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Thursday, October 11, 2012

House Parenting: In the Beginning

    Last week we came to Mississippi to begin our new job.  John and I feel led to be House Parents.  If you are new to our story, then let me tell you, this job picked us.  John went to Seminary for the last two years and graduated with his Masters of Divinity the day Jonah was born.  I taught first grade for the last 3 years.  Our little human plans were for John to find a job in a church, and I would be his ministry cohort and stay-at-home mom instead of going back to work.  One ministry job after another looked promising and then fell through. We even accepted a position at a sweet church, but on John's first official day, he went in and had to tell the pastor, "I just don't feel like this is where God wants me to be right now."  John and I were at our wits end and praying God would lead us to the ministry job in a "church" where He wanted us instead of us continuing to hunt for one on our own.  We had been foster parents for a year, and knew we wanted to adopt eventually, but that's as far as we had thought we'd go in child/orphan care.  As the days went by though, John felt less interested in the church positions he was offered.  I just prayed God would direct us.  One day John asked, "What do you think about being House Parents?" and it felt like life just clicked into place like the charger on your cell phone.  I knew that was our next step and had instant and complete peace.  We made up a cover letter, combined our resumes, and then sent them all over the south east states to different Children's Homes.  Alabama offered us a Relief parenting position, but it was working 3 days in one house, 3 days in another house, and 3 days off to go live in our own place somewhere.  That's a lot of moving for a couple and a baby, and not a lot of one-one-one bonding time with a specific group of kids.  Then Georgia called our references and we thought we would get a call, but then found out the position had been filled "in-house" by people already working there.   Then one day Mississippi called, and we set up an interview.  We hadn't even completed the application process and we were basically hired.  We had a month before starting for our background checks to clear and for the house to have some maintenance done on the land.  We spent time with family and took the trip to Boston. That month flew by. We started working as House Parents last week!

    First we sort of got some "On-the-job-training" while we stayed at another campus and sort of shadowed the parents there and got to see their daily life in the "cottage" with their kids.  This was fantastic, and we loved getting to know the other two sets of House Parents and meeting their cool kiddos! I asked several of the kids for pointers too on what they liked and didn't like about House Parents so we could be cool. :) Favorite moment: Imagine several adolescent boys sitting around watching some TV show where a woman is giving birth all by herself on the screen (appropriately of course, only showing her shoulders and face and she's totally faking, I mean acting). One boy says to no one in particular in the room, "Who's baby is that?" He's obviously asking about the father on the show, but without missing a beat, completely serious and straight faced, another boy answers, "That's HER baby!" LOL!!! John and I laughed so hard.  

     Then we came to our new home on Monday afternoon, and immediately set about trying to get the house ready because we were told we would be getting our first residents on Wednesday. For privacy and safety for the children here, we are not allowed to publicly share any information or pictures about them.  Sorry.  I will tell you there are some older ones, some younger, and a baby.  I can tell you about them as far as it would be the same no matter who they were.  So, when we get new kids here the first thing we do is a clothing inventory to see what they have, and what they need. These needed a lot, so we spent all the next day shopping at Wal-Mart and JCPenney's.  I do mean all day: we left the house around 10am for ole Wally world, then shopped like crazy, came home and took a nap, then went to Meridian, where we shopped for hours and literally ate taco Bell for dinner at 10:30pm, and rolled into bed at almost midnight.  Yes, we're great parents already, haha! Then the kids had to register for school and get a physical, so we spent almost 3 hours in the doctor's office with them and their social worker the next day.  Their social worker is an angel.  I have never met a kinder person.  This man is obviously being a social worker because he feels this is what God has led him to do with his life. He is a breath of fresh air to work with and communicate with about the kids.  Good social workers are a blessing! Thank you Lord! Then Friday night, the mayor paid for us to go to the town fair.  The kids had a blast. It was so good to see them having a great time!  I had fun until the babies got tired and cranky, at which point I was ready to go home.  It is a little rough having another baby around again, especially when they both wake up twice in one night. We're working on that. For now that means we take naps if we can after taking older kids to school. 

    Our kids seem to like us so far! I can't give details about them, but I can tell you that they are great kids. We are blessed to be their parents for now. We have already got a good household routine of chores, and mealtimes, and play-times, and it's going really well for the most part.  Although our bedroom looks crazy because we haven't even finished unpacking, the rest of the house is neat and tidy, and the kids are very good at doing their chores.  It's so nice to have a little help! It has been a little weird to cook so much though. I like cooking, I just haven't made big meals this many days in a row before.  Tonight our new church had a Wednesday night fellowship meal, and it was the first time I haven't had to cook since our Taco Bell trip last week. It was a welcome break!  When we get another set of house parents for the other side of the house we will alternate cooking days, and that'll be a little easier too.  We are quickly adjusting to small town Mississippi life.  I'll tell you all about that soon. :) Thank you for your prayers and encouragement! We miss friends and family but we can already see that God is using us here, and that feels good.  Here's what a typical school day looks like in our household:

6am - I  turn off the alarm on my phone.

6:20 am - I frantically realize I turned off the alarm instead of hitting snooze, slap John a few times, and we jump up and wake the kids.  I set out their water bottles, juice boxes, and snack choices, then make coffee.  John and the kids get dressed, grab their things, and are out the door by 7. He drives them to school, prays with them in the car, and then comes back home.
7:05 am - feed a baby, depending on which one is awake, maybe eat my PB&J waffles and drink the coffee.
7:25 am - John is back home and we either have a little quiet time together, or one or both of us goes back to sleep to make up for the baby-interrupted night before. 
9:30 am -  either take a nap, feed a baby, or do some laundry.
   Even if we've taken a nap, we are always up by 10:45. Then we spend much of the day trying to set the house in order as far as where we want our furniture and things in our bedroom, and doing laundry, and feeding babies and changing diapers. One day we actually ran a mile.  This is difficult out in the country living on a highway.  We have to start at one end of the driveway and run to the mailbox and back 4 times to equal a mile.  It felt good anyway.  I think next week I will make it a goal to run that mile at least every other day.
2:45 pm - John goes to pick up kids from school.  I feed a baby and put out an afternoon snack. 
3:25 pm - John and kids walk in.  The kids tell stories of how other kids get in a lot of trouble and get paddled in the hallway. We are continually surprised by the very public paddlings that take place here.
4:15- This is supposed to be homework/study time but so far the kids have said they have no homework because this is the 9 weeks testing time. I've fought the urge to call this "Reading Time" and force everyone to go somewhere and read for at least 30 minutes if they don't have homework. I'm still contemplating it but I don't know if it's just the teacher in me or if it would actually be a good parenting move.  John says he'll go with it if I want to.  I'd LOVE some thoughts/feedback on that! Parents and teachers advice welcome!
5:00- I begin to make dinner.  Some of the kids like to watch and help, sometimes John helps if he's not playing with the kids outside or watching/feeding a baby. 
6:00 - We pray in the kitchen and everyone assembles their plate and we go eat in the dining room. At dinner we play the "Hi/Lo" game and everyone shares their best (Hi) moment from the day and their worst (Lo).  This keeps dinner conversation interesting while allowing us to learn more about each other.  Toward the end of the meal John or I read the daily devotion and discuss it with the kids then pray. Lately devotions have run long because the kids ask a lot of great questions and we love being able to talk and discuss God's word with them.
7:15ish - Chore time, where the kids help us get the "cottage" back in order (or as much order as you can get with random baby paraphernalia scattered about for their use). When chores are done the kids have some more free time before their different bedtimes.
8:00 - younger kids' bedtime - take a shower and "lights out" by 8:30.
9:00 - older kids' bedtime - take a shower and "lights out" by 9:30.
  Lights Out is in air quotes because all of the kids are afraid of the dark and leave their bathroom light and a small lamp on their room, so the phrase really means they can't get out of bed after that time. 
10:00 - Hopefully all kids are tucked away and John and I can actually be alone for a second to catch up and unwind. Although lately this seems to happen much later.
midnight-4 am - one or both babies wake up wanting to be fed at least once. 
6 am - it starts all over again! Yay! :) 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Small Town Southerners in Big City Boston

   *This was mostly written last week, right before we started the job, but since I began this post I have not had time to even open my laptop and finish it until now, so some things are a little off-date.

 I have a dear friend named Ghazal I met during my college days at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.    She is literally one of the smartest people I know.  She has her phD in Material Science which means she can basically do anything with any material (like melt glass, weld metal, split plastics, burn sand, etc), and she has taken tons of math and science courses which I could never even dream of passing like Advanced Chemistry and Cal C and crazy tough stuff like that.  She fluently speaks/reads/writes two languages.  She also just happens to be courageous enough to travel far away from her family, funny in a witty way, and kind with a big heart.  I wanted to go to Boston to see her, and to take a little vacation before starting the new job.  John loves the Boston Red Sox and US History, so he wanted to see Boston for it's baseball and historical significance.  Ghazal is soon moving, so we decided this would probably be the only time I'd be interested in going, and we were getting ready to start our job soon, so we went to Boston!  We are now also considering this our 4 year anniversary gift to each other, since that is next week.

    We had a great time!  Ghazal and her boyfriend Hooman (whom is also very smart, I just haven't had the pleasure of getting to know him quite as well yet) took us all over the city showing us the interesting sights and feeding us the delicious foods.  My favorite things were the Boston Harbor and the pretty public parks we walked through, and this organic, home-grown fast food place called "B. Good."  The Jamaica Pond park has a lovely lake. The big park in the middle of the city has tons of my favorite tree, the weeping willow.  John really liked seeing and being in Fenway Park and on Yawkey Way.  Jonah took great delight in being in his stroller so much since he loves being outdoors.   It was really a good experience for all of us, however, traveling is very different with a baby.  I knew it would be, I just didn't expect the degree to which Jonah changed the way we got around.  Jonah is a great baby, but he still has his moments where he just throws a little temper tantrum because he's tired, hungry, has gas, or he would just rather be outside.  He didn't do it often, but when he did it was stressful and considerably slowed us down. Thank God, he was very well behaved on the plane rides.  In Boston we used a stroller some, the backpack snugli at other times, and just held him a lot too.
    Boston has an intricate and highly functional system of public transportation.  Their "T" system uses underground and above ground trains and buses which run often and accommodate handicapped passengers quickly.  I was impressed with their efficiency and speed, although Jonah was not.  We knew Jonah loves being outside, but I think he may have a touch of claustrophobia as well.  The more crowded the train or bus, the less happy we found our baby.  He slept through a few blessedly quiet rides as well.  There was one particular trip on the evening of the Red Sox game (it should be mentioned that I previously thought Red Sox was one word, but after visiting Boston and seeing a wider range of signs, banners, and clothing, I learned that it is two separate words), when we rode the underground train with standing room only that I began to feel like a failing magician who is being booed off stage and trying to shield himself from thrown fruit.  I tried every trick I knew to get my baby happy.  He usually prefers to face away from the person holding him, so he sat on my lap with my left arm around his little round belly and my right hand trying to entertain and distract him.  We shook his soft baseball rattle at him.  He smiled once and kept fussing.   I moved my bottle of water in figure eights in front of him so he could watch the water slosh.  He stared at the bottle then looked back at the plaid shirt on the stomach of the standing man directly in front of us, and began to fuss some more.  I turned him around to try to soothe him on my shoulder and he kept turning his little face side to side rubbing his nose against my shoulder and fussing, so I sang softly in his ear.  I sang "Hosanna" and thought he was asleep, but when I stopped he started fussing again.  I tried to keep singing but he seemed too upset that I had stopped in the first place.  I then made silly faces which mostly consisted of contorting my mouth into different shapes and going cross-eyed.  He silently looked at me like I was an alien, then began to fuss again.  I jiggled him, rocked him, bounced him, tickled him.  Everything would calm him for about twenty seconds before he would begin to fret again.  Thank the Lord, he did not get worked up into his full wailing cry, but only did constant "Meh meh, Eh eh" sounds.  However, in a crowded train, even that seemed to make the trip much longer and annoy the other passengers.  When we got off the train near Fenway, he was perfectly happy again while we began to look around.
     Unfortunately that night at the game, Jonah didn't care much about watching baseball.  He was more interested in eating.  After looking around at a few of the stores there on Yawkey Way, Jonah began to get fussy and this time I knew he was hungry and so we began to look for a place with hot water so we could thaw the frozen milk bags we packed so that I would hopefully not have to try to nurse him while at the ball game. The big city part of Boston in general is not very baby friendly, and Fenway Park is no exception to that rule.  I hadn't seen very many babies on the T, and I didn't see any at Fenway.  When Jonah is happy lots of people stop or give comments in passing about how cute he is, or they smile and make faces at him.  When Jonah is screaming in public, people look quickly and then look away.  Some strange people stare at him, and will even come up and ask "What's wrong?" as if it is any of their business.  If you don't have kids, here's a tip: when kids and babies are crying or misbehaving, don't ask their parents questions about it.  We are already stressed out, frustrated, and embarrassed.  Just look the other way and be thankful at that moment it's not you.  So now John is entering his childhood dreamland of Fenway Park, carrying a very unhappy, wailing, red-faced baby, because we can't find the hot water to thaw his bottle, and I didn't bring my neato-beato nursing cover my sweet mother made me for public nursing because I thought we were giving him the bottle. I'm sure in all of John's years watching baseball and thinking about Fenway he never once thought, "I'd love to walk in there with a screaming baby!" Haha, oh how life is sometimes different than we expect! I finally held Jonah and stood in one place trying to soothe him and sent John off to hunt the hot water, because I realized that both of us frantically trying to get through the crowd with screaming baby was not helping the situation at all.  He soon returned with bottle ready, and baby happily gulped it down.  All was well with the world again.  Exactly 3 hours later, still at the game, Jonah was hungry again and I had to stand in the restroom stall leaning with my back against the door to feed him.  I don't recommend this position to other nursing moms, but it got the job done.  We left the ball game that night with a happy baby and a happy daddy, and although my back hurt from Jonah's standing meal, I was happy too just because they were.

    That night was one of my most vivid memories, probably due to all the baby drama, but there were other wonderful moments as well.  Sunday morning John got up early and went to take all the Fenway tours, while I slept in and then got ready and went out with Ghazal and Hooman.  They took Jonah and I to a lovely little restaurant for brunch and I had the best French toast with their homemade chocolate pistachio hazelnut spread (think nutella but richer, thicker, and creamier, mmmmm).  We strolled through a more suburban area to get there, and then I saw a few strollers and more children. There were also a lot of public restrooms further out there as well. (Downtown had very few restrooms, and it was frustrating) We passed laundromats, schools, cafes, beauty shops, bus stops, a yoga studio, and a few little churches.  It reminded me of the photography illustrations in Mo Willems' "Knuffle Bunny" trio of books.  We walked a little further and came to the big Jamaica Pond park with a large lake, and many trees, and enough people to make it interesting, but not so much that it was crowded.  Jonah had fallen asleep, so we sat on a bench and just enjoyed the view.  The sun was shining, the baby was happy, and it was just a perfect day, like the kind you go back and reminisce over when you're sitting stressed somewhere and need a decompressing thought.  I greatly enjoyed those moments.
    One thing we learned while in Boston.  John and I are not cut out for big city living.  Although we enjoyed our visit, and are glad we went, we know it's not somewhere we would want to raise a family, or live permanently.  I kept thinking and saying "There's so many bricks and so many people."  The many styles of architecture were very interesting, and standing in Copley Square was fun, between the old church and the new glass high-rise.

Soon though, the buildings and streets began to feel like a great inescapable concrete and brick mountain, teeming with most culturally diverse group of people I have ever seen.  For example, in two seconds you may see a Gothic dressed couple in all black with numerous chains, piercings, tattoos and brightly colored and pointy styled hair,  brushing sleeves with a suit-clad businessman with gel slicked hair and a hippie looking lady in a long tie-dyed skirt, espadrilles, and a beret, trying not to get run over by a few people on bicycles.  Jogging past these people is a fit blonde young lady with a pony tail, dodging the Asian woman carrying her laptop in a shoulder bag and texting with ear buds in, as a Middle-eastern lady walks by with a partial head-covering. On the other side of the street are three teenage black girls having a great conversation, passing a beggar with a cardboard sign reading "No job, no food, anything helps" and a myriad of people in Red Sox caps.  The people were fascinating to watch, but few made eye-contact, and even fewer returned a smile.  It was this blank, vacant stare that looked right through you, and didn't even acknowledge your smile, that made me feel a little sad.  I don't think they were trying to be rude. I think they are just a little more immune to human facial expressions because they see so many humans on a daily basis that they stop being interesting to look at, and they may sometimes forget there are souls behind those eyes.  It was strange to be one in such a busy crowd.  It made me feel small like standing next to an ocean, but without the profound sense of peace the ocean brings.  Instead, I felt small  with sadness, like I could never talk to or reach all these people for Christ.  It was an interesting experience.
   I loved seeing Ghazal.  I enjoyed walking down the street with my friend, and riding the subway with her, and staying up late talking and watching Netflix with her. I loved seeing her get to play with Jonah too.  I learned that I like seeing my friends enjoy his personality.  I knew I liked our families playing with him, but I didn't expect to feel so happy when he smiled at Ghazal or laughed at Hooman.  It was fun. I had a great time.  If you have friends in Boston, you should go visit!  However, I doubt you can find better hosts than ours.  Thank you Ghazal and Hooman!