Sunday, December 19, 2010

Returning Home?

We received a letter from CYS stating that Mya will be removed from our home to return to her birth mom.  Mya has been a part of our family for almost two years (since she was 9 months old).  The visits with her mom have increased and she is now going on a few overnights each week.  Her behavior has changed.  She cries all the time and says, "Owe!"  but is not able to tell me where it hurts.  She goes to the corner and just stands there facing it for no apparent reason.  She is no longer the happy little carefree girl that we have known.  It breaks my heart as I see her going through this.  I won't speak as much to whether her returning to her mom will be safe for her or not (I hope it is) but more to the whole process.  From day one, though the goal was for Mya to return to parents, CYS has been trying to get the goal changed to adoption and the parent's rights terminated.  We were eventually chosen as the adoptive family and have been expecting this whole time to adopt Mya.  She is a part of our family...the only family she knows.  Now, after all this time and very suddenly, CYS has decided that they have no concerns with Mya returning to her birth mom.  She will be torn from her family to return to a home that, at best, is very unstable.  My heart is aching for her.  I can barely stand it when she is on her visits and she is crying for me over the phone.  How can anyone feel that this is the best thing for Mya?  I've found that over the past couple of months there has been absolutely no consideration by CYS for Mya's feelings.  The whole focus has been on accommodating the birth mom and rushing Mya back.  Right now I am trying to stay positive and help Mya with this transition the best I can.  I just want her to be okay...

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Losing It With Shannon Feist

I seriously feel like throwing in the towel today.  I am trying to get my house unpacked, finish registration for school, take kids to soccer (I may end up coaching Christian's team due to a shortage of volunteers), and traveling back and forth to Pittsburgh every week while also keeping my kids from tearing our house apart.  I wish I had a little of that Bewitched magic and could just wiggle my nose or some of Mary Poppins' finger-snapping abilities.  Everything would jump right into place exactly where it should be and my kids would be singing and smiling as we watched with amazement.  Fairytales....(Sigh).  The kids will start school in one week and I haven't done any shopping, the clothes they have are disorganized and/or packed, and we will be leaving for Pittsburgh the day after tomorrow and won't be back until the evening before school starts.  Am I crazy?!  I think I must be...why else would I create such insanity?  Did I mention that Mya got into Vasoline and smeared it all over herself, our couch, my do you clean that up?  (Seriously, if you have some suggestions let me know.)  I'm suppose to take Emily and Connor on a tour of their new school today before 3:00.  I really just want to crawl back into bed.  Yes, this is the Feist family in living rose colored glass here.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Fresh Start

If you've been following my blog, then you'll notice that I've changed the name of it.  I wanted it to reflect our whole journey not just the adoption part of it.  It has also been a long time since I've blogged.  It is for good reasons though...

After my dad's passing, my mom was concerned that she would need to sell their home right away.  She wasn't sure if she could afford to stay or be able to maintain the large piece of land on her own.  Rob and I had a strong urging that we needed to move and make a fresh start for our family but were concerned with how we would do it.  Someone made the suggestion that we move in with my mom while we were in transition.  I mentioned it to my mom and she said, "Sure!"  We quickly made plans for our upcoming move.  We reserved a Penske truck, visited the school where our children would be attending the following year and started packing.  Things seemed to be falling into place.  Then, two weeks before we were to move into my mom's, she called me and told me she didn't want us to move in.  She said she didn't think she could handle having the kids there all the time.   (I can understand that reasoning...sometimes I really can't handle it either)  I will admit that I was extremely hurt and frustrated that she had waited so long to tell me.  I did my share of crying and asking, "What do we do now?"  We decided to push on with the move but to go directly to Harrisburg instead of staying with my mom for a year before moving.  We chose the Harrisburg area because Highmark has an office there and Rob would not need to change jobs.  I immediately left for Harrisburg and started looking for a house to rent.  It was exhausting!  I pretty much just eliminated places and determined that we would need to increase the amount of rent we were willing to pay.  I was feeling so defeated and frustrated after that trip.  A day later Rob and I returned to the Harrisburg area...we had to find a place!  We looked at many homes to rent and had settled on a house that was in Camp Hill about 5 minutes from Rob's workplace.  It was small but we would make it work.  We had one last house to look at but it was a 30 minute drive from Highmark and we said that there was no way we would consider it unless it blew us away.  Well, it did!  It was an old stone farmhouse on three acres with a pool.  It was huge...about 3400 sq ft of living space plus another level of attic space.  I left a message for the owner and waited two days before we heard back from him.  I was almost sick.  We left as soon as he called and headed to Carlise with the whole family.  We were met there by Amos, a middle-aged Amish man.  He took us through the house and was surprised when we asked if we could write out a check for the first months rent and deposit right away and stay there that night.  (We had brought sleeping bags and air mattress just in case)  He agreed and we spent our first night in our new home.  The next morning, I was in the shower when Rob came in the bathroom and said there was a huge bat (the kind that has wings and pointy little teeth) in the living room.  He was scared and wouldn't go downstairs again.  I told him I'd take care of it when I was done.  I dressed and went cautiously down the stairs expecting to see a hissing, ferocious beast flying at me.  I rounded the corner to the living room and braced myself for...the tiny sleeping creature hanging from our molding.  Did I mention it was tiny?  I could barely see it.  I didn't want to hurt it and in all honesty felt badly that I had to disturb it's slumber but I got a broom and gently guided it out the door.  I had rescued my man from the frightening beast...despite that and perhaps even because of that experience, I loved the house even more.  Yes, I like character in a house.  Our kids favorite spot is of course the huge attics.

There is so much more to tell but it will have to wait until another day...

Stonehouse built in 1792

Shade tree and swing


Living Room



Door Hardware

Door Hardware


Christian eating breakfast on window sill in Dining Room

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Treasure Each Moment

I've been thinking a lot about all the things I wish I'd done with my dad while I still could.  It's amazing how the loss of a loved one can make you examine your life and your priorities.  I've said the words over and over..."We can worry about that when things settle down."  I find, however, that "things" never settle down. 

Sunday we had a special meeting at which Elder Richard G. Scott spoke to our stake.  It was a wonderful meeting and I felt so inspired.  Some of the main things I took away from it was turning off the TV and spending more quality time with my children, taking more time for scripture study and sincere prayer, and making sure that God is first in my life.

For the first year of parenthood, Rob and I were in survival mode.  It was necessary...but when and how do you transition from surviving to thriving?

I watch my children and am amazed by how much they are growing and learning.  Sometimes I wish I could just stop time so I could really take it all in and savor it.  But life doesn't work that way.  We have to use each moment we're given.  I have fond memories of the vacations I've taken with my parents, siblings, spouse and children throughout my life.  The moments that have really formed my relationship with them though are the times we spent working together.  I walked into Lowe's the other day and I teared up as I remembered the many projects I worked on with my dad.  I learned so much from him and I loved spending that time with him.  If those are the times I cherish, then doesn't it make sense that those are the ones my children will cherish?  Whether it's working in our garden, doing dishes together, baking cookies, raking leaves, shoveling doesn't matter.

From this day on I'm going to strive to treasure each moment I have with my family and celebrate this beautiful life we've been given.

The Pain of Loss

My dad passed away the evening of April 17th.  Even though I am an adult, I feel somewhat orphaned.  There is one less person in this world who I know loves me and is proud of me.  I never knew my heart could ache so badly.  I was fortunate, however, to have been able to spend his last two days on this Earth with him.  The time I spent alone with him the day he died is the most precious gift I've ever received.  My dad was so uncomfortable and his body was failing but his spirit was so strong.  He was exhausted and I told him to rest but he said that he was afraid to fall asleep.  I asked him why he was afraid and he told me it was because he felt like he was leaving my mom in a mess.  I assured him that Mom would be taken care of and that he didn't need to worry about her and he assured me that he was not afraid of dying.  He shared with me a few details that he was concerned about but a lot of the time we were both silent and I just held his hand. 

The nurse came to tell us that they were going to move him to ICU so they could observe him better and that they would get us from the waiting room when they had my dad settled there.  We were in the waiting room for only 10 to 15 minutes when we heard Code Blue called.  The doctor came out and told us his heart had stopped and that they were trying to revive him.  I was shocked because my dad had been talking to us even as they wheeled him away.  I believe that my dad was not able to let go while we were still there with him and that it was only when he was alone that he was able to relax and stop fighting to live. We went in to be with him and they stopped administering CPR.  I immediately felt the loss of his spirit in my life.  It was at that time that I realized just how great a man my dad really was.  I was a child mind repeating the words over and over, "I want my dad!"  I want to hug him.  I want to hear his voice.  I want to see his smile.

While experiencing this pain and sorrow, I have been adopted...adopted by those who had comforting words to say, who stepped in and helped when it was needed, who cried with me...I felt my family grow.  The loss is still there but God brings people into our lives who fill that loss and gradually it fades.

I have said that I feel somewhat orphaned but I know that we are all God's children and now it is my Father in Heaven that I must lean on for support.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Slip Slidin' Away...

Up to this point I've focused a lot on the difficulties we faced (because it was very difficult) but I want to share some of the special things that happened as well.  We got our children on November 2nd and we had a timeshare in Virginia for Thanksgiving weekend.  I was really sick and told Rob that I didn't think we should go.  A six hour drive with three kids was not appealing to me.  Rob was pretty adament about going though so I gave in....boy am I glad I did!

I prepared really well.  I had snacks, drinks, kid's music and anything else I could think of to make the trip go smoothly.  The preperation paid off.  Other than the frequent potty breaks, we had a good trip.  It was completely new for them.  They had never traveled outside of the small town they lived in so leaving our county then state was pretty exciting for them.

We arrived at the timeshare in the evening and it was so fun to see their excitement at "the apartment" we were staying in.  They loved it with the exception of a picture that Connor said was stupid.  He was only three at the time and quite the art critic.  The main bathroom had a huge whirlpool tub that could fit four adults in it.  The kids called it the pool.  They had just as much fun in that tub as they did at the indoor water park at the resort.   It was fun to watch all of them going down the slides and having buckets of water dump down on them.  Christian had so much fun being in the warm pool with me.  We hadn't seen him smile too much up until that time.

One of the most special moments happened one day leaving the water park. Rob asked, "Who had fun?" and raised his hand and said, "Me!" The rest of the kids followed suit, yes, even Christian. That was the first word we heard him utter.

It was wonderful to get away for a whole week without thinking about their birth father, caseworkers, visits, school...we needed that.  It was just us - a family.

I can't think about that trip without feeling an overwhelming joy and gratitude.  When asked to write about something special or her favorite thing, Emily still writes about our trip to the water park we took over two years ago.  We've taken many other trips since then but that trip was special. 

It was the birth of our family.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


The most difficult part was the lack of help I had.  I am surrounded by great I don't want you to think that it was the fault of others.  It was due to the circumstances of our placement.  The support system that I had been planning to use was my church family.  However, since we went to church with their biological family, we needed to do our best to keep things confidential and to keep things neutral.  We didn't want to have any hurt feelings or misunderstandings because of us sharing too much.  I'm glad we did that because we were able to continue a good relationship with their family.  My mom lives about an hour and a half away but she was pretty much bedridden due to extreme pain in her lower back and hips for the first couple months after we got our children.  We found out later that her tailbone was turned backwards.  It certainly made things hard on us.

The Wednesday after our children were placed with us I had been dealing with an infected wisdom tooth for two days and had to have it removed.  I couldn't leave my kids with anyone so I made the appointment and a dear friend of mine agreed to drive me there and watch Connor and Christian in the waiting room while I had it pulled.

When I got home I went to get Emily from school.  Emily's teacher couldn't believe I was out there waiting in the cold after just having my tooth pulled.  Every time I met with her she would shake her head and repeat how impressed she was over that.  I didn't think anything of it.  I was in survival mode and I was pretty tough.  The Lord doesn't give us more than we can handle, right?

Thank goodness for Mrs. Miller!  I don't know what I would have done if she hadn't been Emily's teacher that year.  We spent many meetings together with tears streaming down our faces.  She is another angel God sent to us.  I'm overwhelmed with gratitude when I think back to the understanding and compassion she showed Emily.  Emily didn't have a single friend that year except for Mrs. Miller.

Emily wasn't the only one who felt alone that year...

Monday, March 15, 2010


It was Monday, third day of motherhood, and I was exhausted!  We had no toys and a limited number of movies that were kid-friendly.  We also were finding there were a lot of behaviors that needed correcting.  Lying was a constant thing with them.  Even for the simplest question, Emily would pause and think about how she was going to answer.  Her thought bubble would have read, "What should I make up in order to get the result I want"?  That was the first thing we tackled because I believe without honesty there is nothing to build on.  We told the kids that if they did something wrong they would go to timeout but if they did something wrong and lied about it they would go to timeout and lose priviledges.  It didn't take long for them to figure out that honesty was the best policy.

Another challenge was the boys' destructive behavior.  Connor thought it was a lot of fun to run full speed with his head into the wall and to drag his face on the carpet until he had rug burn.  Christian (who still had not uttered a single sound) was into everything.  He pulled everything from every drawer within his reach and then he took apart anything that was possible to be taken apart (he is still very good at taking things apart and putting things together).  I felt like my life was nothing but putting kids in timeout.  It was tiresome and monotonous but we knew that we had to let them know right away what was and was not acceptable.

That day I took Emily to school and got her enrolled.  She was very behind.  She was in the first grade but couldn't count to ten properly and didn't know her sounds.  This was very difficult for her since the homework that was being sent home was addition and she was expected to read by then.  This was an ongoing struggle we faced with her.  The most difficult thing to handle though was Emily's social behaviors.    She did odd things like suddenly whaling at the top of her lungs.  She would make rude comments about people in a voice loud enough for them to hear.  She was also obsessive about meals.  Every night she would ask me about breakfast...Were we going to have it?  What were we going to have?  Before she'd leave for school she would be asking me about lunch and dinner.  She was so worried that I was going to forget to feed them.

I was dressing Christian's burn every morning and night. I can only imagine how painful it was for him. I can still see the pain and fear in his eyes but not a sound from him. It was haunting and heartbreaking. I remember how thankful I was to finally hear him cry after he'd been with us for about a week. I could tell that he had learned to survive by not being noticed.

Despite these behaviors and all my concerns, I knew that they would be fine.  They just needed to be loved and cared for.  They needed structure and they needed to know they had a home with us and that they were safe.  This doesn't mean that I wasn't scared out of my mind though.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

One Big Family

I did mention that our children's last name was the same as some people we went to church with, right?  We had spent some time wondering if they were related and how they might be related.  We didn't have to wonder for very long.

Our first Sunday was so exciting for me.  There is just something special about being able to go to church with your family and this was the first time our family included children.  We drove into the church parking lot and almost right away Emily said, "I've been here before with my Grandma!  There's her car!"  We walked into the chapel and their biological relatives (three pews full) all turned to look at us.

After the meeting, our children's great-grandparents told us they knew the children were going to be going into foster care and that they had been praying they would go to a good home.  They told us how God had answered their prayers and how happy they were that the children were with us.

When I heard this, I was overwhelmed by how much our Heavenly Father loves us and amazed by the miracles he sends us.  We knew then why we had to move to Pittsburgh, why we decided to buy a home in Beaver County, why we had become foster parents.  God knew all along that they were our children just waiting for us to come for them.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Train Wreck

The common thing we heard from everyone was, "What a blessing!"  I wish I could say that was how I felt but I felt like I had just been hit by a speeding train.  I laid awake that whole night feeling completely overwhelmed.  Most people get nine months to prepare for one baby.  I had a few hours to prepare for three children who were certainly not babies.  They came with "baggage".

The next morning I had to call a pediatrician first thing to make a same day appointment for Christian's burn.  I took him at 10:00 that morning leaving the other two children with Rob.  Christian threw up all over himself on our way there.  The doctor instructed me in how to care for Christian's burn and told me that the marks that were all over him (and the other two) was Scabies.  He gave me a prescription for a cream that I had to smear on all the kids from head to toe each night and said that I would have to change and wash all their bedding each morning.  I had to do this for two days.

When I got home I had to shop for clothes and other things we needed for the children.  I left the boys with Rob and took Emily with me.  Let me just say that it was not a pleasant experience.  I had two shopping carts mounded with stuff and a little girl who did not understand how to behave appropriately in public.  I walked out to the car pushing these two carts and was at my breaking point.  I had been holding it together this whole time determined not to let the children see me cry.  They needed me to be strong.  I remember loading the bags into the trunk and being thankful that it was dark because Emily wouldn't see the tears streaming down my face and my body shaking as it stifled uncontrollable sobs.  As I was doing this, I noticed that the people parked next to me had arrived and my cart was blocking them.  I thought, "Great! Just what I need right now!" and I began apologizing to the man.  I was surprised when the man told me not to worry and started helping me unload my carts.  He then took both of my carts and returned them for me.  I thanked him and he told me that his daughter had twins and that he knew how hard it was for her.  I got into the car and cried even more but for a different reason.  I don't know who that man was or why he had decided to help me and I'm sure he has no idea how much his actions meant to me.  It was a simple act but it made all the difference in my world.  There are tears on my face as I think back to that day.  God sends his angels to us in the moments we need him most.  I'm so thankful for the angel he sent me that night.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Phone Call

When we were approved as foster parents we were told that it may take a few weeks to several months before we would have a placement and that they would most likely start us out with some respites (which consists of caring for a foster child over a short period of time while their foster parents may go on vacation or may just need a break). We figured after several weeks we might have a child placed with us.

The phone call came two days after we were approved as foster parents. I was visiting my parents who live about an hour and a half away from me. A caseworker from CYS asked us if we would be willing to take a sibling group of three children. I told him I would have to speak with my husband before I could agree to it. I was a little concerned about being able to take care of three children but Rob said that he felt good about it. I let CYS know that we would take them. This was at about 3:00pm and they needed me to pick them up by 5:00 or as soon as I could make it back. I remember shaking because I was so anxious and I couldn't think clearly.

Rob and I met at CYS. We were lead to a room with a large conference table and several caseworkers inside. They had a few stacks of paperwork that we started going through and signing. We were amazed when we recognized the last name of the children. We went to church with people having the same name. We wondered if they were somehow related and figured we would find out on Sunday.

My heart leaps when I think back to the moment I first saw my children. I could tell they were worried about what would happen to them but at the same time I was a little surprised by how well they responded to us.

Emily (7) was softly crying. She came up to me and said, "My mom is dead." I hugged her and told her I was sorry. She stopped crying right away. I still have the striped sweater she was wearing that day.

Connor (3) was laughing and hyper (something he does when he is worried or nervous). He was very friendly and outgoing and very easy to like.

Christian (1) was so small for his age and he just slumped over and shrunk from anyone seeing him. He wouldn't look at anyone and kept his head down. He had a second degree burn the size of a softball on his stomach. He didn't make a sound.

This was our first meeting. We left CYS a little after 6:00 with three children who had nothing but the clothes on their backs. We took them to Burger King to eat where Christian threw up. The poor thing was suffering so much. We then went to Walmart to get some things that would be needed (pajamas, underwear, toothbrushes, clothing, diapers, etc.)

On the way home, Emily rode with me in the car. I told her that she could call us mom and dad if she wanted but that she didn't have to and that we could come up with something else for her to call us if she wanted. She thought about it for a moment and then said that she would like to call us mommy and daddy.

I am a mom...

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

It All Started...

Rob and I had been married a little over five years and had already lived in three different states and six different homes. We had struggled as most young couples do while adjusting to married life. But one of the trials I never thought I would go through was being childless. You see, I come from a family of eight children and Rob from a family of six children. I just thought that I would decide how many children I could handle and they would come. Obviously that didn't happen.

It was especially hard for me. I didn't know how to identify myself. My mom was a wife but foremost she was a mother. I had no idea how to separate the two. I shared how I felt with Rob but, like most men, he couldn't even begin to comprehend what I was going through. I felt inadequate and alone.

We had been living in Colonial Beach, Virginia for three years when I had an undeniable prompting that we needed to move. Rob thought I was a little crazy but said he'd experienced enough to know that we should follow my "intuition". It really didn't make any sense to move. Rob had a stable job working for the Department of Defense, we owned a home we were remodeling, and had some great friends there. At first we didn't know where to go but we finally decided to try Pittsburgh, PA. Just four weeks after beginning the job search we had obtained employment for Rob and had already moved to Pittsburgh.

Things were good for us but we still felt a void in our lives. It's amazing how difficult it is to make friends with other couples or be involved when you don't have children. I'm sure in some circles this wouldn't be a problem but Rob and I are devout Latter-day Saints (Mormons). In our faith, family is the most important thing. It is not a question of if you will have children but of when you will have them. We were definitely the exception among our acquaintances and friends.

In the Spring of 2006 we decided to try IUT (Artificial Insemination). This involved invasive examinations, daily shots of strong hormones, and a slight loss of dignity. The hormones made me very ill and moody (Rob might have used a different word for this). The day of insemination came and as the doctor was taking care of business she told Rob and I to look into each others eyes. Perhaps for some it may feel like a magical moment but for me her saying that just added to the humiliation. Who are we kidding? It was a medical procedure not a special intimate moment. Maybe I would feel differently about that moment if we had been successful in conceiving but a month later I felt the bitter sting of disappointment. Actually heartbreak would be a better description of what I felt. Rob wanted to try again but I just couldn't go through it again. I was ill from messing with my hormones and emotionally drained. We decided at that point that we would have to complete our family in a different way.

Choosing to adopt is not an easy decision. It's one thing for God to bless you with a "child of your own" but to convince yourself that you are ready and acceptable to parent "another person's child" was difficult for me. Not only did I have to convince myself but we also had to convince an adoption agency and an expectant mother. We all know that an expectant mother and agency are much more discriminating than God. God doesn't care what your income is, what kind of home you live in, what you look like or how much education you have but if you want to adopt then you better shine in all those areas. We also considered becoming foster parents but had obvious concerns about doing that. We came to realize that whichever we chose there was a risk of heartbreak. I've summed this up in a paragraph but it was a decision that took us many months to make.

October 30, 2007 we became foster parents. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.