‘People assume they have us figured out. The un-ringed left hand, tattoos, a Mama with diverse children, no doubt living off the government.’

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“The looks still come. At times it seems as if people watch me and my kids with their head cocked to one side, like my dog does when I drop chips into a plastic bag. People watch us, seeming to make sense of what they are seeing, trying to figure our family out. We are a scene. They watch our van pull up and empty out. We command attention when we enter in the room, if not for our noise level, because of the sheer volume we all occupy.

People seem to cope with their observation of my family by a look of disapproval, or with a comment reflecting what they see. I am still trying to find a less annoyed response to the comment, ‘you sure have your hands full.’

ME: ‘YEAH, you should see my heart.’ Or my new favorite, ‘Sure do, both of them!’

Julianna Klepfer/My Joyful Broken Heart

Some people scan us assuming they have us figured out — the un-ringed left hand, tattoos, a Mama with the diverse group of children, no doubt living off the government. They walk by us with a look of judgment. Some people stare at us in what I am guessing is fascination. I mean who wouldn’t. ‘Look at this super cool Mama and all her adorable children.’ They watch us as they are trying to piece together if they are all mine, and deciding if they should ask. Some people watch with a smile as they observe how kind my children are, stopping us to offer us a compliment.

Being a single foster mama who needs to get things done means that my kiddos and I all run our errands. We are like a well-oiled machine, and most of our trips are successful and enjoyable.  There are some moments when trauma is triggered and the spiral begins, usually with lots of noise.

Melissa Pennington Photography

Early in my days of motherhood, I was so consumed by what others thought. My first year was heavily motivated by the truth, that I had to prove I could do this. That made me parent my kiddos without much grace. In those days it was less about them and more about me. After realizing that was just a Band-Aid and would not work long term, I have changed my tactics. I have learned to parent them with their healing at the forefront of my mind. That means sometimes, we do strange things in the aisle of the grocery store.

However, there have been many moments when I have felt the social pressures around me and my insecurities are triggered, making me wish I had a shirt that said, ‘Please excuse his behavior, I have only been his mom 3 hours and I, too, am unsure why he is doing this.’ Those moments in my days, where I wish for just a second, they could see the whole story, because if they only knew… then maybe they would give us more grace.

Melissa Pennington Photography

I was late to the meeting, but if they only knew that my little girl looked up at me with tears in her eyes, stating that she cannot, and will not, go to school. Because in a moment of insecurity, she came completely unglued which resulted in me having to play detective to get to the bottom of just what she was feeling, knowing it was more than her being defiant. After figuring out what got triggered, I then spent all my extra time giving her a pep talk about just how amazing she is.

My son is off task and fidgets all day. They want a label and medication, but if they only knew what kind of internal struggle he has each day about his origin, his loyalty and the images he has seen that still lie in wait in the back of his mind, waiting for just the right moment. Disorders and trauma share a lot of the same behaviors.

My daughter just shut down completely when the teacher asked about her homework, but if they only knew that her keeping it all together is what she fights hard for each day. She avoids any kind of crack in her wall of perfection, in fear that one crack and the whole thing will crumble. Perfection is how she has survived the things she has seen.

My son just completely lost it in the middle of the restaurant, but if they only knew that he just got back from a weekend visit with his parents and in his exhaustion, he begins processing trying to find words for all the strong feelings and chaos he feels. He is not a bad little boy, he is just a little boy whose heart is hurting and he doesn’t know how to say what he feels, so screaming and throwing things is how he gets it out.

Melissa Pennington Photography

The school calls. We have been tardy 12 days this school year, but if they only knew that most of those tardies were due to the fact that most mornings any given person in our home may decide to process their tragedies moments before we walked out the door. It’s not a matter of us needing to wake up early, as much as it is a conscious choice that healing takes time and is pretty inconvenient and creating space for it to take place is essential, and may make us late.

My daughter won’t respond to authority and laughs at the consequences given, but if they only knew she is not a defiant child, but a scared one. In her 3 years she has learned that people leave her and her way to control that is to push people away, so she doesn’t get hurt.

To walk a mile in someone else’s shoes we have to get uncomfortable a bit. We have to willingly step into their world. Upon gaining better insight, we will begin to understand just how our action must become counter intuitive to what we always thought. Empathy has the power to heal this hurting world. Next time you see someone behaving in a way that is offensive to you, pause for just a moment, if you only knew…”

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Julianna Klepfer, a 30 something, single, foster/adoptive mama. She lives with her crew of seven, ages 11, 9, 7, 4, 3, 18 months and 6 months, their two dogs and 6 chickens in the hills of Iowa. You can follow along with her ever changing family at My Joyful Broken Heart.

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