Please consider fostering

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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

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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…

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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

This is war

Another successful meeting with our social worker. Successful because this past month we’ve survived the dentist, the doctor’s office, vaccinations, Kindergarten registration for Big J, Head Start registration for Little J, meetings with teachers and counselors and our Licensor. Check ins with our CASA (Court Approved Special Advocate), our Family Liaison at school, and our social worker.

Nobody warned me that I’d have to put on armor and fight for just about everything. It’s maddening. There is so much bureaucracy, a result of DSHS being ruled by a budget. And I get it, I really do. If it wasn’t that way, everyone would have a Massage Envy subscription for stress management and a pantry full of Le Creuset. It’s the same reason we don’t go out to eat every night – it’s not a necessary expense. But ensuring that you both are healthy, and happy and THRIVING, that you have the means to be resilient — everything related to that goal is necessary. Everything.

Back in December a woman from DSHS called me and asked me a series of questions from a pre-printed questionnaire, twice – for both of you. It was maybe 7 minutes of dialogue each time and at the end of this approximate 15 minute phone call the lady determined that Little J was not in need of any sort of  Mental Health Counseling or evaluation. I was stunned. Livid. I mean how can someone who has never met you, who hasn’t heard your full story, who can’t even begin to comprehend the depth of what you’ve experienced determine that after a brief phone call? How does she have that kind of authority? She isn’t a licensed mental health practitioner… given her job title, she may have a bachelor’s degree, and that’s a coin toss. Come on, she reads from a script all day. And the decisions she has the authority to make are life altering. It’s scary. Her reasoning was that you were probably young enough that your memories of any trauma, any neglect would be low. You are 3 years old and scientifically there is probably some truth to that. You don’t remember much about your biological parents – in fact, you recently saw your biological mother at your maternal grandma’s funeral and you didn’t know who you were looking at when she asked to take a photo with you and Big J. But that doesn’t mean you don’t need any help or services. That doesn’t mean that you don’t need play therapy or a safe neutral place to talk to a professional and process what you’ve experienced. I wanted you to be assessed by someone possessing the appropriate qualifications to make that judgment. And your teachers and family liaison at school were 100% on board, they even prepared documentation of behaviors and concerns for you. So at our court date, I asked the judge to please order at the very least an assessment. And he graciously agreed, stating “I order that Little J be given an assessment…” That day I messaged our CASA, our social worker, the counseling team, and let them know. We should have had you in your initial intake for counseling the very next day… but the counseling team and DSHS would not allow it as the judge had not created a written order. They said this order was purely verbal and would not count. I sat in court with both the AAG and DSHS Supervisor, and it’s egregious that they didn’t have record of this order – someone could have pushed this through. So we pressed on with our CASA and about a week – week and a half later we had the written order for treatment. And, within an hour of receiving that news, I had you scheduled for a 2 hour intake appointment where we’d later meet your counselor and play with a PT Cruiser Barbie car together on her office floor.

… what about the kids in foster care that don’t have someone to negotiate for them, to fight these battles? God only knows, there’s a million+ What happens to them? Or the kids whose foster parents don’t have the time and energy to advocate for these necessities? It’s a FIGHT for just about everything. I have the freedom of being my own boss and setting my work hours around your agenda and needs. That’s a luxury most foster parents don’t have. We are so fortunate, I can’t even begin to express  how lucky we are. To have you in our lives. To make ends meet. To advocate for you. The system is broken in more ways than I can count. But you will always have people on your team that will go to bat for you any day of the week.

Love you,
Nikki

 

Oh to be young again

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Big J, Little J,

These are the moments I will miss when I’m old and you’ve flown the coop. The joyful laughter, giggles and squeals as you run through the sprinklers on an 84 degree day (we get like 4 of these in Seattle…). Not a care in the world. Bliss. This was a good reminder for me to relax a little and not take life so seriously. Put the phone down. Close the iPad. If that client’s deal is meant to be, it’ll be. There’s nothing that needs your immediate attention in this moment, so don’t miss it. 

We have a home visit early tomorrow morning with our social worker; our 3rd social worker in the 6 months we’ve had you. It’s not you, it’s their job. The job of a social worker is intense and requires that they see and handle some extremely difficult situations, while carrying an impossible caseload. There’s a high burn out rate. I should be picking up the 52 pairs of shoes scattered through the house or folding the 12 loads of laundry waiting for me. But I’m not motivated to do either- partly due to the hellish work life balance of today and partly due to the fact that I know this lady walks through 40+ homes a month and there’s gotta be a hoarder in there somewhere to make me look good. (Please God, please let there be a hoarder or two on this lady’s caseload so that my house doesn’t look so bad. I’m so tired.)

Celebrating the little wins

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This. All of this. Never in my wildest dreams did I envision having a family before 30. And I love it. Big J, Little J, you bring so much joy to our lives. I am convinced that the sun and the moon rise and set with you.

Today upon picking you up from school, your teachers mentioned that you both had wonderful days. I even got a note from Teacher R on purple construction paper that read, [Big] J had an AWESOME day! He helped rub kids’ backs during nap time, was kind to others, and read books to the younger kids. I want to celebrate every step toward progress that you make while boosting your self esteem so we celebrated with Starbucks frappuccinos (I had an iced americano), and cheers-ed each other in the drive thru before heading off to show houses to our newest client. You’re the best little real estate agents!

After showing homes to our client, we went out to dinner with Mauricio to celebrate you (you’ve both had a great week) – at a little hole in the wall Mexican restaurant that you enjoy. Big J calls it his favorite rice and bean place, which we think is hilarious. And now everyone is calling it that. Afterwards we picked up the puppy and headed to Home Depot, which as of this month happens to be your favorite store – we got really lucky with that one since we are in the middle of a full house remodel and practically live at Home Depot.

Anyways, this snapshot above is glimpse into our crazy-wonderful-chaotic-hilarious life. Love you,

Nikki

Fix You

Little J, Big J, I just found out that a friend of mine from elementary school and junior high committed suicide. It’s devastating. I should be looking at photos of a wedding, work achievements, travel, goofing off with friends, a couple of awkward selfies, photos of family, etc… not an obituary.

It’s important to me that you never wonder your worth. Always know that you are loved.

You are valuable. You bring so much to this world. Don’t for one second buy into the lie that you are not enough or that this world or your family or your friends or your peers would be better off without you. You are exactly what this world needs. All of you. Everyday. No matter how messy life gets, no matter how bad you think you may have messed up, no matter how scared or hurt or angry or sad or betrayed or whatever you feel, keep on swimming. YOU MATTER. I know life can be exhausting; I’ve been there. Just keep on keepin’ on. It won’t always be this hard. Trust me. Please, ask for help. You don’t have to go down this road alone. You are worth more than gold. Your future is bright. You are loved and this will pass.

Let me be there for you if you ever find yourself wondering. If you ever find yourself broken. I will fix you.

Love you,

Nikki

I. Don’t. Like. You.

Four words. Who knew that a 3 year old could bring me to my knees with these four simple words. Uncle!” my heart cried, holding up the white flag. Nearly 90 minutes later and the sting is there. You didn’t mean it though, Little J. I know you don’t. I love you, I’m here for you, and nothing is going to change that.

… dinner tonight was a complete fail… you were mad at me for making you sit at the table and try something new. Stuffed peppers. “It’s Mexican pizza,” I lied, trying to convince you this would be your next favorite meal. After watching you poke at it with a fork, I stuffed some of the ground beef and seasoned rice filling into a tortilla along with slices of the bell pepper so that you could eat it like a taco. And you did… but you were suddenly filled with anger when it came time to finish dinner. So we gave you a time out to calm yourself down. You started shoving chairs, slamming cabinets and yelling. This is the first time I’ve seen you so angry. You were sent to bed for the rest of the night. At the top of your lungs you screamed “I don’t like you!!!” and stomped your feet down on each stair as you went up to your bedroom. Clenching my chest from the slide jab you delivered, I half whispered “You don’t mean it.” Oh my heart.

This became a teachable moment for your brother, Big J, who is 5 years old and remembers and relives the traumas you both have experienced. Life has been confusing for him as many changes have taken place. All you need to know is that you have a biological Mom and Dad that love you very much – they can’t make safe and healthy choices – so your family gave us you.

Life is messy and confusing, and things happen to us that we have no control over. But what we do have control over is how we react. Big J was just diagnosed with anxiety. When we first got you boys, Big J would clench his fist, his jaw, turn red in the face and shake with anger at the smallest changes / inconveniences for him; then he’d fall into a ball and cry hysterically. Over the past 6 months that we’ve had you, it’s been at least a month since his last meltdown (a huge increase from the early days when it happened several times a day). That’s progress.

Here are four words for you: I’M. NOT. LEAVING. YOU. I’m not leaving you. There’s nothing you can do to make my love for you disappear. So push boundaries my little dove. Raise hell. Get mad. Process your emotions. There is so much good ahead of you, I promise it won’t be this hard all the time. The future is bright!

Love you,

Nikki