One of my favorite family pics of almost all of us a few years ago!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Snapshot of My Life in Words... I Challenge You to Create Your Own Life Snapshot

NOTE:  I found this on my computer.  I’m guessing I did this about 5 years ago, but not much has changed.  I must have been on vacation when I did this because I never get to read or shop aimlessly unless I’m away from home.

I challenge you to take five minutes and list everything you can remember doing in the past 5 days - big and mundane.  It is an interesting snapshot of our lives.  I want to see what others do with their days.  Post it as a comment here.

A Snapshot Of My Life In Word
What I have done in the past 5 days 
(that I can list in five minutes):

  • Changed a really disgusting diaper on the couch
  • Condensed our life story of adoption and fostering into a single page
  • Learned to use Microsoft Publisher
  • Collected and read all of the important things I had written over the years
  • Re-read a letter to my children written in 2000
  • Learned to burn a CD
  • Organized and arranged furniture
  • Watched the last half of “You’ve Got Mail”
  • Played with a 7 month old baby – talking in a baby voice
  • Picked up a high school student
  • Observed 12 Auburn students in their first professional architecture class
  • Put on make-up
  • Unstopped a clogged toilet
  • Unstopped a clogged sink
  • Wiped the water off a shower door
  • Answered thousands of questions
  • Signed a check
  • Tried to catch a renegade rat
  • Yelled at fighting children
  • Had at least one nightmare
  • Learned that vasoline and socks make soft skin
  • Tried a new recipe and only cooked it for myself
  • Watched the dryer repair man take apart the dryer drum and asked him questions
  • Watched someone repair the bricks around a window
  • Painted new drywall
  • Bought fake flowers and a cleaning solution
  • Watched small birds eating off the floor in a restaurant
  • Read Mere Christianity
  • Listened to the first 8 books of the New Testament straight through as a story
  • Read Red Badge of Courage
  • Read and learned the dialect, then read  Uncle Remus stories to my kids
  • Cooked Lunch, Dinner and Breakfast for as many as 20 and as few as one
  • Ate at a fast food restaurant
  • Went through a drive through of a fast food restaurant
  • Tried to learn the chemical abbreviation for cestium
  • Argued with a 10-year-old
  • Shopped at a thrift store for nothing in particular
  • Shopped at an antique store for nothing in particular
  • Taught 15 high school students American History through Literature
  • Talked on the phone
  • Used a shredder
  • Tried to get rid of a virus on my computer
  • Helped block a Duo Interpretation, including sign language with 2 thirteen-year-olds
  • Showed a child how to read a word problem
  • Went to the beach and studied a hammerhead shark
  • Spent an hour on the phone (while driving) with my sister talking about life
  • Went to Sax Fifth Avenue for the first time to see what was there
  • Talked to a stranger about life (he ran a small grocery) for almost an hour between customers

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Teaching and Learning Together: Nurturing Your Newborn

Today, I’m teaching a young mom and dad what it means to nurture their 9-week-old infant.  I realized that this does not come naturally to parents who probably were not adequately nurtured themselves.  After years and years of raising kids, I learned something new.

Our sweet boy is 9-weeks-old now.  He’s no longer the limp little rag doll who his new parents handled like a precious china doll.  He can smile now. He’s weighs twice what he did when he was born.  He can hold his head up and kick his feet non-stop.  He will bear weight on his feet when held up.  He eats much more and sleeps a little less. His proud parents feel like he is smarter than most babies his age. 

During the newborn stage both mom and dad found it easy to handle their little baby.   His needs were fairly simple and straightforward. As long as they fed him, burbed him, cuddled him, and allowed him to sleep  – in between diaper changes – all were happy.  By all definitions he was a “good baby.

They treasure their baby and are committed to raising him with love and care and making him feel secure, putting his needs first.  Unlike what they remember of their upbringing. 

But today it occurred to me that wanting this and knowing how to do it are different beasts. Oddly, in an unrelated conversation the same day, one of my young adult kids -- who was institutionalized for most of his teen years -- told me that he didn’t know how to ask for a hug.  When he needed attention, he would hit or punch or kick the staff and it would take 4-5 staff to restrain him. That was the only way he knew to get the physical touch he craved from his caregivers.

He wasn’t angry.  But it sure looked that way to everyone around him. The problem was that he lacked the skill set to know how to get what he needed from the only people he had around him.  And he didn’t even have the words to explain what he was really thinking until he was much older.

That was an eye-opening moment for me.  I intuitively know that some of my kids act out for attention, but this was my first child to verbalize it so clearly.  I think Heather tried to tell me this many times, but never as clearly as I heard it today.
So, now that the baby is awake much more often, the young parents aren’t quite sure what to do. Perhaps they still expect him to fall asleep while he’s eating, and when he doesn’t, they think they are doing something wrong or he is being stubborn. 

I know that they fear “spoiling” him and ending up with a bratty child that is demanding and attention seeking.  I get that.  I hate being around those kind of kids.  Especially my own.

Anyway, I hear them saying, “We fed him, burped him and changed him.  He’s fine.  Don’t pick him up.  You are just spoiling him.” Just let him cry it out. “  And I know that they are mimicking what I have said about our older babies and young children, who are developmentally able to pitch a certified fit and are also able to self-soothe.  So they innocently apply the same strategy to their 9-week-old.  And I try to differentiate.

I describe why they can’t really “spoil” their child at this age because their baby is not intentionally crying.  It’s instinctive and involuntary.  It’s the only way he has to express a need and a cry guarantees him attention.  He has not yet developed what we think of as a “will.”  

For the record, I don’t suggest that they run every time he cries either.  I explain that it is fine to let him cry for a few minutes to see if he will calm down on his own. But I also suggest that after 3 or 4 minutes, one of them go to him and talk in a soothing tone or pick him up and comfort him just for a moment or two to break the crying cycle. Because babies this age have a very short memory and a break in the crying cycle can cause them to forget that they were crying in the first place. 

Of course, I also emphasize that when they are frustrated and irritated with the baby, it is far better to let him cry than to deal with him while they are frustrated.  That is a safety warning for any parent, but is an especially important reminder for parents that have been abused themselves.  It is easy to revert to what you knew grewing up, even if you hated it.

I try to get them to understand that he is not crying just for the sake of getting what he wants like a bratty 4-year-old.  He cries instinctively out of some need he can’t express. I know.  Four-year-olds cry in frustration too.  But they have more ability to control their emotions and outbursts at that age so our strategies are different.

So, even though they can intellectually understand what I’m saying, they can’t yet recognize the difference.  I listen to them, waiting to see if they can figure it out without me.  After about 10 minutes, I ask them to bring the baby to me so I can see if I can tell what is wrong.  As soon as mom picks up her baby, he stops crying and starts smiling.  Mom and dad see evidence of spoiling.  I see evidence that the baby was crying because he needed to be held and nurtured.

I tell them how our brains are making connections at this age.  We begin to understand concepts of trust and depending on others to meet our needs.  We are growing attachments based on this trust.  And without these connections, things literally go haywire and kids grow up not trusting.  Not depending.  Not social.  At the most extreme level, this is the beginning of attachment disorder.

I say that to explain, not to scare. 

Their child needs to feel safe and secure and loved.  But these are concepts and concepts are felt, not seen.  

Ironically, infants develop this sense of safety and security and love based on other peoples’ actions. For a new baby, that would be actions like holding him, and gazing into his eyes, and talking to him, and feeding him cradling him rather than propping the bottle (or better yet nursing – at least as it relates to that physical feeling of comfort and safety), and stroking him (if he likes that).  That is how he learns to feel trust and security and safety.  And that is the most important building block for his future.

Propping the bottle all the time.  Repeatedly leaving him in a dirty diaper that creates open sores on his skin and results in pain.  Not feeding him as his needs require.  (FYI:  I’m not referring to choosing a set schedule versus feeding on demand.  Either can work as long as he gets sufficient food to sustain a healthy life.)  Not holding him.  Leaving him alone for long periods without human interaction.  These are just some of the things that can cause a baby to mistrust.  To feel insecure and unsafe.

I also talk about the new parents about developmental changes.  He is awake more and that means he needs more challenges and interactions.  His needs will continue to change as he grows.  He needs to hear his parents’ voice talking to him.  He needs to hear new words.  He needs to see new colors and shapes.  Feel new textures.  Explore his body.  This doesn’t require a mass of toys and objects from Wal-mart.  The world around us is perfectly fine and has worked for thousands of years.  God was good that way. 
Eventually, their baby will develop what we think of as a “will” and he will likely be stubborn and demanding and frustrated and frustrating.  But for now, he is still an infant and he needs to feel the safety and security of his mom and dad so that he can learn to trust the big world around him.

As for me, I learned a few new things today... or at least understood them more clearly.  That's the interesting part about parenting - the need to acquire new skills never ends!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

When I'm Exhausted... My Frustration Level is a 30 on a Scale of 1-10

Note:  I wondered how long it had been since I was so frustrated I simply couldn’t cope in any rational way.  It turns out that I wrote about it on May 29, 2012 – almost 2 months ago.  Apparently, I write to calm myself!  What struck me was that I wrote then that I was exhausted and missing sleep.  Will I ever learn that without enough sleep I don’t cope well?  This week, I’m committed to being in bed by 10:30 p.m. no matter what….

When I’m Exhausted… 
My Frustration Level is a 30 on a Scale of 1-10

My current frustration level is a 30 on a scale of 1-10.  If I hear another child whine or scream or bitch (I use that word in context) or moan or complain, I don’t know what I will do.  On the way to church this morning, I literally couldn’t stand it another second.  Particularly the shrill screams of a 4-year-old who couldn’t get exactly what he wanted when he wanted it – in this case a sippy cup.  And the 6-year-old who was still crying because she couldn’t find her favorite shoes –  once again - because she didn’t put them where they belong.  Big surprise.  So I asked my husband to pull over and I grabbed my bag and started toward home. 

We were rushing to get ready because my husband was too busy cleaning to remember to wake up the kids.  And the middle kids were too busy sleeping to hear the knock on their door at 9:05 am.  And the little kids were too busy watching television and playing to get dressed.  And I was too busy trying to keep the 1-year-old from tearing apart the house while hunting down cloths and shoes to get everyone else – and myself - ready. 

So, for all those who wonder – it is insanity when we try to gather up everyone at the same time to go anywhere – especially if we have to wear things like cloths and shoes. And getting ready for church is the worst – especially on the day we have to be there early because we have to volunteer in the nursery!  I think I say more curse words before church on these Sundays than most any other time.  And yes, I get the irony.

Maybe it’s an attempt to make getting ready so miserable that we decide not to go. Perhaps it is a conspiracy.  Or maybe just the devil having a good laugh.  I don’t know, but today – it worked.  I’m not at church and I wanted to be.  Crap.

For the record, we have tried the buddy system.  It only works until the big buddy gets frustrated because the little buddy won’t cooperate or the big buddy forgets his or her chore until its too late and mom has to help or we will be late again.  Besides, the big to little ratio is out of whack right now. 

We have also tried having everything laid out in advance.  While that is certainly helpful, that simply shifts my frustration from morning to evening.  

I spent 9 hours in the kitchen yesterday processing all the fresh fruits and veggies I got at the farmer’s market.  As a result, I didn’t put away the 4 triple size loads of laundry that I washed while I was cooking and watching the kids.  So all the decent clean clothes are in baskets in a pile getting permanently wrinkled. 

And because I have been standing all day, I’m exhausted and I don’t want to sort and fold and hang laundry at 10 p.m.  I want to read and write.  I manage a little, but mostly I spend time talking to one of my older kids who needs advice. And then I must put away all the food that I processed that has now cooled and must be frozen before I go to bed -- lest all my work be for naught.

In addition to cooking all day, I had picked up the toys in the living room multiple times -- including the darn legos that we all love to play with and all hate to clean up.  And cleaned the kitchen multiple times.  And cooked dinner.  And wiped loads of melted chocolate off of two young boys, the couch, and the floor after discovering them eating the melted kisses – wrappers and all – that my teen bought with his own money and promptly left in the car to melt.  

So I’m tired and ornery and my shoulders hurt and I just want to sleep.  I go to bed two-hours earlier than usual – hoping that I will actually sleep this time.  

Because stupid me - who knows better -  thought that caffeine wouldn’t really bother me.  

On two nights this week -- after long hard days, I had an ice-cold Diet Dr. Pepper about 8 p.m. because I wanted to relax and I’m not a drinking woman.

Mistake.  Big mistake.  Because I can go to sleep anywhere at any time.  But staying asleep is another matter. One night, the cat was using my daughter’s chair as a scratching post at 2:30 a.m.  That would be the chair that I’m holding onto for safekeeping until she moves into her first house.  Adrenalin pumping, sleep was nowhere in sight for the next two hours.
Of course, it wouldn’t have mattered about the cat, because within 15 minutes of the cat episode, my 4-year-old made his way from his room to my bed in pitch black darkness without trouble, but when I suggested that he change his sagging wet pull-up before crawling into my bed because he was “scaaareeed,” he screamed and claimed he needed me to go with him to get the pull-up.
Trying not to wake my husband and the rest of the household, I relent and go with him. An hour later, still hoping sleep would return, I get up and do another load of laundry and write.  It was very quiet and pleasant, but for the fact it was 3:30 a.m.!

The second night was also unsuccessful. This time I had to go to the bathroom - the other obvious downside of drinking before bed – duh!  I returned to a semi-state of sleep.  The kind when you are just awake enough to realize you are having weird dreams and you actively try to make sense of them – while the dream is occurring.  Definitely not conducive to good sleep.

Those two nights were totally my fault.  The other nights of not enough sleep – I can blame on my life and an 8-week old baby.  Without enough sleep –defined as at least 6 hours to function, 8 to function without being in a bad mood - it was simply too much to handle the chaos of getting ready for anything. So, for the first time in a long-time, I simply walked away from the chaos with hopes that writing could reclaim my sanity.

Thirty minutes later, I can say that it works.  I’m much calmer.  I’m much happier.

And I’m grateful that I could walk away.  I think most of my family was in shock – including my husband.  Wondering if I would turn around and get back in the car.  I’m sure he was immediately calculating how he was going to handle everyone alone.  

But I didn’t look back.  I went straight to a park bench, promptly spilled my ice-cold Diet Dr. Pepper all over the rocks, cursed some more and then sat down to flesh out my anger.

So folks.  There it is.  You ask me all the time, “How do you do it all?”  My stock answer is, “Not Very Well!”  Mostly this just makes people laugh.  I think they imagine that somehow I must be more patient or tolerant or have more energy or something.  But now you have the moment-by-moment truth. I don’t. 

Of course, I’m not always frustrated.  I can handle a lot -- as evidenced by the fact that most of my kids are in pretty good shape -- but when I am mad, you better run the other way…. far far away. 

Sometimes, I’m a whining, screaming, bitching, moaning, complaining mamma who just wants someone to take me away. 

Today, it was a park bench and a computer.

I have such First World Problems.  So I am getting a grip and am ready to pick up and start again, this time without being so frustrated.

Thanks God.

Friday, July 20, 2012

"3LB Chocolate Door Prize."

Note:  I'm not in a humorous mood lately - so I feel the need to bring out another story I wrote several years ago.

The 3lb Chocolate Door Prize
January 16, 2007

We educate some of our kids at home. I am their primary teacher. Every semester I am required to attend a school faculty meeting with other home schooling families from across the state led by Group Leaders who try to keep us organized, compliant and entertained.

At the beginning of our last meeting they had a contest to give away a 3 pound Chocolate Bar as a door prize.  The bar was awarded based on the answers to questions that the leaders thought a few, but not many home school moms could attest to. 

First question, “Who mopped their kitchen floor BEFORE arriving at this 9:00 a.m. meeting?” 

Two hands go up? I look around disgusted with myself. I can’t remember the last time I mopped my kitchen floor. But I’m not alone. There are 50 other people in that room sitting on their hands.

It’s a tie requiring a follow-up question, “What time did you have to leave to get here this morning?”

One of the top two moms answers, "7:00 a.m."

The other mom looks sheepishly embarrassed and said, “This seems unbelievable, but I left at 7:00 a.m. too.” 

Wait - they BOTH mopped their floors before 7:00 a.m.?!?
Only in my dreams.

The two aforementioned questions require a third and final tie-breaking question, “Did you make a homemade breakfast from scratch for your family BEFORE leaving for this meeting? 

I can’t bear to look. These are questions from the Twilight Zone.

The first mom looks down sadly, as if she had just committed a mortal sin. “No. We had whole grain cereal with milk from our cow and fruit that I canned this summer.”

Everyone looks in anticipation at the second mom who says, “Does baking homemade bread count?” She was serious.

I couldn’t help but laugh hysterically, but wasn’t that the point?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m absolutely thrilled that these moms have a servant’s heart and have organized their lives in such a way that they are able to lovingly feed their families and clean up after them before 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning. I truly imagine the same life for myself all the time. I really do. But that isn’t in my cards and I’ve come to accept that.

No. I laughed because a 3-pound Chocolate Bar was chosen as a door prize by a woman who obviously loves chocolate and won by a mom who bakes homemade bread at 4:30 a.m. and then mops her floor. They say you buy for others the gift you want for yourself.

I laughed even harder as I recalled the events of that morning in my house. I don’t know what the other 50 moms were doing with their time before our faculty meeting, but I’m almost positive none of them were watching a soap opera and eating bon bons. That’s not in the mom job description.

When we got home from the meeting, I received a follow-up email from the group leader about the meeting. I couldn’t resist the urge, so I responded:
“I was so disappointed that you didn’t ask, 'Who had to physically restrain a wildly angry and aggressive 12-year-old foster child (so that he wouldn’t hurt himself or someone else), try to get him understand what it means to deceive, and demonstrate to him that he is under the authority of parents who take actions to help him -- BEFORE COMING TO THIS MEETING!”

Welcome to my life.

I really needed that 3 lb chocolate bar. And to think, I could have just made bread or mopped my floor.”

Just for the record, I have baked bread and mopped my floor at few times in my life. But never before 7:00 am. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Happy 20th Birthday Heather! I'm So Proud of Your Legacy.

NOTE:  I posted this same entry on my other blog,  It assumes that you know our story, which you can find on the other site.  It's Heather's Birthday and I took the opportunity to write her another letter in memory of our journey together. 

Happy Birthday Heather.  I'm Proud of Your Legacy
July 17, 2012

Dear Heather,

Today you would have been 20-years-old.  But I guess you know that! I don’t know if you have any need to celebrate birthdays in heaven, but we still celebrate you here. We are releasing balloons and eating cotton candy.  Your life and your death have impacted my life and so many others more than I thought possible. 

I have been thinking about what you would be like right now.

I wonder where you would be in your journey to healing.  I wonder how much deeper you would feel the love of God.  I wonder what our relationship would be like and whether you would be in college or have your own apartment.  I wonder how many more times you would have cheated death to experience the thrill of life.  I wonder if you would still be impacting so many lives by your mere presence and I especially wonder what you would have painted or written or videoed.  Your art is displayed in the dining room.  Your videos and much of your writing is on the internet.  It serves as a reminder and an encouragement.

A few of your siblings are in the stage I would hope that you would be in now.  The other day, one of your older sisters told me that even though she has had security and stability for more than 12 years, she is only now able to start coping with her past.  You started thinking and processing your life much earlier than most, but you hadn’t yet finished… at least not in worldly terms. I imagine that you would still struggle, but also experience hope. 

I have been sharing your letters with the world.  Or at least anyone who wants to read our story.  I knew that from your position in heaven you wouldn’t mind me sharing.  Especially if they can help someone else.  You would have done anything for anyone, even a stranger.  To this day, I cannot pass a homeless man on a street corner without hearing you demand that we pull over and give him something.  So I do.

That’s why so many people were impacted by you.  Because your unconditional love showed through.  People who knew you. People who had only met you once.  And even people who heard about you through others.  They were all impacted by you.  That’s why your letters attract a lot of attention.  They are so honest. 

Of course, you never imagined me reading them.  At least not this way.  But I did.  They helped me understand you so much better than I ever did while you were living.  I wanted to understand.  I tried to understand.  And I did understand a lot.  But I didn’t really know the depth of your thoughts.  They often got absorbed into your silliness.  And you often shut me out.  Believing I didn’t want to be bothered, when really, I just didn’t know what else to do for you. 

For me, finding, reading and responding to your letters after you died has been the single most valuable thing I have done to grieve my loss.  I got to tell you calmly all that I tried to convey to you in our long talks.  And your letters answered many of my questions.  I read your criticisms of me, but I also read that you loved for me.  I realized that you were listening to me when I was speaking – even though I often felt ignored. I was able to fill in the pieces of your story – the things my mommy-heart knew, but I had never fully confirmed.

I wrote my letters to you over the course of 6 months.  What I wrote just came pouring out.  I didn’t have to think very much.  And the entire time I was writing, I was learning about you and about myself and about others.  To this day, I still re-read your letters and my responses.  Each time I do, I learn something new. 

Lots and lots of people have written me to tell me that our letters have impacted them more than they could express.  Parents, teens and even young adults.  Male and female.  Believers and non-believers.   They are all saying the same thing.  They feel understood and/or they are learning to understand in a way that is hard to achieve. 

I love that God not only uses our thoughts and words to help others, he uses them to help me. Countless times since you died, I have been talking to one of your brothers or sisters and I start to say something, and it turns out to be exactly what I had written to you.  So I pull out your letters and I read them so that they can see that my advice is the same no matter the circumstance because Truth is Truth.  It also helps for them to not feel so alone.

Your death has given me words for the desires of our heart - to find Every Child a Home and a family that will love and cherish them forever.  My vision has expanded.  I feel compelled to talk and to use our story to help others understand what it means to feel abandoned.

I have been grieving a lot for all the hurting children lately.  As I’m reading and writing and posting, I keep seeing exactly how similar the themes are for hurting children.  Loss, abandonment, entitlement, trust, fear, and so much more.

This weekend, I read a book by a man who was raised in the Russian orphanage system.  He tells a compelling story of his life in multiple orphanages and one abusive adoptive home.  He was a throw-away in Russian society and eventually aged-out in a system where about 10 percent of orphans commit suicide. Even in a foreign country, the emotions and feelings prove to be universal. (Infinitely More by Alex Krutov.) Ultimately, he dedicated his entire life to helping others.

Last night, I listened to a video by a young man who was raised in, and aged-out of foster care in Alabama. ( He was in 46 homes.  He never found anyone who was willing to allow him to be a part of their family. He never felt like he belonged. 

At one point he said, “I never stayed any place long enough to call it home.”  I felt like I heard your voice in the “There is No Place Like Home” video when you said, “I never stayed in any place long enough to get familiar with it and be able to say, ‘This is home.’”     (

When he finally graduated from high school, he was given $500 and an empty independent living  apartment.  That’s all he had.  No family.  No real support.  No love.  Just $500 and an apartment.  No one should be that alone.

But like Alex, the Russian orphan, he is not dwelling on his past. Instead, he is trying to make a difference. He is now in college studying social work. 

The one thing all three of you had in common was Jesus.  When the world let you down, you relied on the only real Savior.  And that makes all the difference.

Alex has already impacted the lives of many Russian orphans who aged-out of the system.

I feel certain that the young man raised in foster care will affect the lives of those he encounters because he truly understands.

I have chosen to devote my life to helping the children God brings to our family. Thankfully, your father and the rest of our family have joined that vision wholeheartedly. Hopefully, our story will allow other people to see what we see.  That it is challenging and sad and frustrating and exhausting, but it is worth it.  Alone, none of us can solve the entire problem, but we can help just one person outside of our normal circle of family and friends to feel included and not so alone.

You have taught me that we are worth it.  

I love you honey.  I’m proud of the legacy that you have left behind.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

JUST THE FACTS.... raising 20 children

  • 8 bedrooms
  • 3 1/2 baths
  • 23 beds
  • 4 refrigerators
  • 4 freezers
  • 2 dishwashers
  • 2 ovens
  • 4 cars
  • 30 + Birthdays
  • 21 Home-cooked meals per week
  • 8-10 loads of laundry per day
  • 3 55-gallon trash cans per week (plus overflow) 
  • 1 trash compactor
  • 1 semi-truck to deliver a 3 month supply of frozen meats and veggies
  • 2 trips per month to Sam's Club
  • 1 trip to the farmer's market every week
  • daily trips to the grocery store
  • no sugary soft drinks
  • 5 dozen eggs a week
  • 3-4 gallons of milk per day
  • 1 case of formula per month
  • 300+ diapers per month
  • 2 cases of diaper wipes per month
  • 160 pull-ups/goodnights per month
  • 1 loaf of bread per meal
  • 2 boxes of cereal per meal
  • 3 cats (no dogs)
  • 1 fish
  • Who knows how many frogs and lizards the kids can catch each day
  • 3 televisions
  • 2 babies under 2
  • 4 kids under 5
  • 5 kids under 6
  • 6 kids under 9
  • 1 mom almost 50
  • 1 dad over 60
  • 5 couches
  • 4 swings
  • 1 treehouse
  • no garage
  • 3 baby beds
  • 60 color coded towels
  • 100's of dishclothes (few paper towels)
  • Hand Sanitizer by the gallon
  • 2-4 pounds of protein per meal
  • cheese in 5 lb blocks
  • 14 special blankets (for comfort and sleeping)

Monday, July 9, 2012


My heart is heavy today.  I feel virtually alone (except for my husband) in our mission to help the children.  I know that is not totally true, but today it feels that way.  I think it is because my adult kids are telling me that people think that we are so crazy that we scare them away from our family - and more particularly - from helping our family manage so many children. And the truth is, we really do need some help to keep our heads above water at times. And sometimes, I just need a break and can't get one - either physically or emotionally. And that is hard. And lonely.

I feel like I'm just exercising self-pity and that I need to stop whining and keep working because in the scheme of our little, privileged American lives, we are just fine. We call them First World Problems.  That's what I tell my children when they are whining that life is hard.  But today, I'm going to indulge myself, at least until I finish writing.  

I don't cry often, especially not while typing on my computer in a public place. So when I do, everyone knows that I have reached my emotional limits.  And they usually pay attention. Because I can't fake cry.  

So now I have to consider whether there are other factors influencing my tears. Like the fact that I went to visit the parents of a 20-year-old that was killed in a car accident on Tuesday, and she was in the same room, in the exact same spot where I had to view Heather's body for the first and only time after she died.  I cried for them. And I cried for me.  

So maybe that was part of it, but my tears are for so much more than that. I hurt for the hurting children, even my birth children who are overwhelmed by the needs of so many. I hurt. And I want to help, but I know that I can't do it alone. But I feel so alone.  

Let me see if I can explain why I feel so overwhelmed by the hurt of others... 

There are about 408,000 foster children in the United States. The system is designed to be a temporary solution to a problem, giving parents approximately 12-15 months to regroup, accept help, and regain custody of their children.

Not surprisingly, according to 2010 data, 34% of children had been in foster care for at least 2 years. (  Many of these children linger in the system for many more years, while their parents are given opportunities to regain custody of their children.

During this time and after, someone must be a guardian of the children. If not the parent or another willing family member or person, then the state social service agency is mandated to take on that role on behalf of the child. When the state is the mandated guardian, children are placed into the foster care system.

For a large percentage of foster children, the sad truth is that they will never go home.  However, by the time parental rights are finally terminated on the children who do not go home, many have been moved from placement to placement and are emotionally unstable, or are simply "too old" for most families considering adoption. (Old in adoption terms is as young as 3-years-old. Too old is about 6 to 8- years-old.)  As a result, these children may continue to move from placement to placement until they age-out of the state system. And for those older children fortunate enough to be adopted, statistics show that about 25% of those adoptions will disrupt or dissolve, placing the child back into the social service system. 

Permanency in some setting is the only hope.  For 17 years, our family has been willing and ready to accept financial responsibility and take on the parental role, when the birth parents can’t and the state isn’t the best long-term solution. We do that through long-term foster care placement, legal guardianship and adoption, depending on what best fits the situation.

NOTE:  Legal guardianship has been our solution for 11 of our kids.  It is simple, but also expensive because there is no state stipend.  And it is not necessarily appropriate in every situation. In other words, this isn’t a substitute for adoption – which is ideal but not always possible.  This is a substitute for children that might otherwise linger in foster care, and it is a way for to prevent our foster children’s children from entering the foster care system in the first place.  

So what difference does permanency make?

Almost without exception, no matter how bad things are at home, children in foster care want to be reunited with their birth families. This does not mean that they liked their situation.  It does not mean that they wanted to be abused or neglected. It doesn’t mean anything except that they have lost what should be the most significant relationship in their childhood.  And that is a terrible loss for anyone – especially a fragile child.

Unfortunately, placement in a foster home or in a group facility or even a psychiatric institution (which is an option for rebellious teens or those for whom there is no other placement) doesn’t magically solve the problems at home, nor does it make a child feel safe and secure.

Quite the contrary. Being uprooted from everything that is familiar and moved into a new family group – even if it is a loving, warm, safe place with happy people that welcome and want the new child – doesn’t negate the feelings of loss and abandonment these children feel.

Add to that the undeniable feelings that they don’t quite fit in. And that they are forced to form new relationships. Eat new food. Be exposed to new ideas. Change schools. Lose friends. And so much more.

Even if everything is good.  It is still unbelievably hard. And the truth is, it isn’t always good.

Making matters worse is the loss of siblings. Although most social service agencies prefer to put siblings together, the truth is siblings are often separated because homes are not available for multiple children, or because a large number of foster families do not want older school-age children because they tend to have more challenging issues.  This means that a group of siblings with an older child may be dispersed to different homes, perhaps even in different counties – leaving the older children in group placements or institutions.

And teen mom’s, who are foster children themselves, frequently find that their own children are placed into foster care because the teen mom has limited family, financial and emotional resources. So the cycle continues.

Not exactly ideal, is it?  Now imagine having to endure that life-altering change repeatedly. Without warning.  Imagine being moved after a month, just when you don't wake up every hour with nightmares, and you never see that family again. And then again 6 months later. And then again. And repeating this process over and over again until the child is 18-years-old, when he usually leaves the system to fend for himself.

Can we honestly say these children are better off than they would have been in their own birth family? The issues may be different, but the emotional trauma caused by a lack of permanency may never be erased.

Permanency is almost always the first step in establishing stability, which still takes years to achieve.  In the interim, the problems caused by the original abuse and neglect must be managed, as does grieving the loss of the birth family, and adjusting to each new placement. There must be a starting point for recovery from all this trauma.

So what if we could change that for at least some of the children?  What if some of these children were taken in by families willing to make permanent commitments to these kids, either through adoption, or as long-term foster children or legal guardians – knowing that these children may never be legally adoptable.  And what if that family was committed to keeping sibling groups together, taking older children – even with problems, and giving them all permanency?

To create the permanency you must have someone willing to accept full financial and personal responsibility. And therein lies the problem. None of this is easy and many people don't like hard. Or worse, they start but don't endure the tough route. And that makes me very sad.

I asked one of my young adult children who has been part of our family for over 10 years, how she felt about her situation now that she is an adult. Her answer tells the whole story.

“Even though ya’ll gave me permanency and I’ve had stability for a over 10 years, I’m just now able to start dealing with my past, which still bites me in the butt!  Ya’ll have continued to support me emotionally and financially – even giving me health insurance and helping me get into college. You would allow me to move back home if I needed to. Without all of that, I would be S.O.L. (So outta luck!)

When I was growing up, I always hoped I would get to go back home.  I even left ya’ll and tried a group home to see if it would be better. But ya’ll took me back.  If you hadn’t, I would have stayed in the group home until I was 18 and I would have felt lost and alone, thinking I had no one.  I want a different life for myself than my birth family, who has never been able to help me. Without this family, I would still be trying to find out who to turn to for help, for insurance, for advice, for stability, for love and for a place to call home.

I totally get what she is saying.  Early on we were simply her long-term foster parents. And life with this child wasn’t smooth and easy just because we offered her permanency.  She hated us for a time, which is why she voluntarily left our home for a group home. And as much as we hated her leaving, we knew she needed to explore her options. If we left the option open and she chose to come back home, it felt better for all of us.    

She is well into adulthood.  Life has been challenging.  But now that she knows that we will be by her side.  That we are her forever family and she can still be in relationship with her birth family without depending on them.  Now that she is sure she can make lots of mistakes and we will still love her.  Only now is she ready to dig deeply into her past and try to resolve those issues.  Without permanency, she would more likely be repeating the cycle of her parents – not learning and growing and helping others.

So I'm sad because the problem is so huge and we are so small and so inefficient and so ill-equipped and so flawed.  And there aren't enough other people willing to accept this tremendous responsibility - as evidenced by 135,000 kids who are currently available and waiting for adoption in the United States. And there aren't even enough willing people to help the people that do accept the responsibility. And today, I'm not only sad, but I'm also mad.

Guilt can't call you into this mission.  In fact, I tell anyone considering this that if they are not called, then it will be short term because there are a thousand reasons to quit every day.  But if you are called, you cannot quit.  And that is our position.

So, although we are all called by God to take care of the orphans, we don't do a very good job.  And that makes me cry.