Why Reunification Matters

It’s what everyone wants to know.

Where is his family?

Why is she in foster care?

Doesn’t anyone love them?

How could a mother or father abandon their child?

I can see it in their eyes.

Pity, judgment and confusion.

“They’re better off with you,” they say.

“I don’t understand how a mother could do that.”

“Doesn’t that scare you?”

I wish I could show them the other side of the story.

I wish I could describe to them the struggles of growing up surrounded by addiction, poverty and domestic violence.

I wish I could capture the joy on my foster child’s face as they run into the open arms of their mommy.

I wish I could show them how he cries every time he has to say goodbye to his Daddy, and the way his daddy has to turn away blinking back his own tears as we walk out the door.

I wish I could show you the bags and bags of clothing Mom has given me or the toys Dad brings…their desperate attempt to try to fix things.

I wish I could show you the pain I see in their eyes and the longing for some understanding.

 

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The amazing thing about love is that it thrives even in the most unlikely environments.  Even surrounded by chaos, it takes root deep within hearts.  When yanked up, it bleeds out pain and raw anger at the injustice of it all.

You would be surprised to know that most parents of foster kids are a lot like you and I.  Moms and Dads who love their kids.

Sometimes love is not enough.

Love isn’t always enough to conquer addictions and poverty.

Love isn’t always enough to change the trajectory passed down through generations of abuse and loss.

Love isn’t always enough to heal the wounds of abandonment and rejection.

So much grace is needed to see past the behaviours to the cause.

For a parent who is at the end of their rope, social support programs are sometimes enough to pull the pieces together.

If  you know you are out of options, you will be willing to try almost anything.

But it takes a lot of courage to accept that someone else might know how to raise your children better than you.

It takes a lot of discipline to tear apart the fabric of your life and try to implement completely foreign patterns and habits into it.

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I don’t know many parents who would react well to being told:

“You don’t know what is best for your child.”

“You need help raising your child.”

“You need to change major things about your life to be allowed to continue raising your child.”

“You need to move.”

“You need to break up with your partner.”

“You need to attend support groups once a week.”

We ask big things of these parents.

And we are right to…but it doesn’t make it easy and it’s important that we understand what we are asking.

From their perspective, they often feel someone is trying to rip apart their family and ruin their lives.

It’s hard not to feel attacked and lash back in destructive ways.

But under all that, most of these parents love their kids desperately and just need some support to pull together the pieces of a life that has disappointed, wounded, ensnared and deceived.

We often make the mistake of setting unreasonable goals for these parents.

We want instant results.

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But real progress usually happens over time, with lots of support, plenty of chances and grace.

Sometimes the children will suffer during the interim…as they wait for their parents to become healthy enough to parent…and this feels unfair.

But I’m beginning to see that it’s so important that we don’t rush things.

At the end of this story, I want to be able to look that child in the eye and tell them I did everything I could to help salvage their family.

It’s so important that we, the foster parents, are the ones there to offer grace and let these moms and dads know that someone is in their corner.

I am still working at becoming this kind of foster parent.

They are often intimidated, frightened and bitter when they meet us…so it’s a big shift to show them that we are not the enemy.

But if we can…

Well…we might just be able to be the babysitter they call when that little one returns home.

We might just be that friend they text, send photos and vent to on a difficult day.

We might just be that ongoing support that every parent needs through the long days of parenting.

We might just get beach days and walks and playdates at the park.

We might never hear from them again, except to watch them grow from afar on social media, their eyes alight with happiness through the camera lens…

and in that moment…

even when it’s obvious that not all is perfect…

we will know it is right and good.

God came up with this perfect design and called it a family.

The blood bonds that run through our veins are powerful and precious and should be fought for fiercely!

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I know that it doesn’t always work.

And I know that it’s a bloody, awful mess in the process.

But if it works…

well…

if it works…

we have just done something extraordinarily beautiful.

It’s called redemption.

~AF

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May 10th

I wake before dawn, my son’s cries prompting me to stumble out of bed and down the stairs to where he cries in the darkened kitchen.  He’s looking for his Daddy but it’s too early so I scoop him up and carry him close to my heart back up the stairs.

I wipe his tears and his nose, get him a drink, and then tuck him back into bed next to his love bunny.

“Goodnight, Babe.  I’ll see you in the morning.  Mommy loves you.”

Back in bed I climb between the cool sheets, but now I’m awake and the birds are chirping and it’s May 10th.

May 10th.

A year ago today my 18 month old son fell off the back of a pickup truck.

My husband and I did all the things you do.  We watched for drowsiness, nausea, vomiting, disorientation, swelling on the skull, lack of balance.

He seemed fine.

It was evening so we kept him up an extra hour or two and woke him every two hours through the night.  Each time he responded appropriately and by morning we were less concerned.

He had a doctor’s appointment scheduled for the following day–his 18 month check up and immunizations.  I took him in, deciding I would mention the fall he’d had last evening to the doctor just to  be on the safe side.  I could feel a bit of swelling over his left ear, and he reacted to some slight pressure, but otherwise was his normal happy self.

When the nurse called us in she felt the bump on his head and said she’d mention it to the doctor.  We looked at the 18 month developmental goals.  His speech was on the low side of average but I wasn’t worried.  Kids are all so different and I hate the way we put them all in categories so early in life.  His head circumference was on the larger side and I joked about my husband’s genes producing large heads.  He had two routine immunizations, which he handled well.

When the doctor came in to see us she agreed there were no concerns about development at this point but said she was going to send us for a skull x-ray just to be on the safe side with his head injury.

“I’m probably going to regret this because if they see anything at all they’ll want you to get a CT scan as well but I’m going to do it anyway, just to be safe.  We don’t want to miss anything,” she said.

I reluctantly agreed and we left with the x-ray requisition.

I had been through x-rays and CT scans and MRI’s before with an infant we fostered so I was not looking forward to putting my shy little boy through the process of an x-ray.  I knew from experience the contraption they strapped tiny people into for an x-ray looked more like a medieval torture device than modern medicine.  The worst part was that because the x-ray emits strong radiation waves, I was not allowed to stay inside the room with him.

I called my husband and let him know what was going on, irritation in my voice.  I was frustrated that we had to put our son through this when it seemed that he was fine.

I went to the hospital as quickly as possible and they conducted the x-ray, promising they would send the results to my doctor who would call me to let me know what they revealed

By the time we got home we were both tired and hungry.  I made lunch and tucked him in for his nap.

I had barely got back down the stairs when the phone rang and my doctor’s name flashed up on the screen.

“I’m sorry, they saw a small fracture so they’d like to do a CT scan,” she said, her voice apologetic.  She didn’t sound worried, and reassured me it was probably minor but that they had to be extra cautious with head injuries.

I grudgingly woke my son from his very short nap and called my husband again with the news.  By now I had let the frustration seep in and I felt like crying.

It had been a long day already and it was just past noon.

Immunizations, a skull x-ray and now a CT scan yet too.

We headed back to the hospital.

I felt horrible.

We were both grumpy and tired.

What did a fracture on a toddler’s head mean, anyway?

What have I done?

At the hospital the doctor reassured me it didn’t appear to be anything serious and gave him some sedation to help him stay still through the CT scan.  It was a relief to have him sedated for the CT so that I wouldn’t have to listen to his fearful cries as we strapped him to the table and I stepped outside the room.  It also gave him a chance to get some much needed sleep.

It was approaching dinner time and all I wanted was to be at home with my family.

Back in the ER unit across from the nurses’ station we waited some more, me trying to keep my son from falling and hitting his head yet again as he drowsily came out of sedation and tried to crawl off my lap.  He was tipsy and clumsy and I had to laugh watching him as I tried to restrain his movements to keep him safe.  Freezies and juice helped move the sedation through his body and reorient his senses.

I had no idea that day how often we would do this in the following months.

I kept my eyes and ears on the doctor as he came and went from the station across the hall.  I tried not to let the niggling fear creep in as I watched him studying the computer screen and talking in low tones on the phone.

I sent messages to my sisters and mother-in-law on our family chat group, letting them know where we were and why.  They promised to pray and sent hugs and kisses.  By 5pm my mother-in-law let us all know that they, too, were sitting in an ER room as my father-in-law had broken his wrist at work!

We laughed at the irony.

Finally the doctor reappeared and I sat up eagerly, waiting for answers and hoping he would be discharging us soon.

Now, I would be able to recognize the signs that something was wrong;

The vague explanations, the carefully side-stepped questions…

We might need to be sent to Orillia, the nearest paediatric centre, by ambulance for monitoring over night.

Did I have someone who could bring me some clothes and essentials?

I called my husband and updated him, asking him to pack a bag of things.  I wished he were here, and we discussed who should go and who should stay with the other kids.  Both of us felt frustrated and anxious and our conversation was short and stilted.  I didn’t want to go…I was scared.  But I certainly didn’t want to stay home while my baby went either!

He promised to bring me some things when I heard more and we hung up.

The next time the doctor reappeared his eyes held concern,

“Is there someone coming to bring you some things?  You will definitely be going to either Orillia or Toronto Sick Kids tonight.”

Sick Kids?

My heart dropped and I felt terror course through me for a brief second until I forced it down.

Sick Kids was not for minor falls.

Sick Kids was not for a small fracture or bruise.

“Is everything ok?” I forced out the words calmly, though my mind was screaming them.

He looked at me and said, “Why don’t we wait until your husband arrives and I will explain everything to you both.”

I knew.

Looking back now, I can see that in that moment something resonated.

Everything was not ok.

This time on the phone my voice broke and I pleaded, “Please come now.  They’re talking about sending us to Sick Kids!”

We both knew something had changed.

When he arrived the doctor came to us and pulled the curtain closed behind him.

I don’t remember the conversation except this.

Brain tumor.

Our son; our beautiful baby boy…had a brain tumor.

When they took a CT scan to examine the fracture more closely, they could see it.  A huge dark shadow on his brain.

It took a complete reorientation to realize that this fall, this minor fracture, was the least of our worries.

Our son’s life was in danger.  Not because he fell four feet onto concrete…but because he had a massive tumor growing inside his brain.

It wouldn’t be til almost a year later, sitting across from my counsellor with tears rolling down my cheeks, that she would help me see it.

“You know, He wanted you to know.”

We could see it faintly…the blessing in the fall…and spoke it.

But to hear the words, He wanted you to know.

He wanted to save your son.

Life.

When the doctor left with sincere, hushed apologies and a promise to return with more details of transportation soon, we crossed the distance between us and clung to each other, our son held between us.

We tried to process our new reality.

Details emerged.

We’d be transferred by air to Sick Kids by the ORNGE Medics team.  They’d be there to pick us up in an hour or less.

It is the little moments that I remember:

The numbness that took over my body as we went through the next hour waiting for the helicopter to arrive.

The way I collapsed in tears into my friend’s arms when she found me at the hospital just before we left, her shift just beginning.  Her words, “It’s going to be ok.  They can treat this.”  And the news of her pregnancy; a light in the middle of the darkness closing in.

The way the chopper blades cast a whirlwind on us as we approached in the dusk, whipping my hair and carrying my son’s frightened cries up into the sky.

The utter confusion I felt when they asked, “When is the first time you were told his head was larger than normal?”

Were we supposed to notice it?

All the times he’d ever cried inconsolably or been sick or hurt came rushing back.

Should I have known? 

Would another mother have known?

The way all of life seemed to hold its breath as we lifted up into the night sky.  I looked down on the bright lights below; at my son fallen into an exhausted sleep on the stretcher and the medics sitting quietly opposite me in the dark.  I heard the words almost audibly.

Steadfast Love.

They held me in that moment of terror and brought a quiet peace I cannot explain.

Over the next twelve hours they told us more.

They told us our son’s tumor had probably been there since birth, steadily growing.

It was shocking in the worst of ways.

I felt helpless and betrayed.

Robbed of my innocence.

So where was God?

Where was He when my son was diagnosed with a brain tumor?

Where was He when a hundred needles were poked through his smooth baby skin?

Where was He when we had to hand our son over to a scrub-clad OR nurse and watch them take him away from us, his cries causing sobs to tumble from our chests.

Where was He when our son’s IV line slipped out of his vein and sat unnoticed, leaving him without the antiseizure medication he needed and causing his little body to begin seizing every few seconds?

Where was He when we begged for healing for his hydrocephalus but instead he had to undergo yet another surgery to insert a shunt?  A shunt that causes other complications and dangers.

Why didn’t God heal our son when we asked him to?

Why him?

Why us?

***

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:
Who is this that darkens my counsel by words without knowledge?
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Who shut the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds it’s garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, “Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed?”
What is the way to the place where the light is distributed, or where the east wind is scattered upon the earth?
Who has put wisdom in the inward parts or given understanding to the mind?
Who provides the raven its prey, when its young ones cry to God for help, and wander about for lack of food?
Do you give the horse his might?  Do you clothe his neck with a mane?  Do you make him leap like the locust?  His majestic snorting is terrifying.  He paws the valley and exults in his strength; he goes out to meet the weapons.  He laughs at fear and is not dismayed; he does not turn back from the sword.
Is it by your understanding that the hawks soars and spreads his wings toward the south?  Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up and makes his nest on high?
Will you even put me in the wrong? 
Will you condemn me that you may be in the right? 
Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like this?
Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine.
Who is then he who can stand before me?
Then Job answered the Lord and said:
“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.  I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.  I repent.”
(Job 38-42 excerpts)

***

And I fall to my knees in worship.

Because He was right there.

He was right there through 18 blissfully naive months as a monster grew inside my baby’s brain.

He was right there when we turned our backs for a second…and he fell four feet down onto concrete.

He was right there when our doctor sent us for a skull x-ray, just to be on the safe side.

He was right there when the very same day that our son was diagnosed, my father-in-law broke his wrist at work, leaving him without work responsibilities for 6-8 weeks.  Instead he was busy caring for our two daughters and us.

He was right there when the surgeon smiled and said, “It went better than I could have expected.  We got it all.”

He was right there when my gut prompted me to go to the nurse and say, “I’m sorry, I know I am probably just being paranoid but I feel like something is wrong.”

He was right there in that chopper, breathing words of peace into my terror.

He was right there for weeks before our son’s fall, drawing me back again and again to the words in the Psalms…steadfast love.

He was right there when we heard the words…benign.  No cancer.  No further treatment.  Low probability of recurrence.  “I don’t see why he shouldn’t make a full recovery.”

He was there.

He was our Shield.

Our Protector.

Our Light in the darkness.

Our Hope.

I still don’t have answers to the why’s, but they become less important when I see His sheer Greatness and my own smallness.

Suddenly, I don’t expect to understand.

Instead, the why’s turn to why not’s.

Why not us?

As I look around the crowded dining room at the Ronald McDonald Charity House, smiling at the now familiar faces.  She bounces over, eyes shining and bright despite the fact that she and her family have been here for months now while her little sister fights the disease ravaging her body.  This room is one of the most beautiful displays of joy amidst pain, generosity amidst difficulty and hope amidst darkness.

The reality is that every one of us is dying.

The world is broken and so are we.

Sin cast its dark spell and we are all vulnerable to it’s snare.

Today, on May 10th, I watch my son giggle alongside his foster brother — two tow-headed boys covered in sand and water.

Today, I watch him chatter to himself, copying his big sisters’ words and tones.  For months he was oh so quiet and I feared he would never speak again.  But the words keep coming faster and faster.

Today he roars at me while sitting on the toilet, my little lion, and giggles uncontrollably when I cover my eyes in mock terror.  Potty training and copying his favourite story book.

I watch him run across the yard, one foot landing a little harder than the other despite the physiotherapy we’ve done.  It doesn’t make me fearful…instead it makes me smile and feel oh so grateful.

I track his fluids and we go get bloodwork done at the clinic.  As I pull into the parking lot I explain,

“We have to do a little pokey and then all done.”

He looks at me with wide eyes and points to his arm.

“Po?”

I smile and nod.

There is no fear as we go inside, take off his jacket and sit down across from the elderly couple.  I’ve never seen another child here.

He is a calm and adorable as we take our place and the nurse holds his arm.

After a few tears he is happy again and proudly carries his stickers outside.

Today I am not scared.

I am not angry.

I am not sad.

Did God heal my son?

Yes and no.

He will most likely have a shunt for the rest of his life.  He is still developmentally delayed and may suffer from learning disabilities as he grows older due to the trauma in his brain.  He has low sodium levels for a reason we are not sure of at the moment but that are moderated with a fluid restriction.  We do not yet know if he will need antiseizure medication long term.  He is still enrolled in three therapy programs; speech and language therapy, occupational therapy and physiotherapy.

But today I am just grateful.

Because I have my son, and in the last year I have seen my world shift on it’s axis, spin out of control and right itself up inside my Father’s strong grasp.

It’s hard to imagine how life can become more clear, more precious, more meaningful…until it does.

I don’t wish all this away.

I can no longer remember what it was like before.

I know I can’t protect my son…and that brings sweet relief instead of fear.

I know I can’t control my life by doing it all right — my two little boys are a testament to that.  One I protected fiercely from the minute I knew of his fragile existence in my womb.  He was given every advantage and still a massive tumor grew in his brain.

The other faced adversity and fought for survival from the second he came into being…yet he is happy, healthy and brilliant as he shows my son how to build a tower and “reads” him their favourite story.

Why did my son have to suffer?

I don’t know.

I don’t have all the answers and I cannot argue theologically through the why’s of suffering.

I just know that I have a good, good Father.

He is real,

He is good,

I believe

and I am grateful.

I can’t question the God I believe in because it is He who has sustained me, healed me, rescued me, and breathed hope into my terror.

He created a million galaxies in a single breath.

***

It’s getting light outside now, and my hand cramps on the pen.

I set my notebook on the night table and curl up to wait for the inevitable pit PAT pit PAT of my son’s sleepy, uneven stride across the hall.

It’s May 10th

But I feel peaceful, grateful and humbled by the love of my God.

-AF

 

Two Mothers

I stare at the photo, breath caught in my lungs.

It’s my daughter in 20 years staring back at me.

Same beautiful eyes and wide smile.

Same long and lean body; so different from my own.

The light and laughter there makes me want to reach out and pull her from the photo.

I dream that night of meeting her.

We smile and reach out for each other; familiar despite having never met.

I wake up still feeling her slender back under my hands.

It is the little things that make me wince; that dig a well of grief in the middle of my joy at finding her.

The way she describes drinking olive juice from a jar and the look in my daughter’s eyes when I tell her, the only one in our family who eats olives.

The way she loves so many of the same things my daughters do.  Banana muffins, horses, music and nature.

The way she tenderly recounts sewing in little waistbands and what my children…or hers…or ours…were like as babies and toddlers.

I am unprepared for this grief.

This abrupt encounter with so much gain…and so much loss.

I am unsure how to hold my joy in my hands…while looking down and realizing it all came at her expense.

How do I justify all I have when I know the tables could have so easily been turned.

It is beautiful,

and shattering.

I look at them differently as they smile into my eyes,

seek out my affection,

come running to me with their latest drawings, stories and ideas.

I know as they bring me their caterpillars and create ant homes and worm habitats that she would be so much more delighted than I am right now.

I think of her finding a huge caterpillar in her garden, or her stories of helping turtles safely cross the road.

I wish she were here to enjoy their dirty faces grinning cheekily at me.

I tread unsteadily on the fence line of guilt and gratitude,

haunted by what she might do and say were she here.

All her words have been laden with grace and dignity and humility.

I have her permission to love without guilt, yet that in itself speaks a thousand words and almost makes it more difficult.

I feel like a heroine and a traitor.

I wonder at the world.

The world that separates mother and child,

that pulls unsuspecting teens into spirals of addiction and compromise with no warning of all they have to lose.

The world that offers so much pain and loss and heartache to one,

while another trips almost effortlessly through and lands in so much joy and blessing.

I reach out for more of her, knowing that as I learn her favourite colours, TV shows, hobbies, fears, regrets and joys…I am putting together the pieces of my children.

I scroll through her photos, feeling the weight of loss as I see family and friends that were meant to be part of my children’s lives…but aren’t.

It’s not that there’s a hole…it’s just that I know this was meant to be theirs.

We schedule chat sessions and eventually, our first meeting.

She’s even taller than I imagined and so graceful as she slides into the seat across from me, dressed in a pretty aqua top…my daughter’s favourite colour.

We stumble awkwardly yet enjoyably through a dinner conversation…most of which I cannot remember later for the butterflies in my stomach.

My husband bridges the gap between us…two mothers…and I’m grateful for his casual conversation.

I leave with anticlimactic memories and a picture of the two of us, arms slung around each other, smiling side by side.

I know it’ll be an important image for my daughters as they grow into this relationship…the picture of what was and what is simultaneously, tethering them to reality.

We fall into patterns of texting and chatting online, slowly letting in a new normal.

I casually laugh about a conversation we had, a photo she sent or a story she shared.

My daughters get used to it; their two mothers being acquaintances and then slowly…friends.

I love the way I think of her randomly, or can send off a text whenever I want.

I love the way I can share those special moments with her and know that she’ll care…because she’s a mother.

I love the way I can see more and more clearly the similarities between mother and daughters, and the shy adoration I see in their eyes when I notice them and comment.

I love the letters that get sent off in the mail with lovingly braided bracelets tucked inside.

I love the forging of our lives.

Loving my daughters’ birth mother is loving them.

They reflect so much of what I say and project about her onto themselves.

She is and always will be a part of them…and therefore a part of us.

I both love and hurt watching them reach out in fragile innocence for the affirmation she offers.

It is humbling to watch them flower beneath her tender care in ways that I can’t provide.

I see clearly the holes I cannot fill, and I’m grateful she is there and willing to fill those.

I imagine she feels the same, and once again this is one thing we share.

Two mothers.

I know so many people don’t have this story.

They don’t have this happy ending.

But I’m so grateful for this woman we call Mom.

Her integrity, humility, determination and beauty has added depth and colour to our adoption story that we never could have imagined.

Two mothers.

-AF

“A child born to another woman calls me mom.  The depth of the tragedy and the magnitude of the privilege are not lost on me.”

-Jody Landers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Self Care and Why it Matters

I remember the first time I travelled internationally with my children.

For the first time I actually stopped to listen and observe carefully as the flight attendants demonstrated how to use the oxygen masks and life vests in case of an emergency.

With my baby in my arms and two daughters beside me, it suddenly felt important to know how I would go about saving their lives if need be.

The most important take-away?

Always put your own mask on first.

It struck me how contradictory this was to every maternal instinct inside of me.

As mothers, we regularly play the martyr.

We sacrifice.

We shield.

We protect.

It’s who we are, and who we want to be.

But what happens when the steady pouring out of ourselves leaves a gaping hole?

What happens when the mundane of life covers up the joy?

Is it ever ok to put me first?

As Christian mamas we heap on the added burdens of selfless service, taking up our cross and putting others ahead of ourselves.

We take the verses to heart and stretch ourselves thin and fragile over our treasures.

We want it all.

We want to be enough.

But we foolishly forget we will never be enough on our own.

There is no glory in exhausting our own resources so that at the end of the day we are weary, discouraged women with nothing left to offer.

I realize there are seasons and days when this is the inescapable reality of motherhood.

We all have seasons that drain the life out of us, but sometimes it’s because we are neglecting our own souls.

Self care is a bit of a hot button word right now, but it’s really not that complicated.

It means taking time to infuse hope, joy and energy back into myself.

The purpose of self care is to fill yourself up so that you can once again pour yourself out.

It’s hard to mother well from a depleted soul.

I practise self care so I can tuck my children in with smiles and tender kisses at the end of the day.

I practise self care so that I have energy to be active with my children.

I practise self care so that I reflect hope and joy to a dying world around me.

I practise self care to remind myself of who I am in Christ.

I practise self care so that I can enjoy time with my husband.

If you’re like me you might be reading this thinking, “Great, another thing to add to my never ending to do list.  One more thing I’ve neglected to accomplish.”

But self care is probably something you’re already doing…it maybe just needs to be prioritized into your life a little more intentionally.

Self care is doing things that you love; things that make you happy.

It means feeding your passions and pursuing your dreams.

It means disciplining yourself to choose what is best so that you can reach your very greatest potential.

It means that every now and then, you put your own spiritual, emotional or social needs first.

So today…find a way to take care of yourself.

Turn on your favourite music, order pizza for dinner or get out for a walk.

Take a bath…with music so you won’t hear the chaos the kids are causing downstairs with your husband.

Plan a date night at home, exercise or go shopping.

Take a nap while the kids lie down, join a women’s group or book club, journal or call a friend.

Change the scenery around you for a few hours.

When we think of self care we tend to think of hiding away in a corner somewhere by ourselves, but some of these things can be done with your children at your side.

It’s about choosing to enjoy the life you have, and finding ways to make it easy to enjoy.

It’s ok to leave the dishes for a nap sometimes.

Deciding to spend the morning outside in the sunshine instead of cleaning the house is not a choice you will regret.

Losing some weight or cooking a nutritious meal will help you feel more motivated, energetic and happy.

Listening to your favourite worship songs while you feed the kids breakfast could be the difference between staying calm and refreshed or frustrated and stressed through the morning rush.

Pick up your Bible while the kids are quiet or listen to your favourite podcast while you fold the laundry.

I have found it can be such a subtle change to my day but such a great shift in my heart when I take the time to choose things that will fill up my own cup.

 

In John chapter 10 Jesus says,

“The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy but I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

This is what Jesus desires for you.

Life!

Abundantly.

~AF

 

 

 

 

 

When You Just Don’t Feel Like Enough

It’s one of those seasons.

I feel like no matter how thin I stretch my heart across the grid of my life I cannot quite reach the borders.

I look at the faces circled around my table and I long to be able to fill the gaps.  My heart staggers a bit at the distance between where we are and where I want us to be.

I see the slumped shoulders of a girl with the weight of a changing world on her preteen shoulders.  Catty friends, difficult assignments, disappointing grades on her report card and the constant pull and tug of her sister.  I feel her creeping away from me, and I’m just not ready for this.

I see the runny nose of a little boy getting over the cold, his eyes rimmed with tell-tale redness.  He’s been whining and weary for days now.  His constantly outstretched arms beg me to pick him up, up, up.  I can’t do it all, sweet boy.  I can’t fix it for you.  But I dole out more Tylenol and fill his sippy cup for the hundredth time.  Breathe in gratitude; breathe out the chaos.

My middle child flits in and out, constantly bending to the pressures of the needs above and below her.  I know I need to carve out time for her that will not be dictated by toddlers or preteens.  Her body is tense these days, and her heart feels far beyond my reach.  I feel my heart ache with the words her teacher shared and the stubborn tilt of her chin.  I wonder if she knows brittle hearts break the fastest.

My baby watches the world with delight and I wish I could say I don’t miss a thing…but I do…every single day I do.  I reach my fingers to land softly on the bumpy, brittle valleys of his head…testament to the surgical interventions of the last year.  My thoughts jump to the MRI we’re waiting for, the EEG and neurology appointments next week and the therapy sessions coming up.  I wonder what I’m missing and why he’s not sleeping well.  I smile when he pops out yet another new word, tucking it away to savor; it feels like hope.  The next minute in fierce toddler style he is screeching at me and throwing his bowl off the table.  I can’t figure out whether I should laugh or cry as I look at the rice scattered all over the floor.

My husband’s phone rings and I hear tidbits of his conversation.  He’s setting dates, planning meetings, sounding eager as they plan the future.  I am so proud of the new opportunities arising for him…I wonder if he sees me barely keeping up to his enthusiasm.  I’m apprehensive of the change, only because I am unsure what to expect.  I know he knows this too.  I put on my brightest smile because I want him to know how very proud I am of him.  I see how hard he’s worked and I know he deserves this.  I know he will take care of us all no matter what…but still I feel a bit like I’m drowning.  I just can’t quite keep my head above the water.

My phone alarm rings…medicine time.  I see it’s almost gone and make a note to call the pharmacy in the morning.  I hope this will  be the last refill and that our neurology appointment will bring only good news of his brain scans.

The back door slams…they’re home from school.  She’s full of chatter and stories…I can’t tell which ones are true today.  The oldest is quieter than sometimes…I think she looks tired.  I try to catch her eye but she’s turning her back and leaving the room.  We’ve been getting to bed on time but I know she hasn’t been sleeping as well and life is just draining the joy out of her lately.

I catch sight of the conversation on the screen as she talks to her birth mother.  I see she’s asking questions about her father….questions with hard answers.  I run a hand over her back and let her know I’m there but inside I feel the air squeeze out a bit…I know I can’t protect her forever.  I grab my phone to text birth mom to thank her for always being so patient and kind…for being a role model my girls can look up to.  I’m so grateful for her presence in our lives.

I see the time and hurry to pack his backpack full of snacks, diapers, wipes and extra clothes.  I throw in the play dough and a few toy cars…he gets bored with the play room at the Children’s Aid office.  I call out that it’s time to go to his visit and he comes running, eyes wide with excitement.  I rush him to the car…I have good intentions to be on time but still we manage to arrive a few minutes late.  I hope she knows it’s not because we don’t care.  I ask her if she’s feeling better this week and mentally remind myself I need to text her more.  A picture, a funny story…something.  She hands me a bag of new clothes and I smile, even though they’re the wrong size.  I pull the social worker aside to ask about next week’s plans and let her know he fell off the kitchen chair yesterday and bumped his head.  She lets me know quietly that court didn’t go as well as we hoped.  I kiss him goodbye and wish I could save him from the heartbreak of his own story.

My phone beeps and I see an email pop up from the school.  It’s my daughter’s principal asking to set up a meeting to go over my daughter’s test results.  I agree to the time and then wonder who will watch Little Boy.  My stomach pulls into knots, wondering what the testing results will say.  Will it help or hurt us at this point?  I put medication and dietary changes on the list of things I want to research to help kids with ADHD and FASD and check my calendar to see when our next pediatrician appointment is scheduled for.

I’m trying to present the new phonics rules to her and guide her through the activities suggested.  See, hear, touch.  See, hear, touch.  She needs all three senses to grasp the new concepts.  The toddlers are squabbling over cars and blocks and the best spot on the couch.  I look from my daughter to them, trying to decide if it’s worth interrupting her lesson to help them sort it out.  I love homeschooling, but I also hate it.  There’s possibly an end in sight and that both makes me terrified and relieved at the same time.

He offers to take the little ones with him for a while and I sigh gratefully.  For a few minutes the house will be quiet.  I glance toward my untouched Bible in the basket by my chair.  I’ll pick it up at nap time, when their eyes close and I sit outside their bedroom door waiting for Little O’s restless limbs to fall quiet.  I wish I felt inspired but lately it’s mostly just choosing to believe that I’m being fed whether it feels like it or not.

Choosing to believe that He’s filling in the gaps I’m leaving behind in my own life, my children’s lives…the world around me.

Sometime I open my eyes in the morning and wonder…how am I going to keep it together today?

How am I going to get through the next week, hour…five minutes?

Honestly, I don’t always know…but somehow it happens.

Sometimes I do it well and sometimes I feel completely overwhelmed by it all.

Anxiety is such a joy stealer, and fear…it is a liar.

Many times if I stop and think I know it was not me at all that held it together.

Grace comes in so many different forms and always at the right time.

There are tears, but there are also a lot of kisses and laughter and funny stories and so even the bad days creep by.

Life can be such a puzzle, can’t it?

As moms our hearts and minds can feel like they are divided into a thousand small pieces, scattered over the table in a kaleidoscope of colour.

I don’t really have any solutions.

I guess I just want you to know that you’re not alone out there.

Yes, you.

The one who teeters on the tightrope of her life, wide-eyed at the chasm below.

The one who is having a hard time believing that Spring is just around the corner.

It’s been a long winter, hasn’t it?

But new life is on its way.

Easter is just around the corner, promising that the best endings come from the most painful stories.

Hang in there.

We’re going to  be ok.

~AF

 

 

 

 

This One’s for the Moms

Parenting is hard work.

Nobody is perfect but somehow we still expect perfection, especially from ourselves.

It doesn’t help that we have access to so much information.

Every day we as moms are bombarded with hundreds of messages of what we should and shouldn’t be doing, wearing, saying and eating.

Sometimes I feel like no matter what I do, it’s never enough.

How do I know if I’m doing this well?

What are the most important things?

Am I getting it right?

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But God gave those children to you for a reason, Mama.

The best parenting moments often happen when we are confidently parenting in the ways that we instinctively know are best for us and our children.

Here are a collection of some things I have told myself and other moms.

Because we could all use some grace.

***

Dear Moms,

Your child will not die if they eat Kraft Dinner tonight…or three times this week.

Your integrity as a person does not depend on the cleanliness of your home.

It is ok not to breastfeed your baby.

Not all immunizations are good and not all are bad.  It’s ok to make your own choices and its ok to just follow the immunization schedule your doctor suggests.

Colds and flus happen and there is very little you can do to stop them.  They will run their course and be over soon.

Some of the best days happen in pajamas with unwashed faces, bare feet and dirty floors.

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Having devotions every day is not always possible when you are a mom.  You are not going to hell for being busy caring for the little people He entrusted to you.

Sometimes your child will be the bully and other mothers will misunderstand you and yours.  Take it as an opportunity to develop character in yourself and your child…and remember in detail all the times you were mean to others as a kid.

Most children do not enjoy church.  This doesn’t mean they will never be Believers, it just means they’re regular children.

Sleeping through the night for babies, toddlers and mothers is a myth.  Few nights will go by that both you and all your children will sleep for 8 hours with no interruptions.  Lower your expectations and you will all be happier.

Sometimes bribes are the perfect solution.

Don’t turn everything into a lesson.

Babies cannot be spoiled by being held…but it’s also ok to put them down so you can take a shower.

You don’t always have to give a reason other than “Because I’m the mom.”

Co-sleeping can be wonderful…or terrible.  It really is YOUR choice.

Follow your instincts…but don’t expect to be a super-human.  You never did or will know everything about everything.  Sometimes it’s better to call the Doctor.

Pretending you did not hear or see something is a coping mechanism every parent will use sometimes.  Stay sane!

Siblings will fight, and sometimes they will hurt each other.  This is normal.

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Every parent does hundreds of things they will later regret.  Say sorry, do what you can to resolve the situation and then move on.

When the dentist says your child has cavities it does not necessarily mean that you are not brushing your child’s teeth well enough or often enough.  Also, no one expects you to have time to brush and floss three kids’ teeth for them every morning and night.

Living off the grid and growing your own food is probably not a good option for most of you.

Whichever way you choose to educate your child has worked for hundreds of other children on the planet.

DIY sometimes just means that it looks like you did it yourself.  Don’t let Pinterest fool you!

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Love really does cover a multitude of sins.

The TV is a good babysitter and its ok to use it some days.  If it provides you with the breather you need then it is probably worth it.

Children under 5 rarely handle social situations well.  They hit, they bite, they scream and they grab.  This is perfectly normal.

Sometimes you need to put your own needs ahead of your children’s and practise some self care.  Don’t be a martyr.

No matter how hard you try, there will be some things you do badly.

It’s okay if you’re aiming for just OK.

Life is not fair, and your kids should know that.

Children love time with you.  It doesn’t always have to be quality, it doesn’t always have to be quantity.  Both have value and significance.

Your kids will not always be happy and they will not always like you.  That doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong.

It’s ok to say no.  It’s also ok to say yes sometimes.

Adolescents will be grumpy a lot.

You will not enjoy your children, or parenting, all the time.

God loves to fill in the gaps that we miss as parents with His perfect, extravagant, more than enough love.

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Keep your chin up and your smile on.

You.

Are.

Doing

Great.

With Love and Grace,

Another Imperfect Mom

~AF

*Photography credits to Unfrozen Photography

 

 

Little O

We have a new little face in our home again.

Two year old Little O came to stay with us last week.

As a foster family we never know when the phone might ring with a social worker on the other end asking if we are willing to care for a child.

Wednesday it was just going on lunch time when I grabbed the phone and saw the word “Unknown” flash up on my screen.  During school hours this means one of two things; the school or Children’s Aid.

As it is Christmas Break I had little doubt who it would be.

I smiled and took a deep breath before answering.

My heart sank when I heard his name.

I felt like crying as I listened to her explain what was once again occurring in Little O’s life.

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I pictured his face and the way he constantly asked for Grandma and “blankie” the last time he was with us.

I remembered the happy chattering but also the anxious tears.

We had said goodbye to him after one short week, hopeful that home could be a safe place for him with the extra supports and supervision put in place.

I had packed extra clothes, my phone number and my best wishes to his family, hoping we could support in whatever way necessary but I hadn’t heard from them.

Would we take him?

Poor little O.

Yes, of course we’d take him.

We’d love to take him.

I closed my eyes a brief moment, whispering gratitude that just a short week ago I had called our social worker to tell her we’d like to be available over Christmas.

There was no doubt in my mind the strong urge I’d felt then, was due to this very situation.

It is so much better when a reoccurring placement can happen in the same home.

After talking to the social worker to confirm that Little O was, indeed, coming today I spent the next few hours tidying up the house, preparing a bed, making a list of questions to ask the social worker and throwing in some laundry.

I have learned to do these things (when there’s time) so that I can spend the next couple days focusing on settling in the child without worrying about cleaning, laundry, etc.

It’s not essential, it just makes it easier for me to relax and focus on what’s important.

If I was preparing for a baby I’d also try to squeeze in a shower and nap.

By 3pm they are walking in the front door, and there is Little O.

Deja vu.

He is cuddled up close against his social worker’s shoulder and holding on to a blanket, though not one I recognize.

In a clear plastic garbage bag in the social worker’s hand I spy the precious “blankie” I remember from last time.

I get a hint of a smile from him as I kneel down in front of him and say hello.

When his questions become fixated on the special blankie the social worker quietly tells me it needs to be washed, thus the isolation in the plastic bag.

I take the bag in hand and tell him we’ll do that first so that blankie will be clean and dry by bedtime.

Reaching out for his small hand we go back the hall together to the laundry room while the social worker dashes out to get his belongings from the car.

She apologizes when she returns with just one small armload of belongings.

He’s come with almost nothing but the clothes on his back; a pair of green, fuzzy footed pajamas.

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I assure her we’ll be fine, as the last time he was here he and my son had worn the same clothes interchangeably.  I was quite sure they could do the same thing again.

She stayed for a few minutes; going over paperwork, giving me her contact information and settling him in.

While she was there my husband and children came bursting through the door, smiling and exclaiming excitedly.

Little O smiled and shied away briefly, but soon my daughter’s animated chatter was more than he could resist.

He took her hand and trotted off toward the toy room.

His social worker took the opportunity to slip away after a quick goodbye to Little O, who didn’t react , and then it was just us…the newly expanded version of our family.

Little O has settled in remarkably well.

He remembers us from a few months ago and has slipped easily back into routines.

He is sleeping well and slowly starting to eat; the first night he refused to eat any dinner or snacks which is not real uncommon for a child settling into a new home.

There have been some minor growing pains for us all as we adjust to a noisy, high energy two-year-old in our home, but its really been quite easy so far.

Mostly it’s doubling things I’m already doing with Karter.

Double the diaper changes,

naptimes,

snacks,

hugs.

My children often need extra attention when a new child enters our home, so it takes extra patience and grace for all…including myself.

A week in I am reminding myself to be patient with some chaos as we all adjust,

take extra time to pull my daughters close,

snuggle Karter when I get the chance,

and bump a few things off my to do list.

I am reminding myself that it’s ok to feel frustrated when things don’t run as smoothly as normal and not to panic when I get sneaking feelings of regret at our normal being disrupted once again.

I am slowly adjusting to a new volume level in our home.

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Little O is full of energy that comes pouring out in singing, laughter, and yelling across the house!

We had family Christmas celebrations with my parents and siblings on the weekend so Little O of course came with us.

I am so thankful for family who buys extra presents, sets an extra place at the table and finds extra room in their hearts for one more little boy.

Little O loved every moment of Christmas and was absolutely thrilled with his present.

He won us all over with his ecstatic cries of,

“Open presents!  Open presents!”

We don’t know how long Little O will be with us but we are praying we will love him the best that we can for as long as he is here with us.

We are praying we can be a part of healing for his family and that the social workers involved in Little O’s case will have wisdom to know what is best for him and his family.

We invite you to join us in praying for Little O and his family.

I love to pray the verses from Jeremiah 29:11 over the children in my care, particularly when I don’t know all the circumstances of their lives or what is all going on.

It helps my heart rest when I remember that God has good plans for them; plans for good and not for evil, plans to prosper and not to harm, plans to give a future and a hope.

These things I pray confidently, knowing that no matter what life may bring God has the ability to redeem brokenness and pain into something good.

We love you Little O!

XO

~AF