It's not my story to tell.

The two-year-old girls currently living in our home are the exact same height with blonde hair and only a 0.2 pound difference in their weight.  I'm a biological mom to one and a foster mom to the other.  They're five months apart, and there has not been a day that I've gone into public with them when I've not been asked by a random stranger (if not 3-4 random strangers), "Are they twins?"  

Usually, I politely smile and say, "No they're not," and the little girls continue stuffing their faces while I continue stuffing the grocery cart.  My brief answer suffices most people's curiosity, but not everyone's.  

"Well how old are they?  Oh, they're both two and they're not twins?  Wow, how did that happen?"  

I shocked myself recently when the lady behind me in Target struck up a similar conversation.  Politely but firmly, I responded, "It really isn't any of your business."

My face immediately grew hot, and my ears turned red.  My heart was pounding as I wondered if I had said the right thing and if I should apologize for being rude.  Rarely ever am I quite so forthcoming.

I continued to think about my answer throughout the rest of the day and came to the conclusion that although I could have been more tactful, yes, I had responded correctly.

K's story is not mine to tell.  

To my close friends and family members, I can tell how her story affects me.  To her caregivers and educators, I can share pieces of her background that are pertinent to her care and education.  To the random lady at Target, you are a random lady at Target.  And however nice and caring you may be, my foster daughter's classification as a foster child is not your business.

She just started saying her name, but only when asked in a particular way.  We're working on expanding her language, but for now, we ask K, "Who are you?"  Not surprisingly, her answer is always "K" instead of "Foster Kid".  "Foster Kid" may be part of her story, but it is not who she is.  Though she has faced many difficulties in her short life, K is resilient, beautiful, and gentle.  She isn't a "poor child"  or a reason to "bless your heart," common connotations that "foster care" carries with it.  K can't speak for herself, but I guarantee that she wants people to see her for exactly the person that she is and not for the situation from which she has come.  Nobody likes to be pitied.  

As her guardian, my job is to protect K.  At this moment, that means letting her share as much or as little of her story as she wants, if and when she feels ready.   

I'm not sure how many more foster children we will have in our home over the next few months and years, but I do know that it will be my job to protect those kids, as well.  They'll all come with their own stories, and whether they are 2 or 12, whether they can speak or not, they'll decide when to tell them. 

For today, I'm just thankful that my story intersects with K's at this point in both of our lives.  Though the endings of them are unknown, the Author of our stories is kind.  For today, that is all anyone needs to know.

Perfectly Imperfect

Do yourself a favor and watch this video the whole way through.  That last scene, though ...

See?  The Ichabod incident had me trying to stifle tears in the middle of Starbucks because I was laughing so hard.  And, because I'm a glutton for punishment or something, I kept rewatching it.     

My husband introduced me to these PSAs a couple of weeks ago because he stays "in the know" on things like this.  I'm a student and a mom of young children, so I basically live in a cave.  

"Don't you love those foster care ads that have been coming on TV lately?" he asked after work one day.  Naturally, I hadn't seen any of the ads he was referencing, which prompted the YouTube search and uncontrollable laughter in Starbucks.

I do love them.  I especially love the hamster video because I can totally see it happening in our house.  

{Several weeks ago, we were dogsitting and potty training (our small human, not the dog) at the same time, a guaranteed recipe for disaster.  During the 30 seconds in which I was taking dinner out of the oven, Caroline pooped on the floor, and the dog ate it.  Then, because this story just keeps getting better, Sister greeted our very first AirBnB guest with, "Ellie (the dog) eat the poop."  Y'all, I can't make this stuff up.}

I guess the real reason that I love those PSAs is because of the last line:

"You don't have to be perfect to be a perfect parent." 

When we adopted our oldest and now that we are starting the foster care process, we have heard a lot of, "You guys are perfect for that!" or "Wow, y'all are such good people."

We aren't.  Not even close.  

If you think otherwise, you should come over and be a fly on the wall during the circus that we call "bedtime".

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We didn't decide to adopt and do foster care because we are awesome people, or because we are exceptional parents, or because we are SuperChristians, or because we have our junk together more than others do.  We chose to adopt because we wanted to grow our family.  We agreed to do foster care because we saw a need to be met, and we have the means to help.  We aren't perfect, but we know the One who is.

At least 87 times a day, I ask myself, God, or the nearest person in the room if we are completely crazy for wanting to add to the chaos that is currently our life.  "I don't parent two children very well at times; how can I possibly parent more?" I wonder aloud.

The truth?  There will be grace for the days as they come.  

When my girls were tiny, I thought that I could not possibly endure another sleepless night.  And then I did.  God does not give the strength needed for tomorrow, today.

I'm such a detail-oriented person that I tend to "miss the forest for the trees" on a regular basis.  I have recently come to realize that I will drown myself in the particulars of foster care if I dwell on them, so I need to take a 10,000 foot view of it all.  I could ask tons of "what if" questions and play out every scenario in my head, but at the end of the day, I try to keep coming back to this: Our journey will be hard and good, and that is the most that I need to know in this instant. 

Oh, and if you're reading this and somehow still thinking that I have a good heart aside from my little imperfections, I should tell you that this "good heart" was just pondering the many ways in which foster care will make our lives more uncomfortable.  The call of comfort, for me, is almost always more alluring than the higher callings of love and holiness.

My husband and I are two imperfect people raising two imperfect people.  But we'll be the perfect family for some imperfect child in spite of everything.

They need me the most.

We wore the heat that day.  

Despite the reapplied sunscreen, tank tops, liters of ice water, and handheld fans, the three of us exited the zoo with tears and sweat streaming down our faces.  

Approximately 15 seconds before meltdown central commenced.

Approximately 15 seconds before meltdown central commenced.

We were supposed to leave for our adventure at 9:30, before the Oklahoma sun began beating down in full force, but our friends had car trouble.  Forty-five minutes after our planned departure, I finally piled my girls into our Santa Fe.  Our friends would meet us at the zoo after their car issue was resolved.  The heat index was already over 100, and my 11-month-old had not taken her morning nap, a sure sign of impending disaster.

The diaper bag ran out of snacks, and we all ran out of patience before our friends were able to leave the car dealership.  Determined, at the very least, to see them before we headed home, I bought an expensive and tasteless zoo lunch and coaxed my girls to "eat and have a good time, dang it".  

When the actual temperature reached 105, our friends arrived.  I unenthusiastically pushed my melting babes to the flamingo exhibit, where everyone (including me) completely fell apart.  Screaming ensued, and we made a beeline to our overheated SUV, but not before my two-year-old unbuckled herself from the stroller and crashed onto the concrete.

"At least they'll nap when we get home," I reassured myself.  They didn't.  They were both too traumatized to calm themselves down, and my own hysterics were definitely not soothing.

***

Going to the zoo was a horrible idea for many reasons including the heat, the ages of my kids, and the day's already-thwarted plans.  I knew that it was a horrible plan, and I went anyway.

I wanted to go to the zoo more than my kids did.  I just wanted to be a "good mom".  But I wanted it at their expense.  

Social media does this thing to us, but we also do it to ourselves, this placing of expectations and definitions upon us of what it means to be a good parent, or even a good person.  We see others' best moments through a filter and determine to make them our best moments, too.   

I longed to create an amazing summer for my people last year.  In my mind, this meant going to as many "experiences" as possible.  The zoo was one of them.  The splash pad was another.  My oldest HATED the splash pad, but I was determined to change her mind about it, so I kept taking her.  Everyone cried every time.

This summer, we've mostly stayed home.  We did go to the zoo, once, for an hour, and that was after rescheduling twice with my friend (which I should have done last year).  No one cried.  Even with the same Oklahoma heat that we all endured in Summer 2016, I would go so far as to say that this year's zoo trip was enjoyable.  

I've learned a few things in the past twelve months.

One.  At their young ages, my kids really can't handle much.  They like being home, and they like their little routines.  Often, they're okay with doing activities that I consider "boring."  Maybe I'm the one who isn't.  But I think I can learn to be.  I probably need to lower my expectations.

Two.  The moments between the "Instagram moments" are often the most precious.  Obviously, I take and post pictures at our bigger events.  I rarely ever post pictures of myself doing a floor puzzle with my oldest or reading my youngest's favorite book for the 87th time (today).  There are a thousand little things that we do as a family every day that don't get documented.  So no, I'm not "cool" in terms of giving my kids the most extravagant experiences.  In the "small great things" that we do, though, they're happy.

Three.  There is no better way to crush your spirit than by playing the comparison game.  This is true in all areas of life.  If you're scrolling through your social media feed, as I often do, and feeling as though you're not attractive, not a good parent, not well-dressed, not adventurous, not a foodie, etc. etc. etc., I dare you to turn off your phone and begin to consider the things that you are.  You cannot compare your own life to what you see of another's through a filter.

Four.  It's okay to say no.  As a mom of young children, I frequently feel as though I'm in a never-ending season of "no".  No, we can't go do that today because it's during naptime.  We've had a rough day, so I think we are going to stay home this afternoon.  We haven't had much time as a family recently, so we'll take a raincheck on dinner.  Be a Nap Nazi.  Take a deep breath.  Cancel your plans.  You might have FOMO or FOHOF (Fear of Hurting Other's Feelings), but I can almost guarantee that your kids don't and that your friends will totally understand. 

Hopefully my daughters won't remember that horrendous zoo day last year.  Maybe they'll remember this year's good one.  Either way, I want them to remember a mom who gave them herself, because they need me the most.

A Tribute to Single Parents

I saw you walking your kids into my Pre-K classroom every morning.  They appeared to be well-rested, but you looked exhausted already ... and it was only 8 a.m.

I see you in the grocery store, pushing your cart through crowded aisles and trying to get your son to just sit down without smashing the bananas.

I see you at your job.  You're often the first one there and the last one to leave.  It's killing you that your baby has been with someone else all day, but the bills don't pay themselves.

I see you at soccer games, at parent-teacher conferences, at church, and at other activities that are important to your little ones.

I don't often see you at concerts, at the nail salon, at sporting events, or at adult parties.  I don't see you at activities "for you".

I love my daughters so much that I think my heart will burst at times, so I understand why you do what you do.  It's because you have to.  Because you wouldn't have it another way.  Because their happiness matters more than your own.

I flew solo with my youngest on potty training this past weekend.  It was mostly a disaster, and I couldn't wait for my husband to come home at the end of The Longest Day in the History of Caroline.  When he walked in the door, I could finally have a moment to breathe and I came to the realization, for perhaps the ten thousandth time, that I couldn't do all of this without him.  But, single parent, "without him" or "without her" is your life - every day, every moment.  

I need to apologize.  I used to look at your kids and blame you when they misbehaved in my class.  "Their mom doesn't spend enough time with them," I thought.  Not long ago, I would see your daughter with boogers in her nose and wonder why you didn't grab a tissue on your way out the door.  I noticed your children falling apart in Wal-Mart but failed to see the helpless look on your face because sometimes, kids will just be kids.  {Also, doesn't everyone fall apart in Walmart?)  I had no sympathy for you because I didn't take time to listen to your story or care about your circumstances.  Then I had a baby of my own.  I get it now, and I'm sorry.

I'm alone with my girls for about six hours each day before their daddy comes home.  There are days when those hours are pure joy, and there are days when they scream and live in their little worlds of seemingly perpetual disobedience.  On the tough days, I can't wait for my husband to walk in the door.  He lets me go for a run, grab a cup of coffee with a friend, or get a pedicure.  I know that those aren't usually options for single parents, bless you.  I'm run ragged half the time, and I'm not in this alone.

Your infant is never going to thank you for changing his diaper.  Your daughter probably forgot to give you a hug after you took her to dance practice.  Your son didn't show his appreciation that you took off work early to be at his football game.  Your child's teacher didn't realize how much you had to sacrifice to be at that meeting.  Your boss didn't care that you stayed late ... again.

So to the military wife, the single mom working two jobs, the husband whose wife travels for business more than she's home, and the widower who wakes up at 4:30 to get it all done, I hope someone looked you in the eyes today to say, "Thank you."  And I hope you listened.  
 

About Having Kids and Having Plans

In a life I lived many moons ago, I was productive.  I made lists and got stuff done.  Always.  Nothing stood in my way.    

After Piper was born, I loved her more than I thought a heart was capable of loving, and I also was so. very. tired.  Infants are incredibly demanding. Thus began the days of Never Getting Anything Done Anymore.  

My husband and I decided to wait until Piper was in Pre-K, when childcare would be free and she would be more self-sufficient, to start the adoption process again (now!).  God had another idea, and Caroline was born shortly after Piper turned two.  Then, I discovered the true meanings of "busy" and "distracted".  When people say that the adjustment of going from one child to two is far greater than the adjustment of going from no children to one, they aren't lying.  There is never a single moment during "life with littles" (except sometimes in the middle of the night, and even that isn't guaranteed) when someone doesn't need something. 

I've learned a thing or two about multi-tasking.

I've learned a thing or two about multi-tasking.

Having kids is challenging in the best way possible.   Sometimes I long for a morning to sleep in past 6:00, a date with my husband, the privilege of crossing just one completed item out of my planner, something tangible to show for the work that I do as their mom, or, my goodness, a single quiet moment(!), but I don't ever wish for my old life back.  My children force me to be less selfish, better with my time, more patient, and less tight-fisted with my money.  At the end of my life, I know I won't look back and say, "I spent too much time paying attention to them."  

One of the biggest lessons that my girls have taught me in the last four years is that children are not interruptions but opportunities.  I can choose to see them as plan-destroyers and remain in a constant state of annoyance when they sabotage my schedule, which happens about every three minutes.  Or, I can choose to see them as future productive citizens, friends, moms, wives, and disciples.  I get the primary privilege of raising them to be such.  Which item on my day's agenda could be more pressing than that?

Today, I got basically nothing done on my "to-do list."  But hey, my kids ate three solid meals, the house hasn't been burned down or flooded with tears, everyone is still alive, and we are all (hopefully) a little more kind and a little less narcissistic than we were yesterday.  I'm redefining "productivity," and I guess that makes today a pretty productive day.