God is. Archives

This morning, I opened up my brand new, fresh, clean planner to the first page.  I pulled out my new B3 Aviator multifunction pen (AKA best pen ever) and sat, almost giddy (but not actually giddy because I don’t do that), at the newness of the everything, as if the change from last night to this morning truly reset and cleansed everything.

Because it did, people. Everybody knows that.

January 1, 2017 my theme for the year was run. I had gotten a new pair of running shoes and a Fitbit for Christmas and my goal was to run more regularly instead of in the fits and spurts of past years. Honestly though, what I was really doing was trying to run away from 2016.

2016 was my hardest year. 2016 flipped me upside down, dangled me off the side of a very tall building, and generally just kicked my arse. I learned a lot in 2016 but it was incredibly painful and all I wanted was for it to be over and to never do that again. Then, in 2017, God healed me. Yes, it was a wild ride of a year but it was a really, really good year for me. For us. The best year in possibly ever so, honestly, I don’t really want or need a clean slate.

But a brand new planner…  I do love a brand new planner. Even though I realized that I have nothing to write in it yet.

This year my word is minimalism. It was going to be sanity but I think we can all agree that would have ended in complete failure.

I use to be good at tossing everything but sometime in the last 4 years that changed and I feel like I am wading through junk every single day. And it doesn’t just clog my physical space, it also clogs my mind and I can’t think and I can’t plan. I was talking to Rabbit about it the other night and I think I stopped tossing things because I realized that my older children didn’t necessarily appreciate me giving everything away. Like the cheap drawstring bag one of them got from football camp. Or the toaster.

It’s a difficult line to walk, teaching my children that an abundance of things tends to depreciate everything, while at the same time, appreciating that they are their own people and may value things differently than I.

This year I am going to figure it out. I’m going to worry less about the repercussions of tossing the half broken waffle maker.  I’m going to hang more artwork and pictures on the walls. Try to go on more outings together as a family. Try to read more to my kids.
And can somebody please convince my husband that we don’t need to keep a broken TV?

It’s 2018, people. Let’s get this year started.

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This is how a heart breaks.

When we first became foster parents three long, long months ago I thought I knew how hard it would be.  I thought I was strong enough and I thought that a lot of the things that make foster parenting hard for other people would be easier for me because of my ability to disconnect. I thought it would be difficult for me to bond closely with children who aren’t my own, who I am not related to in any way.

I thought a lot of things.

And I sorely underestimated the toll being a foster parent could take on a person.

We’re still so very new at this but I have learned so, so much in these past 3 1/2 months.  Here is a rundown of the reality of the hardness of being a foster parent.  Keep in mind that my heart has been freshly ripped out of my chest so, while I’ve tried to keep this diplomatic in tone, my emotions might be working against me.

  • There are many good caseworkers but they are seriously overworked and often find it easier to just tell you what they think you want to hear instead of letting you in on what is really going on because it is faster and they don’t always have time for a whole big ordeal of a conversation.
  • Guardian ad Litems, the child advocates, are often overlooked by the judge.
  • Don’t believe everything you hear.  We were told less than a week prior to our last foster child moving that we may be looking at adoption so…
  • When you put your foster child to bed always expect it to be the last time you get to tuck them in because one day you’re Mama and the next day you’re a person the child used to know.  We had 6 hours from the time we learned our last foster child was leaving to the time she was picked up. 6 hours.
    She was 2.
  • Secondary trauma is very real.
  • Once the child is moved away from a foster home, the foster parents are, more often than not, completely cut off. I get no response when I ask how a child is doing and I have read that this is a common occurrence. Maybe this is a legal thing, I don’t know and it doesn’t matter. The reality is that we’re just cut off.  After loving and caring for a child through all their trauma behaviors and communication barriers, they’re often moved with very little or no notice and then we’re just completely cut off.
  • Being with family is always better for the child.  Even when it’s not.  And even when it seems it’s not, it still might be the best thing for the child.  This is super difficult to wrap my mind around because…
  • I was given false information about some people who were in the life of one of our foster children. When I learned I was being lied to it broke my heart because it caused so much unnecessary trauma to the child.  So, again, don’t believe everything you hear which is why…
  • Always go to court when possible. If the social worker tells you not to he/she may be trying to hide something. Consider going anyway or sending a friend. This is the only way to know what is really going on.
  • People really do believe that foster parents are only in it for the money.
  • Some foster parents do take advantage of others’ generosity.  This is sad and keeps people from giving.  However, this does not mean they are only in it for the money. Sometimes a financial break is too enticing when you’re tired, stressed, and beat down by trying to help traumatized children in a system that is so completely broken.
  • As foster parents, we have absolutely no control. Our job is to love and protect the children as best we can each moment they are in our care. That’s all we can do…
  • But in those moments that’s everything.

If you’re in the Pensacola area and are interested in being a foster parent please don’t hesitate to contact me. I know I didn’t make it sound very enticing and foster parents are closing their doors at alarming rates because it is just so hard. We’re judged harshly, lied to, left out, cut off, and in the end all that’s left of our work is a slowly mending heart and another child in need. But even after all these things I listed, it is still so worth it. The system is all messed up but while these kids are in our homes we can hopefully make some kind of change.

 

P.S.  I feel like I should add here that this was not necessarily a bad move for our foster kid. She’s now with a family member who worked quite hard to get her and loves her very much. But the way the system worked, the whole process, was definitely less than ideal and caused unnecessary trauma to everyone involved, especially the sweet foster child. I am not sad that she is with her family, I’m just sad about how the whole thing happened.

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I have been slow to talk about our family’s journey through the foster care licensing process. Rabbit, who is more than a little outgoing and vocal about everything, and I have talked about this a bit the last couple of days and I think I may have figured out my hesitation.  One reason was so we could back out at any time during the process without me having to explain anything. It is a daunting undertaking and as we went through all the steps I prayed for wisdom and guidance and for God to make our path clear, even if it meant we couldn’t continue this quest.

And then there was the judgment.

You would be amazed at a number of people who judge foster parents harshly. Or maybe you wouldn’t. I don’t know what amazes you but here are some reactions I’ve heard:

  • Why would you do that? 
  • I would never take in strange children. Our children are so impressionable and foster kids would corrupt them.
  • Taking in foster children encourages a corrupt government system. 
  • People who have a ridiculous amount of children already should not be foster parents.

Those are all actually valid concerns but I don’t feel like explaining myself to people who say judgy things instead of asking questions so I kept quiet about it to all but a few of my friends because people are always so human.

However, there is absolutely no excuse for this last, yet most popular comment.

  • Foster parents only do it for the money.

Yeah.
Sure.
$14 a day to care for a traumatized, often neglected, emotionally and/or physically abused child who doesn’t know how to express his or her feelings, who asks for food just to throw it away and ask for more because they are desperately seeking control over something, anything, in their life, who may or may not come with shoes or pajamas or anything of their own, who may be sick or have lice or are covered in scabies…
We have needed to purchase car seats and beds and mattresses and smoke detectors because the 6 we had weren’t enough, and another fire extinguisher and cabinet locks and candy (therapy session for one of the children was shopping for his chosen dinner and picking out some candy to share with the other kids).
We still need to buy some clothing and school supplies and did you know that hair care products for little girls with absolutely adorable, super curly, but very dry hair are obnoxiously expensive?

And coffee. I’m definitely going to need to buy more coffee.

Yeah. We’re making a killing over here.

I have talked a little about our homestudy to adopt from foster care, but actually becoming foster parents was a whole new ball game and required a huge mountain of paperwork and proof of absolutely everything and prayer and excitement and nervousness and anxiety and patience…

And now that we have completed all the work and we have foster children in our home I am experiencing a whole new form of anxiety that revolves around helping these kids. Understanding what they need from me as a temporary mom, knowing what is best for them, is not as easy as one might think and I’m second guessing every. single. step.

But we have no regrets. At least not so far. We’re going to stay this course and love these children until they can be reunited with their family.

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Chasing the sun. And the moon.

I wasn’t all that interested in the eclipse, to be honest. I was born with a defective awe gene and most things that make others stand beside themselves in wonder won’t even get me on my feet.  I felt this way all these months leading up to our planned eclipse trip to Moncks Corner, SC.  I was excited to see my family but it was my children and husband who were all about the eclipse.

But that all changed in the span of about 3 minutes this afternoon.

My mom came over to my sister’s house. She had bought cookies and called them different names like moon cookies and sun cakes. She had done an eclipse project last night with all the kids to prepare them for what to expect and then today before the eclipse she did a viewing tutorial with them teaching them how to use their glasses and keep their eyes safe. She handed out the spectacles and the kids ran around with them like it was the apocalypse and then we collected them back up because that wasn’t the greatest idea we have ever had.

We still had more than an hour before the eclipse so my brother said I should have his car.

The people in the background, Aunt Naomi, Mom, and my sister, all thought I should have his car too and, as you can see, they are very happy about it but alas, we were all mistaken because Matt said I should drive his car, not have it so there was a little disappointment.

Anyway, no matter how hard Rabbit tried to keep it from happening, I got to drive this gorgeous blue Tesla and it was a most remarkable experience and, people, I really, really feel like there could be an X in my future. Just look how good this S and I look together.

When we got back it had become so cloudy and stormy and Matt and Joe were freaking out like Chicken Little because the eclipse was coming, THE ECLIPSE WAS COMING, and we wouldn’t be able to see it while it was pouring rain. I felt a twinge of disappointment for Joe because he was so excited but what can you do?

Well, apparently you can drive all over Moncks Corner looking for blue sky like storm chasers (or what’s the opposite of storm chasers?) and it was one of the most entertaining experiences.  All 24 of us jumped in our vehicles and set off in a caravan chasing the sun. My brother and Joe were leading the way in the Tesla and they were hilariously intense about the whole thing, calling everybody in the group with updates and suggestions about where to turn and what direction to go and we only have 11 minutes will we even make it in time and I think I see blue sky over that way!

And we did make it, thanks to the efforts of my brother and my son, who both really, really, really, really, really wanted to see the moon blot out the sun for 3 minutes.

So we got out of our cars on the side of the road and put on our glasses and I hovered over my younger children so much, certain that everybody was going to go blind, that I accidentally looked at the eclipse without my glasses. It was brief and apparently not long enough to cause me to lose my vision but I spent the rest of today waiting for my sight to suddenly vanish.

My mom passed out eclipse gum because she knows how to make things extra fun for the kids and we all watched as the moon swallowed up the sun until the only evidence that it was daytime was the orange ring of fire that poured out from around the moon.

I got my eclipse selfie, even though it really did not do the event any justice because I am no good at these things but I was there and I saw totality.

And, guess what guys. It was amazing. Seriously amazing. What I thought would be a cool, but somewhat boring event turned out to be one of the neatest things I’ve ever seen.

The entire day was perfect. Driving the Tesla, chasing the sun, seeing the total eclipse with my family – minus Kait and Vince and Nina who all had to work 🙁 …

And then Matt had Joe jump into the driver seat and let him drive the Tesla for a bit before he took off for home.

It was a very good day.

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I have a lot of words today.

I’ve put together 21 things I’ve learned and observations about being the mother of child with Down syndrome. I’ve only been doing this for a year so far so I’m sure I still have tons to learn and I’m interested in seeing how my views change and grow in future years. But as of right now, this is where I am.

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  1. Having a child with Down syndrome is so easy.
  2. Having a child with Down syndrome is so hard.
  3. How I reconcile numbers 1 and 2, I don’t know. But they are both true.
  4. In the beginning, I felt broken and lived most of my days in denial to avoid dealing with it. Other moms who had been where I was said that it would eventually be okay. That I would be okay.  They made me angry because I didn’t believe it would be that way for me.  I thought that I would be the eternally broken mother that would never be able to accept what was and that I would fail Lanie because of that.
  5. They were right though. Everything is okay. Really okay.
  6. But I’m still afraid I am going to fail her.
  7. I’ve learned that a baby with Down syndrome is just a baby.laniebunny She eats and poops and has opinions about things. She giggles and plays with toys and rambles on about nonsense in her baby babble talk. She loves her daddy and her siblings and vanilla icing. She grows and meets milestones and is always learning new things. She cries when she doesn’t get her way. She dances when she’s happy.
  8. I have learned that many mothers of children with Down syndrome can be sensitive and snarky about what you ask and how you ask it and what order the words are in and people first language, people! It’s too hard for me to remember all the rules and I have a child with Down syndrome! I get why people are hesitant and uncomfortable to ask about our kids.
  9. I am really okay with people asking me questions about Lanie’s Down syndrome.
  10. Lanie has to work hard at so many things and everything has to be therapy.  I knew this but didn’t           understand it. Most babies learn things in a natural pattern with no need for much encouragement but with Lanie, we have to make her work for it, reach further, try harder. Simple things like getting a toy that’s a few inches out of her reach take every bit of effort she has and she often fails. It makes me sad to know this will be her whole life.
  11. But unconditional love, forgiveness, generosity, joyfulness and optimism are things likely to come naturally to her thanks to that extra chromosome. If only these attributes were valued more in our society.
  12. Parents of children with Down syndrome (me!) are unbelievably proud of their kids. lanieclapsmarch31We want to talk about them and show them off and celebrate every little thing they do because they are amazing and you won’t understand this unless you have a child with Down syndrome. You’ll just have to trust me. Amazing.
  13. Lanie has numerous therapists.  Most of them live right here in our house and are under the age of 18. maggiehugslanie It’s really cool the way my other kids love her and play with her and work with her. They are so encouraging.
  14. Knowing what I know now, there is nothing I could go back and tell myself that would make any difference in how I felt and handled the news that Lanie was likely to be born with Down syndrome.  I had to feel what I felt to learn what I’ve learned to grow as much as I’ve grown to get where I am now.
  15. Having a baby with Down syndrome slows everything down. It’s such a blessing to get to enjoy each stage of babyhood just a little bit longer than I did with my typical babies.
  16. But, also, I get discouraged by this more than I’d like to admit.
  17. I want to buy all the therapy things. Anything that Lanie’s therapists have in their rooms I want to buy for her.  It’s not realistic but it doesn’t stop me from trying.
  18. People are sometimes uncomfortable around me now. I know they don’t mean anything by it, and it isn’t terribly visible, but I can feel it in all its heaviness none-the-less.
  19. Having a child with Down syndrome can be very lonely.
  20. God has spent many years preparing me for this. Even though it took a long time for me to accept that Lanie had Down syndrome, looking back I can see that before she was even a thought, God was already teaching me many things to prepare me for her. 
  21. And it’s a better place since she’s come along.

And if you have run across this page because you are just starting this journey and are searching for help, this is the best I can offer you:
Be patient with yourself. It takes time to get through the shock. It is an emotional rollercoaster and, for me, it didn’t matter how positive anybody was about Lanie’s diagnosis, I just had to let myself feel those emotions as they came. After a while, they didn’t come as frequently and joy has now replaced any sadness, for the most part. You may not be ready to hear this yet so just put this in your pocket for when the roller coaster slows down: Someday soon it will be okay. You will be okay.

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Our number 2. Joe.

When he was little, maybe 5, Joe wanted more than anything to be a superhero.  He switched between Superman and Spiderman and when he started to jump off things to see if he could fly or swing from a web, I decided it was time for a conversation. When I told him he couldn’t actually become a superhero, it was just pretend, he broke down in tears and told me that he thought he already was one.  Realizing that I had just broken his heart with that news made me unbelievably sad but he quickly moved on to believing he was actually Link and everything I said to him suddenly made sense.

(picture of Joe dressed as link to be added as soon as I locate it because it is awesome.)

Joe is 18 now and while he has not given up on his dreams of being a superhero, he has certainly reevaluated what that dream will look like in the real world and is working on a criminal psychology degree so he can help put the bad guys away and save the streets of Pensacola from madness and mayhem.

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He also has this huge heart and a compassion that most people don’t get to see.  I wish I could predict the next time he was going to sit on the side of the street with a homeless man so I could get a picture without him knowing. He brings them food, breaks bread with them, and gets their stories. He sees their needs, individually, and does what he can to provide.

And he loves his siblings.

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He’s a very serious person but that doesn’t stop him from playing with the littles just about every day. He asks them questions and gets silly with them.

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He encourages them.

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And cares deeply for them.

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He invests time with the older siblings because relationships are important to him.

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They are important to him.

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Joe takes advice very seriously and while he doesn’t always agree with his father and me, he considers what we say and holds our opinions in the highest regard. He meets with our pastor on a regular basis to ask questions and gain a better understanding of The Word. He wants to do life right and is constantly working to create good habits, meet goals, and learn more.

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I am so proud of the son he is and the man he is becoming.

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And I cannot wait to see what his future has in store for him.

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It’s odd to me that even though it is super easy to lure Kait is over here (food) I never can seem to get her in a picture with the younger three girls.

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I’ve also realized that I take way more pictures of Lanie than I do anybody else.  I think that is partly because she’s the baby and we’ve always had more pictures of the babies than the older kids, and partly because of her rough start and me not wanting to take any moment for granted.

And any pictures I do take of the older kids quite often involve them holding Lanie.

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Because I love how they love her.

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And I want to keep these moments forever.

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Because they are so, so good.

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If only I could stop and really live in every moment.

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Somebody get me a pause button. Quick.

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My dad had this mug made for me 22 years ago when my oldest child was just a baby.

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It’s lasted through many military moves and 100’s of cups of coffee and many kids drinking hot cocoa. The picture on the mug of Kait at less than a day old has faded but that child has grown and flourished and is now well into adulthood and I couldn’t be more proud to call her my daughter.

At 22 she’s managed to wrangle herself a training job at NFCU, teaching employees how to do mortgages and helping them keep up with the ever change laws and regulations.  She has her own place and a dog and a cat and a guy who is over here all the time because he is very serious about her.

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She loves her family and even though she doesn’t live here with us anymore she manages to visit us numerous times each week and spends every Sunday hanging out with us even when there is no football game to watch and that is really saying something.

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I’ve always said that Kait and I have our differences but the further into adulthood she gets, the more we talk openly with each other, the more I realize that we are quite similar and our differences aren’t really all that big or numerous.

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She is delightful and funny and has such a child-like silliness that keeps us all smiling.

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And she knows how to have fun and helps us to not take ourselves so seriously all the time.

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Just being around her makes me spew coffee out of my nose.

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And being her mom has made me a better person.

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I could go on and on about this girl but Lanie is getting hungry so I’ve got to abruptly stop writing and get this blog post up because if I don’t publish it right away I’ll forget about it and it will get lost.

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Perfect Chaos.

I think my perfect sleep hours would be 9:30 pm to 5:00 am. I’d sleep undisturbed and wake feeling completely rested and ready for a new day.
I would get up while the house was still quiet and actually drink an entire cup of coffee without having to reheat it 4 times and write a complete blog post and update my bullet journal.
I imagine I’d have thoughts. Real, uninterrupted thoughts. The kind of thoughts that adults have when they’re adulting. Thoughts about the meaning of life and foreign heads of state and who on earth invented algebra because I’d like to have a talk with them.

At around 7:30 my kids would one-by-one begin to make their way out of their rooms. We’d talk about dreams while we eat bacon for breakfast and then get our day started.

Reality, however, has 10-month-old Lanie falling asleep after midnight and waking up between 8 or 9 so when I get up for the day chaos has already set in.

Maggie is wearing her tights as pants and her shirt is on inside out and backwards and she is trying to get the last bit of oatmeal powder out of a used oatmeal packet she found in the trash can. Then I step in a half-wiped up orange juice spill while trying to clean a glob of something off the front of the dishwasher because my teenage sons started a ninja fight while making some breakfast. And while attempting to get the morning sorted out I misplace my fresh cup of delicious hot coffee which totally defeats the purpose of brewing it in the first place and who on earth thought it was a good idea to put a pull up in the washing machine?

And I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!

But then.
The boys argue over who gets to hold Lanie first and she is all smiles with them fawning all over her and my heart melts at how much they love her. Lucy reminds me again how much she missed me all night while she was sleeping and Maggie says the blessing and she thanks God that Joe (her oldest brother) gets to come visit so often (he lives here) and somebody finds my coffee in the microwave because I had forgotten that I had reheated it just as Joe walks in from his early morning shift at the coffee shop with a white chocolate mocha all for me.

And we all laugh.

And I’m reminded that in the chaos, life is so good. So worth all of the sticky and smelly and accidentally washed pull ups.

Once my kids put an entire package of bacon in the pantry instead of the fridge and we didn’t find it for days and had to throw the whole thing out and I think if we could make it through that, we can make it through anything.

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adoptionawarenessGrowing up I clearly recall my home being a safe place, my safe place. If there is anything of more value to a child than a feeling of safety and security in a loving home, I don’t know what it is. I look back on my childhood and feel overwhelmingly thankful that my parents gave us a sheltered childhood.  We were nourished and taught good and right things and never lacked for anything and when the teenager that lived two houses down was irresponsibly sighting his rifle before going hunting the next day and I was sure his intention was to kill me…
I instinctively knew where to run for safety.

In the 27 hours of classes we were required to take to become approved to adopt through foster care here in Florida, I learned that every child in the foster care system has been through a traumatic experience that has cost them any hope of feeling that kind of safety. The vast majority of them have been either forcibly removed from their homes or given up voluntarily by one or both parents.  It leaves them feeling vulnerable and alone. The ultimate betrayal – turned away by the people who were supposed to instinctively long to protect them.

I have learned what kind of abuses take place and what effect that can have on a child. I learned that it is usually bad. Really bad.

I have learned that we, individually and as a society, have gotten far too comfortable with their cries.
Deafening. Silent. Raw. Hidden. Heartbroken.

I have learned that I can’t do that anymore.
And I have learned that sometimes all you can do is pray.

I have learned that there is a lot of fear in adopting a broken child and a lot of thought and consideration has to go into it before a challenge like that should be taken on.
And I have learned that no matter how much thought and consideration you give it there is no way to prepare yourself.

I have learned that the system that has been put in place to facilitate the best possible outcome for both adopter and adoptee is broken. I’ve learned that quite often, out of an understandable desperation to find children a home, the people in charge, the experts, will break the most essential of those rules and set everybody up for failure. Because there aren’t enough foster homes. Because the kids are close to being too old to place. Because they might have a disability that is just beginning to show and it’s RIGHTNOW or possibly never.

And that’s when failure happens.  And everybody is to blame but nobody is at fault because the real failure is not doing anything at all and nobody involved can be accused of that.

I have learned that it is hopeless.

And I have learned that there is hope.


 

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