Thursday, May 21, 2015

Finding New Roads Through Transition

Transition is hard. There's nothing remarkable about the premise. All military families know transition is hard. I would bet that most Americans generally understand that transition is hard. But the full weight of what "hard" means doesn't smack you in the face until you are actually in it.

My husband Jake retired from the Army on April 1. It was a really hard decision for him, and one that I don't think he's totally allowed to set in just yet. Like many of the hard choices in life, I think he feels confident he made the right one, but he still mourns what might have been.

See, my husband is a warrior. He's a protector. A defender. He thrives on camaraderie, service, a keen sense of purpose, and getting things done. I'm sure to many of you that sounds familiar. Of course the problem is that this warrior fell for a lawyer, and she turned his world upside down. Marriage, a family, and a wife with a horribly importable career later, he found he'd spent seven years apart from his family--including a deployment when we were really apart--and realized that if he wanted to be there, a decision had to be made.

So now Jake is out, and trying to find his new road. He has a plethora of choices before him, which is precisely the problem. After two-plus decades of a single path, choosing a new one from so many options is a daunting task. If he chooses one, he foregoes others, and he's not yet ready to let any of them go. So what's a guy to do? Meanwhile, our family is going through all of the difficulties of finding a new normal--sharing closet space, actually co-parenting--and I'm trying hard not to push Jake down a particular path because I feel bad that he seems a little lost, and it might be a little my fault. Or maybe a lot my fault.

Transition is tough. It's not unique to our family; it's not the exception, it's the rule. Finding a new purpose is hard, and that's why it is so important that companies like GM support workforce development initiatives like Shifting Gears, and Hiring Our Heroes job fairs, as well as educational partnerships that help transitioning service members and their spouses find their next purpose, their next passion.  These programs, designed to help service members discover places to focus their energy and find community, really g0 a long way in helping with the painful process of re-learning how to be a civilian (and be surrounded by them every day).

It's also why I love opportunities to fellowship with other military spouses, who know not only this military life, but the life after the life too. And I'm so excited there's one such opportunity coming up next week on May 27! I'll be there for the good friends and great advice, but there's a bonus (or rather several) when it comes to this one! If you join us, you have a chance to win prizes, just for hanging out with some amazing men and women!

Jake is still searching for what he's going to do next professionally. I think he will be for a while. I can't really say that he's searching for his next purpose, though. I think he's been sure his whole life what he's on this earth for, and that's to serve. A few weeks before he retired from the Army, he announced that he was taking a summer trip: to Haiti. Yes, Haiti. On a medical mission with Live BeyondHe's actually there right now, working in the hospital complex Live Beyond built to provide medical care to the surrounding villages.

Of course he is. Because if there are two things I can be certain of with Jacob Lynn Hicks, it's that he can't sit still for long, and if he's moving, he's doing for others. He remains a protector, and a defender. Transition is hard, but I think for him knowing his purpose, and for me seeing what fulfills him, will go a long way in helping us weather it.

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Chevrolet via MSB New Media. The opinions and text are all mine.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Five Important Things About Military Appreciation Month

Some twenty-five years ago, Congress designated the month of May as National Military Appreciation month. It's not a particularly well-known fact, even though there are a number of military holidays included in the month of May. And why, you may ask, is an entire month set aside for honoring our military? Quite simply, it takes that long to really run the gamut of what "military" means to this country. Military is past; it is present; it is future. It touches our lives every day in ways that do not even occur to us unless we actually take the time to sit and consider them.

There are many, but here are just five important things to remember about Military Appreciation Month:

Our Fallen. There is a price for freedom, and it is a steep one. As a nation, we've lost fathers, mothers, siblings and dear friends. The thought of the legions who have given their lives to preserve our American way of life is staggering. The sacrifice is worth remembering every day, but special time is set aside for this very task on Memorial Day.

Our Veterans. May is the month of VE Day, and especially this year as we celebrate its 70th anniversary, it's easy to remember the many lives put on the line so many years ago. But let's not forget the millions of veterans living in this country, with more leaving the service every day. They face some unique challenges, but they also come with the kind of skill and leadership that is not just taught, it's forged.

Our Service Members. May is also the month of Armed Forces Day, honoring the men and women serving in all branches of our military. On the every day, it's easy to forget that tens of thousands of men and women are still serving in hostile territories today, or that even more stand waiting to be called with any threat that comes our way. In fact, their very work is precisely why we can sometimes forget how hard-won our safety and security are. May is a month not to let the price of that security slip our minds.

Our Spouses. Often referred to as the "Silent Ranks" or the "Force Behind the Force," military spouses are anything but. They are vocal advocates for our military and their own families. They sustain the homefront while their service members are at war--raising children, caring for parents, maintaining household and sanity at the same time (which can be no small feat!). They care for their own families while their spouses are working to protect everyone's. They are the force beside the force, which is why the first Friday of every May is designated Military Spouse Appreciation Day.

Our Future. Being the mom of a five-year-old who has been an Army brat his entire life, I can tell you unequivocally that milkids serve too. When a service member commits to our military, the entire family serves. And military life can take a toll, straining marriages, relationships with kids, even the ability to start a family in the first place is made harder by military service sometimes. In a month where we honor families, mothers, teachers--let's not forget those families dealing with the many challenges of live and the many challenges of war on top of them.

I think perhaps the most critical thing in May--besides not saying "Happy Memorial Day"--is remembering that the month continues to have significance. Because our military, their families, our veterans, they are all sacrificing now. Today. Whether giving up time together, dealing with the strain and challenges of military life, or dealing with the wounds dealt to them by war, the sacrifices are continuous.

That's why I'm incredibly proud to be working with Chevrolet as part of its Chevy Salutes campaign. Chevy's programs really span the entire gamut of what it is to be "military." From workforce development programs like "Shifting Gears" and work through Hiring Our Heroes Fairs, to product discounts for military, veterans, and their families, to support of numerous non-profits working for veterans and military families, Chevy takes seriously its commitment to honor our heroes.

And for military families in the month of May, Chevy is going the extra mile (see what I did there?). For anyone looking to "find new roads" in a new set of wheels, the Chevrolet Military Program has you covered, with the best discount program of any car company.

Not looking for a new ride? Chevy still has a fun program for military families from now through May 17:

Now through May 17th, post pictures or video to Instagram (don't forget to use hashtags #ChevySalutes and #FindNewRoads). Participants have a chance to win one of three awesome cash prizes! Check out the official rules here.

How will you find new roads?
This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Chevrolet via MSB New Media. The opinions and text are all mine.

Friday, May 1, 2015

The "Special Home Finding" Do-Over

After our heartbreaking near-miss with the adoption Special Home Finding (SHF) list last spring, I thought for sure that I had learned caution and expectation management. Falling in love with a child, then not becoming her family is, after all, sufficiently grueling to leave a lasting impression, right? No. I was giving myself way, way too much credit. 

It all started off well enough. We received profiles of SHF kids from our case worker in May and June, reviewed them pretty dispassionately, and passed on them.** Perhaps, we thought, our prior "incident" was telling us to be patient and wait for a match through the "healthy kids" track. So we waited, proud of ourselves for being patient, for not rushing into another match scenario right away.

But then July came with its own crop of SHF profiles. This was a big group: we were used to getting 15 profiles at a time, but this group was 25, at least. It was a little daunting. In fact, I almost didn't look at them. We're waiting, I told myself, quit being impatient.

I waited all of fifteen minutes from receipt of email. The profiles just called to me, like maybe I knew there was an extra something special in that giant pile of information about the many children in need of homes. So I started flipping through the profiles one by one.

She was in the middle of the group, by far the smallest child, with by far the smallest amount of biographical information. I felt that familiar pull on my heart, but I resisted. This is impatience, I thought. Besides, she's probably already matched just like the last one. I just need to keep waiting.

That lasted all of ten minutes. I decided to get Jake's opinion uninfluenced by me. So I sent him the entire group of profiles to look at with (what I considered) a rather casual note about looking at them when he got a chance. I decided that if he randomly picked the same child, then that must mean something. Sort of like picking a guy out of a line-up! If he picked her, she was bound to be meant for us, right?

An hour later, I still hadn't heard from Jake, and it was nearing the end of the day. I called Jake, who was headed to the airfield to fly. He'd been planning a mission and hadn't checked his phone. 
"You need to look at those profiles and tell me if any of them jump out at you."
He got off the phone so that he could check his email. I waited.

Ten minutes later, he sent me back the same tiny profile of the same tiny girl. Calm down, woman! I thought to myself. She may be matched already. The match could be rejected for other reasons. She's probably not yours.

But by this point, I was completely ignoring my voice of nay-say. I immediately called our caseworker, who didn't answer the phone. It was a Friday afternoon, late enough that she may have been gone for the weekend. But just in case, I emailed her too; just for good measure.

Sure enough, it was Monday before we heard anything. Our caseworker responded that she had passed along our request to be matched to the Inter-Country Adoption Bureau (ICAB), and now we just had to wait. 

This time, we didn't snap into planning mode, though. No talk about decorating a room or planning for her first few months home. No discussion of how to talk to Howie about this child. So maybe we actually did learn something from being burned--let's not get our hopes up until we hear something. 

But weeks went by and we heard nothing. And as the silence grew in length, my resolve that this child belonged to us grew deeper. In retrospect, it seems really backwards, like my heart was asking for trouble. But so it was that my certainty grew in the absence of news to the contrary.

Which is really dangerous, because it would be seven long months before we heard anything more about this tiny little girl with her tiny little bio.

**For an explanation of the different adoption "tracks," check out this post.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Match, Interrupted

Those of you who know me know that I tend to write our life on delay. Partly, that's for security reasons. But it's also because I'm a big-time processor. I (usually) want to give things a lot of thought before I write. In this particular case, almost exactly a year of thought. But don't worry! In the coming weeks, I will bring you up to speed!

When it comes to our adoption, we've gotten very used to the waiting. After all, we started this process in early 2012! So waiting and the Hicks family are old friends by this point. Still, what makes the waiting bearable is hope--that there will be good news at the end of all of the waiting. It's really only the hope that keeps you going on the tough days. And when it's not there? Oh boy!

Last year, on the Wednesday before Easter, Jake came home from nearly ten months in Afghanistan. It was an extremely joyous (if a little complicated) time for our family. For a brief few days, we were over the moon excited to just be together and have some fun. But as if having Jake home from a war zone wasn't enough, though, we had other things to be excited about too!

When you adopt internationally, you can do so in basically two tracks. On the one hand, you can be on the (long) waiting list to be matched with a healthy child. On the other hand, you can receive lists of "special home finding" kids, and choose a prospective match from those lists. In the Philippines, "special home finding" typically means one of three things: (1) the child is over five years of age; (2) the child is part of a sibling group; or (3) the child has a special need of some kind. The list is typically published monthly, and it is long.

That's why, since early 2013, while we have been on the waiting list for matching with a healthy child, we were also receiving the special home finding list from our caseworker. Or rather, we received child profiles from the list that roughly matched our family's file. If a particular list had 100 kids on it, we would receive about 15 profiles. At that many profiles a month, you can imaging how many kids whose stories we read.

The same day that Jake got home last spring, we received the April Special Home Finding profiles from our caseworker. As we were all snuggled up together before bed, we looked through the profiles, and found one that really struck us. She was a beautiful six year old girl, almost two years to the day older than Howie. Her story spoke to us, and we were certain we were the family for her. We contacted our caseworker and requested to be match right away. 

The messages we got about the match were very positive, and we started to get excited--planning her room, how to handle school readiness, how to get Howie ready for a big sister. It was both exciting and overwhelming all at once. And for someone who researches and plans...well, everything, it was a time when I hopped into overdrive!

Four weeks later, I was at the airport waiting for a flight to Lexington for work, and I got the call. There was a long conversation about the "why," but the gist was that the little person we'd been building our plans around was being matched with a different family. 

I just fell apart. I found myself sobbing on the floor in the United Club bathroom. I missed my flight, which led to a (now) hilarious, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles-esque race to get me to Lexington in time for my meetings. It was terrible. Calling Jake to let him know was worse--running through it all again, falling to pieces again. He handled it better than I did (he usually does), but it stung. Really stung. 

I can look back now and just be thankful this little girl has a family. And when she crosses my mind, I say a prayer for her. But it still makes my heart ache.

A few days later, I collected myself and I called my case worker again to find out what happens next. She began the conversation with "if you don't want to proceed with this any longer, certainly I understand." The statement struck me: was she asking if we'd given up? Did she think we were done? 

I talked to her and learned that many families reach a point in the adoption process where the emotional toll is too great, and they have to walk away. I thought about me, crumpled on the floor, and understood. But it gave me resolve that I didn't realize was there before. "This little one was not meant for us," I told her, "but it doesn't mean adoption is not meant for us." See, Jake and I have felt from the beginning that adoption is something we were called to. No one said it would be easy, and Lord knows we've had our challenges. But absent some insurmountable roadblock, we just know adoption is our path.

"We're in this," I told her. "Perhaps there will come a day when we decide that, for our family, enough is enough. But today is not that day. Not by a long shot."

A year and a dozen challenges later, it's still not that day. Not by a long shot!

To be continued...

This is My #MilKid

Yesterday was Howie's birthday. His FIFTH birthday. I can't tell you how mind-blowing that is to me. Where did the time go?

This year Howie's birthday was a really low-key affair. Jake is gone (again, though thankfully, not to a war zone this year), and so we had a party for Howie a couple of weeks ago before he had to leave at the Antique Firehouse, where Howie and his friends (and the dads) got to dress up like fire fighters and go for a ride in a vintage fire truck!

So for his actual birthday, I just took rainbow cupcakes to Howie's school as a treat for him and his classmates. Being the birthday boy, he got two cupcakes: chocolate, with the brightest blue frosting I've ever seen.

I think it's pretty safe to say he enjoyed them. And I enjoyed the fact that HEB's VERY brightly colored frosting washes out of clothing easily with warm water.

Early in the day though, before school or any discussion of sweet treats, Howie woke up and came running down the stairs with an exuberant "It's my birthday!!" 

Then a brief pause, followed by "It is my birthday, right Mommy?" The poor kiddo still does not understand why one might celebrate a birthday on any day other than the actual birthday, so having his party early has thrown him for a loop.

After a small amount of convincing, we turned our attention to getting ready for school. Before we left the house, Howie decided we should document the moment ("Take my picture Mommy, I'm showing you five!"). After I snapped his picture, I said "Let's make a video, baby." I wanted to make for myself a reminder of the way my sweet boy's mind is working at five years old, because he won't stay there for very long.

I asked Howie to tell me about his favorite things, thinking he would take about his Ninja Turtles or his Legos or his airplanes. His answers, though, really floored me.

Floored. I ask Howie about his favorite things, and he doesn't talk about things at all. No, what came to his mind was Daddy. Flying airplanes with Daddy. Playing Legos when we visited Daddy at Ft. Riley. Wanting Daddy to be home. Wanting Daddy to be safe. As I watched the video back with Howie, I was struck with pride that my little person understands what's really important (time with loved ones). But I was also just a little heartbroken that someone so small has already learned absence, and how to worry about someone else. 

That is what it is to be a military kid. It means understanding, way too soon, that moments with our loved ones are precious and life is far too short. It means shouldering emotional burdens that are difficult for adults to bear, yet somehow maintaining the spark of childhood. And although I'm completely in awe of this sweet boy of mine, I know that he's not unique in this respect. We've been at war for over thirteen years. There are milkids who have spent their entire childhoods walking this path.

It really makes only one month of recognition seem wholly inadequate. So to my little hero, and to all of the other little heroes out there, facing more of war than most grown-ups in this country, all I can say is that you are awesome. Truly, unequivocally awesome.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Adoption Through Sweet Treats

Hi friends! OK, I admit it, I have been neglecting this blog. Honestly, it's been a hard few months, between crazy changes at home, and no news on the adoption front. But I'm resolved to start chatting with you again in the coming weeks and get everyone caught up on all things Hicks Hiking, so watch out.

In the meantime, I would LOVE for all of you to help me support another family in their adoption journey. 

I know some of you have heard me talk about how expensive adoption can be, especially international adoption. Families often have to get creative about how to fund their adoptions. Some hold fundraisers; some write grants; and some make items to sell. 

One of the families that we have met on the adoption journey is the Hudson family. The Hudsons are also going through the process of adopting from the Philippines, and they have come up with a super sweet plan (literally!) to pay for their adoption, and then pay it forward.

Jennifer Hudson makes truly delectable salted caramels and caramel sauce. They are awesome! You can read more below, but here's the short version: Jennifer's original goal when she started Stirred by Hand was to sell 50 to 100 jars of the caramel sauce at Christmas. But it's so good, she actually sold over 500 jars! That's not counting the candies! And it's no wonder to me at all; did I mention they are amazing?

Jennifer informed me today that they are 2/3 of the way toward their goal of funding their adoption through her sweet treats. And once they've funded their own adoption, Jennifer wants to start supporting local and international initiatives--like Mercy House--to care for orphans and make adoptions more accessible through Stirred by Hand. Awesome, folks!

But Jennifer's not waiting until she hits her own goal to start paying it forward. She has already donated $1,000 worth of caramels to one other adopting family, and has committed to making caramels for a second family--a Marine Corps family--to sell for their own adoption later this month!

I'm hoping that you, friends, can help me put her over the top of her own adoption goal, and get her started with her outreach efforts as well! Jennifer's contact information is in the story block below. She ships anywhere in the U.S., and with Valentine's Day just around the corner, there's no better time to be buying sweet treats!

Also, I'm no medical expert, but I'm pretty sure that calories you consume for a good cause don't count, right? So load up today my friends! 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Maligayang Pasko, Little One!

It’s Christmas Eve today, and I’m just not in the Christmas spirit. I really expected to be, but I’m not. I really should be. After all, Jake is home safe. Our family is under one roof, all together and all in good health. We’ve trimmed the tree and lighted the house. All the presents are wrapped and under the tree. A stream of Christmas cards has been filling our mailbox for weeks. All of the key components of holiday cheer are present, and yet cheer is not. 

And it’s my own fault. My heart convinced my head that my big gift for Christmas this year would be news. ‘We’ll finally hear about the newest little person joining our family!’ I convinced myself. 

Despite the fact that we won’t even hit the average wait time until April. Despite the fact that I’ve been working in the Philippines for nearly a decade, and I know that government slows to a halt in December. Despite, despite, despite. Against all reason, I was simply convinced—our little person is out there somewhere, and this Christmas I will finally get to learn who our little person is.

I was wrong. And it’s deflating. My heart is aching, not just from the disappointment, but also from knowing that our Little really is out there somewhere, passing yet another Christmas without a family. Generally speaking, caregivers in the Philippines are extremely loving and attentive to their charges, so I’m not worried about an unhappy Christmas for Little. But it hurts my heart to think about a Christmas passed with a void; Christmas as a lone piece of a far-away a puzzle. Christmas passed longing not for Santa, but for nanay (mommy) and tatay (daddy) and kuya (big brother). When we’re right here!!

So now, what I’m yearning for this Christmas is peace. Lord, let me lay down the disappointment. Lift the sadness from my heart. Help me focus on the now, and allow the future to come to me when it will. 

And to my Little, wherever you are, Maligayang Pasko sweet angel! Merry Christmas! Maybe next year you will spend it with your family.