Saturday, March 29, 2014

Parenting A Former Foster Child: Like Learning To Ride A Bike. You Fall A Lot, But Then You Learn How To Ride.

My good friends were in town this week and I finally got to meet their soon-to-be adopted son.  I am happy to say that he is being adopted out the foster care system  Yay, one more child out!

After playing at the park for awhile, we were heading to dinner.  Never missing an opportunity, I said to my kids, "He was adopted, too!  Isn't that cool?"

(They haven't finalized yet.  But, it was easier to say it this way, so there you go.)

My kids were playing their 2DS' and Lizzie, apparently, wasn't as inspired as I was to discuss the topic.  So, she said, "I know that he was a doctor!!" 

I told her that I said adopted, not doctor, and pointed out that she could drop the attitude. ;) She then started asking questions about me being adopted.  I explained that I wasn't and that there were different ways to become a parent.  This led me to believe that she hadn't paid much attention to the conversation that we had a couple of weeks ago about the same topic, but I'll cut her some slack because she's five. ;)

(And if you want to read about that conversation, here you go!) ----

So, yeah, he is being adopted.  His parents are excited, exhausted, happy, and frustrated.  And, it's totally normal. 

I've had many facebook conversations that involve my friend saying "He did this..."  and me saying "Oh, yeah.  William did that, too." 

And, watching this child, last night, and how they interacted with him was like looking at a page in my personal history book.

I believe the chapter was entitled "William, Stop Peeing Everywhere?!"  

He and William have a lot of things in common, but I will not go into all of that because their little boy's story is not my story to tell.  But, I'll say this, I remember the frustration that walked hand-in-hand with Willian's issues with peeing.

He would do it because he couldn't hold it or when he could but didn't want to.  He would do it to regain some control or when he felt out of control.  He would do it when he was bored or when he was mad or when he was happy or when he was distracted.  That along with his tantrums, destructive behaviors, lying, and was very frustrating.  I knew that it was all very typical of former and current foster children.  But, I also knew that it was making me crazy. 

I got mad a lot.  I got sad a lot.  I yelled a lot.  I sent him to bed early a lot.

I wish that someone had told me that it was ok that I felt like I didn't know what I was doing.  Or that it wasn't horrible that I had an easier time bonding with Antwan who was just a baby.  Because, adding the guilt to all of it made it that much harder. 

Actually, Brian did try.  But, when you're drowning in bodily fluids, tantrums, and lies when all you, unfairly, want is for this kid to get over his issues and just be happy and normal; it's hard to listen.

Can you tell that last night brought it all back to me?

Long story short, it worked out.  Today, William has the occasional incident.  He pulled his hair out of his head, just a couple of weeks ago.  But, that's another story.

But, all in all, he's doing ok.  And, he loves me.  And, he forgives me.  (I know, because we've talked about it.)

Last night, I watched my friend/new dad struggle with the same things that I did.  After an accident in the bathroom that may or may not have been an actual accident, I looked at the frustration in his  eyes.  I saw how he felt that he was on his last rope.  And, I saw their son sit, sadly.  And, it was hard to watch.  But, it was also so familiar.   

I made (hopefully) helpful, but probably annoying statements about how it will all be ok and how this is what we went through with William.  I had a heart-to-heart with their little boy which involved him looking at me blankly while I asked him questions and tried to get to the root of the problem.  Yes, I fancied myself quite the amateur psychiatrist.  But, he's surely had his fill of virtual strangers trying to get to know him and I should probably just stick to blogging.

Anyway, as I watched all of this and after the non-breakthrough talk, I looked over at William.  I was overwhelmed with guilt for all the ways that I screwed up with him.  But, I was also overwhelmed at the awareness that he's a pretty awesome kid.  If he survived being my guinea pig in the whole parenting gig than I know that their son will too. 

While I wished that I could stop them from making the same mistakes that I did.  I also realized that I couldn't.  And, you know what, that's ok.  It's all part of it.

It's really hard to be a new parent.  Heck, it's hard to be a parent.  I made tons of mistakes with William.  I made mountains out of molehills and lost my cool when I wanted to wow him with my patience.  But, he's ok and their boy will be too.  Because they are committed to him and they are really good people.

So, if I could say one thing (ok, maybe a few things) to my friends and anyone else who is going through this, I would say this....

It gets better!

(Wow, this really is a wonderfully multi-purpose statement!) 

It's ok to make mistakes.  It's ok to wish it was easier, but it's also important to understand that your child is making it as easy as he can.  And, that might not be very easy. 

But, hang in there.  Forgive yourself.  Forgive your child.  Buckle up and enjoy the ride.

Because, in the end and along the way, you will have those amazing moments that you imagined and some that you never saw coming.


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Who Knew Frogs Were So Musical?

So, a couple of weeks ago, Brian told me that his old coworker/current neighbor was planning to drop off his daughter's old, adorably pink guitar for Lizzie.   I thought that was cool, but, promptly forgot about it.  Until Sunday.
We had spent the weekend at Megacon, being as nerdy as possible.  :)

Told you!  ;)
Then we came back to the "real world," late on Sunday night and we were totally exhausted.  Brian and I were, anyway.  When he headed to the door, I heard him say, "Oh!"  I anxiously waited to hear what was wrong.  Was an animal hurt?  Was something broken?  Did he drop something? 
But, instead, he comes back and says "Well, it looks like we had a visit from the guitar frog."
Wait, what?
Then he launched into an explanation about how sometimes when people leave town, they get a visit from the guitar frog.  And, this time, he had brought a guitar for Lizzie!  (That's when I finally understood what was happening.)  He went on to explain that the frog expects Lizzie to share or he might come and take it back.
The younger three proceeded to share the guitar remarkably well, with the exception of one outburst from Lizzie.
"William?!?!  Share the guitar with Antwan now or the guitar frog will take it!!!!!"   (He then shared right away.)
First, the leprechaun trashed our house on St. Patrick's Day (who started that crazy tradition, anyway?) and now the guitar frog??
Why didn't he just say that the neighbor had dropped it off?  This is definitely going to add complication to all future trips and I'm probably going to end up buying 3 more guitars.
But, it is also definitely a reminder of how lucky the kids are to have Brian as a daddy and how lucky I am, too.  :)


Monday, March 17, 2014

Teenagers And Moms And Their Drama

Me and Kaleb. Kaleb and Me.  We're like two peas in a dysfunctional, moody pod. For the most part, I realize that is actually totally normal. But, sometimes, it would be nice to get through a day without drama.

It's not all cranky teenager drama, of course.  Sometimes, it's moody mommy drama.  And, I'm sure that when it's on my end, I seem as crazy to him as he seems to me.

Even though it's frustrating, I do think that we both get that I'm always going to be emotional and he's always going to have his triggers.

Like this one.

He is very sensitive to being treated unfairly or feeling like he is.  On many occasions, he has been convinced that I am taking one of the other's sides, favoring them, or just plain old disregarding his thoughts on the matter.  Lizzie is his biggest issue.  Being the youngest, the girl, and the one that came to us as an infant - he often feels like she gets away with things.  (And, who are we kidding?  In spite of our efforts, she probably does.)  And, you know, sometimes, I probably am taking one of the other's sides, favoring them, or  just plain old disregarding his thoughts on the matter.  Not on purpose, of course, but it happens.  It's hard to get it right all of the time.  Or even some of the time...

And, of course, there are times that he has totally gotten his way, but they don't seem to stand out in his memory as much as the times that he doesn't. ;)

Over the last few months, Antwan has come home sick twice when he probably didn't need to (judging by his dramatic recovery as soon as we got in the van) and Lizzie stayed home sick once.  She also wasn't sick.  But, when she wasn't feeling well the night before and claimed to still feel sick in the morning; I decided to stay on the safe side.  That choice cost me a day's pay.  But, it did gain me a day of quality time with my daughter and a brief nap on the couch when she dozed off. 

Kaleb complains about this whenever the topic comes up.  I have acknowledged that I made the wrong choice when I kept Lizzie home.  I have explained that when the school said Antwan was sick, I didn't have much choice.  You don't tell the elementary school nurse that you're just going to leave him there when he's complaining about an upset stomach and a sore throat.

When Antwan came home sick, the other day, Kaleb asked what was going to happen if his throat still hurt in the morning.  I thought to myself, "You'll go to school. You have exams."  Obviously, if he was sick-sick, he'd stay home.  But, a sore throat that didn't stop him from playing basketball, yelling at the xbox, or singing; probably isn't the kind that should keep him home.

He ended the night with a rant about about how he always get the short end of things.

When he came home, the next day, he brought it up again. He was partially apologizing for getting mad and partially taking the opportunity to make his case again.  My boy's a multi-tasker! ;)

And, because I had been thinking about it, I said what I had been pondering, earlier.  "I want you to know that if I had you when you were in elementary school; and I wish to God that I had, I would've been picking you up when you weren't really sick, too."

He didn't say anything.  He just came over and hugged me.  Then I said, a couple more times that I wish that he had been mine all along. Then I held back the tears.

Then, of course, I decided to blog about it. ;)

As, he went back to the xbox and I tried to compose myself, I threw one more in for good measure.

"And, don't forget that I signed you out early, last week, when we had your high school schedule meeting!"

I don't remember if he said anything to that, but he heard it.  And, I wanted him to remember that he doesn't always get "screwed" (as he said).

And, I really hope that he remembers this.  I love him. 

I don't treat him like a little kid because he's not.  But, I also need to remember that sometimes that's exactly what he wants.

Starting with a teenager was and is hard.  It's hard for me.  It's hard for him.  It would have been so much easier if he was younger when we got him.  Yes, that is why people are afraid to adopt older kids.  It's true, it is harder.  But, I wouldn't change it.  Since getting Kaleb at a young age wasn't an option; this is what we are left with; a teenager with issues being parented by an emotional, sensitive mom and a pretty awesome dad.

He will drive me crazy.  I will drive him crazy.  Those are both guaranteed outcomes.

Wanna know another guaranteed outcome?  I will love him forever.  And, I will be as sure then as I am now that it is all worth it.  I can only hope that he will feel the same way.




Wednesday, March 12, 2014

You Never Know Who's Watching.

My birthday was last weekend and despite the fact that I was turning an icky age that I refuse to say out loud; it was still pretty nice.  On Saturday night, I resisted the urge to wallow in my discontent over turning that icky age that I refuse to say out loud and went out with some friends to celebrate and reclaim my youth a little. 

Then, Sunday, since Brian was nice enough to request the day off, we went to the zoo. And, since my sister and family also have passes, they came, too. :) After the zoo, we stopped by my parents for dinner. My parents are great, by the way. My mom changed her whole dinner plan when I texted her about stopping by. And she even bought birthday cupcakes!

So, all in all, a really nice birthday. So, despite the fact that one of my presents was a new-to-me mini van, I didn’t have time to dwell on turning that icky age that I refuse to say out loud (sensing a theme here?).

I just focused on enjoying my family and friends and thinking about how lucky I am.

I didn’t find out until the next day that I had gotten the best present of all and didn’t even know it.

Before my sister and her crew left, I made sure to get a picture. It took a few minutes and some prodding to get everyone to look at the camera (of course, in the end, they didn’t). But, I got a picture. I didn’t even look at the picture because I knew that I would be tempted to make everyone pose again if it wasn’t good. And, it was too late in the day for that. In hindsight, I wish that I had because it was blurry.  Sigh.  But, that's not the point. Later, my sister texted me and said that she forgot to tell me something...

On her way out, she passed a couple that had been watching us. And, as she passed, the woman was turning to her husband and said "Ok, I'm ready." He looked at her and asked, to clarify, "To adopt?"

Now, in my version, they then hugged passionately while music that only they could hear played. But, the fact is, Monica doesn't know what happened next because she kept walking. But, what she did hear was pretty awesome!

We always hope that we might inspire people to adopt. That's why we signed on to be an AdoptUSkids spokesfamily. That's why we answer all the random people's questions. (That, and the fact, that I like to talk about my kids. haha.) That's why I blog. (Oh, yeah, again, I also really like to talk about my kids.) That's why I've written down website addresses for people that I've met who wanted to explore the idea.

But, on this day, it looks like we inspired a family to actually take action. Wow, just wow.

Dear people that I never met and would never recognize (because, you know, I never met you...), I wish you the best. I hope you adopt and change a child's life, as well as your own. And, I hope you all live happily and crazily ever after like we are. And thank you for putting the cherry on the top of my birthday sundae! Ok, I didn't have a birthday sundae, but still cherries are cool.

The picture was blurry, but the love was clear.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Braids, Hoodies, And Driving While Black - The Usual Stuff That All White Parents Deal With...

I said to Lizzie, "We could get your hair braided.  Then we wouldn't have to re-do it every morning."  And, then I referenced a little girl in her class so she'd know what I meant by braided. 

"No!  I don't want my hair like hers."
This didn't please me since I really love the idea of not fixing her hair every morning.  But, she was pretty definitive in her opinion and if I know anything about Lizzie, I know that there is no changing her mind once she's made it up.

The fact is, she doesn't identify with the black culture and that's partly our fault.  It's not for any malicious or thoughtless reason, though.  It's just that we are white and we are, inadvertently raising her white.  We've tried to make her (and her brothers) aware of their culture.  We've read books, talked about black history, enlisted the help of black friends, and sought out tv shows that featured more faces of color. 
But, still, because our area is not very diverse, Lizzie goes to a school full of white girls with long, flowing hair and she comes home and asks me to leave her hair down instead of twisting it like I tend to do.  Thankfully, she usually settles for puffs.  And, if I do leave it down, it looks adorable...for awhile.  But, soon, it gets tangled and just plain messy-looking; and then I get well-meaning comments from random black women in Taco Bell, like "You know that you should moisturize it daily, right?"   (True story)
Because of where we live and who we are, Lizzie's been nice and dry under the umbrella of white parents and her predominately white school.  But, one day, she is going to have to deal with the fact that she's black.  And, being black in America brings extra complications to your life.  It just does. 
I didn't know about "white privilege" when I was growing up in it.  Some don't even believe that it exists.  I really didn't give it much thought when I was a kid.  And, I didn't give it much thought when I was in college and sat in class, listening to a speech by a black classmate who talked about how often he would hear car doors lock when he walked by.  I thought it was unfortunate but, I didn't dwell on it because I didn't have to.  I didn't have to dwell on it until I became a mother to black children, anyway.  Then, I started to look outside of myself and my front door more and I became aware. 
We live in Florida.  We have the beaches, the sun, and the recent deaths of black teenagers.  And, it really terrifies me.  There have been two high profile killings of youth in the last several months and they both happened here, in my metaphorical backyard.  We all know about Trayvon Martin.  Then there's the Jordan Davis who was shot at a gas station.  A gas station that I have used, many times.  A gas station that my kids could theoretically be using in a handful of years when they are driving. 
My kids are inadvertently growing up with white privilege.  They are viewed as the black children who are being raised by the white parents.  We're in a class of our own.  But, that doesn't mean that one night, Antwan might not walk down the street with a hoodie and looking like he's "up to something."  Or Kaleb might not play his music too loud, irritate a grumpy white guy at a gas station, and respond with a little attitude of his own.  Or William might not make one of his goofy jokes that come off a little ruder than he means for them to because he's constantly preparing for his future stand-up career.   And, Lizzie will definitely give someone attitude because I get it on a daily basis. ;)

How do I protect my children?  How do I teach them what it's like to be black in America when I don't completely know?
The answer is, I don't know.
We can tell them to be proud of who they are.  I can do my best with Lizzie's hair.  We can explain the realities of being black.  Yes, there is such a thing as driving while black.  Yes, you might get more suspicious looks when you're wandering through a store.  Yes, it can be frustrating.  No, you shouldn't mouth off to grumpy white guys at the gas station because it's rude and you haven't been raised that way and, yes, you should be more considerate about your volume level on your radio.  No, you don't deserve to die over it.  Sometimes you'll have to be a little more careful, in general; even though, it's not really fair.
Will it be enough?  Am I paranoid?  If paranoia keeps my babies alive then I guess I'll be paranoid.

But, if I step away from the freaked out mom routine for a moment, I remember to tell them something else.  I'll tell them that the world is getting better and better.  That most people are inherently good.  That they can do anything that they want to because Daddy and I will see to it. 

And, when the world gets scary, they can come home to Mommy.  I've got Batman on the DVR and popcorn in the pantry.  

I've got their backs.

Looking cute and not so scary in his hoodie. :)



The "hoodie brothers" as Antwan called them. :)