#bigfamilyproblems

I have had a few foster families reach out recently asking for tips on adjusting to being a big family.  I used to think that our four kids qualified as a big family, but then we had six, and I realized that was a LIE.  We are temporarily back to four kids (for the second time in about two weeks), and I am at the point in my grief process where I am enjoying the “break” and not intentionally creating chaos to fill that foster-sized hole.  Yesterday I found one of Monkey’s socks behind the dryer, and a wave of sadness came over me…but I am noticing the waves to be the gentle(r) kind these days.  A little unexpected, but it washes over me and then leaves again.  The waves these days are less of a tidal wave that makes me feel like I am drowning, and more a brief sense of sadness accompanied by bursts of memories.  The wave subsides faster, and I carry on.

So, here I am, with boat loads of time on my hands. Thinking of becoming a circus?  Here are some tips on surviving becoming a big family overnight:

  • Meal planning!  Ain’t nobody got time for frequent grocery trips.  The crock pot is your best friend.  Make double portions and freeze them.  Brown burger and cook chicken and freeze them.  Buy a cow.  Have ridiculous amounts of eggs in your fridge at all times.  More bananas than any home should ever have.
  • Get creative with one on one time.  Remember that one time a week grocery trip I just mentioned?  Bring a kid along.  Chat.  Tell them to load your cart up with eggs while you engage in deep conversation.
  • Maintain “forever family time.”  This might look like 5 minutes at the end of the night, or it might look like respite.  Nurture your forever family so that all of you have the energy to foster.
  • Put effort into your marriage.  Seriously.  A zillion kids is generally not a helpful thing for a marriage.  Put kids to bed…talk.  Drink a beer on the deck.  String party lights up and pretend you are not at home.  Play music…do something that’s not about kids!
  • EARLY BED TIMES, people.  See above.  Kids need sleep, especially trauma kids.  Parents need sanity. Bed time starts at 7pm at our house, regardless of your age.  If you are an older kid, you can read or color or listen to music in your room, but all kids are in their rooms.
  • Have some activities/games/toys put away that are only pulled out in a crisis.  Play dough, k’nex, special crafts, etc.  Have an emergency storage of cool stuff that can quickly and effectively engage kids when chaos strikes.
  • Teach age-appropriate chores, and teach them to be done correctly.  Game changer!  Once you hit 8 years old in our house, you can do your own laundry.   When we only had a couple kids, chores were something we did to teach responsibility.  When we have a zillion kids, chores = survival.  We started teaching more practical chores that are actually helpful.
  • 10 minute power clean up at the end of the day.  Crank some music up, set a timer, and make it fun!  High fives are welcome.
  • Color coded calendar!  Organization is possibly not my greatest strength.  But – we have two giant dry-erase calendars on our wall.  Two allows us to go two months out, and each human gets their own colored marker.  If it’s not on the calendar, it’s not happening.
  • Find your village.  Surround yourself with people who “get it.” Let people help you!
  • Find time to breathe.  Read a book.  Go for a walk.  Maybe you literally have 30 seconds…but step outside and center yourself as often as humanly possible.  You’ve got this!
  • Say “no” when you need to.  Does it fill you up?  Do it.  Drain you?  Opt out!
  • Don’t. Forget. Humor.

Other ideas?  Send them!

Brave.

I tucked the boys in for the last time tonight.  I cried intermittently most of the day/night, because ready or not, this is happening tomorrow!  Rabbit asked me why I was crying.  “Is it because I am such an awesome boy?”  Yes, yes it is.  I had so many things I wanted to tell them at bedtime, but I couldn’t get many words out.  I told them they were brave and strong and we loved them.  So much.   We had two signs made for above their beds a couple of days before they moved in.  One says, “Be brave, little one.”  The other says, “You are our greatest adventure.”  I remember sitting in their room the night before they  moved in, looking at those signs, wondering how on earth we were going to parent 6 kids.  Wondering what they looked like.  Wondering what they were like…how long they would be with us.  I underestimated how long they would be with us and how much it would change us all.   Here we are, where our roads split.  I will sit in this moment…I will notice the Christmas tree illuminating the darkness, feel the peace that is 6 sleeping kids, listen to the Lumineers sing “nobody knows” for the third time, and toast to their forever family.  Be brave, little ones, and know you will be your forever family’s greatest adventure, too.

“Nobody Knows”

Nobody knows how to say goodbye

It seems so easy ’til you try
Then the moments passed you by
Nobody knows how to say goodbye Nobody knows how to get back home
And we set out so long ago
Search the heavens and the Earth below
Nobody knows how to get back home

Through the darkness to the dawn
And when I looked back you were gone
Heard your voice leading me on
Through the darkness to the dawn

Love is deep as the road is long
And moves my feet to carry on
It beats my heart when you are gone
Love is deep as the road is long

Nobody knows how the story ends
Live the day, doing what you can
This is only where it begins
Nobody knows how the story ends
Nobody knows how the story ends

Passing the torch

It’s been a whirl wind of a week, juggling a fairly intensive transition schedule, holiday stuff, Charlie and Alyssa’s basketball schedule, etc.  People keep asking me how I am, and I cheerfully respond that I am fine. I haven’t had a whole lot of time to “feel” lately, which is perfectly fine with me!  I sat down today and started to figure out our calendar, which included the day the boys move to their forever family for good.  I spoke with the social worker about the details of that day, and suddenly it was “real.”  I started picturing how that would be to get back into my empty car after dropping them off.  Wondering how to balance the genuine feeling of excitement for them (their forever family is GREAT) and my own grief.  How to communicate both of those feelings to this little boys who don’t really understand any of this.  I want them to know that we are happy for them, that we believe this is best for them, that they are safe and loved and wanted.  I also want them to know that they aren’t dispensable.  That our family will never quite be the same again.

So – I’m driving down the road, thinking about all of these things, and I started thinking about this dysfunctional little sisterhood these boys have created in their wake. I have this whole new set of friends, starting with the shelter Mom who was their first stop.  The respite Moms who fell in love so quickly with them – who worry about their future.  Foster care is lighting a torch for light when it seems there is nothing but darkness.  We pass this torch to each other, lighting the way for hope and safety and permanency, whatever that means.  In 9 days, I will pass that torch on to their forever mama and daddy.

Shine on, little men, the world needs your light!

torch

I’m going to be happy

We told our bonus boys tonight that they will be adopted, and that getting adopted means they are moving from our home.  I have been dreading this conversation for months.  Their ages make it really hard to understand.  We made a social story to explain it all, and the adoptive parents sent us a bunch of pictures of their family/house/dog so we can look at them together each  night.  “Are they safe like you?”  Rabbit asked.  Yes.  They’re safe like us.  I wish they didn’t have to question that.  Monkey pointed at his bed in the picture and said “cozy.”  We told them it’s okay to be sad.  It’s okay to be excited.  It’s all okay.

“I’m going to be happy.  Right?”  He looks to us for this answer.  Foster care is hard.

Gentle hands

Our 18 month old, Oakley, SMACKED our foster son (age 3.5) tonight.  Like – hard.  I wouldn’t have blamed him if he had smacked her back, especially with his skills and experiences.  But – he didn’t.  He said, “Show me gentle hands.  We don’t hit in this house.”  Moments like these honestly blow me away.  How can children who have been so hurt be SO resilient?  I am sure they are so much stronger than I am.  I started typing this, and then I heard someone cleaning downstairs.  Alyssa, who didn’t even play in the play room tonight.   I asked her what she is doing.  “You do so much for us – I didn’t want you to have to clean this up tomorrow.”   Are.  You.  Kidding. Me?   A lot of people, social workers included, have commented on how having six kids in the home must make it impossible to meet everyone’s needs.  There are certainly moments we would agree.  But – they teach each other so much and there is so much to be learned in an environment where people HAVE to chip in in order to stay afloat.  To use gentle hands, and to walk gently in the lives of others.

I started packing some of the boys’ things tonight, as in 17 days they will leave our home and start life with their forever family.  I am emotional, but I am at peace.  I am grateful for our time together and the lessons we taught each other.  Two families will become one for the next three weeks, and then we will go our separate ways.  Gently.

gentle