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A Mother's Day Reminder

Today is Mother’s Day. I have children (11 and 9) who were adopted, one foster child (4) whom we lost, and one birth child (who just turned 3 yesterday). In our house we have mental health issues, social delays, and the inability for each person to pee on the potty consistently each day. To top things off, we own a LOT of dog hair. In fact, we get so busy that I might even forget that we own the 3 dogs entirely if it weren’t for the constant reminder of hair and dander floating to and fro as we rush in and out of the door each day to get go our millions of errands and appointments.

To sum things up, our life is one of chaos.

I remember a few years back my oldest son and I were at the mall (back when we had time for such luxuries). We ran into a child from his class and Cameron was anxious to introduce me. The next day he came home from school proudly announced that his friend had a crush on me. The sense of joy this gave my son, that he could have a mom “cute enough” to be crushed on by a peer, was priceless. And I, needless to say, felt flattered.

Fast forward 3 years…

Cameron and I ran into this same peer a few months back in a church parking lot. Cameron made small talk with the boy by saying, “Hey, remember when you had a crush on my mom?” This other child then looked over at me and dismissively said, “Eh, she’s looking a little old now…”

Um, ouch?

My son felt the need to tell me this as if HIS feelings were hurt! I gave myself a quick check in my side mirror of our van as I processed the child’s words. It was then that I noticed that my hair was thrown up haphazardly and my make-up had worn off as the day had gone on. I didn’t display the same kind of attractiveness that I once had, and this was apparent to my son AND his friends. It didn’t take long before I began to second guess the state of my house, the quality of school lunches I pack for my kids, and the fact that I’m often too busy to play a game or build a fort when asked. By the time I’d returned home, I was practically in a tail spin about my inadequacies as a mother. Naturally, children finding us old and unattractive does this to a mama!

But today, as my husband and three remaining children gathered around me, doting me with cards, gifts, and handmade notes, I felt tremendously blessed. I also felt something else that surprised me greatly.

I felt adequate.

All of the things that creep into my mind throughout the days and the months, the things that point out all my flaws – those things are nothing in comparison to being the mother that MY kids need me to be. I mean, I could so easily get hung up on the fact that my weight will probably always have a 15 pound fluctuation… but if my daughter looks at me and sees a strong and confident woman, I have succeeded. I may grieve the loss of a child and show this weakness to my other children at times when the pain becomes too much to keep inside… but if they see me rise after I weep, then I have succeeded. My house may be cluttered and my legs be unshaven, but if my children observe that my time is being spent on helping the needy and loving the unlovable, then I have succeeded.

Because you see, our successes and failures are not judged by our children in the same light as we judge ourselves. Yes, they may be disappointed when we can’t play every game with them and if they get peanut butter and jelly 3 days in a row (okay, 5 days in a row) – but these things are small in comparison to our example of forgiveness when they lose their minds in tantrums every other day or when they hide their dirty clothes around their rooms instead of putting them in the hamper.

By simply being a mother who loves and disciplines and does her best for her family and her community and her God, we are being the perfect example that our children need. We are being real. And by being real, that means that we are often ragged and lumpy and worn, just like a child’s favorite stuffed toy. By being real, that means that our children see our lives and learn to set expectations of both greatness and resilience during failures, all at the same time.

When we show our children these things, whether or not we feel lovely or disheveled, all together or frazzled – we have succeeded.

Be blessed, be real, and remember that you ARE succeeding.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mamas.

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A Season to Head Bang

Sometimes I feel like I’m banging my head off a brick wall with my kids. Anyone else?? Often, I see no results, well apart from a headache. Other times I simply bang my head out of habit. Brush your teeth… Stop hiding your dirty clothes around your room… Leave your sister alone… Put the milk away… Take your meds… Stop peeing on your things… If it’s not yours, stop touching it… If you break one more toy, I’m never buying you another… Don’t forget your lunch… For God’s sake, wipe your butt! (Bang. Head. Hard.)

I say these things over and over again, not because I truly believe that my children will ever listen to my words, but because it’s my duty as a parent to say them, regardless of the outcome.  I am the teacher and the repeater and the official head banger of our household. I do these things so often that I usually run out of time to do other necessary things (laundry, grocery shopping, showering, etc). Generally, this leaves me feeling dissatisfied with my current life. Go figure, right? But honestly, if all I’m here for is to remind people to do things that they will, inevitably, not do, then what’s the point of my job as a mother?

Last week we had a group therapy session, me and the kiddos. I know with their diagnosis that I have to tread lightly when it comes to praise. If I give too much encouragement or show too much affection, the self-sabotage takes over and the tantrums will ensue. And, despite me knowing this, I praised my children during their therapy session. I was careful to do so quickly and without too much emotion, but it didn’t matter. My son arrived home and had a massive melt down. The “I hate you” train plowed through our home with a vengeance that evening, complete with screaming and slamming and all the back talk you can imagine. He even challenged The Hubs, which is quite insane because my husband is large and fairly intimidating when he scowls.

But none of this mattered to the boy. All that mattered was that I had broken the rules. I had said too much and it was his job to reestablish the chaos, leaving me to find the closest brick wall.

My daughter is much more passive in her need to rectify praise. She wants it desperately. But when she gets it, her body creates all manners of psychosomatic symptoms. She will literally develop any disease, wound, or body ache that she has seen someone else exhibit recently that got them attention. She’s my child who ends up in the nurse’s office with unsubstantiated illnesses that another classmate just had. Sadly, this week we are potty-training the toddler… therefore the way to get our attention and make the world right again was for her own bladder to regress.

She can’t help it, at least I don’t think she can. But it wouldn’t matter if she could or not. For me, it all comes down to the same thing. The fact that I am once again just hear to be the head banger.

The stress of all things concerning Isaac… the constant work I do educating others on watching for child abuse… the never-ending advocacy to get laws changed, to get social workers to do their jobs, to get people to see the horrific things happening to children all around us… it so often seems all for naught. I find myself spinning in circles all day long, only to wake up the next day and spin some more. I fight for my children, I fight with my children, and I fight the world that is harming children – day in and day out, I try to be the best that I can and follow the peculiar rules that this life needs me to follow so that my children don’t go postal on me. I try desperately to protect them and to train them and to remind them of all the good things they need to do and be. I want so much for all my children to be safe. Yet all I do is spin circles because it seems that no matter how much I try, very little changes.

The other day a female cardinal got trapped in our van while the windows were down. She frantically raced from one side of the van to the other, banging her head at every dead end. She also crapped on every surface of our freshly cleaned vehicle, but that’s another story entirely. When I went outside and saw what had happened, I tried to open the van door for this terrified bird to escape. In the meantime, her hubby tried to attack – divebombing every time I neared my van. His partner was trapped and he was frantic. He rammed himself into the glass so many times that he left bloody evidence of his efforts on each window.

Yet it wasn’t until after I got the door opened and both birds were free that I noticed that they have a nest in the tree above our van. These birds aren’t just partners, they are parents.

From that day on, these birds have guarded their nest with a vengeance. Our cars are constantly under attack and we, the owner of a Chrysler Town and County bird cage, are also a threat and are treated as such. From what I’ve read about cardinals, they are incredibly territorial and aggressive towards trespassers. I also read that they are amazing parents because they will go to any means necessary to care for their young.

This includes banging their heads off car windows and squawking wildly all day, every day.

Sound familiar?

We, the head bangers and circle spinners, we are not alone in our daily battle to protect our children. We may repeat endless efforts to ensure their safety and well-being and it may seem like nothing is ever changing… that we’re beating on the same glass of the same van each and every day.

But do you know what else I found while reading about cardinals? That they are often seen as a sign of Hope. That, after a long, bleak winter, the first sign of those bold, red feathers lets the rest of creation know that spring has arrived – that change is coming.

That there is hope for something more.

And sometimes that means a season of banging our heads and squawking loudly each and every day. But it is just that… a season. And in the end, our young will know that we did all we could to protect them and to set them on the best path possible. Because for everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven. We will not spin circles forever, friends. It’s just our time to remind all around us of the Hope that has arrived.

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"The Children Who Raised Me" ~ Now Available!

In case you missed the memo (which, how could you because I've basically been blowing up my social media feeds with the news because I'm SOOOO excited), my first book is now available online at tatepublishing.com!  If you've followed my family's story, you may already know some of what falls in the pages of this particular memoir. However, have no fear, there is plenty of NEW content that helps put our lives into some perspective. 

From foster care to adoption, mental health behaviors to Reactive Attachment Disorder, grief and loss to new life, Christian parenting to just plain survival - this book has a little bit of something for everyone and I'm so blessed that God gave me the words that needed to be said... words that are hard to say. Although I floundered my way through much of it, my deepest aim was to shed light on the hard parts of raising someone else's children... to say the things that we're told not to say, and to take away the facade that all things related to adoption, fostering, and just plain parenting is nothing but happiness and love.

Because let's be honest. It's oftentimes not. In fact, sometimes it sucks so badly that you can't find breath and you make parenting mistakes and you cry ugly tears that no one should ever feel they need to hide out of shame. We are ALL together in this parenting thing. Whether it's messed or blessed, we are together. Even when you've felt you couldn't go on another moment; Even when you gave up and came back and gave up again and came back again all within the same 10 minutes; Even if you feel like you're failing...

There is always Hope.

And you are never alone.

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Small Victories

            There is a picture of a woman jogging on my desktop background. To those of you that know me, this is an obvious sign that I’m breaking down. Because, for one, it’s athletic. And two, it’s jogging. Women shouldn’t jog. It goes against our anatomical make-up. Too many things bounce and jiggle and smack us in the face if we try. It’s just not natural.

            But I chose this picture as my background because, for one, my computer crashed and I lost all that was near and dear to me (electronically speaking). Did I back up to the magical world of clouds and boxes? Of course not. I mean, I thought I did… but did you know those things get full and stop backing things up automatically? I didn’t know that.

            I digress.

            I chose this jogger as my picture, not just because my computer crashed and I lost all my other pictures that were on Windows 8, sending me into the bizarre land of Windows 10 (that makers of which are obviously trying to push this God-forsaken sport onto us)… but I chose this picture because the woman was jogging on the beach. And the beach – its sand and soothing waves – is my safe place. It’s my womb. It’s the place I wish to crawl into and rest until all is right with the world again.

            Life has been busy, as it always is. But it’s been extra busy with computers crashing and car batteries dying, preparing to build a house, books coming out and opening a homeless shelter the same week of Thanksgiving (because who does that!!!). Life has been busy, so much so that I didn’t allow myself to prepare for my children and their RAD. It was almost as if, because I had forgotten the holiday was coming, that I my children would also magically forget or something.

            But let me assure you, they didn’t.

            In true RAD form, my children rose to the occasion like Gladiators. They wore their armor and prepped for battle while I mindlessly went about my errands and craziness, completely unprepared for the fight. Sitting here now, I feel ashamed of myself for getting so busy that I neglected to remember the tell-tale signs. I let my guard down and am now paying the price.

            Between the two of them in a few days’ time, we had sexual advances, horrific disrespect to women, a near flooding of the basement because someone took the washer apart, my beautiful Willow Tree collectible items were colored on (and not by the toddler), and an entire melted candle was poured down our drain.

            You guys, it’s been 3 days and we still can’t use our tubs, sinks, or toilets! My house smells like a sewer and, no matter how many times I tell these little people NOT to flush the toilets, they just keep on flushing them, sending them to near-overflowing. Mind you, these same children NEVER flush a toilet to save their lives. But not this week… This week, they are freaking toilet-flushing machines!

            We literally drove to our church to poop today. All of us. We just sat there and waited till we all had to go. Because that’s what parents of RAD children get to do in their “free time”.

            So, to break up the fun of waiting for the bowels to move, I decided to collect more items for the shelter our church opened this week. A house was being torn down and there was furniture that needed to be salvaged. I traipsed in with 2 RADs and a toddler before realizing that we had, in fact, entered a crack house.

            Awesome.

            My kids dove into the plunder like pirates looking for buried treasure, while I took the razor blade off the two-year-old who had found it atop the mirror stained with special white powder marks on the kitchen counter. And when my almost 9-year-old asked if she could keep the pretty vase for her room, I hadn’t the heart to tell her that it wasn’t actually a vase at all but something that we could get arrested for owning. It was when my oldest stuck his hand into a bag filled with urine-soaked items that I decided I was totally not going to win the mother of the year award (again, dang it!).

            We salvaged what we could safely clean and took it to the shelter. I answered no less than 3 trillion questions about nothing important, and the toddler developed a fever and runny nose… he probably got a case of second-hand drug use from the crack house. I’m watching for signs of withdrawal as we speak.

            And after we went back to the church to “finish our deeds”, we finally arrived back home. And these children couldn’t believe that I was exhausted. How dare I not play with them on a Monday during business hours. How dare I not entertain them and watch movies and celebrate the holiday weekend with them instead of working. How dare I not allow them to make play dates when they’ve acted like complete fools for the better part of a week.

            And all I could do was sit and stare at the woman jogging on my computer screen. I knew in real life that her boobs must be killing her, but I wanted nothing more than to be her in that moment. I’d trade sore nips for a battered heart any day of the week. It also occurred to me that running is about small victories – counting down the mile markers, keeping track of breaths and strides, staying focused on just the next step.

            My kids, although complete terrors this week, didn’t lie about their behaviors – they took ownership. They didn’t fight their consequences, they accepted them. They still can’t tell me why and I still have no idea what will make them stop, but there were small victories nevertheless.

           Today, as I sat there crying to a near-stranger, I realized that now is the time to count my breaths and strides – to focus on just the moment that is in front of me. My body may hurt and my mind may scream against all that is happening, but there is a sea of beauty all around, just waiting to be noticed. And whereas I may not have a physical beach to calm my frantic soul, I know that, breath by breath and stride by stride, peace is mine for the taking.

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Encounter - A Book Review

It’s not everyday that I feel quite so blessed by the eloquence of young people. My heart leaps in my chest when I see children interested in reading and writing - compelled to tell the stories of their vivid minds in ways that show a unique perspective mixed with intelligence and creativity.

And that is exactly what I found when I came across 12-year-old Cooper Lafreniere’s book Encounter. Earlier this year I had the privilege to read a book by his younger brother to my children. Cody and the Hairy Thing soon became a household favorite and the children were anxious to see what Cooper had to bring to the table in Encounter. And as I expected, we were not to be disappointed.

In his book, Lafreniere shows great attention to detail, grabbing the attention of young males straight from the get go. With topics of camping, nature, and building rafts, any young boy would be drawn in straight away to the captivating tales shared in Encounter. My own son began pestering me to start constructing clubhouses and fishing poles before we were even halfway through the book! And anything that inspires that kind of creativity in my child is something that I support.

Cooper goes on to address heart-warming themes such as a beautiful depiction of a loving father-son relationship, overcoming immense fear, and heroism. As his young character, Jack, faces his greatest worries, he is guided by his earthly father to find security and trust in his heavenly Father as well. Even as an adult, I found myself moved to tears as this young boy showered those around him with respect and, ultimately, as he took on an adult role in order to protect those he loves.

In our society, children are often looked at as small or incapable of doing great things. And yet every child dreams of doing something with the biggness that is inside of them. In this book, Lafreniere allows his character to rise to that occasion and tackle obstacles that show that children are just as capable of greatness as adults. With childlike faith and strong love, anything is possible.

 

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