Fun Fridays: Road Trip, Anyone?

Fun Fridays

As we load up the van to spend Christmas with Craig’s mom, it reminded me of a long-distance road trip I took with Sarah Reinhard and our kids a few years ago, to attend the Catholic New Media Conference in Atlanta. Do you need a “Road Trip Survival Kit” to get you through the next few weeks?

If you’ve ever taken a road trip with a van full of kids,  you know that there are certain items that you never, ever leave behind. Not if you expect to make it to your destination without one or more children strapped to the roof. Our “Road Trip Survival Kit” has a cooler containing . . .

  • Frozen juice pouches (to keep the kids from slurping them all in the first five miles),
  • Diet Coke (to keep YOU alert and headache-free),
  • PB&J (to toss in the back seat every time a kid spots a McDonalds and whines for sustenance),
  • Frozen container full of chili or other dinner you can zap in the hotel microwave (don’t forget the corn chips for scooping), and
  • Two bottles of Mike’s Hard Lemonade (for after the kids go to bed).

In addition to the cooler, bag of swim gear (one adult takes the kids to the pool while the other unpacks the room and gets dinner started), and Mystery Bag (full of treats from the Dollar Store, to toss in the back seat at regular intervals to keep the chaos down to a dull roar), there are two more items in my “Travelin’ Mom Roadtrip Kit”: a rosary . . . and a GPS. They stay on my dashboard, always in arm’s reach. After all, a girl never knows when she might need a little prompting to head in the right direction.

It’s been ten years since my husband and I foster-adopted our kids, both of whom have special needs. And in the past eight months, we’ve had to face some extraordinary challenges that have resulted in a kind of mental U-Turn. More and more, I find myself thinking about all those things that I wish someone had thought to tell me ten years ago. Perhaps you have been in the trenches a while, and feel the same way.

If that’s the case, I invite you to join me on this road trip.  Rosary and GPS in hand, let’s explore that “road less traveled” . . . together.

What’s the most indispensable component of YOUR “Road Trip Kit”?

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A Healing Moment at Mass

At St. Joseph’s in Downingtown PA, those who show up five minutes late (or even, some Sundays, right on time) may not get a seat. When I was teaching CCD, this wasn’t really a problem; there was always plenty of time between class and Mass to install ourselves in our favorite pew.

Then, a few weeks ago, a shadow fell over our house. We have been deliberately vague on the details with people; suffice it to say that when we adopted our children from foster care, we never imagined just how far-reaching the past might be. At the advice of our pastor and other experts, we made a plan that involved removing our son temporarily from our home, and placing him in the home of his godparents (who have no children), until we could get things sorted out. I also resigned as a catechist so that I’d be able to focus on the needs of my family, and travel back and forth as needed. It isn’t ideal . . . but little about our lives is ideal right now.

A Gift of Joy

In some ways, I feel like I am returning to those humiliating early days of foster parenting, when I went from being the leader of the worship ensemble to being the woman whose little boy punched a priest in the middle of Mass (Father had reached out to give my three-year-old foster son a blessing). Now as then, I have ample evidence that I am in way over my head in the parenting pool. Now as then, I try to keep paddling bravely. Now as then, I find myself wondering if I will make it.

Today we arrived at Mass just as the Gloria was being sung.  Sarah and I squeezed into a place between an elderly gentleman and his wheelchair-bound wife and a family with six teenagers (we later learned they were foster parents). In front of us was another family with two children who were about the same age as my kids. At first I was struck by how happy and affectionate the younger boy was, hugging his big brother and kissing his mother … and then he turned and I saw his face just as he erupted with a squeal of joy.

Sarah noticed, too. “Why does he look like that, Mommy? Why is he making those noises?”

“He has special challenges, honey. But he has special gifts, too. See how he loves his brother and father and mother?”

She nodded. “Yep. He’s full of love. That’s his gift, right?”

“Yes, honey. We all have special gifts and challenges. That little boy is a gift to his family … and today he is a gift to us. Just like you are a gift, with your bright eyes and sweet voice. You are a gift especially to me.”

And it was true. As I watched the family pass the little boy back and forth, encouraging him to be quiet and reverent, I was reminded that the best offerings are not always the most outwardly reverent ones. The most thankful hearts are not always the lightest ones. And the ones who most need to be there are not always the best dressed or best behaved.

I also realized that we were exactly where we needed to be just then. By bringing their son to Mass with them, even though he might make a “joyful noise” at some inopportune time, this family had ministered to me in a way that no one else could have. My heart felt lighter just from having witnessed the sight of that family loving each other and drawing close to face their challenges together.  This boy was a true gift … and a rare treasure. And yet, many such children die while still in the womb.

Thoughts on the March for Life

Tomorrow is the “March for Life” in Washington, D.C. Thousands of pro-life marchers will converge in our nation’s capitol to commemorate the tragic anniversary of the signing of Roe v. Wade. Hundreds of thousands more will, like me, be with them in spirit as we continue to live out the daily challenges of family life as another kind of testimony to the dignity and value of every single life.

The elderly gentleman will fix his wife’s breakfast and brush her hair.

The foster family beside us will wait for the case worker of the sibling group they recently welcomed into their home.

The family in front of us will pull carpool duty as they take their younger son to therapy and school, and cheer their older son at his basketball game.

And I … well, I will continue my own vigil, asking God to do something so that one day we will all be under one roof, facing our challenges together. Thank you for continuing to pray with us.

Orphan: Cause for Panic?

orphanThe adoption community is abuzz over the new horror movie “Orphan,” which (in its trailer) raises the question of whether adoptive parents can love their children as much as biological parents do. Here’s an article about it.

Personally, I have a hard time getting worked up about this one. While I’m not into horror flicks, I understand the appeal for some: the opportunity to face one’s deepest fears in order to get a thrill in a “safe” environment. Frankly, anyone who has ever dealt with a child with attachment issues is not going to see this movie: They’ve already lived the nightmare. For them, “Orphan” would not be the least bit entertaining.

Reading over the comments following the CBS article, it seemed to me that most comments fell in one of two categories, both of which needed a bit of balance. The “get over it, it’s just a movie” camp, on one hand, missed or ignored altogether the fact that there really are people out there for whom adoption has turned out to be something less than the rosy scenario they’d thought it would be. Many of these people do, in fact, wonder if they will ever LIKE — much less love — the little monsters who are draining them of every last bit of energy and goodwill. I hear from these parents more often than I’d like to admit.

And yet, the “OMG, my children are going to be scarred for life” variety, I thought, also needed a bit of balance. As for the idea that it might dissuade a potential couple from adopting, I’d say this: foster care and adoption is not for the weak of heart. If a simple movie — or movie trailer — is enough to turn a couple off to the process, it’s probably better that way.

And yet, if you’ve thought about foster care or foster-adoption, and wonder whether “Orphan” is a case of art imitating life, I can only say that my children and their two older siblings (adopted separately) are very different children from those who went into the system. Love really is the most powerful force in the universe. Yes, the path can grow dark at times, and the children will raise questions about the circumstances of their adoption throughout their lives as they reach various developmental milestones. But in the vast majority of cases, the adoptive family bond holds as tight as any biological bond. 
I think Warner Brothers is making a prudent choice to redo the trailer — if for no other reason than it presents another opportunity to get more mileage out of the original gaffe. Me, I think the fact that 129,000 children go to sleep at night without a loving, permanent family is a lot more upsetting . . . and something worth doing everything possible to change.

Miracle Monday: “Forever Mom” at the Movies!

fosteradoptToday I came across a new (to me) website for those interested in learning about foster care, called “Learn to Foster & Adopt.” Although the organization focuses on foster and adoption in the San Francisco area, much of the information is relevant to the needs of foster and adoptive parents all over the country. (I was particularly impressed with the fact that they focus almost exclusively in promoting through new media.)

One article that caught my eye was by “Forever Mom,” a review of the movie Hotel for Dogs. The author writes, “… foster and adoptive parents should be aware that there are major foster care and adoption themes [in this movie] that might upset some children – particularly those who have experienced abuse and neglect, a lack of food, multiple moves and/or sibling separation.”

One of the most challenging parts of foster parenting (or foster-adoptive parenting) is trying to anticipate the long-term consequences of events that would be non-issues for other children. This movie is one such example, but the list can be endless: a holiday, birthday card, sleep-over, or new pet. Each of these things can bring back old memories, reopen new wounds.

However, I find this woman’s compassion and sensitivity a refreshing example of how foster parents — GOOD foster parents — can help children from troubled backgrounds gain perspective and healing from the past. Check out this wonderful website … You’ll meet other inspiring men and women just like her!

Miracle Monday: 40 Reasons We’d Do It Again … Thoughts on Adoption

With Valentine’s Day freshly behind us — a time for married couples to renew their love for one another and Hallmark and Godiva to make their shareholders smile — I’d like to reprise a tribute of a different kind.

I wrote this a couple of years ago, but the feelings are the same. It is the dearest wish of my heart that more couples would consider adoption. With more than 500,000 children currently in the U.S. needing temporary or permanent homes, there are ample opportunities for generous souls to reach out.

Foster-Adoption is not without its challenges. You hear all kinds of horror stories about kids who have been abused and/or neglected who have difficulty bonding with their new families. Sadly, you don’t hear so much about the “happy endings” (and I count my family’s among them): Children who outgrow the worst of their behavioral issues, and grow up to be loving, affectionate kids. NORMAL kids. Happy kids.

Of course, it does no good to go in “blind.” Information is power, and letting couples know up front that some struggle with the transition … and then go on to form happy families … Well, that is information worth knowing. Forewarned is forearmed.

Having said that, I do believe that there are many good reasons for considering adoption. And here are my top forty reasons why Craig and I would adopt Christopher and Sarah all over again if we could. (And hopefully do it a little smarter the second time around.)  Continue reading

Outstanding International Adoption Websites

Today I found an international adoption website that I can’t refer specifically by name because they need to keep the blog private for the present due to the special circumstances related to their adoption.

However, I wanted to share with my readers three sites that those who are seeking international adoption will find particularly helpful. I’ve saved them in the “International Adoption” blogroll.

The first, “Informed Adoptions,” offers a wide variety of articles that are especially good for transracial adoption, particularly those from Guatemala.

The second, “The Hague Convention Guide for Prospective Adoptive Parents” is a primer for those who want to better understand the changes in the adoption this year.

 “Adoption Agency Ratings” offers a list of 1200 adoption agencies, there for your researching pleasure.

Finally, those interested in foster-adoption may be interested in this online resource, the “Child Welfare Information Gateway”

When I get permission to list my “source” I will do just that — thanks, K!

Be Not Afraid

Today at CatholicExchange.com, Mark Shea answers the question, “What would you do if your unborn child received a poor diagnosis, such that you knew he or she would not survive for long?”

If you or someone you know is struggling with this issue, you may like to know about a special online ministry to grieving parents called “Be Not Afraid.net.” With compassion and courage, parents of “imperfect” children share their experiences with others, and affirm the reality that every child is a gift from God, no matter how long that child is in our arms.

This is something worth considering for parents who are seriously considering adoption or foster-adoption, but hold back in case something should “go wrong” and the child be returned to the birth parents.  No human relationship — no matter how loving — is guaranteed for life. And yet, if you choose to love, that relationship has lasting effects that will transform both parties for life.

Thanks, Mark, for sharing your wisdom on this!