Tuesday, July 29, 2014

So... why are you becoming a foster parent right now?

In the week since announcing my decision to become a foster parent (and in previous weeks when I announced it to a few folks here and there), I have received an incredible amount of support and encouragement. I am immensely grateful for everyone who commented, “liked”, shared, or read that last post.

 I had so many people- including some I have I haven’t seen or spoken to in far too long- send me messages to say they are thinking of, praying for, and supporting me on this journey. I feel very humbled, immeasurably thankful, and extremely blessed.

In addition to the support and encouragement, I have also received a lot of questions.  It makes sense- I think this process is unfamiliar to a lot of people, so I love being able to share my experiences along the way.

I think the main question I've received- which, again, makes sense- is some variation of …

No one can resist those "eyes that sparkle and pierce the hearts of women- both old and middle-aged alike."

I felt like this would be an important question to address here- it seems sort of foundational for the things I’ll write in the future. At the same time, though, it’s also a difficult question to answer.

When I break it down, there are two main reasons for the “why” of the question:

Reason 1: I feel called to do it.
I realize that probably sounds cliché, but I’m not sure how else to articulate that it is a passion I literally feel.

And I do not mean “literally” in the Chris Traeger sense.

I mean that when I think about the barriers so many children face today and the fact that they deserve so much more, my heart aches. And when I have the opportunity to provide kids with some of the things they need- love, acceptance, encouragement, safety- I feel joyful and alive. (More on my experiences with that later.)

Again, I’m not sure how to articulate that, but I imagine it looking something like this:
This will be the first of many Liz Lemon gifs on this blog.
Prepare yourselves.

Reason 2: There is an overwhelmingly huge need for foster parents right now.
There are a lot of statistics out there I could quote, but I know you can all use Google well enough to look them up if you so desire. Instead, I’ll just point you to this article posted in the Waco Trib a few weeks ago. It explains a shocking reality that- unfortunately- isn’t isolated to the Waco area. (Just to warn you- it shares a few real stories of what many children face today, and it is a bit graphic in the beginning.)

The sad reality is there are a lot of kids out there in need of love, nurturing and stability, but there aren’t enough homes available to provide them.

My former English professor once shared the following Frederick Buechner quote with me:

“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

That is essentially what led me to a career in social work and what now leads me to become a foster parent.

Now to address the “right now” part of the question…

I’m not sure if any of you have really perused this blog, but if so you may have noticed there are a few posts written before last week’s. There’s been a bit of a writing gap here, because those entries were written in the summer of 2011.

At the time, I was actually working as… a foster parent!
Let me explain, Will.

Before I started my MSW program, I moved to Houston and spent the summer working as a foster parent with an agency in Houston. I was in an intake home with a few of parents caring for a house full of kids. We had six at a time- all between the ages of 2 days and 4 years old.

Obviously it was a crazy experience.

And I loved it.

(*Side note, that agency is actually looking for people willing to do this internship now. If you or someone you know might be interested, you can learn more here.)

I’ve known since then I wanted to be a foster parent at some point, but I thought it would be further down the road- probably when I was older and settled and married.

Fast-forward five years. I’m older, and I’m decently settled, I think. I have a job, a place to live, and grown-up furniture.

At this point, though, I’m tired of waiting on the married part. I’ve hit two-thirds of those life benchmarks- I think I’m doing okay.

Now, I am not afraid I’m going to die alone, and I don’t consider myself to be an old maid.

I'm definitely not at Jess' level of hopelessness.

I’ve just decided that, at twenty-something, I don’t want to put off life goals while I wait on this one thing to fall into place. Because I don’t know when, or- let’s be honest- even if, that will happen. I can’t predict the future.

What I can do is live my life fully right now- however that looks for me.

A few people have graciously asked me if I’m scared about how this will affect my future marriage prospects.

I'm pretty sure I've read that question in a Jane Austen novel, so I think the most appropriate response is the Elizabeth Bennett side-eye.

The honest answer to that is yes. A little bit.

But as scary as it is now to wonder, “What if _____ happens?”, it is nowhere near as terrifying as the thought of being 80- or even 30- and wondering, “What could have happened if I followed my passions?”

I guess those questions could always be in the back of my mind, but I’ve realized I don’t want look back on my life and regret making choices based on what might happen down the road. Instead, I want take control of the things I can control and let what might happen fall into place- or not fall into place- whenever it will.

I want to change the world, guys, and I’m not about to let some “what if"s keep me from doing that.

As I was thinking through this post over the weekend, trying to figure out how to articulate my thoughts, I took a break to finish a book I’ve taken way too long to read. (Shout out to my friend, J, who has let me borrow it for about a year now. Maybe longer.)
It’s called Daring Greatly*, and in it, author Brené Brown summarizes a conversation she had with her daughter.

I explained that I had spent many years never trying anything that I wasn’t already good at doing, and how those choices almost made me forget what it feels like to be brave. I said, ‘Sometimes the bravest and most important thing you can do is just show up.’”

Preach, Brené.

So, I’m choosing to show up. I’m making a crazy and terrifying and daring choice.

And I’m excited to see where it leads me.

(I’m going to respond to some other FAQs soon- the more basic questions I receive about the foster care process. If you have any you’d like me to answer- about the process itself or my decision to take it on- please feel free to write it in the comments! I’m excited to be able to share what I’m learning, so I’d love to answer any questions you might have!)

*Brené’s book title is based on a Theodore Roosevelt speech called “The Man in the Arena.” I’ve included it here, because it’s great and everyone should read it.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again,

because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause;

who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Thursday, July 17, 2014

An Introduction and an Announcement.

My name is Kaley. I’m a 20-something woman living in the lovely Heart of Texas. I’m in the early stages of my career as a social worker. I enjoy spending time with people I care about, playing and listening to music, baking, crafting, drinking coffee and being outside. I like traveling, sipping on a good (or cheap) glass of wine, and playing with my dogs.

This is me- looking super sassy because I just got bangs for the first time since 1st grade.
They look better in person.

I’m also a foster parent.

Well, to be more accurate at the moment, I’m applying to be a foster parent.

I haven’t told very many people about this decision- mostly because it’s early in the process, and not talking about it seems like the easiest way to keep people’s thoughts, opinions and judgments at bay.  That might seem unnecessary, but in all honesty, I get really nervous about what other people think about this decision.

So far the people I’ve told have been- for the most part- very encouraging. Most have been incredibly excited for me, which is thrilling. But I have received a few quizzical looks, along with statements such as, “you're so young!”, “that’s going to be really hard,” and, even more simply, the perplexed- and almost indignant- “Why?!”

Jean-Ralphio's eyebrows just asked you a question.

Whenever I tell someone about my decision for the first time, I anxiously anticipate that type of response. I tend to talk in circles for a bit and then rush through the “so I applied to be a foster parent” part, as if blurring the sentence into one unintelligible word will confuse the listener enough to move on without responding.

This has yet to work for me, by the way.

Thankfully, the positive responses greatly outweigh the negatives at this point. I think that’s partially because people view this as an “admirable” or “brave” undertaking. (I'm using quotation marks because those are both responses I've heard. It’s very kind of people to say, but also very generous. I don’t particularly feel as if I’m either of those things, but I'll take it.)

I think the other reason I’ve gotten mostly positive feedback is just that the majority of the people who know I’m taking this step also know me- my heart, my passions, and my goals.

Even so, I get pretty nervous when someone else is added to the “in the know” list. After breaking the news I wait, anxiously holding my breath during the moments between my announcement and the listeners' response- which are never as long as they feel- confident they will automatically go into a long list of reasons why I shouldn’t do this. (Because obviously they’d have that ready to go in anticipation of this exact moment.)

I expect those responses because, in my mind, they seem pretty reasonable. I can understand that it seems crazy for a young, single woman to commit to something so demanding. Shouldn’t I be soaking up my youth and enjoying my freedom? Spending time with friends? Staying up and sleeping in late instead of taking care of a small human being?

One Direction=YOLO pros.

I can understand that reasoning. Really, I can. The part of my brain that comprehends those concepts is pretty nervous about this undertaking. I mean, the Waco dating scene is pretty rough already- I can’t imagine it will get much better if I’m in charge of a toddler.

It makes no sense to do this right now.

I’m young. I’m unattached. I’m moving forward in a career that I love. I have free time and energy and passion! I can do anything I want with my life!

But, on the other hand…

I’m young. I’m unattached. I’m moving forward in a career that I love. I have free time and energy and passion! I can do anything I want with my life!

In my mind, the reasons I shouldn’t become a foster parent are the same reasons I should. (Or some of them, at any rate.)

In fact, I think they’re reasons I could be a pretty kick-ass foster parent.

I’ve been chugging along as a social worker for the past year, and I’ve recently started the process to pursue clinical licensure. I don’t want to pat myself on the back prematurely, but I think the knowledge and experience I’ve gained in this field will be really helpful things to bring to the foster parenting table.

I have energy and passion. I care about serving people- especially kids who need to hear and know they’re loved and worth loving.

I am unattached. Right now, I have free time that I might not have further down the road. So why not use that time productively?* Instead of filling my free time with Netflix marathons, I can use it to do something that makes me feel alive.

Believe me, I do enjoy Netflix marathons. I’ve championed them in the past few years. But I have found serving and caring for someone in a tangible way to be significantly more life-giving than powering through an entire season of House of Cards in a day.  

Obviously the most uplifting show on Netflix
All that being said, I am not so naïve as to believe this will be a leisurely stroll in the park. I recognize that it will be incredibly challenging and difficult. But I also believe that it will be good. I expect I will shed some tears in the days ahead, but I have a feeling I will also experience incredible joy.

So I’m going for it. I’m currently in the midst of a series of interviews, trainings, background checks, home inspections, and so on and so forth. It’s a pretty serious process.

But I am really excited.

Still nervous.

But mostly excited.

If you want to join me in this process- because you are excited for me, think I'm crazy, are interested in becoming a foster parent yourself, or you're just bored- feel free to check back here every once in a while. I’m planning on using this to share some updates- on my progress through licensing and, hopefully eventually, my experiences with actually having a child in my home.

I’m really looking forward to the journey, and I hope you’re looking forward to sharing it with me!

*Please note- I do not believe that “using time productively” equates to foster parenting for everyone. For many people, it might mean traveling, taking classes, spending time with friends and family, etc. For some people it might even mean Netflix marathon-ing. I’m not here to judge. You do you. And embrace it, because it’s awesome.

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