Artist Mom: on being legally freed for adoption
forward. -Mom (the artist) Read the Therapist's response here artist mom Artist Mom: on being legally freed for adoption
In the Throes of Grief
artist mom me to leave. My gift to him was a good life and his gifts to me continue to come into clarity. Grieving, Artist Mom
A better parent: my life's work
my behalf while I spend my life working endlessly to meet it in the middle.   -Artist Mom artist mom
Visit Day (part 2)
It's a visit day. We didn't tell him before dropping him off at school. Sometimes we do. But today we didn't. He's been so anxious lately. Perseverating over food, where we are, where tiny is, where the dogs are, struggling over small limits. Getting easily frustrated, then spitting or throwing things. He traverses loving, hugging, cuddling, "carry me carry me carry me" with the opposite, total shutdown. Sometimes we just sit with him. Sometimes we breathe with him. Sometimes we hold him accountable in the moment. Often we read and talk about feelings when his brain is in a place where he's a more available learner & less flooded with emotion. But today we didn't tell him. And we're not picking him up before nap so he can have grounding time at home before a chaotic visit. We'll pick him up post-nap. Give him more good food. Sing songs on the drive & hold for him that feelings get big, bigger, biggest, and then they come back down. After his visit, we'll jump back into our evening routine & do what we do. Because part of foster parenting includes helping him figure out his relationships. Part of parenting him is helping him manage the tough stuff. And part of loving him, is loving all of him. Artist Mom artist mom
Kids + Pics
I want all the kids in my care to feel like they matter. One of the things I think a lot about is how few pictures kids in foster care have of themselves. I have the luxury of looking back on albums & boxes of old photos my parents took of my brothers & I. They are the thread that wove the narrative of my youngest years. I know what I looked like with missing teeth, or was wearing at my first day of kindergarten. My baby books validate my growth & early milestones. My first Christmas tree. How my body & style & identity evolved over time. It's all right there. I can access it whenever I want. My story is documented & that makes me feel like I matter. Feeling important & worthy was so firmly part of my early childhood that I still benefit from that foundation as an adult. When a 6 week old baby boy was placed with us before Christmas last year, we picked out his first Christmas outfit & had his first picture taken with Santa. He'll always have pictures of his first Christmas tree & his first snowfall. His Mom celebrates Christmas. His older brother and sisters celebrate Christmas. It was important to us to do this very normal, celebratory thing for him. Here's the thing, though. We are two white women whom often foster black, biracial or mixed kids. I'm an artist with trendy hair and tattoos. My better half is a therapist who easily passes for stereotypical 'straight.' We get a LOT of stares in public. This feels concerning to us. Recently, we became more interested in building community & began looking for families that looked similar to ours. While hunting, we noticed there seem to be 3 schools of thought about photographing children who are in foster care: Don't. Do. And do, but don't show their faces. I get it. Totally. I can empathize with the urge to want to celebrate these precious little ones. I understand the stuff that comes up. we send pics to parents & families of origin to share their child's growth while with us? What do we pass on to their social worker for their file? Do we share pics of them with our own friends & family via social media to express our love & invite others into our journey as foster parents? And what about facial recognition software? Sometimes it feels like a tough call. I've seen some pretty creative cover-ups on Instagram; stickers, banners, shadows, text, cropping. I think people have the best of intentions. And while I can't speak to the intentions of others, I can tell you ours. With great power cometh great responsibility. In this day of digital overdrive, the opportunities for documenting our stories are abundant (obvi). There are apps for shooting & editing photos & videos we take on our phones, and social media outlets to share those moments. Instagram lets us share our images and push our creative agenda forward; Twitter gives us a voice; Facebook creates community; Soundcloud actually records our voice for the world stage. Here's where we're at with this. We believe it's important for people to see all types of families (and we happen to think ours is pretty special). We know that one way to stomp out stigma and spread awareness about blended & same-sex families is simply through exposure, & we know that images can be powerful. We take a lot of pictures. We shoot a ton of video. We do a lot of fun stuff as a family. We celebrate a lot of triumphant moments. We document difficult times when we feel it's appropriate to. That said, we feel strongly that it is (A) our responsibility to protect the identity and safety of our kids while honoring our family journey in this world and (B) to document our kiddos' growth while in our care so that their lifelong narrative includes having visual access to this period of time in their life. -Foster Mom (the artist) artist mom
Maternity Leave, Adoption, Foster Care: A Reflection
family during what is surely going to be an adjustment for all however you slice that pie. -Artist Mom artist mom
Command Center: how to organize a busy family
artist mom (4 min read) Man, every damn day feels like an ass-kicking in our home. From the morning routine to several appointments super far away, to pick-ups and drop-offs and colds & potty training & deciding who's gonna make dinner, who will do baths. Gah! We try to divide & conquer, but...we really like each other. And mostly, we really like being around each other. Big sis is in school 5 days a week. Sweet is in preschool 3 days a week. Tiny's in speech twice a week. We have 2 dogs, 2 cars and no childcare. *grabs megaphone* NO CHILDCARE. We commute into and out of the city at least 10 times a week, an hour each way (which is actually about 11 miles away. RUSH HOUR. That's a minimum of 10 hours in the car with 2 littles M-F. We're talkin snacks, books in the car, getting out the door on time, having enough to eat, bathroom breaks, and COFFEEomgCOFFEE. We've just been plugging along in a bit of a rushed daze prioritizing the night before and, since I lost my job a few weeks back (18 days ago - but who's counting) I've been desperate for structure. So we came up with this. Step 1: Prioritize We sat down for no less than 3.5 hours last weekend (no joke) and mapped out the next 4 weeks with 4 pieces of paper and each day of the week on the paper. Hour by hour. We outlined all the nuances and decided who would do what. From this discussion we prioritized the following as most important to get organized around: Pick ups and drop offs and what time do you need to leave Picking out clothes and packing lunches (the night before) Appointments, appointments, oh my! Dinner Day-to-Day: who's doing it? Meal planning? Grocery shopping? Kids' activities and appointments throughout the week When does therapist/actually working mom need to be at meetings or grading papers or training or whatever When does artist mom/launching career in a new direction need isolated work time Weekends - how to keep them fun, have some routine so we don't all unravel and focus on family Give the kids some autonomy and opportunities to work on executive functioning skills and imagining their week Step 2: Design user-friendly, simple, dry-erase, Tiny-can't-reach-and-destroy location for Command Center We had a large-ish space of wall that's off to the side but still within the spaces we enjoy, so I got to work with a simple design that was easy to use and easy to manipulate. Upper left: Aerial view of the overall week for grown-ups. M-F is separate from the weekend bc I couldn't find an alternate clearance Michael's frame that we could fit M-Su in. Right corner: A detailed, hour-by hour of our scheduling needs 4 weeks out, for reference. And an area where we can plan meals. With templates. The kids' calendars. Our Bigs listed out all the things they think they do on a day-to-day, week-by-week basis, as well as special activities like going to the beach, visiting family, adoption parties, doctor visits, show & tell, etc. After brainstorming a list (with excessive help), Kiddos created art cards. These are basically 2/5"x3.5" cards designed in photoshop or word, laid out on an 8.5x11" sheet of paper with 9 cards per sheet. I laminate them so they last and let them decorate with stickers and markers. All of this is really for fun and buy-in. I think if they create the coolness, they'll be more likely to use it. you can also just cut out pieces of paper about the size of baseball cards and you're good. Storage of kids' art cards. Obviously their initials aren't G and S but if they were, this is where their cards would be stored. On any given day, when we are trying to plan ahead and imagine the future (dinner, soccer, feeding dogs, shower) they pick out the cards and put them on the corresponding day in about the same order they would play out IRL. Parking lot. This week, the types of things that landed here were setting up a hair appointment at a beauty salon for big sis, grocery items we didn't want to forget and car-related stuff that got overlooked. There's an extra container for dry erase markers. Not shown: the $2 IKEA clock, which we use for helping the Bigs gain a sense of time passing. How much is 5 minutes? 15? If they have a half hour to play, we use a dry erase marker to note the start and stop of that time, so they can begin to internalize when they should clean up and what the passing of time feels like when you're eating, getting ready for school, playing outside, building with legos, etc. Step 3: Use it, refer to it, move shit around as necessary, take a pic and set it as your home screen * All frames were bought on clearance at Michael's Craft store. Kids' calendars are plastic with velcro attached to cards and plastic to move cards around. Grown-ups calendar, parking lot and clear clipboards (Staples) are all dry-erase marker friendly. You could scrap ALL OF THIS and purchase Idea Paint to create one giant dry erase wall, if you wanted to. You know, like the fancy startups do. -Artist Mom
Boys, a letter to your big brother
You came to live with us in the summer of 2016 when you were 5. You had been in foster care for two years and the older woman who took care of you and your sister had a large home, but things in her life had changed and she needed the whole of it for her growing family. You spent many weekends with us before then and so you knew our home well, and you knew your baby brothers lived with us, and you knew we loved you all. In this year of 2016, in the state we live in, there are many people and many houses but there are not many people with foster homes. When children are born to parents who cannot take care of them, the government looks for other people to help. Right now, there are not enough helpers for the number of kids who need safe and caring and loving grown ups and homes. There are not enough blended and brave families with kids who are born to their parents and kids who are adopted by their parents and kids who live with their foster parents until the right family is found for them. We know that the world is full of beautiful people who have yet to discover they they are the family I am talking about. We are hopeful that more grown ups think about and fall in love with children who need families but we know that right now this is not happening fast enough. In the summer you came to live with us, you and your big sister moved in for a weekend, while the grown ups in charge searched for a home for the two of you to live and grow up big and strong in. They were looking for a family that wanted to adopt you and be your parents forever. We had a plan that weekend, which was for all of us to go on vacation for the 4th of July, and after the holiday, we would help the two of you move and then in the future you would come over for sleepovers on weekends and our family and your family would spend special holidays and create rituals together. Though your brothers lived with us and we were in the process of adopting them, we thought of ourselves as your aunties and that seemed to work for you, but it was also very confusing for you. That long weekend came and went and there was no family and immediately we were having conversations with the grown-ups in charge about how long we could take care of you. We were very worried and this was the beginning of a very difficult period of time for your younger brothers and for [therapist mom] and me. At this time in my own life, you may remember, I was at work a lot. I left early in the morning and sometimes could sneak in a hug and a hello before sliding you back into bed. You had a lot of nightmares and sometimes slept good and sometimes slept bad and when you woke up early in the morning, it was very hard for you to be in charge of your little body. You may also remember [therapist mom] was home with you and your brothers and sister a lot. We called her a college teacher and she was on her summer break from teaching with lots of time to cook and play and bring you and your sister to and from camp and parks and museums. We wish we could have lived like this all the time, except with me home more often, but this was an adventure we could only embark on for a short period of time; this became clear very early on and we pushed through many things which felt impossible to hold you in our home for as long as we could while a family was found. They still have not found that family, and tomorrow we drop you off with your social worker, where you will begin a new chapter in your very young life. That’s some of the logistical stuff. Now, let me tell you how I’m feeling. After your baby brothers and big sister were sleeping, we gave you a special goodbye book full of pictures from your summer adventures. You looked at it twice, deliberately and smiling so happy. You said, “this is so great.” And you meant it. (You are a genuinely kind and insightful kid-really advanced in this area for your age). There is a photo for everything we wish for you to remember from this summer. After our special time (you, me and [therapist mom]), I tucked your very small body into bed, sprayed your special keep-the-monsters-away spray and kissed you goodnight. I went into the bathroom and thought I would be sick from the pain of all this, and instead, cried and cried. In fact, all day today and for many weeks now, we have both snuck away to find quiet places to cry and release the sadness that we feel in our tummies before returning to the four of you and moving through this period. I wonder how you will remember this summer. You grew so much. You tried and fell in love with lots of food like spinach and seaweed and hard-boiled eggs and hummus. You also loved your cheese pizza and pasta and ice cream, of course. You slept better over time and practiced so hard using new skills to share toys and tell people what you needed. When you are a grown man you may understand that there are choices which grown ups have to make that are very hard and feel very unfair. We have to steal ourselves from spinning our wheels in the soft shoulder of all these big feelings and think about what is best for all of us. That is also what grown-ups do. They have to think about what is best for everyone. Your moving on tomorrow is an agonizing choice that we made together and I believe it is the right one for you. I believe it is the right one for your brothers and sister. And I know it is the right one for [therapist mom] and I. You deserve a family that can give you all that you need and by prolonging the process that sets that journey in motion, we are setting you up for failure and we are setting ourselves up for failure. And because your future is so uncertain and because we love you so very much, we are very, very sad. We are hopeful, but we are sad for many reasons. Some of which are deeply private and some of which are obviously human. I’ll end with this. You will know us as you grow up and I keep thinking about that. I keep thinking about what its like to be in a position to rally for you and all that you deserve in this world and to do so from the sidelines, because I do believe some force will step in and you will call them mother and father or mother and mommy or dad and poppa or some loving variation thereof. And they will want to know what we learned about you while you were with us because they will be so invested in your little heart and your little mind and your healing body and we will always know how tall you are and what your favorite dance moves are and what things you are curious about. In this great season of change and uncertainty these are the things I’ll be thinking about. And though this is likely not a letter I’ll send and more a cathartic release for me during what will surely be an era to change me forever, I wish to thank you for making me a better mom. A fuller person. A stronger fighter. -Foster mom (The Artist) artist mom
A Black and White Micro Photography Exhibit
As two white moms, it will be our life’s work and privilege to raise two black boys as they grow to become black men. Work, because while there is a lot we can facilitate for them, there is much we can not ever fully culturally provide. Work, because while we will have ideas about what we believe is best and right in raising them, our scope on the needs and experiences of black people in America is limited to our own experiences as white women, and we will get some things very wrong. There will always be a need for us to remain open, to keep raising our individual and collective consciousness, to recommit ourselves repeatedly to the conversations that will evolve as their identities develop. As their questions become deeper reflections of who they are, where they come from and how they negotiate those complexities in making sense of their place in this world, it will be our privilege to witness their journey - sometimes alongside, sometimes from afar. Three inspiring things come together for me in creating this micro exhibit, which is sure to evolve as I do, on the weekend which so many celebrate the birth and life’s work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. First, I finally watched the film, Selma. Directed by the stunning Ava Duverney, whom I had the great privilege of hearing speak last summer at Blogher15’s annual conference and who I believe is an important person of influence (her IG account is a great way to be in the know). She’s doing big things in film - I can’t recommend her work enough. The second piece is the real life exhibit I recently saw of James H. Barker’s black and white photography chronicling the actual march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 - a first person perspective on a profound, historical event. And the final bit, Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk on Inspiring Leadership, which I’ve listened to no less than 6 times in the last week to get me pumped for work in the mornings. It was this 3 minute segment of an 18 minute talk that coalesced my vision to create the inspiration for creating this exhibit: In the summer of 1963, 250,000 people showed up on the mall at Washington to hear Dr. Martin Luther King speak. They sent out no invitations and there was no website to check the date. How do you do that? Well, Dr. King wasn’t the only man in America who was a great orator. He wasn’t the only man who suffered in a pre-civil rights America. In fact, some of his ideas were bad. But he had a gift. He didn’t go around telling people what needed to change in America, he went around telling people what he believed. I believe...I believe...I believe...he told people. And people who believed what he believed took his cause and then they told people. And then some of those people created structures to get the word out to even more people. And lo & behold, 250,000 people showed up on the right day at the right time to hear him speak. How many of them showed up for him? Zero. They showed up for themselves. It’s what they believed about America that got them to travel on a bus for 8 hours and stand in the sun in Washington in the middle of August. It’s what they believed. And it wasn’t about Black vs. White. 25% of the audience was White. Dr. King believed that there were two types of laws in this world - those that are made by a higher authority and those that are made by man. And not until all the laws that are made by man are consistent with the laws made by a higher authority will we live in a just world. It just so happens that the civil rights movement was the perfect thing to help him bring his cause to life. We followed him not for him, but for ourselves. The following micro exhibit represents a snapshot of my making sense of what it means to be a white woman raising black men within some degree of historical context and in light of how publicly we share our adoption journey. I'm intentionally leaving a lot of question marks and unresolved feelings in the way the images blend or contrast sharply, the path of where we, as a country, have walked and the current lack of truth to living in a post-racial society. -Foster Mom (the artist) artist mom
We were asked on Instagram about our thoughts on fostering siblings, so I thought I'd weigh in here on the blog, then ask you all to do the same in the comments here or IG should you feel inclined. For context, Tiny moved in first, when he was 6 weeks old. (We knew he had 3 older siblings, but hadn't lived with them). Mr. Toddler came about a month later at age 2. We hadn't intended to foster any kids long-term. At that point, we were a hotline home for emergency placements, which worked better for our schedules. We also thought of it as a way to get our feet wet. Challenges for Us Here were some of the challenges for us. Developmentally, the boys are in separate worlds. Not only because of their chronological ages, but because of their trauma history & the amount of time each had spent in their original home before being placed in protective care. This poses a variety of challenges; work schedules, daycare pick-up/drop off, appointments (we essentially doubled the number of appointments with doctors & providers & the boys were very sick all winter), food and sleep. Tiny slept on & off, as one does when they're a newborn. Mr. Toddler had night terrors & was up 1-2 times an hour every night for a few months. Sleep deprivation was (and still is!) a real challenge. It has certainly taken an unexpected toll on our professional lives & has challenged our relationship in unforeseen ways. We've also grown in remarkable ways. A couple other things. Tiny had straightforward baby needs for a long while like eating, sleeping, snuggling & pooping. Mr. Toddler was behind developmentally & had some catching up to do. He had also experienced some big transitions in various homes & daycares & was separated from his older siblings. A number of our earliest photos on Instagram capture this period of time. Very sad. Very tough. Visits with bio mom & siblings were emotionally difficult, uncomfortable & kinda generally heartbreaking. We blogged about them as well. We were quick to put rituals & routines together for consistency & he slept in our room with us until he slept solidly through the night. We also changed his diet over time to help heal some hair & skin issues & to give his guts a chance to loosen up. Little man was in rough shape. So sharp. So sweet. So earnest. So precious. We weren't sure if we were a good match for him at first & initially thought he might do better as the youngest kiddo in a 2 parent home with older kids or zero kids. Now, we wouldn't have it any other way. Mostly, for the pros. Pros It is a sacred & beautiful thing to witness two young brothers getting to know each other. These two are inseparable now. It took Mr. Toddler about a month of being in our home to even acknowledge Tiny. It was as if he just didn't see him. He was so confused. Still is, but in different ways. About 3-4 months into his new life with us, he started nurturing Tiny by mimicking what we would do. If Tiny cried, he'd yell, "Bottle!" And demand of us that we take care of Tiny straight away. He'd say "Bee-bee cry! Bee-bee cry!" And watch us help Tiny. He would bring him toys & coo & eventually rub his face & arms in a soothing, albeit toddler, kind of way. He also started to really let us hold him. Like, his weight would drop in that only-a-toddler-weighs-this-much kinda way. Heavy. Soft. Vulnerable. Beautiful. And he has been able to move his little mind & body & heart forward in healing ways that allow for him to continue catching up developmentally, but not rush into the world of "big boy" just yet. He missed a lot of his own baby time and having Tiny around is a great opportunity for all of us to appreciate this once-in-a-lifetime period. And Tiny has benefitted in immeasurable ways. He has an older sibling around to be silly with, to learn from, to wrestle with, to share toys with. They are keen to where the other is when they're both in the same room. Sometimes doing their own thing, always doting on each other. Our hope in the near future is to arrange sibling visits with their older two siblings, when the time is right for them & when the time is right for us. When you commit to raising 2 kids under 2 until further notice you become, what I now refer to as, a pop-up family. You don't get 9 months to prepare your body or your house or your friends & family. Everything changes. There is no real way to fully prepare for it emotionally, financially, spiritually or otherwise. If we could change a couple things we would have talked more with our support system about our plans so it wasn't such a shock across the board. We would have started couples therapy earlier in order to have a place to talk about this new life & lifestyle. We would have identified people who could help with watching the boys on occasion to give us breaks & to allow for us to keep some consistency for our two dogs, who've equally made the ultimate sacrifice for us as new moms. And. We would have probably put together a baby shower (x2!) to help us acquire the things you need to properly care for babes when you're a family of 4. If I could offer one slice of advice, follow your gut. If you're not ready, say that. If you're unsure, say that. Don't be pressured into taking more than one kid if you and your partner don't feel ready. Or, at least, mostly ready. What about you? If you're a foster parent(s), what say you on this topic for inquiring minds? -Foster Mom (the artist) artist mom
Christmas Magic Roundup 2016
We careened through December like a Rusty Chevrolet (shout out to my roots) without breaks despite what we thought was kickass planning. But man, the pics are beautiful and the memories so great. Lemme ‘splain. We want our kids to have happy and healthy childhoods - which means we have to deconstruct a lot of our own baggage and bring to fruition a different vision of childhood than what we know (obviously in all things parenting, this extends well beyond just Christmas). In so doing, we’re weaving together the pieces that make sense with the wishes we have for our own kids while carving out something we brand as our own. There were a couple important things Therapist Mom wanted to carry forward from her childhood that were super special and a couple things I did not want to repeat from my own. This was our 3rd Christmas with Tiny, 2nd with Sweet and 1st with Big Sis. Each year we nail it down a little more and try to enjoy the process. This year, we were far more intentional throughout the whole month and what emerged was an overblown buffet-style Xmas Magic for 2016. The following were our big-ticket items, how we graded our success and some things we’d change for the rolling out of future seasons of magic. But first, a short video capturing the essence of it all: Christmas Magic: B+ Raising readers over here. We do books every night before bedtime. We thought it would be fun if the magic of opening gifts collided with the magic of reading. Every. Night. We purchased a mix of used and new books throughout the latter part of the year so we’d have a solid variety of 25. TWENTY-FIVE. We wrapped every single one. The setup: The wrapped books were accompanied by this adorable neon and pastel “candy tree,” which the kids would look for as soon as they were out of bed each morning. We would wait until bedtime to unwrap and read. Repeat the next day. We’ll likely do this again next year. 3 things we'd do different next year: Not use glitter wrapping paper. Ever, actually. Avoid the baby board books – Tiny could get in on the action once in a while but we didn’t need to include so many board books (feedback from Sweet). “UGgggggghHHHH, MOM. Another baby book?” Wrap them ages in advance. Like, Easter?   The Advent Calendar: B Our planning brought this grade up from a C. Execution brought it down from an A. The kids’ excitement kept it slightly above average. We were not looking to start Mommy Wars, but man, if we were… Here were some of your lovely comments when we posted the Advent Calendar on the eve of December 1st. Top tier. Your posts always warm my heart. I love this! Makes me want to do Christmas Magic when I have kiddos! I stole this from you! Can I be your child? Best. Moms. Ever. Wow! I feel like Scrooge McMommy! Gotta work on this! We'd like to move in please. Be there in the morning. I want to be like you when I grow up! Y’all were s i g n i f i c a n t l y too kind and very cute. Thank you for your votes of confidence. We crushed about half of this; it was just too much. The kids got locked into the routine of it, which made it a real struggle when we needed to break stride – very much the opposite of how we’re working so damn hard to raise them: flexible and patient. Weekends got tricky with weather (COLD, just didn’t feel like moving) and sometimes life just doesn’t allow for so much time in the car with 3 littles.   3 things we would do different: 2 or 3 big tickets for the month (one of which will be the Polar Express) not 1 or 2 each weekend More notes or quotes from Santa vs things. Or Something. The kids became a bit more entitled than excited about this and 25 days is a loooooong time. I think next year we will work in Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and doing more or making more for others and less receiving…maybe tie in the Elf. Maybe.   The Elf: A- We half-assed this most of the time but the kids talked most about #SparklesTheElfChristmasMagic. They ABSOLUTELY loved her. We used the story that #SparklesTheElfChristmasMagic helped keep our tree and Christmas Magic books company and she shared the kids "hopes and dreams" with Santa. As in, Sparkles job was to share with Santa the things that mattered to them, kind gestures they made and wishes she had for their Christmas season. They likely understood none of this, but her deal wasn't to narc to The Big Man. So that might be the most important take away. The Bigs knew she would lose her Christmas Magic if anyone touched her, so the time Tiny ripped her off the Candy Tree did not go so well. There was a collective gasp in the room. Then I think we played the 3 second rule and made her disappear until the next day. 3 things we’d do different: Level up our game and leave a teeny tiny door on the wall the night of Christmas Day so the kids would know that she left. Have her interact with the kids and their toys more – like, draw on their hands in the night with a colored marker and let them find the marker with her in the morning when they go look for her. Hey, I’m the Artist. Of course I want this to get messy. Create a book of her shenanigans to give the kids as a gift.   The Polar Express: A+ This was arguably everyone’s fave event of the season. It was truly magical and a small break for us moms. Our favorite things were the seats we sat in, which allowed us all to snuggle together on the train ride up to the North Pole and the ride back. We were contained and entertained just enough with hot chocolate, Polar Express snacks, the lights, caroling and jingling our bells. We also stayed the night prior at one of the Residence Inn’s bedroom suites, which offered some personal space, a kid’s area and an eat-in kitchen for our own food. There were few guests so more than once we had the pool and hot tub to ourselves. And when Tiny was up late into the night, we could run the halls to burn energy without being disruptive. Also, they served us a ridiculously elaborate continental breakfast. The beds were comfortable and PEOPLE CLEANED UP AFTER US!!!! 3 things we’d do different: Book the hotel for the same night as the ride vs. the night before. It was a 3-hour drive from where the Train departed and the drive home was a bit brutal. As is the case after one visits the North Pole. Obviously. Pack more snacks. Don’t show the movie.     Christmas PJs: A+ There is not one thing we would change here. These PJs seal the deal for the season and bind our kids (and cousins!) together in the best kind of group mentality way. Hanna Andersson we are waiting for you to ask us to be your ambassadors. *winkwink*   Christmas Gifts: B+ Downgraded for quantity, upgraded for quality and aesthetic. We did some early stalking on Craigslist for 1 big-ticket item each for Sweet and Big Sis. We scored in both departments; American Girl spa set, hairdressing station with accessories, and trundle bed sheet sets. And for Sweet we found him the entire Thomas the train set (something ridiculous like 70 t. We also did a fair amount of cyber Monday surfing and online sales like whoa. But, in concert with gifts from family and the Department of Children and Families (still in our lives) and a month long of Christmas Magic, we were far heavier on the material side than we anticipated and are now working out where to put it all. TBH, it feels a little like we need to purge, which kinda takes away from the intended magic of it all. One major highlight here – Big Sis did some shopping at her school’s Christmas Bazaar and at a Winter Fest (with food trucks!) that we all enjoyed together. It was a real joy to witness her choosing, wrapping and eventually giving. She was so proud and really nailed each of our personalities. She is so thoughtful and captured the real essence of the season for us. 3 things we’d do different: Less is more next year. Do more baking and playing together. The only special thing I remember from my own childhood Christmas’s: A letter from Santa accompanied by a savings bank. Whatever the kids save, Santa will double so they can each shop/make for each other. This Christmas was incredibly heartwarming for us. While there are some things we’d do different to make life a little easier for us and the season a little more meaningful for all of us, overall, this was a big hit. We were talking the other day about what to do when the kids no longer believe in Santa and agreed that we would probably do something similar to this mom's amazing plan. Until then, we'll be schemin' away, capitalizing on one of the most magical pieces of childhood. Get at us over on Instagram to share the best and worst of your holidays. Happy New Year! (Short slideshow below) -Artist mom artist mom
Mom, Mama, Mommy & Supervisor
We're still painfully new at this mom thing. In recognition of Mother's Day, we hash out a few things. First = Therapist Mom. Last = Artist Mom. In our home there are three of us to celebrate on Mother's Day. Three women who comprise the mothers in our boys' life. Two women are raising them and around every day, and one who is around twice a year and present almost every day in some way. I've been thinking today about how becoming a Mom happened for us, for me. I became a Mama when my 2.5 year-old began calling me Mama. Before that I was the adult responsible for him, loved him something fierce, felt bewildered by him, protective of him, and was sure we were a temporary life for him. He called everyone "Ma" when he moved in. Cashiers, ladies on the street, other Moms at playgrounds. There was not an intimacy demarkation to the name, just what he called all friendly women. He called me Ma until he learned my name. Almost every kiddo we have had in our home takes far longer than I would have expected to hear our names. I knew we were getting somewhere good when he began calling me my first name, and then Ma, as in Mama [Therapist] and Mama [Artist] to help him distinguish which Mom he wanted. He stuck to that for awhile and then eventually dropped the first names and we became Mama and Mom. He did go back and forth depending on how his day at daycare was, or how tired or how recently we had a family visit. Once a relative heard him calling me Mama and that went rather badly. I tried to help him out by not escalating the fight, but not backing off either and making it sound as if he was just out of line here. So hard. And during this time I had to travel. I have to travel for work every few months, and it is terribly hard on all of us. I red-eye there and back, I FaceTime, I leave surprises and letters and countdown visuals around but it is hard for little people when one of their parents leave, so I have cut back as much as I can and travel maybe three times a year now. Last summer I went away for the first overnight since Mr. T moved in and when I walked in the door he was excited to see me, confused and then immediately began calling me by my first name again. It was as if he could intentionally withdraw the intimacy we created, or withdrew to protect his heart. It was so fast and iron clad it felt intentional, but we know 2.5 year-olds have nowhere near that much self control. It was visceral and he pulled way back for weeks. He and I moved back into a routine, built up rhythm and over the months I became Mama again. We have had a few setbacks, and when we do I gently tell him the story of families again with dolls, and dollhouses and visuals. I have one house where kids and a Mom live, we talk about how he lived way back with his birthmom, we talk about what happened and why he left, then he moved to many homes, then a foster home and the story that happened there, then the story of how he moved in with Mama and Mom. And now he lives with Tiny and Mama and Mom in a house and we are a family. It feels important to me that I orient little kiddos to the who/what/where of their lives. It's so confusing, and they are so little, he needs a story about his life, he needs details that are age appropriate and clear and don't change over time. I wanted him to have a clear story about who we are, what a Mom or parent is, and what friendly strangers, social workers or other foster Moms were. In typical development, kids do not grow up open to the possibility that anyone can become their Mom. That role is filled and finite. My kids have had several Moms of varying intimacy and safety, and now us. They need a story and clarity, and I'm also a firm believer that kids need to have intimacy demarkations - Moms help you in the bathroom, feed you, take care of you when you're sick, kiss you and are your people in the world. Some kids get one Mom, some kids get a few Moms of different kinds. It's confusing and not necessarily the ideal developmental construct to have muddied when you're young. So I was a Mom, and was called Mom way before I felt like a Mom. We were not looking to adopt when we became foster parents, we weren't even looking to have kids in a forever family way for a few more years. I was so happy and ready to love and care for little people and then help them on to their next step. And then I became a Mama and we became an adoptive family. It was probably last Fall that I began to really feel like a Mom to both my boys in a permanent and primal way. Commitment, care, becoming a parent in the kids-first-everything-else-waaaaay-second sorta way came easy for me, and maybe the word I'm wanting to find here is the terrifying love that Mamas have for their babies, that terrifying love came when I felt myself becoming their Mom. I look at Tiny sometimes and he feels like an extension of my heart, like a part of my body is just woven into him. It's so intense and so crazy. I was hugging Mr. T tonight after putting on his jammies and he hung around my neck being silly for a few minutes, and I just stood there with him for as long as I could until he let go. A part of my heart steadies almost every time I get to hold them close; it's not even conscious, it just happens. My whole body craves their little hugs and sticky fingers and beautiful smiles. I say this all to my Mom friends and they nod knowingly. This is just a part of the wild world of falling madly in love with the kids in your life. And I do believe it's falling in love, you all come together in this work of building a family with previous lives, beliefs and internal templates. There is no welcoming kids to your life in foster care or adoption- there is only the life you all create together, all together. Life is merely the stitching together of many moments, and likely building a family is no different. To all the Mamas in my life, to all the Mamas in my boys' life: your love and life gave me permission to be right here. Thank you. Foster Mom (The Therapist) You can always move forward but you can never go back. And you have choices about how to move forward. For me, those choices require learning a thing I did not previously know how to do or that I believed I possessed the capacity to fulfill; being a parent. Becoming a parent has unearthed a wealth of shit I didn’t realized I needed to work through. I always knew I’d be a mom, though I’m not sure if that’s because I wanted it or because I understood that this was what girls do. I suppose now I feel like a member of some elite club, but because there’s not much about me that’s traditional, I imagine it will take time to feel fully affirmed by this tribe and comfortable within it. Sometimes being a mom feels as natural as my skinny jeans and vans while I’m dancing. Other days, it feels a lot like I’m wearing a dress while shootin hoops - foreign, uncomfortable, ridiculous. There has always been a yearning deep inside me to care for kids. I was a gentle child. I played with my Barbies and their babies. I played with my own baby dolls. I played with the baby brothers and sisters of my friends. And because I come from a home where there was minimal supervision, little structure and no parental oversight, my role as the oldest sibling in a group of three was such that my real life care-taking was never about pretending. It was about surviving. It was about fighting and scrapping and never giving up and wanting for my brothers the best that I could give them so that they would be ok people. It was about logistics and being practical. It was about finding resources where there was none. It was fully sacrifice. I was terrible at it of course, because kids make terrible parents. But it set me up for what was to come next in my life, which was taking care of a lot of other people's kids. First by babysitting, then through internships with young people who were incarcerated, and then in my first career as a supervisor in residential treatment facilities. For 12 years this was my gig. I thought I would crush the parenting thing - until we started fostering. I thought I would be a shoe-in for foster parent of the year because of my background. I fell into working with kids in crisis because I was a kid in crisis myself. It seemed like a natural progression but was likely not the smartest life choice. I had to do a lot of work & growing up to reach a point where I could move through the vicarious trauma and do good work. I never really got there emotionally but I did get really fucking good at my job. I was a young supervisor and my first big job was overseeing a dorm of 10 girls, ages 5-10. 60 kids lived at this place and I was responsible for 10 of them. I worked 12 hour days and had a salary of $26,000. I did not have my degree and I was an external candidate. Many of the folks I was hired to supervise had applied for the job internally and did not get it. I was eaten alive by both the kids and the adults. I lasted 6 months at this facility and it impacted me deeply. I don’t think I fully understood the nature of the work, nor could I get on board with the magnitude of the damage a place like this does to children. This was the type of last resort place for kids with severe emotional disturbances, major mental health issues or behavioral challenges and whom also do not have parents or family to care for them. This was an institution. A step down from hospitalization & a step up from lock-up. And the problem with institutions is that they're great at manufacturing outcomes & not so great at raising kids. A lot of kids stuck in foster care end up in residential treatment facilities where they eat, play, live & grow. It's crisis-driven, fast-paced & the wrong model for nurturing childhood. Though I left this place shortly after arriving, I merely moved on to a larger, more dysfunctional agency because I believed I was meant to work with these kids and the adults charged with their responsibility. In doing so, I allowed myself to be shaped into the type of person that got results at the expense of nurturing. In this type of environment, there is a lot of talk about de-escalation techniques. Positive reinforcement. Behavior management systems and sticker charts. Privileges and punishment. Time in and timeout. Kids have to demonstrate compliance, ask for permission to go up & down stairs, they're never out of a staff person's eyeshot & frequently physically contained. There's the hustle and bustle of the shift change from the folks who woke the kids up in the morning, got them off to school and cleaned up the house, to the folks to come in at noon for staff meetings, get the house ready for the kids to come home after school and prepare for the toughest part of the day; evening. There are transitions, transitions, transitions. Snack-time, free play, ADLs, dinner, movie time, bedtime. My philosophy in helping kids succeed was a combo of skills-building, confidence through competence, collaborative problem solving, experiential learning, art therapy, wilderness therapy & straight up humor. My skill-set was coveted & for kids who didn't have parents actively in their life - I was the next best thing. This is what I told myself. You could pair me up with the toughest kiddos & I would transform them. I believed this to be the good fight and birthed a parenting ethos out of this. But in a place like this, you’re not allowed to hug kids. I learned a way to be with kids in ways that were very effective in that environment and that environment only. I learned how to nurture a child's well-being and self-worth without touching, or having physical contact, because you're not allowed to. You don't you hugs, you do side hugs. You don't hold hands, you make up funny handshakes. You do high-fives. Kids don't sit on the laps of grown-ups. There is no carrying kids on your back or your shoulders, and any occasion which you would carry a child or otherwise touch a child is followed up with an incident report to justify the action. There is no love here. Parentified at a young age, I moved into a career which felt like an obvious match. By the time we began the process of becoming foster parents, I anticipated another natural progression, which would transpire into full on parenting. I suppose I could not have known how terribly wrong I was or that so little of what I’d practiced most of my life would not translate into taking care of other peoples’ children and eventually raising my own. Though I was making guardian choices daily, I had no idea what it meant to be a parent. And I certainly didn’t know what being a mother would look like for me. This is our 2nd Mother’s Day with the boys and in many ways, it feels like the first. I have a lot to figure out. Then again, who doesn’t. Foster Mom (the Artist) artist mom
The paradox of choice
The arguments for and against keeping siblings together in foster care are strong. What I hear mostly is folks leaning toward the former. Though both elicit strong reaction, the latter enrages people. As many people know, the boys have two older siblings. We are in the process of adopting Tiny and Mr. T but not their older brother and sister. I'm unclear if I'll ever articulate how awful this feels. Worse, I don't know that it'll feel better with time. I'm not sure it's suppose to. I don't know. I can't quite reconcile it. And so here I am, on the eve of picking them up for their second sleepover, unable to sleep. I'm ruminating over why we do this, whether this is the right choice, how difficult their departure will be and the joy and weight in the responsibility of it all. This weekend and always, I suppose. The 2 of us with the 4 of them for the larger part of the weekend is the weekend. The workweek remains exhausting as we still search for our stride. On the weekends, I often just want to lay low. Catch up on all that I missed from the week. Be present with my family. I know getting the kids together is important. I know this because I was a kid separated from my siblings. It occurs to me from time to time, that if I ever had to call up Sally Field tears on a moment's notice, I could refer to the deep-seeded pain and anger I feel in my core about the loss of my brothers. And yet I know we are making the right choice and the best we can do is get them together and create a situation where they can develop relationships with one another. Big bro and big sis don't really know Tiny and Mr. T hasn't spent much time with them for the last couple years. And none of them have ironed out how to play together. We also have them over so Mr. T can see that big bro and big sis are okay. He needs to lay eyes on them. My toddler boy is working things out in his head constantly, and asks about them almost every day: "You call [foster parent's name] and see if ____ and ____ can come ovah?" "I play with ____ and ___?" "Where ____ and ____ come from?" "Where'd they go?" ... To the best of our knowledge, there is no family identified for the boys' brother and sister. And there might not be one in the near future. Kids get stuck in foster care. And we're unsure if they know visits with their birth mom have ended. I don't think anyone has told them yet. There are a lot of things I wish to be different about this scenario. Here's what's keeping me up: Are we doing the right thing by having them over and then sending them back? What message does this send to Mr. T? What questions will they have tomorrow and how can we answer in a way that will be helpful at minimum? Are we doing damage? I could go on. We got into foster parenting to provide respite and emergency care to latency-aged kids. We were really good at helping 11 year olds understand what was happening while they transitioned from their homes to foster care. I don't think I could have imagined then, where we are now, with these dynamics unfolding. They asked us if we wanted to adopt the boys' older brother and sister and we said no. We made that choice. We know we can't do for all 4 of them what we can do for 2. I have to keep telling myself this. I believe it fully, because it's what is best for us and for the boys. But, if they aren't adopted in the near future, I don't think its what is best for them. The reality of this feels irreconcilable. -Artist Mom       artist mom
The most wonderful time of the year...almost!
It's always felt important to us to create experiences for our kids. Day-to-day routines that ground us in our familial rhythm. And seasonal rituals (my BlogHer friend, @Jumpingwithmyfingerscrossed is a huge inspiration for me on the latter). We want our kids to grow up feeling connected to each other, to us & to enjoy the variety of adventures each season brings. In the summer, we do beaches & bad food, fall is very much about apple picking & orchard life, along with warm layers, walks in the woods, and baking apple crisp. Spring...still have to work that one out. But the first half of winter...OBVI THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR! Last year we had so much fun building up the holiday excitement in our home (and setting up those dinosaurs XMAS eve!). From cooking & baking to a post-Thanksgiving visit to "Santa's Workshop," to Christmas & Holiday music on the daily. We celebrated full on for an entire month and took our time stepping away from it come January. Tiny was too tiny, but Mr. Toddler - the spirit fully moved him. One thing we super wanted to do but didn't pull off - partly schedule, partly the boys were so young - was an advent calendar that offered something small & special every day of December. We were aiming for "time together," and not necessarily "things." Make special cookies one day, craft together another day, drive around in pj's listening to XMAS music & looking at decorated houses, maybe even the Polar Express. We did not pull it off but we've been inching toward our 2nd season as a family & I think we're doin alright in the planning department, so far. The fall will always be busy for us; Tiny's bday, Halloween, TxGiving festivities with extended family, Mr. T's bday...plenty of time to plan for a CHRISTMAS MONTH. This year, we wanted to incorporate our love for the smells & sounds of the holidays with our love of reading and have been on a thrift quest to collect a used Christmas book for every day of our advent calendar. We read to the kids every night & they're starting to read to us. What better way to combine great loves?! We've got 21 books so far - 10 more to go! What about you? We'd love to hear about your favorite family rituals this time of year (or any, for that matter!). Drop a note in the comments here or here! -Artist Mom artist mom
That's a wrap. Just kidding.
The Learning Happens in the Reflection One month ago, we were standing in our kitchen when my artist mom turned to me and said, "Remind me again, did you go to a school where white kids were the minority or the majority?" It turned out, we had some things to revisit. We didn't know a tremendous amount about one another's earliest experiences with different races, racism and class. We thought we did. We were wrong. So we designated 4 weeks to talk together, do some research, share and reflect. Our hope was to be intentional about developing a deeper appreciation for our transracial family while being transparent about some of that process. This week we're wrapping up and reporting on our progress. Below, a few words from my wife, the therapist. After, a few words from me, the artist. Teacher, Social Worker, Case Manager and Sometimes, Mom. This past week was a visit week for us. And among all the things I would want to talk about and debrief that occur during that hour, this week I'm really muddling through my feelings about this interaction in particular: The four of us walk into the social work office and I'm holding Mr. Toddler. The Artist is holding Tiny. The waiting room is hectic. Lots of people waiting, parents pacing, people talking loudly. Another social worker sitting in the doorway of a visit room, clearly supervising a visit, turns to me and says "What room are you in?" I say, " I don't know, I'm not sure." Because our social worker is late again, so we are out waiting with the kiddos' birth family all unsupervised and mingling awkwardly, because there is nowhere for us to go and no one to help guide us. She says: "How do you not know? Which one did you sign out?" And then it hits me what's happening here. She thinks I'm Mr. Toddler's social worker. So I say "I'm his foster Mom." She sits up and says something like "Sorry, you looked like a social worker" and we move on. The subtext here is that I'm a white, thirty-something white lady holding a black baby, and under most circumstances in the child welfare world this is best understood as the dynamics of the workplace. This happens so often I oscillate between total annoyance and surrender. I get it. I do. I look the part, and "the part" is understood as a white lady with kids of color. I even wear Birkenstocks, and I'm a lesbian, which is like a two-fer, basically. It's typical that I'm mistaken for our kiddos' teacher, social worker or therapist. Rarely is the assumption that I'm the Mom unless my kids snuggle me, call me "Mom" or I'm clearly doing Mom things (like wiping spit up off my clothes in line getting food or we are in a crowded bathroom and Mr. Toddler is asking me loudly if we are here because I need to poop or pee). There are about a dozen experiences a month which cause me to quietly thank the Gods that the kiddos in my home are not completely aware of language yet, and these situations are most often related to offensive questions about my kids' relationship to me or my gayness. "Where did you get him from?" "Did you get him when he was born or older? I heard it's better when they're younger." "Oh, foster care? Can I take him then if no one wants him?" "Could you not have kids- or I guess how would you have kids, right??!! There's no man!" Another of my favorite therapists (yes, another reference to therapists I love here- we all do what we know until we work our asses off to do different. This is one of my ways of working my ass off to be a better different) reminded me that one of the burdens of being the "difference," the identity that is outside the mainstream construct, is that the onus for education and guiding less informed folks is often on you. As in, when I was holding Tiny in the sling while shopping and someone asked where I "got" Tiny from and I honestly answered we are foster parents, and she said- "Oh! Well can I take him then if no one wants him?" What I wanted to say was angry and full of vitriol. I wanted to vent some of the big feelings I have about the way our family has and has not had support from our community. I wanted to let off some of the steam that is building in me after Mr. Toddler's grandmother yelled at him for calling me "Mama." I almost got really caught up in my own stuff here and was reactive. But instead I said this: "We want him as much as any Mama wants their baby. Don't you worry. He is loved by more people than I can count. And he is beautiful." Because I wished for her take away to be that he is not unwanted, that's an ignorant stance all the way around. His Mom would say she wants him too. And I'm not an angry lesbian trying to steal all the babies because I don't have a man. I wish to be part of the solution in this world and stand alongside those who stand on the margins. That's the energy I wanted to leave in my wake. Creative and Expansive and Outside the Everyday Normal What I'm not really pointing out here that this conversation, and most of them really, are all about race. And you know what? You know who is going to be reminded every time these conversations happen, that the world sees them as different and distanced from their Moms? My kids. I'm hoping we get some of this right and that it becomes a source of strength to feel different- like you have something creative and outside the everyday normal. Maybe that's way too optimistic. When I came out in my early 20's it wasn't easy or something I would say was "fun," but the life I'm able to live, and who I am is born from that struggle. And I am proud of the life I have and the family I am with The Artist. We mow the lawn, grocery shop, eat dinner together, sometimes go on vacation when we are lucky. It's not a gay life, it's just a life. I'm hoping someday this will feel like just a life for my kids, as opposed to their gay, interracial, fostercare life. Some days I'm better about responding to the questions and looks in a balanced manner, and some days I'm reactive as all get out. This month we chose to be a bit more transparent about how we think and talk about race, class, our family and the life we are in and for sure we are nowhere near done. I'm nowhere near done. Foster Mom (the therapist) I'd Give Us A Solid B It's unrealistic to expect that we can give a solid snapshot that will do this dialogue justice. Mostly, I think I'm moving forward with more questions than answers, but I'm glad to be thinking about this stuff while the boys are young. And there are some things I want to highlight. Like basic stuff. There are things I learned, things I already knew and things I was reminded of. Like the difference between race and racism. I know what race is. I know what racism is. Two big things I was reminded of: how remarkable we are as a global group and how deeply I believe that the best way to talk about that beauty is to not adopt a "colorblind" perspective. The many shades of our skin are so unbelievably diverse and striking to me. This is part of why I started photographing our family. During this month of reflecting, I was reminded that not everyone appreciates or values the beauty in this. And this surprised me. Not because of the injustices I see happening to black people by cops in the media, but with some of the things my own peeps assume is appropriate to share with me because we're suddenly raising brown babies. For example, I was totally caught off-guard while recently chatting with a friend, who I regard as super smart and pretty worldly. Open-minded, hip, a minority herself. She shared some exciting news about one of her kids and in so doing, volunteered that she was proud to have raised her kids to be colorblind. I didn't know what to say. And I'm not the type to mince words. I was carrying Tiny when the conversation took place and I did not see it coming. Despite this period of deep reflection, I had nothing to share in that moment. I wanted to be happy for her and her kid. I wanted to not steal her thunder in any way. I wanted to not 'go there' in that moment and I felt like shit for struggling with which route to take. And now, I'm not sure of when 'to go there' or when to not. It's problematic. I'm working on it. Moving Forward My commitment to myself and my family is to strike a balance. We are raising these little guys until further notice and maybe forever. Some days I feel like talking about race, some days I just don't. That's how I feel right now. This doesn't mean that I don't honor our familial identity or ignore our individualism. It just means it's a lot and I've got some stuff to work out so that I can talk to my kids first. It's kinda like being gay. I was born this way. It's a major part of my identity. And some days I just don't feel like making it a big deal. The same is true for my tattoos, with the exception of being born with them. Obvi. Other things I feel committed to: not raising our boys in a bubble. Talking with them about race, racism and black history well before kindergarten and continuing this dialogue forever. Which also means that I'll do my best to be the parent they need when all kinds of big feelings come up in different ways throughout their identity development and life. See also: we all have really good therapists. I don't want our guys wondering about things we may have kept from them while growing up and I'll do my best to be transparent and nurturing about the hardest things in life and hope that that's something worthwhile. Resources We came across tons of valuable resources these past several weeks that we want to share. You can find them here. If you'd like to contribute, there's a note on that page for how you can do that. We'd love to hear from you. We also upped our social media game. We get a little more political and news-worthy on Twitter and on Pinterest, well...we pin things of interest, like kickass books, ways our boys might wanna style their hair over the years and other goodies. We're staritng lifebooks for the boys (which lots of people have asked about) and we'll be pumped to share our thoughts on that in an upcoming post. We also started 2 new hashtags: #AllOfTheSkintones and #LoveSeesAllColor. So you might notice your feed blowing up with those. Don't be shy. -Foster Mom (the artist) Other Noteworthy Voices: Chad Goller-Sojourner: a Seattle-based writer, storyteller and solo-performer whose recent work focuses on the social, political and historical dimensions of multi-identity construction and intersectionality. Riding in Cars with Black People & Other Newly Dangerous Acts: A Memoir in Vanishing Whiteness is the groundbreaking and crushingly honest story of what happens when a black boy, raised by white parents, “ages out” of honorary white and suburban privilege and into a world where folklore, statistics, and conjecture deem him dangerous until proven otherwise. Goller-Sojourner takes audiences on an intense and insightful journey, along the way unpacking race, privilege and policing like only a transracial adoptee can. Culture Club on Medium: "We get in the cracks and crevices of race, class, culture and identity. It's a party. Come as you are." A guy by the name of @dexdigi writes a solid response to an article you may have read in 2014 by a freshman at Princeton University entitled, "Why I'll Never Apologize for My White Male Privilege." Kristen Howerton, mom to 4 kids via birth and adoption and the mastermind behind Rage Against the Minivan has some great insight into talking to her own kids about race, as well as a great collection of age-appropriate books that might help support conversations with kiddos. Jimmy Wayne: a former foster kid turned country music singer/songwriter whose songs and story highlight his mission to bring awareness to kids who age out of the foster system and become homeless. His powerful TEDx talk here. artist mom
Disruption: A Foster Care Fail, Part 1
My partner, whom I respect deeply and fully adore, isn’t ready to talk publicly about her thoughts on all things Big Sister. I respect her choice. In many ways, she has been a compass for me as we both navigate these parenting waters. Her wisdom and humility are invaluable, holding clinical best interest and compassion over me in a world where I lead with passion and authenticity. We operate differently but not separately, oftentimes with polarity, but when we overlap, we complement each other well. When we disagree, we learn from one another. We have always been two voices here and now is certainly no different. I have some things to say now. Each summer since the boys came into our lives has been transformative and 2017 is no different. While therapist mom teaches weekly, I’m with the boys, working on several side projects, soaking up some version of a maternity leave I’d hoped for back when we adopted. Quite the opposite from summer 2016 when all 4 kiddos were with us and she was primary parent while I worked long days. This year, we’ve also been gifted access to a house near the beach, making our way to the shore as frequently as we can to discover the healing ways of the ocean. Its air is thick and damp, staining skin and hair with sweet salt and sunshine, ushering in much needed laughter, quality time together and breezy, sleep-filled nights. The tide’s consistency anchors us to one another in ways more healing than anything I ever imagined. Our boys spend the mornings learning how to ride their bikes, sand dunes and conservation land lining the paths. Late morning is reserved for fantastic feats of daring during low-tide exploration, followed by long naps, afternoon adventures, poolside swims, seafood, cotton-candy ice cream and boogie boarding. We’ve discovered the waltz of lightning bugs, the joys of evening bubble baths and the weight of our exhausted heads sinking into pillows while sharing in the delight of bedtime magic through books on pirate treasure hunts, hermit crabs hunting for homes and the adventures of other little Black boys. If I oversaw the manufacturing of every kid’s childhood, these would be the building blocks. We are doing all the normal things we’ve waited so long to enjoy. Settling into our collective bones as a family of 4 who’ve had anything but a traditional journey to this point. And we were reveling in the finality that we worked toward and sacrificed deeply for so that every kiddo in this story would reach a happy ending. Until about 2 weeks ago. When Big Sis left our home the first week of June 2017, much preparation, tenacity and sacrifice had taken place before that pivotal moment. From the onset of welcoming the boys’ older siblings into our home, launching them was always our #1 goal. We were clear with each other and we were clear with them. We knew we could not possibly raise all four of them as we were not resourced to meet their individual and collective needs. Instead, we actively devoted our lives, at the cost of many things, to help ready them for pre-adoptive homes and forever families. Our commitment to them was to lay the best possible foundation on their paths to permanency by creating a home for them to heal, to get to know each other as siblings, to eat good food, to have routines and consistency, to have fun, to frame who the people and players were in their life, to advocate for them and ensure continuity of care across all channels; medically, educationally, after school and summer camps. And when the time came, to support their transition. This wasn’t a decision we made lightly, nor was it always a clear path. We were filed on. I lost my job. She put hers at risk. More than once we considered separating. Our community expanded and contracted, leaving a smaller group of friends and family who understood and stood by us. We invested in what we viewed as success at the cost of many things because we believed there to be no more important goal than security, safety and family for all. We anticipated we would need to absorb more than we might be able to handle, which is, in part, why the boys’ Big Brother left our home earlier than we would have liked. Our job has been to hold the reigns while raising the bar, working above and below radar, within and outside of the system, to reach a place of launch for all our kiddos. Because they deserve no less. For Tiny and Sweet, this place of was our little family of 4. For Big Brother, it has been with his pre-adoptive family. And for their oldest and most vulnerable sibling, the just and timely arrival of an adoptive family that would carry Big Sis into her 9th year and beyond. There are no fairy tale endings in foster care, there are just families who work hard. There is always work and courage and patience and tenacity and the building of resilience. And occasionally, a good enough story of relative success. There is the understanding, every day, that the child in your arms has suffered deeply. Beginning often with the trauma of the separation of that kid from their birth parents and ending with no clear path in sight and a lifetime of shame for folks who could’ve done better. Investing in kids is always worth it. Even without a return. There is no glory here. There is no easy road. If one seeks such a path, one should listen to the voices of adoptees and the lived experience of folks who’ve traveled these roads before making promises to kids only to steal them away. One should take care that the choices one makes are altruistically in the best interests of the child one seeks to lift or claim to love. Should a grown-up be unclear about their intentions or capabilities, have any doubts or an alternative agenda, my recommendation would be to just go get a fucking puppy. Or a plant. You can dress either of them up or put them on a shelf to take pretty pictures. That would be preferred. Someday, when she’s old enough, I think she’ll agree. More later. Artist Mom artist mom
My First Talk About Race With My 8 Month Old Son
I was running errands with Tiny today & I noticed a black woman staring at him with hearts in her eyes. He sees her, too. Gets all "shy guy" and smiles while leaning into me, his security blanket. He then stares right back at her & they lock in for what feels like 5 minutes but is really only 5 seconds. They were having a moment together, from afar. A moment that I didn't quite fit into as his white, tattooed mom. They share something I'll never belong to. And I'm ok with that. Variations on this scenario happen frequently. I often don't know what to say at this juncture in my parenting travels. When we recently spent a month reflecting on race, class & our transracial/fosteradopt family, one of my biggest takeaways was to start talking to my kids about race & racism at a young age. So, as we're walking out of the store & waving goodbye to her, I do that. Tiny is sitting in the cart & we are making our way to the exit. I nuzzle his nose with mine, then say to him loud enough for her to hear, "She has the same beautiful skin color as you." This was my first conversation about race with my youngest son. -Foster Mom (the artist artist mom
Real Talk
I'm not gonna say it's not what I thought it would be. I'm just gonna say it's a whole lot harder than I expected. (Warning: I swear a lot). The Lesbian Shoe-ins If you've read any of our other posts, you might have gathered that we thought we were foster parent shoe-ins. Like, this is what we were made to do. Our whole lives, as individuals, then as a couple, moving in a direction that culminated in THIS; Foster. Parenting. Which is why it's a little devastating to feel like I'm drowning in it. Back in January, a dear friend of mine, and the birth mother of 3 girls, wrote to me & shared the following: "Know what word I associate with parenting? Surrender. Even more than sacrifice, even more than dozens of other's a complete letting go of yourself and your world to enter that of another, and to completely meet that person where they are, needs and wants and history and future and all. And in the midst, realizing how much you can give of yourself, how much you can do without, how resourceful you can be, how moved and awed by another. It's like falling in love, but even more epic, because without choice, those littles have already surrendered to us...they trust us. They believe that they are wanted by someone (you), and they hope that that someone will take the same leap and cherish them and surrender to them right back. Holding hands and walking the path of childhood together, even when you have to carry their sweet small selves. Even when you're too exhausted to do much else beyond gaze at them and wonder at making it through another day of life." I remember reading this 3 very long months ago and thinking, yes. THAT. All of it. I reread it often & shared it with my wife, as if it was some secret message we needed to hear frequently. There was empathy, validation, love, maturity, honesty, encouragement, compassion, beauty and real talk all wrapped up in this warm sentiment; surrender. I remember thinking, ok, I can do this. This is normal. This is what people do. This is motherhood. A bit about me I was the oldest of 3 from a divorced home. My parents were babies when they had my brothers & I, and my siblings & I were separated from one another in that youthful, blazing divorce. I babysat sloths of my neighborhood kids for money as a young teen. I coached basketball. My first college internship was with teens in a lockdown facility. My first college job was a camp counselor. Obviously I wasn't headed toward chemical engineering or robotics or whatever. Kids! I wanted to take care of them. Especially the really damaged ones. I wanted them to feel like they matter. I wanted to teach them the skills necessary to negotiate the fucked up world they would eventually enter. And. I wanted my own someday. This is crazy Fast forward to today. 4+ months solid as full time foster parents, there exists some primal gnawing at my gut, reminding me of what I already know: that I'm stuck. Smashed between two very different worlds. In one corner, busy mourning the life we had without kids and in the other, getting excited about a life with kids. How does one even make the leap to pop-up family? I wonder about really big things like, what the fuck are we doing? I worry about whether we're ready for the life we've created and the responsibility we've taken on in raising two boys until further notice...or maybe forever. I grieve the life we had before despite loving them so much. I find myself fantasizing about a do-over and saying "no" on that day we got the call for 6 week old Tiny. I'm in love with these kids. I don't question our capacity to care for them. To love them & help them be the best little humans they can be in this world. I'm in love with my wife, whom, as no surprise, is a wonderful & talented mom. And. Everything is different in this new world. Everything. Most of it is a hard different. If I had to categorize this, here's how it would go: 1. The Small Stuff No sweat. Barely noticeable on a good day. Like bugs on a windshield in a humid summer drive, innocent until they cloud your vision. Other little things like... how unsafe people drive, how inconsiderate other parents can be, how I never want to be a SAHM, how slow lines move all the time now or or how gross public bathrooms really are (insert plea for universal baby changing stations here). Further, diapers never go into the trash when you shoot them like a basketball. I can't get anything done. The kids are always sick. The dogs have moved beyond shock to mutiny. Something always breaks. I'm behind in everything. I haven't touched my art since Thanksgiving. We still don't have daycare for Tiny. The garbage men always make a mess of our trash, as if we don't already have enough to pick up inside our house, we can trust that even the garbage men are conspiring against us outside our house. Tiny is teething for at least the next year. Both boys never go to sleep at the same time and by the time they do, my wife and I are too tired for time together (see #5). I can't even talk about our cars. Did I mention I'm in the midst of a career change? lol. Some days this stuff is funny. Some days I just roll my eyes & smile about it. Chalk it up to some humorous higher power just fucking with me because, of course. Obvi everything will go wrong at the same time. When the small stuff stands alone, these things are pretty manageable. Until they're not. 2. Domesticity Where to begin. We go through dishes like toilet paper/wipies & the dishwasher has a 50% return on cleanliness. Bottles are made up of 6 parts; the base, the airflow thing, inner top cap, spinny thing that holds it all together, the nipple and the outside cap that keeps it from leaking. 2 bottles equals 12 parts, 3 bottles equals 18 parts & so on. We use 9 bottles. 54 parts. The dust and dog hair piles up to a radical degree and as luck would have it, both boys seem to be allergic. Despite trimming our own selection of clothing to 'yoga pants' (tight sweatpants for me) and a couple tshirts, our laundry is a round the clock enterprise (shout out to my wife for recently teaching me the concept of going to seed, because she thought my self-esteem could handle it?). Both boys go through at least 3 outfits a day, often soaking linens along the way; laundry is officially the bane of my existence. Then there's the house. One week, our 1st floor flooded because the pipes backed up, the hot water heater shit the bed & our furnace stopped registering accurate temperatures. One week. I actually laughcried. (See: Tom Hanks in the Money Pit). I just cannot. 3. Physical & Psychological Demand Everything hurts. All of the time. No, really. 4. Co-parenting with the system One of the hardest things I've ever done. We are opposites. Put every healthy, intuitive thing you can imagine about parenting into a bucket, shake it up, add some of whatever, then scatter it around several cities with the expectation of putting it back together so that it somehow resembles real life: this is what parenting with the system feels like to me. I am most grateful to my wife on this front. She is the face of our family. Articulate & timely, pragmatic & wise, she manages the front end. For this reason & several thousand more, I absolutely adore her. 5. Relationships Probably the biggest one for me. Let's start with how nobody in our life understands what we're A) doing and B) experiencing. Yes, we are real parents. Yes, we are up all throughout the night because both boys have trouble sleeping. Yes, we are sleep deprived & this impacts our job our friendships our routine our relationships our lives. Yes, we begin our evening routine at 5:30pm. Yes, they have siblings who live in another foster home. No, they are not moving in, too. Yes, we really were sick all winter and no opening the windows for fresh air doesn't magically clean out the bugs. We tried. So yeah, there's that. And we have really good people in our lives. They just don't get it. They can't. And I'm not bitter. I'm just frustrated. I'm working on it. Then there's us. We weren't parents before we started raising kids. Obvious, right? We had a lot of professional experience working with kids and families in the system. We have several nieces & nephews and a handful of friends with kids. We were hotline foster parents, but never long term. We started with nothing and collected along the way. Blankets, bottles, onesies, diapers, car seats, clothes, food, toys, books. Every weekend was a scavenger hunt for quite some time. We scoured mom's lists & craigslist & clearance racks, etc. We did it without help from the state. We also had some awesome friends chip in their old goods like trainer potties, baby gates, diaper genies. It started as an adventure and quickly lost its appeal for me. It was too much, too fast. It happened so quickly that one day we stood up & didn't even recognize our home. Or worse, each other. But only a teeny bit. We've always found our way back to each other. Not nearly enough or for long enough, but we're working on that, too. You feel me? I love having the boys in my life. My life is enriched with them in it. I love learning from them & teaching them things. I love bearing witness to their growth. It amazes me like science amazes me. They are a wonder. I suppose if I'd had more time to prepare things would be different. I suppose maybe that's false hope. I suppose if my body had 9 months of getting ready, and whatever time before that, then perhaps sleep deprivation wouldn't be so severe & I'd manage better overall. I suppose if we only had one of the boys, we wouldn't feel like we're compromising in every aspect of our lives. I just know that this is so hard. Perhaps if I could just surrender, the real beauty in all of this would explode. I suppose only time will tell. Hollar if you hear me. Foster mom (the artist)   artist mom
Yesterday I posted a picture of Mr. Toddler in timeout and some interesting discussion surfaced in the thread following. I felt the need to flesh out some of my own baggage with timeout, in addition to sharing some thoughts that may or may not be useful. These are totally my own views and not meant to offend any parenting style. We can totally agree to disagree. For context, I worked at various residential treatment centers for children in state custody for several years. During the latter part of that time, I was a lead trainer for crisis intervention and behavior management. At that time, the agency I worked for was muddling through its own intervention crisis, of sorts, and had put together a training model that merged snippets of previously used interventions and emerging, evidence-based, best practice. My struggle with the resulting blended model was that I did not believe it took into account individual kids’ trauma histories, strategies were not therapeutic and staff had difficulty keeping up with the changes, instead relying on their own parenting philosophies while working with these very tough, damaged kids. The result was a lot of people trying really hard to do the right thing and think about what was best for kids in care but in the moment, ultimately relying on inserting their own adult authority. Timeouts were a frontline intervention rather than focusing on any prevention. Adults got punitive, things got consistently shame-based, kids were isolated from groups for long periods of time and their behavior typically escalated rather than deescalated, and ended in terrible physical restraints. In essence, kids continued to dig themselves into a hole of consequences because agency systems and adult expectations (level systems, sticker charts, individual philosophies) got in the way. Kids were not only not learning from mistakes and not building skills to negotiate stressors, they were also often unclear about what their initial 'offending behavior' was. Awful. Trust was impacted, relationships between kids and adults were damaged, kids were further traumatized and the overall culture did not serve children in the way that they deserved. I’d like to believe that timeouts have come a long way since this period of time in my professional life. I’d also reeeeallly like to believe that kids in foster care do not resemble kiddos stuck in institutions (group homes, residential treatment facilities, hospitals, other congregate care). Depending on the age of the kiddo and the number of homes they’ve transitioned to/from and the extent of their trauma history and the broader impact on their social emotional development…I struggle to separate the two entirely. Don’t get me wrong. I think there are lots of people working in the trenches who are good people working hard to do right by kids. I think people have different definitions of what this looks like and I certainly think one of the biggest challenges for social welfare agencies is to develop protocol and treatment plans that work for individuals rather than broad groups. I think that some strategies are more effective with certain kiddos than with others and I get that timeout has a place in the worlds of some families. I don’t think they have a place in ours. Here’s why: Rewind to last night. Here's what happened. Mr. Toddler has a pretty solid bedtime routine (which we’ve worked super hard to establish). He gets home from school and plays inside or outside, dinner, bath, PJs, books, and bedtime. We have a pretty sweet flow that works well for him and all of us. Mostly. In the last week or so (since starting a third daycare in almost as many months) he has started to melt down more frequently throughout the night (before dinner when his blood sugar is lower and he’s exhausted). Mr. Toddler, at an agitated level, looks like whining or whimpering, saying ‘no’ more frequently to basic requests, being generally inflexible, more moody and easily agitated. This agitation escalates to being disruptive with an increase in gross motor activity. He throws food, plastic silverware, his sippy cup, or rips off his bib while sitting in his high chair during dinner. He becomes pretty much unable to reason with in this stage. We usually ask him to take a breath more frequently and this sometimes helps. He’s not outrageous, as he’s still so little, but tough nonetheless. We also remove the amount of objects he can throw and try to slow things down for him. As he digests his food, his mood improves. Literally. You can see it happen. We transition from dinner to bath (he often needs to be hosed down) because it triggers a transitional shift for him in the night; he cognitively and somatically knows we’re inching toward bedtime. Bath time is awesome. It’s relaxing. He loves the bubbles. He gets quiet time to himself and we get a moment to breathe and set out pajamas, books, medicine and Tiny ready for bedtime. And then the shift. Mr. Toddler does awesome until he has to put his pajamas on. He jumps from agitated to disruptive to dangerous almost immediately (thrashes his body while screaming-basically not in control of himself). I use the term dangerous loosely here, as he is so young and so small. Though, I did hear a quote once on This American Life about how the only reason more toddlers don’t kill people is because they lack the strength. Or something. Sometimes he shakes, rattles and rolls until he stops on his own and moves forward. Sometimes playful redirection from us is effective. Sometimes we have to wrestle him into his PJ’s because it’s too late and its just time. So we A) let him do his own thing until he comes around B) try to problem-solve with him or C) assert our parental authority and give no choices. Ugh. Enter: the timeout. We’ve called it both “taking a break” and a couple times, timeout. The discrepancy is usually indicative of our mood, to be frank. When we have more energy we ‘take a break’ and ‘try again.’ When we are exhausted and feel out of options and just want it to stop, we try to shake it up with an isolating intervention; ergo, timeout. And therein lies one of the biggest problem for me: isolating. It just does no good. Not for a toddler. At least, not for our toddler. This is not behavior I want to continue. I don’t want this little guy feeling so distressed right before bedtime and I don’t want us to feel like we’re putting out small fires or grasping at straws. From my perspective, timeouts are meant to stop behavior. In the way past, if I was ever going to ask a kiddo to take a timeout, it was to stop their behavior. It was because they just needed a moment. If that behavior stopped on the way to timeout, I would tell them that they didn't even have to ‘sit’ a timeout. If that behavior didn't stop on the way to timeout, it was more than likely going to escalate. I knew that then. I know it now. In Sum What I didn’t do last night was, in the moment, revisit why Mr. Toddler was struggling to put on his pajamas and then make a choice. I wasn’t curious. I was tired. I wasn’t thinking of myself as the one responsible for investigating the meaning of his behavior, I was just spent. And Tiny was crying and needed a bottle. I know my kid. I know that knowing my kid is half the battle. I know why changing his clothes can be triggering for him. I know why the word timeout, in and of itself, is triggering for him. I know why bedtime can be triggering for him. It has to do with his trauma history. It has to do with the fact that he’s a toddler. It has to do with the fact that we just moved him from the co-sleeper next to our bed to his own toddler bed across the room and despite how pumped we are about it and how exciting we make it sound for him, a little bit it sucks. I. Know. These. Things. But in the moment? Poof. Gone. I also know that I’m not teaching him any useful skills in those moments of desperation. Zip. I know that little moments add up over time and that this is how behavior is learned and shaped. I’m ok with the occasional fail but I’m not down with doing damage. The balance I hope to strike with Mr. Toddler in these types of situations is to explore the meaning of his behavior and to work with him/teach him to manage that behavior. To help him develop a skillset that will allow him to tolerate the frustration and regulate the emotions that come along with negotiating his life’s stressors. In toddler ways, in school-age ways, latency-age ways, in pre-teen ways, in teenage ways, in young adult ways. I’m pretty good with everything but the toddler and preschool age range. Mostly, I find him so unreasonable. Also, totally lovable. And. This is how I know I’ve met my match. -Foster Mom (the artist) artist mom
Chocolate Kale Smoothie (dairy and gluten free)
As has often been the case with kiddos who come into our home from foster care, their palette is shaped by sugar & processed foods & their bellies & minds suffer all the more as a result. It's hard for them to focus, blood sugar & mood are all over the place, and the power struggle is real. No judgement here. When Sweet moved in, he was a tiger of a 2 year old. He had a lot of health stuff going on that impacted his skin, hair, tummy & his overall development. We worked diligently to untangle the whole of it. Records were spotty & info shared with us was pretty sparse. He was also in a daycare from very early in the morning to early evening, so his diet & his people were all over the place. We didn't want to blast his gut but we did want to reset it & shape his pallet for life in a healthier direction. Enter: The kale smoothie. We experimented with a few iterations on this & in our house, this is one of the few things I "cook." I make a double batch, about 8 cups or 1/2 a gallon so it lasts to days & serves all of us. We top it with omega swirl. I consider it a fierce combo & up the protein for a post-workout recovery meal as well as a daily dish. 2 year old Sweet started drinking it about a week into his life with us & up until this summer, nearly one cup every single day. This past week we added ice chips & vitamin D drops to the mix (dubbed croup soup) to feed Tiny while he battles a megs sore throat. Below is is the recipe I use to make 8 cups. Add or remove water/almond milk for desired thickness. Enjoy! -Artist Mom Chocolate Kale Smoothie (dairy & gluten free) Serving size: 8 cups Ingredients: 1 avocado (adds thickness) 2 cups almond milk 1 cup water 3 medjool dates (to sweeten the deal) 2 bananas 2 tbsp local bee pollen 1-2 scoops chocolate protein powder 2 tbsp cacao powder 3 stalks of crisp kale (leaves only) Steps: Blend liquids & kale until puréed. Kids (and me!) hate the chunks, otherwise. Add remaining ingredients; powder stuff first, then the thicker stuff. Blend until smooth & to desired thickness. Serve with fancy omega swirl designs on top (the man with the yellow hat for the overzealous, simple stars for the rest of us). artist mom
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