Mommy Monster … 13 Years Later

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Thirteen years ago today, the Extraordinary Mom’s Network was born. Just one bleary-eyed mom leaning over her keyboard and frantically shouting into the void to see if anyone in the whole, wide world felt the same way….

One morning when you least expect it, you’ll look in the mirror and find it looking back at you. The phantasm bears a slight resemblance to your familiar self, except… Is it possible that your husband installed a trick mirror while you were dozing, just for kicks? This gal has…

  • Stomach is rumbling from not eating a decent meal since… What is this? May?
  • Throat is raw from screaming like a fishwife, just to hear yourself above the din.
  • In the same set of sweats you’ve worn all week, sans bra. Even to the doctor’s office.

And as the bathroom door reverberates with the pounding of three insistent sets of little fists, you pray the lock will hold long enough for you to sit down for five seconds and have one coherent thought.

Suddenly, it hits you:

This is not what I signed up for. I don’t recognize that ghoulish figure in the mirror. She’s grouchy. She’s wrinkled and rumpled, and so are her clothes. She smells like baby barf. Make her go away.

Easier said than done. But if you watch my back, and I watch yours, maybe we can figure this out together. We’ll get those Mommy Monsters.

To be perfectly honest, my experiment in virtual communication was not an unqualified success. Although I did meet some amazing women along the way who were just doing the best they could at the time. Some true heroes.

I also met individuals who had been so wounded and broken, I soon found myself in the middle of angry internet wars I had neither the time nor energy (nor, in some cases, the experience) to win. And so, when I grew tired of having my head handed to me on a platter, I stopped writing about adoption for a time.

But as the kids have grown older, and I’ve seen the next round of adoptive and foster parents rise up and encourage others to enter the fray, I feel as though I’ve found my second wind. Because after thirteen years, I have learned a few things about what it takes to do this. After thirteen years, I’ve made enough mistakes to recognize a jackpot before I step into it, and had enough successes that I can encourage those who are just starting out.

The Mommy Monsters still raise their ugly heads from time to time. But then, it’s part of being an Extraordinary Mom — extraordinary in the “Eucharistic sense”: One who comes alongside to serve the ordinary mom, to feed and nurture the hungry souls who step into our lives. Heaven knows, we usually don’t feel very out-of-the-ordinary ourselves. But the task we’ve been given … well, that is remarkable indeed.

So, whether this is your first time on the blog, or you’ve been reading for years — thanks for sharing the journey!

Fostering Futures: A New Concept in Foster Care

jen devivo“Fostering Futures” is a foster care agency that has recently opened in southern Michigan; I am their newest board member!

The agency is the brainchild of a group of experienced, dedicated social workers led by Jennifer DeVivo, LMSW, the Chief Administrator of Fostering Futures. Ms. DeVivo initially began working in foster care in 1998 as a foster care worker and therapist at Boysville of Michigan.

This group’s dedication to (a) train and support high-quality social workers and foster parents and (b) invest state monies directly in the well-being of the children they serve has greatly impressed me. If you live in the Ann Arbor area, and have ever considered fostering, I invite you to attend the next training session and begin to explore the process.

Children in foster care are eligible to receive a wide variety of benefits: medical insurance, WIC, daycare reimbursements, college tuition, tutoring expenses, and a per-diem living expense ranging from $15-32 dollars per day. Singles and married couples are both welcome. If you’d like more information, just fill out this form or drop me a note at hsaxton@christianword.com and I’ll put you in touch with Jen.

Miracle Monday: “Ruby Holler” by Newbury Award Winner Sharon Creech

Ruby HollerWhen I picked up this book at the library the other day, it was in the “junior” section. I saw it was an adventure story about to kids who are adopted by an older couple, and who set out on an adventure — the girl canoeing with the old man, the boy hiking with the old woman. And since I’ve been looking for good books to help engage my nine-year-old with the wonders of reading, I picked it up.

“Ruby Holler is the beautiful, mysterious place …” And indeed the author, Newbery Medal winner Sharon Creech has painted an unforgettable portrait of two unloved children (“trouble twins” Dallas and Florida) who are given a chance for a real family. My twitchy nine-year-old sat still, with rapt attention, as the story unfolded.

As the past heartache and abuse that the two children had endured is described in painful (yet faithfully from a child’s POV) detail. But as I read, I was the one who was squirming … What would it do to my kids to hear about these children who, just like them and their siblings, had endured such a painful past?

I stopped reading. Christopher protested. “Keep going, Mom! I want to know what happens to those kids!”

It’s what every mom hopes for … to get her child engrossed in a story like this. But as every parent knows, the fact that a child wants to see, or hear, or experience something doesn’t mean he or she is old enough to handle it. And so I closed the book and suggested a game of Monopoly (Christopher’s favorite).

That night, I finished the book myself. And I wished I’d read it sooner — before we got our kids, for example. In this story, two veteran and elderly parents welcome two “trouble twins” from the local children’s home into their home, and give a fresh start. In these pages, I was reminded how a little kindness and understanding can form a lasting bond of love, and start the healing process for a child wounded by parents who were less than extraordinary.

Thanks, Mrs. Creech, for this timely reminder.

#CNMC09: Answering the Call

Today in the keynote address, Father Dwyer talked about responding to God’s call to bring the Gospel to others, using whatever gifts we may have at our disposal. “You may only have 10 subscribers, but you are meeting the needs of those ten people in ways no bishop or priest ever can.”

It’s not about entertainment, not about drawing the high ratings, not “singing to the choir.” It’s about reaching people with real needs, who may never dark the door of a church but who know in their brokenness that they need … something. Something more. Something that draws us together, supporting one another and needing each other.

“When one part suffers, we all suffer; when one part is honored, we are all honored. There is too much polemic in the body of Christ; we must bring together and not divide. Sometimes that means making a choice not to slam someone who has a different view. St. Paul calls us to unity.”

This also has real implications in the world of adoption and foster parenting. There is so much pain and suffering out there, which we have been called to address. Even if it means we take a bit of that suffering on ourselves. I sometimes encounter people who say, “Oh, I could never foster — it would hurt too much if the kids went away.”

“The soul in which grief has cut the deepest, has the greatest capacity for joy.”  If we shy away from all experiences that have potential to inflict pain upon us, we will miss out on some of the most joy-filled and life-giving opportunities for grace. To follow Christ is to take up that cross, and to carry it willingly.

How will you do that today?

Help Your Neighbors, Get Rid of Clutter … Win a Trip To Disneyland!

garageAll you have to do is participate in “America’s Garage Sale,” sponsored by Focus on the Family!

In these trying economic times, many families are struggling to provide basic necessities for their families — while others are sitting on a mountain of treasure we never use! (I include myself on that one.) Let’s share the wealth!

When you’re done, you have another opportunity to share!  Donate a portion of your proceeds to a local soup kitchen, domestic violence shelter, or other non-profit organization. Give some of it to help a family who is trying to raise the money they need to adopt a child, or to provide back-to-school backpacks for foster kids.

God loves a generous giver … won’t you be a blessing to someone this weekend?

Happy Father’s Day … Have a Frosty!

frostyThis weekend Wendy’s restaurants are supporting foster kids!  This ABC article announces …

During Father’s Day Weekend, Wendy’s will donate 50¢ from every Frosty product sold to the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption (DTFA), a national, non-profit public charity dedicated to dramatically increasing the number of adoptions of foster children in North America. Also customers can stop by Wendy’s and donate to the cause by purchasing a Frosty pin-up for $1 each.

Treat Dad … and while you’re at it, treat the whole family!

About Social Workers . . . :-@

I have a confession to make:  In the three years I spent dealing with “the system,” I developed an aversion to social workers. I don’t hate them — it’s never a good idea to write off whole classes of people. But during the time we fostered our kids, the vast majority of those we encountered were either burned out (and useless) or inexperienced and as clueless as we were, though they had a tendency to talk to me and Craig as though we were not-quite-bright children. 

Foster parenting is hard enough without feeling like part of the problem to be “managed.” I once walked out of an agency training because the social worker wrote our names on the board — like we were nine — for coming back from lunch five minutes late. After keeping us fifteen minutes into the lunch break while arguing with me that leaving a child’s bike out in the rain to rust over (or get run over) is a more “natural” and better consequence than having the “Bike Fairy” make it disappear for a week. (Ironically, she learned something about natural consequences when her agency lost two educated, eager potential foster parents.)

I later wrote the agency, explaining why we hadn’t chosen to get our license there. I didn’t care if it seemed petty. We were going to have to work with whatever agency we selected, and I wasn’t going to sign up with one that made me feel like an idiot during the training process. Happily, the trainer at the next agency — Barb — did a great job, and it was to that agency that our children were placed shortly after we got our training. 

A few weeks ago I “met” another good social worker through a mutual friend on Facebook. I confess that, upon hearing that she was a social worker, I rolled my eyes and puckered my puss. Thankfully, it didn’t last (my face might have stuck that way!) And she went on to give me this perspective on the men and women in her profession that gave me food for thought . . . and I’d like to share it with you here (with her permission, thanks, Nancy!) 

I know there can be a lot of tired and jaded social workers in the state system. Personally, when I was doing adoptions, I worked for a Christian-based agency. For the last 5 years I have been a state social worker in the area of disabilities. We are known as the “warm and fuzzy” corner of DSHS because by and large we don’t have to deal with the atrocities that the children’s workers see and deal with every day. We do deal with hard things, but not on the daily level that they do.

You have to be really wired the right way to be able to handle that job, and then it would take incredible self control and restraint not to get into the culture of the office. The humor tends to be coarse and the adrenaline [runs] high. It’s their way of dealing with the stress. But do I see a lot of people who want to help kids? Absoloutely. My office is right by Children’s Administration, connected by a door, so though I don’t work with them, I know them all and we fairly often share cases.

The workload is intense, and you wouldn’t believe the amount of paperwork we all have for the littlest things in the state. In my division, overall though there’s a sense of being supported as a person and a worker. My closest friend at my job used to work at CPS and she said over there it isn’t like that. There’s a sense that you better be documenting everything and “covering your b*tt” (sorry) because if a wrong decision is made or something happens to a child on your caselod, you will have to answer for it. That kind of pressure just wears out the best of people.

So I am sorry you have had some hard experiences. You might have been dealing with a “bad apple.” Or you might have been dealing with someone who is doing their best and is just very tired. Either way I am happy that you and your husband have taken these kids on and are loving and raising them. They are very blessed, and we do see those success stories. I loved that part as an adoption social worker, seeing the families come together.  

I appreciated Nancy taking the time to share this different perspective. So . . . if you’ve ever had a hard time connecting with your children’s case worker, try to take Nancy’s observations to heart. If as foster parents we sometimes feel powerless to “fight the system” in order to give our children what they need, how much more powerless must they feel at times, unable to pick and choose they children they will help — or through their actions prevent these children from experiencing the pain that is part-and-parcel of “the system” of which they are a part.