Why this Mama Runs Marathons

It’s not just for toddler naps but it doesn’t hurt.

In January of 2018, I decided to take control of my health and had weight loss surgery. I had struggled with my weight my entire life and I didn’t love the example I was setting for my children. In preparation for surgery, I lost over 30 lbs and have since dropped 100 lbs from my heaviest weight (right after I had my twins). Determined to not waist the blessing, I started running about 8 weeks after surgery. I couldn’t believe how much easier it was to run a mile without the additional weight on me. I don’t think I realized how bad I felt until I felt so good.

My dad ran a marathon while I was in high school and since then, it has always been on my bucket list. Why not now? I started researching “flattest marathons in the country.” Because I like to run but I’m not totally crazy at this point. Turns out, one of them was the Marine Corps Marathon in D.C. Upon doing more research, I discovered that this marathon is HUGE. They have a lottery system to get in and only take 30,000 runners. I talked to Andrew (not sure he realized all the child raising he was signing up for at the time) and he agreed that it was worth throwing my name in the hat if it would keep me motivated. I signed up that night. At this point I was only running 3 miles at a time. I thought, gosh, if I get in I need to be a stronger runner and I took a screen shot of a marathon plan for beginners on Pinterest (super scientific approach) and started running more. Turned out all that training was perfect because I got in! In October of 2018, just 9 months after having weight loss surgery, I crossed the finish line in D.C. and completed 26.2 miles to the cheers of my amazing marathon finishing father.

I will do it again in Columbus, OH this October to the same cheers of my dad and joined by my 3 big kids, mom and husband and right next to one of my very best friends. I am so excited for this one, because there is something super cool about your children getting to see you work really hard and accomplish something huge. Makes you more life a person for a moment and not just a mom and hopefully inspires them that they can work hard and do hard things too.

In the beginning I ran because I was afraid of gaining the weight back. That is still a motivation but more than that, it has become a part of my mental health. Today, my littlest and I were just getting on each others nerves. It was not all him. I was annoying too. After lunch, I tucked him into the stroller and took off for 5 miles in the heat of the day because I needed a break and so did he. We both feel better for different reasons. About a mile in, he fell asleep and I cranked up the music on my phone (hello early 2000s hip hop music) and just sweated out all the stress of the day. At this point, I run because it makes me a better mom, and a better person. Running may not be it for you, but find something that resets you, contributes to your health and breathes a little bit of gratitude into your spirit. Now if only I could smoothly transition this sleeping stud from stroller to bed. Maybe in my next mom life.

Empty Homes and Hard See Ya Laters

There is something super final about walking through your empty home after the movers have loaded all your things. For weeks we have known it was coming. For weeks we have told friends and family and watched them be sad for our pending departure but it wasn’t until the stuff of our life in Ohio started exiting my front door that it hit me like a ton of bricks. Cue the tears and the running across the culdesac to hug my neighbor that I borrowed countless packs of taco seasoning from. For those of you who don’t know, taco seasoning is the modern day version of a cup of sugar. So much has happened in this home. We potty trained twin toddlers in this home. (Air High Five to ME!). We sent our oldest three kiddos off to their first days of kindergarten here. We accepted placement of a tiny baby who became our son under this roof. Our kids have grown so close to their amazing grandparents and other extended family. So much life has happened. We have made friends here. We have made friends who have become family here.

So much to be grateful for. And if I think about it purely, I’m not sure I’m actually experiencing sadness as much as I am extreme gratitude for all of it. I am so grateful for the opportunity to be so close to our family for these years. I am also so grateful that we won’t be that far away in our new home. I am so grateful for the amazing people that God has blessed us with. So many unexpected people blessings. I’m so grateful we said yes to foster care and the joy that our little boy has brought to our lives. I’m thankful for all the Aunt Sarah dates that my sister in law has taken our kids on and the relationship they have grown. It is overwhelming how amazing these last 4 years have been.

I’m not scared for our new adventure. I trust that we five extroverts (don’t worry honey, we have it covered) will secure new friends in our new town. I’m feeling confident that the school will be welcoming and exciting for the kids and I am so excited for the new opportunity for Andrew that is bringing us into this new adventure. What is giving me some pause is what this all means for me. I will no longer be a foster mom in our new state. I will no longer work for a non-profit. I will be something new and different. I’m curious about what that might look like. I am, however, confident that I will figure it out. Anyone else out there have a 1/3 life crisis? We will all figure it out right? Certainly. Until then, here’s to unloading, unpacking, painting, driver’s license securing, church hunting, extracurricular activity securing and marathon training. We can all sleep when we are dead, mama friends, there are important things to do and figure out.

When Pastries Aren’t Enough

Today we took pastries to our son’s former caseworker. She not only placed him in our home but she also walked us to the finish line to finalize his adoption. It was her birthday and we wanted to see her before we move. I will never forget the first time I talked to Alison on the phone. She called to let me know she was picking up Benton from the hospital and would be at our house later that day. I could tell in her voice she was worried about him. We were new foster parents, unknowns to her and she cared about this little baby so much already. When she arrived at our house with him tucked into his car seat, she came in my door and put his seat on the table. I couldn’t believe how tiny he was and I just burst into tears over the weight of what we had signed up for. That night, his first night in our home, I accidentally butt dialed her in the middle the night as I was waking him up to feed him.

At 3am she called me back. “Is he okay?”

“He is. I’m so sorry. I’m just getting him up to feed him. We are good. I promise.”

Over the coming months we would see her at least once a month and talked more often than that. She would update us and let us know when visits were on and when they were cancelled. She made us feel like we were a part of the process but more than any of that, she never gave up on his birth mom. She had tough love conversations with her. She got her resources to begin her journey to wellness. She didn’t quit on her. Because of this, I have stories to tell my son about how hard his first mom tried to be with him. He had several months of regular visits. Because Alison never gave up, I have a notebook of letters that his first mom and I wrote back and forth to each other over those months that I will one day give him. Those are precious gifts to me and to our little boy.

I would imagine that being a caseworker is an exhausting job. I would also imagine that it would be very easy to let that exhaustion compromise the important work you do or become callus to the despair of others. But I will tell you this, when we came in to see her today. She cried as my son played and laughed and counted and chatted with people in the waiting area. She has not been made hard by this work. She may be tired but she isn’t running from the hurt of the job she does. She is brave.

As we left children’s services today, I looked at Benton and said, “Miss Alison got to hold you before Mommy. She is an important part of your journey to get to us. She kept you safe until you got to me. Do you understand?” And just like he responds to almost everything right now, he said, “I doooooo.” But one day he really will. There needs to be a word bigger than gratitude because that word, that is what we feel.

Alison with our family on adoption day!

Mission Victoriously Unaccomplished

It was 1:25pm when we pulled out the driveway. Benton is in the fun stage where he refuses to nap but is a grumpy turkey during the time when he should be napping. Put him down for a nap anyway you say, no thanks. Last time I did that he stayed awake and emptied an entire tube of Butt Paste into his hair. Let me tell you how easy it is to get something that is designed to be water resistant out of a thick head of hair. Sigh. So in lieu of napping, we sometimes just try to get out of the house to avoid the grumps. Today’s mission was to drop donations off at Goodwill and go to Kroger to pick up some odds and ends for the rest of the week. We got to Goodwill and as I put the car into park in the drop off area, I looked in the back seat and there he was, sound asleep.

Should I risk waking the bear to get the things I need at the grocery store? I sat in the parking lot for a moment and decided that I wasn’t going to pick that battle today. Benjamin will not die from not having an apple in his lunch tomorrow but I may actually die if I have to push a screaming, irrational toddler through an entire Kroger.

So you know what I did? I did this.

Dairy Queen I didn’t have to share!

I took myself to Dairy Queen, whispered my order through the drive thru intercom and pulled into a parking spot and ate an entire ice cream sundae by myself while listening to NPR (like the good elderly millennial I am). And you know what I don’t have? Mom guilt. Do I do this every day? No. Do I even think this is self care? Nope. But sometimes a tired Mama of four wants to sit and eat ice cream and not share and I say that’s okay. Better than okay. I say it’s awesome. So guess what? There aren’t any apples in the house and I just made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on hot dog buns for tomorrows lunch but I ate Dairy Queen today in a quiet car. Bahahahaha! I win!

When your frustration level is at it’s height sometimes you have to look for a little win. Maybe your win is silent Dairy Queen. For me, most times it’s a long run with my music loud. It may look like a cup of hot coffee for you or just a quick moment with the windows down in the car. Whatever it is, seize it. We are better moms when we take a deep breath and steal a quick win. May your Wednesday include a win!

Build A Bear- A Cautionary Tale

If you are ever wanting a chaotic and expensive environment in which to question all your abilities to raise reasonable, gracious and well rounded children, take them to Build A Bear. While away at a wedding during our daughter’s birthday weekend, we gave her the option between going to “build” a bear and going to a trampoline park. As the words escaped my mouth, I thought, “Please Sweet Baby Jesus! Let her choose trampoline park. We have wiggles and we need them to exit our bodies!” Apparently, God knew I needed fuel for my blogging comeback so into the work shop we went. After, clarifying multiple times that we were just there for bears and that the birthday girl could get one outfit for her bear we selected our “on sale” skins. Can we just pause for a moment and let that sink it. Skins. Just wow.

We then waited in line to stuff our skins and kiss a small stuffed heart and place in our bears back before it got stitched closed. This was the beginning of our disappointment because this mama and daddy where not paying extra for the heart to actually beat. Serious, that is an upgrade option. The entire time in line, they asked about accessories for their new friends. “But Mama! My bear needs a light saber.” At one point my Benjamin said, “But Mama, they are naked. We can’t have naked bears. It’s inappropriate.” Vocabulary in 7 year olds is fun. We were firm. No accessories just bears. After the bear technicians finished stitching up the new stuffed animals, we headed to wash our bears, name them, create birth certificates and pay. All the while, we were hammered by requests for extra stuff, followed by whining, followed by more requests, followed by how unfair it was that Abigail got an outfit. How this was the worst day ever. How their lives were over.

As we checked out and paid an obscene amount of money for our children to have stuffed animals they were now totally disappointed by, I couldn’t help but think three things. One. We could have been at a trampoline park. Two. My least irritating child right now is the speech delayed 2 year old because he can’t properly formulate his possible disappointment. Three. We are so intentional in making them aware of how fortunate they are for things like safe housing, food on the table, healthy and safe parents. We are foster parents for goodness sake. They know they have it pretty good. And yet, here we are leaving Build A Bear crying because our bear doesn’t have a Bat Mobile. I just can’t.

When we got back to our hotel, we had a long talk about gratitude for the things we have the things we get to do. We talked about how the way they respond when they are given things and experiences affected those that were being generous to them. We had a come to Jesus meeting on the 6th floor of the Embassy Suites. Will it sink in? Who knows. Will we have the same conversation over and over. Definitely. Parenting is hard friends. Parenting kids who will grow up to not be jerks means having the come to Jesus meetings over and over again until it sinks in. We don’t have this lesson down yet but we aren’t quitters. It’s too important. There is a thin line between entitled and confident. Sometimes it is as thin as a thread that closes the back of a bear skin.

A Moment of Silence for Foster Care

It’s been a minute or 957,600.  I have started numerous blog posts and published none of them because we were swimming in the trauma, exhaustion, blessing, joy and grief that is foster care.  To say that it has been a roller coaster doesn’t do it justice.  The highs along the last couple of years have been so high and the lows have been devastatingly low.  We have experienced the unbelievable blessing of adoption and the unusual grief that accompanies that.  We have dealt with the post adoptive blues which I was totally unprepared for and will talk more about in another post.  I have experienced the heaviness of working in child welfare while doing child welfare in my home.  Our compassion has grown immeasurably.  Our family has grown by two little and very busy feet.

Each year that passes, I look back and think, that was a little insane.  Next year will be calmer but that isn’t true.  In the last 12 or so months, I started a new job, lost 70 lbs, ran a literal marathon, finalized the adoption of our son, supported my husband in a job search and we are now finalizing the sale of our home and the purchase of a new one as we move out of state.  Needless to say, not much has happened since we last spoke (insert eye roll).  As I think back over the last several years they are all full of change and excitement and craziness and I’m certain it will continue like this.  Moving forward means facing change and we Gabbards are moving forward.

I hope you will join me again I share about our family, our adventures and the lessons we learn along the way. 

Adoption Day (and completely reflective of the energy level of the newest Gabbard)

Too Much to Say To Say Nothing

I sat down at my computer about 8 times over the last 8 months to update you on our fostering journey.  Some of these 8 times would have been joyful posts about milestones or how beautifully our little guy has blended into our family.  Some of these 8 times would have been feet stomping, fist slamming on the desk rants of frustration and anger and all the rest would have been an attempt at explaining the complicated emotions I have experienced over the last 8 months.  This is by far the hardest thing God has ever asked us to do but with that said, the blessings have been many and some, so very unexpected.

Here is my first attempt at painting you a picture of our experience.

There are so many people in this foster care portrait.  First, there is this little boy who has stolen our hearts.  He and I spend a lot of time together.  It all truthfulness, probably more time than I spent with the ones I birthed in their first year.  Some of this is due to our current work situation.  I worked full time with babies in tow while my biological children were babies and they were all so very healthy.  I now work from home which allows me countless hours of cuddles, feedings, giggles and lots of time in the car for doctors appointments and on again off again visits with his biological parents.  What he lacks in physical stature he makes up with in personality.  He is quick to smile, quick to let you know when he is hungry and these days quick across the floor to find every Lego, craft supply or matchbox car that the Bigs leave at his level.  He thinks Andrew and I are pretty fun to be with and he LOVES the Bigs almost as much as they love him….I say almost because their love for him is so big it is hard to believe he could fit that much affection into his tiny body.  He is sweet and silly and so lovable he makes my heart hurt.

There are also many people around him.  His original caseworker who placed him in our home.  She still texts for pictures of him and checks on him occasionally.  I thought he was her favorite until I saw her interacting with other kids at the courthouse, greeting them by name and with hugs or encouragement about how much they had grown.  That is when I realized that she is just one of those amazing people who makes everyone feel like they are the favorite.  She will always be so special to us because she brought us our first babe.  His current caseworker who received his case a few months ago makes monthly visits to our home to check on him, checks in with his parents and helps provides them with resources in hopes that they will be able to keep him safe in the future.  She also handles countless texts, voicemails and emails from me as I try to navigate all the bureaucracy that is the foster care system.

Our little guy lucked out in the GAL (Guardian Ad Litem) department.  The GAL is an attorney who specifically represents the child.  She is experienced, organized, compassionate but firm.  We have only had to call on her with one big concern so far and she responded quickly, fairly and corrected the problem.  I appreciate her wisdom, encouragement and know that she is looking out for our little guys best interests always.  I also appreciate her willingness to teach some of the system to Andrew and me.  Along with the GAL comes a Magistrate.  He is the judge who will ultimately decide what happens for our little man.  I can’t give you a read on him but can tell you that I find everything about the court portion of this process to be intimidating and worrisome.  During our first court appearance he asked if I had anything to add and I’m fairly certain I grunted.  Literally grunted.

Our family also has a Support Worker who is in charge of making sure we are okay, that we get our training recertification hours done on time, that we have the resources we need.  Most times when he comes, I think he is just making sure that Andrew and I are holding up okay.  He fields our questions that often times don’t have answers and walks along with us.

In another post I will talk about our roles in all of this and the roles our children have grown to fill.

These are all people who I knew would be a part of this team but the team is so much bigger.  They consists of high school and college friends who shipped clothes and baby equipment and diapers and bottles to our home when little man arrived.  It’s my neighbor who planned a surprise baby shower for us.  It is Hope’s Closet, a local non profit organization who coordinates opportunities for us to trained, be encouraged and be known as well as provides equipment, supplies and clothes for kids coming into foster and kinship care.  It is our small group at church who brought food for us, prays for us and babysits for us so we can still have date nights.  It is my fellow foster moms who have listened to me vent and be surprised by things they already knew.  It is my non foster friends who try so hard to understand this unique experience we are going through.

It is also our parents and extended families who did not receive this call, did not wrestle with it for years and did not say yes but who have come along side us and supported us by listening, babysitting, loving us, listening to us cry and yell and laugh and who have decided that this little boy is in.  That he is in for as long as he needs to be in and that he will be in our hears long after that if he goes home.  They didn’t sign up to be this close to all this pain but I can’t say enough about how their hearts have opened to this little boy.  We are all wide open.

I hope that this is the beginning of me being able to find the words to begin to tell you the amazing blessings that come when you are obedient to a call.  That hope and love and compassion can come out of brokenness, sadness and hurt.  That He makes all things work together for our good.   

Please pray for everyone in our portrait.

Sara