Tag Archives: 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.

What If My Kids Never Love Me?

Today’s adoption question is from Beth:  How do you deal with the fear and/or reality of the kids not loving/attaching to you, and you to them?

***

Before The Cherubs moved in with us, when we were in the transition phase with visits on Wednesday nights & weekends, our kids declared that they were not going to call us Mom & Dad until the adoption was finalized.

That was fine at first.

But after six months or so,  I was tired of being called Trish & Steve. It didn’t bother me much at home. But when we were out in the world, and people were trying to make sense of who we were to each other because we don’t look alike? It would have been so much easier for the kids to call out across the grocery aisle, “Hey Mom, X is on sale!” than “Hey Trish….”  Plus, when you’re doing all the work of a Mom & Dad, it’s nice to be acknowledged as such. Having them call us Trish & Steve felt way too much like we were just sub-contractors employed to fulfill their parenting needs.

And yet, #2 Cherub asked me almost daily in the weeks prior to our adoption finalization, “Are you SO excited that we’ll call you Mom & Dad after that???” I said that indeed, I surely was.

The day came. It was wonderful.

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When we arrived home, #1 immediately ran across the street to his friend’s house to tell them he’d been adopted. Then asked if we could hang the certificates on the wall in the kitchen, “so everyone can see them.”  (Cue  tears as I hand Steve a hammer and two nails.)

But the kids still called us Trish & Steve for two more months.

It wasn’t until we went to a conference in Syracuse, where our family unit was a distinct entity in a sea of people they didn’t yet know. That’s when called us Mom & Dad for real. It was 15 months from when we first met. Not a long time as I look back at it now. But during those days? It felt like forever.  And it was really hard.

***

One of the big things the Cherubs said when I told them about this blog series was, “Make sure you tell people who might adopt not to be offended if the kids don’t want to call them Mom & Dad right away. It’s not personal. It just takes time.”

That’s the overarching theme of adoption: it just takes time. Human attachment doesn’t happen instantly. Some circumstances (romantic love, childbirth) give you a surge of hormones to kick things off. But adoption is really much more like meeting a new roommate: You hope you’ll get along well and even enjoy hanging out. But there’s no way to tell how long that might take.

Even though I knew this, it doesn’t mean I KNEW it. The picture you create in your mind of our future family is about being a family, right?  Whatever that means at any given moment, it’s always about more than being roommates.

Here’s what I learned about attachment: it’s not about what I thought it was about. I thought it would be about affection, attention, positive interactions and new memories we created together.  I thought that if we did enough of that, love would just bloom and grown in a neat, orderly (rapid) way.

Nope.

Attachment is about reliability.

Attachment is when you become the people your kids look to for answers, approval, and assistance. Attachment is when they trust – not with their minds, but with their instincts – that you will see and meet their needs.

There is very little reciprocity in the early days of adoption, and what there is is probably your kids faking it, trying to guess at who and how you want them to be. It’s all YOU, pouring out everything, meeting all the needs as they come up, and trying not to get discouraged as your kids don’t seem to care.

They totally care. But they are terrified this will go away, or that the other shoe will drop and you’ll turn out to be mean, or a loser, or both. And so they don’t have enough energy to reward your awesome parenting with gold stars of Cherubic appreciation. They’re just trying to get through the day without losing their sh*t.

When you adopt, get over the idea that anything in the first six months will be rewarding.  This isn’t about rewards. This is about building, and building is WORK.

Consider this:

Adoption is a bit like getting your family from IKEA: you start with component parts and vague instructions, along with a vision of what you hope to have at the end. You don’t expect your IKEA building experience to be fun or rewarding. You just hope it won’t wreck your relationship or drain your sanity beyond what you can replenish. These are reasonable, appropriate goals.

Practically speaking, “building” meant in every area of our new family dynamic, we went first. We loved the Cherubs first, in word and action, without any response from them.  We affirmed them over and over again, for all manner of successes (“You made the soccer team? GREAT!” “You cuddled with the dog? WOW!” “Your hangnail healed? WAY TO GO!”) We made school lunches, cooked dinners they didn’t want to eat, kept to a daily routine, and arrived every single place we went at least fifteen minutes early (they HATE being late).  As I shared at the start of this series, love isn’t affection at this point – it’s consistency. That’s what our kids needed most when they first arrived.

So how did we deal with the fear that they might never attach to us? Or the moments when we weren’t sure we could keep up this level of unreciprocated enthusiasm?

We took advantage of small escapes. You have to build in the pressure release valves early in the process, because all that steam needs a way out. I had a weekly night out with a friend that I did not stop when the kids moved in. They HATED this – they were sure I was out doing something shady, and had no trouble expressing their disapproval. Whatever, out I went. (Steve did have a talk with them about how & why he trusted me, which helped a lot.) Now, if I miss a night, it throws them off that I’m not gone.

Steve kept playing hockey twice a week before work, even though we were beyond sleep deprived, and it made our morning routine a little more complicated.

And we gave the kids early bedtimes so we could have some time alone together in the evenings, during which drank more wine & beer than is probably recommended. Don’t get me wrong – we were always sober. But I think we needed a finish line to the day – a reward! And it had to be something where the Cherubs couldn’t say, “Can we have some of that?” Because they had everything else. (Here’s the stark truth:  when you’re in the thick of  pre-attachment parenting, there’s a good chance that the guys at your local beer & wine store will know your adoption story.  BLESS IT.)

Here’s the thing though (and if you’re about to adopt, you should copy, paste & print this paragraph):

This doesn’t last forever. This weird roommate-esque, non-reciprocal relationship? This is not your permanent relationship. Your family will not always be a crooked wonky shelf from IKEA. You have all the parts you need. But the attachment part of adoption? Turns out it’s grown, not built.

Our kids are still not fully attached to us. But we are light years away from where we were even 6 months ago. We function like a family now. We have inside jokes and longstanding debates. We hug and say “I love you,” and they look us in the eye when we talk to them.  They look to us for help, answers, and approval. They watch when they think we can’t see them to see if we notice them, if we know where they are, if we’re paying attention.

And none of this progress comes in an orderly way. Growth shoots up out of nowhere. Like this:

On Saturday night, I was up in our bedroom working on a sermon for Sunday morning. For the first year we knew them, the kids would never come upstairs, and were convinced I was doing something nefarious if I was up here anytime other than to go to sleep. But that’s been changing lately, and now they’ll come up to ask me a question or pet the dog. But Saturday, they both came up, and we all just sort of hung out, laughing about silly things. #2 demonstrated her pushup technique. #1 hid across the room, texting me to see when his sister would notice he was there (too bad I’d left my phone downstairs). Then Steve came up and we all petted THIS DOG, who was lying in the center of the bed, soaking up the love and clearly thinking, “FINALLY you people get this pack thing!”

It was good. And let me tell you, it felt totally beyond us until the moment it happened.

DO NOT GIVE UP, new adoptive parents! Today is not forever in this relationship. Keep building, hang in there, find some (preferably healthier and less causing of weight gain) ways to let out some pressure. You can do this! And it’s worth it.

 

 

Adoption & Money, pt. 2

I received a great question in response to yesterday’s post on what it costs to adopt from foster care: How much money are you expected to have as a potential foster care/adoptive parent?

Answer: Not much.

I say that glibly, but it’s the truth. All the expectations you might have about how they’ll be looking at your ability to provide the very best for the child(ren)? Throw those out the window. That’s not the standard at all.

Organic food? Not a thing.

Impressive job? Not a thing.

Big house? Not a thing.

Dedication to Montessori style learning? Not a thing.

Here’s the reality:

You need steady enough employment that you can…

  • Provide some version of macaroni & cheese, hot dogs, and store-brand bread 3x/day.
  • Pay the rent (or mortgage) on a living space that has at least 50 square feet of available room for the child to sleep.
  • Arrange for transportation to get your child(ren) to school, the doctor, the dentist, etc. You won’t have to pay for those visits – they’re covered by Mass Health. But you need to be able to get them there.

Sounds like I’m exaggerating, right? I’m not.

The #1 thing you bring to the table as a foster/adoptive parent is STABILITY. If you earn a small amount of money, but know how to get out of bed every morning, do your work, buy food to have in the house, pay the bills, and function in a predictable, loving way? That’s the stuff. All of the luxurious extras we’ve decided are necessary to parent our children are just not part of the conversation when you’re talking about kids who don’t have a family or a home to grow up in. I’m not against the luxurious extras. But I think it’s important to lower the burden on yourself and create some room for children’s actual needs. 

The funny thing about adoption from foster care: Kids are kids.

Even if you can afford organic food, your new kids probably won’t eat it. Kids like sugar. It’s a universal thing, and some of us were just super blessed to have grown up in the 1970s before anyone realized that a glass of Tang “breakfast drink” wasn’t the same thing as giving your child an orange.

If you have an impressive job, your new kids probably won’t care. Kids like to have their parents around (even though they say the opposite).

If you have a big house, start planning NOW for how you’re going to handle your new kids disappearing with their friends into all those rooms with no supervision. Because eventually, all kids become teenagers.

And whatever style of education you believe is best, your child(ren) may need something very different, and you just won’t know until you’re in it.

All that to say…it takes a lot to become a foster/adoptive parent. But it doesn’t take a lot of extra money.

Have other questions about foster care/adoption? Let me know & I’ll try to answer here on the blog. Even if you’re just curious but don’t think it’s for you, you never know…your question might help someone else decide it is for them.

 

Win a mansion in heaven! (well, maybe…sort of)

This is the post where I make a plea for you to do something huge that will, in all likelihood, ruin your life. But you’ll do in order to rescue others, which means you’ll be guaranteed a blinged-out mansion in heaven! (Okay, I’m not entirely sure about the mansion. It’s just a working theory…)

Steve & I didn’t realize it at first, but The Cherubs have had the most miraculous foster care experience of possibly any children in state history. They lived in one foster home – together. It was an excellent foster home that was high-structure, loving, and taught them an array of life skills. They are being adopted – together. They have experienced incredible loss. But they have each other, every day. This is rare.

Last week, as I was looking through the Children Awaiting Adoption book at church, I realized that ALL the other sibling groups Steve and I inquired about before we learned of The Cherubs have been separated. They were each in different foster homes or residential settings to begin with. But now, in each case, this separation is permanent: one child has a forever family while the other does not.

I have a hard time breathing when I think about that.

When kids come into foster care, it is almost impossible to keep siblings together. They unromantic way foster care works, especially now that so many more kids are in danger because of the opioid crisis, is based on the question, “Where is there an approved bed?” So if there’s one bed in Dorchester, and another out in Sudbury, that’s where the kids are put. They won’t stay there, probably; they’ll get bounced around (because, shockingly, kids who have lived in absolute chaos and are then pulled from their homes with no warning and placed with absolute strangers tend to exhibit some, well, signs of stress. They’re not grateful and lovely; they’re terrified.) Add to this the number of homes that won’t take tweens or teens, and you have precious few options to place these kids anywhere, let alone together.  Many end up in group homes, even though they’d be fine in family settings. There just aren’t any families to take them.

(Here’s a surprising tidbit: If three or more siblings come into foster care, or two kids where of them is over the age of 8, they are automatically classified as “special needs.”)

I’m telling you, The Cherubs are BLESSED.

So I was on the phone the other day with Susan, one of the managers at Cambridge Family & Child Services, discussing possible ways Greenhouse Mission can help these older kids. We talked about practical things like clothes and paying for school field trips, and more soft-touch things like creating mentor homes where these kids can learn to be part of a family and broaden their social networks. (Imagine how small your network would be if you aged out of foster care at 18 having only lived in group homes – you’d have no uncle or kind neighbor to recommend you for a job, no cousin to stay with while you find your own place. Why do so many teens in foster care say they want to be social workers when they grow up? It’s the only job they’ve seen. But I digress…)

We talked through a bunch of ideas, and even considered an Indie Go-Go campaign to fund them…it was all very inspiring. But the #1 thing Susan kept coming back to was this:

They need foster homes. 

I’ll piggy back on this and say that WE need foster homes that focus on keeping siblings together.

This is where you come in. Not to put too fine a point on it, but you can do this.

You can be single or married. Older (the Cherubs’ foster mom is in her early 70s) or younger (the age requirement is 25). It doesn’t matter if you rent or own your home. You’ll need running water, a support system of a couple of friends and family, and (my recommendation) some sort of faith in God. It can even be starter faith, like newly planted seeds. Trust me, it will grow.

This will absolutely wreck your life. I’m not even kidding. It’s the hardest thing. But it’s a Gospel thing.  Have you ever looked at that footage of the waves of Syrian refuges and thought, “That’s inhuman…someone HAS to take them in…”? Right now we have waves of children needing refuge, right here in our state.

You can’t save all the kids. But you can pull a couple of them up out of the water, give them a safe warm place to be, and infinitely bless both them and their future adoptive family. That’s not a bad use of part of your life.

Go here to learn more. You could be the solution to this problem.

And remember…mansion in heaven! ;)

Book Review: Walk to Beautiful by Jimmy Wayne

9780849922107Oh My Gosh I love this book.

I started it YESTERDAY.  Finished it TODAY. It is 376 pages, including a center section with photos I had to keep flipping forward and back to as I got to certain parts of the story.  I gave up sleep to keep reading, and sleep is my absolute favorite thing right now since I’ve given up all good food. If all this doesn’t say Must Read Page Turner, I don’t know what does.

Walk to Beautiful is the memoir of country singer Jimmy Wayne.  He opens with a scene of him onstage at Madison Square Garden as he opens a concert for Brad Paisley. Then he returns home to Nashville after the tour and reflects back on the dark, strange path that led him there.

This is the part of the book that captured me, because Jimmy Wayne was a foster kid. He spent his childhood at the mercy of a mother who was a complete lunatic. She abandoned him time and time again–for men, for mood swings, for a chance to be free of responsibility and chase her selfish dreams. He grew up bouncing from home to home in foster care, mostly raising himself.  The word harrowing is a fitting descriptor for his story, but resilient is equally apt. As I read I was so angry at the adults in his life and what absolute selfish morons most of them were (truly, it’s astounding how awful we human beings can be). But at the same time, I was pulling for Jimmy and inspired by how he kept going.

The best part of this book was seeing how he took advantage of the few opportunities that came his way. He highlights key people who, each in their own way, gave him the pieces you need to build a life: discipline, structure, affection.  His description of how he carried around small mementos of each person who had cared for him in some small way broke my heart and made me want to cheer, both.

This is a both/and kind of book.

Read this book. It is entertaining and inspiring.  A great investment of time and money.  And who knows? Maybe it will make you wonder about how you can play a role, big or small, in helping a kid who needs a good grown up on their side.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I’m very glad about this.