Loose Ends: 2014 Year in Review

This evening’s task is rather daunting; I’ll be attempting to sum up a few of the year’s loose ends into a few words. This will probably result in a bit of a jumbled post, I’m sure. Please stick with me, and feel free to ask questions if I skipped over something important.

Temporary halt to foster parenting

After our last placement in early 2014, Liz and I decided to take a break from being foster parents. The decision to take a step back from our commitment to kids in need came after several rounds of discovery about who we were as husband and wife, and as foster-mom / foster-dad. In the end we decided that:

  • Being a foster family with two working parents is VERY hard to pull off.
  • Being a foster family within the functional-but-broken CPS system within the state of Arizona required quite a bit more patience with our case workers than either of us expected. To be fair, when your case load is 166% of what it should be, it would probably be near impossible to not let something slide. But the bottom line was that when we asked for help from our CPS case workers, they failed to deliver.
  • The experience made us even more ready to be biological parents of our own children.

We allowed our foster care license to lapse over the summer, with the intent to perhaps pick it back up when the looming CPS overhaul is complete and when we have more time to dedicate to the process.

For now, my final words on the subject will be to reiterate how I feel about the whole thing. It’s probably not captured well within this blog, but foster parenting was an amazing experience. Liz and I agreed to set it aside not without some regret. I have been asked on more than one occasion during the whole licensing and placement process if I would recommend becoming a foster parent to someone I knew. My answer was always “Yes, if you have it in your heart to do an amazing thing for a child in need.” It is truly an amazing thing to do, and there are thousands of children who (usually) through no fault of their own, really need the help. For sure, it is a very big commitment, but enriches your life with rewards that are impossible to describe fully.

Pivot to Foreign Exchange Parenting

Once upon a time, Liz asked me a series of questions which led to our eventual decision to become foster parents. Buried within the progression of negative responses was a question about inviting a foreign exchange student to stay with us for part of the school year. Liz and I looked at the timing of the other events in our lives that were occurring simultaneously and decided that we would give it a shot.

I’ll admit that I was very gun-shy about once again opening up our house to a stranger. I still had questions about what I was supposed to get out of the experience and what it would mean to our lives just as we were starting to get back to something resembling normalcy. My wife is a very smart lady and she reassured me that everything would work out fine and that I would understand more as time went on. For the record: she was right, and I definitely understand more now.

After our comparatively superficial training class, (a couple of hours of talk time, a handful of emails and about a 3 minute inspection of the house to make sure that our exchange student’s room had a door and a roof), we received our first email from the student that we were being paired with. Of the 5o+ students that our agency was attempting to place, our student was the only one whose plans involved staying for only a semester. In remarkably clear English, we learned that his name was Vitor and that he was from a small place in Brazil called Itajai. I quickly learned that he and I shared an interest in basketball and that he was really looking forward to spending some time getting to know Arizona culture and the various sites of our state.

Because this post is a summary, I’ll add that the three of us have had some amazing adventures together, and our time with Vitor has been a blast. His kind nature and willingness to adapt to circumstances are among my top five take-aways from the experience. He came to Arizona to make friends, refine his English, hone up his academic skills and to experience life lived somewhat independent from his family. He accomplished all of those things and much more in his short stay. At the time of this post, he is still here (about 10 feet away, sleeping currently) but his time in our lives is regrettably running short. He will be missed for sure when he leaves.

I now have an answer to my earlier (selfish, but fair) question of “what’s in it for me” which I will write about shortly. I hope that it inspires others to take the foreign-exchange student plunge as we have.

About those “other events…”

The timing of Vitor’s arrival into our household coincided with perhaps the biggest news that I’ve ever cared to share on this little journal of mine. Liz and I decided to become real-life, honest-to-god, actual parents. We got off the ground and running toward that goal over this summer and are expecting our newest arrival in February of 2015.

We’ve elected to keep the name a secret for the time being, but we have learned (by way of an awesome gender reveal party) that the newest addition to the Ryan household will be a little girl. Liz’s pregnancy has been going well thus far with the only hiccup along the way being a really bad cold that stuck around for 3-4 weeks before finally being kicked to the curb.

My emotions about the arrival of the newest addition to the Ryan family run the gamut from flat out excited  to sometimes more-than-a-little terrified. I feel oddly prepared to be a dad, but feel pretty overwhelmed at the prospect of taking care of a baby. So, I’m doing all of the “dad things” to get us ready, including painting the room, assembling baby furniture and generally attempting to keep my pregnant wife happy in her remaining 8 weeks before the big day arrives.

Just as before, Liz keeps telling me that everything will be OK. I spend my waking hours trying very hard to listen to her and to believe. I smile at Liz’s growing belly, and am in awe when our little one greets us with a kick or elbow. (And sincerely wonder what those mini one-inch-punches must feel like from the inside!) I pray for the health and safety of daughter, mom and the rest of our family daily, and would ask those that have made it this far in this lengthy post to please do the same.