Friday, December 27, 2013

Christmas 2013

We had a really wonderful Christmas season, probably the best ever. It was the perfect combination of calm family time and fun activities. I think it was well-earned after the craziness of last year, when life turned upside down for a month: For the month surrounding Christmas, we had five kids 6 and under: two bio, two foster, and one on-the-way-to-being-adopted. Who were all sick with horrible colds at the same time. While Mark had an emergency appendectomy. The whole Christmas season was a blur. 

Fast forward to Christmas Day 2013: We had a great Christmas morning. The kids enjoyed their gifts and spent the rest of the morning playing with them. In the afternoon we went  on a hike to Henry Coe. It was a perfect day. 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Back in Foster Care

When we got Lucy last December, it was the end of foster care for us. We wanted to have long peaceful time to bond with our new daughter. And we wanted to adopt another child as soon as bureaucracy allowed. Since foster care is so great a need, we always knew we would go back to it at some point, but only when all the kids were much older. Emergency care was too crazy a lifestyle for us to continue with three kids: so many visits, doctor appointments, phone calls, not to mention the uncertainty. 

This was the plan until about a month ago. While we were driving to Point Lobos the day after Thanksgiving, we started talking about opening our home to emergency placements again. Mark, in particular, felt that our life was calm and secure enough that we could afford to stretch ourselves and invite more children into our home for a short-term basis.

After two weeks of prayer and discussion, we put ourselves back on the list as an ESH (Emergency Satellite Home). A few days later, we were called for a 3.5 year old girl, L. We had her for only a week, until she was reunited with her grandmother. Now we are taking a week off, and then will make ourselves available as an ESH again.

Through this process, I've realized that my thinking about foster care and adoption has changed from when we first started out as foster parents. We were taught in our classes about the county's ideal: that emergency placements would stay in their first foster home for as long as possible until they are either a) reunited with their family or b) adopted. And if they are adopted, it would ideally be by their very first (and only) foster family. Many studies, and common sense, show that each move to a new home harms children.

That mentality is called "concurrency". That is, when you take in a foster kid, you concurrently sign up to be their foster and potential adoptive parents. Mark and I did this our first few years of foster care. We were told it was in the child's best interest, and we figured we wouldn't mind adopting anyways. However, some of our experiences over the past two years in the system have led us to now only do non-concurrent foster care, while also on the adoption matching list.  This is for two reasons. 

First, if you take in a concurrent foster child, you have a conflict of interest. You should be doing everything to support the child's family to be re-united with their child and should work towards that goal. But in the back of your mind you know that if it doesn't work out, the child will be yours. Will this child be yours forever? Will they go away? Will you have a baby girl for nine months, told the whole time that it was 90% chance you would adopt her, and then have her go away at the last minute? Foster care is already an emotional roller coaster. Concurrency made us an emotional wreck.  

The second reason is simply that you are taken off the adoption matching list if you have a concurrent child. And concurrent children are adopted only 1 in 10 times. So if you seriously want to adopt, as we do with one more child, you should not agree to be potential adoptive parents to the children you foster. It sounds crazy, but that is the truth, due to a government rule. So we are going to keep the processes separate. We are waiting for an adoption through the foster care system, while we help with non-concurrent, ESH foster care in the mean time.

We are still waiting for an adoption match at the moment. So far, we've been through two matchings (both were for four month old baby girls), but weren't chosen as the family for those children. We aren't in a big rush. We are enjoying our family. We're enjoying the calm between foster placements. And we're holding on tight when we're riding the crazy foster care roller coaster. 

Christmas Fun

Just after Thanksgiving, I sat down with the boys and we wrote out a list of everything we wanted to do during the Christmas season. Most of the items were generated by them, with just a few suggestions from me. The list included treats to bake, crafts to make, and places to visit. So far, we've checked off a lot of items.

Make cookies: Check.
These giant ginger cookies were incredibly good. Ginger cookies are my absolute favorite anyway, but then I added some cocoa powder and chocolate chunks. So, so good. Unfortunately (for the kids and my waist-line) they didn't last very long in the house. 

Go see The Nutcracker: Check. 
Go to The Nutcracker with friends and then go see Christmas in the Park: Double check!
Miss Lucy got to stay home with Grandma so the big kids and I could have a fun day out. It was our first time seeing The Nutcracker in person. I didn't think the boys would be that interested, but I took them anyway in the interest of checking off "cultural activity" for the month. I was surprised that they loved it! They said they can't wait to go back again next year. 

Build gingerbread houses: Check.
We got the kits from Trader Joe's. They were inexpensive, and yet high quality (and even better, no artificial junk in the candy!) This was the first year the boys made them completely on their own. It was fun watching their creative technique.

Drive around to look at Christmas Lights: Check.

Make cinnamon-dough ornaments: Check.
Actually, I made the ornaments while the kids played with the leftover dough and sprinkles. This turned out to be way more mess and effort than than those crafty-mom blogs let on. This is one activity that probably won't be making our bucket list next year. The upside was that my house smelled glorious for a whole day!

All that's left on our list is to see a few Christmas movies (Polar Express and How the Grinch Stole Christmas) and do another craft (paper snowflakes). 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Christmas Preparations!

When we weren't at the beach this weekend, we were busy decorating the house for Christmas. We started a new tradition this year (can you tell I love traditions?): the boys got a live tree for their room to decorate, and when Christmas is over we will plant the tree in our backyard. The plan is that in about ten years, the tree will be big enough to cut down and use for our Christmas tree again (Lord willing, if we are still living here, of course). 

The boys had a lot of fun decorating the tree. I love that they are old enough to be a real help. We allowed them almost total reign on putting the ornaments on and they put a lot of thought into where to place each ornament. In the few days since the tree has been done, they've rearranged the ornaments several times. Thankfully our resident toddler has (mostly) left the tree alone. 

Beach Friday 2013

Last Friday we continued our annual tradition of going to the beach the day after Thanksgiving. We first started this tradition five years ago (which is really hard to believe!) when we decided to visit the beach the day after Thanksgiving and had a wonderful time. After the busy-ness of preparing for Thanksgiving, it is a welcomed time of peace and tranquility. There is nothing to do but to sit and be amazed by the ocean.  

This was the best Beach Friday trip yet. Our day was truly blessed by God, because it seriously couldn't have been that perfect without His providence. This year we went to Point Lobos instead of 17-Mile Drive like we've done in the past. We were able to hike to a part of the park we've never been to, which was pretty exciting for the kids. 

The kids climbed lots of rocks. Lucy played in the sand. Mark and the boys explored a new cave that they found. Several times we'd find the boys just sitting and quietly looking over the water. These are the moments I love for them to have, when their bodies are still for just a minute and they are thinking. This almost never happens during the day when we are home.

After Point Lobos, we headed to Carmel. This was yet another tradition that got started last year on a whim. Last year, we went to downtown Carmel just to get some hot chocolate. We found a magical little town all lit up with twinkle lights. We had such a wonderful time that we couldn't wait to do it again this year. 

 First we had a fireside dinner at a French Bistro in an outdoor courtyard. By the time dinner was done it was dark. We walked around the town, checked out some stores and art galleries, and enjoyed all the twinkle lights. At the end of the day we were all exhausted (especially Lucy!), but so thankful for the wonderful day we'd had. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Happy 7th Birthday, Tommy!

Tommy is 7 years old! 

For his birthday this year, we combined two of his most favorite things: San Francisco and science, and so we celebrated his birthday at The Exploratorium with his best friend. He had a really good time and it was the perfect day birthday outing. We were truly blessed that day!

This has been a year of growing pains for Tommy, both literally and figuratively. I just looked back at his 6 year old check-in and marveled at how much he changed in the past year! Yes, he grew a few inches. Went up a few shoe sizes. He complained of many leg pains throughout the year. But emotionally and mentally he also went through some major changes.

The normally happy and mellow boy turned into someone quite different starting around January. There were many fits. Many tears over very simple things. A quick temper. Always quickly frustrated. Behavior that made me wonder if my child had simply gone crazy, things he'd never done before and didn't fit his character. Lots of questioning about why exactly he had to do the things we asked. Lots of behaviors that made me honestly start to think he had one of the neurological disorders that seems to affect many boys these days. Or at the very least some kind of food allergy that was making my kid crazy. Something had to be wrong because this was not the kid that I knew. I spent many nights wondering what in the world happened to my kid. Was it something I did? Is this just who he is now? These were days of countless tears and prayers on my part.

And then, like a terrible storm ending, it all went away. Around August, he went back to his normal self. The change was so gradual, that I didn't even realize it until recently when a few people mentioned, "You know, I think Tommy has mellowed out a lot." And then it hit me: no more fits, no more crazy behavior. My old Tommy was back! It had waned so gradually I didn't even notice. It's been a few weeks since his birthday and he seems to be even still changing: he's a bit more responsible and more mature in a way that is hard to describe. I think he should have birthdays more often.

So here is Tommy today:

He is intensely curious. Finding out how things work and what they are all about is an impulse that he is learning to regulate. While six months ago his curiosity got him in big trouble several times, now he seems to know the boundaries of what he is able to do with his curiosity. He builds, he takes apart, he questions, all in a more mature way now. 

In school, he continues to do well in math, though it is also the thing that gives him the most frustration. He loves geography. He loves to read. His favorite books are the National Geographic series Weird But True, which is jam-packed full of facts about everything one can imagine: everything that is the biggest, smallest, fastest, heaviest, most expensive. His absolute favorite part of school is piano. He started taking lessons in March, and at first was lukewarm about it. Now he plays almost constantly throughout the day.

He longs for adventure and independence. We recently started having the boys make their own breakfast a few days a week and he loves being able to choose items for himself and have free reign over the kitchen. The other day he made scrambled eggs and toasted waffles completely on his own; he was so pleased with himself. We have been trying to find ways to give him more independence and let him roam as free as he possibly can while still being safe. He is so happy when we give him more little bits of freedom. 

I'm really enjoying my 7 year old. I'm excited to see how he grows during this next year. :)

Happy Birthday Donuts 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Birthday Interview with Tommy - 7 years old

Tommy is turning seven tomorrow, so it's time for our birthday interview! Based on how this interview went, I think I'm going to have to change some of the questions for next year, to make them a bit more mature. He seemed to think the questions were a bit silly. Why can't kids just stay little?

So how do you think it'll feel to be seven?
Pretty good.

What kinds of things can you do now that you’re almost seven that you couldn’t do when you were littler?
I’ll get more things to do. Like play harder [board] games. I can explore more games. 

What is your favorite color?

What is your favorite food?  
Apples with lemon juice.

What is your least favorite food?  
Butternut squash soup with mashed up mushrooms. (I explained that this food doesn't really exist, but then he said, "Yeah, but it would be just so gross!" Fair enough.)

What is your favorite book?
Sideways Stories from Wayside School.

What is your favorite thing to play with?
Geotrax train set

Do you have any friends? Who are they?
My best friend is Joseph Guenther.

What is your favorite thing to do?
Go on a daddy date. Actually, go to Central Park in SF.

What is your favorite thing about yourself?
That I’m good at helping people.

What is your favorite thing to do outside?
Climb our redwood tree.

Where is your favorite place to go?

What do you want to do for a job when you grow up?  
What Dad does. (What does Dad do?) Works with computers. (Why do you want to do that?) Because I like Dad, and I want to do what he does.

Where do you want to live when you grow up?  
I think I’ll live in San Francisco.

Do you think you’ll get married when you grow up? Who do you think you’ll marry?
Yes I don’t know yet. 

How old will you be when you get married?

Where do babies come from?
A woman, of course. Why do you ask? 

Is there anything you’re afraid of?
No.Like what? I could make myself afraid of mirrors. I guess there's nothing I'm afraid of.

If you could be any animal, which one would you be and why? 
A baby cheetah. Because they’re really cute and they can hop really well. 

What do you love most about your siblings? 
Ben: That I have someone to play with.
Lucy: That I can play with her.

What do you like learning about?
Piano, that’s my best thing. 

What makes you very happy?
Birthdays make me really happy, because it’s a happy time.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Lucy is Walking!

A few weeks ago Lucy started to really enjoy us walking her around. She'd hold on to our hands and toddle happily. Last week she decided she was ready to start pushing things around. Like stools, chairs, and trucks, and baby walkers, and pretty much anything that would slide across the floor. 

Then today she let go and took off on her own! In the span of an hour, she went from taking just 10 steps to being able to cross the whole room, stop to pick something, turn to change direction, and even start running. She's really walking!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Apple Farm

This past week's field trip was to an apple farm with cousins and homeschooling friends. Visiting an apple farm has been on my fall bucket list for a few years now, and we finally did it!

It was a great place to get that obligatory baby-in-a-pumpkin-patch picture. :)

In the room where the apples are processed: washed, sorted, and boxed up to go to the stores.

What is one supposed to do with 8 pounds of apples? We started by making caramel apples. :)

Sunday Fun

Mark left for a weeklong business trip last Sunday. I had a bit of apprehension in the weeks leading up to this time. I've never been on my own with three kids (or any kids) for that long. Now that the week is over, I can report that everything went well and we  had a great time. I kept the kids really busy so they didn't have time for any shenanigans! 

The best day of all was the first day without Mark. We dropped him off at SFO early in the morning, then stopped by Krispy Kreme on the way back from the airport (my apologies to the boys' Sunday School teachers!)

Lucy's first doughnut (she only had a few pieces). She loved it.

 We met a tarantula on the way up the driveway to church. We stopped and got out to follow him around a bit. 

 After church, naps and quiet time, we went to our a car show in our town. This was the boys' favorite car, and the owner even let them hop inside.

Point Lobos

Last week we went to Point Lobos with friends. It was another perfect day at the coast. There was lots of boy romping, rock climbing, (rock throwing), and tide-pool exploring.  

This was the boys' favorite thing... seeing how close to the crashing waves they could get without getting wet.