Saturday, May 29, 2010

Getting Ready for Emily!

Posted by Mandy at 9:49 AM 2 comments Links to this post
Okay, due to the nature of her case, I feel fine saying that "E" is Emily. She is soon to come and stay with us for about two weeks and we couldn't be more excited! Last night, we had the entire girls' cottage (plus house parents) over for supper, and Emily came running out of the van saying, "I'm your family friend!!" She hugged all of us and she and Madison spent several minutes squeeling and jumping up and down. I couldn't help but laugh!

So, to prepare, we are in serious "get Madison's room ready" mode. We've bought matching bedding, and now we are rearranging everything to allow use of the extra closet and to fit another bed. We're still contemplating bunk beds, but for now, we're going to see how two twin beds work. Neither girl is happy about the possibility of sleeping on the top... so until we have foster children here, bunk beds probably won't work out too well.

This is where we've made it so far today:

Basically we've moved her bed from the extra closet (that served as a super cute nook over the past year) and put it onto a side wall. We moved her bookshelf beside the bed, and the plan is to put the other twin bed, on the other side of the bookshelf. I hate that the other bed will be so close to the window, but since we have two walls of her room completely taken up by closets.. we have no other real options as far as where to place beds.

Madison has spent the past hour going through her MOUNDS of books. Sorting out the "baby" ones, as she calls them, and putting the her favorites or the ones she's most excited to read on this shelf, so that we can put the remainder on a different shelf... that I'm still not quite sure where will be placed.
This is the empty space that we are so thankful we have to turn into another closet. I love it because it actually continues back a bit past the door frame - perfect for storing stuff you don't need all of the time.
I'm taking a quick break before we go back and keep working. I'm already exhausted! Getting this project done will be a huge weight off of my shoulders!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Where is that Time Again?

Posted by Mandy at 2:47 PM 4 comments Links to this post
They say that time heals all wounds... if that is the case, bring on the time. I'm searching for it.

It's been a full 6 months since my dad died. Six months today. I keep saying that I don't understand how time can go by so fast, and so slowly, at the same time.

I feel like it's been an eternity since I saw him last. Since I last heard his voice or felt his touch. I'd give almost anything to hear one of his jokes, hear his laugh, or just sit quietly in a room with him. I guess when someone you love dies, you always long for just one more day. One more hour... even one more minute. Time is so precious, and we often take it for granted until something like this happens to us.

I had someone ask me, so kindly, recently how I'm handling it now. Now that time has past. Now that reality has set in. To answer... I don't know. It's hard to blog about because, though I tend to be an open book type of person, this pain is the hardest thing I've ever gone through in my life. This tops anything I've ever experienced.

Last night I was sitting and talking with Clayton when I glanced over and looked at a picture of my dad and me on our bookshelf. Out of no where I burst into tears. I don't know why, I don't know what came over me. I literally was talking and laughing one second, and sobbing the next. The crying lasted an hour. I see that picture EVERY single day. Why was last night different? Because today was the 6 month mark? Because in our DHS parenting classes we've been talking about loss and what it does to us and children? I don't know.

Day to day I feel normal.. most of the time. I still get very jealous of other people that still have both of their parents. I'm trying so hard to let that feeling go. When someone talks badly about a parent I want to smack them and tell them to be thankful. If your parents didn't beat you, starve you, burn you with cigarettes, or molest you.. then shut up!!! Be THANKFUL. If your parents are alive... you don't know how lucky you are.

I know, that's so harsh. I know... really.. I do. This is something that grief has done to me that I never expetected - make me angry. I am angry that my family is hurting, I am angry that there is nothing that can bring him back. I am angry that others get so much time when they DON'T APPRECIATE IT. Why them? Why not me? I know.. not a good attitude. Not something a Christian should say or feel. This is why I don't say it. This is why I try not to feel anything.

 I think that Samuel is already forgetting my dad... he'll say "that's Paw Paw" when he sees his picture, but that's likely just because I tell him so. Carter remembers him, but is too young to be truly sad about what's happened. Madison is the one that's sad. She doesn't want to talk about it, because it makes her sad. I know how she feels... baby girl I am right there with you.

I am thankful that a few times I've talked about Dad or had a memory and it actually made me smile instead of cry. Of course, there's still a sadness with the thoughts... but not like before. In all honesty, most of the time,I still can't talk about him, think about him, or give someone comfort in their loss with great words of how they'll be okay. How God will bring them through.. how they should be happy that one day they'll spend eternity together. There's little comfort in that sometimes... no words, or thoughts, or knowledge about the afterlife can heal your broken heart. All you want is your life back the way it was. I want it back. I want him back. I want to call and have him answer. I want to drive up to his house and have him excitedly come outside to greet us. I want to talk about the weather for goodness sakes! I want ANYTHING. But, there is nothing. Nothing that helps right now.

The absolute loss of control over life hits so hard during these times.. and it's scary. The one great thing that I will say has come from Dad's sudden death and the shock of it all is that it pushed me to act on things NOW. Today is the ONLY day as far as we know. Tomorrow might never come.. it might be too late.

I have been driven to leap into foster care because of this... because once I die.. what good was I? What did I do to serve Christ? What was my life worth to anyone outside of these four walls? If God was whispering something to me.. I learned to stop, listen, and RESPOND. Now. Right now.

I hate that I have less patience for people right now. I think with a broken heart that's trying to heal, your skin is as thin as paper. Any harsh word, any dirty look, any doubt, and any misplaced questions are like sandpaper on a burn. I don't have the ability to handle it right now - at least not some days. Thinking that someone doesn't like me or is judging me is an extremely painful thing, and something that I am currently dealing with and powerless to fix.

My days aren't full of sadness, crying, and being angry. But, in this moment it is how I feel and I knew if I didn't use this time to write about it, I would go on to post something silly and lighthearted tomorrow and never expose the state my heart is currently in. I don't expose a ton of the 'real' me on here. Sure, I let you all know in general what's going on... but the real me isn't in this blog. Not ordinarily. I keep 'me' safe from you all... safe from the possible judgements... safe from having to see you later and feel weak, embarrassed, or ashamed. This is real, though. I write it only for therapy for myself, and in hopes that someone else truly struggling will see themselves here and see that it isn't just them. It feels like it's just you, doesn't it? It feels like no one else in the world has hurt this much.. even though you logically know that's false.

So, I will wait for time. I will wait for Christ to take this pain away. I will wait for the hurting children that have suffered loss to come into our home, and maybe, just maybe, I will be able to relate to them. Maybe they will see my hurt and know that I do understand. I don't know what I'm waiting for, but I pray it's soon. My heart is exhausted...

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

My Babies are Back

Posted by Mandy at 8:03 AM 1 comments Links to this post
The youngest one pictured is actually a friend's daughter,
but we were lucky enough to spend the day with her recently

School isn't offically over for two more days, but my kids have been home for 3 days straight. Tomorrow they will probably go for their one and only day of school to finish out the year. This is just so that they can grab their stuff from their desks, tell their teachers goodbye, and "clean house" so to speak. I LOVE having them home!

Summer is the best, isn't it? I don't think it matters if you homeschool or send your kids off to school, with the summer months comes a new excitement to get outside and do neat things with the kids. The winter months just about do me in, especially this past winter. RAIN, RAIN AND RAIN. We were stuck inside so much - we all got sick of each other. I was thankful for them being able to go to school back then, it took so much pressure off of me to entertain them or be fun. Yeah, sometimes I admit I get in lazy  moods... I don't feel like being 'fun' or creative every single day. Especially when the weather suggests we should be sleeping all day or shoving our faces with food during waking hours.

But then, something amazing happens. The sun shines! The days get longer, warmer, and BAM! Fun mom is back! I am very much a go-er during the summer. If it's a nice day, I want to go somewhere, do something.. anything! Thankfully my kids are the same way. Though we spend many days at home, summer usually consists of us going to the pool, hiking, or vacationing somewhere. This summer has me extra excited. With everyone being older and easier, I am really thrilled to go try some new things, see new sights, and actually enjoy the drives and eating out experiences. As much as I try not to waste the other 9 months out of the year, none of them can hold a candle to how much I love these 3 months.

My babies are home, there is fun to be had, and I am so thankful to get to be here for all of it! Though I know there will be days that I will get tired of any fighting that might  will occur, I am happy that I really enjoy my kids. I don't wear out from spending time with them, and I don't have a daily need to have long breaks from them. Sometimes I feel lonely in those feelings... like it's abnormal to WANT to be around your kids so much, but to me, that's why I had kids in the first place. To be their mom... and I am so priveledged to get to do just that.

Along with the thrill of having this time with my bio kids, I am THRILLED that "E" finally got the approval from her caseworker to be our official family friend! She gets to spend two entire weeks with us, probably beginning Monday. *~*~HAPPY DANCE*~*~* The kids are so excited.. they cannot wait to have her here and not have to take her back. The only negative thing to this - it will make taking her back that much harder.

So, here's to the beginning of summer! This summer will mark so many changes for our family, and I am simply holding onto God's promises for dear life during them. I know that he is going to provide amazing blessings with every amazing trial; I know that we will always look back on these months as the ones that shaped us the most.

So we're off to grab the sunscreen... we don't want to waste a single minute!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Hey... You're Six!

Posted by Mandy at 10:15 AM 2 comments Links to this post

I cannot believe my little Carter Man is six years old. This post is pretty late seeing as how his birthday was May 1. Better late than never!

This is Carter after one of his baseball games. He loves playing ball! Then again, Carter loves everything. Really. Ask him.

Carter, you are growing up to be the most loving child on the planet. I would have never guessed that you would be so affectionate, compassionate, and full of empathy for others. Your heart is so sensitive. If you even think you're about to get into trouble, or upset someome, you burst into tears and start apologizing.
"I accidentally knocked that cup over and spilled my juice everywhere!" (tears flowing)
"Carter, it's okay! Just clean it up."

I often joke that people must wonder what his awful punishments at home are for him to react to such simple things like that. That's just him! He is such a "pleaser" and really gets upset if he thinks he's done something upsetting. Poor guy, he puts way too much pressure on himself.

His first year of Kindergarten is now pretty much over - his last day is Friday. I cannot believe that he's not gotten into trouble even once this entire year. Not once. Carter... not once. That's crazy! He's a good kid at home, but he definitely is a normal little boy. He can be just insanely silly and rowdy and rough. I am so thankful that he's already learned how to have self control, and when it is appropriate to act that way and when it is not. (well, most of the time...)

One of my favorite things about Carter is how sharing and giving he is. I can't recall a time that he's gotten upset over someone playing with his favorite toys, or taking turns, or giving up something so a guest could be treated well. Not in a long time anyway. He overhead me telling Clayton that I don't see us taking any foster children that are boys over the age of 1, because they'd have to be in the same room with Carter and  Samuel, and how on earth would we fit anyone else in there. I mentioned that "that probably wouldn't be fair to Carter." Carter replied, "I like sharing my room!" That boy.. he really does. He hates to ever be alone, and thankfully, in this house, he never is.

Carter is a great reader and writer, and his art skills are always improving. His focus in incredible, yet he never takes ANYTHING very seriously. Everyone on our team giggles when Carter is up to bat. He hits the ball, and runs, laughing hysterically, around each base. He never cares if they win or lose. He's just happy to be there. What I wouldn't give for his attitude and personality! He just rolls with he punches.

Being such a happy boy, Carter is quite the popular guy. He has so many friends it just blows my mind. He's always so fun to play with, mainly because he's always to stop what he's doing in order to make his friend happy by playing something else. I think his great people skills will take him far in life. He's already such an awesome encourager. He's the first to say "it's okay" to someone, or to find the bright side of a situation. I don't think he has any real understanding as to why kids and people get upset over silly things, but when he sees them upset, he definitely wants to come to their rescue. "I'll make you better!" is probably what his brain is always shouting. His daddy says it's because he's the middle child... and that middle children are just by nature the best. (and the fact that his daddy is also the middle child has nothing to do with this theory, I'm sure.)

Oh, Carter. I cannot express my pride and my love for you. You always amaze me, and you make life so much fun! Thank you for being a laugh a minute, for being so sweet, for wrapping your arms around me each day and saying,"You're the BEST mommy!" I don't know how I got so lucky to be given you as my son, but I am so very, very thankful.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Kid's Shows That Drive Me Insane

Posted by Mandy at 12:10 PM 4 comments Links to this post
There are many things that we as parents do for the sake of our kids... just to see them smile: smell every flower outside, let them wear their favorite mud boots with their dress clothes to church, and possibly even eat at McDonald's just because our kids swear their fake chicken.. I mean... chicken nuggets are the best in town. However, there comes a point that seeing your child happy does not mean enough to you to suffer through. Enter: Kid Shows.

In nine years time, we have seen numerous kid shows come on the screen and disappear. Some, however, seem to keep on going no matter how awful they are. Here - let me give a few examples:

Anyone else hate these characters as much as I do? In the history of all television, Yo Gabba Gabba MUST be the most annoying and weird show ever. Of course, kids eat this crap up. I kept a little girl for a short time, and this was her favorite show. Oh-my-word. I was so afraid that Samuel would become a Gabba Addict like her, thankfully it never stuck. There is no way, in the world, I could watch this show again. Yes, even with special guests as cool as Jack Black.

Speaking of totally weird and random - anyone remember Boo Bah on PBS? This show may still come on, I'm not sure. Somehow I let Carter see this as a toddler and he was instantly hooked. These creatures are so bizarre. They don't talk, they just baby talk. The only thing I liked about this show was that the sun was a really cute baby's face. Who doesn't like a cute baby's face? I cannot believe I suffered through this for Carter. He owes me big time.

Does anyone else cringe when they see these "faces"? This is Oobie. Yes.. Oobie. The intro song is all about him... he's a hand with googly eyes, as is his entire family. I wouldn't mind this show too terribly except for the massive amounts of baby talk that they so carelessly throw around. Madison went through a HORRIBLE 'baby talk' phase when she was around 3/4 years old and I 100% blame Oobie. Don't get me wrong..Oobie had an accompliss in all of this...

Oh yes.. Calliou. Now, this show doesn't bother me as much as those listed above, but it's pretty bad. This picture is likely a scene in which Calliou got mad, kicked his mom, and her reaction was to smile, scoop him up, and talk to him about why five year olds aren't supposed to hit their mommies. (I don't know how old this kid is really supposed to be, but he's got a great vocabulary so - let's guess 4 or 5.) Caillou is an expert whiner.. which is great coupled with all of the baby talk as mentioned before. I mean, I get tired of hearing my own kids whine, why do I want to hear the fake kid do it? And why do I want them to see other kids whine and get away with it when at home, they get in trouble for it? Sorry... can't handle this show or this fake kid.

If you missed the boat and never got to experience the Rubba Dubbers... then LUCKY YOU. I honestly don't know if a worse show has ever been made for children in the history of television. Give me black and white Mickey driving the tug boat any day over this junk. The voices were like fingernails down a chalk board.. and the story lines... well.. you get the idea. Who thought this was a good idea? I actually think this is still a big hit in the UK - but maybe I'm wrong.

Now, don't get me wrong. I've struggled through phases of my kids being obsessed with The Wiggles, Barney, and Elmo and his crazy high pitched voice - but something about these shows was cute. Cute in the fact that the silliness and fun it created for my kids outweighed my dislike of them. (well.. minus Elmo.. it's a requirement in this house that you MUST like Elmo.)

The things we do for our children...

Friday, May 21, 2010

Dear New Moms...

Posted by Mandy at 12:40 PM 1 comments Links to this post
I'm not sure there's ever a time in your life that you will be so full of joy, confusion, stress, and questions as when you have your first child. I must confess that it's very difficult for me to remember exactly what I felt like with Madison (a.k.a Baby Number One.) That was nearly 9 years ago... I've lost years of sleep since then.

In a parenting group I have been attending for YEARS now, a great question was posed by our moderator:

"If you could give your 'first time mom' self advice, what would you say?"

What WOULDN'T I say?!

I would tell myself to get up and get moving. I do recall feeling like exhaustion would do me in. I remember sitting on the couch, overwhelmed by my sleepy state and my housework. Things that used to be so simple now seemed so difficult: dishes, laundry, showering... making sure to brush my teeth TWICE daily. It took me having baby #2 (aka: Carter) to figure out this little trick: Just get up. I know... you're tired. I know... you didn't get any sleep. Trust me - if you have a similar personality to me, you won't nap well anyway. You'll feel more exhausted when you get up - so just get up. Find a place to start and get going. You will feel so proud of yourself when you learn how to get at least half of your "to-do" list done each day. Promise!

I would tell myself to chill out. I worried too much about Madison. Not just as an infant, but as a toddler, and as a child. I didn't want to leave her EVER. "What if she cries for me?! What if she wants me and I'm not here?!" Guess what... she was fine. I was stunned when I left her with my mom for the first time for a few hours to go out to eat with Clayton. We were gone for maybe an hour... Madison must have been close to a year old. I was so worried the entire time. "I just know she's sad that I'm not there!" We get back to find her totally delighting in Nanna and Papa's full attention! I don't know who was enjoying it more.. her or them.

This is a lesson I wish I had learned much earlier - let them go. I know.. most of what I write about deals with attachment parenting, and if you take it to an extreme you could think it's never healthy to EVER leave them. In my opinion, the exact opposite is true. I now feel I've given my kids an amazing GIFT because they love staying with Nanna. They might miss me, but it doesn't hurt them. They don't cry for me, and they have all the confidence in the world that I'm coming back. Time away is GOOD. Letting them build amazing bonds and securities with people that you trust is GOOD. You should see all three of them do the happy dance when we load up to drive to Little Rock. They can't push Clayton and I out of the door fast enough!
"Bye Mom! Bye Dad! Love you! See you tomorrow!" (and I'm sure they know that the faster we're gone, the faster Nanna will bring out the ice cream and cookies! Yes mom... I know you do it.. that's okay. You know how to keep them happy!)

Here's a biggie: Spend time with your SPOUSE. Without your kids. This goes hand in hand with the above. I pushed my relationship with my husband way back on the backburner for years and years because I was too nervous to leave our kids overnight. Took me until Baby #3 (aka: Samuel) to get this one. My how things could have been if I would have just gotten over it and left them sooner. When Samuel was night weaned, we started staying one night at a time away every few months. The first couple of times I enjoyed it, but was still nervous. Now, I LIVE for those nights away. One night away with your spouse can send you immediately back to those awesome dating years. Not a care in the world. Waking up to just each other and having no demands on either of you... it is awesome. It's necessary if you ask me. Don't deprive yourself or your husband of this... I promise you.. your kids will do great - and so will you!

The absolute hardest lesson ever for me to learn: It's okay for your kids to be upset sometimes. Shocker..I know. My daddy was right... life isn't fair. Kids have to learn that. Sometimes there aren't enough pink popsicles... sometimes there's only 1 blue cup and two kids want one, sometimes more is expected of older kids than younger kids. *always actually*

Kids can be mean, some kids don't share, some adults don't like you, sometimes people are different than you are and it makes you uncomfortable. That's okay. Child of mine, you have the inner strength to deal with it. To handle life. And because I FINALLY learned to let you fight *some* of your own battles with the bully at the playground (with words.. not fists!) and told you "that's okay.." when you complained that -so and so- in your class doesn't like you, you're already learning how to handle yourself. Kids do have to learn to handle life's little problems early... because guess what. Life's little problems grow exponentually as you get older. So, don't feel too guilty for letting them fall and pick themselves back up from time to time. Learn when to step back, and when to step in. Be their biggest fan and their toughest defender - but only defend when you must. Watch them grow an amazing self esteem when they work through their discomfort, their issues, their concerns and realize "Hey! I did that!" Yes sir... you did! Great job!

My most abrassive piece of advice: Stop making excuses. This is what I would have told myself for a lot of things. "I wouldn't yell if they'd listen the first time." "I wouldn't be stressed if they wouldn't throw tantrums!" "I wouldn't have this much baby weight left 2 years later if I had the time my husband does to go exercise." Blah, blah blah... that's what I'd have told myself. Suck it up, Sister. You brought these kids into the world.. they didn't ask for you as a mom. So you CANNOT make excuses. You MUST be a good mom. You MUST keep your cool... you are the grown up. Show them how to be, don't tell them.

Last night my husband had to go to West Memphis to help work crime scenes of the horrific sites where two police officers were murdered by two gunmen. Being home alone with the kids is nothing new for me... but I felt my stress level rising as each hour passed. One hour away from bedtime I wanted to run away and hide somewhere. I stopped and realized I was mentally making excuses again. It wasn't the kids fault that their daddy had to go... it wasn't their fault I was home alone with them. They didn't deserve to have my stress taken out on them with my words, my tone, my looks, or my bad attitude. How you parent is a CHOICE. If you want to settle for being a crazy, crying, out of control parent.. that's your choice. (I say this b/c I've been there!!) Guess what - the good news is - you can choose to NOT be that way. OH THE FREEDOM OF FREE WILL! I know.. it isn't easy. But you can do it. If I can do it, anyone can do it. (and remind me of this when we get our first mega-out-of-control foster kid and I'm curled up in the fetal position behind the sofa..)

The final thing I wish I could go back and tell my former self: Let go of guilt.

I felt guilty over everything. If I left her for an hour with my mom to get my hair cut, if I didn't feel I spent enough time in her face each day, if I wasn't watching closely enough and she fell and bumped her head. Oh first time mom Mandy... it's okay! Kids don't HAVE to have you spending 100% of your time with them. In fact, I've sort of come to the conclusion that spending too much time with your kids can actually limit their ability to play alone, to form their own imaginations, and there is such a thing as an older child being too dependant on a parent. (and this was something I'd have never said back then..) I'd tell myself, "You love her, you want everything in the world for her, and you're doing a great job. Let go of the guilt. She won't know you weren't perfect today unless you tell her... and who knows - maybe to her, you were perfect."

Now that I have my first born turning 9, I realize that I have amazingly tons of control over who she is, and yet, almost no control at all it seems. She's gone to school hours each day of the week, but our bond is rock solid. I'm the first one she pours her heart out to, I'm the one she trusts with all of her "secrets", and I don't have to be perfect to earn that. I just have to be there. Ready to listen. Ready to discipline. Ready to accept her as she is, and help her to form into the young lady she is becoming.

First time moms out there - your uncertainty is normal. Your concerns are valid. Most of us have been there. Please, be encouraged! This parenting stuff really isn't "that" hard. If it feels wrong.. it probably is. If you think something is best, your gut feeling is usually right. Your child WILL love you no matter what. Even seriously abused children always want to go home to mom... no doubt that your child.. loved, safe, cared for, will want mommy's arms over any one else's. Relax, enjoy, and love that new baby with all of your might. Just as everyone tells you - it's gone so fast, and your writing about your first born turning nine years old.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Paci is Almost Gone

Posted by Mandy at 7:57 AM 2 comments Links to this post
Weaning from a pacifier in this house is a very, very long process. I'm not a "cold turkey" kind of mom if I can avoid it - so we drag this out for months on end. I know - that sounds exhausting. Actually, it is so much easier!

For the past several months we've slowly implemented "no paci when you're out of bed." At first I was more lax on this. If he was having a 'moment' and needed it, I'd rather give it to him than hear him scream about it. I have found that telling an older toddler "You can have it for 5 minutes" and then "only one minute left!" works wonders.

Eventually, having the pacifier in his mouth equaled doing NOTHING fun. He had to be in his bed, laying down, to have it. He often settled for just holding it in his hand. If he asked for it during the day I'd say, "Sure, you can have your pacifier... but you have to go lay down in your bed." Trust me, an active 2 year old isn't going to want to do that for very long!

Here we are, almost 3 years old. After months of limiting it, we are now down to really only having it at nap time and at bedtime. Not in the car, not while watching tv on the couch... only during sleep times. Amazingly, this morning Samuel woke up and pulled his paci out of his mouth, put it on the counter and said, "I don't need this." AWESOME! I nearly broke out into a cheer - complete with a toe touch - I was so excited!

I've started some different things with him to encourage his "big boy-ness" and help him relate that to "big boys don't need paci's."

One really simple thing that has helped tremendously with no paci in the van is simply moving his car seat. He's always wanted to sit in the very back (his seat is in the middle row) and it has just never been on my list of things I love to do to have to reach back that far to get him in and out each day. This week, I figured it was time. I told him that since he's done such a great job not needing his paci that I would move his carseat into the back like the big kids. He jumped up and down and did his own little cheer. Super cute stuff.

Now he gets to ride in style in the back. He could not be more proud! He never even asks for a pacifier in the van now... whew!

The fact that he's 100% potty trained now (even at night!!) helps a ton with him feeling so grown up. He still wears pull ups to bed "just in case" but he never needs them anymore. I think this is a record with our kids... we'll see if this keeps up.

All of these major changes in the past few months have me really excited to watch Samuel gain his independance and figure out "who" he is... but I have to admit it is HARD to let him go! Even just the fact that his carseat is farther away from me in the van now makes me sad. He loves it.. but of course Mommy is the one struggling to let him go and grow up like he wants, and needs to.

Over the past few weeks he's even been begging to go to school like Carter and Madison! Umm.. hold up little man! Not yet! He asked when he could go and I said, "when you're four years old." He sort of growled at me and said, "Ohh Man!!!" I suppose spending one more year at home with me full time is not what he's looking for. Why do your youngest children have to grow up so darn fast?! Why does he INSIST on being like the big kids? I want my baby back!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Stupid Oil Spill

Posted by Mandy at 11:46 AM 5 comments Links to this post

For obvious reasons this oil spill in the gulf is simply terrible. But, if I can be just a bit selfish...


I was on Facebook saying how I am ready to go to Destin this summer, only to be reminded that, really, I probably don't. Bummer.

I started to think of other beaches, but it seems that this oil spill is pretty much ruining them all this summer. I'm not sure how far we're willing to drive for a beach experience, but I feel somewhat of an urgency to go THIS summer. I have no idea who we will have in our home next summer, and if a trip to the beach will be possible or enjoyable.

Now, I'm trying to rethink vacation plans. I want to get out of Arkansas, but where to go for summer fun with no beach?

For now we're looking forward to out typical summer events: Magic Springs, Mid-America, the awesome pool at Chicot Co. State Park... but I am looking for a road trip. I want to go somewhere that cannot be mistaken for Arkansas. Any ideas?

Friday, May 14, 2010

Class 2 - Complete

Posted by Mandy at 8:11 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Well, we survived our second class on becoming foster parents... just 7 more to go. I have to say that these are sooo long that by the time they're over, everyone in the class looks like it's taking all they have to just stay awake. (from 6pm - 9pm)

Some parts have been interesting, but so far I don't think I've learned that much that I didn't already know. I suppose that's because we've been so blessed to hear about this from several people that have gone through it before. If it weren't for the videos, that had to have been shot in the late 1980's to early 1990's, they probably wouldn't be quite so dull. Thankfully our leaders are super nice, funny, and have tons of "been-there-done-that experience."

I've learned a bit more about our fellow classmates, and as of now it seems we're pretty evenly split between those of us there for fostering and those there for just adoption. I'm excited to hear all about what children end up in what family when we're all officially open. I hope to remain close with some of the families - it seems we will all have quite a bond by the time we get through all of this.

I have to admit that I hate how this all drags on. One class a week for 9 weeks just seems like such a waste! I'd rather do 3 a week and just get them over with faster. I can't help but feel an urgency to get done with all of this and have our home open. Children are taken every single day into foster care in our area... where are they going? With only like 10 open foster homes in our county... who is taking these children? Why is there not a faster option down here if there is such an extreme need for open homes for fostering?

On another note - we finally got our official letter from the Baptist Home that we are an approved Family Friend! Hooray! Hopefully "E's" caseworker will okay her being our family friend, and she'll get to spend the first two weeks of summer vacation with us! I'm really excited to at least have this complete. It feels good after all of the work it takes to see it come to an end - which is really just the beginning!

Things are trucking right along here. We are all so excited that school is almost over (well... actually I don't think my kids are that excited. They both loved it this year!) and we're moving into a more relaxing time of the year. Summer is awesome!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Proud Mommy Moment

Posted by Mandy at 7:13 AM 4 comments Links to this post

I snuck up on Madison the other day while she was sitting in her favorite "reading spot." I never manage to take pictures of her without her seeing me and breaking into several of her favorite poses. This is a rare 'real' moment captured of her!

My little reader has always made me proud - but there's something about other people recognizing special traits in your children that really can swell your head and heart.

Inside Madison's backpack yesterday I discovered a few forms that I needed to fill out because she's been nominated by her teacher for the Gifted and Talented Program for next year! I couldn't be more thrilled! I mean.. seriously.. who doesn't want someone to say your child is "gifted and talented"? Especially when statistics show that she should be lagging behind all of the other kids in her class, and at best, she should be living with a grandparent because her slacker teen parents couldn't get it together. God is so good... I cannot believe where he's brought us!

Madison is such a sweet girl. Really. She has the biggest heart! Her goal in life is basically to save the world. She wants to have a huge CAT rescue (because we don't know anyone that helps with cats) and she also wants to adopt every child that needs a home. She's always asking how she can raise money for a cause, and  I've seen her give away her hard earned money to her friends so they could go on school trips, buy crafts for Mother's Day, and things of that nature. I'm not sure I'd have been able to be so generous at age 8! God is doing a great work in her heart already. I see him shine through her so clearly.. and she teaches me constantly what living a life for Christ really looks like.

The school may think she's gifted and talented because of her advanced 'school skills' and 'maturity', but I know that what makes her gifted and talented goes so far beyond these things. It's her love, her compassion, her generosity, her understanding of the world and how it works, and her intense desire to make right the wrongs. If she keeps on this path, she will no doubt change things. She will be a trail blazer. She won't settle for "that's just how the world works" and she won't be a "proper" woman that takes no for an answer when she knows what's right.

Baby girl, I do believe you can, and will, save the world, the orphans, and of course, the cats.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Attachment Parenting: Wanting to Throw in the Towel

Posted by Mandy at 9:30 AM 4 comments Links to this post

Look at Samuel in this picture. Look at that face. That's pretty  much the face I've seen 24/7 for the past 3 weeks. Fun times...

Sam will turn 3 next month, and 3 is 'the age.' Whoever said that the two's were terrible spoke way too soon. Two is a piece of cake compared to three's. I'm can say this for certain being on round 3 of the three's.

With his new found abilities to express his anger (via hitting, kicking, throwing, yelling, spitting..) Sam and I have been going round and round over the past month. I knew it was coming, but I just don't think I was quite prepared enough to deal with it. It was like one night I carried my sweet, snuggly, loving two year old to bed, and the next morning my bear of an almost three year old emerged from the same covers.

Fit throwing time was anytime his eyes were open. Things to be angry over ranged from his socks not being on just right to being told 'no.' Don't even get me started on saying he can't eat candy at 8:00am. The neighbors probably thought we had some type of toddler torture device over here each time we had to hold him down to brush his teeth. He also decided to fight me on nap and bedtimes - which is not a battle I've ever really struggled much with him. Can I tell you how exhausting it is to fight with a determined toddler at 9:00pm when you've been fighting with him ALL DAY LONG? Well.. it is very exhausting.

This is the point in which someone practicing attachment parenting might be ready to throw in the towel. To say, "That's it! I quit! This gentle crap isn't working! Where's my belt?!"

I know this because it's my exact thought process when times get tough like this. As I've said in past posts, I've absolutely gotten to the point with my kids (almost ALWAYS at THIS age) that I feel like what I'm doing isn't working, and I hope that at least the shock of a smack on the rear will get them to listen... and it never has worked. How frustrating!

So, I've avoided posting about our discipline struggles with Sammy Sam because I had hope we'd come out of it soon. Finally, we're coasting back down to a more normal Samuel. We stuck it out, we did what we said we'd do, and we didn't let him run the show around here... victory is so sweet!

He has spent more time sitting in the hallway most days than doing anything else... but finally it worked. Now he can start to throw something because he's angry and I just say, "throw that, and you're in the hall," and he'll usually put it down and say, "I not throwing!" (and then he gets the reminder that yelling at mommy also gets him a time out.) Sometimes he definitely still pushes our buttons, almost as if asking, "oh yeah? Are you really going to make me sit in time out?" Umm.. yes child... you are really going - AGAIN.

I tend to try to avoid punishment if I can and use more natural consequences.. but with this type of behavior I, personally, feel that punishment fits the crime. If simply taking the toy away that he's hitting his brother with doesn't stop the hitting, then a time-out is happening immediately. There's been a few times that his brother has turned around and hit him back - and I just tell Samuel "if you hit kids, they'll probably hit you back. Leave him alone." No one is really in trouble, Sam got what was coming to him, and Carter was simply defending himself against his little brother. Natural consequences are often times much more harsh than any we as parents could come up with in situations like that.

Thankfully the past few days have been much more blissful. If I keep his little brain very engaged then he does great. Boredom is what is kicking off any of his remaining outbursts. It's great to be enjoying my little man again! I missed his happy faces!

Friday, May 07, 2010

Tunnel Vision

Posted by Mandy at 8:46 AM 3 comments Links to this post
I was having a great conversation with a friend yesterday and we were talking about all sorts of stuff.. then blogging came up. I mentioned to her how I've had a really hard time blogging lately - I have only one thing on my mind and I don't want to bore all of my readers to tears by constantly discussing it. It's sort of like when you're pregnant and all you can think of is the baby, all you can talk about is the baby, all your life centers around is THE BABY. That's similar to how I'm feeling... only I can't even prepare for a baby, or a toddler, or a child... I have no idea what's to come.

Of course, I'm talking about our journey to become foster parents. So far we've completed all of our paperwork, background checks, first home visit, and now we've had our first of 9 parenting classes behind us. Only 8 to go.... yes... really.. 8. (one a week... this is going to drag on forever it seems.)

Our first class was Tuesday. We have a very large class, which is exciting!! I even knew a couple that was there so that was really cool to see a familiar face in a completely unfamiliar environment. (besides my husband, of course.) The first class was basically a run-down of everything we should have already done, what we're doing now, and what we'll do next. It was exciting and scary all at the same time. As we watched our first video, they showed a clip of a large group of children waiting to be adopted and I started to tear up. Then it showed a few clips of children that had been beaten, burned... horrible. I actually had to look away and force myself to sing that silly "I'm stuck on band-aids 'cause band-aids stick on me!" song so that I wouldn't break into the 'ugly cry' on my very first day with these people. From what they explained the videos just get worse... so I suppose I'll bring tissue from now on.

Now we will just continue with our classes, and sometime in the next few weeks we'll have two different meetings with our class leaders. They'll spend several hours just talking with us on one day. They want to know everything about you, your family, and they talk to your kids as well. Thankfully I enjoy talking so this probably won't be so bad. (Clayton will hate it...)

The next meeting is our last home visit - the home study. Thankfully, going through all of this with both DHS AND the Baptist Home, our home is almost totally ready to pass that home study inspection with flying colors. I've just got to get some lock boxes for our medicines and we'll be good to go! (oh.. and those safety outlet covers... )

My mind is just racing all of the time. Can you imagine knowing that you'll soon be open to take in children, but you have no idea what children? You don't know the ages, the number, the race, the sex... YOU KNOW NOTHING until you get those phone calls. It's exciting and nearly too much to wrestle with in my mind! Will they call with a baby in the hospital first? Will it be a 1 or 2 year old girl? Will it be a 5 year old boy? No idea...

The crappy thing about that for me is I cannot prepare anything. I can't buy anything... I can't decorate for the new arrival(s)... I just have to sit and wait. I'm not so good at that. I suppose MORE lessons in patience will be gained from this experience. (just when I thought I'd learned enough about that...)

So, if I am a bit absent on my blog in the future that's why. For now this is consuming me and I know that it probably isn't the most interesting thing to everyone else. Hopefully my brain will kick back in soon and the other parts of life will emerge - goodness knows we have tons of life happening everyday!

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

What Makes You Feel Like a Good Parent?

Posted by Mandy at 8:05 AM 4 comments Links to this post
Do you remember the days before you had children? I do... well, kind of. I do remember some of my ideas about what being a good parent meant, and I could definitely spot a good parent from a bad one at the grocery store... easy! I recall thinking, "My kids will NOT act like that!" Oh, don't worry... all of you parents that I judged so harshly - I got mine. Karma makes sure to handle people that think that way, eventually.

What I thought made a good parent back then sort of escapes me today. I can't remember exactly what things I thought earned you a badge of honor, but I definitely have my hang-ups today that I use to judge myself.

1. Clean Kids
If we go out in public and my kids have junk on their faces, stains on their clothes, or mud on their shoes... oh I just cringe! I don't know why.. kids get dirty. At home I couldn't care less if they get gritty and disgusting outside playing. They just need to change clothes and wipe down big time before we go anywhere.

2. Clean House
This has always been a big time issue for me. To my detriment in the past. If my house wasn't REALLY clean I did not feel like a good mother. Thankfully, today I have a much better balance of a clean house and a lived in home, but that nagging feeling still gets me if certain things aren't taken care of. If the floors aren't clean, the dishes are not done, and laundry isn't caught up, I can feel myself getting stressed like I'm not doing a good job in that area. The good news is that now the oldest two kids help a lot with housework, so this is easier to accomplish without me working like an insane person.

3. Healthy Food
I probably worry too much about what my kids eat. I mean, of course healthy kids should be any parents top priority.. but there have been times in the past that seeing my kids eat a slice of pizza or greasy fries would send my stomach into knots. Madison wasn't allowed to eat ANY junk food until she was about 2 years old. She wouldn't even eat her birthday cake on her first birthday because she had never experienced something so beautifully sweet. I've definitely swayed more to the "middle ground" on this now, but it's still something that's very important to me that they eat mostly healthy foods. If they don't, I honestly feel like I'm failing at a major part of parenting.

4. Good Manners
Can I just say that when an adult asks one of my kids a question and they answer with a, "yeah" or "no" or worse... a head nod or shake with no words... my eyes get wide and I want to smack them in the back of the head like my mom probably did to me. Then my attachment parenting ways kick in and I clasp my hands together and lean down and remind them how they SHOULD respond, "Yes mam..." "No sir.." After so many YEARS of stressing this to them it aggravates me to no end to have to ever remind them. Especially Madison - she'll be 9 years old this summer. Get with the program, girl!

If they don't use their manners, as a southern mommy, I just want to crawl in a hole somewhere.
"Do they think I don't teach them to say that?" "Do they think I don't expect respect at home?" Oh the shame... I've heard that in the North kids aren't expected to say sir or mam... lucky parents...

5. Overdue Hair Cuts
This is only with the boys. Moms of boys - did you have any idea how often they would need their hair cut? Geez! If their hair starts to just barely grow over their ears... it kind of drives me crazy. I must get it trimmed IMMEDIATELY. I guess this could go in the same category of not wanting anyone to see them dirty. "Does it make me look bad if they don't look perfect?" Let's be honest.. that's the thought process behind this!

These are just 5 silly things that I still use to judge myself on my meter of mom-hood. Silly really. What should matter is so simple. Are my kids healthy, happy, well-adjusted, respectful, and heading in the direction of becoming stable adults that will make a difference in this world? If yes, then hooray! That's really the sign of a good parent, isn't it?

Am I the only one with these types of ridiculous standards for myself?

Monday, May 03, 2010

Breathe In... Breathe Out

Posted by Mandy at 7:23 AM 2 comments Links to this post
Life has suddenly become very crazy, but on the flip-side, much more relaxing in the past few weeks. I knew that getting out of credit card debt would take some stress off of us, but I had no idea it would be this dramatic. I didn't realize how much mental stress I was under constantly worrying over it, wondering how we'd pay it off, wondering how long it would take. Years later... we finally made it! We also just paid off our van... and I totally understand what the person felt that coined the phrase "it's like a huge weight lifted off of my shoulders." Money can't make a miserable person happy... but when a happy person finally doesn't have to worry about money anymore - wow!

Now that mucho stress has been removed from my mind, I also made the decision to majorly cut back on work. We now don't need my income at all. (can you hear the angels singing?) I can just work for enjoyment and for 'extra' cash, which is of course ideal. Now, my Canine Corrections clients.. don't get all upset. I promise I'm not quitting! Just cutting back. You will need to schedule boarding a lot more in advance - and be prepared for more "no's" than before. This is me entering my "I'm tired of being so tired" stage of life... already.

This weekend I had arranged to have NO work. My last dog for boarding went home Saturday (and she was super easy anyway) and that was that. Sadly, Samuel and I both ended up sick... so we had no real fun, but what a RESTFUL weekend. Oh how we needed that. I barely got off the couch. Clayton and I watched movies, the kids and I built castles with blocks, played Wii, read books, and just sat around. With the stormy weather we barely even went outside. What a dark, rainy, GLORIOUS weekend. There was nothing we "had" to do. I cannot remember the last time we had a weekend totally off. This is going to be a more regular thing now. Clayton has weekends off, and I will have a lot off myself. I just have to make it happen.

It was so hard to turn down work before. Sure I was tired, I wanted a break, but the debt hanging over our heads pushed us both to just buckle down and sacrifice in the short term. As Dave Ramsey says, "Live like no one else so that you can live like no one else." We definitely felt like no one else was living like we were! It was hard, it took forever, BUT IT WAS WORTH IT! Now, from now on, we can relax! What a blessing!!

A strange side-effect of financial freedom is that I'm suddenly very content with the things I have. My desire to buy a new car totally vanished with the last check we gave to the credit union. My urgency to move... gone. My new desire? SAVE MONEY. We're fine here... really. Could we be more fine in a larger home, closer to town? Umm.. yeah. But, for now, this is cool. We can do foster care here and this home has already passed our first DHS home visit. (whew! That was Thursday.) It makes sense to live as cheaply as possible in order to care for more children if I stop and think. Not being able to buy that perfect house that I loved a month ago is making total sense now. Now we sit in waiting. We will wait for God to place the perfect place into our laps. As Clayton always tells me when I get impatient (which is often),
"God has taken amazing care of us all of these years... do you think he's not doing it now?"

Ugh.... I know.. he's right. God has blessed us so much more than we deserve. He's let us suffer consequences from poor choices we've made along the way, but we've discovered that even that was a blessing. How can you learn from your bad decisions if he doesn't allow you to feel the pressure of what happens because of them?

So, today I sit here with ONE dog for daycare, one sickly son that is begging to go for a walk in the "stroll-wer", and a full and content heart. For today anyway...

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