Monday, June 30, 2014

It's Been Over a Year

I keep thinking I need to update our blog, especially with this new chapter in our lives.  It’s so hard to believe we have been caring for these two little boys for over a year – 53 weeks and 3 days. That is 374 days to be exact.

374 days away from their mom.
374 days away from their family and friends.
374 days away from what was their normal.
374 days in someone else’s home.
374 days of being a part of a different family – immediate and extended.
374 days with rules, restrictions, expectations, and structure – unfamiliar things.
374 days of various emotions – confusion, hurt, anger, sadness, love, happiness, hatred, fear, joy, relief, helplessness, guilt, irritation, nervousness, contentment, safety . . .

. . . that’s their 374 days, but what about our family’s 374 days.

374 days of adjusting to two new members in our family.
374 days of sharing our home with two little ones, who didn’t choose to be here.
374 days of getting to know two little boys – the good, the bad.
374 days of loving two little boys who didn’t ask for our love.
374 days of trying to engage these little boys into activities they have never experienced.
374 days of handling two little boys having temper tantrums, anger issues, aggression, anxiety.
374 days of various appointments, assessments, meetings, home visits.
374 days of advocating for these little boys who have no voice otherwise.
374 days of being frustrated with a flawed and very broken child welfare system.
but . . .
374 days of seeing two little boys become better little boys than they were when they arrived.
374 days of seeing two little boys grow into healthy little boys.
374 days of encouraging two little boys to be just that . . . two little boys!!

For me the hardest numbers to wrap myself around during these 374 days are the 47 scheduled visits – the only opportunity for these little boys to see their mom or approved family and the only opportunity for mom to see her boys, and out of those 47 scheduled visits, only 22 actually took place.  That’s 44 hours out of the last 8,976 hours of these little boys’ lives.  That is such an astonishing number. 

I can’t even imagine having my children taken from me, let alone not taking every opportunity to spend those rare scheduled visits loving on them, playing with them, talking with them, holding them, and being there for them.  I am reminded by friends who have been fostering for years, these parents don’t know how to love, play, talk, hold, or be there for their kids and that is why we are here with open doors and open hearts. 

374 days for now.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Growth is more than Height

It is amazing the change in our foster sons.  To be honest, being with them 24/7 we don’t really notice or realize the changes.  We hope we are making an impact on them, nurturing them, and making a difference with them; but, we don’t recognize it and sometimes feel overwhelmed.  It seems like we are still saying the same things, explaining the same things, and redirecting for the same things.  We hear from our agency, our case manager, and the boys’ case worker that we are doing a great job and to just keep doing what we’re doing.

Luckily I have typed up daily behavioral notes since they boys arrived, which has given us something to look back on to see the changes we don’t recognize in the moment.  They were never extreme in their behavior, not to the extreme of the stories we’ve heard foster parents describe as treatment foster homes, but just different from what we were used to which made it challenging for us.  Some of the stories we’ve heard from those treatment foster parents make me realize how thankful I am we are only a traditional foster home at this particular time.  As long as we have our own children in our home, our first priority will be to keep them out of harm’s way.  So, for now we will stick to traditional placements.

One of the immediate changes we have noticed in the boys since they arrived is how they have physically grown.  I was pretty sure they had grown based on the way their pajama bottoms were fitting or better yet not fitting them.  They definitely appeared to have both gotten taller.  So, I pulled their intake medical form and to my surprise from June 21st to September 9th they both grew at least three inches each.  WOW!!  That is amazing!  In ten weeks, they both were three inches taller.  The older boy had also gained almost a pound and the little guy gained over two pounds, but they GREW!! 

I remember the first couple of days, maybe even weeks they were here they were constantly asking for something to eat. The older boy was constantly eating at mealtime and in between meals.  The little one was constantly drinking milk and juice.  It seems they have settled into a good eating habit.  They are definitely big eaters! 

It’s encouraging because the little one wouldn’t eat anything but finger foods when he got here, and he didn’t eat but a couple of things.  Now he’s eating with a kiddie fork and spoon and his palate has been expanded.  As far as potatoes, the only kinds either boy will eat are tator tots and French fries. What kid doesn’t like mashed potatoes, twice baked mashed potatoes, cheesy potatoes, or parsley potatoes?  Well, we have two little boys who turn up their noses anytime those types of potatoes show up on their plates. 

I can see why they say to introduce vegetables first to babies.  Neither one of these boys will eat corn, creamed corn, green beans, broccoli, or veggies for that matter, but they LOVE fruit.  I still put a small taste of veggies on their plates and they have to take two bites of everything regardless if they like it or not.  We’ve explained our kids had to do the same thing and by trying new foods and sometimes trying something more than once they’ll end up liking it.  Sometimes they get two servings of fruit with their meals just because I know they’ll eat it. 

The little things. We didn’t realize the little things that little ones learn when they are in a nurturing environment.  Our children knew the colors; the shapes; the ABC’s; the numbers; their right from their left; and how to zip a zipper, button a button, snap a snap, and put their clothes on by the age of 4.  We have worked very hard with our oldest foster son, who is 4 ½ now.  He didn’t know those things, but he does now. He can tell you how to spell his name, he can write his name, he recognizes a few letters of the alphabet – he can sing the ABC’s, he tries to write his brother’s name, he is drawing actual figures not just scribbles, he can count to 13, and a few other things.  He has made great strides.

His behavior has also improved. When he arrived in our home he had only one volume, extremely and obnoxiously LOUD.  He ran everywhere.  He didn’t listen to anyone and he tried to do whatever he wanted.  He absolutely did not share. He was polite – said thank you, but rude otherwise.  He would not sit still at mealtime. He would always try to interrupt others while they talked. He would do whatever he could to get any type of attention.  Those and other behaviors have not disappeared, but have improved. He still squirms at mealtime, but he asks permission to be excused from the table. He has various volumes now. He still doesn’t like to share. 

Our youngest foster son, presented more challenges.  When he arrived he was very distant, angry, defiant, and lacked communication skills.  The headway has been slower to recognize, but in hind sight he too has made great strides.  He went from physically hurting others to stopping and thinking before acting on his anger.  His only way of asking for help, was hitting us - on the arm or leg to get our attention - and yelling ‘hel’ which we interpreted to be ‘help’.  Now he gives hugs and kisses, sits on our laps or snuggles beside us, he is way more vocal, he tries to say more words/sounds, and he keeps learning how to do new things. 

It’s a work in progress and we will continue to work and teach them how to be respectful, polite, kind, and what is right/good from wrong/bad.  We will try to nurture them so they becoming loving and compassionate.  We will show them and teach them how to do new things.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Learning to Parent

It is so hard to believe these little guys have been with us for 105 days.  When they first arrived I wasn’t sure what to expect, and honestly I didn’t think they’d be with us for much of any time.  I felt it was an unfortunate misunderstanding that landed them in care and I really felt like they wouldn’t be with us very long.  Granted three months is not a long time in the grand scheme of things, but to them I am sure it feels like an eternity being away from family. 

Jay and I are raising three kids that are in their teens.  We have been parenting for approximately 6,774 days – give or take a few leap years in there.  I never remember any of our kiddos testing boundaries to the extent these little ones do, being as blatantly defiant, or so negatively persistent as these little ones.  I do not believe any amount of pre-service training can truly prepare one for the different behaviors children possess and the different temperaments.  It is truly hands-on training. 

As I have mentioned before, parenting someone else’s children is more different than parenting ones biological children.  We were never restricted on the methods we chose to parent or discipline our kiddos, and parenting children who are in care come with restrictions.  I thought I was well prepared to parent these children to find out I am very ill-prepared.  I read books upon books during each pregnancy and more at different stages of our kids’ development, but those books were applicable to our kids and the knowledge I gained from them has been ineffective with these little ones. 

I am back at reading books upon books!  Before getting licensed as a foster home and during training, I read as many books as possible on fostering.  I continue to read about the foster care system through books and Fostering Families magazine.  My latest book to keep me focused on foster care is Advocating for Children in Foster and Kinship Care, by Mitchell Rosenwald & Beth N. Riley.  Alongside that, I find myself skimming and reading particular sections from Raising a Spirited Child and Setting Limits with Your Strong-Willed Child

Jay and I have always known each of our children is different from the other.  Different personalities. Different learning styles. Different characteristics. Different temperaments.  Different mannerisms.  We would have never imagined that the ways we parented each of them wouldn’t have been of use to help us parent our foster sons.  What we have learned with these two little guys, is how different they are too.  All the tools and methods that were useful with our children are of no use with these two little guys. 

While trying to educate myself more on the different temperaments of children and what discipline works and how to communicate with which type of child, I have learned of our biological children we have a compliant child, a fence-sitter that leans toward compliancy, and a fence-sitter that leans toward strong-willed, but none of them are 100% strong-willed.  Now, our two foster sons – one is a fence-sitter leaning towards strong-willed while the other is 200% STRONG-WILLED.  

But you know what . . . we will learn as we go and love them just the same!!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Disciplining Someone Else's Children

This foster parenting thing comes with its challenges and eye openers.  As I mentioned before, I feel very green with these little guys.  I think a lot of it can be credited to the fact they have come into our home with habits that our children didn’t have at their ages, and we have to discipline differently than we did with our children.  I didn’t realize that certain behaviors could be developed or so engrained by such a young age.  I realize a lot of it has to do with culture and parenting or the lack of parenting, but I am still shocked at times.

Jay and I are firm believers of stern, consistent, and loving discipline.  We were active parents from the moment each of our children were born.  If one of our children misbehaved, they were warned, but if they tested a boundary they got spanked/smacked on the bottom.  Let me stress – NOT whipped or beat, just smacked on a padded bottom and a stern “NO”.   After they were disciplined, we would discuss why they got in trouble and we assured them we loved them and it was important for them to listen because we were only trying to keep them safe. 

These little guys have come into our home set in their ways, and our only option of discipline is redirection, time-out, or logical consequences.  Which are the biggest jokes. Some days, one little guy will end up in time-out to only have to stay in time-out because of his behavior while in time-out.  Then we talk about why he was put in time-out and he apologizes (with coaching) to only end up right back in time-out for the same behavior because really, having to sit for a few minutes isn’t that big of a deal.  We are even trying the sticker reward chart to encourage positive choices; however, Jay nor I believe in bribing kids to behave.  Has anyone thought about the fact we have a generation known as the “Me Me Me Generation” and they’re coined to have a narcissistic personality.  Hmmm. I wonder why?!

It is very frustrating because it feels like we have spent more time the last two weeks using an ineffective method of discipline than we ever had to spank our kids.  I understand and don’t agree with corpor0al punishment, but seriously when did spanking – I don’t approve of whipping/beating – become considered corporal punishment?  All I have to say is, look at the problems teachers have in the classroom because schools are no longer allowed to ‘paddle’ or discipline.  When I went to school, the nuns smacked your hands with a ruler, if you got sent to the principal’s office you were more than likely getting paddled, oh, and the teachers could hug their students. I don’t ever remember having the issues in the classroom that teachers deal with today on a daily basis.

I also understand why spanking is not an option – who knows if these kids were hit/beat/whipped, but I truly believe these methods of “use your words”, time-out, and logical consequences are very difficult for a toddler and a just turned 4 year old to grasp, especially when redirection or discipline was never used in their early informative years. 

Zack has asked why the boys continue to do things over and over even after they’ve been told numerous times not to.  He doesn’t understand why they seem to challenge us (our authority) as much as they do.  So, I explained to him that in training we were told that most of these kids come from environments where they have no structure, no discipline, no productive supervision, and no consequences to their actions.  They basically are the boss of their house.  Then they come into our home that has structure, consequences, discipline, and adult supervision and they meet it with resistance.  I explained to Zack that all infants/toddlers, including him and his sisters, test boundaries, but the main difference was we guided them to make better or good choices and they never developed any of the bad habits these little ones have. 

Okay. Seriously, the time with these boys has not been all horrible, but just frustrating because it feels like our efforts fall on deaf ears.  But on a side note, we have seen small strides.  The older boy is realizing he has to ask permission to leave the table and to ask politely while saying “please” and “thank you”.  We understand it will take time for them to adjust to our home, our rules, and our limitations.  We’ll just continue to be firm, consistent, and loving and hope they come around sooner than later.  

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Our First Week . . .

Well, we have our first week as a family of seven under our belt.  It’s amazing how challenging it is to go from a family of five with three self-sufficient teenagers to a family of seven that now includes a preschooler and a toddler.  The main adjustment comes with the addition of two little ones that aren’t use to us let alone the house rules, restrictions, expectations, and structure. 

We don’t know how long these little ones will be with us, but I am sure I will be blogging quite a bit about them and our experiences as a family of seven.  So, I would like to introduce them to you.  First, we have RL; he is a twenty-two month old little boy with attitude, sometimes not in such a good way.  He is truly adorable and a little love bug, but he can be hard headed and stubborn at times too.  He fits in quite well with our family.  Plus he shares his birthday with Jay.  Then there is NR.  He’s four and full of energy.  He definitely has a mind of his own, and sometimes is very vocal about what he does or does not want to do, but what four year old isn’t. 

This was a very busy week for our family and probably a little stressful for all.  The week started out with activities outside the home every day.  Monday we took the little guys to the park so they could run and play. It was an opportunity for them to get out some of their energy.  They wore us out!!  Then on Tuesday evening, we took a short trip to the zoo.  You see, all three of our kids were working shifts and Mackenzie and Zack got off an hour earlier than Kassi did.  So we spent some time at the zoo waiting for them to all get off work.  Unfortunately, Jay & I didn’t plan very well and all the food areas were closed by the time Zack & Mackenzie got off, so we had some hungry kiddos to get fed.  It wouldn’t have been such a big deal if two of them weren’t little tikes. 

The biggest challenge was Wednesday night.  Mackenzie had her orchestra concert at Ohio State University, and we all went.  We tried to prep NR and we talked about how we’d have to sit and sit quietly.  Well, that didn’t go over very well.  Kassi spent the concert time in the lobby area letting RL run around and play.  The concert was well over two and half hours long – almost too long for the big people, but definitely too long for a four year old!  NR just didn’t understand he had to be quiet, so he was in and out, well out more than in with Jay. 

Thursday was a busy day too.  The county case worker came to the house to check in on the boys. Then Jay took all the kids to Sam’s Club to do some much needed grocery shopping!!  It sounds like it was a pretty successful trip – no major meltdowns. J  On Friday, I met my in-laws at the police station so they could get their background checks/finger printing done so they can help babysit the little ones.  Then we took NR shopping.  We were told to go shopping for the boys.  This was more of a challenge than we ever could have imagined.  The girls and I took NR so he could help pick out his clothes and try on things.  Believe it or not, we were in Target for three hours trying to comply with the county’s purchase orders for these boys.  Less than an hour there, NR had to have a time-out, but then he was fine and listened.  I know we were all very happy once we were done!  Now the boys have plenty of personal items for their stay with us. 

Yesterday, the boys spent the day with Jay.  Mackenzie and Zack were both at the zoo for seven hours.  Kassi and I delivered papers/weekend shopper bags for seven hours and then we went up to my brother-in-law’s to pick up Mackenzie & Zack. Jay took the boys to our church’s VBS pre-registration party where they met some new kids and played.  They must have played hard because they were in bed by 8:30 p.m. and slept till after eight this morning. 

This morning we had church.  We weren’t sure what to expect.  Last Sunday, RL didn’t even make it to the beginning of the service before he was taken down to the nursery.   Today was awesome!!  We took over some dry cereal snacks, coloring books, and sippy cups.  I never had to leave the sanctuary with RL, I would just have to leave the pew and stand at the back of the church.  NR sat quietly in the pew and when Jay mentioned him in his sermon, he was so excited. 

I will be honest, the week hasn’t been perfect.  WE have had some challenges.  Being less than two, RL doesn’t talk much so he has other ways of showing his frustration or anger.  When he first arrived, his first reaction to not liking something was to either hit, kick, or pinch.  Mackenzie and I both got pinched pretty good.  Matter of fact, I felt so bad when it happened to Mackenzie because I knew how bad it hurt – he double fisted pinched – I cried because she got hurt.  I don’t want our kids to get hurt in this process.  I know our kids understand these kids come from a different environment and we are going to face many challenges.  Our kids also know that we are going to have to spend a lot of time redirecting, or as my father-in-law best said it “undoing” a lot.  It appears these little ones had no structure, and some of their habits are not age appropriate.  Some of the little things we take for granted, these little guys don’t understand.  We will continue to show them attention and love, and we will hopefully teach them what is acceptable for their ages and how to be respectable youth.  

Monday, June 24, 2013

Our new family members have arrived

We have been a licensed foster family since the end of March 2013.  So, our new adventure is just beginning.  In order to get licensed we had to locate an agency (public or private) to work with, we had to submit an application with multiple references for approval, we had to attend many hours of training, we had to be finger printed – including Kassi, we had to have a home fire inspection, and we had to have a home study done.  Once we completed one step, it was on to the next until all the requirements were met and we were approved for licensing. 

We decided to go with a private agency in our community instead of the local children services agency.  Private agencies work with numerous surrounding county agencies to help place children in care; which means we are more accessible to multiple counties.  Our agency likes to start off new foster families with what is called alternative care, formerly known as respite; kind of a precursor or warm-up to a full-time placement.  Alternative care is what a foster family seeks when an emergency happens or they need to take care of something and the foster placement can’t be a part of.  Sometimes foster families need a mini break to regroup and reconnect with their own biological children and alternative care gives the foster family that chance to reconnect or recharge.   We have had a few, four to be exact, respite placements.  We have had them for one night up to four nights.  We have received many calls about referrals, and our home just hadn’t been a match – until now.

One afternoon last week, I took a call from our agency for a referral.  After discussing the potential placement, it was agreed to submit our home.  Believe it or not, within minutes she phoned back to let me know we received our first placement.  Talk about an array of emotions.  The kids and I were on our way home from spending the day at the waterpark when we got the news.  When she called to let me know we had our first placement, I was surprised, nervous, scared, and a little uncertain.  With alternative care, we know when the child will arrive and we know when the child will leave.  Which I might add, every time those little ones had to leave, our kiddos were wanting them to stay, but they also understood those little guys were already placed in a foster home where they were receiving the love and care they needed.  With our first placement, as with any placement, we don’t know how long these little ones will be with us. 

I, well, all of us are still shocked at how things unfold; especially, our experiences with alternative care.  When our agency makes arrangements for alternative care, they select families that have space and are open to specific age, gender, race, etc., and then the foster parents get in contact with one another once the alternative care home is identified.  Then we- both sets of foster parents- meet somewhere, ideally a centrally located parking lot, and we sign some papers and they send the child with us.  Now, I don’t know about your kiddos, but ours would get upset and cry, especially when they were under the age of two, when we would leave them with family.  These little ones just come straight to us with no objections.

It’s just been an eye opener.

Anyway, we got the call for our first placement, a sibling set of two boys, but when we went to pick them up children services only had one and they were trying to locate the older boy.  We spent the weekend with the younger one, hoping and praying the older one was safe and in good hands.  After a couple of nights, we got the call in the middle of the night that the older boy had been located and was ready to come to our home.  So, we went in the middle of the night to bring home this little guy so he can be with his brother.

I have been a parent for over 18 years, but I feel very green with these little guys.  I’m not sure what they will expect out of me, Jay, the kids – our family – but I know we will give them all the love and care they need and are open to take from us.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Celebrating . . .

There was some planning and decisions to be made with Kassi's graduation celebration.  When we first started talking about what to do for her graduation party there were conversations about having two separate parties - one for family and one for friends.  Kassi had BIG ideas for her graduation party.  She wanted a mechanical bull.  Well, with the rental fee of $800 for three hours and the liability concerns, that was ruled against; even though that's what she kept going back to.  She loved the idea of a photo booth, but that too was close to $600 for only three hours.  Then there were ideas of a bouncy house thingy, a dunk tank, and a DJ.  She could get all that for about the $800. That was going to be the cost before food, drinks, and decorations.  Wowzer!! I had no idea how costly this could be.  Then the idea was to have two separate celebrations, one for friends to enjoy all the fun things and one for family and close family friends to enjoy some quality time with the graduate.  

With the potential cost in the exponentials and with our limited funds, she realized if she wanted more than just food, drinks, and decorations, she was going to have to contribute to the fund.   When it came time to decide who would be on which guest list - "Could we invite certain people to both?" became the question, it was decided to only do one party and just make the time longer.   As things began to unfold, Kassi didn't want to be the one in the dunk tank - which being the guest of honor she should be but ultimately she would have to be to reduce liability issues; the bouncy house thingy was nonrefundable, if it rained we would get a 'rain check' and would have to utilize the rental another time; and then our beloved DJ became unavailable, as it turned out Kassi's party was the same day as his niece's ceremony and party - totally understandable.  It was decided the single party was set for the day after the graduation ceremony, Sunday, May 26th from 1:00 - 8:00 p.m. and then a bonfire for special friends from 8:00 - 10:00 p.m.

Our preparations began weeks before the party.  We had to decide on a menu.  Something that was not too expensive, could be prepared before, and also provided substance to the guests.  We tossed around different ideas.  We finally decided from 1:00 - 5:00 p.m. we would serve Italian meatballs, sweet and sour meatballs, pasta salad, veggies, and ham and turkey roll-up pinwheels.  Then from 5:00 - 8:00 p.m. we would have hot dogs/brats, taco in a bag, veggies, pasta salad, and chips, and from 8:00 - 10:00 would be S'mores at the bonfire.  I did as much prep as I could before, but really that was only the meatballs (180 meatballs) a couple of weeks before since they could be frozen.  I did what prep I could the week of the party, but only till that Friday morning because we house swapped with my in-laws so I wasn't back at our house until the morning of the party. Friday morning I was able to throw together the pasta salad and cook off 5 lbs. of hamburger and prep it as the taco meat.  

The party was at our church facility, which we live in the parsonage right next door.  So, I returned home the morning of the party still having to make the sauces for the meatballs, ice 130 cupcakes, and finish decorating to round cakes. OH, and the facility still needed to be decorated! Plus, the night before, my mom and three of my aunts helped assemble the ham and turkey roll-up pinwheels, so those still needed to be sliced and plated up.  I quickly assembled the sauces and my mother-in-law stood watch and stirred.  At one point, my aunt stepped in to help her, too.

Between Mackenzie and my mom, all the cupcakes got iced.  I had made the icing a few days ahead of time, so the morning of I just had to divide it, whip it, and color it.  I believe all my aunts tried their hand at icing the cupcakes, too.  I do know they were enjoying the icing . . .

at least Aunt Janet was!! :)

While I was putting the finishing touches on the cakes, everyone - my mom and dad, MIL and FIL, my hubby, the kiddos, and the grad - was over at the fellowship hall decorating, assembling, and finalizing for the party.

It was so wonderful that my mom and dad came in from Iowa, my Aunt Diane and Aunt Joan from Missouri, and my Aunt Janet from Illinois for Kassi's graduation ceremony, but it was also a blessing they were here to help get things ready for the graduation party.  Unfortunately, my autns only got to stay for half the party, but I am so thankful they loaned their hands to help and the time we got to spend with them the day before!!

After it was decided to go with one party and the extra frills were eliminated, the next decision was about the theme.  Most grad parties focus around the grad theme, but that definitely didn't/doesn't fit Kassi's personality.  We tossed around different theme ideas, but in the end it was decided to go with her favorite colors and animal prints since she spent the bulk of her high school days volunteering at the zoo and the zoo was a big part of her life.  

It was amazing how I had envisioned things placed and how, even though I wasn't there to express, the cake table turned out better than I could have imagined.  The colors of the icing and the cakes blended so well together.  

This was a brilliant guest book idea.  We purchased a white graduation gown and Kassi wanted to tie-die it, but apparently you can't tie-die 100% polyester.  So, she got fabric spray paint and 'tie-died' it that way.  Then the guests used Sharpies to sign and write a message to Kassi.  This can be with her where ever she goes.  If she ever wants she can hang it on a wall, but she can always keep it hanging in her closet and reflect on all the positive encouraging words family and friends shared with her. A piece of clothing tucked in an inconspicuous place that will always be there in case she ever needs a reminder of what a wonderful young woman she is and all she has to look forward to.

The day was perfect.  The weather was better than I could have ever asked for. The guests enjoyed eating - so much we ran out, visiting, and playing corn hole and croquet. It was wonderful to see sooooo many come out and express their excitement for Kassi's accomplishment.  We were truly surprised by all those who came.  It was a blessing to see so many that have watched Kassi grow up, those who have been a part of her schooling adventures, and those that have become true friends.  

Friday, June 14, 2013

High School . . . √

She DID it!! (Love ya, Bubba)

And yes, homeschoolers have graduation ceremonies, too. 

As many of you know, we are a homeschool family; have been since May 2003.  Wow! It’s only been ten years.  I know many families that have been doing it much longer and have had one success story after another.  I am proud to be part of such a wonderful community, a community of parents that choose to not only be stay home parents, but also to dedicate as much time to their children’s education that will guide those youthful minds and souls to be successful people, patrons, leaders, givers, and active participants in the world.

This success story is about our oldest. The guinea pig, if you will. The one who by trial and error and patience also chose to be homeschooled.  Once the kids pass the sixth grade, they have the option to return to school during their middle/junior high and/or high school years. 

Cassaundra Taylor Jackson, aka Kassi, or better known as Bubba to her family, is the first graduate of The Jackson Home Academy.  She is a remarkable graduate, ranking #1 in her class.  Hehehe  

We are part of a co-op that has its parents organize a graduation ceremony for seniors who would like to participate. Initially Kassi didn't want to participate in the ceremony.  Her reason - 'I still graduate even if I don't walk.'  Several of her friends were surprised she didn't want to participate, but also knew Kassi was/is not one to fit into a box that someone else is telling her to.  There was some concern about ridiculous rules imposed or sanctioned by a 'governing body' even though these kids do not graduate from said co-op; they are graduating from their individual homeschool.  One of Kassi's classmates expressed her disappointment that Kassi wouldn't be on stage with her and their friends.  So Kassi considered it, and decided to at least attend the first meeting and see what the ceremony would entail.

At the initial meeting, we were handed a two page letter outlining the expectations and restrictions, I'm sorry guidelines for the graduation ceremony.  Again, this is a non co-op sponsored event. It is organized by the graduating seniors' parents, yet the co-op's committee finds it necessary to dictate expectations and restrictions.  I understand sometimes there needs to be gentle reminders; however, we are all members of the same co-op and I would hope we all share the same desires for our children.  Instead of asking the class to remember to be respectful of others and dress modestly, they went as far as saying what one could and could not wear.  The kicker - no summertime dresses, the girls had to have dresses with sleeves.  Really???  Well, I figured, no - I knew this would not sit well with Kassi, as it didn't sit well with Jay nor I.  We have a hard time understanding why certain individuals feel the need to impose their own restrictive lifestyle on all and want to judge those that don't look or do exactly like them.  

With that said, Kassi decided this ceremony didn't allow her to express who she was and had become over the last 18 years; therefore, she didn't want to participate. She shared her decision with friends, and I prepared family (who would be traveling from afar) that she might not do the ceremony.  Kassi and I talked about a few things and I asked her if we could find the perfect dress and if the committee would allow the seniors a way to express themselves if she would reconsider.  She said she would if they would allow them to at least decorate the tops of their caps to reflect their individuality. 

I began conversations with a committee member who went to bat for us.  It wasn’t an easy task.  I encouraged the committee to consider it and if it made it easier, put some restrictions, I’m sorry guidelines with it.  It took several weeks of discussion and prayer by the committee, and to our surprise they did decide to allow the parents to vote on cap decorating.  YAY!!  The group voted to allow the seniors who chose to to decorate their caps.  She was one of three that took this opportunity to express themselves.  A few didn't understand the significance and couldn't relate as they were so wrapped up in the formality of the ceremony, while her true friends and family members got it and supported her.

The ceremony was wonderful.  The kids processed in and sat as a group, while the parents also sat together.  Like a traditional graduation ceremony, this celebration included class speakers and a commencement speaker.  But it also gave each student, if they so chose, an opportunity to share their talent and perform. 

Kassi took private voice lessons years ago and started again a couple of years ago.  Well, she enjoys singing, but just not necessarily in front of an audience.  We had to find a way to encourage her to share her gift with others.  So, we decided as long as we were paying for the lessons she had to perform – talent show, church, nursing home, or other venue – every couple of months.  To our surprise she enlisted herself to sing a solo during the talent portion of the graduation ceremony.  She did a wonderful job. (Sorry about the side view)

The unique thing about this ceremony was the fact that as each student crossed the stage, the parents presented them with a diploma as their bios were read.  Kassi's bio as she crossed the stage: 

Kassi, also known as “Bubba” has attended Cornerstone co-op off-and-on since her 8th grade year.  She fancies herself an actress and a musician who enjoys singing, as well as playing the piano, flute, and guitar, with a little dab of ukulele.  She has enjoyed her past 5 years as a volunteer at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, and is looking forward to her sixth summer there, this time as a paid guest team member.  The zoo was a huge part of her character building, where she developed many leadership skills and served as the president of the ZooAide Advisory Panel.  She was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the end of this past summer for her 647 hours of volunteering.  She plans to attend Columbus State College in the fall in pursuit of her associate’s degree in digital photography.  Last summer she was honored to be recognized for her photography at the Ohio State Fair, and she looks forward to what lies ahead with her love of capturing moments in time through the freeze frame of life.

After they all were presented with their diplomas, the class gathered on stage to sing one last choir song.

Then they were joined by a parent who lead us all in prayer, and then . . . . wait for it . . . . . . he presented the graduates of the Class of 2013!!!

Way to go Class of 2013!!  We are very proud of Kassi! Now on to the next adventure!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Something big and exciting is happening. 

I could dance around, give a little bit of info, some hints here and there, and make you guess, but why make you wait.  We have waited a long time, but we are finally a licensed foster family. 

This isn’t something that we just thought about doing, it is something we have considered doing for YEARS.  Just like Jay’s call to pulpit ministry, this was on our hearts for a long time before we finally felt it was the right time. 

Ironically, we talked about being a foster family even before Jay entered seminary.  However, once we as a family decided it was time for Jay to pursue his call, we put the conversation about being a foster family on the backburner.  As with Jay pursuing his call, the decision to become a foster family didn’t come lightly.  We talked about it off and on while Jay was in seminary, but knew it wasn’t the right time as we shared a living space with his parents.  When I say ‘we’, I mean all of the Jackson Juniors, as we refer to our small little nit family of five.  The kids would bring it up and we’d remind them we would revisit the conversation after dad would receive his first call. 

Well, Jay’s first call took us way north to North Dakota.  We weren’t sure about the move.  There was some uncertainty about the stability of the move.  We struggled financially.  We struggled with homeschooling.  We just all out struggled with everyday life there.  Yes, the kids would bring it up and ask if the timing was right yet.  But we decided until we felt more stable it wasn’t fair to a youth to bring them into our home.  So again the conversation was tabled.

Things didn’t work out in North Dakota.  There were too many variables that required a change.  So, the kids and I returned to Ohio while Jay waited for his second call.  After Jay interviewed at our new church home, they invited the kids and I to tour the parsonage.  During that tour, Zack asked if we would be able to expand (not necessarily using that term) our family.  Of course I reminded him we needed to be settled before the family could have that conversation.

After Jay accepted the new call, I just assumed we wouldn’t be able to be a foster family because the parsonage is only a three bedroom home.  Jay and I have our own room (thank goodness), one room is occupied by both our girls, and Zack has his own room.  I’ll be honest, while we lived in North Dakota, I did look at information about fostering and the home we were in there was too small so I just assumed the same would be here as well. 

Well, we know several families that foster.  We’d see new little faces at co-op.  We’d hear stories how exciting it was to have some littles in the house.  In passing, I talked to a few homeschool moms that foster and they kept encouraging me to contact our county office.  I was still hung up on the house being too small. Anytime the kids would bring it up, I’d dismiss it because of the house size. 

I watched on Facebook how a friend and her family were going through the process and preparing their home.  Then I ran into her at the waterpark and another friend and I shared with her our families’ desires but for one reason or another we just couldn’t do it.  She assured us, neither of our concerns would inhibit us from becoming a foster family.  She too encouraged us to talk with our county offices.  I shared with Jay and the kids what I had learned.  We decided we would wait till after the first of the year before we would explore it.  Well, then in November, someone asked Jay if our family had ever considered being a foster family.  Here it was being laid in front of us again.  With that said, we decided maybe it was finally time to pursue the process and see where it would lead us.

I did some research, and a friend recommended different avenues.  I requested training schedules and we picked an agency whose training fit our schedule.  We attended training in January and February, completed our home study in March, and we were licensed by the end of March.  It may have taken ten years before that initial conversation finally got a final decision, but we are now a licensed foster family and we are excited about what is to come.  

Treasured Memories

Why does it take a major life event or the anniversary of such an event before we find the time to sit down and reflect on childhood memories?  As things have unfolded since this past Friday, I find myself thinking of some fond childhood memories - memories I could have been sharing with my children.

My dad called me last week to let me know my grandmother, his mother, had died.  Regrettably, I didn’t hear my phone ring so he left a brief message to let me know and he asked me to call him back so he could fill me in on more.  Well, it wasn’t until four hours later that I got the message. I felt awful I wasn’t available when he called – I wasn’t there for him.  When I talked with him, he was very composed, as he always is, and he shared with me how everything unfolded.  Unfortunately, he was not there when she took a turn for the worse, and he got updates from his brother. 

My grandmother has been ill for quite some time, and the last several years she lived in a nursing home while suffering from dementia.  I tried to remember the last time I saw her, and honestly I can’t pinpoint that exact visit.  The last time I was ‘home’ to Missouri was in 2008, and I know she was too ill at that time to join us for the holiday festivities.  I don’t have many memories of time spent with my grandmother because growing up we always lived out of state.  My grandparents, both maternal and paternal, are Missourians, and my family was constantly on the move.  We started off in Missouri, but we moved all over the place from Missouri to Tennessee to Missouri to Alabama to Missouri back to Alabama.  Then to Nebraska and finally to West Virginia.   We didn’t grow up near our extended family.

We’d travel home to Missouri for summer trips, Christmas vacations, and some special occasions.  Our trips were always rushed and we would spend time with everyone.  So we didn’t get a lot of individual time with our grandparents.  But I still have memories from going to my grandparents’ house in Farmington.  I have memories of airplanes across the field at the local airport, the dog pens that lined the back of their yard, litters of pups, sitting on their back porch, sitting in the strawberry patch eating as many strawberries as I could, African violets, the wallpaper store, the craft store, and German style potato salad.

My grandparents owned a wallpaper store and a craft store.  I remember going to the wallpaper store and looking through books and books of wallpaper samples.  I also remember visiting the craft store, oh and getting in trouble for touching things. One specific memory I have was when we went to the store and I got cotton pom poms and little plastic cup like things so I could make mini ice cream sundaes. 

My grandmother was always making little knickknacks.  I still have several of the little ceramic knickknacks that she took time to paint and gift me.  I have Easter eggs that we keep out year round, a bunny for Easter and a jack-o-lantern with a mouse sitting on top of it for Halloween.  There was a Big Bird statute, and I remember my cousin and I were messing around and it got broke. Of course, we didn’t tell anyone and when it was discovered that night at bedtime, I was quick to blame my cousin - I’m pretty sure I broke it.   That Big Bird has forever been a memory even though I don’t still have it.

Most kids love their grandma’s chocolate chip cookies or homemade pies, but the one thing I loved that my grandmother made was her German style potato salad.  I’ve tried making it, but I don’t have her recipe and it never tastes quite the same.  I remember many meals at my grandma’s and that was the one thing I always looked forward to.

I joined my family this week in Missouri for my grandmother’s funeral.  I’ll be honest; I didn’t think I would get upset since I didn’t have a traditional grandchild-grandparent relationship with her.  When I found out she died, I cried for my dad’s loss more so than for mine.  My dad still traveled periodically to visit his mother and now that had been taken away from him.  I have to admit, the moment I saw her, I lost it.  Apparently, the grandchild-grandparent relationship is a strong bond regardless of how often you physically see one another.  My grandmother may no longer be with us, but I will always have the memories.

Don’t wait till something major happens . . . share your fondest memories, big or small, with those you love.