Wednesday, November 2, 2011

First year, year of firsts.

This last week we had an anniversary, the 1 year anniversary of our official adoption of Gelly, Cardo Man and Bitsy.  What a year it has been, full of firsts for them and the whole rest of the family.  A great year, a challenging year. 

I have thought a lot about what to say about this last year, the joy of being able to experience all the firsts with Gelly, Cardo, and Bitsy, the healing I have seen in them.  The pride I have felt in the older kids as they embrace their new rolls as siblings.  The challenges that come from going from 5 kids to 9 in just a year.  The new things that Hot Mama and I have learned about parenting our unique family. 

I wasn't sure, and could write a whole novel on all the things that has happened and been felt in that year.

I was at the store the other day and got the common question "are they adopted?"  Yes, some of them.  was my answer.  The the ridiculous response that I have heard on several occasions.  "I have always wanted to adopt, but I worry I wouldn't love them as much as my real kids"

Really?

I wanted to go all rabid papa bear on her but just said they are all my "real" kids.

That helped me decide what our one year post would be.

So here is a peek into our daily life over the last amazing year with all our real kids, our real family, and our real love.
video

If your thinking about adoption there are more than 100,000 kids in foster care that are waiting for permanent families.




Thursday, October 20, 2011

Thats right, I speak baby.

I had one of the most satisfying experiences this week.  It involved speaking baby.

I know that I can meet the needs of the kids but people are constantly still talking about the special bond that mothers have with their baby's, which is true don't get me wrong; but often its stated in a way that implies that dads just can't do this.  Not so.

I was cooking dinner and paying attention to the pots on the stove, Boo Boo was watching Jack-Jack for me.  She came into the room and said he was fussing and didn't know what was wrong with him.  I didn't even need to turn around to look at him to know that the whimpers he was making were his "my diaper is poopy" whimpers.  Sure enough, diaper at poo poo capacity.

Big deal, yeah it kind of was.  It was about love and connection, listening.  For me it was an actual manifestation of the bond between parent and child.  When you can communicate with your baby it just feels good.  It says I hear you, I will spend the time to understand you, and I will be there when you need me.  It reinforced that connection and made me love him even more, if that was possible

It made me think about the other kids, not just baby speak.  We have just moved and really not much can be more stressful for kids that all the adjustments that come with that.  Do I speak pre-schooler, grade school, middle school, and high school?  I pray that I will be able to recognize what they need as well as I can understand the difference between hungry, sleepy, poopy cries. 

So for all my kiddos I promise I will try to hear you , I will spend the time to understand you, and I will be there when you need me. 

However, if I get a poopy cry from one you older kids...your on your own.
Clean diapers are the best!

Dad, can I be done watching the kids now?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Don't waste anything!

We have a large family and have chosen to have a stay at home parent and a career in education..... so we make sure to economize were we can.  This means clipping coupons, standing in line for a half hour at the walmart getting them to match ads.  Buying in bulk, buying second hand, checking the free listings on craigslist regularly, wearing hand-me-downs and generally trying to get everything on sale.

This week one of my kids really drove home how much they are learning from our fiscal habits; that they are learning not to be wasteful and look for opportunities to economize.

Buggy was doing her homework on the computer when one of the twins walked by and asked why she was deleting the text out of an old word document of hers.  Her indignant response in that your so
dumb tone  "what? you don't need it anymore and I don't want to waste it by opening new file!"  I just about died laughing!

It did give me a good idea though, next week I am adding washing the paper plates to the list of family chores.  Oh, and do you think you can put paper towels in the dryer?

My beautiful, thrifty buggy.

Nine turns one!

Baby Jack-Jack turned a whole year old this week. We just had his birthday party and it has me thinking about how he came to our family, how much we love him and the journey it has been to be his daddy.
Tall boy is Jack-Jack's older brother, and was our foster child for almost a year. While he was in our home his mother was permanently a resident at a state mental institution. Sad. Late summer/ early fall of last year we found out that she was pregnant again. Needless to say this was shocking, how, why, who is in charge of this person who cannot care for herself?? They were not sure how far along she was and there were concerns because she was being medicated for several conditions.

Hot Mama and I talked about how sad it was that another child was being brought into this family that had struggled with every aspect of life for so long.... wondered what would happen to this new person coming from a lineage of such disfunction. It never occurred to us that we would be asked to care for him.

Oct. 4 2010 the caller ID says State of Utah, not unusual.... lots of foster kids in the house. Three about to complete adoption in just a couple of weeks. Meetings, parent visits, worker visits. This call was going to be some other date I would need to remember. I grabbed my calendar and sat down to take some notes.
The voice on the other end of the line was Tall Boys worker.

"Hi Brandon, Sad Mom had her baby last night, we were wondering if you would be able to pick him up this afternoon or in the morning"?

Shock. Goosebumps. I might have even laughed.

We had assumed that another family had already been selected, had not considered for even one minute that we would have this baby in our home.

I think I stammered asked some relevant questions about health and sex and said that yes, we would pick him up and take care of him for the next couple of days while they figured out where he would be going on a more permanent basis. My heart said, my baby was born and I wasn't there to hold him and my brain said we have 9 kids in the house already, the youngest just a year old in June, and a Tall Boy with such intense needs...how will this work?

Hot Mama was finishing her last semester at BYU, in class so I couldn't call her. When I picked her up from that school that night I said "mind if we go by the hospital on the way home?"

We got to the hospital, got checked in as the foster parents and they rolled in a tiny premature 5lb 3oz bald baby boy. Skinny arms and legs because he was in the world sooner than he should have been. The birth had been hard, not from a physical standpoint but Sad Mom was scared, not understanding that she was pregnant, yelling at the staff and then at the baby that she was sure could not have come from her. It hurts my heart that those were his first moments.

We held him close, changed him, talked softly to him and mourned what he had already lost. That first moment when the precious child so anxiously awaited is welcomed by his family the soft words and snuggles, a warm breast after the hard work of being born. He fell asleep and we put him back in his isolet without a name and headed home. He was having trouble feeding because of his size so would be spending a few days in the hospital.

On the ride home we tried to convince ourselves that we would be a good spot for this little baby for the next few days while they found him a more permanent placement, deep down I think we both knew that he was already ours.

Over then next couple of days I would go in and hold and feed him in the morning and at lunch and then we would go back with some of the other kids at night to put him to bed. Mooster and
Boo Boo were the first to go. It was one of the most special experiences of my life.

We go there and they wheeled out his little isolet, and I can only describe it as souls recognizing each other. Moo and Boo Boo both started to cry, and coo over the baby. We went into the nursing room and they were feeling such intense feelings. I asked them why they were crying and Boo Boo said, a baby should never come into the world like this, alone without a name. Moo said he felt the spirit really strongly that he was ours. He said , "I think that our family has enough love for 20 kids.... to bad there's not enough time for that many." If you could feel love as a palpable presence it was in that room.

The bonding had started, or who knows maybe their souls did recognize each other, but from that first moment they saw him, he was their little brother and they were ready to protect and care for him.

We got him home soon and within a couple of days called the worker and told her, don't look for another home, he is home. There were some trials, regulations about placement with our other adoption just 2 weeks away and questions about if our Jack-Jack should stay with us if Tall Boy went back home to their dad. But we had a great, loving worker who advocated for us and our baby and recognized that he was where he should be. We will always be grateful to her. Our adoption was complete 6 months later with the blessing of the biological family.

He has been a delight everyday of his life! Having him brought so much joy to the whole family. Every time I look at him, smiley faced, cover in food, sleeping with his bum in the air it almost hurts how much I love this boy and how surprised and blessed I feel to be his daddy. LOVE HIM!

Someone actually called my house and said, "I know you weren't planning on this but would you like to be a new dad today?" How lucky am I!

Having him makes me look at the path of my life, of our family and wonder at the twists and turns and the amazing surprises you sometimes find is sad places. We have been blessed to adopt four of the most amazing kids ever, its impossible to imagine our family without them....but for them to be with us means there was sadness and failure, pain and trauma. It's a strange combination, but we rise from the ashes, or maybe lift each other from the ashes, and all become stronger.....together.

Happy Birthday Baby Jack-Jack.


Just one day old.

Six months old, adoption day.

The whole family on adoption day, Jack-Jack slept through most of it.


After the adpotion when we told him it was official.

Seven months, the first time he noticed the leaves outside his window.


Eight months old, adorable!

One year old!  This is the sock monkey cake Hot Mama made him.  Sock monkeys were his are his favorite, he likes the big red smile.... its cute becuase he smiles back at the big red smile and the monkeys red bum.

Cake!

What a big boy!

Happy birthday my boy.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Could I do it?

We had our big birthday bash this weekend,  the one for Gelly turning 6 and Bitsy turning 2. The one with all the family, adoptive and birth.  In the past there have been lots of family at these events but this time it was a smaller group.  Mama S (birth mom) Auntie S and a couple of cousins were all that were able to make it from the birth side of the family.  I love the extended family but it was nice to have fewer people there this time because we were also saying goodbye. 

We will be moving to Seattle soon, and while we only get together a few times a year with Mama S and will make sure to continue to visit at least once a year, it still feels sad.  Our close proximity to one another gave a sense of security that we will all be losing.

The party was nice, we were able to talk and laugh together, enjoy seeing how much our kids have grown over the last couple of months.  The boys were anxious the couple of days before the visit but were really happy to see Mama S when she got there.  Mama S always impresses me at our visits, she brings the kids gifts but not as bribes, as genuine tokens of affection.  She takes her time and lets the kids come to her on their own terms, never pushes.  She keeps it positive and happy for them, even though I know her heart is breaking.  It always makes me wonder how different things might have been for her if someone had been there at the right time to help her.

I know that it doesn't really compare but I had to say goodbye to one of my kids today and it made me think about Mama S.  Hot Mama and Mooster, our 9 year old, were leaving for Seattle today.  They are going a month before the rest of the family so that Hot Mama can start work and get the house situated while the rest of us tie up all the loose ends here in Utah.  Mooster has been dad's buddy from the moment he was born, we are together all the time.  So having him leave, even for a month, was hard for both of us.  I am a cryer, I have tried to control it but then my face just does this ridiculous contorted grimace thing that is even worse than crying, so there were tears.

It made my heart ache for Mama S.  She does not have her kids because she does not love them, she loved them enough to know she could not provide what they needed to thrive.

 How does she bear it?  Saying goodbye to your precious babies. 

It made me think, could I do it?  Could I admit that they would be better off with someone else, or would I have selfishly kept them?  Would I disappear from their lives after so I would  not have to deal with the pain every time I see them?  Would I be mad at the family that gets to hold them and love them everyday?  I don't know.

So here I am learning things about life from Mama S, someone that when we started this, I never thought that I could learn something from.  Learning about making sacrifices for the ones you love even when it hurts.  About being brave, not giving up and moving on even when everyone is judging you to be a failure.  About being a good parent.

At the end of the day when I was putting Gelly to bed I asked him what his favorite part of the day was, was it his new toys, the cupcakes, going swimming....what was his favorite.

He said "Seeing my mommy S." 

I said "yeah, that was nice"

He gave me a big hug and held on a little longer than usual and said,  "yeah, I still love her."

I know you love her buddy, the funny thing is so do I.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Let Me In

I want to say thanks to Hot Mama for the fathers day post, what a great fathers day gift!

I have had a few emails asking for more details about the Seattle move.  Hot Mama got a will be working as a principal at a school near the Woodland Park Zoo.  We would love to live within a reasonable drive/bus distance to her work so Seattle readers if you know of something for rent that would accommodate my family of 11 for a reasonable amount please let us know!  We are trying to make it to Seattle by Aug. 1.  Thanks!

Update on the ballroom tryouts for the older girlies, all three made teams! This is such a relief to know that they will continue to dance at one of the best ballroom studios in the country.  Good work girls!  I guess this means I will continue to perfect my hair and make-up skills,  I'm not sure that will ever show up on my resume. 


Gelly, Cardo Man, and Bitsy have come so far in such a short period that sometimes I get complacent. I forget that they need special parenting.  I forget the amount of trauma that they carry with them. The loss and fear that still effects how they see the world.  I forget that even though I am totally attached to them and love them as though they had always been with us; they are still dealing with issues of attachment. 

They have lost mommy and daddy before so sometimes they worry it will happen again.

We are coming up on another visit with birth mom and visits open wounds as well as heal them.  While I truly believe it is the best thing for them to continue to have contact with her when we get close to a visit and after a visit you can see the stress in the kids actions.  Cardo Man will bang his head on the wall when he gets frustrated and wet his pants.  Gelly starts to lie, hoard food and get really clingy.  He has night mares that police come, take us away, and cut him with a knife.  He becomes sensitive about where all the kids are at.  Bitsy is only 2 but she becomes aggressive and throws tantrums. 

Not easy things to see your kids going through.  What do you do when you find your 6 year old hiding in the yard eating an entire package of hot dogs he has shoved in his pockets?  What do you do when your 4 year old wets his pants and bangs his head on the wall because you said no you can't have a balloon right now?  You love them, you hold them and stay there for them.  You think carefully about why they are acting the way they are and proceed carefully.  Their fears are real, I don't want to make it worse by responding the wrong way.

The truth is, this is really hard.  As a parent of traumatized kids I am constantly in a state of second guessing and trying to do the best that I can.  You find yourself re-thinking every time-out, "was that a normal naughty behavior, or is he feeling insecure and I should have responded more gently?" 

I MUST get this right for them.

They call me daddy, give me hugs, come to me when they are hurt or scared.  They know that I love them, that I will protect them.  But sometimes in their eyes I still see the fear that maybe one day I won't be there for them.  A little lingering apprehension saying, I must protect a bit of my heart to survive just in case you hurt me.

I would give anything for them to know I would never hurt them.  That there is nothing they could do that would make me leave them. But I will have to settle for having time, time to heal wounds, time to grow bonds that will someday let me into that last little bit of their hearts.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Stealthy Hot Mama Here

     I have hacked into my sweet husband's blog to write about him as an awesome father on Father's Day. (Ok, I had to ask my 16 year old to hack, but is that really important?) The day we had our first babies we were leaving our little apartment in a rush and we stopped at the door, looked at each other and knew that when we got back, life would never be the same. We would come back as parents.
     It has been so much fun to watch him parent. My dad didn't really enjoy me as a child, and so it was eye-opening for me to see how much my 21 year old husband LOVED being a dad. So, I've made a list of the things I appreciate about him as a daddy.

~He LOVES being a dad.

~His kids know he loves being a dad.

~He finds funny ways to redirect the kid's behavior.
    When one of our girlies was little, I think she was 5, she didn't want to give up her favorite shirt. She kept wearing it even when her belly button was showing. So Daddy went in his room and came out with the 4T t-shirt squished on his 26 year old body. His arms were held up by the tightness of the shirt. He said, "It fits, but it's not appropriate."

~He makes time to take each of the kids on "Crazies" late at night. He'll get one out of bed and say, "Let's go crazy!" and then take them to a late-night movie or to go get frozen yogurt and chat.

~He will drop almost anything to take things to the school that the kids (or I) forget. He is grumpy about it, but he does it. :)     I have to confess that this year, I wore different colored socks more than once and he brought me a single sock to match. The last time I did that he promptly went home and threw away all my brown socks. Problem solved.

~He is so good at listening to promptings and following them. He knew we should be foster parents when I was saying things like, "Are you crazy? We can't do that right now. You're in school, I'm in school, we both teach, our oldest start school this year...."the list really went on a long time, but he really knew this was the time we should get licensed for foster care. It has changed our life for the better and I will be forever grateful he is good at listening to inspiration.

~When he sets a goal there's really no stopping him. He has had his own business for about 10 years, he ran a marathon in Marathon Greece, he figures out the toughest situations.

~He loves the kid's friends. He gets to know them and makes them feel welcome in our home.

~He embraced the "open home" policy that I had always envisioned my home to be. Everyone is welcome and everyone will feel loved.

~He is fully committed to us, me and him.  There is not option of failure.

I wish I could write better to let him know everything I appreciate him as a daddy, the list really does go on and on, but I think he is truly, for real-sy, a great dad and we are all lucky to have him.

Hot Mama

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Faith

What a week! Hot Mama has been in Seattle with the three oldest trying to find a home as we prepare to move.  While Mama has been on the hunt, the big girlies have been going through intensive try-outs for the Ballroom Dance team in Seattle.  Intense, I'm proud of how well they have done and the very mature way they have been handling all the pressure.

Me on the other hand, I have not been the best example of how to handle pressure the last couple of weeks.  Hot Mama finished her Masters at BYU - seriously how does someone do that at the same time as caring for a family like ours, 5 kids by birth, 4 by adoption and 3 foster kids, and working full time - super woman!  Anyway, Masters degree  = school principal job in Seattle.  Thus, Capable Father = freaking out.

I know that this job is a blessing for our family, it is where we need to go next.  Its just getting the move done, the actual logistics of moving a family of 11 is a little tricky.  Visions of Barnum and Baily come to mind, with a little bit of the Beverly Hillbillies moving truck, and on my particularly pessimistic days mix some Grapes of Wrath in there too.

In our particular situation there are just a lot of variables that are going to need to come together to make this work, partly manpower, party financing.  This where my complicated relationship with faith comes in.   This is going to take some faith on my part, probably some prayer, and asking for some help.  Areas that I don't really excel in, my kind of faith is the kind where you figure it out by yourself.

I should just learn from the kids on this on this one.  Gelly, was the teacher this time.

Hot Mama and I don't hide discussions about finances from the kids, they hear us budget and decide how to prioritize resources for a large group on a limited income.  Our theory is they will need to understand how to do this themselves someday.  So the discussion on how to fund our relocation has been open to the family.  Part of the plan is of course a moving sale, lighten the load and make some cash. 

After the first day of our moving sale I was putting the little boys to bed, I had tucked Gelly in and was tucking Cardo Man in. When I stood up Gelly was kneeling down praying in his bed.  I asked him what he was praying about and he said fold your arms we will do it again. 

His prayer went something like this, "Dear Heavenly Father, please bless that super super lots of people will come to our yard sale tomorrow so we can have money to move to Washington, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen."  Then he looked at me with his giant brown eyes and said "see, it'll be OK, night dad."

Then comes the knock at the door at 10 o'clock that night, it was our Bishops wife.  She says sorry to come over so late but the Bishop felt like it was really important to bring this to you tonight.  She then handed me an envelope with a couple hundred dollars in it.  It was all I could do to recount to her what Gelly had prayed for just an hour or so before. Love our Bishop!

This is moving to me on so many levels, that Heavenly Father knows my little boy and is listening to his prayers,  that my little boy has the faith to ask his Heavenly Father when he is in need, and that the lord cares enough about my family to send someone late at night to answer a my little boys prayer.  If you could put tear stains on a computer screen you would see them here.

The next morning I asked Gelly, do you remember your prayer last night?  He says yeah, I tell him that Heavenly Father was listening to him and sent the bishop to help.  His answer, yeah, I know dad. 

How do I forget so quickly? Why can't I just know like Gelly?  We see the lords hand in our lives everyday when we look at how our kids have come to be ours.  So when in comes to this move I am going to try to switch the freaking out for simple faith.  Faith that when you are trying to make the right choices for the right reasons a path will be made for you. Seattle here we come.

After all, I do know miracles happen in our family, I know it every time I hear Gelly call me his daddy.
Gelly with his sidewalk chalk beard.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Sweat Pants Please

You have all seen the one, the sweat pants mom.  Not the workout pants mom, the sweat pants mom.  The one with recliner part in the back of her hair, the Winnie the poo sweats with the BBQ sauce on the bosom and the crocs that may be the only pair of shoes she owns.  The one that loves the elastic waistband and feels no shame going to the PTA meeting in her, I got really busy on facebook, depression jammies.  Collective shudder.

I'm worried that I might be becoming the dad version of sweat pants mom. 

I remember when I would make fun of all the daytime talk self improvement blah, blah, blah.  I thought come on if you don't like your big bottom get it movin.  There have been many times in my life that I have been put in the position of understanding someone I made fun of by having to be in their position, think I'm there again.

There was a time that got hair cuts, wore pants that didn't have holes in the knees from being on the floor with the kids all the time, wore a tie 6 days a week, ran a marathon, and finished P90X!  Somehow I decided that everything else would take priority the last couple of years. 

So its time to clean up my act,  get some pants that don't have holes in the knees, re-acquaint myself with the iron for my clothes, not just for pleats in baby dresses.  Change a shirt that has boogers/formula/peanut butter/urine/spit up on it instead of just taking a wipie to it.  Make some time to loose some of the chub and stop thinking that the drive thru is an acceptable coping strategy.

I have 9 kids, of those some of them may grow up to be at home parents. I need to show them by all my actions that this is a valuable job to do, I should look the part of someone who does a respected job!

Tomorrow I think I'll shave..... do they make a man girdle?

Monday, June 13, 2011

No, this was a choice, I'm not unemployed.

It was community work day in our neighborhood today so me and some of my older kids were at the park re-staining the play structure.  There was another dad there with his kids helping too.  The dad chat began the same way it always does..."so what do you do?"  For you dads that are not aware of this mom chat never starts this way, even if the moms have professional careers.  Mom chat starts, "oh, they are so cute, how old are yours?" (secret info only acquired after being the only dad at the park in the middle of the day for months) Anyway back to the story, I answered I'm a stay at home dad, we have 9 kids.  The other dads response, yeah the job market is pretty tough right now.  Me, oh I'm not looking for a job, I quit my job to stay at home.

Dumbfounded stare.....followed by, well that's cool.  End of conversation.

Is it really that inconceivable that a dad would be at home by choice, not because he is lazy, or to inept to get a real job?  What do you think mom's out there?  Is staying at home the lazy option, easier than going to work?  No, they are both challenging in their own ways.

We do live in the epicenter for traditional roles,  the heart of Mormon Utah.  While we are practicing Mormons and are raising our children in the faith we do have many giggle moments in the pews when the talks on Sunday encourage very traditional male and female roles in the home when they talk about how a mother should stay at home and nurture the kids; the teenagers in the family point to Hot Mama and me and laugh.  It's not that Hot Mama doesn't fulfill that role of the nurturing mother its just that the traditional roles of mom at home and dad at work, don't represent us. The lines of those roles are blurred. 

The truth is in our community I do not know of another stay at home dad.

When Hot Mama and I were transitioning to our new roles we both went through a bit of a crisis at times as to the wisdom of our choices but it turns out that things are going really well.  I feel luck that we have both had a chance to be the provider and the homemaker it gives us insights into the others challenges and concerns that we would never have had if we had not decided to do this.  When she comes home from work and the kids are eating cold hot dogs in the front yard, the house is a mess and I haven't had a shower in two days, she gets it.  When she comes home from work and just needs 15 minutes to decompress before switching to the mom role, I get it.  This marriage has a firm foundation of thousands of dirty diapers!

I am lucky that I get to be the one home at this time, raising the kids and trying to support Hot Mama as she develops her career, she was able to do the same for me at one time.  But time will go by and the kids will get older. I will go back to work outside the home and will do so feeling that I got a chance to experience something special that a lot of dads, that a lot parents, don't get.  My life has been so enriched by this experience. I am glad I was able to recognize that instead of worrying that I was not living up to society's norms in plenty of time to really enjoy it.

I am a stay-at-home dad (not unemployed)

Open Adoption

We have very open adoptions with all of our adopted kids, we have adopted a sibling set of three, and then one little guy on his own.  Then there are the 5 biological kids too.

When I say open that doesn't just include birth moms, this includes birth dad's grandparents, aunts, uncles, great aunts and so forth.  We have contact with with someone from our kids birth families, now our families at least a couple times a week, we love it this way.  Our goal in adoption was to add to our children's lives not take anyone away from them. 

So it was not a surprise when birth mom for our 6, 4, and 2 year old called this week.  We have an easy relationship with her, she is really respectfull of the fact that we are the parents; and we want her to remain in the kids lives.  She has thanked us for doing what she could not, it's really special, we treasure it.

But this call put us into new territory we have not had to deal with yet.  She call to tell us that she was having another baby.  Mixed feelings,  part of me wanted to say are you crazy, part of me wanted to say I know your trying hard, congratulations. 

The tricky part will be to talk to our kids about this.  Gelly, the 6 year old is super protective of his younger siblings, he wants them to be safe and take care of them.  When they came to us he was only 4 but would not let either of them out of his sight, he even had to show me how to change the diapers, which he was still in himself, and make the bottles for the baby.  He was accustom to being a tiny daddy. 

I worry that a new baby will bring those feelings back for him, will confuse all the kids as to why they can't be with birth mom but a new baby can.  And I know Gelly will ask if Mommy is still using bad drugs and worry about what that means for a new baby.  Concerns that should be left for the grow ups but won't.  I so want to protect them from any more pain.

I worry for birth mom, is she ready?  Will history repeat or has she learned?  I know that it was heartbreaking for her to give up her children even though she knew it was the best thing for them.  Will this new baby change that or continue... we love her and don't want her to have to deal with that pain again.

I do know that all this new family that came along with our children and us are now a team. That we can work together.  I know without a doubt that their birth families support us and want the best for the kids. They were so brave to give us the chance to raise them, we love them for that. We will work together through what ever comes in the future...

My sincere prayer is that a new baby can bring joy for the family........but only time will tell.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Foster Family? Part 2

Foster Family? Part 2  (if you are new to the blog, please read part 1 first)

I arrived at the scheduled visit at a DCFS office not knowing what to expect.  I went into the lobby and there were bio mom, dad and grandma.  Sissy was excited to see her family and they were excited to see her too.  This seems to be the way we have met all the bio parents, in a lobby, us holding their kids and us starting the introductions.

I introduced myself, told them when she had been placed with us, because they had no idea she had been moved. Then they asked if I knew where their son was.... heartbreaking.  The next thing they asked was "are we allowed to hold her?" Ouch.  We were still waiting to be buzzed into the office and I told them of course you can hold her.

That was the beginning, from then on we saw each other a couple times a week at visits at first, then at team meetings.  Then we started calling at night so they could tell the kids goodnight.  Soon they were coming to all the doctors appointments, speech therapy, physical therapy and staying for dinner with our family after visits on Sundays.

We even had a few good laughs dealing with uncommon situations.  One night Buddy was having a raging tantrum and slammed his head into the wall, this was going to need stitches.  We called mom and dad and told them we were on our way to the hospital, meet us there.  They came quickly and little buddy was delighted to have all his important people in the same room.  He kept pointing to Hot Mama and Me and then to mom and dad saying mommy daddy, nother mommy daddy.  The nurse came in and asked who everybody was....I hesitated a little, not wanting to give too much information.  Bio mom saved the situation and said he is our son, they are his foster parents and we are the pathological parents.  There was a quiet moment and then we all burst into laughter.  She said I mean biological, but maybe a little of that too.

Then there was my diaper bag, bio mom was always teasing me about my diaper bag.  I guess I should just call it what it was, a purse.  It was big and black and served its purpose, but it was a purse.  Anyway she gave me a hard time about it so I started teasing her about her purse.  Then one day after a visit with the kids my black purse/diaper bag was gone.  She had replaced it with a giant silver metallic clinque bag.  All she said was you work hard, I thought you deserved a new bag!  So yes I carried a giant silver purse for the next few months!

The kids went home in March after almost 8 months with us, we were so happy for their family, they had worked so hard, we continued to talk on the phone regularly and see them every couple of weeks.

Then in July I got a call from their case worker, he was at court, they had failed a drug test and could I go by the house and pick up the kids.  By this time we already taken 4 other foster kids, this would make 11 kids in the house, 5 in diapers, but said we would be right over to get them.

We soon had a team meeting and went back to the judge, she knew that our families were close and asked us if we would be willing to have a unique type of visitation with the kids. 

What ended up happening for the next two months was 4 nights a week bio mom and dad would come over to our home in the afternoon, we would all take the kids to the park or the pool.  They would help with dinner, cleanup, stories bath and put their kids to bed.  Often they would then stay and just spend time with Me and Hot Mama when all the kids were in bed. 

When you see how a family ends up struggling with addiction and relying on the support of the foster care system from this point of view you really believe it can work.  These people were now family that we loved and wanted to succeed.  They were working hard for their sobriety and continue to well today. 

They still come for Sunday dinner, the kids have sleepovers with us all the time, and they have added a new baby to their family.

I'm not sure if this is how foster care is supposed to work but maybe it should, the kids were not the only ones that needed foster parents, so did their parents.  If a parent is someone that tells you they believe in you, that can give you advice, talk about problems and just give you a hug when you have had a bad day that is what they needed, I am glad they let us be there for them.

Life is still hard for them, most people in their comfortable homes with functional families don't realize the daily struggle it is to overcome poverty and addiction in a personal way.  Parents that make it are brave, and we should tell them we are proud of the progress they are making.  For many its changing patterns of behavior that have been learned over generations.... seriously think how hard it is to just stick with your new years diet!! 

We have been so lucky to have these people in our lives.  They are some of the bravest people I know.  So when we say we are a foster family, that includes them.

Practice Kids

Sixteen years ago today Hot Mama and I became parents, we had been married 9 months and 1 day. Our twin girls were born 2 1/2 months early and weighted only 3 pounds.  I was 21 and Mama had just turned 23.  We had not exactly developed an extensive resume when in came to parenting.  We were excited but ignorant, somewhat oblivious to the challenges ahead...oblivious but committed - that could be our motto

We love them dearly but in many ways these two have been our "practice kids", each sibling that follows benefits from the experience we gain parenting them through each stage of life.  For example Hot Mama learned with them when a child gets hurt you don't gasp and say oh my gosh, oh my gosh, that looks really bad if you want them to stay calm. Thanks Hay and Kenz.

We have now entered the stage of driving, dating and planning for adulthood.  I know that we will mess things up and learn as we go, that the younger kids will benefit from the mistakes we make with the practice kids.  We will try to find the balance between being over protective and letting them find their place in the world.  I'll try not to call them every hour to make sure that they are safe.....seriously that is a challenge for me, and I'll try not to embarrass them too much when I interrogate their dates. Well, we'll see.

I'm trying to appear capable and confident as this happens, like its no big deal they are growing up.   But I have to say it tears me up a little inside.  At their birthday party Hayley gave me a hug and said thanks dad, I had to hang out in the bathroom so I wouldn't do the ugly cry, all I could see was that helpless baby with all the tubes and wires in the hospital 16 years ago.

Babies grow up and then move away, this is a new reality for me..

But for today I still got an a hug, a kiss and "love you dad goodnight" so I am going to keep practicing and maybe cherish the next few years a little more.

Friday, June 10, 2011

I wanna fight...

One of the joys of being a stay at home parent is that you get to be there for the first of most things.  First steps, first words, first pee pee in the potty.  This is nice because it balances out some of the not so nice things the stay at homer becomes responsible for, like when we had 5 kids in diapers at the same time or the 4 loads of laundry that we make everyday!

Our Itsy Bitsy is approaching 2 years old and has started speaking in full sentences this week I want to share a couple of her firsts.

The first one was earlier this week she was trying to see the garbage truck out the front window but Cardo Man was getting in the way.  She is an assertive type so she gave him a big pinch that sent him running and was rewarded with the best view of the garbage truck. 

I took her by the hand to Cardo Man and told her how sad that had made him and how much it hurt, that she needed to say sorry.  Stubborn as can be she refused to look either of us in the eye and just shrugged her shoulders.  I told her "Bitsy you need to say sorry or you will sit in time out", at this point she evaluated her options and marched her own self to time out.  After a few minutes in time out we repeated our conversation and I asked her to say sorry again, she refused again and this time I told her maybe it was time to sit in her bed until she was ready to use her words.  Her feisty little spirit came up with what she thought would be a solution. She didn't say sorry but she gave Cardo a hug, followed by the melt daddy smile.  I thought to myself, hold your ground, this one, she could out smart you.  I told her that was very nice but you still need to use your words, say sorry. 

She sighed and finally said "sorry Tardo."

I though that the incident was done, but as I left the room she turned to Haley and out came her first full sentence;  "Haley, I don wanna say sorry, I wanna fight!" 

Oh my, little one!  I laughed as I left the room and was proud of her, she is a fighter, that resilience has made her strong, it has served her well.  I say fight little one, fight!  We will keep working on empathy.

 (But you will still sit in time out if you don't say sorry :)

Oh, second sentence while I was changing a raisin diaper, "I got Beiber fever!"

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Don't you worry?

As soon as we became foster parents people started asking us "how are your kids handleing this?"
Or they would say things like, "your really brave to do that I would worry about what it would do to my kids."  Or my favorite, "I would do foster care but I don't want to expose my family to those kind of kids."
Yeah, we hear it all the time!

As my twins are about to turn 16 in a couple of days I have been thinking a lot about the adults they are so quickly becoming.  They are extrodinary in every way, Hot Mama and I could not be prouder of them, or the rest of the bunch too.  It is impossible not to think about how they have grown in realtion to how our family has changed in the last couple of years.  We did worry about what becoming foster parents would do to our kids. It hasn't always been easy for them, but its not easy to be a foster child either....here is some of what our kids have learned.

Hard things are worth doing, and easier if you work together.

If you see something wrong in the world, you do something about it, don't wait for someone else to do it.

Small choices lead to big concequences.

Doing physical therapy with a 3 year old can be tons of fun.

Pick good friends.

Education prevents poverty.

From some amazing parents of our foster kids they learned that even if you really mess up in life if you are willing to take responsibility for your mistakes and work hard almost everything can be overcome...don't give up.

Stay away from addiction.

Some times there are excuses, but sometimes there are reasons, be compassionate, don't judge too quickly

Love is complicated, but should be freely given

Time outs work.

It feels good to be needed.

How to make a bottle, change a diaper, wipe a nose, hold a hand, fold one of those giant strollers.

Have high expectations for yourself and those around you, you can overcome labels, circumstances, and the past.

How to help without being asked.

One person can make a difference.

Even if you don't have a lot you will be blessed if you share every last bit of it.

Really that is just a small part of what our kids, and us have learned as a foster/adoptive family.  Yes there have been plenty of hard days and tears but there have also been triumphs in greater numbers.  You realize that your heart is bigger than you thought, that your time is more flexible, your kids are more capable, and there is usually room for one more. 

I'm so glad that we exposed our family to those kind of kids.





Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Birth Family

Today was a birth family day....

We spent the afternoon having a picnic with our extented birth family.

The adoption of our little Jack-Jack was complete on April 19 making him offically ours and while we have had him since he was born, he is adopted which means there is another family that is his too. 

When we started being foster parents we knew that at some point we would probably adopt.  We discussed what that would be like to adopt a child with another family and a history all their own; a history unique from the rest of us.  We weren't sure what that would be like, now we are leaning that it can be special in a way nothing else is.

Jack is the younger brother of Tall Boy, my 14 year old buddy that was also our foster child for most of the last year.  He was returned to his father, Jack-Jack was not. 

When we have had a foster child in our home we have decided to get to know the parents, you spend a lot of time with them at visits, appointments, meetings, on the phone.  It makes life feel more stable for the foster child if you can work well with the parents, try to be a team if possible.

I spent lots of time with Tall Boy and Jack-Jacks dad over the course of the last year.  I don't know if I fully understand him, he as made some really bad choices when it comes to his kids. He is almost 70 and recklessly fathered a child with a woman commited to the state hospital while he was homeless and his other kids were in foster care for abuse and neglect, not a pretty picture.  But he is my sons father...and the father of my Tall Boy; as much as I would not have chosen this relationship with him we are bound together forever now.

I was there in the courtroom when he decided to terminate his parental rights.  So many mixed emotions,  the judge asked him if he understood what he was doing.  He responded to the jugde saying that he wanted Jack-Jack to have a chance at a better life. That he would agree to terminate his parental rights if Hot Mama and I would adopt baby Jack.  He struggled to get the words out and then turned around looked me in the eyes, forced a smile and gave me a thumbs up, held my eye contact for a while with tears streaming then turned back around to the judge and sobbed.  He knew that he could not take care of this child, he also knew he could not determine where he would be placed for adoption, but he tried to publicly say "I want this child to have a life I cant provide and I trust you to give it to him, please love him."  I cried too.

Its a moment that is hard to understand unless you have lived it.

This man that had made so many mistakes to get to this point was trying to make something right.  Over the course of the last year with him there were so many times I felt anger with his decisions, frustration, and disgust.  Times when I just want to be done with him.  In that moment in the courtroom my heart softened. I realized that he had caused his own pain; he would continue to live with so many regrets he would not be able to put right.  I didn't need to add to it, I needed to be capable of showing compassion.

So we visit, we talk on the phone.  Tall Boy still gets to be a big brother to Jack-Jack.  His sister gets to tell people she as a baby brother and show off pictures Biological dad gets to see that he did make the right choice letting him go.

What do we get?  We get our Jack-Jack, and the miracle that he is to our family.  Its not a competition, I'm his dad and we are his family. I know that is strong enough that we don't need to be threatend by allowing his birth family to love him too.  I know that Jack-Jack will grow up and have questions too, my hope is that by redefining what we allow our family to be our adopted kids will not feel some of the loss and loneliness that comes with a severed background, that he will have his whole story, I hope.

Its not perfect and sometimes its hard but for now this feels right.



Jack-Jack

Tall Boy, Big Sis & Jack-Jack

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Van Sweet Van

I have a complicated relationship with my van, she tends to be a little dirty, she's not so cute... and I am totally in love with her.  When we are together I feel like I can conquer the world.

I drive a 2000 Ford E350 super duty 12 passenger van, in her former life she was a transport vehicle for the state of Arizona prison system taking prisoners to court, so its kind of natural that she lives with us now. 

This is the only vehicle, well the only running vehicle, for our family of 11 so she is a hard worker.  A typical week will see trips back and forth to work for Hot Mama, To school and back at 5 different schools, to the doctor, to the grocery store, therapy - that would be speech, physical, OT and emotional, dance lessons, team practice for 4 different teams, parent visits, back to Hot Mama's work with her other black sock (really does happen enough to include here), to the gas station, to friends houses, to Church, back to Hot Mama's work with her phone and computer..... on and on and on.  People say the heart of the home is the kitchen, ours might be the van.

As practicing Mormons our church leadership advises us to keep a years worth of supplies and food on hand... there was a time that we did this, but we have long since consumed that.  The only years supply of anything we have now is the years worth of old french fries available on the floor of the van.  The contents will regularly also include several loads of laundry - the girls change in the van on the way to practice, lots of daddy pop cups, lost homework, toys, unbelievable amounts of paper, and the occasional lost dirty diaper that cant be found!  Then there is the constant odor of feet from the 8 pairs of ballroom shoes.....ugh.

We are the van you see with the 4 car seats and face prints all over the inside of the windows, we have adapted well though.  The kids can now exit the van at friends homes and in front of the school without spilling much.  Actually it is nice to see how they cooperate to make sure that someone shoves the pile while someone else leaves, knowing that the favor will be returned later.  We have even found ourselves supporting others, when the kids see another giant van with too many car seats and a general unkept aura we all yell "foster power" out the windows.  It's an exclusive club.

In the midst of this chaos important moments happen in this van,  picking up new members of the family, soothing the tears when we leave a visit with a biological parent.  The fun of a date with Hot Mama, discussions about the trials of growing up and being a teenager.  The rage of a boy who can't return to his dad.  Laughter so hard you become a hazard to pedestrians.  Just last week we kept driving around the block for an hour when Olivia asked, "we are supposed to be able to forgive to go to heaven, what if I can't forgive Jack's dad for not being able to take care of him."

Everyone growing, everyday, it all happens in that van.  Some imagine their dream car, that car that will tell the world they have made it, they are a success, I get in my older, messier, 12 passenger former penitentiary vehicle and think for me this is my dream vehicle, this van says I have made it. I love what it tells the world about me.  I wouldn't drive anything else.

I would like to catch the one who keeps wiping boogers on the windows though.

Ahhh, I love you!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Foster Family?

Saying that you are a foster parent doesn't just mean you take care of kids who's parents can't or won't.  It means that you become a foster family. In our case this family came to include our bio kids, our extended family and the families and extended families of our foster kids.  What a surprise and a bit of a miracle....

We became a state licensed foster family in September, 2009.  the day we received our license we were asked to provide a home to a little girl, 2 years old with possible cerebral palsy, a seizure disorder and a profound developmental delay.  We were also told that she had a one year old brother but they were not looking to move him, just the more difficult to care for sibling.  We were told that she was prone to tantrums and uncontrolled screaming and thrashing that sometimes caused injury to herself;  this was part of the reason that they had already been moved twice within the last month. 

Hot Mama and I had prepared our home to take school aged kids, we were open to sibling groups and disabilities but didn't feel like babies and toddlers were the best choice for where we were at in our lives.  Even though we had made this decision when our case worker described this little girl we thought, we might be able to do this.  We made arrangements with the current foster mom to visit and evaluate what level of care this child would need and decide if we would be able to provide it. 

We arrived at the current foster parents home and were greeted with a little girl, obviously delayed in every way for her age, but with adorable brow eyes and a cute grin she was willing to share with us.  She was placed in Hot Mama's lap and started to play pat-a-cake.  We looked at each other and knew we were in this for good.  We assumed that this was just a visit to meet her and decide if we could provide for her needs in our home, but the current foster family was stretched thin and ready for her to move on.  Soon after we arrived they began gathering her meager belongings and packing her up to go.  We were a little shocked, but being new to this....well, just went along.  They loaned us a car seat and we were off with our fist foster child.  It was a holiday weekend and this was a Friday so we were on our own with no contact from the case workers until Tuesday. 

We left with Sissy in the car seat saying over and over again one of the only two words she knew at the time pweees, pweees, pweees.  It was heart wrenching, please what Sissy?.... please tell me what is happening to me, please tell me why we are leaving my brother....

We needed everything... we had nothing that a 2 year old would need.  Off to the store shopping, while we were shopping Hot Mama was overcome with the intense emotions of the situation.  This child had had been taken from her parents, moved to now 3 homes in the course of a month and her parents had no idea where she was or that she had been separated from her brother.  We both had to take some deep breaths and make sure that our demeanor remained calm and positive for our new little Sissy.

We thought of that little brother the entire weekend, he had been sitting in a high chair poking at some peaches when we arrived, still very traumatized and drooling profusely.  I can only imaging his anguish as we left with his sister, the only thing familiar left in his life. 

Tuesday morning rolled around and I called our case worker, she asked how our visit went and if were we thinking about taking Sissy.  I told her that she had been with us all weekend, she was surprised but kind.  I am sure that it broke all kinds of rules for us to have her, but I know she realized that we were all doing the best we could.  Then I told her that we could take her brother too, that we would be able to handle her special needs and the needs of a 1 year old too,  (I had already given notice at my job as a special education para educator that morning).  She said she would call me back, she had to make some calls.  Within the hour she called me back and we were making arrangements to to pick Buddy up at a parent visit that afternoon. 

Later that afternoon I would meet the parents of these kids, the people who had lost their kids to the state, they would probably dead beat addicts,  I mean what kind of person looses their kids to the state..... I was wrong, turns out they would end up being some of my favorite people ever, they turned out to truly be part of the family, lucky us.

How they came to be part of the family is another story.....

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Capable Father

Capable Father, not a name I chose myself.  Actually I have a lot of doubts about even saying that.  Adequate Father, Still Trying Father, or even better, He-Is-Totally-Making-It-Up-As-He-Goes-Along Father seem like better choices, but Capable Father, that is what my teenage daughter called me. 

Without a doubt one of the best moments of my life.

My 4 older daughters are all amazing ballroom dancers.  They all compete on nationally recognized teams, they all won national championships this year, go girls!  This is the realm of heels, make-up and over the top costumes, exactly where you would expect to find the dads, right?  Not exactly.

While I do sometimes find myself asking "why didn't we sign them up for soccer?"  I do have to admit that being a ballroom dad has helped me to develop skills that have made me famous with the moms and a little disturbing to the other dads.  I can whip up a killer hair do that can withstand hours of dancing. What's that dear daughter you need a smokey eye for this competition? No problem daddy's got this one.  Your friend forgot her hairspray and bobby pins.... just a minute, I have extras in my diaper bag... oh yes I did!

Developing these skills were relatively easy, you can learn just about anything on youtube.  It was getting the moms to trust me that was the challenge.   Other dads out there you know this, moms can be really condescending to involved dads.  Often moms initially talk to me like a child that needs simple instructions that will be easily remembered to deliver to my wife. 

This brings me back to my new found title of capable father, I had just spent hours calling dozens of moms to arrange partner tryouts for my girls.   As the girls had listened to me over and over again tell the moms, "no you don't need to talk to my wife, you can call me back."  "No, sorry my wife works, I will be the one to drive the carpool."  "No I will be arranging the practice, my wife is working."  Finally Haley stands up and says, "that's it!  I am making you a shirt that says capable father!  Have they never met a dad that is involved with their kids!"

There it was, all the thanks that I may ever need for doing this job.  The answer to the constant doubt I had experienced about my nontraditional role in our family.  My kids think I can do this......I can do this, and I love being the one at home. 

So stay-at-home moms out there watch out, I am capable and I am rocking this dad thing!
Haley & Makenzie, yes twins.

Katie

Olivia

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Holy Poly

My life provides me with special unique moments each day, 9 kids, married to a hot Mama and all the responsibilities that come along with that are sometimes a little mind boggling.  I have wanted to start sharing these moments for some time but I am never quite sure where to start.

Today I had a little moment that seemed like the perfect place to begin.

I went outside to check on Miguel and Ricardo, they had been playing in the park (we share a community park with the neighbors).  If checks are not made every 5 minutes or so I am likely to find one of my boys peeing in the neighbors window well, or down the slide....again.  What I did find was two little boys that for the first part of their life missed so many experiences, engrossed in a child's right of passage, rolling over rocks to find the treasures underneath. 

They were both intent on a worm they had extricated from its hole, in one long piece this time, when Ricardo gasped and then whispered, "look,  ohhh... how cute."  I whispered too, "what did you find?" 
"Look, right here its a holy poly!"  I was delighted with his attempt to name the roly poly, potato bug or whatever you call it.  A year ago the only animals he could name were dogs, cats and birds.  I told Hot Mama what he had said and went about the things that need doing.

Later today I have had a chance to think about that moment, two boys that I love so much, that have grown so much but still have scars.  Two boys that delight and enrich our lives but we still find ourselves grieving that we were not there for them sooner.  In that moment the weight of their past and my fear of the future was lifted and they were free to explore; to just be my little boys.

I think it really was a holy poly.