“Legally Free For Adoption”

Her name is Jaleah. Her video on the PA Statewide Adoption and Permanency Network Facebook post caught my eye last week. I stared at her profile late into the night. She’s 15 years old, a beautiful girl, and is “legally free for adoption!” With the exclamation point! The phrase bothers me. It’s not like she’s a dog in a shelter (though she could very well be living in a shelter).

 

She’s a girl in the process of becoming a woman. She’s a dreamer envisioning her future. She’s a child craving a family, wishing for someone to sit in the audience to clap and scream her name as she bounces through her cheerleading routine. She’s a fragile, vulnerable teen looking for a family.

I’ve heard teens are hard. I’ve heard that teen girls can have so much “attitude” as they push and strain and yearn for independence. I’ve joked that I’m happy to have boys so that I won’t go through the teen girl “drama” phase.

And yet, it seems to me that this is such a crucial time in a child’s life. As they push and shove and strive for independence, they still cling to the comfort of knowing they are loved and that someone will always be there for them….no matter what they do.

But what about Jaleah?

Her profile weighed upon my heart this week. Jaleah and all the teens who are waiting for a family (almost 21,000 teens across the states in 2013). Maybe they pushed too far for independence and crossed the line they didn’t intend to and find themselves without that family they thought would always be there for them. Maybe they made a bad choice which led to another and then to another and before they knew it they were in over their heads and yet fighting the consequences so hard they couldn’t see the shovel digging deeper. Maybe it had nothing to do with them and their family imploded or fractured and they found themselves drifting in the hull of the “system” coasting further and further from the world they once knew.

Do you know that if no one steps up and says “I will” in front of a judge in a courtroom and becomes her Forever Family, Jaleah will never have someone cheering her along? She will stop her gymnastics and cheer activities without someone to drop her off and pick her up. She will walk onto the stage to receive her diploma and throw her mortar board into the air with lackluster enthusiasm. She will struggle with college applications and give up when it’s becomes daunting. She will walk down an aisle in white without a man in black beside her to bless her new union. She will welcome a new baby into the world and dream of what it would be like to have a beaming grandmother cradle her newborn. She will sit with her loneliness and think of what might have been. “Aging Out” of the foster care system without a home is too costly when these children have lower rates of high school graduation, higher rates of homelessness and unemployment, and greater engagement in the judicial system.

Without a family, Jaleah might wilt. Or she might beat the odds and chart a completely different course.

But it just seems that life would be a little bit nicer if she had a family.

She wouldn’t mind having younger siblings (or a dog) it says in her profile. She’d like to continue her activities, it says. She’s going to have tough days like everyone else. I read the profile over and over and I sit. I have a set of three who might enjoy a big sister. But my house is so full. My heart is so stretched. My hands are so laden. My schedule is so packed. My boys are so demanding.  What am I to do?

What I can do is pray for a family for Jaleah. And what I can do is continue to tell everyone I meet about the children who are waiting. (Click here!)

The children who are “legally free.” The children who desperately want something that seems so simple. Their commitment and parenting needs would be costly, but their gratefulness would be huge.

They need someone who loves.

Think about it.

Untreated ADHD is Just Exhausting

That was my conclusion last week. The effort that it takes to get the 8-year-old ready for school in the morning is more than my 8-hour work day. The decibel level of some of the spontaneous explosive noises in the car is worthy of heavy metal concerts. The number of “re-directs” I utter in those first two hours makes me comparable to a drill sergeant with new recruits.

That’s it. That’s what I decided last week. It’s exhausting.

And it might be feeling more so because I have this carrot dangling in front of me of finding the “right treatment” – the magic pill that’s going to help his brain focus better and control impulses more. I’m so eager to find that control, because let me tell you – tonight’s lack of impulse control escalated from putting the car window up and down, to swatting his brother, to throwing his pencil at the dashboard, to repeatedly hitting my shoulder with his flip-flop. It ended with me tackling him to the floor and holding him tightly until the fight left and his 101 pounds sat on my lap on the kitchen floor while I hugged him. “Bear hugs and kisses” my friend says – “bear hugs” to hold them until the anger leaves and “kisses” of love….because I love him.

But it’s exhausting.

Given the extreme reaction to his first medication, we decided to trial the intermediate acting one, hoping to get better sleep. And given his reaction of five hours of pressured speech, we decided to start at the lowest dose. So for a week, Super Tall Guy swallowed 10 mg of metadate sprinkled on apple sauce (much easier than swallowing a pill!). After a week of no observed change in behavior, I increased it to 20 mg. Still nothing…except for staying up later at night just a little bit each night so that by the weekend, when I increased it to 30 mg, we had a blow-out fight (see above!). I couldn’t figure out whether to attribute this explosion to the medication increase or the fact that for almost two weeks he had gradually gotten more and more sleep deprived – a sure trigger for explosive behavior.

Either way, it’s exhausting.

Tonight as I tucked him in, I asked him to review what went wrong while in the car earlier. He played with his toy truck as I listed some of his behaviors, you know, to prompt him. “You played with the window when I asked you to stop. You were hitting The Little Guy. You threw your pencil. You are a dog. You ate a cow.”

“I ate what?”

“Never mind.”

It’s too exhausting.

(I have a new prescription in hand….waiting for the weekend to watch for side effects.)

You just keep doing it

A little bit of brutal honesty here – this parenting stuff is not easy. Sometimes I don’t know how I got here or why I’m doing it.

Here’s what happens. You spend your life putting one foot in front of the other, taking it one day at a time, when suddenly you’re driving down the road with a carful of chatter and realize you’re mindlessly agreeing with the 6-year-old that yep, it is a “green light day” (for the traffic lights), praising the 3-year-old for his song (which was lousy but you just said “good job singing” anyway without thinking), and wishing the 8-year-old would stop screeching randomly.

You realize you’re in a whole new universe that you never imagined. Somehow you’re parenting three little kids who have no biological tie to you and who arrived suddenly in your house with no more than 2 hours to prepare. And somehow you’ve missed a lot of those stages of planning – like the wedding bells, the “what do you think, honey, should we start a family?,” the baby shower, the maternity leave….oh, how I missed out on the maternity leave!

There’s no planning here. There’s a “hello….yes….I’ll come pick him up” and you walk through the hospital doors, up the stairs, turn left to find the nursery, wash your hands and sit down beside the bassinet of your new son. Hello. Click. You’re parenting.

And now you’re spending two hours a night trying to cajole obstinate little ones to close their eyes and sleep, wiping poop off walls, scheduling repair men to replace glass windows, and orchestrating more social events for the kids than for yourself.

It’s not like this was all a big decision or a well-thought-out plan.

It was a moment. The moment when you signed up as “foster parent.” The first step. One foot in front of the other. But there was no understanding of the delirium that comes from sleepless nights. No knowing the pain of watching your boy wheeled off to the operating room. No way to comprehend the depths to which you become depleted and exhausted and stand in the shower and say, “Lord, I just can’t keep doing this” and yet you do.

You keep doing it.

Because you are their mother. Their only mother. The one they call mother. The one they know as mother. And they torture you and tell you how they hate you. And spit in your face. And defy you almost every single chance they can.

And yet, you keep doing it.

For they did not choose this life either. They arrived one day into a whole new universe and bounced around from arm to arm until they landed in yours.

So you keep doing it. Each and every day, you choose to love and you choose to be there and you choose to sacrifice what might have been, what could have been, for what is.

Three beautiful boys, sleeping soundly, because they have a mother.

One foot in front of the other.

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When Momma goes on a business trip

You should never go away on a business trip, even if just for a night. It seems to have a way of altering the universe of boy children in seemingly imperceptible yet powerful ways.

It starts the moment you walk in the door. For example, if the business trip happens to be to Hershey, and the boys “recommend” that you bring something back to them, there’s always the “Xtreme Hershey” extra large candy bar in the aisle at Rite Aid on sale for $1.50. (Please note, this is so much cheaper than the $8 plastic cars filled with 3 pieces of Reese candies purchased at Hershey World on the first business trip last year when you had to buy one for each of FIVE boys!) And this works as a fine exciting gift when you hand it over upon arrival. But do not expect them to hear the words “It’s for after supper” as you go out to unload the car. Within 2 minutes, it’s devoured by raptors, who thankfully did hear the second half, “It’s for you all to share.”  Amazingly, mouths dripping with chocolate juice were open wide in wonderment at the sudden cause for Mommy’s “outburst.”

Parenting – it’s always something.

And then comes the evening bedtime routine, during which the poor Mommy encountered an odoriferous 8 year old who thinks “it takes too long” and is “too boring” to adequately wipe; the 3 year old who peed through the pull-up and soaked the bed while lying there before falling asleep; the dog who pooped on the kitchen floor while trying to deal with the first two issues; followed by the discovery that the 6 year old had peed on the carpet right outside the bathroom door (because why?). Well, that discovery occurred shortly before realizing that the stench in the 6 year-old’s room emanated from the pile of dog poop on the comforter (from when?). I confess that my tired brain did not “remain calm” very well that evening. I may even have used a pretty “negative tone” with the sad-eyed boys haphazardly trying to help me clean up a bit. By the time I got the last one into bed, I officially tendered my resignation as CEO of the household and have decided to begin a search for a small tidy cottage with a fireplace and a cat.

It’s always something.

Bedtime the next evening, I spied a small scab between the shoulder blades of the three-year-old. Moving him into the light for a closer inspection revealed a happily attached and voracious tick. I hate ticks. I detest the fear of Lyme disease. I have learned to calmly smoother and remove these predators, but I hate them. I search madly for some antibiotic cream for the bandaid. I pretend it’s no big deal. I tuck the anxious one back in bed and vow to check all over that dog!

It’s always something.

And if the messes aren’t enough, there’s the aggressive behavioral side effects of sleep deprivation accompanied by lovely eye-rolling from Super Tall Guy, the whine for attention from The Little Guy, and the bouncy antics of Mr. Ornery alternating with total melt-downs to contend with. Add in the explosion of a stealth pull-up that made it into the washer and fifteen minutes of wiping up millions of tiny gel balls and you’ve just topped off the “Mommy dared to be away for a day” consequences.

That hotel room sure was nice. Fluffy pillows. Remote control. Quiet. Good solid quiet. Wonder when the next business trip is. Or if there’s a nice tidy cottage in the woods somewhere.

Yes, sometimes life with boys is crazy and I wouldn’t change it for the world….well, maybe we could tweak a few things!

When “Good Night, I love you” is enough

Sometimes it’s okay to say “Good night, I love you” and just walk out of the room. Probably best to inhibit the desire to slam the door and just keep a soft tone of voice. Hard, but better.

Because sometimes an “I love you” is all you can muster. You know you love them but at the moment you are just downright impatient, uninterested, and definitely not feeling “the love.” You are frustrated, angry, and too tired to care. At the moment, you just want to sit on the couch, pick up a book or turn on the TV and just have 5 minutes of peace and if at all possible, a smidgen of quiet.N Apr 2012wp

Their bellies are full (or full enough even if they don’t think so). Their teeth are brushed (for at least 20 seconds of the recommended two minutes). They may or may not have jammies on, but the pull-up is in place and that matters more. The house is warm (compared to the 48 degrees it hit when the polar vortex crashed through the area again this winter). And they are over-tired thanks to your desire to take them for a “nice night out” for their basketball award ceremony (note to self: they are still not old enough for evening activities!).

They are whiny. They are miserable little guys. They refuse to lie down. They refuse to settle. They are throwing pillows at each other. They are jumping on their beds. They are screaming that you don’t care about them. They are threatening to ignore you for the next 10 sleeps (if only he would carry through on that). They are currently not the most lovable creatures on earth. Far from it.

It is absolutely okay to walk out of the room.

It’s likely that they really will make it through the night without the requisite twenty minutes of Go, Dog, Go. They might not actually die of hunger or thirst as bemoaned since they could easily walk the ten feet to the bathroom sink for a cup of water if really necessary. They can probably cover their bodies up themselves without requiring your expertise at billowing the blanket – it’s really not that difficult.

The guilt hangs in the air.

I keep walking.

Best that the last words out of my mouth were “I love you” rather than the myriad other phrases streaming through my brain.

Sleep well, my dears.

Love you.

Top 10 Things I Shouldn’t Have to be Doing! (…at my age!)

In case you’re wondering, the boys are almost 9, just 6 and almost 4…and I am 45. Really, at these ages….

  1. Walking past an odd smell over and over again on the third floor. Wondering what Mr. Ornery got in to during his most recent “time-out”. Mind boggling. What is that smell? Ah-hah! A decaying banana.  Nice. Almost as good as the moldy apple under my sister’s desk!!
  1. Cleaning poop out of a bathtub after a rapid evacuation by the innocent siblings and a drippy wet march to the third floor for showers.
  1. Picking up the pile of dirty clothes located precisely 1.33 feet away from the laundry basket placed strategically near boys’ bedroom door to receive said dirty clothes.
  1. Buying Mr. Clean Magic Erasers to scrub off colored and marked-up walls, including the inked initial with a circle around it (…and Mr. Ornery wants to know how I knew it was him who wrote on the wall!).
  1. Cleaning out the washing machine of the million-plus white pellets that erupt from a washed diaper that mysteriously ended up down the laundry chute rather than into the garbage pail.
  1. Retrieving the bottle of bath soap from the basement for the millionth time after it disappears down the laundry chute again and again….along with the little green army men, the Matchbox cars, the cup to rinse boys’ hair, the bouncy balls, the flash-light….pretty much anything that will fit down the hole. I keep wondering when a kid will consider if he will fit down the hole!
  1. Scrubbing blue toothpaste spots off the sink, the shelves, the walls and the floors of two bathrooms on a weekly basis.
  1. Putting plastic tape over a 3 inch hole in the bedroom window that somehow happened to have a toy “computer” go through it.
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  1. Stooping over to pick up Lego pieces from every single floor space of the house! Every single day! Several times a day! Why do you have to pull their teeny tiny hands out of the teeny tiny arms?!?!
  1. And the number one thing I shouldn’t have to be doing  — washing poop off the walls (bathroom, bedroom, radiators…). Yep. Nothing else to add. Shouldn’t have to be doing this….IMG_7325

 

 

 

 

 

 

BONUS: A bonus had to be added the day after this post was written – because I can’t even make this stuff up! Super Tall Guy in the back of the van discussing a scab that just came off his knee and how blood tastes like metal. Next thing I know, I hear, “Try it, Mr. Ornery. Did you like it?” “Whoa!! Wait!!” I exclaim, “Did you just give Mr. Ornery a taste of your blood?!?” “But Mom….I dabbed it on the end of the coffee stirrer to give it to him.” “Hm, yum.”

I’m silent. I really can’t make this stuff up….nor do I have any ability to predict their next disgusting move. Lord, help me.

Why getting to know each other matters (based on a horrific example)

There is such a sad story from my neighboring community this weekend – a 22-year-old mother was found dead on her bed and her 10-month-old baby dead nearby in the living room. Her cause of death is unknown and his is suspected to be a result of dehydration and starvation. The story is not yet complete and details are still unfolding, but the family and the neighborhood is reeling. And the neighbors who live in the same apartment building are wracked with guilt.

My soul aches since hearing the news. I fall asleep thinking of a little boy crawling around on the floor searching….searching for food….searching for water…searching for his mother….crying out for someone to help him. And though his cries were heard, the incredible weight of them, the life and death significance of them were not known until too late.

“If I took the time to get to know her I probably could have helped her” said a tenant in the same building as quoted in the newspaper story.

His remorse hit me. We have gone too far. We have let too much distance exist between us. When parents are afraid to reach out for help, we are letting them down and we are putting children at risk. When people worry that their neighbor will “call child protective services” against them, we are pitting family against family. When we lose a sense of community and of watching out for one another, we become isolated and lonely and we cannot thrive.

We need to change. We need to reach out to each other. We need to carry each other’s burdens. We need to take the time to get to know each other.

I am parenting three young boys. I’ve made a point of meeting my neighbors. I let a nearby friend know that she’s number one back-up call in emergencies since she’s the one closest to us. I’ve talked to my children about what to do if x, y or z. I sincerely thank friends who offer help whenever needed and I reciprocate the offer, pausing to look them in the eye to solidify our agreement. I frequently think about the community that surrounds my family and whether I’ve built up enough of a buffer base for my children.

Last week, my middle son turned six years old. His birthday party was attended by three

Cupcakes decorated to match my son's typical drawings.

Birthday cupcakes decorated to match my son’s typical drawings.

boys from his day care center, one boy who used to attend day care with him, two boys from his prior kindergarten class, one boy from his new kindergarten class, one boy from the neighborhood, and two boys from friends of the family. I looked around the room with a smile as they sang Happy Birthday To You, off-key. My son’s net is wide. There are many connections. There need to be for him to know that he is loved, that the world is full of good people, and that there are people who will come if he cries.

Every child needs love and protection and a wide, wide net.

Take the time to get to know one another. It just might matter.