Our little family

Our little family
Wife Woman, Husband Man, Catcher and The Hoskinettes.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A Perfect Day

Do you ever just have a perfect day? I think I have maybe two a year, and I spend the rest of the year looking back to those days on every other day when I think I can't handle all the chaos anymore, to remind myself that I can.

Adam was off today, and Elaine has one day off from the insanity of her Nutcracker dress rehearsals (one every day this week, leading up to opening night on Friday!) so we decided to take the opportunity to go see Santa Claus at Bass Pro Shop, it's our tradition to see him there, since they give you a free photo with Santa, and don't charge you just to see him.

We did science work this morning in homeschool and the kids were loving it, they really seem to enjoy science and didn't want to stop at just one lesson so we did three lessons. It was a great start to the day as we were all in good moods.

We had a planned visit from a county social worker today. We have regular monthly visits from a social worker during the foster adoption process, but this was a substitute worker as our regular worker is on vacation. It's hard not knowing what to expect as some are more judgmental and harsh than others. Our regular worker, Nora, is somewhat hard to read, she keeps a very bland look on her face every visit and it's hard to tell if it's because she doesn't like us, or because (as is more likely) she just looks like that all the time. The substitute social worker arrived on time, a nice change considering they're usually late, and when she came in she was greeted by all the children which can effect every person who experiences it differently. Some can't handle the boisterous noises of so many little children, but Robin, the substitute worker, loved it. She smiled and said "You must do daycare, you can't possibly have this many that are so young?"

Of course as smiled and said as I always to do similar statements "Nope, they're all mine."

Catcher was in a particularly pleasant mood and echoed my statement in his sweet voice, "ALL MINE!"

We all laughed and she walked into the living room. Noticing the pictures on the wall of all six beautiful children she remarked at how wonderful such a display was. The rest of the brief visit was just as cordial. The children regaled her with stories and Christmas lists, and Robin smiled the whole time. When she got up to leave she mentioned how amazing it was to be in a house with so many children who all seemed so happy, and I had noticed too how all morning there really hadn't been any fights or arguments among any of the children, and although the house was loud, it was filled with the sound of children's laughter.

After she left we packed up the children and headed out. Bass Pro Shop is in Manteca, about 30 minutes away, and the ride was pleasant, which in and of itself is nearly a miracle, there was no fighting and lots of giggling. Maybe it was the fact that we were going to see Santa, but all of the children seemed to be on their best behavior. We weren't far from the house when I realized I'd forgotten my cell phone. Adam had too. I'm never without my phone anymore, and it made me a little nervous to continue on without it, but I reminded myself how pleasant it would be to not have any distractions on such a fun day, so I didn't even ask my husband (who was driving) to go back to retrieve it.

We arrived at the store around 11:30am, we walked up to Santa's Workshop area and there was NO line! I must say this really gives me one more reason to love homeschooling (as if I needed one more!) the fact that we can do something like this in the middle of the day while other kids are at school was a real bonus! As we walked toward Santa I had that sinking feeling, who's gonna cry...or worse yet, SCREAM?! Two kids that are two year olds.....it was inevitable. Darla is quite outgoing and pretty fearless, so I thought for sure Catcher was going to be uncomfortable with the stranger in red.

The bigger girls went running up to Santa, and I asked Catcher, "Who is that?" He watched with excitement as his sisters greeted the red robed stranger with delight.

"Santa!" he said as he cautiously walked forward.....with a smile. Could it be? Was he going to be ok with the bearded elf?

Adam had been carrying Darla on his shoulders and he placed her near Santa, waiting for her reaction. To our surprise she ran up and asked to be picked up! We helped her onto his lap and placed Mira on his other knee. I still wasn't sure if Catcher would agree to stand close to him or not, but Santa invited him to stand right in front of him next to Darla, and he simply replied "Ok." and did!

I stepped back in complete surprise as the elf clothed helper snapped this picture:

Now ok, Mira doesn't look very excited, that's because we had to redirect her from playing with his beard, she loved it. And Darla seems unimpressed, but right after the picture she turned to Santa and gave him a huge grin, and all in all, I'm quite impressed with so many young ones handling this Santa thing so well! I know a lot of it was having older siblings seem so excited to see Santa that helped Catcher and Darla not be afraid. But it was great no matter why it happened.

After the picture there was still no line of children waiting, so St. Nick took his time asking the name of each child, how old they were, what they wanted for Christmas and what their favorite cookie was. We lingered around with Santa and his elves for several minutes, it was quite pleasant.

Bass Pro Shop has several activities set up near Santa's Wonderland and being that there was only one other family in the area, we gave all the kids free reign to wander through the activities.

Here's where I regretted not having my phone. I take soooo many pictures on my phone these days, that without it I felt terrible that I couldn't record how much fun the kids were having with pictures. I'll do my best to explain, but nothing does justice to the first thing I wish I'd taken a picture of.

There was target shooting with little rifles, it was all electronic, you're not shooting real bullets or anything, and it was completely free. Each kid took a turn taking aim, while Daddy gave each one a little lesson in holding the gun and hitting targets. When Catcher wanted a turn he was so small he couldn't hold the gun, so he stood holding it while Daddy's strong arms wrapped around him holding the gun as well. Adam was bent down, on his knees with Catcher sitting on one of Adam's knees and they both stared down the barrel trying to hit the lit up targets. Now there's a moment I wish I had a picture of. In that moment I remembered how important it is to fill my mind with these memories, not just my phone, and I impressed an image in my mind I'll surely never forget. Daddy's smile was as big as Catcher's. All the kids took turns driving around the little electric truck. Catcher later found the display of radio controlled trucks on sale and proudly pronounced "I like that!!" (I don't allow the children to use the phrase "I want that" or "buy me that" instead I encourage them to say, "I like that," or "that's pretty....fun...neat....etc") I loved hearing my little boy tell me something he liked.

They each took turns (without fighting!) driving the electric train, fast, slow, forward, reverse. The big girls wrote letters to Santa and Elaine and Maggie helped Katie write one too. I bought fudge and we sat in the coloring area nibbling sweet flavors and laughing over the different tastes and combinations. We walked around the store for a few more minutes, I took all the walking kids up the stairs next to the giant fish tank, while daddy pushed the stroller for the baby and took the elevator, or as we later dubbed it, the "elf-avator" :) Catcher and Darla loved seeing the fish, and marched proudly like big kids up the tall stair way. We greeted Daddy from the elevator and walked around looking at different things on sale.

At one point Maggie, Katie, Elaine and the two's  and I were all standing near the balcony which peered down over the top of Santa's wonderland. When they saw Santa go into the little building with a sign that said "Santa's Workshop," Maggie and Katie pronounced that he must be going in there to check on the elves in the workshop, and that he MUST be the real Santa. As if the unison were intentional at that moment all three of the older girls shouted out upon his return "HI SANTA!!"  The man in red looked up to them and waved, he smiled and winked. They giggled in delight and waved back. At seeing the reaction they'd garnered from St. Nick Darla (now sitting in a shopping cart) decided to wave and spoke in nearly a whisper barely audible to anyone standing near her "hi tanta." He immediately looked up from below and waved a little wave that matched hers. It was so sweet, and he gave out a "Ho, ho" of a laugh himself.

Maybe I've been watching too many Christmas movies, but in that moment, he felt as real to me as he did to my kids. As full of the spirit of kindness and joy that this season embodies.

We walked over to the larger 'pay per play' shooting gallery. It was full of animals that moved when you hit their target, and lots of fun things to see. We put some quarters in one slot and the machine wouldn't come on, but i put the same amount of quarters in another slot and it gave us ten games! The kids played round after round and Daddy must have taught them to aim well, because they hit target after target, squealing with glee at each shot!

We walked across the parking lot to eat lunch at Red Robin, it's our family's favorite restaurant, and we even ran into our friend who is a manager there. We know her from church and the kids all went running up to her when we walked in. Pretty much made her day I think :)

Now you must know that we do not take all of the kids out to eat to anyplace without a playland very often, it's just too much for the little kids to wait for their food sitting quietly. Let me tell you what, I had little angels at the table and Red Robin. They played together happily while waiting for their food, and despite the fact that it took  the average 15-20 minute wait for food, when it arrived, all the children announced that it came very fast. Haha, it is true, time flies when you're having fun! Several games of tic tac toe were played, Darla and I played keep away with her package of crayons which she strangely didn't want opened, just wanted to play with it all nice and closed.

When the food came everyone ate without complaint, sharing french fries and smiles amidst crunching and slurping. Later our friend arranged for the kids to be served ice cream, which they loved and had the messy faces to prove it. We lingered in the restaurant while others around us ate and left, because we were all just enjoying the company of so many happy children.

We had to leave eventually and go to the only chore we had that day, buying a new lawn mower. Our old one bit the dust, as it were, and we bought a push one instead. The kids were all very good at the home improvement store despite the fact that it was now after 3pm and none of the little ones had had a nap! We wandered smelling flowers through the garden area and pushed the button of every noisy Christmas toy on display, dancing along to whatever silly song they played. The children galloped as Santa's reindeer to the register, giving themselves reindeer names and imagining up reindeer games, ensuring Rudolph would be included even if Santa didn't need his nose. ( they notice that in the song the other reindeer don't like Rudolph or let him play until he's useful)

We ended our day stopping by Del'Osso Farms in Lathrop. They have lots of activities you can pay to do, and we just wandered around for a few minutes. Last year they'd had live Reindeer on the farm and we were hoping to see them but there weren't any this time. So we enjoyed neighing at the pony's, one in particular that Darla fell in love with and didn't want to walk away from. I convinced her to blow him kisses and say goodbye, then she finally continued on with us. Last year we'd paid to do the snow tubing, and it was fun but we didn't come prepared for it today so we walked by as a bus load of kids pulled up to slide their snowy slopes. We walked out the rear entrance to the parking lot and as we walked one of the kids noticed a large pile of melting snow which had apparently been dumped in a parking spot.

Now you must understand that it does NOT snow here, nor does it get cold enough during the day to keep snow from melting, so this must have been recently placed, and a puddle was a few inches deep of mud around it.

I stepped into the mud and grabbed a handful of snow which felt vaguely similar to a ball of shaved ice (which is more likely what it was) and I lobbed it at the Husband Man, direct hit to the chest where it broke apart. We all continued to walk a few feet when Daddy went back to the pile, he grabbed a huge handful of icy snow, I put my hood up certain he was out for revenge, but instead he made several small snow balls and gave them to the kids. Hello, impromptu snow ball fight in the parking lot!! He went back for more a few times and the kids laughed at each hit and miss. What a great memory we made right there in the parking lot.

We came home and sipped hot chocolate, in warm fuzzy pajamas, watched another holiday classic "The Santa Clause 2" and sent all the kids off to bed with a smile at the end of the day.

Wow what a day, I may not have pictures to remember it all by, but my memories will never fade.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Termination is a word of love.

I wanted to post about this right after it happened, and I should have. But here it is a month later and I'm just now getting to it.

Just in case you know nothing about me except what you read in my blog I suppose I should mention that since my last post we have more kids....well one more kid to be exact. Another full sibling of Maggie and Darla, named Mira. We got her in April, 2012 as a brand new infant. She's now 8 months old and a joy to behold.

The foster adoption process has the required steps of a waiting period to see if the parents are going to make any effort to get the child back, and also a time to see if any other blood relatives want to lay claim on the child in question. In this case we're actually considered the closest blood relation aside from the parents because we have two full siblings that have both the same birth mother and birth father, so we waited for the time to lapse, and last month it finally did.

On a Tuesday in November we went to court for the termination of parental rights, what is referred to by social workers as a "2-6" hearing, where the permanency of the child is determined after parents rights are terminated. Our county social worker, Nora, had told us that the birth father had been recently incarcerated so was actually likely to show up by prison transport. This is not uncommon, for the 2-6 hearings for both Maggie and Darla, the parents arrived by prison transport, wearing full prison attire : orange jumpsuits, shackles on both hands and connected to both feet, requiring them to shuffle while they walked, the sound of clinking chains against the hard court room floor accompanying every muffled shuffle step in prison issued soft plain tennis shoes.

This adoption case had differed up until now from the other two because the birth parents were not incarcerated, and as such the social workers were unable to locate or contact them. The state is getting a lot more relaxed towards felons of their non-violent nature, so, despite recurring parole violations, their reservations at the local prison hotel had become less frequent.

We were nervous to hear that ONLY the birth father had been incarcerated and would be in attendance. Previously, at the 2-6 hearing for Darla, it was the birth mother who talked the birth father out of contesting the termination of rights, so that our adoption could move ahead sooner. The mere act of 'contesting' the termination of rights, drags the whole thing out longer, often another six months or longer, she had saved us that time in limbo, so that we could move forward with the adoption. But knowing that only the birth father would be present, we were almost certain he would contest the termination, as he had (or at least had come with the intention to) both times previously.

While sitting on hard benches in the hallway outside the courtroom, waiting our time with the judge, my mind wandered. I thought of the last time I'd seen the birth father (whom I'll refer to as JD, though that is not his real name). It was when baby Mira, this sweet innocent child involved in this case was first born. She was in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) because she had been premature and exposed to some drugs and an infection from the birth mother (KG, again, not the birth mother's real name).

As soon as we'd been told about Mira, and that she'd be getting placed with us we started going to see her at the NICU everyday, as we would if any of our other children were in the hospital, doing our best to spend every moment possible there with her.  KG and JD had visited Mira once after I'd left the hospital. The took the stack of pictures I'd left for them, the nurse had said KG, birth mom, was happy to see them. It made me realize I was actually a little bit sad that I'd missed them when they came, I would love to talk to them, to hug KG and tell her what beautiful daughters she had given us, and to just get to know them a little bit, to have something to say to my children about her when they're old enough to ask. Myself or my husband visited the baby daily and one day when I arrived, the nurse asked me not to come in, as the birth parents were there. Shocking since they'd only seen her one other time in the 9 days she'd been there already, and we'd visited her every single day since we were told of her existence. I mentioned to the nurse that I'd appreciate if she could just mention to them that I was there, and that I'd love to have a chance to talk to them if they'd allow it. The nurse told me that was unlikely and shooed me away. I felt hurt to be sent away from a child I'd already grown attached to, but I left.

I was down in the parking lot getting in my car to leave when my cell phone rang. The nurses voice was filled with excitement, "I told them you were here and they immediately said they'd love to see you!!" Apparently this was simply unheard of around there. This is a hospital that gets a lot of drug babies who are removed from parental custody and the birth parents never want to even see the foster parents.

I rushed back up to the NICU and walked nervously into Mira's room. KG sat holding Mira, she looked clean and content holding this precious little baby. JD on the other hand, looked at me with contempt, as if his arch nemesis had entered the room and he sized me up before deciding what he would say to me. KG greeted me with a smile, after our meeting in the courtroom only a year before, we had a bond, and we both knew it. We shared a bond of motherhood, and even a sense of family, as a part of my family is also a part of hers. I teared up a little bit seeing her there, for the first time not in a court room, not in prison issued clothes and hand restraints. I saw her as a mother, holding her baby, holding my baby. It was a difficult silence after a brief introduction. We began small talk about the pictures I'd left for them, KG had already cut one to size to keep in her wallet. It wasn't an individual shot of Maggie or Darla, it was our family picture, all in white, in front of the Sacramento Temple, when Darla had been sealed to our family.

"This picture looks like a perfect family," she said, "Where did you take it?"

I told her a bit about our beliefs, that families can be together forever and that once adopted, taking the child to the temple to be sealed to us was the final step. She leaned closer to me, and with a big smile, defining her under bite she said with confidence, "I can't wait to see the one with this little baby all in white outside that temple wit your whole family." She leaned the baby towards me and asked me to hold her while she stepped out to use the restroom.

There I sat holding a tiny 4 and a half pound Mira, alone with birth father, JD. \

"Now that (KD)'s out of the room I wanna tell you, " he started abruptly, "we're gonna get this baby back." My heart sank a little bit, but at the same time a piece of me was excited for the thought that they could clean up their lives. He went on an on about this job and that training and things that sounded good, but until any of them were in place it was all up in the air. Every so often he'd say something like, "I know you aint bad or nothin, and you are the momma of those other two girls we had, but you aint her momma, (KD) is." For some reason he had his heart set on getting this baby back....for KD, he hated seeing how much it broke her heart to leave the hospital without the baby, and he was determined to get her this one. I had to admire the guy, if good intentions were cash he'd be rich. I found it easy to tell him how supportive I was of that plan. It was easy to say because it was the truth, I wanted only good things for them, I really did, so the idea that this might actually be the one they keep...I wanted to believe as much as JD did that it was possible. I explained to him that it was my joy to love and care for her while they did what was required of them, whatever that may be, but that I would hand her back with nothing but love if that was how it worked out. By the end of our short conversation he smiled at me, not longer did he see his enemy across from him, he saw his caring support team. It was a changing moment.

They weren't able to do what was required of them to even try to get baby Mira back, and now here we were, sitting outside the court room waiting for their rights to be terminated and be named and future adoptive parents....again.

They called our case and we went into the court room. Social workers sat at tables with lawyers, and the same judge who'd performed Darla's adoption sat at the front of the room. We stated our names and a knot formed in my stomach as I heard the clinking of chains coming from a side hallway. JD shuffled in and sat where he was told by the weapon clad bailiff. The judge pointed out that KG was unable to be located and wouldn't be in attendance, then proceeded with his monotone reading of why we were all there. "Termination of parental rights of KG and JD, birth parents of Mira. He turned to the attorney representing JD, "What is your client's statement?" This was it, the moment I'd feared, the moment I was sure he was going to say that his client wanted to contest....then the attorney stood up to speak.

"My client does NOT contest the termination, nor adoption of the child."

What? Did he really just say that?! Both my husband and I looked over to JD, as if to verify if that was really what he'd meant to be said on his behalf. His face beamed as the hugest smile imaginable on a grown man spread from ear to ear. His hands shackled to his feet meant he could barely lift them from his lap, but he reached up as high as he could to wave a big silly wave to accompany the smile. All of a sudden, in that moment, he looked like a little child, a child excited to see good friends. "Hi you guys!!" he said, even though he really wasn't supposed to be talking to us. "How you been?!!" he continued. I couldn't help but smile, he was so happy to see us. The judge continued on with his hum drum reading of required statements about the right to appeal, JD asked his lawyer to state that he didn't want to appeal. Another moment of relief for us. He grinned and waved again, then asked if we had any pictures.

How could I have forgotten to bring pictures??? I felt so awful that I hadn't brought pictures, the one gift I could give him, after this gift he'd given us, by agreeing to have his rights terminated. I remembered I had pictures on my phone from Halloween, and one in particular that was a great picture I thought he'd love. I pointed to my phone to tell him I had one there to show him. The judge was continuing to talk in the background and JD started poking his attorney, "Hey, HEY, she has pictures on her phone, can I see them??" The attorney told him to be quiet and wait until the judge was done. He sat impatiently, and when the judge finished and the bailiff came to walk him back to the prison transport the attorney asked the bailiff if I could show JD pictures on my phone.

The bailiff made all sorts of stipulations, "She has to stand back there, he can't touch the phone, she can only show him one picture," and so on. So I stood where I was told and showed him this picture of Mira as a lady bug on Halloween.

JD smiled, "Thank you so much Vera, you too Adam." For some reason it meant so much to me that he called us by name, you call close family by name, and to me, and now to him, we are all family. We called him by name when we said goodbye as the bailiff led him shuffling and chains clinking down the hallway.

My heart felt full of joy as the realization that the time I'd had to talk to JD in the NICU had really helped him know that we're just loving parents, not the enemy. And I've said before that I'll never have anything negative to tell my little black beauties about their birth parents, but this goes beyond that, I have great and wonderful things to tell them about a mother and a father who loved them so much, they were willing to let them go.