Sunday, August 29, 2010

Bring on the Fall!

It is the time of year that I used to hate as a child ~ going back to school.  I remember being so anxious and worried about my clothes and hair and having brand name school supplies.  At least to me at the time, that was most important.  Although, I went to private school and wore a uniform, so more important than brand name clothes was having trendy shoes.  This was a hard feat to accomplish growing up, although having 2 older sisters didn't hurt.  I got a lot of hand-me-downs or re-runs as I used to call them.  As a parent, I remember these things growing up and go to quite a bit of trouble to make sure that Jeremy has K-swiss tennis shoes and brand name clothing and backpacks.  Does this make me a snob?  I suppose, but there are worse things to be called, right?

Also, as a parent, I find this time of year very exciting.  I absolutely loved having my son home but I am eager for him to learn and become the person I know he can be and sadly, since I was not blessed with the patience or skills of being a teacher, I sent him to the professionals at school.  I am eager to see how he will continue to change and grow and prosper in school and in life.

The past few weeks have been very exciting and challenging simultaneously.  Our foster daughter is continueing to grow and excel in our home.  We have had the worst part of the evaluations done this past week and the less invasive and more standard exams are up this next week.  She has been poked and prodded and to me, almost abused all over again.  I have seen things I have never wanted to see and heard stories that no mom should ever have to hear.  But they are a thing of the past!

As a foster parent, we had to take our beautiful foster daughter to social services for visits with her parents.  First up was her mother, mom's boyfriend, and her brother, who we got to know briefly from staying with us.  I received a brief glimpse as to what this little girls life was like for the past 2.5 years and it broke my heart.  Any of you who know me and really know me, you know I am not a crier.  It takes a lot to bring on tears and usually it is done in private.  In a dark room with double pane glass I had the priviledge of watching the interactions and I have never wanted to jump through glass and rescue someone as badly as I did last week.  And what got me most upset is that these people knew they were bring watched and were on their best behavior!  The audacity of the mom's boyfriend to suggest that we start introducing her to the musical potty seat they had bought for her.  Are you kidding me?  What about the fact that this child does not eat any solid foods, walk, or talk, or has some obvious medical concerns?  Potty training is the furthest thing from my mind!!  They really didn't even seem to care that she was even in the room.

After that visit was complete, there was another visit with her dad.  This broke my heart because her dad, as disabled as he was, got right down on the floor at eye level and interacted the entire visit.  He brought her a book as a gift and provided the social worker with a whole photo album of pictures including her birth pictures in the hospital.  He was so proud of his daughter and to my shock, when he said "No, No," she stopped what she was doing and responded to him.  He whipped out his cell phone camera and began taking pictures.  You could just tell that he genuinely cared about her.  Even when she grabbed his cane, and in play, smacked him really hard across the head with the cane, he didn't react or yell at her.  To me, that is a real dad!  I am not sure how much I am allowed to say, so I will stop here.

We also had her tested developmentally and all of her scores were between a 4 month and 11 month old.  We had her tested for genetic abnormalities because she has some interesting features and did not resemble mom at all.  I was relieved to see that she does resemble dad quite a bit.  So we are very hopeful that everything will come back negative, but it is always good to be able to rule things out when assessing this type of situation.

Last weekend, we attended 2 birthday parties!  The first was a pool party and I was nervous about how our foster daughter would do in the water.  She was hesistant at first, but soon warmed right up.  I knew it would be good exercise for her little legs and it was a small enough pool so that in a netted inflatable, she would be safe and always within arms length, but still able to float freely and explore a little bit.  I had purchased 2 bathing suits, but not knowing very much about little girls sizing, I trusted the tag on the hanger and didn't question it.  That morning, I pulled out my 2 adorable swimsuits to discover that one was a 9 month size and the other was an 18 month size.  Thank goodness I have a good friend with 3 daughters who was able to lend me an extra swimsuit for the day!

I continue to receive compliments from friends, family, and strangers alike about how much she looks like Jeremy.  I am learning to smile and enjoy it.  We have fallen in love with her and are eager to fill her emotional voids from the last several years.  AND, after throwing Jeremy a great 3rd Birthday Party, I get to throw her HER own Birthday Party!  Since she has never had solid foods, she has likely never had cake!  I cannot wait to see how she does.

Many people have asked about pictures.  We are not allowed to share any pictures on Facebook but I am not sure about blogs.  I would assume it is the same.  We have an email list going around, so let me know if you would like to have your name added to it.  For some reason, hotmail addresses all seem to get returned to me.

On another note, I received the most thoughtful and heartwarming gift from my good friend, Laura.  We were best friends in high school at Regina Dominican in Wilmette, IL.  Throughout the last 15+ years we have moved several times and gone through many life changes, but somehow always managed to stay in touch.  In fact, we were able to keep our high school pact of being each other's maid of honor in our weddings.  And we got married 6 months apart!  I love her dearly and consider her family.

Laura has been working on her artwork.  I knew that this was a passion, but similar to my dreams of dance, becoming a wife and mom takes a priority and any individual interests seem to fall to the back burner until retirement age.  Not Laura!  She has developed her skills and talents and has sold some of her pieces at local art shows.  I was honored that she chose to make a masterpiece for me in honor of Savannah.  It is a ballerina tutu with ballet shoes and ribbons.  The shoes are in the shape of a heart and the ribbons have Savannah's name on it.  It is so special and meaningful to us because it reminds us of our Ballerina, dancing among the Angels in Heaven.  To us, it is not just a painting.  It is a constant reminder similiar to a cross in Church or a picture in your wallet.  It is amazing and we placed it somewhere where it would always been seen.

We finished the week by taking a family trip to Water Country, the local waterpark.  Since it closes for the season on Labor Day, I knew our time was limited if we were going to try it out.  I was nervous that it might be overstimulation for her and chaotic since there are always so many other kids.  AND, being that it was the end of August, it was very difficult to find any type of swimsuit at all, much less one in her size.  I was able to find one at Target on clearance for $4.98.  I know some of you who know me really well and probably even some of you who don't, but this really was the ONLY swimsuit I could find anywhere and it just happened to be ballerina.  I swear this was not planned.  Besides, summer is almost over and then I can start fresh in the spring.  Stop rolling your eyes!!  I wish I could share a picture or several or a handful of the over 300 I have taken over the last 18 days, but until I ask about what the rules are, we don't want to do anything to jeapordize her privacy.  It took me no time to find her mom's FB page or mug shot online, so I'm sure if she tried hard enough, she could find my blog.  Our priority needs to be protecting her privacy, which is why I have not mentioned her name.

So enjoy these last few days of summer!  I know we will but we are looking forward to the school year ahead ~ the holidays, the birthdays, and showering our foster daughter with everything her life has lacked - mostly love and attention.  The improvements are coming fast and I think it is only a short time before she will be walking unassisted.  I am very hopeful and so are the doctors that her legs and feet will straighten out on their own and she won't need leg braces.  Her teeth are nothing that a good cleaning and later down the road braces cannot fix.  I just cannot wait to see the progress and growth of this young lady in the weeks and months ahead.  I am confident that she will overcome each and every hurdle and grow up to lead a normal, happy, and healthy life.  And if people want to think that she and Jeremy are twins ~ I'll take it!  You won't believe the Halloween costumes that have already been purchased and the coordinating outfits for Christmas Cards!!

Thank you for bringing our family into your lives and hearts.  Each new day brings about new challenges and opportunities but many joys and much happiness as well.  We are so blessed to have each other and as much as our foster daughter is blessed to have us, we are so blessed to have her in our lives.

Stay tuned!!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A surprise call from the "red phone..."

I am so excited to announce that we have our 1st experience as Foster Parents!  This week, after a very long day, we recieved "the call" from the "red phone."  We were asked if we would take a little girl with special needs overnight.  We accepted and offered to keep her as long as they needed.  They told us that it was possible that parental rights would be terminated in this situation and without letting them finish their sentence, we said we would love to consider adoption.  How exciting!  So, another call came in asking if we would consider taking her older brother on a short term basis.  We accepted again.  Well, 2 days later, the older boy went to a new home, but we have the little girl.  She is absolutely precious.  She has many special needs and has lived a life of terrible neglect.  She is 2.5 years old, but can't walk or talk and has never been offered solid foods.  She has some vision and hearing issues, and deformities in her legs and feet, but a smile that will light up a room.  She has made some incredible progress in the days she has been with us and we look forward to seeing more and more in the days and weeks ahead.  I cannot wait until I can share her beautiful face with everyone!

In the meantime, I have had a few struggles.  She needed a new crib and I was tempted to use Savannah's crib bedding.  I had picked out ballerina stuff for Savannah.  It was my dream that she would love ballet as much as I did.  I began to cry while out running errands shopping for a crib and new car seat.  I felt like I was being a bad mom to Savannah if I used her things.  But I also thought that Savannah would want me to use her things.  For some reason, I just didn't feel right about it.  I ended up deciding to get her new stuff in a buttefly theme.  To me, butterflies symbolize new life and a new beginning and that is exactly what we hope for this little girl. 

My biggest fear is that as she grows up and learns more and more about Savannah, that she will feel like a replacement child.  In the many books and articles that I have read, I get it.  I understand that children who follow stillbirths always feel like a replacement and are treated differently.  Think about it ~ it is pretty hard to compete with a child who lives in Heaven and never had a chance to do anything wrong.  I sincerley hope that this little girl never feels that way towards us and I hope that Savannah never feels as though we are replacing her.  Even though I have an adorable girl to dress cute and put bows in her hair, she's not Savannah and she never will be.  They are 2 completely different people with different talents and intersts and passions.  I want this little girl to be herself and do whatever she wants to do (although I would like her to at least try some ballet lessons).  It's a hard thing to swallow and I feel like it's something I will struggle with until the day I die.  I just want what is best for both of my little girls and I want to be the best Mommy I can be.

Treasures to Share...

Every once in awhile, somone says something that really affects me and I hurry to scribble it down in my notebook for further reflection.  Last week, while at Church, Father Mike said "adverse circumstances do not block someone whose treasures to share are not here on Earth."  This, as most things in Church, make me think of my daughter.  Savannah had many treasures to share.  In fact, I am sure that she had a life of treasures to share.  She had unlimited potential and love and blessings to share upon everyone she came in contact with...if she only had a chance.  But I soon realized that just because she's not here does not mean that her life did not have meaning or her treasures don't matter.  Every day she impacts our lives.  Every day, we try to be better people and better parents to her because of her.  Just because she is not here on Earth does not mean that she is not sharing her treasures.  I had to stop and think of each and every way we are different people because of Savannah.  I am a better mother, wife, sister, and daughter.  I am a better friend and better member of society.  I became involved in many different activities and volunteer opportunites.  We look forward to going to Church if for no other reason than to be with Savannah and be just a little bit closer to her.  Savannah is sharing her treasures through her life and her story and through her family.  Anyone who has read Savannah's story has allowed her into their hearts.  She is sharing her gifts and talents and blessings, just not in a tangible way.  She is a treasure to us because of who she is, not who she was.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Vacation Bible School

This summer, I signed Jeremy up for a few different camps that I thought would be of interest to him.  A lot of people have questioned why I do this, so let me begin my explaining my thought process.  I am not a teacher.  Many times, I have questioned why I was so interested in business if I was going to have children.  If I had known, maybe I would have chosen a different career path.  I didn't, so this is where we are today.  Because Jeremy is an only child AND because I am not a teacher, there are limits to what I can give him as a child.  For example, I want him to be very social and have lots of interests.  Since we don't have any other children right now, these activites keep him going.  He did very well in his 2 year preschool and overcame his speech delays after only 5 months in school.  He is very interested in gymnastics so we did 2 weeks of gymnastics camp.  Anyway, we heard about Vacation Bible School at Church a few weeks ago and inquired about the age range.  They told us preschool so we signed him up.  He is one of the younger ones, but since he did go to school, he knows how to listen to other adults, wait his turn, keep his hands to himself, and follow instructions.

Monday, my husband and I took Jeremy for the 1st day.  There was so much singing and dancing!  It looks like so much fun.  When I picked him up, the teacher said he did very well, didn't have any potty accidents, and was such a pleasure.  I was impressed.  The second day went well too.  I would arrive about 15 minutes early each day to watch the group prayer, singing, and dancing.  I wished there was a Vacation Bible Camp around when I was a kid!

Wednesday, I dropped of Jeremy and talked to the Director.  I asked her if I could help for next year.  Her response was, "Yes, but I could really use your help today and for the rest of this week."  I told her I had a dentist appointment but I would come back.  When I returned, I went to the office and asked her what I could do to help.  She asked my name and I told her.  Now, many people in our parrish know of me and my husband because of Savannah, but they may not be able to associate our names with our faces.  Again, she said, "I've heard that name before."  I responded, "Yes, Savannah was my daughter."  That's all that needed to be said for her to get it.  She quickly put me to work!

I was put as the adult leader wtih the 3rd graders.  They had two teen helpers but no adult leader.  The kids were so well behaved and I was so impressed by how well run the program was.  Each morning for the gathering activities, we practiced our dancing and singing to that music that I thought was so cool the 1st day.  By the end of the week, the music wasn't so cool anymore.  In fact, I found myself practicing the movements in my sleep.

Yes, that is Jeremy holding up the "R" for the special word of the day!  And yes, I am one of those annoying moms who snaps pictures of everything my child does.

It was a great experience for me.  There were lots of other things I could have been doing while Jeremy was at camp, but I feel good about knowing that I was right where God wanted me to be.  The simple messages that were taught:  Trust God, Love Never Fails, Care for Others, and Share your Faith ~ these apply not only this week but each and every day.  Throughout the past 15 months, I haven't always trusted God.  In fact, I have questioned him and repeatedly.  Why was Savannah taken from us?  Why can't I get pregnant again?  What did I do wrong in my life to deserve this?  Why do other people have beautiful children only to hurt and abuse them?  Why did you let Savannah die?  Some of this is part of the normal grieving process.  I understand that I will not know the answers to any of these questions.

I also know that I have many blessings, and the most important one is love.  I have a husband who loves me and accepts me.  He doesn't care whether I am a size 4 or size 14 (I have been both and all sizes in between in the last 5 months).  He doesn't care if my makeup is on or my hair is fixed perfect.  He loves me for who I am ~ unconditionally.  I have been blessed with Jeremy, the light of my life.  That little boy makes me smile each and every day.  The only type of love he knows is unconditional, whether it's for our kitten, Oreo, or the homeless man that hangs out at Farm Fresh.  The teaching is something I need to remember ~ Love Never Fails.  Savannah loves our family and we love her.  Our love for her and each other and our love for God will never fail.

So, the moral of this story is that teachings are not just for the kids.  Even an old person like me (and I feel very old because I've been hanging out with 3rd graders and 2 teenagers) can learn something from Vacation Bible School.  And yes, I will be sporting my dance moves tonight at the Closing Ceremony.  And I might even let Jeremy keep the CD of that annoying music.

"Hope is a renewable option: If you run out of it at the end of the day, you get to start over in the morning."

Until next time, remember to count your blessings.


Jeremy's 3rd Birthday Party

Sunday, we had the priviledge and blessing of celebrating our son, Jeremy's, 3rd Birthday.  We had a HUGE party planned for him.  We began our Sunday as we do each Sunday.  We attended 8:30AM Mass at our parish, St. Joan of Arc.  The readings were very impactful this week and both my husband and I chatted about them on our way to visit Savannah.  We stopped and had breakfast since this was such a special day and then headed over to the cemetary.  Jeremy insisted on getting out of the car.  Usually, we are a little hesistant to let him out because like any 3 year old, he likes to run off and play with some of the pinwheels and other items left on other headstones. 

It's funny because I remember the day we picked out Savannah's plot.  I told myself I would never be one of those people who decorated their child's headstone or had a bunch of "stuff" on it.  Yet, 15 months later, I am that parent.  It's very important to me for some reason to make sure Savannah always has the biggest prettiest flowers.  I'm not sure why because she is no less important or loved than any other baby in that Children's Garden.  I guess it's because I can't dress her in pretty clothes or put bows on her hair (if you haven't guessed by now, I have a wierd obession with little girls having bows in their hair).  All I can do is make sure that her headstone is clean of dirt and debris, her flowers look fabulous, and pick all of the weeds.  Anyway, back to Sunday.

Jeremy walked up to Savannah's headstone and knelt down and kissed her picture.  He has done this a few times before but today, it really warmed my heart.  He told Sissy about his party and asked her to watch over him today.  When asked where Sissy lives, he replies "in Heaven's House."  I'll take that.  He blew a kiss up to the sky and my eyes filled up with tears.  This time, it was not because I was sad about missing Savannah, but how proud I was of Jeremy for including his sister in his joys and celebrations.

We came home and the party preparations began.  Food was prepared, balloons were blown up, a bounce house was set up, and the floor was swept again.  I have learned that cleaning before a party is pretty useless.  You'll find out why soon.

The party began and it looked like the weather was going to hold up.  It began sprinking just a little but the kids didn't seem to mind.  We were able to serve food and moved the cake outside.  Just as people finished the cake and ice cream, it began to pour!  Everyone hurried inside which worked out well for the opening of presents ritual.  I'm sure you can imagine what happened to the floor as 45 soaking wet people came inside.

The party was a great success and everyone enjoyed themselves.  The following day, the dogs got ahold of the leftover cake, so it's safe to say that they enjoyed themselves too.  It was so much fun and we are so blessed to have so many friends who came to share the day with us.  The most important person Jeremy shared his day was with his sister.  Even though she's not here physically, he thought to include her.  As a Mom, I have never been more proud of my son....or my daughter!