Tag Archives: trials

Oh, Crap!!

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The first clue that perhaps all was not right with the world was the smell.

Rusty and Grace were at home, alone, when they caught the first whiff. A quick glance around the room for 4-legged suspects revealed that the most likely instigators of the smell were curled up on couches elsewhere. They decided they better investigate.

Their keen sense of smell led them to the basement door. As they opened the door to investigate they were hit with a putrid wave of foreboding. Hesitantly and with great apprehension they began descending down the stairs only to step into a nightmare-inducing horror film. A pipe above their head was showering down feces in a most spectacular fashion, while the contents of our septic tank bubbled up from the drains on the floor.

Being McCleery’s, these kids have been better trained for the worst sorts of disaster scenarios than most government FEMA workers. Rather than running from the horror that lay before them they jumped into this crappy scenario with both feet (after donning rubber boots) and set to work trying to save what they could.

Racing through the sewage bubbling up beneath their feet and raining down on them from above, they hurried to move boxes out of the path of destruction.

When they finally felt that things were safe enough to run upstairs for the phone they called Toby and asked what they should do. After confirming that there was nothing else that could be done until he made it home from work, they called me at tutoring to give me a heads up of what I would be coming home to.

In typical Gracie  efficiency, she ended the conversation with a breezy, “Don’t feel like you have to hurry home. We’ve got things under control here.”

When Tyler was done with tutoring we drove home. As we stepped into the front door we were hit with the unique smell combination of sewage layered with ocean breeze air freshener, AXE cologne, and a variety of Bath and Body Works body sprays. I’m not sure if the AXE cologne helped or hurt the situation but the kids insisted that things smelled significantly better with the added scents.

Toby arrived home and headed downstairs only to emerge a little while later with the unfortunate news that there was nothing to be done until septic companies opened the following morning. In the meantime we just had to endure the smell and not use any water. That meant no showers, no dishes, no laundry, and especially NO FLUSHING until we figured out why our basement was filling with sewage.

The next day angels in rubber gloves pulled into our driveway.

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For three hours they worked to remedy our situation. Thankfully they discovered the blockage and was able to fix it, and while they were here we also had them pump our septic tank. One septic emergency was enough for this lifetime so we chose to be proactive while we had the truck here.

Once the problem was solved and the shower of crap had ceased, it was time to brave the horror downstairs and clean up the mess. All I can say is, “Kuddos to these kiddos who without comment or complaint, pulled on their rubber boots and rubber gloves, grabbed a shovel and began scooping.”

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What troopers they were. No strangers to crappy situations, they just dove into this unpleasant task with steely resolve and a good sense of humor and within a few hours had turned our septic swamp back into a basement.

While most teenagers would have been bemoaning this unforeseen change in our Family Night plans, Molly, with typical optimism, cheerful commented as she shoveled poop into trash bags, ” Well, this is one Family Night we will NEVER forget!”

Once everything had been scooped and scrubbed, we doused the basement in bleach to kill any residual germs. As we stumbled upstairs, weary and ready for showers, Tyler took a huge sniff. “Our house doesn’t smell like poop anymore,” he observed, “Now it smells like Kalahari!” The smell of bleach did give the impression we had just walked into an indoor water park. 🙂

All was well that ended well…or so we thought.

The real damage done by this unexpected circumstance had nothing to do with the pile of ruined storage that got carried outside. No, the real damage was far more devastating…

Beginning on Monday night, the night the septic tank back up into our basement, we noticed a concerning change in Tyler. Out of nowhere he developed a pronounced facial tic. It was bizarre. It came on quickly and increased in severity within the first 24 hours. My first thought was that he was having a seizure, as it was disconcerting to see his facial muscles rapidly clench and release as his eyes rapidly blinked. What was even more disconcerting was the fact that he was unaware he was even doing it.

As the week progressed I spent countless hours researching possible causes and set up appointments with his doctor, therapist, and psychiatrist, uncertain if the cause was neurological, medication driven, or rooted in trauma. I had a theory but it wasn’t until we met with his therapist and his psychiatrist that my theory was confirmed. They agreed that what we were seeing was a regression that came as a result of the smell of feces in the house. The sense of smell is the strongest memory trigger we have and they both suspect that when Tyler was exposed to a smell that was so pronounced in the deplorable conditions of his birth home where atrocious abuse took place, he was hit with terrifying flashbacks. Unable to express or vent the horrors playing out in his head, his body responded to that fear and stress physiologically in the form of these new facial tics.

We are still ruling out other possible medical causes but his doctors are fairly certain that this regression is trauma driven, and although the smell is long gone, the flashbacks remain and the feelings of not being safe at home are driving these new symptoms. My heart breaks for him. Not only because of the looks he is now getting from others, but because of the horrors that he must have endured to cause his little body to have such a visceral reaction to a smell.

This entire week has been a profound reminder of the difference between the frustrations and the bothersome inconveniences of life that we perhaps view as trials, and the real trials of life that so many are burdened with this Christmas season. Yes, a basement full of sewage was not fun, but really, was it anything more that a frustration or irritation. How blessed we are to have only endured that situation for 24 hours when there are children around the globe living in such squalor every day. It was a wake-up call for me…a powerful reminder this Christmas season of how blessed we are, but also wake up call of how little we are doing to help those whose trials are so much greater than ours.

Lord, help me to not lose sight of that admonition…

Not only this Christmas season, but all year long.

 

A Sweet End to a Bitter Beginning

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Sometimes I feel as though my life has “Multiple Personality Disorder,” with multiple lifetimes occurring at the same time under the umbrella of one life.  

(Let me reiterate: My LIFE,  not my child)

Much like made for TV character that transforms from controlled to chaotic, kind to cruel, joyful to drowning in despair, our life has evolved into a hair raising, out of control ride…

Stable one minute,

 completely derailed the next.

We find ourselves living in a constant state of hyper alert watchfulness.

We spend the minutes of our day always assessing, monitoring, and anticipating what sight, smell, sound, thought or memories will transform our life from calm, controlled and happy, to raging, fearful and hopeless.

It is a hard way to live, and the effect of past traumas on my already struggling son, can result in a whole family in crisis.

The last 24 hours have been surreal, and as I sat down to record the reality of our life  I debated breaking the happenings of the last day between two blogs, one reporting the good and the other reporting the struggles, but I stopped myself. Our life can not and will not be compartmentalized. As much as I crave the order and control of defining my days in the black and white categories of “good days or bad days,”  the reality of our life is that most days are a messy mix of trauma driven struggles and merciful moments of goodness and joy.

This particular pocket of time began Friday night with heartache.

We are all living out the effects of the early childhood trauma that has reduced my once happy boy into a child filled with despair and hopelessness.

At the root of Ozzie’s hurt is a deep-seated belief, a belief that was planted in his tender soul by abusive parents from the time he was small, that he deserves the abuse he endured, that he is not worthy of anything better, and  as a result he has decided he will sentence himself to a life of hurt and abuse if no one else will meet that request.

“What won’t you just punch me?” he will yell in desperation,

“I just need someone to hurt me!”


When those desperate requests are answered with tokens of love, nurturing acts, and additional support, he lashes out in desperation, hurting the very people who are offering him a safe harbor from the pain.

His behaviors have escalated.  

His desperation has increased.

He is determined to hurt.

He is terrified of being loved and will do anything to keep the thing he fears most, attachment to his adoptive family, at bay.

He is drowning in new flashbacks of horrific acts of abuse and is desperate to quiet the voices in his head.

 All he wants is a way out.

All I want is to keep him safe.

So my life has become a 24/7 vigil, as I work to protect him from himself. Every possible threat has been locked up, and cameras have been installed around the home, allowing for extra eyes of protection on him at all times. I don’t walk away. I don’t take a break. I am on guard. Fighting for this child who can’t fight for himself.

Things escalated to a new level last Friday when he wrote out a plan of how he was going to take his life.

Back to the Emergency Room we went.

Back to be assessed and monitored.

Back to inpatient care for another stay and another shot at stabilization.

By the time the ambulance arrived to take him back to the juvenile mental hospital that he was discharged from just weeks ago, my heart was heavy… heavier than it has ever been. There I stood, staying goodbye to my child who looks and acts more like a ten-year-old than a 13-year-old, in the hallway of the ER at 4:30 in the morning, weary.

So weary of the fight.

So weary of the battles.

So weary of the constant vigilance.

So weary of trying to hold onto hope in the midst of hopelessness.

So weary of trying to keep my family intact in the midst of constant battles against the trauma of Ozzie’s past.

So weary of smiling through the tears and finding the good in an absurdly bad situation.

So weary of being the Mom…the one who must remain hopeful, positive, optimistic and strong. The one who must help everyone else ride the waves of RAD and help the other children process the secondary PTSD occurring in the home. Being the one who must help create normalcy for the rest of the family in a situation that is anything but normal.

But weary or not, we go on.

I climbed into the car, exhausted down to the tips of my toes, drove home and crawled into bed to get a few hours of sleep before a new day began. It was going to be a full day of packing for Girls’ Camp (where I will be serving as a level leader over the 7th year girls) and then our annual strawberry picking, because despite how crazy the night was the dawn will come and the show must go on. There are other people in my family who need me, so I wake up day after day, and keep on keeping on…

Praying for strength.

Praying for grace.

Praying for hope.

Praying for wisdom.

Praying for the capacity to forgive…

And praying that there was a caffeinated Diet Coke in the fridge to fuel my efforts. 😉

From suicide watch to strawberry picking in a 12 hour stretch…

because that’s how we roll.

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Did I mention my life has Multiple Personality Disorder?

Over the last 7 or 8 years we have enjoyed the annual tradition of going strawberry picking as a family. It always seems to fall on the Saturday before Father’s Day, resulting in many strawberry themed treats for the day.

When we moved into this house we were introduced to Catalpa Farms by friends, when they invited us to go pea picking with them one year.

Since then Catalpa’s has been our go-to “you pick” farm in the area.

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Saturday was chaos (understatement of the year!) and really not the ideal day to go berry picking, but knowing the unavailability of free Saturdays for the next two weeks, and knowing how short-lived strawberry season is, it was now or never.

So, after a hard, traumatic previous 12 hours, we rallied as only the McCleerys can, gathered our strawberry boxes, and headed to Ohio.

Grace had spent the day working, while Molly and I packed and prepped for Girls’ Camp. At the end of Gracie’s shift, we drove over, picked her up, and drove out to Catalpa’s for some strawberry picking.

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Since we arrived at 4:00 in the afternoon, there was no one left in the field (pickers or field bosses) so we had free reign to pick anywhere we wanted in rows 1 and 2.

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We are accustomed to arriving early in the morning with dozens of other families and being given a small stretch of field to strip clean. It was kind of fun to be able to roam freely and have the farm to ourselves.

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Since Ozzie was back at the hospital, it was just the six of us picking. We knew we only had an hour until closing so we made quick work of berry picking.

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The job moved at a much quicker clip than usual, with the freedom of being able to move around the field, searching for untouched patches thick with strawberries.

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What a beautiful crop they had this year. The strawberries were large and sweet…a rare combination.

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One of the many reasons we love this “you pick” farm is because of their encouragement to “eat as you pick.” The kids love biting into sun-warmed, just-off-the-vine berries. It becomes a “one for me, one for the basket” dance of indulgence as the strawberry cartons slowly fill.

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We did well. In our hour, we managed to fill 24 quarts to overflowing…

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And I felt my heart lightening and my soul healing a bit under the rays of the afternoon sun.

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We finished at 5:00pm and headed back to the front to pay and treat ourselves to our traditional berry picking reward for our hard work: homemade strawberry slushies.

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Made from crushed ice and their home-grown strawberries, this sweet nectar of the gods is incredible…a perfect way to end our strawberry picking fun at Catalpa Farms!

Then it was back home for hours and hours of cleaning, hulling, chopping and canning of strawberry treats for us to enjoy in the upcoming year.

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From heartbreak to happy moment,

The tides turn as quick as that…

All within 24 hours.

A sweet end to a bitter beginning.

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Let’s Go Fly a Kite

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Prior to leaving for the beach I picked up 5 kites when I found them on sale while I was shopping. Like their mother, my kids have never really had a successful kite flying experience. As a child I remember several attempts at kite flying that never really took off.

Eagerly anticipating a Hallmark card moment of standing in a field of blowing grass,

with the tails of my kite blowing in the wind,

as I held tight to the string,

ended instead with me running full speed through the field,

working up a sweat

as I fought to catch a breeze so that my kite would take flight.

Until yesterday I had never successfully flown a kite.

But there on the beach, that everyone else had abandoned because of grey skies, choppy waves and increased wind, our kites took flight. In fact they soared.

That very element that drove away the other sunbathers, is the very thing that we needed. It was the winds of adversity that allowed us to find joy in soaring.

The same can be said for our lives. So often we think that real joy, peace, and fulfillment in life come from ease or the absence of trials, when in reality it is the storms and winds of adversity that cause us to rise above the world, soar to greater heights, and allow us to touch the heavens.

I used to think happiness came with a life of ease, but I have learned that it is through great opposition that we grip the string of God’s grace more tightly, and are lifted to higher places, better able to view Heavenly Father’s greatest vistas.

Sure a life of ease seems safe and comfortable, but it is only by following God’s calling to step into the wind that our souls really take flight.

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The wind blew. Our kits flew. And we were blessed with an afternoon of joy.

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Don’t fear the winds of adversity. Step forth with faith, trusting the Keeper of the wind, and discover the joy of flying a kite!

A “Perfect” Tree

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I think one of the greatest battles for a mother during the Christmas season is the  battle that rages within against unrealistic expectations.

As mothers we feel a pressure to bring the magic of Christmas to our homes. Somehow the responsibility of living up to the “Hallmark Holiday Television Special” standard of Christmas is placed squarely on the mother’s shoulders.

Very rarely do I see a husband stressing about Christmas cards, matching PJs,  or finding the perfect gift for his mother. No, it is the woman that carries that burden, knowing that if she doesn’t execute all parts of the holiday production with Martha Stewart grace, there will be a price to pay… with guilt being the universal currency.

And what is even more ironic in this tale is that the expectations and the guilt is rarely laid on us by someone else. Instead it is placed squarely on our shoulders by self. I have spent this month pondering what deficiency in myself or what human frailty drives this need for Christmas perfection.

Perhaps I was spoiled in childhood by parents who made Christmas so magical and made the magic look so effortless. That is a hard act to follow when you become a mother yourself.

Maybe it is the saturation of possibilities that bombard us on social media (aka: Pinterest,) making everything we do seem “not enough” when compared to all we could do at Christmastime.

Perhaps it is simply the plague of “oldest child syndrome” that comes with a certain drive for pleasing others and performing perfectly that I never can quite shake.

I try to kill the beast within but it is an ongoing battle that leaves me swinging from unrealistic expectations, to fatigue, to guilt and back again.

The Lord knows this sin I struggle with. He knows how the holidays feed this beast within and only make it grow. He knows my fear of losing control and disappointing others only serves as a chasm in our relationship that drives me away from Him rather than draws me closer, so often He will step in to protect me from myself, and allow situations that are bigger than me and my power of control, to realign my focus.

And when that happens, as much as I might fight it, I find that I gain my footing and am able to exhale.

This December was one of those seasons of surrender.

This month we were faced with challenges and obstacles bigger than us. And during most of those challenges Toby was out of town and I was struggling to manage them on my own. Add to the challenges we were facing as a family, the pressures and unrealistic expectations that come with the Christmas season, and I found myself at a crossroads. I had to willingly make a choice to LET GO of my vision for the holidays and LET GOD lead.

This meant my itinerary, my plans, my traditional parties, activities, and ways of bringing Christmas magic that I was holding onto so tightly had to be let go so as to open my hands and heart for the type of Christmas that God had planned for us.

I shared some of that transformation in a previous post, but God continues to work on me. He is helping me to refocus, slow down and see the Christmas season in a different way. And in the process He is bringing a depth and closeness to our family and a greater appreciation for the true gifts of Christmas in the process.

Lately it seems the theme for this Christmas is: I plan and God laughs… and then He provides something better.

That theme continued with Toby’s homecoming and our plan to get the perfect Christmas tree.

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We have been eagerly counting down the days for Toby to come home so that we could go get our tree and start enjoying those traditions that we didn’t want to do without Toby. . Going to get our Christmas tree was at the top of the list. We usually drive to a “you pick” Christmas tree farm and cut down our own tree. I love everything about the experience from the tromping through the woods, to the debate over the best tree, to the towing the tree home on the trailer.

 It is my favorite part of Christmas.

So when Toby arrived home and we made plans to go out Saturday afternoon to cut down our tree, we were all very excited. It felt like Christmas had finally arrived. Daddy was home, the tree was going up, and now, 7 days before Christmas, the holidays could begin. All was right with the world.

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Daddy’s home!

 

It was right about then God started laughing.

You see, the night before had brought an ice storm that left our steep driveway encrusted in a beautiful, but treacherous, layer of ice.

My van was parked at the bottom with no hope of climbing the slick drive, but we were surprised to find out that Toby’s truck, that ALWAYS makes it up the driveway, even in the worst driving conditions, couldn’t make it up.

In fact not only could he not make it up, he actually ended up being pulled backwards down the driveway,  losing his trailer that was attached to his truck, over the edge of the hill.

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Our plans to take his truck and trailer to the tree farm were stalled as we called for a tow. Assuming we would just have to postpone our plans for a  couple of hours we started working the phones, only to find out that NO tow company wanted to have anything to do with our driveway and our predicament.

So we moved onto plan B. We would take the van and deal with the truck and trailer later. The van was already at the bottom so we would take it and simply strap the Christmas tree to the top. Nothing was going to stand in the way of going Christmas tree hunting.

And then God laughed.

We climbed in the van all bundled up in gear and proceeded to spin in place. For an hour we dug, we laid gravel and salt, we pushed and we pulled, but that van wouldn’t budge.

So now it was Saturday afternoon and we were stuck.

It was the last Saturday before Christmas to get our tree and we had one truck with no brakes (remember Gracie’s crash,) one truck perched precariously on the edge of an icy driveway, and a van parked on an ice skating rink. We weren’t going anywhere until the spring thaw.

I was frustrated and discouraged. Once again my plans were not God’s plans.

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Then He planted a seed of an idea. The day need not be discarded as failure. After all we lived on 53 acres of land. “Why not,” the thought came to us, “go Christmas tree hunting on our own property.” If we can’t drive to the trees why not shop at home, so that is what we did. And it was the most special Christmas tree hunting experience we have ever enjoyed as a family. It was an experience we would have never enjoyed had everything “gone right” and played out as I wanted it to.

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The kids were sold on the idea immediately. With hand saw in hand (the chain saw was trapped in the back of the jack-knifed trailer) we headed out. The three dogs joined us as we tromped through the snowy woods.

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Our Christmas tree options were limited.

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While much of our land is forest, it is filled primarily with deciduous trees and not evergreens. This added to the challenge of the hunt and a whole lot of laughter as we pondered the possibilities which seemed to come down to  30 foot or 3 foot pines, with not too many options in between.

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The dogs loved this unique adventure and raced around our legs, chomping on the snow, as we worked our way from one corner of the property to the other.

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We finally stumbled across a possibility.

It was definitely “airier” (that is the kind way to say it was sparse) than a commercial tree, but it had a pretty shape and a country charm about it.

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Tyler had his heart set on another tree that we had to veto for the simple fact it was too small and delicate to hold any ornaments. I could tell Tyler was frustrated that we couldn’t see the possibilities in his tree, that he viewed as perfect, so he did what anyone else might do in the same situation:

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He ripped it out by its roots and carried it home to put in the corner of his bedroom, root ball and all. 🙂

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Toby then pulled out his hand saw and dropped our mighty tree….TIMBER!

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It looked even bigger when it was laying across the road.

We ended up having to “trim” half of it off to make it fit in the 14 foot tall corner of our living room.

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The hilarity of the situation continued as we tried to drag this enormous tree up our icy driveway and get it into position in the living room.

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Stay tuned for part two of our tree adventure…decorating Goliath.

A Tired Momma

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The best comprehensive overview of life with children with attachment issues (aka…RAD) that I have seen. Parenting a RAD child can be the most draining, exhausting, defeating, and isolating road to walk. It is hard to explain how very hard life is for the parents and siblings of children with Reactive Attachment Disorder. To the outside world these very hurt, sick children can seem charming and delightful. The parents of RAD kids are often seen as overly strict, hard on their children, or crazy because these children have developed unbelievably advanced ability to lie, manipulate, and charm, meanwhile behind closed doors the storms rage 24/7 with the primary caregiver being the most targeted victim of the abuse. This heartbreaking disorder is brought on by lack of care when a child is young. By not having their most basic needs met by a loving parent these children never learn to form attachments. I have two children with a RAD diagnoses, with one who displays the symptoms to the degree laid out in this overview. I am a tired Momma. Parents of RAD kids live in a constant state of exhaustion as a result of moving through their days in a hypervigilant state. I am feeling the fatigue all the more intensely with Toby gone. Parenting an abusive child with no respite is so hard. I know some of my friends with RAD kids will get this. I can see them nodding, “Yes, yes! This is my life!” But for those that don’t live in a world where attachment disorders drive every aspect of your day, here is a cheat sheet into our world. I share not to embarrass or shame. I share not for attention or pity. Rather, I share, because I know there is someone reading this with tears streaming down their face, thinking, “Finally someone understands what I have been going through.” Whether this is your journey or whether your struggles come in a different form, this is a good reminder that things are rarely what they seem. Ladies, let us all love and support each other more and judge a little less.

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For more about our life raising a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder check out this previous post:

https://ktmccleery.wordpress.com/2015/02/10/rad-not-so-cool/

The Hoover Dam…or as Tyler calls it, “The Hoover Darn”

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Preparation for this road trip began months before we actually packed up the bus. There were so many things to figure out, so many moving parts involved in a trip this long and involved, that the preparations took a long time. There was the researching and planning of our route and what sites we wanted to see. There were the logistics of the bus conversion and making sure mechanically it would be able to handle a 9,000-mile journey over a variety of terrain. There were the school preparations as we worked with our cyber schools to make sure this road trip would be feasible with school work, and making sure we were prepared for how we would manage internet while on the road. There were campsites to book, menu and grocery planning, packing lists and home preparations for leaving our home and farm under the care of a house sitter for seven weeks.

There was also the issue of medications. Both little boys are on a variety of medication that help with the symptoms of ADHD, anxiety and Reactive Attachment Disorder. They both receive therapy for early childhood trauma but the medications they are on help them manage their symptoms so that they can do the therapy work. These medications are essential for their well-being as well as for the functionality of our family as a whole.

Before we left we worked to get the boys’ medications stabilized and prepared for our time away from their doctor and therapist by filling their 30 days of medication the day before we left and then bringing their refill scripts with us.

I was concerned that we might have an issue filling their Concerta scripts for ADHD because it is considered a controlled substance. So I set aside time to speak with our pharmacist face to face. I expressed my concerns and she reassured me that it shouldn’t be an issue as long as I had paper scripts from the doctor and photo ID…

Boy was she wrong!

It has been a nightmare. For 6 days, through 3 states, with stops at 10 different pharmacies, we have tried to refill the boys’ empty meds.

Each pharmacy had a different reason for saying, “NO.” One refused to fill any out of state scripts for controlled substances. One wouldn’t fill the script because more than one medication was written on one script. Another wouldn’t fill any script that was written more than 14 days ago. Another refused to fill a controlled substance script without speaking to the doctor.

It was that pharmacy that resulted in an extended stay in Las Vegas. The pharmacist wanted to speak to our doctor. It was Saturday morning and our doctor wouldn’t be back in the office until Tuesday so we had to wait, with crossed fingers, that our extended stay in Las Vegas would pan out.

Those who have ever questioned the validity of ADHD, or who feel it is a made-up diagnosis to excuse poor behavior in school children, has never lived with an ADHD child. Let me tell you…IT IS REAL!!

Both boys have a diagnoses of ADHD but Tyler is far more severe. In fact his doctor says he has the most severe case of any ADHD patient she treats. When he is on his meds, which includes 5 different medications and 10 pills a day, he is still bouncy and distracted. Living with him off his meds in a little school bus…

Well imagine climbing into a refrigerator box with 33 monkeys and a Tasmanian devil and you just about have it.

The last few days have been challenging. We have had to adjust our itinerary and cut out a few stops to make this extended stay in Las Vegas work.

The blessing is: we are at a wonderful KOA campsite.

The staff is fantastic and there is a beautiful pool where we have spent much time allowing Tyler to burn off energy in the 105-degree heat.

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It also offered free shuttle service so we have been able to take advantage of sites in the area as we wait on news about the meds. While we were stationary we also had a mobile automotive service come out and do a little repair work on some of the wear and tear on the bus that came as a result of our climb and descent through the Rocky Mountains.

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It was nice to be able to have the mechanic come out to the KOA and work on the bus while we swam.

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One of the planned stops for our trip through Vegas was the Hoover Dam, or as Tyler calls it,

“The Hoover Darn.”

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He didn’t buy my explanation that the word “dam” in reference to a structure, wasn’t a bad word.

I don’t know what I was thinking taking two ADHD boys, who are off their meds, to the tallest man made, concrete structure in the western hemisphere.

I think I was just desperate to escape the confines of the bus.

While there I vacillated between a numbing fear that Tyler was going to bounce his way of the side of the dam and a temptation to push him over the side of the dam.

We drove the bus over to the Hoover Dam, a 30-minute drive from our KOA in Sam’s Town, Nevada.

When we arrived we were ushered through a security check point where Police Officers boarded our bus and thoroughly searched it, inside and out. All trucks, Vans and RVs had to be searched.

We don’t know if this is a normal security procedure or if it was a result of the bombings that had occurred on the east coast the day before.

We were soon through security and were told to head to parking lot 14 which was set up to accommodate larger vehicles.

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We were surprised, as we approached the dam, that we would be driving across the top of it. We thought only pedestrians we allowed on top of  it, so it was a thrill to drive across this mammoth structure.

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We parked and began the long decent, down numerous staircases, to the dam.

Walking across it allowed us the opportunity to move at a more leisurely pace, read the signage and take pictures.

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The boys lasted about 3.2 seconds before the first one was hanging over the railing in an effort to better see the water below.  From that moment on we had a firm hand-holding policy for both boys, but even with that safety measure I didn’t have any feeling in my legs and my heart didn’t stop racing until we were back in the bus.

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It was there on the top of the dam that we really got to experience Vegas heat at its best. The 105 degree temperatures felt even hotter as we stood on that enormous concrete slab.

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All around the dam were cooling stations. These giant, mist blowing fans were a lovely relief from the heat.

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But nothing felt as good as the wall of cold air that hit us as we stepped into the visitor’s center.

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We considered doing one of the two tours offered that allows visitors to go inside the dam and see the inner workings of the dam,  but we knew we would never make it with the boys in their current condition, so instead we just bought a pass to the visitor’s center.

Here we learned all about the history of the Hoover Dam, from the planning process, to the construction, to the science behind its inner workings, as well as its function today.

Here are some of the cool things we learned:

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We didn’t realize that the Hoover Dam lies on the border of two states with one side rooted in Arizona and the other in Nevada.

It was a very interesting stop and our visit was packed with fascinating history and fun science.

(On a side note)

If we were to do anything differently we probably would have skipped the visitor’s center. It was $10.00/person but we didn’t feel we got our money’s worth out of the small visitor’s center. Quite honestly we could have enjoyed our visit just as fully having walked the dam and read all the great signage outside for free. 

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It really is an astounding place, well worth a visit if you are in the area.

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We ended our visit with a stop at the gift shop/restaurant.

The kids were really excited for this visit because of their exposure to the Hoover Dam after reading the Percy Jackson series. There is a great scene in one of the books that takes place at the dam…

So in honor of all Percy Jackson fans we bought some “dam fries” to share.

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All in all,

It was a “Dam” Good Day!

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The darker side of adoption

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It was 1:34 am and another plate flew past my head and shattered against the wall. I chalked up the loss to the cost of adoption, finding some peace in the fact that it was a Walmart replaceable dinner plate as opposed to a china plate or family heirloom. I have long since packed away my Lladro’ figurines on the top shelf of my closet to be enjoyed for a fleeting minute every morning and evening when I pull my clothes off the hangers.

The weeks since Toby has left have been challenging with the boys. Actually “challenging” is a laughable understatement. Things have not been this hard since those early months of placement when both boys worked so hard to test my willingness to stick with them through the most challenging of behaviors.

In fact these few weeks have perhaps been even harder. The silence found resonating on this blog site is testimony to that struggle. When things are hard I find myself isolating from others, both in a physical sense as well as a virtual one. Perhaps this comes from an uncertainty as to what and how much to share…always trying to walk that delicate line between being real in our journey while still respecting the privacy of my family. Or perhaps it’s because I feel so lost in the darkness that I struggle to find the light that I want to share with you. Sometimes though I think it comes down to just being weary. A weariness so soul deep that even a Rip Van Winkle sleep couldn’t bring the rest I crave.

The weariness comes from the lack of respite. I’m sure many of you can relate. You might not be dealing with the same trauma but perhaps your circumstances bring a similar weariness.  It is a weariness that comes from always having to be “on.” The opportunity to escape, even mentally, is not there. Our home at the moment is like an active minefield, Grace and I are tiptoeing through our days, trying to tread gently for fear of setting one of them off and then having to attend to the casualties and destruction.

Toby’s absence has sent both boys spinning out of control and the results are bigger and more explosive than you can imagine. The cruelty, the hitting and biting, the name calling, and the broken decorations, the 911 call (oh, yes he did!), the manipulation, and the holes punched in the drywall are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. I live in a state of constant vigilance and fear…not of my sons, but of losing control of the situation with my sons.

On Tuesday we had a therapy appointment with Tina. I went in first to update her before I brought Ozzie in. She asked me how I was and the floodgates opened. After weeks of isolating myself from the world I finally had someone safe to talk to. I told her I was tired…so very tired. I laughed with bitterness at the irony of my situation. In my desire to save these two boys from a life of horrendous abuse I find myself now in my own abusive situation.

I am in an abusive relationship …actually two abusive relationships…that I can’t walk away from. If it was my husband doing and saying these things I would have walked away a long time ago but these are children. My children. My boys who are dealing with hurts bigger and scarier than anything you and I could conjure up in our scariest nightmare. I have the privilege of being both of their security as well as the walking representation of the figures they love and hate the most: their birth parents. And so I get to be on the receiving end of all the hurt they would like to inflict on the parents they don’t have access to.

I get it. Mentally, logically, I understand the reasoning and the motivation behind the behavior, but that doesn’t make it any easier emotionally. The  “I hate you”s feel all too personal. I am feeling Toby’s absence in a profound way and am looking forward to him pulling down the driveway in a few days. I look forward to having my co-captain home and being able to “tag out” of the ring every now and then. I look forward to not being alone in the struggle and to the peace and security Toby’s presence brings to my boys and to me. I am looking forward to Grace being able to step down from her role as helper and co-parent and be able to just be a teenager with teenager thoughts and concerns. I am looking forward to getting on our bus and getting away as a family as we share experiences that will glue us together.

So often I find that the only stories shared about adoption are either the rainbows and roses, “Happily Ever After” stories, or the horror stories of families destroyed and adoptions dissolved. I write our story, not to sway opinions, garner sympathy, or embarrass. I share to encourage others and to put a real face to adoption. There are beautiful moments in our journey but also some hard ugly realities. These do not exist separate from each other. Together they make up this life we live. Adoption is a blessing. I testify that adoption not only strengthens families but also strengthens the individual. The struggles have a way of holding a mirror up to our souls to show us the real strengths and weaknesses that lie within. The journey humbles and makes all involved more dependent on Christ. It is a refiner’s  fire that purifies and strengthens.

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We have been asked if we would ever consider adopting again. I usually laugh and say that the answer depends on the type of day you ask. If you asked me this week, as I look at the carnage that covers the floor, I might break down in tears

but the truth is this…

If God calls us to it we will answer with a resounding “yes,” not because I have confidence in our abilities as parents, but because of the confidence I have in my Heavenly Father and in his plan for our family.

Is adoption hard?

 H***   YES!!!

Oh, so hard!

Far harder than we could have imagined, but the miracles witnessed daily make every uphill step worth the struggle.

Even on days like today…

Perhaps most profoundly on days like today.

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I can do all things through Christ

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Just when I think we have it together,

Just when I think I don’t need help,

Just when I start skipping and singing,

Just when I lose sight of the big picture,

I am reminded.

It is humbling and yet so, so good.

I pray that they Lord never allows me to become complacent in my earthly walk.

I pray He never allows the journey to become so easy that I don’t need to call on Him daily for help.

I pray that He puts just enough weight on my shoulders to keep me falling to my knees.

I pray that when the walk gets easy He will continue to remind me who it is that cleared that path,

that took away the obstacles, that strengthened my legs.

And when the journey is hard…Oh, so hard

I pray that He will remind me to look up and take note of who is carrying me.

Things have been blessedly easy for the last six months.

It has been wonderful to wake without wondering what test or trial awaits me on the other side of the bedroom door.

The last six months have been a time of rest and renewal as we have been able to enjoy a season of peace.

But I have noticed the absence of that dependent relationship on the Lord that only comes through the hard times.

As tiring, and hard, and scary as the tough times are, I would never wish them away, because it is during those darkest moments that the light of God shines most brightly and illuminates my life. It shines on the important and the less important fades into the shadows. Hard times are clarifying and helps me remember why I am here and what has eternal value.

Our season of ease has been interrupted with a hiccup of testing. The easy walk has become hard and I have been left with a son whose favorite statement for the last two weeks has been,

“I Hate You!”

So many of the behaviors that we thought were over are back with a vengeance. The behaviors we saw early on in our adoption journey are rearing their ugly heads again, leaving me shaking my head and wondering,

“What has changed?”

I have spent the last few nights, after riding out some epic temper tantrums, laying in bed trying to figure out the trigger,

then it came to me.

About 6 weeks ago we were contacted by our adoption agency. Ozzie and I were asked it we would speak at their annual black tie fundraising dinner. We were asked to speak about our adoption journey in the foster to adopt program. They asked us to talk about God’s hand in our journey, how we knew Ozzie was our son, the blessings and struggles of adding a new member to a family, and what adoption looks like after adoption day.

When I approached Ozzie about whether he would like to accept the invitation to speak, he eagerly said “yes!”

For those that don’t know Ozzie, he has no fear of speaking in front of crowds and he loves a good audience.

It wasn’t until we began working on what we would talk about that I saw the internal struggle, as well as the external testing connected with the emotions he was feeling. I see him struggling with feelings of anxiety and guilt that I suspect are a result of him feeling like he is betraying his birth family by talking about the blessings of joining our family. I can see the battle raging within even though he can’t adequately express the emotions he is feeling.

I, being his safe person, the person he knows won’t flee, won’t run, won’t leave…

am the person he is taking it out on.

Fun stuff.

I know it isn’t about me.  I know he is lashing out at me because he can’t hurt the ones he really wants to hurt. I know I am his emotional punching bag because I won’t punch back (literally or figuratively.)

The result: two very hard weeks.

I know Satan is working overtime to discourage us, plant seeds of doubt about our adoption story’s validity. It is hard to stand as an example and speak of the great blessings and great love that comes from adoption when your adopted child is yelling, “I hate you! I wish you never adopted me!”

How do I tell potential adoptive parents that this is a good life choice

in the midst of  raging temper tantrum after raging temper tantrum..

This has been my struggle all week.

In the middle of the night the answer came to me,

as God whispered,

“You are not the example. It is not about you or Ozzie or your story. It is not about your successes or your failures…It is about me.”

The message is about following the call that God places on our hearts. It is about saying “yes” when the world tells you to say “no.” It is about showing up every day and committing every day, not because it is fun or feels good, but because God asks you to. It is about dependence on Him rather than dependence on ourselves. It is about healing and growing and loving through the messy stuff and not giving up on each other.

That is what I had lost sight of.

That is what I needed reminded of.

Through this journey God is refining me.

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In the end this is our message…the words Ozzie and I would like to share that night:

Is it hard…yes.

Is it scary…yes.

Is it messy and complicated…yes.

But is God calling you to it?

Then do it.

Yes, it is worth it! So worth it!!

“I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” -Phil 4:13

“In Her Shoes”

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Tuesday night was our annual Relief Society Garden Party for the ladies at church. The theme for the night was “In Her Shoes.” We shared the message that although the shoes we might wear in life differ,

we are all walking the same path in hopes of arriving at the same destination. None of us need to walk alone.

As Relief Society sisters we are here to support, encourage, and lean on each other when our burdens are heavy and when we are tempted to just sit down and quit walking.

It was a night of sisterhood, fellowship, laughter and tears as we became better acquainted with each other, shared our stories with new friends, and cried tears of support as we listened to the messages spoken.

The night was a true labor of love as many women offered up their time and talents to create a special night for an amazing group of ladies.

Here is a peek at our night…

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We hit our first hiccup on Monday night when the weather channel reported a 70% chance of rain. Last year’s garden party was so much fun and the ladies enjoyed being outside so I was crushed when we had to make the call to move it into the gym at church. I had no idea how our committee was going to manage turning an ugly gym into a “garden,” but thanks to the many green thumbs in our group we were able to gather enough potted flowers to achieve the garden look we were looking for. I then tore apart my home and with the help of Toby and the kids moved half my home into the gym for the night. 🙂

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My family was a huge help as they dedicated their day to helping mom avoid going off the deep end. We joke in our family that every calling Toby or I take on becomes a family calling. 🙂 Yesterday we had a few extra honorary committee members!

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With God’s grace we pulled it off and the finished result wasn’t too shabby.IMG_0137 (2)We carried the shoe theme through all facets of the evening, beginning with our centerpieces. Each table had a different colored pair of heels. As the women arrived they chose a button pin to wear and had to find the high heel shoes that matched their ribbon color and that determined where everyone sat for the evening. It was a fun way to encourage the ladies to mix and mingle and get to know new friends.

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The evening began with a delicious appetizer table prepared by Karen. It turned out so pretty that we almost hated to dig in…but we did, and it was delicious!

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We let the women have some time enjoying appetizers and chit-chat before our first activity began.

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Then it was time for our first game of the night: Speed Friendship. For this game the ladies sat in two rows , facing each other. They were given a list of possible “get to know you” questions that they could use if they wanted or they could ask their own questions.

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A whistle blew and Shelley, who was running the game, gave them 60 seconds to get to know the lady that sat across from them before she blew the whistle again and they had to move down a chair. It was a fun, fast-paced way to get to know each other a bit better.

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Then it was time for dinner. When we first talked about the theme we came up with the fun idea of serving dinner in shoe boxes. I was able to order white shoe boxes online and Pat put her creative touch on them to make them pretty. With the help of many “behind the scene” helpers each box was filled with a croissant, chicken salad, pasta salad, a bag of potato chips, a small bottle of water, 2 dinner mints and utensils/napkin. Dinner was delicious and the shoe boxes were a fun touch!

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Following dinner we had the spiritual message of our evening. The ladies who serve in Primary (those who teach the children on Sunday) sang a special musical number.

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Then we heard from three amazing sisters (Karen, Rorie, and Shelley) who shared their personal stories of what it is like to walk in their shoes and the lessons they have learned from their journey. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room and I think we all left feeling humbled and less alone in our own personal struggles.

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When the program was complete we ended with prayer and then revealed the answers to our other game of the night: “Guess Whose Shoes.” For this game the ladies had to guess the owners of 10 different pairs of shoes that we had on display. There were a wide variety of shoes from ballerina slippers, to cowboy boots, to bowling shoes. As we revealed the answers the owners of the shoes stood and shared the stories behind the shoes they brought. It was another fun way to learn something new about the ladies we pass in the halls at church each week.

The winning players won crazy shoelaces (donated by Diana.)

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The night ended with high heel shoe cupcakes, lovingly made by Teresa. They were adorable and brought home the theme of the night in the sweetest possible way!

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The message of the night was a powerful one. So often we feel alone in our walk through life. We often feel weighed down and weary. Sometimes we find ourselves stumbling and wondering if anyone even noticed. Sometimes we are tempted to just sit down and refuse to take another step forward.

When we feel this way we need to remember to look up, look around, and reach out to those walking near us…

Reach out for help, or reach out to offer help.

That is the beautiful blessing of Relief Society:

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We never need to walk alone. 🙂

Camping: a comedy of errors – Part 2

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Saturday morning began with a prayer that Toby’s truck would start.

It did!

I called Toby to let him know that we were on our way and to see if everyone had survived at his end, only to discover that his phone had died sometime in the night and I had no way to get ahold of him. All we could do is hope for the best and start our trek north, back to the KOA campground.

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We arrived and found Toby making the best of the situation. He had made breakfast for the kids (eggs in a bag) and had taken them swimming at the pool. This is where we found them when we arrived. We left the truck running, for fear it wouldn’t start again, and let the kids play for an hour. There was so much that the campground offered that it made me sad we had to leave the camping trip early.

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What an amazing man!

What an amazing man!

The kids swam in the pool..

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Enjoyed the giant inflatable water slide…

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and jumped on the air pillow trampoline.

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We fit a lot of fun into our last few hours at the camp.

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Then it was time to pack up. We began loading the trailer for the trip home and Toby backed up his truck to connect the trailer. It was at that moment we realized that the hitch was still connected to the broken down SUV!

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Of course it was. 🙂

So, Toby drove his truck back to the parking lot where my dead car lay and unhooked the hitch from the back. While he was gone I started a fire and the girls helped me make mountain pies for lunch while the boys went fishing at the pond.

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Toby finally made it back, we finished packing up, and we headed home where we tried to salvage our less than ideal set of circumstances and still make it a fun weekend for Brandon.

Stopping for ice cream on our way home.

Stopping for ice cream on our way home.

Our evening was spent having a cookout,

playing slip and slide kick ball,

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roasting marshmallows, and having fun with marshmallow tossing games.

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We ended the evening with Toby setting off leftover fireworks from the 4th of July.

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Tyler and Brandon had a campout in the living room Saturday night and enjoyed late night “brother bonding” as they visited late into the night.

Toby and Tyler took Brandon home on Sunday in Gracie’s little truck.

It was hard taking him back into an uncertain situation.

It was hard for Tyler to say goodbye.

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I only hope that despite the craziness of our weekend we were a blessing to Brandon, because I know he was a blessing to us.