What happens when all you have ever wanted in life turns out to be someone else’s joke?

For me it has meant turning around and moving on with my plans. While that sounds pretty simple, easy and straight forward it generally feels anything but.

Sadly, I think we all have someone in our lives that is a pessimist, perhaps it is also someone who gaslights1 to some extent. For me this was the case. I had a family member who always knocked (gaslighting) what I had to say and what I wanted to do from ballet (that’s for wusses) to the migraines I had (that’s just something made up in your head).

This person would tell you he was trying to challenge me because what I wanted to do/be just wasn’t right for me and that I needed to think harder and be better. I grew up believing a lot of what was said, including that I was never good enough. Having a huge amount of self-doubt, I am sure meant I came off as a bleeding fish in a tank of piranha. I appeared weak to others whether I was truly weak or not because I believed I was less than.

Even though I believed I was insignificant, I still tried as hard as I could to live with the gusto I felt in my heart. I didn’t give up ballet. Being reminded that I danced before I could walk fueled the fire in my heart that I knew dance was meant to be a part of my life. Even when I got a bit chunky as a pre-teen (thank you baby fat taking forever to go away) I still persisted because I felt that dance was how I was meant to express myself. What ended up smashing my dream of being a ballet dance wasn’t my ever-increasing ample bosom, no it was a freak accident and a broken ankle. Multiple doctors told me I would need pins/rods and dancing (full-stop) was out of the question.

My third “opinion” was my family doctor and we went with what he said. No pins or rods but rest and yeah ballet was out of the question but dance wasn’t. My family doctor told me that I would never wear toe shoes as a professional because all that pressure and hard work that was needed, and he knew I could do, would cripple me. Instead he encouraged me to try other forms of dance and see if something else sparked (ignited) the fire within me the way ballet did. In High school I tried modern dance and loved it. Not enough to pursue it as a career but enough to continue my life-long love of dance and realize that even if I didn’t become a professional dancer, dance was still in my soul and nothing would stop that.

I wish I could tell you that this story of gaslighting and being someone’s joke was a one off. That this family member learned the errors of his ways or was not a part of my daily life growing up but that wasn’t what happened. The gaslighting continued and didn’t really stop, not even now as an adult. I have heard things like “I told you that you couldn’t do that”2 when what was said was that this person could never do what I do; and worse “If I had that condition, I would just kill myself” knowing that I battle with a hidden disease that could steer me towards the condition we were talking about. No, the gaslighting has not stopped and in some cases has just gotten worse as the years have gone on. This person still treats me as if I have no value or worth in the world. 

Growing up, what helped was having supportive parents who tried to remind me I had worth no matter what others said. While I have better control over what I listen to and how it impacts me, the gaslighting and toxicity still exists. As an adult, distance has been the best way to combat the hold and influence this person has over me. Having a good support network helps too. Even when self-doubt rears its ugly head, I know I can turn to friends and other family members that will be honest with me about my fears.

My life may be a joke to this family member, or to a million strangers, but that doesn’t mean I should just stop what I always wanted or even dreamed of doing. While we should always evaluate what we want to pursue (such as a pros and cons list), how others see us and value (or devalue) us should not be part of that consideration. We all have worth, something we are good at, and just because someone else doesn’t see that worth does not take it away or make it non-existent.

While the formula of “what makes us successful” has been defined by hard work (or capabilities) + luck, I personally have always thought we define our own success. If what makes me successful is having a happy life then it doesn’t matter if I am not rich, have no powerhouse job, no mansion… because I am defining my own success. Success to me is having a roof over my head, food in fridge (that I like) and people I love and care about in my life.

What do I do when someone makes a joke of what makes me happy?

I smile.

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1.In another recent post I talk about my childhood trauma and gaslighting fits in to that trauma.

2. This specific conversation referred to here was about fostering.

Fostering is something I always wanted to do since I was a child. As a teenager wondering about life and love, I wasn’t sure I would find a life partner that would share this dream but I was lucky. Rent-a-Dad may not have grown up with the thought of fostering but my passion inspired him and became a dream he wanted to share with me.

When the potential to foster was mentioned to our family members we received mixed reviews but mostly encouragement to see where it led us. The family member involved in this conversation fit into the skeptical but encouraging box (or so I thought) but that is not what happened. This family member was waiting until Rent-a-Dad and I failed so he could point out just what an awful idea we had.

The interesting thing is I don’t think foster parents “quit” or “stop” because they failed. I think foster parents get burned out, need breaks, and don’t always know how to cope because support systems just don’t know how to handle the trauma foster parents go through.

In our situation this family member told us we failed because we were still involved in the lives of three former foster children. The system has seen this as a success not a failure. We see this as a success because these children get the best of all worlds and haven’t had to say goodbye to anyone that has an impact on their lives.

Another point that was made was that our grieving over the reunification of the children we have fostered for any length of time just is not normal. Therefore, once again we are failures as foster parents.

There is no one way to foster. Grieving is a part of the process. Don’t ever let anyone tell you differently. The key here is to remember those who wish us to fail will find fault with anything. Gaslighters can pick the smallest of details and try to get you to focus on that one small narrow view. This way they can get a toe hold on changing your view to how they want you to see things.

How does one survive chaos, or rather trauma*?

How does one move past the bits of life that you so desperately want to leap over? 

These are just a few of the many questions I have been asking myself for going on two years. 

For me it is no secret as to why our blog posts have slowed down to near non-existent. It hasn’t just been a combination of bad timing, a heavy work load, and kids. I suffered a traumatic blow to the structure of my life as well as the resurfacing of childhood trauma I had packaged tightly away. Nor was it just one small change that undermined life as I knew it or the addition of multiple small new things. Rather it was the culmination of big life changes, bad timing, kids, and trauma all at once.

Still I tried to keep up an appearance of life just tossing lemons my way and me trying to figure out how to juggle them.

The appearance of holding my life together helped keep me moving forward without feeling truly lost. But lost is how I felt when no one was looking.

I knew that I couldn’t maintain our blog while I felt so lost. Rent-a-Dad was busy with helping pick up the slack in other areas of our life that blogging was the last thing on his mind.

While I didn’t give up writing in general (journals, poems… starting a family cookbook) I felt like anything I shared on our blog was somehow tainted by what I was experiencing, and feeling. More than a few times I would start to write a blog post but either I didn’t finish; they felt non-authentic; I felt like my writing style/voice wasn’t represented; and worse… they all felt either too emotional or very watered down. Suddenly I felt like what I had to share had no value. I was struggling with the topics that I felt comfortable making contributions to as well as with feeling what I had to say was relevant, and the thought that I was a fraud (as if suddenly I was “less than” and unworthy to write/share).

Instead of burying myself in writing and coming out the other side through self-expression in blogging, I felt further lost. So, I put blogging on hold, always the thought in the back of my head of returning when I felt more like me.

I needed to find myself.

Looking back, it hasn’t been a journey about finding what I lost. I know what was lost and what changed me. The journey was really about finding a new “normal”/way of life that I could be comfortable with, and found joy in.

Suffering trauma was not new to me. The new factor that spun me around and rocked my foundation was drastic shift in my support system. This shift caused me a lot of pain, both physically and mentally. I was questioning everything I was doing including how much worth I had. 

For all mental health professionals, I am sure this is setting off alarms.

Between good friends and a supportive spouse, I knew I needed help. I talked to my doctor about my physical health and sought counseling from a mental health professional as well as from our pastor so I was taking care of my mental and spiritual health as well.

After a few counseling visits, my diagnosis was given and I wasn’t surprised. I knew I was depressed. Also that I have severe anxiety issues and lived with high amounts of stress. The only thing that really surprised me was being diagnosed with PTSD and that the counselor felt this was something I was living with since my childhood trauma. That the new traumatic event and shift in my support network was making me re-live some childhood trauma that had never really been addressed.

To the world at large I was still presenting a good face while inside I felt like my world was crumbling. Seeking help was what I needed to do. It made me feel better talking about what was happening and the ways I was trying to move forward. My counselor didn’t even feel I needed any kind of medicine to help me move forward. For me that was a relief on several levels but mainly that there is a history of alcoholism in my family tree, and therefore always a fear in my head of a hereditary gene for addiction.

Were there hiccups in all this? Yes, yes, and yes.

For months I only shared my journey with a select few. I had a hard time reaching out and confirming my new support network/structure.

Some close family wanted to call me crazy, messed up and worse. These specific family members were not interested in me as a person getting better let alone the length of time it might actually take. Sadly many people apply a pre-conceived idea of how long they think it will take someone to heal… Healing doesn’t work that way. We all heal differently and in our own time.

No one seeking to better themselves should ever be put down. 

Another truth, I owe no one an explanation into what caused my depression or what traumatic event set off my PTSD. Does not mean I didn’t, or don’t, want to talk about it. I am just a bit more closed off right now then I have ever been in my life. I am protecting myself better, and re-learning who I can/can’t trust; how that looks; and how that feels.

The problem that has existed with some family members is that because I have always appeared to be an open book with others, I was suddenly expected to continue with the same level of openness with the very people who caused the trauma. Those family members were not very happy with the boundaries I was trying to set into place and may never be happy with these boundaries, but they are necessary.

In addition to affirming my new support network and setting up boundaries, it has also been important to recognize the toxic people in my life, what their toxicity looks/feels like, and learning how to section that off from my daily life. Doing all of that while trying to keep pace with kids and other parts of my life has been a challenge.

Some days moving forward is not as easy. I have my setbacks and am still re-learning who I can lean on and for what. Even at the worst point of struggling with depression I still smiled and found joy. What I needed help with was not feeling ALL the feelings ALL the time. Time doesn’t heal all wounds but in my case time, and talking about my problems, has helped me find my perspective again. And in time, in finding my new normal, I am hoping my voice will reemerge.

My backstory and Take-Away:

In college I was blessed with having a good group of friends who openly talked about mental health. It wasn’t something to be shied away from, packaged up or hidden. I went to college in a small Midwestern town and because of the location many of the student body dealt with seasonal depression. January through March were some of the hardest months to deal with for seasonal depression. Not only do those months follow the holidays/joyous times with family/friends, but it also meant a return to school life. For many that alone brought on a heavy sadness. Added to that were wintry conditions that meant staying inside more and evening/nighttime descended upon us by 5pm. Many of us would enter the dining hall on the last few glimmers of sunshine, when it was present, and exit on full darkness. Talking about mental health was important to our daily life.

Leaving college, I found that mental health was not something people easily or readily talked about. It was once again something to be buried away, hidden, stigmatized… People couldn’t be depressed without the worry of being involuntarily committed for a psych evaluation. People fear how others will perceive them as if they are less or not worthy. Fear is as powerful as depression (perhaps more so) as it can hold someone hostage in their own personal hell incapable of seeking help.

Mental health should not be treated that way. The stigma needs to go. We all need to be set free from the fear of others knowing about hidden diseases and hidden struggles.

Everyone suffers from trauma and loss at some point in their life. It is why there are support groups. Counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists are there to help be sounding boards so we know that what we are feeling does not drive us to isolation and darker places. Mental health should not be boxed up and hidden away. It needs to be taken from dark places and light to be shown on it.

We all have our struggles. Talking about those struggles in safe places is what helps us move forward and be over all healthier people.

While everyone at some point feels that they are struggling alone, none of us are without struggles.

Reaching out is hard. If you are in a good place don’t forget to check in on your friends to see how they are doing. Reaching out does go both ways. If you aren’t in a good place don’t suffer alone…


To learn more about the crisis text line, click here

And remember… emotional distress doesn’t mean you are thinking about suicide right this minute, you could just feel isolated, alone, like you have no one to turn to and not sure what your next step should be… but it’s no reason to keep it all caged inside. Feeling isolated and alone can feel like a personal hell with no end in sight. A problem shared can make someone feel like their load is lightened so they can make clearer decisions. I have been reminded recently that humans are not meant to suffer alone or in silence. Call. Share. Lighten your load.

I have been reminded recently that humans are not meant to suffer alone or in silence. Call. Share. Lighten your load.

A problem shared can make someone feel like their load is lightened so they can make clearer decisions. I have been reminded recently that humans are not meant to suffer alone or in silence. Call. Share. Lighten your load.

* Keep in mind, trauma takes on many forms from the loss of a loved one, having to make an unexpected move (residence, schools, even jobs) to surviving events like a robbery or sexual assault. Trauma doesn’t take on one simple form like being a survivor of a war but can also mean you survived your own personal battles that have left you traumatized.

While holding my fifteen year old cat last week, I snuggled him, cuddled him, and rubbed his belly just as I’ve done since he was a kitten when a sad thought came to mind. I am closer to the end of his life than to the beginning. One day, a lot sooner then I ever want to come, there’s going to be a time in which I won’t get to do any of this so I ignore the slightly old smell that he’s not cleaned himself quite so well like he used to, that his fur isn’t nearly as shiny or new and I held him close anyway and loved on him just the same. In that moment I knew that unless something happens to me that I will have loved my fur baby from cradle (he has been with us since he was 8 weeks old) to grave.

When you love something like that, no-matter the relationship, it changes you. Some people can’t handle that change and gracefully (or, not) back away when they need to and other people hold on a little bit tighter, kiss a little bit harder, love a little bit longer knowing all the while that they have been graced with this gift of being involved in another’s life no matter how long or short. I think about that term “cradle-to-grave” and what that means to me. Blessed and honored are the feelings I have. Also, there is hurt. I hurt for the future that I know is inevitable. A time where my kitty won’t be there. I hurt just as much for that time as I hurt for the babies Rent-a-Dad and I were never able to hold.

Somewhere in all this thought is another, a connection to a Japanese tradition of when a bowl or cup breaks that instead of just throwing away the pieces they fill in the cracks with gold (Kintsugi). And I think about what that means for me in terms of my blessing and how cracked I feel at this time. That how even when I feel cracked/broken there is a bit of grace to be found there. That I don’t have to feel there is a need to throw away the broken pieces. I don’t need to package them up in a box and shove them on a shelf. What I can do is let the gold fill in the cracks and hold it all together. Because I know these cracks exist and are a part of who I am. That by letting the gold (the grace, the love) fill in those cracks, that I am honoring what has happened, my part in it, and I am still letting the love wash over me and surround me. It also lets me know that there is still love out there in the world with animals and children and people who need and want my love. Whether that is for a season, a reason, or a lifetime. I’m going to take that opportunity when I have it and I’m going to let that gold fill in my cracks. I am going to let that love pour in and share that love.

Yes, I am going to love a little bit longer, hold a little bit tighter, and hopefully be stronger while I feel gracefully cracked.

Today is December 27, 2018. I always think of the in-between space for the holidays as being the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. The time jam packed with one holiday right after another from Hanukkah and Solstice to Christmas and Kwanzaa; and many more that I can not even bring to mind. For many Christians this short time between Christmas and New Years is a bit like a holiday coma, or that is how I have heard it described this week.

For me this time was always meant to be a catch-up time. Time to catch up with friends and family; a time to sit back and enjoy the moments before the new year takes over; a time to make sure the New Year’s meal is planned and bought for; and ultimately a time of reflection. This year really has been no different. Sure, I am sad and hurting still from the loss of my mom and that is playing a big part of my reflection, but I am also reflecting on who I have been, how I have grown and where I see myself headed. It is something I do every year right before New Year’s.

This year a big portion of my reflection has been sitting on family traditions. Since truly starting my own family (apparently until kids are involved people don’t take you as seriously in saying “my own family” or feelings get bent out of shape), I have been trying to figure out what traditions mean to me, to Rent-a-Dad and ultimately to the children in our lives. It has been this give and take of “yours, mine and ours” between all of the adults involved. There are birth parents and families as well as our own family and our own traditions to sort through.

In the past six years the biggest part of any tradition for all of us is making sure we are all included and represented in some meaningful way that we do not feel left out. That is what has been the most important to me.

As a child I often felt like I had no say in what we did as a family for the longest time. I was told I had to go along with traditions that had been established well before I was born. As I grew up and our family dynamics changed, my parents let there be a little more leeway (flexibility) in what we did and when.

What I learned from that experience is the importance of involvement, being accepted, and a developing need inside of me for holiday traditions that were flexible and relaxed.

Over the years, too often my mom was very stressed out because everything had to be perfect so we could have a perfect moment/time. Looking back with memories of her like a mini-tornado around the house fussing and stressing just sets off my anxiety.

The moments I remember fondly and miss the most? The imperfect impromptu ones like my dad and I horsing around at church on Christmas Eve when I was in 7th or 8th grade. It was one of the last times my mom, dad and I all went to church together. Or the times the three of us spent just driving around looking at Christmas decorations. The Christmas days we went to the National Cathedral to be together, be reverent, and light a candle. I remember feeling loved and protected in all of those moments.

So, what does that all mean to me now? Do I throw out old traditions? Make new ones? How do I keep a balance?

This is something I thought I had a good foundation with / a handle on until last year when I was told by a family member that I was not keeping family/their traditions in mind. It, and well a few other choice words, rocked my foundation a bit. I knew this family member had felt this way for some time so I wasn’t shocked by the admission of what I had known. Rather what shocked me was the vehemence and anger that went with those words. I was doing what I had thought of as my best to keep a balance between traditions I had grown up with while incorporating traditions from Rent-a-Dad and now the birth families of our kids.

So, what had I done wrong?    

What advice had I received over the years about traditions?

From my own parents, and their lead, it was to keep sacred the ties with our faith, keep close to those we love, and once we had our own kids to make sure to stay at home and develop family traditions with them. That grandparents, and traditions with extended family would have to fill in around what we did with our family. Would it always go smoothly? No. Just do your best. And most importantly think of the kids.

A lot of the advice I have received from friends and other family members over the years has been very similar. As Rent-a-Dad and I have built a family through non-traditional means, the same advice has rung true. Friends have still stressed how important it is to build traditions with these children we love and care for; and how they admire that we are doing so with the birth families and still trying to hold some of our own traditions intact.

By those standards and advice, I hadn’t done anything wrong. I was listening to all those involved in creating family traditions with our kids and trying to make everyone feel heard. It was my extended family that was feeling left out (or rather one member) and marginalized because he didn’t want change to come to the traditions he grew up with. He wanted me to send our kids home to their birth families and celebrate with my family not with Rent-a-Dad included, or if Rent-a-Dad was he had to follow “our traditions”. The funny thing? This family member and the traditions he wanted held sacred were not always so important to him when I was a kid. His way and what he wanted was important. The same thing held true here. His priorities needed to come first. He did not want to be flexible and involve others unless it was his choice, his decision, his rules. That is fine in his own residence with his family.

It is important to evaluate relationships from time to time as well. Toxicity exists. At the holidays toxic relationships make memories painful and hearts heavy with sadness instead of letting the magic of children’s joy ring out or the uplifting words from a good sermon wrap you in warmth and light.

The holidays, and the traditions around them are supposed to wrap us all in love, magic, and fill our hearts with all things positive and good so we feel renewed and ready to begin this yearly cycle of birth, death and renewal all over again.

As I am wrapping up my reflection of 2018, and hoping for something a bit lighter and brighter in 2019, I want to remember a few things about traditions.

Traditions are NOT meant to be:

  • Hard and fast
  • Unbending
  • Uncomfortable
  • Burdens that make you, or others, feel left out

Traditions ARE supposed to:

  • Be source of identity
  • Bring magic/ light into your life
  • Be powerful and uplifting
  • Be done with a purpose (require thought, care and consideration)
  • Provide reassurance that all will be right (a sense of comfort)
  • Be done with love
  • Be (most importantly) what you make of them

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If you have been following our blog then this post might bring up a memory of another post we made about traditions and the need for flexibility. The post, Traditions: Cornerstones, Hassles, or Non-Existent, was also a reflection in a way, about our journey into what traditions mean in the foster care system and how our own thoughts on traditions have evolved. I think back often to this original post and my advice to others as I am still journeying forward. It closed with similar sentiments “Focus on the happy messy moments, no matter how small (time or space), as they are the ones you will always remember and hold dear!”.  

While struggling with the anger of the words that made me question how Rent-a-Dad and I were going about establishing our own traditions, I did a lot of reading, reflecting and talking to others. A post from another blog helped me in my journey to squarely being on my foundation is Creating a Positive Family Culture: The Importance of Establishing Family Traditions.

The world is filled with stories we can’t quite deal with emotionally and physically (time or space). Not being able to have an immediate say or impact (to help or make change) can leave one feeling quite overwhelmed. At those times I feel like I need to say a prayer or two and place the problem in God’s hands.

Anymore this is how I feel about my news feed on Facebook. There is an overabundance of news stories and world events that I can’t change, issues out of my hands. It could be something political, a post on animal cruelty or even social commentary. Whatever it is somehow it is not just one article but a multitude of them from a variety of sources. This leaves me with a sense of not being able to escape from something when what I really want is to forget it exists for just a few minutes as I try to check in with friends.

While this seems to be something that is just going to happen from here on out, this past spring there was one story in particular that hit a few chords in my heart. My feed was inundated with post upon post about a terminally ill baby who I had no personal ties to and the doctors who wanted to take him off of life support.

Even when I wanted to tune out from the case I found my feed being inundated with opinion after opinion. The stories and the attached opinions ranged from how horrible the doctors were to how the parents needed a reality check. The case was an ocean away and there was nothing I could do to change any of what was happening. So I did what little I could do, say a prayer for the baby and his parents before placing the issue in God’s hands.

After spending several weeks reading story after story about this case I thought long and hard on something one of my mom’s closest friends told me over ten years ago.

About a week or two before my mom’s friend, Miss V, passed away in 2005 we had all gone to Luray Caverns to visit the town and have a nice day out with her. Miss V had not been feeling very well for some time and received some bad news on medical tests she had taken. All in all she was a little bit scared and we were worried for her. We wanted to provide her with a really good day and a lot of positive thinking. What Miss V provided me in return gave me a lot of things to think about in the years to come.

We talked a little bit about God, life, and the things that lie in-between. The piece of advice that sticks out most in my mind about that day was about loving and letting go. At one point in Miss V’s life there was a dearly loved family member with a terminal illness who was seeking permission to reside in God’s hands.

Miss V told me that her relative said something like this:

Baby I know you love me. I know you are scared of where I am going next in my journey but in this matter we have to trust that God knows best. I am placing my life in his hands so I need you to do me the biggest favor anyone could ever do. I need you to tell me that you love me and that you will miss me, but that you are ready to let me walk away from all this pain and be at peace with God.”

Miss V shared this story not to scare me, and certainly not to make me cry, but rather to let me know there’s a point in our lives where we are going to lose all of our loved ones. That all those whom we grew up idolizing and held so dear are most likely going to leave this earth before we do. What we need to do is work on letting go. That it is important, nee imperative to hold onto their memory but to let go of our loved ones when their pain and suffering is too much. In the end we need to trust in God that he knows best as to when it’s time for each of us to leave this world.

As a human being it is in our very nature to hold on to life, to fight for it and to keep fighting. It is who we are and an integral part of our genetic composition. But as creatures who believe in a higher being we have to trust that this higher being really does know when it is out time to depart the earth. Does that mean we just blindly walk through life hoping that this higher being will do all the work? Nope. What it does mean is having some faith.

Faith that when our loved ones are hurting and in pain that we trust that this “higher being” will take away that pain. There is a trust that we need to have that we will each receive release from this mortal coil, when we need it, and receive everlasting peace.

Now is that an easy thing to do? No, that is not easy. Most of us want to kick and fight and scream not just for ourselves but for our loved ones as well. We want them to live with us forever but life isn’t built that way.

When Miss V shared this bit of advice with me it was because she knew how much I love my mom and how tight I was holding on. She also knew that losing my mom would hurt more than anything has ever hurt in my entire life. Miss V wanted to spare me all the pain and hurt but knew she never really could. Instead of trying to erase the inevitable pain, she thought she could plant a seed to grow inside of me. That this seed would grow so that when the time came, perhaps I would be a little more prepared and ready for all of the pain that would come.

Miss V wanted also wanted me to realize that giving our loved ones permission to move on also lets them come to terms with their mortality and the need to move on. Sometimes our loved ones remain as long as they do because they worry about the living they are leaving behind. Giving them permission to move on can give them a sense of closure and release they didn’t know they needed. Miss V was hoping that by imparting this advice I would come to terms with the inevitability of loss and give my mom permission to move on. Will I know when that time is? I don’t know.

As I watch my mom’s health decline a little more here and there, I don’t know if I am the best judge of when is enough truly enough. Will I recognize that my mom is only a shell of the person that she once was?  I truly do not know.

I appreciate the conversation with Miss V and her attempt to get me to a point where I could say “Mom I love you and it’s okay. I will miss you but it is time for you to be with everyone who has departed from us. It is time for you to walk with God.” I hope that when the time comes I will be able to love my mom and let her go.

As for the family with the little boy, my heart is heavy with sadness over their struggle and loss. They had to face something no parent should have to go through.

I don’t think it is easy for any parent to make a final decision like that about their child. It is a parent’s duty to fight and keep fighting for their child. No parent ever wants there to be a situation in which they have to say to their child “I love you and I will miss you forever but it is time for you to walk with God”

No I don’t think any parent should have to say that.

My heart goes out to this family. I am sorry their battle and pain was made so public. It hurt reading about the family, the child’s fatal illness, the court battle… and all of the details. The least I could do was say a prayer and to place my hope for the family in God’s hands.

Growing up I am sure I asked my mom about the origins of the phrases she used most often. Somewhere along the way of growing older I have filed that information away like old clothes I am not quite ready to part with. As a side affect of that filing, I tend to misuse a phrase or get the wording slightly wrong as I make a comment in the moment without really thinking. While watching a documentary I was reminded of where the phrase “waiting for the other shoe to drop” came from and how even in its origins it could be tied to anxiety.

Ah, those darn shoes.

The condensed version of the origin story goes back to early tenements in our country. The walls and floors were quite thin. Families depended on the income from the man of the house who usually worked long hours in some industrial job. At the end of a long day you could literally hear as one shoe from your neighbor would hit the floor and then the other. The documentary I was watching referenced several ways this would cause anxiety.

Young mothers would try to use the sounds from the surrounding apartments to determine if it was alright for her child to be loud or not. If they heard a shoe drop then they knew their neighbor was home and awake.

Another point of anxiety was the loudness of the dropping shoes. If one was having a conversation and heard a shoe drop then they might wait until the other shoe dropped until they resumed said conversation. Thus the waiting of the second shoe might cause some anxiety in both scenarios.

Anxiety

What an interesting word to describe a multitude of emotions and how we deal with them.

Since I was a child I have lived with this constant feeling as if there is this imaginary shoe always ready to drop. That shoe hung over my head in bad times and in good. When it was a really good time the weight of that shoe felt worse, almost foreboding. I grew up with this feeling like I wasn’t meant to stay happy. That being happy was not just fleeting but was something we held onto tenuously as if it were this fragile thing. Losing my kindred spirit, my grandfather, at such an early stage in life led me to always waiting for a shoe to drop during my “happy times”.

I learned that happiness can be fragile.

However, if one is always living with a sense of dread concerning happiness then it will become a self fulfilling prophecy. Much like any other mental health issue, one can not just simply say “Be happy. Enjoy what you have. Stop having anxiety over being happy.”

Sadly life is generally not that easy or simple. While happiness can feel unattainable at times, it is also not something we can grab onto and hold tight to when it does arrive. All we can do is enjoy happiness while we have it and hold onto the memories to get us through the harder times of life. So much about life is knowing when to hold onto something and when to let it go.

Even as an adult I am still pretty horrible about knowing the difference between holding onto something and the ability to let go. I have gotten better about being in the moment. The feeling of another shoe dropping does still loom over me at times.

When I start feeling like the anxiety of waiting for a shoe to drop is looming over my happiness, I have to remind myself to take a deep breath and live in the moment. I need to stop searching for bad things to happen because they will. We can’t really get rid of all the bad but we can enjoy what we have and when we have it.

Something that really helps me put life (anxiety, happiness, reality, sadness… etc) into perspective is the thought that no one lives without some kind of self doubt or anxiety. In some ways we are all waiting for the other shoe to drop on some subconscious level. Knowing I am not the only person to live with anxiety makes me feel better. The whole thought of a problem shared is a problem halved.

It is all about how I choose to move forward. Do I let my anxiety disable me from moving forward? Will I just sit and wait for the bad things or even go in search of them? Can I do myself the biggest favor and enjoy what I have? Most times I have to remind myself to stop poking everything with sticks.

If you also are someone who feels the weight of a dangling shoe, here are a few additional reads to help learn more about and deal with the anxiety and stress linked to that feeling:

Waiting for the Other…to Drop. When a pleasant early childhood memory turns unpleasant, By Arthur J. Clark Ed.D.

Stop Waiting… and Start Living Fully, By Lisa Edwards

Greetings and salutations!

In our house we are trying to start the year off positively on many levels including morning salutations, words of encouragement and an agreed upon drop-off mantra.

For our family, the start of waking up right is figuring out a good evening routine. Since the boys spend their weeks divided between two households, a consistent evening routine is only as good as the adults can make it. Most weeks it is successful. Some weeks nothing works. Both boys may fuss about going to bed by 8 (7 if we have had an event filled day!) But they secretly crave a consistent schedule and a good night’s sleep.

When the boys get a minimum of 10 hours of sleep they wake up happy (mostly) and ready to tackle the day. Our morning salutations are filled with laughter, cuddles and even song. Even our grumpy morning munchkin wakes up smiling and joking when he is well rested.

How one wakes up in our house does generally set the tone for the day. A grumpy morning tends to make for heel dragging and tardiness. Happy mornings means most of the time we are ready to leave the house ten minutes before my warning bell goes off.

Our morning routine is a bit atypical in the realm that it does not resemble the morning routine of my childhood. I let the kids watch a half hour of TV while they wake up and slowly collect their thoughts. Breakfast fits in somewhere between collecting thoughts and getting dressed. Then comes personal hygiene, grooming, socks, shoes and double checking we aren’t missing lunches or folders.

The first week of the routine was the hardest and took the longest. Now after two weeks we are all getting into the routine so morning roundup takes a little over an hour instead of almost two.

The next step is loading into the car. First the boys get wished a good day by Grammie and are given hugs. As we walk to the car we talk about things to remember and words of encouragement for the day. Once all loaded up and headed for school we talk about another kind of morning salutation, our newest addition to our routine- the drop-off mantra.

When I was a child, my morning parting salutation, with my mom, was:

A’s and B’s, no C’s, D’s, or F’s.

My mom wanted to focus on our education. She felt that our education was paramount and that if we stayed focused we could achieve anything.

As an adult I get what she meant but I also have to wonder about children learning that there is a balance between work and play. That adults, and kids, with very little balance in one direction or another end up unhappy in one or more aspects of their life. There have been points in my life where I myself have felt this imbalance and have been unhappy.

I want to help children in my life try to achieve some balance. Respectively I also wanted our morning drop-off mantra to be more than about education. I felt that it needed to be both uplifting and about the balance in life that I would like to help them achieve.

With odd phase in days for both boys, our second week of school didn’t start until last Wednesday. This also happened to be our second day of school. Between all the first day of school jitters and making sure we took pictures, we had forgotten to decide on a drop-off mantra.

On our way to school, on our oddly timed second day we talked about what our mantra should be. We wanted to make sure kindness was mentioned and that we use only good words (no bullying or name calling). In the end we chose to borrow the morning mantra a friend uses with her kids:

Kind hands

Kind hearts

Kind words

Kind hands means no pushing, shoving or hitting. It is important to use our hands for positive actions like raising them to ask questions or lending a helping hand to someone in need.

Kind hearts is about being more than kind. It is thinking about our actions in relation to others and their feelings. Being mindful of our actions includes watching out for those around. It is also about being open to new experiences and ideas.

Kind words is being mindful of our words before they leave our mouths. To think before we speak because all actions, even the words we use.

Put it all together and it is a twist on the parable about treating others as you would want yourself to be treated.

There are a lot of various ideas and thoughts on early childhood education. This includes what age to start teaching various things like shapes and colors or numbers and the alphabet. One concept I have tried to latch onto is teaching respect and kindness. All of this is reflected in our morning mantra, our departing salutation.

Update: while we still have yet to have a full week of school, our mantra is sticking. We talk about kindness and respect. Some days they get the concept just fine and worry about others. Then there are the days where they worry about a stranger but hit their sibling on the head with a lego. We still have a long way to go but I think we are on a good path for now.

Even when we know that life is rushing by and things are piling up, we tend to forget to do things for ourselves, replenish, and even to just take a step back. At times this is my nemesis. While I am good at making sure everyone else has what they need, I always seem to be missing to do something for me like taking my own medicine. If you have spent a few days with me then you know I have an afternoon alarm for meds, and used to have a morning reminder to eat lunch. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that sometimes I need to be reminded that I am not superwoman. In late June I needed a reminder to cut something from my life and unplug.

With June’s post about my Roller Coaster Year, I openly admitted to feeling a bit overwhelmed and needing a breather. Since spring sprung I had been pushing to get a wide variety of things done from doctor appointments to school registration not to mention my ever growing “honey do” list. While I have been pushing very hard to shrink my ever growing list, not much else in my life has taken a break or slowed up.

At some point I realized the folly of my ways. If I didn’t slow something down, or cut something out, well I was quite likely to burn out. The anxiety of it all was physically wearing me down. Other than pushing forward and completing my honey dos, there wasn’t much I could do to ease the anxiety I was feeling. As one project after another was completed it was true that some tension subsided but the fear of burning out, or getting sick, stayed with me.

What would happen if I did get sick before the end of the summer? What if my summer “honey dos” got left undone? The big answer is that we would all survive. Life would continue to move forward.

Still I felt a need to get projects completed. What would give? The answer was step back; put projects into perspective (make a list); and see if anythjng could be sidelined.

The first thing to get evaluated was my limited free time.

After my first few kid free days, I knew the likelihood of having lots of kid free time was unlikely. Two weekends a month I watch one niece. That is always a given. While time with my other nieces and nephews is not always planned, my youngest nephew dislikes going more than a few days being away from his second home. So my free time is not really just mine. Yet my free time was the only thing I had any wiggle room with.

Ultimately the decision wasn’t hard. I needed to unplug and put our blog on hold.

After all, when would the kids ever be this age again? Answer: never.

I knew that once school started back up and really got going that I would have more wiggle room to write. The priority was to get the boys’ bedroom completed and then see what other projects I had time for. With my priorities straightened out in my head I plunged back into my long list of projects.

The good news was I had plenty time to do fun things with my family including a weekend spent with a college pal and her family and to have lots of adventures with the munchkins!!!

The downside? I was right about burning out. After a month of pushing, pushing, pushing… when I began to slow down a bit I did end up with a summer cold. While I needed to slow down for a few days I still felt like I was in a good place.

With school started and a routine firming up, I can see that there will be room for me to add writing back into my routine. As a family oriented person, I don’t always do a lot of “me” things. I tend to focus on time spent with my family and the things they want to do. Writing, that is all me. Even is Rent-a-Dad proofs a post for me or gives me his thoughts, my posts are my posts. It is important to have something that is mine.

Within minutes of receiving our first placement we were hooked. Those big blue eyes and chubby cheeks they both had. Going back to work would never be the same. Life would never be the same. The acceptance and reality of that change is not just a one-time deal but a constant ever “reminding” feeling.

Why is it ever “reminding” instead of just “is”?

For me it is because as a foster parent I know that nothing is permanent. Often I go along in what feels like my normal and then I am reminded that my life is a bit odd and not quite normal. It is like walking along thinking you are on firm ground when you then realize you were walking on top of a board covering a quagmire.

So how does that apply to my reality of school aged children?

We do not have any children of our own. In terms of our fostering journey, we have only had one school aged placement and that was for just one day. We have yet to really experience first day school jitters.

Yes we have dealt with daycare. And before this week I would have said dropping kids off at school is a similar feeling to dropping kids off at day care, but it isn’t. At least that is my feeling.

Daycare is a place I can choose to have my kids in, job or no job. Even mothers’ day out programs are at their base, optional. Even though I feel they are very necessary for a mom or dad. Every parent needs a break at some point.

School on the other hand has a more permanent feeling. No longer can you just drop by when errands are done or your work day is over. There are specific drop off and pick up times. Rules are rules.

I have been dreading this year. First because it meant I would become a weekend aunt. Then after plans changed, and we were asked to have a more active daily role, I dreaded all the things parents dread. I was worried I would not know things (very important things), be tardy, forgetful or worse. Am I a good enough role model? Please no phone calls about dirty words!!!

And my biggest worry… what am I going to do when I miss them more than they miss me?

Of course I have been working towards a balance of letting them be kids and striving for independence. But the reality that you have done well and have a good balance, well sometimes that reality knocks us flat. We are proud that they are prepared and confident but we miss the “mommy, please stay.” In this case I would have liked a goodbye hug or a wave of dismissal.

Rent-a-Dad took our eldest nephew, with his mom my adopted sister, to school on Thursday. We did photos outside of our home with both boys even though JoBe wouldn’t have his first day yet. I gave my hugs and kisses and then said goodbye. Rent-a-Dad got to feel his first day jitters with our oldest nephew.

My first day jitters didn’t hit until the following day when we took JoBe to school. A month prior I had to soothe JoBe’s fears about attending school without me. He has always loved making friends. When he attended daycare as an infant he loved that experience too. My worries were about him realizing I wasn’t staying. I shouldn’t have been worried. He handled the whole thing like a pro.

After getting into his classroom, we found his cubby, he washed his hands and we worked on writing his name. Once he was finished with the tasks the teacher gave him he asked if he could play. That was it.

Tasks were done and he was ready for us to leave. No hugs, kisses or goodbyes. I didn’t feel totally deflated as he had given me hugs and kisses when we got out of the car. But after all of preparation for school, he was definitely ready. I was so proud… and a bit sad. Thankfully I had plenty to keep me occupied from doctor appointments to helping my brother with his move.

At some point early in the day I did have a moment of panic. The age old question that enters a parent’s mind from time to time “what if I am not needed?” Followed by the one that enters stay at home parent’s minds “What am I now going to do with my time?”

I knew I would be a bit sad when the boys started school. In knowing that I took measures to make sure I wouldn’t have time to focus on any sadness that might linger. Well in some ways it wasn’t that simple. Life has been reminding me I have plenty of things I have neglected over the past so many years of toddler life.

Truth is I am never truly bored. I have so many irons in the fire that having a little bit of free time may make me feel giddy, or even nervous, for a bit but reality always clicks into place. The little bit of free time I did end up having meant I could have a sit down lunch with my mom after a doctor appointment instead of my grab and go lunch that I have been used to for months. I also sneaked in some blog maintenance and a tiny bit of actual writing.

No, I don’t think I have to be too worried about what to do with myself. The reality for me of having school aged children is making sure I have all my ducks lined up so the boys have what they need. We are all very proud that the boys were as ready as we could all help them be for their first big day at school. I am just a bit sad that they are so growing up so fast.

Becoming the Helpers

Posted by Rent-A-Dad | Fostering Love

While we were watching the news play out over the course of the weekend and trying to make sense of it all, I posted something on Facebook that several friends seemed to find helpful.

Here’s the original post:

I like to think that, if Mr. Rogers had an extra minute or so to address those of us who grew up watching him and are somewhat older children than we used to be, he might add something his message about always looking for the helpers. Something very kind that gently suggests that we try to be helpers in the sort of situations that make us sad whenever we can. And that not everyone needs to help in the same way, because there are all kinds of different ways to do that.

I like to think that, someday, we’ll get to the point that we don’t need Mr. Rogers to remind us of these things. That so many good people are already actively helping so much that fewer bad things ever happen in the first place. That when something bad does happen, we don’t even have to really look for the helpers because they’re the first thing we see.
I like to think a lot of things.

 

After a little reflection I was able to put more of my feelings into words.

As I was processing the news over the weekend and waiting for friends who live in the area to check in, my mind kept going back to my childhood. Mister Rogers, everything I learned in kindergarten, a world where I could imagine nothing more horrifying than missing an episode of He-Man or Voltron after school. In hindsight I can’t really pinpoint a moment when my awareness expanded to include the real unpleasantness in the world, so I’m sure that it was more of a process of gradually awakening than a switch being flipped. I thought about all of the kids in our lives, ages ranging from 2 to 5, and for a moment I was selfishly grateful that they’re not yet at an age where I’ve got to explain things like this to them. I know that those days are numbered and I don’t doubt that it will happen sooner than I’d like, so on that level it was a small wakeup call that I should probably prepare myself because that first unpleasant “why?” conversation will be here before I know it. That thought was immediately followed by a wakeup call that was broader and arguably more important that I haven’t been able to get out of my mind since, and that’s what made me think of Mister Rogers and that specific message.

In the middle of feeling pain for people I’ve never met, worrying for those I know who are close to the event, and the fact that these are current events in 2017, I’m thinking a lot of what the helpers look like in this situation. There’s a clear need for all kinds of people to pitch in after bad things happen, but wouldn’t it be better if we could invest our time and energy up front? I can certainly do a better job of modeling the behavior I want the kids to emulate if nothing else. I can try to be less grumpy, kinder in general. I can find organizations locally and across the country or the world and give time and money when I can afford enough of either that will improve the world to whatever degree in some small way. I keep thinking of that horribly overused cliche “be the change you want to see” and believing that it can’t hurt to try to be a better version of myself, to help the kids grow into responsible, kind adults in whatever way I can as long as I’m lucky enough to be a part of their lives, to find tangible ways to affect change at whatever level I can.

It’s going to take a while to process a lot of the thoughts and concerns that the last 72 hours or so have brought to the front of my mind, but I know that I haven’t been comfortable with the status quo for a while and that I want the world that our children inherit to look better in as many ways as we can make it. I’d like to help.