Tag Archives: adoption

Happy 5th Birthday Austin!

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Happy 5th Birthday Austin!

Each year I write a birthday letter to my sweet boy.  This year’s letter is a bit late in coming, but it has finally arrived!

To my favorite boy in the whole wide world,

I am so in love with you, and I am so proud of you!  You are such a compassionate, helpful, funny boy and I’m so glad you are my son.  I have watched you take such care of those who are smaller than you—helping out babies and toddlers, being an amazing friend and trying to care for them.  I have watched you show concern and care for others—stoping to pray for people we see who need help, kissing my “boo boos,” and offering hugs to everyone.  I have watched you blossom into a funny and fun loving boy—telling jokes, laughing with others, and including others.  I have watched you stick up for yourself—asking for help when needed and talking out conflicts that arise.  I have watched as you have learned to talk about your feelings and how  to cope with them—even when doing so exasperates you.  (“I don’t have any more deep breaths!” you’ve been known to say on more than one occasion.)  I have watched you learn empathy and compassion for others.  I have watched you face tough transitions this year and handle them like a champ.  I am so thankful that I get to be your mommy!

This year was a year of so many changes and big events in our lives.  Only a few months into your fourth year we celebrated your adoption!  We had been together for over 2 years, but I am so happy that we are “officially” a forever family.  You are truly a gift from God, and I am so thankful he brought us together.  It is not lost on me that the joy of your adoption also comes with a significant loss.  My heart breaks for that loss, for the pain that it brings with it, both now and in the future.  I want you to know that it’s ok to feel that pain and grief, that it doesn’t threaten the bonds of our family.  It’s ok to be sad and angry about that loss, know that those feelings are normal and natural.  Know also that I will always love you.  There is nothing that could ever change that.  Nothing.  I will love you when you are sweet and adorable and hilarious.  I will love you when you are tired and overwhelmed and confused.  I will love you when you are angry and raging and lashing out at the world.  I will love you when you are silly and wild and scaring me to death with your latest dare-devil stunt.  I will love you when you are scared and confused and frustrated.  I will love you when you have soaked me with water or shaving cream or food.  I will love you forever.

Less than a week after your adoption we headed out of New York and moved to Illinois!  A whole  avalanche of changes was headed your way.  You went to a new school and a new daycare.  You moved into a new home with new neighbors.  You discovered the joy of living in a house instead of an apartment and began exploring the backyard and the neighborhood.  You spent time with family you had barely met before and learned about the joys of aunts and uncles and cousins and grandma.  You learned of new parks and lakes and discovered the joys of Dairy Queen ice cream cones.  Throughout all these changes you were a champ.  You showed such resilience and grew so much closer as you began to trust in our relationship in a brand new way.

It has been so incredible to see your personality emerge even more this year as you became more confident, comfortable, and verbal.  I have loved watching you pretend and be creative.  One of my favorite times is when you decided to put on a show for us—you pushed back an imaginary curtain while you said “curtain open, curtain open,” then you picked up your microphone and Bible and pretended to read us a story, then you sang a few songs, pushed the imaginary curtain closed, and said “curtain closed, curtain closed.”  You love playing with blocks and have developed a talent for building car washes and gas stations for your toy cars.  You LOVE stuffed animals and have a collection of probably a hundred different bears, dogs, cats, bunnies, and various other creatures.  You try to take as many of them to daycare with you as possible, much to the chagrin of the daycare staff.  Two of your stuffed animals are as big as you —Big Doggy and Big Teddy.  I joke that Big Doggy is your therapy dog because you always want him when you are upset.  You are an amazing helper and love to clean.  You have made good friends and begun to interact with other kids in new, exciting ways.  You have a great memory and often want to talk through things that happened months ago.  You have been doing so well in swim lessons—after we moved they had your class go to the diving board and jump off.  Most kids were scared and needed someone to pick them up and drop them in.  Not you.  You are fearless.  You just leaped off that diving board and ran back for more!  You love reading books and riding your bike or pulling a wagon.  You love cooking—you can bake cupcakes all by yourself (apart from using the oven) and love to help cook whatever is for dinner. And iPad—you love watching iPad a little too much.  You are the cutest boy ever—you’re so adorable with your sparkling eyes and one dimple.  When you laugh your joy is infectious.  Unless of course you’re laughing because you just soaked me with the garden hose.  Then your joy is not so infectious.  But I still love you.

I am so amazed at how far you have come—you are learning and growing and impressing me with new skills all the time.  I know it’s hard sometimes.  Being a little kid is hard sometimes.  Being a little kid who struggles with the weight of trauma, special needs, and delays is incredibly hard.  I know we grown ups don’t get it all the time.  But you have so many people who love you and are cheering for you!  And you have a mommy who will fight for you like a crazy, scary momma-bear every day.  Because you matter.  You are important and valuable.  You are brave and strong.  You are helpful and caring.  You are loving and smart.  You are funny and sweet.  And I love you.  I pray that God will give you the confidence to know these things about yourself, to be confident in who you are, to be confident in my love for you, and especially in his love and care for you.

Here are a few pictures of our amazing year together.

Each year I interview you for your birthday and celebrate all the special, unique things about you.  Here is your time capsule from 2016!

Mommy: What do you want to be when you grow up?

Austin:  A school bus driver or a school bus.

Mommy:  Do you want to get married when you grow up?

Austin: Yes, I like married.

Mommy:  Do you want to have kids one day?

Austin: (Puts his hand on his face) No!

Mommy:  What is your favorite thing about yourself?

Austin:  I’m a boy.

Mommy: What is your favorite thing to do at school?

Austin: Play.

Mommy: What do you like to play with?

Austin: A train.

Mommy:  What do you like to do for fun?

Austin:  Watch iPad. Play with Play Doh.

Mommy:  What is your favorite thing about mommy?

Austin:  I love you.

Mommy:  I love you too.

Austin:  I like to eat with you.

Mommy:  Who are your best friends?

Austin: Donald Duck

Mommy: What is your favorite holiday?

Austin:  Family night

Mommy: If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?

Austin:  To get that racetrack (a toy he’s been asking for)

Mommy:  Anywhere you want to visit?

Austin: Church, but I’ll be too big for it.

Mommy:  You won’t be too big for church.

Austin: Yeah, because I’ll get too big for my class one day.

Mommy: Oh, ok.  Is there anywhere you’d like to go on vacation?

Austin: To visit Nana.

Mommy: What is your favorite memory of last year?

Austin:  Going to the airport to get Nana.  Moving to our new house.

Mommy: What is one thing you really want to do this year?

Austin: Get that race track.

Mommy:  What is something else you want to do?

Austin: (proceeds with a 15 minute conversation about the race track, the number of cars included with the race track, the elevator on the race track, the potential for someone stealing the race track, the amount of money he has saved up to buy the race track, etc.)

Mommy: What is something you want to do, not a toy you want to have?

Austin: Go to a pool party.

 

What is your favorite . . .

Toy:  Cars, my airplane

Drink: Root beer floats

Food: Cheeseburger and french fries and apple sauce

Activity: Going to the water park

Song: “Tooty Ta” and “Wheels on the Bus”

TV Show: Paw Patrol

Movie: Despicable Me

Book: Paw Patrol books

Sport: Swimming

Ice Cream: Twist

Color: White and Brown

Candy: Peanut M-n-M’s and Reeses Peanut Butter Cups

Stuffed Animal: Skye

Game: “The Elsa Game” aka Frozen Slides

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Toto, I Don’t Think We’re in Kansas Anymore!

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Toto, I Don’t Think We’re in Kansas Anymore!

Have you ever woken up and no longer recognized the life you were living?  I mentioned in my last post that there were lots of changes in my life.  Some changes have been amazing and exciting, others are incredibly frightening and have left me feeling lost and unsure.  As a result, my entire life has been turned upside down and though I’ve wanted to blog about it, I’ve been a bit unsure about how much to reveal.  I’m still not sure about that.  So this is a beginning of a conversation I hope to continue one day.  I hope you will have patience with me as a struggle through this.

My trip down the rabbit hole began last December.  Life was pretty good.  I was working at a church I loved, with people I respected.  Little Man and I were progressing well, moving toward adoption, and enjoying our first Christmas season together.  I was expecting Baby Amaia to arrive in a few short months, and had been stocking up on the most adorable baby clothes and tiny little diapers.

Then the tornado hit.  Three weeks before Christmas I lost my job.  The job that I loved and was so passionate about.  And although I was beginning to struggle with the 60-80 hour work weeks I was putting in as a single mom, the news caught me completely off-guard.  There is a lot about that situation that I would like to share.  There’s a lot that I feel needs to be heard and understood.  But when you work in the church, things are complicated.  A whole-other-universe kind of complicated.  I was heartbroken, and angry, and insanely stressed.  Because apart from every other thing I was feeling, I was a single mom without a job, and when you work in pastoral ministry you can’t just find another job in town.  Continuing to work in my field would mean moving, probably out of state.  And moving would mean giving up my son and soon-to-be-born daughter, who were still in the foster care system.  And that was not an option.  So I went into full-on panic mode.

I applied for close to a thousand jobs.  I only got three interviews and no job offers.  Then on January 29 I got a call that taught me fear.  Baby Amaia’s bio mother was going into labor almost three weeks early and they had discovered multiple problems with the baby.  They didn’t expect her to survive the delivery.  As the foster parent I had no legal rights, and no way of knowing what was going on.  I waited and prayed all night.  Sometime the next day I learned she had survived the birth.  For two weeks I waited each day for news, hoping for miracles.  I was able to go see her in the NICU and was blown away by how tiny she was.  She was hooked up to dozens of monitors and IV tubes.  Then on February 12 I received the phone call that changed our lives.  Baby Amaia would only live a few more hours.  They had decided to take her off life support and she would not survive.  I rushed to the hospital and held my sweet girl for the first and last time, as I watched the life ebb from her body.  There are no words for the pain I felt that day, the pain that still haunts me.  I miss her every day.

After months of looking for jobs I decided to become a substitute teacher until I could find full-time work.  Subbing in an inner city school district was an eye-opening experience.  I have worked professionally with kids for 13 years but I had never experienced anything like that.  The challenges were incredible.  After a few weeks I was hired to stay at one elementary school where I rotated between all types of classrooms, from pre-k through 6th, from standard, to special needs, to emotionally disturbed.  The students pushed me to new levels of frustration and I came home with more than one injury.  But they also broke my heart and made me fall in love with them.

In March an unexpected blessing came.  Little Man’s biological mother suddenly and unexpectedly signed over her parental rights, naming me as the adoptive parent.  This cleared the path for us to begin moving forward with his adoption.  It’s a humbling experience sitting in the courtroom as a parent signs away their parental rights to make way for you to become the mother of their child.  To sit and listen as the judge asks “Are you sure?” in a hundred different ways.  At the end of the day I was free to adopt my Little Man and his case was officially transferred to the adoption department.

Then began months of waiting, bureaucracy, and frustration.  It seemed like everything was moving at a snail’s pace.  In the meantime I began to explore the possibility of moving back to Illinois to be near my family.  Being a single mom is hard without any family around.  With no family in New York I was at a bit of a disadvantage.  I’d always had a great network of friends and church members who served as my support system, but when I lost my job I lost about 95% of those people.  I had not only lost my job, I had lost my church and most of my friends.  Since I’d been exploring the possibility of going back to school and getting a second masters in teaching, school counseling, or speech therapy, having family around would be really nice.  Now that I was looking at adoption, moving to be closer to family was a possibility.

Finally, just a few short weeks ago, we finalized our adoption!  After 588 days in foster care, Little Man became part of his Forever Family!  I can now officially introduce you to Austin!

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After a year and a half, I can finally show you my adorable Little Man’s face!  Officially becoming a family is definitely the highlight of my year, and the best thing that has ever happened to me.  It makes all the struggles and pain of the past year worthwhile.  I am so blessed to call him mine, and so thankful God brought him into my life.

Austin’s adoption day was August 26.  I had decided it was best to move to Illinois, and we had been making plans prior to the adoption.  So a mere two days after the adoption we loaded up a truck full of stuff and the next day we pulled out of town.  We’ve been in Illinois for a few weeks now and everything has been a huge adjustment.  I’ve been living in large cities since I left home at 17.  Now I’ve moved to a small town where everyone knows everything about each other.  I’m coming to terms with the fact that there are no stand-alone Starbucks (although, thank God, there is one in a grocery store), big shopping areas, or fun attractions.  I’m also starting my job search all over again, this time in a small town with far less opportunities.  I’m renting a house for the first time and purchasing appliances, dealing with spiders and cockroaches, and discovering the [insert sarcasm] joys of living in a home that’s over a 100 years old.  I’m struggling with a school district that has been very frustrating to get registered with and just decreased Austin’s services significantly–from 10 times a week in a 5 hour program to 4 times a week in a 2 1/2 hour program.  And on top of all that I’m trying to unpack, make new friends, cook without a stove (going on 2 weeks now), acclimate Austin, and try not to freak out about how I’m going to survive until I find a job.

This is my life now, and I’m definitely not in Kansas anymore.  So much of the past year has been overwhelmingly heartbreaking.  It has challenged my faith and left me in an emotional blackhole.  And yet, there are glimpses of beauty and hope.  Becoming a forever family is the best thing in my life.  Even painful things, like losing my job, have taught me to trust God and allowed me to see the beauty in spending time as a family–which was something we seriously lacked when I worked in the church.  I don’t know where this yellow brick road will lead me.  I have no idea what my life will be like five years from now–what I will be doing as my next career, where we’ll be living (because houses with cockroaches and zero storage space are not my cup of tea), or how far Austin will have progressed on his journey.  But I have hope.  The wonders of Oz await!

The Road to Adoption

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A few of you picked up the term “pre-adoptive” in my last post.  I kinda tucked in there all stealth like and rolled right on by, as I dealt with first-day sleep problems and enrolling for daycare.  But now let me unpack that for you.

A pre-adoptive foster home is one where the parents are both willing and licensed to adopt the foster kids in their home if they become eligible for adoption.  For any of you who have dealt with the foster care system you know that this takes years.  And in most states (including New York) the first and unending plan is reunification with the bio family now matter how much work that takes.  Usually they don’t even begin to talk about adoption until a child has been in care for for 15-24 months.  Then even after they start talking about adoption as a possible plan, it may still take countless years for the child to actually be freed for adoption.  (Case in point:  check out Blitzen’s story over at FosterWee.wordpress.com.  If I have my dates right, she’s been with a foster family who is willing to adopt her, waiting to be legally freed for adoption for 6 years now.)

But my Little Man is only 2 years old and has only been in care for two months.  So why were they looking for a pre-adoptive home?  Well, apparently mom has “many” other children–half siblings to Little Man, and they are ALL already legally freed for adoption.  And she seems to have no interest in changing her patterns now.  In fact, there isn’t even visitation set up because she refuses to communicate with the caseworker.  So, based on previous patterns of her behavior, when they went to remove him from the last foster home, they were expecting his next foster placement (aka me), to quite likely be his forever home.

Woah.

Let that just sit with you for a moment.  I mean, I’m still trying to let it sink in with me.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love this little guy, and it would be so good for him to not have to move from home-to-home-to-home throughout his life.  It would be so good for him to achieve permanency without a lot of the trauma that usually accompanies growing up in care.  It would be so good for him to have the consistency of care that would help him grow and move beyond his early delays.  It’s just SO unexpected.  It is SO not how foster care normally works.  And it’s SO not what I thought I was signing up for.

And what’s ironic is that in my foster class every other parent was looking at fostering as a path to adoption.  They wanted to expand their family (or in some cases adopt a family member).  And almost all of them would really prefer a baby or adorable toddler.  Just like my little man.  I was the sole person in class who said although I was open for adoption, it wasn’t my end goal.  I was the one crazy person who said, “give me your kids and I’ll love on them, and then give them back when you ask me to, and let my heart be broken into a million pieces.”  And that is how foster care often works.  You have kids, you fall in love, you have to give them back to their parents or family members.  And you try to trust that going back and reuniting with their family will be the best thing for them.  So how is it the one person in class who said “you can use me as a revolving door and I’ll just absorb the pain for that” ended up getting the crazy exceptional case of an adorable toddler who is being pronounced pre-adoptive after only 2 months in care?

Lord only knows.  But the bottom line is that I am a pre-adoptive foster home.  Because I know one thing for certain.  I fall in love with every kid I work with, and I would do anything in my power to make their lives better.  And Little Man is no exception.  And I have been given this humbling power to make his life better.  And so I will do everything I can to make his life the best possible.  To fill him up with as much love and laughter and grace and peace and kindness and wisdom and joy as possible.  And that is true whether I become his forever home or just another stop on his journey.