Legally FREE!

6D56DAA0-EC6B-47BB-9D2A-342CF73FD3C7.jpeg

“A child born to another woman calls me Mommy. The magnitude of that tragedy and the depth of that privilege are not lost on me.” – Jody Landers

My sweet J’s,

Today is the day you became legally free. What this means is that at trial today, and after years of hard work and with the help of handfuls of professionals, a judge terminated rights of your birth parents. It’s a tremendously sad thing – to be legally free – a ward or orphan of the state – but it’s also equally happy in our case because it means we are another step closer to adoption where we will earn the privilege of being your Mom and Dad FOREVER!

Being legally free also signifies that we will have a closed adoption. We get to close the  door on a past in which put your safety and wellbeing in jeopardy, and ensure that’s never compromised. We will get to make ALL the decisions for you, once you’re adopted. We are so extremely grateful for your birth parents, we’ll continue to pray for them to be well, and we will be open to answering any questions you have when they arise. And if later down the road they are sober and safe, and you want to meet them, we are open to that. In the meantime we will continue to talk with the highest regard for them for they unknowingly gave us our greatest blessings yet – YOU!

Today we focused on the good. And we celebrated with “legally free” cake. You requested we sing the “Happy Birthday” song to you so that you could blow out the candles together.

Big J was especially excited to hear about becoming legally free because he can’t wait until the day adoption closes and some of our rules change.  (Like mandatory life jacket in a foot of water or in the hot tub when Mom and Dad are sitting next to you.) “I’m FREE,” he squealed with such delight! “I’m FREE!”

We dream of a future for you that’s so bright. Dream big, my loves!!

The next steps for us will be to wait for our newly assigned Adoption Social Worker to meet with us for monthly Health & Safety Checks (the torch gets passed from our current Social Worker) & to retain an attorney to guide us through the adoption, and we hope to be done in the next 6 months. See you at the courthouse!

One more thing…

43932135-76A6-4E73-B7D4-9405B927BF60

Think back about your first day of high school. If you can’t pinpoint first day, then your first memories, experiences that you recall about high school. Were you nervous? Scared you wouldn’t fit in? Worried about what people would think of you – your clothes, the way you looked, the way you talked, the backpack on your back, the brand of shoes on your feet…. did you sleep well the night before or did you toss and turn? Did you find your classes okay, among the sea of students in the seemingly never ending hallways? Did any familiar faces greet you in your classes, the hallway or cafeteria? Were you shown kindness?

As I sat there in the student services office with my 10th grade foster daughter on the first day of school, I was once again in awe of her resilience. And burdened with the sadness of the reality of how many hoops our foster youth have to jump through. It’s no wonder less than half graduate high school. Sobering, isn’t it? We spent two hours the day before at the school doing tour stuff, paperwork and calling social workers and attorneys for transcripts and info and records with the objective of having everything ironed out and perfect for today. We woke up at 5:30am to be at school the moment the doors opened at 7:00am. 40 minutes later and her first period class started without her because her file was not put into the system. It wasn’t a priority to the registrar… ouch, I thought. Is that coming from a place of privilege? Am I in the right being annoyed that they didn’t set her up already? My girl’s file sat on the desk for more than half of the day the day before. (In case you are wondering, I kept my mouth shut. In an effort to be a good-ish role model, and because teachers and school faculty are HEROS, I bit my tongue when I wanted to lay into any one of the 4 women who sat within 3 feet of her file all day yesterday.) Really?!?!? Are you FREAKING SERIOUS?!? The file sat ALL day on the desk. In fact, it hadn’t even moved from where I left it yesterday morning. Did they realize how difficult this day is? That she’s nervous. That this school is easily 4 times (or more) larger than any other she’s attended? That it’s her birthday week – her QUINCE – and she’s living with people who were strangers 5 weeks ago? That she knows nobody here? How much time, inconvenience, would it have cost them to pick up her file (completely COMPLETE & with transcripts) the day before and enter it into the system so that she could start her first day on the right foot? It might not have been a priority for the registrar, but to me it was. I took the day off work to focus on setting her up for success this school year… it was ONE MORE THING. One more obstacle she didn’t need, one more X on her back, and today of all days.

I wondered what she’s feeling, this sweet girl, as she sipped on her white mocha that we picked up on the way to school. Celebratory Starbucks for the first day. I hoped she’d be okay. I hoped she knew that she’d get through this day just fine. I hoped she would make friends easily and find some comfort this day and week. That she wouldn’t worry about what’s happening at court tomorrow for her. That she wouldn’t worry about where she’ll be welcome. The list of worries goes on. As if life isn’t hard enough, foster kids have to juggle social workers, CASA (court approved special advocates), attorneys, attorneys for special circumstances, court dates (where sometimes they spend all day in the court room), family visitation, therapy appointments, foster family support groups, etc… it’s a lot for anybody to handle, let alone a 10th grader.

There is a saying that goes “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” Think about it, BE about it and have a great day!

N

 

Fostering

My precious J’s,

You might remember a time when we opened our home to other foster kids. I don’t know if, when you read this, we will still be fostering. I hope so, but only time will tell.

A few months after we received you into our family, we had to start preparing to get our foster care license (Every foster family’s journey looks a little different. Sometimes it is required that the foster family have their license before receiving a child. But because we knew of you as friends of friends, we were an exception called “suitable others.”). As we attended classes and trainings our world was shook by the information of just how many kids there are in foster care and how the number of willing and able foster care homes available falls short of that number. That every night dozens of kids are displaced to sleep in offices or hotels under the supervision of social workers. Your Dad and I started to think that although our purpose is to be your forever parents, maybe we were also put here to provide a safe temporary home to other kids that may be on the path to reunification with their birth families. To help them heal, to be in a safe home, to experience the joys of family vacations, dinner together around the table, homework time, movie nights, bike rides, etc… Or perhaps to help a teen transition into the next phase of their life and gain independence with a little support. To be their cheerleader and remind them that they are worthy of and able to achieve any dream.

When a child is taken into protective custody, it is a traumatic experience. They did absolutely nothing to ask for or to deserve what’s happening to them. They may have witnessed a crime, or experienced some form of abuse or neglect. They have been separated from their parent or caretaker, and possibly even their sibling(s).  They may end up spending hours in an office while a social worker puts them into the system and tries to find them a willing and able foster home. It is the worst day of their life. Watch ReMoved, a powerful short film which follows a girl through the foster care system, starting with being taken into protective custody.

We have had the tremendous honor of being a safe landing pad for handfuls of kids taken into protective custody over the past six months. You both have been so amazing with sharing your parents, your puppies, your home and your toys with these kids as they transition to safety. And our therapist has held your hands and mine every step to process and to gain new skills as we make room in our hearts and home for these kids. You are deeply generous and have the most sincere hearts. I am so lucky and proud to be your Mom.

My wish for you throughout this journey on which our family has embarked, is that you find grace, not perfection. To know that you are worthy. You are enough. That you don’t have to chase Pinterest perfect anything. That your past doesn’t define you, that you don’t need to “try to measure up” to anything. That the good life is real, raw, slow, and rich with flaws. Take risks and know that we will be here to catch you.

You are loved more than you will ever know, my sweet boys.

Thoughts of Adoption…

images-3

My beloved J’s, we are a month away from trial with your birth father and there are so many things happening behind the scenes. Court dates for dependency. Pre-adoption planning meetings. Counseling. Conversations with your therapist regarding how to best go about this transition.

The biggest question this week is – Do we go for a closed adoption or an open adoption? Your birth mom has already been terminated, meaning she has lost her rights to you, but there remains a chance for your birth father to have some sort of rights. Although very limited and infrequent, and we aren’t talking visitations, we are looking at perhaps sending him a Christmas card with a photo of you once yearly. Giving him the opportunity to hold onto something of you – a photo, an update that you’re alive and well, hope for your future, something tangible. We really want only the best for you. Is keeping this door open to a past that put you in danger really what’s best for you? Are we being selfish by wanting to slam that door closed and deadbolt and chain latch it? I wish we had more clarity on this matter. Two thirds of the professionals working alongside us on your case are advocating for a closed adoption. A new professional that joined the case this week is telling us to consider an open adoption because it poses the least risk – meaning, if we had a closed adoption, and there was a loophole, we could potentially lose you later down the line. Very slim chance, but still a risk I don’t think we are willing to take. It’s all very confusing. And maddening. And ridiculous. What do we do?

Yesterday Big J had a meltdown because he’s angry that we have all these restrictions placed upon us by our “social worker” (State Licensor) that we wouldn’t have if you were 100% ours and adopted. This week he is upset about having to wear a life jacket in the hot tub even when Mom & Dad are sitting right next to him… or to walk in 2 feet of water at the beach… or the water slides or Great Wolf Lodge. There are certain risks we cannot take because if something were to happen, you could be taken from us. Just like that. Gone. So we worry. About the bruises you get on your shins from romping around and rough housing with each other. The road burn Big J got when he flew off his scooter coming down the hill from school. The falls. The scrapes. The questions professionals are always asking you during our check ins; How did you get that (bruise or scrape)? Do you feel safe here? Do you get enough to eat? Sometimes I wish we could put you in one of those giant inflatable bubbles and keep you tucked away from any danger.

“I WANT TO BE ADOPTED TODAY!” Big J screamed. “WHY WON’T YOU ADOPT ME ALREADY?” It’s frustrating. I know. Us too. Believe me when I say you don’t have to worry about this. It will happen. You see, there is a ton of bureaucracy that happens before adoption. So many steps and so many things that have to align. And if your birth father makes any appeals, the process could be stalled another 18 months. Another reason we may consider an open adoption… Hang in there, we love you.

We are going to have one heck of a party when that day comes and is CLOSED!

Dear Birth Mom

Dear Birth Mom,

I don’t know you. I’ve never met you. But I know of you and your story. I’ve tracked you in jail and sent our social worker to meet with you. I’ve prayed for you. And I’m grateful for you. Because of you we have so much love and light in our home. We’ve got 2 J’s. Two of the most hilarious, resilient, amazing boys.

Today on my front porch during our routine health and safety visit with the boys’ social worker, we were informed that effective today, your rights to the J’s have been terminated. It makes me horribly sad that you are missing out on these two incredible boys. And ecstatic because they are another step closer to being ours forever.

I want to thank you for giving them life. Out of all the options on the table and regardless of the substances they were exposed to while in the womb, you gave them life. A chance. An opportunity. For that we are indebted to you. I know you love them. I know that you want what’s best for them. I know you wish things were different. In a way I think you did the best you could with what you had but you knew that it wasn’t enough. You knew that living in a junk yard or a car, or letting them dig through trash for food, like animals, or exposing them to crime and drugs was f*cking bullsh*t.

I saw your Facebook post at 3:26am on Mother’s Day – a repost of a video from 2015 of tiny versions of our J’s jumping in a kiddie pool, giggling and goofing around – it looked like pure joy. I’m so glad you got to experience such a great memory with them. They are absolute treasure and we are so privileged to be able to give them the life that they deserve. Maybe you will get to see them again someday. Maybe it will bring your heart peace to know that they are thriving and successful. I want that for you.

Who knows… maybe we will be sitting next to each other at the J’s high school graduations. Or dancing with them together at their weddings. Or planning baby showers together. (Who am I kidding? I’m such a control freak…. that probably won’t happen, but it’s a nice thought… maybe you’ll be there though with a 10 year sober chip in your pocket).

I wish you well. I wish you enough. Take care of yourself.

With love,

N & M

Big J at the Principal’s Office

Incident Slip 9 11 17

Big J – You are the sweetest, kindest, most sincere little boy so it surprises me to hear that you struggled like this today. I knew there would be conversations about you pushing boundaries with your new found freedom as a big kid. And, I knew that a trip to the principal’s office would be inevitable… after all, we signed up for this. I just didn’t think that it would happen on Day 4 of Kindergarten. Seriously?!?!

We probably need to take a parenting class so we can learn how to best help you in these types of situations. The idea of adding another class / time commitment to our already insane lives makes me feel a little sick. Right now your 5 year old self is sitting at a desk with me in our home office, working on your Costco Kindergarten workbook. I’m enjoying this time with you to chat one-on-one and to just be next to you.

“I lost my happiness,” you said as you described the incident in detail to me. Sounds like it was a hard day. I know the feeling. Transitions are hard. Monday’s are hard. Life is sometimes hard. Tomorrow is a new opportunity, a fresh slate – just keep on keepin’ on. There is a village that loves you more than you’ll ever know.

Class of 2030

j-meets-teacher.jpg

Tomorrow, September 6th  (this was published until the day of kindergarten) is your first day of kindergarten, Big J. You’re excited for this new beginning. We’ve met your new teacher and played together with the toys and the pretend kitchen and the sea animal figures in your new classroom. We know that your teacher doesn’t assign seats so you’ll have many opportunities to move around the classroom and make new friends, and sit on pillows or chairs or crates; whatever you decide. We are especially excited that each student in your class will get a Microsoft Surface Tablet to learn on. WOW!

We have been trying so hard with the school district to keep you at the school where you attended pre-school (Head Start) these past 2 years. This is a school that you are familiar with; you feel safe there, recognize the teachers and you know the footprint of the school. Secondly, this is the school where your little brother, who you’ve spent just about every day with since he was born, will attend. It seems cruel that the school district wouldn’t understand. Despite having been the very first parent to submit a transfer waiver to the district back in February, and despite all of our letters from social worker, CASA, our therapist, people who know important it is to keep you and Little J together, we have been waitlisted by the district for that school and it’s looking like we are not getting in. They made a bad call and it’s not fair. We’ve taken this and made it a teachable moment on authority. It’s really important to me that you and your brother respect authority – your teachers, teacher aides, coaches, youth group leaders, principals, employers, law enforcement,… your president, etc… We respect authority even when we feel that they are wrong, and that they made a bad call. We follow and make the best of it.

I’m so proud of you. You have had such a positive, open mind about this new school. And brother will join you next year. I’m excited for you, my little dove, to explore the world, learn new and exciting things, take risks and share with others the kind, sweet, hilarious personality you possess. You ARE AMAZING!

I pray we get to be the parents looking up at you as you receive that high school diploma in 2030.

Please consider fostering

ece85030be533b605dbb3898b12a54a8--adoption-quotes-adoption-stories

Our social worker told us not too long ago that the amount of kids in foster care far exceeds the amount of available and willing homes. So much so that many are having to stay in hotels under the supervision of their social workers. This is the definition of crisis.

Have you ever thought about fostering? I encourage you to think about it. Talk about it. Jot down your thoughts, both positive and negative. Crumple it up and throw it away. Contact your local Fostering Together Representative. Talk to a foster parent. Go to a Foster Family Support Group. Sit through family court. Google it.

I have this anonymous quote pinned to my office wall: “there are no unwanted children. just unfound families.” There is so much truth in those two sentences. I mean don’t you have people in your inner circle that might not be related to you, but you’ve come to call them family? Here’s an opportunity to add to that circle.

I know what you’re thinking… You could easily come up with 178 reasons to not foster. Not a fan of babies, toddlers or young kids? You are in luck – because there are foster kids as old as 17 (19-20 in some parts of the US) out there that have nowhere to go. Be there for them. Consider taking a teen in; lately the State of WA is having problems placing transgender foster kids. Because of the added requirement that they have their own bedroom, many families are not able to care for them. There’s this stereotype derived from tv (thanks, Lifetime…) that teen foster kids are in the system because of something they’ve done. That they are unwanted. Unsafe. Criminals. Liars. Thieves. It’s not true. There are a plethora of reasons why we have teens in foster care and not a single one is a result of something they’ve done. These kids need people to encourage them to finish high school, go to college, dream big, take risks, and know that they have a support system. They need adults to show them commitment, teach them to drive or ride a bike or prepare meals, love on them, do math homework with them, talk them off so many awkward ledges, watch Netflix and chill with them, etc… And adoption isn’t always the end result. What if your role was to be there for them during the toughest, most excruciating season of their life, and help them reunify with their family?

You don’t need a big house, or tons of money… or even a spouse. Singles may have up to 4 foster kids, partners may have up to 6. What if you changed one life? What if you helped a kid dream of and reach a successful future? What if we multiplied that by the 420,000+ kids that are currently in the system on any given day? Wouldn’t that be so amazing…

Did you know… all kids in the foster system after age 13 automatically qualify for free college? FREE COLLEGE. REALLY! Here’s a stat that makes my heart hurt – less than 50% of foster kids graduate high school. Think about it. What kind of jobs and lifestyles does this statistic end up having? What kind of life do you have? You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to have everything. You don’t have to know all the answers. But a little compassion and a lot of love could go a long, long way.

Please. Consider becoming a foster parent today.

For more information please go to: http://fosteringtogether.org/foster-care/overview/

Please feel free to contact me directly through the contact form if you would like to know more information or dialogue becoming a foster parent. I would be so happy to answer any questions you have.

 

 

 

Vacation to Disneyland

Disney photo

The last week of June we took the most magical trip to Disneyland with the whole family! J & J, we didn’t tell you where we were going… for months leading up to this trip we told you we would be going on a super secret family vacation. After so much build up, it’s hard to tell who was more excited for this trip; the kids or the parents. The night before and the morning of, we had social worker appointments to get through… it was a marathon week for us to prepare for vacation. On the plane you were given Disneyland coloring books and Disneyland themed snack packs. You were so good on the plane. We watched tv, played games, and enjoyed the thrill of adventure.

I wanted my mom – your Cookie Grandma – to be a part of the magic so I surprised her the week before with a plane ticket and instructions to keep it secret! She was going on another plane that would take off from another terminal in the airport so I thought the surprise was in the bag… but just as we were using the restrooms before boarding, Mauricio spotted her. So we got to squeeze her in the airport before seeing her again at our vacation rental that night.

When we arrived at our vacation rental house, over a Costco pizza dinner we told you that the next day we’d be going to Disneyland. You were so excited. And we were excited. You had no idea the magic ahead of you.

For 5 days we experienced the all-you-can-take magic, adventure, and joy of Disney at Disneyland and California Adventures. I am so grateful we had this adventure with you. To bond as a family, to see you experience so much happiness, and to see you dream – that made this trip extraordinary. Dream big my little loves. You really can have it all!

We love you so much and look forward to many, many more family vacations and adventures.

Love,

Mom  / Nikki  (You started calling us “Mom” and “Dad” a couple of weeks ago… what a joy it is to hear you say that and to sign that… you can have more than one mom… know that we’ll be there for you whether we become your “forever parents” or not. We love you)

The day we got you…

pickerimage-2

Big J, Little J, I want to tell you a story about our beginning.

The day we got you – November 29, 2016 – was just like any other Tuesday in Seattle. The weather was a cool 46 degrees, overcast, and the ground was still wet from morning showers. It was as if the sky had been crying for us earlier. It was a hard day for everyone, your Grandpa and Aunt especially. Your Aunt and Grandpa took the day off from work to pack up your belongings and move you into our home. In this moment I can’t even begin to imagine how difficult and sad that must have been. To love you so much and want something else for you. Giving you to us was the ultimate sacrifice. So badly they wanted you to have a family. Coupled with the tragedy of losing your Grandma just weeks earlier, and the emotions of the holiday season, it was an especially grueling day to say the least.

At noon your Aunt pulled up to the front of our house in her white pickup truck, along with your Grandpa, packed with bicycles, Big J’s skateboard (which I’m still hiding in the garage for fear you’ll break bones and CPS will take you away), helmets, toys and a black basket with a few pairs of clothes, 2 pairs of shoes and 2 pairs of boots. Everything you had in the world. I greeted your family and the three of us stood there somber for a moment, each of us afraid of breaking down in the driveway. It’s impossible to put into words the pain I felt and witnessed. You see, we would later celebrate gaining you two amazing boys in our family (how did we get so lucky?!?), but in that moment it was devastating because, in a way, your Grandpa and Aunt were losing you. I asked a few light questions like “What are the boys’ favorite vegetables?” and “What is their bedtime?” I also asked your Aunt to bring us some photos of your family that I could frame and have around the house so that you’d have some familiar faces and happy memories to think about.

This was the very first time your family had seen our home, the place you would soon call your own. They checked out your bedroom and a few other rooms and then we walked back out the front yard toward the truck. I started to say “thank you” but a half-sob escaped and suddenly I felt embarrassed. My face was hot. “Who I am to cry in this moment?” I thought. “This is their moment. This is about them. Not me.” Just weeks ago you had plans that would take you all the way to Florida to live with your grandparents.  Everything changed for you. Again. I’m so sorry. The three of us choked back tears and agreed that we’d see each other back here for dinner. As they retreated to the truck, I closed the garage door and sobbed quietly in the garage for a few minutes. Oh my heart.

My mom, who you call Cookie Grandma, was in the room adjacent to the garage, preparing the house for your arrival. She was so excited. We spent the previous week overhauling your room and the house for you. I have the most amazing realtor friends who donated bunk beds and bedding, some staple clothing, games, puzzles, etc… And the house was filled with gifts for you to open from family and friends. So many people came together to show you love and to support us. It was an exciting time. I’m forever grateful.

We planned this day a week earlier at the Bellevue DSHS office where your social worker and 2 of her supervisors sat around a conference room table, along with your Grandpa, Great Grandma, and Aunt, your CASA (Court Approved Special Advocate) and me. Attending via telephone were several other professionals, including your attorney who would file the court order for you to live with us, and more importantly, give Mauricio and I authority to make all decisions pertaining to your health, education and overall wellbeing. The magnitude of this privilege wouldn’t resonate in my mind until days later. A whole room full of people who love you and want the very best for you sat in this room, planning this day – the day that you would become a part of our family.

It was really important to me that you boys have as smooth a transition as possible. That you wouldn’t feel as though you were being “dropped off” at a stranger’s house. So I planned a dinner and game night. On the evening of moving day, your Aunt, cousins, Grandpa, and 2 family friends came over and we shared the table. We feasted on lasagna, a penne pasta in white sauce, salad and garlic bread (thanks, Costco!). Everyone was happy that night. After you boys finished dinner, you took your cousins upstairs to explore your new bedroom and play games… and for a few moments we forgot that you’d be shortly saying goodbye to your family. Before leaving, your family took you downstairs to the family room where you sat on the couch and took photos together. Then your Grandpa took you upstairs and tucked you in to bed. As they left our house, you both wailed and screamed “Papa! No! No, Papa! Don’t Go!” “PaaaaaaaaPaaaa!!” Mauricio and I sat in silence downstairs. We cried. We comforted you. We cried. It was heartbreaking. And it went on for about 40 minutes. Then I rubbed your backs, and as if by magic, you both fell asleep almost instantly.

This was the day we got you. Everything we hear today from our social workers, CASA volunteer, liaison, your family, and legal professionals tells us that we will be your forever home. During our last meeting with our social worker, she said adopting you will be “a slam dunk.” It’s hard to celebrate that because nothing is ever certain until it happens and because of the loss of your biological family unit. How can we celebrate someone else’s tragedy? But as you both know all too well, plans aren’t always set in stone. Although we pray that we get to have you in our family forever, we also pray that whatever is best for you will happen. God doesn’t always give us a roadmap. We pray for your Mom and Dad to be healthy and to make good choices. And if we end up only being temporary in your lives, know that there is nothing temporary about our love for you.

Nothing is temporary about our love for you.

Love you,

Nikki