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.