11.01.2017

the "f" word.

(we can't share photos of the girls, so i'm getting creative. this photo was taken in 2012, back in my old life in WI.)

"Are they having a birthday party, too?", Big Sis asked. She was hanging off a lifesize wooden bear statue outside a country themed diner, her face skewed into a confused expression.

"Who?" I responded, distracted by a larger crisis we had on our hands.

It was Big Sis's 8th birthday...a surprise we'd just discovered outside the restaurant, when their foster mom called to make sure we knew. We didn't know, because the paperwork we'd received weeks prior had listed her birthday incorrectly. Gabe and I were frantically trying to plan a birthday celebration on exactly zero minutes notice, in a city we weren't at all familiar with, for a kid whose affection and trust we were trying desperately to win.

Talk about being thrown right into foster parenting.

"Those people," Big Sis pointed across the lawn. "The lady said, 'Rick, party of 3', and then they got to go in. Is it because they're having a birthday party, too?"

"Ohhhh," Gabe said, taking a break from our frenzied birthday planning. "Well, party is another way to say 'group'. When you go to a restaurant, they'll ask how many people are in your group, or party, so they know what size table to seat you at. How many people are in our party?"

"One, two, three....FOUR. We're a party of four." She smiled, proud of herself for using the phrase correctly for the first time.

The girls continued playing on the carved bears, and once inside the restaurant, we ordered giant birthday sundaes, unsure if we'd be able to find birthday cake later in the day. The girls were delighted. The rest of the day went off without a hitch thanks to some quick thinking (god bless you, Yelp), as well as a woman at a theme park who shared her own unicorn birthday cupcakes with our girls (an angel from heaven), and the magic of a birthday that falls near Halloween (weekend trick or treating events, I'll sing your praises forever).

Throughout the day we joked with the girls about staying with our "party" in busy places. I was actually relieved to have tripped across that word. "Group" felt too much like a 3rd grade field trip, but we'd avoided "family" incase it felt too loaded for the girls. Their "family", in their minds, is probably their biological family or their foster family. Party worked well for us. Plus, it was fitting for a birthday outing.

The next day we had another visit scheduled and the girls asked to return to the same diner for dinner. Gabe put our name in at the hostess stand, and the girls played with the jukebox while we waited to be called. It was a quiet Sunday evening, so within a few minutes, the hostess came back.

"Gabe, party of four?"

"That's us! That's us!", the girls excitedly shouted at her, gathering their things from the waiting area and grabbing our hands.

The hostess led us back into the restaurant, past the table we'd sat in the day before and towards a larger booth in the corner. Little Sis dropped my hand and bounced ahead of the hostess, lifting her grey stuffed bunny in the air and dancing it past tables as she skipped by...delighted with the smiles and attention of other diners.

Big Sis walked behind the hostess, a few feet in front of me, seeming to think to herself. And then, confidently, as if to everyone and no one at all, she said:

"Family of four. We're a family of four."

"Yes, Big Sis," I said...trying not to tear up. "Yes, we are."

10.30.2017

the end of a childfree era.



I'm surrounded by a pile of pink...ice cream sheets, gemstone comforters, and a cheesy 1950's style poodle nightlight...all of which our foster girls excitedly picked out this weekend after a big talk about their first sleepover visit to our home. A talk in which we tried to act like this was normal...that it's normal for kids to spend hours on the weekends with near strangers, picking out bedding for the room that will be theirs in a few short weeks.

With each visit during this slow transition from their foster home to our fost-adopt home, we've tried to steer past the words "adoption" or "mom" or "dad" or "move"...all these words are loaded for kids who have been in the system for a while. But, they're smart. They know...and this is not their first go at a potential adoptive family. They can feel the change in the wind, and each day we see them, they ask, "Can we live at your house forever?" and "Are you gonna adopt us?".

And we can feel the change, too. Standing at the brink of parenthood: finally knowing our girls' names and faces and personalities, preparing our home for them, and yet not having them here just yet. It leaves this little gap of space and time for feelings to creep in. A gap between everything we've hoped and prepared for, and the joy and tough work that will come once we're all living within the same walls.

Mostly the feelings in that space are elation, joy, compassion, and love. We've been preparing for this big change for years, and we couldn't want it anymore. But, with every major life change, there's always something you worry you'll leave behind.

When we started talking about fostering years ago...back before we even got married...we had a list of worries. We spent six years building a small, happy life...walking through each concern and realizing we could handle it. Our worry list dwindled down to one: Our pets. Anyone who knows us personally knows we are The Crazy Pet people. Our lives revolve around our cat and dog. And we love it. So, naturally, we had a lot of worries about shifting some of our focus to human kids. Would it be fair to open our small home to two kids at the age of peak rambunctiousness, when our critters have known nothing but quiet and snuggles? Could we still honor the furry little beings and their needs in our day-to-day life, if suddenly two new beings in our home required lots of focus and attention?

Ultimately, we hoped we could overcome any challenge that might come with integrating kids and pets in one home...and that our family, kids or not, would always be an animal loving group who could honor both people and pets. And I know it's possible. I see it out there.

But, in some moments, especially as we get close to placement...I feel like I'm trying to soak up the last few sweet, simple days with our pets. Our critters are healthy and still in middle age...but as a sensitive soul, I suddenly feel so aware that pets don't live to be 80. Perhaps I'm grieving the moments with them I know we'll lose by expanding our family and hearts. Or maybe...feeling guilt in realizing that in our pets' lifetimes, our home will never return to the quiet sanctuary they love. That someday I'll have to say goodbye to them...and will I say that goodbye knowing I was fair to them? That I'd honored their presence in our lives and home, even with this big shift? That they knew how much they were loved?

When I confided in a friend about this recently, she reminded me that the beauty of pets is that they're fully present. For our pets, their "present" will now include a busier mom and dad...but also two new little friends who are so excited to love them. And, that after a few months of adjusting, the pets will see our girls as an expansion of us...two more humans who will spoil and dote on them.

I keep reminding myself of her words...as well as our hope that in this major life change, we can also give our animals and our community the gift of raising two little people who will spend their lives respecting, loving, and caring for animals in need.

Maybe this is all a bit heavy, or overthought. It wouldn't be the first time I'd really waded into the thick of it when dealing with change...and I know not everyone is an animal lover who can understand these feelings. But it must be normal to have some guilt or grief about pieces of your life that will change, especially the pieces of your home or life that touch other lives (animal or human)?

Parents of children...did you feel guilt or grief at any point in your decision to have children?

Parents of animals...have you ever made a major life change, and felt guilt over how it would affect your pets?

I'm not wrapping this one up with a bow. It's just me, closing my laptop to go snuggle our dog for a bit before making up the kids' beds for the first time...hoping I'm not the only one who's felt this way, and knowing it's all probably going to be totally okay.

10.18.2017

life update: match.



We met our girls 27 days ago, at a picnic for older foster children and foster families hoping to adopt. They were dancing in a sea of sunshine and bubbles...a scene so sweet it was quite literally like a movie moment. 

Until that moment, they'd been two grainy photos on a one page document listing somewhat impersonal facts about their background and time in foster care. It would have been easy to flip right past their profile…we couldn’t even make out their faces. But in that moment last month, there they were: leaping into my real life, anything but dull or grainy. They were the most beautiful, vibrant girls I could have imagined. You couldn't flip past them if you tried. 

We attempted to play it cool at the picnic that day, taking up spots near the bubble machine that had transfixed them and then convincing them to join a group parachute activity a few feet away. They dashed under the floaty nylon parachute while it softly fell, and then right at the last moment, darted back out into the sunshine and bubbles. Over and over again they played this game, giggling harder if we trapped them underneath the cool, cave-like shade just long enough for the falling parachute to tickle the top of their braids. My face hurt from laughing; my arms ached from lifting the parachute up and down. I caught Gabe's eye, shifted my head towards the girls and mouthed "My heart!”. He smiled wryly, and mouthed back, "I know, I know..."

This is his classic response when I'm emotionally 40 miles down the track, but the train bound for reality hasn't even left the station. Nothing is ever quick, easy, or guaranteed in foster care, and chugging so quickly down that emotional track can lead to heartbreak. Even if our hearts were melting right there, watching the girls play in the sunshine, it didn't mean we were the perfect family for them. 

Ever since that day, I've held my breath. Through countless texts and emails to our social worker, hundreds of miles and numerous hours driving to meetings....we held our breath. At first being fully read in on the girls' file, then asking more questions, and finally sending our official decision. Yes, we wanted to foster and, if the case continues as projected, adopt the girls. But, even then, we needed to wait to hear if the girls' social worker wanted to move forward with us.

"It's not about you," I reminded myself during the few days we waited for a decision. "It's about the girls. They need the right family for them. Maybe it's us, maybe it's not."

Last week, we got the news: "Congratulations!", our social worker texted. It was an official match! There were so many happy tears as I called my parents to tell them they were officially grandparents, and my sister to tell her she was an auntie.

A few days ago we met the girls one-on-one for the first time, playing in a park and beginning to bond. This weekend we have a full day visit and are able to take them out for the day...just the four of us. Like a normal family. Our social workers have us planning to transition the girls to our home in the next month. Adoption is the distant goal, but there are many benchmarks to reach before it can be possible and there's no standard timeline. It can take months or years.

And so, right now, we’re focusing on the present:

Our girls are 5 and 8. They are funny and fierce and precious. They love pink, and stuffed animals, and the Trolls movie. They want piggyback rides and can't get enough pizza. The littlest's free spirit and friendly nature will brighten your day, and the oldest's dry humor and deadpan comments will make you belly laugh. In so many ways, they are just like their kindergarten and second grade peers.

And yet life has been unfair to them, and demanded they be stronger than a child should ever have to be. For them, there are moments of frustration while grappling with loss and change. For them, the world has never been stable and adults haven't always been people you trust. They're still learning to untangle and express these big feelings in a healthy way.

But, despite it all they are vivacious and big hearted and joyful. They are little miracles.

And, now that we're in the thick of it all...I'm reminded that foster care and adoption are this beautiful, messy, tricky dichotomy. On one hand, you're required to envision a life where these little beings will be with you forever. Just like every other parent, you envision kindergarten graduations, holidays, birthday parties, teaching them to ride a bike (and dear God, someday a car?), watching them get ready for prom, and dropping them off at college. Your whole heart has to be in it, because just like every other kid, they deserve that level of love and commitment. If they are with you forever, you want to remember being fully in it. Fully present. And yet on the other hand, there's the near daily reminder that you have no legal claim to these children. With the slightest change and no notice...they could just slip through your fingers and out of your life.

Somehow, you have to be okay with that. If I said I'd made peace with these mutually exclusive possibilities, I'd be the biggest liar you know.

But, regardless of how this ends...I am lucky. My husband is lucky. Our families are lucky.

We will all be lucky to get to love these girls, no matter how long they are ours.

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