May 26, 2017

Our Adoption Story

Three years ago last week, we celebrated the adoption of our little girl!  

Belles, as we affectionately call her, came to us through foster care in another state.  This is our adoption story...

Our six year stay in West Virginia was not what I'd hope for.  Moving there shortly after my husband and I married (second marriage for both of us) was supposed to be our new beginning.  A fresh start.  A home to grow our family.  A place to plant roots.  

I tried.  I really did.  We did everything transplants do - explored, found a church, made friends - but as the years went on, I grew more and more miserable and wanted desperately to move back "home."  The reasons are irrelevant to this blog post, but I say this only to preface our story with "everything happens for a reason" really is true!

When we purchased our home I envisioned filling it with as many kids as we could have before I became to old to have them.  After having one child and two miscarriages, I met a homeschool mom who had a profound impact on our family.  As I got to know her, she shared many stories of her family's foster care, and ultimate adoption, journey.  Derek and I had discussed this idea earlier in our marriage, but put it in the back of our minds, until we met not only my friend, but also a few more foster/adoption families.  And so, my husband, our kids, and I - all on board - began the process through a private agency contracted through DHHR.

Our year long licensing process was met with a lot of waiting, self-reflection, push back from family, and another miscarriage, but finally we were good to go, ready to take in as many kids as we could.  I quickly learned it wasn't that simple, at least not for us - some kids were placed before we returned the affirmative phone call, some we had to decline, and there were simply lulls of waiting.  In addition to the logistics of the process, there was an emotional component.  As much as I wanted to open our home and hearts to other children through fostering and/or adoption, I was faced with unexpected emotions I was not prepared for.  I don't know if it was the negativity from others, fear, my obligation to my kids, or the miscarriages - perhaps all of it, but I felt guilty at times for wanting to do this.  But, our amazing social worker helped me to sort out my feelings and understand they were completely normal!  

Still struggling to fit in and feel at home, I had had enough, and we started seriously talking about moving, but then, we got the call.  

There was a baby girl being removed from kinship care, and we could pick her up the following day.  I said "yes," without hesitation, and without calling Derek.  When I did, he reminded me that we were going to list our house.  Didn't matter, I wanted this more!  

And so the next day, Maddie and I went to pick up our angel. 

This baby was beautiful, mild, and quietly observant.  Maddie brags to this day that she was the first to hold her as I sat going over details with the social worker.  The hour we were in DHHR, waiting and watching people coming and going was sobering.  To realize some were there to relinquish their children, some ordered, some not.  Some were there, like us, to take on the role of mom and dad to someone else's child. Others were there to check in, file complaints, and a number of other reasons. 

We quietly exited the back of the building and strapped our new addition into the car seat hoping to remain unseen by the family who brought her in.  

At home, we welcomed her as our own, and she quickly became one of us - the perfect fit.

As the months went by, it was as if she was never not a part of our family.  Due to her birth family's background, we knew early on she would become "adoptable" after her six month stay in foster care.  To this day, I think about her birth mother - a young woman, mentally ill who quieted her mind with drugs.  Through the grace of God, she managed to carry a baby almost to term and give birth.  She had no idea how to care for her baby because she couldn't even care for herself.  I don't know all the details, but I know enough to know, that our daughter's life was, and is, precious, and she has purpose.  She needed a loving family, and we needed her.  She was obviously meant to be as she was our first and only placement.

Adoption Day
And that is why we ended up in West Virginia.  "Everything happens for a reason."  Yep, cliche, and people usually loathe hearing it, but it's true.  Had we not moved there, we never would have been given this gift.  During the adoption process came our fourth miscarriage and the listing of our house.  Shortly after our court date, our house sold, and we were free to leave.  And so we did. 

Minus the "mild," our Annabelle is still beautiful and quietly observant.  She's "a mess."  Ironically enough, she looks like our other kids, and with the exception of being the best sleeper ever from the moment we got her, has a similar personality to each.  She's naturally loud, quirky, clumsy, and imaginative.  She loves cereal, pancakes, and chocolate crackers.  She's stubborn, has a temper, and can squish her face in a hot second.  She is thoughtful, loving, and funny.  She loves to sing, color, and watch TV.  She loves God, princesses, pink, and stuffed animals.  She is a typical little girl - at each age and stage, she's been on point.  I refuse to blame an outburst, an odd behavior, or an attitude on "the drugs" or her birth mom's illness.  Of course, I remain aware, but a four year old temper tantrum is just that.  She has two parents, four siblings, and family who love her as their own flesh and blood.    

I'm her mom.  We're her family, and that's what she knows.  How we got her - which sounds strange to say, but we did, we got her from somewhere that was not my own body - is not a secret, so the plan is to let her understand her beginning naturally.  My only regret is that we do not have a newborn or early baby pictures of her.  As I continue to adorn our walls with photos, I'm going to have to answer "where's mine?"  And that, breaks my heart.

Annabelle is a blessing.  A little spitfire that drives me to the brink of insanity some days.  Every day with her is an adventure.  But when I tuck her in at night, say prayers, and sing our special song, she wraps her arms around my neck and says, "I love you, momma," I know she's right where she belongs.  

I love her with all my heart.


May 5, 2017

43 Is Not Old

I knew I wanted to express some thoughts on this day, but every time I sat down, all I could do was stare at the blank screen unable to begin.  And then, the cutest little spark of inspiration ran to me, climbed into my lap, and threw his arms around my neck for a hug.  I can't imagine not experiencing that every day.  Even amid the daily grind of housework, the monotony of homeschooling, and the constant needs of little people, I know that one day it will all be over.  And I will miss it.

Today is my dad's birthday.  He would have been 66 years old.

He died when he was 43, the age I am now.

When I was a kid, 40 was old, as I'm sure it is to my children now.  But now that I am "old," I understand that I'm not.  It is abundantly clear that I have a lot of living left to do.  My dad's been gone 22 years, my whole adult life, and he's missed so much.  

It saddens me greatly that he hasn't been here to share in my joy or help through the tough times.  Birthdays, holidays, accomplishments, failures.  The ups and downs of life.  Being a family.

I think about all that he has missed out on in what should have been his life.  Retirement, traveling, new hobbies - 22 years of living.  So many possibilities.

But mostly, I think about my kids.  And I feel cheated.  Then I feel angry and profound sadness.  My kids will never know him, and they'll never know the grandfather I imagine him to have been.

I've been very candid about my dad, his drinking, and my feelings surrounding his last years on this earth.  It's no secret I harbor much bitterness, resentment, sorrow, guilt, and often rage.  I don't always have nice things to say about him.  That's what alcohol does.  It destroys you.  You, the drinker.  You, the person who cares.

Aside from all that, I know who he was outside of alcohol.  Who he was capable of being.  And I am damn sure of the kind of granddad he would have been.  And it pains me every day that my children won't know him or experience having a grandfather.

I can see him showing everyone he knows pictures of the kids.  Bragging about their sports endeavors.  Pitching baseballs to Caleb, throwing the football in the yard.  Cheering Maddie on across the world.  Trying to keep up with Annabelle and her shenanigans, and accepting her as blood.  Popping in during school time.  Snuggling with Joshua watching silly shows and eating junk.  Slipping them cash.  Just hanging out.  He loved babies, and he loved kids.  

Such a waste.

Death is inevitable.  Sometimes tragic or slow or unexpected.  Or even unnecessary.

Turning 43 was a milestone birthday for me, and has now made me face mortality.  I still get up with Joshua during the night, and believe me, being alone with your thoughts at 4a.m. can be daunting.  Realizing at 43, I too, can die - tomorrow is not guaranteed.  My dad left behind an 18 and 20 year old.  I would leave behind a 16, 7, and 4 year old, and a 20 month old.  I'm an older mom, and it's imperative that I do all I can to make sure I'm here for my kids.  Not only does that mean taking care of myself physically, emotionally, and mentally...

but it means LIVING.

Listening and watching.  Being present and attentive.  Exploring, guiding, cheering, and playing.  It means soaking in every laugh, smoochie, and hug.

I can't fathom missing out on their lives.  I literally have to close my eyes and shake my head to make the thought disappear.  

I won't pretend that I don't take time for granted.  Or my kids.  Because I do.  I don't intend to.  But every morning is a blessing and another opportunity to show my kids they are my world.

When I think about my dad not being here, I have to remind myself that it's his own fault.  After all, he allowed himself to lose sight of what was important.  And that's how it is for everyone.


I don't understand parents who don't make an effort to participate in the lives they created.  Or those who get so wrapped up in their own lives, that the next generation is left longing for the warm, cozy, loving relationship that can only be fulfilled by a sweet, stern, wise grandparent.

Time.  It's fleeting.

And one day, it will be too late.

April 27, 2017

What Our Homeschool Looks Like: And it ain't what you think!

That. Is. For. Sure!

We are a hot mess in this house.  If you are too, then, this post is for you!  If you are one of those perfect homeschooling families, well, then please keep being awesome and leave us to our, uhh, mess.

The truth is, homeschooling is hard.  Add different ages and stages to it, and it's crazy.  Then there's breakfast.  Lunch.  And ugh, dinner.  Don't forget "I'm hungry" 472 times a day.  Nursing and naps, wiping butts and noses, cleaning spills and laundry.  Temper tantrums and refereeing.  Grocery shopping and doctor appointments and sports and...and...and!!! 

Now you have chaos.

When I started this journey, I had one child starting third grade.  I wanted to homeschool after she was born, and since kids are learning from the minute they enter the world, it seemed natural.  When Maddie was little, it was just her and I, so she got all my time, and all I had was time.  She was bright, curious, social, proactive, and a little sponge.  

Fast forward 16 years, and I now have a husband, four kids, a dog, a house to run, and a butt load of responsibility that goes with it all.  

I wish I could say I'm Mary Poppins and "practically perfect in every way," but I'm not.  My vision of homeschooling is happening in someone's house, but obviously not in mine.  

I thought homeschooling would be:
  • a neat and tidy colorful room with a table and little chairs.
  • anchor charts adorning the walls
  • arts and crafts housed in cute little baskets and jars
  • a comfy reading nook
  • an organized teacher desk with fresh flowers
  • healthy snacks and outdoor time
  • circle time after the Pledge and prayer
  • independent learning
  • experiments and trips to the library
  • kids eagerly learning the same subject at different levels of understanding
  • field trips and co-op
  • hanging with other homeschoolers
  • impromptu trips to wherever the subject matter takes us
  • a schedule with a bit of willy nilly
  • blissful improvising
Don't get me wrong.  We do a lot on this list, but I don't accomplish my "vision" often enough for my standard of what I had hoped for.  Instead homeschooling is messy.  And I don't mean glitter and glue.  Well, a little bit.

But messy, I mean...

I'm tired.

I hit snooze too many times.  Sometimes don't shower until 11am.  Breakfast is waffles from a box.  Lunch is chocolate crackers (don't ask).  Dinner, on sports nights is often cereal.  The TV is on too much.  Baths...huh?

There's a lot of whining and yelling.  Fist slamming, grumbling, and tears.  Curse words, quips, and eye rolls. 

And not from the kids.

I'm ashamed to admit that, but if I want to be real, then this is the truth that needs to come out.  I'm not the only one who could be writing this either.  I know there are those who's utopian homeschool looks exactly like mine.  And, it's okay...sort of.

My messy desk, the noise level, the bickering, the winging it, even blowing off spelling for 9 days - it's whatever.  I promise they won't go off to college not knowing the difference between their, they're, and there.

What is a problem is me.  By the time I fall, quite literally, into bed, I'm done.

Over it.


And it's not because of the kids.  It's me.

We all know comparison will rob you of joy.  It also robs you of your identity - self-esteem, self-worth, self-reliance, self-restraint.  Basically, yourSELF.  If I would just do my thing, I'd be fine, and so would my kids.  BUT...

Most days my SELF gets in the way.  

A cocktail of anxiety, OCD, sensory overload, and a small side of ADD mixed with a perfectionistic mentality is a recipe for disaster.  The result = passivity, apathy, and paralysis.

So, what's the solution?  Just do it my way.  My life, my family - it is what it is at the moment.  It's a season.  It will ebb and flow and be joyous if I just BE.  Some days will suck, but this too shall pass.  It's our NORMAL.  And it's not bad.

Instead of opening up the articles with the "sanctimommious" headlines like 75 Subjects You Should Be Teaching Your Homeschooled Kids but Aren't or Ten Character Traits Kids Should Exhibit By Age Nine, just remember this - Minecraft covers lots of subjects, and there's nothing wrong with a well placed "oh shit" from a kid every once in a while.

Big deal, my kids aren't reciting the 23 Psalm in Latin, nor do I have 14 children milking goats and feeding the homeless.  What I do have is four kids who annoy the ever-living crap out of each other some days, but will throw down for each other when needed.  One will get the neighbor's trash can.  Another can let stuff go.  One is eager to learn.  And one is determined as can be.  And they all "show love" in their own ways.

Most important - I need to remember why we homeschool.  I never felt "called" to homeschool; it was just something I wanted, and still want, to do.  It's best for our family and our kids for a number reasons.  

It will work out.

It has to.

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