About Jess

Why I Do What I Do

I never knew I was going to be mom to two special needs children, let alone a homeschool mom.

My first baby, born Emma Nicole Speck, seemed perfect at birth. She had no complications except for a tiny bout of jaundice which resolved itself in a couple of days. She also had just a hint of a heart murmur, but it was gone by the time she had her first checkup two days after we were released from the hospital.

I got through the newborn stage and postpartum depression intact and life seemed ideal for a time. She was an easy kid; smart, beautiful, well-behaved. She was my doll baby. I loved having a little girl to dress up. I took mountains of pictures of my little dolly and scrapbooked about her for hours at a time. I loved that kid with a fierceness I had never experienced before. Still do in fact.

When Emma was about three, we tried for another conception. Emma was a Clomid baby and I knew conceiving a second was going to be tough. I have polycystic ovaries and had gained a lot of weight since she’d been born. It was going to be even harder this time.

A year later, there was still no baby. We were out for a family walk to the park one day and I was trying to hold back the tears of frustration and grief. I had just gotten my period that morning after yet another round of testing for ovulation. We had a decision to make. My husband, Jon, makes a good living, but we were in a lot of debt and couldn’t afford invitro or even simple insemination. Should we keep fighting for this much-wanted pregnancy? Or should we go another route?

Jon said to me, “You’ve always wanted to foster. Let’s think about that.” When we got home, I pulled out the yellowed newspaper article I had saved years before about a woman who fostered babies. It was her life’s work. The agency she worked through was Catholic Charities. I took a deep breath and got on the phone.

We ended up adopting our very first placement 18 months after we picked him up from the hospital as a meth-addicted newborn (that never happens. If you are thinking of foster-to-adopt, you should know we were extraordinarily lucky to wind up adopting our first placement). He was an easy baby with none of the irritation or fussiness of a “normal” meth baby. He had some health complications, but nothing we couldn’t handle.

Then he turned one. He learned how to crawl and that’s when we knew we were really in for it. Suddenly all the kid wanted was his freedom. He hated strollers, backpacks, and those ridiculous toddler leashes. But we tried them all because it was next to impossible to keep him contained. We lost him in a crowd at a parade one time because he spied a bouncy house a block away and made a run for it. 10 years later, my heart still stops when I remember it.

We knew when we adopted Josh that he was going to end up with special needs. Foster children will always have behavioral or emotional issues, no matter what their background or how young you get them. But we loved him and let’s face it, I’ve been his true mommy since that day we picked him up; since the moment I first clapped eyes on him.

He has been hospitalized twice for behavioral stuff. He was so out of control one night we had to call an ambulance. We enrolled in something called the Intensive Outpatient Program at Children’s Hospital of Denver and Jon, Josh, and I got some very good training. It was six weeks straight out of hell, but it was so worth it. We had known it was coming with Josh though. We expected to have to go through something like that.

What we weren’t expecting was that Emma would develop problems beginning in middle school. Puberty hit that kiddo like a ton of bricks. Suddenly there were severe anxiety, behavioral, and emotional issues. And there were relationship issues as well. She wasn’t having fun with friends anymore. Those she did care for all had emotional problems much like hers and if someone in the posse was having a bad day, they all were. I got some frantic phone calls during that time asking me to come pick up my out-of-control kid. There were near-daily migraines and lots of panic attacks. One day she locked herself in a band room closet and the school had to call the police.

The day came for her to confess that she was bisexual and that she had a girlfriend. I told her that was fine. In fact, I was expecting that. She had been a self-proclaimed tomboy for many years. I was surprised she was even attracted to boys at all. Then one awful night, she sobbed in my arms, heartbroken because she was so disgusted by her preteen girl’s body, and told me that she was not really a girl. She had girl parts, but she hated that fact. She wanted to be a boy.

I told him that I loved him no matter what and that if he felt like he was meant to live life as a boy then by God he was meant to live as a boy. My beautiful son Arrow was born that night. So I guess it wasn’t that awful after all. We began the transition immediately. I did my grieving for the loss of my little girl on my own time, far from Arrow’s sight or mind.

Arrow had another surprise in store for me a couple of years later, just a few short weeks ago. He asked to speak with our family doctor and I allowed him to tag along on a visit I had planned that day for myself. What came next was out of the blue. “I think I’m autistic,” he said.

The doctor looked me in the eye and said, “Make an appointment for him. We need to have a nice long talk about this.” He had seen it coming. I had not. At that next appointment, the doc went down a long list of questions and confirmed Arrow’s suspicions.

The diagnosis did not change our lives significantly. It actually gave Arrow a great deal of relief. It didn’t change his behavior or his needs. It just put a name on something we didn’t yet have a name for. It makes sense to me now. It explains his anxiety, his terrible insomnia, and his relationship problems.

These days, both kids are in therapy and have psychiatric care to manage their meds. I pulled Arrow out of school first and began homeschooling him. Then, when Josh started running away from school every single day and I was having daily conversations with his principal and local police, I decided to pull him out as well. Now Arrow attends Connections Academy online, but I must sit with him for several hours a day to keep him motivated and on track or else he falls behind. Josh is a true homeschooler whom I work with in the mornings. Currently we’re studying ancient Greece, nutrition, math (with my smarticus husband’s help), spelling, writing, and piano. Arrow loves studying Japanese, but dislikes everything else. We have had to implement a strict schedule to stay on track with school. The kids need an incredible amount of structure. Some days I find this difficult to bear. Where has the “me time” gone?

The truth is, I find the me time wherever I can. With the help of a great nanny service (www.Care.com) I found a sitter who specializes in kids with ADHD and autism. She is wonderful and, starting this Wednesday, she is going to be coming nearly every week to give me a two-hour break. She also came this past Saturday night so Jon and I could have a date night.

The strict schedule combined with all of Jon’s overtime means there are days we only see each other in passing. The amazing gift of a sitter who can handle the toughest kid has been such a relief to us. My parents help in every way they can and are going to start coming to be with Josh every Thursday night so Arrow and I can hang out at the local Rainbow Alley for a couple of hours.

How do I manage all this? Schedules!

Every night before bed, I write out a detailed schedule for each of the kids and I so we all know exactly what comes next in our day. The kids aren’t crazy about the system. And to tell the truth, neither am I. But it gives us peace. It makes a real education for both kids a possibility. Every single day when Arrow tells me for the umpteenth time that he wants to quit high school, I can tell him to put one foot in front of the other, take his assignments down to small chunks, and just give me one good hour until break time. When we only have to face an hour of work, it’s much more manageable and not overwhelming.

Self-care is of tantamount importance to me. That means seeing a doctor on a regular basis (I’m bipolar and have some interesting but non-serious health issues), talking to a therapist multiple times a week (I found my therapist through BetterHelp.com and can “talk” to her via a private chat room whenever I want. She usually replies within a couple of days; sooner when it’s urgent), getting in a date night once a paycheck, cooking and eating healthy meals, taking a shower even when I don’t want to, flossing every night, and making sure I have a little fun every single day. Last night, which was a Sunday night—my least favorite night of the week because I don’t see Jon all day—I reserved the TV for my own use at 6 pm and watched the movie Arrival. That was such a fabulous idea that I’m going to do it every Sunday night from now on. Next week I plan to re-watch (for, like, the dozenth time) Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Yup, you caught me, I am a major Star Wars nerd.

I am here to tell you that you can find peace in the chaos. Your life is probably as messy as mine. Maybe you’re as horrible at cleaning house as I am. Or maybe you’re the ultimate homeschool mom who appears on the surface to have everything together, but are worried it will crumble around your ears. Maybe you’re nursing your fourth child and have Mommy Fog Brain. Wherever you are on the journey, know we’re in this together. I hope I can inspire you and that you can inspire me. Let’s build each other up and encourage each other. Raising kids is tough. But it’s so worth it. Wouldn’t you agree?