Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Ready or not, here they come.

A long, long time ago, I wanted to adopt.  To be completely honest, I was 14 and I wanted a baby right then, but knew I couldn’t violate the strict chastity laws imposed on me by my parents and have a baby of my own at that age.  So instead I would create elaborate fantasies of finding a child in the woods or on the street, and for some reason I would be the only possible parenting option.  Crazy, of course.  And no, I didn’t explain all this to my husband when I met him—I know how that would have turned out.  But from a young age I knew that one day a baby in need would end up on my doorstep.

A few years back (it just happens to be a coincidence that this began soon after my husband decided he would no longer allow me to steal his manhood and impregnate myself), I started pestering my  husband to allow us to become foster parents.  I’m not quite sure whether I’m an excellent nagger or my husband loves me tremendously, but regardless, he agreed to go through the training and approval process to become foster parents- which was no small feat.  From there, it was paperwork and background checks and his willingness to be available for home studies.  JMahl was a trooper through all of that.  He would roll his eyes every now and then and say “you know this is crazy, right?”—but he kept moving forward and doing what needed to be done.  Occasionally he’d take advantage of the opportunity to remind me of just how much I owed him—or take payment—but he kept moving forward.  

And then we were a certified foster family.  But just because we *could* foster didn’t mean we *would* foster.  JMahl said “just respite care”, “just short term care”.  And I agreed: sure, whatever.  I’d already accomplished my goal of “being able to”.  I didn’t actually expect to ever get the call.  Similar to being pregnant for nine months—you never quite believe you are going to have that baby.  
But when we did get that call, we had 15 minutes to make up our mind.  Yes or No?  There’s a need.  No one else can take this child.  We’ve exhausted all resources.  Will you take a child into your home?  

And then that baby- -and his 11 year old brother—landed on our doorstep.  And our foster parenting saga began.

I’m going to start off by acknowledging that fostering a 4 month old child and fostering an 11 year old child are two completely different things.  Everyone loves a baby.  A baby is easy to care for (exhaustion aside). A baby is pretty simple to feed and clothe and create rules for.  A baby doesn’t really care who his mommy is at the moment, as long as someone is holding him, loving him, and giving him a bottle.  So, suffice it to say, Baby L is just fine and dandy, even though I forgot what sleep deprivation was and formula is so gosh darn expensive and inconvenient that I’m tempted to figure out a way to breast feed this one too.  

But:  an 11 year old who has just pulled from his family and has never met any of you and may have eaten vegetables for the first time (separate from pizza or cheeseburgers) since coming into your home is a very, very different story than a giggling, bouncy, happy baby.  

My Foster Son, “S”, is a very sweet boy.  I’ll start with that.  One night in he was squeezing us and telling us how much he loved us and how grateful he is to be with us and how much he loves fishing and soccer and hiking.

Two nights in he was explaining that he doesn’t eat eggs or peppers, would really like some juice, and doesn’t really like soccer or hiking, but does like video games.

Three nights in he was begging for candy, detested fishing (broken rod to prove it), a keen user of the word “WHY?”, and desperate for a trip to Wendy’s.

JMahl put it pretty succinctly on the fourth day:  “This kid just doesn’t *fit* with our family.”  And no, he doesn’t.  He has very little in common with our kids.  He’s not used to eating what the family eats or family dinner table or no technology time or not questioning every single rule I make.  He’s not used to sports and being outdoors and being active.  He’s not used to interacting as part of a large family.  Mason is immensely disappointed that the addition of a brother did not come with a fishing buddy and soccer competitor installed, but we didn’t put in an order that DSS delivered per our specifications.  

S is definitely not like our kids, but he doesn’t have to be.  We aren’t adopting this child.  Hopefully, his mother will do what is necessary to bring him home, because he misses her immensely.  So I’m not concerned with permanent fit.  All we have to do is give him what he needs now so that he can feel safe, protected, loved.  One day at a time.  

One week in as a Foster Mother and the first thing I’ve learned is this:  It’s not what we want, it’s what this child needs. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015


This “discussion” comes up pretty regularly in our home.  Every birthday, wedding, and gift-giving holiday we revisit this topic, although typically at Easter it starts with “why do we even have to buy Easter presents?  Seriously?  Who does that?” 
I DO, Dear Husband, I DO.  

Regardless, this is how it goes:

Husband:  What do they want?
Me:  I don’t know
Husband:  Well, what did they put on their list/ registry?
Me:  I don’t know… and I don’t care… and I refuse to look other than to get ideas related to taste or style.    
Husband: ….. deep sigh….
Me:  (his sigh implies it’s still my turn to talk) It’s not a gift if you tell me to buy it for you.
Husband: …. silence…..  (which implies he’s still wants me to talk)
Me:  I mean, seriously—what’s the point of saying “go buy this for me”?  How is that me giving you a gift? 
Husband, with a valiant attempt at his form of logic:  well, if they don’t like it, it’s just a waste of our money.
And then he typically ducks out before I start throwing things at him.  Things that were gifted to me out of love, not off of a registry, that he thinks were a waste of your money…. Just to be clear.  

His argument was even used once to justify why we didn’t receive a thank you note for a wedding gift.  My husband stated (with no evidence from Ann Landers or Dear Abby to back this up) “if you don’t buy a gift off their registry, they don’t have to write you a thank you note”.  I won’t even go there.  He is so very, very wrong on that one.  (as were those who didn’t write a thank you note, eh hem.)

Simply put, my husband and I approach gift giving from two different directions.  And when I say different, I mean completely opposite.  And when I say completely opposite, I am implying that my way is right, and his way is wrong.  (Never say I’m not honest about my faults.)  
He believes you buy people things they want you to buy them so that your money is not wasted and they are guaranteed pleasure.  I believe in giving gifts of love that demonstrate what you mean to me.  Gifts that come from the soul.  Gifts that show I put thought into our relationship, your interests, what will give you warmth and happiness.   I mean, those italics alone show which way is better.  

But this year I started to think about, really, where do these different ways of looking at gifts come from?  What leads us to how we view buying presents for others?

A long while ago, early in my marriage, my parents recommended I read the book “The Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman.  Now, you may or may not be able to tell, but self-help and counseling-type books annoy me.  I refuse to believe they can tell me anything I don’t already know, but this book had some valid points.  We interact with people in the way in which we like to be interacted.  We touch people when touch is important to us.  We spend quality time with people when we value quality time.  We gift when gifts are important to us.  So maybe the same thing applies to *how* we gift.   

Maybe we gift in the manner that demonstrates how we want to be gifted.  People such as my husband only want that for which they’ve specifically asked.  They know what they want (or think they know) and they think they won’t appreciate anything other than that specific gift.  (Of course, I think they are close-minded and wrong, but that’s neither here nor there.  It’s the same fallacy, in my mind, that causes people to not like food they’ve never tasted.  They get so looped into “it must be bad, or else I would have tried it” that they truly believe it is bad and they do not like it.When it comes to gifts, they want others to trust that they know what is best for themselves.  There needs and desires are very specific. They want them to be met, and they want to meet the specific needs and desires of others.

People like myself want others to *know* them.  I want to you to intuitively determine what it is that will make me most happy and what will demonstrate your love for and knowledge of me and my inner thoughts and dreams. I would also like you to read my mind.  Okay, okay.  I get it.  It’s practical versus romantic.  Yes, I hear myself saying it even as I type (although I refuse to say male versus female, since I know people of both genders who violate those stereotypes).  But this does explain why my son says very specifically:

“I want a computer and an axe, and if you aren’t going to get me either of these two things, please don’t get me anything at all, as it will just be a waste of your money.  I will say thank you, but then I will put it away and never look at it again- and I will be sad.”  And he's been known to do that when I've thought that perhaps Christmas would be a good time to introduce him to a potentially new interest such as calligraphy. 

My daughters, on the other hand, give me lists of perhaps 214 items, each one with a description similar to this:   

“I would like pink fuzzy pajama pants, but you could also get me purple fuzzy ones—or I’d like blue or green or yellow, or pretty much any color that’s not black or brown… unless they are polka-dotted, then it would be okay.  And they don’t have to be fuzzy, just comfy;  and not really pajama pants—I want to wear them to school, so really any pants—or any comfy clothes at all, because really I just want some new comfy clothes—or really pretty ones- that’s fine too, even if they aren’t comfy.”  

And they are thrilled when I buy them stilts instead.  

My husband sums it up a little differently:  “People who refuse to buy off lists are really just know-it-alls who think they know better than you what you want and what is right for you.” 
You may be able to see why my husband might feel that way.     

I tend to have a rather poor rebuttal:  “People who only buy off lists lack imagination”.  

But in truth, I think there may be some truth in all of this-- I don’t want to buy off a list because I want to demonstrate my love for you in a way that can’t be demonstrated simply by purchasing your shopping list for you. And when you buy me a gift, I want to know that you know and love me.  My husband honestly believes that there is no point in wasting money on something you may not like—because he wants you to be happy. And because he loves you, he doesn't want you to waste your money on something he's not going to absolutely love. 

Really, it all comes down to love, doesn’t it?  

I want to show my love and care for you by putting love and thought into my choice of a gift for you.  My husband wants to show his love and care for you by purchasing something that he knows will make you happy.  And I guess when it all comes down to love, we are both right.

So, Happy Christmas, Birthday, Wedding, Holiday.  I hope you like what I got you.  My husband knows you’ll like your gift from him.   

Thursday, October 29, 2015


Back in April, right around the time Spring started to appear, my mother appeared-- with chicks.  Chicks were not something I’d been thinking long and hard about.  Most of my ideas have a tendency to appear quickly,  consume my thoughts for a few days or weeks at most, and then drift away to be vaguely remembered years later with a “didn’t I once want to…?”   However, if I manage to act quickly enough on these ideas, amazing things can happen:  take two of my four kids for example—and Moses, our most recent puppy.  A spontaneous trip to the Animal Shelter is never a good idea, according to my husband.   He managed to narrowly miss owning a cat this past weekend by sending me death threats with his eyes (he’s too smart to say them out loud). 

But the idea of owning chickens took root when my mother mentioned that she was getting in an order of chicks whose arrival would correlate with a planned weekend at her house with the younger girls.  She’s not an idiot.  She was fully aware that surrounding two little girls with 35 balls of peeping fluff would result in at least two of those balls driving south to Blacksburg.  It actually resulted in five of those balls taking the trip south.  One for each child and an extra for the Daddy-- to show we hadn’t forgotten him.  He was overjoyed, I could tell.  I choose to believe eye-rolls are used in place of excessive joy.  We even named his chick “Little Bear” in memory of the name he’d voted on for Moses – obviously over-ruled, not for the least of reasons that it’s a silly name for a 100lb gangly-legged horse-puppy.  It does, however, fit a brown hen. 

I do need to make a note here that it was a HUGE deal for my husband to sit quietly back and accept the chickens.  First of all, he is the parent who roams around the house pointing out things that should be cleaned, tasks that have been left undone, beds unmade.  He *hates* animal smells and/or related shedding.  He’s responsible for lecturing the kids on maintaining socially acceptable levels of hygiene and appearance (it’s not that I don’t care, it’s just that I don’t prioritize it) and ensuring that things appear to run smoothly.  I’m actually the one who runs things smoothly, makes sure the kids are fed and taken care of, and does the vast majority of the cleaning—even when the vast majority of the cleaning is due to *his* messes.  But as most of you know, the loudest one is seldom the most effective one (unless we are referring to screaming at misbehaving children… then I am most loud AND most effective).  But due to my husband's heightened (albeit, probably incorrect) perception of cleanliness and hygiene, he doesn’t like a lot of animals in or around the house.  No cats, no rabbits-- the short period we had birds almost killed him-- and his esteem of the dogs would raise dramatically, if only they were hairless. 

But I digress…

So chicken owners we became, and it was actually quite nice.  Unfortunately, Black Bella eventually succumbed to “the desire to visit Grandma” (a euphemism for whatever dug the tunnel into the henhouse one night, in case you are trying to figure that out), but Sparkles, Mosaic, Little Bear, and Bark (named after tree bark, not dog bark) grew and thrived and were actually quite pleasant to be around and care for.   And then Chicken Puberty struck.

I would be remiss if I didn’t admit that I was not aware that puberty in chickens could have the same dramatic effects as it does in humans.  I knew dogs hit a maturity level.  Heck, I’ve been begging for that day to come ever since Moses’ pure cuteness no longer justified his infernal destructive tendencies.  EACH. DAY. I beg him to grow up and stop the puppy chewing, puppy jumping, puppy trying to climb in my lap (did I mention he’s a 100 lb horse-puppy?)  But no, he’s taking his good old sweet time before giving in to maturity and grown-up dog laziness.  My chickens only took five months.  Granted, we’d seen signs of changes coming.  We’d watched and listened with awe changing rather rapidly to amusement and then to horror as Bark decided to not succumb to our “four hen/four eggs a day” plan and came out quite openly and proudly as a rooster.  Luckily, none of our neighbors seem to mind (admit to minding) the fact that he feels the need to incessantly remind us that he is, in fact, THE preeminent cock-a-doodler in the neighborhood (the *only* cock-a-doodler in the neighborhood).  But I wouldn’t call his crowing a problem—at least not once we ascertained it wasn’t a problem for our neighbors.  So we enjoyed our sweet chicks who, while having grown significantly larger than the balls of fluff we’d acquired five months before, were friendly, chuckled pleasantly, and ate grass out of our hands gratefully. 

Then it changed.  One day, as I opened the outdoor pen to change the water-- a flash of wings, the sound of air pounding, and a 5lb ball was hitting me full force.  Below the belt, I should add.  Before I could realize what was occurring, I saw my beautiful, tame, hand-fed rooster gearing up for attack number 2—beak out, claws extended, wings beating with a force that, I had to admit, was quite impressive, even as I jumped backwards full of all the fear of roosters that was formed in my five year old self and I thought I had managed to suppress over the last 30 years.
I slammed the door, gasped with relief, and then took a few minutes to gather my thoughts.  What in the world was going on with this, admittedly loud but never before violent, rooster of mine?  Still wondering, I opened the indoor pen to complete my responsibilities.  And there, laying in a newly formed next of wood chips and dirt, was the most beautiful brown egg I had ever seen.  My chickens had come into their own.  My hens were now taking responsibility for themselves and putting food on my table.  [editor’s note:  even now, getting three eggs a day, cost savings per month still does not equal dollars spent on chicken feed]  I connected the dots.  Could it be that my Bark’s aggression was the result of this wee egg?  Was he- *gasp*- defending his nest?  Being protective of his potential offspring?  Did roosters even *DO* that?

But sure enough, time confirmed that if there was an egg in the next, one could expect to be attacked by flying Bark.  No egg, and Bark remained the docile, yet loud, rooster we’d come to know and love.  Gradually, we all came to accept this, putting a warning out to the kids to watch out for Bark, don’t be afraid to kick him (it’s not cruel- it’s self-defense!), and maybe, just to be safe, everyone should wear jeans in the chicken coop.  

I took to talking to Bark as I did the chicken chores.  Trying to rationalize with the rooster.  You know, Bark.  You make a lot of noise for the *one* chicken in this coop who really does nothing.  I mean, egg laying is all about the hens.  You just eat and crow and take the credit, when they’ve done all the work.  He just looked at me before, almost languidly, puffing out his chest and letting out a crow.  Yeah, I get it, I told him as he strutted around.  Keep those hens in line.  They, of course, bustled about straightening the nest, cleaning up a few stray crumbs, preparing for the next day’s egg laying.  He, of course, waited until my back was turned before taking a flying leap at my knees.  I think he thinks if he takes out my knees I will succumb completely to him and his king of the coop-dom.  He’s probably right, but I did what needed to be done, ignoring his crows, before returning to my home…

where I bustled around, straightening up the house, cleaning up scattered crumbs and messes that the kids had left around, and preparing for the next day-- as my husband walked around, chest out, talking loudly about what else needed to be done, and how he was the only one in the house who kept things neat and orderly.  Protector of the Nest Egg, King of the Coop, Organizer of the Chickens who, in his opinion, would otherwise run around as if they'd had their heads chopped off- and proudly taking all the credit for things done well and good.  

<<<<sigh>>>>>  Apparently roosters need to be able to puff out their chests, feel proud of their domain, and tell the world that they are, indeed, the preeminent cock-a-doodler in the neighborhood.

Let's let the rooster do his crowing--this little hen will just keep getting things done.