Mt. Metaphor

Two weeks ago I quite literally climbed a mountain. The bruises under my big toenails and my still-swollen patellar tendons remind me each day how very real that mountain was.

Our trek up Mt. Elbert started months ago as my group of high school friends began to plan a trip to Colorado. Our friend was getting married there and we all hoped to attend the nuptials but also planned on making quite a trip of it. I was reluctant to jump on board. Just a year ago we were planning a similar trip with the same friends and Mr. Something and I had to back out on account of needing to attend our foster care licensing classes. That change of plans derailed me and I was certain it was the beginning of life as I knew it coming to a complete end. I did a great job of downplaying it but I really struggled with the turn of events. (It’s a bit awful that here we are, a year later, and I am once again thinking that this will be our last childless summer. I’ve been blogging for almost 2 1/2 years and feel like I’ve been in the same place in this process this whole time. )

Anyway, as plans for this trip to Colorado began to unfold, we tentatively chimed in with a disclaimer that we might have to back out again if there was any movement on the foster care front. We booked accommodations that would allow us to cancel without fees up until two weeks before. We didn’t talk much about it and I tried desperately not to get excited. All of this considered, the trip sort of snuck up on both of us and suddenly it was summer and we were going.

Mt. Elbert (Wiki Commons photo)

Mt. Elbert (Wiki Commons photo)

As part of the preparations, a GoogleDoc popped up among my friends with potential activities, a schedule for the week, links to informational sites etc. One of the proposed activities was a hike to the top of Mt. Elbert, one of Colorado’s legendary “14ers” (the name bestowed upon any peak reaching above 14,000 feet.)  It came with an impressive resume boasting that, at 14,440 feet, it is the highest peak in the Rocky Mountains of North America, the second highest in the contiguous United States, and the highest of the 14ers in Colorado. I immediately became enamored with the idea and had to do it.

In an early morning text conversation with Mr. Something, months prior to the trip, I allowed some of my well-kept excitement to leak through and typed,

“I want to climb a mountain with you and celebrate at the top.”

As I hit send, the enormity of that statement overwhelmed me. It was no longer Mt. Elbert we were discussing but our very journey together through life and into the great unknown of foster care adoption. Mt. Elbert suddenly became a metaphor for everything that we were attempting to do here and I knew at once that if we could summit that very real mountain a thousand miles away, than we could do anything.

The trail was approximately 4 1/2 miles to the summit, however the 4,000 foot elevation gain was going to prove to be the struggle for this flatlander. I never doubted the physical challenge of the task. I equipped myself with a 3 liter hydropak, a set of shock absorbing hiking poles, $20 hiking socks, and dry-fit shirt. I mixed my own high-energy trail mix, and packed extra sunscreen, rain jacket, and poncho. No matter how prepared I thought I was, there was nothing I could have tucked into my backpack that would have prepared me for the mental and emotional challenge of reaching the summit of that mountain.

Shortly after setting off we separated into two groups. The first were dubbed either insane or super-human shortly after we began the ascent and they took off at an impossible pace, the latter being myself, Mr. Something (who very well could have been on Team Super-Human but preferred to share the torturous experience at my side) plus one of my oldest and dearest friends who was fairly closely matched with my own physical abilities.

Within an hour we named ourselves “Team Optimism” because it quickly became apparent that as long as two of us remained optimistic, the third would have no choice but to follow suit. We each took very real turns with defeat. It quickly became impossible to walk more than five steps without having to stop and catch our breath. My heart was pounding so mightily in my chest I was certain that at some point it would simply explode and I would die on that mountain trail. This is not a dramatic over-exaggeration of thoughts weeks later, we each actually came to terms with the fact that we truly felt like we might die on that mountain. At one point I told my friend quite earnestly, “If I die out here, don’t feel sorry for me because at least I died in one of the most beautiful places in the world and not someplace lame like driving to work.”

IMG_1943At about 2 1/2 hours into our ascent my phone buzzed in my pocket. It was an email notification. I received an evite for a barbecue from a friend back home. It might as well have been contact from another planet for how strange it felt to be struggling through such wild wilderness and to get something as ordinary as an evite sent to my pocket. I texted her to share the strangeness of the moment. I sent her this picture of the little piece of the world that was consuming me. I sent a plea, “I need some inspiration. This mountain is killing me.”

Her end was quiet for almost two hours, but it was those two hours later that I had sent my friend ahead to meet up with her husband and I called Mr. Something back to me on the trail. “I can’t do it.” I was crying (because anyone that knows me knows that any extreme emotion equals tears in my world.) I turned my back on the trail ahead and was looking out across the landscape we had been conquering one shuffling step at a time for over four hours. IMG_6148I was gasping for breath and struggling with the thought that out of the ten of us that embarked on that journey, I was going to be the one that didn’t make it to the top. The one that failed.

Mr. Something took me by the shoulders and moved into view. “We are going to do this. We are going to do this together. Don’t worry about the others. It is just us and we are going to get to the top.” My brain was fuzzy from the altitude but his words grounded me. I wiped my tears and turned back toward the trail ahead. Just as we began to move again, my pocket buzzed. It was my friend back home retuning my plea for inspiration from two hours before. We have a running joke that she can give inspirational speeches worth of a 1980s sports film, and that day she didn’t disappoint.

“Go climb that f-ing moutain! Think of dull flat home and make the climb with vigor and zest. Breathe in the glory of nature. Imagine that your legs are strong and your heart is happy.”

All I could manage at the time was a, “I so needed that right now. I’m struggling” as a response. However, “strong legs, happy heart” became my mantra over the next two hours to the summit.

Step. Strong legs. Step. Happy heart. Step. Strong legs. Step Happy heart.

Six hours after we left our cars at the trailhead we reached the summit of Mt. Elbert with ten friends (and two guys from England) cheering our arrival. We spent barely twenty minutes at the top due to some ominous clouds moving our way and I can only remember those twenty minutes now through a fog of hunger, exhaustion, and whatever almost 50% less oxygen than you are used to does to your brain. I clung to Mr. Something for our summit picture, my smile more of a fixed grimace than an expression of joy and it wasn’t until we were safely back down the mountain (chased down by distant thunder and the threat of being caught above the tree line with two metal hiking poles) that I was able to take in the enormity of what we had just accomplished.

July 9, 2014- Mt. Elbert 14,440 ft

July 9, 2014- Mt. Elbert 14,440 ft

Was it fun? No. There were moments of laughter as my friend pointed out rocks that looked like faces and distracted us with stories and facts about why exactly it felt like our hearts were going to burst. (Thank you pharmaceutical school.) Or when I reached into my pack to show her the trail mix I had made and pulled out an apple instead (far more impressive than trail mix!) But I can’t say that more than a moment here or there was actually fun.

Would I do it again? Yes. I want to do it again knowing what I know now about the experience. Knowing what I now know about myself. Because, let me tell you, when you summit the tallest mountain in the Rockies, you are left feeling like you can accomplish anything.

I later learned that moments before my own defeat on the trail, Mr. Something was at the bottom of his motivation as well. Ready to give up. It’s no doubt that we are stronger together. Members of Team Super-Human, who reached the summit an hour before us, later admitted to almost-defeat as well, teaching me another valuable lesson. We are all, every one of us, fighting our own battles no matter how brave of a face we put on for the world.

Enter Mt. Metaphor. It started months ago when I proclaimed to Mr. Something that I wanted to climb a mountain with him and celebrate at the top. It was in that climb that we realized that life is going to be climbing one mountain after another. Moving forward with foster care adoption is not choosing the easy path. We are going to struggle. Our hearts are going to feel like they are ready to burst. We won’t be able to catch our breath. We are going to want to give up, but we won’t. We are in it together and we are not alone. There are those to keep us optimistic along the way, to cheer for us when we reach the top, and others that will know just what to say at the exact moment we need it. (You know who you all are. Thank you!)

One step at a time, no matter how slow. Step. Strong legs. Step. Happy heart. Because the journey will always be worth it in the end.

Lessons from a Pencil Skirt

BusinessPeopleSilhouetteWomanA few weeks ago I had parent/teacher conferences at school. It was a nice break in our routine and a good time to regroup and plan goals for each of my students for the remainder of the year. Plus, it provided three days in which I got to wear big girl clothes. We have a relaxed building when it comes to dress code, which is much appreciated considering most days I am sitting on the floor with my second graders. (I don’t trust primary teachers that come to work everyday looking like they’d never get on the floor.) In addition to working at the students’ level, on an average day I put in over three miles of walking. Don’t get me wrong, I love a pair of killer heels as much as the next girl but walk a 5k in heels and talk to me about fashion then. Uncomfortable shoes make me want to sit at my desk, when I’m sitting at my desk I am not working alongside my kids. Again, I don’t trust primary teachers that wear heels every day.

With that said, three days of sitting in a grownup chair, wanting to appear professional, and with the furthest distance I needed to cover being from my table to the door, it was a nice change to be in big girl clothes. On the last of our three days I busted out my black pencil skirt. It was originally purchased a few years ago for a Halloween costume in which Mr. Something and I dressed as the leading couple from Top Gun. 388492_10150481954097792_1834694537_nIt was perhaps my smartest Halloween costume ever; pencil skirt, white button-down, black heels, all great additions to my wardrobe (minus the blond wig! Ack!) As I went through my day I realized that functioning in my pencil skirt was teaching me a few important lessons. Since we don’t meet often I took notice and decided to take the lessons to heart.

1. A pencil skirt will immediately make you feel like you know what you’re talking about.

I’ve been teaching for eight years and given that these were the second round of conferences for the school year, I had an idea of which ones would be a breeze and which ones for which I needed to brace myself. It is a lot of stress and a lot of work leading up to the three days of conferences but when in the throws of them, I really do enjoy being able to sit down with my students’ parents and just talk about their child and what I love to do. However, because of a new report card format I was thrown off my game this time around and needed a confidence boost as I tried explaining something to parents that I was still unsure about myself. In addition to the pencil skirt induced confidence, it was helpful that my students selected work, prepared self-reflections and goals, and presented at the conference themselves. It is always so interesting to see which students sit at the table with confidence, sharing their prepared materials and which will barely glance up above their eyelashes. Students that are outspoken and confident in class can suddenly refuse to read their latest writing when at the table or, in reverse, the quiet and reserved ones can rise to the occasion with giggles and jokes, beaming with pride.

This year’s spring conferences were shaded with a different color. As I slid the folder of work across the table and excitedly announced, “<insert child’s name here> is going to start us off today with some work that he/she chose to share!” I wasn’t just waiting to see what version of my student was going to emerge, but instead I honed in on the family dynamic that was was now sitting at my table. At first the observations are superficial… he has his father’s eyes and his mother’s smile. Then I became a privileged spectator to twenty-two different child/parent relationships. If both parents were present, the child often spoke more directly to one, not the other. Some parents quietly allowed their child to share and nodded with approval over their child’s work. Some were grinning from ear-to-ear and exclaimed and high fived their child over each work sample. Some parents corrected their child while they were sharing or asked them more questions about the projects. Others sat quietly. I did not judge from my side of the table. Even now, weeks later, I have not drawn any conclusions from my three days of this unofficial sociological study, just an awareness. I often wonder what I will be like on the parent side of the table. When asked by Rep 2 about handling IEP meetings for our potential children I just smiled and chuckled a little,”My kids’ teachers are going to hate me.” I’ll have to wear my pencil skirt to the meetings.

2. No matter how much you try to hurry, your top speed is now significantly slower than normal.

This could seem like a detriment but as I attempted to hurry through our school library to return to my first family of the day that arrived ten minutes early when I still needed to get reports to be mailed delivered to the front office, I caught myself doing a little short step half jog. Pencil skirt combined with a pair of pointy black heels meant that this speed was just not going to happen today. I paused, took a deep breath and resumed my trek which inevitably turned into a saunter given the fact that heels were also involved. At my new pace I had a moment to greet our librarian and caught up with the parents of a former student. It’s a shame that pencil skirts are business wear. The pace they force you to take is more more suited to leisure time. It’s as if it was saying, “Slow down! Take in the world around you! You are rocking this skirt and heels! Soak it up!”

It’s easy to rush, to hurry, to find ways to save time but then fill the saved time with more work, more stress, more pencil skirted business. I’m reminded over and over again as we approach our fully licensed foster care status, that life is going to get very busy and very full very soon. I need to appreciate the pace my life has now while I have it. We are so close to being licensed. There are fully built and mattressed bunk beds in our second bedroom, there are plastic covers on our outlets, a new nightlight in the hallway, and a certified second floor fire escape ladder stashed in the closet. We are so close that most days it feels like an ache in my chest. There are kids out there right now that need us, we are going to help them heal and grow, and together we are going to be a family.

We saw Rep 2 last week. The “quick” checklist she needed to go over took about an hour and a half. 75% of the list did not apply to our current situation because there aren’t actually children in our home yet. But, on the upside, it was the last step needed before submitting our paperwork to the state and, thank goodness, the state says that she has two weeks to submit it. Finally a timeline that is not dictated by Rep 2, who really has no idea what she is doing. She followed up with us a few days later and said she asked another Rep that has actually licensed people and found out that our license should be arriving within the next month or so. As soon as we are licensed we can open our home to placements, or find a new agency which is the plan at the moment.

After calling the new agency every day requesting information, I finally heard back from someone. The cell phone buzzing in my pocket in the middle of one of my conferences drove me mad. I knew it was them but I couldn’t answer. She left a message telling me to call her back and leave my name and address so she could send us an informational packet. That was three weeks ago. I’ve only called and left my info once a week so far. Maybe I should go back to my every day calling like before to show that, yes, WE. WANT. TO. HELP. CHILDREN.

“Slow down. Enjoy the view for now.” Says pencil skirt. Okay, okay, I’ll listen for now but it’s not easy to resist the temptation to kick off the heels, hike it up, and start to run.

3. You thought you knew how to get into a car.

Once upon a time, ladies knew the proper way to get into a car. Sit. Lift both feet. Swivel. These ladies were never trying to get into the car with a school bag, a lunch bag, a purse, a yoga bag, and a violin case (welcome to my Tuesdays.) One of our second grade vocabulary words is clamber. It is safe to say that on a regular day, I clamber into my car and count it a success if I don’t drop my phone, my keys, or dump my lunch bag upside down in the process. Pencil skirt, had other plans. Sit. Lift. Swivel. Suddenly the mundanely familiar became complicated, even awkward. The other night, Mr. Something said to me, “Our relationship is going to change when we have kids, isn’t it?” It was a rhetorical question because the answer is apparent to both of us. The routine of our relationship is going to take a new shape. We will be forced to take a step back and decide upon a new approach to every situation. What was once easy and comfortable will somehow not work in quite the same way. One can’t deny the grace of: Sit. Lift. Swivel. But it will take some getting used to.

Am I worried? Not actively. Mr. Something and I have been together for 13 years, other than puberty, we’ve tackled all major life changes together so far.

-Graduating different high schools two years apart

-Attending different colleges, meeting new people, living with roommates

-Graduating from our respective colleges and moving back home

-Starting first jobs

-Getting engaged

-Building a house together

-Getting married

We both wavered in our relationship early on and we both made the decision to come back. We both committed to making it work and we have for over a decade. Think about who you were in high school. We are still here, together, as vastly different (kind of) grown up people. Just like before, there will be adjustments. The familiar will become uncertain and wrought with emotion but pencil skirt says, “It’s what you’ve done every day but this time just: Sit. Lift. Swivel. And you’ll be on your way.”

Paperworking

Photo Oct 07, 7 03 52 PMWith our next meeting with Licensing Rep #2 just about a week away, we have been grateful for the deadline and have been moving through the paperwork involved with this step rather quickly. Reading, signing, making backup copies, digging up house measurements, running bath water over a kitchen thermometer, fire escape plans, work schedules, financial information… it goes on and on. At this point, with a few left to copy, we have over 60 pages of completed forms. So far they haven’t been all that bad. Nothing as complicated or laced with legal jargon as refinancing a house, which has been much appreciated.

Today, a few hours apart and about 50 miles between the two locations, Mr. Something and I got fingerprinted. He ran out on his lunch break. It turns out I didn’t give him one of the forms that he needed for them but the people working the service were kind enough to look up the form and print it for him. I was grateful that they were so accommodating and celebrated a “Thank goodness for the internet!” moment. I made a stop on my way home at our local community college. A fingerprinting service sets up shop in one of the main entryways once a week to provide the service. I was hoping to ask the person if I could take a picture of the process, which is like something from the future nowadays, but she was a bit gruff. (I did run in about ten minutes before she was supposed to close but the whole process didn’t even take ten minutes.)

Photo Oct 07, 5 47 10 PMAs I was sitting there waiting for her to enter my information into the computer, a rush of college students were coming into and out of the building. Evening classes start at 6:00? Mr. Something started his college career in that very building. On days I had early or late classes on my own college campus, I would come here and meet him for lunch. We’d shoot pool in the rec center or just steal some moments together during our “busy” college lives. It feels like a lifetime ago. 11 years? We were such different people then but somehow very much the same. Even then we were committed to a future together but what college student can even pretend to know what the future holds? If I could wander those halls and catch a glimpse of the ghost of myself sitting at a table, reading my education textbooks or researching Niccolo Paganini for my music history term paper, killing time before Mr. Something got out of class, what would I say to her?

Our Tiny Human Project has felt so right from the beginning. (Despite the “What the F- are we doing?” moments that Mr. Something and I pass back and forth every now and then.) But a decade ago I wasn’t dreaming of building my family this way. Was I dreaming of building a family at all? I always knew that there were children in my future but I never dreamed of being pregnant, giving birth, having a baby of our own. I’ve often related to other foster families that share that they were “called” to this life. Was there a seed of this calling in that 20 year-old armed with a pack of glitter gel pens struggling to take notes on the history of education in the common area of this very community college building? Even now, hours later, I still don’t know what I’d say to that ghost of me. What pearls of wisdom or insight could I impart? As far as I can see, life is turning out pretty damn good and I got here without a word of advice from future-me. I think I’d merely watch her from afar. I’d watch for the way she’d glance up every time someone came down the hallway, watching for him. I’d watch the way that their eyes would meet and they would greet each other when he finally did come out of class. I’d smile with the secret knowledge of how good things were going to be over a decade later for those two. Not always easy but definitely arriving at something so comfortable and right. Maybe I’d brush by as they embraced and whisper, “You’ve got this.” and return to my warm and happy present.

After I got the fingerprinting lady to chat a little bit, she finalized my paperwork and showed me what I needed to turn into our licensing rep. She sent me away with a, “Have a good evening, Mrs. Something, and good luck.” How am I going to look back on this moment a decade from now? Will I need every ounce of that “good luck” from this stranger? Will future-me have a secret smile, looking back at present-me knowing that it’s just going to get better from here? Or will I be wanting to shout to myself, “Brace yourself! You have no idea what you are getting into!” If it’s any sign, God had his water colors out tonight. This was the glorious sunset that I drove into the rest of the way home. For now, I’ll take that stranger’s “luck”, stash it in my pocket, and enjoy the glorious now.

Photo Oct 07, 6 42 59 PM

Added Later: Being pre-digital camera, 11 years ago was a bit tough to find without raiding photo albums and scanning. I did dig up this one though, give or take a few months… (I just love this guy!)

Photo Jun 08, 2 10 26 PM

 

*Sniff* All Grown Up…

It has been a while since I have posted. I originally thought that I have just been busier in recent weeks but I knew that it was more than that. Our Tiny Human Project has settled into a cozy corner of my brain. I am no less excited or hopeful about it but it has worn a comfortable groove into my thoughts and has not surprised me with torn or controversial thoughts as of late. We are still far from decided but it’s not feeling as radical as before. We have continued to work our way through Dr. Ray Guarendi’s Adoption: Choosing it, Living it, Loving it book. The question/answer format has been perfect for a few minutes of reading together here and there. Mr. Something agreed that he’s answering all of the right questions for our stage of “Educate Yourself.”

I spied a cute pregnant woman at the store today. She was totally rocking the belly with another little already in her cart. I wasn’t leering but I looked at that baby bump silhouette and the little boy with sandy blonde hair that matched her own and I asked myself, “Would I miss that? Would I feel like I missed out on that?” At the same moment I spied my own reflection in the store window and didn’t miss a beat when I told that reflection of myself, “No.”  Every girl, whether a baby swooner or an on-the-fencer or even the hell no’s, have all looked down at themselves at some point and imagined that bump. It hasn’t and still doesn’t stir anything within me. Reading lots of adoption blogs I often find the phrase, “We were called to do it.” Now, a post about religious beliefs is a whole different blog post for another night but I am comfortable with thinking, “Maybe we were meant to do this.”

Mr. Something told me that he wants to see the photo listings. I was surprised given his previous feelings about seeing the faces of so many children in need. We have yet to cozy up on the couch together and explore the listings but moments like this are taking us inches forward to a decision.

I finally told a real life friend about THP. It was thrilling to speak of it, bring it to life in the “real world” outside of the Something home. My dear friend that listened was nothing but supportive, not that I expected anything less. She asked all the right questions and let me flex my newly acquired knowledge. I hadn’t realized how much I have researched and absorbed about the whole process and my feelings about it until it came spewing out in a face-to-face conversation. There are days that I can barely contain myself and I want to tell everyone. There are other days that I am so scared to put such a personal decision out there.

I, admittedly, do my best to not care what others think but tend to personalize things anyway. Especially when it comes to children, I am shamefully quick to judge. Screaming child in the grocery store? Take them home and come back later. I then slap myself, what if there is no later for that parent? What if there is no other parent to take that child home to?
 There are other less drastic situations like the child jumping up and down in the booth at the restaurant. I was raised in a house when jumping on furniture of any kind was not allowed, not to mention jumping on furniture in a public place! Teach your child manners! I shamefully judge and I am afraid of being shamefully judged. I take pride in my home, and how we welcome people into our home. I want to take pride in my parenting abilities as well. Taking on THP might mean a child that has no idea that jumping on a booth in a restaurant is rude behavior. (If only that could be the least of possible issues!) Teachable moments, yes, but I know I am going to have to work on letting go of the worries about what other people think of me as a parent. This may be one of my biggest personal challenges with this situation. I won’t get to start parenting from scratch. Self-confessed control freak here! How on earth am I considering bringing a child or children into my home with years of experiences, both good and bad, that I have absolutely no control over?

I am realizing more and more that this is not just an “Educate Yourself” stage about adopting from the foster care system but an “Educate Yourself About Yourself” stage. I’ve got some growing up to do and, for the first time, I’m willing to let go of that control, examine myself with brutal honesty, and pursue change.

Putting the Cart Before the Horse?

A little over four years ago Mr. Something and I were newly engaged and both still living at home with our parents. We decided to do the “smart” thing and look for a starter home instead of paying rent. We ended up buying a duplex in a new development, lured by the idea of new construction, (hopefully) no hidden problems, and the freedom to make our home the way we wanted it. It was a little further out than we had originally wanted but looking within our price range, closer to where we work, we could have only afforded a thirty year old condo with one bedroom and a parking place. Knowing it was our 5-7 year plan we didn’t want to bank on having decent resale for such a place and thought that a two bedroom, 2.5 bath, duplex with a 2 car garage and a nice yard would be easier to sell when we were ready for the next step.

At the time, 5-7 years seemed like a long way off. Yet, here we sit, 4 years later knowing that we are, and will be for a while, in the same situation as many people. Stuck. Our developer has even stopped building duplexes because they can now build the single family homes for the what the duplexes once sold for! So we sit on an unfinished street knowing that people are coming into our neighborhood with the budget we had, and affording 4 bedroom single family homes… forever homes.

We never intended this to be our forever home, especially since we are both commuting 45-60 minutes each way to work. With only two bedrooms and zero storage, I never imagined having children in this house. I know many people have made happy families in homes much smaller than ours but I don’t think I could handle both of us being an hour away from our kids while they are at school.

The excitement that THP now brings to me has begun to alter that image. Still certain that this is not our forever home but thinking of ways to “make it work.” I can’t help but wondering if I am getting ahead of myself.

Last weekend we were invited to our friends’ new home for a bonfire. It’s a beautiful old ranch with a big yard in a top school district. My friend made the jape, “Yeah we learned from your mistake and held out for our forever home. We’ll be here until we are 60.” I know she didn’t mean to insult and I really am so very happy for them, on the doorstep of their own somedays. Yet, part of me ached to be there. My 30 mile commute has worn on me over the last few years but now that our next step is slowly becoming clearer, the ever-elusive forever home seems so far away. I am not, by any means, ungrateful for the beautiful home that I have, and as I mentioned, the picture of this home is changing. But I feel like I’m stuck walking in too-small shoes and there’s a marathon on the horizon. I’m jealous of my friend’s just-right shoes as I see her up there, toeing the starting line.

It’s a wrench in the timeline. We are, of course, still in the “Educate Yourself” step in this process. We have not, in fact, decided on anything for sure yet. But children, adopted or not, would stretch our current shoes uncomfortably. Perhaps I need to be browsing for a realtor instead of adoption agencies. The cart can’t pull the horse.

Please select your every hope and dream from the list below.

I am and always have been the internet version of a window shopper and there are many dangerous places for people like me to lose themselves on the internet. I have the app versions of eBay, Etsy, PetFinder, Realtor.com, and more. It makes my husband nervous. Granted it’s much easier to order a beautiful handmade scarf from Etsy than it is to run out and buy that beautiful lake house that I found, and let’s not talk about the heartbreakingly adorable dogs and cats in desperate need of a home. Yet, despite the let’s-be-realistic factor, it’s something I enjoy doing.

I was put off at first by the state photolistings of children in the foster care system waiting to be adopted. It felt like PetFinder and that unsettled me. These are human beings! Making them searchable, letting you eliminate certain races or special needs with a tiny little check box upset me. It reminded me of my first year in the working world. I was a brand new elementary education major with a decent amount of hope. I had accepted a job as a teacher’s assistant as a last minute grasp. The school year had already started and I was without a job. It wasn’t what I had wanted but I soon settled comfortably into the special ed. office and got to work one-on-one and in small groups with some amazing kids that were doing their best to overcome their own struggles to simply keep up and learn. It was a great year and I was proud to beef up my resume with this year’s experience and begin my search for my own classroom once again for the following fall.

As I was knee deep in cover letters and online applications, my assistant principal came to me with his laptop in tow. “I know you’re looking for a job. I want to show you what it looks like at our end so you know what you are up against.” He sat next to me at the too-small table, his knees banging the edge. He opened his laptop to a search page with various options. At the bottom of the search page there was a list of prospective teacher’s names (thousands!) and links to their uploaded cover letters and resumes. “Let’s say I want to find candidates that have at least five year’s experience, I click here…” Zap! The list shrank. “Maybe I also want candidates with master’s degrees.” Zap! The list shrank again. With each click hundreds of names disappeared and the reality set in. Here I was spending hours on online applications, composing perfect cover letters, mustering hope, imagining the faces of my future students and I could be eliminated with a single click. Forget about administrators not reading my resume, how many had not even read my name! “I’m not trying to discourage you or knock you down. I just want you to know that anywhere you can do a little more to get noticed is worth it.” I appreciated his insight even if it did make me feel like I was going to be working with hourly assistant’s wages and living at my parents’ house for the rest of my life.

Technology is a scary thing. It has done so many wonderful things but there’s a dark side to it as well. Gone are the days of thick manilla envelopes showing up on prospective employers’ desks. If they just open it and see what I have to say in my cover letter….
Now people can be eliminated with a click, something as thoughtless as a blink. They won’t even feel the weight of my story in their hands. It’s a scary prospect and it made me feel like a number, not a face with a story and hopes of setting up a cozy book nook and seeing my name stuck to a classroom door with sticky-tac and funky letters. Luckily, I was given that chance the very next fall in that very same school because after that eye-opening conversation, I worked my ass off to be seen.

I hadn’t thought about that conversation, now seven years ago, in a long time but coming across the foster care photolisting brought me right back to that too-small table seeing my future erased with an administrator’s click. Ever the window shopper, I didn’t allow my feelings to throw me off track and I looked through page upon page of hopeful face. I read the biographies of five year olds and eighteen year olds, sibling groups of eight, children so afflicted with maladies they are living in medical care centers instead of homes… I was determined not to eliminate any of their stories with a single click.

As I waded deeper into “Step 1: Educate Yourself” I began to see the photolisting as something different. When I was hired on as a classroom teacher there wasn’t just an empty room waiting for me. There was a team waiting to work with me, a school community looking for my contribution, and administrators hoping to nurture long-lasting professional relationships. Of those thousands of names on the list all would have been overjoyed at the prospect of a job but how many would have been truly happy there? Ready to commit to a lifetime in the district as I have grown to do? It’s not about wiping away hopes and futures with a click, it’s about finding the right fit, to love where you find yourself, and putting the dreams of a different someday away.

I’m a frequent visitor to the photolistings now. Mr. Something is providing an interesting contrast, he doesn’t want to see it. He’s afraid he’ll see that one picture of that one child, feel so connected and not be able to do anything to help yet. That helplessness is daunting here in “Step 1: Educate Yourself.” I, on the other hand, am looking for different reasons. I need to imagine myself in “Step 5: Engage in the Placement Process” I need to know that, even now, there are children whose stories call out to me. Children who would make me click that “Inquire about this child” link and push me through the door. Window shopping no longer. There’s a world of difference between admiring through the window and opening your wallet. Ugh, my analogy may have just stepped dangerously close to “buying a child” but I hope you’ve followed.

Perhaps I have already seen the faces of our someday children or perhaps the faces I have seen are simply helping me to decide what is just-right for our little family. Either way, I am grateful for their brave smiles and stories. Thank you.

Learning and Growing

Just when questions and worries threaten to cloud the skies over me the universe sends me the answers and reassurances that I need. Mr. Something and I are continuing to work our way through Dr. Ray Guarendi’s Adoption: Choosing It, Living It, Loving It. Less than an hour after my last post, with nothing but what-if’s? buzzing around my head and we came to the following passage (p. 42)…

“The number of people wanting and willing to adopt would be higher except for one thing–they’re scared. An adoption colleague of mine calls it “the fear factor.” It’s fueled by a group of worries and what-if’s? that have the potential to squash any serious thought of adopting.

Psychologists advise that one way to reduce the controlling power of fears is to challenge them rationally. In other words, what is the real likelihood they will happen? What is the actual probability something will adversely affect our lives?

Surveys have shown that most people fear more those risks less likely to befall them–shark bites, terrorists attacks, air crashes, abductions–than those more so. I won’t identify those here for fear of raising your anxiety.

So too in adoption–the anxieties that keep some from adopting are, thankfully, far less real than the media, the conventional wisdom (an oxymoron) and popular notions present. Let’s rationally confront some common worries much less likely to occur than is pervasively believed.”

Weight lifted. Clouds parted. Again, it all seems so simple. Thank you, Dr. Ray! I have noticed as the hustle and bustle of the work week takes over, the worries and doubts settle around me. But one conversation into it with Mr. Something and I remember that we are a great team. We’ve been on the same page every step of the way and I am stronger with him by my side.

I am knee-deep into another great read. Award-winning mom blogger, Kelle Hampton, has published her first book this week. I have been following her blog, Enjoying the Small Things, for two years as she has blogged about her journey of growth and discovery upon giving birth to a girl with (unexpected) Down Syndrom. Bloom By Kelle HamptonIn her book, Bloom: Finding Beauty in the Unexpected, Kelle was reflecting on reading A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller and shared this precious nugget of insight (p. 2)…

 “The book spoke of the power of challenges–how living a life of comfort does nothing to make us grow, and how hard times shape us into interesting, developed characters. By the end of the book, I was inspired. Inspired to write a new story for our life–inspired to face challenges and leave my comfort zone and go through hard things because that is what turns the screenplays of our lives from boring to Oscar-worthy.”

It lit a fire within me. Although I have always been a rule follower something within me always longed to dance to the beat of a different drummer, to do something different, something more. Is this my chance?

Last night we watched the second half of an incredible video that I found on the Adopt Us Kids website. Two hours of personal accounts from foster care adoption families, adopted children, and men and women that aged out of the system provided a big slice of adoption education for us. It was an incredible overview of the benefits of foster care adoption and the first steps to take. I highly recommend it for anyone considering foster care adoption.