Welcome to my circus.

April 26, 2017
by Maralee
61 Comments

GIVEAWAY! A handmade sign from Here With Us!

I always love doing giveaways, but this one is special to me because I get to give you something from someone who has been creating beauty for me for a couple years now. She 100% has my seal of approval and I have no problem telling you what a joy she is to work with because I’ve had such great experiences with her.

I’ve got a great interview with her below, but if you’re in a rush, here’s how to enter the giveaway for a handmade sign: Comment below with your favorite sign from the options at the bottom of the post. For a second entry, go “like” the Here With Us Facebook page and tell Traci that I sent you. Now back to the story.

I first found out about Here With Us through a Facebook post from a friend. I loved the idea of helping support someone’s adoption by buying something I genuinely liked. I thought her work was beautiful and had something specific in mind that I wanted someone to help me create. When I contacted Traci she was great to work with– open to my idea, checked with me about possible colors, fonts, etc., and then ran with it when she had a rough idea of what we were looking for. I could not have been more pleased with the finished product and two years later, it still hangs above our bed. It was an anniversary gift I gave to my husband that’s a quote from a Dr. Who episode that summed up a needed attitude adjustment in our marriage:

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So when I recently put out the call for anyone who wanted to partner with me for some giveaways, I was thrilled when Traci responded. Once again, she created something beautiful for our family that was exactly what I was hoping for. It’s a quote from one of our favorite movies (“Meet the Robinsons”) combined with a Scripture reference:

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I love that by working with Here With Us I’m able to create a home environment that embodies what I want to communicate to my kids and my spouse, not just what was available at the store when I went looking for home decor. Got favorite song lyrics that have meaning to you and your husband? Or is it the lullaby you sang over your kids? Want some personal affirmations to hang in your bathroom when you’re feeling down about yourself? Got a favorite quote from your Grandma that you’d like to hang in your kitchen? Traci is your go-to girl. And she’s happy to collaborate with you on colors and sizes that work in your space. And if you want something beautiful that’s ready to hang, she’s got lovely pieces that are ready to go.

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April 25, 2017
by Maralee
1 Comment

A Change of Perspective for Those who Love Kids with SPD

As a parent of a child with some sensory processing quirks, I have learned a lot about what it’s like to live in a world that you experience differently from what everyone else experiences. For a child who is under responsive or over responsive to sensory input, their reactions can seem strange if not downright sinful to those observing them. I was once one of those adults, passing judgement and handing out consequences to my child who didn’t seem to be understanding the problems with his behavior. I have had to experience a major perspective adjustment in order to be empathetic with his struggles and understanding of his needs.

It’s important to understand that sensory issues exist on an continuum and we may all have areas where we struggle. Personally, I hate the dry feeling of chalk. I don’t draw with chalk and I hate when there’s chalk dust on my kids’ skin. I also hate mushrooms, not because of their taste because of the rubbery texture. And the sound of a bathroom fan (or really any fan) makes me twitchy. I can’t do those white noise machines because that static sound is really irritating to me. These are mild sensory issues, but it’s helpful for me to identify my own and realize how irrational and unexplainable they are in order to have some compassion for my child who may not be able to articulate why something feels the way it does to him.

If we’re going to change our perceptions of kids who struggle with sensory issues, I think we have to address our misperceptions.

They aren’t manipulative (although it seems like it). If a child can’t handle holding his body still, so we allow him to play with a fidget toy during church, that can be seen as him manipulating the situation to get a toy. If a child doesn’t want to eat something because of the texture or temperature and we offer them an alternative, that can be seen as a child manipulating a situation. We need to adjust our perspectives to see that these kids need help. They aren’t tantruming to get their way (although that can happen, too), but are responding with genuine fear or frustration to a situation they don’t have the skills to handle. If we respond by doubling down on them instead of offering help or a compromise, we aren’t acknowledging the reality of their situation. The goal is that eventually they will learn how to make accommodations for themselves, but until then we may need to help them. And they can be just as manipulative as any other child, it just may not be in the areas that seem most obvious. It was game changing for me to realize a tantrum and a sensory meltdown are NOT the same thing. Continue Reading →

April 24, 2017
by Maralee
0 comments

10 Questions that Might Actually Get Your Husband to Talk (without wanting to poke his eye out)

. . .

The truth is, I’ve always got a half dozen (who am I kidding, A FULL DOZEN) questions ready to go about my husband’s feelings or our future or ways I’d like feedback on how I’m doing as a spouse. . . or feedback I’d like to offer HIM about how he’s doing as a spouse. But those things aren’t usually what get him chatting. He’s willing to talk about those things when I need him to or when he’s got an issue of his own to bring up, but some days he’d rather not walk through the emotional minefield I’ve created talking about our feelings and instead he’d rather just hang out with his best friend.

So what do best friends talk about? Dumb stuff, mostly. We talk about hobbies or what 90s song we heard on the radio that got us car dancing (until the guy in the car next to us gave us a weird look) or about a new taco place we tried or about the latest happenings of The Property Brothers. So in case you tried those inspired 36 Questions and they didn’t quite start the gab session you were hoping for with your favorite guy, I’ve got some other options for you.

10 Questions that Might Actually get Your Husband to Talk

If we could have an adventure anywhere in the world, where would you want to go? My husband longs for adventure and sometimes the practical realities of our life keep us from just daydreaming about what would be fun, even if it will never be possible. Open up the door to some fantasy without feeling the pressure to inject reality into the mix. Continue Reading →

April 21, 2017
by Maralee
2 Comments

A Life in Status- December #1, 2016

Enjoy my barely controlled chaos on Facebook or Twitter.

I love the idea of doing one of those be your own boss, work-from-home sales jobs for a fun company. . . except it seems like they all revolve around being good at girlie stuff and I am not. Can someone let me know if they invent a pyramid scheme that involves selling comfortable t-shirts that hide chocolate stains really well? Or like an all-in-one nacho kit? Or a home decor line that is durable enough to double as children’s toys? I’ll promote the mess out of those things.
#lipstick #dresses #jewelry #purses #noonewantsfashionadvicefromme

I handed The Baby an ornament I thought was indestructible. I watched him try unsuccessfully to hang it on the tree. Then he went the unconventional route of hurling it at the tree as hard as he could. The ornament smashed. I’m going to go ahead and say this was mostly my fault.
#Christmaswithtoddlers.

You know how some people like to listen to the same song a thousand times in a row? My two year-old is one of those people. And I am the thing that plays the songs.
#doyouwannabuildasnowmaaaaaaaaan #AGAINMOM

“TEDDY! Don’t lick the ornaments!”
#chubbybabyproblems

It doesn’t matter how long it’s been since their adoptions, when I sign a form for one of my kids and it asks, “relationship to child” and I get to write “Mother” I still get butterflies.
#lovebeingtheirmom

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April 20, 2017
by Maralee
2 Comments

Having the Sex Talk with your Foster or Adopted Kids

If you are even just a casual reader of this blog, you know I am a strong advocate of having “The Talk” early and often with your kids. I know some parents are uncomfortable with that philosophy and I have to acknowledge that my introduction to parenting is not the same as most other mothers which may account for why I am so passionate about answering kids’ questions about sex from a young age.

My first experiences answering those questions came during a yearly educational event where I would sit with all our group home kids (boys ages 6-18) and read a very basic book about where babies came from. After I finished that book I told them they could ask me any questions at all and I would answer them honestly. (After the first year, I learned to let the little kids ask questions first and then send them to bed before I let the bigger kids ask questions. . . rookie mistake.) I would answer other questions as they came up throughout the year, but I wanted to make sure that at least once a year I was initiating the conversation and being sure we had covered the biological basics in a safe, open, and honest dialogue.

What I learned during those conversations was that kids from trauma often have a very disjointed understanding of sex and sexuality. A child can have little to no knowledge about the actual biological process of reproduction, but can have shockingly detailed questions about particular sex acts. This is what happens when sexual abuse and/or porn (and I fully believe introducing a child to porn IS sexual abuse) are your introduction to the mechanics of sex. And even in the best case scenario for kids from trauma when there is no history of inappropriate sexual exposure, there often haven’t been the necessary conversations about privacy and boundaries when it comes to their bodies or the bodies of others.

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April 17, 2017
by Maralee
3 Comments

Testimony for LB411- In Support of Siblings

*This is my actual testimony from the hearing before the judiciary committee debating LB 411. There were several child advocacy organizations that supported this bill (either in person or by letter) and the only person that opposed it was a representative from Health and Human Services. Their primary concern seemed to be that it might cost too much money to allow siblings to have a voice in what happens to their brothers and sisters. The Legislative Fiscal Office did not anticipate any increased costs when they evaluated the bill, but DHHS thinks they would have to spend money in court to defend placement decisions where siblings have been separated without legal cause and they anticipate that kids might be in state care longer if siblings intervene. They prefer the current system where they can separate siblings (which means they are not following our current law about sibling placement priority unless there are safety concerns) and the siblings have no legal right to question it. We believe if they were making placement decisions in accordance with the law in the first place, there would be little need to ever defend these decisions in court, so little cost would be involved and timelines wouldn’t be extended. I am explaining these issues as I understand them, but you are welcome to do the research for yourself.*

I’m Maralee Bradley and my husband and I have adopted three kids from the foster care system in Nebraska. All of these children have been separated from siblings who entered foster care after our kids were adopted. The first time this happened to our family, we were grieved, but we didn’t fight it because we were told we couldn’t. But now, six years and two additional siblings separations later, we have come to see the systemic nature of this problem and the longterm impact it has on our children and we can’t be silent. We are not advocating for our own desire to have more kids placed in our home, but want you to know the loss DHHS is causing my children and many others by ignoring or denying their right to grow up with their siblings. We are asking for your help to prevent this for other kids in state care.

Our state’s current statute does an excellent job of prioritizing sibling placements, but when we were put in a position to question a DHHS decision that did not line up with that statute, we were told by DHHS employees that the statute was meant to keep siblings together who already knew each other and didn’t apply to our children. This thinking doesn’t reflect the perspectives of adoptees who desire and value sibling relationships and grieve when those can’t be preserved. Although this last July DHHS did notify us of a sibling’s birth, it did not have to notify the judge that we were willing to take placement and explain why they were not following our state statute. We were also told that while we were a safe and suitable placement option, they were not willing to place this child with us and if we didn’t like it, we could hire a lawyer and take them to court. They said this with the full knowledge that according to our current law, our children have no legal standing to ask for a relationship with their siblings and cannot have any voice in court. Practically speaking, if DHHS does not follow our current statute, there is no ability for these children to ask for accountability or for their sibling rights to be acknowledged. This has to change.

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April 13, 2017
by Maralee
3 Comments

The World is Now Just One Big “Still Face Experiment” (or Why I Hate Cell Phones)

There are times I feel like I’m the last remaining human who isn’t fully dependent on her cell phone. I notice this fact at the library, while out to dinner, at concerts, at church, in business meetings, just about everywhere. I am obstinately low-tech as much as I can be. I love my laptop, but what I really love about it is that I can’t work on it in the car, or at church, or at Grandma’s house. I work on it, then I leave it and all the drama that lives in it. I have a cell phone and I have been using it more recently, but I prefer my landline (the telephone guy who had to come repair it joked that they pulled him out of retirement for this job because nobody deals with landlines anymore).

Sometimes when I’m in a group of people and they all start looking at their phones, I feel an unexplainable annoyance that then borders on rage. Well, I THOUGHT it was unexplainable until I watched The Still Face Experiment video I’d seen many times before, but I imagined this mom holding a phone instead of just staring blankly.

Watching this video of the Still Face Experiment with a group of people the other day, I saw how moved they were. It’s hard to watch the pain that baby feels as her mom goes blank. While it may seem cruel to us, I think more of us need to consider when and how we’re causing that kind of pain to people we love.

In social situations I have become that raging baby. I mean, I’m NOT a baby so I don’t actually bang my head on the chair, but mentally I kind of am. I find myself wanting to say sarcastic things like, “Hey! I don’t know if you guys realize this, but I’m a human and I’m standing here. I know your phone is super interesting, but did you intend to tell me I’m unimportant or did it not occur to you that that’s how this reads?” But you know what’s easier to do than go into a Baby Rage? It’s easier to get out my phone and just do the same thing. Confession: I have pulled out my phone when the battery was totally dead and starred at it, just so I wouldn’t feel so lonely in those moments. And I have total sympathy for my kids’ desires to have a phone to be “just like everybody else” not because of peer pressure, but because they’re tired of being lonely in a group.

Is it okay for us to talk about what we are doing to our friends, our kids, our spouses when we live in a constant state of Still Face Experiment? When we are in the same vicinity as people we love and our expressions go dead and our heads slump down and we orient ourselves towards our screens instead of our people?

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April 11, 2017
by Maralee
0 comments

How Foster Care Can Make You a Better Parent

One of my favorite parts of my job with our foster care agency is when I get to go speak to almost licensed foster parents who are on the last week of classes. This class is usually a panel discussion where the foster parents ask questions to an assorted group of “experts” which might be experienced foster parents, attorneys, caseworkers, etc. There were lots of panels where I got to be the foster parent on display, but now I mostly get to watch these conversations and then present some information at the end about ongoing support resources.

The reason I love this experience so much is because it’s fascinating to hear what future foster parents are struggling with on the cusp of actually taking placements. They have great questions that sometimes revolve around familiar themes (How do you handle kids who rage? What is the court process like? Why does everything take so long?), but sometimes I get caught off-guard with a new question that reveals something I hadn’t yet put into words. This last class had one of those moments.

The future foster parent was having a dialogue with a caseworker about how to help a child feel more at home. The caseworker suggested that you treat the foster child the same as your biological children, but the future foster parent was worried that she isn’t always very gentle with her kids, but she wants to be that way with the foster child– will they see that as unequal treatment?

So here’s what I want you to know about becoming a foster parent– it changes how you treat kids. ALL KIDS. Even if you’ve been at this parenting thing for years, you start to have a different filter as you look at your own kids. Consequences that used to seem totally appropriate and even necessary now seem harsh and illogical. Boundaries and structure that used to seem like overkill now feel entirely appropriate and helpful. You see a tantruming kid in the grocery store and instead of assuming they’re a spoiled human being, you wonder if maybe they’re afraid of something or overwhelmed. You start to see every interaction with the neighbor kids not as a bother, but as potential opportunities to invest in their lives.

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April 5, 2017
by Maralee
4 Comments

Did Loving our Foster Kids do More Harm than Good?

I just finished watching the documentary “Stevie” and I have some feelings I’m trying to process. The movie was made by a man who was involved in a “big brother” program that connected him with a young man named Stevie. About a decade later he wanted to find out what Stevie had been up to since they lost contact. What he finds is disturbing and incredibly sad.

You can feel the “big brother” struggle to acknowledge his own role in being one more person in a LONG line who eventually gave up, moved away, or became overwhelmed in trying to deal with Stevie and his needs. The movie chronicles the adults involved in Stevie’s story and how he was hurt time and again. The sad (but entirely predictable) ending of this story is that Stevie became the kind of person who hurts others, seemingly without remorse.

It’s a tragic story and there are many moments where grief is an appropriate response, but I was not prepared for the emotional gut punch of one particular scene in the movie.

Right before being sentenced for his crimes, Stevie decides he wants to find his first foster family who he lived with as part of a group home experience. They were the people he connected with best and it seems he had lots of happy memories with them. Watching their reunion– his foster mother’s motherly way with him, his reticence to tell them about his latest crimes, but his compulsion to confess what he had been up to in the years since they parted. . . it did something to me. Listening to them talk about how they loved him and how sad they were that they couldn’t do more. . . I know those feelings.

The 5 years we spent with our group home kids were years that I treasure. I loved our boys and LOVED being their mom in all the ways I could. I have so many happy memories of our time with them, but I know I only had a small window into their lives. Much of it was lived before I knew them and after they left our home (or after we left the group home). It had not occurred to me until recently that the efforts we made to teach them to trust and to help them experience healthy love may have ended up causing them great pain.

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April 4, 2017
by Maralee
0 comments

If Moms Ran Victoria’s Secret

When a mom needs to buy new undergarments (of either the scandalous or non scandalous variety) she essentially has two options. She can either go to a store that seems geared toward college girls who are really anxious for someone to see the three inches of fabric they paid $30 for, or we can pick up a plastic wrapped ten pack of underwear while we’re out getting a box of diapers, a pack of toilet paper and some chicken legs. Neither one of these options are my favorite. So I am here today to propose a third way (other than buying online which is guaranteed to somehow make all my children run into the room and become suddenly super interested in what’s on my screen). I am giving you this million dollar idea for free, just because I would so love to shop at this store. Whoever is willing to make my dream a reality, go forth with my blessing.

Environment: I would like this store to have tinted glass along the front. I don’t need to worry that some elder from my church is going to see me contemplating underwear patterns. I also need for the name to be something nondescript. I’m guessing there would be copyright issues with this, but if they could just name the store “Target” that would solve a lot of problems for me. Kids: Where did you go, Mom? Me: Target. The moment I walk in, I need someone to hand me a glass of something warm (I always feel less stressed with a warm drink in my hand) and the whole place should smell like donuts or some other warm carb. I need to feel super relaxed if I’m going to do what I’m about to do here. The lighting should be flattering– some kind of candle situation would be nice. No fluorescents. Continue Reading →