Our Imperfect Lives


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Now a Loving and Officially Legal Family

Shoes

Holy Cow, it’s been over 6 months since we last posted (sorry about that!) and a whole lot has happened with our family. First off, as we said we would in our last post, we finalized the adoption. We also had the kids’ first post adoption visit, birthdays and a slew of other exciting adventures and a few bumps in the road (e.g. ‘big emotions,’ tantrums, tears and the like) for good measure too.

AdoptionSign

Well, you’ve probably been waiting with great anticipation to hear about the adoption finalization… It was a grey and rainy day, but we all put on our brand new – bought just for this court appearance – matching outfits and headed to the courthouse. Per usual with us, we were almost late, but we made it on time and we were greeted by the kids’ attorney at the security check point. She was able to tell us where to go and who we needed to talk to, which we were very grateful for since the court house is a pretty big place and we had no idea where we were going. She also told us that she had already ushered in some of our family.

We were very fortunate to have a nice big crowd for the occasion supporting us and our whole family – Marcy’s parents, Meg’s parents, Marcy’s sister, Meg’s sister-in-law and niece, Meg’s aunt and uncle, Meg’s best friend and her husband and son, our adoption worker, our family resource worker and the kids’ attorney. We also met the DCF attorney for the first time, who didn’t necessarily need to be there but was kind enough to make an appearance and introduce herself.

OutsideCourtRoom

Before we all packed into the small family courtroom there was still paperwork to be done, so we headed back downstairs to see the clerk (the kids stayed upstairs with our families and were showered with attention). There we went over all the details on the kids’ new birth certificates which would include us as their parents and feature their new legal names – they would now share our last name (since the last name comes from Marcy’s family, the new middle names both were drawn from Marguerite’s family).  The clerk also assured us that if the kids got a little rowdy in the court it was OK; the court proceedings would be very casual.

When the judge was ready and the courtroom was ours, the bailiff showed us all in. The four of us sat at a table normally intended for attorneys and waited for the judge. A few minutes later the bailiff asked us all to rise and announced the judge; in she walked, a blonde slender woman probably in her early 40s wearing the iconic black judge’s robe. She was very pleasant. She read over some legalese about the adoption which only took a few minutes then she asked Sport and Sunshine who was sitting with them at the table –Mommy and Mama.

One of the more endearing parts of the very short process was when the Judge asked Sport and Sunshine if they agreed to adopt Mommy and Mama. They agreed (well mostly Sport as Sunshine was too young) and then were invited up to the Judge’s bench to sit in her giant chair and ‘sign’ a certificate that stated they were adopting Mommy and Mama.

SportSigns

The certificates were adorable. They were the perfect amount of official and playful; they were covered with little celebratory balloons and confetti, referred to Marguerite and Marcy as Mommy and Mama and yet still included some official sounding language and it was embossed with the official seal.

SportAdoptCert

Sport and Sunshine couldn’t truly sign the documents but they scribbled a bit and then we took lots of photos standing at the bench under that state seal on the wall. We were official. And we spent more time in the court house taking photos and chatting than during the adoption proceeds. While the finalization hearing may have been short, it was incredibly important to us as a family.

Sunshine really had no idea what transpired that day, we’re surely the only parents she knows since she came to live with us at three and a half months. However, Sport understood a bit more. He knew it was an exciting day. He knew that he was getting special clothes, balloons and books. He knew all eyes were on him. He also knew that he would be taking Mommy and Mama’s last name, just like Mommy took Mama’s last name when we got married and became a family. And he loved all of it.

However, when we climbed in the car and headed off on our 30 minute ride back home for a celebratory lunch at our favorite Mexican restaurant (after all it was Cinco de Mayo), it became clear he was feeling what we call ‘big emotions.’ He was very quiet for a while and deep in thought. Then out of the blue he declared he didn’t want to change his name.

We knew what those thoughts meant. We knew he thought in his very smart toddler mind that he was losing his birth parents. He was in part right, his relationship with them was changing, but, and this is a very important but, they will always be his birth parents and we did (and continue to) make sure he knows that. His name changed but his connection remains.

His sad, ‘big emotion’ feelings didn’t hang around long that day. We had a wonderful family dinner with just about everyone who attended the court proceedings, plus or minus a few. The meal of course included a big chocolate cake, much to the delight of our chocolate loving kids.

Cake

The day after, things as a legal family didn’t change much. We still loved each other just as much, we still went to school, daycare and work and we all still had to follow the same house rules. The primary difference was that our children were officially ours and we didn’t have to worry that they would be moved. Well, and of course their middle and last names.

Other notable changes due to the adoption were that we could add them to our dental and healthcare insurance policies. This was particularly important as we had chosen a dentist that didn’t accept the state healthcare insurance, which was the kids’ primary coverage prior the adoption. We’d also stop receiving funds from the state.

While the money we received from the state for the children wasn’t much, it was enough to cover much of the daycare cost. We received the normal daily allowance for a foster child, which is intended to cover room and board costs, as well as a seasonal clothing stipend. We were fortunate enough to receive a small reimbursement for part of Sport’s daycare (which covered a very small fraction of the cost). We also considered ourselves immensely lucky to have received a free, state funded daycare spot for Sunshine.  All of this would now come to an end – or so we thought.

As it turned out, the state allowed us some “transition time.” They just failed to communicate that to us. As a result, Sunshine has been able to continue full-time at her home daycare provider (who we love). Luckily, when the transition period ends, we should be able to move her to a private pay slot at the same daycare. We learned about the transition time from the central office that handles paperwork for the daycare provider we use. We do find it curious that we weren’t notified, but we certainly aren’t complaining. Daycare is expensive and every little bit helps.

As for our exciting adventures this summer, you’ll have to stay tuned. We’ll be sure to get another post up soon! Until then here are some teaser photos to enjoy:


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It’s a Date!

It’s been 1 year, 6 months and 8 days since Sport and Sunshine moved into our home and after all that time of not knowing when we’d be a legal family – we finally know! We were given a list from our adoption social worker with four possible dates to appear in court to finalize the adoption. We picked May 5th, so naturally we intend to celebrate with Mexican food.

We were given more time to prepare for court than we had expected. We also had the option of a date two weeks earlier, but we wanted to be sure ourselves and our close family would be available to help us celebrate. Although we’ve been preparing for this day for a while, we still have things we want to do.

First of which, was to start talking to Sport and Sunshine about the upcoming event. While we had already discussed how different families are created and read stories about adoption – we had never specifically addressed their adoption.

In an unknowingly helpful way, Sport opened the door right up to discuss our day in court. Out of the blue he announced his current full and legal name. We have rarely heard him refer to himself using his last name, so Meg took the opportunity to begin the discussion. She told him that his last name would be changing so that it would match Mommy’s and Mama’s. They also discussed how she changed her name when we married. He was reminded that he would keep his first name – given to him by his birth parents, but change his last name to show that he is part of our family as well. He seemed to like the idea of the whole family having the same last name.

Next up on our list of to-dos was our outfits. Such an occasion requires nice new duds – something dressy but comfortable and clearly we want the whole family to coordinate. We’re also going to include a special component that will tie all of our outfits together, but we won’t reveal that until the big day.

Since we’re working so hard to put together these adorable new outfits we would obviously like to take family photos, so our to-do list also includes scheduling time with a photographer. Thankfully we have a very talented friend Jen, of Adventurous Moms, who agreed to take family photographs of us to help commemorate the special day.

We also have to prepare for some more practical things, such as taking over the full cost of Sport and Sunshine’s daycare bills. Currently Sport gets a small subsidy and Sunshine benefits from a free slot provided by the state. We enrolled Sport in his daycare and pay the center directly, so the adoption will only impact the legal name they have on record for Sport. Sunshine, however, will lose her state provided daycare slot soon after the adoption is finalized and she is no longer a ward of the state. Thankfully, we have already discussed the possibility of Sunshine continuing on at her current daycare and her provider doesn’t anticipate any problems. We just have to work out the specifics now that we have a date.

We also have a few other plans up our sleeves to commemorate the day, but we’ll let those be a surprise.

The news of our upcoming court date is mostly just a formality – these kids are a part of our family – but it’s still a big day. In the meantime, we still have our everyday lives to live and lots of fun things to do. What fun things you ask? Check out some of our recent photos:


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Winter Wonders

Well, a lot has happened since we last posted – we celebrated Christmas and New Year’s, went hiking and skiing, but not much has happened on the adoption front. However, it’s mostly just a matter of formalities at this point; paperwork that needs to be pushed and legal matters settled to make us a family in the eyes of the law.

The first piece of paperwork is for the subsidy. If a child has a special need of some kind – such as a medical or psychological condition – the state may offer a subsidy to help cover these particular expenses. While pre-adoptive kids may not always qualify for a subsidy at the time of adoption that could change as the child grows, for example a medical condition may be diagnosed sometime after the finalization of the adoption or an early trauma might later manifest as some type of serious behavior problem. If a child is to qualify for the subsidy later, after the adoption, the subsidy must have initially been requested and denied prior to adoption. Then, and only then, may the adoptive family reapply for the subsidy.

Next up is the adoption petition. This document includes some information about us, but mostly information about the kids, verifies they are legally free to be adopted and have lived in our home for at least 6 months. Along with this document is paperwork for both of us to be re-CORIed (have another background check).

It’s not clear when all of this paperwork will be done and ready to be filed with the court, but once it is it could be just weeks after that we’ll have our day in court. Unfortunately, other families we know have been waiting months to hear back regarding the subsidy and we’re told that the DCF paralegal is swamped with paperwork, so it could be weeks before she’s able to review the paperwork and send it to the court. We’re hoping for a March court date, but there’s really no way to know for sure.

So, as always, life continues for us as we wait all of this out. And we’re trying to make life as fun and normal as it can be.

We celebrated Christmas – the kids were absolutely spoiled by our family and friends – and we did our best to begin teaching Sport the real meaning behind Christmas: giving to others. We held a holiday party for our friends where we asked that instead of exchanging gifts everyone bring hats and/or gloves for a child or adult that we could then bring to a local soup kitchen for them to distribute over the holiday. While Sport may not have fully understood what we were doing he had a blast at the party (so didn’t Sunshine), enjoyed picking out mitten and hat sets to donate and was a great help collecting all the donations.

The kids were also able to celebrate Christmas with their bio parents during their December visit (until the adoption is finalized they have a monthly visit with their bio parents, following the adoption it will be quarterly). Unfortunately, they did once again receive a few gifts that were not age appropriate (e.g. clothes not the correct size and toys for older children), but they seemed to have had a positive celebration.

This winter we’ve also done some great hiking – both in spring like conditions the day after Christmas and on snow covered paths on New Year’s Day. Sport also spent his first afternoon on the slopes testing out the skis he got for Christmas. We also hit the science museum a couple of times and a few different indoor play facilities (including our own home where we created an indoor obstacle course!). So far we’re having a great winter (even if we haven’t had that much snow)! Check out photos of our adventures here:


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Finally – An Update!

When we agreed to be placed with two children just over a year ago, we knew that they were considered “legal risk” and that we were going to be heading down a pretty long path. At that time the termination of parental rights (TPR) trial hadn’t even begun. We had to wait five months before TPR even got under way.

When the trial finally began, we knew it could be long and would likely be followed by a drawn out appeals process. With that in mind, we offered an open adoption agreement to the bio parents that included three annual visits with the kids in an effort to avoid a lengthy trial. However, it was rejected a number of times, generally by bio Dad and his attorney. He believed, whether rightfully so or not, that he would prevail in court, or at the very least that the children might be placed with his mother-in-law instead of us. So, we had relegated ourselves to the fact that we would have to live through a lengthy trial and appeals process before any final determination would be made.

We were wrong. Sort of.

On Friday, the 13th of November, after eight months of court dates, we received that fateful call from the kids’ attorney and the DCF attorney – the bio parents were willing to consider an open adoption agreement. We were supposed to be at our desk (Marcy) or teaching a class (Meg) but instead we spent much of our afternoon on the phone with each other or attorneys, trying not to be overwhelmed by emotions in front of our colleagues and students.

On the phone we hashed out details of the agreement and what we were willing to offer to the bio parents. We discussed how we as adoptive parents would communicate regarding the visits, who would supervise visits and when/if the agreement would need to be voided, among other legal points.

By the end of that day we were hopeful and anxious. We told very few people. Nothing was confirmed and the adoption agreement hadn’t even been written yet. When asked about the process we still answered with “the trial is ongoing.”

By Tuesday afternoon we had reviewed the legal agreement and were scooting out of work early to get the adoption agreement signed and notarized. This step, however, proved to be a bit tricky when the first bank we visited informed us that they couldn’t notarize the document because we weren’t signing our legal names. You see, we signed the document Ms. X and Ms. Y to insure our anonymity. Then we signed an addendum to be filed with the court with our real and legal signatures. Both documents had to be notarized. Thankfully, bank number two had no problem notarizing all of the documents in question and we were ready to have the papers picked up by our adoption social worker bright and early the next morning and brought to court.

The plan was that the parents would stipulate to the termination of their rights and sign the adoption agreement in court on Thursday. But as they say about the best laid plans – they often go awry. It seems that same day the bio parents were to sign the document there was an adoption taking place in the courthouse – filled will balloons, celebrations and the taking of new last names. This caused some hesitation – they realized the children would have new last names and Sport would no longer be a junior. The day passed and no paperwork was signed.

The bio parents hadn’t turned down the offer and we, along with the kids’ attorney and DCF, were all hopeful that the document would be signed at the next court date, which meant we had to wait another 10 days. All while keeping our potential news under wraps.

Yesterday was day ten and we were hopeful and nervous. The end of the day was starting to get close and we hadn’t heard and then – we got the news, they signed the agreement!

Once again we found ourselves at work trying to keep ourselves together. We could finally say, with confidence, that our kids were staying. We frantically called our immediate families and texted our best friends to share the news!

Sport and Sunshine were now legally free and ready to be adopted!

While we’re overcome with relief, we do recognize that their bio Mom and Dad are overcome with sadness. No matter how we feel about the bio parents – they are and will always be a part of our children – whether they’re able to maintain a relationship and follow through with their portion of the adoption agreement or not.

The adoption is still several months away but the paperwork that must be filed before we can get that long coveted court date to make Sport and Sunshine members of our family (in the eyes of the law) can get started. So, while we still have a little ways to go, the biggest hurdle has now been cleared.

Family

Family❤


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The Toddler Years

Whoever coined the phrase “terrible twos” had a greater predilection for alliteration than for reality. We had heard it before, “three is worse than two,” but now we really know what people mean… Don’t get us wrong, Sport is an awesome little guy and actually very well behaved, but, oh, does he know how to push buttons!

The difference between two and three is understanding. Two year olds don’t always understand what you’re asking, nor do they understand the consequences. Three year olds may still not fully grasp the consequences but they sure know what you’re saying when you ask them to stop doing something. They also understand what’s going to drive a parent up the wall and give them a whole lot of attention – even if that means getting in trouble.

Couple being a three year old with having a little sister who’s turning into a toddler herself and throw that on top of all the baggage that comes with being in foster care for two thirds of your life and you get a whole lot of tantrums, button pushing and toddler terrorism. Thankfully most of it manifests itself out of the public eye. To the rest of the world Sport is a perfect angel – and for that we are grateful.

We’re pretty sure a lot of the acting up is purely about getting attention. He’s fighting to regain the attention that is garnered by learning to talk, run, and climb (along with every other new thing his 16 month old sister does). Our new approach to a lot of his antics is to simply ignore them. We don’t want to encourage his “bugger-ness” as we like to call it by giving him any attention for it.

We ignore things like “toddler swear words” (thank God he hasn’t picked up any real swear words yet) and when he is pretending to do things that he knows are against the rules. We also try to be as consistent as possible and still follow the same warning/consequence model we’ve been using for months, which is referred to as “1-2-3 magic.”

If Sport is doing something he shouldn’t be doing, something not too serious or dangerous, we ask him to stop and if he doesn’t he gets a one.  The next time he’ll get a two and if he makes another “bad choice” as we like to say, he’ll get a three. Once he gets a three he has to “practice listening,” which is essentially a timeout. The time served is dependent on his age, so when we started this system he was two years old and had to practice listening for two minutes. Now that he’s three years old he practices listening for three minutes. Another part of the system is that it lacks lectures. We try to keep our words to a minimum and just let the consequence do the work. In the same vein, he gets a fresh start after the three minutes are up.

Originally he’d serve his time in his room, but we decided that perhaps it wasn’t the best idea to continue using his room. Lately he would be upset for maybe the first 20 or 30 seconds or so and then he’d just play in his room, read his books and not care that he was in his room for three minutes. His new location for practicing listening when at home is to sit on the bottom stair or, if we’re upstairs, to sit in the hallway outside of his room. If we’re away from home we just try and find a quiet, private spot. If he gets very upset, we will help him do some deep breathing to calm down before he returns to his activity.

We know we’re not dealing with any behavior that millions of other parents haven’t dealt with before, but we do get the added bonus of wanting to bang our heads against the wall due to court dates, piles of paperwork, and appointments with social workers. The trial continues to drag on, we have yet another social worker (the kids’ adoption worker) who is less than attentive to emails, and their visitation schedule is continuously changing. We continue to try and stay positive through it all. This month is National Adoption Month – a month long celebration that brings with it the sharing of many stories of triumph and happy families, which help us to remember that in the end it should all be worth it.

Of course none of our blogs are complete without some adorable photos of our kids:

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Almost a Year

It’s hard to believe but we’re getting close to celebrating one full year with the kids. And unfortunately, we still don’t have much of a sense of when, or if, we’ll be able to call them legally ours (emotionally we already see them as ours and nothing will change the bond we’ve created – they are our son and our daughter). The trial continues to drag on and while there is currently a final court date scheduled, there’s no way to know if it will actually be the final date – at least not until that fateful day rolls around.

We recently met with K, the attorney representing the children, and she still couldn’t say for sure if additional court dates would be added. She did, however, say that after this week she’ll have an idea of when she’ll call one of us to testify and if any additional court dates will be necessary.

This week the trial is on the docket twice and hopefully after the first day K will be able to get a better grip on how the rest of the trial will play out. The first day will likely bring the father’s testimony to a close. Following his testimony will be the remaining social workers on the case: the adoption worker and the previous ongoing worker.

Next up: the parents’ attorneys will make their cases and it’s unclear at the moment how long this will take but K theorizes it shouldn’t be too time consuming. The other adoption option, the children’s maternal grandmother, is expected to testify. If she does, then K has already stated she intends to have one of us testify as well. We briefly discussed who would testify, but no decision has been finalized. We’ll make our decision once we have a date to appear and we start preparing. Either way we hope to both take the day off from work and head to the courthouse. Even though we both can’t physically be in the court room at the same time, we can be in the court house and available for support.

As always we’re trying to stay optimistic and yet realistic about this whole process. It’s admittedly frustrating hearing from many of the other couples from our MAPP class as one by one they announce that their foster children are legally free. In their cases the birth parents of their children have had their rights terminated, either by the parents signing an agreement voluntarily, or by the court forcing it upon them. These families can now start the legal adoption process.

We are of course happy for everyone in our class who is making their dream come true by becoming official parents, but we wish we could celebrate too. It’s difficult being the only ones from our class (that we know of) having to experience the headache of a trial. We can’t help but feel a bit jealous.

Needless to say though, no matter how the adoption happens, it’s difficult – one family is being torn apart while another is being built up. One couple from our MAPP class did share some of the heart wrenching emotions that went into the signing of the TPR (terminating parental rights) paperwork. The adoptive parents described how they cried with the biological parents and promised to care for their little girl.

Right now we can’t envision having any such moment as the biological father is fighting to keep the children. While K has discussed an open adoption agreement that would allow a couple of supervised visits each year along with pictures and letters, we’re told he refuses to even consider such an offer. While we sympathize with him not wanting to give up, it’s hard to imagine him being equipped to raise his children. He also risks losing all access to the children. The judge could rule to terminate the biological parents’ rights and to not allow any visitation or communication.

Marcy can’t help but wonder how much the fight is about the love he has for his children and how much it is about losing. Perhaps it is a mixture of both. While she doesn’t question that he does, on some level, love his children, how is it that he can’t make a greater effort to see his children. (He has now missed several consecutive scheduled visits with them.) She admits he faces some very real obstacles to making the visits, but to not be able to make a visit in the last month and a half?

Regardless of the reasons for the legal fights, one thing is very clear – these children are loved. We love Sport and Sunshine as much as any parent can, all while trying to stay positive about their relationships with their biological family, who also love them.

While we know the lives of these two adorable and yet troublesome kiddos aren’t normal and are maybe a bit more turbulent than most children their age, we’re giving them all the opportunities kids should have to have fun! In fact, this summer they may have been a bit spoiled with the amount of trips and fun activities that they took part in. We’ve already shared some of the excitement from this summer in previous posts but in the last month or two there’s been even more! There was the YMCA family camp (a boy’s camp that is opened at the end of the summer for one week for families to come and stay and take part in all sorts of camp activities like swimming, boating, sports, arts and crafts and more), tent camping in the White Mountains National Forest, and a Unitarian Universalist beach weekend retreat!

Check out photos from all the fun:

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Visitation

One of the many responsibilities of foster/pre-adoptive parents is making the children available for visits with their biological family. Biological parents who are at least partially in compliance with their DCF service plan and have not had their rights terminated by the courts are given supervised visits with their children. In our case these visits were one hour each week, but since the DCF office is a bit of a drive from our home, the visits are now every other week for two hours.

Technically it is the ongoing case worker’s responsibility to provide the transportation to and from visits – but they love it when foster parents can help out. With us, we provide the transportation whenever we can and with Meg being a teacher, who decided to take the summer off from working (pre-kids she would work summer school and such), she’s been able to provide the transportation to and from the visits. We decided that this would make the visits a bit easier for the kids.

Not to say that the visits are particularly hard on the kids. In fact, Sport gets excited when we tell him he’ll be having a visit with his Dad. Sunshine hasn’t spent much time with her biological parents, but doesn’t seem to be impacted negatively aside from all the time in a car seat. However, recently, we’ve decided to only reveal the news of the visit once the kids pile into the car and head to DCF. And unfortunately we had to learn this the hard way.

We stopped telling Sport about his visit a day or two beforehand after a few visits didn’t happen. The first time it was that Dad didn’t show up for a visit. In his defense, the visit was changed for that week and he claims to have not been told and he showed up later that afternoon. Regardless of what actually transpired, our kids got stuck at the DCF office crying – Sport upset that he didn’t get to see his dad and Sunshine upset that she had spent several straight hours in her “bucket” also known as the carrier that clicks into the infant car seat base. The social worker, presumably expecting to leave at any minute, didn’t even remove Sunshine from her seat while in the office.

After Dad’s no show/time confusion, the social worker instituted a practice, which actually seems like a fairly common practice for many workers, that requires Dad to confirm he will be coming the day before the visit.

The next time it was on the morning of the visit. Dad had confirmed the visit the day before. We told Sport who was coming and where he was going – the social worker was coming and he was going to see his Dad. Marcy had stayed home with the kids to wait for her arrival before heading to work herself. Then, about thirty minutes before she was to arrive, we got the phone call. The social worker had a migraine and was cancelling the visit.

Sport was upset.

Thankfully, Sport recovered fairly quickly and he only cried for a short few minutes. Marcy was able to get him settled down and get both children packed up and off to daycare. While the experience could have been worse, it wasn’t one we appreciated.

This summer we’ve had two additional missed visits: one Dad cancelled and another he just never confirmed. With our new system of not telling Sport that a visit is coming up, the missed visits came and went without any fanfare.

We do find it somewhat peculiar that before this summer (excluding the supposed mix up) Dad had never missed a visit, at least not while the children were placed with us. Now (at least to us) seems like the ideal time for him to see the children as much as possible and to “make nice” with the social workers, because the trial is currently ongoing. Next week two court dates are scheduled, which another two in September and likely more to come.

Although, we certainly don’t mind the missed visits – it’s one less thing we need to worry about. And who knows, it may be strengthening the case to keep the kids in our care (or it may have absolutely no impact – who knows…?) Sport may be noticing that he hasn’t seen his Dad in a while. This morning, with no prompting, when discussing what he was going to do after preschool, he asked if he was going to see his Dad. He was not going to see his Dad after school and while a visit is scheduled for tomorrow, it had not yet been confirmed so we weren’t going to mention it. We merely responded with a, “No, you aren’t going to see your Daddy after school but maybe soon.”

Sport kept pressing, asking about going over to his Daddy’s house – “No, Sport, we’re sorry, but you can’t visit your Daddy at his house.”

Sport continued on the subject asking if Daddy could come to his house – “No, Sport we’re sorry, your Daddy can’t come visit you at our house, but maybe you’ll see him soon.”

Thankfully he didn’t ask why.

While we do of course have to make ourselves and the children available for visits and social worker meetings, we still have time to fit in lots of fun activities in this summer! Check out some more of our adventures here:

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