We were on our way home from our family vacation when we received the call that a baby girl needed a home. We said yes. This is our first foster care placement and we’ve learned A LOT. Mostly the “newborn” thing is old hat for our family, this is our 6th time going through that (7th if you count the brief month with our newborn cousin last year). Chris and I become a little like drowning strangers, we are sleep deprived and on edge. I pray more in the first few months of my babies lives than I ever do because I constantly feel overjoyed and stressed to the max. I can’t share her story but I brought her home from the hospital and she’s been here since she was 12 days old. The kids fell in love with her immediately. September 2016 we went from a family of 7 to a family of 8 in the span of one phone call.
Category Archives: priorities
(This is the first post about my experience at the monastery. There will be at least one more.)
Months ago, my friend Jennie asked me if I would be interested in going on a writer’s retreat with her. A little background is required here. Jennie and I met each other because our boys were on the same soccer team. She was the reason I did the first NaNoWriMo challenge (the month I wrote my first novel). Our boys have become fast friends and so have we. When she asked, I thought it was more of a hypothetical. I think it was around when I turned 40 which made me proclaim all kinds of craziness. Go on a writer’s retreat, even though you’ve never published a word? Sure! Why not?
She explained more as the months went by that it was a weekend retreat at a monastery, a SILENT retreat. She started to ask me more specific questions about when I could go, would the weekend or week work better. At this point, I realized she was serious. So I made a commitment to go. This was the bravest leap I’ve made in a long time. Yes, a weekend trip like this was harder to muster the courage for than becoming a foster parent. Years ago, when I was unattached and young and should have been brave, I had a dear friend ask me to take a cross-country road trip. I chickened out. I didn’t want to make that mistake again. I wanted to experience something new.
The Monastery hosts silent retreats for anyone and everyone. When you arrive to check in, you pass this piece.
From the moment we entered and were greeted by Father Seamus, we were indeed received with kindness and hospitality. Father Seamus sat in his full monk attire, at an unassuming front desk. He asked our names and told us that they never ask where people are from or why they are there. They don’t expect to know if you are a believer, a catholic, an atheist. He said we were welcome to attend as many or as few daily prayers as we’d like. He cracked a few jokes about no one keeping track and you don’t get “extra points” if you attend all the prayers. He was charming, sweet and inviting.
We had arrived right before the 12:15pm prayers so we decided to attend those and then attend our first silent meal. There were signs posted about where silence was expected. For the most part, Jennie and I both respected this, only daring to giggle and laugh from time to time when we were alone in the elevator. I can’t speak for her but I felt the silence needed to be kept in order to get the full experience of this weekend.
I didn’t do a lot of research on the monastery or the monks before arriving. I had clicked on their website (in 2016, even Trappist Monks have a website). I really had no idea what to expect. We were given keys to our very basic accommodations. We had our own rooms and were told that visiting in one another’s rooms was discouraged. Everything about the weekend lent itself to solitude and silence.
I had everything I needed to survive. I had brought my laptop, camera, phone and plenty of books to read. Because I didn’t do a lot of research and planning, I didn’t have many goals for the weekend. I didn’t think I had an agenda. However, we had just gotten our full approval to become foster parents so I did think “I should have my phone on, just in case…” I also had quite a bit of school planning and researching that I needed to do online so I thought my laptop would come in handy. I was hoping to be able to roam the grounds and practice using my camera, instead of just being an iPhone photographer.
So, really, I did have an agenda. I felt a small twinge of panic as we drove closer to the monastery and my phone did not have service. About an hour away from the monastery, I could no longer use the maps or send or receive texts. For the rest of the weekend, the only time I could receive or send texts was when I was in the retreatant house library. It was the only location that had Wi-Fi and their hours were limited. So now I had no phone to distract me and a computer I couldn’t use in my room. Then, soon after going for a walk and snapping some great pictures, I realized I’d remembered fresh batteries for the camera but had forgotten a memory card.
I had wanted to have an unplugged, silent, peaceful experience and God was setting me up for just that.
(This is the first post about the silent weekend with the monks. More to come!)
*This post is a follow up to my Social Media Fast post, if you’d like to start there.
I decided to move on to another area of my life that has been weighing me down (literally). My eating and my exercise habits (or lack thereof). I have approached these changes with a totally different attitude than I ever have. I am only drinking water and black coffee, no more sodas or tea, creamer or Frappuccinos (evil Starbucks). I was consuming a lot of sugar and crap through what I was drinking and I wanted to see if the same amount of self-discipline that allowed me to quit social media would also be there while I quit eating desserts, eating after 6:30pm and drinking sugar.
As with the social media fast, I quickly realized that this was going to be more of a psychological battle. The first challenge? Becoming obsessed with a number on the scale. So many experts out there will tell you not to worry about what the scale says. I don’t have a specific number in mind, but I do have a range I’d like to be in. And I have to make that my goal because I can’t see my own body for what it is.
When I look at myself it is all subjective. My number on the scale may be 50 pound less than the person next to me, but I still see and feel that I am too big. I know everyone may not have this problem, but I’d venture to say the majority of American women do. We are not usually pleased with our bodies, no matter what we say or project. There is a certain amount of my “give a damn” that broke when I turned 40. But I am human. I’d rather not be buying bigger sizes of clothes. I’d rather be comfortable in a swimsuit. I’d rather not look 6 months pregnant when my youngest child is about to turn 5.
So my motivation initially to make diet/exercise changes was to lose weight. But just like with the social media fast, I quickly realized with every day that passed that I was sleeping better, having fewer headaches and fewer mood swings. It’s funny how much and how long we justify our bad habits. I have had so many sweet friends over the years try to give me advice on how to better care for myself physically. Drink more water. Walk or run. Cut out most sugar. Don’t eat late. Eat more veggies. Don’t eat out.
And I appreciate every moment they took to try and help me. Unfortunately, what comes easier to some, comes very painfully to others. I DETEST exercise. I didn’t say that so plainly for many years, but it’s the truth. I didn’t play sports as a kid, the opportunities weren’t afforded me to even try. By college, my roommate was a runner and exercise science major. At that point I was about 120 pounds and thought exercise was a) BORING b) quite uncomfortable (with all that sweating) c) pointless. Then my mid-20’s hit and along with it came 5 babies in a less than 8 year span. And I grew all those babies. Like I gained all the weight and have all the stretch marks (making me regret the belly button ring I had in college).
Along with the eating changes, I do want to start walking. The three oldest kids will be running cross country this semester. I’m hoping to walk while they are practicing three times a week, IF Parker and Jonah will cooperate and walk with me.
Here’s to hoping I can continue to establish good habits, feel healthier and lose a few pounds. Without having to eat a skinny person.
Sometime in June I listened to a podcast that discussed Cal Newport’s book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. The podcast resonated with me. I often feel distracted by all the social media apps on my phone. I have turned off notifications, deleted apps, hidden people that annoy me. I realized that I was spending way too much time and putting way too much emotional energy into these gathering places. I needed a break. I have very important work to do and I was tired of being distracted and not being able to put full energy into it.
I made the decision to quit all social media for the month of July. I didn’t announce it. I just deleted 6 apps off my phone and haven’t been on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or Snapchat for the past month. How has it been? 99% glorious and 1% irritating. I have realized a great deal about myself and my relationship to social media (and my phone) in the past month. For the first 6 or 7 days I found myself still mindlessly picking up my phone where I would stare at it and cycle from checking the weather, to looking at photos of my kids, to checking my email. I’d put it down after a minute or two and have to face the fact that my pacifier wasn’t giving me the instant gratification it gave me before.
The 1% irritation? I was trying to have a garage sale and I needed to hop on Facebook so I could announce that. It was a waste. I shouldn’t of even spent those 5 minutes. I made $30 at the sale. The other irritation is a genuine need to acquire information from our homeschool group or church youth group. Many of today’s groups use social media as their first and foremost mode of communication. Which is understandable. The latest statistics show that about 91% of people use Facebook on at least a weekly basis. BILLIONS of people.
What I have learned about myself is that it will be better for me to leave social media(especially FB) off my phone. I am on my computer at least once a day if I feel I “must” check it. I may have to restrict myself to certain times I’m allowed to check it. It’s too distracting.
Two weeks after starting my social media fast, I felt a different kind of peace and strength. My mind felt much more clear and focused. I decided to take that peace, strength and focus and apply it to another area of my life that needed attention. More on that in the next post.
If I had to name two things that bring me joy they would be organization and change. I happen to think these are good qualities that enable me to be able to thrive in chaotic, stressful environments. My poor husband on the other hand really likes for things to be predictable. I don’t think he knew what he was getting himself into when he met me 15 years ago. Even when we were first married and we would be working different shifts or days, he would come home and the furniture would be rearranged and the plates moved to a different cabinet. I would be fired up about a new plan for getting a pet, moving, a new place to buy groceries or new budget spreadsheet. Bless him.
I have tried hard for his sake to limit these changes and he’s done an awesome job at realizing that his wife isn’t trying to make him crazy, she just loves change.
When it comes to having children in your home, whether its one child or eight children, organization and change are imperative. Now, I am not saying that consistency goes out the window. All children flourish with consistency. What I’m talking about is organizing environments and schedules and being willing to change methods and plans.
For example, yesterday morning I called a family meeting with the kids. There were 3 major discussions we needed to have; chores, schoolwork/reading time, “that’s not fair”.
In the area of chores, our kids have a good amount of responsibility. Now that everyone is getting older, I’ve added a few more to their list. We talked about combining a few chores and made assignments for the next week or two. For example, Foster has laundry and bathroom #2. He is responsible for washing, drying, putting away all the laundry. He also wipes down the bathroom sink, mirror, toilet at least once a day. He only has to scrub the tub if it needs it.
The second thing we discussed was the expectation that they need to either work on schoolwork (we never finish Math in a typical school year) or read for one hour before they have any screen time or friend time. With breakfast, chores and reading time they should be done by about 10:30 am and that leaves the next 8 hours for them to be free and have fun.
The third item on the agenda was about attitudes. We discussed how much we have in way of toys, clothes, safety, security and comfort compared to other children. We talked about gratitude and not comparing what someone else gets to what we get. In our home, we have lots of discussion regarding “sometimes its your turn and sometimes its not”. This week Foster was able to spend extra time with visiting family and go to the science museum. Katie got to go with them to the Lost Sea. The younger boys got to go to Chick-fil-a (like go inside and play, which is a rare treat).
This understanding is imperative in our family because not everyone is the same age and maturity level. And the gap will just continue to widen as everyone gets older. When Foster gets a phone or is able to drive the younger boys will still just be 12, 10 and 8 years old. They’re going to have to see him with a lot of privilege and freedom that will be years off for them. In keeping with that, I told them that if I hear “that’s not fair” in any form, like “but he got to, Katie got more than me, I didn’t get a turn,” then they would get a check mark on the white board in the kitchen. Each check mark equals 5 minutes earlier bedtime.
When we have these family meetings, I try to keep the list of items or things we’re changing or working on down to 3 or 4 items so that the kids don’t get overwhelmed and the expectations are clear.
The kids really respond well to these meetings. They will chime in with their own ideas and opinions. They are willing to be flexible and try new routines and rules. Each time I make these changes in the house, I’m showing them that they can learn new things and change their own attitudes. Chris and I are trying to teach them that a family is a team. We work together and not against each other. When we do work together, we feel closer and we can accomplish more.
Theodore is our little early bird. It doesn’t matter that he’s 8 years old, 99% of the time he is the first one awake and out of his room. As soon as he’s up he comes and finds me and starts asking for food. This is something that hasn’t really changed in the past 8 years. First he was screaming to be nursed and now he’s screaming for breakfast. This morning, I woke up when Chris went fishing (4:30 am…). Since I was already awake for three hours when he got up, I decided to go ahead and let him fix his own breakfast and I joined him with my coffee and eggs.
We’ve been talking a lot in our home about becoming a foster family. We’re listening to a foster parenting podcast in the van as we travel about, we’re discussing it as we rearrange Katie’s room or when the sitter comes so we can go to our foster parenting classes. This morning I took a chance to ask Theodore what he thought of all this, one on one. He tends to be a pessimistic little fellow, so I wasn’t sure how this conversation would go.
Me: “So what do you think about us becoming a foster family?”
Theodore: “Do we have to do a foster parenting podcast?”
Me: (giggling) “No, we don’t have to start our own podcast.”
Theodore: “Well, you need to get a girl Katie’s age because a baby would be too much work.”
Me: “We will probably get someone younger, who isn’t in school yet. Would it be ok to have more work? Isn’t that what God calls us to do? Doesn’t He call us to serve?”
Theodore: “I guess. That’d be OK. I mean, I’m not changing any diapers. You’d have to do that. But I know where the crib would go. On that wall, in Katie’s room, so when the baby cried it would wake us all up.”
Me: “When you were a baby and you cried, Foster and Katie never woke up. Usually only the mommy wakes up.”
Theodore: “Well.” (pauses to think) “I guess it will be good. Until she gets bigger and then I’d have to wait longer to pick.” (Referring to picking a television show, which we do youngest to oldest.)
Me: “Do you know why kids are in foster care? Do you know what God says about orphans? Do you know what an orphan is?”
Me: “Kids are in foster care because their mommies and daddies did not take care of them or protect them the way they should be cared for or protected. An orphan is someone who’s mommy and daddy have died, but most kids in foster care still have parents that are alive.”
Theodore: “So we would help take care of that kind of kid?”
Theodore: “We should do that then.”
I turned 40 years old in April.
I am probably about halfway there, if I live until I’m 80.
A little backstory to my wish. When I was 8 years old my cousin, who was 6 years old, spent time with us pretty often. Things were rough at her house. My aunt had made another bad man choice and I’d say odds are pretty good that my little cousin was being abused. She was definitely being neglected. I grew up on the good side of town. But my cousin, she was on the poor side of town. The times I went to her side of town and stayed are burned in my memory. The games we played in the trailer park where we dug for treasures in the dumpster. The times we stayed outside as long as possible to stay away from her “step-dad” and all the smoking and drinking. Her mom and step-dad fought a lot. They screamed and threw things. Then as we got a little older, they had a baby. He was left next door with his grandmother for hours or days. They preferred the baby boy so my little cousin was treated even worse into her preteen years.
As I got older, my middle school, middle class attitude caused me to draw a line in the sand between myself and my cousin. She was over there with THEM. I was over here, where things were clean, quiet and comfortable.
When I left college to work in a group home filled with girls in state’s custody, I encountered more girls like my cousin. More children who had grown up not just in poverty, but were growing up with abuse, neglect and hopelessness. For every teenage girl that came through and stayed at the group home, there were a many younger siblings they had left behind. They were old enough to run away, or get in trouble so that they were removed from the home but their younger siblings were still there. Or had been scattered among foster homes.
At 23 years old, I knew that I would be a foster parent. What I really thought was that I would open my own group home. Then the state decided every child should be in a home, not an institution, so true long-term group homes have been all but eliminated. The vision, the dream, the desire I had then looked like this: A safe, stable, clean place that any child could find refuge in for as long as they needed it. This vision included meals together, chores and outings, hugs and encouragement, protection and spiritual guidance.
My belief system is anchored in the belief that God has a plan. He knew my childhood, He knew my early working years, He knows my marriage and family now. He is in control.
What I also believe is that I have to move forward with my wish. So that He can show me how the obstacles can be removed. I cannot stop moving forward because of what other people may think, because of discomfort or inconvenience. I will not stop moving forward. If God wanted me to have a different dream, He would have given me one.
My inspiration for this post came from this TED talk.