The Beginning of the End

I know that title sounds so dramatic but it is. By next weekend at this time, our girls will be happily giggling and playing in their new permanent home – their mom’s home. We’re having a hard time processing this idea. Seems like the last few days, today especially, has been difficult to understand. We have a lot of emotions going on right now and they’re all sort of spinning around at the same time; each one contradicting the other. It’s confusing because you’re not really sure which one you should latch onto and follow.

I guess I’m just feeling sad for us. For my mom. For our friends and family. I’m fine one minute, in tears the next. I’ll probably cry 5 different times just writing this post. When I think back on all of the wonderful, pivotal memories we’ve made together my heart swells with pride, happiness, and accomplishment. And then I retreat and deflate a little (or a lot) at the impact their departure is and will have on our hearts. All of our hearts. What makes me feel really good (in a weird way) is when people on Facebook tell us that they’ll miss our girls too. To me, this means we have done a good job being transparent in our struggles and generous with our joy. To know that others have learned from, grown from, and considered this journey because of what we have shared makes us feel like we did an OK job at something we knew nothing about.

The other struggle is this: how long do we wait? We’ve been asked this question umpteen million times. Hell, we’ve asked ourselves umpteen million times too. How long is long enough? Don’t wait too long or else you’ll lose spots at the great daycare you’ve found. Don’t take more kids in too soon so it doesn’t look like you’re trying to fill a void. (For the record, no child will ever fill another child’s void.) Don’t say no for too long, you don’t want to miss the child that would have been perfect for your home. All of those things run through our minds about 20 times an hour. It’s hard to know how long we wait…or if we wait at all. We can see the plusses and minuses of each side. And as soon as we come up with a definite game plan, here comes the next little that’s sleeping in a hotel room with a social worker until the right home comes along. Now if that isn’t tragedy, I don’t know what is.

Over the last week there’s been an influx of kids coming into care. When they start using the words, “Emergency Care” or something like that, you know it’s because nobody else is willing/able/whatever to take in the child for whatever reason. I’ve lost track now at the number of kids that are in dire need for a place this weekend alone. The clothes on their backs, empty bellies, and broken hearts is all they come with sometimes. “Here! Our door is wide open! Let them all come in!” our hearts exclaim. Logically, we try to stay reserved as our hearts break when we read how sweet these kids are and how their small but significant lives are being shaken up like a martini.

We’re scared. We don’t know what the right thing to do is. We thought for sure we were going to take a break but we just look at each other and say the same thing at the same time. “As broken hearted as we are, there’s no way in hell I can let a kid have nowhere to go. We’ll do it. We’ll welcome them in.” 

Keep in mind, this is still new to us. There have been a lot of “firsts” since we got our girls in June and now this is the first goodbye. (Typing that was painful!) This is also the first time we’re having to figure out how much time we should or shouldn’t take. We won’t know what the right answer is until we do or we don’t. We’ve got a line of people 20 miles long ready and willing to give us their advice. Ready to tell us what we should do. I’ll kindly thank you for your well intentioned support. We know you’re looking out for what’s best for us. The truth is, only we can make this decision.

Do realize that we know this hurts you. You’ve read along, liked our posts and pictures, come to our parties to celebrate, supported us when we shed tears (more to come!), and sent gifts, cards, yourselves over to comfort us. You’ve engaged, believed, prayed, laughed, smiled, cared, cried, disagreed, and encouraged. You’ve felt our emotions as closely as you possibly could have without being us. Because you support us, because you follow us, you have been through the wringer, as well. It must be hard to watch people you care about be in pain over something that has been so beautiful. So maybe you aren’t ready for us to have more kids. Maybe this has been too hard for you. Trust me, we get where you’re coming from.

No promises is all I can promise at this point. I feel like we look so dumb saying we’ve got a plan and then realizing that our plan wasn’t a plan at all. Maybe it makes sense in our minds to feel like we’ve had some say in this so we’ll say we have a plan, but we now realize that in the world of foster care the plan can and likely will always change. For now, I know this much. The girls won’t be home until Monday night, they’ll have a visit with their mom on Wednesday and Thursday night, and sometime on Friday, probably in the morning, they’ll be returned home to her. And then that’s it. 

Here come the tears again. It’s weird. This is so final. All of it is coming to a close. Their sweet faces and voices not to be heard on a daily basis anymore. We’ll have to use the 1,000 pictures and videos we have saved to watch them. The hard part will be not being able to hug them. The hard part will be remembering the funny things like when Doc McStuffins comes on and they look at you and smile big, hold their hand out toward you and motion their little hand to come over, and they say, “Monn!” and you realize they’re saying “Come on and dance with me to the opening credits of this show I love so much!” So you get up and you dance around like a toddler and they laugh wildly. That’ll be hard; to not hear, see, or engage in that with them. It’ll be hard to walk into the room that was first theirs and know it’s not theirs anymore. Their room is somewhere else. This room will be someone else’s. A childless parent. 

I could keep going on but it’ll just get more depressing so I’ll stop here. Maybe you can see how we’re straddling both sides of the fence here. The one side where our hearts are broken and devastated by the loss of the twins; the other side where our hearts and broken and devastated by the lack of homes for kids in dire need of love, stability, and comfort. What do we do? What’s the right thing? Is there a wrong thing? I feel like we’re really being tested here, yet there was no way to study, so you don’t know how to pass or how to fail. I guess we can only do our best and wait for the results.

xo,

a

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It’s Off

I got up when I felt like it today. Went to Legendary to grab a few donuts. Used up the last of my Starbucks gift card. Dropped a donut off to my mom and helped her with an app on her phone. Came home to Mitch and sat casually on the recliner while we chatted and started to watch Lockup on Netflix. He decided he was still tired, so he went back to bed. I scrolled through Facebook and texted with Stephanie, who has been home since Thursday but I just realized that TODAY. Felt like a shitty friend. Wondered what else I’ve been missing/not realizing/forgetting lately. Probably a lot. Sigh.

It’s off. This whole morning. I should have gotten up when I had to. Chased the kids around to get them ready for their visit with their dad. Tried six times to get their coats on. Told them to keep their shoes on at least 27 times. Put on Doc McStuffins or Goldie and Bear to let them have a little bit of TV time to distract them from the fact that we were putting their shoes on…yet again. Fed them *only* a banana because that’s all they want and their dad feeds them when they get to their visit. Saw them off to the visit transporter at 8:30 and then promptly began to rush around to spend hours cleaning the house so it could inevitably be a mess again before days end. I should be running around doing errands with urgency so I can be home by about 2:20 when they get home. Or taking a nap and setting my alarm to be awake when they get home.

Instead of doing all of that I had a casual morning. It’s off. For almost a year now we’ve had to establish a routine for the sake of everyone’s sanity. For almost a year now we’ve had to build our life around their six days a week visit schedules. It’s hard to believe we’re just three weeks out from all of that. Hard to believe it has been almost a year. Hard to believe we crammed so many memories in. I remember when they got here. We pulled them out of their car seats and they weren’t even a little bit reluctant to wrap their tiny arms around our necks and hug us. Strangers. A new face. Again. We were an instant family.

Nay Nay had just learned to walk, so she was still pretty wobbly. Sassie was still crawling. We taught one how to stabilize her new ability and taught one how to walk. Taught them how to use a fork and spoon. Taught them how to brush their teeth. Worked with them on their words so their speech could be on track for their age group. Nurtured their interest in the potty. Allowed them to wash themselves in the bath tub. We watched them go from needing us to do everything for them to watching them try to do everything for themselves. Watched them outgrow an outfit that fit them fine the week before. Put their own coats and socks on. Buckle themselves into their booster seats. Use the remote. Open doors. (YIKES!)

When I posted this profound article earlier this morning on my Facebook page, I said that, “Being a foster parent means you’re willing to put everything on the line knowing you could lose it all.” It’s true. And for those of you out there that do this repeatedly, I applaud you. It’s pretty brave of you to know you’re going to use up every ounce of energy and love you have to give only to have it questioned, accused, misunderstood, and to feel unappreciated. Of course, that’s not always the case. I’m sure there are situations where it’s not as volatile, not as much of a tug of war as it has been, and not so jagged at times.

Don’t get me wrong, we get to be thankful for the time we had with our littles. The things we taught them without even realizing we were contributing in some small way to their development and happiness, but they weren’t the only ones learning. They were our teachers, too. They taught us how to parent, how to budget, how to make the most of our time, how to stay up for too many hours (ha!), how to fight for something no matter how slim the chances of success are, how to be a child advocate, how to love others in ways we never understood, how to be adaptable, and it doesn’t stop there. The lessons they teach us every day will continue on after they are gone not here anymore back with their mom go home…well, you know. Having a hard time saying and hearing all of those.

I know you’re reading this and it’s probably hard to know what to say. Some of you have expressed love and comfort so willingly, others have stayed silent, some have sent a text or a Facebook message. Some of you have told me something along the lines of, “I have been following your story…I don’t know what to say…I’m sorry that…” Please don’t apologize. You checking in on us is perfect. Saying you love us and we have been great is perfect. Saying you don’t know what to say is perfect. Saying, “This is what you signed up for…” or something like that is not helpful. This roller coaster of emotions is super hard to navigate. It’s all new to us, just like being parents was new to us. It’s weird when they aren’t here. It’s weird I won’t see them until Monday night. I cried on my way to work Friday morning knowing I wouldn’t see their sweet faces for what seemed like forever. Maybe that sounds silly/stupid/dramatic and maybe it is.

If I have learned one thing in the last few times that they’ve gone on overnight visits with their mom, it’s that I believe having kids gives me a life that I love. It makes me feel like I have a purpose. Before them, we were so casual, and we liked it! Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that we don’t enjoy a quick and rare chance to have a date, watch a movie together at home after the kids go to bed, or sleep in, but it’s different when they’re gone for a long time. And it’s different when you have a family. I want to be the snack mom at their sporting events. I want to join the PTA and put my fundraising skills to use again. I want to be the reason they look back on their childhood and smile. I want to let them be a child during their years of childhood, something in which is robbed of far too many kids. 

How soon after the girls leave can we continue to contribute to the well-being of a child and their family? That remains to be seen, but I know we want to do it. We are scared. I know how much this hurts us right now and I know it’ll hurt even more come “the day” that they…go. I’ll be honest, I really don’t know how our hearts and energy will be replenished after all of this, but I know it’ll happen. When it does, we’ll welcome him, her, them just as we welcomed the twins. We will love them, provide for them, encourage them, and fight for them because if not us, then who?

xo,

a

P.S. On April 2nd, we are participating in a bowling fundraiser for foster children in our area. We are $50 short of our required minimum and we need your help. Please donate any amount here. Thank you!

Sucks.

I am so tired of this emotional roller coaster. This has been the most difficult period of my life and a close second for Mitch’s life. The transition has been hard on the girls and on us. The emotion has been a lot to try to work through and I can feel myself crawling back inside my head to avoid working through my emotions, which was a coping mechanism for me for my entire life and only in the last year or so have I learned how not to do that. Still, I’m tired of crying myself to sleep. I’m tired of it consuming my mind. I’m tired of trying to mentally prepare for a house without them in it. I’m just tired.

When you walk in their room it smells like them. I think it’s a combination of mac n cheese, playdough, and sweet lavender lotion. Eventually, that smell will disappear, just as they have, and it’ll be excruciating to go in there for any reason whatsoever. If I just shut the door and never open it I’ll still know what was once on the other side of it. My counselor told me of a quote she recently read.

When your parents die you become an orphan. When your spouse dies you become a widow. There is no word for when your child dies and there’s no word for when you lose your foster children. People really don’t understand what that must be like for you. To love and fight for something so hard and then to let it go. 

I have tonight to spend with them and that’s about an hour, at best, until they go to bed. I won’t see them again until Monday night. This is going to suck. This last 3 weeks of them being with us will be hard because the visit schedule will be increased as they approach the day of return to their mom. I know everyone says to focus on loving them while we have them, and we do, but let me ask you something, and, please, answer this honestly. Think about your own children. Think about how much you love them. Would it be easy for you to watch them leave and never see them again? I’ve asked this question in a blog before, but it is worth asking again. I’m sure the answer is no, it wouldn’t be easy. “But this is what you signed up for…” WRONG. What I signed up for is to be an advocate, to give love, to share experiences, to teach, to be taught. And, yes, the end result is that they usually go home. I get that. I didn’t realize the heartbreak this would cause. Call me stupid if you want to, but put yourself in our shoes and then tell me if you’d want me to be that inconsiderate and diminishing of your feelings.

My counselor has warned me not to revert to my old behavior, which is to close up, say “I’m fine” and to not cry. I’ve gotta say, that seems like the best thing to do right now. I’m tired of feeling all of this emotion and thinking all of these thoughts. Enough about that…

 

xo,

a

The End of Week 2

So it’s the end of my second week at my new job. You can read about where I work here. I’m the assistant to the Chief of Resident Treatment. Basically, my boss oversees all of the clinicians at the facility. Because she has a big job, I have a big job. I have quite a few different areas I’m responsible for and it’s nothing like I have ever done before. I really like it!

My Criminal Justice degree is finally being used and the extra work I put in to earn my specialization in violent offenders is paying off, as I knew it would. The fact that I can carry on an informed and educated conversation with people who carry a PhD makes me feel really good about myself, but the fact that I have an understanding of the resident population that I work with makes me feel like it was all worth it. When I was in school, there were a lot of late nights and early mornings, many sacrifices, and it was all worth it. It’s exciting to know I still have the opportunity to learn a lot and I’m loving the work, so far.

I’ve heard a lot of people say that they hate the commute. Admittedly, it’s not the most convenient route to work but it’s not as terrible as I feel like it would be to drive to Seattle every day. You have to make sure you’re at the Steilacoom Ferry dock, parked,through the security checkpoint at the dock house, and on the boat by 7:20 AM or else you’re going to wait two more hours for the next boat to come. Our boat only carries McNeil Island employees to/from the island. We don’t pay for parking or the ride over since it’s owned by the facility itself, which is nice because that would add up quickly! Personally, I enjoy the ride over to the island. The water is beautiful and I get to watch the seals, see the porpoises jumping in and out of the water, and if you’re lucky, you get to see the bald eagle. I use the boat ride home as a way to leave all of the “icky” stuff I might hear, see, or read about at work behind. The distance between the island to the mainland is plenty of time to let my day drift off of me so I don’t get burnt out by what could become challenging.

Other than the obvious, one of the unique situations is that you can’t have your phone on you at all. I have to leave mine in my car, so I don’t see or hear from anyone till I get to my car at 4:45 PM. Then I have to drive about 30 minutes home. So I’m seeing 97 Facebook notifications, 29 texts, 3 missed calls, 2 voicemails, 7 Snapchat notifications, and God only knows what else popping up on my phone. I have to admit, it’s kinda like Christmas to see all of that at the end of the day. Even more, I’ve noticed how nice it is to not be distracted by a phone at work all day. And in a place like that, you need to remain alert.

Overall, I think I’m feeling positive about things. I like the people I work with and they seem to like me, I know I can learn and grow professionally there, and I get to be on the water twice a day. For me, that’s a treat, but I’m told will wear off – we’ll see about that. So many of you have been curious to know how things have been going so I thought I’d make it easier to send out a blog post to update everyone. I would love to hear your questions since I didn’t really get into specifics. I’ll answer anything I’m allowed to. Thanks for reading!

xo,

a

 

The Day That Broke My Spirit – Part 1

Become a foster parent, they said. Change a child’s life, they said. It’ll be an amazing experience, they said. 

I guess I don’t really know where to begin. I’m having a tough time sorting things out in my mind. My crazy, argumentative, advocating, envelope pushing mind. The mind that is so confused. The mind that keeps asking, “why?” Our job as foster parents is to love the child, care for the child, protect the child, and give the child a voice. Until it isn’t your job anymore. It becomes not your job when being told the kids are going home. It becomes not your job when you’ve provided piece after piece of concerning documentation that seems to fall upon deaf ears. At that point, you’re harshly reminded that your “job” is to lay down on your back, look up at the sky, and watch it crash down on you – and be okay with that happening. I think it’s safe to say that we are failures at the latter part of our job.

I said to Mitch last night, “I’ve never been so exhausted, yet so determined to keep fighting in all my life.” The email came through this afternoon and I got it just before I drove home from work. The date of their return home has been given to us. Hence, the title of this blog post: The Day That Broke My Spirit – Part 1. As you can imagine, part 2 will come in about 6 weeks. I’m going to keep the date to myself because I don’t want to acknowledge it, but the gigantic, choking lump in my throat tells me that my heart is already a swirling fester of sadness. My eyes are welling up and I’m trying so hard to keep the tears from spilling over the edge. I am not successful.

For the first half of the girls being in our home, we were supportive and understanding of their return home. Don’t get me wrong – we weren’t going to throw a celebration, but we acknowledged how wonderful it will be for their little family to be back together. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen atrocious behaviors develop into bigger and bigger parental deficiencies, we can no longer support the transition home. As noted in the beginning of this blog, our opinion doesn’t matter. We feel used up and spit out. The depths that our sorrows are reaching go far deeper than we realized we had within us. The idea of losing the most precious gift we’ve ever had in our lives is unfathomable. Imagine, for just a moment, what it would be like to have to give your kids away and never hear or see them again. I know some of you know this feeling. For those of you without kids, think of the person you love more than anything in this world. All of the memories, love, ups and downs, everything – gone. Forever. 

I literally physically ache when the idea of them going home forever comes to mind. It hurts so deep and so bad. I have never experienced pain like this before. When the emotions hit my body I feel like a porcupine – swiftly exposing my quills in order to protect myself from thoughts or feelings of them leaving. I can physically feel this. God, I wish I could describe to you how strongly I feel what I’m writing. Being unable to eloquently express my grief is frustrating. I feel like crawling into a dark hole and never coming out. I feel like just being angry because the world is unfair. I feel like even if I lost my shit completely it still wouldn’t get it all out. The ache that is lurking deep down will remain in that spot forever.

How do you love something so hard and be okay with letting it walk away? Those tiny little steps we helped them learn to make teetering off in the direction opposite of us. Can you not feel one tiny shred of our pain? I’m sure you can because so many of you have been invested in us and our unorthodox family since the day we announced we were going to become foster parents, since the day we got our girls, since the day we made the first post of their faces, since every milestone, since the beginning you’ve been there. Right there along with us trying to understand our story, encouraging us, celebrating with us, and now, feeling sad for us. If you say something nice and we don’t respond in the way you are hoping us to, please do not take it personally. The truth is that nothing is going to make us feel better right now. We are inconsolable at this point and I’m honestly scared to death of the day they finally go home. Forever. What will that be like? What will we be like?

Thank you for sharing this with us. We know that you didn’t sign up for the emotional mess that we are, but you’ve stuck with us and many of you have been so understanding. We’ve noticed, even if we didn’t say so, and we should have. Please just keep our little family in your thoughts. We’ve made a life together. We love kids that aren’t ours to love.

xo,

a

You Are Always On My Mind

I feel like talking about my dad today.

I think I have to point out that he was a good provider when he wanted to be. We had nice things like music and movies, which is where Luke and I get much of our interest in it from, my mom always had a neck and fingers full of nice jewelry, we had nice vehicles, we lived in nice places. All of that being said, it came at a cost.

My dad was the kind of guy that was the life of the party. Funny, a good entertainer, and vivacious. People were drawn to him in every arena and he was always the one ready to party and have a good time. The problem was that he never knew the fine line between fun and fury. As grand as he was is as atrocious as he was. He was a Jekyll and Hyde of the drug and alcohol world. He was vicious.

My dad has had several wives and there are six of us kids all spread out between the marriages. Not a one of us has a close relationship with him. That wasn’t always the case, though, as I spent many of my fragile childhood and young adult years putting his needs in front of mine. I fostered his demand for acceptance, love, and encouragement well beyond the call of duty, especially for a child. I spent well over a decade trying my best to instill the love I had for him that I could only wish he had given me. It was never enough and for a long, long time it made me believe that I was not enough.

Experiencing rejection from a parent is an incomprehensible blow to a child of any age but as a young girl who desperately wanted her father’s approval, it completely broke my spirit. To watch him replace me with his insatiable thirst for a world I couldn’t understand, yet hated, shattered my expectations of ever having a normal relationship with him. Drugs became his new wife; alcohol became his new children; addiction his new career. His soul was a vagabond on the precipice of defeat more often than not. There has always been a good person underneath those layers of skin that hold his hatred, shame, and guilt like a cloak of failure.

I cringe when I hear the phrase, “I’m just going to sit this one out…” because that’s what he told me when I was two weeks away from my wedding day. After having spoken to him about the most important day of my life and making plans for over a year, he had promised me he’d be there. I foolishly believed that he would be but he wasn’t. It was then that I knew I could no longer allow my father to hurt me. I was about to start a new life as a married woman and I refused to allow the turmoil my dad poured all over my fragile heart for the first quarter century of my life affect my marriage. So when the phone rang the morning of my wedding day with the word “Dad” across the screen, I simply ignored the call and that was that. Easy? No. Necessary? Absolutely. Regretful? Never.

I had to realize that I have to be OK even if he is not. I have to make good choices even though he has chosen not to. I have to parent our kids in the ways that he chose not to. I refuse to be the insufficient source of love, protection, and acceptance that I was aching for as a child and sometimes even today. Walking away from a parent is not easy. The comments that have been made to me are bewildering. As if I hadn’t already thought about the repercussions of living a fatherless life would bring.

This hurts me every. single. day. Especially at times where I wish he was here, like right now as we struggle with the idea of sending our girls home to their mom. And speaking of mom’s…how unfair is it that my mom has had to shoulder the weight of two kids and two parents? Did they not create this family together? Why should she have to be the one left standing? It doesn’t seem fair. She has experienced her own trauma at the hands of a man who could be so loving, yet so damaging. What a toxic and confusing way to live. It was awful.

Today, I am free from my dad’s presence but I am not always free of his emotional stronghold. All I can do is keep moving forward and reminding myself of the exceptional reasons I choose to live and be happy. I wish I could have seen him do the same. What a sight he would have been.

xo,

a

Pushing Through 

Violent. Sexual. Predators. 
The interview offer came yesterday and the interview was today. I reluctantly accepted after misinterpreting my own boundaries. I was nervous all day yesterday, had nightmares last night, and was terrified today.

I went anyway.

The interview was out on McNeil Island where there used to be a prison. Technically, the prison is still there but it isn’t being used but if you go on the north side of the island you’ll find their compound that houses violent and non violent sexual offenders that have completed their prison time and are being further screened to be sure they are ready to return to civilized society.

Having been a sexual assault victim, I believe I had every right to feel terror about going. Nobody knows what I live with on a day to day basis and I sure as hell wouldn’t want them to. So why go? Trust me, the idea rolled around in the pit of my stomach since the original interview offer came through. Some said I should strongly consider not going, some couldn’t understand why I was scared to go. And then there was my opinion. The only opinion that mattered.

I went because if I let myself cower down then the men that did (or tried) to take advantage of my body still win. I went because I have a degree in Criminal Justice with a specialized focus in Violent Offenders that I spent years of late nights busting my ass to graduate with honors from. I went because it was my way of winning; my way of saying, “Fuck you for the anguish you have brought upon my body, mind, and spirit.” I went because it was my chance to have a say in things. I went because I owed myself the privilege of getting to tour an intriguing and secluded location that many wonder about but few understand.

I was a bit of a mess as I got to the dock to ride the boat. I fumbled through getting my visitors pass. My mouth was dry and my eyes bulged. I smoothed my hair about 10 trillion times. Finally, we set sail and it was a beautiful ride across the Puget Sound. I think it calmed me as I have always been drawn to the water. The more time I spent on the island, the more at ease I was. I needed to see what it was like in order to make an educated decision as to whether or not this was somewhere I would want to work every day. I needed to go for me.

xo,

a