Aaron’s Class with Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott

It was truly a night to remember.  But, let me back up and tell you how it came about.  Kalen’s 4th grade teacher, Aaron, teaches his class a new song each week.  The songs vary in genre, but always have some type of connection with what the class may be studying, a period in history, or just a song that means a lot to Aaron.  Aaron has many instruments in his classroom.  He pulls out his guitar and will play simple chords to the song of the week, leading the kids after lunchtime in a time of community building singing.  Two of the songs Aaron has happened to teach the kids this year were sung by two of Aaron’s favorite bluegrass and folksy musicians, Darrell Scott and Tim O’Brien.  Aaron knew these two musicians were coming to Raleigh this January and decided to send some emails and see if there was any way to join forces.  Well, Tim and Darrell invited Aaron’s class (from last year and this year) to go sing with them on stage in front of a sold out crowd at the Fletcher Opera Theatre in Raleigh!  The invitation alone was a huge deal as these two musicians have won a Grammy and written songs for lots of folks.  Tim and Darrell were excited about what these kids were doing in their class with music and the fact that last year, Aaron’s class raised money and made their classroom solar powered.  The kids were invited to sing Paradise and Keep Your Dirty Lights On, both songs that they had learned this year.

Our family was so delighted to accompany Kalen to this event.  We met up with the class and excitement was in the air.

Down below you will see the kids just before their first time on stage, before the sound check.  Now, if you remember, I said that the kids would be performing in front of a sold out crowd.  So, we couldn’t sit in the audience during the show.  But, we were able to watch the sound check/warm-up and we were able to stand on the side of the stage while our kids performed.
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Now, here they all are on stage with Tim and Darrell.  Tim is the gentleman facing the kids on the left, then there is Darrell in the red plaid shirt on the right.  Our Kalen is front and center beside the girl in the pinkish purple pants.  DSC02143

During this long sound check period, I sat there and just had tears falling from my face.  It was one of those parent moments when you look up at your kid and you are overcome with emotion.  The music was just amazing.  The joy on the kids faces was so pure and sweet.

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So, pardon the recording at the first start of this clip.  I was focusing on Kalen only.  I actually do get Tim and Darrell in the shot after awhile.  🙂

Kalen was looking up at the lights in amazement.  🙂

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We took a break after the warm-up and went to ZPizza in downtown Raleigh.  They have great vegan pizza!  We basically filled their whole place.

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I love this photo below.  Kalen is looking up to Aaron just before they head out on stage.  Aaron is giving the kids encouragement and setting his expectations for them.

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So, Scott, Julian, Madelyn, Brayden and I, (along with several other proud parents) were hiding out here on the side watching our kids perform.  Tears were streaming.

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Some of Our Hopes for the New Year

We have a huge chalkboard that we made on the wall upstairs with chalkboard paint.  Lately I have been writing questions on it to try to stir up some creative and expressive responses within our, now completely literate, family.  I asked, What are your hopes for the New Year?  I found them to be rather simple, but sweet.  Here were the responses….

I hope to play outside!!!

Have a clean room.

I hope to be with family.

Have a good year.

Foster a little one.

To be on the gold team.  (soccer)

Eat better.

Be less stressed.

Have a good birthday.

Read better.

I hope to eat more fresh and local foods.

I hope to foster again.

Exercise 3 times a week.

The Middle Mom

It has been about nine months since we had our last foster children in our home.  Since then, there is not a day that goes by that I do not think of the seven kids that have come through our home and left to be with their forever families.  I think of fostering again and I am met with an extreme mix of emotions.

Fostering children is a messy endeavor.  Even with very open hearts, we have been stretched and depleted in ways we didn’t think possible.  In the same breath, we have been grown and strengthened by the little ones that have taught us more about love and selflessness than we could have ever dreamed.  Our children, as well as Scott and I, have grown in compassion and understanding.  Don’t think this was easy to come by though.  Dealing with the effects of trauma, physical wounds, undesirable behavior, attachment issues, night feedings, screaming, hyperactivity, not to mention all the people that become a part of your lives… all the social workers, therapists, doctors, biological parents and specialists and juggling all of life’s activities and schedules…. can take its toll on anybody.  But, we learn from these experiences, inconveniences, and challenges.  They make us better people.

I have been praying for the chance to be a foster mom again.  We have recently been finishing the process of being relicensed, which is required every two years in our state.  It is not an enormous inconvenience, but it does take work.  Enough work to think, is this really something I (we) want to do again?  The answer is a resounding yes.  Scott and I have been talking to our four kids about opening our home up again to foster.  We think it is very important to stay open with our own kids about where we are in this journey and listen to them express their ideas and feelings about it as well.

I started reading this book The Middle Mom by Christie Erwin a few days ago and I am already done reading it.  It is a memoir of Erwin’s experiences fostering over forty children during the past fifteen years.  Her family decided to start fostering through a private agency.  Their particular fostering story started with taking on baby placements for 10 days at a time.  They would pick up the babies from the hospital, sometimes even naming them.  Then, the baby’s forever family would meet them at the agency ten days later.  Then, after several years, the Erwin’s decided to work within their state’s foster care system.  This proved to be a truly different and challenging experience.  The placements were much longer.  I enjoyed reading through case after case that Erwin and her family worked with.   The Erwin’s ended up adopting two kids from the foster care system and continue to foster and be active members of their county adoption coalition and Pulaski County Heart Gallery.

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I have found her writing to be extremely encouraging and interesting.  There are so many feelings and experiences she shares within this book that I can relate to.  I have been pleased that Erwin doesn’t just share the golden moments of fostering, but the true pain, loss and hardship it brings.  She tells many stories from her journey that show the whole scope of emotions and the give and take that are involved in this ministry.

Fostering is truly a ministry, although I have never put those words to it.  It is a chosen work that causes us to put others before ourselves.  This isn’t comfortable or easy.  To walk into what one knows will be a challenge is daunting to say the least.  As we foster, it is our mission to serve these kids and live our belief that they deserve to be known, valued and loved unconditionally.  They deserve a voice.  They deserve a family that will cradle them and pour transforming love and grace over them.  Erwin writes, “They deserve to be loved with everything I have as a parent: the sold out, no-holds- barred love, without the presumption of receiving something in return, without condition, regardless of their behavior, attitude or actions.”  Not only are we ministering to needy kids, we are serving their parents.  We are working alongside the birth parents to ensure that these kids are cared for in the best possible way until there is reunification or other arrangements for permanency have been made.

In our experience, God takes all of our willingness, inadequacies and flaws and works through us to transform foster children through His love.  I still anticipate the next phone call from DSS (Department of Social Services) asking us if we will give a child or two a home.  The most unnerving thing is that “the call” never comes when you have a clean house, you are starting a three day weekend, your pantry is fully stocked or your kids are all bathed and in perfect health and brimming with great attitudes.  I have been asked if I am ready for the next placement.  My answer is that I do not think anyone is ever fully ready.  There is so much unknown wrapped up in a placement, we can never be truly prepared.  I feel that we can only be waiting with an openness and readiness for service in the midst of our daily this and that.  I know that if the Lord blesses us with the opportunity to foster again, I will be high and low, I will be pouring out and praying a lot.  If He wants to use us, He will give us (our entire family) what we need in order to care for foster children.  Does this mean I will make myself vulnerable?  Yes.  Vulnerable to make mistakes, to doubt, to fear and at times lose hope.  This vulnerability also means putting my trust in God, putting my hope in Him that He will do amazing things in the lives of very needy children and work through this imperfect, often disorganized, simple minded and naive woman … a middle mom.

Seeing Him Through

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He was grumpy.  We all are at some point.  He had several reasons why his day was just …. not a good one.  He was not his best self and was needy in ways no one was paying attention to.

I remember feeling that I needed him to be okay.  There was much to do on my list of to-dos and I really just wanted him to snap out of his funk.

After multiple conflicts and misunderstandings, he just decided to be alone.  He is one of those that finds alone time very healing or maybe just a really good distraction.  I was hopeful that in his separation, he would find what he needed to be okay.

Then came a nudge.  I felt a nudge to followup his need for space with care and love.  Suddenly, I felt like he really needed to be heard.  Oh, I tried to push it away, after all, I had a lot to do.

I remembered that earlier in the morning he had mentioned how he wanted to go to the skatepark.  This desire had not caused him any trouble, it just seeped out at some point.  Now, you must know, it takes a lot to get me to the skatepark.  I feel like with each trip there, I put my boys’ lives on the line.  I felt like with how his day had gone and all that he and I had been through, I needed to show him in a big way that I care about him and I wanted to show love to him.  This would not be an apology, but a true expression of love.

I walked up to his door, which was locked, and I slid a paper under the door that said, “I care… love, mama”.  He let me in and I asked him if he still wanted to go to the skatepark.  No more probing about this or that or fussing.  He nodded, wiped his nose and simply said, “yes”.

We packed up our skateboards, the little two boys came along, and we headed downtown to the big skatepark.  As suspected, and to my horror, it was extremely crowded.  I parked and shut off the engine, turned around hoping to see the boys all acknowledge that it was too crowded and make a motion indicating that we needed to head out.  Nope.  They grabbed their boards and were off.

It didn’t take long for him to catch my eye and say, “Hey mom, look at this.”  He was very careful, with a dash of daring that day.  I was proud.  He seemed to be as well.

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Even when he may be his yuckiest, I still want to show him love.  I want him to know I am always behind him, I always care.  That’s unconditional love, right?  I need to work this, because that day it didn’t feel natural to work so hard to find a good way to love him through.

I certainly have my fussy moments, days or weeks.  I know that when I am feeling needy or low, it sure does feel good for someone to love me right where I am at, mess and all.

Below is a clip of the last run Julian made while we were at the park that day.  Notice the little wave at the end.  Yes Jules, I was still watching.  I am still behind you.

“Cookies for sale.. 50 cents a cookie”

That is what you could hear coming from our side of the street today.  Kalen, Madelyn and Brayden started early (9am) with this very detailed plan of selling cookies out on the sidewalk.  They planned and developed a stand, got all the ingredients together, mixed and baked the cookies, allowed the cookies to cool, made posters, poured complimentary cups of water, filled the cooler with cookies, stood on the corner advertising, watched and waited (red-faced and determined).  Many neighbors and passing folks stopped and bought their cookies.  They started at 9 and finished around 4.  I am so impressed with their patience.  I think it helps that we live in a pretty busy neighborhood, in a busy city.  Plus, they are really cute.  🙂

I treasure these days that our kids dream up a plan/project and go for it.  Firstly, it is beautiful that they can agree on something they want to do and be determined enough to do it together.  Also, it teaches them so much through the process.  I did not do anything except preheat the oven.  I have been inside carrying on with the day and my list of to-dos.  I have to add that I find so much joy in their independence.  Every once and awhile I peer out the window to find a neighbor smiling widely as they receive their cookie on a napkin handed over by one of our kids or I see and hear Brady shouting as loud as he can, “Cookies, come and get your cookies… Cookies for sale… 50 cents a cookie”.  I also love that whenever they make profit, one of them darts inside to report the latest earnings.   This ‘littleness’ that I still get to watch and be a part of with our kids, I don’t want to go away.  I will miss it terribly when it is gone.

Just in case you are wondering.  Julian opted out of this one.  He decided to spend his Labor Day, not working, out of the sun reading.

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It is 3:47pm and Brayden is still outside with the four remaining cookies, not giving up.  Actually, three neighbors just walked up.  And… we’re done.  They made $ 30.50.