Sunday, August 26, 2012

Our Family Metamorphosis, Braylen's Old Man Ways, and Freakus

Lately Alisa has been making up stories about when she was little.  Stories that most likely never happened, but clearly linked to the people of her past.  Mostly silly, nothing-type stories, but we would indulge her anyways, not wanting to sound negative about her previous life in any way.  The other day at lunch, she started in on something that happened "when she was two" (which is an improvement because she used to say "when we were all two" as if once upon a time her, Mia, and Braylen were all the same age:).  And something in me decided to go a different route than the usual placating, "oh really?" or "hmmm".  I felt like God gave me a word that she was searching for something.  So I just randomly started telling her about things she did when she was "younger", like her strong country accent she had as a four year old or how she mispronounced words (which we framed in a way to make it sound like "look at how cute you were, you couldn't say 'girl'" even though we met her when she was four and a half :).  Usually we can see change by looking way back into a few months ago and trying to remember how different things were and thus evaluate change in the kids.  But sometimes there is a palpable change that occurs, where just a few minutes ago, she was in this middle place- between two families.  And then, just shortly after our lunchtime conversation, she seem to totally be a part of our little family, making up stories about when she was little and asked to see my "diamond necklace (actually a peridot- my birthstone), remember?   I think I was two or something."  Yes, that did happen, but she was almost five- the age she is now.  But I cherish the fact that even her memory is becoming more a part of us, of me.  And I thank God that he gave us this bit of wisdom the other day at lunch time!
I caught the girls in a rare moment of sisterly love ;)
Braylen resembles an old man.  It is so uncanny how our little two year old seems like such and old soul.  He's even cranky at times (I know...hard to believe a two year old would be cranky and cantankerous! :)  You will often hear a very loud "No!" said when anyone in our family asks anyone else a question.  It's not a defiant toddler "No!", but rather a "Naw! And leave me alone Ethel!"-type "no".  I don't know if I am conveying the hilarity of it.  You will just have to come and visit us to find out :)

Braylen is also the friendliest kid I have ever known.  Except for maybe a little boy named Warren that some of my college friends would nanny for.  He was the one kid who might be friendlier.  We walk around the Marietta square and Braylen says "Hello" or "How dooowin?" to everyone he meets.  The other day at the library, Braylen walked right up to a 50 something man and said "Hey Man".  Which, I was glad of not because he was being nice, but because he didn't call him "Daddy".  We had been working on how not all men are called that!  The man said, "Hey little buddy, how you doin?"  To which Braylen replied, "How dowin man?" and then I guess he was done because he said, "Bye, bye Man- I lob you towmut" (I love you so much)!  It cheapens it when he says it to everyone.  He even says it to choo-choo trains :)
Bubs and Daddy at the Zoo

Mia likes to give "granny kisses" or "great aunt margaret kisses" as we sometimes call em- the kind where she pulls you in and plants one full on the mouth and there is no getting away from her tiny little lips :)  The other day she gave one to David and then she smacked her lips a bit and said, "Hmmmm... what we havin?"  Meaning "I taste something yummy on your lips since I just gave you a full on granny kiss.  What yumminess is it?"  To which David replied, "We're not having anything.  I'm having chocolate" :)

Whole family pic at the ATL Zoo recently, apparently the elephant was doing something cool since all the kids are looking at it instead of the camera!
Mia has taken up the position of being my tape recorder quite faithfully!  Everything I say or do ends up coming out of her mouth eventually.  "Oh be careful little ears what you hear"...especially if that is Mommy saying something akin to a curse word.  NOT a curse word, mind you, just sounds like one :)
The other day, I told her to put away her toys and she was frustrated.  Then she became further frustrated by not being able to fit some toy into the toy basket in the living room.  That's when I heard her shout, "FREAKUS!"
I guess it could have been worse!
Yes, I have been known to say "freaking" on occasion.  Not thinking much of it, but I'm now reconsidering my ways:)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Missing Owen Wilson

"I just missed Owen Wilson by a minute at L'Thai!"

This was the text I sent David on Saturday night when he let me have the night off from the kids for my birthday.  The day was spent seeing a movie by myself, having a long pedicure where I talked to my nail tech about everything from kids growing up to wrapping paper and cookie dough sales in Kindergarten, and missing Owen Wilson (the actor) by a minute at my favorite Thai restaurant where I ate by myself and red a book.

First, before you feel sorry for me (or not) for missing a movie star by a hair, let me point out a couple of things.  One, it would have been awkward.  We would have been sitting five feet away from each other and dining alone.  There was only one other party of four in the whole restaurant.  Would we have talked?  Would I have shown him the picture of my three half naked kids David texted me during my meal?  Surely not.  So I was spared a self conscious meal experience dining a stones throw away from someone who normally sees people who have been well-tanned and manicured and who eat egg white omelets and salads- not happily slurping down their red curry with beef :)

Second, I must have missed him for a reason.  I was done with my pedicure forty minutes before I ended up at L'Thai.  I could have easily ended up right there beside him, but I decided to take my time.  I walked around, purposefully wanting to waste time and enjoy my alone-ness (and also apparently, to be late to the restaurant).

So, knowing that I chose to "be late" to the restaurant, but not knowing why beforehand, I pondered this as I ate alone.  Why was I so bummed that I missed seeing, and perhaps talking with, a movie star?  Is he so great?  Then I had a thought (and please, don't think I am trying to over-spiritualize this, but...) what if Jesus were there in the flesh and I missed him?  Would I be as disappointed?   Would you?  (honest answer: I was feeling less disappointed at the time I first thought about this...)

Here are some conclusions I came to:
  1. I have had near misses like this before.  Once, in college, my friends and I went to view a live taping of Wheel of Fortune.  We were given tickets when we entered the Grande Ole Opry, and in between tapings of the shows (we were in the live audience for several shows- all taped right after the other), they drew ticket numbers to give audience members a chance to be on the following shows in the next couple of days.  I forget the actual numbers, but they called something like "9456823".  I had ticket number "9456824".  One number away.  In 8th grade, I was a point away from making an all-state chorus thing.  Things like the Owen Wilson Thing happen to me.  Perhaps it's because they serve as a reminder of possible greatness.  Near misses with something awesome. 
  2. But, there is surely some reason why I am here, right?  Maybe it's not to be great at Wheel of Fortune, singing, or conversations with famous people.  BUT, again, there is a reason.  And I think that is what the Owen Wilson Thing was all about.  I could be destined for "great" things.  Just not "great" by a normal standard.  But, just as Paul wanted to "boast" in people because they were what he was working towards, doesn't mean that striving for greatness is all bad.  I'm sure striving for greatness is a tricky road, though.  There is a narrow line between pride and false humility that few walk.  
  3. Also, I'm pretty sure that Jesus laid out a formula for greatness, and that started at the very bottom of wherever you can imagine wanting to go.  Which is standard American dream type stuff- you know climb the corporate ladder and all-, BUT I'm pretty sure Jesus said that His formula also involves staying at the bottom and continually putting yourself there.  So what does that look like for me?  Not really sure right now, but I'm working on it.  Apparently it starts by not talking to movie stars and being OK with that :)

Oh, and in case you are wondering what he ordered- he ordered the Pad Prix Something or other- according to the waiter that Owen and I shared- if you are familiar with Thai food, that could mean any number of things :)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Alisa's First Day of Kindergarten

First of all WOW!  I am a mother to an elementary aged child- just so overwhelmingly crazy!  Lately, David and I have been joking that when parents drop their kids at the first day of school off and say, "It really has all flown by so fast!", that they have no idea how fast it really can fly by!  We have seen this sweet baby girl grow up from what seemed like a two year old in a four year old's body to a mature and sweet five year old- all in just TEN months!  So take that parents who wax nostalgic... for us, it really was "like yesterday" :) 

Alisa has been so excited to start Kindergarten.  We drive by her school, it being only a half mile away, almost every day.  She claims it as her own, "that's my kindergarten", to which Mia always repeats.  Thus resulting in an argument about whose kindergarten it actually belongs to.  Then I usually interject about how it is a whole school were lot's of kids go- even big kids who aren't in kindergarten.  This has gone on for weeks :)

She had been saying she was "really, really excited, but a little bit nervous" and then the day before it was "a lot excited and a lot nervous" :)  But she did well.  We walked to school, which we will do most mornings it doesn't rain.  It makes me feel like I'm  back in time seeing so many parents and kids all walking to a school nearby.  We also pass a few fruit trees where we have been known to pick a freshly fallen, pretty pear off the ground and eat it later on for a snack.

The whole gang ready for the walk to school!
Sweet Mia has been missing her big sister!
Here is her teacher, Mrs. Reeser.  She is excellent!  We have only heard rave reviews from other people who know her, but Alisa approves as well because she wanted "one of the young ones".  So everybody wins:)
The table directly behind them is Alisa's table

Court Part III

Here is the rest of the story continued from Part I and Part II.

As I write this, we have had the news for four days that ALISA is free now.  After all of these court proceedings, the judge signed the order for her fathers rights to be terminated.  Now, we just wait for twenty-some-odd days more to see if her dad, Y, appeals the decision.  Considering he did not stay for the trial, I don't really see that happening, but we never know.

After Alisa's (so GLAD I don't have to remember to not spell out her whole name!) testimony, there were seven other witnesses that took the stand, including me- but more on that later.  The first two witnesses were DFCS workers, one of which had known Y since he was 10!  So she gave a brief history of what his early life had been like.  Knowing some of his personal details, and also seeing how C's family was during the proceedings, really made us feel like we were dropped into the lives of these three wonderful children at just the right time.  A time where the cycles of poverty, fatherless-ness, addiction, and family violence were about to be repeated with our children. 
I would be remiss to not point out a thought that David had during this time.  Exodus 20:4-6, generational "curses" or more modernly, your family's junk that somehow affects you even into adulthood, seem to be passed down to the 3rd and 4th generations.  For example, our children are 3rd generation orphans/ foster children on both C's and Y's side; they have hearing impairments, 3rd generation; and then there is the poverty issue that most likely goes back at least 4 generations.  HOWEVER, the good things, those in their family line who did love the Lord, these could be 1000s of people!  Thousands of generations of good qualities that can overcome all the things that our children will struggle with over the years to come!
This has been such a comfort to us lately, and most likely will be over the years when we struggle with things we do not understand- trials and behaviors, rearing their ugly heads in adolescence, adulthood, or even next week, that may have come from their old life.

Back to the hearing.  After the DFCS workers gave their testimony, Brandy took the stand.  Brandy has been as constant as anyone could be for the children.  She works with a ministry that coaches parents, transports foster children, provides training for parents trying to get their children back.  Her goal is reunification with birth parents.  So to have her say wonderful things about me and David, and recommend us over the birth father was such a blessing.  She also is super detail oriented and her notes were subpenaed. So all Y's acting out during visits, or his giving our allergic children their allergens- on purpose!- was all well documented and brought up during court.

The hearing was very one sided and mostly went as follows:  The DFCS attorney would question a witness (one of which was called to further the point that Y's parental rights should be terminated).  Then opposing counsel- which turned out to be an oxymoron because they all recommended rights be terminated during their closing arguments!- could question the witness.  This turned out to be great though, because anything the DFCS attorney missed the GAL would drive home; and anything the two of them missed, Alisa's other attorney would then be sure to bring up.

The whole experience was very "pro-us getting the kids", but it was EXHAUSTING.  I gave my testimony last at the request of the GAL, who had questioned me earlier in the month.  Thankfully, it was just the GAL who asked me questions.  I was a fumbling witness, saying things like "mmmhmmm" instead of a clear "yes" and being asked to answer clearly for the court reporter!  But no matter, I didn't feel by that point that anything rested on my shoulders that would determine Alisa's fate.  I talked about how much we love them, and yes, we could provide for them, etc. 
That was it, so we went home to our questioning kids!  Well, mainly Alisa had a ton of questions.  What I thought would be a huge relief of a day after the events of the morning had turned into "oh, now we have all this other stuff to deal with" by the evening.  I was absolutely worn out from it all! 

But more on all that, I leave you with a couple family pics that I am FINALLY able to post :)

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Court: Part II

… continued story from Part I

(Baby Girl's ("A") time in court)

After C and I embraced, she left.  I hoped I would see her again soon, and the DFCS social worker assured us that she would schedule a “last visit” between C, us, and the kids.  I was hopeful that this would take place because earlier A was not very pleasant to her mom outside the court room.  A kept insisting that she “did not know what to talk about” with C.  I didn’t want C’s last memory of her oldest daughter to be unpleasant. 

Then it was A’s turn to come into the courtroom.  Background: she had been wanting to “talk to the judge” for a while, knowing the process and what would take place because we had been explaining this day to her for months.  I was a bit hesitant about this because 1) she didn't have to (the age they usually ask a child to testify is 6), and 2) well, frankly, as with most five year olds, she can be pretty unpredictable with what she says!  (Take the previous day when we were writing a letter our Christian Relief Fund girl we sponsor in Kenya: "Let's write a letter telling her (Kenyan child) what each member of the family likes to do".  Well, A responded by saying things like "Bub's likes trains", "Mia likes dogs", and "Daddy likes Frisbee but only with other adults".  Fair enough.  But when she got around to me..."Well, my mom likes for you to leave her alone and just let her cook and go play and not bother her and stuff".  THANKS!  So I like cooking by myself and being left alone!  Like I said, unpredictable!) 
The GAL and the judge asked me if I even wanted her to come in, since things had been different (C surrendered her rights instead of a trial).  I thought about it for a sec and decided that it would be best for her to still talk to the judge since she expected to do so and since she had so badly wanted a part in this day, a day that she couldn't seem to fully comprehend.  So I said "Yes, lets go ahead," for the sake of her being a part of things.

She came in and they had her bring a picture she had been coloring outside (a Rapunzel-like princess with a rainbow and drawers of clothes :).  The judge asked her to tell her a little bit about her picture, and she told him a lot a bit!  Colors, rainbows, what the drawers were for.  Then the GAL (her attorney) swore her in so-to-speak by asking her what color was pink, and if someone said that was green would that be a truth or a lie?  She did well with that part.  Then they started getting a bit over her head.  There was talk of papers (as in legal documents), and the judge "had to go through a lot of papers".  She was stuck on the papers when the questioning shifted to: "Is there anything you think the judge should know since he has to make a big decision?"  
  • A: "Just to use his mind"  (She had been praying for the judge, and all the people in his "office who help him to decide" to know what is right and use their minds/hearts/listen to God/etc- totally on her own for weeks.)
  • GAL:  "I'm not really sure what you said."
  • A: nervous laughter
  • GAL:  "What do you think of all this crying business that's been going on?" (referring to C's crying in and out of the court room most likely because she was giving up her kids this day, which A was OBLIVIOUS to!)
  • A: "I was like, waaaah, waaah!  On my bed"  (Back story: she had cried when she woke up on her bed that morning, and she must have thought that the GAL had eyes everywhere including her own bedroom that morning.  The question did not phase her at all, but she definitely was referring to an entirely different "crying business"!)
  • GAL: probably thinking, "what the what?" says, "Okaaaaay"
  • A:  "Are those your papers?"  (now we're back on the papers again!)
  • GAL:  "Well, is there anything else you want the judge to know?"
  • A:  "No...(looks to me) Can I go, Mommy?"
  • Me:  "Yes as long as there is nothing else you want to say"

Really? Wow!  After weeks of her begging to tell the judge that she would "cry, and cry, and cry if she had to leave daddy and mommy", or "I want him to know that I lived with C a long time and now it's time for me to live with Momma Eryn and Daddy David"!  That's it?  All you felt like saying today my sweet 5 year old? Just a mixed up conversation was all that resulted of A's testimony

But then I realized that this was how it should be.  She didn't have to choose.  She could just be a kid, while at the same time getting to be a part of this big process that would forever change her life.  I'm actually quite thankful that it was just a silly, 5 year old conversation between a lawyer, my daughter, and a judge.  She never actually chose sides, she was just herself.  Silly, a bit hard to understand, and also beyond her years all at the same time ("use your mind" judge :).  And it was fine that I couldn't interpret for her.  She will just remember that she met a nice older man in a big room who asked her about her Rapunzel picture :)  And for that, I am thankful!

Monday, August 06, 2012

Court: Part I

The following is a synopsis of the TPR hearing for the kids' parents, known by us for so long as "our court date".  We felt so blessed that day, especially knowing so many were praying for a successful day.  It could not have gone better, really.  This is extremely long-winded, so forgive my rabbit holes.  I just wanted to remember everything for my sake and the childrens'.

The Players: a key of sorts

A= our Baby Girl, whose name I cannot yet mention :)
M= Mia
B= Braylen
C= the kids' birth mom
Y= the kids' birth dad
GAL= attorney for the children
Other Attorney= A's attorney who represented his client's wishes, even though he never sat down with our 5 year old to ask her where she wanted to live!
DFCS= Department of Children and Family Services of the county, the attorney for DFCS and the two above were all "opposing counsel" (which later became an oxymoron as you will read in Part II)
sign over/ surrender= sign over rights to your children and give up all legal right to them in the future

Before the Hearing

The first notable thing that happened was that the kids' father left almost as soon as we got there.  Gave the kids a quick hug, barely shook David's hand- no eye contact, and then left after he was assured that he wouldn't get arrested for not showing up in court.  He was encouraged by many to stay.  A later told the judge that her dad must have left to "go get something, I think".  The judge did not correct her on that.

Shortly after we got there the kids reconnected with their transporter, the lady who used to take them to and from our home/ day care/ their visits with their parents- her name is Brandy.  Brandy was nice to have around that day because she knew what the kids like (ahem, iPhone videos :) and could entertain them while we all tried to figure out what was going on.

Shortly past 9 am, the time we were scheduled to begin, C's lawyer and the kids' social worker, Elizabeth, came to us and asked if we could talk to C.  Her lawyer said the judge would give us extra time.  I had no inkling of her signing her rights over- we had been over that several times.  David and I still both think she said different things at that point- I thought she said "I might sign over" he thought she said "I won't sign over".  But we talked anyways.
"We love them more than we could imagine....  Yes, they are so smart...We will send you updates and pictures...Thank you for loving them the way you did."  
"Did you know that they are all miracle baby's?  I almost lost A to a miscarriage third trimester, and M was so sick when she was born....The doctors told me I would probably miscarry B because I was pregnant a couple weeks after M was just born...Oh how I prayed for them to be smart.....I would talk to them all the time....was just me and them."
Then, back and forth, an awkward time of possible last hugs, no wait, she changed her mind.  We're going through with the hearing and she is not gonna sign.  OK, here we go...  David and I went into the court room ready for what I did not want to happen, but still with peace.

The Hearing 

Then, about five minutes into the hearing, a teary eyed young woman made the hardest and most loving decision of her life.  She decided to sign over her parental rights and agreed to waive her 10 day waiting period to change her mind.  Then, with her lawyer and a DFCS representative, she went away to another room to sign many papers to make it final. 

I truly could not believe that it was happening.  David and I just looked at each other and teared up a bit.  And almost lightning fast, we heard the DFCS attorney making a motion for the judge to terminate right of the dad with M and B because he never legitimated (a paperwork process really that GA law requires the dad to file if the child is born and the parents do not live together- he was given many notices to do so, even given the paperwork to file, but he did not; however, he was present for A's birth and the three of them lived together, so therefore, the court recognizes him as A biological and legal father).  And then the judge, after seeing that their dad never legitimated M and B, signed the order to terminate the parental rights of their dad.  So just like that, Mia and Braylen were legally free children!

After a short while, C came back into the courtroom, testified to the fact that she received sound legal advice, felt no pressure by anyone, etc. etc.  Then, when she was done, the children's GAL (an attorney assigned to the kids to recommend placement on behalf of the children and seek what is in the children's best interest), asked C if she could testify to whether or not she thinks Y would be a good father to A.  What?!!  She just did a hard thing, why would they put her on the spot like that?  But I'm glad they did because she told stories about how their dad was abusive to both her and the children, specifically A.  This was going to be a long day!

(Warning: Jerry Springer Drama Moment) Then bustin' up in the courtroom comes C's mom in her pajamas (or 'jammers as they say in rural Georgia)!  Now, C's mother had lost her own daughter to foster care and did not even show up for her own court hearings.  They reunited some years later, and apparently, she did not want C to give up her rights to the kids.  "Excuse me I need to talk to someone.  Yes, judge I wanna talk with you.  A witness?  No I ain't a witness, but C's gots lotsa witnesses to the fact that she can be a good mom!"  Note: she has not been there for C at any point during the last 16 months that the kids had been in foster care.  After she directs some mean looks C's way, the judge has a bailiff escort her out of the court room.  And my heart breaks for C.  So I quickly write a middle school-like note on a notebook I had brought to C.  "I will always honor your memory with the kids.....Thank you for this gift....You are brave, you are matter what anyone says!" (you is is is important- flashed through my mind at some point) 

Honestly, I barely remember what I wrote; I just wanted to communicate that we loved her and what she did was beautiful!  They let C leave a different way so as to avoid any crazy family members (there were others who came down once they got wind of what was going down, and thankfully, David fielded most of the phone calls and conversations with total strangers who want to know why DFCS is "being shady" or "doing this to us"- first, if all of you were any likely candidates for parenthood, then she wouldn't be in this mess, and second, my husband is awesome because he handles all of you like a pro, nod along with  "yes, I hear you/ what you're sayin"s were handed out a plenty!), and I caught her right by the door. 

I gave her a note and we embraced.  A long hug between two women who have mommy love for the same three children.  One mommy loves without full understanding of what it means to register your child for school, keep them away from food allergens, or be able to tell if they need medical attention for their hearing.  And the other mommy loves without knowing what her kids were like as babies, what that funny thing they did at 11 months that totally explains their personalities, or what the future holds.  But somehow, as we were standing there holding each other, I felt like it was complete.  Both mommies make a complete one; I am a good mother because of her and she knows she is a good mom because she let them go- gave them hope and a future.