Two years of firsts

She came to me almost two years ago. She really didn’t have much. My husband and I put her few boxes and suitcase in my van and drove her from where she was at to our home.

It was awkward- the first car ride. I do remember telling her that first day – “I don’t give a sh*t about where you came from, my job is to get you moving forward”

I was never accused of being subtle. I cursed in front of a foster kid. Appropriate or not, it worked for her. It was what she needed. Well let me say that it broke the ice. I promise, I was a lot less subtle as the months went on.

She was just a 16 year old foster kid I was asked to help. Scared, a lot shocked and nervous as hell. Those first days, I just wanted her to be safe and comfortable. No thoughts of forever – just get through each day one at a time.

Her past story is not mine to tell but I do want to share this…

She is no longer “just a foster kid”- she shares my last name. She is my daughter. I didn’t get a lot of the firsts that most moms get. The first words, the first steps, the first day of kindergarten. Nope I missed out on all that.

I did get her first day of her senior year, prom, first belle dance, first shopping spree, first Via Colori, first trip to philly, first train ride, first go kart experience, first driving lesson, high school graduation (with honors mind you), first going away to summer camp (or precollege), first body piercing, first tattoo, first visit to grandmom and pop pop and the day she changed her name to mine.

This weekend – we celebrate another first – her first day of college. See- I really didn’t care where she came from, I was never part of that story. If that makes me horrible, so be it. But I can’t change the past. And I will be damned if I allow her to be defined by it. F that. She can be defined by her bravery and determination. Her intelligence and resilience. She gets to define her future.

As she leaves for college, I care about the “forward movement” because she is a part of my story and has been since that day almost two years ago.

I am proud to be called her mother. I still hate her taste in music and most of her recipes taste like gym socks and sadness but she is my daughter so I guess I have to suck it up.

She leaves this weekend with a lot more than she came with – including me. I may tell her that I hope college slaps her right in her teenage face but she knows that she will always have family to come home to. And she better come home. We may not be perfect, but we are hers. This college thing is a first I can celebrate. Because it is another first in a long line of firsts to come.

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The words go on your butt – circa 2017

“The words go on your butt”

8 months ago these words were used every night in my house. Did you know that pull up diapers sometimes have words on the back? I didn’t. Until I was graced with the presence of toddlers. They were not mine and I was tasked with keeping them safe.

So in trying to teach a three year old, who was far from home, some independence in an uncertain home – the words going on your butt became our nightly routine. A mantra.

She learned it and shook that little butt with pride because the words were there. We giggled and helped her with their pajamas. Every night.

Most of you know that the little girls moved to a different foster home after a bit because my schedule in trying desperately to save the world is deplorable for small children. I love my job and I had to make a choice. There are times that I question that choice. And there are times that I absolutely know I made the right one. For my family and for me and the parents I work with and via. Especially Via. And for my kids. Who have hearts as big as mine.

Some of you may know that after they had left my house, I was still in possession of some of their things.

We contacted mom. With a lot of trepidation. Turns out- after weeks of speaking with her and lots of pictures- there were hugs and promises to keep in touch. The words on the butt story was one of the first I shared with her.

That was June. Today it is August and I still speak with her a lot. Today was a rough day. Today I held a young mother in my arms and cried with her. We immediately went to lunch to eat our feelings and learn more about each other. Mozzarella sticks might actually be a cure for all that hurts. Today they almost were.

Wednesday in Kentucky is typically family court day. Today the powers that be met to see if the girls could go home. My appearance to the social workers and the judge and even her lawyer was a bit surprising. The girls are no longer with me. Haven’t been since march.

But I was still there. And I was there supporting a mom who had her children removed for very very valid reasons.

Things like someone like me showing up rarely happen. At least that was my impression today.

I have no ties to the girls. Or their mother. Legally. I am not even a foster parent anymore. Yet I was there holding her hand and giving her advice and looking at her lawyer and saying “she has me for support and some ass kicking if she strays off the path”. He insisted that I come into the courtroom for her. To back him up if needed in what he did.

Working in the field gives me a clear view of both sides and the horrors of both sides. I wanted to dislike her. I wanted to never meet her. Why? Because there were parts of this young mom that reminded me very much of myself as a young mom and all the mistakes that were made.

I had my oldest son at 17 and I was definitely not the perfect parent. I was a party girl who was pretending to keep it together. This young mother represents all the mistakes I made raising my kids until I learned not to make those mistakes again.

Let’s be real here – I took care of her kids. I train and license foster parents. I run an event with the help of thousands of people to help foster kids. So I wanted to not like her. That didn’t work so well for me. I have learned that caring a great deal for her was not wrong on any level.

She has learned things too. She is learning to be a good mom. Her background is her horror story to share but let me say that her behavior is statistically accurate for what she went through. That is not an excuse. There is always a reason.

Needless to say – she got herself together over the last eight months when everyone, and I mean everyone, thought she would fail.

I stood with her today, without judgement, and a very opened mind and a very opened heart and prayed for the girls to come home to her.

They didn’t.

There were a lot of tears, in front of that judge and that lawyer and those social workers – there were tears and I held her. Unprecedented.

Them not coming home is ok to an extent. Because they will be going home as long as she maintains. Two more months. And I will be there for the next hearing and the next round of tears because something is telling me it is the right thing to do.

I am lucky to have a wonderful mom. I am lucky to have an amazing father who took the place of one of the most horrid sperm donors on the planet. My birth father was evil. Pure, unadulterated alcohol fueled evil. The man I call my dad is not. I am lucky to have siblings who love me and children who don’t hate me too often. I am so very lucky to have friends and family and a job that I adore. I am lucky to have a husband who tolerates my crazy ass ideas and holds my hands when I hurt or fail.

I am also lucky to have a young mom and her two kids in my life. I hate how we met. I don’t hate what we have become. I hurt today. I hurt for her and the girls. Because I can’t make her tears stop. I can’t make it easier. Shit – I can’t even make my own tears stop.

I know it takes time. i just didn’t expect this side of foster care to hurt so much.

She is not the best parent. I wasn’t either at her age and I still am not at my age now. I like to think that I am a good mom but frankly we are all human. We can only do the best we can until we can’t. She is absolutely doing the best she can. For that, I am so proud of her.

I am not writing this for accolades or “you’re so awesomes” – I am writing this because I need to. I am usually exceptionally private about my feelings. At least my vulnerable feelings. Everyone and their brother knows when I am angry or happy. But those moments that my heart is heavy and filled with hurt – those I keep private. Sometimes even to my husband. Because those are vulnerable moments and I am not a fan of being vulnerable.

But my vulnerability and my hurt and those tears might speak to someone today. Being a foster parent is the most beautiful and tragic thing. Ever. I learned today that it can’t be selfish. It has to be selfless. Those kids deserve their parents – and if and only if those parents can’t do it – they deserve to have someone weather the storms to come when the realizations hit. Those storms are never little rainfalls. They are hurricanes with tornadoes and debris and hail and lots of tears. These kids need umbrellas. They need safe harbors.

And sometimes these biological parents need someone to say “you screwed up – you are working to make it better – you will never be perfect – and that is ok because I am proud of you and I am here”

It takes a village to raise a kid. It will take a community to help make it better.

So this is my personal story of why today I am vulnerable. Why in a month I will be equally as vulnerable. And why there will be more tears.

This is another why behind Via Colori. This is another reason for why I am always fighting. Because I can. Simple as that.

My husband and I are debating returning to the world of foster care next year. It is still an uncertainty. Depends on so many things. Some would ask us why. It is very simple.

Because the words go on your butt. And those words are so very important.

2019 update – sadly I don’t know what happened to the toddlers and I lost contact with mom not long after I wrote this in 2017. Sometimes not having answers about those you love really sucks but that is the way it is sometimes.

Foster care is the most heart breaking and beautiful thing you could ever do.

And my husband and kids and I did return to foster care in 2018 – and that kiddo – my daughter- heads to college next week. I should probably tell her that the words go on your butt.

Accidentally naked while cat chasing – circa 2018

In 2018 I was fostering a pretty special dog named Oreo. He came to us unable to walk so he required a lot of supervision. The following is an account of an innocent morning doing just that ………..

So today on this episode of my life should be a sitcom –

Oreo was sitting on our couch outside. I found this to be adorable. Because who wouldn’t?

I walked slowly up the stairs to the back door to get Simon. He was inside.

I opened the back door, yelled his name and BOOM – cat escaped. Now our cats are not allowed outside. The cat knew this and took advantage of my moment of excitement. Cats – cats are jerks.

So I slammed the door shut, half stumbled half /half fell down the back steps to catch the cat before she got under the deck.

Miraculously I managed to grab the stupid cat. I turned around, proud of my accomplishment and that is when disaster struck. I wasn’t paying attention in all my joy and took a simple step up the stairs and then…. then …my pajama pants got caught on a step and fell off. Chaos …

At this point, I am standing half naked in our back yard with my pants at my ankles, holding a pissed off, hissing and growling cat while my damn foster dog is barking to let the whole neighborhood come see to the show. Like some suburban remix of that stupid show “naked and afraid”

Simon comes out, grabs the cat and laughs. Fortunately it was early or else I would have had an audience and years of embarrassment every time I saw my neighbors. I probably would have moved, changed my name and never ventured outside again.

On the upside – I am definitely losing weight because these pants were a bit tight two months ago. 😂😂😂

#havenotevenhadcoffeeyet

Fostering those with four fur feet

In the year of 2018- my husband and I also decided to foster doggies. This was the day our first furry foster was set to be adopted-

Tomorrow is Boone dog’s gotcha day!!! He is going to home to his new mommy and daddy! He will have little kids to love on him, a farm to run on and other doggy friends to grow old with. He will be able to snuggle in bed with his new parents and swim in lakes and eat yummy homemade dog treats!

Three weeks ago he came into my life thanks to the efforts of Basset Rescue of Kentuckiana. He was scared of everything. We had to pick his brontosaurus self up off of the ground for everything. Walks, dinner and bedtime. He was so so sick with Lyme disease and so broken by his “before” life. He could barely stand. He just shook and shook and shook.

In three weeks, he has learned belly rubs, cuddling with doggies, running for his nightly turkey treats, barking and that is he will never be hurt again.

He went from a husk of a hound to a wonderful, happy, tail wagging, happy and trusting dog.

He has a long way to go. He is still terrified of water, can openers and he still thinks he is going to get hurt anytime anyone scolds him. The way he tucks his tail, cowers and shakes breaks my heart but he is slowly learning that people can be trusted.

This is what fostering and rescuing does for dogs. They learn that they are safe. They learn to trust. They learn to love.

I will ugly cry tomorrow. But some of those tears will be happy tears because I know he is going to the best home for him. Thanks for sharing this journey and I will post his adoption pictures tomorrow!

The fear in adoption – circa 2018

Let’s talk about another adoption. A potential one that is. So most of you know that I have a daughter hanging around my house. She is beautiful, sassy, smart and kind.

She likes all things pop culture and gives my kid a run for his money with anime knowledge. She helps out anyone and even though she listens to Nickelback, I have grown to love her. (Though the next time she plays that band in my kitchen, I told her that I am writing her out of my will – ick – I mean come on)

The potential for adoption seemed an impossibility for us. Her story is exceptionally complicated. However, we want it and so does she.

We have discussed this a lot. As a family. It was a huge decision. And one that could equal a hill of beans in light of so many things. But at least we are fighting for the same thing. Let me tell you why this was such a big decision. Because five months ago, I had decided that I would never ever adopt. Ever.

This decision was shocking because I had specifically said no adoptions. We wanted to be foster parents only. And we specifically said no teenage girl adoptions not five months ago. I actually said and meant – no teenage girls at all, ever. (See how well that worked out for me?)

And my husband, my amazing husband was adamant. No teenage girls. No adoptions. Ever. In fact, he literally would have been happy to be an emergency respite home. Like for a couple of days. Even if we did this a thousand times, he was ok with it. It meant no heartbreak. I was ok with his decision because he hurt too in the “before” times. He hurt a lot.

Yet even he is on the same page. Honestly I thought that it would have taken a ton of vodka and a ton of strawberry rhubarb pie to bribe him into opening his heart again to take a chance. The kids all thought this too. We had it plotted and planned right down to the words we, as a family, would say to convince him to do this. It didn’t have to happen that way. He is onboard too.

You have to meet her to know that this plan and decision of zero teenage girls backfired the minute she came into my life. Ugh. (😜) why does she have to be so damn awesome?

When she came home, I was still very scared of my heart breaking again. It had absolutely nothing to do with her. It was from the before times. She can tell you how guarded the whole family was. It matched her guards. There were a ton of walls all the way around.

I knew I couldn’t do it second time. That heartbreak would do me in. Literally. Have you ever woken up crying because I did two years ago. For weeks. I have never felt like such a failure. But life went on for two years and here we are.

She and I spoke about this because I felt she needed the other side’s perspective. The fear we feel about being hurt again is almost as great as hers. Slowly those walls crumbled around us. We didn’t even notice.

The one day, I noticed. I noticed big time.

The moment I left her at swanky science college camp and cried for an hour, I knew what needed to be done. She gave authenticity to this decision the moment she ran up and hugged me and called me “mom” when I picked her up from swanky science camp two weeks later. Damn kid. 😂

So now, the potential is there. Though it is slim slim potential. Not going to lie, it is going to take a ton of work by a lot of people and some seriously miraculous grace to make it happen, but when it does… well expect a story like no other. We are are optimistic but prepared for it not happen because – I think I mentioned it was complicated.

Doesn’t matter, either way, she is my kid. She was the minute I met her. And adult adoptions are easy to do. I think.

Some people, in their 40s, get a surprise baby. I got a surprise teenager.

It is worth the work. I have gotten really used to being called mom by my nickelback loving daughter. I have learned that when you are not looking, the universe throws stuff in your path that you need.

Sometimes that stuff is scary. But it is there for a reason. I accept that.

However nickelback will never be accepted …. doesn’t matter, I love her despite her questionable taste in music 😂😂😂

So keep my very quirky family in your thoughts over the next 9 months as we start this fight to have her become legally our daughter. It will be an uphill battle. So many things need to fall into place. So many people need to work so very hard. And one thing here or one thing there could shoot this plan to hell. Time is very limited and the cards are stacked against this but I have never met a challenge I couldn’t overcome.

Except for that one time when I tried to get the Loch Ness monster to Via – but that is whole other story.

If we, as a family, with the help of others can pull this off, it will be so so worth it.

Except for the nickelback part… that, that is never going to happen. She can listen to it all she wants. With headphones, behind a closed door, at college. 😂😂😂

2019 update – Because of things beyond our control as a family and the failings of a broken system – adoption couldn’t happen before her 18th birthday. But…..she now has my last name and my heart and will be leaving for college in three weeks ❤️ happy endings always find a way when there is enough courage.