17 May 2013

Graduation Day Baby!

Spring has sprung in California.
Last weekend was my lucky 3!  My oldest son graduated University.  It was Mother's Day and this Momma had all five of her kids together at one time.  Can you say - CHRISTMAS PICTURE?  And,
my youngest son left for his stint in the United States Armed Forces on Sunday evening after months of planning and preparation.  He was so excited and ready to go serve his country.  You could feel his enthusiasm and not help but to be happy for him!  Well, you don't , but I do.  I'm finding that I have a new affinity for momma's who let their babies grow up to be soldiers.  Then again, as all momma's know, if your kids are happy, you're happy!

We even talked our Mimi into tagging along.  She has MS and must now use a walker and a wheel chair.  Heat affects her too.  MS is frankly a disease that sucks like all others, but our Mimi is an inspiration.  The smile never left her lovely face, she never complained once although I know she must have been way over tired.  Besides that, she taught us drinking songs from her college days the entire 2 1/2 hour drive up to Los Angeles!

How about this one:  Drink, drank, drunk last night, drunk the night before
                                   Gonna get drunk tonight, like we've never been drunk before!

Gotta love home car schooling, Mimi style!

 This here is our official Loyola Marymount University graduate.
Feeling the love as we piled into his little house from two cars!
These have been his haunts for the past 4 years.  He's loved every minute of it.  I spent the first eighteen years of my life trying to escape the smog and traffic and over- crowding of LA, but I guess DNA wins out because, he spent his four years of high school, working on his GPA just so he could attend his dream school up in LA where I was born and grew up.  And he's loved every minute of it!
 Biiiiiiig hugs from everybody.  His sister who's VERY pregnant made the treck, and the tricky, mom magic of getting sitters, and friends (and an awesome hubby) to tend to and schedule her other six kids at home.

The Baccalaureate Mass was spectacular!  The choir had a jazz ensemble and the entire mass was seeped in the beauty of our rich Catholic Tradition.  I may have cried.
There was a huge party afterward, given by the University.  The entire quad was full of food, sushi stations,  dippin' dots, rocking bands and CONGRATULATIONS to all Graduates.
Can you believe that my family came from San Diego, Seattle and Illinois, just to be together to celebrate their, son-brother-grandson?  I was the luckiest Mom on earth last weekend.  Oh, did I mention that my newest granddaughter is in her momma's belly, there on the far right?  Yup, she is!

 Proud, proud, beaming, bragging parents with their son.  No excuses.  Sorry.
The fab five.  We missed our two sons in law, but to have my forevers back together, made this picture worth a thousand words for this now, empty nester.  Who by the way, so far, hates, hates, hates it!
 This touching bronze statue on campus overlooking Los Angeles to the Hollywood hills, represents the students who passed on during their time at LMU.  There are plaques at the base, with their names, remembering all of the students for the past 100 years.  I think it is a beautiful tribute for those of us who believe that souls live on forever, never to be forgotten.
Never mind that we were pounded by 85 degrees in the direct sun for four hours of graduation and two hours of mind numbing traffic trying to get out of the campus afterwards.  We still had fun.  My hubby was so happy and so grateful he couldn't wipe the smile off his face and even offered to carry all our heavy purses when we looked like we were going to topple over from exhaustion.  (Actually his grin belies the fact that he no longer has to pay the bill for Cooper's University and it was akin to getting a big fat raise!)  Whatever floats your boat darlin'.  You're a good man.
Congratulations son!  We couldn't be prouder of you.  Now come home and live with your momma forever, K?

Love you more than how happy my weekend made me!



PS   Your promised sunset...

06 May 2013

Be All You Can Be

Be All You Can Be, was the United States Army's slogan (1980-2001).  The slogan feels right.  It has become a metaphor for my youngest son's life.  My boy, now a young man, is doing what he thinks he was meant to do.  He wants to give his all, show himself and the world that he has grown and changed and developed.  He has overcome great odds in doing so.  Working hard through his personal life, he has become courageous.  He shows respect to everyone, he is loyal to a fault, is an honorable man and has personal integrity.  Throughout his young life he has already sacrificed so much, he feels that he understands how to sacrifice.  With hard work he knows that there is nothing too difficult, no challenge too great for him to overcome.  I also believe that's true.  He is destined for greatness and all I can say is, I'm glad he's on our side!

My youngest son, Dylan.  I have kept him close to my heart.  I have always felt an overwhelming need to provide for him and protect him at all costs.  He came to me later than most mothers' meet their baby's.  When he was only 4 months old he got very ill with a high fever.  He was in hospital all alone because his temporary foster mother, a friend of mine, was home ill with her family.  She called me and asked if I could go check in on him, so he wouldn't be there without a familiar face.  I had three kids at home and my husband stepped up to take care of them while I spent the next three days sitting beside Dylan's hospital crib waiting for his little cheeks to stop blazing, bright red with fever.

I waited for the gummy baby smile to return to his chubby little face.  Although he was hooked up to iv tubes, I was able to cradle him in my arms as I prayed for him out loud and sang him lullabies throughout the next three days and nights.  His fever finally broke and he slowly regained strength and vigor again.  This mother's prayers were answered, at the same time this mother's prayers had only just begun.

Dylan had a rough start in life.  His biological mother was high on drugs, and he they tested positive for metheamphetemene and marijuana.  The hotel manager heard his mothers' screams and called an ambulance.  She was taken to a nearby hospital with her baby, but after being examined for several days, he was taken from his mother, to live in foster care while she worked on her plan to get clean and reunite with him.  He was taken to live in what they call a Respite Home.  That is, a home where a licensed foster care mother tends to the child until a more permanent home is found. The "permanent" home can last as long as it takes for the biological mother to get her life together.  She is offered help with her addiction and given parenting classes. She is given the opportunity to visit her child regularly.  Placement in a foster home can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few years.  Other relatives are sought to do what they can as well.  Getting the family healthy and keeping them together is the ultimate goal, although sometimes it cannot be achieved no matter how much one wishes it so.

My husband and I had what is called a permanent foster home.  We had been giving licensed care in addition to raising our biological children for about four years.  Our job was to give the baby, or children in some cases, the love and health care, the family environment, and to advocate for all the things they needed, physically and emotionally on a daily basis.  The question we were most often asked as people found out we were doing this, and shook there head in a quandary was, why?  Why did you decide to become foster parents?  Doesn't it break your heart when a child leaves?  The answer is yes.  Yes of course it breaks, but hopefully the child takes with them a huge piece, that will make a difference for them every day for the rest of their life.

We always wanted a large, boisterous, loving family, filled with memory making moments, fun holiday traditions and close relationships.  We felt we had been given so much with our own healthy, beautiful children that,  we wanted to share our love and our values and ability to care for others, with children who needed a home for however long they needed it.  If a child just once experiences unconditional love, he will remember it and it will strengthen him.  We were often asked, "how can you take a child into your home, fall in love, and then let him go again?"  Our response, after thinking about it, and experiencing it, is still, if you must have your heart broken in this life,  (and you must), what better than to have it broken than by helping someone else?  Love is what it's all about, and the love of children comes back to you in ways that are much stronger than what you give away.  It really was, and is, our privilege.  I'm not saying it was easy, but I am saying that it is worth it.

Dylan now, after two other placements, had his permanent foster home. We enveloped him into our family with all our hearts.  Our other kids were so thrilled to have a new baby to love.  His health improved and his heart was as full as ours.  He smiled all the time and enchanted others wherever we went.  Just see if you don't melt into those huge, bright, chocolate eyes!

 Dylan was unequivocally good natured and so adorable he was practically edible! He seemed so happy and so typical of a healthy baby.  In talking to his pediatrician, I inquired wether the drugs he had experienced would have any lasting affects or cause any problems in the future like alcohol can?  Specifically, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.  Doc replied that this was the first generation of what they called, Meth babies.  It was such a new drug that no one had really documented the affects of, over even, a ten year period of time.  No children had yet to come of age, having been exposed to Meth in utero.  It has now been almost twenty years since then and with the encouragement of a friend in Ireland, and the knowledge I have gained after raising such a child, I am going to attempt to write a book about our voyage. Dylan and mine, and our family's.  Oh what a trip it's been.  What a ride of ups and downs.  Ours is truly a story of grace.

I get stuck in the writing of our story because I still experience diagnosed, Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.  Yes, it got that intense. So intense that Dylan went to twelve different schools in twelve years and away to special boarding schools twice for six months just so he and our family could get some respite and regain familiarity with normalcy again.   I get stuck because I don't want to breach the boundaries of his privacy, yet it's important to keep it honest and real.  He wants moms to know, he wants kids to know, he wants his story told because, it may help someone else who could fall through the cracks.  Dylan had doctors, teachers, friends and even family members give up on him.  He also had  people who believed in him.  Thanks Mary Breda and Eve Dryfus.  You always said you thought he had an innate goodness and everything would be okay.  It helped a lot in our darkest hours.  We are still of the mind that any child can, be all he can be, no matter what the circumstances of his birth.

 Our book will be a dialogue between Dylan and I, of what we have experienced over the past twenty years.  Of why you should always choose life because life, every life, is worth it.  It will be a dedication to Dylan's biological mother who said YES to life whatever her circumstances were.  God has a plan for every human being.  His plan for Dylan was to be part of our family forever.  We never gave up on him nor he on us, no matter what, and we went to hell and back during our journey.

Our book, "Heart Cry", will be a memoir of sorts, to chronicle Dylan's story of overcoming the effects of being born addicted to drugs.  His story is important in so many ways.  For birth mom's, for adoptive moms, for doctors and therapists and all the experts who need the input of those who have actually experienced life with a child like Dylan.  It will touch the lives of family members who have or will travel the same path, and look back on twenty years of advocating and not giving up on a kid who in his own words, "would be in prison today if it weren't for what you did."  And most of all, it will be a dedication to a kid who never gave up, who always tried to be a better person by pure will and strong faith in God and his family.  Now the United States Army and all of us, will be a little safer in the knowledge that this bright, funny, outgoing, courageous human being is helping to defend our country and giving back.

Cottage By The Sea,  is just a blog about a momma and the shenanigans that go on at her cottage with that big, boisterous family I've been talking about.  I told you a long time ago that we wouldn't go to the dark side here.  This is my happy place and I come here to keep positive.  I love that you share that with me.  Someday I plan to be able to share with you, all sides of our story, the good, the bad and the ugly.  But it won't be here on this blog.  I'll keep you apprised of Dylan's life though - and of that book we're working on.  Getting the help you need to raise special children, children who were lost before they even had a chance, is just starting to be available because those parents, doctors, educators and the children themselves can only now just talk about it.  The first generation has arrived!

Father and son-they have always been the very best of buddies.

 Dylan LOVED tractors to the point of falling asleep whilst playing in the sandbox because he couldn't bear to leave his construction sites.

 This was Dylan's year to put the angel on the Christmas tree.  It wouldn't be the last time his dad struggled to hold him up.

 Little guy loved his pets.  He had many over the years including, dogs, cats, goats, chickens and bunnies!  He has a heart of gold.  Did I mention he leaves for Boot Camp on Mother's Day?  Hold me up friends, I'm gonna need it.

Doesn't he look precious and innocent here?  Just a dad and his son out on a boating trip for the day.  To be honest,  Dylan's teacher told my husband that she would not go out alone on a boat with him and if he were to go on the field trip his dad would have to go too.  I told you we had our ups and downs.  That was only the beginning.  My motto is, don't ever judge people too harshly, you never know what they might be going through in private.  When you have a child born with disorders that are visible or can easily be recognized and treated it's one thing.  A difficult thing yes; but maybe over-all, easier to deal with.  Kids like Dylan tend to fall through the cracks in life.  It takes a miracle of sheer will and where-with-all to heal them.

This was our goat Noah.  You can see that these are two macho dudes about to butt heads.  Dylan butt heads with a lot more that goats in those days.  Like I said, he has courage!  His courage and tenacity paid off in the end.

We had a wedding in our family last year and I got a rare shot of all my kids together.  They are all off at school and work and living busy lives now.  These are my five forever's.  All in all, with fosters and biologicals, which we consider all to be ours, in as much as one can consider a child there's, we've parented ten kids!  After this Mother's Day when Dylan leaves for Boot Camp for fourteen weeks, we'll be Empty Nester's!  Big life change for this momma - again friends - hold me up.

This was one of my proudest moments as a mother.  My two grown sons walking me down the isle at my daughter's wedding.

And here is the oath:
 This is the document Dylan swore to uphold for the next four years of his life.

Makes a momma's heart proud, (and a little lot terrified).

One of the activities Dylan's is going to miss most is body surfing.  He's been riding the waves since he was a wee bug.  He belongs to the Del Mar Body Surfing club and they've always cheered him on in the waves and will cheer him on until he comes home to the sea again.

We'll all miss all those (sniff) precious family moments, past and present.  Our family won't feel quite the same until we have him home again.

He is my amazing, my precious, my resilient, courageous, honorable son.  He is a strong, able, child of God.  When asked for any words of wisdom at his going away party, he said, "I love my country and I want to serve it the best I can.  I want to give back." He has learned to be a winner by staying focused. He's already my hero.

We were finally able to go to court to make him ours forever when he was just two years old.  Now for a bit we give him to all of you, to protect and to serve you.  (We're good sharers)!

Army Strong.

 Dylan bids adieu to his Mimi.

 A little family love with cousins before he fly's out.

Dylan receiving some (free) advise from his dad and our neighbor who is a former Army guy and an awesome mentor for our son.

My brother-in-law Don, helped Dylan to find his biological siblings recently.  When you are adopted through the foster care system that's not always so easy to do.  I'm a diligent record keeper so we had just enough information and a good internet connection to get the job done. (Thanks Uncle Don xoxo).   It was a dream come true for Dylan and now, besides the four siblings he already has, he found five more!  We were all for him making this important connection.  You can never have too many people rooting for you, right?

He said he felt a connection right away, and they have a lot to catch up on.  We're all looking forward to that, and now he has nine siblings in all, who will be loving him and wishing him well as he goes on this latest journey.

God Speed my son.  We'll miss you every second of every day but, our loss is America's gain.  Come home soon and safe and sound, Soldier!  

From sea to shining sea - May God bless you and hold you in the palm of his hand.  "Be All You Can Be!"