Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Extend Grace

You've probably seen it happen. A woman in her 30s navigates a grocery cart full of children, some trailing behind through the grocery store. She has the signature plastic folder full of WIC checks, she looks like she might break down and cry in the cereal aisle as she tries to match brands, ounces and flavors to what is listed in that stupid plastic folder while she tries to keep her brood from knocking over pyramids of neatly stacked cereal boxes (what is even up with those? one more obstacle for moms). People push past her as she tries to make the right selections, rolling their eyes or casting a judgmental glance as they fail to hide their annoyance as they pass by. By the grace of God the woman makes it to the checkout, though sweating profusely and on the verge of tears, in one piece with all children accounted for.

She avoids eye contact with all other shoppers and looks for the most "seasoned" cashier. Her heart begins to race, panic is beginning to set in just at the thought of what is about to occur. She chooses a line. She begins to meticulously arrange her items on the belt in multiple orders placing dividers and checks with each set of items. She sees a man and his daughter get in line behind her. They are carrying a basket with a head of lettuce and a Monster Energy drink in it (interesting choices). They flash a smile and she offers for them to go ahead of her. They say it is no big deal and they can wait. Her pulse quickens some more at the thought of holding them up and she INSISTS they go ahead of her. They oblige and thank her and head on their merry way.

The mom directs her children who've been pulling her clothing and begging for all of the endless garbage at the checkout display (again, grocery stores must hate moms) to the bench at the end of the check out aisle. They sit there and bicker about this one touching the other and they have the meanest mom in the world because she wouldn't buy Lucky Charms even though the box says "whole grains". The mom lines up all of her items according to each WIC check and the marathon begins. She prays the cashier knows what she is doing and the register works without a hitch.

A man and his teen son get in line behind her. Her heart races some more. Her breathing quickens. The man begins tapping his foot. The cashier (this time was kind, but not all are) shares a knowing look and patiently begins to check and double check each and every item stating that if three WIC mistakes are made, a cashier's grocery store career is over, so she is sorry but she HAS to double check. The mom nods and smiles. The mom signs the first WIC check, wildly motioning for her wild children on the bench to be seated, it will ONLY be a few more moments. The second WIC check begins to go through the machine, but the printer is broken. The cahsier must call for help. She hits the blinking light sign on the aisle and the mom thinks about the sangria in her fridge at home.

At this point the man behind her sighs loudly, discussing how this is ruining his whole life and if people can afford an iPhone (which the woman had just put away into her purse) they should be able to afford baby food and formula. The mom digs deep, chokes back the tears and signs the check. After the third check, the mom has her non WIC groceries, and the cashier begins to ring them through. The man now very loudly comments that if a person can afford organic milk and apples then surely they could do without WIC. The mom digs into her purse, pulls out her wallet and hands the cashier her debit card. The teenage son now comments on the mother's matching wallet and purse, clearly Vera Bradley, just like his mom's, and the two go off on a rant about how they are late to get home to see Boston College play and they don't have time for the drains on society to waste. He practically yells, "Five minutes of my life wasted so that others can get a free ride" and he heads to the self check out.

The mom wipes away tears, gathers her belongings and her children and they go to get into the car.

That mom, the one with the Vera Bradley purse and iPhone, buying organic milk and apples was me. And that guy was an ass. (sorry but he was) What he didn't know and probably didn't care to know is that yes, I had been given that purse and wallet as a gift from my husband for Mother's day. I had gotten about 6 hours of sleep in the past three days because I've been cleaning up puke and snot like it's my job...oh wait, it is. I am taking care of a half dozen children, I've had people comment on that also, wondering why I don't use birth control if I can't afford to feed my family, they have no idea that I did not give birth to half of them. The WIC checks in question were for a child who is in state custody and needs formula and baby food, not that it should matter, because if a person qualifies for WIC, it really isn't any of anyone else's business. Foster kids automatically get WIC, because while some think we get "paid" to take care of these kids, the truth is, the amount we get doesn't cover the cost of having the child in our home...making the WIC checks necessary.

I say all of this because of all of the BS a person has to deal with when fostering children, WIC is maybe my least favorite. The judgement, the comments, and the stress are immense, and we wont' even discuss the hoops you have to jump through just to get the darn checks, that is a panic attack all its own. Then when you go to cash them you basically have to do the hokey pokey and turn yourself around. Without those checks though, I wouldn't be able to take care of these babies, I've had the honor to take care of, so next time you are behind a mom in the grocery store and she has WIC checks to cash, be kind. It really isn't fun for her either and she is likely doing the best she can, and maybe even more. Time is important but it isn't more important than people. Extend grace and kindness because you have no idea what battles people are fighting. That guy behind me. He made me cry...he made me feel like garbage, but honestly, my heart breaks for him and for his kid...that kid is learning from everything he sees and that man must have a pretty hard life if he can't wait in a grocery store line for five minutes. I guess grace goes both ways. It isn't our job to judge, an ounce of kindness would do wonders.

Sunday, October 5, 2014


Foster parenting can be a lonely business. It is tough to go out into the world and join playdates and homeschool co ops with families who just don't get it. Many try and many are willing to jump in and help which makes these outings bearable, but the constant worry that your child's trauma will surface in behaviors that everyone will judge, making sure you aren't meeting on a bio parent's turf to avoid further drama, and just the sheer exhaustion of it all often make me bail out of such outings.

Once in a while you find a friend or two who are living the same reality. They are in the trenches, healing trauma, doing paperwork, cleaning for monthly social worker visits, engulfed in appointments, praying just to get through THIS moment. I have found a couple of these recently and honestly I am not sure how I've gotten through the past couple of years without them. This isn't to say I am not grateful for my amazing friends who still embrace us and love us through it all, I really am and I don't know what I'd do without those friends either and they are SURELY part of how I HAVE gotten through the past couple of years reminding me of who I am because they've been with me for longer than I've been a foster mom.

I have found that far more valuable than therapy, or even a glass of wine, is just a chat with a fellow foster mom or two who get it on a level that no one else will. She also looks pain in the face every day and embraces it anyway, knowing God will bring beauty from the ashes. She gets the twisted sense of humor needed for such work, she laughs and cries and walks alongside. She prays with and for your family knowing the gravity of it all. She understands the frustration of red tape and judges and visits and the politics of it all.

These family connections are proving to be invaluable in my life. Somehow a trip to a public place with another family like mine seems less daunting. We might have over a dozen kids between us but somehow when we're in it together it seems doable...and it is we can laugh at the chaos and shrug off the stares. A camping trip that may have otherwise seemed impossible becomes possible knowing we're all a team working toward a common goal.

I am grateful for all of the friends I have in life who join me where I am, but if you are a foster mom out there, feeling isolated, find yourself a fellow foster mom or two or three...it will be an invaluable resource.