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.

Different Season of Mothering

I can remember thinking that our baby, toddler, and preschool days were everlasting.  Getting our babies to sleep through the night, the first steps of our journey of parenting, seemed like an eternity.  Breastfeeding and dealing with spit-up, diaper explosions, and meltdowns were parts of my daily to-do list.  I was not just needed, I was coveted.  The daily demand for me was off the charts.  I remember feeling that weight and some days not knowing how to see the positive in it.  Motherhood was different then.

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As I am removed from that period in my mothering, I must say I miss it.  Call it my biological clock or not, I miss the cradling, neediness and, yes, even the around the clock demand.  I can recall the exhaustion.  I will never forget the exhaustion.  But, in those moments when I felt as though I was my most poured out self, I can recall the deep satisfaction of being a stay-at-home mother and homeschooler.

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Just this morning I was in Whole Foods and saw a mother with a baby in a sling, toddler in the front of her cart and busy 4 or 5 year old marching along beside her.   I took a quick moment to study this mother’s face.  It was an expression I knew well.  Her face was serious and focused, a mask for the joy I know was hidden at the time.   She was getting through, juggling all needs at hand.  She had conquered so much just getting to this place.

I love being a mother.  I always have, just not always embraced the nitty-grittiness of the job.  I crave my mother/child interactions.   I am finding my role with my kids  and the interactions we share is ever-changing as they grow up.   I am a baby lover.  I am one of those that oohs and aahs at children I see out in public that I want to squeeze and snatch for keeps.  I somehow felt having babies and toddlers was very natural to me.  I was no expert, but I was confident.  As Julian, Madelyn, Kalen and Brayden grow and change, I must admit I am not always confident.  New parenting curveballs are thrown pretty frequently.  I give a swing at my best thought-out responses, but I do not feel as though I know what I am doing.  I am learning though.  I continue to learn.

As I study our ever-growing children, I am learning that I will still be nurturing and caring, just in different ways.  Our Julian needs space, but embracing.  He needs firm expectations, but loads of grace to go with it.  He is no longer our little 6-year-old homeschooler quietly squirreling away his Legos, drawing sharks and dinosaurs.  He is a 13-year-old young man with opinions, likes, and definite dislikes.  Madelyn is growing at rapid speed, it seems.  She is not the shy little one she used to be.  She is pretty outgoing, happy to be with people, and needs quality time with me.  She watches me, and I see much of myself coming out in her.  I seek to be a good example for my daughter now more than ever.  She enjoys being unique and I want to foster that love of self she has.  Kalen I am still figuring out.  I think I am always trying to figure out the best way to love this guy.  Of course, as a fourth grader, he is rather independent and playful.   He needs me to be a good listener, present.  He is a dreamer, more free-spirited, and will always be the one I need to reign in.  Brayden, our youngest, still needs a lot of nurturing.  Although funny and the life of the party, he has a tenderness to him that requires careful love.  He is a quality time person, too.  He needs me to sit with him, over snacks, and play games with him.

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All our kids still need to be pursued.  You know what I mean?  Sought after, relationally.  When they were babies, they were in my face all the time.  No need to beckon them, they were already right under my nose and attached to my breast.  Those baby, toddler, and preschool days were certainly not a cake walk.  However, there was no doubt what my job was.  Needs were pretty clear-cut.  Now as our kids grow, I am choosing the way I am present in their lives.  Obviously, I am the washer of their clothes, the person that mediates their sibling conflicts, more often than not… their cook, lunch packer, nurse, chauffeur and such.  I am talking about the other mothering stuff, the best stuff… the mothering that pours myself out.

Kalen just approached me and asked if he could use the computer.  He told me he has a lot of ideas for a story.  I had to ask about what kind of story he was thinking of writing.  He spilled out a flood of ideas, feelings and descriptions.  He needs me.  Just in a different way than before.

Building Up Others

There was a day I didn’t feel much like going to church.  Scott, being heavy laden with his dissertation, was needing to work.  Madelyn was at another friend’s home after a sleepover.  I was home with three boys recovering from a hectic week.

These three boys were experiencing a morning full of bickering.

I took it upon myself to call the boys together at our kitchen table.  I gathered some supplies and put on my old homeschooling mom hat.  I wanted to speak to the boys about building each other up, instead of tearing each other down.  Whether with our words or actions, it is often easy to forget the feelings of others.

I drew from this scripture from The Message Bible and Our 24 Family Ways by Clay Clarkson ….

I was definitely focusing on the middle where my bible says, Watch the way you talk.   Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth….
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I asked the boys, prompted by our devotional, about words that made them feel good.  This was their response:

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I demonstrated with blocks, focusing on the building up with kind words.  Then, I pretended mean and unkind words were tearing the structure down.  Our boys, even at 6, 8 and 12, latched on to this imagery.  Their words could build up or tear down.

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I asked each guy to take paper and a marker and reflect on what we talked about.  This is Kalen’s response.  It reads, “Instead of knocking kindness down, build them up forever.”

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Lightheartedness

I have to admit, I am not great at being silly.  I can get there, but it is a real effort.  Even though I consider myself to be a kind person, I am quite serious.  I am working on being a bit more lighthearted.  My husband can tap into his silly side so well.  I think that is one of his best dad tricks.

I was cleaning out some photos in our photo booth on our computer and found some fun and rather silly pictures of myself with Brayden, our youngest.  I giggled as I remember sitting there with him.  That feeling of softness and lightheartedness was pure and delightful.  We were seizing the moment, I guess.  There’s no telling what events or daily tasks surrounded those few moments we took just to enjoy one another.  Hmm…

Being playful and lighthearted isn’t necessarily high on a mother’s list of  to-dos …. there’s the laundry, the packing of lunches, checking her inbox, going to the grocery store, working, fixing meals, responding to the millions of kid questions that come up, helping with homework, taking the dog out, more laundry, etc.  Those tasks require thought and energy and, if there is enough left, patience.  Trying to be playful and lighthearted on top of the many things that crowd a mother’s day can just seem too difficult.

Then, I look at Brady’s face in this photo with me or I think of Kalen’s “really?” response when I ask him to play a game of Skip-Bo with me.  I see the richness of those opportunities that I greeted with a softness and I think that those moments are truly life giving.

 

The laundry will always be there.

The inbox will hold those emails.

We will eat.

I want my kids to remember my silly faces.

I want them to know what I look like when I dance or how it sounds when I bust out laughing.

Everyday I won’t remember to be lighthearted.

I will miss the mark.  I will resort to my more serious ways.

Today, I can aim to take time out to be playful and know that life is to be enjoyed with my family.

My kids already know how to live with lighthearted spirits.  I think I may just follow their lead.

Staying in the Picture

One of my dear friends sent me a link to an article on Huffington Post written by another mom of four.  This very well written piece was written by a mom that found herself pondering on the subject of mothers not often putting themselves in photos with their kids.  The words she used to convey the way she felt about this really touched me.  I encourage all moms to read this and enter into as many photos with your kids as possible.

Mom’s Rules

 

I can not take full credit for this creation.  I took a photo of these words on a painting in a Swoozies store several weeks ago.  I thought the rules were awesome, but I wasn’t about to pay $70 for the canvas before me.  I wondered if I could make one of my own and hang in our home.  Well, I did.  I bought a 18 X 24 in. canvas from Michaels.  I painted the background first, then mixed up my acrylic colors I wanted for my word areas.  I wrote the words out in pencil, then I painted them with acrylic black paint.    I couldn’t be more pleased and now we have a bright happy reminder in our home that promotes peace, joy, uniqueness, and love.