Three Kids and Counting…

I’m astounded when I reflect on the year of 2015 and recognize how much change occurred, but it’s even more surprising to me when I look at the multitude of events that have already taken place in 2016. What an exciting year this is shaping up to be!

My little guy and I have been blessed with the company of two sisters for about a month and a half now. Here are some things I’ve learned about being responsible for three children:

  1. Trips to Target are a regular occurrence to keep up with the excessive amount of food they consume. To give you an idea of the frequency, my phone is convinced that I have an evening job at Target – it informs me what time I need to leave my house to make it to “work” on time, then proceeds to direct me to Target.

VZM.IMG_20160212_155808This was our most recent trip to Target – we were joined by two of my friend’s children. I feel like successfully making it through this shopping trip should be added to my resume!

2. Of my least favorite things to do, laundry is probably right up there with cleaning toilets, but three children create a lot of dirty laundry! Doing laundry became even more of a pain when I accidentally left the basement door open all night in -22° weather – since my machines are in the basement, I woke up this morning to a load of frozen clothing in the washer. Although this was quite frustrating, I’m sure it is dull in comparison to the feeling I’m going to have when I get my heating bill!

3. Having a full house makes my heart happier than you can possibly fathom ❤ Time management, proper planning, and a whole lot of patience are key components to our daily routine, and the support of my family is a blessing that I will never take for granted. I’m so fortunate to have their help, especially when I have a sick child or when there’s a snowday (I used to love those so much as a kid, but they are a pain when you’re a working parent!).

In other news, I never thought I would refer to myself as a grandma at the ripe old age of 23, but I officially have a grandbaby!! I met my foster grandson for this first time this weekend and was overjoyed. I am so proud of his Momma (my former teenage foster child) and am thrilled that I can visit with them even though they are no longer in foster care.

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Additionally, I am pleased to announce that I have been blessed with the title of Miss Finger Lakes 2016!! I am in my final year of eligibility in the Miss America Organization and am thrilled to having this opportunity to motivate others with my work as a foster parent. I look forward to sharing more with you about this journey!

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Love always,

Allie

I can’t even describe how happy it makes me when I am in public and someone asks for an update on my foster children. As if the excitement in my voice as I respond to them isn’t indication enough of how much these children mean to me, I’m sure that the proceeding stories, photos, and smiles tell it all. To say that these children have changed my life is an understatement; they are my life.

In case you were wondering what my current situation is with my kids, here is a rundown:

Sweet PeaMy first full-time foster child that I had for almost a year before she was reunited with her mom in May.

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She is happy, healthy, and vivacious! Her family and I spend a lot of time together. Some of our recent activities include: having her 6th birthday party at my house, spending Thanksgiving together, watching the Christmas Parade, and attending church with each other every Sunday. Sweet Pea even joined my dad and I at a father/daughter ball last weekend!

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I could not be more thrilled with the outcome of this placement. Some people question how I could handle “losing” Sweet Pea when she went home, but I didn’t lose her at all. I am so fortunate that her mom has graciously accepted me into her family and has allowed me to continue my involvement in their lives. Although we met in a very unconventional way, she has become my best friend.

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The Troublesome Teen – The 17-year-old I had at the end of summer just before she turned 18 and aged out of foster care.

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This beauty is an absolute gem. Although she caused me plenty of grief while she was in my care, I am so thankful to have had her in my home. I was devastated when she chose to sign out of foster care at 18 (she could’ve stayed in until the age of 21) because I was concerned for her safety. Having been in foster care nearly her entire life, she lacks some life skills that are necessary for independent living. But despite the difficulties she has faced being on her on, this girl knows all about perseverance. She may not be living the life that I had hoped for her and that I know she is capable of, but she is learning valuable life lessons while experiencing the freedom that foster care prohibited her from having.

Our relationship has its ups and downs (as any relationship with a teen does), but one thing is always true: we are family. She knows that no matter what the situation, I will be by her side offering support, encouragement, and love. When she messages me to see how my day is going or when she surprises me with a visit at my work (all the while referring to me as “Sis”), I can feel how much she cares. She has never been able to depend on anyone in her life. It is my honor to finally offer her the unconditionally love that she is so deserving of.

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The Pregnant Teen – The 17-year-old I was placed with who was 7 months pregnant.

 

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I am always astounded by the amount of personality that comes out of the children in my care – and this chick is no exception! I could listen to her tell stories for days. At a dinner with my family one night, she recounted some incidents in her past that had gotten her into some trouble. Although the things that she did were certainly not a laughing matter, this seemingly innocent and sweet young girl had my family in stitches as she vividly described events that you would expect to see on an episode of Cops.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with this polite and respectful teen, but had to say “goodbye” when she went home just before Thanksgiving. Fortunately, we have kept in touch and I even picked her up for a visit last weekend! We are hoping to have another visit around Christmas, but with a due date quickly approaching, we might wait until after her bundle of joy arrives. I am so excited to meet her baby when he is born, and I am so thankful for her presence in my life.

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My Little Guy – The 4-year-old with autism that was placed with me in June.

I’m down to one child! I love having a full house with multiple children, but I do appreciate the time I get to have one-on-one with this little man. There was a learning curve in the beginning of our relationship as I developed an understanding of his nonverbal cues, scheduling needs, and triggers, but we seem to have worked out the kinks. His affectionate nature and contagious smile make it hard not to fall in love with him. This little guy certainly holds a very special place in my heart.

In fact, although my goal as a foster parent is for reunification with the biological parents, I am an adoptive resource for him. This means that if his biological mom is not able to fulfill the requirements necessary to be entrusted with him again, I will have the opportunity to adopt. Without an ounce of hesitation, I can say that it would mean the world to me to have him in my life forever. But that choice is not mine. I trust that God has an ultimate plan for us and no matter what way it turns out, I’m sure it will be better than I ever could have expected.

FamilyIt seems so nice to be able to share some photos of my beautiful family now that most of them are no longer in foster care!

This month, I am two years into my journey as a foster parent. As I reflect on the amount of laughs, tears, and obstacles I have experienced, I realize that there is not a thing that I would change. My passion for foster parenting is truly where I find my solace and happiness.

As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart.

Proverb 27:19

Allie

Turning Guilt into Gratitude

As I sit here in front of my computer attempting to narrow down what I want to write, my mind is spinning. These delicious Muddy Buddies next to me are disappearing quickly and my thoughts are an unorganized mess. I have a dog at my side, a cat at my feet, and another cat being chased down the stairs by a pregnant teen because he stole her hair tie.

Everyday is an adventure and I have learned to expect the unexpected.

Though the adrenaline rush of my ever-changing life usually excites me, I have found myself very distracted lately. Through a culmination of heartache and challenge over the past few months in many facets of my life, I feel as though I have lost my sense of direction. Everyday I am harboring an immense amount of guilt and distress that I just can’t seem to shake.

It’s not unusual for me to be hard on myself or to second-guess my decisions, but lately it has escalated to a point where I am just not myself. I am quick to forgive my foster children when they make mistakes and remind them that even good people make bad choices; but I can’t seem to offer myself that same mercy.

When I try to understand why that might be, there’s only one explanation I can come up with: I don’t feel like I deserve forgiveness.

The children that I encounter through foster care have been through more trauma, grief, and pain than I can fathom. I am so impressed by their resilience and strength, that I often use that to excuse them from mistakes. In fact, I do the same thing with adults in my life. The more difficult their past, the more apt I am to forgive; despite how that might adversely affect me.

But when it comes to me and my past, I don’t feel like I have a crutch for poor choices. I can’t justify any of my mistakes because I’ve never been through anything that bad.

However, during a clarifying weekend to myself where I spent time reflecting, evaluating, and understanding, I realized that I don’t need a crutch. I can validate the difficulties I have been through, but I don’t need to use those troubles as excuses for my actions.

I am human. I am going to make mistakes. When that happens, as it inevitably will, I have to forgive myself; that is the only way for me to overcome these faults and mature from them.

When I redirect my focus towards how I can improve in the future versus continually beating myself up over my past, I can move forward and fulfill my purpose. And right now, my purpose is to care for a beautiful little boy and a wonderful teenage girl who desperately need my support and attention. I’m not going to be selfish and let my self-doubt hold me back from being the rock that they need. I am strong enough to overcome this because of the inspiration they give me.

I’m asking for forgiveness, from others and myself, for the mistakes that haunt me and I am turning my guilt into more gratitude for the blessings in my life.

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Love always,

Allie

 

 

Then There was One…

There’s a bittersweet feeling in my household tonight.

My little boy is sound asleep in bed. Clothes are in the dryer and the dishes are done. I’m relaxing on the couch with a bowl of mint chocolate chip ice cream while watching Shark Tank.

There’s no rap music blaring from a bedroom upstairs. No door alarms need to be set. There are no intruders sneaking into my home to see the teen.

For the first time in months, I am by myself.

That is because Wednesday, on her 18th birthday, the teen made the decision to sign herself out of foster care. Although she had the opportunity to continue to stay with me until she was as old as 21, she opted out. Instead, she has moved in with her boyfriend (of 3 weeks) and is determined to be an independent adult.

My feelings at this point are conflicted: I am certainly concerned, disappointed, and saddened by her choice, but at the same time, I am feeling a sense of relief in her absence.

I am no longer causing her unhappiness as the hindrance to her freedom. I am no longer stopping her from being where she wants to be. Although we met through “the system”, that is no longer what is tying us together. Instead, the trust, admiration, and respect she gained for me through my unconditional love during our time together is now maintaining our friendship.

Am I sad to see her go? Yes. But am I satisfied with the job that I did as her foster parent? Absolutely. I am content because she knows that no matter where her newfound freedom leads her, she will always have my support, love, and prayers. I trust that the advice I have given her thus far, and will continue to give her, will resonate and encourage her to make good choices as she embarks on this journey.

The outcome may not be exactly what I had hoped for, but clearly God had other plans for our existence in each other’s lives. Whatever that might be, I am thankful.

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Allie

Let Your Light Shine

My hiatus from blogging was not intentional, but is a result of the overwhelming professional, personal, and spiritual demands of the past few months. As I’m beginning to find clarity in my thoughts and removing toxins from my life, I’m finding myself desiring nothing more than to blog. I want to channel all of the stress, frustration, and angst in the most therapeutic way I know how: by writing.

So here it goes.

As many of you know, I have taken on two children over the past 3 months: a 4-year-old with severe autism, Pica, and lead poisoning, along with a 17-year-old with PTSD, RAD, and a history of rebellious behavior that has resulted in dozens of foster home placements throughout her life in “the system”. I loathe putting labels on children because their conditions should not define them, but in this case, I think it adds depth to my story and will aid in your understanding of recent events.

Progress seems to be made daily with my little guy in regard to determining his desires through nonverbal cues, potty training, and developing an appropriate diet. However, we certainly have plenty of challenging days. Raising a child with special needs is more difficult than I ever could’ve imagined. Structure, stability, and attention are things that all children need, but it is amplified to the utmost degree for a child with special needs. The effort it takes to properly care for him is exhausting, but I love every moment of it and am so thankful to have him in my life. He is my ray of sunshine on the darkest of days.

When I first took on my teen, it seemed as though we were a perfect fit. She quickly opened up to me about the trauma, heartache, and loss she had experienced throughout her life. I was inspired by her resilience and made it a priority to establish her trust.

All was well for the first few weeks. I brought her to half a dozen businesses to get applications (which led to her securing a job at McDonald’s), helped her learn how to drive. and supported her as she ended an unhealthy relationship. She attended pageant events with me and expressed an interest in becoming involved. She joined me as I spoke to groups about my role as a foster parent and brought participants to tears with her stories. Everything was great…until she started pushing me away. Once that began, it was one test after another.

First, she sneaked away in the middle of the night. Isn’t that a normal thing for a teenager to do? Sure. I sat down with her and we had a great conversation about how we would learn from the event. We laughed, cried, and hugged. She agreed to be honest with me from that point forward and I believed her.

That same night, I went up to her room to see if she would like some ice cream. While outside of her door, I overheard her talking. Thinking she was hiding a phone, I opened the door to try to catch her. Much to my surprise, there was a boy in there.

A boy in her room.

In my home.

But it gets better: apparently he was a runaway and had lived there for two days without my knowledge. Angry, concerned, and violated don’t even begin to express how I felt about that incident. Thankfully, God has granted me with the ability to have more patience, acceptance, and mercy during the past few months than I have ever had. If I forgive her for this, she surely wouldn’t test me again. Right?

Oh how naive I can be.

After many more trying times that included being missing for 24 hours, befriending a MUCH older man that she adamantly wants to move in with, and being suspended from school within the first few weeks of classes starting, you’d think I’d be ready to throw in the towel.

But I can’t.

Time and time again, God is redirecting my focus to the light that I know this young woman possesses and is making it impossible for me to let her go. I’ve given her multiple chances, I’ve forgiven her for her mistakes, and I’ve dedicated myself to helping make her the person I know she is capable of being. But what I’m finding is that all of this effort I invest with her, or anyone I love, comes at a cost to me.

My kindness is my weakness. My dedication is an obsession. And when I love, I love with all that I have. All is fine and well until that person I care so deeply about betrays me. The more they knock me down, the more strength I put into building them up. The more they try to dim my light, the more I try to ignite theirs. My attempt to be as selfless as possible is literally leaving me with less of myself. I’m broken and scorned for loving too much.

When it comes to a child that I commit to, this is a sacrifice I’m willing to make every time. They need me to help them recognize the life that they deserve. Even if they don’t accept my assistance immediately, I have faith that it will impact them when God decides they need it most. When that time comes, they will help relight the flame that they once drew on from me by proving that my love was not a wasted effort.

However, when an adult takes advantage of the unconditional love that I offer, I’ve realized that they need more help than I can give them. Instead of wasting my light on them, I’m turning them over to God. In the process, I will learn whatever lesson He intended to teach me through their presence in my life; I will appreciate that He has given me the strength to make it through the obstacles set before me; and I will be even more thankful for those friends, new and old, that thrive on brightening my flame.

My heart is still full of love. My faith is unwavering. My integrity is ever-present. God is good.

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Allie

Daddy’s Girl

Children are a product of their environment. We have heard this time and time again, but the truth around that statement is remarkable. What a child is exposed to, the values that are instilled in them, and the people that impression their lives throughout their development have a profound affect on their future.

As a foster parent, I see firsthand how difficult life can be for children that do not have responsible parental figures. I also see how difficult life can be for those children who become parents later in life without the support, guidance, and care of their families.

The more I am exposed to circumstances that depict an upbringing like this, the more grateful I am for the amazing family that I am blessed to be part of. On this Father’s Day, I would like to give an extra special shout-out to my Dad who has never hesitated to lend an ear when I need someone to listen, offer words of wisdom to inspire me, and support me in every adventure I embark on. I will forever admire my Dad’s ability to see the good in all people and hope to emulate that throughout my life. I appreciate his dedication to our family more than he will ever know and love him unconditionally.

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I know what a treasure I have with my family and am thrilled to be able to share them with the families we befriend throughout my experiences as a foster parent.

Love you all tons!

Allie

When One Door Closes, Another Opens

The state of euphoria that consumed me while I was competing at this Miss New York State Pageant is hard to describe. I have been involved with the Miss America Organization for ten years now, but throughout that ten years I have never felt as confident, empowered, and content as I did that week. I finally had the faith to truly believe that no matter what happened, there was a plan for my future that would allow me to carry out my mission in the most effective way possible. I had faith in God, but equally as important, I had faith in myself that regardless of what those judges decided:

I am enough.

I didn’t need to compare myself to the other contestants. I didn’t need to be deceitful, I didn’t need to walk away with a crown to feel like I had won. Victory, for me, was in the opportunity I had to share the story of Sweet Pea with others and inspire them to also make a difference for foster children. Even if I had walked away as Miss New York, my biggest success in life would still be the progress that I have made with the children I have affected thus far, and will continue to affect in the future.

Which brings me to some exciting news…

The weekend prior to departing for Miss New York, I agreed to take in a little boy on respite. I wasn’t sure what to expect because I was informed that he was nonverbal, autistic, and diagnosed with Pica, but I graciously accepted the challenge. It didn’t take long for me to fall love with his sweet demeanor, contagious laugh, and beautiful big blue eyes.

Since returning from the pageant, I have learned that he will soon be in need of a full-time placement and because of the success we had over our weekend respite, my home is being considered! I am looking forward to spending this weekend with him and hope to see a lot more of him in the future. From what I have gathered about his situation, I may have another opportunity to work on reunification with a mom who needs some guidance. I pray that I am able to gain her trust and facilitate a relationship with her.

Additionally, I had an awesome experience providing respite care for a teenage foster child this past weekend! Our time together was filled with activities including the Relay for Life event, church, a trip to the beach, and scary movies…I don’t know how she talked me into that!

Throughout the weekend, I appreciated her transparency with me about her traumatic past and current situation. I was pleasantly surprised by her willingness to be open and trust me, especially considering that she had been diagnosed with RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder). Her entrance into my life came at an interesting time because I have been doing a lot of research about the “aging-out” process for children in foster care and have been horrified by what I’ve found (here is an example).

Since she will be aging out of the foster care system this Fall, I am determined to prevent her from becoming one of those statistics. I have asked for the opportunity to have her for more respites and was granted a week long visit at the beginning of July. I am so excited to spend more time with her and hope that this is just the beginning of something great.

Can’t wait to give you more updates!

Allie