What Love Looks Like

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“I miss my papa,” she said.

It was nighttime. Dark in the room. She rested her tangled head of curls on my shoulder. I held her and did a few paces around the bed before crawling into it. We were staying at my mom’s house in Arizona. We were day 4 into a 10-day stretch of being away without Adam. This was the 3rd night in a row she had whispered this to me, and the whispers continued until Adam arrived.

Adam got to town one night around midnight and sneaked into the room Solana and I were sharing. I had told Ana her daddy would be there in the morning. She was pleasantly surprised when she woke up in the middle of the night to find him lying next to her. She spoke to him with quiet and giddy excitement. She made him stick out his arm so she could nest into the crux of his armpit. He hugged her tight. He was love wrapped around her.

I smiled into my pillow. “This is what love looks like,” I thought.

At first blush this little encounter probably seems unremarkable. A child loving and missing their parent is a given. Or at least I had always thought so. Instead, I stand as a witness to a brokenhearted father who poured his love out to a little girl who wanted nothing to do with him.

You see, Ana came to us with chapters of mistrust for men already written in her life’s storybook. At a year and a half she had been burned and had learned her lesson. Men were no good. Men hurt people. Men were something to run from.

I remember a night not so long ago when I stood in the kitchen with my husband. We were new to parenting. New to foster parenting. We were tired. Beat down. Uncertain what the future would hold. Uncertain we were doing anything right. Ana was sleeping and though Adam is a man who is strong and steady he looked at me with tears in his eyes. He was deflated. A well of untapped hope and love and unmet expectations for fatherhood was finally bubbling over.

“Your kid is not supposed to hate you,” Adam choked. “This is not how first time fatherhood is supposed to feel.”

I ached for him. This was a path he was walking alone. For months I was the one who got to hold our daughter and hug her. I dealt out love and felt its warmth returned. I was the one she ran to, cried for, and wouldn’t let go of. She was looking for someone to feel safe with and I was her girl.

I played babies and blocks while Adam did the dishes and the laundry. I gave baths and got smiles while Adam walked the dog in the cold and took out the trash in the snow. Adam worked behind the scenes to keep things in our house together. Our daughter hardly noticed him.

In the beginning Adam would reach for Ana often. Time and time again she recoiled, or screamed at him, or ran away. She hit Adam, pinched him, and pulled his hair. If he dared to pick her up she flew into hysterics. He quickly learned and started to reach for her a little less. He gave her time and space to heal. He never stopped reaching altogether though, and if ever there was the off chance that she was willing to give just a little something, he was right there to relish in her love and let it sustain him until the next time.

On occasion Adam would let us know he was hurting. Mostly he just kept his head down and loved like he does. Quietly. Persistently. With the hope but not the expectation that he would be loved in return. He kept on doing the dishes. He took out a lot of poopy diapers. He did not give up.

My husband’s patience with our daughter has taught me more about God’s love for us than anything I’ve ever read or seen or heard about before. Day after day God washes our dirty laundry and throws out our poopy diapers. So often we don’t even notice. But He is there. Loving like my husband did. Quietly. Persistently. With the hope but not the expectation that we would love him in return.

I think it’s time to stop running. I think it’s time to let your daddy love you.

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XO,

Kara

Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not give up. It never fails. – said at every wedding ever

 

All of the pictures in this post were taken by the lovely and talented Melissa Young, who just so happens to be Solana’s auntie and my sister. Thank you Mel. You are THE BEST!!

http://www.melissayoungphotography.com

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A Foster Child Is Home

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melissayoungphotography.com

I just love happy endings!

I have been wanting to update everyone on the court proceedings I discussed in my last post, but it has been a week and I am still speechless. Hospitalized, “potentially due to a ‘hormonal surge'” (don’t worry, I’m fine), and speechless…

So without any extra verbiage and with an awestruck faith, it is with tremendous joy and thankfulness that we share…

Little A will be adopted into the Gilbert family within the next few months!! 

Thank you for reading my stories. There are more to come.

Thank you for your prayers for Little A. I am more convinced than ever of their effectiveness and of God’s power.

When I can articulate more clearly I will share in greater depth.

For now, just so so joyful…

xo,

KG

melissayoungphotography.com

melissayoungphotography.com

(A big thank you to my sis for the stunning photos of Little A!)

Foster Care Introduction – The Basics Part 1

Foster Child

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Visitation. Treatment Plans. The Team. Vacations. Here we go.

Visitation.

I am not exactly sure how visitation time with bio parents is determined. Little A gets an hour with mom and an hour with dad 3 times each week. In the beginning we were doing the driving to and from visits. Now that A is accustomed to the caseworkers, and because visits were moved to the middle of the workday, A is picked up and dropped off by caseworkers while at daycare. Unless something big happens at visits this is a part of her day that we often hear nothing about.

Sometimes there are behavior differences from one evening to the next. We don’t know whether to attribute these differences to visits or not.

As a concerned foster parent I want to know what A ate for lunch that day. I want to know if she calls her bio mom “momma.” I want to know if she caught some Z’s on the 30-minute car ride each way. But these are things that I just have to let go. It’s a bit of a challenge to not be in control.

Sometimes, when I’m able to stop focusing on us and how we feel, I think about A’s mom… She doesn’t know what A had for breakfast or dinner, how A slept at night, or what she’s been doing for fun. I wonder if there are behavior differences during visits and if mom considers attributing these to how we are raising her daughter? Sometimes I wish A’s mom had a blog I could peek in on. I wonder how she feels about all of this… to what level does she care?

Treatment Plans.

Bio parents don’t always show up for visits and this plays a part in how the case is presented to the judge. Also of importance is how parents are progressing on their treatment plan. The treatment plan is something that the team involved in the case comes up with for the bio parents. It is a checklist of things that parents need to do in order to regain custody of their child. Plans vary based on the individual and the reasons for the removal in the first place, but some examples of “to-dos” might be therapy, counseling, classes, drug tests, stable employment or housing, staying out of trouble with the law, etc. Bio parents review the treatment plan and sign off on it. Theoretically, they should then get to work on completing its contents. After a certain period of time, I think usually 60 or 90 days, the judge reviews the progress and decides next steps. In our case initial progress was presented in March and a follow-up date was scheduled for May. May was delayed and the hearing was rescheduled for June. Adam and I are anxious to get a sense of where our case stands when we attend court next week.

The Team.

There are quite a few people involved in cases like this. There is a lawyer appointed to represent each bio parent. There is a lawyer for the child. There is a caseworker for the child. There is a volunteer court advocate for the child. There is a caseworker for us. And, as this progresses, we can hire a lawyer to represent us if we choose. Both caseworkers, the child’s lawyer and the child’s volunteer advocate are all supposed to visit the child in the foster home on a fairly regular basis to ensure all is in the best interest of the child. These visits are in addition to other specialists who may be in and out of the home, such as therapists, parenting coaches, etc..

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Vacations.

Oh, sweet, sweet vacations. They are not as easy to take as they once were. In order to leave the state with a foster child, foster parents need bio parent approval and/or judge’s orders. Leaving the country is not allowed. Any visitation time that is missed during vacation is made up for surrounding the trip. Despite the hoops, vacation time has been extra special for our family. Not knowing what A’s future might look like, being able to take her to the ocean, on an airplane ride, and to Disney World have been trips we have not taken for granted.

We are praying that God’s will be done in little A’s life, selfishly hoping that means many more trips with all of us together.

Thanks for reading and as always, love to hear your thoughts, comments, and questions!

Xo,

KG.

Foster Parenting: How Long Will You Live With Us?

Foster Child Little A

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I may have been a little overly ambitious with this whole blog thing. In theory I love the idea. In reality, how in the h-e-double-hockey-sticks do working moms survive? I’m lucky if I get a shower every day, let alone some personal time for writing and reflection. Truth be told, I’m feeling a little overwhelmed.  I’m also feeling like parenting is still the most rewarding thing in the whole world. You probably feel that way too? In that way foster parents and bio parents are the same. Yet I’ve been thinking more about how foster parenting is different…

I have some friends who have recently or will recently send their first born off to college. It is not an easy time. The kid spreads their wings and the parents can only hope and pray that the foundation they have poured over 18ish years is solid. Mom and dad watch in anticipation to see which nuggets of wisdom will stick. 18 years, typically, to feed into the lives of children before sending them on their merry way.

We very likely will not have 18 years with A. Unless we get to adopt her we won’t even have 18 months.* That means that every day we do have with her REALLY counts. Like a parent sending their teen off to college, we hope that the impact we are having is profound and that the effects are long lasting.

As A grows up she probably won’t remember us. She won’t remember the nights we woke up 12 times to comfort her back to sleep or the 17 different sleeping arrangements it took to finally find one she was happy with. She probably won’t remember splashing in the pool or sledding down small and then bigger hills. She won’t remember what she learned from our snowboarding lessons or the grandma’s and grandpa’s she visited with who were absolutely in love with her. She may not remember the little songs we sang, the prayers we prayed, jumping on Papa Adam, burping with Aunt Mel or being smooshed between a kiss sandwich. She likely won’t remember that she had a dog named Roxy who she loved to feed and walk and torment.

But all that begs a question: If a person doesn’t remember the nice and the good things, does it make those things not worth doing? (This awesome guy, Stu Graff, has a great post about the topic. You should check it out.)

While A won’t remember specifics, I am confident that all this love and all these experiences are making a difference for her. The footing of a home isn’t the most glamorous part, but it is the part on which all else depends.

In my first post I made the statement that foster care is something you need not be scared of. I am seriously not sure why I said that? Did anyone out there think to call my bluff? I guess I am still processing. I guess I was hoping more people would want to do it (and you should). But I would be lying if I didn’t say I would like to retract that statement. We are absolutely in love with this child and we may be about to “send her off to college.” Truth be told, we are scared shitless…

The bottom line is though, whether it is 12 months or 18 years, every day counts.

I believe it counts whether they remember it or not.

Do you?

As always, would love to hear your thoughts.
xo,

Kara

*There are time limits with regards to how long a child can remain in foster care without a permanency plan. Due to A’s age, she is only allowed to be in the system 1 year. At 1 year a permanent solution needs to be in place. That means A could be with us until October. In future posts I hope to outline how all that is determined…

“I don’t wanna be someone who walks away so easily

I’m here to stay and make the difference that I can make” – Jason Mraz

Getting to Know our Foster Child

The first night we got little girl “A” (to protect her we will call her that), we put her to sleep on the couch and I lay awake next to her the entire night. I was mostly just looking at her. I bet it is the same for new birth parents as well? I was in awe of her little face!

I was also curious about her likes and dislikes, wondering about basic things like where was she born and when was her birthday, unsure whether or not she used a bottle or a sippy cup and if she drank formula or normal milk, and hopeful she didn’t have any allergies we didn’t know about. These were just a few things I was thinking about.

The next morning was a Sunday. It’s kind of weird, to show up at church holding a baby, when the entire congregation knows you were neither pregnant nor are you Hispanic like the child in your arms. At that point most people did not know we were going down the foster parent path. There were a lot of questions and looks.
Most of all there was love. Within hours we had people we didn’t even know dropping off clothes and toys, toddler food, parenting books, blankets, a high chair and a crib!

We made the 45 minute trek to Target that afternoon to get a few additional essentials. Here is another weird part about fostering… We knew nothing about her parents other than the fact that they lived nearby.  With this information I was on high alert with basically everyone we encountered in the store. I was looking up and down at absolute strangers wondering if they were somehow related to our foster daughter. Did that guy look like her? Did that lady look at her a little longer than normal? I was nervous we might run into mom or dad, aunt or uncle or cousin, grandma or grandpa or a family friend. What would we do if some angry person walked up and tried to take her?!

Also, the entire 45 minute car ride I was turning around in my seat looking at her. It is very surreal to just get a baby like that. I wonder if Pharaoh’s daughter experienced any of these feelings after she plucked little Moses out of the river? I was looking at her with love and yet at the same time wondering, “who in the heck are you?” Perhaps it is also like that for birth parents, as you wait for your baby’s personality to emerge? I imagine it’s a little weird for any parent to suddenly have a kid in the backseat? Would love to hear your thoughts!

Xo,

Kara

“God does not call those who are equipped. He equips those He calls.” – and sometimes that just means some very awesome people showing up on your doorstep with hand-me-downs

The Arrival of our First Foster Child

We got a call on a Saturday afternoon. It was 3:30 PM. It was a caseworker from our county asking if we were available to take in a baby girl that evening. She had left a message. She wasn’t positive the child would be removed from her home, but it was likely. I told Adam about the message fully expecting to have a very long conversation about it. Not because I thought he wouldn’t be up for it. Only because this was uncharted territory and we had plans. We had plans that night, we had plans the next day, we had plans the following week and the following month and beyond. All of our plans did not involve a small child because, well, we hadn’t planned on having one that particular month. The conversation with Adam was not a long one. His response to the invitation was more of a, “Really? Oh my God. Sure.” Adam is just awesome like that.

I called the caseworker back. I asked a few questions. “How old was she?”

They weren’t sure exactly. 

“How long might she stay with us?”

They weren’t sure exactly.

“When will you know if she is in fact being removed from her home?”

They weren’t sure exactly.

With all that information, how could we say no?!

I told the caseworker to keep us posted and hung up. Two hours later she was back on the phone, “the baby is on her way.” Ten minutes later they knocked on the door.

Luckily we had a few donated toys on hand. I pulled them out of our trunk and the baby with the perma pout on her face slowly started to engage. After 30 or 40 minutes and one signed release form later, the caseworkers handed over her diaper bag and car seat and left. I was alone in our house with a baby and without a clue in the world what to do next! It was now 6:30 pm.

We had nowhere for her to sleep that night.

We had no sippy cups.

We had no extra diapers or wipes. (She had arrived with two diapers, 4 outfits and a blankie.)

Most importantly, we had no experience!

It’s kind of an awkward thing, having two caseworkers you don’t know walk into your not-totally-clean-house-because-you-weren’t-expecting-this with a child in arms who is about to be in your care. They came through the door. I rubbed the little girl on the arm and asked her how she was doing. Wait. Really? “How are you doing?!” To a baby who probably can’t speak and is in the arms of a stranger after suddenly being taken from the only life she’d ever known.  I wasn’t off to a great start. Ten minutes later I was at it again when I asked her in my limited Spanish if she wanted a cookie. “Tienes un caballo?” The caseworker informed me that in reality I actually told her that she was now the proud owner of a horse. Shoot! I was zero for two!

In the weeks and now months that followed, it quickly became evident that when it comes to parenting, you don’t actually need that much. You need lots and lots of love. And, if you want to have a ton of fun, a cardboard box!

We have not yet had children of our own, so I am wondering what you guys think of the standard 9-month pregnancy? Does it seem like forever? Is it a necessary period for preparation? Would you make the pregnancy period longer or shorter if you could? Do you have any advice for a different opening sentence for next time – something other than “how are you?!” (omg).

XO,

Kara

“Cause all I know is we said, “Hello.”

And your eyes look like coming home

All I know is a simple name

Everything has changed” – Taylor Swift

Foster Care Process-ing

 

I am afraid of so many things! 

Most involve personality flaws, including the desire to be liked, loved, respected, to have the right answers… the list goes on and on.  The sign to the right hangs in my office. It serves as a daily reminder to step out of my comfort zone and go big. Yet fear sometimes cripples me and holds me back from living bold. Do you experience this?!

One thing I was not afraid of was getting certified to take foster children into our house. I don’t know why I wasn’t scared, I probably should have been! I guess fostering children didn’t interfere with one of my many psychoses. :o) What does make me a little nervous is sharing stories about our experience. Yet I have many and we are learning so much!

My hope in sharing these upcoming posts and stories is multi-fold. For starters, I want people to better understand the foster care process. It is a process you need not be scared of, and there are around half a million kids in the US who are in the system (a quarter of a million children entering the system each year). These kids are in need of homes! (Link to the data.) I also believe God has so much to teach us through children. As a first time mother I would love to share what I am learning and hear your perspective too.

In posts to come I will further outline the fostering process and our experiences, but please comment if you have specific questions and I will try to address. I would also love to know I am not alone… Are you fearful? What are you afraid of? I’m hoping to face some fears head on in 2014. Want to join me?

With love,

Kara

“Since fear is crippling, a fearful life – fear of death, fear of judgment – is one not yet fully formed in love.” -1 John 4:18

“Don’t panic. I’m with you. There’s no need to fear for I am your God. I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you. I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you.” – Isaiah 41:10