her screaming and kicking for anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours. She kicked holes in the drywall by her bed. She screamed herself hoarse. Then, when she’d finally wake up (around month 9 we finally discovered the secret sauce was singing 492 verses of “the Holy Spirit Song” while walking up and down the hall holding her, followed by a calming episode of Peep and the Big Wide World ) she’d have no recollection of what had happened. But she’d be extremely overtired, as were we. I remember being insanely desperate for sleep. I was virtually incoherent. I read an article about the brain disorganization kids experience as the result of trauma and thought, That sounds like me… Add to that the stress of that one DCF office, where the worker and her supervisors kept accusing us of various things so they could stop the attention we were bringing to the their mismanagement of her case, and my body was burning something like 10 million calories a day.  It wasn’t pretty.

Want to see? If you have the newest edition of my book, look at the author photo.

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We took that one rare night when I felt like I kind of looked pretty good. I sat on the couch and smiled in a friendly way. Steve snapped about 19 pictures before he said gently, “Um Honey? Maybe you shouldn’t smile…authors aren’t really smiling in pictures these days, right?” I looked at the shots he’d taken. My face was so gaunt that my teeth looked like they were jumping out of my head. What felt to me like a relaxed look was actually incredibly tense, and you could see it all over my face. It was like, This is your face on foster care…

That year I learned that being thin, on it’s own, is not much of a life goal.

Our experience with The Cherubs has been very different. Enormously different, one might say. I was in great shape that first summer because we went to the Y every day to swim, I played basketball with #1 Cherub (I’d forgotten how much fun that is), and we spent a lot of time at the beach. But the sheer amount of carbs required to keep them minimally happy got to me. I don’t have much willpower around chips, pasta, rice, or bread. I’m what Gretchen Rubin calls an abstainer, which means that if I don’t want to eat something I avoid it altogether; there’s no such thing has having “just one chip,” for me. So pre-Cherub, I just didn’t buy that stuff. But suddenly, I had to.

Then #1 decided he was too cool for the pool, and #2 took off for independent rides on her bike, and I was caught in this weird position of being stuck at home – I had to be there, even if they were off in the neighborhood – Not doing anything. I wasn’t like I could fire up a pilates video while they were out. (NO ONE wants to walk in on their new mom doing pilates.) And so I sat on the couch and grew into a lump of bread.

I blame part of my stupor on how my clothes cut off blood flow to my brain.

And the other part on how, at some point, exercise just required so much more planning than before. I actually like exercising. But the planning aspect – the clothes, the driving somewhere, or the weather if I’m walking/running here, the shower afterwards, the not having anything else I need to do for two hours…it’s kind of obnoxious. I know I’ll like the results. It’s just so hard for me to want it enough to put down everything else.

(For example, right this minute, I am writing this in my workout clothes instead of going for a run. Which would have been a walk, lets be honest. Which may or may not happen now because it’s lunchtime and there’s bread and chips waiting for me downstairs, and it looks like it might rain and I’m not dressed for that, and my Fitbit isn’t charged so none of it will count anyway. Pray for me…)

This past winter, I was jolted from my lethargy by the book Eat, Move, Sleep. It’s by a guy recovering from a rare form of cancer. His approach to staying healthy is to optimize the things he controls. He does not control whether or not the cancer comes back, but he does control what he consumes, how much he moves, and how much he rests. He’s funny, and so this is not nearly as grim as it sounds.

My absolute favorite thing he mentioned was this study that showed that people who eat more fruits & vegetables are happier. I’d been feeling pretty glum for awhile, so I gave it a try; I liked that it was so tangible. I went from eating a only few veggies & no fruit, to eating 5-8 different produce items a day. The results were AMAZING. I was so very much happier, for no obvious reason, it felt like a miracle. I wanted to stand out in the street and pass out oranges.

By way of full disclosure not all the tips were so applicable. I blew right past his recommendation that we order steamed vegetables in a restaurant in lieu of french fries. Steamed vegetables are gross no matter where you have them, but I can’t even imagine what lands on your plate when the busy kitchen staff has to stop their rhythm and custom steam your kale.

Still though. I cut out the bread & chips and ate more apples & almonds. It was good.

I also tried sleeping 8 hours every night. THAT was unreal. It was life changing in all the ways you hear about when people testify obnoxiously about how they’ll never be the same: I awoke refreshed, tripled my productivity, felt love in my heart for my fellow man… It was marvelous.

Truth be told, I never did get a handle on exercise. I walked some. A lot, actually. But then the weather got bad.

After awhile, the novelty wore off and the fruit selection didn’t seem quite as exciting. And going to bed early is really hard when that’s the only time I have to talk to Steve, watch TV, and pretend I’m thinking deep thoughts when I’m really just drinking wine and zoning out.

Now, Eat, Move, Sleep taunts me from the bookshelf. And yet unless I want to spend my whole summer hiding under a beach blanket, I need to pull it back out and spend some more quality time with the author. I need to put down my laptop, get up off of the couch, get out of my head and into my body.  I need to work a whole lot harder at these three basics so I can have the energy I need to embarrass my kids ;)

***

Related: Since my post about the awesome fashion statements I’ve been making around Boston lately, some of you have asked if I really like Stitchfix. In a word, yes. They sent the one pair of jeans & flowy top that fits, so I’m a fan. I’m not sure how I’ll rock that look every day all summer, but I have a new box coming tomorrow & I’ll let you know how it goes. I’m hoping this company will be a moderate cost, low time investment help in keeping me dressed over the next few months while I pull myself out of my zone and onto the treadmill.

Power Struggles

Rough week here in Ryanville. One of our Cherubs truly believes she is maturing at a tremendous rate, such that she’s becoming more our peer than our child. In her mind, she, Steve & I form a triune leadership counsel, through which we lord power over her brother and the dog. She tolerates my place on the counsel grudgingly. But in her eyes, I’m sort of like the Queen Mum: an annoying ceremonial necessity she must tolerate as she works her way to the throne.

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I cannot even describe how exhausting this is.

In a state of desperation (and because I want to make sure we can afford Catholic school before I threaten to send her there), I’ve turned to Cesar Milan, a.k.aThe Dog Whisperer, for help.

No, I’m not kidding.

I started watching his show & reading his books after we adopted THIS DOG.  As some of you remember, Bergie came to us huge and mostly untrained. She couldn’t walk on a leash without leaping and thrashing, and she looked at the stairs to our house like they were the strangest thing she’d ever seen. She weighed 93 pounds at that point, so these were LARGE problems.

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Steve used to call her “Pot Roast.” :)

Cesar’s point of view on dog training is clear: Dogs need stability, consistency, and clear authority. To become part of the pack, he says, a dog needs to know what is expected and how to participate successfully. Nothing makes a dog more anxious than an unclear pack structure. 

Then he let fly with this gem of awkward truth: “Human beings are the only creatures on earth who will follow an unstable leader.”

Yikes and wow. Hearing this the first time, I realized how trained most of us are to ignore signs of instability in our leaders (and in ourselves when we lead). We don’t want to rock the boat or make things awkward, we don’t know how to fix what’s broken, so we double down on whatever we’ve been doing, hoping more will help. But more unstable leadership doesn’t make a healthy pack. Only good leadership does that.

Cesar’s take on this has been revolutionary for me. With THIS DOG, I realized that I had to stop being pulled around the block by this giant creature, stop talking a high pitched sweet voice trying to appeal to her better nature, and stop letting her jump all over our furniture whenever she wanted. I needed to toughen up. Not in a mean way. I needed to learn to communicate to THIS DOG exactly what I wanted her to do. Which means I needed to figure out what I wanted her to do, so I could let her know.

Which brings me back to my Cherub. I don’t know if this is true with all kids, but I know it’s prevalent in kids who have been in foster care: They don’t trust adults. My kids still don’t trust Steve & me to do what we say, or be who we need to be, or do what needs to be done. They assume we will fail, forget, flake out, or otherwise disappoint them. So they prepare for this contingency.  And perhaps because they’ve been less socialized in faux kindness, our kids are closer to the instinct-level functioning Cesar Milan describes. My Cherub will not follow an unstable pack leader. She will fight that leader in an attempt to take over the pack.

Thinking of our family as a pack is an interesting perspective shift.  I’m pretty confident her behavioral acting out is a problem in leadership, not followership.  So I need to figure out what it is I expect from her, specifically, and communicate that to her, pronto. For her to do better, I need to do better.

(And yes, this means she was right when she said that adoption is “kind of like puppy rescue.”)

I can train a Great Pyrenees mix (a breed often considered untrainable because they are so incredibly independent) to walk gently at my side, I can teach a tween to respect (or at least pretend to respect) authority. It has to be possible, right?

If you think the answer is no, don’t tell me :)

 

My Fashion Woes

A couple of months ago, I went to Steve’s company holiday party dressed like an Amish

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If you look closely, you can see the patch pockets! #classycocktail!

nun. I didn’t mean to.  The dress code was “classy cocktail,” which I interpreted to mean, Like you’re coming from work, only a step up. I found a cute preppy dress from Tommy Hilfiger. It was a little big, but I kind of liked that; I’m not exactly in top form right now. I paired it with a jacket & boots because it was about thirteen degrees that night. And yes, I knew that I looked a bit like I was there to serve a warrant. But Boston has a pretty wide professional dress code. I was sure it would be fine.

We walked into the venue a bit early (it’s so hard to calculate traffic across the city) and I knew instantly that I’d screwed up.

Friends, the sequins were blinding. Hair had been professionally done. Hours had been invested in mani-pedi-facials. There were GOWNS. Everyone looked elegant, upscale, and GORGEOUS.

I glanced at Steve and whispered, “Wow. I really miscalculated…”

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I didn’t even realize until later when I saw this picture that we MATCHED. We look like an audition tape for The Real Housewives of Ultra Conservative County.

He looked mortified for me. We checked our winter coats, and took a picture in front of an unavoidable step & repeat that stood between us and the bar. I prayed for a camera malfunction. We walked into the mostly-empty room and I took a deep breath. I knew had a decision to make: I could ruin this night with my embarrassment, or I could figure out another way. So I decided to fight for it. I looked up at the seventeen Buddha statues decorating the restaurant and said, “Jesus, I know you’re here somewhere…I could really use some help…”

We found a place to stand with our drinks & small plates. I made it a point to talk to Steve about things OTHER THAN how underdressed I was. And when he introduced me to people, I did not say a single embarrassed word about my outfit, because nothing makes social situations worse than that.

We had a great night. Everyone I met was fantastic, and we had so many deep, good conversations about biotech, writing, faith, and adoption. Yes, I felt awkward the whole time. As much as we’re not supposed to care what we wear, and we’re supposed to appreciate each other for what’s on the inside, blah, blah, blah… my missing the cues on the dress code meant the night was way more emotional effort than I wanted it to be, at a time (right after the holidays) when I didn’t have a lot of extra fight in me. I’m so glad we went. But I’m not sure I’ll ever wear that dress again.

***

I thought of this the other day as I caught up on the blog of a fellow memoirist who had a baby last year at the age of 46. As she described her woes in getting dressed, and how her body feels lumpy and odd in ways it never was before, I realized: I ALSO have a one-year postpartum body. Only I never gave birth.

It’s pitiful. Don’t you think the benefit of adopting should be that I don’t look like I have kids??? But nope. I got dressed the other day and realized I looked like a big marshmallow covered in denim & 2-ply cashmere. But I think the problem is less about having too much size, and more about having lost my style: Last week when I wore a ponytail to church, one of the teens came up and said, “Miss Trish! You look so different!”

You know you’re in a rut when a ponytail is a bold move forward.

So you can imagine how my curiosity was peaked when that blog friend talked about her clothing woes and how she’d just received a box from a company called Stitchfix that mails you clothes. She was going to POST PICTURES of her in the new items (!!??!) I was horrified/captivated/in awe: wasn’t that the equivalent of taking the entire internet with you as you try on jeans at Target???

She has awesomely sarcastic humor, so I was excited to see how she’d skewer the experience of trying clothes picked out by a complete stranger on a body that shifted daily in all sorts of unplanned directions.

She kept every cute thing in that box. (They send 5 things. You pay $20 for the styling service, which is credited against anything you buy. And there’s 25% off if you decide to keep everything. Apparently, this is a whole thing that’s been happening for years. Enter Trish in her Amish ensemble, a little late to the party…)

(I’ll admit, I was a bit salty that she found a dress, because I have this secret theory that people who look good in dresses and like them have ALL THE DRESSES. It’s like the dresses know. The rest of us get a boy dress with patch pockets. But whatever.)

In a fit of I don’t even know what, I signed up for a Stitchfix delivery of my own. I think I was just excited to leave my problem at the feet of an expert (even if that expert is an algorithm supposedly named “Katelyn”). I knew my blog friend would get a $25 referral credit, and that seemed like a way to thank her for being so honest (her blog TITLE is “An Inch of Gray,” referring to her hairline. I love her!) and making me feel less alone in navigating my fashion challenged state.

I had LOW expectations when the box arrived. I liked that it was pretty, and I was prepared for disappointment. I’ll cut to the chase and tell you the miracle: They sent me jeans that fit perfectly. Length, width, everything. It was like they’d been tailored for me.

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I might even wear them to next year’s company party. If I’m going to be underdressed, I might as well really go for it.

The rest of the box was a mix. There was a blue jacket that made me look like I was there to change the oil on your car, and a pair of earrings like ones I already have. Those I sent back. There was a blue floral top that was unbelievably cute once I tried it on.

And then there was the green shirt.

I haven’t owned anything green that doesn’t say “Boston Celtics” on it since about 1975. It’s just not my color, or so I thought. But this shirt was so pretty! It didn’t fit. But still, I loved it so much that I pulled it back out of the return package (they send you a postage-paid return bag you just drop off at the post office) after I’d sealed it, just to try it again. It was still a no. But now I’m on the hunt for a different top in that shade of green.

What that box did for me had almost nothing to do with the actual clothes. It was more about how it energized my thoughts about dressing in general like nothing in recent (or even distant) memory has. The the little style guide gave me ideas for other outfits from things I already have, and I even got back on Pinterest (which I’ve decided is like going to the Mall with your friends, only while lying on the couch by yourself. I’m not sure that’s a good thing, but at least now I understand the appeal.) I’m so glad I did this. It’s good for my style and my soul.

It’s good to find help when you need it, and to be reminded that more is possible in life, IMG_5282even with things that shouldn’t be such a big deal, but are. I kept the empty Stitchfix box on the floor of my bedroom for about four days after it arrived, just to remind me of how happy it had made me. That’s some pretty good return on investment.

If you’re in a style rut? Try Stitchfix here. If you use this link, I’ll get a $25 referral credit on your first go, like my blog friend received when I tried. The Cherubs thank you for making their mom slightly less embarrassing.

The Real “Money” Issue In Our Family

The real stuff about our money conversation since we adopted The Cherubs has nothing to do with budgets. It has to do with the long process of realizing what makes the kids feel safe, and me figuring out how to be the kind of Mom they trust to take care of them. I realized how this all connected AS I wrote this post, so it winds around a bit. Thanks in advance for your patience.

***

Let me start by saying, I had no idea that public school was so expensive. I mentioned this in yesterday’s post, as I remembered how alarmed I was to discover that every single after school activity The Cherubs signed up for cost somewhere between $35-$350. We had not planned for that kind of cash outlay, and it really threw us for a loop there in the beginning. Thankfully, every investment has been more than worth it. If I have unexpected expenses for my kids, that means I have kids. The miracle of that isn’t lost on me.

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As I thought more about this, I realized that my frustration about the “cost of school” isn’t really about money. That’s just an easy thing to point to. My true frustration is the amount of time and attention the school wants from me, and the surprising things I’m learning about what makes my kids feel safe.

I have 6.5 hours/5x a week when I’m not responsible for keeping the kids alive or responding to their immediate needs. Anything requiring focus needs to happen during these hours. On good weeks, I have a routine.

I feel like the school conspires to wreck my routine, every. single. week.

I’ll confess, I want to cry each time they email me ANOTHER reminder to log into the special parent portal to read the “virtual backpack” of flyers that used to come home with kids in actual backpacks. If you plan to fly my child to London Tuesday and need me to send her that morning with a check for $1300 & a pair of wellies, PLEASE don’t hide that information behind a password I forgot back in September?

I flat out don’t want to attend the online, audio-only training required to access my kids’ report cards. If I send them in with a piece of paper, will you print me a copy? Even a hand-written scrawl, something like, On track to graduate with his class would be fine.

Just this week, I’ll miss two different things, one at each of the kids schools: I couldn’t attend last night’s mandatory meeting to tell me that if I sign my kid up for a sport, he’s supposed to come to practice. And I can’t make tonight’s event where parents will learn about the curriculum. But since I’m neither qualified nor inclined to homeschool, my absence is probably a win for both of us, because what would be my option if I didn’t like it?

(On a total side note…Telling the kids we might try homeschooling turned out to be a MIRACLE CURE for lackadaisical academic effort! I mentioned this once as a joke, describing my unique educational program of memoir writing & baton twirling. Both kids BUCKLED RIGHT DOWN and got to work. It was incredible.)

And the only thing that has ever made me wonder if I might be a horrible parent is my knee-jerk reaction to the weekly PTO emails. I don’t want to sell wrapping paper, calendars, candles, half-full buckets of cookie dough, or candy bars. It all feels a bit like multi-level marketing, but without the teamwork, parties, or profit. I think a dance would be a disaster for my child at this stage of her development, so you probably don’t want me planning one. And since I’m just learning to feed my family, you don’t want me baking special treats for the teachers.

Digging down, I see that my frustration isn’t even about time. It’s about feeling caught in this wave of demands and finding it hard to get my feet planted back on the ground. I use up so many no’s each day with the kids (they are BOLD askers…either one of them could have a brilliant career in sales), it’s hard to have to spend so many more on the school, when I’m really so grateful for all they do.

And here’s the other thing I don’t know how to explain to the school: Not only do I want to be doing work that isn’t just about housekeeping, school & parenting, it’s a key part of earning my kids’ trust.

For my kids, a stay-at-home mom isn’t a wonderful gift of love. It’s a woman with too much time on her hands, time they can’t account for. They don’t trust me if I can’t say what I did all day, because they’ve had experiences where grown-ups get into trouble when the kids aren’t around to keep an eye on them. #2 Cherub in particular was angry that first summer when she learned I wasn’t churning out a steady stream of books to be published. “But you said you’re an author!” she demanded. “Why aren’t you author-ing?” To her, author-ing isn’t just writing a bit every day. It’s generating tangible, revenue-producing products. It’s getting paid for your work. And you know what? She has a point.

One day I received a check for $98 for copies of my book that sold. I made a small joke about bringing home the big bucks, but then I looked up and saw pure relief on my kids’ faces. So you CAN earn money, their expressions said. Later, one of them said faux-casually, If something happened to Dad, you could make more money with your books, right? And then I realized what their real question is: Can you REALLY take care of us, or will we be on our own again? 

What I thought I was doing so sacrificially was making my kids feel incredibly unsafe.

A lot of what I do is unpaid work (see: church planting), and it’s a gift to have that option. But because of the Cherubs’ obvious concern, now I’m doubling down on writing, too. I’m not sure I can generate books at QUITE the pace #2 expects. But I can pick up production. And I can do smaller things, too. For example, now my links here on the blog (for books & other stuff) are Amazon affiliate links. Which means if you click through and order – either what I posted or something else –  I get a tiny bit of credit. It doesn’t cost you anything. But over time, I hope it lets me say to the kids, “Hey, my blog earned enough today to get the special hair styling goop you asked for!”

For all the talk you hear about parenting & self-sacrifice, I think self-definition is equally important. There are simply too many options vying for our time to not have some sort of internal guidelines that automate some of the decision making process. I’ve felt especially awkward about the whole “I’m not someone who does PTO” thing, because I have friends and family members who contribute huge amounts of time & energy to their kids’ schools through these committees.  But then I step back and realize, they’re making choices, too. When they say yes to the PTO, it means they’re saying no to something else, just like I am. Maybe what their kids need is a mom who is in the school, who knows what’s going on. We’re all making choices based on different circumstances, most of which aren’t observable from the outside. This has helped me more than I can describe. It’s one of those rare areas of life where pretty much whichever you choose (so long as it’s not illegal)? That’s okay.

How Adoption Affected our Finances (Part 2)

By the time we started the process that led to adopting the Cherubs, we were in a better financial position than when we had Princess Peach. Steve had recovered the lost ground on his career trajectory. We’d bought a two family house in the suburbs with Steve’s parents. And I took a part-time job in the flooring department at Home Depot that paid almost enough to get my hair highlighted once a month. It’s surprising how a few changes make a huge difference.

But in terms of context, I think the biggest difference for us between our two experiences with the foster care system was that this time, we didn’t deal directly with DCF. We worked with an agency instead, and they were incredible. They did our training, our home study, our matching process. And in an AMAZING turn of events, they were also handling the adoption search for our kids. So they were there as a guide and a buffer every step of the way.

Added to that, this was a different DCF office, one with a stellar reputation for treating everyone really well and keeping the best interest of the kids at the top of the page. So I suspect that even if we hadn’t been in a better financial position, we would have had much more bandwidth this time around to think creatively (which is what you need most when money is tight) without the stress of fighting DCF’s ever-shifting demands. I think we could have made it work.

But looking at how things actually played out, here’s where we spent money, both on things we expected and things that threw us for a bit of a loop:

Before the kids arrives:

Construction: We weren’t sure if we’d be matched with 2 kids or 3 (our home study approved us for 3), so we had to fill in a weird doorway between the little front office & the living room in case we needed it for the world’s smallest bedroom. (Let’s be honest, the “we” in that sentence is Steve. All I did to make that wall was add two coats of paint.)

Furniture: I found a gorgeous mahogany dresser at Salvation Army for #1, and my father-in-law donated the dresser below from his bachelor days for #2. One of our early family projects was sanding that one down to paint it a shade of blue #2 selected. It’s called – no kidding –  JA BLAM!

I bought two identical twin mattresses from Bernie & Phyl’s, and bedding from Target. Two months later I decided NOT to fight the kids’ deep hatred of top sheets (they like fuzzy blankets as the first layer, and really, they’re kind of right) and decided to buy bottom sheets only for the foreseeable future.

As  you might expect, the costs picked up during our two month transition process and the summer they moved in:

Clothes: This was the biggest budget item. Our kids pretty much needed everything. At first, both of them were a little awed by the shopping experience. #1 in particular seemed surprised that we’d buy more than one pair of pants & t-shirts. And #2 (who loves to shop) briefly thought we were the BEST PEOPLE EVER if this was how we rolled. This became a fine balancing act between wanting them to know that we would provide for their needs…and explaining that UGG boots are not a need when you’re eleven.

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Remember when I dug THIS awesome pile of smelliness out of #1’s gorgeous mahogany dresser? 

Our kids came to us with no concept of how money works. They knew a lot about not having what they needed, and a fair amount about random extravagant splurges by various adults in their lives. But there was no sense of how one might determine that today, we’ll buy two shirts and one pair of jeans because that’s what we can afford, and if we really like that other sweater, we’ll save up for it and hope it’s here when we come back.

But here’s the truth: In the early days, those larger lessons about budgeting and want vs. need were beyond us. Our kids needed everything, and so I shopped sales at Target and used coupons at Bob’s. I trolled every Marshall’s within a 30 mile radius because they carried the Michael Jordan stuff that was “in” for #1 back then. I used math skills for the first time in two decades trying to keep it all fair (#2’s full coverage bathing suit from Land’s End cost $92 whereas #1’s was $10 at Old Navy, but #1’s cleats cost 5x as much as the cheap flats #2 liked from Payless.) #1 begged for special socks that cost $14 a pair. Please DO NOT TELL MY PARENTS, but I bought them for him. The kid doesn’t ask for much.

We had three big clothing binges in that first year: When they first came to us in early summer, a few months later for back to school, and then Christmas, because they needed warm things for winter. Since then, it’s much more steady, grabbing things as the kids grow. (Which reminds me that all of #1’s pants are showing way to much of his $14 socks these days, and I need to roll by Bob’s today with my latest coupon.)

Activities: Our kids REALLY needed a day camp that first summer. Structure, planned activities, a chance to make new friends AND a guarantee they’d sleep well at night because they’d worked off most of their stress and had new adventures to think about? SO IMPORTANT.  This also limited the time between afternoon pickup at 5:00 and complaining about how awful our food was at 6:00. I can’t overstate the import of this to my psyche in those early days.

I was under the impression that YMCA camp was covered, or at least subsidized, for foster parents because DCF has a deal with the Y.  But that applied only when both parents worked outside the home full time. So that was a HUGE immediate hit we didn’t see coming. We put the kids in 2 days a week, and cut back on other things. It was totally worth the investment, for their sanity and for mine.

Stuff: We bought all the sports equipment in the Greater Boston region.  We bought a basketball hoop & ball, tennis rackets & a football. A street hockey net and two sticks, which were soon followed by gloves and a punching bag.

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Steve made a corn hole set, after which I learned from a BRILLIANT Amazon review that if you buy bean bags filled with corn, small animals will eat them. We bought every board game Target sells. We got a Wii, which paid for itself the day #2 challenged Steve to Just Dance.

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We saw a 25% increase in utility costs (gas, electric, water) and a 75%-100% increase in food.

But perhaps the biggest unexpected expense was school. More on that tomorrow.

How Has Adopting Affected Our Finances? (Part 1)

FullSizeRender 3I smiled when I saw this question from Liz. It reminded me of our Home Study application, which asked, “How do you think adopting will effect how much money you have?” To which I snarkily replied, “We’ll have the same amount of money. We’ll just spend it differently.”

That’s both the whole answer and entirely unhelpful.

We’ve had two very different experiences in terms of where we were financially when we entered the foster care/adoption world, and let’s be honest: when it comes to finances, context is everything. When Princess Peach came to live with us, we were in a tough place, living paycheck to paycheck. Later, when the Cherubs came, we had more breathing room.

I’ll tell both stories (one today, one in the next post), because in both situations, figuring out our new financial reality was like trying to stack cats: there was always some moving part that made the whole thing feel unstable.  And yet somehow it all worked out.

***

The first time we entered the foster care world, we were pretty sure we’d be kicked right back out once DCF saw our apartment. We were grateful to HAVE an apartment (more on that in a minute) But the building was missing half its siding, and there were stacks of scrap metal all over the yard. There was a skunk that lived under a shed, a gigantic opossum that lived under a pile of ladders, and pigeons from all over the region perched at the front door. Then there were the piles of food scraps our landlord chucked out into the driveway to feed this wild menagerie. (And once you’ve seen a pigeon eat a chicken wing and then get devoured by a hawk, you never look at the circle of life the same way again…) Things were better on the inside. Even though there was only one bathroom and it was off the kitchen such that you could practically cook dinner while taking a shower…it was fine. It was clean. It had three bedrooms. It was just best not to look out the window, because who knew what you might see?

As you might have guessed, we were struggling a bit financially. We’d moved into that apartment after a fiasco where we relocated to New York to join the staff of a church. We now refer to that brief time as “The year we summered in the Finger Lakes Region,” because we were back in Cambridge after just four months, only without jobs or a place to live. We were grateful for the apartment. And for the dear mentor of Steve’s who rented it to us without a security deposit…and then let us move a 3 year old in overhead. (He called her “Happy Feet.”)

We were surprised to discover that every person from the state government who came to survey our humble abode agreed that Princess Peach had landed in rather fine accommodations.  Multiple DCF Social Workers, Princess Peach’s attorneys, her probation officer (yes, a child of three can have a probation officer. DCF had such a bad track record making sure kids were receiving minimally adequate care, the probation department checked up on their placements for the court). No one raised an eyebrow. This was a relief to us, but a bit depressing that this was considered high-level in this world.

Like most foster care transitions, Princess Peach came to live with us abruptly, with pretty much just the clothes on her back. I almost cried when her preschool told me I was supposed to leave two full backup outfits there in case she had an accident. Those first couple of weeks, I barely had enough clothes to get through all seven days.

I can’t tell you how much our family & friends came through for us. My mom took me shopping at Carter’s. My sister sent boxes of things my niece had outgrown. Friends left bags of used clothes on our doorstep. Those saved us. Because after we bought essentials – underwear, socks,etc. – and with the addition of Pull-Ups to our weekly budget, we were right at the edge. (I can’t tell you how much we spent on Pull-Ups. But I can tell you that kids who’ve been through trauma have a hard time holding it through the night.)

The other problem was that we didn’t have a washing machine.

Well, we did. But there was no hook up in our apartment, so when we moved back to Cambridge we donated it to the church. I thought maybe I’d do laundry there since I was often on site running classes and volunteering, but that never quite worked out.  So I saved our quarters and took our basic laundry to the laundromat once a week or so. But Thank God for Steve’s parents, who lived three doors away and let us wash Princess Peach’s bedding almost every day. (She had accidents almost nightly, and Pull-ups only hold so much.) I don’t know how we would have done it without them.

Are you catching the It takes a village vibe here? It’s for real.

Another huge benefit to foster care is that daycare/preschool is often covered. They have vouchers at various providers and can help with placement. I naively thought I’d have some choice in this because Cambridge has so many preschools. Nope. I simply received a call one day from a place in Somerville (the next town over), asking me to come in at my convenience to complete her enrollment.

When I first saw the facility, I was horrified. It was an old brick building with wire mesh in the widow glass. The kids had to walk six blocks through traffic to get to a playground. It was even worse inside – dark, musty and shabby, like an abandoned government building from the 1970s. I called my social worker and said, “Are there other options?” To which she sweetly replied, “Well if that placement doesn’t work, you can apply for a $50/week subsidy to cover alternative child care!” So in we went to the grim brick house of doom. I prayed that Princess Peach wouldn’t see the parallels I saw between this place and Miss Trunchbull’s school in Matilda.

A week later, I loved that school, and those teachers, like they’d been hand selected for Princess Peach by God Himself. Yes, the setting was grim. But the teachers who worked in that building ran that place like a haven of calm caring order. No matter what time of the day I came to pick her up (Princess Peach was in the custody of a particularly chaotic DCF office, and her social worker always seemed one half step away from complete breakdown, so she had appointments and visits and meetings at all different times of day)  I never once walked in on anything but purposeful, directed play and learning. It was incredible.

Princess Peach was so happy there! She had a best friend, along with a posse of other buddies. She made huge strides in every area (she didn’t even know her letters when she came to live with us), and came home each afternoon singing and telling me funny stories of things that had happened. There were students from Tufts who taught the kids reading, and the kind of true diversity folks were paying thousands for at fancy schools on the other side of the city.   All that to say, if you use a daycare placement from DCF and it looks unthinkably grim? Give the people inside a shot, because they’re the ones who set the real atmosphere of the place.  That school was such a bright spot for us.

Okay, back to finances. Having Princess Peach in preschool should have made it possible for me to have a job. But there were so many appointments due to the chaos in this case that there was no way I could have held any sort of a scheduled employment. I don’t think that’s the norm, though. We made the mistake of offering to help with some of the transportation, in the hopes we could develop some sort of partnership with the DCF office. This actually made things worse. I suspect that Princess Peach would have had a much more stable schedule if we’d left transportation to them and stayed out of it.

The good news was that we didn’t have to pay for any of those appointments. Children in foster care are covered 100% under Mass Health, and that includes medical, dental & mental health. (This coverage remains even after adoption and continues through their childhood.)

So the the primary specific expenses for Princess Peach were clothes, Pull-ups (all praise to God for the Market Basket brand, which were just as good as the others at 2/3 the price), a car seat (we bought one at Target. I don’t know if we got a good deal or not), gas (there was so much driving. We put thousands of miles on the car that year, just driving to meetings and appointments.)

She was worth every penny.

Things that cost less than they might have: Furniture (We saved hundreds here by accepting hand me downs from my family. Which worked out doubly well, because old furniture made of real wood withstands temper tantrums better than new fiberboard) and Toys (I thought this would be a big expense but it wasn’t. Princess Peach is an artist, so we set up a little table handed down from my brother to my sister to me, with boxes of crayons, markers & colored pencils. That and a stack of paper were really all she needed. Most of her other toys came as gifts.)

We lived on Steve’s salary which was enough to cover our bills if we kept things tight, and the foster care stipend we got from the state, which covered Pull Ups. (A slight exaggeration, but not much).  As the foster parent of a young child, we received just under $19/day to cover expenses.  There was a quarterly clothing allowance (about $100), along with $50 for Christmas and her birthday. I could have made more than that working two hours a day at any minimum wage job, but I won’t lie, it helped.

All told, it wasn’t that expensive. It was just stressful because we had no margin. But millions of  families live this way. It just required us to develop some different skills. And let’s be honest – taking a three year old out to dinner and calling it a date is like walking your dog around the block and calling it a safari; it’s not like we were having expensive nights out. So this was entirely doable.  Had we had a better experience with the legal side of the case, I actually don’t think the financial piece would have been stressful at all. Again, so much of talking finance is talking context.

And the good news is, had we been able to adopt her, there would have been be no costs associated with that at all. When a child is free for adoption, the state covers all the costs – lawyers, court fees, everything. So if you don’t get into a nasty tangle with a completely dysfunctional DCF office, you can do foster care and adoption even on a tight budget.

You can read more details of my money panic as we started the approval process that led to The Cherubs here and here. In the next post, I’ll give some context as to how that played out.

You’ll Need to Escape

This will seem like a lighthearted post about hobbies, but it’s actually about survival.

It’s only in hindsight that I recognize the unexpected things that kept me sane during the tough parts of our foster care/adoption process, and what I see now is that when things get tough, I pick up a random hobby. It’s never a conscious decision. I suspect it’s God. But there’s a definite pattern where periodically, some random thing will catch my attention and give me an alternative world to dive into.

Why am I telling you this? Because if (WHEN!) you become a foster parent and/or adopt, you will have NO TIME for hobbies, and you certainly won’t have the energy… but you will need them desperately. So I’m giving you permission, now, to dive into ridiculous things when they catch your eye. This will feel like you’re giving up, admitting failure, and turning your back on all your responsibilities. But what you’ll really be doing is giving your heart, body & mind some room to reset, so you can think creatively again.

Lest you be tempted to feel embarrassed by the distractions that catch your eye — BEHOLD some of the strange worlds I’ve inhabited since we began this journey:

One summer I did nothing for three months but make beaded jewelry. I had my own tools. The ladies at Michaels knew me by name. I went to bed at night strategizing multi-strand necklaces with sea green matte crystal beads as a unifying theme.

This was phenomenally  unproductive. I was not good at it, so most of what I made was really terrible. But as I planned and beaded, I wasn’t thinking about death or loss or miscarriages, or how betrayed I felt by God. So in that way, those hours of shopping, stringing, learning and vacuuming (beads were EVERYWHERE) were well spent.

To give you an idea of how deep I was: My second book came out in the middle of this season, and the main reason I remember it is because I made a necklace to wear the launch party. I was in so much pain at that time, I hardly remember anything. But making necklaces – even ugly ones – gave me a tangible thing to focus on when I wasn’t sure life was worth the effort. And I say, if your will to live can be resurrected by $25 worth of beads and a 40% off coupon? That’s a good investment!

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This past holiday season, I read 42 works of apocalyptic fiction. I learned all the acronyms (The End Of The World As We Know ItSh*t Hits The Fan). I discovered what paracord is and wondered Where WOULD we get water if we lost power for an extended period of time? I bought a water filter. I considered installing solar on our roof. It was bananas. And so much fun. This is embarrassing, but I LOVED these books. I felt like a whole alternate universe opened up for me to escape into, and I jumped right in.

Both Steve & I LOVED One Second AfterOne Year After , and The Final Day by William Forstchen – they were intense and well written, and I’m so glad our reading coincided with the release of the last book in the series.  I was obsessed with Elle Casey’s YA Apocalypsis series about a gifted girl who befriends a young neighbor and joins an Indian tribe after all the adults are wiped from the planet.  And #2 Cherub is waiting along with me for the final installment of the Pulse series by L.R. Burked, which is also YA.

I read a few other books by well known authors, but mostly, I read dozens of fast-paced self published books that lacked some finesse but made up for it with passion. (And yes, when you eagerly hit “Buy Now” on a book with the subtitle, A Novel of Societal Collapse, you’re ready for the holidays to be over!)  One series was set in southern Maine, with a Dad trying to get to his kids trapped at Boston College; it was cool to read a book set in places I know so well.

A side benefit was how these books helped me understand the mindset of super-conservative America, a world I’m not all that familiar with. It humanized that part of our country, and gave me much-needed perspective on the unfolding political developments. My one regret is that I didn’t do the free trial for Kindle Unlimited (Join Amazon Kindle Unlimited 30-Day Free Trial) It would have saved me about $200. Still, the combined entertainment & distraction value? Worth every penny.

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Right now, I’m not under any real stress, except that it’s March in New England. All of us have dry skin and weird breakouts, so I’ve been going down the rabbit hole of making lotions, lip balm, sugar scrubs & cleaning products.

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Mostly, I’ve made gloppy messes. But there’s one hand cream concoction everyone in our family uses, so that’s cool. #2 Cherub has asked for a strawberry flavored lip balm, so I’ll give that a try today, and I’m looking for a way to make hair conditioner. If any of this comes out well, I’ll share the details. (And if it comes out poorly, expect some funny pics)

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One word of caution about all this: Whatever your hobby is? Do not try to become an expert at it. By all means, do not try to make it into a business – When something becomes your job it stops being your escape.  Just enjoy the season while it lasts and accept the gift of distractionI have three wearable necklaces, a bunch of good titles on my Kindle, and one non-gloppy hand cream that fixed my grim cuticle situation. And I’m still in it to win it with our Cherubs, and that’s a big deal. Sometimes you’ve gotta retreat in order to advance. I give you permission to be okay with that!

Keep Calm and Embarrassing Hobby on :)