Becoming Mom: Life, Full Circle

mom

Mom and me on a Girl’s Day Out. October 2015

It’s official: The Saxtons are about to add another place at the dining room table, and we’re going to become a multi-generational household. Heaven help us.

On November 17 I’m going to be flying with my mom from her memory care facility near Atlanta, to bring her on an “extended visit” with us here in Indiana. We’ve found an adult daycare and a fill-in caregiver for while I’m at work. And I try not to think too much about what she’ll say about my housekeeping skills. I’m hoping she’ll be so happy not to be where she was, that even our chaotic household will be an improvement.

If you have ever made the choice to bring a parent to live with you, I’d love to hear from you. What are some of the things you did to make the transition easier? If your parent has dementia (like mine), what are some of the things you wish someone had told you ahead of time?

 

 

 

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Why Foster Parent? Lots of Reasons… Here’s where it started for us!

seventh grade

See that geeky girl in the first row, second from left? Permed and bespeckled, wearing a too-short dress even though everyone else was wearing cool blue jeans?

You’re looking at the genesis of a foster mom.

Like most middle-school students, I led a fairly self-involved existence. It was years before I discovered that not everything is always as it seems. The pretty, popular girls — the ones who could wear mascara and had pool parties at their house that I was never invited to — had parents who were divorcing or drank too much. The unpopular kids … well, they had their own stories. It’s amazing how resilient kids can be.

Me, I was living out my own family drama. My sister’s cancer and the related financial devastation my parents faced had left its mark on my childhood. I was a good student primarily because books were my escape (we had no television, and secular music was forbidden). Money was so tight, there just wasn’t enough to buy the jeans the other girls were wearing. I didn’t even ask, because I knew the money wasn’t there. Instead I wore my best friend’s hand-me-down water print dress. It was too short, and my mother made me wear a longer skirt underneath. But to me, if was the epitome of haute couture.

There was a lot I didn’t tell my parents back then, not wanting to add to their load. (A neighbor lady who used to watch my sister and me while Chris was in the hospital planted this idea in my head, and it took root.) I spent a lot of time alone. One sweet boy (with the unfortunate last name of “Roach”) who talked to me and sometimes walked me home after school, disappeared after eighth grade, and I never knew what happened to him. I could only hope the rumors weren’t true.

How did all this add up to my becoming a foster parent? When Craig and I first started to talk about having a family, we knew we couldn’t conceive. Adoption was an option, but I kept thinking back to those months of being passed around as a kid, staying with one set of church friends or neighbors after another. I was always being reminded to be good, quiet, helpful. That, too, took its toll.  Looking back on my middle-school self, I can see now that I wasn’t ugly, or fat, or worthless, or unlovable. But back then I felt it to my bones.

I wanted to spare some other kid those same feelings. Each time I passed Catholic Charities in Detroit on my way to and from seminary, I thought about that twelve-year-old, until finally Craig and I pulled in and asked about becoming foster parents. We attended the classes … and next thing we knew, our children arrived on our doorstep.

To be perfectly honest, we were pretty naïve going into it. Like many foster parents, we discovered that sometimes love and compassion isn’t enough to heal the wounded heart of a child. Sometimes you just have to journey with them as patiently as you can — and remind them, over and over, that they are loved, and wanted, and safe. For me, it was the ultimate middle-school payback.

Have you ever thought about becoming a foster parent? I’d like to hear your story!

Rest in God

sleeping-dogsYesterday the W.I.N.E. blog posted a short article called “Shepherd of My Heart,” about the need every soul has to rest in the mercy of God. (It’s a short, easy read – a slice of life from the Saxton household featuring Maddie, our Aussie shepherd.)

Like any good parent, God is relentless in his love and care for us — perhaps especially when we are struggling. Today’s first reading reminds us of another side of God, the disciplinarian who loves us too much to let us remain ensnared by sin.

Of forgiveness be not overconfident, adding sin upon sin.

Say not: “Great is his mercy;…

My many sins he will forgive.”

For mercy and anger alike are with him;

Upon the wicked alights his wrath.

Delay not your conversion to the LORD,

Put it not off from day to day.

Sirach 5:1-8

None of us knows for sure how much time she has on the  hourglass of life. Life is fleeting and fragile, and eternity is forever. The good news is that God has provided a way for us to rid ourselves of the toxic habits and unwanted burdens we carry, cleansing us in the sacrament of reconciliation and strengthening us in the Eucharist. Those who are sick and suffering can also avail themselves of the graces of the sacrament of anointing, to give them strength for the journey.

We need not fear death. Something greater is in store for each of us if we spend our lifetime following Christ. So rest in God . . . and keep short accounts.

God bless you! Pray for me as I head to Minneapolis for the W.I.N.E. conference on Saturday!

Waiting… and Fuming

Sarah 2005Have you ever wondered what a speaker does in the hour or so before she gives her presentation? I don’t know about Pat Gohn or Lisa Hendey or Kelly Wahlquist . . . but I can tell you what I was doing last night.

Fuming. Because I couldn’t find a lipstick. Real spiritual, right?

I wear makeup about 12 times a year, usually a swipe of mascara and a dab of lipstick. My husband thinks I’m a natural beauty, so why mess with it? But like any gal, when it’s time to stand and deliver, I like to get a bit gussied up.

Only this time, my child-who-shall-be-nameless had swiped all THREE of my lipsticks along with a few other items. And frankly, it was the last boundary-related straw that week. I’ll draw a veil of privacy over the discussion that ensued (for both our sakes), but suffice it to say that I arrived at church feeling rather depleted. What made me think that I had anything worth sharing with these women, when I could barely get myself to the church without strangling my daughter?

I was happy to see another writer friend, Jeannie Ewing, in the audience. Several other special-needs moms as well. And as I shared my Lipstick Story with them, I heard warm and appreciative laughter. I guess I wasn’t the only mom in the room who ever had to put her makeup under lock and key.

Later, one of the women took me aside and told me the story of her struggles with her own teenager. She spoke of her anxiety in waiting, in wondering what the future would look like for her daughter. This, I understood. All of it. And in that moment, I was reminded of something: That being a speaker or teacher — or a parent — is not about handing out dazzling perfection from a pedestal on high. It’s about bearing witness to the mercy of God in my own life, despite (and sometimes because of) its imperfections, and helping others to see that same Providence at work in theirs.

Where is God calling you to witness?

Are you waiting and fuming, or waiting and worrying, this Advent? “Let nothing trouble you, let nothing frighten you,” said St. Teresa of Avila. “All things pass away, but God never changes. Patience obtains all things, and those who possess God want for nothing. God alone suffices.”

It’s not too late to pick up a copy ofAdvent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta on Franciscan Media or Amazon.com.  Happy Advent!

Prioritize Ruthlessly

Teresa-21For those who are unemployed or self-employed, figuring out how to spend time wisely can be a real challenge. There is always more to do than time to do it. And so, last week when my friend Jennifer Fulwiler had an online “web event” to launch the paperback edition of her memoir  “Something Other Than God, I logged on and asked Jen how she manages to do everything she does: She homeschools her kids, hosts her own radio show, writes books and keynotes at practically every major Catholic gathering across the country.

Her two-word response was deceptively simple: prioritize ruthlessly. “When I wanted to write a book, I had to set aside everything else except my family. I couldn’t attend every church function or do the other things I wanted to do, because there wasn’t time. I had to prioritize ruthlessly to get it done.”

I knew she was right. Door-testing takes time. Once people heard I was looking for work, I suddenly had a L-O-N-G list of invitations of (unpaid) things well worth doing (and likely couldn’t have done had I still been employed). This weekend, for instance, I helped to host the Franciscan profession of the Immaculate Conception Fraternity here in Mishawaka, whipping up large pans of my signature chicken and rice dish to feed nearly 200 people. I also baked enough gingerbread to make 10 houses with the YDisciple group at church. It was fun, and it got me out of the house. On the other hand, if I got in the habit of doing these kinds of grand-scale projects, what would it do to the job hunt?

This morning I was on Relevant Radio, talking with Kyle Heimann about my new book  Advent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta.  Servant’s publicity team, Kennedy-Brownrigg, has done a great job of lining up interviews for the book, and so I am talking about Mother Teresa a lot these days. This morning, I got to thinking about how she had to prioritize ruthlessly as well. With thousands of lepers lining the streets of Calcutta, how did she know which ones to help? How did she find the strength to EXPAND her work to other countries, given the level of need right where she was?

I found a nugget of insight in her book One Heart Full of Love, in which she describes what it was like to accept an honorary Doctorate of Divinity from the University of Cambridge. At first she protested. “You know full well that I have not studied theology. I just simply try always to live it out.” And yet, ultimately she accepted the honor. Why?

In reality, the event was a gift from God. And it was not just for me personally but for you, for the sisters, and for our poor. We must appreciate and accept it with all humility of heart, so that we can offer it to Jesus. After all, it belongs to him. All glory and honor are his. We must let Jesus use us as he sees fit. In that way, every aspect of our life of prayer, of fundraising, and of feeding and clothing the poor complement each other. They cannot be separated. One cannot be done without the other. None of them can be done without prayer. Your generosity and your sacrifices must be the fruit of your prayer life. (p.67-68).

In good times and bad, the measure of what is to be done is the same: all is the fruit of prayer, done for love of Jesus. The harder tasks keep us humble and trusting. And the “fun” things need not be written off as distractions, so long as we can offer them to God (that keeps the true distractions at bay, such as the big-screen time-suck in the living room). It becomes easier to prioritize when I ask myself not, “What do I want to do today?” but “God, what do YOU want me to do today?”

Excuse me, now. A little angel is calling me to go clean the carpets, a little prelude to the Thanksgiving celebration ahead.

Filling up the “Love Banks”

Do you have a child who has sensory issues or who for other reasons does not always respond positively to hugs or other normal signs of parental affection? This is very common in foster and adoptive families as well. At the “Refresh” conference in Chicago this weekend, I shared one idea that has worked well for us — we call it “Filling up the Love Banks.” It allows the child to communicate the kind of touch (and the duration) he or she needs to the parent in a way that respects boundaries and makes the child feel safe and loved.

When I sense that Sarah (or Chris) is in need of a hug, I ask her, “Do you need your love banks filled?” This will generally produce an immediate, positive response. She strips off her socks and shoes and sits on the couch with me, her feet close to my lap. Gently I stroke or put gentle pressure on the instep, musing aloud, “Hmm… let’s check your hug bank first. Is your hug bank full?” If she wants a hug, she says, “No, I think it’s empty.” Then she cuddles up to me and we hug for ten seconds or so. Then I touch the same spot on the foot again. “Is the hug bank full yet? No? Let’s try again.” We hug again, a little longer this time. Then back to the foot rub… until she says the bank is full.

Next, it’s the “kiss bank,” on the other side of the foot. We give butterfly kisses and raspberries, “Mommy kisses” (on the forehead) and fairy kisses (blowing the bangs from the forehead). Buffalo kisses, in which I swish a lock of my hair across her cheek, seem to be a favorite, with “baby buffalo,” “mommy buffalo” and “daddy buffalo” (bigger bunches of hair) each taking a turn. Each time, we check the foot to see if the “Kiss Bank” is full.

The ball of the foot is where the “tickle bank” resides. We like “rub tickles” at our house, gentle pressure on the arms and calves. If your child has a history of abuse, you may want to skip this one at first if you think it will create a trigger. Or you might let your child tickle YOU. Always check every couple of seconds to see if the “tickle bank” is full.

Finally, the “face trace bank.” The child closes her eyes as with one finger the parent traces the eyebrows, eye lashes, nose, lips, and ears. Finish by swooping the whole face in an oval, just beneath the hairline to under the chin.

Feel free to improvise as you discover the kind of affection, respectful touch your child responds to the best. At first you might start with a simple foot massage or scalp massage. Put on some relaxing music. Choose a time of day when you are most wanting the child to relax and “wind down.” This can be a great way for parent and child to bond in a loving, appropriate way that teaches the child to establish and practice healthy boundaries while still getting the love he or she needs to feel happy and connected.love-banks