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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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My Daughter's Prayer

            We all have that one child, don’t we? You know what I’m talking about, even if you don’t want to admit it! It’s the child that gets under your skin more than the others by either acting just like you or by acting so differently than you that you can’t even fathom understanding what’s going on their teeny head. It’s the child that you wish would sleep just a little bit longer in the morning (by at least 4 hours) instead of greeting you the moment your eyes pop open… and you wonder just how long they’ve been awake, waiting for you to stir, as thousands of thoughts and ideas and outfit choices and questions come spewing from their mouth. The child that just can’t seem to grasp that we need coffee before we can answer ALL OF THE QUESTIONS. It’s the child that follows you from room to room, so closely, in fact, that you have marks on the backs of your heels from 30th time they’ve been gouged by little toes that week. The child that requires ALL of your patience ALL of the time – No. Matter. What.

            We all have that one child. And mine is my daughter. She is just a pint-sized shadow, a nugget of a human. She is 7 (and a half… always add the half or they’ll have your head!), 40 pounds soaking wet, and cute as a button. Cute as a button that is on a pair of pants that are 3 sizes too small, digging its way into my flesh as the day goes on. She’s the child that I love, but that I would probably love more if she would ever go away and give me a chance to miss her!

            When Taylor arrived at our home, she was barely 4-years-old. She was even smaller then, although that’s hard to imagine, and she walked into our living room behind the caseworker and her brother, put her tiny hand on her tiny hip and said, “Yeah, you guys are gonna have to buy me new clothes, ‘cause they didn’t let me bring my stuff.” Then she gave the subtlest flick of her hair and pushed past us to see the rest of the house.

            My husband and I had stood there somewhat speechless, shocked by her gumption. We had been told… told by a midget. Twenty minutes into the evening, Taylor was sitting on our laps, hugging and kissing all over us, and telling me how much she loved me – that I was the best Mommy she’s ever had. I think I knew right then, now that I look back on it. I think I knew it was RAD before I even let my mind put those three little letters together.

            Taylor has amazing qualities. She’s adorable, athletic, resilient, and she loves to help clean, just to name a few things. But for those of you that have been following this blog from the beginning of our journey with the kids, you may remember my frustrations about a few random behaviors. The make-up obsession (which led to stealing and wasting my expensive products, lying, making huge messes, etc.), the passion for trendy clothes but the inability to stop wearing dirty ones from the hamper (again with the lies – even when I could clearly see she’s layered like FIVE dirty shirts under her jacket!), but most importantly, her need to mother – more specifically, her need to hold/carry small children. Infants, toddlers, other children her age, it doesn’t seem to matter. Strangers, people we know, kids at the park, kids at school, babies picked up from strollers… yeah, this doesn’t seem to matter either.

            I know the deep-rooted issues behind each of these behaviors, really I do. And my husband and I have tried a million and one therapeutic techniques (along with an equal number of not-so therapeutic techniques) and, naturally 3 ½ years later, she’s still being grounded to her room for picking up the babies. There are plenty of reasons I don’t want her doing this, not all of which I’ll go into detail about, but most importantly, she’s just too small and too immature to pick kids up safely. Children literally get hurt about 50% of the time that she touches them. Whether she’s hovering so close that she trips them, she sets them up on furniture and then walks away, or she downright drops them… I’m constantly having to explain the little ones’ bumps and bruises to others so they don’t call the authorities on us!

            Most recently, Taylor gave the baby a near-concussion and then lied her pants off about it. Being the therapist that I am, I lost my mind on her. I banished her to her bedroom for the entire weekend. Meals and potty breaks… that was all she was allowed out for. It seemed the only way to keep the young ones safe, since she does it the second you turn to do dishes or stir the soup on the stove.

            You guys, she was heartbroken! But I was not. For a full weekend, I walked without heel’s being stepped on, drank an entire cup of coffee without having to answer (or ignore) 200 questions, and I didn’t have to apply first aid to anyone in the house! So you can imagine my surprise when Saturday late afternoon, I started to miss her. (I know… it shocked me, too!) It’s just so much calmer with her in a different room that I almost mistook my feelings for her as the flu.

            After finding no fever, I deduced that it was definitely me missing Taylor. However, I am one for consistency. And I told her that she was grounded for the weekend, so how could I go back on my word without losing whatever ground I think I might have with her? This is where parenting gets tough… constantly questioning every choice and weighing every option, and then wondering if I chose the right thing or not!

            And it was in that moment of self-debate, standing at the top of the stairs, that I heard something coming from her room…. Was she talking to herself or to someone else?

            It didn’t take long before I realized what was happening. Friends… my daughter was praying. She was praying loudly and boldly, just like I’d taught her to do. She was not prompted, nor was encouraged to do it as a condition for “early release”. So, I stood there, tears streaming down my face, as I heard these words:

            “God, PLEASE make me good! When you say to do it, I wanna do it. I’ll read my Bible and I won’t wear dirty clothes and I WON’T pick up babies no more. I need to stop trying and start doing!” (A quote from me… she has been listening!!) “I need to move on and be who I gotta be. I don’t want to go down the wrong path!” (I put daily Bible verses in the kids’ lunch boxes… Taylor had one earlier in the week about God lighting her path and showing her which way to go. So, not only did she read it, she memorized it and applied it.)

            This is where she randomly burst into song in the middle of her prayer with the correct amount of Taylor-sized drama. “Je-sus, I gotta dooooo the right thing, Je-susssss… I gotta taaaaaake the right path, Je-sus…” Ok, so I stopped crying to crack up for a few minutes as she mooed like a cow going through a spin cycle, uttering those sweet words before returning to her prayer. Only this time, I could hear the tears in her voice.

            “God, I have such a long way to go and my mom, she’s not being mean to me by keeping me in my room… she’s just trying to help me. If she dies, I’ll probably end up in jail, so you HAVE to help me, God! I need to do MY part so everybody can be happy. Please! Please help me be good, God. Please!”

            Between heaving sobs, I was able to pull myself together and assess the situation with fresh eyes. The child who seems to never learn her lesson, the child who seems to only care about what she wants despite the harm it may cause others, the child who is that child to me… Well. She was learning, wasn’t she? It’s so hard to remember that her behavior is not always “defiant”. Hearing her words to God reminds me that she’s not TRYING to be bad. She doesn’t WANT to struggle like this. Her desire to do the right thing is tantamount to her desire to over-mother the little ones, and it has caused a spiritual war inside of her, frustrating her, leaving her feeling like a failure. And where was I? Sipping my coffee and enjoying my healing heels.

            I felt so small in that moment. So broken for her little heart. I walked down the stairs, took a deep breath, and opened her door. There she was, sitting on her bed, baby doll in her lap, tear-stained cheeks looking back at me. She suddenly burst into sobs and I moved to her, grabbing her up into my arms, letting her just weep her frustrated, cleansing tears.

            I think I felt closer to her in that moment than I ever have. I, too, do what is wrong, despite knowing what is right. I, too, sin repeatedly and don’t seem to learn my lesson. I don’t have RAD. What is my excuse?

            We were able to have a long heart-to-heart over the next hour, my daughter and I. We talked about safety. We talked about consistency in consequences. We talked about love. And we talked about forgiveness. I explained how God’s grace covers us fully and completely, no matter what we’ve done. I also explained how God uses just wisdom in order to teach us things in the middle of our sin. And I explained that I loved her - that I was so proud of her for letting God work on her heart.

            Taylor remained grounded until the next day and she understood why that decision was held. But I think she and I both gained a huge sense of peace in our relationship from that hour we spent talking on her bed. And, although my heels are back to being marred and my state of mind back to that of Frazzled, I am filled with hope at the realization that she is, in fact, learning and growing and trying. You guys… what else matters?


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5 Common Barbs In The Battle Over Breastfeeding

Has there ever been such a hot topic as breastfeeding? From states banning or unbanning it in public, to Instagram pictures of topless stars, we are seeing a trend lending itself to attacking the very ones being debated: the new mother and her sweet bundle of joy.

"Obviously, the only right thing to do is to personally attack this woman by passing judgment, giving her unwanted/unwarranted advice, and making her feel that we know better than she does about the choices she should make for her life and the life of her baby," said no sane and decent person ever.

So, in honor of all of us mamas out there, let’s take a calm and rational look at this breastfeeding conundrum, shall we? On a personal note, I’ve chosen to nurse my little man and have been doing so with a modicum of success for over 3 months now. I say this because, first of all, nursing is hard. We’re talking seriously difficult, here! When you see movies of a baby being born and the nurses setting the gooey little one on the mother’s chest for that first feeding, it looks so easy. The baby instinctively knows how to suck and finds his way to his mama’s breast as the woman on the big screen sighs with contentment. To this, I'm calling B.S. I mean, my six-year-old instinctively knows how to suck on a straw, yet she chokes religiously because she’s in a hurry to go play. And I, as a mother, instinctively want to protect my children from harm, and yet they still experience falls, scrapes, bruises, and scars. A baby is born with the intrinsic need to suck. And he does. But not well. At least not at first. And a mother’s breast is conditioned to produce milk after nine months of carrying her child inside of her. But she may not produce enough. She may not know which positions she and her baby are most comfortable nursing in, or she may simply recoil at the pain of having a small creature chomping at her tenders! I know for a fact that for the first month of breast-feeding my small one, hearing his little “NOM NOM NOM!” noises as he swiveled his head back and forth trying to latch onto any part of me that was closest to him resembled an episode of the walking dead.

 That being said, I chose to breastfeed. And many women choose to bottle feed. It seems unnecessary to have to explain why one woman chooses one way while another woman chooses the other, because the fact of the matter is, it’s not really our business, is it? When we come right down to it, we are all women, juggling life. We have work schedules, health issues, modesty concerns, social/peer pressure, latching difficulties, and a million other factors that play into our decisions. And we don’t want to be the cause of making another loving mama feel “less than” for her choice to do what’s best for her and her family, do we? So, a quick word to the Booby Pushers and to the Bottle Feeders: Let’s all take a deep breath, that’s right. Now, relax. We’ll all make it through this article alive if we show a little love to one another, OK?

As you may have guessed, my biggest issue with the breastfeeding conundrum is the judgment surrounding it. I, myself, have wavered back and forth on certain areas of nursing, such as how many months to nurse, how to do it in public without betraying my own personal desire for modesty, and how to work through the pain when my baby literally sucked part of my nipple off (yes, this can happen, mamas, so beware!). And what I found to be most helpful during these personal dilemmas that I experienced was to have compassionate, understanding professionals and friends to confide in. During those difficult times, I was given amazing information on the many benefits of nursing (reducing the risk of breast cancer, the zero cost of nursing vs. the cost of formula, the healthy ingredients found in breast milk, etc.). This useful information, along with help from lactation consultants to correct poor latching, helped me with my decision to continue nursing, despite my desire to quit in those earlier weeks.

So, let’s take a look at a few of the hot topics related to the breast vs. bottle controversy.

1.) “Breastfeeding is beautiful!” 

This person is probably the same one trying to convince women everywhere that childbirth is totally beautiful, as well. And we all know the truth to that, don’t we? It’s messy, bloody, sweaty, pukey, and downright painful! But God makes ugly things sometimes (I mean, you’ve seen testicles before, right?) but the end result is what’s beautiful. And that same end result, my baby, is the only part of breastfeeding that I personally consider beautiful, because Lord knows my breasts are lacking all sorts of beauty these days! Saggy or engorged, nothing covers these fleshy bags of milk better than an unattractive nursing bra. But that beautiful baby is there whether mama chooses breast or bottle, so let’s be careful to not make anyone feel less than beautiful.

2.) “Breastfeeding is natural.”

Of course it is; there’s no question about it. We are beautifully designed to do some utterly amazing things! Although something being natural isn’t the sole factor on whether or not a woman chooses to nurse or not. Eating organically is natural and has many benefits. However, there’s something about Ben and Jerry’s and a big ole scoop of mac and cheese that gets me going more than a bag of organically grown carrots. I can tell myself that it’s natural, but my taste buds sometimes literally scream for processed foods. And honestly, I’m ok with that. Most the things we engage in throughout our days are anything but natural, from cell phones to microwaves to wearing make-up. And yet we aren’t quick to point fingers at people for using these items, so why should we get so upset when we see a woman lovingly feeding her newborn with a bottle?

3.) “Breastfeeding shouldn't be hidden."

I have the right to do it wherever I want, whenever I want.” This seems to be one of the biggest debates regarding nursing these days. Even women who have chosen to nurse are being attacked by other nursing women for not being “open enough” about it! (I’m calling a spade a spade, here. These women are in desperate need of a hobby.) It’s important to keep in mind that plenty of things are natural, but many women choose to do them in private, nursing being one of them. (Other things done in private include, but are not limited to: moving your bowels, showering, and sex. Yet, I don’t see many people debating these acts of privacy. Thank God!) For many of us, it’s hard to wrap our minds around it being taboo to pull out your boobs in public one day, and yet you’re supposed to do so the next day with righteous inhibition just because a baby is attached to the other end. Not to mention the issue of exposing, not only one’s breast, but one’s side and stomach… areas that a woman may feel less than confident about in the weeks and months following her delivery. Ladies, if we truly loved one another, we would spend more time encouraging others to feel beautiful, united, and confident instead of forcing our own agendas and confidence onto them. Something that I have found helpful is to do this: out of courtesy to those in my life, I will ask them if they mind if I nurse openly in front of them. If they seem uncomfortable with this notion, I will wear my shawl or simply go to another room. I could get a chip on my shoulder and act like they've truly offended me, or I could recognize that their level of comfort may be different than mine. Likewise, if a woman decides to nurse around me, I try to assure her that she can be free to do this in any way that is comfortable for her and her baby. She can be open, covered, or I can set her up in the next room if she prefers. Heck, I’ll even sit outside the closed door and talk loudly just to keep her company if that’s what she needs. Because it’s not just about me in the world. It’s about us. And wouldn’t it be amazing if we could all be just a bit more flexible?

4.) “Breastfeeding in public is appalling.”

Ah, the other side of the spectrum. We women sure do like our extremes, don’t we? Please keep in mind that one person’s idea of appalling may not necessarily be another person’s idea of it. For instance, I personally find it appalling when I see someone’s 5-year-old pick his nose and smear it on a restaurant table at which I may be blessed to sit next. And strangely enough, it is probably that 5-year-old’s mother that is calling breastfeeding appalling in the first place. Now, I’m not saying we should all sit around Times Square with our knockers blowing in the breeze. But it could be beneficial for all womankind if we took into account that what is truly appalling is the lack of places where a mother can feed her baby more discreetly. Some women may be awesome enough come prepared with their pop-up tent and lazy-boy recliner, complete with a built in nursing pillow, but for the average Janes out there, I’m pretty sure we can agree that this is just a touch impractical. A touch. In my opinion a woman refusing to feed her hungry baby because there isn't an appropriate location for it far more appalling than one who chose to feed him as kindly and respectfully as possible for her current surroundings. Let’s keep some perspective, shall we, ladies? Starvation is far worse than public nursing, and I’m pretty sure that’s something that we all can agree on!

5.) “Breastfeeding should only be done until the baby is no longer considered a newborn or you’ll be seen as ‘That Woman Who Is Nursing A Full Grown Man’.”

Yep. That’s actually out there. We’ve all seen the magazine cover donning the rather large child dressed in his school clothes, latched on to his mom’s ta-ta while smiling for the camera. And yes, perhaps a little judgment is necessary when we’re still nursing children who could legitimately down a porter house steak in one sitting. Just saying. However, the slippery slope is evident when a woman admits to nursing her nine-month old baby and she sees the faint hint of disgust on the other person’s face. If we realized how many walls we put up with our glances and turned up noses, if we knew how many eyes we caused to fill with tears or hearts we caused to feel shame or bitterness.

What if, just for a second, we let mamas be mamas? Wouldn’t the world be a sweeter place? A freer place? Being milk-producing snobs or boob-shamers is like penis measuring…. It’s in poor taste and, frankly, kinda ugly. Instead, let’s remember to encourage fellow mamas out there and help them to be the best kind of mother she chooses to be!

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Becoming a Mom: Ways Around Infertility

There is nothing more amazing, beautiful, or life-affirming than giving birth to a child. If you’re like the average woman in our society, you spent your childhood playing house and imagining your frilly wedding day while making a list of what you’ll name your future children when you finally manage to land Prince Charming (or Hugh Jackman). As a teenager, you babysat all the children in your neighborhood and then some, surrounding yourself with little beauties, all the while practicing your own parenting skills. You were certainly going to have all the kinks worked out by the time you had children of your own.

And then you started dating – seriously dating. And one of the top questions for each prospective suitor was to ask if he wanted children. How many, how soon, what gender? Naturally, you used all the power you could muster and you held back for a few dates. I mean, you didn’t want to scare the poor fellow away and let him know that you were baby crazy and all, right? But wait, were you baby crazy? Maybe. But probably not. More than likely you were an intelligent, witty, successful woman that was simply searching for that missing part to make you whole. A family.

And once the “I Do’s” were said and the champagne bubbles finally settled, you looked to your new husband with a gleam in your eye and he knew – you both knew – it was time to make a baby. You couldn’t be more elated. And naturally, neither could he. Because while you’ve been dreaming for a little one with your eyes and his nose, he’s been dreaming of frequent and female-initiated sex for the next several months! Well, that and he really hopes the little one has your eyes as well. After all, you did marry a romantic, right?

But then something happened. Your urgent love-making didn’t produce a little one but a heap of disappointment. Month after month you sat by your bathroom sink, willing yourself to pass a test that you can’t even study for, hoping and praying for the double lines that will forever change your life. But as the months accumulated, you couldn’t help but feel like a failure. Why am I broken? Why would I have such a strong desire to be a Mother if it were never going to come true? Am I doing something wrong? Is he doing something wrong? Should we get tested? And after a certain amount of time, you do the scariest thing and see a doctor. And this doctor gives you the scariest news you’ll ever hear – Infertility. The word rocks you to the core, challenges your beliefs, leaves you feeling hollow and angry and bitter and grief-stricken. The future looks empty and much different than it did before.

Suddenly, you realize that you’re going to have an awful lot of free time on your hands, what with the decrease in sex and no children to care for and all. You wonder if you should take up hobbies like knitting and rock polishing while changing your magazine subscription from Parenting to European Travel. The numbness sets in and you begin your life as a couple. You make friends with other couples, only to dump them when they break the “happy news” to you that they’re expecting. You’ve now knitted 32 blankets and 45 scarves, but for some reason, you just keep coming back to that cute pattern of the little baby booties in your Knitting For Dumbies book. This book finally makes its way to the garbage and the needles are chucked into the street during a fit over tangled yarn. But we both know it really wasn’t about the yarn at all, was it? Because everywhere you go, you see happy women with fat bellies talking about due dates, onesies, and organic babyfoods. For a while, you consider moving to the nearest forest to live in one of those cute tree homes you saw in your new travel magazine.

The desire to be free from the media, families, mothers, and other people’s children so strong you actually called a guy who knows a guy who could get you a good deal on the tree home. But it turns out it was more expensive than the price for adoption so you accidentally on purpose lost the guy’s number and went back to avoiding all things that reminded you of the child-sized hole in your heart. And then one day you start to feel a little bit strong inside. You realize that you hadn’t cried yet that day and you actually couldn’t recall crying the day before either. You saw a mother pushing a stroller on the sidewalk and you said hello instead of breaking out in a cold sweat and crossing the street. Eventually, the ability to attend baby showers, christenings, and dedications seems less terrifying and a new thought begins to swirl around in your heart. It couldn’t be ignored anymore than the pain of infertility could, despite your family and friends telling you that it was time to “move on”. It's foster care.

You and your husband begin to weigh the options, talk to the people, fill out some papers, take some classes. There are caseworkers, permanency specialists, visitation schedules, court hearings. It all starts to feel so overwhelming. It starts to feel like Infertility all over again. Maybe this was a bad decision? What if we can’t handle this? What if we still never get a child? What if, what if, what if? Until one day, the phone rings. You’re not given much information, but they ask you if you want to take a child. Two children, actually. A brother and a sister. Will you do it? Can you do it? Your bravery and courage battle it out as you hold the phone and your breath at the same time. “Yes,” you finally whisper. “We’ll do it.” And you do. You do it with all that you have in you – on the days that are hard, on the days that are beyond hard, and on the days that are the hardest of all. You made your dream of Motherhood come true. It’s not how you planned or dreamed or fantasized all those years ago when you were making your list of baby names. But you became a mother - the best mother that your kids will ever know. There is nothing more amazing, beautiful, or life-affirming than giving birth to a child. Expect for being able to choose a child. To your little one, that is the most beautiful gift of all.

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