Where: North Carolina - Children's Home - Girl's Cottage #5
Who/What: House parenting 5 young ladies; parenting Zander (age 2), and Charlotte (age 6 and starting kindergarten at home).
Overall impression of the year: 2016 was a tough year. There is no other way to describe it. The craziness started in January and spiraled into an insane schedule from there. I think I shall take it month by month as that is the simplest way of explaining what happened.
I started the year out by reorganizing the kid's room. In our tiny little 500sq ft apartment, space was obviously at a premium, so I was proud of managing to organize it as well as I did. Pride went before a fall, I guess.
On the 22nd of January, on our precious week off, we have snow. And then we received a visitor. Our director stopped by to "ask" us about some changes that needed to be made on campus. Long story short--having just reorganized my house--we were moving to another cottage. And gaining three girls as well. Immediately.
This entire month was shaped by the process of moving. The changes on campus involved two other couples moving as well as our entire cottage. The cascade effect. One couple moved so another couple could move so we could move. It took about a month of shifting kids back and forth and here and there and packing and unpacking.
And any time children were added (or removed) from a cottage, there was a always a difficult transition time in which everyone wiggled and squirmed to get comfortable with the new order of things.
In the meantime, Zander had his third birthday--not the party I wanted for him due to the insanity of time--but a sweet celebration, none-the-less.
Charlotte also had a rough experience during this time, her hamster died. The death of a pet is always hard; the death of your first--the hardest.
March 2016 - This was the gentlest month of this year. The moving wrapped up early in the month. We settled into a new cottage with new residents, and a new pattern. We also enjoyed going to the beach with several of the girls for spring break.
April 2016 - I remember this being an incredibly busy month. Not bad but extremely crowded. Lots of groups on campus, lots of school sports and activities, a trip into the Smoky Mountains to take the girls to a youth event (which gave us a fun day of visiting with friends), and my parents came to visit.
We also received unpleasant news in the form of our relief houseparents telling us they were resigning and we had one more month with them. This led to a bit of scrambling change on our parts as a we had an upcoming vacation scheduled that had to be rearranged, and some concern about what our future schedule was going to be.
Allow me to take a moment to paint for you a rough picture of our schedules as houseparents. The schedules vary depending on what home you're at, but at this particular home, our work schedule was set for 21 days of work followed by 7 days off. Now, when I say "21 days" of work, that means for 21 days in a row, our lives, our schedules, our everything for 24 hours a day, fit into the schedule and demands of the children, the house we were in charge of, and the entirety of the children's home itself.
During the school year, a healthy schedule might have a few hours during the weekday morning that require some work, but otherwise, it should be viewed as your family/downtime. Now, on vacations, weekends, summer breaks, or when kids are home sick (or suspended....aaaagh!), that's a different story. At least in the homes we've worked in, those times fell on us. I do know some homes operate differently and try to protect the downtime of the houseparents in many of those instances. Either way, your downtime is a highly valued commodity. When you're trying to balance a healthy family life with a consuming, time-intensive, emotionally and spiritually involving job dealing with not just raising children but training and teaching children from very mixed, not always strong backgrounds--it can be exhausting. Add in long stretches of time, and those precious down hours are your only opportunity to truly recharge from day to day. And, lets face it, deal with anything your personal life might be in need of.
Now, I could spend an entire post analyzing house parenting and fostering and explaining differences and similarities, etc. But that's not my goal here. Neither is my goal to speak badly of a job we truly loved and valued for many years. So I will summarize what was occurring in this way: due to a variety of reasons, the demands on all our time were steadily increasing to the point where it was becoming unhealthy to our family. The need to regain balance in our lives was becoming a necessity when the news of our relief houseparentings leaving was broken to us. We knew that until their position was filled, our workload was going to have to increase--not decrease--and not much could be done about it. So we mentally prepped for what we hoped and assumed might be a few rough weeks or a couple months before the issue of balance could be further pursued.
May 2016 -
We added a few days to our regular week off and drove to Missouri. It was my parent's 40th wedding anniversary, and a chance to see some family and friends we hadn't seen in awhile. Little did we know, it was also the last time of sanity we would have for a very, very long time.
May 15th we came back on duty. It was the last day of work for our relief houseparents (in our cottage). And as we did not yet have anyone hired to take their place, we girded our brains with the expectation that we might end up working for a month or so without a break.
May 15 through June - July - August - September 12, 2016 - From May 15 until September 12, we had a total of 5 days off. 2 days in June and 3 days in July. None in August. This was an absolutely insane time for us as we worked through not only the sheer exhaustion of never being off, but we were dealing with some extra high intensity behavioral issues as well, which at any time would have been grating on the soul as well as emotionally and physically exhausting.
A Facebook post on August 5 sums up nicely my emotional state at times: Those moments in life when you face the choice: lay on the floor, kick your heels, and weep hysterically or just laugh. Perhaps till you cry. But laugh nonetheless.
During this time, we had two residents going to new chapters in their lives for various reasons, and we swiftly gained two new residents, so we continued to have 8 girls in our home. The turmoil of comings and goings always leaves a mark, so that was an added stressor to the time.
Just a tip--don't go into House parenting prepared to either (a) be the savior of the kids. Leave that to Christ. You can only provide direction and pray hard. or (b) never get your feelings hurt, never get emotionally drained, or always be superhero. Because you're not. And you can't. And you won't be. And if you think you can or are, you're going to be sorely disappointed at some point.
As ever, there were good times and bad. Sweet memories and bitter. But it came as music to my ears on September 10 when my husband informed me that he had just been told in a staff meeting that we were going off duty in roughly 24 hours for an entire week. First thing we did? Book a condo at the beach. For the week. Because we needed it.
When we came back on duty a week later, I can't say we were entirely refreshed because that would be a lie. But we were definitely in a better place physically, mentally, and emotionally than we'd been one week prior.
Other events that occurred during this time. Blueberry and Zanderman participated in a soccer camp. Which was fun. Blueberry turned 6 and started First Grade!!!! And my sweet, sweet nephew was born.
September 13 - December 31, 2017
Highlights from these months: My parents came for a 3 day visit (in-between ogling their newest grandchild!). Zander started dance and loved it (he was having to come with me to his sister's dance class every week, and they opened up a class for his age at the same time, So we took advantage of the opportunity).
|Just keeping it real. Our home would frequently suffer during these long stretches because keeping up with it all is hard for anybody.|
In world news, the King of Thailand died-the impact of which has been huge on the land of my childhood.
Our schedule continued in this vein of virtually non-stop work for several more months. I recall getting three days or so in October near the end of the month when one of the staff members in the office stepped up to provide some relief. It was November before somebody was finally hired as our new relief houseparents. By the time they went through training and started working, we wound up with 3 days off in November and 5 in December--then they quit. Houseparenting is not easy. And there is no judgement here. But I will admit to a deep groaning of the spirit at the thought of continuing for who knew how much longer without relief.
And to round out the year thoroughly:
Facebook Post December 10: My verse this year has been Luke 22:42. Specifically the four final words of that verse: Thy will be done.
Frequently this year, I've had to repeat that as my mantra....His will be done. Give up desire, accept His wisdom. When we started our year with the chaos of an unexpected move. When I've literally worked months at a time with no break. When I've watched kids, into whom I've poured my heart and time and energy, imploding for seemingly no reason. When I've watched relationships that i desire crack and break down further-- again. When my heart felt like it was breaking. When facing politics and games at times and places where politics and games shouldn't be a factor. When i was so tired i felt like i might not be able to keep going if something didn't change immediately. My trust was-- Had to be--His will be done.
Without that trust, I would have quit, fallen apart, drowned in despair or frustration over and over this year.
I've watched so much tragedy go on around me this year. Friends being physically hurt. Loved one after loved one dying. Bombings, earthquakes, fires, the continued terrorism. So many people expressing frustration with this year as a whole.
And the only thing I've kept coming back to is: His will....not mine because i can only see a speck off the big picture....His will be done. Trusting. Surrendering.
And as i deal with the ramifications of yet another tragedy. The death of a woman i have loved and admired since i was 3 years old. With whom I've enjoyed developing a working- adult relationship of my own, outside of the context of my parents and their work. Someone who's ministry is so far reaching, i stand in awe. I can't imagine Thailand without Gail Barber Klepel there. And yet that's the new reality. And my heart breaks for her kids, and her husband. And for all of us who loved her and were impacted her.
And i find myself saying, praying, breathing, Thy will be done. Thy will be done. Because without that faith and giving it to Him, I don't know how to handle this crazy life right now.
December 20th: I discovered I was pregnant.