Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Our fostering year 2014 in a timeline

I enjoyed doing this recap of the year last year, so here you go again.  So much can happen in one little fostering family in a year.

January 2014 - We started the year with no placements, taking a break after Pterodactyl left right before Christmas.

Early February - We get the call for Beetle, a two-week-old boy still in the NICU with NAS (drug withdrawal).  I visit him in the NICU for about a week, then he comes to our home.

Mid-February - The plan for Beetle changes from moving soon to his grandma where his sister is placed to his sister being removed from that placement.  We are asked to take both children, but decide not to.  The sister moves to a former foster family.

Early March - Beetle moves to the foster family to be with his sister.

Early April - Beetle comes for a week as a respite placement.

Late April - Caterpillar, a 4-month-old boy, arrives at our home.

May - Pterodactyl's baby twin siblings are born.  We were called during the pregnancy about taking them as a placement, but decided not to.

July - We learn that Caterpillar's mom's cousin should be placed with Caterpillar once daycare is in place.

Early August - Caterpillar moves to his mom's cousin.

Early September - Cricket, a 2.5-year-old girl, arrives at our home.

Mid-September - Cricket catches a nasty virus sending us to the ER, thankfully she recovers pretty quickly.

Late October - Adjudication for Cricket's case, first time that I attend court.  There is a chance Cricket could go home to her dad immediately, but it doesn't happen.

Mid-November - We get a call that Caterpillar needs to move from his relative's home, as does his sister from her foster placement.  We are heartbroken to answer that we can't take them.

Early December - Cricket's sister has been moved to a paternal relative (Cricket and her sister have different dads), and we learn that relative is working on getting licensed so she can take all three siblings.

Mid-December - We learn Cricket's mom is pregnant, and that Beetle now has a baby brother.

Christmas - We celebrate our first Christmas with a foster child in the home.

I can't believe how much we've experienced as parents in the last year.  Reading back through my posts was an emotional experience; it's all just so much.  It feels like it should be spread out over a decade.  January was our only month without any fostering at all.  So, 2015, what you got?  Will Cricket move to the sister's relative, and when?  Only God knows, and He's got the whole world in His hands.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Merry Christmas

I bought this set of stockings two years ago, when we hadn't decided if or how we would expand our family.  Up until that year we had a mish-mash of stockings, so on a whim I bought these five at an after-Christmas sale.  Last year, we hung up one for Pterodactyl, but didn't use it, as she moved right before Christmas.  This year, the fifth stocking belonged to Cricket.  It had fruit snacks, an ornament, a little dog, a rubber ducky, and some treats from B's parents.  I was happy to use it, and it amazes me how much has happened in our little family in the past two years.

For her presents from us, I wanted to stay small and personal, knowing she would get some donated toys through the agency and possibly some more from her mom (though she didn't end up getting any from her).  I bought her a carrier for her doll like the carrier I use for babywearing with her, some Chewelry, a cape with her initial on it, and this He's Got the Whole World book.  She knew the song before she came to live with us, and we sing it about her family in particular.  The agency toys got bigger grins, but I think she will use all of them and they will be good gifts to belong to her for a long time.

Christmas was up and down.  We tried to attend a Christmas morning service and it was a disaster.  Her mom called for the first time in months.  Opening gifts was fine with our little family, but later with my extended family, she was overwhelmed and told me it was too noisy.  So, I missed a little of that time, but I couldn't have been prouder of her for calmly telling me with words when it was too much for her.  At two years old.  She really is an incredible little girl.  She tried to claim several gifts that others opened and got into one kid's candy (in hindsight I should have told or helped my sister to have her kids move their gifts out of the way).  There were some fights with Rhinoceros and ripping of Dinosaur's new book.  A new thing is flushing toys down the toilet, and we had to put in a new toilet the day after Christmas.  But overall, we had many more good times than bad times.  She stuck close to me most of the time just like Thanksgiving, which was draining, but what she needed.

Usually we like to leave up our tree since we spent the time and money on cutting it down, but I'm realizing it needs to be gone to get things back to normal.  And what is normal?  Weekly in-home therapy, visits with mom (I hope), waiting on the next court date and the possible move to Cricket's sister's relative.

Sunday, December 21, 2014


Sorry to disappear, but it has been so busy around here.  Some fun stuff, but demanding stuff.   Foster care is in a whirlwind.  Therapy just started.  New behavior issues started.  Visits with Cricket's mom are happening again.  Cricket's mom is pregnant.  Cricket's sister's relative is working on getting licensed to take the siblings (not sure how new baby will factor into that) and had Cricket for respite overnight.  Cricket and her sister had a blast, but the transition back to our house was not an easy day.

So, I thought I'd take a moment from all of that to pause and just write a bit.

When Cricket arrived and I talked to her mom on the phone, she asked if we would say The Lord's Prayer with her.  I told her that we pray with our kids and are Christians, and she was very happy to hear that.  She loves when I give her papers Cricket has colored in Sunday school, etc.

So, I've said it with the kids every day before lunch.  I don't come from a background of ritual prayer, more of the background of stream-of-consciousness prayer, and I've found it to be a good practice for me.  In the middle of the day, there is usually a word in there that grabs me and convicts me.  It helps me to listen instead of talk.

A new kind of praying came from a tough day in the car.  I think we were leaving a visit, though I can't remember, but Cricket was upset that she couldn't see her mom.  I asked her if I could pray for her mom with her, and she said yes, and I said a prayer as we drove.  She then asked for prayers for her sissy, her Granny, her baby brother.  Now she's connected it with driving, and so many of drives include prayers for her family.

What I need to add are more prayers for Cricket herself.  I feel sometimes I pray so much about wisdom as a parent, or about her family, that I don't stop and just pray for the child herself.  She needs prayers now and in the future.

I know that in this Advent, it has not taken much effort to feel the darkness of this world.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Holidays so far

We've got two weeks until Christmas and my first holiday season with a foster child aware of holidays is underway.

Thanksgiving was very smooth.  The holiday itself was a blast and Cricket was surprisingly comfortable at my parents' house.  The car trip there and back had some miserable bumps, but I think that has more to do with car trips and not holidays.

We did a Christmas photo shoot at a department store and it went surprisingly well.  The photographer was kind of weird and baby-talked to Cricket, but she ate it up for some reason.

Christmas brought excitement.  Cricket loves the lights, and she and Rhinoceros have been pointing out wreaths, garlands, and lights by yelling, "Look, it's Christmas!!" for a few weeks.  But now I think it's starting to build up and possible trigger bad memories.  The past week we've had some behavior that I thought had been settling down, and I think the holiday excitement might be part of it.  She's sometimes afraid of the lights, sometimes not.  In general there's a bit more fear expressed lately.  Plus she's met a lot of new people lately: my parents, grandparents, and sister's family over Thanksgiving, then B's parents the next weekend as they came to visit and open a few presents with us. 

Also, I know most kids have post-visit negative behaviors, but I think Cricket has no-visit negative behaviors, and she has had few visits lately.  She misses her mom and sister so much and keeps asking to see them.  I hope someone makes a visit before the holidays.  She will get to see her sister before Christmas, as her sister's relative placement (a paternal relative not related to Cricket) is doing respite for us as we go to a wedding.  That relative is working on getting licensed so she can have all three siblings. That is not a done deal and may take a long time, but it is in the works.

We won't be traveling for the holidays, but some of my family is coming here.  We'll have Christmas Eve and Christmas morning with just our immediate family, so I think that will help give us time to take the holiday slow.

Finally, we took out the ornaments for the three foster babies we said goodbye to in the past year.  It's bittersweet.  I hope they still have theirs with them.  I am sure where one is living, but unsure about the other two.  I can't believe they're all at least 11 months old, tearing away at wrapping paper this year.

I'll just wrap this up with what I have the kids say every morning with our advent activity calendar: "Hallelujah!  Christ is coming!"

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Pretend play

Sometimes lately the pretend play has been awesome.  Cricket and Rhinoceros have invented their own little games that involve looking for "slurpy slurpy snakes" and a "dragon" (which I figured out was the shapes the light makes on the wall from our bedroom lamp).  They also go "trick-or-treating."

Sometimes it's reassuring that they're watching us.  Sometimes they pretend to pray before a meal.  Today at a play kitchen in our local children's museum, Cricket enjoyed being the parent and making sure I asked to be excused from the table.  She also bribed me with hot chocolate if I would "go play outside in the snow," which is totally what I do.  Busted.

Sometimes it's a source of conflict.  Rhinoceros was a dog for Halloween.  They have argued endlessly about who can pretend to be a dog.  Even if Rhinoceros is wearing the costume and Cricket makes barking sounds, he pitches a fit that he is a dog.  Don't try to tell them that they can both be dogs without costumes.  Sigh.  This week, each child has worn the costume the entire day in order to keep it from the other child.  I'm debating on getting another costume as a Christmas gift, but I'm pretty sure that as soon as the conflict is gone, they'll likely lose interest entirely and both costumes will sit unused.  Maybe they'll surprise me. 

Sometimes it's a source of sadness.  Cricket was taking care of her baby doll this morning and wrapping her up, carrying her around.  Suddenly she shouted, "The police!  The police are here!  We need to hide!"  She clutched her doll and ran around in a panic.  It was heartbreaking.  Poor innocent Rhinoceros chimed in and started cheerfully yelling about the police being here and that just made it worse.

The lives of these tiny people... I wish I could make it all go away.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

First Day December 2014 - Advent and daily life around here

Thankfully I made an advent activity calendar back one year when I was feeling crafty.  I like riding the wave of past crafty energy, as that's lacking these days.  So, the December-y photos are the last month's "thank you tree" still sitting on the table, the advent calendar, and some Cyber Monday shopping at the end of the day.  I missed getting photos of it, but I worked out while the kids were in the child care there.  It is fabulous.  Later in the day we had some serious behavior episodes, and I was so much more chill than usual about it.  Some of my strategies for making Cricket's placement in our family work have been left behind, but some have stuck around, like finger puppet role play.  And yes, sadly the text is a common one I receive lately.  So very sad when Cricket is constantly drawing pictures for her mom, asking if we can check and see if she can see her mom today.  The dark of this world... in advent, we await the light of Christ and heaven.  

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


My heart is still heavy with knowing that Caterpillar will have to adjust to a new home in his little life, and that it's not ours.  My heart is heavy that I have looked up how the parents of our former foster babies are doing, and they are not doing well.  My heart is heavy that Cricket has been asking constantly to see her mom, and yet two visits in a row were missed.  I don't have a number I can call for her to wish Cricket a happy Thanksgiving.  My heart is heavy with the events in Ferguson, tears flowing from knowing that there is no quick fix.

But I am thankful.

I am thankful that Cricket is coming with us to my parents' house out of state for Thanksgiving.  Last year we brought Pterodactyl with us.  I know my family is kind, compassionate, and thoughtful.  I think a holiday may be more challenging for Cricket because of her age and her possible sensory issues, but I'll be with people who will give us space and grace. I found these ideas to be helpful, and I hope we can be responsive and kind when Cricket throws us a curveball.

I am thankful that we have come so far.  Two and a half months ago, we were up through the night with a scared child who could only cry that she wanted to eat.  She wasn't hungry, but she couldn't figure out how to process what was going on; she just knew that it was all wrong.  Don't get me wrong, she is still having a very hard time, and understandably so.  But she can communicate with us.  A two-year-old is telling us feelings, and that's pretty incredible.  And we have all adjusted for what life feels like in our home, caring for Cricket and her needs.  It's still a process, but we have also come so far.

I am thankful we have a hope in Jesus, and the Holy Spirit with us, interceding when our groans are just pain and sorrow, incomprehensible.  Like Cricket, trying to sleep in a strange house, crying "I wanna ee-eat," though her stomach was full.  All our incomprehensible cries are heard, and we are all loved.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Lesson Learned: Hair Breaks and Hair Blogs

Three weeks ago, I spent more than I've ever spent at a salon for myself and paid to have someone do cornrows on Cricket's hair.  It turned out adorable and Cricket's mom loved it, but the main reason was that I just needed a break to regroup.  With inconsistent visits, her mom is no longer styling her hair, and I had been burned out on sometimes planning on her doing it, then having to throw something together, then it not looking so great.  The break I got from having someone else do a 3-week style totally worked, as now I have new energy and am even looking forward to tomorrow's hair session.  I'm going to do the same veil style with two puffs in the back that I did before, but this time with braids instead of twists.  Then the next week I'm looking forward to trying something new.

Part of looking forward to new styles comes with finding the right way to do hair research.  I've found great sites like Chocolate Hair Vanilla Care.  I bought her book (which I found even more helpful for a beginner than the site) as well as It's All Good Hair and have learned a lot.  But I think the hardest part is that the advice and style ideas are so diverse that very few fit Cricket's hair, which is not that long yet.

I just found a complete breath of fresh air, exactly what I needed to get going again.  A blog by a beginner with a child of the same age and similar hair length and type.  I can read about what she tried and be reassured that it's trial and error.  I can see what works and feel more confident that it will work for her hair length.  The blog is no longer updated, but Shades of Violet circa 2011 is a parallel styling journey with me and Cricket.  So excited to try some of these styles that I feel I can actually handle and be fairly successful with.  I can do this!  And as in one of my previous lessons learned, if I find I can't, I'll ask for help.  Please chime in with any hair journey blogs that have been helpful for you!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Caterpillar Update

I said in this post that I sometimes avoided looking at pictures of our former placements because I didn't want to feel how I miss them.  That's part of it.  If I'm completely honest, I avoid it also because it's tempting to look back on those placements as rosy and wonderful compared to the battleground I'm living in now.  Don't get me wrong, God has us in this place for a reason and a good part of me is very glad we have Cricket.  This is the kind of hard work we wanted to do.  I love her deeply, and she needs our love.  She needs us to stick with her.  But a small part of me just wishes for the babies that looked up at me sweetly.  Caterpillar is especially hard to think about because he was such a happy, easygoing guy with us.  It was a pretty rosy life, and even B admitted it was hard to let that go.

That made listening to a recent voicemail extremely difficult.

The relative he moved to is having him moved, so they called us.

We have to say no.

1. We already said no to Cricket's siblings.  If we had another child here, we should have one of her siblings, like her baby brother that's about Caterpillar's age.  I can't justify keeping her apart from her siblings just to have Caterpillar because he's Caterpillar.
2. The reason we turned down Cricket's siblings still stands: Cricket needs a ton of attention.  She and the boys are just now starting to have more frequent positive times together.  Giving her less attention now would be a disaster.
3. Caterpillar is now linked to his sister who came into care later than he did (long story).  They want a home for both, and she would not be a good fit for our family age-wise.
4. We don't have a room for him.  He would need to be in our room and that has not been good for us as parents in the past.

I don't think the hardest part is saying no.  I think the hardest part is feeling like all of this should have been avoided.  He should have just stayed with us.  The relative didn't have to take him.  He will be moving to his fourth home before he turns a year old.  Will it even be the last?  I'm so scared of what that will do to this sweet, happy baby that I knew.  My first reaction to the voicemail was a physical pain, just hurting for him.

My only choice is to trust that God hurts when we hurt for these children, and he knows better than I do.  I had to go to work soon after this news and in the car every radio station was wrong for the particular pain I was feeling.  B had a practice CD for gospel choir in the CD player, and two songs preached to me: one about God as a healer, and one about God being able.  Thank You God that these are true.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

More good things

Someday I'll come up with a thoughtful series of these, but for now I'm just going to write them when I'm feeling joyful and thankful.  Then try to remember to read them when I feel less so.

- Cricket, when she saw snow in the morning: "It's... It's Christmas!!"  She keeps saying that now and then, like when we made a snowman.  I can't stop loving it.

- We've tried an incentive for quiet voices in the car (i.e., no screaming just because you know it terrorizes the other people in the car), and Cricket is totally going for it.  Also, putting down one of the fold-and-go seats has given everyone more room and less potential for freaking out because someone bumped into you.  My blood pressure no longer increases every time we head toward the car.

- We checked out books at the library without Cricket attacking the library checkout computer or anyone flopping around on the floor.

- I got a membership at a family rec. center place where I can work out and bring the kids to the child care.  I needed more built-in, no-calling-sitters-necessary break time, and I'm glad I just went ahead and did it, even though the cheapskate in me resisted.  We went once already and they had fun playing and I loved the break.

- Dinosaur has worked harder at saying kind things to Cricket, and some are so sweet.  A neighbor boy also has a soft spot for Cricket and keeps inviting her to do things with him.

- We won a raffle through our agency for 3 hours of house cleaning!!  Every foster parent should get this.

- We watched almost the a whole Veggie Tales movie all on the couch together in complete peace.

These may sound like little things, but they are huge for me.  Every day is an intense emotional battle for me and the things I need to deal with in my heart.  God has broken me apart piece by piece, but He is also building something beautiful in all of us.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Fears of feeling

Sometimes I don't want to make contact with the families that Pterodactyl, Beetle, and Caterpillar are with now, because I don't want to fully feel how much I miss them.  I think about them often, and it feels strange, like I've locked them away somewhere and I'm not fully letting myself remember them and love them.  Even when I try and look at their pictures, it's a swirl of mixed emotions as I almost want to look away, to stop as soon as I can.  I feel the pain of missing them, but it's the tip of the iceberg.

Sometimes I just feel helpless as Cricket asks again and again for her mom, her sissy.  She used to talk about her granny, but does less now.  Asking for them less just shows the loss in another sad way.  These moments happen coming home from the grocery store, getting ready for naps.  She tells me she wants them to come with us in the minivan at the end of the visit.  I address the moments lovingly with Cricket, but my own heart stings.  I bury these away, too, and it's just the tip of the iceberg again.

B says he wouldn't change how deeply I feel things because I makes me who I am.  But I'm afraid of how I feel things.  I'm afraid it will lead me to give up.  I'm afraid it will turn me into someone I don't recognize because I haven't fully dealt with it all.

I just pray, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.  Help me, Jesus.  Please don't waste this pain.  And don't let me waste away in it.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Visit house

I mentioned awhile back (though I can't find the post at the moment) that our agency was moving from visits supervised at the agency office to visits at a house set up for that purpose.  It took awhile, but visits have started at the new visit house.

The downsides to visits at the agency were plentiful.  It is not a large office.  If a child is screaming in a visit room, the entire office hears it.  There were white noise machines set up, but it really couldn't help things.  Plus there was the chaos of a very small waiting area and people trying to do work just a few feet away in their cubicles.  The visit rooms at the agency, though well-equipped with toys, are very small.  I wouldn't want to spend an hour or more with my kids in one of those rooms, let alone with a child that is confused or upset the whole time.

So, now the agency has a house for most visits.  It has three rooms with toys that can be used for different visits, plus a kitchen if families want to use it.  It still needs a bit of work, but I think it's a great direction to be moving in.

Unfortunately, there are some downsides.  One is that it's way across town when the agency was less than 10 minutes away.  Right now our visit schedule is awful, with no ability to hang out on that side of town for an hour and a half because I need to pick up Dinosaur from school (in our neighborhood) in the middle of the visit.  So we are doing lots of driving and trying to figure out if we can get some transportation support to cut down on the madness.  I do think we were a bit spoiled over the last year with being able to zip over the agency in a few minutes and hang around at kid-friendly places with Rhinoceros and/or Dinosaur nearby, so I should accept that visits are just going to interrupt life horribly sometimes.

The other downside is that Cricket interprets the house to be somebody's house.  So far, I think she's just said it's her mom's house.  So, she is awfully confused when she has a visit with her dad, or when her mom didn't show up.  Plus, now she is asking to just go to her mom's house, because she has a concrete idea of where her mom is and wants to go there, even if we explain that she doesn't live there.

I think with time it may get easier, but man, foster care is full of surprises!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Some good things

I feel like my blog is a downer.  I won't stop being real about how difficult the last two months have been, but I need to throw in some happy stuff from today.

- B as the go-to person for when Cricket's bedtime and if she wakes up at night has worked so, so much better than me trying to be involved at all.  Last night she woke up twice, but he told her to lie down, and she did, no drama.  Everyone back to sleep.

- Cricket spontaneously offered stickers to Dinosaur.  Then they started asking each other for hugs and did a good job of telling each other when they needed space.

- The kids got dressed this morning in a reasonable amount of time, and Cricket didn't act out to get attention when I was helping Rhinoceros get dressed.  This is huge.

- Cricket and Rhinoceros sometimes do the most adorable pretend play, like praying before a meal.  For some reason after they say "amen," they start running around in circles, but I'll take it.

- We've been practicing "with permission and supervision" from The Connected Child to ask before using grown-up things.  Cricket asked for a butter knife to cut her grapes, and I realized, sure, she could try that with permission and supervision.  She did a great job AND it kept her at the table for lunch longer so I could eat.  And of course Rhinoceros wanted the positive attention and asked for a knife, too.  Something I never pictured with a two-year-old, but it totally works!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Lesson Learned - Home Visit Timing

We had an annual licensing visit today.  We were toying with the idea of going to an event at church tonight, so I scheduled it for the moment that B would get home from work and I would be coming in the door with the kids from getting Dinosaur from school.  Everyone's there!  Perfect!  And she was right on time!

Perfect disaster.  When we walk in the door, the kids simultaneously need seven things.  And I need to set them up with something to do while we talk with the licensing worker.  Plus I had forgotten that Dinosaur goes into turbo crazy mode when we have a visitor.  I knew Cricket wouldn't leave my side, but I hoped the older two would chill and enjoy some time away from Cricket.  Nope, drawn to the living room like a moth to a flame.  I tried to speak in coherent sentences while we navigated behavioral consequences and random unsafe behavior like tapping a lightbulb with a marker because it made a cool sound.  It was so chaotic that I am sort of expecting someone to follow up with us, either in a nice way, like offering support, or in a critical way, like an investigation.  It did not make me feel like I was an A+ parent today.  B says it wasn't really our fault and everyone knows that kids can be crazy with visitors sometimes, but I have hard time believing that we couldn't have diffused it somehow, because that's just the kind of person I am.  And it's stressing me out.

From now on, 10-15 minutes buffer time for settling in.  A show will be playing.  Plan B and Plan C will be set up in case of failure.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

First Day November 2014 - Hair sessions, jam sessions

I'm linking up with Journey to Josie for a photo slice of our lives on the first day of each month.  Check it out and join in!

Highlights were a birthday party with some jamming on our friend's instruments and the first visit to a braid shop (Is that the term?  Please educate me.) to give me a bit of a break with Cricket's hair, and those events also took up much of the day.  It's been busy busy busy around here, and I'm thankful Nov. 2 is a little slower and less scheduled.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Are we God's foster kids?

I am very thankful for my church.  It isn't perfect, but it has challenged me to have a deeper faith and put it into action.  I would not be the same person I am if it weren't for my church.

My senior pastor is an adoptive parent and frequently uses adoption metaphors in his sermons.  Our church does not really promote adoption any other way, though there are many families with adopted children, but adoption does come up in many sermons.  I had a record-scratch moment, however, when our pastor extended his adoption metaphor and spoke of people not fully committed to belief in Christ as "still in foster care."  I was not a fan.  Foster care is not step one with adoption as step two.  I brushed it off as maybe something he said off the top of his head.  But then there was another sermon, this one that dug into me more deeply.  The metaphor was that we are adopted children of our Father, but we often act like foster kids that fight against their foster families, or foster kids that no one wants to adopt.

This time, I had to e-mail my thoughts.

The two beliefs being expressed that I found dangerous were 1) foster kids need to be adopted and 2) foster kids have behavior problems. 

Many foster kids do not need to be adopted and the initial goal of foster care is reunification with birth parents.  If adoptive parents are God in that metaphor, what are the birth parents?  And on more of a level of thinking how people in the congregation hear these messages, what do foster kids in the congregation think when they hear they need to be adopted?  What if that is their fear?  Or maybe they were excited to be on the road to adoption, but now they have just heard "foster kids that no one wants to adopt," and they think, that must be me, whether it's true or not?

I would love to hear a sermon that had an illustration of redemption through reunification of a family.  I constantly sing a chorus about God making all things new, praying and pleading for the families that have been broken to be made new.  If I'm ever a part of a case that goes to reunification, I might suggest it, or maybe I'll have to start preaching!

Second, yes, many foster kids do fight against their foster families.  I should know, as I have been the target of much negative behavior lately in a cry for attention.  But the danger of mentioning foster children only with behavior problems is that it reinforces a misconception that kids go into foster care because of their behavior problems.  Some people think this, even though kids only go into foster care due to abuse or neglect by their parents' actions.  And even if they don't have that misconception, are behavior problems really the association we need with our foster children?  When volunteers work with foster children within the church, maybe they don't have a lot of experience with foster care, but they have heard several negative associations with behavior and foster kids.  A foster parent brings a kid to a program and has to explain why they can't be in photos, etc., and the volunteer's memory flickers back to the sermon illustration with the behavior problems.  Can't we have something better to associate our foster children with, when there is already so much stacked against them?

I worded my e-mail a little more tenderly (I'm guessing I'm preaching to the choir, so I'm being more direct here), and got a quick, sincere, and apologetic response.  I'm so glad I said something, and I think it has brought me closer to my pastor rather than pushing him away.

For any Christian readers involved in foster care, I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts!

Friday, October 24, 2014

My first time in court

You may wonder how with four placements and almost a year and a half of fostering, I had yet to go court as a foster parent.  Well, two of our placements were so brief that either we didn't get to any court dates we felt we should attend.  With Pterodactyl, B did go to court, but I stayed home and just heard secondhand.

But with B having a new job and wanting to avoid time off for a little while, and with the complexity of Cricket's case, I wanted to go this time.  Even though it was likely nothing big would happen, as the court date crept closer, I thought about it a lot.  I was a bundle of nerves.  How can I attend court and it not be extremely awkward with the bio parents?  Doesn't it make it look like we're against them, or clucking our tongues at their mistakes?  When I got there, CPS people were in the hallway chatting and gossiping.  Can I just go in that official-looking courtroom?  Are they waiting for a reason?  Finally I asked and was assured I could just go in, where I found just Cricket's mom waiting by herself at that moment.

Thankfully, small talk with Cricket's mom was positive, and it reassured me that we have a pretty good relationship so far.  Small talk with her dad was more limited for time, and I'm less sure of where we stand, but I hope I came off as friendly and non-threatening.

It was an intense experience for me emotionally, just because I can't help but imagine myself in the shoes of everyone there and what they're going through.  I felt drained and shaky afterward, and I didn't have to do anything, and nothing significant changed for us!  I am glad I went, though I might send B the next time, or try to go together.

So, we keep on keeping on.  There's nothing in the works for Cricket to move anywhere, but as I know, that could always change, even before the next court date.  I continue to pray for a miracle for Cricket and her sister to be together, especially after hearing how her sister is struggling and how she connects it back to missing Cricket.  We will see.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Weekly notes

Life is still exhausting around here, but I feel like we're in a calmer stretch.  I filled in the caseworker on Cricket's behaviors, and she put in a referral to a program that will get an infant/child mental health evaluation for Cricket, leading to services as needed.  Right when I documented one of the tough days, she hasn't had a day quite as tough since.  There are still major issues, but the times when Cricket is just lost in a ball of fear and anger are not quite as frequent or prolonged.

In the meantime, I wondered how I should do notes to the birth parents now that both birth parents were involved and having separate visits.  I didn't want to write two sets of notes by hand or do two notebooks, so instead I decided to type up weekly notes and include a picture from that week.  (I admit I got this idea from a Facebook comment and now can't find the source.  So if this was your idea, please tell me and I will credit you.)  I really like the picture for two reasons: it forces me to make sure I'm taking a at least a good picture every week (sometimes I go crazy with pictures then suddenly realize I haven't taken one for a couple weeks) and then I feel good about printing pictures a little less frequently, since they see one regularly.

I took the notes sections from a handout from my agency:
  • This week, our family...
  • This week, your daughter...
  • Next week, we are looking forward to...
  • Other things we would like to know are...
  • Your notes and questions
I have yet to receive notes or questions in this case, but oh well.  I've kept more informal notebooks in the past, but I like the structure to this one for keeping me accountable for sharing these types of things, whether I get responses or not.

I just hope this week there's a visit that I can give the notes.  Lots of cancellations lately.  There is also court on Friday, and the Cricket's future could use your prayers.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Awkward moments in foster care: Sibling visits

I sent B with Cricket for her sibling visit yesterday.  Part of me wanted to go out of curiosity of how it would go and to have more time to talk to another foster mom, but by the time he got home, I was ready to just stay home and have some time with the boys.  The weather was lousy, so unfortunately they had to go with Plan B of dinner at a restaurant instead of a picnic at a park.

Cricket and her sister both had to go to the bathroom, so the other foster mom that was there took them to the ladies' room while B hung out with Cricket's baby brother.  While they were gone, the server came to the table for something and started commenting on baby brother.

Server: What's his name?
B: Um... I don't know.
Server: How old is he?
B: 7 months?  Sorry, we're foster parents and this is a visit for the siblings to see each other.
Server: (not quite understanding) Oh, that's so great they can still live together!
B: ...

For the record, B has been told baby brother's name several times, as I'd looked up his namesake (a minor celebrity) and showed B.  But at the time, all B could remember was that he had a crazy name.  So here he was, sitting in a restaurant at a table by himself with this baby, not knowing his name or age.  Only in foster care?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Sweet Cricket moments

Among the painful parenting experiences I've had lately, there are some sweet, sweet moments straight from God I need to share as well.

Cricket stops fighting eventually (very eventually) and quietly, softly asks to be rocked.  She brings me Chicka Chicka Boom Boom to read and I read it.  Then she "reads" it herself, letters all out of order.  The woman who leads a play group we attend talks about the parts of a book every time she reads a story to the kids, and so when Cricket finished reading she said "The end, and the back cover."

Another time she selects Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and at the end seems so peaceful that I ask if she wants me to read it again.  She says yes, and quickly falls asleep through the second reading.  In years of singing and rocking children to sleep, I've never had a child fall asleep before end of the book, leading me to read the last words with extra tenderness and sweetness.

Another time she falls asleep as I rock her, then I carefully place her in her bed.  She rolls her head my direction and opens her eyes, and I fear the whimpering cries that have started up again at times.  Instead, she looks directly at me with a look I can only describe as loving, then closes her sweet eyes and goes back to sleep.

And did I mention she loves Tomorrow from Annie?  She sings it on her own, asks me to sing it, sings along with me all throughout the day, along with her other favorite song, Jesus Loves Me.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Sisters and Dads

In the early days, I thought that Cricket was really attached to her baby brother, as she had a very big sister vibe to her.  But with time, I've learned it's her big sister she really longs for.  To make things more difficult, our state requires (unless a judge orders otherwise) three visits per week for Cricket's age group, but only one visit per week for her sister's.  So, she is hopeful every time we go to a visit that she will see her sister, and every time she doesn't get to, she is disappointed and talks about wanting to see her before and after the visit.

Cricket is not really drawn to Dinosaur, who is near her sister's age, but whenever she's around a girl her sister's age, she lights up and follows her around eagerly.  This is magnified when she sees a girl with her skin tone and similar hair.  We have a few books with a girl that fits this description, and she always points her out as her sister.  Though the funny part is that in one book she points out herself to be a toddler boy with pale skin, pretty much her complete opposite.  It must be his size or that he has a big toddler grin like she gets.

This morning at church, it was my turn to help in the nursery, so I helped in her classroom.  Then I decided staying the second service would be too much for us, but we could stay for a couple songs and see if she enjoyed it as she likes music so much, and our church is fairly lively.  Before we went into the service, she spotted a girl that fit sister's type and went up to her eagerly.  Thankfully the little girl thought Cricket was adorable and they chatted.  Cricket kept telling me this was her sister, yet I knew she knew it wasn't true.

Then we went into the service, which she wasn't as into as I thought she might be, so we didn't stay long.  But before we left, during a quiet moment she saw a family come in and, sure enough, another "sister" was spotted.  "I see her!!" she shouted.  I did manage to keep her from running over to her in the middle of the service.

Cricket also got nervous about a few particular people in church.  Did they remind her of her dad?  Someone else?  I mentioned that visits have started with him.  He was not parenting Cricket when she was removed.  He claims her mom kept Cricket from him, and it was not by his own choice that he was not a part of her life.  He was heartbroken when she reacted to him with fear at the visit.  Later I realized I didn't do the best job of building a relationship with him as I was just trying to get out of there, but my focus was on Cricket and doing our goodbye routine swiftly instead of dragging it out.

We will see what happens with Cricket going to her dad or not, and I'm not sure how soon we'll know.  I hope if she does, there is a good transition to help her feel more comfortable with him.  What's so sad, though, is being with her dad means not being with her sister.  They don't have the same dad.  So the two short-term plans for Cricket are to move to a foster family that can take all the siblings or her dad, and those plans are in opposition with each other.  I'm not saying one is better, just that it's sad that she can't have both.  I'm also sad for her sister in general, as her foster mom is having her moved.  Time is running out for that move, and I haven't heard anything about a foster family that can take all three, so she'll likely just be moved to another home where she isn't with her siblings.

Her foster mom also hasn't been very communicative about a sibling visit (without birth parents) that we're supposed to have this week.  If she pushes back on our plans at all, I think I'll just offer to pick up Cricket's sister and bring her myself.  Cricket really needs this time with her.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Hanging on, letting go

 My one-on-one time with Cricket started great.  It was wonderful to just play with her and focus my attention on her, give her all the turns for dumping ingredients into the granola, etc.  I've been letting go of trying so long for a nap, so she was mostly cooperative and sweet during her non-napping "resting time."

Then it started.  It started with a visit with her dad.  She hadn't seen him for a long time, and I don't know whose story to believe about that background.  But she was seeing him today, and she was having none of it.  I had to do one of those hard goodbyes that will stick with me.  Then she had a visit with her mom, then I picked her up.  She was doing surprisingly well, and I hoped that miraculously we were getting through this especially rough patch of a week.

Then bedtime was full of extended screaming, battles, feeling like I was failing her.

Then 1:30-4:00 am was full of extended screaming, battles, feeling like I was failing her.

Then 7:30-8:30 am was full of extended screaming, battles, feeling like I was failing her.  We just picked up where we left off when she woke up.

At 8:30, I had to drop her off with a sitter so I could go to a meeting at church.  I'm a small group leaders, and we were having one of our regular meetings of the leaders together.  I've been frustrated with some things in leading our small group and had hoped for a lot of help at this meeting.  As different people spoke or prayed, I started tearing up uncontrollably.  I took a bathroom break and hoped I was done.  But when I went to talk with an elder about my confusion and frustration with leading our group, the dam burst.  Here I was, sobbing uncontrollably, while everyone else was having small cheery practical conversations around me.  I somehow communicated that my sobbing was not about small groups, but our lives as a foster family, and having adopted a child from foster care, he knew where I was coming from and patiently (if awkwardly) waited.  I'm going to have to swallow some pride to look him in the eye tomorrow, because crying like that is just humiliating.  But finally, I caught my breath, and I could express what I wanted to say about being a small group leader.

And what I needed to say is that I am depleted.  I don't have any energy left for organizing.  I don't have any energy for following up on that e-mail that really needs followed up on.  I have passion for what I do, but I can't tap into it right now.  All the urgency in our family life has me feeling sucked under the water, and this church ministry is another force pulling.  The responsibilities and my failure to meet them tugged me down on a daily basis.

It's time to let go.

It's time to let someone else lead.

Thankfully, his response was wise and encouraging.  I'll step down tomorrow night when we meet and ask everyone to pray about next steps for the group.  I know in the grand scheme of things, this was not a big deal, but I clung to the hope that I could just get past these difficulties if I pushed forward.  I'm not the person who needs to strip away responsibilities.  I have passion about this!  I am needed for this!

But God can do His work in this area with someone else while we are doing our work with Cricket and other foster kids.  I need to keep my eyes above the waves.  As I drove to pick up Cricket, Oceans by Hillsong United came on the radio, a song that I've clung to in our year and a half-ish of foster parenting, and I shed a few more tears.  I shouted at God, is this really all for my faith to get stronger?  That doesn't seem like a good enough reason!  Please, please send someone else who will heal Cricket, who will know what she is doing, who isn't so immediately overwhelmed again even after the moments of hope.

A bit self-centered and all about me, but there it was, the honest cry of my heart.

The day went on with more pain and sorrow and some breaths of peace and joy.  Some more failure and a few steps forward.  It also seemed like my online communities of foster care were aching with failure of one type or another.  On it goes.

Foster parents fail.

Bio parents fail.
CPS and agency workers fail.

The system fails.
Christian leaders fail.

God never fails.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Not crossing the border

I'm starting to think that we will never succeed in taking a foster child to visit B's family in Canada, even though it should be possible.

This time around it was "not enough time to get it through all the channels required."  We briefly looked into the foster families that have Cricket's siblings doing respite for the weekend, but that didn't pan out, and respite with an unknown family would be an absolute disaster for her at this point.

So, our plan is for B to go with Dinosaur and Rhinoceros for the family gathering that had been planned before we knew she couldn't come.  I will stay here with Cricket.  In some ways, it's a very good thing.  I don't know if we're ready to travel with her and try to get her to sleep in an unfamiliar place, especially after this week.  I think she will benefit from the one-on-one attention, and Dinosaur and Rhinoceros will benefit from the break from her behaviors.  And I will even get to go to a church event that I was going to have to miss.

On the other hand, I pray that nap time and night time goes better this weekend.  And if not, we might be going for more drives for coffee.

Happy almost Canadian Thanksgiving, Canadian reader(s)!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

On difficult phases of motherhood, part 2

Unfortunately, I got my hopes up in the last post's subject.  No, I don't think we are settling in.  There is plenty of positive.  Mornings are better.  Role-play and behavior practice is repeated back to me spontaneously (unfortunately not when it's actually need, but hey, it's progress).  We had a nice break last weekend with a date night.  At the same time, some moments are the worst so far.  This afternoon was one of those.

I won't go into the full details, but it was about nap time.  In a long process that I was trying to implement to make things better, I triggered something in Cricket, and it was one of the most horrible things I've experienced.  Worse because I knew that I caused it and should have known better.  Usually I can hold and rock her to calm her down, but she fought against me, alternating between slumping against me asleep, then jerking awake and screaming.  I finally gave up and buckled her in the car seat and declared we were going for a drive.

"Where are we going?"
"Just taking some time to calm down."
"I'm calmed down." (and she was)
"Well, I need some more time.  Oh look, we need gas.  We're going to the gas station."

She didn't fall asleep in the car as I thought she might, but she did become completely calm.  And so did I.  As we drove, I remembered when I sometimes drove around Dinosaur to get him to nap on desperate days.  Dinosaur was very difficult for naps many days.  He would keep me guessing with his transitions from two naps to one, from one nap to none.  He would need it desperately, and I would rock and rock him, with one child and all this energy to devote to him, yet nothing would work.

I distinctly remember one day was Earth Day, and here I was using up gas just to get my kid to sleep and to gain a little sanity.  On top of it all, I would spend way too much on a latte in a coffee shop drive thru.  This is not the kind of woman I'm proud to be.

But today, even though I really am still having a hard time with what happened this afternoon, I had to smile a little at myself as I drove up to the drive thru.  Screw it.  It's time for a latte for me and cookies for these kids.  We all need a little treat and happiness right now.*  I'm over that guilt.

And I will type this even though I have a hard time meaning it completely: I am the woman I am proud to be.  This is unbelievably hard.  I am making mistakes.  I am not enough and I seek silly escapes.

But I am there for this child, these children, in all my brokenness.  And I pray pray pray that Jesus works through me to outweigh my mistakes and heal Cricket.  I pray for miracles.

*And if this ending is a little too Disney for you, while Cricket was totally fine after we got in the car, Rhinoceros was heartbroken that our drive never ended in them getting out of the car (I didn't even put shoes on them) and he whined the entire four hours until bedtime.  Oh these children.  You just can't win.

Friday, October 3, 2014

First Day October 2014 - Settling in at last?

I'm linking up with Journey to Josie for first day of the month photojournaling fun.
This was a full fostering day, from meeting with a friend who is interested in fostering at a park in the morning to a visit in the afternoon (and partial braiding of hair by Cricket's mom).  It was actually a really good day as far as kids' behavior, too.  In fact, since Oct. 1, our house has just felt a little more settled.  I'm hoping it stays, but if not, I'll appreciate it while it lasts.