Friday, December 27, 2013

Goodbye traditions: plans and reality

Merry Christmas!  A week ago we said our goodbyes to Pterodactyl, then left the next morning for Canada.  We spent Christmas with B's family, busy with the boys' little cousins, a little playing in the snow, a lot of church.  Pterodactyl never came with us on a trip there, so it felt mostly normal to be there with just the two boys.  I did miss her, and felt an emptiness at the way it sometimes felt like she had never been a part of our family.  We came home to a message that all was well with her placement with her grandma, and she will stay there as an official move.  So, I'm relieved that she won't have the back-and-forth I'd feared, but it's still a little unreal.  I kept thinking today that I should be taking her to her Friday morning visit.  Last night I found myself almost asking B if he had brought up the bottles for nighttime feedings.  It was a seven-month-old habit.

I thought I'd write up some ways we were intentional about our first goodbye, the plans and the reality.

Visual Reminders
I wanted to have visual reminders that Pterodactyl was a part of our family and borrowed two ideas that I liked.  A good friend of mine that's a foster parent made small canvas squares painted bright colors with a handprint done in white.  I had all the supplies ready back in November when I thought she was moving, and there they sat for two months.  So, last Friday I rushed to get it all ready, and Dinosaur wanted to be involved in the painting and choosing of colors.  Maybe I should have asked my friend what paint she used, as ours turned out a little more rough and sloppy.  I still like them, though now I'm thinking of redecorating the nursery so that a random selection of colors blends in a little better.  Left is Dinosaur, middle is Rhinoceros, and right is Pterodactyl.

Our other visual reminder idea comes from Karen at Nuggets from the Nut House: buying two Christmas ornaments, one to go with the child and one to decorate the tree for years to come to remember each foster child placed with us.  Hallmark happened to have the perfect ornament this year for Pterodactyl and her lovely chocolate skin.  I found it sometime in November and planned to get around to going to a store and picking it up, only to find that one should not wait for Hallmark ornaments.  Suddenly they were out of stock online, and as I called around, five local stores were sold out.  I found one with two remaining ornaments and made sure the clerk put them aside for me to pick up ASAP.  What I didn't expect with this tradition is how it would help my bio kids process the goodbye.  I showed Dinosaur how we wrapped up one ornament to go with Pterodactyl and open with her grandma.  Then I told him when Pterodactyl is older and asks about the ornament, her grandma could tell her about us and how we loved her and took care of her.  I can't promise that this will actually happen, but Dinosaur soaked it up and seemed very comforted by the possibility.

I planned to have a photobook of Pterodactyl to give to her grandma (and print an extra for us to keep), and a family picture of us including Pterodactyl taken close to when she moved.  Well, the book is mostly up-to-date, but since we only had a day's notice she was going to her grandma and then went out of town, I still need to finish it and print it.  We did manage a family picture by the Christmas tree, but we had to use the camera on a timer and ended up with one with the flash that makes us look a bit washed out and scary, and one without the flash in which I'm blurry.  Oh well, they'll do.

Goodbye Celebration
We hoped to invite friends and my brother and sister-in-law (the only family that lives nearby) over to have a little goodbye open house with dessert and a chance to see Pterodactyl before she moved.  Yeah, this didn't happen due to short notice.  I've had to just send e-mail updates with pictures and that will have to be enough.  Most did know that anytime they saw her in the past two months could be the last, so I don't think anyone was blindsided by it.  I think a party would have been good for Dinosaur and Rhinoceros to understand what was happening, though.

Taking a Day Off
We had hoped that we would be able to take a day off when a foster child moved, so that we could all be there for the goodbye and just to make sure we had enough family time.  By coincidence, B had taken the day off because he had some paid days off to use up before the new year, I didn't work that day, and Dinosaur's school was closed because of an ice storm.  So, that made it easy!  We were all there to say goodbye, though I had the boys just say goodbye from the minivan.  Everyone got to give a kiss, and we drove home.  Then the power went out at our house shortly before bedtime, and instead of drowning my mixed emotions in internet and TV, I finished wrapping gifts by lantern light and read with candles and silence.  I didn't know I needed that silence, but it was peaceful.  And I liked imagining that the house was acknowledging something had changed and decided to shut things off for awhile.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A quick... goodbye?


After all was a sure thing Wednesday, and I sent out an update to our families, Thursday night I got home from work and B asked me if I wanted the emotional rollercoaster news or the funny news.  The funny news was that our eccentric neighbor that has been giving us unusual gifts* gave us a ham.

The rollercoaster news was that Pterodactyl's grandma has daycare.  And she's going there for Christmas.

Why did she miss the deadline?  Was it a misunderstanding?  Did it take that much for her to realize she was really losing her granddaughter?  She is going to be making some sacrifices so that she can have her.  I know she loves her, and I know this is right.  I especially think of her biological brothers, who her grandma has adopted.  The oldest especially has been through a lot of loss and trauma.  To have his baby sister as a gift for Christmas... who can argue with that.

The rollercoaster was irritating and stressful, but the way it all went down, my somber mood on Wednesday with the news she was staying turned into a all-out sob later that night, just a catharsis of all the will-she-or-won't-she-go emotions.  So, the actual goodbye news and goodbye were fairly tearless.  I'd already let it out, even if it was for a different reason.  I've had this happen before with work.  Without going into the long stories, three times as a teacher I was laid off, and each time it was a long will-I-have-a-job-or-won't-I saga, changing all the time.  Every time I ended up with a job at the end, but one of the times when my principal told me that news, I just started crying uncontrollably.  Catharsis.  Hey, at least my family is used to such "nevermind!" sorts of updates.

So, the question mark on the goodbye.  The news wasn't that Pterodactyl is moving... yet.  The caseworker's plan was for her to go to Grandma while we were gone, then she would come here for a short time, then she would move there.  After some time to think, we didn't think that the back-and-forth was best for Pterodactyl.  A transition is one thing, but almost a week in a home, then back for a week (or who knows how long), then back to the other home... she can't explain that this makes it more difficult for her, but I know it would. She would just be settling in, then leaving, then leaving again.  So, we asked if she could move right now.  The caseworker said that wasn't possible for agency-related reasons, but when we get back, it would be possible for her to stay there and make the move official then, without coming back to us.  So, that part is still up in the air, but if she's back, it's for a visit.  We decided it was a goodbye.

I'll write more on the day saying goodbye later, but we need to get on the road soon to Canada and the kids are waking up.

*The first was a public-bathroom-sized refill of antibacterial soap.  Like a huge bag that fits in a dispenser.  He said, "With kids, you need a lot of soap!"

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

No goodbye for awhile

The Call the Supervisor strategy certainly got things going.  Not only did work start on travel plans, but Pterodactyl's grandma was given a deadline to get child care in order, since this transition was weeks past the original plan. 

She didn't meet the deadline.  Pterodactyl stays here.

Lots of emotions here.  I'm disappointed that she's not with her biological family (more besides just the grandma) for this reason.  That disappointment can flare up as anger if I let it.  I'm worn out from spending most of this placement thinking she was going to move there.  I'm fearful of the future, because somehow knowing she was moving to a relative soon was safer than the possibility that she could be with us for a very long time and then leave.  Her case has a goal of reunification and I predict it'll be a long and messy one.  I'm happy, entertaining thoughts that I'd shelved to the back of my mind as improbabilities: celebrating Christmas with her, using Spanish around her and maybe having my first bilingual baby, getting professional pictures of her

I think it all simmers together to set a somber mood for me.  If the news today was that she was leaving Friday, I would have been sad and heartbroken, but also swept up in the activity of having her move and planning a goodbye party.  Part of me would have felt relieved.  Instead, it all feels a bit deflated.  I think contributing to this is that her mom had a complete no show for her visit, which is unusual for her, and when I got all the news about the grandma from the social worker, she was coming out of a meeting with a mom who was sobbing.  Foster care just seemed to suck today.

Now, time for Christmas.  I don't have the necessary documents in hand yet, and will be nervous until I do, but we do have bmom's permission and the judge's permission.  Most of my in-laws haven't met Pterodactyl yet and didn't expect to.  Should be a holiday full of discussion.

Dinosaur, our kindergartener, has his Christmas program tonight.  After foster care, his school is my second big recipient of my cheerleading, as we intentionally chose our neighborhood city school to swim against the strong current of city parents sending their kids to charter, private, and suburban schools.  I believe in his school, and I've been looking forward to seeing him in something like this since we decided to send him there.  I can't wait to cheer him on as well as his classmates and teachers.  Should be something to lift the somber mood a bit.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Foster care dream

I had my first foster care dream last night (or this morning, as I caught a little more sleep between when Pterodactyl went back to sleep at 5:30 and when I had to get up at 7:00).  I was with Pterodactyl at her visit, sitting on the floor of the visit room while her mom held her.  Her mom had a friend with her, too, and they were just chatting with each other.  I chimed in now and then, and it was an atmosphere that was a little awkward but happy.  For whatever reason, I didn't have Rhinoceros with me like I usually do, and after a little while I left the visit room and was using a computer in one of the cubicles of the agency.  Then the CW that helped lead our initial foster care training came up to me and told me that she thought at first I wouldn't be a good foster parent because I was too much like a father figure (no, this didn't make sense) but now they were so glad I was with them.

So, a little weird, but overall a nice foster care dream, I'd say.

Compare to reality: Pterodactyl did have a visit today, and we headed on our way on snowy, icy roads.  I heard my cell phone ring and pulled over to listen to the message.  Her mom had cancelled earlier this morning, but didn't communicate it the way she was supposed to, so I was just finding out now.  We turned around and headed home.  I was grateful I didn't have to drive up and down the treacherous hill to the agency's parking lot, but sad for Pterodactyl and worried about her mother.  She didn't have any visits the week of Thanksgiving because we traveled with her, then last week her mom cancelled both.  Part of me is full of anger, unable to understand how someone would choose not to see their baby for two-and-a-half weeks.  Part of me knows what her mom struggles with, that she's not in a good place, and that she needs our prayers.

Still waiting for any information about her move to her grandma.  We leave for Canada for Christmas on the 21st.  I'm desperately trying to make things happen so that she is either with her grandma before then, or we have permission to take her with us, but it's completely out of my control besides bugging people about it.  I'm waiting until the end of the day for a reply from one person, and if I don't get one, tomorrow will have to be my first Call the Supervisor experience.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Strange season

Second verse, same as the first.  Pterodactyl is here, bumps in the road, we wait.

She came with us to visit my family out-of-state for a few days.  I don't know if it was intentional or not, but almost no one in my family talked about her leaving.  I actually appreciated that.  I don't think it's good to be in denial, but after everyone I talk to gives me a pitying face or tears up at the mention of her leaving our home after being raised by us from birth, it was refreshing.  We could just enjoy being together.  They helped us out in chasing and holding all our kids.  It was nice.  Plus, she did well on the trip there and back, which is a miracle.

She's slipped into our holiday traditions most of the time.  With a baby, there's no worries about what she expects during the holidays, so that's easy enough.  So, I didn't think she'd really be a part of things.  But she is, as she sits in her high chair eating prunes while we eat a turkey dinner.  And now I wore her in a carrier to pick out a Christmas tree, just like I had for my boys, snuggled close to me on a chilly afternoon.  She noticed the sudden presence of lights in our living room as we decorated the tree.  She looked at our faces intently as we sang a nightly Christmas carol by the tree before bedtime.

And yet, she's not on our Christmas card.  I'm starting to regret not including her name even though I couldn't include her photo.  My thought process was that I really thought she would have moved by now and it would be confusing.  To who, I don't know, since most people I'd send cards to get e-mail updates about how fostering is going.

Then I wonder if I'm doing enough of the Christmas traditions that her family would appreciate, especially as she's still with us so close to the holidays.  We don't do Santa visits, but maybe a first picture with Santa would be important to her mom or her grandma.  Or maybe they don't her to have that until they can be there for it.  I'm thinking I should get her a first Christmas ornament, and if her grandma wants to get her one later, I guess she could have two.

None of these details are that important, but they run through my head.   They're probably just a part of my processing that she'll be gone.  I wish I could replace them with more productive thoughts, like praying for her mom.  She needs it; things are not good right now.  She needs a miracle, the hope of a savior.  Don't we all.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Fostering and newborns

We're still in a waiting mode.  The transition for Pterodactyl to move to her grandma should be complete, but now we're waiting on some bumps in the road with child care that the grandma needs to have set up before she moves in.

When we decided to do foster care, I had never heard of anyone fostering a newborn that they didn't adopt.  Our age range for fostering is 0-2, and our first placement happened to be a newborn.  In listening to others and thinking of our own experience, here are some distinct experiences of fostering a newborn.

Lots of doctor appointments
Newborns are always at the doctor.  Our agency even required an extra visit beyond what the doctor's office required.  This makes the first month extra busy, because the first month of foster care is busy on its own, and then you have all these doctor visits.

Lots of birth family visits
In our state, birth parents have three hours per week of visits with children under three.  These start as soon as possible, so I was bringing Pterodactyl to the agency at a little over a week old.

Child care complexities
Daycare centers won't accept infants younger than six weeks, so if you are working, you need an alternate child care plan that you can put into place immediately.  Listening to others, some take leaves of absence, some have a family member or friend who can fill in for day care for six weeks.  Many stay home.  I kind of stay home.  I have a part-time job three evenings per week while B is home with the kids, plus a few more hours that I do at home during naptimes or whatever.  So, I am set up well to take care of a newborn at the drop of a hat, although it did get complicated when I took on a little extra work and planned on using a babysitter.  Babysitters need to be cleared by the agency with a background check, and this didn't get completed before I started that work assignment.  I had to call on some favors from people we had cleared and B took a day or two off.

Few questions for birth parents
For better or for worse, older foster children and even older babies are used to how they were cared for before arriving in your home.  So, the first questions many foster parents ask birth parents if they get the opportunity is about how they took care of their kids: schedule, sleep, food, etc.  I had the opportunity to talk to Pterodactyl's birth mom, but no questions.  She had only parented her for two days.  The way I cared for her quickly became the only thing she had ever known.  This makes my job easier in some ways, but it adds a sad and difficult element.  I am easily the expert on what Pterodactyl likes and dislikes.  This puts me in an awkward position if I want to share helpful advice or even just tell about what Pterodactyl is doing lately.  We both know it's not just two moms talking.

Extra-pitying reactions from non-foster parents
Whenever I say Pterodactyl's age or that we got her as a newborn, the reactions are strong and full of sadness.  I'm sure the same people would be sad about any abuse or neglect, but with a tiny baby?  I am also sad for Pterodactyl, but I'm also relieved that she didn't go home with her birth mom at birth, as much as I want her to go home with her eventually if she can.  I don't want to start a conversation about her case that I can't finish, though, so I usually just stand there not really knowing what to say.  I usually just look at Pterodactyl and stroke her hair.

Extra difficult early weeks
I mentioned before that when I became a foster parent, I had to face the fact that I'm rather selfish.  This was especially true with mothering a newborn that I knew was unlikely to be a permanent part of our family.  With the exception of buying tiny clothes and nuzzling my nose into a newborn's head, the newborn phase is not my favorite.  I lose track of days and nights as time blurs together.  Everything is guessing, guessing, guessing; is that normal crying, or is something's wrong?  B has to help more during the night, and B gets tired and crabby.  My downtime in the evenings is gone.  All of these were true for Dinosaur and Rhinoceros as newborns, but there was something different.  I don't remember picturing them walking in their graduation ceremony or riding a bike for the first time or making me a Mother's Day card when they were screaming their heads off at 2 am at five weeks old.  But I must have, subconsciously.  I kept looking at Pterodactyl while she cried, thinking, are we even going to see her come out of this phase?  Are we even going to see a smile?  Why are we doing this again?  Though I don't like to admit it, it was damn hard.  I would do it again, though I'm not sure how many times.  B thinks he has a limit on the number of times he can go through the newborn phase.  I think I do, too, but I don't think I've reached it yet.

She did smile, though.  And as if she knew we hadn't learned our lesson yet that this isn't about us and babies entertaining us, she smiled rarely.  She knows us and loves us, and yet she still gives us the "Are you people crazy?" look constantly.  And we kind of have to be.  She needed us to be.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Glimpses of Pterodactyl

I'll be honest, I'm not going to post many photos because I'm not that organized and I don't have a smart phone or DSLR.  I assume people who post six photos per day on their blogs have such things.  But since a lot of my posts have been wrestling with challenges of foster parenting, I thought I'd add some lighthearted non-identifiable glimpses of Pterodactyl.


Pterodactyl says, "Hedgehogs are the new owls."

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Visit to visit

Pterodactyl should have had a visit with her birth mom yesterday.  Her birth mom canceled it ahead of time because of a doctor's appointment.  I haven't written down how many times they've been canceled due to having another appointment, but it has to be at least five times in the past five months.  Either there's a serious medical condition I'm not aware of or she is cancelling visits unnecessarily.  By the tone of the case worker's voice when they relay the cancellations to me, I assume the latter.

I don't like assuming any of that.  There's nothing productive in me rolling my eyes when a visit is canceled.  When I read about birth parents missing visits before we had a placement, I felt the foster parents were being judgmental of the birth parents by complaining about missed visits, especially in cases like mine when Pterodactyl isn't even old enough to know that she had a visit planned.

I thought I wasn't a judgmental person.  Honestly, I know I have plenty of flaws, I am told by others that this is one of my strengths.  I can put myself in someone else's shoes.  I have an extra dose of empathy.  I thought that this part of foster parenting would be easy.  It would be more difficult for my husband, and he would have other strengths to bring to foster parenting.

Then I became a foster parent.

I am still always trying to put myself in her shoes.  I am telling myself I don't know the whole story.  But there's something about the practice of mothering that erodes my efforts not to judge.  I make sure Pterodactyl wakes up at the right time so that her schedule is on track because I don't want her to need a nap during the visit.  I put on her clothes, picking out an outfit that her birth mom would like.  I plan my errands and activities around the visit.  I am hopeful, but I'm also waiting for the phone to ring.  It does, and plans change.  I look at the clothes on her and feel sad her birth mom won't see them.  I'm grateful for the freedom in my schedule, and feel guilty at feeling happy about that freedom.  The next visit day, I have a plan A and a plan B for whether or not her birth mom will stick with her commitment to visits.  I don't like the plan B mentality, especially as plan B usually makes me happier because there's more freedom to do what I want.  I don't want her failure to meet her commitment to make me happy.  That's another trait I thought I possessed a little more than the average person: unselfishness.  Then I became a foster parent.

Then there's the other kinds of visits, as we scheduled Pterodactyl's first overnight visit with her grandma.  I'm glad it's happening because I want the momentum to keep going in this transition.  The grandma was so positive about the last visit, and I'm happy for her and Pterodactyl's brothers.  I know it'll be the first glimpse of what life is like accepting she's moved on.  The uncertainty here is that we still don't have an official date for when she is moving.  Living life, visit to visit.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Supermom and that foster mom you read about in the paper

We had a family team meeting for Pterodactyl's transition to moving to her grandma, and it's still slowly but surely happening.  There's a general goal set, but no exact date for the move.  Some things are so in between.  I want to transition her out of swaddling, but I don't want to change up her sleep habits right before moving.  I consider starting solid foods with her, but figure I could save that as a first that grandma can share with her.

I knew birth family interactions would be complicated, but I'm still overwhelmed by the awkwardness of it.  I want to show how I love Pterodactyl deeply, how I have tried to do my best to make sure that she had a start in life that was full of love and security.  When I'm asked if she has a coat, I feel the need to explain why she's not wearing a coat, with a clumsy explanation of how I use blankets instead because the recommendation is that you should take off coats before putting babies in car seats anyway.  Then I feel the other end of the spectrum, that I'm trying to win a parenting war and think I'm the deserving supermom to have Pterodactyl.  I don't know how to express "I never wanted to steal your kids from you."  The same impossibility that I live out, loving a baby as my own and then giving her away, I have to somehow express.  I take excellent care of your daughter, your granddaughter, but I also let go with politeness and a smile.

Also, this is all going down with the grandma in Spanish.  We did have a translator at the meeting (who was absolutely amazing, translating five seconds behind people like closed captioning), but the rest of my communication with grandma has been in my second language and outside of my culture.  I'm learning I have a vocabulary gap in baby-related matters and have been scouring the dictionary.  How do I say she likes to be worn in a carrier?  Portabeb├ęs, is that really the word?  Am I showing off again if this isn't a cultural norm for her?  Why does the word I looked up for swaddling blanket show Google images that look like a SIDS nightmare?  Now am I being the foster mom she read about in the newspaper who was doing it for the money?

I know it hasn't been awful.  I know I haven't been called names and I've never felt unsafe.  But I feel like in every word and every look I give, there's no right way to be this person I have to be.  My pastor recently spoke about how he was the pastor of a funeral that was 98% African-American, and he is white.  He knew with something so culturally entrenched as a funeral, he would be making cultural mistakes all over the place, even with decades pastoring a multicultural, multiethnic church.  He decided to be humble and honest, accepting he could probably do a B- message at best.  That's a bit about how I feel.  At best, just playing this role has a high likelihood for failure.  There are successful foster parent and birth family relationships.  Maybe it can be learned and I have much to learn.  I want to be a champion for the birth family, but I'm not sure they'll believe me.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Wistful but blessed

No news on when Pterodactyl is leaving yet, and I just have a wistfulness going on.  This is what we wanted, to care for kids as long as they need our home.  I knew my heart would be broken, and it isn't nearly as dramatic as it could have been.  Our first placement could have stayed for years and then moved on.  That actually happens.

But I'm just thinking about the things that will remind me of her when she's suddenly not here.  The Voice: I watched an entire season while sitting up with her in the middle of the night.  When I'm Gone by Anna Kendrick: the song she loves that her birth mom was playing at a visit as I came to pick her up, so relieved not to hear crying for once.  All the baby girl clothes: I almost became more of a shopping mom with my first chance to dress a baby girl.

I'll add a few blessings.  We are blessed to see her calm down from her fussiness and a glimpse of the person she will be.  That brings some of the wistfulness, but at the same time, I wouldn't trade those smiles and bright eyes for anything.  She is healthy and growing up well.  We are blessed to know this transition is coming, somewhat.  We are blessed to know that her grandma wants her very much.  We are blessed that she is making this transition now, not after years without really bonding with her grandma or brothers.  We are blessed to have foster parent friends that understand our bittersweet feelings.

My heart is torn, but we are blessed.  And we have God as our help, and God as Pterodactyl's help.  At church on Sunday, in a time of speaking out scripture, I heard someone quote Psalm 121:8.  I love this psalm, but had never focused on that particular verse.  There's a lot of coming and going in foster care.

Psalm 121

A song of ascents.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—
    he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you—
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm
    he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
    both now and forevermore.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Recording a foster child's life

Pterodactyl is still here, and I haven't heard anything new about her moving to her grandma.  The caseworker said it could be very soon, it could be weeks still.

So, I've started preparing for her move.  I'm replenishing many of her supplies like bottles and pacifiers to make sure she has plenty of the right kind, but mostly I've been working on her life book/baby book.  It's a bit of a combination, as life books often involve the child in sharing their thoughts and feelings about their foster/adoption story.  For children adopted as babies or very young, it provides a story of their transition from birth family or orphanage to adoptive family.  It might involve information on the birth family.  In our case, Pterodactyl will be with her birth family, her maternal grandma.  She will be the resource for family information, not my limited knowledge.  I considered just making it a book with photos and generic captions, but I wanted Pterodactyl to have a bit more than that.  She is the only one of her siblings that went into non-relative foster care.  What if later in life she's confused about that and has fears that one of those notorious in-it-for-the-money foster families took care of her?  What if she just feels like those months were lost while her grandma can tell stories about her brothers?

So, I'm telling a little about what she was like as a newborn and an infant.  I'm using two pages to show our family, cautious not to overwhelm her or her grandma with the presence of our family, but including us for who we are.  A note about how Dinosaur told the social worker every week at visits without fail, "She is such a cute baby."  A note telling the name the Rhinoceros called her, unable to pronounce her real name.  I'll include a letter from me that I haven't written yet.  I hope to end it with pictures from a good-bye party.  I hope we have enough warning for a good-bye party.

I hope whatever the grandma has been through (and I honestly don't know a lot of it) doesn't make her want to hide Pterodactyl's beginnings.  I hope Pterodactyl sees this book when she's older and somehow knows she had a loving home.

I hope we make it through this.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Other firsts as a foster parent

I'm continuing to catch up on our foster journey so far before blogging in the present.  

I thought I would go through a few firsts that threw me for a loop in my foster parenting experience so far.

First Doctor's Appointment

One lesson I learned is that if you call to make a doctor's appointment for a newborn placement and the office says that there is already one scheduled, find out who scheduled it.  If a birth parent scheduled it, and you can still make that appointment, make sure the office knows not to cancel the appointment, that you will be there.  In our case, Pterodactyl's mom had made the appointment at the hospital, and so when I called to make an appointment, I learned there was already one scheduled and planned on that one.  Soon afterward, Pterodactyl's mom called to cancel the appointment, thinking that since she didn't have the baby, she wouldn't have that appointment.  Then the caseworker told her to go at that time.  This caused a bit of a mess of both of us showing up to a cancelled appointment, though luckily we were able to reschedule for later in the day and both make it back there.  Not the best start for foster parent/birth parent interactions that are already awkward.  The awkwardness continued, but this was actually the best interaction we have had so far.  She asked about my boys and why I was doing foster care.  I gave her as much time to snuggle her baby as I could.

I also learned:
  • having a birth parent there is very important for getting family history written down
  • getting a Medicaid number takes awhile
  • telling office staff about confidentiality is important, as a receptionist checked the address they had on file by saying it out loud, not realizing it was Pterodactyl's mom's address.  I made sure they put a note so they wouldn't do the reverse (tell a birth mom my address).
 First Sibling and Grandparent Visit

This one caught me off-guard with sibling questions directed at me.  "Can she come home with us?"  I gave an answer that seemed appropriate to me, but wasn't cut-and-dry enough for a 4-year-old and the little guy thought I said yes.  And the Grandma didn't understand English enough to intervene.  IT was a moment of my heart sinking, wondering what I'd gotten myself into.

First Respite

We did not intend to use respite, but when Pterodactyl was only about two months old, she stayed at another home for the weekend.  We had hoped to bring her with us on a trip to Canada to visit B's family, but it got complicated when her birth mom did not give permission and no one could overrule it because the agency didn't have her birth certificate yet.  The caseworker suggested a family for respite, whom we had met in our training for becoming licensed.  I felt conflicted; I would never leave my biological babies with someone else for a weekend at two months old.  At the same time, we don't know how long we're going to be fostering, and we will need to sometimes make sure our family life has a high enough priority.  The way our agency set it up, we called the other foster parents and arranged the details, paying them our part of the stipend.  They were a wonderful respite placement, happy to take care of Pterodactyl.

 First Questions from Strangers

These started immediately.  Pterodactyl has dark skin; we have light skin.  I got everything from people wanting to know where she was adopted from to people complimenting me on bouncing back from childbirth so quickly.  It was especially awkward with a newborn newborn, as most people know that you don't have an internationally adopted baby that young, nor would you be just babysitting such a young baby.  I also worried about confidentiality and tried to dodge people's questions about exactly how old she was and her birth date.  I felt oddly exposed with all the glances and questions, and this is coming from someone who doesn't mind attention when pregnant.   I'm still not entirely over it, and my reaction is often to share more than I need to.  A library employee asked me if she was adopted, and I could just say no and let them guess at the rest, but instead I say, "No, we're foster parents."  I'm not really supposed to label her as a foster child more than I have to, though at least with a baby, it's not like she understands it.

So, we've navigated our family through some firsts.  Coming up sometime soon will be our first good-bye.  Pterodactyl's grandma had obstacles that prevented her from taking Pterodactyl as a foster placement, but we learned this week that those obstacles are gone.  The caseworker expects she will move to be with Grandma, but it could be anywhere from immediately to weeks.  This will be a very difficult first good-bye.  I know it would be harder had she been here for years, but four months still seems long enough that it's hard to imagine her not being here.  She is not the easiest baby and very attached to me, and I'm worried about what she'll go through when she's uprooted from the only home she has known in her life.  I don't say that as someone opposing the change, but I say it for what it is.  It sucks for me, but it also sucks for Pterodactyl.  But, as I've known from the beginning, foster care sucks.  It's an unnatural system that has frequent feelings of wrongness.  But that doesn't mean that Pterodactyl didn't need a home.  That doesn't mean that there aren't more kids that need us to love and lose and hurt once again.

It's all wrong, but it's happening.  We will face it only by the strength that comes from our God.

Monday, September 16, 2013

What it was like to pick up a baby from the hospital

I'm continuing to catch up on our foster journey so far before blogging in the present.

We were licensed in early May and got our first call later that month.  We decided to say no to that placement, as it was for a boy several months older than Rhinoceros, and we had decided to maintain the family birth order.  It was hard, though, and I still think of this toddler who was exposed to meth and how he might be doing.

The day after the first call, we got our second call.  The first call was urgent: it's 10:30 pm and we want to place him tonight, though other agencies were seeking families as well.  This time it was in advance, and a bit uncertain.  A baby had been born that would be coming into foster care, but they were still trying to make a relative placement happen.  Later I learned that the case was only offered to our agency because the mom had had parental rights terminated on her two sons.  We had absolutely no reason to say no to this newborn baby girl (and B rolled his eyes at me at the idea of me saying no to a Hispanic baby girl), and waited overnight to find out if we would be called to pick her up or not when she was discharged.

We got the call to be at the hospital ASAP, especially because they were hoping to avoid confrontation with an upset relative.  This thankfully did not happen, but it was a trip to the hospital I would never forget.  The agency offered that one of their social workers meet me there to support me, and I'm very glad I took them up on their offer as a brand new foster mom.  Awkwardness from beginning to end, even in asking for directions at an information desk but not being able to say the name of the mother of the baby, because I didn't know it.  All the nurses on the postpartum floor were staring at me.  But I met up with the social worker and filled out forms and waited in a conference room.  A nurse wheeled in little Pterodactyl in all her newborn sweetness in her bassinet.  She was swimming in a 3-6 month sleeper.  The nurse was having a tough time with the whole ordeal emotionally, and I'm sure she overhead much more of the whole story than I know to this day.  Then I was told that the birth mom was asking about me, who I was, and wanted to meet me, know about my family, etc.  Her older children are in a relative's care, so foster parents were new territory.  Though new territory doesn't begin to describe meeting a woman who gave birth to a child three days ago right before that child would go home with me, against her wishes.  I didn't have to agree to meet her right then, but I took a deep breath and said that I would.  I introduced myself, said I had two sons, and trailed off immediately as I looked at the young woman before me, tears quietly streaming down her face.  She should have been celebrating, cradling her new baby with family and friends gushing around her.  This was all wrong.  "I just want to help however I can."  It was quiet a little longer, then the social worker had me walk back out.

A chat with the doctor and a car seat check, and we (the social worker and myself) were on our way.  And we were a sight.  I had bought a convertible car seat that was good for newborns, not a bucket seat, so a baby couldn't be actually carried in it.  So, the social worker carried a car seat, and I carried Pterodactyl in a blanket.  No woman in a wheelchair or proud dad carrying a bucket car seat with a baby inside.  Not to mention the racial mismatch.  Everyone gave us a look.  I wanted a sign that said, "I'm not stealing this baby!"

And she came to live in our home, our first foster child.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Not wine left on the dregs

I don't remember who said it first.  "I'd be interested in maybe adopting someday."  But before B and I were married and several times through the following nine years, we considered adoption as a far-off possibility.  Yet when we decided to start having kids, we went straight to the typical route, and so we have two biological sons, Dinosaur and Rhinoceros (though I love their real names and want to share them, foster care confidentiality has me spooked so we're trying to lay low with nicknames).  Then we questioned having a third child, and we knew something was different in this decision.  It took a long time, and taking more time brought in those old adoption thoughts.

Along the way, we talked with friends who were having the same Third Child Dilemma and considering adoption, and I learned two important pieces of information from them.  They had met with an agency to find out about adopting from foster care, having heard the term foster-to-adopt.  First, what they found was that agencies in our area are moving away from that concept, as the primary goal of foster care is that children reunite with their parents, and foster parents need to support that goal.  Planning to adopt from the outset can be a conflict of interests, so foster parents need to be ready to sacrifice any certainty of their future with a foster child.  Second, I learned that you can set an age range for the foster children you have in your home.  This was completely different than the image I had in my mind: foster parents with a teen that runs away, school-aged children that swear like sailors, and maybe a neglected toddler.  While this image can be true, there are also babies in foster care that need homes that are set up well for a baby that arrives without much warning.

The more we searched, prayed, and talked, we crossed off different adoption possibilities.  Foster-to-adopt didn't really exist, at least as we thought it did.  International or private adoption didn't seem like the right thing for us to do at this time.  Adopting older children from foster care seemed to be getting way in over our heads, plus we were concerned about Dinosaur and Rhinocerous and preferred to keep the birth order.  What about foster care for the youngest ones?  We had the space and even a lot of the baby gear.  Though foster parents definitely can work outside of the home, it is convenient for newborns if one parent is at home because they're so young for child care.  My part-time schedule only has me out of the home when B is home in the evenings.  I also thought how it was a good personality fit for me, as some teaching jobs in the past overwhelmed me with responsibility and decisions.  In foster care, I needed to just follow the rules and gives lots of love to babies.  So much would be out of my control, and I almost liked that.  And I couldn't deny it, I had baby fever.

Still, we knew that the foster care system was flawed and would frankly mess up our lives.  Heck, I learned that when I did a research paper in 11th grade on foster care.  It would affect our young sons.  It would affect our extended family.  We would learn about brokenness in the world in a way that our fairly sheltered lives had never touched.  Our lives weren't perfect and we had bad days, but we were comfortable with our family life.  So, would we mess that up?  Risk losing what we honestly loved?

The same week we really wrestled for hours together on these questions, we heard a sermon at our church with the answer.  There are few times in my life I've seen an answer in flashing lights, but this was one.  The scripture was Zephaniah 1:12  "At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps and punish those who are complacent, who are like wine left on its dregs, who think, ‘The Lord will do nothing, either good or bad.'"  It was instantly clear to both of us that the complacency in our lives was our family life.  We liked having a family pretty similar to our friends, pretty similar to the families we grew up in.  Sure, we could learn about poverty, abuse, and drug addiction and volunteer to help others.  I had taught children with tough lives and served God in this way.  But God wanted us to shake things up more, even to the point of shaking up our home.  Our dabbling of service to God here and there was too much in our control, and it was making our wine bitter as it sat on its dregs.

We needed to take a risk for the sake of these vulnerable ones.  We needed to give despite the cost.  We needed to sacrifice the certainty of our family future (or what we thought was certain, anyway).  We knew we might end up adopting through foster care, but we might not, all along with no idea where this journey would lead.

We made our decision, and about four months from that sermon, we were licensed foster parents for ages 0-2.  Now we have two biological sons and a foster daughter, and when I explain that to others I often say, "She's with us for now."  So, this is us, this is my family (for now).