Tag Archives: children

A different sort of Mother’s Day


I recently revisited a book I first picked up in high school. It is funny how two decades and a boatload of life experiences can alter a piece of literature. The words on the page may remain static and unchanging, but the interpretation and affect of those words are as varied as the hands that pick it up to read it.

The book I am reading is called, “A Child Called IT,” by Dave Pelzer. I don’t remember which friend first recommended it, but I remember the first time I read it. I was enthralled and horrified, as well as a bit skeptical. Surely, there is a sprinkling of fiction in this author’s recounting of a childhood riddled with the most horrific of abuse, I thought to myself.  Surely it wasn’t as bad as he recounts on paper. I thought there must have been some level of sensationalism added to sell the book. I couldn’t fathom the idea that a mother would hurt a child…so horrifically…so intentionally.

Last Saturday, while spending the day in Wooster with my mother for Mother’s Day, we stopped in her local bookstore and I saw this same book sitting on the shelf. I picked it up and found myself adding it to my pile of books to purchase. I felt compelled to revisit the story again. I began reading it two days later and devoured it in a day.

I still find the story of abuse horrifying, but far more believable than I did at age 17. What’s more, I found myself reading the account through new eyes. Not only did I believe its truth, but I found myself paralleling the story of young David with the stories of my boys and their own journey through neglect and abuse on their road to safety. As the author spoke the thoughts, worries, and reasons for his behaviors through the mindset of a little boy in survival mode, I felt like I was listening into the thoughts of my own adopted sons, who while now in a safe and secure home, still live with a survival mindset and struggle with survival behaviors.

When we chose to adopt our lives were changed forever. There is not one aspect of our lives that has remain the same. God has used this journey to mold all of us into beings far different than who we were five years ago. It has been the hardest journey of our lives but by far the most affecting. God has expanded our hearts, revealed our flaws, given us a depth of character and capacity for compassion that can only come from Him and His work.

I have learned so many life lessons along the way. Too many to count…too many to name. But one of the greatest lessons I have learned about myself is how naïve I was about the reality of life for so many, and how easy it is to judge the path of those who chose differently than us because of life circumstances far darker than any I’ve ever had to navigate.

When I was little and we would hear the story of another’s struggle or burden or misguided choice, my mother would wisely pull us away from the path of judgement and lead us towards the path of compassion with a single phrase:

“There but for the grace of God, go I.”

Oh, the power in that simple phrase.

It is a humbling reminder that all that I am, all that I have, all that I have accomplished, is because of God’s good grace.

Who is to say how my life would have played out had I been dealt a different set of cards.

I recognize that a huge part of my blessings come from having been blessed with a good mother and father…healthy parents, who learned from generations of good, healthy, capable, loving parents before them. I used to take this blessing for granted. A loving mother was all I have ever known and I assumed all were blessed in the same way. My perception changed when we began reading the files of children in foster care and we got a small peek into what reality looks like for millions of children. It humbled me and made me realize that all that I am, and all that is good in my life, is not because of anything I did or didn’t do. I didn’t make the right choice because I am awesome. I was able to make healthy life choices because it had been modeled for me my loving parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles.

We are currently fully immersed in the TBRI world of Karyn Purvis, as we relearn how to parent children from hard places. Our journey began a little over a month ago with the Empowered to Connect conference we attended. Oh, how it has changed our world, and our perception of our boys and their stories. It has made me realize the great, intrinsic value the relationship between mother and child has on every aspect of a child, from their brain chemistry, to their relationships with others, to how they perceive their world. What it takes to grow a healthy human being begins with the simplest ritual of holding a baby when it cries and meeting a baby’s most basic needs. The result of that not occurring as it should is horrific and heart breaking and life affecting for that child and everyone that attempts to attach to them. I am better understanding the great, divine role of mothers in God’s plan and how a disruption in God’s plan causes chaos and destruction. I also now better understand that a mother’s inability to meet these most basic needs in her child is usually a result of a history of unhealthy relationships perpetuating over time. A “bad” mother isn’t made, she is taught.

As I celebrated Mother’s Day this year my heart was in a different place. It meant something different this year. It meant something more. It was less about my role as a mother and more about reflecting on how blessed I have been to learn from the best. I come from a long line of women who have been loved and nurtured and as result have loved and nurtured me. This is a gift I don’t know that I fully acknowledged before. Toby comes from a long line of women who were loved and nurtured, and thus were capable of loving and nurturing him. The result is being able to raise healthy, happy, stable, loved children. And we can take no credit for their goodness, for who knows who we would be and what our life would look like had we been dealt different cards.

“There but for the Grace of God, go I.”

I also find myself remembering the women who gave birth to my adopted sons. I am grateful for their gift of life to two of the most important people in my life. Women who parented the only way they knew how. My connection with them is complicated and wrought with mixed emotions. I hate the hurt they inflicted on my boys, and I hate the hurt that they must have endured to make the choices they did.

“There but for the Grace of God, go I”

Mother’s Day is a hard holiday in my home. My boys struggle through that day dedicated to the celebration of the role of mothers and all the emotional baggage and great feelings of loss that brings it with it, but that said, this was the healthiest and happiest Mother’s Day we have had in the last 4 years, due in part to the TBRI principles we are applying and a lot of upfront prevention we invested in the day.

To begin we went into the holiday with a new approach. I began by putting myself in a good place emotionally. Past Mother’s Days have been hard. Ozzie struggles with such anger and feelings of hurt towards his biological mother that Mother’s Day has been a day full of sabotage and hurts directed at me. Prior to the Empowered to Connect conference I struggled with understanding the complex, over-the-top emotions that drive his behaviors on special holidays, and as a result didn’t approach the day with the level of compassion I should have.

I have learned better and now can do better.

This year I hedged my bets for having a more loving and compassionate response to his sabotage efforts by celebrating Mother’s Day on Saturday with my own Mom. I drove out to Ohio to spend the day, one-on-one, with my own mommy and by doing so filled her love tank and had mine filled in return. We shopped, had a fun lunch, and celebrated motherhood together.

And in doing so was able to return home Saturday night filled with love and peaceful acceptance for however Sunday would play out. I met my own emotional needs so that I could better meet Ozzie’s emotional needs.

While I was gone, the big kids and Toby hedged their bets too. They wanted me to have a special day, but knew all too well how most holidays play out in our home, so they were proactive and invested a huge amount of love and time into surprising me Saturday night with a beautiful yard.

While I was gone they went shopping at Home Depot, bought mulch and flowers, and mowed, trimmed, weeded, and planted their love into my heart. They spoke to me in my love language of service, and made me feel so loved and valued for Mother’s Day.

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I am so grateful for my kids and their big hearts!

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Tyler made my Mother’s Day sign.


The scope of Gracie’s love acts spread even further when she took Tyler shopping for ingredients for my Mother’s Day dinner. She had the lovely idea of buying a dozen roses and then letting Tyler hand them out, a rose at a time, while they grocery shopped, to mothers with children.


I felt like this was a gift to me too, as she (with her own sacrifice of time and money) taught the valuable lesson of “love of service to Tyler” and showed him that the greatest joy in life comes from giving to others.

We were also proactive this year in choosing to not attend church for Mother’s Day, but worship at home. I knew Ozzie was unstable with all the emotions connected to Mother’s Day and I recognized that the kindest, healthiest way to help him through the day would be to hibernate at home, away from the Mother’s Day talks and lessons about loving mothers and gratitude for mothers, all which tear new wounds into an already fragile soul. I knew we needed to just lock the doors, and connect as a family, without external stimuli, so that is what we did.

And the love of God permeated our home.

The kids gave me their gifts of love and heartfelt, homemade cards, and we just hugged, loved, and prayed our way through the most difficult day of the year.

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Gracie gifted me with a manicure date with her and Molly this coming Friday. I was so touched!

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Fancy Bath and Body Works hand soaps from Molly.

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Molly’s words of love.

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A new paper towel holder from Rusty.

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And the cutest cookie jar ever from Tyler!!

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Tyler made his card all by himself this year. The portrait of the two of us melts my heart. He loves my eyes! 🙂

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Candles from Ozzie.

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Oh, those words. ❤


That day we felt the strengthening love of God as we celebrated mothers…The birth mothers that bore them, the foster mothers who raised them, and this mother who tries daily to live worthy of calling them her forever sons.

God is here.

God is healing.

God is Good!

A Big Brother Reunion


“Hi Ty!”

That was our greeting when we arrived at Tyler’s biological brother’s home for a sibling reunion.

This was followed by a hug and the observation. “Ty, you got so big!”

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Tyler’s siblings all call him Ty. It is strange and sweet to hear them revert back to the childhood nicknames they called each other before they were separated and adopted into separate homes. Regardless of the miles that separate them or the months that pass between visits they easily and naturally fall back into their childhood roles when they gather as biological siblings.

All summer I have tried to find a free moment to have all four of Tyler’s biological siblings over for a reunion, but the summer sped by and before I knew it school was upon us. So I was thrilled when I received a call from Gayle, Sean’s mother, inviting us and the other siblings to a get-together at her home this past weekend. It was a last-minute, spontaneous idea, and I was thrilled.

Sean, Tyler’s next older brother, lives about an hour and a half away. His siblings are spread out in a 2 1/2 hour driving radius around the city of Pittsburgh. To get everyone together is challenging, but it looked as though we were going to make it happen.

Well it did happen, and it was wonderful, but it wasn’t the reunion we had planned. Of the 5 siblings, only two made it to the reunion, Tyler and Sean. Life commitments came up and prevented Cheyenne, Michael, and Brandon from making it. We didn’t realize that was the case until we arrived at Sean’s house. Both boys were disappointed that the others weren’t going to make it. They were both really hoping to see Michael, their oldest brother, who they haven’t seen in two years. 😦

In the end, however, it worked out to be a blessing. The small group made for a more intimate experience and we were able to get better acquainted then perhaps we would have had there been everyone there. Sean and Tyler LOVED their one on one time and there was even a special surprise for Ozzie.

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Three years ago, when Ozzie was first removed from his home, he was placed in the home of Michele and Peter. For two years he lived in that home with his sister Zoey and his foster sister (daughter of Michele and Peter) Megan. In one of those small-world moments we discovered, soon after Ozzie moved in, that he knew Sean (Tyler’s biological brother.) In fact he had slept at Sean’s house and spent many days playing there,

long before we even knew Ozzie or Sean existed…crazy, huh?!

This weekend Gayle was babysitting Megan, so at the reunion for Tyler’s siblings Ozzie had a reunion of his own with Megan, a friend he called “sister” for two years.

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It is during moments like this I am awed at how small the world is and how BIG our God is.

We had a wonderful time. Tyler and Sean spent the day throwing a ball back and forth and Ozzie and Megan had a wonderful time catching up.

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And my big kids were wonderfully gracious about allowing their little brothers this special experience.

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The get-together began at Sean’s house with a pizza party and then moved to the park where the kids spent a few hours playing.

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Here is a peek at our special reunion:

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“He’d Fly Through the Air with the Greatest of Ease”


“Mom, look at me!”


That was the last thing I heard before I turned toward the sound of his voice and saw it…

Tyler flying through the air,

arms outstretched,

shouting an enthusiastic, “Whee!”

My heart leapt to my throat,

and then I heard *THUNK*

From where I stood it looked like a trip to the emergency room in the making.

Then he popped up with a huge grin and a fist punch of victory,


It was only then that I realized how my mini superhero achieved his feat of bravery:

Couch cushions…

eight of them behind the chair,

lined up like a squishy runway to catch his falling form.

Once I realized that the risk of a broken bone was minimal

I grabbed my camera to record the show.

Now Presenting

for your viewing pleasure…


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I love having boys!

Life is NEVER boring. 🙂

The difference a year makes…



Remember this little boy?


I introduced him to you last year.

We met him for the first time last year when God miraculously brought together Tyler’s siblings for the reunion of a lifetime.

Tyler has five siblings who live in five separate homes. When they were removed from their biological home there were multiple failed attempts at placing the five of them together. It was decided that there wasn’t a family out there who could parent all five successfully. As a result they were placed in separate foster homes and one by one they were adopted into loving homes. When we met Tyler he and his brother Brandon (see photo) were the only ones who weren’t adopted. They were the “toughest to place” and had multiple failed placements.

One of the heartbreaking results of the system placing them in different homes was that for a period of a few years the children lost touch with each other. Last year a  big miracle happened when these brothers and sister were reunited through a series of small miracles. We held the reunion at our home. What a joy it was to watch these siblings reconnect. One of the greatest blessings was getting to know the other adoptive families and gain the testimony of God’s love for each of these kids while seeing His hand in their placements. As I got to know each child and each parent I knew that each child was exactly where they were meant to be. There was such joy in that. They were all so happy…except one.

One lost soul.

One forgotten child.

One orphan.

Brandon was still not adopted. Although his foster mom loved him dearly and petitioned the courts over and over again, the “system” continued to drag its feet.

The difference in his life was evident in his pictures.

He was the lost boy.


Last year the siblings reunited!

But God is good!

He does not abandon us or leave us orphaned.

I know many of you saw the sadness in his eyes and began to pray for this little boy. The many prayers sent heavenward for Brandon have been answered.

I am happy to report Brandon is now part of a forever family. His foster mom and dad were able to adopt him this summer.

Just look at what belonging, feeling secure and being loved unconditionally does for a child…

He looks like a different child, doesn't he?

He looks like a different child, doesn’t he?

This is what love does!

This Saturday we had Tyler’s siblings over for another reunion. Tyler couldn’t wait to see everyone!

IMG_9836Tyler waiting…

Tyler helped me plan the menu and activities for his reunion.

All set for company.

All set for company.

Brandon was the first to arrive, followed soon by Sean and Cheyanne. We got a last-minute call that Michael, Tyler’s oldest brother, couldn’t make it. Although Michael and his family were missed, it was a wonderful evening of food cooked over the fire, games. an egg hunt planned by the girls, and lots of football tossing between the brothers.


Tyler kicking the football.

Tyler kicking the football.

The girls hiding the eggs they stuffed.

The girls hiding the eggs they stuffed.

Ozzie trying to figure out how to carry all his eggs. :)

Ozzie trying to figure out how to carry all his eggs. 🙂

Roasting hotdogs

Roasting hotdogs

Fun on the trampoline!

Fun on the trampoline!

Brothers racing...

Brothers racing…

Tyler teaching his little sister how to properly kick a football :)

Tyler teaching his little sister how to properly kick a football 🙂

Don't they look like twins?!

Don’t they look like twins?!

It was a wonderful reunion. I had such a good time visiting with the other families. We laughed, played, ate good food but this is what the night was all about:



Siblings: knit together by blood…

separated by horrible circumstances…

reunited through the power of love!

All adopted.

God is good!





IMG_9868Our prayers were answered…

And now I ask you pray again.

With the good news of Brandon’s adoption came the heartbreaking news of a scary diagnosis.

Tina, Brandon’s new Mom. is facing a battle for her life. On the heals of an adoption celebration came the diagnosis of cancer and a prognosis of 6-12 months.

This little boy finally got his forever mom and now is facing the heartbreak of loosing her months later.

This little boy has faced so much loss in his short life so I am calling on all the prayer warriors who have lifted this little boy up in prayers before.

Let us pray again for Tina, for Brandon, and for all the orphans who have yet to find their forever homes and loving Mommas.

All children should have the chance to belong… to be loved… and to have a forever home.

All little ones should be able to smile like this.

Pray with me.


A Boy and his Dog


“Frogs and snails and puppy dog tails..

that is what little boys are made of.”


“Dogs have a way of finding the people who need them and filling an emptiness we didn’t even know we had.”


Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.” – Roger Caras


“A dog has no use for fancy cars, big homes or designer clothes. A water log stick will do just fine. A dog doesn’t care if you are rich or poor, clever or dull, smart or dumb. Give him your heart and he’ll give you his. How many people can you say that about? How many people can make you feel rare, and pure, and special? How many people can make you feel extraordinary?” – Marley and Me


“A boy and his dog make a glorious pair; no better friendship is found anywhere.” – Edgar Guest


“Every once in a while a dog enters your life and changes everything.”

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Live like someone left the gate open.” 🙂

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“The greatest pleasure of a dog is that you may make a fool of yourself with him, and not only will he not scold you, but he will make a fool of himself too.” – Samuel Butler

Justice or Mercy?

Happy Easter from some "bunny" special!!

Happy Easter from some “bunny” special!!

Those who have been walking this adoption journey with us know that part of Ozzie’s trauma therapy involves parenting classes for me in addition to therapy for him. Those who follow this blog know how incredibly beneficial those classes have been for me as a mother. *sigh*  At my last parenting class we addressed another parenting lesson: “The proper way to discipline.” I am not sure what Ozzie has been telling his therapist (I am not privy to that information) but it must have sparked some concern on his part because we had an impromptu lesson following Ozzie’s session.

We sat down in his office and he expressed his concern that perhaps I was being too hard on Ozzie or expecting too much and that he wanted me to try a new method of discipline. He explained to me that it is most effective in cases like Ozzie’s to just focus on one behavior at a time.  He told me that I was to pick the behavior that was most destructive or caused the most problems and only focus on that behavior for the time being. He told me that I was to close my eyes to all other behaviors and only discipline the behavior we are currently working on. “So,” he went on, “Let’s say you are having a problem with Ozzie stealing. You are going to come up with a plan of rewards and consequences to address that behavior. If other behaviors crop up during this time like talking back or lying I want you to just ignore them for the time being and once Ozzie has had success in this area we will then move onto the next behavior.”

My first thought after being given this instruction was the  cartoon image of Ozzie throwing food across the dinner table as Toby and I look on with a speech bubble above our head that reads, ” This month’s focus is ‘lying’ I guess we will address THIS in May.” I had never heard of anyone parenting like this before and couldn’t imagine how a parent is to cover all the basics in 18 short years if the basics can only be addressed one at a time. Ozzie is 10…there is NO way I can fit it all in with only 8 years to go if I’m only tackling one behavior every couple of months. I can only figure this brilliant plan was developed by someone who has never been around children, much less tried raising one. I smiled my sweet “therapy appointment smile”, nodding as the doctor told me to pick one behavior and give it a try. I thought about my assignment as I drove home, wondering what one behavior I would choose to address if I could only pick one. It was like a game of ” If you were trapped on a deserted island and could only bring 3 things with you, what would you pick?!” Perhaps I am just too stubborn or stuck in my ways to give this new-fangled parenting strategy a try but to my untrained eye it seems a bit questionable. 🙂

While I found very little merit in the doctor’s game plan it did get me thinking about his observation that perhaps I am too tough on Ozzie or that I expect too much. It made me reflect and got me thinking about the balance we seek as parents between Justice and Mercy. I am a “Justice” girl by nature. I like my world cut and dry, black and white. I like to be able to clearly label things in life and put them in the “good” box or the “bad” box. I like predictability and knowing that certain actions bring about certain consequences. I find security in Justice because it is sure. I am a first-born child, a rule minder, and for me the answer is easy… if you do _________ than ________ will happen. I have discovered, as a parent, that justice is important. Rules are needed, behaviors come as a result of expectations and  with rules and clear consequences come security and trust on the part of a child. Children need clear boundaries. Those boundaries make children feel safe, loved and secure. Justice is an important lesson for children to learn…but so is Mercy. Mercy is a harder virtue for me.

I read a quote that described Grace and Mercy like this:

“Grace is when you get the good things that you don’t deserve. Mercy is when you are spared from the bad things you do deserve. God is generous with both.”

Mercy is hard for me. It isn’t as black and white as Justice and the part of my personality that calls out for justice and fairness struggles with the freedom that Mercy offers. This Easter season I have been pondering my relationship with my Savior and the Mercy He offers me. I know what He has given, I know that He has removed the bonds of Justice in order to offer the freedom of Mercy and yet it seems so unfair and so unjust. I don’t deserve what He offers and yet He gives. He gives the gift of Mercy and now we are called to offer that same gift to others. Mercy when others offend. Mercy when others disappoint. Mercy when others hurt our hearts. Mercy when others fail us. Sometimes Justice is needed but so often Mercy is what is called for. Mercy for those we have yet to forgive. Mercy when our children make poor choices. Mercy when people fall short of our expectations. Mercy for ourselves when we fall short of our own expectations again and again. What a blessed gift Mercy is and yet it is often one of the hardest gifts to give.  This Easter season it has been my prayer that my heart might be more open to the gift that has been offered me that I might tip the scales of Justice and offer Mercy to those who don’t deserve it because really none of us deserve it…that is why it is called a gift.

This Easter was a blessed one filled with gifts of Grace and blessings of Mercy as we celebrated the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Ozzie, still half asleep, as he looked through his Easter basket.

Ozzie, still half asleep, as he looked through his Easter basket.

The Easter egg hunt!

The Easter egg hunt!

Rusty... still searching.

Rusty… still searching.

All dressed up for church.

All dressed up for church.

My boys...

My boys…

My girls...

My girls…

Fun with cousins at Aunt Beth's house Easter afternoon.

Fun with cousins at Aunt Beth’s house Easter afternoon.

Waiting for the egg hunt...

Waiting for the egg hunt…



Tyler sees something...

Tyler sees something…

After the egg hunt the kids made up some fun of their own!

After the egg hunt the kids made up some fun of their own!

As I consider the gift of Mercy this Easter season I reflect on an incident that happened one evening soon after Ozzie moved in. It was a rough night with Ozzie and I finally lost it and told him “enough is enough!” He looked at me and started to cry. My heart broke as he said, ” I’m sorry but I’ve only been here a few weeks and I’m still learning.” All the anger and frustration leaked from my tensed shoulders in the form of a heart-broken sigh. Once again I failed as I tried to find the balance between Justice and Mercy. As I tucked Ozzie into bed with an extra long embrace I felt the feelings of defeat and failure roll over me once again as I struggled with this thing they call mothering. Just when I was about to give in to defeat God whispered a reminder on His own, ” Remember, you have only been here a few weeks and you’re still learning.” 🙂 Perhaps that is what Mercy is all about, recognizing that we are all “still  learning” and cut each other and ourselves a little slack. 🙂

“Surely the thing God enjoys most about being God is the thrill of being merciful, especially to those who don’t expect it and often feel they don’t deserve it.” – Jeffrey R. Holland

A wish granted..


Ozzie has a wish. It is his “blow out the candle” wish, his “see a falling star” wish, his “toss a penny in the fountain” wish. If you ask him what he wants most in the world (other than a donkey to call his own) he will tell you that he wants to be adopted. He wants a forever home and a family to call his own.

I didn’t fully realize the intensity of his desire until we were watching a show the other day that was talking about adoption. We were in the living room and the girls were watching the show, The Little Couple, while Ozzie played on the floor. On the show the couple was sitting down to meet the director of an adoption agency about what they were hoping for in the adoption process. After expressing their desires the agency worker pulled a manila envelope from her bag and told the couple that she took a chance that they might be interested and brought the file of a child that needs adopted. It was at this point in the show I saw Ozzie perk up and start watching.

As he sat up taller and began focusing on the screen he said, “I wonder if it is me?!”

On the show the woman then began pulling out a photo of the child as she told them, “It is a little boy..”

At this point Ozzie was literally shaking with anticipation. “It could be me! I hope it’s me!” he said as he wrung his hands in anticipation of the reveal.

At this point I don’t know who was more excited, the little couple on TV or Ozzie.

The adoption worker continued, “”And he is from…”

Ozzie leaned closer to the TV.

“China,” the worker finished. “

“Oh Man!!” Ozzie shouted out with all the disappointment of someone who missed winning the lottery by one number.

When Ozzie was placed in our home he was placed here as a pre-adoptive placement which means he is a foster child that will be adopted but because of previous failed pre-adoptive placements he was told that this was just a foster home and we were just his foster parents. Those that are in charge of Ozzie’s case didn’t want him disappointed again and they weren’t sure we would “stick” so we were told that we couldn’t tell him that we were adopting him. This put us in a tough position because we already knew he was ours, the people in our life knew we were adopting Ozzie, the only one who didn’t know was the one person who most needed to know…Ozzie.

The result of that secret was a lot of uncertainty on the part of Ozzie who was falling in love with this new home and new family but lived in fear that it would be snatched away. He longed for the security of knowing that this would be his forever home and yet we weren’t allowed to give that to him. He would ask us daily if we would adopt him and when we couldn’t give him a definitive yes (due to judges orders..Grrr) he would try to bargain. “If I promise to always keep my room clean will you adopt me? If I never fight with Tyler again will you adopt me?” It broke my heart to not be able to just scoop him up in my arms and say, “You are already ours. You will always be ours.”

Tuesday we had a court hearing for Ozzie. It was scheduled for 9:00 am at the City County building downtown Pittsburgh. Everyone was a little nervous going into it due to stories we had heard about this particular judge and past court hearings. Ozzie went with one wish and one agenda…to convince the judge to let him be adopted by us. When our case was finally called we went into the courtroom where Ozzie, his sister, and the lawyer sat in front of the judge while Toby and I, along with the other foster mom, sat behind. The judge listened as the social workers testified. During their testimony Ozzie was scolded by the judge for talking. He wasn’t talking to anyone he was actually mumbling but because of the microphone placed in front of him all you could hear over the testimony of the workers was Ozzie’s eager plea, “Please let me get adopted, please let me get adopted.” A little boy’s wish whispered with eager longing.

A lot happened during that hearing…both good and bad… but the blessing that came from that intense 45 minutes was a wish granted. The judge told Ozzie that we would be adopting him. He told him it wouldn’t happen for many months but that didn’t matter to Ozzie. He was just overjoyed that his wish came true. As we were walking out he told us, ” You are my favorite parents I ever had. I was hoping you would adopt me and now my wish came true!” As we walked back to the car he eagerly informed anyone who walked within earshot that he was going to be adopted. As we drove home the reality of what that meant for his life hit him as he started listing the blessings, “This means I never have to move again, and I never have to pack my stuff up, and my room will be my room forever…”

As I listened to him speak the effect on me was profound. Oh, the blessings I take for granted. Things like knowing where I will be sleeping tomorrow and where I will be living next year are blessings I rarely take notice of much less give thanks for. I was humbled as I listened to Ozzie bubble over with joy.

When we arrived home Ozzie hopped out of the car, eager to share his good news with the other kids. He raced to be the first inside. As he burst through the door with his hands held high in victory stance he shouted, ” Guess who is getting a new brother??”

” You are!!”

“Aren’t we all lucky?!”

Lucky…Blessed…whatever you want to call it, a wish came true today.


Ozzie’s first day at school


The last few days have been busy ones filled with registration papers, book bag shopping and lunchbox packing. For the first time in 9 years I am the mom of a “traditional” public school student. Gracie attended a local school for kindergarten but then we took her out in 1st grade to teach her at home using a cyber school. It was a huge leap of faith at the time and I entered it with a fair amount of fear and reservations but it turned out to be one of the best parenting decisions we ever made. Molly and Rusty have only known being taught at home. Tyler came to us having attended a behavioral school for kindergarten but when he was placed with us we were told we could cyber school him as well…much to our surprise and delight. We weren’t sure what the judge would decide to do about Ozzie’s education. We suspected the court would require a traditional learning environment until his adoption was finalized and we were correct. So on Tuesday I began navigating the unfamiliar waters of enrolling a child in my local public school. The biggest challenge was tracking down all the paperwork required for enrollment and filling out papers about past history when I wasn’t part of that past history. Ozzie faced the enrollment of school with mixed emotions. He loved his old school and was devastated about having to leave the teacher and friends he loved behind but the thing he was most upset about was leaving his school orchestra where he played cello. Our local school doesn’t offer orchestra at this age. I knew he was also nervous about a new school and being the new kid. Growing up as an Army brat I could sympathize with his fears of moving into a new school. His anxiety was made worse by an accident that happened on Monday…

When Ozzie came to us the first time for a visit his two front teeth were broken. He had fallen over the handles of a scooter and chipped them at his foster home. His broken teeth were a source of teasing at school and something that he was insecure about. The second time he came to visit us he proudly showed off his newly bonded teeth that had been recently fixed. On Monday, as he was playing with the Ipad, he jerked the Ipad up as he played a game and hit himself in the mouth. Immediately he started to scream and cry as he felt his tooth and realized it was broken. He came running to me with his hand holding his mouth. “I broke my bonding,” he cried. “I can’t start my new school now. All the kids will make fun of me.” My heart broke for him. I knew it had been something he struggled with at his old school and now he was going to have to start at a new school with the same insecurities. I called his social worker, reported the accident, and was told it would probably take a couple of months to get him an appointment at the office where the work was done. There was nothing I could do except love on him and reassure him.

Ozzie playing with his construction vehicles in a pan of flour.

Ozzie playing with his construction vehicles in a pan of flour.

The next day we had an appointment to tour the school. Ozzie woke up excited. When it was time to leave we left the other kids at home in the care of Gracie. We drove to his new elementary school. It is a small country school about 5 minutes away. I think I was more nervous than he was. Unsure of how we were going to successfully navigate this public school world I wished that I could keep him home with the others. When we arrived we were greeted by name and the guidance counselor came into the office to give us a tour. As we walked around the school Ozzie was welcomed by the staff and the kids. He was impressed by the library, the music and art room and the playground. He kept saying that this was the “coolest school ever.” “It is like a mansion!” he kept exclaiming. The guidance counselor found his enthusiasm endearing. Our final stop was at his classroom where he met his teacher and classmates. He was shown where he would sit and where the cubby was to hang his coat.

The school is small. There are 300 students in grades K-5th. I was impressed. I think it will be a nice fit for Mr. Ozzie. As we were leaving the secretary told Ozzie that she looked forward to seeing him the next day.

Ozzie replied, ” I like your school a lot but I think I’ll wait until Thursday to start. I’d like to sleep in one more day.” 🙂

After touring the school we stopped at the store to pick out a backpack since he didn’t come with one. He wanted a one shoulder bag and we found one. We also picked up stuff to pack for his lunch.

Touring the school.

Touring the school.

The next day Ozzie did begin school but due to a 2 hour delay for cold temperatures it was a shorter day and he was able to sleep in. He was able to play in the morning and then we dressed him for school. As we were preparing to walk out the door he stopped me..”Mom you need to take my picture. It is my first day of school!” We took pictures and then I dropped him off, praying that this school would be kind to him and a blessing to our family. I came home and had a full day doing school with the other kids as I watched the clock creep closer to 3:30. When it was time, I drove over to the school and went in to drop off additional paperwork that they needed. The secretary asked if I wanted to have Ozzie paged to the office rather than wait in the pick up line. While I was waiting for him the guidance counselor walked in and asked how Ozzie’s first day was. I told her that he was excited when I dropped him off but we will see if he still feels the same way after a day of school. At that moment Ozzie burst through the office door.

“Mommy!” he yelled, ” This was the best day of my life!” 🙂

First day of school pictures.

First day of school pictures.

As we drove home he told me why school was so great.

“Only 1 kid made fun of me today,” he told me with great satisfaction.

Not nearly as pleased with this news as he was I asked, “What did he say?”

“He called me a name,” he informed me, “but I can’t tell you what he said because it will just upset you.”

A minute later Ozzie spoke up again, ” If you really want to know what he said I will tell you. It was very hurtful.”

I listened, expecting the very worse and already feeling the “Mama bear” feelings rising up in me.

“I was standing by the door and a boy came up to me and then he called me..”

Ozzie took a deep breath…

“A tomato.”

I tried hard not to smile as Ozzie shared his hurt.

“Why did he call you a tomato?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he replied with a sigh, “Maybe because I was wearing a red coat.

So… other than that one traumatic moment school was a hit. The teacher was nice. He made a friend (but he doesn’t know his name), and the schoolwork was easy.

My heart feels lighter and I’m grateful for the little blessings in this little man’s life!

Bad Momma Meltdown


Tis the season to be jolly…

It is the season of

 Christmas carols,

holiday greetings,



and of course the annual Bad Momma Holiday Meltdown.

A few days ago I hit “The Wall.” That invisible barrier that separates sanity from crisis. Every year I find myself flirting with danger as I creep closer and closer to the danger zone. It starts innocently enough with dreams of a perfect Christmas. My intentions are always noble but my expectations unrealistic. I take on weeks worth of good and worthy projects forgetting that I’m not filling in an empty schedule. Instead, I am trying to add all these holiday traditions to an already filled schedule. While I am trying to make homemade gifts and create elf magic my family still expects 3 meals a day and clean socks. As I try to bake 8 dozen cookies the school still expects me to teach my children. There are all the regular demands on an already full schedule and yet every year on December 1st I naively run full speed into the month tripping over my six-foot long holiday “to do” list which inevitably leads to our most beloved McCleery tradition…the Bad Momma Holiday meltdown. The trigger is different every year but the formula is always the same..

Unrealistic expectations + limited time + overly tired children + stressed out momma + 1 more thing being asked = MELTDOWN.

This year it was triggered by an innocent phone call by an unsuspecting woman from church asking me to do one little thing, but it was that proverbial straw.  I, of course, said yes in my appropriately cheerful holiday voice and then hung up. As I hung up  the phone disaster was looming in the other room in the form of an argument between the kids. It was then that I lost it. I stepped into the kitchen and informed my children that I was running away from home…that I was headed to Las Vegas to deal blackjack for a living and I wasn’t coming back.

Tyler quickly responded with, “Can I come with you?”

Frustrated by the lack of affect my words were having I tried again.

“Nice Momma is gone. Her evil twin has taken her place.”

“What does that mean?” Tyler asked

“It means things are changing around here. It means you will obey immediately, you will obey with a good attitude. It means more punishments and less second chances. It means…”

Tyler interrupted my lecture for clarification, “So evil Momma is kind of like Daddy?”

I quickly walked away so the kids didn’t see my smile. Evil Momma doesn’t smile.

I went into my bathroom and started the bath water. I turned off the lights and listened to the bath fill as I pondered my own inadequacies as a mother. Every year I tell myself that this Christmas season will be the year I find that balance. This will be the year that I will meet all those obligations and do so with a happy, humble, grateful attitude. This will be the year I will break the annual family tradition of the Bad Momma Holiday Meltdown but inevitably the stress kicks in, the list gets longer, the guilt gets heavier and world gets noisier. All I want is quiet. I crave the silent night that we sing about. And every year I break.

Then I cycle through the next series of emotions..

Anger + resentment + guilt + sadness = RENEWAL

I have my meltdown, I feel guilty that I am incapable of making it through the season without a meltdown, I am humbled as I am once again reminded of my inadequacies as a wife and mother and THEN I remember…I remember who can help. I remember who the source of energy and gratitude and Christmas spirit is. Somehow in the noise of Christmas I had shut out the voice I most needed to hear.

I needed quiet…I craved stillness…I longed for silence so I could hear my God.

In the darkness of the bathroom I slipped down into the bubbles of the hot bath. I submerged myself so only my mouth and nose lay above water. There in the cocoon of water noises were muffled. I couldn’t see the messes that needed to be cleaned up, I couldn’t hear the bickering of children.

I lay still and I found peace.

Perhaps I am the only one  out there who struggles with the annual Bad Momma Holiday Meltdown but if you find yourself teetering on the brink may I suggest submerging yourself in a hot bath. It is blissfully silent.

Just make sure you keep you nose above water.


“Don’t tinkle in your neighbor’s yard”


I sat down this morning to write and realized it has been almost a week since I posted anything. I’m not sure where the days have gone. There we were celebrating Rusty’s birthday and *poof* here we are a week later. 🙂

So…here is what you’ve missed..

Saturday was spent running in different directions. Tyler had football, Rusty had his hunter safety class, and Toby spent the day with his foot propped up after having some work done on it the day before. Toby has been having pain on the top of his foot for months. He finally decided to have it addressed after realizing that his line of work (he is in the construction business) necessitates the need to stand. He went in thinking they were going to drain a Ganglion cyst. After numbing the site with multiple shots of Novocaine the doctor proceeded to try to drain what they later described as a tumor-like mass. Unfortunately they weren’t able to “fix” it like Toby was hoping and instead sent him home in a lot more pain than he came in with. Next step is a MRI to figure out what the mass is and then possibly surgery. Needless to say Toby was frustrated by the news.

So while Toby was recovering on Saturday we faced the dilemma of having to be two places at once with the boys’ separate commitments. Luckily a dear friend came to the rescue and volunteered to take Rusty to the hunter safety class since her son was also attending. Rusty was thrilled to have a friend to go with. They were dropped off at 9:00 am and picked up at 5:00 pm. Rusty came home complaining of his head hurting from all that information but seemed to get a lot out of it. He was eager to show us the certificate, proof that he had passed the course. Now he can go hunting with Dad. 🙂

Tyler had his final game this past Saturday. It was extra exciting due to the fact that the two teams were so evenly matched. Tyler had a great game and many great tackles. The game kept us on the edge of our seat down to the last few minutes. Okay, here is where I admit my horrible, selfish, mothering flaws….As Tyler’s team began an amazing comeback in the second half, quickly gaining on the other team’s scoreboard points, I was secretly hoping they wouldn’t win. I know that is horrible but winning means another week of practice and games and NO LIFE! I’m so ready to have a life again outside of football. 🙂 The conclusion of the game couldn’t have been more perfect. The team did wonderfully, Tyler had his best game of the season, but they didn’t win so….football season is over! Woo Hoo…(This is me doing my happy dance.) It was a wonderful experience for Tyler and we saw a lot of growth in him over the last few months as a result, but I’m still relieved we are done. 🙂

Tyler's final walk off the field.

Tyler’s final walk off the field.

On Monday night we had family night. I had planned a lesson and game on “Keeping God’s Commandments.” As the lesson began we went around the room saying what we thought the most important commandment of all was and why. It was interesting to hear the kids’ opinions. We ended with Tyler and he, with great sincerity said, “Don’t tinkle in other people’s yards.” He was puzzled by our laughter and responded indignantly, “Well it isn’t nice..especially if you accidentally tinkle on their dog.”

Adopting, as I have said before, is so often a game of detective. These kids come to you, especially if they are a bit older, with experiences, triggers, and memories that you aren’t part of. Over the past year my bonding experience with Tyler could be likened to an excavation site. It is a slow process of stripping down the layers and as you do so you come across these jewels of information and experiences that have made your child who he is today. I would love to know the story behind Tyler’s insistence that God’s greatest commandment is “Never tinkle in your neighbor’s yard” because knowing Tyler I bet it is a really good story!

Roses from my love

Roses from my love

On Tuesday night Toby surprised me with roses..just because. Not only did he surprise me but he brought home a single red rose for Grace and Molly as well. “For my favorite girls,” he said. It was such an unexpected treat and such a sweet expression of his love. Not too long ago Molly said to me, “I think Heavenly Father must be a lot like Daddy.” She went on to explain that Toby always has time to listen to her, and is always doing kind things for her, and always makes her feel so special. “Heavenly Father just reminds me a lot of Daddy.” I thought here appraisal was insightful. How blessed she is..we all are..to have a man in our lives who is such a reflection of heavenly love. I am grateful to be married to a godly man who helps our children better understand God’s love for them by the love he shows them. I am so blessed.

A rose from Daddy.

A rose from Daddy.

Wednesday was our co-op day. The kids woke with an extra bounce in their step. Wednesday is everyone’s favorite day of the week. They love getting to spend the day with their friends. I teach Tyler’s science class and this week Rusty came in and joined us as we learned about molecules. Rusty was a great teacher’s helper as we learned about how molecules move in solids, liquids and gasses. Rusty had them stand up with him and we had a molecule dance party as they went from slow dancing “solid” music to fast paced, crazy “gas” music. We even pulled out the “molecule mittens” so the boys could better visualize the movement of molecules in the different states of matter. It was a fun lesson made extra fun by Rusty’s help. Thanks Russ!

Doing the molecule dance..

Doing the molecule dance..

Molecule mittens!

Molecule mittens!

Gracie also had an extra fun science class yesterday. She had an online class to attend in which they were learning about cells. In preparation for this interactive class Gracie received a box in the mail from her teacher. When she opened the box she discovered it was full of yummy treats..crackers, rice cakes, frosting, candy, etc. On Wednesday they took all of these yummy teats and learned the parts of cells by making eatable models out of the treats in the box. What a fun idea!

Gracie in her online Biology class.

Gracie in her online Biology class with her friend, Olivia.

The finished project!

The finished project!

Last night was Tyler’s night to make dinner. It was also Rusty’s date night/ shopping night. Before I left I was going to help Tyler get dinner going but when I asked him what he had planned he told me it was a secret. Wednesday’s are always Tyler’s night to cook and rather than make a crock pot meal like the kids do he usually chooses a “kid friendly” recipe that he can make with a little assistance. His usual choices include pancakes, eggs, chicken nuggets and fries, etc. When Toby arrived home I told him dinner hadn’t been started because Tyler didn’t tell me what he was making… “It’s a secret.” After I left Toby asked Tyler what he was making and Tyler leaned in close so the other children wouldn’t hear him and whispered, “hotdogs.” “OK, where are the hot dogs?” Toby asked, expecting Tyler to say that they were in the fridge downstairs. “At the store,” Tyler replied. Toby then had to explain that he had to pick something that was already in the house. They ended up eating Raman Noodles (Tyler’s pick.) 🙂 Meanwhile Rusty and I had dinner at Wendy’s. With the $10.00  Rusty had to buy dinner for the two of us he decided that he wanted to buy dinner off the dollar menu thus leaving just enough to get an icecream cone at Handle’s when we were done shopping. On our way home we stopped and bought an icecream for Rusty and a pumpkin milkshake for me. ( I brought one home for Toby as well.)

Date night

Date night

When we arrived home I put our shakes in the freezer for us to enjoys after unpacking groceries, evening devotionals, and tuck-ins. Just when I thought my day was done and I was off the clock Tyler came running in to tell me “one last thing”, hitting the milkshake cup and sending it flying. Orange icecream splattered in every direction. It was like the world was moving in slow motion as I watched icecream hit the wall, and the floor, and the furniture. Tyler’s hands went up to his mouth as he watched wide-eyed. After re-tucking in Tyler and scrubbing orange goop off of EVERYTHING with Toby’s help, it was time for bed…

“Goodnight pillow, goodnight wall, tomorrow morning I’ll scrub you all..”