Friday, January 24, 2014

"Is she your baby?"

I saw Pterodactyl today, for the first time since before Christmas, when she moved out.

I had some things to give her grandma, which I could have passed on through the agency, but I called her, hoping that I could just bring them by and then I could see Pterodactyl for a moment.  I was initially going to go yesterday, but her grandma asked that I come today, since the caseworker was coming for a home visit anyway.  I think she thought we would carpool, but I just went with it.  I tend to communicate poorly on the phone and even more poorly when it's in Spanish, and agree to almost anything.

For awhile yesterday, I just felt like a mess.  I was anxious, tense, jittery, building up more and more throughout the day.  Then the plans were postponed until today, and I felt sudden relief.  I hadn't realized it, but I have had this underlying tension of knowing that I would see Pterodactyl again sometime and not knowing how I'd feel.  I miss her, more than I actively realize.  Saying goodbye wasn't the heart-ripping devastation that I expected, but it affected me.  Talking about this out loud with B helped me a lot, and I felt much better today, though still anxious as I drove there, and as I waited, as bad weather delayed her grandma.  I feel a little guilty that I didn't cancel because it seemed like she'd had a really long day, but I really needed to do this today and move on.  I only stayed 5 minutes, so hopefully I wasn't too much of a pain.

She looked the same as she did one month ago to me, just a little bigger.  She is still the most serious baby I've ever seen, and stared at me, with her mouth a little open.  It felt good to hold her and talk to her.  She didn't smile (serious baby), but she did lift up her hand to touch my face.  She did this once before, when I had her in child care during a foster care training, and she had been just miserable for them.  I went to get her and brought her up to join me for the training in a baby carrier, and she just stared at my face, stared and stared, then lifted her hand to touch it.  Like she was saying, "Oh yeah, you!"  Maybe not an exclamation point; she's a little too serious for that.

What I hadn't considered is how my visit would affect her biological brothers, who also live with her grandma.  The older asked me, "Is she your baby?"  I can't quite remember the tone, if it was afraid that I'd say yes, or if it was challenging me.  I reassured him that she was staying there, and I had just come to visit because she doesn't live with me anymore.  Then the younger brother, who is 2 or 3, looked me in the eye and said something in toddler speak, but I believe the intended message was "Lady, she's ours.  She stays here."

We talked about how she could come stay with us for an afternoon or evening sometime.  I would like my boys to see her, too, but I didn't mention that.  I got out of their way and gave her one more kiss, and drove home.  Dinosaur and Rhinoceros were in bed but awake, and I gave them each a kiss.  A kiss to the child that's not here anymore, kisses to the children that are.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Introducing Rhinoceros

Two things to report:
  1. We're back on the call list for foster placements as of today.  No clue how long that wait might be.
  2. Rhinoceros had his 3rd birthday yesterday!
So without further ado...

5 Things about Rhinoceros
  1. He is a peacemaker.  Maybe that's reading into things a bit at 3 years old, but he is really one of the least aggressive children I've ever met.  He has hit me once, and he upset himself from doing so and started tearing up.  He flees rather than fights.
  2. He is a sweetie.  While Dinosaur has this monotone low little voice and gets the crazy eyes when he gets excited, Rhinoceros is almost always sweetness.  His little high-pitched airy voice, his little walk, sweetness.
  3. He is sneaky.  He is definitely the kid who will not make his presence known and then you suddenly wonder where he is and find him with a half-empty bottle of maple syrup.  He has also put more objects down our vents than I could possibly count.
  4. He loves cupcakes and singing happy birthday.  This has been his main pretend play for the past six months.  It had me stumped for a theme for his actual birthday, since he doesn't really have a favorite animal or character or anything.  He just likes candles on cupcakes.  So, I just put threes on the cupcakes and called it good.  He sat quietly, eyes lit up, as if he'd waited for that moment all his life.
  5. He's generally quiet.  It's not that Rhinoceros can't talk.  It's just that he evades most communication.  He's also in this phase when you give him two choices, and you can't for the life of you figure out which one he is actually choosing.  I think he'll get more talkative as time goes on, but in general I think he'll be a quieter child.  He'll probably continue to use it to his advantage: see #3.

 Rhinoceros and Fostering

Considering Rhinoceros was only 2 years and 4 months when Pterodactyl was placed with us, and that he wasn't the most verbal 2-year-old anyway, there wasn't much we could do to prepare him.  We've talked to him a little bit, but we mainly had to trust God that we were making the right decision.  Even apart from fostering, I braced myself for his adjustment to a baby in the home, replacing him as the youngest.  When Rhinoceros was born, Dinosaur had quite the phase of acting out as he adjusted to his presence.  But when Pterodactyl arrived... nothing.  Rhinoceros went on being his quiet happy toddler self.  He liked to lay down next to her and give her a single kiss (while Dinosaur attacked her with kisses and we had to pry him off of her).  No new behavior issues that we could trace to her presence.  I can't promise this will ever happen again, but it was a big relief.  B and I really had a much harder time adjusting to a new baby than Dinosaur or Rhinoceros did!

Rhinoceros asked about Pterodactyl when she was on visits, wanting to know where she was.  For awhile, he would take attendance at our house:  "Mommy?  Here.  Daddy?  Work.  Dinosaur?  Here.  Rhinoceros?  Here.  Pterodactyl?  Here."  (With real names in toddler dialect, of course.)  This made me concerned that when she left and didn't come back, he would have a hard time processing it.  To my surprise, he didn't ask about her at all for at least two weeks, in spite of me talking about her.  Finally, he saw a part of a bottle and said her name questioningly.  Then he moved on to play with something.  I have no idea how his little mind has actually wrapped around this, but he seems to be doing okay.

I'm sure every child is different, and I have no idea if our transitions in the future will go so easily.  I'm sure it's giving me a false security as we dive into the next adventure, but hey, sometimes I think a little false security can't hurt.  I'm thankful for all of us that the boys have had a pretty easy time with fostering so far.  I hope not to take it for granted.

I like these snow pictures for the blog, because while I can share my bio kids' pictures if I want to, I like that they're not 100% recognizable.  And bundled up kids are cute.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Lessons from Grandma

Our return to fostering was put on hold a little longer by the death of my grandma last Saturday.  She was diagnosed within the last year with widespread cancer and was 84 years old, so the call was not a complete shock, but we also hadn't known for the past several months when this day might come.  Sounds sort of like foster care.  I ended up carpooling with my cousins one state away to drive over 30 hours to get to the funeral and back.  It was a little insane, but fitting, as Grandma and Grandpa were known for dropping everything, driving across the country, and knocking on one of their kids' doors to announce they'd come to visit.

I am truly inspired by the life my grandma lived.  I thought I'd share a few things I gleaned from her life and the stories told about her this past week.  I thought some of it applied to how we get through the stress of fostering life and how we love others: foster children, bio families, etc.

Sing with joy. 
Grandma sang in the kitchen in the morning: "Thank you Lord for the good things.  Thank you Lord for the things you've given me.  Thank you Lord for the good things, like a hot cup of tea."  Grandma sang with her children in the car to keep them from fighting each other.  Grandma sang songs to Jesus and soaked up the words.  She passed this healing joy of singing to my mom, who passed it down to me.  I sing happily with my children, but when I find myself in some of those moments where I'm worried I'll lose it with the kids, I make myself sing to replace saying something I'll regret.  Next time I'll have to remember to sing "Thank you Lord for the good things."

Remind everyone that they are important and special.
Grandma had Alzheimer's and dementia in the last several years of her life, but sometimes it was hard to know if she recognized you or not, because she embraced everyone with love like she'd known them all her life.  Yes, she loved her children and grandchildren in special ways, but she got it that those weren't the only people who needed her love.  Over the years as a missionary, pastor's wife, and at one point running a shelter for victims of domestic violence, she made everyone feel like they were special.  My uncle told her this, intending it as a compliment, and she told him with a stern eye, "Honey, they ARE special."

Life your life as a ministry to others.
Grandma was passionate about women's ministry and their church, but she also lived out her Christian life in everyday ways, through food, through providing a place to sleep, through listening.  She had a keen awareness of people who were hurting around her, and she wasn't afraid to show love to them.  I share her awareness, but I have a lot to learn about the boldness to show love.  Around a month before she died, she wasn't able to do many daily tasks and didn't recognize her children much of the time.  Yet at a dollar store, she noticed a clerk was sick and having a rough day.  She took the clerk's hands in hers and said, "You don't feel well, do you," and proceeded to encourage her.

Love Jesus.
Grandma treasured her time with her Bible, her time praying, and her time singing to Jesus.  She lost many of the things she was able to do in her last years of life, but when you stripped away the layers of who she was, you just saw more of Jesus.  She was praying in her last hours.  She lived out her love for Jesus actively and practically, but she also just loved His presence.  I have so far to go in this way.  I latch onto my practical Christian acts, my sacrifices of foster care, and try to patch them together into who I am as a Christian.  I need to learn from Grandma and just be still and love my God who first loved us.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Blessed by a break

Without fostering and work (I'm on break until the end of January), my life does not have its usual routine, and sometimes that can throw things off a bit.  But while there have been moments of blah, mostly I've happily bounced around making the most of this break.  I feel renewed, refreshed, and reconnected with my sons. 

Some of my blessings of being on a fostering and work break:
  • I clearly have more time to blog.
  • I got swept up in a great novel: The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes  It's nice not to be too tired to read and read when I love a book.
  • More sleep is nice.  
  • Less chaotic bedtimes and mealtimes are also nice.
  • I can meet friends pretty much any time of day since I'm not planning around visits and baby naps, as Rhinoceros's nap is not 100% necessary.  Usually we went to our local children's museum during one of the weekly visits for Pterodactyl, as it's in walking distance from the agency, but we'd only have 45 minutes to spend there.  Last week we hung out there for 2 hours.  The kids had a blast, I chatted with mom friends who keep it real, and left very happy.
  • I've had time to clean and organize, and I definitely needed to clean and organized.  It's refreshing.
  • Winter weather is so much easier to enjoy without a baby.  When it hasn't been -10, we've gone sledding, played in the backyard, and Dinosaur tried ice skating for the first time with B.
And drum roll please...
  • Overnight getaway with B tomorrow!!!  Yes, we could manage this while we have a foster child as well, but we knew it wasn't wise to hope it would work out while waiting for a new foster kid or adjusting to a new foster kid (who may not be okay with us going away).  My sweet brother and sister-in-law are coming over for their first overnight with the boys.
I'm also happy to feel like we're in a good place to go back on the call list on Monday.  We had chosen this date awhile back but with the understanding that we could delay it further if we were having a hard time with Pterodactyl's goodbye or just needed more of a break.  While we've been greatly blessed by this break, B and I were in agreement that it's time to get back into it.  Buckle up!

Join in and share your own blessings.  You can link up at a great fostering blog, Our Good Life.  (I think that's what I'm supposed to end this with.  Blog interactions are still new to me.)

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Introducing Dinosaur

 Since we don't have any foster kids in our home right now, I thought I'd take a little time to write about my biological kids and how they've done with fostering.  I'll start with Dinosaur, our five-year-old.

5 Things about Dinosaur

1. He loves music and dance.  One of his favorite things is to turn on some music and make up his own dance moves.  Many of these are inspired by Dance Dance Revolution, another favorite of his.
2. He loves all things silly.  If you will rough house with Dinosaur, he will be glued to you for the rest of the time you're in his presence.  He is also big into silly rhymes and nonsense lately.  I'm a sucker for his big grin.
3. He knows his dates and times.  At age 2, Dinosaur became obsessed with clocks, finding them wherever we went and making clocks at home.  Before he was 4, he could tell time accurately, and he loves to live by a schedule.  If you need something to happen by 8:15, just tell Dinosaur to remind you when it's 8:15.  He remembers and focuses on dates as well, remembering when we visited family or what day his preschool started in Sept. 2012.  His memories are always expressed in his sweet and peculiar way, reciting how old people were and what day it was.
4. He loves school and reading.  Dinosaur did not look back when he went to preschool or kindergarten.  He likes the activity of it all, and I think he thinks it's all for him.  He has a fantastic kindergarten teacher and has just flourished there, reading far beyond what I expected him to at this age.
5. He is not big on empathy and conscience.  If I'm going to brag on my kid with most of these, I'll throw in a weakness.  I'm pretty sure no punishment or consequence has ever made Dinosaur feel bad for something he did wrong.  He is also pretty unaffected by others feeling bad, and has never been one to try to make people feel better.  Some of this is normal 5-year-old self-centeredness, but I really do think it's part of his personality as well.  I have a double dose of empathy and B has a... meager dose.  It's a good balance, so I hope Dinosaur finds his double-empathy match some day.

Dinosaur and Fostering

Dinosaur welcomed Pterodactyl eagerly and was enamored with her babyness.  He would baby talk to her constantly, sometimes in his own odd way ("It's so dark in your mouth!").  Every time someone came from the agency to our home or we dropped her off for a visit, he would inform all social workers, "She is such a cute baby."  This was a bit of a surprise to me, as when his biological brother was born, he ignored him as much as possible and acted out to get attention.  With Pterodactyl, he adjusted quite easily and happily.  He was a little too happy at times, and getting millimeters from her face and just not leaving her alone. 

Pterodactyl is black/Hispanic and Dinosaur and Rhinoceros are white with white blond hair and blue eyes.  Dinosaur processed a lot about skin color through Pterodactyl being a part of our family.  He attends a school with more than 50% non-white students, and our church is more racially diverse than most, but the immediacy of having her in our home brought up more conversations.  I think this was very positive, and while it wouldn't be a reason alone for us to foster, I'm grateful we had many opportunities to talk about race and people who look different than us.  He hasn't seemed to pick up the lessons we try to teach him about taking care of others and sharing what we have, but I'm hoping they will stick with him over time.

Probably the hardest part of foster care for Dinosaur was the ambiguity.  We tried to prepare him for our first placement, but we couldn't tell him on what day a baby or little boy or girl would come to our house, which doesn't sit well with his calendar obsession.  We tried to prepare him for when she would move, but first we thought that would be in June, then September, then October, then November, and finally in December we had one day's notice.  While I think that made it difficult for him to understand what was going on, he wasn't upset by it. 

Saying goodbye wasn't emotional for him, and he's been hard to read in this transition.  I've had to intentionally ask him how he's doing, or I don't know if he would have talked about her at all.  For the week after she left, he said he was sad a few times, and confused once.  This was all matter-of-fact, no tears, though the one that broke my heart was, "I want to give her a kiss."  He did love kissing her so much and she brought a little extra joy to his life.

He is looking forward to a new little one in the house (and of course wants to know WHEN), though there was still some confusion if this was a baby in my tummy and why we weren't getting a kid his age.  We've had lots of time for me to focus attention on him and his brother, as we had a week in Canada for the holidays, a week home during school break, and now school has been cancelled two days due to weather.  Then today he came down with a fever as well, so maybe I'll have extra time again with him tomorrow.  We may start to drive each other a little batty, but I think there's a reason God is giving me some extra time with my big little guy.


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Our fostering year 2013 in a timeline

I've decided to recap the year of our fostering journey, a journey I didn't really know we'd be on a year ago.  Plus, I just know the process and fostering experience is so different for different people and locations that I thought it may be an interesting to share my year in foster care.

Early January 2013 - I bought five matching Christmas stockings in after-Christmas sales.  We had added to our stockings haphazardly and I wanted them to coordinate.  But what's the funny part about this?  We hadn't decided yet that we would have three kids.  This was still up for debate, though we decided for sure in the next couple of weeks.  I smiled as I put them up this year.  We're not a permanent family of five, but even in our in-between waiting phases, we're a family of five.

January 13 - B and I heard a sermon that strongly confirmed our feeling that we needed to do foster care out of obedience to God.  Read more here.

January 29 - We got our first response to an inquiry on foster parenting from the agency that we ended up getting licensed with.

February 14 - We had a one-on-one orientation session in our home with our agency.

March 8 - First half of training

March 14 - First home visit

April 4-11 - B and I took a fantastic 10th anniversary trip to the Dominican Republic.  It was an excellent combination of relaxation away from kids as well a bit of exploration and adventure.  And I'm so glad we made it happen before we got licensed.

April 20 - Second half of training

April 23 - Second home visit (I'm re-reading old e-mails to find these dates and I wrote to the licensing worker "I'm looking forward to the home visit tomorrow!"  I'm such a geek.)

May 8 - Licensed!  We were licensed for one child, 0-2.  It all felt so fast, with the few issues we encountered being very minor.

Late May - First placement call at 10:30 pm for a 2-year-old boy, and we are a nervous WRECK on the phone.  I asked his birth date and it turns out he was almost 3, which made him older than Rhinoceros.  We decided that was a dealbreaker.

Late May - Second placement call mid-morning for a newborn girl still at the hospital.  They are not 100% sure she is going into care as there is a relative that may be able to take her.  We say yes, and wait.

Late May - The next day, we get a call around 10 am that we need to be there to pick up the newborn girl by discharge at 11.  I meet her and her birth mom.  I bring home 3-day-old Pterodactyl.  Case prediction: she will move to her grandma soon.

Sometime in July - The move to her grandma is not happening.  We settle into this being a longer-term placement.

Late July - First time to court for adjudication.  I don't want to go into much detail here, but I thought I'd mention when it was just to give an idea of "a year in fostering."

Late September - The move to her grandma IS happening after all, but we're not sure when.

Late October - Second time to court, review.  Uneventful.

Late October - Family team meeting about Pterodactyl's move to her grandma.  The goal is set that the transition would be complete within a month.

Late November - The transition was slowed down by daycare issues.  We took Pterodactyl with us out-of-state for Thanksgiving.

Dec. 12 - I start making waves because the transition has no defined end still.  A deadline is set for her grandma to set up daycare.

Dec. 18 - Her grandma has not set up daycare.  Pterodactyl will stay with us indefinitely.

Dec. 19 - Her grandma HAS set up daycare.

Dec. 20 - Pterodactyl moves to her grandma at least for Christmas while we travel to Canada.

Dec. 26 - We get word that her move is official.

Whew.  Well, I couldn't have predicted any of that.  I wouldn't have guessed we would have a newborn.  I wouldn't have guessed we would spend more than half of the placement planning for an any-day-now goodbye.  But I don't write our story, or Pterodactyl's.  God is doing more than we can imagine.  For reasons I don't entirely understand, Pterodactyl needed our love and care in our home for 7 months, and now she needs to be with her grandma.

And 2014?  Who knows besides God.  We're taking another week and a half off at least before going on the call list.  Slowing down as a family of four has felt very, very nice.  But I've got a nursery with an empty crib, and five stockings ready for next Christmas.