Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Finding Normal... Through the Fog

A few weeks ago, I posted a blog post. Then I re-read it. And then I cried over my own post.

All because of one little line: "We'll make it, and we'll fall into a rhythm eventually."

There are moments when I could almost forget that Baby S isn't ours. There aren't too many of them. I am working hard to stick to as many of his mother's preferences as possible. He goes on visits three days a week. There are the frequent phone calls, appointments and rounds of paperwork to manage. So there are plenty of things to remind me that he's probably not here forever - most of the time.

But those other moments sneak up. After all, he's a 2-1/2-month old who's been with us for a month. We've already seen him grow and change in so many ways. Big Bro wants to keep him forever.

Is it true that we'll get a chance to fall into a rhythm as a family? Will he be here long enough to work out sleeping schedules and room sharing with Big Brother A? Will we see him grow and develop into a bigger, happier boy who smiles and laughs and holds his arms out for us after a nap or when we pick him up from nursery? I don't know.

4-month-old Baby Z was with us just long enough for me to feel like I was coming out of the baby fog. He was with us long enough to smile at me like I was his Mommy, and to laugh hardest for me and Josh because we knew just exactly how to tickle him. We were reaching the tipping point where the baby's love and affection was its own reward. Then he left, and we started over again, back to a family of three and needing to readjust our family roles.

Baby S is 2 months younger than Baby Z was while he was in our home. (Baby Z is actually 7 months old now. I'd love to see him and snuggle him and exclaim at how beautifully chubby and tall he hopefully is now that he's been under the right kind of care and nourishment for months!) Although Baby S is surprisingly well scheduled already for his age (in my limited experience), our daily routine is a work in progress. It is, in fact, progressing; but we are so not there yet.

When Big Brother A was born, we had the same fogginess - for a while. But it eventually cleared up. The frustration with foster care is realizing that we may stay in that fog for a long, long time.

We knew it would be tough to fall in and out of baby land so rapidly and often unexpectedly. What I think I didn't realize was how much extra grace I would need for myself. When a new baby arrives, Josh doesn't take days off of work. We don't expect extended family to drive through the night to come meet the little one and help with laundry and grocery shopping. We set the standard that "life continues as normal and we can handle it", and that's pretty much how things roll out.

And that's where my struggle pops up. We're on kid #2 - or foster baby #3 - however you want to look at it. We've done 34 nights of late-night feedings since our foster journey started. We've said three hellos and two goodbyes (or four and three, if you count our little guy who was here for a weekend while his foster parents were on vacation).

My first problem is that I'm comparing myself to other people. My second is that I'm thinking (again) too much about what other people think of me. And my third problem is that I assign certain amounts of grace to each person depending on their stage of life. If I didn't do that, I wouldn't think everyone else was doing it to me. I think we all do it a little. The parent of a newborn isn't expected to get anywhere on time - just congratulated if they make it out at all! The mom of an infant is excused from a little spit-up on her shirt or from pulling out diapers, wipes and a snot sucker from her purse before finally fishing out her wallet.

But because we have set the "life moves as normal" standard, I do not assign myself the same amount of grace I would assign you, if you had a 2-month-old baby. Things do move differently in the foster world. They must. We cannot stop our lives every time a baby comes or goes - especially if they are going to keep coming and going at the rate we've seen so far!

But that baby fog is still there. My brain is just as foggy with 2-month-old Baby S as it was with 2-month-old Big Brother A. I can remember (usually) how long till the baby needs to eat or be changed or when Medical Motors is coming to pick him up for a visit. I can remember (usually) what Big Bro had for lunch and thus what not to feed him again for dinner.

But I can't remember any time commitment that is not on the calendar. (Let's hope everything made it on there...) I can't remember birthdays, because I don't really know what today's date is. I only know what my Google agenda told me I'm doing today and tomorrow! I can't seem to stick to a meal schedule for more than 2 days in a row. I can't keep on top of laundry and cleaning. I can't remember what I'm looking for 30% of the time I get up and cross the room to get something. (I made up that percentage, but you get the idea.)

I can't change the life-moves-on attitude entirely. We do need to move forward, after all. But I'm going to try to start giving myself more grace. I'm going to start trying to think of myself as the mom of a 2-month-old, not as a mom who signed up for this and ought to have it all figured out already. And anyway, since when is having everything figured out the same as being able to execute it on very little sleep?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Adoption and Fostering Links: August 2014

Heather and I hope that this blog has been a source of encouragement and inspiration for our readers. The primary goal is to share our foster care journey with others and hopefully challenge those in our sphere of influence to think about taking an active role in caring for orphans (whether that means supporting people who adopt/foster or by adopting/fostering children themselves). There are tons of great and interesting resources out there that have helped shape our understanding of adoption. The following is just a sample of what we've seen.

The Sovereignty of God in Foster Care

I know she will be loved here, cared for here and protected with every ounce of our energy from things that are dangerous, harmful or unhealthy for her. Yet, for all that we may be able to provide, God's ability to be good to her in a difficult environment is far greater than any good we could offer her in a comfortable one. 

This is a beautiful look at how God is still in control, even in the seeming chaos of the foster care system.

A Heart for Adoption: The Ellis' Story

As the Ellises grew together as a family, loving Zoe and Logan like their own, knowing they could still be removed from their care at any point, the question on many minds was: how do you guard your heart?

Mackenzie’s answer is blunt: “God’s been teaching us that you don’t.”

This family was able to adopt two children from the foster care system. The article beautifully reflects some of our feelings, even this early in our journey, about the need for a reckless love that gives everything to a child in need despite the fact that the child might not stay. There is no room for cautious love.

3 Less-Than-Obvious Ways to Care for Widows and Orphans

The church today must continue the strong legacy of adoption that has been established for centuries. Orphans should be taken into Christian homes from every local church. Few actions, if any, better illustrate what God does for us in Jesus than adoption!

But we also live in a world with temporary orphans: boys and girls whose parents are unfit to care for them. Providing a home for an injured or vulnerable child while the state investigates well-being is an incredible ministry. And while the heartache of having needy kids come and go from your home takes an enormous toll on foster families, the impact they make is much greater.

In James 1:27, we read of the need to be advocates for those with great needs in our midst -- particularly orphans and widows. Often foster care is missed as a viable option for caring for "temporary orphans" and I love that Dave Bruskas is making mention of this.

3 Things You Should Know About Foster Care

In the United States, there are roughly 400,000 children in foster care at any given time.

There is a huge need for foster parents in the United States. If you are at all interested in getting involved, or would just like to learn more, Show Hope has some basic information on foster care that you can read.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Five People, Two Bedrooms

In the last few weeks, my little home has had a couple of visitors. I was so glad to have them here!

My dream home has at least one extra guest room. Preferably, it has a whole finished basement with a guest area and a private bathroom for guests. Some place far enough removed to give company some space to exist far from crying babies and midnight bottles.

My reality, though, is a cozy little two-bedroom apartment with an open living room/dining room/kitchen plan. In place of a spare bed, we have a couch. A couch that is right in front of the little hallway that leads to the bedrooms and bathroom, with a great view of nighttime lights for feeding and changing baby and the ideal location for hearing any and every little sound throughout the apartment and from the noisy park next door. Oh, and did I mention the evil cat that lurks around and hisses at people who try to get into the refrigerator or use the bathroom? (Note: She is not evil to our immediate family. Our children are not in danger. But if you come to our house, don't pet her. She's not trying to be friendly.)

It's tempting to look at our situation and think that we're not in a season to offer hospitality. I mean, really, having more than one child in our home is already pushing our limits space-wise.

But I am so blessed with incredible friends and family. They make it easy to give wholeheartedly out of what we have without feeling like our situation is lacking. Our two out-of-town visitors this month were both incredibly gracious and flexible about the tight space. They were so loving about our menu that varied from the incredibly well-planned one day, to the if-we-don't-eat-Little-Caesar's-we're-not-eating the next. They were so kind to continually offer help and love on our crazy little chaotic babes, who keep things busy, fun, unpredictable, and full of joy at all times. And they were so understanding of our schedules that require Josh to continue work as usual and me to duck out for foster related appointments and visits that are not flexible.

Thanks for the hours of playing David and Goliath, singing Jesus Freak, and "eating" rocks from Big Bro's Donut Shop, guys! You know who you are!

As if I wasn't already feeling super loved and pampered with all this family around, we had two people stop in last week just to help out. I so appreciated that. They made such a huge difference in a day that was full of (good) busyness that might have brought me awfully close to my limit without that extra support! And I always love to share our foster babes with the people in our lives. It is incredibly validating to us when people ooh and aah over them like the precious little treasures they are, even if they know they might only meet the babe once.

We have the most amazing family - both "biological" and "adopted" - in our lives. I am so grateful for the incredible people God has brought us together with. I know that my family could not do what we are doing without our incredible network of support.

I just want to say, I love you guys.

You're the best.

Monday, August 4, 2014

The List

Recently, I've been reading an ebook by Sarah Mae about housekeeping and the "why" behind it. It's not like me to read an ebook, but with late night feedings and my handy dandy iPad, it's become much more appealing lately.

One piece of advice that the book suggests is to pick those most important items that you want to accomplish tomorrow and list them out today. The author suggests six items for each day, and whatever doesn't get accomplished gets pushed to the top of the list tomorrow. You're supposed to do the tasks in order, and not move on until an item is actually entirely complete.

I thought this would be a great idea. I imagined this including items such as "Clean out the refrigerator" or "Make a set of freezer meals" or "Reorganize all the closets".

However... Adding a baby changes things quickly. I'm glad for the idea of the list. It has helped me to remember that my time is limited. It's a reminder that, painful or not, I need to realize that I will not accomplish everything I want to do today. The small size of the list- just six items!- is very humbling, especially because of what my list looks like these days, and how seldom I accomplish all six items.

However discouraging it might be to realize I can't do everything, it's also freeing. I won't do all that I want to do today. I can't do those things and be a good, attentive mommy. I can't practice flexibility or be available to feed a growth-spurting baby if I'm going to get all my mind's projects done. It's freeing to realize that, while I cannot do everything, planning ahead allows me to make the best possible decision, and then to own it.

Here's what I wish my list for today looked like:

  1. Clean bathroom top to bottom. ASAP.
  2. Plan out my menu and shopping list for this week's out-of-town guest.
  3. Clean the microwave. (I can't even remember how long this has been on the list- but it's been a while.)
  4. Clean the refrigerator. Overdue.
  5. Vacuum. Big Brother A's helicopters and beans are taking over.
  6. Write out letters to Big Brother A and Baby S documenting their development, preferences, and milestones. Include pictures.
Toddlers have an amazing ability to value every little thing. Unfortunately, they often feel the need to value them inside the house.

Some of these list items are very frequently on my mind. It would feel so good to get them done. I would love to have a visitor-ready house all the time, especially since foster care means people dropping in at a moment's notice - people who actually are judging for some basic level of cleanliness and put-together-ness in my home.

So that was the list I wanted for today. Realistically? Here's today's list:
  1. Read my Bible. Preferably while children are relatively calm and/or sleeping.
  2. Drink water. Don't get a dehydration headache (again) today.
  3. Shower, even if it can't be till 4 pm.
  4. Eat meals. Don't just feed children.
  5. Do a load of laundry. (Twice now it has taken all day to get back and forth to the basement for a washer load and dryer load as I have to take both children with me. Yikes.)
  6. Spend individual time with each child. Smile. Talk about God.
First of all, obviously, I'm not there yet with the linear priorities thing. I think of these items more as windows of time, and I'll pick one of them based on my best approximation of the window I might have for accomplishing something at the given moment.

I want to be in a place where the second (realistic) list is "the stuff I get done before starting my list for the day". But that is not where I am. I am two weeks into figuring out life as a family of four- again. Infants are demanding. Toddlers are - wow - demanding is not even the word for it.

But just when you're about to give up, they share one of their two beloved Oreos with you just because they love you.

My life is so full of joy. But I will forget the good things if I keep thinking I'm going to achieve all of my preferred list in one day.

So, today, I showered. I was seriously really proud of myself for being clean and dressed (with my teeth brushed!!) by 10 am. I read the Bible - to Big Brother A, at least. I actually ate lunch with a baby in a front carrier, rocking the whole time, so he wouldn't wake up and remember how sad he is today. The laundry is in progress. I started it at 7:30 am, so technically it's taken me longer than this before to get through a load. (Well, assuming I get back downstairs before Josh gets home.) And I have spent time with each child. That one is really important to me as they are both adjusting to our changing family.

And why, you might ask, am I writing a blog post instead of accomplishing something off of that first list? Because this baby will seriously wake up if I move wrong, and he needs sleep more than my bathroom needs cleaning. (If you saw my bathroom you would understand the seriousness of that last statement.)

All this just to say- I need the list, if only to remember that my time needs to be prioritized, and that I need to be realistic. Those other cleaning items really do need to get done. But right now, my family is in full-swing grace mode. We'll make it, and we'll fall into a rhythm eventually. While we're figuring it out, though, I'm going to continue to assess every moment based on my top priorities; make sure to take care of my own needs in order to be ready to pour out sacrificially into those around me; and try to wear my joy and my love for my family on my face, rather than the stress that tries to take over.

I want my family to think that I love serving them, because I do. I want them to think that they are worth sacrificing my ideal image of my home, because they are. And I want those toughest moments to be the ones where I wear my joy most obviously, because those are the moments I know that God is growing and stretching me to be closer to the Woman of God that I long to be.