Sunday, December 7, 2014

Merry Christmas 2014 from the Grays!

We hope this note finds you well and prayers for those that are struggling.

This has been a wild ride of a year. We began with Nana's death after 100 years on this earth. Her life was celebrated with generations of family and friends. On the way to my mother's for Nana's service, I rolled the car with Junior and Mike as passengers. Though we walked away from the totaled vehicle, I suffered a concussion, lots of bruising, long term pain, and developed PTSD. The guys had minor bruising and only needed a few chiropractic adjustments; I am looking at 18 months for full recovery. The driver side window shattered when we hit a small tree, the side airbag protected me from the shattered glass. We ended up replacing our 5-passenger Honda with a 7-passenger Ford.

Passenger Side

Driver Side

In March, we welcomed the arrival of my niece, a strong-willed, intelligent baby. She is adorable! I got to cuddle more babies in April when my best friend delivered twins via IVF. It is a blessing to see two women who have struggled with infertility have adorable bundles to cuddle. For spring break, Mike and I took Junior and J to Portland to explore downtown for a few days. We explored the waterfront, Powell's Books, OMSI, Portland State University, and the Oregon Zoo.

Park in downtown Portland

Oregon Zoo

Mike and I celebrated 15 years of marriage with no fanfare. We acknowledged our anniversary, but no special celebration. Where do 15 years go? This fall marked 20 years since we met; yes, we were just kids, but our relationship is still strong with God's grace. Junior began marching with the high school marching band in June at Forest Fest, full rehearsals began in August with competitions and football games throughout the fall. As of December, marching band is complete until June. As soon as school ended, we sent Junior on a plane with the other 8th graders for a whirlwind trip of Williamsburg, Jamestown, and DC. The class had a wonderful time learning more about government and history. A few days after returning, we sent Junior off to my parents' for two weeks. He got to experience a heat wave (105+ temps), went shooting, helped my mom with painting without getting paint all over the floor, swam almost every night, and charmed all the relatives. Then we were off to Crater Lake National Park for several days during the prolonged heat wave plus we got to breathe the smoke from a forest fire in Klamath Falls. The lake was not deep blue, it was pale blue due to the smoky haze.

Crater Lake

In September before school began, Junior and I traveled to visit his biological family. It was a great weekend visiting with his relatives and some friends. We spent a day at the water slides and an evening at a state park.

September brought additions to our family. We became an unofficial Safe Family for our neighbors providing long term, part time care for their kids. We have two boys age 13 (J) and 10 (D) every weekend (nights included) and every day after school. In November we began caring for their 5 year sister (M) one day a week. We do not know how long we may care for these kids, but we love them as ours as long as we care for them. Mike even built the boys a bunk bed. We are learning to parent three kids. The Lord has blessed us with a smooth transition and good kids. Please pray for their family that they could return full time to their parents.

Bunk beds

Our family is gaining another member - a brother-in-law. My younger sister got engaged in November! In 2016 we will celebrate their marriage.

This year Mike has been having fun with his Ural which arrived in June. He has rode around Hood Canal and in Olympia. He participated in a Riders for Health Scavenger Hunt and Camp Out. In December he rode with his aunt in a local Toy Run where 10,000 motorcycles rode to raise toys and money for kids in need for Christmas. Junior and I have each rode as tub monkeys (the side car passenger). Junior is the kid with the cool dad who arrives at band practice in the motorcycle!

First ride after purchase

Rest break during Ride for Health Scavenger Hunt

Aunt T & Mike at Toy Run

While writing this year's letter, I realized there were no photos of me. I searched our 2014 photo archives and found three from work and few from our vacations. When I was not the photographer, I often was not around for the activity. Between work, shuttling children, and my health, life was too busy to take photos or not appropriate for photos. Besides work, I had several ER visits and medical issues - some related to the car accident, some not related. I am learning to navigate high school requirements for Junior and be an advocate for J and D. 

Me in front of USS Blueback, SS-581 at OMSI

2015 will have more adventures and surprises waiting for us. May the new year bring blessings to you!

Peace and Love,
Jocelyne, Mike, Junior, J, D, and M

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Extra kids

One of the things about being a foster parent is you are in tune to the troubled lives of other kids. While we have only adopted one son, we currently have two other young men at our house very frequently. Yes, a house full of smelly boys that make the house smell! The kids feel safe and protected at our home, life is stable, more normal. We include the boys on several family outings and at our family dinners. One of the brothers has joined us on vacation.

For now we are a safe place away from yelling and fights. I keep an eye out for signs of abuse, and have spoken to to CPS about the situation. For now, we are resource for the family which keeps the boys safe. We have one or both boys every weekend. I have grown to love these boys. I will protect them just as I protect my son. I will feed them, clothe them, give them shelter when needed, and always love them.

I knew one teenage boy ate a lot of food and made his bedroom and bathroom smell. Now with two teen boys and one preteen boy, they all eat a lot and, oh, do the bedroom and bathroom smell!!!! This bathroom is designated the "Boys' Bathroom" and only they use it. Us parents and our guests use the other bathroom. Andy is responsible for cleaning the Boys' Bathroom. The other week, he said he cleaned it, but it still smelled. Mike kept checking it and making Andy go in and clean it until he got all the spots on the toilet, around the toilet, and on the floor cleaned to Dad's specifications. After three or four tries, the bathroom stopped smelling. Andy's response is, "I'm not the one missing the toilet!" We told him it does not matter, he is still responsible for cleaning up the bathroom. It is times like these that I am grateful I do not smell well due to sinus problems. I know a smell is bad when I can smell it! Now that the other two boys are spending every weekend with us, we have begun to assign them some chores. They use the dishes, they create laundry, they make messes, so they might as well help clean up after themselves, take out the trash, and empty the dishwasher. These are all chores Andy does and he would be happy to share, even if just on the weekends.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Happy Son

When people find out we adopted a teenager, they always ask if we are having any problems. I admit, teens, in general, adopted or not, struggle through life trying to assert independence and determine identity. Adoption adds more layers to this struggle. I have a well adjusted 14 year old, almost 15 year old. He loves video games and band. He enjoys socializing, dislikes chores, enjoys sleeping in, trips over his own feet, and only listens to mom when I use my "listen to me now" tone of voice. He is messy, does not care what he wears (holes and frayed hems), is loyal to his friends, loves his family, is gentle with cats, is polite to strangers and elders, and treats his best friend like a brother.

Some teens don't want others to know they are adopted. We were talking the other morning and he says he lets everyone know about his adoption. He is comfortable with who he is and how he fits into our family. He is comfortable with how our family fits with his biological family. At 14, I sure was not comfortable with who I was, though I knew how I fit into my family. He is doing well in school. He is involved in wonderful extracurricular activities, many that he can continue into adulthood. He is self confident including able to give a speech to a few hundred people.

During the adoption process, we and our son attended counseling to smooth the transition. Also, he met with his Guardian Ad Litum (GAL) who has known him from infancy. The counselors and the GAL all stated our son was resilient and able to adjust to life very well. I pray this ability continues through his teens and adulthood. Resiliency is more than coping, it is the ability to deal with whatever life throws at you; many adults struggle with this skill, my teen possesses it already.

I have a happy, well-adjusted teenage son. We are blessed to be a family.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Foster Care Open Adoption - Is it possible?

I am active in online adoption and foster care forums plus I am beginning to meet more people locally foster care arena. When I share our foster-adopt story, most are amazed at how open our adoption is compared with most foster care adoptions. Yes, we have a rare, extremely open, dynamic relationship with our son's maternal biological family, not just his biological mother. These relatives we treat as extended family members of our own family. They are welcome to visit us, we visit them, we exchanged contact information. Keeping these relationships going is healthy for our son.

We are also re-establishing Junior's relationship with his biological mother. While there are awkward moments, there are laughs and smiles from all of us. We two moms enjoy embarrassing our 14 year which is easy to do without trying, and he hasn't even started dating! While Mike and I have the privilege of raising Junior,  we share video and photos on Facebook so all our "family" can keep up with his happenings. I keep in touch with his biological mother via email and text throughout the month. We provide her with a list of school events and she attends when she can considering we live several hours apart. As Junior matures, he will define and refine his relationship with his biological mother. His relationship with her will be different from his relationship with me, but we all realize he has two mothers, in fact he has several mother figures, women who have raised him through the years prior to him joining our family. They are all important. For Mother's Day we sent off six cards to women who are important to his life - biological and adoptive. For Father's Day we will send off four cards to men who are important to him.

For his biological family, not all members are genetically related. His mother was adopted so his mother and sister are biological, but all other members are not related by blood. Some are just related by marriages that have since dissolved, but the people are still important to Junior.

Just as any extended family, our family has expanded to include Junior's maternal family of origin whether they are genetic relatives, adoptive relatives, stepfamily, or just important people. Family is created through love and hard work and lots of prayer.

For Junior, the open adoption is beneficial. This year he has blossomed as an 8th grader! His grades are decent, he presented to several hundred people at a safety conference with his Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) club, and he learned to play an instrument on a Tuesday then marched in the high school Marching Band on the following Saturday. He is a likable, funny, intelligent, caring, sometimes helpful son. Junior has adjusted well to joining our family and admits his nana (my mother) is zany.

No, my son does not thank me for adopting him or for providing for him, he is 14 years old. Most teens are not grateful for what is provided until they have to provide for themselves as adults. I am grateful to be his mom and that he still talks; I know many teenage boys who switch to grunting at about age 15. Oh, does the kid talk!

Yes, open foster care adoptions are possible and can work. No, they are not beneficial for every child being adopting from foster care. The amount of openness can vary tremendously from adoption to adoption. One case may be an exchange of annual letters without photos to PO boxes to a few letters, photos, and visits a year to a very open adoption like ours. The key is to consider the beneficial health, welfare, safety, and development of the child involved. Also, the openness can fluctuate over the years depending on how the child handles the development stages. There may be times that minimal contact is beneficial while other times more openness is better. We are navigating through our first year so we will see how the openness of our adoption will fluctuate as our son progresses through adolescence.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Adoption by Special Needs Parents

There are many resources, articles and blogs out there for people who want to adopt special needs children. Specials needs range from mild to severe, medical, physical, psychological, and emotional. There is not much out there about parents who have special needs themselves who adopt.

My health problems make me special needs. I even had a 504 in school (similar to an Individual Education Plan, or IEP). It is due to my health that Mike and I cannot have biological children. My husband has a sleep disorder and an anxiety disorder. During the home study process, we had to discuss with the caseworker how our health might impact the life of a child. We had to get medical clearances from our doctors and our therapist that we were fit (physically, psychologically, and emotionally) to parent.

The greatest impact would be an anaphylactic episode. Luckily, since Junior has moved in, I have not had an episode requiring a trip to the ER. We have taught Junior what to do in case I need an ambulance and to follow the directions of the dispatcher. I have had allergic reactions to food in the 18 months Junior has lived with us, but I have been able to treat them with medication and not need my Epi-pen or medical aid. Other times, I hurt so bad from a Sjogren's flare I cannot get out of bed. About six months after Junior joined our family, I had three days I stuck in bed and he had to be very quiet when he was home. I wanted to interact with him, but was too ill to get out of bed. Mike had to be full time parent and Junior did really well during those three days. He even came in to check on me after school.

I know parents out there have taught their children how to respond should a parent have a diabetic, seizure, or heart problem. When children grow up learning these things, it is a way of life. Being brought into a special needs family, the family needs to consider the needs of the adopted child. Is the child capable of dealing with the family's issues while having his/her own needs met? Many adopted children come with emotional and psychological issues that the family should be able to address even if a parent's special need is in a flare or having an episode. I know with my anaphylactic episodes would terrify some children; a child that has gone through a lot of trauma would fear me dying.

As a special needs parent, I have more than just the needs of the child to consider. I have to consider how my health might impact the child's life or how the child might respond to one of my health episodes. You can parent an adopted child if you are an adult with special needs. I highly recommend speaking with your medical doctor and/or your therapist about how your health would impact the life of a child, how the life of a child would impact your health, what your limitations may be, and what support you may need.

For us, adopting a preteen/teen with few special needs was a better match than a very young child or a child with severe special needs. We needed a child who could dress himself, could care for self grooming, could fix a snack or simple meal, and could attend school. With our desires, we were matched with Junior. He has been a blessing to our family and adds to our joy.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Guardian Angels

Psalm 5:11 NRSV

But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, so that those who love your name may exult in you.

We were surely watched over on Friday, January 17. What should have been a routine drive to my parents' turned into a harrowing experience of tumbling and bruised muscles. Within an hour and a half from my parents' home, I lost control and rolled the car with my husband and son as passengers. I truly remember little leading up to the accident and during the accident. We are grateful there were no other vehicles on the road at the time, grateful we landed down the embankment on the north side and not the river on the south side, grateful we came away with just bruises, scrapes and minor misalignments of the spine. The injuries could have been much worse. Yes, the car was totaled, pretty crunched, but it protected us with its side curtain air bags and seat belts as it was suppose to in its design. I got a long ride in an ambulance and received great care at Yakima Regional Medical & Cardiac Center. After checking out fine at the hospital (internal pain was from all the bruising), I was released several hours later.

God sent us an angel on earth - a veteran named Kevin. We don't know much about Kevin except he was traveling Highway 12 behind us from Centralia/Chehalis to the Tri-Cities in a red pickup and was the first to stop to help. He helped us climb out of the ditch, flagged down a state trooper so I could get medical attention, then drove Mike and Junior to the hospital to be with me. Kevin, thank you for your assistance.

The reason for the trip to my parents' was to honor the memory of my recently deceased nana; her memorial service was held last Saturday. It was a beautiful service with wonderful memories of a remarkable woman who saw and experienced a lot in 100 years. We even had a fashion show as some of her descendants wore her clothes, hats and shoes. Nana was buried wearing 3-inch heals! I wrote some words to honor nana and Junior read them for me; he did a marvelous job, not afraid of a crowd! It was fitting he read them as a portion was about her being one of our champions during our adoption journey and how proud she was of her new great-grandson. Below are my words I wrote.

Words for Nana
Grandma, whom my youngest sister comfortably called Nana and the label stuck, was a great supporter of my dreams. I started writing in elementary school - short stories, poems, youth devotionals. Nana, who was a prolific reader, encouraged my writing. One of her gifts when I was in middle school was a book of poems, Sounds of Feelings written by her friend and contemporary Kathryn Boice. I devoured the poetry; it helped me continue writing through college, some pieces were published.

One of Ms. Boice's poems from Sounds of Feelings is "An Observation":
Frustration, Dear, is heaven-sent.
We'd have no pearls if oysters were content.

This little poem described a journey my husband and I would embark on after 13 years of marriage. We ventured into the world of adoption. Nana became a cheerleader and prayer warrior during our adoption journey. She watched Mike and I grow up from two high school kids to mature, responsible adults ready for parenthood. It was a journey with agonizing waits, frustrating setbacks, and many unknowns. During our two-year wait for a child, I wrote, a lot. I blogged, I wrote letters to my future unknown child, I wrote in my journal, I wrote letters to unknown biological family. I prayed and I felt the prayers of others. Two particular Bible verses became my life line during the wait - Psalm 130:5 and Habakkuk 2:3.

Psalm 130:5 New International Version
"I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his words I put my hope."

Habakkuk 2:3 New International Version
"For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay."

As our journey reached the 2-year mark for waiting, our prayer warriors prayed harder and more intensely. Finally, in 2012, we brought home a wonderful young man, Andrew. When he first met Nana, he was already taller than her - he being 5 foot 4 inches and she 5 feet on a good day. Our wonderful son flourished and continued to grow, and grow, but that did not stop Nana from telling the world about her new great-grandson. She often said she had a new little great-grandson, then correct herself, "he's not so little, really", especially since he grew six inches in 15 months!

I am glad she was able to enjoy a year with Andy and rejoice with us when we finalized his adoption this past summer. He has good memories of this remarkable woman who loved him, loved me, loved my husband.

Another of Ms. Boice's poems was the "Artist":
The same great God who
hurls the planets and the stars,
paints butterflies.

Our God who created the heavens and paints butterflies now has another angel. She now has a great view of the birth of new stars and cosmic collisions. Nana, we love you and miss you. Thank you for being my prayer warrior and helping me learn patience through a difficult time.

With the long wait we had to get Junior, I am struggling with guilt that I could have killed him because I was the driver responsible for the car accident. My greatest fear is losing Junior before I am an old lady. The state entrusted us to raise him, his biological mother entrusted him to our care, we want to raise him to adulthood and watch him mature and have his own family. I am thankful we minor injuries and are healing. I have a scratch on my face that will probably scar, acting as a daily reminder of God's continual protection over our family. It will remind me to praise him daily for each blessing - waking up each morning, breathing, hugging my son, kissing my husband, the ability to work. Just as Psalm 113:9 says, "He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. Praise the Lord!" Amen! 

There are mothers out there unable to hug their children tonight. I have been following the journey of Kristin and Spencer and their daughter Alayna. Precious Alayna joined God's angels early this morning after months of fighting for her life. There are many other children who have lost their battles with various diseases, abnormalities, and injuries. I have been apart of some of these families' lives over the years. I remember their children and empathize with their loss. Other mother's are morning the loss of miscarriages, stillbirths, SIDS, and failed infertility treatments. I, too, know these women, and men, who morn these losses. May their loss be remembered, their pain be acknowledged, and their hearts continue to heal. I pray fervently, I never experience the loss of a child. I would be devastated. It takes a strong soul to recover from the loss of a child.

Each day I will thank God for each day he has given me, each day he has given me with my husband (over 19 years, now), and each day he has given me with my son. With the Lord's strength I will move through the guilt, cherish my life, and look forward to our next adventure as a family.

Psalm 113:1-9 NRSV
Praise the Lord! Praise, O servants of the Lord; praise the name of the Lord. Blessed be the name of the Lord from this time on and forevermore. From the rising of the sun to its setting the name of the Lord is to be praised. The Lord is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens. Who is like the Lord our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and the earth? He raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people. He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. Praise the Lord!