Thursday, July 14, 2016

new beginnings and one sad goodbye

It has been an interesting week at our house.

We began the week with the death of Steve Jr, the dragon. It was actually quite a gruesome death and I'm glad I was the one to discover him rather than our son. M was a bit upset about the loss of his pet, but he seems to be coping okay.

There was also a debate as to what to do with poor dead Steve Jr. You see, our family offers a wide variety of pet memorial options. There is the family pet cemetery at my grandparents' home in New York, my parents' back yard in a newly designed pet cemetery, or a traditional backyard burial at our home.

Steve Jr. began to smell quite quickly so we went with the fastest option. I feel a little guilty about that. Human Steve thinks I'm nuts for feeling guilty that the dragon's funeral wasn't more fancy.

Anyway... it wasn't all doom and gloom around here.

The kids are now both registered for school! They will be attending the school where I will be teaching this year. My NEW school in my NEW district! I've met a bunch of my coworkers and they are AWESOME! I know Y and M are going to love it there.

We went by the school today to drop off some paperwork and we checked out the playground. It. Is. Incredible. Seriously, there is a musical section with outdoor xylophones and this wheel that makes sounds like those rain sticks everybody created at summer camp.

There are also two outdoor classroom spaces with chalkboards and three more class meeting spaces without boards. A full basketball court. A huge field with soccer goals. A traditional play structure. And my personal favorite, SWINGS!

It's the playground of my dreams. Y and M loved it, too.

This week we also signed the kids up for RCIC - the Rite of Christian Initiation for Children.

Since both of our kids are older than the age of reason, they will be going through a special program at church designed to help them complete the steps necessary to receive their sacraments. It's very similar to RCIA (the program Steve and I went through when we entered the church in 2013), just geared toward children.

The kids will attend classes at church after Mass on Sundays throughout the school year and then receive their sacraments at the Easter Vigil service. They will be baptized, receive their first holy communion, and be confirmed all in one night!

And they are actually pretty excited about it. At least, they are acting excited.

I don't know if I'll ever get used to this new normal we have created around here, but I am so grateful for this life I get to live and these kids I get to parent. It's exhausting and thrilling and never boring.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

let's have a chat about poetry

There is a poem that's really popular in adoption gifts and cards. It's like someone once declared it the official poem of adoption related things and everyone just ran with it. The poem goes like this:

Not flesh of my flesh
Nor bone of my bone,
But still miraculously my own.
Never forget for a single minute,
You didn't grow under my heart,
But in it.

It's cute and clearly meant to be sweet.

And I hate it.

Not the first two lines. Those are just stating fact. The third line is okay, too, I guess. Those last three lines are pure garbage though.

My kids are not biologically related to me. Steve and I are adopting children that, until June 4th, 2016 around 10am, were complete strangers to us. They were conceived, carried, and born to a woman I will very likely never meet.

My heart had nothing to do with the process.

My hope to one day have children was definitely growing in my heart at that time, but these specific children (or any children for that matter) were not.

I think my reaction to this poem is, at its root, a reaction to comments I have received and attitudes I have discovered about adoption among the people I know. Not the inner circle, but coworkers and other acquaintances. It's as if they think being adopted somehow erases all the traumas my kids have experienced to get to this point in their lives. That it takes away the pain Steve and I went through to get here. Or that it doesn't involve awkwardness or struggle now that the kids are here.

The truth is, adoption from foster care has no business being involved in cutesy poems. All four of us in this new family have fought tooth and nail to get here, to not give up on the hope of a life we wanted, to not let pain and bitterness steal our future or our joy. The kids even more so than Steve and I.

Even now as we adjust to life together as a family, there are struggles to be overcome. There are rough edges to be smoothed. There are old wounds needing mending. There is awkwardness.

I won't speak for all adoptions. Just ours. But for me and my family, this kind of poem does us and our journey no justice.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

New levels of crazy

Life with the kiddos has been pretty great!

By great I mean we have loved getting to know them and helping them get to know us. We haven't had any major issues and we are getting at least a little sleep.

Everybody told me that you get no sleep as a parent and I naively believed that was only parents of babies and toddlers.



My kids are 11 and 9 and, by some quirk of nature, I can not fall asleep unless I know they are asleep. And I wake up no later than 7am. If the kids haven't gotten up and knocked on the door for breakfast by then I'm still awake. Usually checking on them to make sure they're ok.

This weekend that meant I was up until 12:30am comforting them during the fireworks and then awake again at 6am because they were hungry and wanted me to cook breakfast.

Please don't misunderstand me. I am not complaining at all. Not even a little bit.

I am simply in awe of how much my life has changed in the span of one month.

That's how long I've known these kids. One month and two days.

On friday they move in permanently. All of their stuff will be here (including Steve, the bearded dragon belonging to my son) and we will finally stop the endless shuffle back and forth between foster homes and forever home.

Monday, July 11th, we sign the temporary custody paperwork.

That also happens to be our 7th wedding anniversary. Fried chicken and lemon cake for everybody! lol

Seriously though... someone pinch me. I can't even comprehend the blessings I've been given lately. My heart is so incredibly full it's bursting.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Parents for a weekend

Yesterday was Father's Day , Steve's very first one as a dad, and our last day of a three day visit with our kiddos.

Overall, it was a fantastic visit. There were some moments where I found myself going "this is NOTHING like teaching/babysitting" and feeling a little intimidated. But I think that must be pretty normal.

We watched a couple movies throughout the weekend and spent a lot of time at the pool. The kids wanted to hang out at the house rather than go to the park or out anywhere, so we had kind of a chill weekend.

My parents (the newly dubbed Nana and Pop) came for a visit on Saturday. They got a chance to meet the kids and spend time with us while we were at the pool. Seeing my parents interact with my kids was surreal and awesome all at the same time. They were acting like little kids again. My dad kept doing canon balls into the deep end and my mom was busting out the diving sticks and other pool toys.

We even got my dad to try one of the Mexican candies the kids love. It's a peach and chili candy. Seriously good, but very spicy.

Our last day together we took the kids to church which proved to be quite interesting since both of their foster placements go to Baptist churches and Steve and I are Catholic. They were so curious about the different areas of the church and then the various parts of Mass. As our son put it "That dude up front is cool looking, but I don't like having to sit on my knees so much."

By "that dude" he meant Jesus on the crucifix. lol

After lunch we loaded their stuff into the car and began what became the road trip that would not end. Our son was heading to camp for the week and our daughter was going back to her foster placement. Little did we know those two places were four hours apart. And the camp was 2 hours away from our house.

Long story short... after factoring in traffic we spent 10 hours in the car to get everyone where they needed to be and make it home again. I loved the time with the kids, but I was definitely happy to be back in my bed at the end of the day!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Important encounters

If you don't believe in love at first sight then I am here to tell you that you are wrong. It exists. I know it does because I have been lucky enough to experience it with three different humans (and two ridiculously spoiled dogs). 

The first human was my husband. He walked into the party in his purple dress shirt and Regis Philbin tie straight from work and my heart said "That's him. That is the man you are going to love for the rest of your life".

The second and third humans were my daughter and my son. Their caseworker pulled up to our meeting place, the kids stepped out of the car, and my heart said "That's them. Those are the kids you've been praying for and dreaming of since you first realized you were meant to be a mom".

Steve and I have met our children.

In fact, we spent a morning with them and then, a week later, an entire day. On Friday morning I am picking them up to spend the weekend together. They are spending three days and two nights here. In their rooms. 

The first time we met the kids was a brief 2 hour meet and greet type thing in a park near their foster placements. Super casual (in theory) so everyone can make sure we don't hate each other right off the bat. I was so afraid it would be awkward. Like: Hey, I just met you. And this is crazy, but I wanna adopt you. Call me Mama maybe?

Despite my own highly awkward and weird personality, the first meeting went so well. Steve was a complete natural at being a dad. The time together FLEW by. 

I genuinely think there is some sort of parent-child time warp thing going on because time without kids seems to go at a reasonably normal pace. When the kids are around I blink and it's dinner time and they are leaving.

I hate that part. The leaving.

When they spent the day with us on Sunday I very nearly cried when they left. I held it back only by thinking of move in day and the fact there will come a day very soon when I won't have to send them back to their foster placements. They will be home to stay. 

Monday, June 6, 2016

Adopting an Older Child: setting up their bedroom

Welcome back for the second installment of my series about preparing for an older child adoption from foster care!

Steve and I have been doing little things here and there for our kids' rooms since we began our homestudy. We knew we wanted to adopt a sibling group, so we began preparing both of our guest bedrooms to accommodate up to two children each. Now that we know the specific children that will be moving in, we are making more specific changes.

We went in with a strategy of keeping things pretty gender neutral until we had reason to do otherwise. considering the number of failed potential matches we went through before finding our kiddos, I am so grateful we went that direction. Everything we acquired is still able to be used.

I think this may be easier to explain in a list form so... here you go. Our process for preparing a room for an older child adopted from U.S. foster care:

step 1: Assess your furniture needs based on your homestudy - We were approved for up to 4 children, so we needed beds and clothing storage for up to 4 children. Both rooms have closet space, and we already owned one spare dresser, so really it was just a matter of finding one more dresser and 4 kid friendly beds.

Our first option we pursued was friends and family. My brother was moving in with his fiancee so we got his dresser and she gave us the twin bed from her guest room they no longer needed. My parents also had a spare twin sized bed they said we could have. Then we turned to Craigslist. We live in a large metro area and we can typically find furniture on that site without a lot of wear and tear for not a lot of money.

Luck was on our side and we managed to get two XL twin beds with necessary equipment to securely stack them into bunk beds. Add in mattresses still in the plastic from the factory and we managed to furnish the rooms for less than $100.

step 2: Make the walls presentable - Our two spare rooms had been kids rooms when the previous owners of our home lived here and extra storage for us since then. It's safe to say they needed some TLC. We put putty in the areas that needed them and then gave each room a fresh coat of paint. One room became a greenish-grey color. The other a cheerful blue. Both were colors my husband and I both liked so we figured they were gender neutral enough for now.

**Note** We do intend for our kids to redecorate once they get closer to their move in date. We just painted because the walls had been well loved and needed it. If your walls are in good shape already then you can skip this step.

step 3: basic necessities -  Older kids have a very different set of needs than babies. They don't need storage for diapers and a changing table, but they do need study space to do homework and store their backpacks. We decided to add some personality and extra functionality to our rooms in addition to the basics so the kids could sense a bit of our excitement to have them move in but without making them think they can't change anything later.

Here are some things we added:
- curtains and shades
- comfy chair for reading
- small shelf with age appropriate books (I'll go into more detail about the books we got for them in another post)
- reversible comforter/ bed-in-a-bag type thing
- solid color jersey sheets
- throw blanket
- desk/ study area
- cork board/ photo and memento holder
- one cool wall hanging or piece of artwork (my daughter's room has tissue paper pom poms hanging over her reading area. My son has comic book art I found on clearance)
- picture frame with a picture of my husband and I
- empty picture frame for a picture of all of us together

The important thing to remember is that many of these objects should be basics. Good quality items that can be used in concert with more specifically chosen items once the child moves in. We got our comforter sets during the Bed Bath & Beyond Memorial Day clearance sale for $15 each. If the kids love them and want to keep them then that's awesome! But we (and our bank account) won't be sad to put them away as back up if the kids would rather have something different.

step 4: Personalized project - Don't do this step until after you have met your kids. Once you do, choose one special project or item to place in their room that they can keep no matter how differently they want to decorate. I chose to do a decorated initial to hang on the outside of their doors. My daughter is a bit of a girly girl and loves greens, blues, and nature. So her initial will be one of the super popular floral letters I've seen all over Pinterest. My son is an avid xbox player, so his initial will reflect that.

Your kids may not be a good fit for a door decoration. That's fine. Maybe you aren't really a DIYer with art projects, but you love to sew or crochet or knit. Use that talent to make them something to use in their room! Maybe you are a musician or a graphic artist. Maybe you are more into technology and gadgets. Whatever your talent is, find a way to use it to do something unique for your kids BEFORE they move in.

A note about clothes and toiletries - My kids are in a situation where they have an adequate number of clothes and toiletry items that we did not feel the need to purchase any additional supplies prior to their first visits to our home. From what I understand, that is not always the case. Your kids may need socks, underwear, toothpaste, etc. We have a jar of travel sized toiletries in the kids' bathroom for their use if they forget something, but we know they have items available to them to bring when they travel. We will also be going clothes shopping with them closer to the start of the school year so their clothes are more likely to still fit them.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Adopting an Older Child: preparing the house

Adoption is an interesting and confusing process. It's emotional and heartbreaking long before you ever meet your children. The confusion doesn't go away once you know who your kids are either. If anything, it gets more confusing.

I am the type of person that likes to do as much research as possible about parts of my life that have become confusing or challenging. I make lists and methodically prepare for every conceivable situation.

Unfortunately for me, there isn't a ton of information out there about the logistics of going from no children to multiple school-aged children. Tons about attachment (and if we were adopting a baby we would be totally set), but none about logistical things like how many extra towels to have on hand and how to go about setting up a welcoming temporary bedroom.

Please don't misunderstand me. Attachment is incredibly important and my husband and I are absolutely doing work to prepare for that aspect of welcoming kids into our family.

But pretending like there aren't logistical issues to consider would be almost equally as foolish as ignoring attachment. I mean... the kids will be spending the night before they move in and they will need towels and sheets and other necessities. Things they won't be able to give their opinion on until they need those things. Items my husband and I, as the adults, need to consider. Like toothpaste.

So... with all of that said, I am going to begin a series of posts chronicling what Steve and I figure out as we prepare our home for our kiddos. This first one is about general preparations and categories of things we plan to tackle before the kids spend the night for the first time.... which should happen some time in June.

1. create simple, welcoming bedrooms for kids - Closer to move-in the kids will be able to make these spaces their own, but they should be able to spend their first overnight visit in a room that reflects how excited we are to have them with us.

2. Creating a bathroom space for kids - Our guest bathroom is going through a transition along with us. What do the kids need and what can wait?

3. Prepare our fridge, pantry, and kitchen - Some of this was done for our homestudy, but some things are just logistical in nature like organizing the fridge to include a "quick snacks" section and making sure our Tupperware is kid friendly.

4. BOOKS - Adding to and sorting through our current library collection to include reading material for the kids at their reading level and within their range of interest.

5. Technology - What gadgets are we planning to use? What are we doing with our current tech items to keep the kids safe? What about social media?

6. Adoption registry for the older child - We may not be adopting a baby, but our friends and family have definitely been asking about celebrating with us and helping us stock up on essentials.

7. preparing our extended family - Discussing relevant issues with them and figuring out who and when to go about introducing everyone.