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

Simplifying Childhood

Moving our family to a little falling down farm on the edge of town has been an adventure in so many ways.

This move was birthed out of a myriad of desires, passions and ambitions.

One of those was the desire to give our children the gift of a simplistic childhood.

I grew up on a dairy farm in Wellington County where I spent my summers crawling over straw bales, running barefoot through the yard, nestling fluffy kitten fur up against my cheek, climbing trees, eating apples plucked from our orchard and wading through muddy creeks.

I had no idea how magnificent this childhood experience was or how much texture and depth these experiences added to my life.

I didn’t know that I was learning to take risks as I rode my bike down the barn steps and balanced precariously upon barn top beams, determined to keep up to my older siblings and cousins.

I didn’t know that the wide variety of sensory experiences were contributing to brain development as I felt mud between my toes, rocks beneath my calloused feet and dirt under my hands.

I took for granted the way I could walk out the doors and roam free for hours, with no specific goal or destination in mind, just freedom to be and explore my world as I wished.

Every summer my skin would turn brown beneath the sun’s warmth, my dark hair deepening to hues of auburn and chestnut.

I thought it was normal for children to sit high in the branches of a pine, bare legs swinging, to make forts in the barn loft or catch frogs in the pond.

As I grew and left my childhood behind, I left many of these simple pleasures with it.

Now, I look at my children and I would give anything to be able to give them a taste of the life I once lived. Not only because of my own fond memories but because the more I learn, the more I realize that this kind of environment nurtures healthy, happy children.

Children are meant to be able to learn and explore and fall and laugh. They are meant to experience freedom and follow their curiosity and dig through the layers of a richly textured world.

So how do we do this?

How do we give our children the gift of simplicity, setting them free from the demands of a society who would want to categorize them, sit them down, mold them into tiny adults?

  1. Let them play. They are little for such a short time, and for some reason we feel we need to organize them; sort them into categories, grade their achievements, nudge them toward accuracy and reality. But children have rich, creative minds. They see the world differently. Good and evil stand in stark contrast, and they will recreate this in their play. Every little bug in the dirt or tattered leaf or knobby stick can be studied, delighted in and recognized to be something magnificent. Give your children space to play freely. Do not fill their time or their rooms with too many toys that will entertain them and tell them what they should do and how they should do it. Instead, give them a bucket of plain wooden blocks. Dump out a bin of Lego builders. Leave some paper, crayons, glue and scissors on the table and see what they create. When they bring you their stories and structures and collections, admire them for what they are. Ask them questions and let them decide what they have created, don’t assume or pass judgment.
  2. Give them structure. This may seem contradictory to play, but really it is what makes the play possible at all. Children thrive when they are surrounded by comforting absolutes. Too many variables make children, especially young children, feel vulnerable and unsure therefore discouraging them from following their naturally inquisitive minds because they are too busy worrying about what they might need or miss. Predictable meal times and bed time routines are essential and create a rhythm to your days that wraps them in security and comfort. Knowing what to expect their days will look like, generally of course, helps children to relax inside those parameters and busy themselves with the great work of childhood…play. Children who feel safe can explore and create and learn.
  3. Take them outside. Snow, rain, sun, sleet…let them experience it all. Nature is full of endless entertainment for children. Mud puddles, trees to climb, birds nests, caterpillars, water, ice and dirt. Invest in mud suits, rubber boots, warm clothes and ratty old jeans that you won’t mind getting torn and ripped. Give them shovels, containers, watering cans and buckets. Go for walks both on sidewalks and off; a walk to the park and a hike through the bush can be equally exciting for a child. Let them get messy; let them take risks, even fall down and hurt themselves every now and again. Eat outside, read outside, play outside and even nap outside. Go to the beach, the park, the forest, the farm, the backyard. Build a sandbox, set up a bucket of water or a plastic pool, ride bikes, blow bubbles, go barefoot. All these experiences feed the soul of a child. Not only will this environment be beneficial to their brain health but it will also give them the best chance at being healthy emotionally and spiritually.
  4. Give them rest. This includes physical, emotional and mental rest. Create a solid, dependable, practical bedtime/nap time routine and stick to it. Kids need plenty of sleep. In fact, ironically it seems the more sleep they get the more sleep they need. Tired kids will have a hard time playing or resting well. Try to balance your day with both active and restful activities. For example, an hour or two of outside time might be followed up with some stories on the couch. Playing play dough might precede going to the grocery store or some other outing that is more chaotic. If older kids complain of being bored, don’t become too anxious about filling that space for them. It’s necessary for them to learn how to enjoy their own company and not be afraid of the quiet. Teach them how to be able to sit and look at books, to be still and watch a tiny ant carrying his disproportionate load, to breathe in deeply in and out and feel their muscles relax from head to toe. Surround them with quietness, peace and stillness regularly.
  5. Involve them in responsibilities. Kids love to help when they feel they are wanted and needed. There is nothing that can replace the pride of knowing you have done a job well. Provide plenty of opportunities to work both alongside you and independently. Participating in family chores fosters responsibility, healthy self image and gratitude. Teach them to cook and do laundry. Don’t shy away when they sigh at being told once again to unload the dishwasher or help set the table. Praise them for jobs well done and send them back to redo jobs done haphazardly. Will they thank you down the road? Probably not. But that is beside the point. They are learning they are a part of something. They are seeing the real life in front of them and will start to notice what others around them are doing. You will know you are on your way when they thank you for doing their laundry, unloading the dishwasher or picking up their scattered shoes.                    

Children need so much from us, and yet so little. They require huge quantities of our emotional and physical presence with them but they require so few resources to truly grow and thrive.

We cannot travel the world today and give their little eyes the sights of the Great Wall of China, the Eiffel Tower, the Grand Canyon and and Cliffs of Moher…but we can go outside and see the birds and feel the mud under our rubber boots and watch our chickens peck away at the rinds of a cantaloupe.

We cannot afford private music lessons to entice their musical little minds toward Mozart greatness, but we can turn on some nursery rhymes and beat to the rhythm on our homemade drums.

My preschoolers are at home with me. They do not play in sensory buckets every day, practice lining up at the door, learn rhymes and riddles for every activity or get exposure to early learning curriculum….but I can let them help me bake muffins, teach them how to zip their jackets, sit on the floor and build towers of blocks with them or read them story after story.

Reminding my mother heart of these time-proven child raising truths has helped me to refocus my parenting on what is most important. When I fall into despair because I cannot possibly do it all, I can come back to this and remind myself of what I can do today that is valuable.

-AF