An Autumn Recap

Where did fall go? I feel like it was just here and now tomorrow is December 1st and the Christmas season is already in full swing. I have missed you guys so much! It’s completely inexcusable how long I’ve been absent and I can’t wait to catch up! So much has happened in the last few months and I can’t wait to get you all caught up on what’s been going on in my life. And I’m ready to get back into the swing of things. This is going to be a long one so you’ll probably want to grab your favorite beverage and a snack.

So the last in-depth post left us back in September right before my birthday. I made the decision to take a quick break from social media during my birthday weekend this year and a lot of you were wondering where I went. To be honest, I was dreading my birthday this year, but it ended up being one of the best birthday’s I’ve had in a long time. It was low-key but in the best way. Sam custom ordered unicorn cupcakes from Gigi’s for my birthday and then took me to Kendra Scott for some birthday shopping. Then we went to see Crazy Rich Asians at the Alamo Draft House–best place to see a movie–and it was so good! I loved it so much I put it on my Christmas wish list.The next day I got to meet Alicia Yoon at a local Ulta–she and her team have been on tour throughout America since she launched her line of skin care with Ulta–and I got to check that off my bucket list. And she told me I had beautiful skin!!!! OMG. I about died in the floor. That is such an incredible compliment coming from someone who’s skin is the MOST flawless, beautiful skin I’ve ever seen. Like glass skin perfection. It was unreal. And she was the most down to earth, sweet person. There’s a saying about never meeting your hero’s because you’ll be disappointed but that’s not true because meeting Alicia in person was more wonderful that I expected. It was the best!Sam and I rounded out my birthday weekend with a trip to the Dallas Zoo the next day. The weather was cool and overcast so we didn’t melt and I got to feed the giraffes–which is pretty much why I go to the zoo–several times because there were no crowds to fight. It was an unexpectedly happy and eventful birthday. I was relieved.Then the next few days Sam and I spent packing for our family trip to Gulf Shores, AL. I’m telling you, I checked a lot of things off my bucket list this year. I’ve always wanted to visit Alabama ever since Reese Witherspoon’s Sweet Home Alabama movie. And I fell in LOVE with Alabama! Honestly, I think I could live there. We were supposed to be spending a lot of time off shore fishing but then hurricane Michael came in. And though hurricane Michael missed Gulf Shores it still affected the water so we weren’t able to get out into the Gulf. But we still tried our hand at fishing in the few surrounding bays. We didn’t catch much but we did have a lot of fun! For a Texas girl it was odd to see all those big trees growing right up to the banks of salt water. I loved it though. It felt more like lake fishing in a way until a porpoise or stingray would surface next to the boat. We went down to the beach the last day we were there and I got to experience my first ever hurricane up close. We could see the edge of the hurricane swirling just off shore–it was eerie. I’ve never seen the ocean so angry either. The waves really did roar and thunder and beat against one another. It was fascinating and frightening. The last day I started to feel like I had a cold coming on. And I was really miserable on the drive home. We got home and went to the doctor for medication and was sick with a bad virus for two weeks. Then Sam got sick and overall it took about a month for the both of us to get over it. The week after we got back Sam’s parents came to visit for the weekend and after they went home they both got sick as well. We spent most of the month of October just trying to get over our illness.Meanwhile I had been brain storming whether or not I wanted to start a beauty YouTube. I have so many people text, snap, and insta-message me about skin care and makeup that I had decided to start a YouTube. I did my research on how to get started, what equipment I would need, etc and made my announcement on insta-stories. But then three days later as I was waiting for equipment to come in the mail and working on my book Lemon got attacked during an evening walk by a dog at a local park. Our Halloween plans were canceled. We took Lemon the very next morning(Halloween) to the vet and it was an ordeal. Lemon had to have surgery and then be in a cone for two weeks before she could get her stitches out. She also had to adhere to strict bed-rest which meant my constant supervision–unless I kept her in her kennel. I felt so heartless making her stay confined. And besides that, she was in a drunken stupor for several days after her surgery and she kept us up half the night crying the first night–very anti-Lemon behavior. We think it was the disorientation from the anesthesia. So I got pretty much nothing done for two weeks.Meanwhile, I tried filming my first video for my YouTube channel twice and both times the film was unusable. I had no idea how complicated trying to film would be. There were a lot of user errors and then some of the equipment I was using just wasn’t working–like my battery wouldn’t stay charged and my SD cards were too small. I got really overwhelmed. I was also trying to work on my manuscript as well which pretty much got pushed out of the picture. I thought I would sit down and film for an hour and be done but the very first time I filmed it took me six hours. Yes, six hours. That’s insane. YouTube is no joke people.As I was trying to figure out the YouTube stuff I realized I had let the October and November go almost completely by without posting any pictures of my fall decor or talk about the improvements we made to the loft. I also needed to start prepping for Christmas and our upcoming trip to Denver.

Then I had a dentist appointment to have my implant measured for its crown that went’ dreadfully. It put me out of commission for several days and had to be rescheduled. I went again a few days ago as of writing this and found out that the implant is good so we can proceed. It’s been an ordeal. All the dental work I’ve done this year has been ridiculous and really time-consuming in a way that I can’t really show on social media. I still have another appointment in December and let’s just say I’ll be so relieved when this is all over.We alternate holidays with our families and this year Sam’s family decided to forgo getting together for Christmas and to meet the first week of December in Denver. So that meant Sam and I would be alone for Thanksgiving and I needed to get a menu prepped for that as well. But as we rolled into the week of Thanksgiving we got last-minute tickets to see the Cowboys play on Thanksgiving day. There are people who plan and save their whole life to get to be at a Cowboys game on Thanksgiving day and I am so blessed to have gotten to do that. And if you saw the game or watched it from home you know it was an awesome game! The Cowboys played really well and they won! It was a spectacular Thanksgiving day. Another thing to check off my bucket list

And somewhere in the middle of all that I missed my one year blog anniversary! I have officially been blogging for one year and I’m so very proud of myself. I hope to have many years of blogging ahead of me!

As I type this Sam and I are getting ready to go out of town to Denver for our late Thanksgiving with family. I don’t remember a year that Sam and I traveled so much and I am grateful beyond measure. We have so much fun activities planned for our Denver trip I can’t wait to share them here when I get back. We will have very little time between this upcoming trip and Christmas in Nashville. I’m hoping for a white Christmas this year!

I hope you all had a yummy, satisfying, and thankful Thanksgiving. Thanks for hanging out here until the end of this post. Thanks for hanging in there and waiting for me to return. I appreciate your investment.

Maegan

Our 2018 Fall Bucket List: A Maegan Johnson Blog Post

Our Fall Bucket List

Fall is my favorite. And, I don’t care what any of you may believe, I love fall more than anyone anywhere! Don’t misunderstand–I’m so glad I’m surrounded by others who love fall like myself–it’s just never going to be as much as me. My birthday lands on the first day of fall and its like the official fall kick-off party. The respite from the hellacious temperatures, the annual Monarch Butterfly migration that swirled though my town every year as a kid, sweater weather, and football season, drinking hot cocoa on aluminum bleachers that could turn your butt into a Popsicle, the knit hats, and the promise of crisp nights and cool morning walks with my dog; it’s just the best. A fall bucket list is practically my love letter to the season.

FALL BUCKET LIST:

Dallas Arboretum – Autumn at the Arboretum

The Texas State Fair

Texas Discovery Gardens

Day trip to East Texas to see the Fall Foliage

Carve Pumpkins

Make Apple Cider

Pumpkin Spice EVERYTHING!

Dress Lemon up for Halloween

Crisp evening walks with Sam

Make bourbon apple pie

Wear all my favorite sweaters . . . And all my scarves too!

Wear dark lipstick

Lay under a warm blanket and read good books

Read 10 books from Sept. 21st – Nov 30th.

Celebrate my Birthday

Watch non-scary Halloween movies

Knitting in the evenings

Trips to the Dallas Zoo

The Dallas Arboretum: Autumn at the Arboretum event which begins on September 22rd-Nov 21st. Thier fall festival is a spectacular show of color with 4,500 of fall’s favorite flower-Chrysanthemums, along with 150,000 more stunning, fall blooming plants, and thier internationally acclaimed Pumpkin Village, featuring more than 90,000 pumpkins, squash and gourds, plus the outstanding Children’s Adventure Garden. Don’t miss this amazing festival and be sure to bring your camera. It is breathtaking color at every turn.  It’s incredibly impressive and makes for a great photo opp. Plus it’s a great excuse to grab a “sack lunch” at the nearby Eatzies and have a picnic overlooking White Rock Lake.

Several days later the Texas State Fair begins! Sam and I go to the fair to see Big Tex, ride the giant Ferris wheel, eat a Fletcher’s Corny Dog, visit the amazing vegetable gardens and Texas Discovery Gardens, the petting zoo and the pig races(they are hilarious). And bonus: the Monarch Butterflies will be migrating south during the fair and the Texas Discovery Garden ground’s have planted flowers that specifically attract the Monarchs. If you get lucky you might even get to see them catching and tagging the butterflies to track them!

This year Sam and I have made plans to see the fall foliage in East Texas. The trees in most parts of Texas don’t turn for the fall–mainly because most Texas native trees and shrubs are evergreen–and that’s something I miss seeing. I’m already looking forward to our day trip and will share more with y’all when we go in late October.

Anyway, those are just some of the big things Sam and I do every year together during the fall. It doesn’t mean the simpler things on our bucket list are less important though. Laying under a warm blankets on a cool fall afternoon and reading a good book is practically Heaven.

I know you probably love fall like I do and probably have a bucket list of your own. I’d love to know what you put on yours. If you live in the DFW area and have a recommendation I’d love to that too!

Maegan

Unsung Heroes: The Doss Family

This week’s Unsung Heroes Family Feature is the Doss family. Shelby and her husband Jerod–also known as Boogie–have two beautiful children, Layla age four and Pheonix age two, through adoption via foster care. This sweet family lives in Oklahoma and have been fostering for three and a half years! Shelby is a mom, photographer, writer and speaker and her husband Boogie is a minister. The Doss family loves Jesus, traveling, living room dance parties, Disney, and adventuring!

Maegan: Shelby, I am so glad to have you and your family as my guests today! So tell me, what made you and Boogie decide foster care was for your family?

Shelby: My husband and I knew we wanted to adopt before we were even married. About a year after tying the knot we started looking into how we would be able to fulfill that desire. We knew that it would be expensive and we wanted to start working on it right away (being 20 we knew it would be a while before we had the funds needed) that’s when I stumbled upon foster care. We saw the great need and we knew this is the route we needed to take.

Maegan: Timing is a topic that always comes up when talking about foster care. When did y’all know it was ‘time’?

Shelby: We had been talking about starting the process of getting certified to foster but since we didn’t know anyone personally who had done it, we didn’t even know where to start. One day while my husband was at work I decided I was going to call our local DHHR. When I called the woman on the other line they had classes starting in a week or so and signed us up! That woman ended up being our first home finder and it all just felt like it was meant to be. After that phone call I called my husband and told him we were about to start our journey. It’s hard to explain but It all just felt right.

Unsung Heroes The Doss Family a Maegan Johnson Blog Foster Family Feature Foster LoveMaegan: What, in your opinion, is the greatest challenge as a foster parent?

Shelby: The biggest challenge to foster parents is not letting fear win. It’s easy to let the fear and anxiety creep in and take over. You’re in high stress situations, advocating, court hearings, meetings, therapy, facilitating visits, navigating relationships with biological family, all while doing your ‘normal’ everyday life. Don’t let the fear steal your joy. When you’re waiting to hear back from a worker about how court went, when goodbye is looming, or when you feel like no one is in your child’s corner-don’t let fear win. Don’t let it steal the moments you have RIGHT now. Don’t let it take the good that is there. Don’t let the thought of goodbye keep you from the joy of hello. Don’t think because you might not be with them forever that right now doesn’t matter. Fear is a lie.

Maegan: I have a lot of people ask for advice. What advice would you give to someone considering becoming a foster parent?

Shelby: Know your limits. No one can say ‘yes’ to every situation. And even though it is going to hurt when you have to say ‘no’, know that your no is someone’s yes! Know what you are capable of taking on at this point in your life. That likely will change and grow as your parent, learn the system, and become more knowledgable about parenting kids from hard places. But, especially in the beginning make sure you know what you and your spouse are ready to take on.

Maegan: If you could give one piece of advice to a new foster parent what would it be?

Shelby: Give grace. Give grace to yourself, to your child, to their biological parent, to the system. You will never be wrong in this-we could always use more of it. This doesn’t mean let everything go and just go with the flow. DON’T DO THAT! Advocate, speak up, protect, push for better! But while doing all of this recognize that we are all human and likely doing the best we can. We have a broken system and it can be disheartening and frustrating but, just like any relationship working together will get a lot more accomplished than continually pointing out shortcomings. Treat the system and the birth family as if we are all on the same side-because we should be! The side of the child.

Unsung Heroes The Doss Family a Maegan Johnson Blog Foster Family Feature Foster CareMaegan: What is your goal as a foster parent?

Shelby: While we had the dream and desire to adopt we also knew that foster care was so much more than a means to adopt. We became foster parents to be a safe place for those who needed it. We not only had a heart to be there for the children but to be a source of encouragement for the parent as well.

Maegan: Fostering is not sustainable lifestyle and it’s important to have a plan before beginning. Does your family have a set of goals you plan to or a specific end date?

Shelby: After being foster parents for over 3 years in West Virginia we packed up and moved to Oklahoma. Right now we are giving our family time to just be. We haven’t lived a life without workers, visits, and the state involved in our parenting since the day we became parents over 4 years ago. After a tumultuous battle for our son we knew this is what we needed. These past 6 months have been medicine to our soul. We still have a strong yearning to be involved in the foster care system and we are confident that one day we will jump back into being foster parents but this break was crucial. So, while we are on this respite we are looking for other ways to be active in advocating for vulnerable children. I’m working on getting certified as a CASA worker and we are hoping to be enrolled in a mentor program at some point. Even during the periods of times that we don’t have foster children in our home, I don’t believe there will ever be a day when we can fully walk away from foster care-we know too much. We have the ability, we see the need, and therefore we have the responsibility.

Maegan: What is the best thing about being a foster parent?

Shelby: The absolute best thing about being a foster parent is seeing our children flourish. I say our because as soon as a child is welcomed into our home-they are ours-even if just for a season. Being able to witness the broken being healed, the fear turn to peace, the dim light shine bright, is such an incredible gift. Being there to nature and help heal the hearts of the one that’s hurting is one of my greatest joys in life.

Maegan: Attachment is one of, if not the biggest, concern most non-foster parents have about becoming a foster parent themselves. What are your thoughts on attachment?

Shelby: Attachment is different for everyone and I can only speak for myself. Love is a choice. And as long as you are choosing to love these children attachment will come. It might be immediate (for both of my forever children it was instant), or it might take time. But making an active decision to love regardless if attachment takes place right away thing or not is the most important thing. And in time-attachment will come.

Unsung Heroes The Doss Family a Maegan Johnson Blog Foster Family FeatureMaegan: Why are you passionate about foster care?

Shelby: I’m passion about foster care because if we as foster parents aren’t then who will be? Our eyes have been open to crisis and we have a responsibility to speak up and out for those who cannot for themselves. I look at the world differently now. When I hear about a child in need the thought is ‘what if that was my child.’ Because, in reality it could be, and to think if I would have missed out or not been there in the time they needed me most of all because of fear or because I wasn’t educated about foster care. I’m so passionate about speaking about foster care because I want people to know two things: their child could be out there-needing them, crying for them, looking for them—regardless if it will be their child for forever or for just a season. That child is out there and they need YOU. James 1:27 is still in my Bible and I plan on living that out. These children deserve better, our future deserves better-and who am I to say ‘leave it for the next person-that’s just not my thing.’ Taking care of each other-that should be everyone’s thing.

Maegan: If you could only use three words to describe the certification process, what would they be? Why those words?

Shelby: Paperwork. Transparency. Preparation.

I would use these 3 words to describe the certification process. Paperwork-not much to say about that. Get ready for your hand to cramp.

Transparency-Be ready to open up and let people into parts of your life you normally wouldn’t. It can be uncomfortable for someone to basically interview you for the position of ‘mama’, but its all worth it. Preparation-Not only did a lot of what we were having to do to be certified prepare us as foster parents but it was preparing our minds and hearts for what was going to happen as well. The paperwork-it never goes away. The transparency was continuing as well–we had to get used to people coming in and out of our house, asking permission for things we normally wouldn’t have even age much thought to, giving an answer for doctor’s visits, formula intake, etc. So more than the classes, the attributes we were perfecting through this time were what were beneficial.

Unsung Heroes The Doss Family a Maegan Johnson Blog Foster Family Feature Foster Care Foster BabiesMaegan: There is a great need for foster parents all across America. Before we go, could you list some of the statistics for your area?

Shelby: In Oklahoma on any given day there are more than 350 children who are waiting for a forever home. That’s 350 children that are literally just waiting for someone to say ‘yes’ to them. There are over 5,000 children in our state in need of a safe place to land and more than 1,000 of those children have a permanent goal of adoption.

Maegan: Shelby, it was such a pleasure to talk with you about foster care! Thank you so much for all the hard work you and Boogie do as foster parents. And thank you for being a shining light to all foster children.

I hoped you enjoyed hearing from Shelby and that you learned something new today. Please leave her some love here in the comments and Instagram–foster parents need lots of encouragement and support! If you personally know Shelby and Boogie I’m asking that you to support them with your hands this week. Call and ask when you can come over and do some laundry and/or wash some dishes or bring them dinner. Don’t call and ask what you can do–call and say your coming over to help or bring a meal. And then pray for them! It takes a community to foster–it takes lots of help. So, show Shelby and Boogie how much you appreciate all they do by lending a helping hand. If you’d like to follow along on the Doss family’s journey you can find them here on Instagram! Have a great week everyone!

Maegan — xx

Summer Reading List for Kids

I remember every summer my mom letting me pick a big fat “big kid” book from our local library and reading it to me every afternoon until we finished it. Those are some of my best childhood memories. Even my brother–who didn’t really enjoy being read to–wanted to sit and listen sometimes.

With summer in full swing your child or children are probably desperate for something to do. Or maybe they are reading through books faster than you can swipe your library card. Either way, you need book suggestions! Guess what, I’ve got a great list for you! The list I’ve compiled is categorized by genre instead of reading level–I leave the reading level decision to you, the parent.

May I also suggest signing your older child up for a Goodreads account. It’s a completely free online community with millions of book suggestions and millions of people passionate about reading. It’s a place to keep track of all the books your reading, write reviews, and get suggestions about what to read next.

Adventure:

Swiss Family Robinson

Little House on the Prairie (Series)-1 from boys perspective

Watership Down

The Odyssey

Wilderness:

Hatchet

Call of the Wild

White Fang

The Last of the Mohicans

Where the Red Ferns Grow

Shiloh

Old Yeller

Irish Red

High Seas:

Robinson Crusoe

Master and Commander (Series) 12+

Treasure Island

The Temeraire (Dragons)

Fantasy/Magic:

The Hobbit

The Lord of the Rings (Series)

The Chronicles of Narnia (Series)

Redwall (Series)

Ralph the Motorcycle Mouse

Indian and the Cupboard

Eragon (Series)

Harry Potter (Series)

Western:

Hank the Cowdog (Series)

Science:

The Magic School Bus (Series)

Science Fiction/Space Opera:

Enders game (Series)

Star Wars (Series)

Strong Female Characters:

Little Women

Anne of Green Gables (Series)

Amelia Bedilia (Series)

Mystery:

Nancy drew (Series)

The Hardy Boys (Series)

Box Car Children (Series)

Equestrian:

Black Beauty

National Velvet

My Friend Flicka (Series)

Misty of Chincoteague (Series)

Bears:

Paddington (Series)

Winnie the Pooh (Series)

 

Happy Reading!

Maegan — xx

Baby E Final Update

As most of you have probably noticed I have been absent from social media for the past two weeks. There was a lot going on with Baby E’s case so I intentionally stepped away from social media to focus on what was most important. I am back today to announce that Baby E has officially left us. I cannot go into detail about her case, and as with most things in foster care there are still a lot of unknowns, and as such we do not know if she will be returning to our care.

Sam and I are so blessed to have been Baby E’s foster parents. Of course we were very sad to see her go but we are confident that we gave her the best start we possibly could and are confident in God and His plan for Baby E. We are proud of the people that this experience has shaped us into and blessed beyond measure to have fostered a child in need.

We will be taking a few months off to rest and rejuvenate and spend time together as a family.

We want to thank each and every one of you who have diligently and fervently prayed for Baby E, Sam, and I throughout this entire journey. We have felt your prayers in a powerful way and cannot express out heartfelt and sincere gratitude enough. Thank you so much for all the love and support we have received from each and every one of you.

Maegan and Sam

The Dreaded Home Study: It’s Nothing to Dread

acs_0175We had a wonderful home study experience. It was intense and our interviewer did ask many probing questions. But it wasn’t scary. The interviewer was never inappropriate and he never made any ugly remarks.

Exactly why does everyone dread the home study and why does is have such a negative connotation? What exactly is so horrific that the word ‘home study’ is whispered in hushed tones like the name Voldemort?

I think the general population has the expectation that a home study is to have their private life and home broken into and swarmed like a SWAT team on a drug bust. Glass breaking, wood splintering they kick down the front door and crash through the windows with automatic rifles flashing, screaming for everyone to get down on the ground–GET DOWN ON THE GROUND AND PUT YOUR HANDS BEHIND YOUR HEAD–as they shoot the family dog.  This is what people imagine about a home study because it is the kind of experience that has been described to them. There is a lot of bad and untrue information about foster care–especially the home study. It has to be one of the top three that gets lied about and/or blown out of proportion within the topic of foster care. Please always consider the merit of the person who is regaling you with stories or information about foster care–that includes me.

Most people– including myself before we became certified–know absolutely nothing about foster care or what the certification process looks like. When you are ignorant about a subject then you are completely vulnerable to misinformation. That’s how rumors and nonfactual information root themselves in the populous. When you get educated on a topic you can spot misinformation a mile a way. If you want an education on foster care, seek out several foster care agencies and attend their orientations. While you’re there ask the people who have careers in foster care what a home study is like. Never rely on just mine or anyone else’s second hand information. Always go straight to a credible source for credible information.

What most people are unaware of is that months prior to the actual home study everything you’ve ever done wrong; your darkest secret; the past you’ve only shared with your spouse or close family; all of it has already been written down and divulged to your agency. Remember all that paperwork you have to fill out–yeah, all that stuff about your past is part of it. There is almost nothing that your home study interviewer asks you or talks to you about that you haven’t already answered in your paperwork packet questionnaire or written in your autobiography. You will have already submitted your budget, bank statement, taxes, medical records, FBI background checks, autobiographies, house rules, job history, marriages, children, rabbies vaccination records for your pets, baby sitters, and the four different people who you asked to be your references(who submitted their own stack of paperwork of questions all about you asking very personal, honest and harsh questions about your integrity, your social standings, your finances, your personality, etc), you’ve submitted pictures of every room in your house, pictures of yourself, and your pets, and children. They have background checks on your cleaning lady and yard person and your nanny and babysitter(nannies have to complete a certain amount of foster care training in order to remain your nanny). They’ve already requested a lot of personal information from you. They already know EVERYTHING. There is almost NOTHING that the government doesn’t know about you by the time you have that home study. You have willingly made your life an open book and your home study interviewer has already read your ENTIRE file before they ever come to your house.

If you have been honest and upfront on all your paperwork you have nothing to hide or be afraid of at your home study. A home study is another way for the state and your agency to get to know you and all the members of your family–to better assess everyone. It’s the same reason companies have phone and then in-person interviews with job applicants. The in-person meeting helps to complete the already extensive picture that has been painted for them. That’s one of the big reasons why they have home studies.

So, there is no reason, NO reason to be afraid of a home study. None. And if that’s the one thing keeping you from pursuing foster care or adoption through foster care you have no more excuses. If you have nothing to hide then there is nothing to fear. It’s just part of the process to ensure the safety of the already abused children coming into foster care.

This foster care thing isn’t about you. And if you stop and think about this whole process from the perspective of what is best for the child then this process will stop looking like a governmental SWAT raid and more like good people trying their best to ensure that they are taking the very very best initiative to protect children coming into foster care. Wouldn’t you do the same if the roles where reversed?

Maegan

 

 

FROM ORIENTATION TO LICENSING—THE COMPLETE STEP BY STEP GUIDE TO BECOMING A FOSTER PARENT

Baby E Update

We are now a little over three months into fostering Baby E and, though I have not posted any updates lately, there has been a lot going on behind the scenes. Sometimes, I get so frustrated because there is so much going on that I believe is really worth sharing but I can’t because it is not my right to share. I believe the longer we foster the better I will be at sharing without breaking the rules. Y’all should know that there is always a lot going on that I can’t share and if it gets a little quiet on the ‘update front’ there is a high likelihood that there is a lot going on I can’t talk about.

For example, February was nuts–it was not a great month. There was a lot going on with the foster care side of our lives that was not positive and unfortunately none of it is shareable. I can say that Sam and I learned a lot of valuable lessons and appreciate our foster care agency more than ever. I’ve talked before about how important it is to foster with an agency and I cannot emphasize the importance of that enough. If we did not have such an amazing agency I don’t know if we would have survived February. I think my takeaway from February could be summed up in the words ‘appropriate communication’. Once the appropriate communication started flowing things got much much better.

On the personal side of things, I had to have a cracked molar pulled in February and that was miserable and complicated. I hate the dentist(as most people do) and it was just the worst timing for it to fall in the middle of everything that was going on. The infection was starting to spread down into my neck and ear so we had to bump up the extraction date and it just so happened that Sam was supposed to go out of town that same day for work. I was freaking out because I wasn’t sure how I was going to have my tooth pulled and take care of an infant at the same time. I was freaking out. But Sam has such an amazing and flexible job (and boss) who allowed him to move his out of town trip to the next week and he stayed home with me. It was a good thing too because they ended up having to give me laughing gas and I was so out of it afterwards. There was no way I could have driven home. I was glad to see February go. March was a much much better month. A lot of the foster care things got smoothed out and both sides of our family came to visit. It was a relief to have family here.

One of the things I am most proud of Sam and I for is our willingness to take on the responsibility of foster care despite both our families living far away. That is probably one of the most taxing parts of foster care for us. When we need a sitter, we have to have a certified sitter and all but one of our certified sitters(family) don’t live nearby. So Sam and I had not really been able to take a break until our families got to town. We got to go on our first date since baby E! And just having someone else to hold and bounce the baby so we could take a break or wash some clothes was much needed relief. I’d say that this is another lesson we have learned on this journey–have at least four babysitters certified and scheduled before you get certified. Seriously. By the end of February Sam and I were both exhausted physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. When our families came to visit it was like taking a swim in a cool spring–refreshing and renewing. I also learned that I have to reach out to people and tell them I need help. In the middle of February I started reaching out to friends asking if they would become certified sitters for us because we were drowning. By the end of April I think we will have several babysitters certified! I’m so very grateful for all our friend who are pitching in to help us out. SO So much.At the beginning of April we found out there will not be another hearing until the middle of the summer. That means we will definitely have Baby E until then. We are loving her, and really enjoying being her foster parents. As I have said before, I don’t know how this will turn out for her or us but I do still believe that God has a plan. We pray everyday for God’s will for her life. Our plan is just to enjoy all the time we have with her and take it one day at a time like we always have. Foster care is a waiting game and while we wait we have fun plans ahead! Sam and I have so many fun activities planned for E in the upcoming months!

Baby E is doing really great and I’m so proud of her! She has made HUGE progress with the OT and just the other day she rolled over for the first time! I am so proud of her! She might have been a bit behind but she is really making strides and catching up developmentally. She has also turned into a really bubbly and vivacious baby! She really really craves social interaction and has started a lot of ‘play’ behavior. She is definitely relationship motivated. She is starting to have interest in Lemon now and watches her every chance she gets. She is sleeping really well–almost through the night now–and Sam and I could not be more grateful. Conversely, she is staying awake more and more during the day. She still has a really gentle and easy disposition and she smiles all the time now. E has already started identifying Sam and I as her parents. We weren’t sure when that would happen. All babies are different and some don’t form that attachment until much later on. She still struggles after every visitation–though she does better now than in the beginning–and now when she comes home she wont look at me for several hours because she is mad at me. I try so hard not to take that personally. I put myself in her shoes and I can see that I would be mad too. Even at three months she is so aware of what is going on. It is so surprising to see how much she understands and that she is trying to regain some control over her world. I can only imagine how confusing it must be for her. I have said it before and I will say it again; no matter how young a child is visitation is still hard for every child.Aside from visitation day, she is a happy baby! We live a normal life six days a week–Sam and I make sure of it. I take so many pictures of her and us together. Right now she is definitely going through a growth spurt and she is growing like a weed right in front of my eyes! I wake up and something about her changes every day. I honestly don’t know how she is growing up so fast or where the last three months went. I am excited to see her growing though–that is a really great sign that she is going to be a healthy, happy, little girl. We only want the very best for her even if that means she wont stay a sweet snuggly baby forever.

We appreciate every single one of you who read our posts, and pray for us, and invest time in our lives. We feel your love and prayers. We are so grateful to have such an amazing support group like you!

Maegan

Westbrook Family Visit

My parents came to visit last weekend and it was heavenly! I haven’t seen them in months and months and I was so glad they were finally able to meet “E”–as my mom calls her. We had the best time and they fell in love with Baby E! They brought her a chocolate Easter bunny that was almost as big as her, clothes, and the cutest little books! It was just a perfect visit! E recognized my mom’s voice as soon as they arrived!–she Facetimes with E and I quite a bit! That was so special to me that she recognized my mom’s voice. My heart was so full for E because she has been touched and handled by so many people for her whole life that it is really important that she has people she can anchor to besides myself and Sam. Like every child, she needs to know she has family who loves her and who she can recognize–even though, for now, we are her foster family. It is always such a range of emotions for me when E meets a family member for the first time. I’m excited for her to meet them but, at the same time, I worry it will be overwhelming for her and cause her to have a meltdown after they leave. I want her to know she has so many people who love her outside her foster care experience but I also want her to not be inundated with new people. Thankfully with both sides of our family she has been so comfortable! She laughs and plays and loves being with our families–and she has never had a meltdown during or after.On Saturday the weather was beautiful! We sat outside and enjoyed the beautiful weather by the pool, ate some Fuzzy’s Tacos, bounced the Baby and generally had the greatest time. Baby E loves being outside and I am so so happy because as the weather gets warmer we will definitely be spending more and more time out of doors! For me, the experience as a daughter and mother was really special because I get to see my foster child bond with my parents and my parents with her. This is my parents first grandchild too and that made it even more special. It is such an interesting experience to watch my parents from the perspective of parent and child. I understand now how important it is to have children because the experience makes you a more rounded person. It grows and matures you and your perspective on life in its entirety changes, and in a lot of ways becomes more realistic. A lot of things I believed were so important before we began fostering are not important as I believed them to be–and some of those things no longer matter at all.My Pop(my mom’s dad) also got to meet Baby E for the first time too! It was so sweet to see her so comfortable with him. Pop was all about her. It was adorable. Also, isn’t the family resemblance in the photo above striking? The Walker genes run strong! I took so many more pictures than I’m showing here but most of them have E’s face so I can’t show those. Boo! But seriously, it was so good to see my parents and for them to spend time with E. They are so attached to her that I think it will be just as hard on them if she is returned to her bio parent as it will be on us. I hope they get to visit again soon!

I am so proud of our families for embracing this sweet child like she was Sam and I’s biological child. So. Proud. So, so, proud. Not every foster family can boast that and I don’t take it for granted. She really does have two big families who love her so much. I don’t know many foster parents who can boast that! We are truly blessed!

Maegan

Johnson Family Visit

Extended family is hard to come by around here. Both side’s of our family live far away and have not been able to visit much since Baby E was placed with us. So it was a real treat to have Sam’s side of the family here for a visit two weeks ago. We were so so glad to see them! Sam’s brother and his wife were even able to be here and we had not seen them for almost two years! Having family visit with a baby is different–but in a good way. No one expects your house to be clean and no one expects you to entertain. And let’s be real–they all really came to see the baby anyway so no one is looking at my dirty floors that haven’t been mopped in several months. I’m into full disclosure around here.We had such a good time. It was nice to have eager helpers who were more than happy to bounce the baby, and feed the baby, and change the baby, and hold the baby. Everyone even pitched in to fold laundry–queue the Hallelujah Chorus! In the hustle and bustle of my two new jobs( parenting and foster care) I hadn’t realized I really needed a break or how much I really needed to see family. It was really great to sit around and chit-chat and just relax.

It was also nice to be able to step away from Baby E even just for a minute and goof off with Sean and Liana and just be normal adults. We made a quick Walmart run for–what else–diapers, and even though that’s a really simple thing we had a great time. Also, what is up with the new Lay’s potato chip bags. I mean, it’s brilliant marketing but it’s also kind creepy. We almost bought a bag of chips. Seriously.On Thursday we took Baby E on her very first Zoo trip! Sam has been DYING to take her to the Zoo ever since she arrived. She stayed in her stroller most of the time and slept but it was great to get outside and it was the perfect weather. It wasn’t too warm and there was a nice breeze but nothing too crazy. It was perfect! And we all had a really good timeI’m trying so hard to remember to take pictures when we are out doing fun things but it is so hard to remember sometimes! I’m dong better about taking pictures and now I’m trying to incorporate more video. This week I plan on getting my big mama camera out and start using it. I need a good camera strap–a cute one–so if anyone has a suggestion will ya leave it in the comments below? Thanks!

It is killing me not to be able to post full pictures of Baby E. We took so many good pictures with Papa Randy and MeMaw and Papa Baker(great grandparents), and then with Uncle Sean and Aunt Liana. I wish I could show them all! Maybe oneday  . . . I’m trying to share her as best I can while still complying. But it is SO HARD!!! There were so many good pictures y’all!On Friday night Sam and I got to go out on our first date since Baby E!!! We had the best time! We planned on dinner and a movie but it turned into a movie and fro-yo. It was a good trade off. We ended up seeing The Greatest Showman and it was so flippin’ good! We jammed out to the soundtrack all the way home–one of the few perks of technology–and I’m still loving the soundtrack weeks later. ‘This is Me’ is such a good anthem song, ya know? There was a shopping center near the theater and that’s where we took these photos. They are grainy and a little dark but I love these photos because they are so “us”. For once, I kept it simple and just wore a bold lip, a comfy shirt dress, and (gasp!) comfortable shoes. It was good to get away together for a few hours.It was a really great visit and Sam and I are so thankful for our family. We really are. Parenthood can be so demanding and with foster care added to the mix life can seem completely impossible. It was such a great relief to have family here because we got to forget about foster care for a few days and just be a family. Ya know? It was good just to be. We were sad to see them go! Johnson weekend visit was a super success and we look forward to seeing everyone soon.

Maegan

Our First Month as Foster Parents

I struggled with how to begin this blog post. How do I even begin to describe the whirlwind of life-changing events that was the last thirty days? Being first-time parents and foster parents has been a dream come true and overwhelming at the same time. It has involved all the emotions, struggles, and triumphs of being a first-time parent with the added stress of meeting the demands of foster care.

The Takeaway

I would have to say what I have learned the most from my first month as a foster parent is that the stress of foster care doesn’t come from actually taking care of the children. It’s not the crying, or the sleep deprivation, or the fact that I sometimes have nothing clean to wear and I haven’t taken a shower in three days–though those things pose their own challenges. The stress and the ‘negative’ that is the dark cloud hovering over foster care stems from meeting the demands of the actual foster care ‘system’.

Baby E

In the first month of Baby E’s life, she went to four doctors visits, four visitations with her bio parents, one visit from her lawyer, a court hearing (she did not attend), two visits from our agency, and a home visit from her CPS case worker. That is so so much to do for a regular adult–much less an infant. It’s taxing on her and it’s taxing on us–not that we are complaining. Our agency properly prepared us for what was ahead and it is a responsibility we gladly accept. It is hard to watch her struggle with such a demanding schedule, and though there is only so much that an infant can take, it doesn’t matter if she is having a rough day or if it would probably be in her best interest to stay at home and rest, she is obligated by the state to be at whatever visit or appointment they say she has to be.

I’ve also learned that is doesn’t matter what age a child is when they come into foster care, they ALL struggle to cope. I can only imagine how much harder it is for children who are old enough to understand what is happening around them. For Baby E, we all hope this is just a blip in her life–no matter what the outcome–and that she never remembers any of her foster care experience. On the other hand, just because she will most likely not remember, she still experiences the effects of going through the process of foster care. It doesn’t exempt her from how hard it is.

If I could get each person reading this post to come to the CPS office just one time with me and you could see the brokenness, the darkness, the sadness, and the hopelessness of that place, you would all be lining up to be foster parents. Not to mention, it is physically one of the filthiest places I have darkened the doorway of in my life–and I have been on mission trips to impoverished countries where people were grateful to have cardboard boxes to live in. Dropping Baby E off at the visitation office is the most gut-wrenching, stress-inducing, heartbreaking experience. I’m not going to sugar coat it for anyone. It is miserable. I’m not allowed to stay during the visit so I have to occupy myself for two hours until she can be picked up again–and we do this once every week. It is important for her to see her bio parents every week and I know this.  But, it doesn’t make it any easier on me to hand her to CPS and walk away. Each time, I have to remind myself that this is not about me and that no matter how afraid I am, God is in control. Sam and I are here to help Baby E because she needs someone to help her. If she didn’t have us, who else would be able to take care of her?

There are hundreds of kids who come into foster care every month just like Baby E. It is not some far-off distant imaginary thing that happens to someone else. Can you see how much these kids need you to help them? If Sam and I hadn’t decided to be foster parents, who would Baby E have right now? If not us, then who? It just breaks my heart to know how many children right this minute–not tomorrow, not ten years from now–have no one. Are you hearing me? They have NO ONE to be there for them. And guess what? That doesn’t mean that they still don’t have to do EVERY. SINGLE. THING. Baby E is having to do. Are you hearing me? These kids still have to go to every visitation, every court hearing (children four years and up have to attend hearings), every CPS visit, and every doctor appointment on their own. ON. THEIR. OWN. Are you hearing me? There is not one excuse for why every person reading this is not involved directly with a child in foster care. If you’re a Christian, then you really have no excuse. James 1: 27.

As the Foster Parents

I would say for us the struggle has been watching Baby E cope with her situation. She is a really easy baby with a sweet disposition and is not really prone to crying or fussing. And in the beginning, when she would come back from visitation, it was like they handed me a totally different child. She was a total emotional wreck when she would come home from visitation. Hours of crying and whimpering and needing to be held constantly. Constantly. Once I could get her calmed and soothed, she would be OK until I would try to lay her in her bassinet so she could get some rest or so I could go to the bathroom. Instantly emotional eruption. She would cry so hard all day long that she would make herself hoarse. The first month, I was the only one at home with her after a visitation and I was really just winging it on my own. A few weeks ago, Sam was able to be home with me on a visitation day and he was really blown away by how rough it is on her. It is rough for many reasons and thankfully it is getting better as we have figured out how to help her transition, but is it still something no child should have to deal with on her own.

Sam and I have had to learn how to manage her schedule in a way that takes some of the burden of this whole process off her too. She is definitely the victim of her circumstances and even though she didn’t put herself in foster care, she still has to abide by all the state rules and do as she is told. So, we have learned that there are just certain pre-visitation and post-visitation activities that we do or do not do. This has helped to reduce a lot of stress for her and us. We are learning there are just certain things that trigger her and certain things that soothe her.

I have also learned that our agency is an invaluable resource and support. I have no idea how anyone is fostering without the help of an agency. I really don’t. They have really guided us and helped in ways that I never could have anticipated. To me this is such a big deal I’ve written an entire blog post dedicated to this topic. If you are considering becoming a foster parent please, please, please find a great agency. Your experience will be so much better. I promise.

People’s reactions to Sam and my new life has been quite educational. People have one of two very distinct reactions–they either think what we are doing is amazing and inspirational and they are in turn very supportive, or they are very negative and distrustful of our decision. For example, the supportive person uses words like, what a blessing, thank you, I’ve always wanted to know more, how can I help, I’m so glad you can help Baby E. The negative person uses words like, I don’t know how you do it, don’t get too close, it is probably not going to work out, foster care is such a broken system, I have a friend (usually quite distant and removed and this person is truly ignorant and has no first-hand knowledge of the actual foster child or their situation) and it was a nightmare for them, just don’t get your hopes up.

Surprisingly, I haven’t been upset, but rather enlightened, by people’s opinions. And it’s very telling about what kind of person I’m dealing with. The person that uses supportive words unconsciously tells me that they look at foster care from a selfless place seeing the needs of others before themselves. The person who uses negative words unconsciously tells me how selfish they are. Foster care is about them and what they can get out of it. If it is too hard, or painful, and not all about them in the end, they have nothing positive to say.  So just know that I know who really supports Baby E and what Sam and I are trying to do, and who doesn’t as soon as they open your mouth.

And even after all the hard stuff I just shared–and I have just mentioned a lot of hard things–we have gotten to take care of Baby E and that has made it ALL worth it. Seriously. It is worth it. Sam and I get to take care of this precious sweet child who God knew before she was born and called her by name. We have already made so many wonderful memories with her. So many wonderful memories! And, it feels good knowing that I am making a positive life-changing impact on another person’s life, and in turn, on the world.

Foster care has also been a balm to my mama soul because it has allowed me to be a mother–despite all the hardships. I feel better now than I have in several years. I’m in the middle of writing a big blog post about this topic because I want people–especially women–to know how being a foster mom has changed me and empowered me and given life to my bones. I want you to know my experiences. So more coming on that soon!

I’m excited to see what the next month holds. Baby E is growing like a weed and is the sweetest, cutest little girl ever! If you would like to know exactly how to become a foster parent,this blog post has everything you need to know. If you missed her latest hearing update, you can find ithere.

Maegan