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Archive for August, 2012

Freak Outs and Football

Football season has started and I am determined to watch and learn this year.  I finally switched on the TV to ESPN (I didn’t even know where to find it!) and started watching South Carolina and Vanderbilt go head to head.  And as I’m sitting here watching the guys clobber each other, throw each other to the ground, and ram their helmets in the bellies of their opponents, I’m thinking, “I know exactly how you feel.”

Beginning a new school year and dealing with the emotions and behaviors of an eight year old have left me feeling tackled, head butted, and lying on the floor, doubled over in mental exhaustion.  I had a parent/teacher conference today at 11:30 while the class was away at Art.  We brainstormed ideas on how to tackle this school year in a more positive way than it had begun.  Whenever there is a change, no matter how small, something inside my sweet child snaps.  Our caseworker explained it to me this way:  A foster kid usually equates change with some traumatic event in his life (i.e. changing homes = losing parents and siblings).  After so many life altering changes, they begin, even subconsciously, to equate any minor change with trauma, and their defense mechanisms automatically revert back to whatever is most familiar and easiest (i.e. acting impulsively, being disrespectful, not listening).  So, beginning a new school year has triggered something in Lydia that has caused her to freak out.  Majorly.

The other day Half Pint finished washing her hands in the bathroom and I heard thumping on the walls of the hallway.  I walked over and there she was, “drying” her hands on the wall.  Her teacher said she has been pulling her eyelashes out in class, eating her lunch off her plate like a dog, and yelling at people in the middle of class for looking at her.  She sharpens her pencil incessantly, writes repetitive phrases over and over again (like “horses are cool”), and spaces out to the point that the teacher can be in front of her calling her name and she has no idea she’s even there.  And the same thing is true at home.

Finally yesterday I realized we were getting no where with me yelling and snapping and being in her face.  So, I asked her what she thought would help her re-focus.  “Um…you could whistle, like this”, she said and gave me a two note cue.  At this point, I’ll try anything.  And that’s about the conclusion Teach had too.

We had this discussion about her behaviors and what a sweet child she is but how unfocused and distracted she is, and we went over to Lydia’s desk to help clean it out some and try to get back on top of things.  That’s when we found something that made my heart sink.  I was already discouraged and on the verge of tears, and when we started pulling out strands of long, beautiful, blond hair, I almost had a melt down, right in the middle of tiny desks and chairs and Math books.  There were her scissors…and her hair.  Little pieces from her bangs and long strands from the back of her head.  More and more pieces.  And her beautiful pink pencil pouch that I had lovingly chosen for her, pieces cut out of it too.  I felt such a pang of failure.  All the work this summer, all the therapy sessions and preparations, and she was failing miserably at adjusting to school.  How my heart broke!  I felt tackled and knocked down, left trying to figure out how in the world we were still going to win this game.

But God chose to remind me today that I am not in this game alone.  There are other players on my team fighting with me, encouraging me, and there to pick me up again when I get blind sided.  The first hint of this, beside the teacher agreeing to join me in fighting for Lydia, was when I got back to my office after lunch.  A student that I had helped fix her schedule came in and thanked me for helping her and left me a Chick fil a chocolate chip cookie.  I did not even remember helping this girl, but whatever I did meant so much to her she brought me a gift.  And came back to thank me.  Twice.

Then a student came in looking for me just to give me a hug.  Twice.  After I picked Lydia up from daycare and we both had melt downs frustrated with all our failures, Grace (our Bair case worker) came and helped me realize it’s going to be okay.  We started making a list of all the improvements we’ve seen in the last four months and talked about how well Lydia’s doing.  The girl who used to cry when she realized she was gaining weight now says, “Yeah!  I’m getting fatter!”  The girl who used to look in the mirror and say, “I’m so ugly.”  Now says, “I’m in love with myself!”  The girl who used to take two hours coming up with sentences for her spelling words can now do it in 15 minutes.  The one who used to blame me for her behaviors now willingly apologizes and takes responsibility for her own actions.  She helps wash the table.  And takes showers without help.  And feeds the dog.  And stays in her own bed.  She hasn’t written any inappropriate stories in over a month.  She is doing well.  And Grace built me up too by saying that the other case workers are always jealous that I’m on her caseload because of how well Lydia and I are doing together.  That’s so what I needed to hear!  Somewhere, somehow, I’m doing something right.  Somehow we’re winning this game.

So I decided tonight to press on.  I want to give up, throw in the towel, and quit fighting.  But I won’t.  I put my helmet back on to protect my mind, my mouth guard back in to shelter my words, and my padding back on to protect my heart.  I suit up and get back in the game.  It’s the first quarter.  We’ve been together four months.  The game is not even half done.  We will keep fighting.  We will win.

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Fiery Tricks

Change has always been hard for me.  I like consistency.  Stability.  Predictability.  I go to restaurants and always order the same thing.  It’s always the same gyro at Sullivans and the same chicken, bacon, and tomato sandwich at Corner Bagel.  I like the caramel macchiato at Starbucks and amaretto cappuccino at QT.  I get a new favorite pair of earrings and wear them every other day.  Same with shoes.  And my schedule is relatively always predictable too.  Work in the morning, break for lunch and nap around noon, finish up by 4:30 then pick up the kid, eat dinner, do homework, read books, and off to bed.  If I want to spice it up, I’ll do some dishes or laundry or even dust a little.  But life is always the same.  And I kind of like it that way.  Oh, I love an occasional adventure and love random acts of kindness and service, but I crave stability.  

And so does my kid.  She is consistent.  Her routine has to be exactly the same to a T.  She has to have the same breakfast cereal, the same morning schedule, the same evening routine.  Everything consistent.  But throw a wrench into that schedule, and you get chaos.  Disobedience, defiance, crabbiness, lack of focus, lack of respect.  You find tears and impulsiveness and extreme mood swings.  That wrench this week is called school.

A new school year has begun and with that the whole nine yards of every behavior that reminds me that Sweet Pea has not had a normal past.  I have lost it so many times this past week just trying to get through to her.  There have been countless talks and apologies and tears…and that’s just me!  A new school year has worn me out!  And right when I think there is nothing else I can do for her, I take her to gymnastics.  Her first gymnastics.  And everything changed.

The moment Half Pint hit the gym floor she came alive.  She was rolling and tumbling and running and bouncing.  She was learning flips and cartwheels and tricks.  She stayed in line and followed directions and did not get frustrated with herself.  She failed, got back up, and tried again.  And again.  And again.  I sat there and watched her through a big glass window and my eyes filled with tears.  She is extraordinary!  Around me parents sat texting on their phones or playing Angry Birds, simply waiting for time to pass.  They’ve probably sat through gymnastic practice for years by now.  Babies were crying and toddlers were running wild.  But I sat there, eyes glued to that clear oasis where my Sweet Pea was visibly free.  

And I got to thinking, I wondering if all the other parents know what an extraordinary gift they have.  Fifty girls doing handstands and walking on the balance beams and flying through the air off the high bars.  Do their mothers know?  Do they know how extraordinary their daughters are?  Do their moms look at them and tell them how incredibly proud they are of who they are becoming?  Do they thank them for trying and not giving up?  Do other mothers understand what a gift it is that their daughter is healthy, and happy, and alive?  Do they realize that one action, one bad decision from one person could’ve changed the whole course of what they are now witnessing?  Because when I see my child come out of her slump for just a moment, my heart is cut to the core.  Some mothers get to experience that good, safe feeling every day.  I got to experience it for an hour.  It was beautiful.  Mothers, do you realize what a gift you have?!  

All I wanted to do when my sweet heart came out of the gym was hug her and tell her how proud I was and how good she was and how much I loved her.  She had fire in her eyes again, but it wasn’t angry fire or frustration.  It was a fire set ablaze by a passion for gymnastics.  A fire that for a moment burned away the past and the negative thoughts and the anxiety that comes from change.  I wanted to bottle up that feeling and feed it to her every morning with her bowl of Cookie Crisp and Corn Flakes.  

She is a precious, precious gift.  I needed to see that life in her today so my hope could be rebirthed.  I needed her to experience this today so she could remember who she is, at the core.  She is a foster kid that exhibits her brokenness in the most bizarre of ways, but she is this passionate, beautiful, full of life little girl.  

Change is hard.  Being a third grader with this much change is close to impossible.  Of course there will be issues.  But she’s doing fantastic.  She’s hanging in there and holding on.  And I am so proud of my little girl!

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One of the incredible joys of raising a foster kid is that each day you get to discover something new about the child.  It could be something as simple as learning that her favorite color changed from pink to green, or learning that she actually does like cheese.  One day you could learn she can do a back flip off the high bars at the gym or that she is super creative.  But then there are some days that take all day just to discover one hidden gem about a child’s life, her heart or personality.

This weekend I unearthed something that has been hidden in Half Pint.  A couple things actually.  First, I learned what an incredible big sister she is.  After work on Friday I went and picked up her brother from his group home and they got to spend 24 hours together being siblings.  I pretty much threw all rules out the window.  I let them stay up way past their bedtime playing with toys and Google chatting with their soon to be adoptive family.  We had a “lock-in” in the living room watching movies, eating popcorn and cookies until 11:00 rolled around and they finally dozed off.  The next morning we ate waffles and cereal and then played like crazy until the whole house was a foot deep in Barbies, Littlest PetShop puppies, cars and planes and coloring books.  We spent a couple hours with our neighbors shopping at Target, eating at Chick fil a and having fun running, jumping, and climbing around the equipment at a gymnastics center.  Then we went swimming at the YMCA and finished our weekend with pizza on the couch while they watched another movie.  After dinner they spent one last hour of littering our house with happy reminders of a fun time of play.  The whole time they were together, Lydia never ceased being an extraordinary big sister.  I told her that my role this weekend was to spoil her; her role was the spoil her brother.  They laughed together and hugged every chance they got.  Lydia shared well and helped her brother learn the rules.  She talked incessantly about her new life; her dog and house and school and friends.  I have never seen her so alive, so in her element.  She is an incredible big sister.

But the second thing I discovered was a lot more about her heart than her actions.  Lydia is so hyper active and scattered and outgoing that I never really have been able to put to words before what I now can.  Any time there is a change, anytime we add a person to our little predictable lives, Lydia has a melt down.  Her negative behaviors come out, she’s crabby, and she complains about being overwhelmed.  But when she started acting up today and being weepy and disobedient, I looked into her eyes and saw past her misbehavior into my own eyes.  She is like me.  She needs time alone to recharge and re-cooperate; to process and adjust.  It’s amazing what 20 minutes alone in her room can do for her!  Lydia is a hyper active introvert.  Over-stimulation exhausts her and wears her out.    She needed time to sit on my lap and cuddle and be told what a great sister and kid she is.  She needed to be loved on before she could bounce back and keep loving on her brother.  I had no idea that part of Half Pint existed until I saw it juxtaposed with time with her brother.  And realizing that about her made me love her all the more.  Another jewel in what makes Lydia so beautiful.

I can’t wait to find out what I discover next!

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JGF

About a month ago that sweet child of mine started a new saying that has become almost commonplace around our house these days.  It began when I would give her compliments like “Wow.  Don’t you look cute today?” or “Look how pretty your hair is” or “Thank you for using your good manners at dinner.”  Any time I would say something nice to her she would look at me with all sincerity and say, “It’s not my fault.  It’s Jesus’ good fault.”  Every good thing that happens or she does has become Jesus’ fault…but in a good way.  So to shorten the phrase because, let’s face it, we already talk too much as is, we’ve come up with the short version of “It’s JGF.”  Every positive thing immediately gets contributed to Jesus.  “Nice job coloring that picture.”  “It’s JGF.”  “Thanks for making dinner tonight!”  “It’s JGF.”

A couple days ago while riding in the car I was explaining to Half Pint how God has this amazing tendency to take something bad and make it into something good.  Like a rainbow after a storm.  Lydia in all her wisdom and smarts said, “that’s kind of like our saying.  We took a negative word (fault) and turned it into something positive when we attributed it to Jesus.”  But in case I wasn’t getting it enough, she had to use a practical example from life.  “It’s like when you’re playing with two different colors of playdough and you slowly start mixing them together, and you end out with this completely different color where you can’t tell one from the other.  That’s what God does with our lives.  He takes the good and the bad and mixes them together into something beautiful.”

How can this child be only eight?  How can she have gone through what she’s gone through and have such an incredibly deep mind about the things of God??  She has a difficult time sometimes explaining what her field trip was at daycare that day or remembering what she ate for lunch, but she has no problem explaining God at a level that anyone could understand.  And she means it.  And loves Him dearly.

Monday night we had therapy and Lydia had such a hard time sitting still and listening and participating.  Mr. Intern even tried teaching her some gymnastic moves to teach her the importance of listening and respect and perseverance.  She got so frustrated and distracted and annoyed.  But the moment Mr. Intern sat her on the couch and started talking about God, she was like a different child.  She looked him in the eyes and read scripture with him and answered all his questions about the Bible.  He talked about God’s design for marriage and relationships, why we do bad things, and how to be saved.  Lydia was attentive and sat still and nodded and contributed.  She clung to his every word.

I have no idea where she learned to be so sensitive to the Spirit.  No idea how that flame has not got snuffed out over the last two years.  I cannot grasp the depth of understanding she has on the things of Christ.  There’s only one thing I am sure of.

It’s JGF.

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Feeling Green

I bought a dress a few weeks ago that is long and comfy and very green. It has tons of leaves and flowers and who knows what plants were sewn neatly together to form that beautiful dress. I love that dress. And I look good in it. I like my green sweater that I wear with my black and white dress and leggings; my green t-shirt that, although it is more olive than anything, makes me look pretty tan. I wear my green shoes so much I have worn their soles out. I love green. I look good in green. Emerald, forest, olive. Pretty much any green. But I’ve realized this weekend, there is one green that I do not look so hot in. In fact, I look down right U-G-L-Y. It’s jealousy green. And lately I’ve been wearing it quite a bit.

You see, when you go through training to become a foster parent, they teach you all sorts of valuable lessons. They tell you how to carefully release a child’s teeth from your arm should he decide to bite you, how to get out of a child’s grasp when they pull your hair. They teach you how to react should you feel threatened or if your child puts himself in danger. They prepare you for the first day they’re in your home and try as hard as they can for your goodbye. But they don’t really teach you much on the day to day stuff. Like how to help a child become less defiant. Or how to make a child eat when she feels fat. They don’t walk you through every scenario you’ll face and there is certainly no manual for raising a kid. Needless to say, I have felt very ill-prepared for the flip-flops my heart has taken and then ugly green giant that has reared it’s head. I was not prepared for the moment when someone else would begin to love my child. Not just love her, but genuinely want what is best for her. I was not prepared to feel threatened by the love my child would have for another mother. They don’t teach that in class.

So here I am very ill-equipped to war off this strange attack. And because I am unprepared, Satan has taken this opportunity to pull out every punch he can muster up. “You are inadequate”. Wham. “You could never be as good as…” Wham. “Lydia needs a home with two parents. A real family. You’re just a holding tank.” Double wham. And I find myself completely deflated and beaten down.

But tonight as I dusted off my Bible and flipped it open, God brought me to Malachai 3:2, “For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.” Most sermons I have heard preached on this passage have talked about the fire; the way God burns away the impurities and dross making the gold shine to reflect Him. You’ve probably all heard that sermon. But I can’t recall a time when I have heard someone talk about the “launderer’s soap.” Being a foster mom now, I can much more relate to laundry than to fire. And tonight I needed that image. I needed to see God take me in His hand, find the stains that had rubbed in over the last few weeks, spray a little “Shout Out” on it, and wash me clean. I needed Him to find the ugly green and gently wash it away. Sometimes I need the fire. I need a little scorching. But today God knew I was beaten down enough. He knew I needed to be gently cleansed.

I feel like a kid learning to share again. If I truly want what is best for her and not just what my selfish heart wants I will encourage phone calls and letters and Skype dates with all the people Half Pint chooses to open her heart up to. I will willingly share the insiders scoop on this precious treasure I have come to adore so they can be prepared for the moment she moves on from my heart to theirs. I’m praying that as we get closer to that day God would wash away my green stain completely so that the only green I’m left wearing are the ones hanging in my closet.

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A New Perspective

Okay, so last night I may have been just a tad bit melodramatic.  It was late.  I was cranky.  But God has tenderly chosen to remind me that He is still God, the same yesterday, today, and forever.  And for Pete’s sake, I just have to look through past posts to remember how very kind not only God has been, but family and friends!  I am supported.  I am prayed for.  I am loved.

Lydia has this precious habit of rephrasing her responses when she knows she did not answer me like she was supposed to.  Wrong tone.  Wrong attitude.  She always says, “I mean…can I take that back?”  And I always let her.  So this morning I want to take back my tone and my attitude.  I cannot take back the stress that lies on my shoulders, but today I’m choosing a new perspective:

I am blessed.  My house hasn’t been clean, as a whole, since March, because I’ve been spending my time with an eight year old, coloring and riding bikes and playing in the sprinkler. My bathroom has these tiny little bugs that have shown up, probably to take joy rides on the ring that has formed around the tub. I’m too laid back to kill them, so I just kick them out of my way and pray that the next time I shower they will wash down the drain with the shampoo. I am thankful that I can go grocery shopping and have a freezer full of meat and veggies, and have the option of choosing what to thaw or figure out how to make a meal out of pork chops and okra.  When I am tired, I’m thankful I can pull out the frozen chicken nuggets and open up a can of green beans.

I am thankful for the people that help take off some of my burden. Yes. I am blessed. I clean, I cook, I try to stay on top of the laundry. I get to wake up my kid, feed her breakfast, make her lunch, taker her to day care. I am blessed with a great job and get to work all day in an office instead of outside in the hot sun and days like today I can spend all afternoon encouraging frustrated mothers whose kids didn’t get the classes they wanted.  I am thankful for technology so there are phone calls to Verizon.  I am thankful for the adoption counselor and that God has opened up doors for me again with women in my home group or visiting them in the hospital to make sure they are doing well. I am thankful for medicine and doctors who help me to get over this cold that has been beating me for a month. I don’t have to groom my dog myself so I can take him to the groomer…and pick him up. I am thankful that I got to sit with my sister at her cancer follow up appointment and hear the news first hand that she is still cancer free. Squeeze some grocery shopping in and swing by Chick fil a to support their stance on the family because I live in a country of free speech. God has provided the organizing of our closets and piles of “junk” in the garage for our yard sale this weekend so we are able to get school supplies and new clothes. Mondays are always therapy days, which means Lydia is getting well. Thursdays are home studies, which means we are not alone. And did I mention the paper work I have to do each week accounting for two hours of therapy a day that I do with my sweet child where I can write down how much Lydia is growing? Or the monthly emergency plan practice that has to be accounted for so I feel safe? There’s books I have to read to stay licensed, classes I have to attend so I never have to go at this alone.  We are healthy because I schedule doctor’s appointments and stay on top of Sweet Pea’s meds. After work and daycare I come home, make dinner, make sure Half Pint has her bath. Then I get to play with her, laugh with her, build her up like crazy. And I read her stories and tuck her into bed with the last words I hear from her mouth being “I love you most”. Then, if I’m still not filled with enough joy, I spend an hour or two working on Bible studies and helping with Church ministries, thankful for the opportunity to serve, even from home. On the weekends I try to make up for lost time and visit family and friends and have fun so with so many fantastic people.

So yes. I am blessed. Yes. I am at peace. Yes. I am supported.

I am a single mom of a foster child.

And for heaven’s sake, instead of criticizing me for being exhausted and behind and messy and short, my friends stop and consider what my day has just been like! They let me bellyache and whine every once in a while because I have to spend all day biting my tongue and being the “bigger person.” I don’t even ask for help. They understand. I’m thankful for people who put themselves in my shoe for one day.

Or better yet, put themselves in Lydia’s shoes.  I ask if all this is worth it.

We believe she is.

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Hopefully I’m allotted one post every now and then that is purely for gripping without being terribly judged.  If you’re going to judge me, stop reading now.  This post is one big groan.  Because, let’s face it, I don’t have time to sit down with a friend over coffee to actually have a human being to pour out to without the fear of being criticized.  So I’ll do it here, in my solitude, so at least my mind can dump out the frustrations and I can (hopefully) get some sleep.  So here begins my rant…

I am tired.  My house hasn’t been clean, as a whole, since March.  My bathroom has these tiny little bugs that have shown up, probably to take joy rides on the ring that has formed around the tub.  I’m too tired to kill them, so I just kick them out of my way and pray that the next time I shower they will wash down the drain with the shampoo.  I finally went grocery shopping and have a freezer full of meat and veggies, but I don’t have the energy to decide what to thaw or figure out how to make a meal out of pork chops and okra.  So I pull out the frozen chicken nuggets and open up a can of green beans.  And then I feel guilty for yet another meal that is highly processed and void of nutrition.

I am tired of people telling me I sound frustrated and stressed but doing nothing even close to offering to help take off some of my burden.  Yes.  I am stressed.  I clean, I cook, I try to stay on top of the laundry.  I have to wake up my kid, feed her breakfast, make her lunch, taker her to day care.  I work all day in an office and days like today I spend all afternoon trying to calm down frustrated mothers whose kids didn’t get the classes they wanted.  Then there’s the phone calls to Verizon and the adoption counselor and following up with women in my home group or visiting them in the hospital to make sure they are doing well.  I am still trying to get over this cold that has been beating me for a month.  I take the dog to the groomer…and pick him up.  Sit with my sister at her cancer follow up appointment.  Squeeze some grocery shopping in and swing by Chick fil a to support their stance on the family.  Then there’s the organizing of our closets and piles of junk in the garage for our yard sale this weekend so we can get school supplies and new clothes.  Mondays are always therapy days.  Thursdays are home studies.  And did I mention the paper work I have to do each week accounting for two hours of therapy a day that I do with my sweet child?  Or the monthly emergency plan practice that has to be accounted for?  There’s books I have to read to stay licensed, classes I have to attend.  I schedule doctor’s appointments and have to stay on top of Sweet Pea’s meds.  Let’s not even talk about the dentist visit looming over our heads!  After work and daycare I come home, make dinner, make sure Half Pint has her bath.  Then I play with her, laugh with her, build her up like crazy.  And I read her stories and tuck her into bed.  Then, if I’m still not exhausted enough, I spend an hour or two working on Bible studies and helping with Church ministries.  On the weekends I try to make up for lost time and visit family and friends and try to have fun so people don’t think I hate them or tear me down for being such a recluse.

So yes.  I am stressed.  Yes.  I am frustrated.  Yes.  I am exhausted.

I am a single mom of a foster child.

And for heaven’s sake, instead of criticizing me for being exhausted and behind and messy and short, stop and consider what my day has just been like!  Tearing me down is like seeing someone beaten on the side of the road and then being frustrated with them because they don’t have the wherewithal to laugh at your jokes.  Let me bellyache and whine every once in a while because I have to spend all day biting my tongue and being the “bigger person.”  I’m not even asking for help.  I’m asking for understanding.  Please just try put yourself in my shoe for one day.

Or better yet, put yourself in Lydia’s shoes.  Ask yourself if all this is worth it.

Because I believe she is.

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