Tag Archives: biological siblings

Reunited Once Again

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To not acknowledge the loss associated with adoption is naïve and thoughtless. It is a reality I didn’t fully understand until we were in the thick of it. Although joyous for the waiting family, for the child who is being placed, there is a myriad of mixed emotions tied to this huge life change. Add to that the external expectations being placed upon that child to be grateful for this “second chance,” thus stealing from them the right to grieve the loss they are enduring, and you can see how complicated the journey is for the adopted child.

The reality of the situation is that placement comes as a result of great and tragic loss. Whether a child ends up in the system due to loss connected to the death of a parent or loss connected to a childhood stolen from them by neglectful or abusive parents…a loss is a loss.

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In addition to the “big” losses these children are grieving, there are a myriad of secondary losses, that although may seem unimportant in the big scheme of things, are hugely important to the child who has had everything important to them stolen from them. Things like: favorite toys that were left behind, best friends that must be bid farewell, and losing beloved family pets that became their greatest source of love and comfort in a biological home filled with chaos and cruelty, all create in our kids a deep sense of loss.

Perhaps the saddest loss these kids endure is the separation from their siblings. The reality of the system as it is means many sibling groups are separated by the courts and placed in separate foster and adoptive homes. This is especially true of larger sibling groups. Sometimes it is simply a matter of logistics, with few families being willing or capable of taking in an additional five children. Sometimes it is a matter of the courts deciding that due to the nature of the family relationships, the best way to increase the odds of meeting everyone’s unique therapeutic needs, and increase every one’s chance of thriving, is to place the children in separate homes.

As to whether this is truly best for the children could be argued a hundred different ways. These life affecting decisions are made by professionals that have the ugly job of making these hard decisions. All of my adopted children were separated by their biological siblings by the courts. And those decisions were not made lightly, but even though it may have been determined that it was in everyone’s best interest, one can not dismiss the great loss connected to that decision.

We strongly believe that siblings should be connected, and if it is not in the children’s best interest to be placed together, we believe the highest level of contact and connection that is healthy for all parties involved should be made a priority. It is for this reason we were thrilled when we had the opportunity to adopt Tyler’s 17-year-old brother last spring after a six year separation. It is also why we strive to remain connected to the adoptive families of all three of my adopted sons.

We are so blessed to not only know where all their biological siblings are, but also to have wonderful relationships with those families. Like us, they place great value in keeping biological siblings connected to the degree that that sibling can emotionally manage. That level of connection ebbs and flows as each of our children navigate through the loss and trauma of their shared past, but connection is always the goal.

These kids have suffered so much loss, including a level of self-identity loss with the severed connection to biological family. For all my kids that severing was necessary for their safety and well being. The biological parents were toxic, neglectful, and abusive. Maintaining contact was a lost possibility when they refused to comply with the court’s orders. Because this connection had to be severed, it becomes all the more important that our kids maintain a biological connection with their siblings. They crave an understanding of who they are and why they look, speak, think, act, etc. the way they do.

It is grounding to look in the face of someone that shares your features and idiosyncrasies and think, “Wow, they are just like me. I am not alone.” There is also comfort in knowing that your history, as tragic as it may have been, was shared by another. For this reason sibling connections are powerfully important…

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It is why we work to keep our boys connected with their siblings.

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That is not to say it is always easy. There are multiple challenges associated with this worthy goal, including multiple families with varying schedules, complicated relationships among the siblings themselves, and the individual therapeutic journeys and individual needs of each child. There are A LOT of moving parts that must align to make a biological sibling reunion come to fruition.  I have no doubt that a divine hand is part of the recipe for success!

This past Saturday all those moving parts came together, the stars aligned, God’s grace shone down upon us and we were able to get all five biological siblings together for the first time in six years. It was a blessed reunion that only happened because of many willing hearts and working hands.

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We decided to make Kennywood Amusement Park the location of the big event.

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We had eight raincheck tickets from the previous summer which allowed us and Michael (the oldest sibling who is now living independently) to enter the park for free. Braden’s amazing social worker and our dear family friend, Lisa, volunteered to pick up Michael and bring him to the park with her family.

They were the first to arrive and were waiting for us when we walked in. What a sweet reunion it was to see these two big boys reconnecting after years apart.

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We were soon joined by June and Cheyanne, the boys’ only sister and the youngest of the sibling group.

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The genetics are crazy strong with her and Tyler. They look alike, act alike and even sound alike. They could easily pass as twins.

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After an hour or two, we were joined by Gayle and Sean.

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The siblings enjoyed a beautiful day of connection, as they rode rides together and created  happy memories.

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These reunions are not without heartache and angst. There is no way to navigate these waters, strewn with triggers and hard emotions, without some resulting fallout. There is an emotional price paid for the effort to facilitate connection. It is impossible to wade through such dark waters and not make waves,

But riding the waves of emotional backlash is a price we have decided we are willing to pay to redeem, for our sons, a small piece of all that has been stolen from them.

Nothing about the adoption road is effortless or easy. Neither is the journey our kids have had to walk.

So, we will do what is best,

Even when it is uncomfortable.

Even when it is inconvenient.

Even when it is challenging.

Even when it hurts our hearts…

Because our kids deserve this:

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Far too long apart…

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It has been 4 weeks now since our family of 7 became a family of 8. At a court hearing on August 22nd, the judge presiding over Brandon’s case officially placed in him in our home as a pre-adoptive placement.

Our last four weeks have been extremely busy. Those who have fostered children well know how busy things are those first 30 days following placement. In the midst of simply trying to find your footing as a new family there are a lot of extra tasks on the family calendar…

Things like tracking down IEPs and past records, registering for school, shopping for all the basic necessities like clothes and sundries that the child arrives at your doorstep without, fill your days. There are also endless appointments, most of which are required to occur within 30 days of placement. Home becomes Grand Central Station. The front door becomes a swinging door as endless people enter and exit. This is all a good thing. The increased level of monitoring is to make sure some these children are safe and cared for, but just to give you an example of what I am talking about here it what that level of care looks like:

Once a week, the social worker from your agency assigned to your family will visit your home.

Once a month, the social worker from your county’s CPS will visit your home.

Within the first 30 daysthe child needs to visit his/her pediatrician. If your child has specific health issues, it is possible that your social workers may request this to be done sooner.

Within the first few weeks, the court investigator will also make a home visit. (The court investigator is the CPS social worker tasked with making a recommendation to the court (judge) regarding the child’s case in the early stages.)

Within the first few weeks, you may also receive a home visit from a social worker employed by the child’s lawyer.

Possible other appointments include, but are not limited to: IEP meetings, therapy appointments, tutoring, and other various and sundry things that may arise in the case.

The time of year has also added to the craziness as we try to adjust as a family to a new son but also adjust to a new school year and become acquainted with being public school parents and all that entails ( bus schedules, football practice, open houses, etc.)

In the midst of the craziness, however, I have tried to keep a firm grip on what is most important and not allow the “important” to be swallowed up by the “urgent,”

And one of the most important tasks on the list has been to facilitate reunions between Brandon and the biological siblings he has not seen for the last few years.

When Tyler, Brandon, and their other two brothers and little sister where removed from their birth home they were separated by the courts and placed in different homes. Over the course of a few years they were adopted individually into different families. When Tyler came into our life it was just he and Brandon left in the system having court ordered sibling visits. We knew that upon the adoption of Tyler one of our first priorities would be to track down and reach out to the various adoptive families and try to reconnect him with the siblings he had lost.

We have been blessed greatly in this regard. We located and reached out to the other families soon after adopting Tyler and were able to host a reunion at Patchwork Farm soon after. What joy there was in watching these children reunite after years of separation, and what a joy it was meeting the amazing families that adopted each of Tyler’s siblings!

Since that special day we have tried to keep Tyler connected to his siblings through phone calls, birthday gifts, and visits, but because of the life circumstances unjustly thrust upon Brandon, he has not been able to enjoy that same level of contact.

Brandon adores his siblings and has missed them greatly, so one of our top priorities, amidst the craziness of all the “urgent tasks” filling our calendars, was to make time for Brandon (and Tyler) to reconnect with their biological siblings.

The eventual goal is to host another reunion at our home in the upcoming months but I didn’t want Brandon to have to wait on the logistics of multiple schedules aligning for that to occur, so in the meantime we arranged some individual visits.

Which leads us to two events that have occurred in the past few weeks…

First we had a visit with Cheyanne and her mom. Cheyanne is the youngest of the sibling group and the only girl. She is deeply love by both my boys and when we were able to arrange an impromptu visit both boys were over-the moon about it. It happened after our Kennywood visit. Rain led to an early closing, leaving us free late Saturday afternoon with no plans. Realization that we weren’t to far from Cheyanne’s neck of the woods led to a phone call and plans to meet at Dairy Queen for ice cream and a mini-reunion between Cheyanne and her big brothers.

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It was absolutely delightful watching these three reconnect and become reacquainted, and doing so over Dairy Queen blizzards made the experience all the sweeter! They had all grown so much since their last visit that they couldn’t help but be shocked by each others growth, but despite the physical growth and changes to their appearances, the genetic resemblance remains as strong as ever! There is no question that these three are siblings!

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A week later we had the opportunity to meet up with another one of Tyler and Brandon’s siblings. This time it was Sean that we arranged to meet.

Like Tyler and Brandon, Sean also plays football for his school and after getting a copy of his game schedule from his mom, we made plans to meet her at one of Sean’s games so his brothers could cheer him on.

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It was delightful catching up with Sean’s mom while my boys watched their brother play.

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Tyler was delighted to find out that, just like him, Sean was the team’s kicker…

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And just like Tyler, he is incredible at it!

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After the game we had a half hour to spend together before Sean had band practice, so we drove to Wendy’s for a quick dinner that Sean’s mom kindly treated us to. The boys were so cute together. It was neat watching them reconnect, tease,  and laugh as brothers do.

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Their only complaint was that they didn’t get nearly enough time together. They desperately wanted to head to a local park to throw the football, but were grateful for the time they did get together.

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Hopefully we will be seeing all three siblings again soon, for nothing has more value in this life than the love of family!

Friday Night Lights

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It is fall in Western Pennsylvania and we find ourselves in the heart of football season. After years of avoiding organized sports with the older kids,  we dipped our big toe into the sports pond when Tyler joined our family at age 6. We tried to fight it but even at that age he had an affinity for sports of any kind, having been actively involved in soccer and football at his previous foster home, and we soon realized that for all of our survival that kid needed an energy outlet!

After a few months in our home we gave into the inevitable and signed him up for soccer, followed by football in the fall. It was a definite social shock stepping into the world of little league sports and all that comes with it.

The benefit of such an uncomfortable social shift, however, was a very tired little boy at the end of the day…a benefit that far outweighed the less appealing aspects of organized youth sports.

It was because of our naivety and lack of experience that we found ourselves at Blackhawk Lil’ Cougars football sign-ups that first year. We saw the signs around town advertising football sign-ups and so we arrived with required papers in hand (birth certificate, report card and proof of address) on the night advertised. He was registered and began playing, making quick friends with the other little brutes on his team. There was something endearing about watching 20 wild 6-year-old’s navigate the field as they learned the sport.

It wasn’t until we were fully entrenched in the world of the Cougars that we found out that we should have signed Tyler up under Beaver Fall’s league since we technically live in Beaver Falls school district. By the time we realized our mistake Tyler was firmly settled into this group of boys and we chose to request an exemption rather than move him. He has been playing with the Cougars ever since and loves his teammates and coaches.

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That was all well and good and then Tyler’s biological brother, Brandon, moved into our home. He, too, has both a love and affinity for sports and since he is currently required by the judge to attend our local public school it made it easy to simply sign him up for the high school football team.

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After a few years of not being able to live a “normal” teenager’s life, he is thrilled to be navigating halls between classes and donning football gear every day after school. Like Tyler, he has a natural gift for athletics and is loving being part of a team.

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So now we have two boys on the field each week, but they wear the colors of two different schools…

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Two rival schools.

Which had made life a bit crazier than usual.

Everyday Brandon has football practice immediately following school until 5:30 pm. We pick him up and then head to Tyler’s field for his daily practice from 6:00-8:00 pm.

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Friday nights are spent under the lights as we dress in our orange and black to watch Brandon play.

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Then on Saturdays we put on our green and gold to cheer on Tyler.

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Some of these games are pleasant but others are miserable…

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This one was particularly nasty as we battled high winds and heavy rains. We definitely earned some parenting points for our participation!

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For the most part we have been able to navigate this arrangement,  but Friday presented its own unique challenge when both boys were committed to be on two different fields for Friday night’s game.

Brandon’s game was a home game on Geneva College’s field but Tyler was also invited to be on the field Friday night as part of Blackhawk’s community days. The high school invited all the little players and cheerleaders to the game to support the high school team. The boys were invited to sit along the sidelines and then step onto the field as the big boys entered the stadium, cheering them on.

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Tyler didn’t want to miss this special event so we began our night with the Blackhawk Cougars and then at halftime drove across town to watch the second half of the game at Beaver Falls to cheer on the Tigers.

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It has been fun watching Tyler and Brandon bond over football. And we are all thrilled to have someone living in the house who readily volunteers to toss the ball with Tyler, giving the rest of our throwing arms a break!

Tonight we go and watch another brother in uniform.

Sean, Tyler and Brandon’s middle biological brother, is playing for his school and both my boys are excited to go and watch one of his games and reconnect with a brother they haven’t seen in a few years.

It is definitely football season in Western PA!

 

Adoption is…

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Adoption is caring.

Adoption is giving.

Adoption is hope.

Adoption is redemption.

Adoption is a blessing.

Adoption is LOVE.

But adoption is also heartache, heartbreak and loss.

It is all of those things, and if we don’t acknowledge that truth then we are doing a disservice to those who are embarking on (or are already traveling) the  adoption path.

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Adoption is emotionally messy. Choosing to open your heart and home to a child that has come into your life through loss and tragedy creates a muddy mix of emotions on all ends. With each placement I am better understanding this reality and have adjusted my expectations accordingly.

When Tyler came into our home as a hurting 6-year-old boy, I am ashamed to admit that I really didn’t get it. I viewed what we were offering him to be a loving gift that he should be grateful and excited about. I wanted his emotions to mirror mine. I was feeling excited, blessed, and full of love for my new son but didn’t recognize that his emotions were more complicated.

The reality is…

As much as media wraps the experience in the tagline of: “Adoption is LOVE,”

(Which it is!)

It should equally be acknowledged: “Adoption is Loss.”

If a child comes to you through adoption, whether due to being removed from an abusive home or placed as an infant by a loving birth mother who is sacrificing all for the sake of the child she loves, loss is involved. There needs to be an understanding that while adoption is a beautiful blessing, it is not all joy and gratitude and celebration. There is also a lot of sadness, confusion, fear, anger, and grief connected with this journey.

The past five years have taught me a lot and I feel better equipped to sensitively and kindly navigate this road with Brandon than I was able to with Tyler. God is working on all of us and opening our eyes to the bigger picture and the deeper reality.

Two weeks ago we made a trip down to Washington County so that Brandon could have a visit with his adoptive father (whom he calls “Pap.”) His adoptive Dad is under the care of hospice due to terminal cancer. It is because of a series of heartbreaking losses in Brandon’s life that we find him living in our home. The visit was a good one. It was good for Brandon to see that we would continue to facilitate visits with his Pap and make visits a priority while we still can, but also good for his pap to see Brandon thriving.. giving him a sense of peace about the situation.

When it was time to leave and we were walking out to the car Brandon asked if he could go say “hello” to his dog.

Tied up in the backyard was a beagle that was bouncing with excitement at the sight of his boy. Brandon asked if I would go back with him because he wanted me to meet his dog.

The next 30 minutes were spent sitting in the grass as the pup bounced between us. With that wiggling mass of pure love in his arms, Brandon’s soul opened and the words began to pour out. Sitting beneath the shade of the tree he  started talking; sharing memories of all that had happened in that place. Memories of his dog, of afternoons spent in the woods. He shared memories of learning to cook at his adoptive mom’s side and the struggle of watching her health diminish,

And the crushing loss he felt when she died.

It was as though his reinforced, emotional dam broke loose and the thoughts and feelings of the last few years poured out of him. There in the backyard of his home he purged a lifetime of tears and broken dreams and I sat and listened. It was cathartic and I could see the physical affect that emotional purging had on him.

I held him as he cried.

His overgrown, man-body shook with the tears of a toddler…those tears that wrack the body and wash the soul.

I held him tight until he released his grip, indicating he no longer needed hugged. As he stepped away he turned to say good-bye to a furry friend who has been a loving companion through some of the darkest life experiences a person can endure.

I suggested we take a picture of him with his dog so that we could print it and frame it for his room.

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He eagerly agreed and the pup thought it was a good idea too!

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We left the home of his Pap with the last of his meager worldly possessions packed in a black garbage bag. We will be returning for additional visits, making sure he has as many visits with his Pap as we can before Brandon experiences another horrible loss.

But despite the fact we will return for visits, there was a sad finality in the way he looked over his shoulder as we left, at the place he has called home for the last few years.

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Adoption is about hope, care, redemption and love…

but it is also about loss.

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We must never forget that.

 

 

The blessing of “Surrender”

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Tyler’s entrance into our lives was no coincidence…

It was 100% a “God-incidence!”

The way God delivered him into our arms was nothing short of miraculous.

The process towards adoption is an arduous journey, filled with mounds of paperwork, interviews, inspections and scrutiny. Once approved, a waiting family is given a questionnaire to answer which gives the adoption agency parameters to work within based on what you are looking for in a child and what struggles, behaviors, and special needs you feel equipped to handle.

In our desire to surrender the process to the Lord we filled out the paperwork with the belief that God knew best what child was to be part of our family. We didn’t want to stand in His way by creating a profile with strict parameters, so we said we were open to any sex, age, race, religion, background, disabilities, handicaps, and behaviors, with the exception of 3 struggles we didn’t feel equipped to handle…

And then we gave it to God.

We thought we were surrendering to His will but He soon showed us that when He asks us to surrender and trust in His plan, he asks for TOTAL surrender, not just “mostly surrender,” as we soon discovered.

Once the agency has the list of preferences in hand they use those parameters to match your family with potential children. When an email comes from local county CYS social workers about a child that needs placed, the agency will look through their families’ files for families that match up with that child and his or her particular needs and then an email will be sent out to their potential families. As a waiting family we have the option to say “yes” to having our family’s profile submitted to CYS for consideration or the option of saying “no” if it doesn’t seem right.

Once the county receives a pile of profiles from various adoption agencies they will narrow the large pile of potential families down to a handful of possibilities and then move forward with more extensive interviews.

This process never occurred in Tyler’s placement with our family.

We were never sent his profile by our agency. You see, Tyler’s child profile included those three issues we said we wouldn’t accept in a child so our agency never even contacted us about Tyler as a possible child for our family and never submitted his file to the county…

So, you can imagine our confusion when we received a call out of the blue that we were on the short list of three families being considered for a 6-year-old boy from Pittsburgh. We had no idea who this child was because we had never been sent information on him.

Then the placing social worker called and asked if we could meet the following afternoon and in the meantime sent us Tyler’s child profile. As I read through his child profile the first time I knew that his needs were extreme and although we said we would let God choose our child, this baby boy’s profile contained the three non-negotiables on our list.

The next day I tried calling the CYS caseworker to cancel our meeting. I hated for him to make the long drive out to our house, knowing we were going to have to say “no,” but despite phone call after phone call and numerous voice mail messages I was never able to make contact.

At 5:00 pm he pulled down the driveway and Toby and I prepared to apologize for his wasted trip. He stepped inside, greeted the family, and opened the file in his hand, revealing a picture of Tyler…

And I knew.

In that moment I knew without a shadow of a doubt that the child in that photo was ours.

By the end of our meeting the social worker declared that he was going to cancel his meetings with two other families he had appointments with because he knew he had found Tyler’s family.

From there things moved swiftly and within 3 weeks Tyler was placed in our home and part of our family.

To this day we still have no idea how our profile ended up on the desk of that social worker or why none of our voice mails were received, but it simply testifies all the more loudly that Tyler’s place in our family was heaven-ordained and orchestrated by a loving God that knew better than us what we could handle and what we needed.

Through that experience we learned a powerful lesson on the true meaning of surrender to God’s will…

And the abundant blessings that come with trusting His plan for our lives.

That day occurred 6 years ago and today we celebrate that little boy’s 12th birthday with the addition of his biological brother into our family.

Much like the “God-incidence” that brought Tyler into our lives, Brandon’s placement was not part of our plan, but it was clearly God’s plan.

We weren’t looking to grow our family. Coming on the cusp of a really challenging year, adding another child seemed crazy, not to mention the fact that the child was a 16-year-old boy!

But just like our experience with Tyler (and then Ozzie) we could see God’s hand in the orchestrating of events that soon made it clear that God had big plans for our family and that He was once again asking for our surrender and our faith in His plan.

Brandon has been placed with us. It will be 6 months until we can pursue adoption and making him part of our forever family, but this was the first step. He is now officially and legally placed in our home as a pre-adoptive placement.

Today we also celebrate Tyler’s 12th birthday. When he moved in six years ago we couldn’t even imagine how our life was about to change. We had no idea how challenging, rewarding, and miraculously glorious this journey was going to be…

And we certainly had no idea that for Tyler’s 12th birthday we would be giving him the gift of family.

12th birthdays are a big deal in our family. They represent the transition from primary to the young men’s program at church. With this birthday comes acquiring the priesthood at church and the opportunity to pass the sacrament. He is now old enough to go to scout camp on his own and will be included in the youth activities at church that he has enviously has watched the older kids participate in for years.

12 is a big birthday, one that is remembered and cherished by all my kids…

But probably none more than Tyler,

Who, for his 12th birthday, is receiving the gift of a lost brother found and brought into our family.

Happy 12th birthday, Tyler!

How grateful I am for a loving Heavenly Father that knew better than us what our family needed most:

You!

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Brace Face #4

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On Monday our day began with an early morning orthodontist appointment. Ozzie was the next in line for braces. Like Tyler, he will be a patient of Dr. Spokane, due in part to the closer proximity and thus greater convenience  than our beloved Dr. Gulland who was the orthodontist to Grace and Rusty, but mostly because Tyler and Ozzie’s insurance is accepted at Dr. Spokane’s.

Ozzie approached this pending appointment with the typical mix of excitement and anxiety with anxiety winning out as the stronger of the two emotions. He was nervous that the procedure would hurt or something would go terribly wrong resulting in the accidental loss of some of his teeth. Speaking to his siblings who had experienced braces and lived to tell the tale with no major dental calamities, lightened his worries a bit.

The part he was most excited about was the acquisition of the office t-shirt and the resulting monetary rewards that come from wearing it to office visits.

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He was also excited about getting to pick the colors that would go on his brackets and decided before arriving that his first decorative color scheme as a new orthodontic patient would be purple and pink. He felt they were good summer colors.

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We arrived and they took him back to begin the 90 minute appointment while I filled out paperwork and waited to be called in for my website tutorial.

Dr. Spokane’s office relies heavily on its online portal for communication and appointment management. One of the gals walked me through logging into the patient portal and navigating the site. From the portal we can confirm appointments, look at the boy’s before and after x-rays and photos, and watch his reward account grow with points earned through good brushing, good grades, on time appointments, etc.

Ozzie was excited to hear about their reward system which allows their patients to earn gift cards to 100 different stores through positive orthodontic (and life) choices.

After my tutorial I returned to the waiting room to wait for Ozzie’s big reveal. I was soon called back to see Ozzie’s new brace-face as they went over the rules and guidelines of orthodontic care. Ozzie was taught how to brush with braces and was given his list of restricted foods. We were soon sent out the door with instructions to get ibuprofen in him as soon as possible and stick to soft foods until the initial pain, that accompanies new braces, passes.

It was a big day for Ozzie. He left Dr. Spokane’s office excited to show off his new grin to the other kids.

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We made sure to keep on top of his pain meds all day because he had an evening of fun ahead of him. All of our recent visits with Tyler’s biological brother, Brandon, has left Ozzie missing his biological sister so we made plans for a get-together. I let Ozzie plan the evening and he threw himself into the planning whole heartedly. He decided he wanted to take his sister to our local fireman’s fair to ride rides together. His plan was to begin their get-together with dinner at Brighton Hot Dog Shop. He loves the hot dog shop and wanted to share the place with his sis in case she had never had the pleasure of dining at one of their locations before.

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The kids filled up on hot dogs and fries before heading to the fair.

(Not the best planning on my part!)

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Carnival rides tend to only spin in circles…a bad motion following a hot dog dinner.

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Ozzie approached the first ride with unbridled enthusiasm but after a few rides was looking a little green and opted to watch his sister ride while his stomach settled.

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Eventually he recovered enough to give it another go and spent the remainder of the evening soaring and spinning with his sister.

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It was a monumental day for Mr. Brace Face, the great and powerful OZ!

A Day at the Lake

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With the girls away at Girls Camp two weeks ago and the boys away at Scout Camp this coming week there haven’t been a lot of opportunities for Tyler to see Brandon, his biological brother. The desire to not want them to have to go three weeks without a visit spurred me to plan an outing last Saturday, amid the chaos of getting four boys packed for Scout Camp.

It worked out better than planned and it was nice to have an excuse to set down the “to do” list and just enjoy some summer fun.

We decided to spend the day at Moraine Lake. The temperatures were hovering around 90 degrees so a day of swimming seemed extra appealing. It seems we weren’t the only family to think so. The lake was a busy place on Saturday!

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After picking up Brandon we stopped and picked up lunch to take to the lake where we enjoyed four hours of swimming,

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Water sports,

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Picnicking,

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And lounging in the summer sun…

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Before we had to leave to take Grace to work.

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Along our way we stopped at The Snowman for snow cones.

This fun gem of a place is situated just outside Portersville, minutes from Moraine Lake, making it one of our favorite pit stops following a day of swimming.

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The selection of flavors is impressive.

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Everyone ordered an icy treat to enjoy under the shade of the picnic table umbrellas.

After a hot day in the sun they hit the spot!

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It was a perfect way to end our fun day pass with Brandon.

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Next adventure: Boy Scout Camp!

A Visit with Brandon

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Some of you may remember Brandon.

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Brandon is one of Tyler’s 4 biological siblings.

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We met Brandon for the first time 4 years ago when we gathered all of Tyler’s biological siblings together for a reunion at Patchwork Farm. After many years of being separated and losing contact with each other, they were finally reunited.

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At that time, Brandon was the last sibling remaining in foster care and the hurt he carried was evident in his countenance. At the time we inquired about Brandon and whether we could be considered a possible placement, only to discover that his foster parents were in the process of adopting Brandon. We were thrilled with this wonderful news. Brandon was finally getting the forever home he deserved to have.

At our next reunion the affect of being chosen and finally having his forever home was evident on his face. He was a different child and the joy radiated from him.

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Fast forward 6 months and after months of not hearing from Brandon or his adoptive parents I received the heartbreaking news that Brandon’s adoptive mother (of 9 months) had been taken from him by cancer. My heart broke for Brandon as I mourned the loss of Tina and wept at the cruelty of this earthly life for a child that waited so long for a mother only to have her snatched away.

Over the next few years we struggled to remain in contact with Brandon. His adoptive father became sick and was in and out of the hospital which led to Brandon being moved frequently through foster homes and residential facilities. We would call and send letters and not get any response. We weren’t sure where Brandon was but Tyler continued to petition us to seek Brandon out.

(Of all Tyler’s siblings Brandon is the one Tyler feels most connected to. I think this is a natural consequence of the two of them being the last of his siblings to be adopted. Years after the other children were settled into their forever homes Tyler and Brandon continued their court-ordered monthly visits as wards of the state.)

Finally, out of the blue, we received a call from a woman who  had been assigned Brandon’s case. Once again Brandon finds himself in limbo as his adoptive father is dying and has only been given months to live. This social worker is working to create a network of support for Brandon. She is seeking out family (both biological and adoptive) that can be a network of support for Brandon, and Brandon gave her our names. She reached out and asked if we would like to have contact with Brandon, would like to be a source of support, and what we would like that relationship to look like.

I explained our situation to her and shared with her the transition we are currently navigating as Ozzie returns home from residential care and we work to find stability with this transition. I expressed our desire to have contact with Brandon and work on reconnecting him with Tyler but couldn’t commit to anything more (ie: weekend visits, etc.) until we evaluated where Ozzie and the other children were emotionally following Ozzie’s return home.

It is with baby steps we are moving forward as we try and assess what our role in Brandon’s life is supposed to be and try to hear God amidst the noise in my head.

Last Friday Tyler and Brandon had their first visit after almost 3 years apart. I wish I could adequately convey the emotions felt when Tyler saw Brandon pull up with his social worker and climb out of the car. Tyler raced across the playground, enveloping Brandon in rib-crushing bear hug.

I was concerned that Tyler would struggle with the difference in Brandon’s looks from the brother he remembers. At age 16 Brandon looks very different from the 13-year-old Tyler had in his head, but that didn’t deter him at all. They picked up right where they left off and it was as though no time had passed at all.

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Brandon fell into the role of big brother seamlessly and it was sweet to watch their interactions.

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They spent an hour and a half playing baseball and loved every minute of it.

When it was time for Brandon to leave both boys struggled to say good-bye. I am sure both were wondering if and when they would see each other again. With a history like the one they’ve endured as children of the system, good-byes can feel final, because their history shows them that good-byes often are, but we reassured them that another visit was planned in a week which made leaving the park easier on both of them.

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I am not sure what the future holds for Brandon but we petition you for prayers. It seems so unjust that one child should have to endure all the heartbreak Brandon has had to endure in his short 16 years on earth.

Please pray for him.

 

A Date with Sister

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Like Tyler, Ozzie doesn’t live with his biological sibling. Ozzie has one younger sister who was placed in a different adoptive home by the courts three years ago. Just like with Tyler’s story, we have made a concerted effort to maintain and even build their relationship through frequent phone calls and regular visits.

Eight months ago things began to spiral downward at an alarming rate. Events were taking place in both kids’ lives that were affecting them emotionally. Both were being haunted by new memories of old abuse at the hands of their bio parents. Ozzie was experiencing flashbacks that involved Zoey and muddied his emotions as we tried to help him process and make sense (but who can really make sense of parents hurting their children) of what happened. As a result our monthly dates with Zoey were put on hold per Ozzie’s request. A few months later we revisited the idea but by then Zoey was working through her own struggles with past trauma involving Ozzie and didn’t feel emotionally ready to see him. This went on for months as both kiddos rode the roller coaster of ups and downs while processing past trauma.

Ozzie has been spiraling downward at an alarming rate, to the point that we are actively seeking out intensive trauma therapy options. His treatment team has recommended an inpatient program that will take him away from home for a few months where he will receive  more specialized therapy for his  past trauma and abuse…therapy than can’t be done in an outpatient therapist’s office. It is such a heartbreaking journey we have been on, but we have seen God’s hand as we move toward this possibility.

The possibility of being away for a few months spurred Ozzie to want a visit with Zoey. He asked if they could have a date, and I happily made it happen. On Saturday we met Zoey (and her adoptive mom) at Eat-n-Park for a breakfast date.

Ozzie brought Zoey’s gift. Zoey’s birthday was months ago but Ozzie didn’t feel emotionally ready to give her the gift he picked out until now.

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In the small bag was a series of get to know you questions.

I recognized a key factor in this get together going well, was going to be facilitating conversation between Zoey and Ozzie that was light, fun, and superficial. Neither were in an emotionally healthy position to discuss their struggles, their past choices, or trauma memories. They had both gone through a lot in the last few months. They hadn’t seen each other for six months. Both were nervous about the encounter. We needed to keep things silly and non-threatening.

So, as we sat and enjoyed a breakfast date, Ozzie and Zoey took turns pulling questions out of the bag and asking each other questions like:

“If you could visit any place in the world, where would you go?”

“If you could dye your hair any color what color would you pick?”

“If you were invisible for a day what would you do?”

“What is your favorite smell?”

“If you could have any animal as a pet what would you choose?”

The questions worked beautifully. They broke the ice and allowed the two of them to become reacquainted in a fun, non-threatening way. They talked and laughed with ease. And everyone left the restaurant feeling as though the date was a success.

God’s mercy enveloped those two children on Saturday morning. He gave them the beautiful gift of reconnection and love. It was a blessed morning.

God is good…

Always good!

 

Riding Waves

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Last week we planned a get-together with Ozzie’s biological sister, Zoey.

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Tyler and Ozzie, our two adopted sons, both have biological siblings that were adopted by other families. While part of the foster care system a judge felt they should be separated and placed in different homes from their biological siblings. There were a variety of reasons for this, and while I understand the judges’ reasoning, the loss for both my boys is heartbreaking. They both desperately miss their biological siblings and would give anything to live together under the same roof. While I can’t facilitate that I can make sure that I facilitate their connection to their siblings through regular phone calls, letters, gifts for birthdays and Christmas, and regular visits.

Tyler has four bio-siblings that were all adopted into four separate homes. Some of those adoptive families are open and encouraging of regular contact while some are a bit more cautious and nervous about what effect sibling contact will have on their child and family.

Tyler is closest to his brother Sean. Sean’s mom is very open to contact and works to facilitate regular visits between Sean and Tyler.

Tyler has less contact with his other three siblings and it breaks his heart.

Ozzie has one biological sister. Zoey is a year younger than him and lives 45 minutes away. We have a wonderful relationship with Zoey’s adoptive mom who works hard to make sure we get the two of them together monthly for visits.

We take turns each month. One month she will pick up Ozzie and take him out for the day with Zoey and then the next month I will pick up Zoey. Usually this outing revolves around some sort of activity. Their relationship is complex and I find they do best when they are participating together in a more structured activity then when they are left alone to their own devices.

This month was my month to take the kids out. We wanted to make sure we fit in a visit for Ozzie before we left on our road trip and he wouldn’t see Zoey for six weeks. With circumstances being what they are (with Toby out of town) I decided that we would take everyone on our outing rather than leave Tyler alone with Grace. Things have just been too volatile for me to be comfortable leaving Tyler in Gracie’s care. So we all headed out to pick up Zoey.

We decided to take her to the wave pool. This was a calculated decision. In addition to the fact I knew it would be an activity that all would enjoy, I knew it would be an activity that would provide a physical outlet for some of the manic and anxious energy that comes with these get-togethers. I also knew that by keeping Tyler occupied in the deeper waters Ozzie would be able to have Zoey’s undivided attention in the shallow end, thus avoiding the “third wheel” issue that sometimes comes when all three of them play together.

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It was a perfect day for the wave pool. It was sunny and hot. We obviously weren’t the only ones that felt that way because the wave pool was a busy, happening place!

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Tyler spent most of the day jumping in the deep end with Grace.

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While Ozzie spent most of the day riding waves and playing with Zoey.

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They had a great time together and everyone did really well.

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We stayed for about 5 hours and then it was time to get Zoey home.

The “good-bye” at the end of a sibling visit is always tough for my boys. This “good-bye” was particularly hard for Ozzie, knowing it would be two months until he saw his sister again, but when I pointed out the fact that he would be able to send Zoey postcards from all sorts of cool places along our journey he cheered up immensely.

It was a good day.