Goodbye, Hello & His Goodness in the Uncertainty

And while the world slowed, we said goodbye.

In the middle of a worldwide pandemic, with all our normal routines suddenly readjusted, we did the bittersweet lasts. As usual it ended abruptly, not quite following the carefully constructed plans we had made…but we did get to say goodbye.

For almost two years our foster son was ours to love, care for, delight in; but now he has moved on. He leaves a hole in my heart that looks like the shape of his face, the sound of his voice and the presence of his animated, lively personality in our home. His leaving holds all the typical emotions of foster care; sadness, frustration, fear, surrender, peace and even relief that the chaos of transitioning is over. Unlike sometimes, it also holds new relationships forged with birth family, the hope of continued connection through the months and years and the sound of his voice on the other end of the phone.

As seems to be typical in the story of our family, we simultaneously grieve and look ahead with anticipation. As one child leaves our home, my womb swells and pulses with the life of another.

Sometime in the next two weeks we expect to welcome this new wee life into our world and we are all so thrilled! The past nine months have flown by in the whirlwind of family life and it is hard to believe we are already here, on the brink of our new forever. I can’t help but stop and smile at the timing of it all, and breathe in the sweet relief of once again seeing how perfectly God orchestrates these stories in our lives.

While so many things about this season of isolation, social distancing and elimination in the world have been inconvenient, it has also been a season of much needed rest and intimacy for our family, especially as we said goodbye and realigned our identity as a family of six instead of the seven we have been for so long.

I am so thankful for the sweet, uninterrupted time we have had together these past few weeks.

Seeing my children’s heads bowed around the dining room table over crafts, schoolwork, Lego structures and board games has been so good for my heart. Dirty hands and faces planting seeds, splashing through the creek, gathering eggs and riding bicycles. So much time to make memories together, to enjoy the quiet and to soak in the first hopeful signs of Spring. Freedom from schedules, obligations and social requirements.

We had our first bonfire, dressed in mud suits and mixing smoky hot dogs with dirt and the last remaining snow piles. We’ve taken walks, raked leaves, done Science experiments and moved our hens into their outdoor enclosure.

It’s been far from perfect; there have been tears, short tempers and insane amounts of glue and tape. There has been screaming and lack of impulse control and interrupted sleep and more screen time than I’d like. But still, it has been exactly what we all needed in this season of loss and growth.

I didn’t plan on bringing this little one into the world in the midst of homeschooling, social distancing and medical fragility worldwide, but I see the goodness of it all and I’m grateful.

I didn’t plan on having our foster care transition plan moved ahead by weeks and to suddenly, in the space of a weekend, realize we were at the end and it was time to say goodbye. We didn’t have the physical support and monitoring of our social workers that I had pictured as ideal, and I felt far from ready…not that you ever really get there anyway.

But still, I see His goodness in the details of this season and I trust that despite the questions that want to hold my heart hostage He has got these circumstances and this precious child I love securely in the palm of His hand.

He is not the least bit surprised, fearful or disappointed.

He is absolutely Sovereign over it all.

My stretched, shifting womb with the heartbeat throbbing inside.

The tears in both our eyes as I hold him and tell him how very much he is loved, my heart breaking with his as we try to understand our new reality-apart instead of together.

The spreading disease that makes us all suddenly stop and see the world’s fragility through new eyes.

And it’s enough.

Trusting that He is Good and Sovereign is enough to carry me through this and every season of life.

-AF

Reading Aloud with Your Family

Every now and then in the sea of parenting books I am constantly reading, there is one that connects with my soul and makes me say, Yes!  That’s it!

Recently I stumbled across one of these books.

The Read Aloud Family by Sarah Mackenzie inspired me, challenged me and helped me dream again as a Mom.

As a young girl I fell head over heels in love with books.  I learned to read with ease at a very young age and spent hours poring over books.  Stories enchanted me, carrying me to new places and introducing new ideas.

I used to spend hours wandering the isles of the public library, pulling out one book after another to scan the back cover or flip through the pages to get an idea of the content.  When it was time to go I would painfully sort through my huge stack and try to decide which ones were my favourites and which ones I would leave behind until next time.

As a mother, I would love to see my children discover stories the way I did.  To be delighted for hours on end, swept away to other worlds and times in a story is a beautiful way to spend a childhood.

A reader is never bored.

Five years into my mothering journey, however, I have come to realize that some of my children are not wired to dive into literature the way I am.  Learning disabilities and high energy levels can throw some major barriers on the roadway to reading, and for some of my children reading will always feel more like a decoding exercise than a fascinating way to spend a couple hours.

Imagine trying to read a book upside down while looking in a mirror with itchy mosquito bites all over you begging to be scratched.  That is approximately what it feels like for one of my children in particular to sit down with a book.

What The Read Aloud Family introduced to me was the idea that even if my children are never able to launch into the world of literacy independently, they can still enjoy stories and let their imaginations take them to these far away places through me reading aloud to them!  Not only that, but the benefits of reading are not only limited to enjoyment…though that should still be our number one goal when we read aloud!

When you read aloud to your children, these 5 things will happen:

1. With the chore of decoding words out of the way, your children will be able to settle in and enjoy the story, setting them up to experience the joy and magic of stories.

Though it is certainly true that life requires a lot of mandatory reading that is not fun, I want my children to pick up books because they want to.  Reading aloud to your children and introducing audio books to them gives them the opportunity to experience what it is like when the chore of learning to read is put behind them and they can effortlessly experience the content of the writing.  Though it is still going to take work to learn how to read, we all know the more that you read the better reader you will become!  If we can motivate our children toward reading with pleasure instead of a feeling of obligation, they are much more likely to succeed in becoming strong readers.  Nothing will make them want to pick up books more than falling in love with stories.  You can help them do this by reading interesting books to them, including books that would be too difficult for them to read on their own.

2. When you read aloud you will be exposing your children to phonetically correct language which will help them develop their own ability to read, write and speak correctly. 

Constantly taking in new vocabulary and proper sentence structure through the ear will inevitably result in the same coming out through their own mouths and writing.  It is exciting and funny to watch your children try out new vocabulary and ways of speaking.  I love seeing little ones trying to include big words they have picked up while writing their personal stories.  It’s also fun to explore vocabulary with your children as you read, giving them definitions for those interesting words you stumble across.

3. When you read aloud with your children you can help them learn how to make connections in the content.

This is a skill that is so important for children to develop as it is linked to their comprehension of what they are reading.  It is not enough just to be able to decode words; they need to be able to comprehend the ideas being portrayed behind the words.  Understanding similes, metaphors, foreshadowing and motives behind the content they are reading is imperative.  When reading aloud, taking the time to ask simple questions or explore opinions can encourage your children to be thinking while they are taking in content and analyzing it’s motives and meaning.  In a culture where our children are being bombarded with messages, I want my children to know how to use critical thinking to develop their own convictions and ideas confidently.  You can encourage three kinds of connections: text to text (connecting to another book or earlier chapter), text to self (connecting to his or her own life) and text to world (connecting to something in the broader world or culture.)           

4. When you read aloud to your children you will be building memories together. 

This is my favourite motivation to read aloud.  There are few things I would rather give to my children than to remember me being truly present with them, hearing my voice reading to them and experiencing the intimacy of a shared story.  I can still hear my mother’s voice, see myself and my four siblings sprawled around the living room and remember affectionately the tears in her eyes the first time she read Wilson Rawls’ Where the Red Fern Grows.  That moment in time will be lodged in my soul forever.  I can see my fourth grade teacher’s classic high heels and feel the hard, scratchy carpet beneath me when I pick up the book Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Patterson  and The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis.  My husband inherited the well beloved Thornton T. Burgess collection of bedtime stories from his grandparents and we are currently reading through his well loved copy of The Adventures of Chatterer the Squirrel.  My daughters were delighted to learn this was one of their Dad’s favourite childhood stories.  Gordon Korman’s humorous stories bring back memories to me of laughter and camaraderie with my siblings and cousins as we would retell the stories and pass on the latest sequels.  Stories that are shared provide material for conversations and opportunities to explore difficult topics.  Love, honor, courage, grief…these are topics often explored, even in very young children’s literature.

5. Last of all, when you read to your children you will also be reading to yourself! 

I have been reminded this summer that there are few things I enjoy more than a good story.  I love when the kids are begging for just one more chapter at bedtime and I cave, despite the time, because I just can’t wait to see what happens next!  I love reading, and with five children in the house, there aren’t a lot of quiet moments where I can pick up my own books so if I can experience reading and spend time with my children simultaneously…that’s a win for me!  I also love having an excuse to pick up those elementary age books again.  Many of the best books I have ever read are written for ages 8-12 year olds.  Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White, Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maude Montgomery and Ramona Quimby Age 8 by Beverly Cleary; what a humorous, enchanting and enjoyable repertoire!  And those few books are just barely scratching the surface of a gold mine filled with hours of adventure and entertainment.  Even picture books for little kids can be interesting and fun to read as an adult.  I have loved my boys’ recent favourites; The Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle and Jill McElmurry, Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker, Big Bad Bruce by Bill Peet and Mighty Dads by Joan Holub and James Dean.

If any of this sounds exciting or intriguing to you I encourage you to pick up a copy of Sarah Mackenzie’s book, The Read Aloud Family.  This manual to reading aloud with your family will give you inspiration, practical tips, book lists for every age group and tips for choosing good books.  I promise you will not regret it!

~AF