“Gotcha Day!”

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On Wednesday we celebrated Tyler’s “Gotcha Day.”

A year ago we had the opportunity to stand before a judge and commit to be his forever family. It was one on the most joyous days of our life as we celebrated the “birth” of our newest son. The sweet feelings were even more profoundly felt because of the struggle it took to get to that point.

Tyler moved in 11 months earlier. We didn’t fully comprehend the commitment we were making when we opened our home and hearts to this little six-year-old boy. We blindly stepped forward in faith, having no idea the roller coaster we were climbing on, as we learned to parent and love a little boy who was broken. It was a journey filled with feelings of fear, discouragement, and feelings of inadequacy as we struggled to parent behaviors we had never faced in the raising of our biological kids. The first year of Tyler’s life with us was filled with tantrums that lasted hours, things being broken as he raged, profanity and words of hate as he tried to push us away in fear that eventually we would push him away. It was a long year…a tiring year…a surreal year.

Our journey toward adoption was a “one step forward, two step back” sort of tango that left us feeling we were on an emotional treadmill that never made any progress. The days left us exhausted and feeling as though we were  running in place.

There were days that the only thing that kept me from packing my bags and running away was the testimony that God had called us to be this little boy’s parents and the faith that this was serving a purpose in His bigger plan.

Adoption is about commitment.

It has been said that:

“Commitment means staying loyal to what you said you were going to do long after the mood you said it in has left you.”

Yes.

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Yesterday we spent the afternoon in the garden. As I pulled weeds and harvested squash I thought about how gardening can be likened to parenting.

It begins with a commitment. The seed is placed in the ground with the promise that you will care and nourish it until the season’s end. In those early years a lot of care is needed and protection is required. You are there to shield it from the harsh frost and dangers that threaten it. All too soon your plant breaks through the soil and you eagerly begin watching it grow. It becomes a labor of love. As it grows so do the weeds that surround it, threatening to choke it out and impede its growth. Parenting is a test of endurance. For every weed you pull, two more sprout up.  It is a constant battle that requires daily commitment. It means daily putting on the work gloves, even when you don’t want to.

Often weeks will pass and despite your laborious effort it doesn’t seem as though any growth is happening at all. Your seedling is still only inches tall and the promise of fruit for your labors seems a billion years away. This is the test of commitment…

Will you still keep showing up and working hard when there is no progress being seen? Will you remain committed when the fun of digging in the cool spring soil is gone and all that is left is hard, sweaty work under the hot July sun?

This is the test.

It is hard to keep showing up when there is no sign of growth or improvement. It is easy to get discouraged when you are pulling those same weeds day after day and your plant is not growing.

BUT… the interesting thing about gardening is that so much of the growth that happens, happens out of sight. When you think there is little progress happening on the surface,  roots are pushing deep into the soil. It is when we most feel as though our children are “stalled” in their progress that the real work is happening deep in their hearts.

Then one day you step outside to tend your plants and before you sits a lush jungle of tomatoes and squash. You don’t know quite when it changed. Overnight, it seems, the growth happened. You can’t pinpoint the breakthrough moment… you just realize the dry season has passed and the fruits of your labor are visible.

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The value of commitment has been lost in our generation. We have become a disposable society. While our parents and grandparents lived by the philosophy of “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without,” we live in a world that says “If it is broken, toss it out.” Rather than taking care of our things we disregard their value with the thought, “I can always buy a new one.” Rather than fixing what is broken we simply replace it.

This is not only true of our possessions, but of our relationships as well. We toss friendships away when they get hard. Spouses get replaced when they are no longer shiny and new.

It is hard to be committed when the good feelings aren’t there. It is tempting to “run” when it gets hard, but if we walk out halfway through the season we miss the miracle of the harvest.

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One day you will wake up and see a jungle of growth and wonder when it happened.

The deep, meaningful sweetness of a relationship comes with time. You must remain committed through those hard times to enjoy the sweetness that comes later.

It was a labor of love with Tyler. It was two years of daily watering, pulling weeds and choosing to show up every day… but we are now in harvest season. Daily I am astounded at his growth and the fruits of our labors. God knew exactly what he was doing when he took that angry, broken, abused little boy and placed him in our lives.

I look at Tyler and my heart overflows.

Happy “Gotcha Day” Tyler!

We love you forever and a day.

For Tyler's "Gotcha Day" celebration he chose to play tennis as a family and go out for ice cream.

For Tyler’s “Gotcha Day” celebration he chose to play tennis as a family and go out for ice cream.

Jellystone Park

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“Family time is sacred time and should be protected and respected.” -Boyd K. Packer

Things have been challenging around our home for the last few weeks. We have gone from the honeymoon phase of adjustment and bonding into the testing and trying phase. The family has struggled with the many tantrums, angry outbursts, and poor choices of a certain little boy. Our patience has been tested as we have struggled to maintain peace and build unity as a family while the storm of emotional chaos has raged around us. What was once an occasional meltdown has now evolved into: sitting in a parked car in a parking lot for 5 hours (true story)  while Ozzie screamed, hit, bit, yelled profanities and raged until he eventually burned himself out.

The effect on the other children has been profound and many of the kids are struggling as we push our way through this trying time in the bonding process. I know why he is testing. The kids saw this behavior with Tyler and understand it is a necessary part of the journey. Logically we get it, but that doesn’t make it any easier.  We are all feeling weighed down and burned out by the struggle. Toby and I, after seeing and feeling the tension that has been growing as a result of these daily struggles, decided it was time to get away as a family. We needed to get out of the house, away from the triggers of contention and just go play. We needed to laugh, be silly, connect with each other in a lighthearted, pressure-free way. The kids needed to just be kids and we needed a “pause” from the chaos at home SO we packed our bags and headed to Jellystone Campground for a weekend of family fun.

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Last year we camped at a Jellystone Park for the first time when we took Gracie to Trek. We were so impressed with the campground chain that we found one closer to home to camp at this weekend. We loved how “kid friendly” the campground was and how reasonable the cost of a family weekend could be. For $50 a night you not only get all the fun of a camping experience but get to enjoy all the amenities of the campground for free including: water slides, crafts, mini golf, wagon rides, water park and fishing.

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We arrived on Friday afternoon and began the task of unloading and setting up camp. The kids worked diligently knowing that as soon as camp was set up we would go and enjoy the waterpark.

The little boys enjoying the creek that ran by our camp site.

The little boys enjoying the creek that ran by our camp site.

The girls resting from their labors.

The girls resting from their labors.

After camp was set up everyone put on their swim suits and we headed to the water park to enjoy the pool, slides and water play area.

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The water play area.

The water play area.

Brother bonding...

Brother bonding…

Ozzie loved the water slides.

Ozzie loved the water slides.

After many hours of water fun we walked back to our campsite to make foil dinners, eat smores and then get ready for the night-time showing of “Charlotte’s Web” under the stars.

Rusty with his "Smore maker."

Rusty with his “Smore maker.”

Saturday morning we woke up to rain. The majority of the day was wet with drizzle but luckily there were no major storms. It was a little cool to swim so the day was spent enjoying some of the non-water activities offered at the campground.

Molly and Rusty enjoying mini golf.

Molly and Rusty enjoying mini golf.

 After breakfast we walked over to the “catch and release” fishing hole. The little boys were given the job of finding worms while Toby got the fishing poles ready. As the kids waited they noticed a few big bass that they wanted to try catching. As the morning went on the bass eluded them, but they had great success catching many little blue gills with their worm bait.

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About an hour into our fishing time Molly yelled from the other side of the pond that she had a blue gill on her line. Toby yelled back for her to bring it over to him and he would take it off her hook. As Molly made her way around the pond she kept “dipping” her fish into the lake so it could “catch its breath “and not suffocate. She was walking and “dipping” when suddenly we saw her get jerked back and begin yelling, ” It ate my baby fish!!!” Toby ran over, in fear that she would let go and his pole would end up in the middle of the lake, but by the time he arrived the line had snapped and the bass and the blue gill it ate for dinner were long gone.

Molly was shook up and just kept saying, “I can’t believe it ate my baby fish!”

Toby and the other kids were elated because now they knew what bait the bass wanted. Toby was the only one who ended up catching a large mouth bass…thanks to Molly and her traumatic experience. :)

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That evening we joined many other campers for an oldies night concert and dance. The other kids hung back and enjoyed the show but Ozzie ran straight out into the middle of the dance floor to get his groove on. :)

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Before the dance was over Yogi showed up, much to the thrill of Ozzie. With Buddy the Elf enthusiasm he began jumping up and down and screaming “Yogi’s coming!! Yogi’s coming!!” Ozzie thought he had died and gone to heaven when Yogi joined him on the dance floor for a song or two.

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After the dance we walked back to our campsite to enjoy smores and some family visiting. The weekend wore Ellie May out and she collapsed in a heap of “tired puppy” as soon as we set her down.

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It was a good weekend.

It was good to get away and have a little “time out” from the struggles at home.

I have learned over the years that we often delay “playtime” until more important tasks are accomplished and more pressing duties are fulfilled…

 BUT sometimes “playtime” is the most valuable use of our time.

“Families need unstructured time when relationships can deepen and real parenting can take place. Take time to listen, to laugh, and to play together. The joy of motherhood comes in moments.”    -Russell M. Ballard

So take the time to play today. :)

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News, news and more news.

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Christopher Poindexter once said:

“The thing about chaos, is that while it disturbs us, it too, forces our hearts to roar in a way that we secretly find magnificent.”

We came straight off the relaxation and renewing energy of camp into the chaos of everyday living. It is funny the difference a week makes when in is spent away from home. Despite the efforts made to get everything in place before we left , as well as the valiant efforts of the boys to maintain order while we were gone (They did a great job of holding down the fort!), there inevitably is a mountain of work to face as penance for leaving. :) There have been moments this week, as we have adjusted to being back in the routine, that I have thought to myself, “Send me back!” I have been paying the price for my absence, in particular with the little boys and their behaviors, and have been working to regain the ground that was lost while I was away. In the midst of all the everyday living moments we have had some big news events. Here are the latest chaotic happenings at Patchwork Farm.  :)

Ellie May, our new puppy, had to go in for unexpected surgery. Before I left for camp we noticed that her ears were growing (out, not down) and looked like they were filling with air. When we left for camp it looked like she had floatation devices on the sides of her head. Toby took her into the vet and found out that what we thought were air pockets were in fact large pockets of blood. The vet informed Toby that this sometimes happens to floppy eared dogs (Bassett Hounds, Blood Hounds, etc.) They bang their ears off things and break the small blood vessels in the ears and the ear flaps will begin to fill with blood. The solution was surgery. So poor Ellie had to have the inside and outside of both ear flaps surgically separated, the blood drained, and then reattached to each other. Her ears now resemble a tied quilt.

DSCN1218Rusty, this week, celebrated the accomplishment of earning his green belt in Taekwondo. We are so proud of his hard work, diligence and the effort he has put into his sport. Go Rusty!!

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Rusty and his green belt.

A month ago, when we were at the doctor’s office for summer physicals the doctor “red flagged” Grace, Rusty and Ozzie as having vision issues, so this week they were all seen by the eye doctor. Rusty was seen first. He sat in the chair as the doctor adjusted and readjusted the lenses to determine the status of his vision. After testing his eye sight she said that his vision was 20/30, well within “normal” range, and that he didn’t need glasses.

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Gracie was next. Gracie has been complaining that she has been having troubles seeing things at a distance so it wasn’t too surprising when the doctor said that she was in need of glasses. She told us with Gracie’s vision, as it is now, she should not be driving without glasses. (And to think I have been on the road with her! Ahh!) Gracie’s vision was 20/50 and required us to purchase glasses. She then enjoyed the shopping requirement of that diagnoses and picked out a cute pair of frames.

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Ozzie was the last one in the “hot seat.” His biggest fear was that he was going to need eye drops. When the doctor informed him that she wasn’t going to give him eye drops he relaxed and enjoyed the rest of his appointment. Ozzie has horrible vision but we didn’t realize how bad it was until the testing began. The doctor informed us that Ozzie’s vision, without glasses, is 20/600. In layman’s terms that means what Ozzie can see from 20 feet away is what we can see at 600 feet away. Wow! It was a good thing we took him in. His prescription had changed and he was in need of new glasses. Like Grace he enjoyed shopping for new frames and decided on a pair of blue, metal rim glasses.

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In the midst of everyday chaos we have added our own additional layer of craziness by deciding to move bedrooms. We decided, as a result of sibling struggles we are dealing with, that it is prudent to move Ozzie into a room of his own. We think having “separate corners” that everyone can escape to and regroup at will benefit the family as a whole… SO we are converting my craft room into a bedroom and reshuffling the kids. Step one began this week as we cleared out half of the schoolroom in an effort to consolidate the schoolroom and craft room into one space. This was a huge undertaking as we worked for days purging and organizing in an effort to take my two “fullest” room and combine them in a way that doesn’t result in what looks like an episode of hoarders. In the midst of the process I had many “What were we thinking…why did we start this” moments. But, we did it. Two rooms sorted and merged.

A work in progress..

A work in progress..

Step 2 now begins as Toby closes off the craft room to turn it into Gracie’s bedroom.

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 After Toby is done building walls, dry walling, running electric and hanging the door we will paint and begin moving kids around. Grace will move to the new room, Tyler will move into Gracie’s old room, Ozzie will move into Tyler’s room and Molly and Russ will stay put.

*Drumroll please*

Now for our BIG news…Last week was another court hearing. I got permission to miss it since I was at camp so Toby had the responsibility of taking Ozzie. I was a nervous wreck all day as I waited for news from Toby. Court, which was to begin at 9:00 didn’t begin until after 12:00, so when I finally heard from the boys I was all nerves. When I answered the phone it was Ozzie’s voice I heard, not Toby’s.

“Guess what, Momma?!” he said, “You get to adopt me in November!!”

The judge had finally set an adoption date! It will happen the last Saturday in November as part of a huge celebration for National Adoption Month. Ozzie’s sister, Zoey, will be adopted by her family the same day. We are thrilled! There is just a sense of security that comes from getting the adoption date scheduled. It is kind of like making it to week 12 in a pregnancy. You feel as though you can stop holding your breath and relax a little. You are out of the “danger zone” and the risk of losing your child diminishes a bit. We are so grateful to be able to share our good news with you. Our newest addition with be joining our forever family November 2014. God is good. :)

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More Camp Fun!!

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This past week was spent in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania, as the girls and I attended Young Women camp with our church. As illogical as it may sound, spending this past week with 100 teenage girls was just the break I needed from the drama of a certain 10-year-old boy at home. :) Getting away and heading into the woods was the just the boost I needed to recharge my “batteries”, refocus on the bigger picture and spiritually refill my bucket so that I could go back home a better wife and momma. It was wonderful laughing with the girls and other leaders, and stepping away from the distractions of the world for a short time. Camp week was just as Kimberly Rinehart describes:

“Camping is more than just getting away.

It’s the clear blue sky, the song of a bird, the beckoning woods, the wide open spaces.

Camping is greeting the breath of dawn unhindered by the walls of city life and watching the sun set in ribbons of  color as it says “goodnight” to a perfect day.

Camping makes hearts grow lighter and food taste better.

It’s sharing songs around a campfire and gazing up in silence at a star-filled sky.

Camping is more than just getting away. It’s the thing we need to rekindle the spirit of a simpler time, refresh our hearts with nature’s beauty, and remind us that life doesn’t have to be so complicated after all.”

The theme this year was, “Come Unto Christ,” with COME serving as an acronym for the focus words: covenant, obey, minister and endure. Each day there were devotionals, scripture study and focus classes that revolved around the word of the day. As the girls studied, discussed and applied what they learned they gained a deeper understanding of what it means to covenant, obey, minister unto others, and endure to the end, as daughters of God.

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The girls at camp spent their days working as levels and their nights sleeping as levels with their 2 adult leaders. This year Molly was a 3rd year girl (It was her third year at camp) and Gracie was a 5th year girl, which meant she got to serve as a youth leader and help plan classes and devotionals for the 1st year girls she was assigned to. I was there as the leader over the 7th year girls. These are the 18-year-old girls that choose to come back to camp the summer between their senior year and the start of college. The activities that fill the girls’ days vary depending on the level and the certification that is needed for that level. Their days are spent going on hikes, swimming, canoeing, knot tying, building and cooking over fires, identifying constellations, animal tracks, plants, using a compass, etc.

Gracie canoeing.

Gracie canoeing.

In addition to certification activities and spiritual focus classes a large part of the girls’ days are spent serving and ministering to others. Around camp we have a way of acknowledging and rewarding kindness, hard work, selflessness, and Christ-like behaviors. The leaders and youth leaders carry around tokens that are handed out to the girls when they see girls being Christ-like in word and deed. The girls can then take the tokens they earn and spend them at our camp store that is managed and run by the 7th year girls. It is a fun way to encourage and acknowledge all the good choices and kindness we witness while at camp.

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One of the big service projects for the week happened on Wednesday when we weeded and mulched the beachfront area of the state park we were camping at. We spent 4 hours working and with the man power of 100+ girls we were able to spread 10 truckloads of mulch. The park was incredibly grateful for the 380 man hours of service we gave them and the girls were able to experience the blessings of working hard as a team as well as the satisfaction of a job well done! Go girls!!

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After a hot, sweaty morning working with mulch the girls enjoyed some beach time at the lake…

Beautiful girls!

Beautiful girls!

The 7th year girls also headed up additional fun, free-time activities for the girls. These were optional activities that were offered for those who wanted to participate. They were a chance to just have fun, be silly and enjoy girl time. Here are some of the relay games they offered…

The "post it note" race.

The “post it note” race.

The girls having "fat Santa" races with balloons and large sweat suits :)

The girls having “Fat Santa” races with balloons and large sweat suits :)

There is so much good that comes from Young Women camp for these girls: They are spiritually fed, they are able to escape the distractions and pressures of the world for a while, they are able to learn new skills, be silly with each other, serve others, become more Christ-like…but one of the greatest blessings that come from escaping into the woods for a week are the friendships that grow from that shared experience. Not only among the girls but among the leaders as well. What a joy it is to stand in the darkness of the camp commons and hear the giggles of girls, coming from the cabins, as they talk, laugh, share and bond with each other.

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Molly and Miss Rosie

Molly and Miss Rosie

 On Saturday we arrived home tired, stinky and sore. Physically I was drained, but emotionally and spiritually I was recharged and filled to capacity. Heading into the woods for  week with 100 teenage girls and leaders was just what I needed. :) I am so grateful for the amazing, inspired leaders that made the “magic” happen. What a joy-filled week it was!!

Camp fun

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Well, Rusty is back home after a week away. He spent last week at boy scout camp with his scout troop and had a blast. It was his first year going. In the days leading up to his departure he was feeling the typical mix of feelings that come with leaving home for the first time. As we shopped and packed for his week away I couldn’t help but reflect on how far he has come. My little boy, who at one time was so burdened with the anxiety of Selective Mutism that he couldn’t go anywhere without a parent or sister to speak for him, was now off to camp. Of all my kids Rusty is the one I have seen grow the most as we have “grown” our family. He has been tried and stretched more than anyone else and has risen to the challenge of being a big brother beautifully. I am so proud of the young man he has become and was thrilled that scout camp was such a wonderful experience for him!

Halfway through the week Toby was able to join Rusty for a couple of days as a chaperone. I was so pleased to hear how well Rusty was doing and get more info (and pictures) from camp than I would have from my 12-year-old boy. :)  Rusty’s week was spent attending classes and earning merit badges, eating in the mess hall with the other troops, sleeping in a tent, swimming, shooting, and shopping at the trading post. When he arrived home on Saturday afternoon he was stinky and tired but happy. What more could a Momma ask for!

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Hanging out with friends outside the mess hall.

 

Dinner time!

Dinner time!

 

The pool that was used for swimming merit badges and staying cool.

The pool that was used for swimming merit badges and staying cool.

 

The life sized checker/chess board.

The life sized checker/chess board…I think Toby has plans after seeing this. ;)

 

Fun at the gun range.

Fun at the gun range.

 

Archery!

Archery!

 

My favorite scout! I am so proud of you!!

My favorite scout! I am so proud of you!!

 

While Rusty was at camp our week was spent swimming

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Gardening…

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Doing yard work…

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Discovering we have 3 new litters of baby bunnies, each a week apart, for a total of 12 new bunnies….

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Playing with our growing puppy…

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Having friends over for campfire fun…

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And enjoying special bonding time with our other two sons…

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Ozzie LOVING the BMX bike show down in Pittsburgh.

Ozzie LOVING the BMX bike show down in Pittsburgh.

 

It was a wonderful week for all. Now round 2 of camp fun begins as the girls and I head off to camp and the boys have boys’ week at home. See you in a week!!!

Growing pains

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I think one of the biggest revelations I have experienced over the last few years is that the adoption process has not been primarily about the growth of my sons but rather the growth that I stood in need of. God has used the rocky road of adoption to point out my own weaknesses and hold a mirror up so that I could  better see my own brokenness. Often people will say to me, “Look at all you guys have done to change those little boys’ lives” when in reality it is us who have been changed for the better.

David Platt put this reality in beautiful words when he said:

“It is important to realize that we adopt not because we are the rescuers. No. We adopt because we are the rescued.”

This journey has been a journey of growth for everyone. I have watched my older kids struggle through the growing pains of adoption. My children, who have been sheltered from some of the harsher realities of life, have had the realities of abuse and the effects of abuse, become part of their lives. We have all had our own gifts of patience and acceptance and unconditional love tested as we have faced behaviors unlike anything we have experienced before. There have been moments, especially when we first stepped onto the path of adoption with Tyler, that we questioned our mental health in choosing to open our lives to the hurt, the anger, and the chaos of adopting an older child. There have been days when I looked at our life and am in awe of what our family once was to what it is now…both good and bad.

We were comfortable. Life was easy. We had put in our time as parents and the rough part was over…everyone was potty trained, the defiance and disobedience was weeded out, time-outs were a thing of the past, and my children were pretty self-sufficient.  It was then that God called. He called us to stretch. He called us to take a leap of faith… to do something scary. He asked us to choose a path that was harder and less comfortable, and open a door to the unknown.

Our world was shook up. While preparing to adopt we attended all the classes offered, read all the books and came to expect possible behaviors that come with adopting a child that has been in the system… a child that has been abused. We expected the tantrums, the sleep issues, the food hoarding and the trust testing. With the adoption of these two little boys also came many unexpected surprises that they never warn you about in those classes. The biggest surprise for me has been that the changes that most needed to take place, the growth most necessary, the attitudes and behaviors that most need addressed were not theirs…they were mine.

I had become complacent. Often it takes a trial, an adventure, a leap of faith off a scary ledge to shake us up and wake us up. Through this journey I have learned truths about myself and have been made painfully aware of my own shortcomings and the sins that I struggle with. The Lord has held up a mirror of truth and in the midst of these trials I better see my weaknesses.

I often struggle with writing this blog and finding the balance between revealing too much and sharing too little. I worry about sounding like a whiner and seeming ungrateful for the many blessings I have been given, while at the same time I strive to be real about the struggles that come with walking this path. I choose to share the struggles in an effort to help others see God’s hand in the blessings that come from the struggles. I am always left second guessing my words for fear they will not read the way I intend. I want to encourage and uplift and share the blessings that come with adoption but I also know that the greatest growth and encouragement comes from the victory of the struggle.

It is because of this internal struggle that I have not shared all that we have been going through with Ozzie. This summer has been a challenge. We have experienced the full plethora of all the behaviors that we were warned about in pre-adoption training…plus some! :) Hours of my days have been spent dealing with behaviors and attitudes and poor choices. And while Ozzie is the catalyst of those hours, his behaviors and attitudes and choices are not the only ones or the primary ones I am dealing with. The most growth happening this summer is with me. My Heavenly Father has been holding up a mirror and asking me to reflect on my own attitudes and words and reactions to each testing situation Ozzie puts me in…

Last Friday night we attended “Flick and Float” at our local pool. It was a special event being held in the evening after the pool closed to the general public.. Everyone was excited to attend. When we arrived the kids were thrilled to see the pool filled with floating toys. (They are normally not allowed at the pool)

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Before we hopped in to float and watch “Finding Nemo” on the big screen, we had a talk. Knowing the struggle that Ozzie has with sharing, I spoke to him about my expectations. I told him that we were going to share. We talked about what to do if someone wanted to try the float toy he was on. We talked about the consequences if he didn’t share. We then got in the pool. Everything started smoothly. The kids all found floaties and the fun began..

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Then Ozzie found a toy he loved above all others…a canoe. He said, “This is going to be my toy all night.” I reminded him of our talk and told him to enjoy it while he had it and then when someone else wants a turn he could try another fun toy.

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A little while later a boy, around 3 years old, floated up to Ozzie with a life vest on and asked to try the canoe. Ozzie quickly put him in his place with a stern “No” and an order to “Go find his own toy.” I overheard.  The little boy began to cry. I interceded. I told Ozzie to get out of the canoe and he began to protest, “But I had it first!” Rather than obeying, he fought, and earned himself five minutes on the side of the pool. Rather than take the consequence, admit his mistake, and apologize, he chose to tantrum. The scene became bigger and more embarrassing as Ozzie threw himself down on the ground, yelling, hitting, and banging his head on the fence while everyone looked on. The crowd, which had been facing the screen, turned to watch the much more interesting show playing out on our side of the pool.

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The tantrum, one of many this week, ended in Toby walking (pulling) him out to the car. He sat in the car and raged about the injustice of it all while the kids and I stayed in and watched the last twenty minutes of the movie. When we got outside we found Toby standing outside the car (He couldn’t take the noise) while Ozzie raged inside. As the kids climbed in the car Ozzie threw himself over the seat to wrap his hands around Tyler’s neck. Toby ended up having to ride in the back with Ozzie while I drove home.

That night as I tucked Ozzie into bed he still was angry about losing his toy and missing the conclusion of the movie. When I asked whose fault it was he answered, “It’s not my fault. I have anger issues.”

I think this is where I really struggle with Oz. The lack of accountability…the need to blame someone else (usually Tyler, but in this case the little 3-year-old boy)…and the same discussions over the same choices every single day are wearing on me.

The next morning he came running from his bedroom full of joy and happiness. When the remainder of the family didn’t respond to his enthusiastic “Good morning,” due to some residual resentment over the mean words and actions directed at them last night, he responded with…

“Why is everyone mad at me? I am happy now!”

*sigh*

It is in these moments that God has a tendency to very gently, very lovingly, hold up a mirror and I see myself.

I struggle with Ozzie waking up every day, telling me that he will make better choices, and then minutes later making the same poor decisions… and yet I do the same thing. Every morning I was up promising not to sin in that same way anymore and then make that poor choice once again.

I struggle with Ozzie’s need to blame everyone else for the choice he makes and yet  I do the same thing when I blame others or situations for my attitude and poor choices.

Like Ozzie, there are days that I leave a path of destruction in my wake with my words and actions, just because I am having a bad day and when I feel better I look around in puzzlement and ask,

“Why is everyone mad at me? I am happy now!”

There is an important lesson to be learned from how my Father in Heaven parents me. Rather than rolling his eyes when I say, “I promise I’ll never to that again.” he smiles, pulls me close and whispers, “I believe in you.”

Heavenly Father brought Ozzie into my life for many reasons. One of the biggest is because He sees flaws in me that need refined. Through the struggles and growing pains of one little boy I am seeing the growth that needs to happen within myself. I am learning to react and respond more like my Heavenly Father would and rather than push back in frustration during one of our daily visits to the fence post, I am learning to pull Ozzie closer…

One growing pain at a time.

Breakdowns = Breakthroughs

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“The kids who need the most love will ask for it in the most unloving ways.”

The last few days have been tough. If I am being honest, the last few weeks have been tough. Having Ozzie home full-time (since school break began) has been an adjustment for everyone…him, the other kids, and me. Being together full-time has magnified the behaviors we were seeing a little bit of while he was in school and providing opportunities to deal with the bigger heart issues that are now revealing themselves.

When Tyler moved in the judge gave us permission to home school him from the start. As a result we jumped into full-time parenting and bonding from day 1. Those that have followed this blog from the beginning remember what those first 6 months were like….UGH! :) When Ozzie moved in his judge required him to attend our local public school. As a result, even though he has lived with us for 5 months, we are just now beginning the intensive parenting/bonding process that comes from spending 24 hours a day together. It is only through time and togetherness that our real selves, our deep issues, our greatest fears and sharpest edges are exposed. That is what is happening now…with all of us. This last month has been a time of discovery as we have seen the best and worst of Ozzie as well as the best and worst of ourselves.

When you prepare for adoption you are told that there will often be a “honeymoon period,” a block of time at the beginning when everyone is on their best behavior and the sailing is smooth. With time and increased trust and comfort our real selves are revealed and our demons are exposed. One simply cannot “hold it together” forever and at some point we break. For an abused child that break happens as a result of increased trust as well as a need to test that building trust.

Our tough week began last Friday when Ozzie’s social worker brought a few more boxes of his possessions from his previous foster family’s home. In the box was a scrapbook from his last pre-adoptive placement. He has eager to show me the pictures inside. On the first page were pictures of a celebration. There were decorations, fancy clothes and a cake that read, “Welcome home Ozzie and Zoey to your forever family!” There were pictures of the parents hugging and loving on the kids. The book was filled with happy family moments and to look at it you would assume it was the perfect family. Ozzie and his sister were only there 5 months, the same amount of time he has been with us. I don’t know the whole story as to why the placement failed other than knowing that the parents asked the children be moved. They said that the kids were too much for them.

It was after sharing this walk down memory lane with Ozzie that the behaviors we have been seeing for weeks escalated.

The final breakdown led to our breakthrough. Here is what happened…

The day began with tears. Ozzie woke up in a grumpy mood. As we sat in the livingroom Rusty was eagerly sharing his excitement about Scout camp next week. When I asked him what he was most excited about Ozzie interrupted and said, “I am most excited for Rusty to leave for a week so I don’t have to see him.” After attempting to mend the hurt feelings and anger that his words created I sent Ozzie outside to do his morning chores. There were tears as the other kids poured out the hurt they have been feeling this last week as they have dealt with tantrums, mean words, hitting, and fighting from their little brother.

After having a good talk with the older three I headed outside to check on the two little boys. As I approached I found Tyler in the animal pen helping Ozzie by scooping the old water from the trough. Harley, our pot belly pig, likes to soak in the water trough much to the disgust of the other animal who drink that water. :) So part of filling the trough often requires taking a bucket and scooping the dirty water out first. Ozzie hates the scooping part of his job so Tyler volunteered to scoop while Ozzie filled it with the hose. I walked onto the scene as Tyler was scooping water while Ozzie was sprayed Tyler’s bike with water. Ozzie didn’t know I was behind him as Tyler asked him not to get his bike wet. Ozzie laughed and turned the hose on the bike again.

“Ozzie!” I called out behind him.

He jumped in surprise and quickly replied, “It was an accident!”

The boys finished filling the water as I supervised. When they were done I told Tyler to bring me Ozzie’s bike so that he could have a turn spraying it. It was then that Ozzie flipped out. “No,” he yelled, “nobody is going to spray my bike! My bike is special! Tyler don’t you touch my bike!”

Tyler was walking across the yard when Ozzie took off and tackled Tyler from behind. I ran over as Ozzie sat on Tyler and started hitting him and clawing him with his nails.

I pulled Ozzie off Tyler. Tyler was crying. Molly was looking panicked, Rusty was running to turn the hose off and Grace had smoke pouring from her ears.

*sigh*

 Ozzie was defiant. I told Ozzie that if he was going to get Tyler’s bike wet than Tyler could spray his bike.

“But my stuff is special!” he kept yelling as he threw himself on the ground…kicking, screaming, and hitting himself in the head.

It was then I scooped him up and carried him out to the fence post, in the corner of the field, to cool off. The entire way he fought me. He kicked, he clawed, and then sat down on the ground, refusing to move. It was a flashback to 2 years ago. It was a full-blown Tyler tantrum. The only difference being the lack of body mass and strength that Tyler had to fight me with. I scooped him up and placed him on the fence and told him that when he calmed down we would talk. I sent the other kids inside while he screamed from his perch…

“I hate you all!”

“I’m going to crush you Tyler!

“Nobody touches my stuff!”

“I’m always the victim!”

I water and weeded and did yard work while he raged. I stayed close by but let him burn out before we talked. I learned with Tyler that there is no communicating in the midst of the storm. I have to let them rage until they are exhausted. I always stay by them as they rage so they know they are not abandoned or alone but they must release that anger before the healing can come. Then there is the crash. The rigidity and tension leave their little bodies and they are exposed. The wall falls and I can see their hearts.

Ozzie’s tantrum lasted almost four hours from beginning to end. When he was done screaming I walked over to him.

“Can we talk?” I asked.

“This is how I always act,” he said.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“In my old homes,” he answered, “this is how I always was. At my birth home and my foster homes I always hit and yelled and lied and did really bad things. That is why they always got rid of me.”

There it was. The heart revealed. The anger was a wall hiding a broken heart. The behavior was a protection from more hurt.

I gathered him in my arms and whispered, “You aren’t going anywhere. There is nothing you can do to make us send you away. You are here forever. You are family.”

I pulled back and smiled at him. “You might be spending a lot of time on the fence post if you keep making the same choices but it will be our fence post because you’re not going anywhere.” :)

It was then that the floodgates opened and he sobbed. He squeezed my neck and cried into my shoulder and whispered back, “I’m sorry Momma…I love you.”

I have learned in this adoption journey that the hardest days are often the days when the most growth happens. Breakdowns bring breakthroughs. The bad behavior is often the cracking and crumbling of a wall built over years of hurt and disappointment. The words, “I hate you” are actually the pleading of a broken boy asking, “Will you still love me?”

It is in the midst of those really hard days that we are reminded that those who most need our love often ask for it in the most unloving ways.

A Grand Romantic Gesture

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Ozzie helping with the surprise.

Ozzie helping with the surprise.

This week has been a celebration of Toby. Every year I face the challenge of making 3 special days happen for my husband…all in one week. We begin by celebrating Father’s Day. A few days later we celebrate our anniversary and then 2 days after that it is his birthday. It is a week of celebrating his life…him as a father, him as a husband, and him as a man.  I must admit that sometimes I feel overwhelmed as I try to pull off 3 special celebrations in a matter of days. My creativity is tested as I attempt to make him feel as special as he is. The pressure comes as a result of being married to a “grand gesture” man. Toby is the king of big surprises and grand declarations of love. From our very first date when he unwrapped an entire bag of Hershey kisses and rewrapped them with printed tags that said, “goodnight kiss” for our first “kiss” I knew I was married to a “grand gesture” man. Toby loves surprising people with their dream gift or showing his love in creative displays. My married life has been filled with treasure hunts, surprise vacations, homemade treasures and unexpected displays of his love. His love for others is contagious and you can’t help but want to jump into the fun of surprising them.

The down side of being married to a “grand gesture” man is that the gifts and surprises you plan always feel a bit lame and boring compared to having a puppy brought home with a bow tied around its neck or a trunk full of balloons released to announce an upcoming trip to Disney World. I mean, really, how does one compete with that? :) This year, after 17 years of being on the receiving end of Toby’s surprises, I was determined to be the “surpriser.” It was our anniversary and I was going for the “grand gesture” surprise…

Before we began the journey of adoption we set the goal and made it a priority to go on regular date nights. We also tried to go on a short vacation every year without children. As a new mother I struggled with leaving my babies behind and struggled with “guilty mother syndrome” everytime Toby surprised me with a trip, but as hard as it was to get into the car and wave goodbye to the kiddos it was the best thing in the world for our marriage and our parenting. By going away for a few days we were able to reconnect as a couple, recharge our batteries so that we could come home better parents, as well as show our children that our marriage comes first and we were committed to that priority. As the kids grew older, leaving for the weekend became easier and we discovered the healing and rejuvenating power of a few days away. We were able to step out of the role of “parents” and step back into the role of “couple.” Toby made sure that vacationing alone together was a top priority and would regularly surprise me with trips away.

After beginning the adoption process our “weekends away” came to an abrupt end. Logistically it was tougher. With a foster child you can’t just ask grandma to babysit for the night. If a foster child sleeps at someone else’s home that babysitter must have a home inspection first (and we don’t have may people in our lives who would be willing to put themselves through that just to babysit our children)  :)  and then they also have to have criminal and child abuse clearances. If we could pull all of that off we then face the fear of losing that babysitter as a friend as a result of a little boy’s epic tantrum while we are away.  ;) So needless to say we haven’t gone away in a while. It was because of all of these challenges that I decided to try to surprise Toby with a grand gesture getaway.

The idea came to me in the middle of the night…like all my good ideas do. I was going to surprise Toby with a night away at a hotel. I asked the daughter of a friend who has all her clearances from working at a day care if she could babysit from 6:00pm on Friday to noon on Saturday. By having her babysit at our home we didn’t need to put anyone through a home inspection. I spent the week “prepping” the house and kids in the hopes of a drama-free night. I booked a hotel five minutes away so we could be home in an instant if there were any meltdowns and the surprise was in the works. My only fear was that Toby was planning a surprise of his own and that it would be “clash of the titan surprises.”

On Friday afternoon I drove over to our hotel to check in, drop off our suitcase and decorate the room. Ozzie came with me, since he can’t be left alone, and he helped me decorate. Ozzie couldn’t contain his excitement and enthusiasm for the surprise. He kept saying, “This is the most romantic thing I’ve ever heard of!!”  I had little candies to put next to the bed. Ozzie wanted to use them to decorate so he wrote “LOVE” in chocolates on the TV stand and then made a “heart” on the ottoman. As Ozzie stepped back to survey his work he spoke up with excitement, “You know what you should do for Daddy tonight?! You should call Delilah so that she can play a romantic song for you!” (Ozzie loves listening to Delilah’s radio program every night in bed.) As we left I made Ozzie promise not to reveal the secret to Daddy.

When we arrived home I got the kids ready for the night, went over rules, and got dressed for our date. When Toby arrived home I told him I had hired a sitter for our anniversary dinner ( which was a surprise in itself.) When the sitter arrived we said good-bye and headed to the restaurant. I gave him directions to where we were going and led him to the hotel…and he was surprised! I couldn’t believe I pulled off a “grand gesture” of love. It was a wonderful evening away. We had dinner at Toby’s favorite restaurant… We slept in until 10:30am…Ahhhh, it was wonderful!

As we spent the week celebrating Toby I counted my blessings to be married to such an amazing, good, loving, selfless man. I remember as a girl being counseled that no decision you make in you life had more impact on your future happiness than the decision of whom to marry. I chose well and have enjoyed 17 years of happiness and joy as a result. I am grateful for my husband who loves so selflessly, who parents so lovingly, who has opened his heart to two little boys who were sired and then destroyed by man who was called “dad” only to show them what a true “Dad” is.

Toby is a “grand gesture” man because his heart is too big and his love to expansive to be anything less.

Toby's birthday celebration with his kids.

Toby’s birthday celebration with his kids.

 

Happy Campers

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Henry David Thoreau once said, “We need the tonic of wilderness.”

But like all good medicine it can be a struggle to get it down. So it is with family camping. Like all good things it doesn’t come without work, struggle, and a few tears.  Like all good things there comes a moment in the midst of the journey that you pause, reflect, and ask yourself, “What the heck were we thinking?!” Like all good things, you begin anticipating the ideal, only to get a bucketful of reality thrown in your face before you are two steps in.

My vision for a Father’s Day campout was a weekend of roasting marshmallows, hikes through the woods, fishing, and laughing, and making memories.  While there was some of that…

There were marshmallows eaten…by those who didn’t lose the privilege.

There was a nighttime hike…although there was more whining than nature observation.

There was fishing…although more time was spent climbing trees to untangle fishing line than hooking fish.

*SIGH*

I had a vision of a perfect “escape” for Toby for Father’s Day. I thought a weekend away would be a vacation from attitudes and behaviors but I discovered that some “packed” the very things I was trying to leave behind. It must have been while I was loading the firewood. ;)

BUT even in the midst of many mini disasters there were moments of magic…and memories were made.  In fact, over the years, I have discovered that the memories that “stick” are often the Plan B memories, the memories that are made when plans are discarded and real life happens.

It has been said that, “Life is what happens to you while your busy making other plans.”

Life is made of Plan B moments and when I consider the sweetest camping memories I have from my childhood they aren’t the “everything went perfectly” weekends, they are the falling in cactus, tent blowing away, 100 pound eagle memories that we look back on and laugh about. Those Plan B memories are my happy memories, my memorable memories, my treasured memories.

I can only hope that my children look back on our Plan B moments with the same fondness because I have discovered that a side effect of adopting little boys is that there are rarely Plan A moments anymore. :)

Plan B in action. Instead of swimming we are having a time-out. :)

Plan B in action. Instead of swimming we are having a time-out. :)

This weekend we decided to go camping for two nights at Mosquito Lake State Park in Cortland, Ohio. We have camped there before, when the older kids were little, and were so impressed with the campground that we decided to go back. It is only an hour away, offers wonderful programs for the children, and allows dogs (which was a necessity since we needed to take Ellie May with us.)  We began the laborious task of packing all that one needs to survive in nature for 48 hours and it was in the midst of creating piles that I had my first fleeting thought of, “Is this really worth all the work?” but continued on. Toby arrived home, both vehicles were packed (We can no longer fit our entire family and all of our camping supplies in one vehicle) and we were on our way.

When we arrived and had paid for our site we began unloading the car and setting up “home” for the next two days.

Molly carrying puppies and pillows.

Molly carrying puppies and pillows.

Ozzie helping Gracie organize the tent.

Ozzie helping Gracie organize the tent.

Camp complete!

Camp complete!

Friday evening was spent playing at the playground, fixing dinner over the fire, and going on a full moon hike with the camp ranger.

Toby and Tyler and Little Ducky.

Toby and Tyler and Little Ducky.

Happy Campers!

Happy Campers!

Toby and his girls.

Toby and his girls.

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After a good night’s sleep everyone woke up hungry and cold so a fire was started and breakfast preparations began. We had bacon and “eggs in a bag,” which is a camping staple in our home.

To make “eggs in a bag” we get a pot of boiling water and everyone takes a freezer Ziploc bag and writes their name on it. They then crack two eggs inside the bag, add cheese, mushrooms, onions and other omelet goodies, seal it shut, squish the bag until well mixed and place it in the boiling water. After 8-10 minutes you have perfectly cooked, personalized omelets…Yum!

Making breakfast...

Making breakfast…

"Eggs in a bag"

“Eggs in a bag”

After breakfast we drove over to the State Park for Safety Days. It was a full day of free activities and programs offered by the local bird sanctuary, fire department, police and K9 force, county dive team, U.S Army Corps of Engineers and the County Crisis Response Team. The kids really enjoyed all the activities they offered like: building a bluebird nest box, K9 demonstration, and water safety tests. The best part, as far as the little boys were concerned, was the many rescue/ safety vehicles that were on display to climb in and check out. Ozzie was in his glory!

Sitting in the fire truck

Sitting in the fire truck

They also enjoyed the fire simulation truck that they had to “escape” from.

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The biggest hit of the day was probably the arrival of the Life Fight helicopter. :)

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As part of the day’s events there were many giveaways and raffle drawings. Although Ozzie was disappointed to not win the bike he had his heart set on the kids were excited for Grace and Rusty, who both won  gift certificates to local businesses. Gracie won a gift card to a local ice cream store so after safety days we all drove over and enjoyed an ice cream treat… compliments of Gracie!

Grace, Ellie and Molly

Grace, Ellie and Molly

The remainder of our camping trip was spent swimming, fishing, and taking Ellie to a dog park.

Ozzie was thrilled by his "catch of the day."

Ozzie was thrilled by his “catch of the day.”

The trip ended with a movie under the stars. We enjoyed the outdoor showing of How to Train Your Dragon before we headed off to bed. We were up early to pack up, race home for quick showers, and then arrive at church by 10:00.

Movie under the Stars

Movie under the Stars

It was a good weekend…not the weekend I planned, but good nonetheless. There is something so pure and right about leaving the walls of a home and the pull of electronics to experience the “tonic of nature.” Once there I am always glad we “ran away” for a brief time and find the vast amount of work that goes into a weekend camping trip worth it. The key, I suppose, is to let go of our idealistic expectations and just let life happen. There will be dirt in the food, itchy mosquito bites, hard roots to sleep on but there will also be the magical moments. And those moments often happen as a result of our own “perfect plans” going awry.

Like all things in life it is important to remember that although something may be our Plan B it is often God’s Plan A.

 

Living Treasures Animal Park

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Yesterday we had some special visitors wander in from Ohio. My parents and my brother Travis came for a day visit. Travis flew into Ohio from Texas to see my parents. Tomorrow they all leave for Michigan to visit my sister, her family, and the new baby, Charlie. Before they headed north they drove east to visit us at Patchwork Farm. The kids were eager to show off our latest addition, Miss Ellie May.

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After they arrived and the kids took them on a tour of the yard and house we all headed out to Living Treasures Animal Park for a day of fun. It was fun having Travis visit since he hasn’t visited our home in many years. It was also fun taking everyone to Living Treasures  since the last time they had been there was when the kids were little.

When we arrived we had a packed picnic lunch in the shade before we went inside. It was a perfect day for our outing. The rain we had been expecting held off while we were there but the threat of rain was enough to keep the crowds away.  We pretty much had the place to ourselves.

A fun day with family!

A fun day with family!

We bought animal feed and carrots to feed to the animals. The fun part of Living Treasures is getting to feed and pet so many of the animals on display. I have always preferred it to the zoo. When the kids were little I appreciated the shady walking paths, the shorter distance between exhibits as well as the close proximity to the animals.

Grace and her favorite animal: Levi the giraffe.

Grace and her favorite animal: Levi the giraffe.

The first animals the kids were able to feed were the deer in the deer yard. The fact that there were babies made the feeding all the more thrilling for the kids.

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Some of the other big “A B C” hits of the day were:

A is for Alligators.

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B is for “Buffalo” (water buffalo that is).

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C is for Cattle.

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D, E, F, G, H, I, J……………………….and Z is for Zebra!

This baby Zebra was a big hit in the petting area!

This baby Zebra was a big hit in the petting area!

 

For some of the larger or more dangerous animals that you can’t feed by had they have tubes set up to drop food down into the animals’ dishes. It was funny to watch some of the critters, like to camel, wrap their lips around the end of the tube waiting for the pellets to come down.

Travis feeding critters via their tube.

Travis feeding critters via their tube.

In addition to feeding and petting a wide variety of animals the kids also enjoyed playing at the pirate ship playground, feeding birds by hand, and meeting some baby animals like this baby Coatimundi.

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Do you ever get the creepy feeling that somebody is watching you?

Do you ever get the creepy feeling that somebody is watching you? :)

Travis made a friend.

Travis made a friend.

As we were leaving, Uncle Travis treated the kids to the penny press machine. The little boys loved watching their pennies get flattened and pressed as a souvenir of their special day.

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Soon after arriving back at our home my parents and brother had to head back to Ohio to prepare for their next special visit. As they drive on to Michigan and we are headed camping. Wish me luck. This will either be a wonderful memory making weekend in a tent or someone will end up tied to a tree. Only time will tell!  :)