these are the foster care days...

Tonight, after all three toddlers were asleep and the husband had tucked himself into bed, I went to Target alone. We needed milk. And bananas. Diapers and Pull-Ups too. And a gingerbread soy latte.

There were a few other things we needed that I likely forgot and a lot of other things we didn’t need that I remembered to throw into the cart.

I pushed the cart out to my car, the wind whipping at my cheeks, and I wanted to cry. I still want to cry an hour after arriving home, putting the groceries away and filling up yet another trash bag of food to be discarded from our refrigerator (evidently our family of five is not a fan of leftovers; sorry, Grandma and Grandpa).

It was 18° when I left Target and a brisk 17° when I arrived home. I wanted to stay outside in the cold all night. There was something about the cold that felt real to me.

This past Saturday marked 100 days of parenting three toddlers. We celebrated with donuts that morning and then a date night that evening. Then a Sunday with me sick and a week beginning with a virus making it’s way through every tiny human.
Those 100 days don’t seem quite real to me, and yet, at the same time, the past 100 days feel the most real days that I can remember.

It’s been hard. Achingly hard. I have felt alone in ways I can’t even explain. And I have felt completely inadequate almost every single day. I have seen the worst sides of myself. But I have also felt more loved in those 100 days. I have seen the best sides of my husband. I have heard baby giggles that tickle my heart. I have wiped away real tears and ignored many, many fake tears. I have wiped runny noses with my sleeve and finally started carrying both tissues and boogie wipes in my car. I have stepped on blocks and alphabet magnets.

I stopped talking to God. I even thought He wasn’t quite real in my life. I have struggled in ways I don’t think I’ll ever be able to quite put into words. And I have felt as though I’ve conquered parenting for at least a minute or so.

I’m still afraid to walk out of the house, and go anywhere but the daycare, with all three toddlers, but I am getting braver. I still don’t know if I’m quite cut out for parenting and I wonder if I am doing more harm than good. But I am trying – every single day I am trying.

We went from zero children to one child and a grandchild this summer then back down to zero children and my heart hurt. Then we went from zero children to three children, and I thought it would be okay – maybe even slightly easy (why – I have no clue). And my heart hurt.

I don’t know anything about plain parenting. I have no idea what it is to plan for nine months (sometimes longer) and wait for a baby. I don’t know what it is to have a bond to a newborn baby still covered in goo in your arms. I don’t know the endless sleepless nights or the fear of breaking a baby that weighs less than my Ugg boots.

I only know foster parenting. I only know the parenting that occurs on a day-to-day basis with questions in your head about how long you will have the children and if anything you do really works. I only know scrambling – buying three of everything all at once and catapulting yourself into a world of fevers, potty training, hiding vegetables in food, shuffling the work day around, monthly visits with OKDHS workers, and the ever present question of “are you going to adopt?”.

I don’t know if I could do any other kind of parenting. But I’m trying to learn.
I explain our situation to people. And they tell me how amazing I am, how impressed they are with everything I juggle. I appreciate those words of affirmation, I need them somedays, but I always joke and say I’m just dumb or crazy or a synonym of those words. Because what sane 28-year-old couple opens up their home and hearts to three children all at the same time?

What I’ve found, though, is that I look at our three (or at least I used to) as foster children, I saw them as temporary. And maybe they are. But I can’t see them as that. Instead, I need to (and want to) see them as mine – for however long they are here. Because they deserve to know they are home, they deserve whatever stability I can provide for however long I can provide it.

Tonight, before my husband tucked himself into bed and I went to Target in the blissful cold, he said, for what was likely the zillionth time in these 103 days, how hard it is to have three children. And I agreed. It is hard.

But oh is it love. A kind of love that I fought so hard because I simply wasn’t cut out to be a mother. The kind of love that I never really understood until all of a sudden it was just there. The kind of love that never quite goes away (not for any of the children we’ve ever cared for).

I don’t know how we are doing this. I don’t. I couldn’t tell you. And I couldn’t really tell you what we need right now because it changes daily and sometimes hourly. I couldn’t even tell you what I need right now because I simply do not know anymore.

What I can tell you is that it’s worth it. I can tell you that God has worked on me even during the times when I refused to talk to Him. I can tell you that I have been reminded of how loved these children are, and I can tell you that I will never, ever regret fostering – not these three and not the two we had before.

I can tell you that it’s a calling. And even when it’s a calling, there are days when it doesn’t quite feel like a calling. There are days when both Justin and I wonder if we can even do this for one second more – days when we lock ourselves in our bedroom and allow ourselves to ignore the sounds of a 4-year-old who refuses to sleep or even just simply stay upstairs in her bedroom.

There are days when the guilt outweighs the love. Days when I feel like I need to explain to every single person that I am a working parent – that we both work full-time jobs – and that I just need someone to tell me that it’s okay. Days when I feel like I am less than. Days when I feel like I just can’t give any more and wonder if I should even give anything.

But then there are days like today. Days when the almost two-year-old is sick and simply wants to be held. Days when I hold him for hours, his arm tucked under my shirt and kiss his forehead numerous times just to see if he has a fever and just to remind him that he is safe. Days when I’m glad to be at home for the time he needs me for. Days that I know I’m doing the best I can and really that’s what matters.

This is life. And it’s messy. Foster care makes it’s a bit messier. And it makes my house a lot messier. But it’s worth all the mess (especially since I plan on paying someone to help me pick it up).


Foster Care and Pride Don't Mix

I've desperately wanted to give up foster care and parenting every single day over the past seven days. I've felt as though it just wasn't for me. That I was never cut out to be a mom.

I have missed my old life every day as well. I've longed for just two hours alone with my husband, for the chance to sit down at a restaurant and eat an entire meal and drink at least two glasses of wine. I've found myself easily frustrated and wondering why we even got into foster care. I've thought that I'm doing more harm than good in the three littles lives.

It's been a rough week. Not that any of the {almost} four weeks that we've had Baby T, Little C, and Little A have been easy. Because they haven't been anything but terribly difficult.
All mom's feel this way. At least that's what I've been told. Every mom feels inadequate and as though they aren't exactly cut out for guiding little people through the ups and downs of toddlerhood, childhood and adolescence. But it's been hard for me to truly believe that anyone really understands just how inadequate I feel.

I was talking venting to my mom about it all. And as I did so, I mentioned that it wasn't just up to me. That there was Justin to consider and how good he is with kids. Because he is an amazing dad and does so many things much better than I ever could.

He's the only reason we haven't given up. I'd be out the door and on my way to a life of fancy freeness if it weren't him to remind me, usually gently and sometimes not so gently, that we are here, in the midst of the struggle and the darkness, for a purpose and that we are not to run away.

We're realizing more and more, though, that we need help. And here's the thing... I hate to ask for help.

I know everyone says that. Just like everyone says they are terrible parents. But the truth of the matter is, asking for help is the most difficult thing for me. And when I do ask for help, if someone says no in a certain manner, I take it personally. That no tells me there is something wrong with me. It's not that that person doesn't really want to help; rather it's that that person doesn't want to help me.

It's pride. And a lot of other ugly things. And God is ripping it all to shreds.

I'm not at a place where I am ready {or able} to stay home and not work. I'm also not at a place where I am willing to give up graduate school. Because if I did either of those things, I would resent and regret it for the rest of my life. I refuse to let more resentment and regret infiltrate my life.

So I need help. Which means I need to get over myself and over this pride and suck it up when people say no (even when the way they do so hurts) and ask for more help.

The help we need is sometimes spur of the moment - like this past Friday when Baby C couldn't go to daycare due to a fever and rash.. All a product of his allergy to penicillin that we didn't know about. That's one thing that sucks about foster care; you have no real clue about any of the medical history.

Other times the help is tangible and something easily planned for. Like meals and laundry and cleaning our house.

Regardless of what kind of help it is, I can tell you that we need it all the time. Just this weekend, Justin and I began discussing how we might pay for someone to help us approximately 20 hours per week. We also, just tonight, began discussing having someone clean our house on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. We also need help with laundry.

There just isn't enough time to do everything. Having three littles, all with their specific needs, is time consuming and daunting and exhausting. Add into the three all the past traumas and you get a recipe for sleepness nights and more darkness than you could ever expect to see in such small people. And oh the laundry and toys everywhere. I am jealous of all the people who have just one child; they have no idea just how good {and easy} they have it.

Justin and I so appreciate all the prayers. We need those, too. We need them constantly. But our tangible needs are there, too. I'm just hopeful and prayerful that somehow those tangible needs will be met.

So please join us in praying for the following five specific items. There are more. When you're fostering kids and in the midst of the sort of life we are, there are always more, but I figure five is enough for now. And feel free to reach out to us with solutions for the things we need; I'm lying down my pride {and will remind myself to continue to do so - hourly} and reminding myself that God will meet us where we are and that it's good to ask for help.
  1. Part-time help. Approximately 20 hours a week (maybe less) and preferably for cheap (or free!). Someone consistent so our littles don't have to experience too much change.
  2. House cleaning. At least bi-weekly if not weekly. Preferably cheap (or, again, free!).
  3. Laundry service. This is the bane of my existence and one of my least favorite things in the entire world.
  4. Meals. It would be incredible to not always have to worry about cooking. This would also ensure that Justin and I actually ate dinner because most nights we take a few bites and give the rest to the littles.
  5. A new car {no, but seriously...}. Preferably one that seats 7. Something like a GMC Arcadia.


The Truth About Being a Foster Mom

This past week has been hard. Difficult. Excruciating. {Nearly} Impossible. Exhausting. Rough.

I've wanted to give up nearly every day. In fact, had it been up to me, I would have.

It all started on Wednesday night. We had our first.. episode.. with Little A. I had a feeling, a rumbling in my gut that told me, things were not going to end well that evening. At first, I thought it was just my negative side. Or the side of me that just wanted to be at home rather than at our church's celebration. Then, after Justin arrived with the littles, I knew it was more than just that side of me.

I tried to change my attitude; though, to be honest, I didn't try quite as hard as I could have. But we realized (a little too late) that our littles were not yet ready for such a big outing, one that took them away from their schedule and thrust them into an entire universe of unknowns.
When we got home, the unknowns continued. Justin and I are still rather new to this whole parenting thing and this whole foster parenting thing, and as newbies, we have quite a lot to learn still. This includes how to handle unknowns when arriving home. {Note: It does not involve trying to bribe children with cookies and milk and television/movies.}

Little A is still learning how to effectively communicate, and we are still learning how to understand and communicate back. Wednesday night showed how much we all have left to learn.

Wednesday was the second day I felt as though I weren't sick after a Sunday and Monday of feeling rundown and nauseous.  But that ended that evening.

I felt like I took on every emotion Little A had and felt it in my {lack of an} immune system. I was run down. And run over as though an 18-wheeler plowed through me. That all continued into Thursday, and I ended up at the doctor where I was diagnosed with an ear infection, strep throat {apparently my tonsils were utterly grotesque - so much so he didn't need to test me to confirm it was strep}, and an upper respiratory infection.

Needless to say, I spent the next 72 hours on the couch, alternating between tears and sleep, shivering and sweating, eating only chicken noodle soup and struggling to swallow. It was not pretty.

Being sick and trying to parent is virtually impossible. Especially with Little C on antibiotics from an ear infection diagnosed the weekend before and Baby T being placed on antibiotics the Friday of my sickness for an ear infection. Needless to say our house was not the most enjoyable this week, and my husband is an absolute miracle as he cared for me and for three kids predominantly on his own all week and weekend.

Did I also mention I have still been working - other than when I was on my death bed? And that it's midterms as well? Whoops.

I feel like I'm failing at everything I do. Work, {foster} motherhood, graduate school. Life in general.

And while I may not be doing everything as well as I would like, I'm still doing it. That alone should mean a lot. And it does.

Life might be easier if I took something out of the equation. Working. Or graduate school. Even foster parenting. And last week I was ready to take something out of the equation. My husband, however, stopped me. He shouldered the burden and the responsibility. He nursed me back to health. He held our family together. And he joked with me that my "not good enough" for graduate school will likely translate into a B paper instead of an A paper {which is still up for debate}.

So many people have said we're doing a great thing. That they're proud of us. And I want to tell them that it's all a facade. That really we're floundering and struggling. Because, here's the thing, I do not have it all together.

I get mad. I bite my tongue - almost until it bleeds. I clench my teeth. I use the wrong tone. I get quite exasperated. I cry {a lot}. I cringe when the kids wake up before 7am. We eat too much macaroni and cheese. I don't push vegetables {because the kids won't eat them}. I buy canned fruit. Frozen pizza and frozen lasagna have become staples. Little A's hair is constantly messy, and Little C's jeans sometimes fall off when he walks. I go three to four days without washing my hair.

And I daily {multiple times a day daily} ask for forgiveness. I also pray - like all of the time.
Foster care isn't for the faint at heart. Not only are you parenting but you are parenting kids who don't really belong to you, who might leave the next day, whose history you'll never quite get.

But life also isn't for the faint at heart. Nothing is.

So I'm going to stand firm - at least tonight. Tomorrow I might be filled with tears, wrestling a stuffy nose and crying out to God. But tonight, I'm going to remember that He is present and thank Him for a husband who is strong enough to tell me no and strong enough to nurse me back to health with lots of chicken noodle soup from Chik-Fil-A.

{Thank you to everyone who blessed us over the past week. Thank you for the dinners, the prayers, the hugs, the text messages, the Facebook posts, and the understanding. I'm overwhelmed by your thoughtfulness.}


Two Weeks In

This Thursday, October 31st, marks two weeks since our worlds were turned upside down by three children ages 3, 2 and 1.

Some things we knew to expect. Other things we had no idea. All of it has been more than worth it.
We have been blessed by our community, blessed by friends, blessed by family, and wrapped in a sort of love that words simply can not explain. There have been dinners provided, free babysitting, clothing donated, diapers delivered, car seats installed, and gift cards/money received. The prayers have been felt and continue to be felt and needed.

In the past two weeks, we've ventured out to Chik-Fil-A and the park as a family of five. I have managed to get all three littles dressed and to school (by myself) by 8:30am. Justin has managed to get all three little to sleep by himself; he has also managed to pick up all three littles from school (by himself) and has ventured out to the McDonald's PlayPlace with only the three littles. Clearly, he is the braver of the two of us.

We constantly (or maybe I just constantly) find ourselves wondering how we can keep this up. Three littles, two dogs, two full-time working adults, and one part-time graduate student. And yet... Here we are.

We made the decision, before these three walked into our house, that we would be committed. To them and to the plan that DHS decides to pursue. When asked how long we will have these three, our answer is silly but honest "a few months to forever."

And really, it could be just a few weeks. There's simply no knowing. This is both comforting and terrifying.
At the end of the day, it's not up to Justin nor I to save these three. It's not up to any foster parent to save any child. All we can do is stand in the gap and love the children in foster care with a fierceness that stays with them long after they leave our homes - even if they don't quite understand that love or remember our names or faces.

Our three littles, Baby T, Little C and Little A, were apprehensive (at best) when they first walked through our doors. Their eyes were wide, and it was evident that they didn't know exactly who we were or what was happening. Justin and I decided to call one another by our first name's when talking to the littles and talking about one another to the littles. They, however, decided we were Mama and Daddy.

All three have come out of their shells in the less than two weeks we've known them and loved them. We've discovered Little A loves to dance. She only falls asleep after I tell her a story and pray with her. She asks where I am if Justin picks them up at daycare without me. She will try any vegetable but spits out anything that isn't corn (and also picks through her food when I hide vegetables in it - like spinach in spaghetti and peas in macaroni and cheese).
Little C got sick over the weekend with a double ear infection. He is the most sensitive of the three, so we're trying to tailor our parenting to better meet his needs. He likes to fall asleep with someone stroking his hair (or his face). His favorite food is strawberry yogurt and he will lick the container empty.

Baby T is just now 18 months. He is still crawling though he will take the occasional step so long as he thinks no one is watching. His favorite thing to do is play with the remote controls and mess up whatever Little A is watching and also to crawl up and down the stairs. He also likes to "race" me up the stairs at night. He will eat just about anything, but he loves to feed the majority of his food to our dogs.

The past {almost} two weeks have been anything but perfect. I constantly feel as though I'm in over my head. I question every parenting decision, every conversation, and even the outfit choices. I wonder about the birth parents and how they're handling all this transition. I pray multiple times throughout the day.

It would be easy to walk away. Easy in the sense that life could return to normal. I could study whenever I wanted. It would be no problem to simply run out for dinner or for ice cream or for coffee. We could enjoy date nights throughout the week.
But the thing is, even with as stressful as this all can be, the last thing I want to do is walk away.

I have a lot of peace about our decision to foster these three. Justin regularly remarks how this all feels as though it was meant to be, and I have to agree. We're not looking too far into the future and are instead enjoying now and enjoying the stability we can provide for Baby T, Little A and Little C.


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