Foster Care: Choosing to See the Magic

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It’s so easy to get caught up in what is “hard.” I hear myself recounting stories of our experience in foster care, focusing on what’s beautiful but also often about our “broken” system. 

Our narrative of what’s good and bad keeps us stuck.

It keeps up fighting against reality.

When I posted our story this past week about what has been happening with Baby A I got so many beautiful, heartfelt responses. I truly write to process but I also write to share about this world and these babes who need us. There was a lot of resistance to what is happening with his reunification and believe me, I understand it. 

The idea that his life with us would be better because _________ is a choice in perspective.

In this New Age-y world, I sometimes feel like I’m doing it wrong when people tell me they haven’t given up on him staying with us. Did I not pray enough? Did I not manifest hard enough, well enough, aligned enough? This is dangerous territory my friends. 

I’ve had friends and colleagues who have offered to continue to hold the space for the idea that we will stay together. What I haven’t done is give up on Baby A. Not even for one second. Every day I pray for the highest good to be done for him. I’ve been inviting in visions of him with a huge extended family, covered in kisses and absolutely adored.

I truly believe that what is written will happen. No matter what. That a story is unfolding beyond our wildest imagination and dreams. That I must trust and lean into that trust even when it fees like I’m stumbling and tripping and can’t see three feet in front of my face.

God keeps showing up for me in the most beautiful of ways. Some days it’s harder to hear or see, some days it’s so profound it brings me to my knees.

The day I took Baby A to the ER a young medic was taking down his information as we transferred him to another hospital. (On a stretcher and in an ambulance!) As she looked at his info she asked me if I adopted him. I said no, but I would love that more than anything. She told me she was adopted. I asked if she was adopted at birth and she said no, she was adopted at three years old from foster care. Big tears just ran down my cheeks and I said “Thank you.”

This happens over and over again - from my nurse at Children’s telling me about her experience in foster care and how grateful she was to her foster and adoptive parents. To my hairdresser telling me about being adopted from foster care at one month old. To new friends on social media telling me they are following this path inspired by what they have read about our experience.

A new perspective - we foster and love the children who are put on our path with every ounce of our beings. And when we adopt we will be thrilled. But I think both Matt and I need to remind ourselves one again of why we took this path - because there was a need and there was a call and we decided to answer that call.

I’m not writing this and I’m not doing this so you see me as a hero. Honestly that makes my stomach turn over. But instead I’m writing, and being 100 percent honest with our struggles, so you see me as a human and you know that absolutely anything is possible. That magic can and will come through on the hardest of days. That you are stronger than you ever could’ve imagined.

I love you. You’re doing great. And I am too.

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In Gratitude: Sunday mornings, sunny afternoons, good books

For airplanes and time to write, meditate and unplug.
For Sunday mornings in bed with my family.
For Shelli, my newly found coach and confidant, and her wisdom and grace.
For deep breaths and remembering to take them.
For the super sweet gifts from my friend Tracy Keough.
For this book
For the ability to travel and teach and learn.
For sunny afternoons in Echo Park Lake.
For Lacy Phillips and her teachings.
For this tea infusion that is making my hair grow so freaking fast and full.
For my library card and the eight zillion YA novels I’ve read in the past two months.

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Part 4: We Pray

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Sometimes when Baby A goes to sleep I sit on the couch on my phone and stare at photographs of him. See how much he has changed. His tiny fingers always gripped around mine. His eyes lit up from the inside.

Sometimes when I run errands with him I get congratulated. "Congrats on your new baby. Will change your whole life."

Sometimes I wonder how I could've possibly thought that this path would simply be “challenging.”

My friend Goldie told me the other night that she was talking to her husband about what we were doing, fostering and dealing with uncertainty and all the things. Her husband said "Well they must have their guards up." And Goldie said, "That's the thing. They don't."

My guard is so far gone I wouldn't even know what to do with it. I left it in the car before I walked into that hospital to meet Baby A and my heart as I knew it was blown to bits. Stretched, over stretched, transformed, forever altered.  I'd like to build the Great Wall around all three of us and our hearts, untouchable by social workers and judges and stuffy court waiting rooms. But that's the thing. I can't do anything at all except love him and let him go when I'm told I have to.

I haven't written much about foster care as of late or about Baby A because it's been so damn painful. When we met him almost six months ago, we were told that it was likely we would be able to adopt him. I can't give details of his case, nor would I, but we had the full support of everyone around us - social workers, doctors, most certainly our family and friends. And then it changed. 

We knew this was a possibility. We knew we might fall in love and get our hearts broken. I've written about it, I've sat in classes about it, I've talked to other foster parents about it. But I had never felt it.

It is so beyond painful.

Since it changed we have had ten court hearings. We are told almost twice a month that this could be the moment he leaves and do we have his things ready? 

How do you plan your week when you know you might be saying goodbye to one of the loves of your life? How do you return phone calls? How do you try to update people and keep them in the "loop"? I'm living in it and I don't know the answers to this.

A couple of weeks ago we were sure he was leaving. It was out of nowhere and my husband had a work trip that day. I awoke at 4 am to see him dressed to go to the airport, his suitcase by his side. He leaned over to Baby A, who was sleeping next to me, and just said “Thank you” over and over again, tears rolling down his cheeks. When Baby A and I awoke we did all of our favorite things - took a lavender bubble bath together, strolled around Echo Park Lake with Rosy, sang songs, read books, stared at the fan, stared at each other.

Then he stayed. 

My husband wraps me in a bear hug at least once a day and tells me how in awe he is of me, how he would do this over and over again for the experience we have had with him, with each other. I cry, sometimes I sob and heave, but I feel it all.

What I do know is this - we are told our time with Baby A is coming to an end and we are cherishing every single moment. A couple of weeks could turn into longer, as we've found nothing is ever certain in foster care. We now pray every single day for his safety, his future, his giant heart housed in a tiny body. We pray for his family. We pray for his father to have the strength and the patience to love him like we do.

And we remember this - we saved this little boy's life and he, in turn, saved ours. We will not for one single moment be the same and we will carry him with us. Always.

He has taught me something else that’s very important. To truly treasure every moment you can together as if it’s your last. Not a Hallmark card platitude but to truly live it. To pay more attention, To open your heart as it will go. My relationship with him isn’t the only one that has deepened. My relationship with life has. How differently do we live if we are saying goodbye? Our relationship to oursleves, to one another, changes. There’s a sense of reverence. Of honoring the fragility and resilience of all things. Of bowing and knowing we don’t know a damn thing. I am humbled by the uncertainty and forever changed because of it.

We are not done. This story is by no means finished. We are Baby A’s parents forever in our hearts and we will give him every ounce of while we can. And there are children who need us to love them and there are our hearts that will continue to grow and expand and defy all of our odds.

I pray. And I cry.

But deep down I do trust. 

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In Gratitude

Now bear with me here as I dig deeply for this. Gratitude is one of my most cherished values, an inherent part of who I am, and I'm currently being challenged in more ways than I've ever experienced. This is life. Messy, uncertain, beautiful, transformative.

I'll write more about what has been happening as a I process it but for now here's what I'm grateful for because there's always, always something. In fact, a lot of things.

My friends and family who are holding us in a giant bear hug right now, all over the country.
Young Adult novels by Sarah Dessen. I've read three just this week.
Breakfast burritos. (True story.)
My foster parent friends. You are my lifeline!
Dreaming about the future - a big farm table in our backyard surrounded by friends and family and our babies.
The relationship I have with my husband. Our bond has never been more real, never been stronger.
Surrender. I had it tattooed on my arm in Sanskrit when I was 30 and only now am I able to even slightly understand what it means.

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To Be Free

I made the decision to stop drinking quietly and privately.

It was the day after New Years, January 2, 2016, and I woke up with a beating headache and serious regret. If this was a once in awhile thing then I could've written it off as "the holidays" where everyone laughs about how much they drank and how much weight they gained for the festivities. But it wasn't.

I woke up, popped  a couple of Excederin, probably drank another couple cups of coffee and headed to a very late breakfast with my husband. I could tell he was annoyed with me. This was also a regular occurrence. Drink too much, be fun for like thirty minutes and then Matt would be doing damage control. I'd wake up the next day, one eye open, to see if he was sleeping next to me or not. If not, it usually meant I said something terrible to him.

This unfortunately wasn't  an anomaly of a day and for some reason it was finally clear to me that it was time to stop.

Alcohol had always been a part of my life. Growing up in the Midwest it was ever present at any social function and my brother and I were even told that we had "the gene" and had to be careful. But we weren't careful and  I  didn't know any adult who didn't drink so why would I even question it?

From my first sips of alcohol at thirteen in a friend's basement to the gallons of keg beer I consumed in college, I loved, loved, loved alcohol. Alcohol for me helped quiet the noise in my head, it helped me getting over my deep desire to be at home reading and instead close down a bar with friend, it relaxed my tense body and my rampant insecurities. Alcohol was rose colored glasses. Alcohol meant we had no idea what would happen and the night held so much "possibility." It was my salve to all within me that ached. It momentarily filled the God-shaped hole that I had no idea how to fix myself.

I honestly thought this was normal. That it was 100 percent normal to drink every single day. To not remember things I said or did. My friends and I laughed it off, egging one another on or enabling this behavior in the vein of  "just having fun" or living life to the fullest. (Cue eye roll.)

And perhaps while they continued to have fun, my relationship with alcohol got darker. I sought out situations and relationships where drinking was present or even celebrated. I lied about how much I drank, often pouring myself a couple of cocktails before a party or a dinner out. I took Excederin several times a week to combat a massive hangover. My husband would send me blog posts from women who had stopped drinking and my defensive reply was "Do you really think I'm like them?"

To anyone on the outside I was thriving. I was newly married, living in a Venice Beach cottage, always dressed in bright colors and hi-tops and laughing. My career was fairly successful and I had created some things I was really proud of. But inside I was absolutely falling apart.

It's now been almost 2 1/2 years since I took my last drink. It was some sort of hodgepodge of booze with my little brother who was visiting. Everyone else had stopped drinking, but I still was. I fell asleep on the couch and when I woke up something in me said, "Enough."

I didn't tell anyone what I was doing. I let everyone think I was “cleansing” for a couple of months, and for the first time in my life I truly, truly was. I started to see clearly again. I'd wake up early to make my coffee, completely headache-free, and smell the ocean wafting several blocks into our backyard. I saw every 11:11 possible for weeks at a time. I heard encouragement from within, most often "you are no longer dulling your shine." Weight fell off my body, as I continued to indulge in every food I loved, but no longer drank and inflamed my entire body. I enjoyed staying in on a Friday night, reading my book, meeting my friends for breakfast instead. I could hear my thoughts and my feelings and I had the space and capacity to process them. 

I will never forget the moment I told my husband. We were on a walk in our Venice neighborhood on a cold, overcast evening and I said, “I think I'm going to stop drinking.”

"Oh yeah? For how long?,” he replied, thinking this was another foray into Whole30 territory, another time he'd be free of my antics for at least a month. “Forever, I hope.”

He turned and looked at me with his eyes full of tears and wrapped me in a giant bear hug. We talked about how. We already knew why.

What I didn’t notice was that in that moment was that he had been eating a tangerine and he had quietly slipped the seeds into his pocket. Later that evening I saw the seeds on the counter and tossed them into the trash which was later taken out the to bins. Late, late that evening my husband comes in from outside covered in dirt and holding the seeds wrapped in paper towels.

"What, why?", I asked.

Because this is the day you chose us, he replied. I want to watch them grow.

Well, these are the seeds my friends. And they are plants now. Tender and still fragile, but standing tall and reaching for the light. Just like me.

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These 2 1/2 years have been filled with more life and introspection and growth and joy than I ever could've imagined. I had a problem. And from that problem came an opportunity to change my entire life. I feel no shame in this. I was doing the best I could with what I knew. I now see how little that was and how much more growing I still have to do.

What an absolute privilege to walk this path alongside so many others who have made this same brave choice.

The best decision I've ever made.

I chose us.
I chose a vibrant life.
And most importantly, I chose me.

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I have received countless messages over the past year asking me to tell my story and answer questions about how I did this. Whether you identify with having a serious problem with alcohol or you just know it's holding you back, quitting drinking is a brave, noble path. I abhor the stigma around alcoholism and the judgement that you are either one way of the other. (As I once believed.) We all have our own demons and darkness and by bravely, vulnerably sharing our stories, we create a space where we don't feel alone. 


I asked people to send me their questions via social media and received almost fifty messages. Here are my answers to a few of your questions. I'll do another post in the future and answer more.

Do you miss alcohol?

I don't. I honestly can't stand the smell. I've done a lot of work around how I idealized certain moments or situations as fun or special because alcohol was present. I have now spoken at my brother's wedding, danced at bars and been to plenty of parties and know that moments are special because of our presence. Alcohol made me less present and basically a ticking time bomb.

What's the hardest part?
I felt lonely. I have no family members or best friends who don't drink so I felt alone in it in the beginning. I sought out new friends and support and that was extremely helpful. And when I felt left out I let myself feel it.

Do you identify as "sober" or any other labels that we float around for people who choose not to drink?
I don't. I don't engage in anything that would make me not sober but I just don't love labels. But if someone needs to label me for their own understanding then yes, I'm sober. 

How do you tell your partner you don't want to drink anymore?
My husband is a total social drinker. Like gets drunk off sake like a little girl (Love you babe!) but he doesn't have a problem with alcohol. I was lucky to be in relationship with someone who absolutely supported me and offered to quit drinking entirely as well. I just didn't feel it was necessary.

Get your partner enrolled in why this is good for you. Why it's necessary. Why it can be more fun. (Sober sex is way better than inebriated sex, for sure.) And if it's really important to you and they don't get it.. well, that's another conversation and I'll be more than happy to have it with you.

How did you work with the residual stuff quitting drinking brings up?
I worked with a therapeutic life coach. I went to meetings. I meditated. I cried, a lot, which hadn't happened sober in a long time. I talked it out with people I trusted.

Did you feel the need to tell everyone at one time?
No. I told the people I trusted the most then slowly told more people. Now I feel like it's just a part of me. Like my bio. Female, 34, foster mom, doesn't drink. Just a part but not the whole story by any means. I don't feel it's loaded when I tell someone where as in the beginning I felt like I was going to pass out. It's an ADMIRABLE path. I wish I would've been proud of myself right from the get go.

Has it affected your relationships in any negative ways?
Regarding my marriage: Imagine the biggest, boldest no possible. It has strengthened my relationship in so many ways. We have rebuilt our marriage from the ground up and fostered such a sense of respect. We have way more fun than we did then.

Regarding my friendships: There were a few friendships that were strained but as people saw that this was my path and not just for a moment in time, my friends really truly supported me and all say they like me way better this way. I'm sure they occasionally miss the drama of me taking over a dive bar though. It really was a sight!

How would you navigate the current dating landscape if you made this decision before meeting Matt?
This wasn't my reality so it's hard to answer. I will say that alcohol kept me dating people or staying in relationships that didn't serve me longer than I should have. Without alcohol my perspective is different and honestly my frequency is higher. I'd spend more time doing social "day" things rather than looking for a guy in a bar. I'd ask to be set up. And honestly, I made my "not drinking" such a big deal in the beginning and for the most part no one cares! If anything they respect you. And if they don't, they might need to look at their own relationship with alcohol.

How did you maintain friendships where so much of the social elements involve "going out" / drinking in general?
I'm lucky and most of my friends are totally down to go out for dinner, hang at coffee shops, sit in a park, make dinner, go to yoga, go hiking. Nobody wants to be hungover. And I will occasionally go to a bar or a brewery and drink soda water and hang and I truly enjoy the social interaction and leave when I feel like it. If I meet a new friend and they suggest going out for a drink I will suggest a place with food and then not drink. Or suggest something different.

How was being in the wellness community during this time?
I honestly don't know how I did it. I thought I was practicing, I thought I was teaching but there were a lot of lies happening internally that had to be projected externally. I am so proud of now say: I walk my talk. 100 fucking percent.


What has inspired and helped me along the way:

Humans
Laura McKowen
Brooke Castillo
The Sober Glow
Holly Glenn Whitaker
Elena Brower
Melissa Hartwig
Aidan Donnelley Rowley/The Drybe Club

Books
Drinking: A Love Story, by Caroline Knapp
Lit, by Mary Karr
Blackout, by Sarah Hepola
Refuge Recovery, by Noah Levine
Between Breaths, by Elizabeth Vargas
Codependent No More, by Melody Beattie
 

Refuge

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Last night I was sitting on the couch with Baby A in my lap, resting on my thighs, watching the fan as usual. I'm watching some British show on Netflix and am absolutely engrossed. After a few minutes I hear a little chuckle and look down and he's smiling at me. Not just a small smile, but an all out toothless grin. I smile back, so big that I have tears in my eyes, and we start to laugh. Laughing so hard together I now have tears streaming down my face and his two dimples are as deep as they can possibly be.

These are the moments when my entire being says, "This is it! Pay attention."
And I do. I studied his big brown eyes and his giant smile and the way his tiny hand holds my thumb for dear life. I I had rationalized these moments in my training at the foster adoption agency. 
"You'll fall in love. You're supposed to."
But no one prepared me for this steep slide straight into unconditional love.

So how do I do this? With all the unknowing? 
I breathe in, I breathe out. I step forward. Then I step forward again.
And I'm wrapping myself up in unconditional love and soulfulness and reminders that it's okay for this to be hard and scary and all the things. That I'm doing exactly what I'm supposed to.

I've given myself permission to get off of the rollercoaster of constant calls and updates from social workers and lawyers. Off the rollercoaster of wondering if this is forever. I remind myself of right now. Again. And again. And again.

I'm calling on every practice and every lesson I've ever learned. From books and teachers and heartbreak and stumbling and sobriety and meditation and all the fucking up. And all the opening up.

Right now, in the present moment, is where it's easy. It's where the breath is. It's where I can touch the refuge of my own heartbeat.

"I am a lover of what is not because I'm a spiritual person but because it hurts to argue with reality. No thinking in the world can change it. What is is. Everything I need is already here. How do I know I don't need it? I don't have it. So everything I need is supplied."  - Byron Katie

I have all I need. You do too.

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