Sunday, April 24, 2011

Because He Lives

Easter 2010 is on my list of favorite days along with my wedding, closing on our house, and getting our 1st Hallelujah call.
Baby 2- Easter 2010- 18mo old

Last year's Easter was actually spent in the hospital too. Baby 3 was a preemie who spent a little less than a month in the NICU at the same hospital Baby 4 is at. Easter was the second Sunday we had him in church with us. He was 4lbs 9oz that day. Babies 2 & 3 fit perfect in our arms, hearts, and family. I remember getting up early to straighten my hair and put food in the electric roaster for our family dinner. We got the boys ready in cute plaid outfits that were in the same color family as the shirts we were wearing. At church, everybody stopped and cooed over the boys: "They're so cute!", "He's so little!", "You're so blessed!". By the end of service, both of them had pooped through their outfits and were wearing adorable summer attire because it was super nice out that day. We got home, finished dinner, and expected the family by 3pm. At 2:40, I went to change Baby 3 and saw blood in his diaper. I rushed around like a maniac gathering things to go to Emergency. After waiting in a room for 4hrs, the Dr's told me it was diaper rash and to keep Vaseline on his fanny. Once I was home, the whole family took turns loving Baby 3 and I ate dinner with Baby 2 on my lap. It was exactly how I had pictured my life- a snapshot of how God loves me and hears my prayers.

Baby 3- Easter 2010- 1mo 1day old
Today was a different kind of God experience. At 6am, a patient care tech came into our room and announced that the Easter bunny had come while plopping down 3 kinds of candy, stickers, silly bandz and a stuffed rabbit. Baby 4 woke up ready to eat some chocolate while I realized that it wasn't even truly morning yet and I had not prepared for how I would explain the hospitals version of Easter vs. Jesus being risen from the dead to Baby 4. After a failed attempt to tell 4 that it is still night time, and he could see what came when it was morning, I grabbed my Bible and got in bed with him.

Baby 4- Easter 2011- 4yrs

We reviewed that Jesus is God who made us and loves us. I told him Jesus saw that we were doing naughty things. He didn't want us to be away from Him ever, so he came all the way down from Heaven and died on the cross so that his Blood could cover up all our naughty choices. BUT HE DIDN'T STAY DEAD! After 3 days, Jesus' friends were really sad that He died, and they went to the place where His body was, but He wasn't there! He was alive! Only Jesus can make someone be alive again after they die. Because Jesus' blood covers all our naughties. We get to go to Heaven and live with Him when He comes to get us. On Easter, we have a big party to celebrate that Jesus is alive and we get to live with Him in Heaven someday. "That's why you get to wake up very early and eat candy, because today is a happy day."

Church, Eggs, & Bagels
We watched my church's live web broadcast of Easter service while we ate breakfast. Brandon came up after church (with more candy) and we spent the whole day as a family. We played soccer on the play deck and watched Shrek. My Mom brought Easter dinner to us, and it was delicious. Brandon and I tucked Baby 4 in together after a great day.

Today I rejoice that my Jesus has power over death and the grave. The Highest of High cares for me. Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, is tuned into my sorrow and short comings. He knows where I am and wishes to restore me.

    "It wasn't so long ago that we ourselves were stupid and stubborn, dupes of sin, ordered every which way by our glands, going around with a chip on our shoulder, hated and hating back. But when God, our kind and loving Savior God, stepped in, he saved us from all that. It was all His doing; we had nothing to do with it. He gave us a good bath, and we came out of it new people, washed inside and out by the Holy Spirit. Our Savior Jesus poured out new life so generously. God's gift has restored our relationship with Him and given us back our lives. And there's more life to come—an eternity of life! You can count on this. " Titus 3:3-8 (The Message)
Last Easter, Jesus met me where I was. This Easter, I'm pushing past where I am to draw closer to Him. I am thankful today. Thankful for the cross, thankful for baby 4, and thankful for Our Love Story.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Time Flies When You Have A Routine!

We are a full week into our hospital stay, and doing pretty well. We are very fortunate to live 10min away from a good children's hospital. They have been very helpful with making our stay as comfortable as possible. I sleep on a pull out couch in 4's room, and am blogging from it right now. The Child Life specialist comes by every day to bring toys, books, and craft supplies. She also set us up with some sweet homeschool supplies, so we have started preschool in the PICU! There is free internet access, and an ice machine...what more could we need?

The cloth doll given to baby 4 by the child life specialist
She helped us give him a trach

Our classroom
College Prep Work
The Ronald McDonald House has been a HUGE help to us. They feed me and Brandon everyday and provide free use of their washer and dryer. The volunteers have been so nice, calling us by name, and answering all of our questions. If you are ever looking for an awesome charity to give to, click here. I can attest to the great work the organization does. Having clean clothes and hummus with pita bread today made the entire world look a little brighter.

One of my fears when I realized we were headed for an extended hospital stay with 4 was that his behavior would regress after he had made so much progress this past month. When we first met, he was completely in charge of his whole day. He was rude to mostly everyone- either in tone when he chose to speak, or when he would make animal noises in response to a request. He was watching hours of TV on end, sometimes repeating the same movie 3 times in a row with no one stopping him. He was barely sleeping, going to bed at midnight and waking at 8am with no nap. I wanted to do everything I could to prevent that slip back into monster-mania.

The first thing I did was make a schedule and hang it up in his room. The nurses here are the same ones who experienced his craziness during his last stay, and I wanted to let them know that his behavior can and will be acceptable. When he waits for me to use the bthroom so he can ask the nurse to turn te TV on, the schedule is there to tell them both that play is the priority for a 4yr old, not movies.

Here's our schedule:

7am- Wake up, dressed, TV time
8am- TV off, breakfast
8:30-10am-Playtime, TV off
10am- Table time- Shapes, Colors, ABC's, Counting
2-6pm- Playtime- TV off
5pm- dinner
6pm- Meds, Trach care, PJ's, Stories, Songs
7pm-Lights out

It has worked wonders!! The TV time has served as a valuable currency between me and Baby 4. He earns it by following morning directions and taking a nap and he gives it up by hissing at the nurses or calling the patient care tech, "Nasty". He's also just all around easier to handle when he's well-rested. Having the schedule also helps me break up my day so it doesn't feel so long. I know that when I'm playing "What's this dinosaur?" for the 103rd time in 20min, that in just 75min, nap time is coming!

How do you play "What's this dinosaur?"- Something like this:
Kid (sitting in front of a box of dinosaur toys): What's this dinosaur?
Adult: I don't know
Kid: It's a T-Rex
Adult: Oh, that's right. See? You're so smart, you don't even need me! (thinking:"Maybe I can sneak in a couple minutes of reading my Marie Claire magazine)
Kid(holding up new dino): What's this dinosaur? (thinking: "You can't escape, you will answer me!"
Adult: Umm.. anklosaurus
Kid: You said it was a brontosaurus last time
Adult (thinking:"I made up answers both times"): You know, nap is only 75min away, we should start cleaning up now.

The next step is staying on top of his language and attitude. I instituted a policy that 4 will speak- in English- to any grown up wearing scrubs (or pajamas, if you ask him). He is doing really well, even saying thank you to the maintenance person who empties our trash. When he growls, refuses to answer a question, or is rude, he has to put away everything he's doing and sit by himself until he decides to do the right thing. If the adult leaves before this happens, he has to wait until a new adult comes in so he can speak nicely before the TV goes back on or the toys come out. People in pajamas come through his room a million times per day and I've only had to break out the discipline 3 times. He figured out it's easier to say "I'm good" when the Dr asks than to miss out on your favorite part of Nemo (the shark part).

Lastly, we've been doing a lot of reading. There's a rocking chair in our room, and my favorite part of the day (second only to "What's this dinosaur?") is rocking him in my lap and reading to him.
Our Library
By far, the greatest Amazon find of all times is The Star by Cynthia Miller Lovell. It is a kids book about foster care from the view of a preschooler. It's the perfect bed-time story length and 4 loves it. The only change I would make is that the majority of the people in it are white, which isn't necessary.

The Star follows Kit through being removed from her home, placed in a foster family, and her first visit with her caseworker. She talks to a Star outside her bedroom window who assures her she's a good girl and not alone. Baby 4 identifies with one page in particular:
Baby 4 loves to tell me how he's feeling using this page
We read it almost everyday now, and we both love it.

The plan is to move out of ICU tonight or tomorrow, and we're one step closer to going home! While being here is still tough on both me and Baby 4, our routine is certainly helping move things along!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Model Material

About a year ago I got a Facebook friend request from Beckett Franklin Gray. She messaged me asking if she could use my profile picture in her new book about transracial adoption. "Of course!"
Last month, Respite 5's foster parents sent me an Amazon gift card as a "Thank you" for taking him with no notice. I was excited to buy some books, so I searched for "transracial adoption" and found The Hybrid Family by Beckett Franklin Graham. Interesting! I wondered if my picture made it in, and ordered it.

hy·brid [ hbrid ]  
  1. plant resulting from crossing: a plant produced from a cross between two plants with different genetic constituents.
  2. animal resulting from cross-species mating: an animal that results from the mating of parents from two distinct species or subspecies
  3. result of mixing elements: something made up of a mixture of different aspects or components
Synonyms: cross, mix, amalgam, fusion, crossbreed
I love the term hybrid family. A hybrid is not just a messy mix of whatever was lying around, it's an intentional blend of two existing things that's meant to improve their current condition. I feel like that's exactly what and adoptive, transracial family is like.
Hybrids are beautiful and exotic
Who doesn't want a Hybrid?
It came in the mail today, and I was thrilled when I looked inside!
Me and Baby 3- Page 58

Monday, April 18, 2011

Whining About Change

I can never make plans that don't change! I'm sure everyone's life is kind of like that, but life with foster care is always changing every minute. This is definitely a world where a "go with the flow" attitude will take you far. Man, I wish I had a "go with the flow" attitude. I like predictability, plans, and schedules- but I gave it up for love,  sacrificing rigidity for foster care.
Last week I had planned a kid filled weekend of respites. I planned a meet and greet with 6&7 for Wed evening before they came for their stay on Thursday. I prepped 4 for having 3 other kids in the house. Everything was set. Thursday morning I would clean the floors and bathrooms, put dinner in the slow cooker, do physical therapy with Baby 4, then welcome 6&7 at 3pm. But this is how Thursday really went:
9:30am Baby 4 goes into respiratory distress. We head to Emergency

4:30pm- The decision is made to take him into surgery

7:00pm- Tracheostomy is back and we'll be living in the ICU for a week

Baby 4 is doing well now. He had scar tissue in his airway that blocked his breathing and could not be removed during surgery. He'll have the trach for 1-2yrs while the Dr's come up with a plan to open his natural airway. I moved into the hospital with him and we'll be here for about a month while he heals and we find a home-nurse for after discharge. This obviously changed my respite plans for this weekend, but also my plans for where our family is headed in general.

I had been working on how I thought we were going to grow in the coming months. I was going to get Baby 4 in some summer activities to increase his social skills and get him used to responding to others' reactions to his scars. I was studying up on all the coping skills and verbal responses needed when you look different, and body-image boosting exercises that we could do to focus on his strengths. I was also going to go back to work and continue leadership responsibilities at church so I could maintain a personal identity away from Baby 4. We were going to continue taking respites and start lobbying the matchers for another placement under 2yrs old since Baby 4 does well with little ones. I've taken losing 2&3 really hard, but I was on the road to recovery. I had talked to their Dad at the end of March and he said we could see the boys in a week, after they got back from a vacation to see their Grandma in North Carolina. I made their Easter baskets in preparation for that visit. But that was then....

Now Baby 4 is limited in the activities he can do. Now he's not just dealing with curious stares about his scars, but also being treated like a sick kid with his trach. I'm devoting 100% of my time (and identity) to being his full time caregiver, which he needs and deserves. Our time and energy is completely wrapped up in him, so we won't be taking any new kids for now. Babies 2 & 3 have been "on vacation" for 3 weeks now, and Dad is not returning calls. Baby 2's school even called me because they don't know what's going on. The thought that they moved out of state, or are just living off foster care's grid completely made me regress in my healing. If they are removed from Dad's care out of state, they'll be sent to a foster family there. I can wrap my head around them being with their Dad, but if they can't be with him, I can't reconcile them being with strangers. There is also the possibility that Dad is back and just cutting off communication. It was about the one month mark when Baby 1's Dad stopped calling too. I wasn't ready to say goodbye for real.

Baby 4's plan also changed. When he was released from the hospital the first time, the plan was for immediate unsupervised visits with Dad. Before the first one was even set up, that changed to one hour-long per week supervised visit at the county facility. We had one of those before plans changed again. Now Dad can come anytime to see him at the hospital and I'll be monitoring those interactions. Anyone else feel like that's awkward? 'Cause I do. I'm a little relieved Dad hasn't come up to the hospital since we've been here. I've been able to just be 4's whatever-I-am (since he hates when anybody calls me his Mom) without worrying about bioDad's feelings. The flip-side of that is, how do you know your kid in in the hospital (that is a 15min bus ride from your house) for 5days without visiting?!?! He even told 4's caseworker that he was in the lobby about to come up on Saturday and she called me to give a heads-up. He must have gotten lost on the elevator... but that anger is for a whole-other post. There had been talks of visiting with an out of state relative in the near future as well. If that person checked out, the county was thinking this person could be used as a resource for 4. Now he can't travel with his trach, and the relative has said they can't come here to see him anytime soon. I have no idea where that leaves them in the way of becoming a possible home for 4.One of the reasons for Baby 4's placement with us was concern whether his medical needs could be handled by his caregiver. Now that he has significant medical needs that could become life-threatening if ignored, it will be even harder to reunite him with family. While we're happy to have him, I think he was planning to go home, but this changes everything.
Keeping him busy with  log cabin building set

Also changing is my expectations about attachment with 4. I love him as much as I loved the others 1 month into placement. I'm so glad we have him and that our family can meet his needs- from a stay at home Mom that can move into the hospital for a month to having him be the only child until he's ready for some company. However, I'm not as clingy to him like the younger babies. If any of this was happening to them, I'd be a mess- crying and pouring anointing oil over them while speaking in tongues. I wouldn't be able to leave their side even for a moment. It could be a lot of reasons: he's older and more independent, he's handling hospitalization like a trooper with no crying or complaining at all, I've only known him as a child with medical needs, or I'm a terrible human being who cares less about children with each birthday they've had. All are possible, and I have to adjust my definition of parenting to "doing the best I can for Baby 4". I'm just fighting guilt over not being completely smitten with him from the moment our eyes met or whatever.

I can't guarantee what my family will look like from one month to the next, or how the members will feel about each other. I can't make plans too far into the future or even for the next day. I'm constantly conflicted in my emotions. Several times I've made up my mind that foster care is too much for me. Then everything changes.

I have had an incredible epiphany since 4 as been in the hospital. The staff here in the PICU cared for 4 when he was first injured and didn't have a parent with him most of the time. They have remarked several times about the difference they see in him this time around- "He looks so happy!", "He's so polite!". Social workers, nurses, Dr's have all praised me for my selflessness and blah blah blah, but it's not me. I'm not a good person and I don't aspire to go around making other people's kids happy. Dropping everything to rescue a life in danger is Jesus' deal. He did it for me 2,000 yrs ago on a cross, and now He's doing it through me for a kid with no Mom. All I did was follow Him.

 "Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn't think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn't claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion." Philippians 2:5-8 (Msg)

In the end, it doesn't matter if newborns are easier to love than preschoolers, or that my heart is with Baby 2 in NC, or that 4 may never call me Mommy. What matters is that Christ loves me and has commanded me to love foster care. He left a throne in Heaven to die a criminals death to secure my soul, and I've only been asked to leave the comfort of my plans and be flexible with my schedule. The timing couldn't be more perfect with this being Easter week. The week when the church reflects on the sacrifice Christ made is the week I get to sacrifice for Him, to be the proof of His love for Baby 4.
Watching church online Sunday morning

Monday, April 11, 2011

Monday, before the madness.

Got some hallelujah calls last week for respite babies!! Respite 2 is coming back for 3 weekends over the next couple of months. He's an adorable 1yr old who was just freed and will be adopted by his Mom very soon! We did our MAPP training with her, and are so happy for them.His first weekend starts on Friday. We are also meeting Respite 6 & 7 on Thursday, and they will be staying for 4 days.

The matcher called me for 6 & 7 after I had agreed to take 2 this weekend. I told her I probably shouldn't bring in 3 respite kids at the same time, but she disagreed. 6&7 are siblings who were injured very similarly to Baby 4 about a year and a half ago. Their story was spread all over the news even more than our son's. They have scars like Baby 4 and since Respite 6 is a 4yr old boy (same age as Baby 4), the matcher thought it would be therapeutic for them to play together. Additionally, I thought it would be therapeutic for me to see a child who has been in care and recovering from this condition for almost 2yrs. Respite 7 is a 2yr old girl who is also recovering like Baby 4. The final sell for me was that they have an all day Saturday visit, so I can spend a lot of time with Respite 2 still.

So for the first time we're going to need all our beds in both kid rooms. This means spring cleaning, some time-management planning, and pre-respite meals prep to make this go smooth. Plan for the worst and hope for the best, right?

Right now though, it's Monday morning, we have no therapy or nurse visits today, it's 70 degrees outside, all the windows are open, and I'm loving life with Baby 4. After doing some work on our computers, we're headed out to play!
Cantaloupe and Emails
 "But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you" 1Peter 5:10 (NKJV)

I'm definitely feeling settled today after a very trying week. My God keeps His promises. Nothing we've done in our love story has been in our own strength, but through Jesus Christ who strengthens us.

"So as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light." Colossians 1:10-12 (ESV)

Friday, April 1, 2011

Heartache In Our House

Yesterday was rough for me. I had a really good day with baby 4- Physical therapy, homevisit with his caseworker, grocery shopping, painting pottery and dinner out with my Dad. Baby 4 was really well behaved for all of it, and we had a lot of fun. With all the appointments, professionals, and playing with baby 4- I've been super-tired and emotional. I started feeling really sad and missing Baby 2 when I had another, "I know I'm not your Mom, but can I please help you put your pajamas on?" talks with baby 4, and it sent me over the edge. After 4 was in bed, I looked through baby 2's pictures and sobbed. I love baby 4, and I'm so happy that I get to give him a home when he needs one, but I miss being a Mom. I miss Baby 2's "Ma! Ma! MMMAAAA!!!" calls. I felt literally broken, but at the same time fulfilled. How could I be pulled in two directions like that? Fully committed to baby 4, yet fully desperate to reconnect to my past. When Brandon got home from work, he tried to comfort me. Even though he did everything right, I cried myself to sleep. I had to get through that on my own, and I did. Today was much easier for me.

It was baby 4 who had a difficult time managing his loss today. It was the first day we didn't have to go anywhere, but Physical therapy, play therapy, and the medical supply vendor all made stops at our house. Everytime Baby 4 was asked to sit still or answer a question, he made a snippy comment or cried. Before dinner, he called his Grandma and had a very appropriate conversation with her that was positive and upbeat. At the end of that call he started asking to talk to his Dad, who was unavailable at that moment. When he realized that he would have to say goodbye to Grandma and just be left with me, meltdown ensued. He sobbed with the same intensity as I had sobbed the night before. He begged me to get his Dad on the phone. He told me that he wanted to live with his Dad, he wanted to go to his Daddy's house right now, he doesn't want to sleep here! I held him, knowing that even if I knew exactly what to do or say, he was going to have to get through this on his own. I just kept reassuring him that I love him, he's safe here, and yes, it is very sad when he can't see Daddy.

Baby 2 is deeply ingrained in my heart. With time I may not feel as intensely sad about being away from him, but I will always feel the deep love I have for him. It doesn't matter how many kids I love in the future, he's still my son. Same for Baby 4- his Dad is ingrained in his heart (and genes) forever. Even if he starts to love us as his family, that won't take away the sting of losing his first home. While we work on bonding to each other, Baby 4's and my heart ache for our family that we can't live with.

Going through my own loss has helped me gain some perspective on my kids' losses. I really get the advice "not to take their rejection personally". Baby 4 wanting to live with his Dad and reminding me daily that I'm not his Mom has nothing to do with his feelings about me as a caregiver. It has everything to do with his love for his first family. I also understand that he has to grieve, and be mad, and sad- all on his own. It is very difficult to see him cry, scream, and kick knowing there is nothing I can do that will make him feel better. Again though, none of his experience is about me. If being sad while letting him feel his loss is all I can do, I'll do it- because I love him. I also know that just because he would rather live with his Dad, does not mean we can't have a good relationship. If I am fully capable of loving babies 1-4 all at the same time, Baby 4 can tolerate 2 sets of caregivers.

The amount of heartache in our house right now is great, but that means the potential for healing in our house is great as well. We are preparing to heal together as a new family, even though we still love the old.