It’s come up a few times lately… “What’s going on with your family & how the hell do I keep up?!”
There are times in our journey as a transracial, foster adopt, LGBT family of 5 when a snapshot can be handy for all. Namely, us. If you're feeling a little lost about what’s going on in our house - you're not alone. Actually, you probably know more than we do. So, let me catch you up in 5 minutes or less. Maybe 10. Ok, 13. But I swear a few times - so consider yourself warned.
To understand where we are in this moment, I need to talk about how we got here. This granular building from the ground up and all these life-changing, fork-in-the-road events unfolding simultaneously. There are 3 biggies and some random good-to-knows.
#1 Becoming a family of 5 was never our plan until it was our plan
It was not our original intention to adopt our daughter. She knows that - this was always something we talked about at developmentally appropriate levels while she lived with us originally. Let me qualify what follows by stating out the gate, this was devastating for us and not a decision we came to without lots of discussion with people close to us.
We believed strongly that this deeply traumatized and neglected precious group of 4 would have more opportunities in this world if they were in resourced homes with families who could provide them all the necessary interventions & supports they would need over the years to make sense of their lives, to heal their bodies head to toe, inside and out, and to have a shot at forming healthy attachments with others before growing into adulthood. Obviously, the hope is always that siblings will find permanency in homes that will keep them connected to one another all their lives. This is an unpopular line of thinking. There are laws written to keep kids together. As someone who was separated from her own siblings growing up, this is not a topic wholly unfamiliar to me. Nor one I approach lightly. I get it. And. Children have the right to be viewed with nuance, context, individuality and boundless compassion. All the more for kids removed from their families of origin and thrown into a system not designed to facilitate their success.
The boys were 1.5 and 3.5 at the time we started fostering their sister, who was chronologically 7. They’re now 3.5, 5.5 & almost 10. The plan was for her to live with us while permanency in a separate family was sought by the department. For nearly a year, we were intentional in how we ran our home while she was with us – for everyone in our home. We practiced what it was like to be part of a family; cooking & sitting down together for meals, sharing, laughing, snuggling, creating rituals & routines, bonding with her brothers, building life skills. We worked on developing prosocial skills. We celebrated and worked through milestones; playing soccer, her first bike, ditching the training wheels, skateboarding, visits from the tooth fairy, visits with birth mom, updating medical records. And we worked closely with the school district in order to capture a more accurate learning profile; neuropsychological testing, an updated IEP (individualized education plan), a move to a new school and a supportive classroom environment.
We framed our relationship in this way: "We are your baby brothers' parents and we will all always be your aunties. We will always be family. We will know you as you grow up and we will know your family and you and your brothers will know each other and make special birthday memories and we'll have holiday traditions. We'll celebrate all the important stuff, we will know when things are hard, how much you've grown, your favorite foods and we will do sleepovers and playdates," etc.
This was not fluff or bullshit. This was the real deal and the only way we could imagine things playing out. We were well aware of our limitations. And we were aware of their individual needs now and could project lots, not all, of their future needs. We were hopeful the right family would surface as a good match and that she would get all she needed from that family. And if you've followed our journey for the last year, you'll know that, indeed, a pre-adoptive family did surface that looked great from afar. She transitioned into their home and after 3 weeks, they abandoned her. It’s called a disruption. A shiny word that sounds a lot like, “It just didn’t work out.” Or, "It's not you, it's me." The truth is, they gave up on a child they were adopting from foster care without asking for help in navigating such a thing, and that meant they could move on with their lives while she had nowhere to go that very moment they decided to end it. At this juncture, we knew the hardest thing would also be the right thing and, in the end, the best thing for she and her youngest brothers. So, we made arrangements and picked her up from the homeless children’s shelter she was living in and we started the process to adopt her asap.
When we made the choice to adopt our daughter we knew our lives would never be the same. And neither would hers. Or her brothers. We were forever changed. And we are chronically under resourced, overstressed and financially strapped with very little support. The work of family is lifelong. A commitment and responsibility to evolve and persevere. When you make the choice to adopt from foster care you are not shopping for shoes or a wall fixture or a token child. You are making the choice to paddle against the current for as long as it takes to form pathways of trust and consistency and compassion so that a wounded little one might grace you with their trust in you one day. Children in foster care often have experienced traumatic things and need grown-ups willing and able to commit to the long game of loving, living and learning. This is God's work - something much larger than one's self in order to manifest a life and future for little kids whom so few expect greatness and opportunity and upward mobility and joy.
As Brene Brown would remind us all, “Our capacity for wholeheartedness can never be greater than our willingness to be broken-hearted. It means engaging with the world from a place of vulnerability and worthiness.” And that is what we’re doing. This is who we are. We love the life out of these kids and literally all that matters moving forward is that we stay connected in our love to one another while raising kind, compassionate and resilient kids into the healthiest adult versions of themselves possible. With immeasurable help along the way and lots of big life changes. Like number 2.
#2 We need to move. Now.
It’s been almost a year since we made the choice to raise 3 kids, instead of 2 kids, with complex needs. After the 2016 election we learned a lot about our neighborhood. None of it was new, per se, but the expression of vitriol for families like ours was suddenly more socially acceptable and the tension and very real bodily threat on any given day exceeds our ability to be part of the solution here. Frankly, it's totally unsafe. Add to that a public-school system full of homogeneous kids being raised by said racist/homophobic neighbors and subpar (IMO) special education services means our #1 priority is to move.
In order to move, we have to sell. Which is daunting. It was our intention to sell last spring, but we were totally overwhelmed with our expanding family & joblessness at the time, along with some other barriers, that we couldn’t pull it off. Now, the foundation of our success & safety as a family rests fully on our ability to sell and buy elsewhere.
Here’s what we’re up against and fragments of what you've seen play out on social media:
- My shitty credit from a lifetime of learning the hard way
- A recent coastal flood that resulted in us needing to evacuate for 3 days
- Terrible winter weather with lots of school closings
- Surgery for Tiny
- My new career trajectory
- Getting approved for a loan on new house in safer, more diverse neighborhood with better special education services for all 3 kiddos means we’re looking at buying a house 2-3x as expensive as our current house
- What to do between selling and buying if there's a big gap, particularly if we don’t have an address in the city where our biggest kiddo receives major support services at school and attends an after school program
- Purging, donating & selling lots of our things to travel light
- Putting 99% of what remains in storage
- An April 2 deadline to have photos and a video taken of our finished house
- Open House – April 7 & 8 (p.s. at the time of this writing it's March 24)
- Anything thereafter – keeping house presentable for random realtor showings
- OMG the repair work
#3 This old house – fixing it up
When we first moved in we had lots of ideas about how to structure a home environment that met the needs of kids in crisis. We were emergency foster parents. We had our bedroom, the kids’ bedroom, my art studio/office space, an open kitchen & living room concept and 2 full bathrooms. But everything was crazy outdated, and we needed to make some minor structural changes & wanted to make major cosmetic changes. IKEA hacks for bigger closets, wainscoting and a runner up the risers, a darker floor that would hide scratches and look cleaner, a kitchen with a wider layout. We were new homeowners. Well, I was. We had big plans. And all that changed very quickly once newborn Tiny moved in on the same day I was starting a new job in a new career. Most of those things never got finished and in order to take photos and a video of our house in 9 days (that the world will see and send us all the buyers) we’ve been non-stop hustling to finish those projects – now with several years wear and tear added to the mix. We’ve been at it 2 weeks (along with floods and school closings and sick kids and traveling for work and me starting my own business). Here’s our to-do list, also some of which you’ve seen pop-up in our stories on Instagram:
- Kitchen: cabinet trim, redo DIY concrete countertops, window moldings, toe kick, stain exposed floor where once was covered by a cabinet, spackle and paint.
- Living room: cut couch in half, dog scratches on all windowsills, screen replaced on sliders, replace ripped blinds, remove rugs, staples and sticky tape from risers, refinish, remove tape from living room floor from that one day we had so much fun playing cars with that cheap road tape from target. Paint wall and ceiling.
- Bathroom 1: Please god send help.
- Bathroom 2: I can’t even think about it
- Kid bedroom 1: floor trim where there once lived a closet, patch ceiling. Paint.
- Kid bedroom 2 (former studio/office/playroom): Same as kid bedroom 1
- Laundry room: just close the doors and lock it. Paint.
- Master bedroom: Closet nightmare, more blinds, biggest room in the house to paint or not to paint, that mess by the metal thing on the wall and about 4 feet of flooring that came up but needs to be put back but we lost some of the pieces because the kids had a pretend campfire one night roasting pretend marshmallows ITSFINE.
- I think that’s about it on the inside.
- Outside: the dogs used our yard as a toilet + recent flood is there anyone who will do a spring cleanup before spring weather? Also, can we get the city to pick up all this debris from said flood. Power wash deck upper and lower. Fix retainer wall.
- Cellar: lock doors.
- Clean: We had a cleaning team come out yesterday and we’ve never seen the house so shiny. The kids literally didn’t understand the transformation. I think they thought we’d already moved (post forthcoming on talking to our kids about the actual move). Boxes are everywhere and it’s time to find that storage unit.
While all this is playing out and because there is still life pumping through our veins, here are a couple other biggies adding to the overall sense of “WTF is going on with your family these days no one can keep up.”
#4 Tonsillectomy, Adenoidectomy, and tubes in ears: Tiny’s surgery
Many of you know we’ve made some radical changes to our diets since last October to help our kids’ bodies heal and for all of us to sleep better. That’s a really nice way of saying we don’t eat anything shitty and our bodies are thanking us for it. Mostly. And we do a ton of supplements and some medication. I chronicle my take on it here and updated our overall progress awhile back, here. We’ve been inching our way toward wellness with a few outliers we’re still trying to get to the bottom of. With the help of our functional psychiatrist, individual and couples’ therapy, and hopefully some future partnerships, we are finding & funding our way. And while many, MANY things have improved, our little guy has been a mystery in many ways. Until he 'failed' his 3 year check-up hearing test. As it turns out, his sleep issues are not only blood-sugar related but also adenoid, tonsil and fluid-in-the-ears related. The poor kid hears like he's underwater. In fact, a number of dots have been connected for him, which you can read about here, that should result in better hearing, better language development and better sleep. Unreal. We got the call to schedule the procedure 2 days ago. The only availability between now and the end of summer for him to have the surgery is…you guessed it. In the middle of selling our house: April 2. With 1-2 weeks of recovery and missed school thereafter.
How much more could we complicate this period of time while reaching for the best for our family?
#5 Mom & Entrepreneurship
I’m starting my own business – A Digital Consulting Firm housing hybrid web development & design, professional photography and digital marketing.
NBD, right? When we had 2 little boys, the vision was for me to climb the corporate ladder. I was not the type of kid allowed to pull things apart and put them back together and I was often harassed in math classes by my teachers. Also, my own childhood was traumatic. Ergo, social work. I was better at helping other people than I was at healing myself. Holler if you hear me.
For 15 years I worked with under-resourced kids and families living in the margins. I managed a variety of residential treatment facilities and I helped found one branch of a nonprofit using art as a vehicle to teach pro-social skills to kids in care. The former troubled me. The latter felt like I was onto something - at least the right path. I travelled all over the state working with kids and their caregivers, training the model, and institutionalizing it. This was when I made my first website. As it turned out, I had a knack for it and coding brought me joy. It organized & relaxed my brain. Much like Lego, mosaic and puzzles. So I pivoted professionally, switching careers from social work to web.
I knew my partner and I would one day be foster parents. I didn’t want to work in the field and come home to kids involved in the system. I knew I would not be able to attend fully to a healthy work/life balance and I wanted to make a better salary. So, I left the nonprofit world, became a foster parent, took some front-end web development, HTML/CSS & Photoshop classes, finished my degree (16 years in the making) and launched myself into the corporate world. That was 2013. My goal at the time was to be in business for myself in 3-5 years, but that plan did not take into account adopting, of course. I wanted to provide for my own family. At the time, I couldn’t imagine the family we would have, so the plan made sense. Until it didn’t. When you have 3 young kids, it’s hard to also have 2 full-time, out-of-home working parents. When you adopt a sibling group from foster care, it’s impossible to have 2 full-time, out-of-home working parents. There are just too many needs and variables flying around that make a 9-5 (really, with the commute and expectations, 6a-6p minimum) possible.
After a recent birthday retreat, I gave up my search for the right next corporate job and decided to go into business for myself. I’ve had several word-of-mouth clients while I get my sites up and running, digital profiles aligned, contracts worked out, my CRM nailed down and build a base. A handful of you are helping me get on my feet, which I find unbelievable and am indebted to you eternally for. Thank you for that. I have exciting updates coming privately from me to those folks in the coming weeks, as there is much taking shape...including a potential podcast with a few of my favorite people in similar places.
There are other good things weaving their way throughout our days, which I’ll keep brief for now. Upcoming work changes for my wife and a potential advanced degree. (!!) Some of my own social justice work within the blogging/influencer community with Like2Action, daily inspiration to counter the news we wake up to from the multi-racial, multi-dimensional team of parents working with me on HOTY, and our Sunday Series, which gives me life every Sunday as I get to know the folks gifting their voices on so many incredible topics (@lashawnwiltz is tomorrow!!). And lastly, speaking at Altitude Summit last month and gearing up to speak at the 10th anniversary of Mom2.0 Summit in early May – all big things. All good things. All things you’ll find us talking about!
That’s a wrap for now. The next few weeks are gonna be bananas! Best way to stay in the loop will be our Instagram stories.
Best wishes, y’all,
Artist/Entrepreneur ;) Mom