Search This Blog

Loading...

Pageviews past week

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Happy Father's Day

They say that nothing makes a woman love a man more than seeing him love her children.  Here is the love story my husband has written for me over the last nine years.  He is an amazing man and has filled my heart with love in every way imaginable.  
HAPPY FATHER'S DAY!

A good father is one of the most unsung, unpraised, unnoticed and yet one of the most valuable assets in our society
 ~ Billy Graham


The birth of this little critter made you a Father.


The birth of this little girl made you a daddy.


The birth of this little boy has challenged every parenting skill you possess.



The birth of this little blue-eyed boy completed our little family. 


This was probably the biggest parenting mistake you've made in your 9 years of being a dad.  (I still haven't quite forgiven you for it!)



This is one of the most amazing things you've ever done.  

But each of these babies love you more than words can say.  You've been an amazing husband, father and role model.  Our lives wouldn't be complete without you.  We can't thank you enough for all that you do to keep us safe and HAPPY.  You dream big and somehow manage to always come through in ways that can only be described as "Erik."  We love you always and forever!


"Each day of our lives we make deposits in the memory banks of our children."
 ~ Charles Swindoll





"And anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf is welcoming me"   
Matthew 18:5




 Having kids doesn't make you a father . . . RAISING them does.  


Even Superman had Foster Parents!

"Life affords no greater responsibility, no greater privilege, than the raising of the next generation."
C. Everett Koop


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Last Six Months

The last six months have been a whirl wind.  I know I say that every post, but the last six months more than usual.

October 11, 2012, we welcomed two wee-ones (aka foster children) to our home for what we believed was to be a short period of time.  "Short period of time" in our world was under two months.

A week shy of six months later the wee-ones are still with us.

Wee boy was about 22 months when he joined us.  Wee-girl was almost 10 months.

It has been a blessing and a curse this juggling, jumping through hoops, a JOLT to our reality.

I'll tell you what.  It has been HARD.  It's probably the hardest thing we've ever had to do.   Going from DINK's (Double Income No Kids) to Single Income, One Kid was easy.
One kid to two - a breeze.
Two to three - a little harder, but still, not that much of a challenge.
Three to Four - wait - there's a 4th Schwalm?
Four kids to SIX kids, effectively giving us a set of two year old twin boys and then a baby girl just 12 months younger?  CRAZY HARD!!

It has challenged every fiber of my role as mother.  Every decision I make throughout the day is met with two considerations:
1)  How is this going to affect the wee-ones?
2)  How is this going to affect my biological children?

Some days it feels like these two questions apply to something as simple as waking up in the morning especially when all six wake up at the same time.  Who gets to get out of bed first, who gets their milk first, who gets fed first? AHHHH!   From there we have tons of other factors to consider in making decisions as well, but those two are the first in importance.

A lot of people say to me, "You guys are amazing!" or variations of this.  I've learned that these types of compliments are either a matter of fact statement based on an inaccurate belief (I will address how un-amazing we are later on) or it is kind of like the "Bless Your Heart" statement common in the south, which despite the words, is not actually a compliment.  This statement is used to imply "YOU GUYS ARE SERIOUSLY CRAZY!!!"  To which I'd like to say,  WHAT PART OF THE LAST 11 YEARS OF OUR LIVES HAVE LEAD YOU TO BELIEVE WE ARE ANYTHING BUT CRAZY?

We also get a lot of "I just don't think I could do it" and "How do you give them back?" To which, there really isn't an answer.  I don't know how we will give them back or send them on.  They are part of our family now.  Each day we supposedly get closer to the day they will return to their parents and I'm not really sure how I'm going to do it.  I know it's our job, we only signed on to care for them temporarily, but it's really hard to want to give them back after taking care of their every single need for six months.  The reality is that we'll probably have them at least three more months.  We're to the point now that I worry as much about sending them home as I do about how I'm going to deal with the heart break of our children when we have to say goodbye.   Not everyone is cut out to Foster.  Heck, half the time I'm not sure WE are cut out to be a Foster Family!  I don't know how we do it, we just do it, and believe me, it is not done well. My house is constantly a mess.  I truly have something in every corner of my house and nothing is where it belongs.  It is overwhelming, exhausting and most days I think I am going to tear my hair out or at least poke out my ear drums.  It's like any surprise life event though - you don't know how you are going to handle it until you handle it.  There are things that people can do even if they can't physically foster kids - although, I would be remiss if I didn't encourage everyone to think about it and even just give it a try.  Here is a great article.

It's a really great blog post and it got me thinking about the things I would say if someone asked me, so here's my list on what I would suggest to people if they want to help a Foster or pre-adoptive family.

PRAY for us.  And let us know you are praying for us.  Each day is a a delicate balance of meeting each child's needs and it is encouraging to know people are out there praying we are making the right decisions.  Because we pretty much doubt every decision we make all day long.  A kind word, a Facebook post, or even a text to show us you care, to remind us that other people are caring about us and these wee-ones sometimes is the fuel we need to make it through the next minute.

Make a meal - most foster families have at least one, but most often, multiple service providers in their homes or in the case of older children, are running those kids to some sort of therapy, visitation, or other court mandated service.  Add to that any extra-curricular activities you are trying to introduce to your foster children and maintain for your own biological children, the goal of homecooked meals every night quickly becomes a distant memory.  Despite me being a stay at home mom, despite my very best intentions of planning ahead, cooking ahead, etc., there are some weeks that mac n cheese or spaghetti is our meal . . . on multiple nights . . .in the same week.  A Foster family will never turn down a meal to save them some time or to just have a breather.

Don't stop being a friend - Despite every best attempt at maintaining a "normal" life, the fact of the matter is that a foster family's life is completely turned upside down.  The schedule you used to maintain of coffee with girlfriends, date night, or even simple trips to the grocery store become impossible in the first months as you adjust to this new life.  Two months into our foster care journey, we had been invited to a friends annual  Christmas party.  We were looking forward to it like crazy.  We'd get to see so many people, talk, relax, have fun!  Except wee-boy had a melt down.  He wouldn't play with the other kids, he wouldn't stop crying, he was miserable.  And so was I.  I was frustrated that I couldn't sooth him, angry at him for choosing that night to have his first meltdown, and then angry at myself for being angry at him.  It was awful and in utter exhaustion, frustration and self-preservation, I chose to gather up all of the troops and leave.  My kids were devastated, my husband frustrated and I was D-O-N-E.  It was my first social event in six weeks and I desperately needed to be an adult that night. After that experience, I was hesitant to do anything with friends with children in tow.  It's not only uncomfortable for me, but I can see sometimes it is uncomfortable for our friends.  We had reached a stage of life with our friend group where most of us had kids who were pretty much self-sufficient at gatherings.  We would basically put them into the play room and not pay them any attention unless someone came to us bleeding - and even then, the blood had to be something that couldn't be contained with a band aid.  Now, I find myself declining invitations because it honestly is too much to juggle at social events.  I'm still changing diapers, wiping noses, and making sure no one is sticking their fingers in a light socket or pulling down the drapes.  I know it is a life that Erik and I have chosen so I am scared to infringe on other people no matter how many "Bring them alongs" and "It's no problem" I hear.  But PLEASE don't stop asking me to come play with you.  No matter how many times I turn you down or back out.  And invite yourself over to my house.  Even when I say the house is a mess, and the million other excuses I come up with.  Because my house is a mess, the kids are still in their pajamas, and well, let's face it, it's not going to change for a LONG, LONG time!

Offer To Do Something like:
Babysit - it's hard to find sitters for six kids.  It's even harder on the wallet.  Harder yet to find someone who can sit for you during the work/school day.  Pick a day and tell me you're going to watch my kids so I can go get my hair cut, or go to the grocery store, or to let me clean my house for two hours without having to put out fires, or to fold and put away laundry (my mother would be aghast if she saw how often clothes don't get put away).  Offer to watch our kids while Erik and I have a date night.  Offer to watch just the wee-ones while our family has a date night.

Run to the Store -  are you headed to the store?  Call me and see if there's anything I could use.  Chances are I'm in need of milk.

Offer to come to my house and help me do something - the laundry is never ending.  The clothes always need put away.  Offer to come and help me with transitioning the seasonal clothes.  My dishes are never done, my beds never made, my floors rarely swept.   Forget about spring cleaning!  A simple call with a "I know you need help with something, let me!" could change everything about my day.

Donate- Call a Foster/Adoptive family and see if there is anything you have that they can use.  From an old bed or dresser, to clothes and toys, chances are there is a family out there in need of it.  If you don't know a foster or adoptive family, call around to local social service agencies.  Call your Child Welfare services department (usually CYS, CYFS), local psychiatric centers or family service agencies may have clients or will know of other agencies where you can donate your stuff.  My county has a Duffle Bag Project where they accept new duffle bags/suit cases which they fill with gently used and new clothing and new toiletries and distribute them to foster families when a new placement occurs.  The duffle bag project was invaluable to my family as we addressed the needs of our new Foster Children.

Obviously different Foster and adoptive families have different needs, but I encourage you to check with those folks to see where they need help.  Because not everyone is able or capable of offering Foster care services, but anything you can do to help a foster family is helping the entire system.

Easter Morning
We managed to find the hidden Easter baskets, eat a poptart breakfast
and get six kids (and ourselves) dressed in our Easter finest  for church!   
That's a very good day!






Friday, October 5, 2012

Odds 'n Ends

Things have been busy around here since school started.  Not as busy as some folks probably are, but busy for our family.  Highlights:

School started.
We went to Seneca Hills for an end of summer camping trip Labor Day weekend.
I volunteered to coordinate a Bible Study at church on Friday mornings.
Erik and I started teaching Jr. High Sunday School on Sunday's.
I volunteered for Secretary of the PTO and Chairperson for the Back to School Picnic and Open House.
Lessons at the YMCA started back up.
After the 1st week of lessons at the Y, I wondered why I committed to doing two nights a week at the Y.
Walker started 4H.
Walker registered for Fall Flag Football at the YMCA.
Walker registered for Winter Basketball at the elementary school.




The kids love school, love their teachers and are doing well.  I have said several times already that if I had been privy to what I know now last year, I wouldn't have fretted nearly as much about Walker and his reading/English/language arts tests as I did.  The boy hasn't been bringing ANYthing home to study in the past four weeks and he's got all A's and a few B's.  He can memorize poems and recites them in front of the class to earn a prize.  He still cannot grasp the "take your backpack off, put relevant paperwork on my desk, hang your backpack up and take the lunch box to the kitchen" rule we have in effect, but I'll settle for the good grades.

It does, however, beg the question, "If he can get these grades without studying, what could he do if he applied himself?"

So, I've become a wholehearted supporter of the philosophy that some kids aren't ready developmentally to grasp the concepts that are being taught with our school's curriculum (a whole other story in itself) right now.  I will no longer fret over Cs, Ds, and the occasional F.  It's funny because a few weeks ago, Walker had brought home a math paper that they had done in class that done ALL WRONG and his teacher asked me to review it with him.  That meant I rewrote all of the problems and made him do the whole thing over.  Double digit subtraction.

For a few hours, he HATED ME and everything about me and school was STUPID!

So I gave him a break and a little while later I explained to him that double digit addition and subtraction was all I ever expected him to be able to do in math.  That while I appreciated that there are jobs and careers that demand higher math skills, I would never demand more than this.

That, and along with an explanation of why this basic math is important, ("If Daddy has 54 bales of hay and he sells 37 of them, how much hay do we have left to feed the goats for the winter?") seemed to be the game changer for him and now he often comes in the door saying he completed his homework on the bus.  I check it to be sure, but so far, everything is right!


Maggie is your typical first grade girl.  LOVES school, LOVES her teacher, and well, her only complaint daily is that I have screwed up something about her lunch.  Maggie's teacher is absolutely lovely and I know I am really going to enjoy this year.

Our one stumbling block with Maggie is that she is not good at memorizing.  She has a list of 35 High Frequency Words that she has to memorize.  HFW are words that you can't sound out with phonics.  Words like "where, here, was, the" etc.  As a result, she stumbles over some of the words frequently and has been referred to the Title 1 Program at school.  It's a weird system, because each week, Maggie is given her spelling words and most often can spell all 10 of the words correctly the first day she is given the list.  These words are usually decodeable using phonics, so from that we have learned Maggie is an auditory learner.  She was afraid to start Title 1 at first, but her teacher for that class is also lovely and really has a heart for helping children learn to read with fluency.  


Me with the kids on the first day of school
We chose not to send Willie to preschool this year for several reasons, and while some days I really wish I had, most days, it is a lot of fun having him around.  I'm honestly not sure what I'm going to do with Whitaker next year when Will goes to school they have become such good playmates.  Will and Whit go to story hour at the local library on Wednesdays and we do preschool lessons here at the house together when Whit takes a nap.  
My crowning achievement for our preschool sessions.  While studying the letter A, we made an Alligator craft by cutting out a big letter A, turning it sideways like this < and adding big eyes and sharp teeth to show that A is for Alligator.
When Erik got home that night, Will couldn't wait to show Erik his craft and he said in his proudest, most excited voice, "Look Daddy!  A is for CROCODILE!"

SO, future Kindergarten teacher, you will have me to thank for Will's mad Kindergarten skills. 

Will on the day of his first Story Time at the Library.  He dressed for the occasion.  He doesn't understand that wearing a contrasting patterned tie actually goes against the popular belief that wearing a tie classes up any event.  Silly redneck.  Let's ignore his hand position as well for now.  

Whitaker is a constant joy to our lives.  An acquaintence that saw us recently and had heard of our Foster Parenting adventures looked at our little blond haired, blue eyed Whit and asked if he was one of our foster children!  Anyone around us long enough would be able to tell he's ALL SCHWALM from the tractor noises and his affinity for anything with a motor.   Ask Whit his favorite thing to do and he'll say, "Cack-er Pull!"  and make the appropriate noises.  He also loves "Monkey cucks" (monster trucks) and that is what 95% of his day is filled doing.  The other 5% is eating and sleeping - and occasionally potty training.  If there's one thing I learned potty training my previous children is that my boys will go on the potty when they are ready and, honestly, Whittie is my baby so there's no rush in my eyes before he's three.  Say what you will,  but once he's out of diapers, there are no more diapers for this family, so I'm not going to rush making my baby NOT be a baby anymore.  


I am pretty sure he won't go to Kindergarten in a diaper.  I know that because I'm on the PTO and I know our school doesn't allow kids in diapers to attend Kindergarten.  

   

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Getting Old

Today I left for the YMCA early to get in a workout before the boys had their Wiggle Giggle Smile class.  I got that workout in, took the boys to class and was feeling good.  It was only 10:15 and I was on my way home to get some stuff accomplished before heading back out this afternoon to do some shopping for a PTO event at our school with a friend.

My mind was wandering, the sun was shining and I got to thinking about my Papa, who turned 86 yesterday.  You might have heard that earlier this week, the oldest person in the world (or maybe just the USA) turned 116.  That made her 30 years older than my grandfather so I thought, "Well, Papa's got another 30 years in him then."  My mind wandered some more thinking about how vast an age difference 30 years was.  Then I started to do some more complicated math thinking about how old I was and how old that would have made Papa when I was born.

Thank goodness Walker has been reviewing double digit addition and subtraction this week so I was easily able to figure out that
 86
-36
50

FIFTY!!!  My Papa was only 50 when I was born.

I am only 14 years away from 50.

When I am 50, my third born will graduate high school.

My YOUNGEST CHILD will not graduate high school until I am 52!

Papa still goes into work every day.

I retired eight years ago.

Now, you tell me who is the old fart?

Happy Birthday to the BEST PAPA IN THE WORLD!

One of the trips to Disney World Papa took us on  - to stay at the Grand Floridian.


Four years ago with the youngest Lezzer grandkids and the great-grand children.  The four oldest granddaughters are missing from the photo - and we had two more great-grandsons born since then!


Papa and Maggie on June 30 of this year at my sister's wedding.  



Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Our Second Adventure

I'm sure one of these days, I will lose count of how many adventures in Foster Care we've had.  It would be a blessing if I couldn't.  It would mean that there were no more children in need of Foster care.  What a beautiful thought.

I was a little gun shy when we first got the call.  The children were the same ages as two of our children and I was a little hesitant on how smoothly it would go.  But, after hearing that it was just for respite, Friday through Monday, I knew we would be able to handle it.

The little ones were so sweet.  We really had no difficulty with them other than minor "You Can't Do That" stuff regarding what is and isn't acceptable around a house they've never been to before.  It was as if we had allowed two friends come over for an extended weekend sleep over.

Except when I kissed my  kids in bed at night and prayed with them all, I knew that those two "extras" were suffering from the pain of the unknown.  The pain of having been shuffled from their parents to a foster home to our home.  The fear of what is going to happen in Court.  The anxiety of missing their mama and daddy.  My heart was breaking and aching over it all.  My inadequacies in being able to help them felt insignificant against the system they have entered in.

On Saturday, we were able to attend a birthday party for dear friends of ours to celebrate their middle two children who were born 3 years apart, but nearly the same day.  They graciously and lovingly said, "No Problem!" when I told them it was going to be Schwalm's plus two.  While all of the kids swam, rode the giant slip n slide and participated in fun-filled party games, I had a chance to share some of the heartache I had been feeling with my friends.  They listened to me, supported me and lovingly kept me (us . . .them)  in their thoughts and prayers.   So much so that my friend, LS, forwarded me this link .  It so captures what I feel as a Foster Mom and as just regular Momma.

Our visitors had to leave yesterday morning and we've noted that the house has been seemingly absurdly quiet- a different kind of quiet these last two days as we ended our summer.  The sadness at saying goodbye to two little ones who we could selfishly see potential in being able to help so much is only enhanced by the sadness of saying "goodbye" to summer and sending two of my little critters off to school (all day) tomorrow. Knowing that LS thought of me when she read this was a bolster to my confidence and gave me hope.   It was a boost in my confidence that yes, we might be able to do something good . . . that the pain I feel is evidence that we are in fact loving well. 

Blessings to all of you sending your little critters off to school.  I will rejoice and cry with you!

If you are interested in exploring Foster Care, please feel free to contact me to talk about it.  I am not sure if I have any of the answers you have, but I would love to talk to you about it.  


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

2012 Butler Farm Show

It's Farm Show week around here and that means we're in the midst of end of summer crazy.

Only three weeks until school starts.

Insert very sad face here.

We're living it up at the Farm Show this week.
(Our goat display at the Goat Tent)


We've got our pop up camper there this year.  Not nearly as nice as the digs we had last year thanks to our generous friends, Courtney and Fred, but still much better than camping out in a tent.


These photos are from our camping trip to NY last week, but you get the gist.  Our camper is really not all that bad - a few minor issues here and there in terms of worn canvas (the camper is almost 20 years old) but we have air conditioning, beds and we're not in a tent.
 This is the view from the "master bedroom" looking into the kids "room" and kitchen.  We hae a sink in our camper, but we don't hook it up.  We're thinking of ways we can reconfigure the counter to fit more and eliminate the sink.  It would be nice, but we have hook ups to have an outdoor sink/shower so we're looking into fixing that up.  That way I don't have to worry about someone (Whit)  accidentally running water and splashing it everywhere.  The kids room is a queen size bed and all three big kids fit on it just fine.  The couch to the left pulls out and turns into a single bed, which Walker prefers to sleep on, but with Whitaker, it's easier to ban the big kids to their own room and isolate Whit in the dinette.
 Here's Whittie's bed.  We have a removeable table, so we pull it out, put the back bench cushions in the leg hole and make Whit a little bed on the floor.  This works best if we block him in with stuff on the bench tops so he can't climb out and if we block the foot of the bed with a cooler or bin.  Poor guy just has to be contained!  But he loves his bed and he gets very upset when one of the other kids tries to lie on his bed.


Here's the master bedroom.  Can you believe that to the right, there used to be a shower?  I have no idea how it worked as previous owners tore it out.  If we decide to keep the camper, we're going to figure out a way to make a cabinet to store more stuff.

For the deal we got on the trailer, it was a perfect buy for us.  It's not new or fancy, but it works for our family and I don't have to worry about my kids breaking something in the "new" camper.  Sure, the upholstery and curtains are a little outdated, but for us it's perfect.

Which brings us to the Farm Show.

Maggie won Grand Champion with this goat.

Walker won Grand Champion for his goat Carmella.
Willie didn't pay enough attention to showing to really do anything in the show arena, however, he did a great job at the pedal tractor pulls and the bike races.

He won first place in the pedal tractor pull.  With all of these videos, please excuse my cheering and coughing.

video


Maggie put forth her best effort but didn't quite make it.


Walker did his best too, but another kid almost made 30 feet!

video

Erik even entered Whitaker in the contest for the "under 3" category.  I think Whittie was the only child under three competing!


video


Today at the bike races, Willie was only required to pedal from the starting line to the first "jump."  He not only did that, but pedaled right over the jump and around the rest of the track.  Almost before any of the other contestants reached the jump.

video


Maggie tried really hard too but as you can see in the video, she got a little wobbly after the first turn and went from the top 3 to 4th place.  I'm so proud of her for holding on and keeping her balance and finishing the race.

video


Finally, poor Walker was doing so great, but as he made the turn for the second lap, another kid came up from behind him and they collided.  Walker slid across the track but his dad helped him and we all cheered him on to keep going.  The embarasment of the crash made him  more cautious and I think he had just enough of his mom in him that the embarrassment hurt him more than the wounds.  I was so proud of him for getting back up and finishing the race.  When it was all over, Willie (who totally knew he won his race) told Walker he would give Walker his gold medal since he was so brave.

For some reason, I cannot get Walker's video to upload right now but I am so proud of what a good sport he was today.  I'm proud of my kids for lots of things, but watching them be so brave and do things I don't think I would have been brave enough to do when I was their age makes me so happy.

Check back later to see if I manage to get Walker's video posted.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Saying Goodbye

We said goodbye to baby girl today.

It wasn't easy.  Not that I thought it would be, but I thought that with her only being in our home for four days, it wouldn't be as bad.

I was wrong.

It started last night during her middle of the night feeding.  I jumped up at her first whimper and as I picked her up, I (doubtfully) wondered if her bios will do the same.  I know that my efforts were exaggerated this week.  After all, she was only with us for a week, so it's easy to jump at the first whimper in the middle of the night when you're only doing it for a few days.  I know the reality is that even the best mother in the world experiences the overwhelming weariness as the months of jumping up in the middle of the night wear on.  The exhaustion just overcomes you and you don't always jump at the first whimper.  Sometimes you lie there praying that whimper will be a solitary event and everyone will roll over and go back to sleep for another few hours.  

But as I jumped out of bed and lifted that little bundle into my arms and sniffed her baby scented head, I wondered.

I suppose I will wonder a lot in the next hours, days, weeks, years.

Wonder if her bios will keep it together and be able to do right by her. 

I know it's cynical, but after my years of professional experience in this child welfare world, I know that love isn't enough.  Everyone wants to believe that it is, but the truth is, the type of love we humans are capable of giving is not enough.  We're not created to be selfless.  That's why parenting is a sacrifice.   Parenting is constantly choosing selflessness.  It's a minute by minute choice.  Some people are just not capable of making those choices.  It's not always their fault - my professional experience tells me all of this.  But my heart wonders.  

Her bios may love her, but will they be able to parent her the way she deserves to be parented?  I selfishly put our (Erik and I) parenting skills on a pedestal as if we are perfect.  I know that we are not, but I do what a cynic does - I judge.

It's not fair.  But nothing about this situation is fair.  Even knowing what the results were going to be going into this situation, I still find it all unfair.  But that's me being selfish.  

Maggie, Whitaker and I drop baby girl off at the agency so she can be transported to her bios.  The caseworkers tell me that both bios completed their drug screen and everything came back negative, so they are drug free.

Cynic shouts in my head, FOR HOW LONG?????

I nod my head and say, "That's good."  

With nothing else to say, I tell the caseworkers, "Thanks."  I'm not really sure what that means, but somehow it seemed the only thing to say and I grab my children's hands and we walk out the door.  I try not to sniffle as the tears well up in my eyes - to put on a brave face for Maggie.  

We drive home and I stop and get them a donut hoping that the sweet treat will distract them from what we'll see when we walk through the doors at home.

This empty bouncy seat that just a few hours ago snuggled that precious pink bundle with the little rosebud mouth.  Maggie sitting next to her slightly pushing on the wire frame so that baby girl will feel that comforting motion.

The little leopard print nightie she wore to bed last night, that still smells like her.  Still draped over the pack n play waiting to be washed in a load of baby things.  Except it won't get that chance.  We have no other baby things to wash, so it will go in with all of our  regular clothes.  Once it's washed, it won't be her nightie anymore - it will just be another baby nightie.  Thinking that makes me tear up.

The basket of folded girl things and the little bunny hat with matching slippers.  Everything had been washed and folded to be used by her.  Most of it never touched because she wasn't with us long enough.


The swaddler that I bought on a whim just for her.  The only purchase I made just for her.


The pacifier I found randomly last week.  The irony of finding it just a day after we had been called about possibly taking a baby girl.  She didn't really care for it, but it's still on the green side table just in case.

Of all things, a bag full of tiny, dirty baby diapers.  

And her last bottle sitting by the sink waiting to be washed.

Such simple, little, and insignificant things, yet their presence is overwhelming.  

As we walk through the house and see these things, the house suddenly feels empty.  Maggie looks at the empty bouncy seat and we look at each other and tears fall.  Maggie tells me that she misses the baby.  I tell her that I miss baby too.  I remind Maggie that this is what it will be like every time and if she thinks it's too hard for her heart, we will stop doing it.  She tells me that it is just sad for today.  I tell her how proud I am of her and her brothers for being so loving and caring to baby girl because I am so proud of them.  My constant fear is that our endeavor to live out our ministry will negatively impact our children. 

I don't tell her that my tears are more about sadness of wondering what the future holds for baby girl.  Each item I pick up to put away brings a bittersweet feeling.  The joy it was to hold baby girl for a week, to care for her and love her.  The sadness of saying goodbye to her.  The prayers said for her over each item I pick up and lovingly put away.

Maggie and I decided that we're going to try to find a pink storage container to store all of the girl things so next time we have a baby stay with us, we can pull it right out.  Just about everything is packed up waiting to be put away in a newly purchased pink storage box.  

Except this.


After I tuck my precious ones into bed tonight, I think I'll sit with this for a while and smell that sweet baby smell.

And I'll pray the first of many prayers for the future of our very first foster daughter.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Opening Our Hearts

Erik and I have discussed throughout our relationship that we both felt that ministering to children outside of our own family was important to us.  We've discussed different ways we would accomplish this.  Youth ministry within our churches was one way, me providing childcare in our home was another.  A far off "one day" option was Foster Care.  Far off as in our children would be much older and we'd have lived through most of the elementary school years to have considerable experience under our belts.  Having once worked in a system with Foster families and foster children, I am aware of the challenges of foster care and have felt that to be fair to our children, waiting until they didn't need us so much would be ideal.

A dear friend of ours (referenced in this story as E) works for a foster/adoption care agency and we've talked with her over and over how "one day" we'd be interested in welcoming Foster children into our home, etc.   She tells us stories of how foster families are needed, never pressuring us, but saying, "You guys would be a great Foster Family" and then leaving us to pray about it.  Through her encouragement and our own prayer, we started to come around to the idea of starting the process a little earlier than we thought and tossed around the idea of doing foster care for children under 2 or on a respite type basis which would be very short term.  

Through a series of "coincidences" it became very clear to us that God was telling us it was time to start the Foster Care process.  It mid-June and Erik was home waiting for the veteranarian to arrive to look over our goats for the Big Butler Fair.  It was just after noon and he came into the house asking to borrow my cell phone because he could not find his.  He was headed back out to the barn to call his phone because he thought he dropped it in the manure.  While he was walking back to the barn, he tried calling our friend, N, whose son boards his goat with us and who was going to show his goat too.  The Vet was going to check that goat as well, and we needed to have her registered name on the Vet papers.  When our friend N didn't answer his phone, Erik then used my phone to call his wife, E, who at the time was at work at her agency in a meeting where they were discussing the fact that they had had a call from another agency looking for a foster home for an infant.  Erin looked at her phone, saw that I (Erik) was calling her and a light bulb went off.  Shortly after that, she called me and said that they were looking for people to foster an infant and since we thought we might like to care for infants she wanted us to know.  Erik and I talked about it, prayed about it and we both came to the conclusion that God was telling us to get the process started.  We both knew that we wouldn't necessarily be blessed with a child right away, but if nothing else, we could get certified and then take it from there.

So we did.  A few days later, we went to the agency, signed the papers,  and over the coming days had our criminal backgrounds checked, had our home checked out and a water test completed.  The water test failed.  Twice.  We're waiting for the results of the third test.

Then last week, we got a call from one of our coordinators who said that another agency was looking to place a baby girl.  They didn't have many details but the placement would occur Monday and we were to assume the placement would be for three months, but to be aware that all details were dependent on the hearing on Monday. If we were interested, we should come to the hearing on Monday.  In the meantime, we were cautioned that over the weekend, things could vastly change and nothing was definite.  I spent the weekend in anticipation yet preparing for the worst.  Finally, Sunday after we dropped Maggie off at Pymatuning to camp with Mimi and her cousin, I asked Erik to stop at Walmart to buy size 1 diapers.  Just in case.  And I allowed myself to get a little excited about the potential of a new baby in the house.  

The next day, I continued to allow myself to feel more excited and I began some preparations.  I dug out the bassinet from the attic and searched through my bin of keepsake clothes and found lots of adorable newborn outfits for a little girl.  I didn't even realize I had saved so much for Maggie!  That afternoon, after washing blankets and clothes and bedding, Erik and I went to the hearing and due to extenuating circumstances, had to leave before we knew the fate of the baby!  Talk about torture!  We ended up going home and about an hour later, our coordinator called to let us know that we would have the baby for just five days instead of the three months that we had anticipated.    It was a little discouraging, but I quickly realized that this was a blessing from God as we learned that there was a little more involved in the process than we anticipated.  

So here we are, four days later, basking in the pink presence of a baby girl in our house again.  

Ten little fingers.



Ten little toes.

Everyone has fallen in love with her.

It's going to be quite an adventure, this journey of the heart we are embarking on.  

There are going to be lots of highs and lots of lows.  We're trusting that God will guard our hearts and protect us from heart ache as we tend to these little lambs and then send them on their way.  The future is unknown for us and for them.  There are so many things we have double and triple and quadruple thought about in terms of exposing our family in this way.  The bottom line is that despite the probable (definite) heart ache, we believe it is our purpose to provide love and care for children by opening our home and our hearts.  

This was a light week for me in general because the children were taking turns camping with Mimi, so I didn't have a full plate of children to tend to, so tending to an infant was much easier.  Also, prior to Monday, were told baby would have visitation with her bio parents once a week, but it turns out it was three times a week, so that would have been difficult (but manageable) to figure out.  Additionally, we knew we had a week of travel/vacation planned and coordinating how to work that out with the visitation schedule was going to prove very difficult.  I think also, God is blessing us with just a little taste of what this is going to be like for us.  Because of the camping trip, none of the children but Whit had much more than 36 hours with baby in the house.  That gave them just enough time to love on her, but not too much time to become too attached.  Walker and Will were able to kiss her goodbye and head out for their camping trip - a welcome distraction, especially for Willie who was absolutely wonderful with baby girl.  Walker enjoyed her too, but was kind of over the whole crying thing.  Willie, however, was a champ, telling me that he would take care of her and he never ever would mind if she cried.  

Maggie got to meet her yesterday and hasn't left her side.  More blessings came this week as a school friend called to plan a play date with Maggie so she has something fun to look forward to after saying goodbye.  And even I won't have too much time to wallow in goodbye as I pack up the few baby things and get our family packed for a trip to Hershey with my mom and sister and then for a separate end of the week trip to NY and Lake Chautauqua.  

It's a scary adventure we're on.  But one I know will be well worth the journey.   




Monday, July 9, 2012

A Wedding and the Big Butler Fair

My sister, Enu, got married June 30 in a beautiful ceremony in my hometown.  Her wedding ceremony was at Starr Hill Winery  which is adjacent to our Papa's farm and then had her reception at the farm.  Here's a photo from her photographer, Jana Scott.  Talk about phenomenal!  If you are ever in Central PA and in need of a photographer, Jana is your gal!  She took amazing photos and was the kindest, most cooperative and practically invisible photographer I have ever seen!  I can't imagine that she took a bad photo all night!


I have not uploaded any of the photos that were taken at the wedding yet because:
1)  I have not looked through the 7349 photos that my children took using my camera.  (yes, fun mom allowed her children to use her very expensive DSLR at an outdoor reception with a concrete paver dance floor!)
2) My computer is occassionally going to the dreaded blue screen - I've been running repair programs and trying to be careful of what I do - and back it up daily, but all indicators seem to point to my hard drive is going to crash on me in the imminent future.  Therefore, I'm hesitant to upload 7349 photos to the computer before I can have the time to also upload them to a share site so if my hard drive crashes and my external hard drive breaks, I have the photos in cyber world.

But here are some that other people took and I borrowed.  Thanks to Michelle, Mallory, Sharon, Brittany and anyone else who took photos and I forgot to thank for stealing them!

The cocktail hour at my Papa's house.





My little flower girl before she got her arm bumped and dropped a meatball against the front of her dress!

 The bar at the tent

 Bride and groom cutting the cake

 The dessert table
 Announcing of the bridal party - Whit escorting Maggie

The port a john bathroom

 Dancing.  (See the meatball stain?  I got it out of the dress by the way!)



The potted herbs with place cards.

Erik and our brother in law JD getting the kids to the aisle to start the wedding!

 Will with Michael's sister, Mallory.  She is officially the love of his life.


Maggie and Olivia were dancing and Will says, "That is not how it's done!" and cut in and took over!

 Poor little Whittie had a fever that day and was not feeling so great.  But he looked ADORABLE!

 Moustache!


 Dancing all by herself

Pucker Up!

 AH!  How I love this guy!  This was about 45 minutes after a dose of motrin to help with his fever and he was able to come out to the reception and play for a while and be in a good mood!



The wedding was such fun.  I really enjoyed getting all dressed up for this wedding even though I had a family of six to get ready.  I stayed at my Papa's house in the days prior and the day of the wedding, so I had lots of room to spread out our family and relax.  I was able to enjoy watching my sister get ready with her bridesmaids and watch my girl watch her aunt "glam" it up.  It was such a special memory!



Poor Maggie - we tried and tried and tried (literally, we curled her hair three separate times) in attempts to have her have curly hair - it did not work out the way we envisioned it.

Since we were able to get ready at a relatively leisurely pace, we were able to have a family photo taken.  This one was just taken with my cell phone so I am very excited to see what Jana was able to capture for us.  Unfortunately, my boys were not so happy about being photographed.  For some reason, posed portraits make Willie the grumpiest and most uncooperative boy imaginable and minutes to this photo being taken, Walker was grumping about his tie being too tight and choking him.  We won't get into the story of how Walker HATED his outfit for the wedding and when I suggested to my sister we try to find navy blue gingham ties to appease my oldest born.  That's a story I'll be saving for his first date!

Anyway, I think this little farm family cleans up pretty nicely.  It doesn't last long (see meatball stain) but for about an hour, we looked pretty dandy!


After all the wedding festivities were over, we had to rush home to get to the Butler Fair to show our goats on Monday.

It was a super hot day and we ALL had to show a goat.

Even me.

You see, we enter goats in everyone's names so that we can get free admission into the fair each day.  We also enter a few extra so we have a few extra passes.  In order to curb people doing this, the rules require each person with an entry to show the entry.  Therefore I had to show my entry.  We call her "Nuts" because she's never showed before and gets a little crazy on the halter.  She actually was very good for me and we took whopping 4th place out of four entries.

The kids did better with a Reserve Grand Champion title and several first place ribbons.

I still have to upload the photos of the show from my phone.

Guess I should have been spending the day uploading pictures instead of posting this!