I’m not sure what to say, except that I survived my first summer as a foster/single/working mom. And that feels like some sort of accomplishment. Even though the weeds in my front yard got shamefully out of control, even though I have 2 new scars on my forehead, and even though I have had quite a few arguments with my girls, I still feel like I should celebrate SUMMER 2016.
My goodness—so much happened. And it’s all about how you look at it. It’s all about what I choose to see when I look back over the summer. I could get caught up with thinking about everything that was difficult and all that went wrong…or I can take a few minutes to thank God for what we were able to experience together this summer. I felt a lot of frustration in the past few days, and I feel like God is telling me to stop and celebrate the progress the girls and I are making.
1.At the beginning of June, my foster daughters finally met my sister Shari (who was 8 months pregnant at the time!) and her family when they came to visit. On the night Shari arrived in Indiana, my 3-year-old niece Jozi ran and gave G and A big hugs, even though she had never met them before. My girls fell in love with little Jozi right away.
We had a few cousin sleepovers at my house. One night my 6-year-old nephew Eli slept in my bed with me. But at about 3am, he fell out of bed onto my nightstand and broke my lamp. I woke up to the crash, but just chuckled and lifted him back on my bed since he was still asleep through it all.
2. The next week we planned to go to the lake with my parents and my sister Rachel’s family. My girls wanted to take a friend with them to the lake, but I said no—it was last minute, and I said that maybe we could bring her another time. But wow, did that start an argument with G, and she can give the cold shoulder like a champ…
A few hours later, G’s attitude bounced back to normal, and our time at the lake with family was really fun—although A wanted to sleep all day and play video games all night. I couldn’t get her out of bed to join us on a few things, and it was really discouraging for me. I thought, Oh my goodness, if this is what she’s going to try to do all summer long, I’m going to go crazy.
3. That weekend the girls went with me to my friend Katie’s wedding. As we drove to the wedding, I asked the girls some questions and realized that they had never been to a wedding before. We got there early, signed the guestbook, and looked at the wedding program together. I explained each element of the wedding ceremony to them as we looked around at all the beautiful decorations. My parents arrived, and A said to my mom, “Gee Gee, I want you to sit by me.”
Later, at the reception, G convinced my dad to come to the photo booth and dress up with the props. At first, my dad shook his head, like a photo booth isn’t his thing. But G kept saying, “Come on, Pappy!” So he finally gave in. I was laughing so hard. The reception ended with fireworks as the bride and groom drove away. I felt like it was the perfect first wedding for them to attend.
4. The next week of June was G’s birthday. I knew that G’s birthday was going to fall on Father’s Day, which also happened to be the day before our church’s VBS started. So I planned her party to be held a few days earlier. I borrowed my friend’s van, and we picked up some of her friends to go rolling skating. Because it was her birthday, the DJ brought our group to middle of the rink, and we sang “Happy Birthday” to her in front of everybody. Except for A. She walked over to the side because to her, singing in public is just too embarrassing. But G was dancing and smiling during the whole song. I couldn’t stop giggling at how she was soaking up the attention.
We had a handful of girls spend the night for her birthday, and I was happy, but it also irked me at how the girls often treat me when their friends are around. I tell them that it’s like they are 20% more disrespectful when their friends are over. And I hate trying to discipline them in front of their friends—so you know, we’re working through all of that.
5. A few days later, my girls went on a retreat with our church. I was so nervous about it; I was a little shocked that they even ended up going. But the next day, G texted me and asked me what I was doing. Then I asked her how the retreat was going for her, and she texted, “GREAT. I LOVE IT!!” And I started crying. I felt like God was answering my prayers for them to make good friends at my church. And when they got home the next day, we had a good conversation about what they had heard in the lessons. A told me about everything they did and about who said what. I smiled at how A is the queen at verbally processing things and how she gives me a window into her perspective on life.
6. And then later on that same day—G and I were in a 4-wheeler accident and had to go to the ER. If you’ve talked to me much this summer, you know that it was quite a scare. I’ll share the whole story soon, but for now, I’ll say that the accident made me slow down and rest so I could recover. And I really believe it helped G and I to get closer. Two days after our accident, my friend was taking G to her hair appointment (because I just needed to lie down on the couch and ice my face), and before they left, G turned around and said to me, “Bye, Mary. I love you.”
I smiled. “I love you too, honey.” Because in that moment, as we were both bruised and swollen and scratched up, knowing that we’d both have scars from this accident, we weren’t too cool to show affection, and we didn’t want to take each other for granted.
7. Also, the day after our accident, Vacation Bible School started! It’s my job to lead VBS at my church, and this was my 8th time directing VBS. But because of my injuries, I had to stay in my office for most of the program. It was really hard for me to know that I was missing out on something that is so important to me. But G and A helped my friend Karen with a small group of 4th grade girls, and that made my heart so happy. Thanks to so many great leaders, VBS ran smoothly, and 300 children were there to hear about Jesus’ love for them.
8. The next week my girls went with our church youth group on a trip to Cedar Point. This trip was 4 days long, and I admit that I felt like I needed that time to rest. I sat on my couch and read a novel each evening after work. :) :) :) :)
9. As July began, it seemed like the girls wanted to go to a friend’s house or have a friend over EVERY SINGLE DAY. I’m an introvert and a planner, so all of these spontaneous sleepovers were a bit much for me, and I was kind of taken aback by their intense begging about all this. It’s taken me a few weeks to figure out how to work with the girls to plan their time with friends. (And that’s probably a too polite way of describing that. It has pretty much dominated my thought life.)
10. My next responsibility at work was to prepare for Kids Camp. It all came together, praise God, and on July 8, G, my nieces Rylee and Raegan, and my nephew Ruston rode with me to camp. (I knew from the beginning of the summer that I wasn’t going to force A to come to camp with me because she doesn’t like crowds, doesn’t like loud noises, and doesn’t want to be around kids 24/7. Camp isn’t for everybody, and I knew it wouldn’t be her thing. But G—she loves kids, loves people, loves games, and loves to be where the action is. I knew that the water balloons and slip n slide were just calling her name.) I loved having G with me at camp; it was fun to see her step up to help serve pizza, set up the obstacle course, hand out snow cones, etc. Of course, she pushed me into the pool literally right as I was yelling at others to stop pushing kids into the pool. But that is just how she is. Lol
11. The next week A left for Florida with one of her friends. It was exciting because she had never seen the ocean before. Before her trip, we sat on the couch together, and I talked to her about how to budget her money for her meals and how to apply her sunscreen (which she barely needs because she has such a great complexion). We made a quick stop to get her some snacks for the road trip, and then we pulled up to her friend’s house as they were loading up their truck. I told A, “Remember to listen to what her parents say and to be respectful.”
She nodded. “I know, Mary.”
I helped her carry her bags, and then I hugged and kissed her good-bye.
This was going to be the longest I had been apart from her (also the longest she had ever been apart from her sister), and I had mixed feelings about it. But I knew she would have fun and that she would love that Florida beach.
12. While A was in Florida, G and I went to Kansas to visit Shari and her newborn baby girl. We had a great visit. G and I didn’t fight the whole time! G helped my nieces and nephew make about 100 rubber-band bracelets. And she loved holding baby Bailey; I’d always catch her sitting in the recliner enjoying some baby snuggles. One night when we were going to bed, I told her, “You’re going to be a great mom someday.”
After the little kids went to bed, my sister and brother-in-law taught G how to play the board games Ticket to Ride and Settlers. We’d pop popcorn and play the games late into the night, and G loved that.
And then Tuesday came last week, and the girls woke up even before our alarms went off. As we drove into the school parking lot, A took a deep breath and said, “Our first day of high school, Mary.”
And I said, “Ahhh! I meant to take a picture!” I handed G my phone, and they took a selfie together in the car, just seconds before jumping out to get to class.
I kept looking back at that photo for the rest of the day. Beautiful girls.
I’m still over here making plans on how to provide better structure and correction in our home, but I’m also thanking God for what He is doing in our hearts each day.
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Mary is the author of She Won't Shrink Back: A Story of Building & Believing.
Mary works at Brookville Road Community Church, where she leads children's ministry and women's ministry. She is the author of She Won't Shrink Back: A Story of Building & Believing.