Monday, May 11, 2015

My Son's Other Mom

Yesterday I celebrated my very first Mother’s Day as a mom. Little Man had a fever, so it wasn’t the calm and blissful day I hoped for. But as he lay sleeping and drooling on my chest, I found myself reflecting on what I’ve learned in my seven and a half months of motherhood.

I’ve learned about how to live in a new kind of selflessness. I like to think I had moments of selflessness before becoming a mom- like most people do- but being responsible for another human being is different than anything I’ve experienced before. I’ve learned what it means to give of myself constantly- to put another person’s needs ahead of my own, even when doing so is tiring or terrifying or frustrating or lonely, and even when that person can do very little to reciprocate. I’ve learned through months and months of night feedings, a midnight trip to the ER, incessant loads of laundry, thousands of readings of Your Personal Penguin, and being constantly (it seems) covered in spit-up. I’ve learned through pudgy-cheeked smiles, contagious giggles, lots of early morning (and late night) snuggles, Little Man's tiny hands clinging to my arm when he’s scared or uncertain, and the look of excitement on his face when he sees me return from a long day of work- or a few moments of being across the room.
I’ve experienced more joy and more love than I ever could have imagined eight months ago.

And yet, I didn’t feel particularly celebratory on my first Mother’s Day.

(And not just because Little Man gets very cranky when he’s sick.)

While I am proud of- and so, so grateful for- my time as a mother, I cannot help but think about Little Man’s other mom.

The one who we haven’t seen in 5 months, but who I know is missing him very much right now.

I can’t help but recognize that this day- which is supposed to bring her such joy- is, in all likelihood, causing her unfathomable pain.

I think about this other mom frequently. Little Man and I talk about her and pray for her every evening. I tell him daily about how much she loves and misses him.

We decided to make her a Mother’s Day card to acknowledge and update her- and to let her know how loved she is. We stamped his footprints in a heart shape on the front (or as much or a heart shape as we could achieve with such squirmy little toes) and glued it onto some colorful scrapbook paper. And then I sat down to write a note.
As I sat there- trying to find encouraging words for a woman I’ve only met twice and haven’t seen in months- I thought a lot about how small of a difference exists between the two of us.

I think it’s easy as a foster parent- or as an upper-middle class person- to lose perspective when thinking about biological parents. It’s easy to judge them based on the fact that their children live with other families and wonder why they can’t seem to figure it out- to land a job, to get sober, to find a home, etc, etc etc.

But then I think about what enables me to manage life as a single parent.

I think about how I am surrounded by an incredible community- family and friends who are willing to drop everything to help when I welcome a newborn into my home, or take a day-long CPR class just to be available to babysit, or spend time with Little Man so I can do chores (or even do chores so I can spend time with Little Man!). There are so many people in my life who make my job as a parent manageable, and I really am not sure I could do it without them.

I also have a secure and stable job- one that pays me a living wage and gives me a lot of flexibility as I transition into parenthood. When I had to take a week off of work to be with Little Man while he struggled through RSV, I was never concerned I might not have a job to return to. 

Those are luxuries that countless parents do not have.

And why do I have these things? Because I happened to be born into them.

I don’t want to dive into the philosophical deep-end here because I know it would take me forever to climb out, but- ultimately- what separates me from Little Man’s biological mom- what separates me from most parents who have ever had to place their children (willingly or unwillingly) into foster care- is the fact that I was born into opportunity. Financial, educational, and relational.

That’s not to say I've just coasted along from birth until now and somehow wound up where I am today. I definitely worked hard and made positive decisions to get to this place.

But I have had the opportunity and ability to do that work and make those choices.

Many people- and parents- don’t.

Many parents- despite longing to create the best life possible for their children- face incredible obstacles. Poverty, addiction, lack of family or community support, loss of jobs, mental health issues, physical health issues, crisis situations, lack of education or educational opportunities... the list could go on for ages. 

Some parents become exhausted- facing such overwhelming barriers every day. And some, sadly, grow hopeless. But almost every parent tries.
And that’s what I wish everyone knew and understood.

When well-meaning people find out I’m fostering and say things like, “Don’t you just hate the parents??” or “I can’t believe some parents would rather _____ than raise their child,” I feel so, so sad- and very frustrated.  It’s hard to see such a lack of empathy for a woman who loves her child so much. I want people to understand that with Little Man’s biological mom (and with most biological families) the problem isn’t a lack of caring- it’s a lack of opportunity and resources.

I have never met a parent who is indifferent about the life he or she brought into the world, but I’ve met many parents who are facing obstacles I can hardly even imagine without the supports and resources I too often take for granted.

Most parents set out to do the best job they can with the resources, skills, and knowledge they have available, but many parents have very few- or no- resources to go on.

In the four hours I’ve spent with Little Man’s biological mom, it was clear to me how much she cares about her son. I have no doubt that she loves him and wants to be able to give him a good, safe and stable life. But it was also clear to me that she’s encountered unimaginable challenges over the years- and she has an uphill climb ahead of her.

And so she’s missing the first months- almost year- of her son’s life.

And as much as I love being able to step in and care for Little Man, my heart aches for the loss she's experiencing.

Eventually, I managed to write a brief note on her Mother’s Day card. I wrote about what Little Man is up to these days and how much we think of and miss her- and I hoped it didn’t sound cliche or condescending.

Because I really do care about her, and I want such good things for her.

So as I celebrated my first Mother’s Day, I made time to pray for Little Man’s other mom- and for all parents who are working and waiting to be reunited with their children.

It was essentially an echo of the prayer Little Man and I say for his biological mom every night: may they be filled with strength, peace, hope, and the knowledge that they are loved.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Guest Post!

Guys-- this is the second post of the week!! My commitment to post more regularly this month is off to a good start thanks- in huge part- to a new friend of mine.

Remember earlier in the week when I mentioned how a fellow foster parent and friend I've never met reminded me it's National Foster Care Awareness Month? Well, I've enlisted her help for today's post!

Her name is Amanda T, and she hails from the great state of Kentucky- pretty far from my own little Texas town.

One evening several-ish months ago- after I shared one of my posts, she sent me a Google message to tell me how much she enjoyed reading my blog.
I was thrilled when mentioned that she, too, is a young, single foster mom- I don't know many (or any) other people who are in this boat, so it was immediately encouraging to have that connection.

Even more encouraging: she's been doing this job much longer than I have- and she is still going strong! Over the past 3 years, she's provided a home for 13 children. And she is amazing.

I've been so inspired by her commitment to fostering, and I think you will be, too!
Here are her thoughts on her journey thus far:

About three and a half years ago, I felt called to become a foster parent. Honestly, I was hoping I was imagining things, because at the time, that didn't seem like anything I wanted to do. I prayed about it, and I basically told God that I wasn't interested, but thanked Him for thinking of me. He had other plans. The next Sunday was, not coincidentally, "Orphan Sunday" at church. I remember thinking that that was ironic, but I knew better than to shrug it off.

That week, I called a social worker at DCBS to ask about what was involved in becoming a foster parent. I found out that I would need to go through 10 weeks of classes (MAPP), complete a profile, go through a background check, and complete two home visits. After that, if approved, I would be ready for children in my home. 

After learning about the process, I began to tell some women in my Bible study group about my thoughts regarding fostering. Another lady in my group told me that she had considered fostering, and may be interested in going to the classes with me. I remember thinking that if she was going to go, I would too. If she backed out, that was my sign that I wasn't supposed to do it, because I didn't want to go alone. Funny story...a day or two before classes were to start, she told me she wasn't going. Perfect! Now surely that was the sign I had been looking for. Too bad that literally minutes later, I received a call from my friend who worked at DCBS telling me that the person who was supposed to teach my class wasn't going to be able to, so she would be. Well, now I knew for sure that it was meant to be.

Don't get me wrong, I knew that I was fully capable of fostering. I love children, I understand the needs of children who come from hard places, I had the extra room, and knew that I could financially make it work. Basically, I had no reason to say no. I think I was just scared of the unknown. I was scared of the birth parents, scared of the behaviors that I may be dealing with, and scared of getting attached. I was just scared, but I decided to trust God, and take this leap.

I began MAPP classes on April 19th, 2012. The classes were very informational, and I actually looked forward to going each week. My last class was June 28th. After turning in a bunch of paperwork and having two home visits, I was approved in July. Then, I just became attached to my phone...waiting for my first call. Every time an unfamiliar number popped up, my heart began to pound.

On August 9th, I received my first placement. Oh, what a nervous couple of hours I had while waiting for two little girls to show up on my doorstep. (Thanks to some friends and a nearby toilet, I was able to pull myself together before they came.)

Now, almost three years later, I have been blessed to provide a home for thirteen children (mostly infants). Sometimes I feel like I have a revolving door to my house, as most of my placements have been short. But, when I stop and think about it, I am so grateful for any amount of time that I was able to provide a safe and loving home for a child when they needed it most.

Fostering has been a journey of ups and downs. Seeing a happy baby grow and learn is awesome. Having to hand a baby over in the parking lot of DCBS is rough. There are days of laughter, and there are days of grieving. There are days when I think I have this whole parenting thing down, and days when I feel like a complete failure. There are days when I feel like I have a great support system, and days when I feel all alone. I am honest in saying that fostering is so hard, but so worth it.

I think one of the things that has surprised me the most while fostering has been the public perception of what fostering is, and how things work. I would be lying if I said I didn't have the same thoughts and questions as other people before I started. I think when a topic or cause is close to your heart, you want everyone to become educated and involved.

The general public thinks that foster parenting is like a job where you earn a paycheck. That's simply not true. The state does pay for the child's needs, but that money is to be spent on the child. The $22.70 p/day doesn't cover everything. So, most likely, foster parents spend their own money as well. Clothing, diapers, wipes, childcare, formula, food, and everything else adds up quickly. The state does allow the children to be placed on WIC, and while that is so helpful, it is not enough for the entire month. Daycare assistance is also available, but again, there is always an overage to be paid. Most foster parents don't receive baby/kid showers, so everything comes from their pockets in preparation for a placement. Preparing for different ages, genders, and clothing seasons really adds up. (This is why foster parents are so grateful for hand me downs and donations.)

Another misconception is that there is a chance to "keep" every child who comes into a foster home. The main goal of foster care is to reunite the children with their parents when mom/dad has made the necessary changes and is ready to parent. These birth parents (or at least the ones I've worked with) are not terrible people. They are people who lack positive role models, have grown up in similar situations, or simply don't know how to parent appropriately. They are fully deserving of an opportunity to get themselves together in an effort to get their child back. While many people foster with the intent of adopting, this can be a long process as time is given to the birth parents to make progress. Before asking a foster parent if they are going to get to "keep" a child, remember that they probably don't know the answer. Foster parents do what we do knowing that things could change at any time. We are all pretty good at living in a state of uncertainty.

A third misconception is one I hear almost every time I mention that I'm a foster parent. Someone looks at me and says, "Oh, I could never do that! I'd get too attached. You are awesome!" Um, no. Have you met me? I'm far from awesome. If I'm being completely honest, this can sometimes sting a little when I hear it. I'm sure I've said this to people in the past, and I completely get it. I appreciate the compliment. Let me say that we DO get attached. We care for these children like they are our own, and we love them deeply. Foster parents are not robots who take care of children and then hand them back without any feeling. We are not superheroes who are trying to save the world. We are people who are passionate about helping children, and are willing to put our own emotions on the line to do what we can for them. Please know that if it's something you are interested in, and feel is right for you, you can do it.

I personally want to take time this month to say thank you to the people who have supported me along this journey. I have friends and family who pray for me and for the babies. There are people who have been willing to photograph my babies for free, or at a discounted rate. Some people are willing to babysit. Clothes have been donated by people when their children outgrew them. I have friends and family who create bonds with the babies, and love them like I do. I have friends who are there to celebrate the milestones, and friends who listen through my tears. Foster parenting is something I chose, but I cannot do it all alone. Please know that your support and generosity are greatly appreciated.

Due to confidentiality, I cannot post pictures or information about the children I have, but know that the sweet babies who have come through my door are amazing and beautiful. I commit to advocating for these children. I will continue to share posts about fostering on Facebook. I will continue to try to recruit other foster parents. I will continue to do my small part.

If you've ever considered fostering or want to help a foster parent or child in some way, this is the perfect time to make a move. Feel free to ask any questions you have. I would love to walk down this road with you. There's a child who needs you. Do you have a reason to say no?

Monday, May 4, 2015


Wow. It’s been a long time since I’ve written here.

I often have ideas about things I really want to write about- I've even made 2 or 3 lengthy lists, which are currently lying somewhere around at my house. At one point, I decided to get organized and made a calendar to list what I would write and when I would write it!

That was about two months ago, so you can tell how successful it’s been.

Over the past seven months as a new mom, I continually tell myself, “I’ll get the hang of this soon! One of these days I’ll have this down, and then I’ll be able to (insert some activity such as writing a blog post here)!”

It always starts with such confidence...
But here’s the thing about babies: they change. A lot. Every day.

As soon as you get used to one phase, they wake up in a whole new one.

All of a sudden, they want to eat (or play with) solid foods. Or they learn how to roll over- eliminating your ability to leave them on the couch while you grab a rag from the other side of the room to clean up the spit up flowing onto your floor. (Random example.) Or they figure out they can move their hands and miraculously grab things like house plants, cups of hot coffee, or dog faces.

Or (Lord help me when this happens) they learn how to crawl.

When you finally get used to one stage, you’re already halfway through the next. It’s beautiful and incredible and so much fun, but it also means you’re always in the stage of “figuring it out.”
(And by “you’re” I mean “I’m”- I’m using a generic pronoun in the hopes that I’m not alone here.)

...and ends up like this. (Making it happen, but maybe not always with those most grace and ease.)

So that’s my excuse. I’m still adjusting. (There are also a lot of other things going on in life right now, but more on that soon.)

These days I’m adjusting to two new teeth, the precarious balancing act that is learning how to sit up independently, the unquenchable curiosity of a growing mind, and the fierce desire to crawl comically combined with a complete lack of limb coordination.

Actually, that may not be fair to say. Little Man is adjusting to those things. I’m just adjusting to him adjusting.

But this month, I’m going to try to make updating this blog more of a priority. Partially because I love writing- it helps me figure out what the heck I’m thinking and feeling, and it gives me an outlet to express it all. It also helps me feel connected. Every time I post something on here, I am so humbled and amazed by the fact that people read it. It’s such an encouraging reminder of how many people care about Little Man- and about the story we’re living and creating together.
Which, of course, stirs up many more thoughts and feelings, thus creating an even bigger need for writing. It’s a wonderful cycle!

The other reason I’m hoping to make blogging a priority? May is National Foster Care Awareness month- aka: NFCAM 2K15. (Thanks to a fellow foster mom- one whom I have never met in person but still feel so connected to- for reminding me of this fact! With everything I have on my plate right now, I would have been weeks into the month before remembering- if I remembered at all.)

I want to celebrate this month- and the incredible journey/responsibility/joy that is foster care- by sharing stories and information and updates with you here. I’m also trying to do regular posts on Instagram, so you can check in there (@ukulelekaley) if you feel so inclined!

When Ramses II says it, you know it's for realz.

I’ll start small- with this humble post. But I’m hoping to work through a good chunk of the list(s) I’ve created, so be sure to check in every once in a while!

But, since it’s been a long time, I’ll leave with a few updates on Little Man.

Here are some facts about him in his seventh month (what??) of life:
  • His current loves are eating new foods, making people laugh, being tickled, visits from Gigi (my mom), being or watching things outside, dancing with me in the living room, spending time with the dogs, wearing his sunglasses, and making new sounds.
  • Favorite book: “Your Personal Penguin” by Sandra Boynton (it may seem odd for a 7-month-old to have a favorite book, but, man, he loves it.)
  • Favorite time of day: Bath time.
  • Favorite food: Any. But he seemed to be an especially big fan of sweet potatoes.
  • Recent firsts: First trip to the dentist and first trip to the pool (God bless Texas)

Here are some pictures:

At seven months, this kid's style is on point. So are his elbow rolls.

Hide and Seek champ.

In all seriousness- this book has magical powers.

This kid is honestly just the sweetest little guy, with the absolute best laugh and a grin that would make anyone melt. He’s so much fun to be with, and every day I feel lucky to be a part of his life!

Okay, that's it for now. But stay tuned for another update soon! (I've said it here, so it has to happen, right??)

(Oh, and bummer update: I still haven’t heard back fromEllen. I’m hoping it will happen one day, but I think I’d need a few thousand people to tweet at her in order to get her attention. I guess people send her a lot of mail or something.)

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