parenting, Uncategorized

The Holidays and grief in trauma

 This Thanksgiving we were lucky enough to get to spend it with both sides of our family.  Sometimes I get in a bad mood and complain and having to drive over an hour to see my husband’s family.  Or having to squish ourselves into my parents’ house because I have about a million aunts and uncles.  (Seriously, there’s a TON of people in there, and it gets SO STINKING HOT). And something crazy and redneck always happens.  But really, I love every minute of it.  Every. Single.  Minute.  I am so blessed to have in-laws whom I adore.  Parents and grandparents who love each other enough to want to be together. There’s so many people who don’t have that and I try hard not to take it for granted.  The food was amazing (at both houses – but shout out to my old faithful tin can shaped cranberry sauce because mama found out this year that baby shark LOVES “sawce” too haha) 

Let the baking begin!

We spent the morning just us 5 at home watching the parade and just being lazy.  Which is something we rarely ever do so it was really nice. Next we drove to Wingate and had lunch with my in-laws.  I love spending time over there because I love to see my husband in his element. Where he feels the most rooted. With his people, if that makes sense. Of course his home is with us, but is HOME is there.  And his whole body language changes at his parents’ house.  He’s not big bad daddy in charge there, he’s Jr.  and his mama still pours his drinks dotes on him and I ADORE IT.  The time there is never enough. 

exhibit a for how comfy he his.  even with baby shark climbing on him, he’s out cold in his parents floor 

 Then we went to my parents for dinner.  My family is loud.  Everyone is having a different conversation but all at the same time.  And they all yell it so they can be heard.  Daddy hides out in the shop because he wasn’t raised in that chaos and doesn’t know how to deal.  But the rest of us thrive in it.  I’ve said it before, but man… I am so blessed to be a part of this family.

And then I see it. The look in my oldest daughter’s eyes. That misty, far away, can’t quite place it look that lets me know she’strying to grab hold of a memory from a holiday a long time ago.  One not quite as lively and full of love (and LOUDNESS) as this one. 

 Holidays are always bittersweet for my oldest 2 kiddos.  I know they are so excited about seeing all of our family.  The presents.  The decorations.  The presents. All the delicious baked goods. Did I mention the presents?  But the truth is, holidays are so hard.  Harder on them, most likely, than I’ll ever know.  Because in the middle of all of the fun and excitementand love that surrounds them, they have a huge piece of themselves missing.  And that bitterness comes out hard this time of year.  They wake up every Christmas morning in a house with parents who love and adore them, but that didn’t give them life.  And as much as my husband and I adore our girls, we can’t magically make ourselves have that biological and from birth connection.  And that feeling is harder to describe than anything I’ve felt along this journey.  I want to be everything for them.  But I’m not. And as hard as it is on me to just sit in that inadequacy, I imagine it’s 10x harder for them.   Most of the time they are so focused on the fun that the moments fly by.  But every once in a while I catch a look, like the one I saw on Thanksgiving, and I know she’s thinking about her.  About her biological mom.  The one who left without any explanation.  The one who’s leaving prompted an immediate and irreversible change to their souls that I may never fully understand.  I get it.  Sometimes there’s just not words capable of expressing enough emotion.  So we just share the look through the silence.  It’s grief.  But far beyond just losing aparent.  Death comes to everyone.  But this grief comes from abandonment.  From not knowing what happened or why.  From not having any answers and knowing you’ll probably never get them.  That person who gave you life, who literally formed you inside their body, is just… gone.  You can’t just erase that bond.  It doesn’t go away.  (No matter how hard I wish that pain away for them).  You just learn to accept that it’s as much a part of you as she is, and you learn to deal. 

But Holidays make it harder to deal with it I think.  There’s an innate emotion surrounding the holidays that has a tendency to bring up the things my girls fight so hard to keep down the rest of the year.  It comes out in sass.  In outbursts.  In tears or sometimes in just down right meanness.  But it also comes out in hugs, snuggles I don’t usually get, lingering hand holding and increased conversations.  Any type of connection they can grasp on to.  And those are the moments I cherish.  The ones I can use to strengthen the bond between us.  They may not have formed in me, but they are as much a part of my heart as my own bio is.  That’s one of the hardest parts of adopting children with trauma.   It’s figuring out what you can and can’t do something about, and then getting out of the way to let God do what He does.  There’s nothing I can do about the grief that hangs heavy in those moments.  But just being there.  A new constant in their chaos.  I think that’s enough, even though it doesn’t feel like it sometimes.  And even though it does bring some bitter memories, I love the holidays for the sweet reminder to cherish what’s important.   

santa.jpg
oh em gee be still my heart my babies are gorgeous!
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marriage, parenting, Uncategorized

Sick kids, Sick Mama, and Teamwork in Marriage

This week has passed in haze of cough medicine, no sleep, runny noses, and fussy kiddos.  The dreaded cold season has arrived, and with it, an important revelation.  Maybe it’s the medicine, or lack of sleep, but through the sleep deprived fog I’ve been thinking about something.  Go with me here for a minute.

 

sick baby2
sick baby and sleepy mama cuddles

 

Most marriages today end in divorce. That’s a sad but true statistic. I have a lot of friends who have never been married, married and divorced, and married and sticking it out (so far). So what’s the key to keeping it together? I have no idea. This isn’t the blog for that. But I can tell you that the one thing my friends’ conversations about relationships always have in common is the idea of “equal”. People always seem to be looking for their equal. For someone who treats them like an equal. For someone who will take an equal role in the relationship. Someone who does an equal amount of work in the home, with the kids, or at a business. And this word just keeps rolling around in my head. What does being “equal” even mean really? A quick thesaurus check identifies common words to be “identical” and “alike”. But, and this is just my opinion, why would you want to date/marry someone who is identical to you? Why would you want a friend who was completely identical to you? There’s nothing to learn. Nothing to grow from. It’s just like looking in a mirror. You already know it all. Relationships should help you grow as a person. They should build you up and help you reach your best. Having someone who is identical to you doesn’t do that. It just keeps you stagnant.

And that idea isn’t just important in choosing a partner.  I truly believe that keeping that idea of “partnership” is the key to not growing bitter in a relationship. There are seasons for everything.  Sometimes you have the extra energy to rake the yard and sometimes your partner does it.  Sometimes you stay up all night with sick kids, and then your partner makes you coffee and breakfast and cleans the kitchen so you don’t have to.  Even though breakfast and kitchen cleaning is your normal role.  When one partner is down the other one picks up the slack.  And it’s not equal.  Ever.  Someone is always doing more than the other.  But the important part is that you are a team.  You work together to get life done.  When you start tallying who does what, that’s when things start to come apart.  Sometimes your partner does things that you don’t even know about.  Does my husband understand how much work actually goes into something like keeping the kids schedule of doctors, therapy, dentists, and school projects?  No.  He has no clue.  But in the same vein, I have no clue what it takes to keep the yard looking like we actually live in the house or what he does at work to provide for us.  But both are important.  And both get done.  That’s all that matters in the end. 

So this weekend, I was down for the count with a killer cold and sleep deprivation.  2/3 of our kids were sick all week and the baby had only slept in 1 hour increments from Wednesday through Saturday.  Every ounce of energy that I had went to making those sick kids comfy… and then I got sick too.  Normally I spend 3ish hours a day picking up toys and wiping sticky surfaces just to keep up with the mess our house accumulates.  But, needless to say, this week that definitely didn’t happen.  I just didn’t have it in me to clean the kitchen, make a bed, or sweep the floors, when I had only had 2-3 hours of sleep a night going on 4 nights.  I didn’t even go to the grocery store.  Which is huge because we have 5 mouths to feed and food disappears fast around here.  But that doesn’t mean that those things didn’t get done.  My husband stepped in to the hole my sickness left and he filled it.  He did the shopping, the cleaning, and supervised the kids while I napped and bathed and took care of myself while I was sick.  He allowed me to get well.  And THAT folks, is what a good partnership is.  It’s giving 100% of yourself every day and not expecting 100% back.  It’s knowing that you might have to do a TON of stuff while your partner does nothing.  But it’s also knowing that your partner would (and will) do it for you if the situation is reversed.  It’s keeping your end goal in mind and working as hard as you can toward it, without keeping count of who does what.  It’s putting someone else before yourself.  Your spouse, your friend, your kids, your family.  Whichever relationship you are struggling in.  Put them first.  That’s how you build a good partnership and a stronger marriage. 

Also, get enough sleep.  Take it from this sleep deprived mama… sleep is KEY to being nice.  And being nice helps your marriage too.  So, sleep. Do it.  

Uncategorized

Making the right choice

If there’s any one most important thing that I’ve learned from being a foster/adopt mama, it’s that there are good days and bad ones. Ups and downs. Tons of lows. Some highs. A lot of times people will tell you “it will all balance out” or “bad always comes before the good”.  But let’s just go ahead and call the bullshit on that one.  Not everything always balances. There’s not always a good for the bad.  Or a happy for their sad. Sometimes, it just is what it is and you are forced to sit with the crap hand you were dealt.  But I will say this, in the middle of that bad DOES come strength and learning.  But only if you let it.  It’s not something that just miraculously appears and it’s easy to get stuck in the negativity.  I’ve done it.  Time and time again.  It’s just easier to focus on the overwhelming negative tsunami of emotions and turmoil, than to find the peace and light in the moment.  But in those moments when it’s the hardest to do, that’s when your kids need it the most.

In these moments of stress, your reactions are your choice.  How you react to your kiddo throwing a tantrum or purposely misbehaving.  How you react to a trauma resurfacing. When your kid repeatedly throws toys in the house and then laughs at your aggressive “NO”.  He’s testing his limits and again your reaction is your choice.  You can chose to get caught up in the surface emotions and react. You can get upset.  You can yell, scream, cuss and punish.  (Lord knows I have.  That’s been my immediate reaction more times than I’d care to admit.)  Or you can take a breath, and realize that these emotions probably have very little to do with you.  They could be just a symptom of a much deeper hurt. They could be from a lack of understanding about themselves and how to regulate their emotions.  The clarity that comes from the knowledge that you are not the sole reason for the existence of the world is a very freeing peace of mind.  It allows you to take a step back from the situation and evaluate it for what it actually is.  I think this has been my biggest take away from foster care to date.  It’s not about me.  But what IS about me, as I’ve said about a thousand times now, is my reaction to all of these scenarios.

I’d like to take this realization one step further.  Your reaction to ALL OF LIFE is a choice. Not just about reacting to your kids.  But just to the everyday people around you.  Being happy is your choice. Feeling peacefulness and contentment is your choice.  But I’m about to drop a little truth.  A lot of people will tell you that your situation or life circumstances aren’t your choice.  But hear me now.  Unhappiness is your choice, just as much as happiness is your choice.  Unrest is your choice. Malice. Discontent. All your choice.  It’s easy to be happy when life is going well. The sun is shining. There’s a slight warm breeze. You slept well the night before. Easy days are easy to be happy.  But then comes the spoiled milk. Flat tire. Traffic. Within the everyday stressors, you lose sight of the fact even among the bad, life is good.  Because you’re alive.  And.  It’s.  Not.  About.  You.  This world is about everyone else.  Our friends, family, and our neighbors.  And the easiest way to see that is to look around you.  There’s always someone who is in a worse situation than you are.  While you’re moaning and complaining about the milk being spoiled, think about the family who had to choose between lifesaving medications and gas to put in their car to get to work so they might can afford those medications next month.  Don’t focus on your negativity when there’s something you can be doing to help someone else.  That’s what foster care has taught me.  That being there for others is way more important than wallowing in our own problems.  Problems come and go. And it’s our responsibility, as parents and people, to find the good in the moment and to spread it.  To cling to it and to teach our children the same thing.  Because being able to find that good, to hold on to the positive feelings and let the bad ones go, to choose to be happy, calm, unyielding to the negativity – that’s one of the most important things we can teach our kids.  With this ability, they can start to overcome their traumas.  They can look forward to the future.  And they can begin to heal.

Uncategorized

HOW TO: Help your Daughter survive Middle School

Middle school is a new and scary adventure for both you and your daughter.  It’s full of potential successes, probable failures, and definite drama.  Read on for tips on what your daughter should know to help her navigate these milestones without too much stress! 

Practical tips

Of course there are PRACTICAL TIPS such as: know the layout of the school before the first day.  Take advantage of orientations and sneak preview nights.  Learn where your classes and locker will be.  First day jitters, preteen angst, new environment, new people… all these things add to the stress of the first day of school.  Something simple, such as knowing where to go, can go a long way in making your daughter feel more comfortable.  Know the Dress code and be prepared.  In Elementary school, a lot of districts let the parents decide what is appropriate.  That goes out the window in Middle School.  Make sure your daughter is prepared for longer shorts, no tanks, appropriately covered body parts, etc.  (No more leggings as pants… sorry girls!)  And any other important school rules or behavior guidelines – written and unwritten.  What is the school’s policy on bullying? Gossiping? Technology? Class attendance? Better to know these things in advance, rather than being taken by surprise later on in the year.

How to introduce herself to peers

This is likely the first time your daughter has been to a school with mass amounts of other new kids.  The last 6 years she’s been in the same school without too much change.  But this year, elementary schools combine, and your daughter will be in classes with students from several different schools.  Knowing how to confidently introduce herself will go a long way in helping her feel comfortable in her own skin and will help her make the most of these potential new friends.  If she’s down for it, you can role play and practice the introduction.  Confident smile, eye contact, a sincere compliment for the other person.  If role playing isn’t her thing, just chat with her about it.  She can practice on her own in the mirror.  Or if not, at least you’ve set the expectation for her so that she can recall the information when the time comes.

How to keep a sense of humor

Things happen.  You trip.  You drop things.  Your skirt may be caught in the back of your underwear for AT LEAST 15 minutes after the lunch time bathroom break and your friends won’t tell you because they think it’s hilarious.  (May or may not have happened to me!) But through all of these events, it’s important for your daughter to remember that – it’s not WHAT HAPPENS to you, but HOW YOU REACT to it.  If you cower in the bathroom for the rest of the day because you’re embarrassed to show your face, that leaves room for other people to perpetuate the embarrassment.  If you laugh at yourself, laugh with others, and move on… the incident will die off much faster.  Letting things roll off your back, laughing them off, and knowing how to find the humor in stressful situations – builds confidence in your daughter.  It helps show her that life has ups and downs and by focusing on the ups (wherever you can find them) makes the downs not so bad.  This is HUGE in middle school, where emotions run wild and deep.  Having a sense of humor will also serve to help engrain your daughter as a steady and graceful person in the eyes of her peers.  People with a sense of humor are often looked to in times of trial.  It’s better to have your (hopefully) well behaved child be the influencer, rather than the influenced.  Keep in mind that this comes with practice.  It takes time to learn to laugh instead of hide when you are embarrassed.  It takes patience to find the positive in the negative.  But by learning and practicing these traits now, it will serve her for the rest of her life.

Pause before you post

The internet is forever.  Let’s repeat that again and this time channel your best Squints “for-eve-er”!  In today’s world of snapchat, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and the hundreds of other social platforms… the digital footprint your daughter leaves now will follow her for the rest of her life.  Potential employers are even looking at people’s social media to check them out before interviews.  So make sure you talk with her about thinking before she posts.  I know in our house, social media isn’t allowed.  So this isn’t an issue.  BUT, if you do allow your child access to social media, please have this discussion with them.  A lot of schools are expanding their “bullying” definition to cover “cyber bullying” so, not only are mean posts mean… they could also get your child suspended, or worse.  Mean words are like spilled toothpaste, you can always wipe it up, but you can’t put them back.  When it comes to words or photos online, a good rule to follow is “don’t post it if you wouldn’t show/say it to your grandma”

If you lay down with dogs…

This saying is seriously old you guys… but seriously true.  If you lay down with dogs, you get fleas.  The company you keep determines a lot about you.  It shapes your behavior and outlook.  The friends your daughter makes in her tween years will influence her teen years – when you as a parent will have a lot less influence and say.  Talk to your daughter now about the type of friends you want her to have.  Help guide her towards friends who are positive, share the same family values you have, who uplift her and don’t put her down, who are there for her when she needs to talk out her emotions, who laugh with her in those uncomfortable situations we discussed earlier, and who help protect her mind, heart, and soul from the negative influences so readily available all around her.  Good friends build you up.  Teach your daughter this now so that she knows the difference and can readily steer herself toward the right peer group.

Participate

Participate in everything.  Sit at the front of the class.  Raise your hand and answer questions, even if you’re wrong.  Try something new.  Talk to new people.  Reach outside of your comfort zone.  Middle school is a whole new world.  Full of exciting and scary opportunities.  At no other time in your daughter’s life will she have so many opportunities to try new things, without the pressure needing to excel for college acceptance.  Encourage her to fail.  And fail many times.  Because through those failures she will grow to know herself better and this will help her survive high school and college.  Kids who participate also get the teacher’s attention more.  If she needs extra help in certain subjects the teacher will notice and will be more willing to offer that additional help because they will see your daughter trying.  So encourage participation as much as you can.

Use your manners

Another tip on getting teachers attention – your daughter should use her manners.  “Yes ma’am” “no ma’am” “please” and “thank you” go a long way in making her stand out from the crowd.  And not just with adults.  Manners should be shown to friends and non-friends alike as well.  Manners take time to practice and she should start early.  Polite adults are seen as friendlier and more respectful, and thus are more likely to pass college interviews and get better jobs when they are older.  Start her on the right path now.

Make a Goal list and regularly revisit it

This is one of the top success strategies listed by self-help gurus the world over.  Make a goal.  Write it down.  Revisit it often.  This helps keep you focused on what you want to achieve.  Before school starts, help your daughter set her goals for the upcoming year.  Make sure they are SMART – specific, measureable, achievable, relevant, and time wary.  A good example would be: to make an A in math the first report period.  Its subject specific, measureable due to the feedback she’ll get from her teachers, achievable (with hard work and good study habits), relevant to her school year, and time –wary: only set for one report period at a time.  Learning how to set goals and work toward them now, will help her be successful in her goals in the future.    And don’t forget to check in with her throughout the reporting period.  Regularly monitoring her goals will help keep her on track (or get her back on track if she has wandered).

MOST IMPORTANTLY – FOR YOU AS A PARENT

All of these tips can help make your daughter’s transition into middle school easier.  But the most important thing you can do to help her succeed is to BE IN HER BUSINESS.  Before middle school starts your daughter should know that, while you love her and want to foster and grow her independence as a growing young woman, you are also her parent and you will do EVERYTHING in your power to protect, guide, and nurture her in this journey.  Get to know her friends.  Monitor her online actions.  Talk to her teachers.  BE THERE.  Kids are way less likely to get in trouble when they know their parents are watching.  Girls are more sensitive by nature anyway.  The more you talk to her, the more comfortable she will be in talking to you in response.  It’s easier to catch problems with self-esteem, bullying, grades, peer groups, etc. – when you catch them early.  BE IN HER BUSINESS.  Love her hard.  And enjoy this time of growth, success, and FUN in your daughter’s life.

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The Beginning of the Chaos

Bear with me… this might be a long one. I guess to start at the beginning really means, for this part of the journey, to start at the end. The end of my husband’s and mine dating relationship. You see… he dumped me. Hard. We’d been together a little over a year and out of the blue he just was over it (or so he thought). For me, the break up was difficult. I did the typical wallowing, ice cream binging, crying to my mom thing for a while. (I burned some of his stuff in a sacrificial attempt to cleanse myself of his jerkiness… story for another day) But then I decided that the best way for me to get over him, was to go do for someone else. Get out of my own life for a while. So I started looking for a volunteer opportunity. My sister in law was a Guardian ad Litem for the neighboring county, and I thought it sounded interesting, so I decided “sign me up!” Having NO IDEA how this seemingly simple decision would change the rest of my life.

A Guardian ad Litem is a child advocate in the court system. I could fill another couple posts with stories from that experience, but I’ll leave this one as saying – the things I learned about our foster care system left my heart knowing that, one day, I’d be a foster parent.Honeymoon Selfie!

Honeymoon Selfie!!!


A little something you should know about me.  When it comes to life-altering decisions, I have a bad habit (but GREAT luck) with just going with my gut. I don’t really think them through.  I never have.  The ideas just kind of pop into my head, I pray on it, and then just go with it.  It probably seems like I’m a little nuts to my family.  But so far, it’s worked out pretty well.  I went to 3 different high schools because I just KNEW it was what I needed.  I took the first job opportunity I was offered, when I hadn’t even graduated college yet.   I still had almost a year to go, but I decided I could do the classes online, because I just HAD to take that job.  I moved HOURS away from my family on  a whim because I just felt it was right.  I eventually quit that job and moved home, without a plan or another job, because I just KNEW it was time.  My guardian angel is truly an angel, because her patience and protection has really brought me through some crazy times.  Ok, back to the story.   Eventually, my now husband/then ex-boyfriend and I decided that we just couldn’t NOT be in each others lives.  So we did what all normal and rational adults do.  We eloped. Y ‘all,  we went from broken up to married in just under 2 weeks.  Flash forward a few years and here is where the story kind of starts to come together.  God’s plan in all of this is so evident in hindsight.  Writing this, I feel like there’s not a way to describe the emotions and feelings and prayers that went into these years, but like always, I went with my gut.  And drug my husband along for the ride.

I decided it was time to quit my job designing kids clothing and began teaching (a life long dream of mine).  During this same we had been trying to get pregnant.  But despite the testing, bloodwork, hormones, and doctor visits, it just wasn’t taking (more on infertility in a later post).  But, truthfully, biological kids weren’t in the forefront of my heart.  What was?  Fostering.   It had been an idea in my head and a pressing feeling on my heart since I had started with being a GAL.  But my husband wasn’t so keen on the idea.  His concerns were the normal fears that I hear associated with foster care a lot.  “What kind of kid will we get?” “How do we just give them back” “How will this affect my family?” And I get it.  The fear, the uncertainty, the unknowns that come along with biological kids are scary.  Put all those fears and worries into the idea of raising someone else’s kids, and all of his arguments were completely understood. But I was just CONVINCED this is what we had to do.  He finally relented and agreed that we could take the classes required and see where it lead us. The classes were to take us 10 weeks to complete.

Week 3 of these classes I was at my school working when I happened to overhear about these two little girls. They had been waiting for the bus stop without winter coats and their older sister, who didn’t live with them, was worried about them. So I purchased some coats and a few other things, and took them to where they were living with their grandmother. I don’t really know why I did that. I hadn’t typically been a “get involved in other people’s business” kind of person. But something just spoke to me and said “go”. So I went. I ended up staying in contact with the grandmother. She seemed to need someone to confide in. We had numerous phone conversations. She talked. I listened. We prayed together.

Week 9 I get a phone call from the grandmother. She told me she could no longer raise the girls. She wasn’t able to be “mommy” to them. Could I just swing by and get them so she didn’t have to give them up to a stranger? “just swing by” I was shocked. Who just gives kids away? How can I just go take someone’s kids? Is this real life?? To appease the current situation I suggested a weekend visit to just give her a break (because really?) But when I arrived, they ran out to my car with the bags she had packed for them. Medicaid cards, social security information, and every piece of clothing they owned. She was done. Ahh!!??? What in the world am I supposed to do!!??? I panicked. I called my husband. “What am I supposed to do?” I asked him.  And for the first time, he’s the one who made the split second decision.  No convincing.  No conversations.  No hesitation.  He just said calmly “bring them home”. So I did.

I make it sound simple here, but it was anything but simple. And the road we were about to go down with Gaston County DHHS was a crazy, long, convoluted one, filled with red tape, bad policy, and more stress and tears than I ever could have believed. I’ll detail that journey separately one day. I also want to say, in no way am I implying anything negative about the grandmother. She recognized her limitations and her want for a better life for the girls and she acted on it. That’s strength. She’s still involved with the girls lives and they visit her as often as they can.

But to end this beginning… looking back it’s amazing to see God working in the details. From the breakup, to laying the GAL volunteerism on my heart, to preparing my husband and I for raising children that weren’t biologically ours. It was all part of this wonderful puzzle that He creates for us. And getting to live every day putting it together piece by piece has been the best, hardest, most chaotic thing I’ve ever done. So I just sit back and try to control the chaos as much as possible, knowing that His plan is way more than I could have ever hoped.

adoption day 2017

Our beautiful girls! – Christmas 2017