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Balance

Last year, for the first time, I participated in the One Little Word Project. I’m not a huge fan of resolutions, but this seemed doable. Basically, you choose one word to focus and guide you throughout the year. Ideally, you listen to yourself and the world around you and let your word find you. My word last year was balance.

I worked toward finding a better work-family balance and I focused on balancing my needs with those of everyone else in my family. I needed to stop putting myself dead last.

In July, I took a voluntary lay-off from my teaching position. I start a new, part-time job next week that seems like a great fit for my skills and for our family’s schedule needs. I’m excited about the position and about this new, healthier balance.

I made a committment last January to go to scrapbooking once a month with two co-workers–something just for myself.  I am proud to say that I went every single month of the year. Once, I even had to go alone. That’s not my thing, but I did it. And I enjoyed myself, too. I didn’t set any specific goals about how many pages I would get done because I didn’t want the pressure (and I know I am painfully slow in my creative process!). Out of curiosity, I counted last night: Twenty-eight 12×12 pages. One 8×8 A-Z Vacation book (27 pages). Six pages of a 12-month baby album for a soon-to-be new mom (my co-scrapbooker/friend and I alternated creating pages–I didn’t just give K a half-finished book! :)).

But most importantly, I found balance.

These are some of my favorite pages from the year:

My favorite is still this one, though.  I just love everything about it.  🙂

 

 

 

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Every Child Deserves A Family

Statistics say that the U.S. has about 405,000 kids in foster care.   Each year, about 125,000 of those children are in need of an adoptive resource.

Olivia used to be one of those statistics.

And every time I find myself getting complacent about the fight for equality for our families, I remind myself of Olivia’s adoption day.  Dawn and I were both licensed as foster mothers for Olivia.  We both had equal standings and rights (or lack thereof, in some situations) for everyday decision-making and signing of papers.  Two and a half years after she was placed into our home–into our family–I adopted her.  Even though we were allowed to foster her together, when the case moved to adoptions only one of us could apply.  While we were able to be open and out in the homestudy, only I was listed as the petitioner for adoption.  Applying with both of us as petitioners wasn’t exactly against the law, but a joint petition had never been approved either.  By attempting it, we would likely be denied.  We would risk losing our daughter.  I’m all for a good fight, but not with a potential result like that.

As we sat in the courtroom on January 20, 2006, I glanced over and saw the tears in Dawn’s eyes.  I knew that most of those tears were ones of happiness at finally knowing we would never receive a phone call saying Olivia was being moved.  Some of those tears, though, were of sadness.  With the adoption finalized, Dawn had even fewer rights to our daughter than she did as her foster mother.  She could no longer sign off on medical paperwork, enroll her in school, or have an official title in terms of legality.

It doesn’t have to be like this, though.  The “Every Child Deserves A Family Act” has just been introduced by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.  The House version of the bill already has 80+ bi-partisan (hard to imagine in this day and age, I know!!) co-sponsors showing support.  The “Every Child Deserves A Family Act” would work to increase the number of stable, loving homes available to those 125,00 kids in need by discouraging state laws and practices that prevent otherwise qualified and eager LGBT persons from fostering or adopting.

I wonder if it might have been different for us had this been around in 2006.  I’d like to think so.  Please consider contacting your Representatives and Senators to show your support of the ECDF Act.  One way to do so is by heading to the Family Equality Council‘s website, where there is a link to a simple form that will be forwarded to the proper legislators.

Let’s work to break down the barriers for building loving families!

The Edge

Things have been rough around here lately.  Really, really rough.

Olivia’s sensory processing has been completely out of whack.  It’s contributed to rages and violent behaviors.  Both Sunday night and last evening, she had to be physically restrained to be kept safe.   We’ve had to do this before and I’m sure we will again, but I just HATE it.  I HATE feeling so completely helpless that all I (we) can do is restrain her until she is calm enough to be safe.  It stabs at all my vulnerabilities and makes me feel like the most god-awful parent on the planet.  It makes me afraid:  What if there’s more to this than just the sensory stuff?  Is this something genetic?  Environmental?  How can such a small child hold such anger?  From where does it stem?  What did we do/not do to get here?  How can we find the answers we need?  How can we help?  What if we can’t?

And Owen.  He is a typical five-year-old.  Full of big emotions.  Not a lot of skill in giving them words.  Plus, we’ve also been seeing some of Olivia’s behaviors in him.  Is it our parenting since it’s both kids behaving this way?  Is he mimicking Olivia because he sees that it gets attention (we give it as little verbal attention as we can in the throes of a rage, but it still requires physical attention)?

And Dawn and I.   Things are not the greatest between us at the moment.  Well, actually, it’s been slowly improving but it’s still got a long way to go.  The absolute insanity and stress that sums up the last school year took a toll that we are still trying to stop reeling from.   We’ve both gotten into patterns that aren’t healthy for our relationship or ourselves.  Communication signals just seem to miss.  Pulling inside ourselves instead of reaching out to each other.  The kid’s behaviors don’t help…and our own  don’t either.  It’s a bit of the chicken and the egg question.  And it’s a vicious cycle that keeps feeding off of itself…

I feel like I’m standing on a cliff ledge…the trail back up looks steep.  The trail down looks worse.  And I’m just here clinging to the edge and hoping it doesn’t crumble before I can get my footing.

Vacation…part deux

Friday:  Epcot

Our day at Epcot started off well enough.  We rode a couple of rides in the front of the park.   Planning on coming back to use Fastpasses for Soarin’ later in the afternoon, we headed  to the back of the park to explore some of the countries.  We started our trip around the world in Mexico.  Dawn and Olivia stood in line to get an autograph from Donald Duck.  I took Owen and Amelia to ride a little boat ride at the back of the area.  They have the area set up as an open air market and I really wanted to explore the wares, but knew better than to get too close to the breakables with four small hands reaching for everything!  The boat ride features the escapades of Donald Duck.  Amelia fell in love.  She is obsessed with noses and Donald’s bill caught her eye.  She kept a running dialogue about his nose the entire ride.  When we were done, she immediately began signing “more” and “duck”.  Over and over and over.  We enjoyed chinese food for lunch and watched the belly dancers in Morocco.  It looked like rain was headed our way, so we took a boat back across the lake to the front of the park.  Dawn, not a lover of heights, took Amelia to explore while Olivia, Owen, and I rode Soarin’.  It was Owen’s first big-kid ride and he loved it!  I texted Dawn when we were finished and she was headed back to meet us when disaster struck.  Owen and Olivia were walking around a little green space area, holding the railing and balancing on the curb.  When Owen ducked under the railing into the mulchy area, I called for him to come back to the pavement (I was about 2o feet away on the other end of the little oval of space).  Instead of ducking back under, he chose the over-the-railing route.  The railing was wet from the rain shower and he slipped off–face first onto the pavement.  A drop of about 3 1/2 feet if you figure where his face started.  I ran over and scooped him up.  He had blood everywhere and was screaming.  I sat down with him to check the damage.

crash landing

Olivia spotted Dawn coming down the path and went running for her.  She immediately asked an employee where the first aid area was, but they took one look at Owen and told us not to move.  They were calling the paramedics to come to us.  Yikes!  The two Disney employees were obviously well-trained.  One ( a manager type person) stayed with us the entire ordeal.  The other acted as a runner–going to the main path to direct the paramedics and later, getting Owen a wheelchair.  I was panicking a bit because Owen kept going limp and quiet in my arms.  We finally figured out he was just so tired that he kept falling asleep due to being so still.  I had to kep him awake, though, because we were concerned about a possible concussion.  The lump on his head was HUGE!  The paramedics eventually got there, gave him a good once-over, and pronounced him okay.  No warning signs of concussion were present, so we opted not to be transported to the closest emergency room.  He got a wheelchair to use for the rest of the night.  As Greg, the manager-guy said, “Hopefully, a wheelchair will help make this memory at least a little happier!”  I’m guessing it worked because he asked for a wheelchair every day after that!

Saturday:  Hollywood Studios

We have a running joke in our family that everywhere we go, Olivia runs into someone she knows.  It happens all the time.   At Hollywood Studios, though, it was my turn.  We had been in the park for a while already when it happened.  We were about to split up–Dawn and the big kids to the Star Wars store and Amelia and I to see a Disney Jr. stage show.  We were right near a Disney photographer, so decided to get in the line to have a family picture taken in front of the big sorcerer’s hat.  I turned around and practically ran smack into a teacher from my school.  I immediately laughed and told Olivia, “Ha.  For once I ran into someone I know!”  We chatted for a few minutes (just long enough to remind me that he’s a real jerk :)) and headed on our separate ways.  Splitting up seemed to be the theme for our day.  Later, Amelia finally fell asleep in her stroller.  We were on day 4 of no napping, so it was really needed…and I really wanted to keep her asleep as long as possible.  Dawn took Olivia and Owen on a couple of rides and to watch a street performer while I walked and walked with Amelia to keep her lulled to sleep.  Later, I surprised the big kids by taking them back to Magic Kingdom to finish up what we’d missed out on due to the rain on our original visit.   When we’d arrived at the park earlier Saturday morning, I’d snuck over to the ticket window to have a park hopper option added to our tickets.  Dawn and I had talked about how badly we felt that we’d missed out on so many things the kids had really been looking forward to at Magic Kingdom, so we decided to fork over the extra bucks and add the park hopper so I could take them back.  It was so worth it!  We grabbed separate buses at the end of the day and, while Amelia (and Dawn!) headed to dreamland, the rest of us headed to Frontierland and rode the big-kid roller coaster and a few other rides and watched the night-time parade.  Where I had another chance meeting.  We were rushing a bit to get back to the parade route after our roller coaster ride, so the route was getting a bit crowded with people.  I noticed a spot only one row of people deep and snagged it.  I asked the family if they minded us setting up camp behind them and we began to chat.  They, like us, are a transracial family–adopted African-American daughter (also aged 8) and a biological child (also aged 5).  The mom commented on Olivia’s locs and mentioned that she was considering putting her daughter’s hair in locs.  The one thing that was holding her back was that he daughter hadn’t seen a child with locs and was not sure what kind of styles she could put into her hair.  Olivia chatted with K for a while and showed her and told her about why she loves her locs and all the fun ways she styles them.  I mentioned to the mom that I am on an online hair care group for transracial families.  The group has  a few loced kiddos and tons of valuable information about all sorts of things.   She started laughing and said that she was a part of the same group!  It’s large–several hundred active members–so our names hadn’t clicked until that moment!  It was fun to talk hair for a while–and to see the kids enjoying the parade together.  Olivia, my social butterfly, gave K a hug at the end of the parade and told her to have her mom put a picture of K in locs on the group site so she could see them.  The three of us headed back to the resort, exhausted but happy.  And I was even happier because I knew Sunday was our “off day” and we could sleep in!

 

The Happiest Place on Earth…except when it’s not*…part 1

*Alternate Title:  Vacation is taking every meltdown trigger known to humankind, throwing it all in one big pot (or small hotel room), and letting it stew for days upon days

taken while waiting to be seated for a character lunch

We are back from the “Happiest Place on Earth”.  Truly, for the most part, we had a really wonderful time.  It definitely had its moments, though.  This was our first big vacation being outnumbered.  We have taken several weekend trips with all three kids, but never something on this scale.  Oh, and most of those weekend trips involved meeting up with friends or travelling with friends, which translates to more hands on deck.  I am seriously considering making our family vacations include extended family (well, friends–actually vacationing with my family might send me right over the edge) from now until the kids are all MUCH more independent.  🙂

Wednesday, the 17th:

We got to the airport in plenty of time and appeared to be breezing through security…until the very brusque TSA Agent asked me if the backpack we were using as a diaper bag belonged to me.  Uh-oh.  He proceeded to pull me to the side and search the bag.  I always keep our sunscreen in the outer pocket of the bag and had forgotten to transfer it to our checked luggage.  Because it was larger than the allowed 3 oz and not in my quart sized bag, he had to toss it.  😦

We were on a full flight and they couldn’t assign us seats in the same row, but it all worked out.  Dawn sat with the big kids and I sat with Amelia a few rows up.  Everyone was happy and the flight was uneventful.

We used Disney’s Magical Express, which is wonderful.  They collect your checked baggage and deliver it to your room within a few hours of the flight arrival.  Lovely.  We’ve done this twice before and it was always in our room by the time the Disney charter bus dropped us off at our resort.  Not so this time, however.  It was well within the time frame they give you, so we decided to go ahead and grab dinner at our resort.  The plan was that I would take Amelia back to the room, nurse her, and put her to bed.  Dawn and the big kids would take a stroll around the resort and check out the scenery before returning to the room to get ready for bed themselves.  Except there was no luggage (or pack and play) in the room when I returned with Amelia.  I called housekeeping for the pack and play.  I called the luggage department to ask about our bags.  They pulled up our information on the computer and had no record of our two bags.  Shit.  They initiated a lost luggage claim, which triggers all the resorts in our vicinity to check for our bags.  They also suggested I call the airline to see if the bags were indeed claimed.  Well, I called the airline and got a voicemail for baggage claim, stating their hours were M-F 8am-4pm.  Yeah, helpful.  Apparently, you’re only allowed to lose luggage during normal business hours.  I was not happy…and beginning to panic a little.  Texted Dawn the scoop, changed Amelia (at least we packed the kids jammies in their carry-on bags), and nursed her.  The pack and play was delivered during this time, so at least she was able to get to sleep.  About an hour after my initial call to the hotel baggage department, I called again to see if they had any news.  While I was waiting to be transferred to the proper person, a knock came at my door.  BAGGAGE!!   Apparently, the bags were mistakenly delivered to a different resort site by mistake.  I was so flippin’ glad I wasn’t going to have to deal with the airline the next day while at Magic Kingdom.  And speaking of…

Thursday:  Magic Kingdom

We slept in a bit since we were up later than anticipated the night before.   Because we didn’t have park hopper passes allowing us to move from park to park in the same day and since Magic Kingdom has so much to do, I would normally have considered switching to another park with less to do for the day.   We had reservations for a character lunch, however, so we just dealt with it.  As you can see in the picture above, the day was just gorgeous.  We had so much fun.  We headed to Fantasyland first and did several of the rides the whole family could enjoy.  Amelia tends to be my tentative child, so I was really curious how she’d do on rides.  Turns out, she loves them…once she’s halfway through! 🙂  I was sure that Olivia, in all of her 8-year old maturity, would complain about having to ride the “tame” rides.  Not so, though. Perhaps it helped that we gave her the “job” of being the ride tour guide for Amelia, explaining and comforting her.  Worked like a charm!  Owen just kept insisting that he remembered every single part from when he was here before–when he was 14 months old!  He even remembered all the details from a few rides we never got to when we were here last!  We had a late lunch/early dinner reservation to meet the Winnie The Pooh characters, so we headed on over there and got to watch bits of the parade from the steps until our table was ready.  Dawn’s favorite character is Eeyore…and he was just getting to our table as we sat down.  Great for her!  Not so great for Amelia.  She really needed more time to settle into a new setting before a large, furry, donkey came to visit.  The waiter explained to us AFTER we got photos and an autograph (Olivia’s quest for the trip was to collect character autographs) that the characters work through the restaurant in a continuous circle and that Eeyore would be around again in about an hour.  I think Amelia would have enjoyed lunch more if we had known that.  The poor thing was pretty traumatized.  By the end of lunch, she would point to a character when it was a few tables away, but that’s about it.  When he came to our table, she’d sit in Dawn’s lap and mostly hide her face.  😦  It ended up raining on and off for the next couple of hours after our meal.  Eventually, a hardy storm rolled in and stayed.  We were happy to wait it out in our rain gear, but it just never went away.  The nighttime lights parade we planned to see was cancelled.  The roller coaster (Owen’s first big-kid roller coaster!!) was shut down due to lightning.  We ended up riding the Haunted Mansion three times because it’s inside and doesn’t close for lightening.  We also saw a little animated bear show that the kids thought was cute.  Amelia was MAD when it was over–mostly because she was nursing during the show and I needed to stop long enough to leave the theater and find a new place to sit.  Much to our surprise, we learned there would still be fireworks.  I decided to take Amelia back to the hotel for bed.  Dawn stayed with Olivia and Owen.  They reported that it was really fun.  Apparently, they project photos of park guests taken throughout the day onto the castle.  The kids were sure we would be up there, but alas we were not.

Coming Soon:  Part 2–Friday’s Epcot Disaster and Saturday’s Chance Meeting at Hollywood Studios

Mockingbirds

I am not typically a book re-reader or a movie re-watcher.

There is one book, though.  Just the one.  I’ll re-read it over and over.  To Kill A Mockingbird.  I first read it as a sophomore in high school simply because I’d randomly chosen it off a long list for my honor’s lit class.  I was tranfixed.  Could not put it down until I had turned the last page.  Since that first reading twenty (!!!!) years ago [Yikes…I’m getting old] I’ve probably read it fifteen times or so…almost once every year.  I just finished it again a couple of weeks ago.

There’s just something about the story that keeps me coming back.

Every.Single.Time I read it I want to slip into the pages next to Scout when she says, “Hey, Boo.” at the end of the story like she’s been talking to him everyday of her life.

Every.Single.Time I read it I breath a sigh of relief when Heck Tate lets Boo remain exactly what he is by insisting that Bob Ewell fell on his own knife.

Every.Single.Time I read it, I squeeze my eyes closed just before Tom Robinson’s trial and wish and wish the outcome would change.  Wish the words would swim before my eyes and suddenly recompose themselves into something new.  Something fair and just.  Obviously, I realize that it’s not going to, but oh how I wish.

Every.Single.Time I read it, I ask myself if we’ve really come as far as we like to believe we have.  When educational funding systems disproportionately disadvantage urban districts with high numbers of minority students (like they do in my state), aren’t we shooting mockingbirds?  When society demands that its gender-nonconformists follow the “rules”, aren’t we shooting mockingbirds?  When discriminatory marriage laws keep loving couples from wedded bliss, aren’t we shooting mockingbirds?

And so I keep re-reading.  Keep squeezing my eyes shut and hoping that, one of these times, the words will swim before my eyes and I’ll see something new.  Something fair and just.

Re-inspired

I hate to admit it, but I have a love-hate relationship with my big, fancy camera.

I love, love, love the pictures I shoot with it.  I love that I can throw it into manual mode and manipulate what it can do.  I love that I can shoot in continuous mode and at least have a chance at catching these speedy kids of mine.

I hate, hate, hate lugging the big thing around.  I hate how awkward it feels around my neck and how overprotective of it I feel when it’s in my hands.  I hate that I sometimes get so drawn into changing f-stops and looking for the “perfect” shot that I forget to join in the moment.

So, lately I haven’t been using the camera much.  I’ve been using my phone’s camera instead.  And complaining about the crappy pictures I get.

I decided that I would make a conscious effort to keep big, fancy camera close at hand.  I’m hoping that, by making myself use it all the time, I’ll get used to its feel around my neck and in my hands.  I made myself some cheat sheets for the effects I get with different f-stops and speeds.  I plan to hang them on the camera strap to have on hand for reference.  Hopefully, that will allow me to stop fiddling with the camera and become part of these moments instead of just the recorder of them.

My first re-attempts came last week.  I am pleased  with the photos, but also with myself for not panicking when the camera caught a few splashes from the puddles.   I missed a few memorable shots, but it was because I was sitting on the sidewalk–camera several feet away–splashing away with two of my favorite little people.   I’m good with that.

 

Yep, I’ve been re-inspired.

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