“Come on momma- pull it together, your baby wants you.”

The little girl we are fostering loves the bath. Every evening after dinner she toddles into the bathroom. I get her all set up and while she splashes around I sit on the floor near the tub and read.

Tonight I had a handful of Easter egg candies I was eating while reading. At some point I felt a warm little hand touch the side of my face and ask, “num-num?”.

She’s a smart little girl. It’s not always the case, but we’ve been rooting for her birth mom to get it together. It’s evident that she’d spent a lot of time with her – at less than two years old she knows all her colors, body parts, names of common things and asks for what she wants.

I bit one of the chocolate eggs in half and stuck the other half in her mouth. Her eyes got wide and she splashed and squealed. A minute later the little hand came back with, “num-num?”.

“No more baby girl, is it time to get out?”

She plopped abruptly back down in water and shook her head very seriously, “No!…Momma? Momma?”

She asks for her momma a lot. Bath time always brings up the topic of her missing parent. She has not let Kaety take the momma role. It’s usually Kaety who is the primary safe harbor for our little fosters. For a lot of these kids men are source violence and fear – so I’m used to being viewed with suspicion and held at a distance. In this case though I am the bomb! She is all daddy all the time.

She reached out again and patted my face. I grabbed her hand, kissed it and pulled the towel down off the rack, “Time to get out!” She laughed at the kisses and hung on to me as I wrapped her up in the towel. She looked at me again and asked, “Momma?”.

I carried her in to get jammies on and answered her, “Momma’s not here right now baby”.

I wrestled her into her jammies and laid her down in the crib. She patted the side of her face – her way of asking that I rub her head. I turned off the light and rubbed her head while she settled down.

I whispered “goodnight” as I closed the door and thought, “Come on momma- pull it together, your baby wants you.”

Travel with Teen: Salt Lake

While the boys had their age appropriate moments of poor behavior on the trip, Symone wins the worst traveler award. With only one day left I’m not sure how she can Unwin that award.

Her teen world falls into two categories: about me, not about me. Traveling with a person with only those two settings is a drag. While this is quintessential teen it’s still been pretty exasperating.

An earmark of teenhood is not having a measuring stick yet. Things that didn’t go her way couldn’t simply be shrugged off – they instead become a knife that was plunged into the very core of their developing personhood. We tried a number of approaches to help her process her less than ideal experiences but none of our attempts found their mark… yet.

Throughout the trip Symone has had to face not being a child anymore. The Red Robin milkshake she’d enjoyed when she was seven no longer tastes the same to her at 12.75. She chose to deal with her disappointment by bitterly complaining, vilifying the milkshake and all those who had a hand in its making, and being angry at all of us for not somehow knowing that the experience wouldn’t be pleasing for her.

Somehow she got the idea that travel was luxurious, relaxing, and free from discomfort or responsibilities. Her loudly express entitlement has us cringing and wondering where she got any of these ideas – we decided we needed to start talking about our experiences, and range of discomforts differently to teach her what to put up with and what is actually uncomfortable and can be fixed.

She’s also going to be the recipient of a lot more household responsibilities when she gets home.

Our next County Commissioner

It was a slightly chilly, but gloriously sunny day on the Oregon Coast. We got the kids dressed and got out into the yard and garden. Everything was in the first stages of spring beginning. My husband Mark was excited to get a window to mow down the spring grass before it got out of control.

In the middle of a deep patch he turned off the mower and yelled up at me, “Do you think it would help your campaign if everyone knew that their next Lincoln County Commissioner liked to do her own yard work?”

I smiled, “It would help, but honesty demands that I admit that I hate mowing – that’s your job.”

He smiled and laughed and I turned my attention to the winter beets. They were beautiful, enormous, and ready to harvest. As I pulled them the smell of the earth mixed with with the fresh mown grass was intoxicating.

A garden is important to me. As a little girl I enjoyed working with my dad in our huge family garden. His love for working with the earth and harvesting food has followed me into my adulthood and is something I now share with my children.

Noble, our 3 year old helped me load the beet bounty into baskets. The abundance we had just pulled out of our family garden was stunning. I noticed another little set of hands reaching for the beet and was struck by a crash of contrasts. We’ve been fostering a little 16-month old girl for the last few weeks. She came to us with a lot of food security issues and had obviously suffered from a significant level of neglect. I’m guessing she had never seen a beet, or worked in the garden with her family, or smelled the fresh dirt. The deep connection I felt to the earth through working in the garden was something that she hadn’t experience until now. I was grateful that in the short time she’d be with our family that she’d know these things and more critically know the deep sense of well-being that comes from a constant source of healthy food.

When I looked at her little hands wrapped around a beet almost bigger than she was I thought about statistics that have burned themselves into my head – all the children and families in Lincoln County that struggle with poverty, food security and addiction. I ‘do something’ by about those issues by bringing a child into my home and loving and feeding them. As County Commissioner I want to reach into these critical issues and do even more.

My husband and I have a very close relationship. He saw me with the babies and the beets and seemed to know what I was thinking. He came up behind me, kissed me on the head and said quietly, “Do you think it would help your campaign if everyone knew how badly their next County Commissioner wanted every child in the county to have enough food to eat?”

They Notice…

Symone announced her intent to go to the Vegas dance at the middle school. She worked on building the outfit for almost an hour. There were many consultations: dice cocktail dress, red or teal Converse, pearl choker or black hair bow, shorts or tights?

Once she got the outfit set she had about a half an hour until the dance. She came into the kitchen and said “Mark, get your camera, you’re going to take photos of me and I have a number of questions”

Dances often evoke a specific range of topics for Symone – I’d been caught flat footed in the past. As I grabbed my camera I limbered up to catch the fastballs that I knew were coming.

She posed and I directed. Three or four photos in she rolled out, “When you look at mom in that certain way that I see you looking at her, did you have to practice that or does it just come from within?”

I smiled as I looked at her through the viewfinder. I took more shots and said as I worked, “It comes from within honey. You can never contrive a truly felt feeling”

She struck a different pose and said, “Do you have to be beautiful to have someone look at you like that?”

I paused before I answered. Through my camera I was snapping stills of a girl trying out the woman she would become. She was amazing and beautiful and had noticed how her mom was being loved, regarded and admired. She was asking both the most complicated and simple question.

“Honey, everything seen through loves eyes is beautiful”

She made a face, “That’s not an answer!”

I grinned at her, reached over and hugged her and kissed her head, “Yes it is. You just don’t know yet how brave you have to be to let love in and let yourself be beautiful to someone else.”

She rolled her eyes and stuck out her tongue and ran inside.

I stood in the backyard and took a minute to process. If I ever doubted that kids notice everything I had just received an amazing reminder.

They do.