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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.