Monday, June 30, 2014

Caves and stepping stones

We just got back from a reunion/campout with my family.  Caterpillar got to come along, and he is seriously the happiest camping baby of all.  He had maybe two really sad moments the whole four days.  If I forget about all the work of packing and unpacking for camping, and the long drive there and back, it was a blissful time.

We went on a hike that led to a cave.  I've never gone through a cave without a guide on an official tour, and this one just had a sign that you could go through if you wanted to.  I thought B had gone through the day before (later I found out they went in a ways then turned back), so I went ahead with my sister and Dinosaur, others following behind us.  It was narrow and cramped.  We had one flashlight, but it wasn't enough.  It went on much longer than I anticipated.  I may have said, "I think I'm freaking out a bit" to my sister in front of the kids.  I just had no idea how much further it would be and couldn't deal with that thought, so I turned around, scrunching ourselves past the line of people who had gone in the cave after us.  I breathed a deep breath of relief as I stepped into the light, right back where we started.

On the way to the cave, we crossed two streams several times, picking out stepping stones.  Some teetered, some were secure, and sometimes it was just best to step in the shallow water instead.  I managed across without sending myself and Caterpillar (tied to me in a carrier) into the shallow stream.  The first day Dinosaur did the hike, he boldly stepped from stone to stone.  The second day, he was with my parents, who said something that made him sense a little more potential for failure.  He asked to be carried, and did cross on his own with some convincing, but his steps were a little less sure.  B or another relative carried Rhinoceros across.

We haven't seen the beginning, middle, and end of any story of our foster children.  I've learned the beginning isn't removal of the child, and we jump in halfway through the book.  Each of our foster children have older siblings.  Even if they didn't, there are reasons from the past that brought the birth parents to the place of losing their children to foster care.

We haven't reached any endings, either.  When we considered foster care and went through training, we mentally prepared ourselves for two outcomes: reunification with birth parent(s) or adoption (by us or others).  What I didn't expect is the end of our three placements so far: neither.  Each foster child has gone on or will go on to another home while still in foster care: Pterodactyl to her grandma, Beetle to a foster family with his sister, Caterpillar soon to his mom's cousin.  Part of me wants to be a little insulted that we are babysitters in the meantime while they wait on an ideal placement.  Another part of me knows that this is what obedience is: being available to meet the need even when it doesn't fit our expectations or what we would find most fulfilling personally.

I've been thinking for awhile about how our role has been like a stepping stone, just a sure place for a foot to rest for a moment.  Then I found myself stepping across stones and being thankful that with God's help, we've been able to be a secure stone for these kids.  I wish they could just be carried over the river, but instead we are the safest place for them they can be for the short time they're here.  That's our role in the big picture so far.

But I also think of the cave.  No idea when it will end.  Having to trust that if there's a sign that says you can go through it, you can without terrible danger.  Moments of panic.  Moments of "I can't take it anymore."  Our journey has not gotten to an agonizing point, but I think of so many foster care stories I've read, foster parent friends' experiences, and I know it's probably on its way.  Heart-sinking, when-will-it-end moments.  Will we have what it takes when we are truly tested?  Will I take that deep breath of relief on the other side of the cave, or after I've retreated in fear?

Monday, June 23, 2014

Monday Blog Tour

Martina at my mid-century modern life welcomed a blogger to join in this Monday Blog Tour, so I jumped at the chance.  I read her foster care story on the blog start to finish a few months ago (I love finding good fostering blogs and reading them like a book), and couldn't stop reading their story.  Plus, there are lovely design and home decor posts interspersed, and while I have no ability to decorate my home, I enjoy looking at others'.

What am I working on? 
I'm helping my 1st grader log his minutes for the library's summer reading program.  I don't really have any long-term projects right now, just juggling the day-to-day life of foster parenting and being at home with kids.  We chose an agency that doesn't provide transportation (or typically doesn't), so I spend a lot of my time on family visits three times per week.  I work outside the home 10 hours per week most of the year, mostly in the evenings.  There are plenty of things I should work on soon, one being to put more thought into the blog design, but I'm trying to take the advice "stop shoulding all over yourself."

How does my work differ from others in its genre?
When we were getting licensed as foster parents, when I searched for foster parenting blogs I found few that resembled what our family would look like: young biological kids and even younger foster kids.  The few I did find tended to be blogs they shared with family and friends, so the fostering details were very limited due to confidentiality.  Mine is as anonymous as I can make it.  My blog focuses on fostering and how it affects our family because that's the story I want to tell and share.

Why do I write what I do?
I find foster care blogs invaluable to get an idea of the range of experiences within the foster care system.  It helped adjust my expectations so that I truly know in my heart that I could say goodbye with one hour's notice or after two years of drawn out legal proceedings.  I hope sharing our experiences will make something less of a shock for other foster parents, or that they will feel less alone in what they do.  Also, I've always enjoyed writing for its creative and therapeutic value.  It does help.

How does my writing process work? 
Sometimes I'm writing blog posts in my mind as things come up and try to find the soonest moment, usually Rhinoceros's nap time or late in the evening, to type it all out.  But occasionally I sit down with the laptop and think, "I've got time to write.  Do I have anything on my mind?"

Who’s next?
I'll pick Karen from Borrowing Babies, as she's my most loyal commenter and I think her perspective as an adult sibling to foster kids is a voice that's not often heard.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Interview with Dinosaur

Dinosaur turns 6 years old very soon, so I thought I'd do a birthday interview on being a foster brother.  Seriously, this kid loves babies, sometimes a little too much.

Me: What is your favorite thing about taking care of babies?
D: Holding them.
Me: What is the hardest part about taking care of babies?
D: Nothing.
Me: Is there anything that makes you sad?
D: Nothing.
Me: Tell me what you thought when Pterodactyl came to our house.
D: Happy happy happy!
Me: What about when Beetle came?
D: Happy happy happy happy!
Me: And what about Caterpillar?
D: Happy happy happy happy happy happy!
Me: What have you learned since we started being a foster family taking care of babies?
D: You talking to me about it.
Me: What did I say?
D: You said that you were taking care of babies with us.
Me: Tell me what you thought when we said goodbye to Pterodactyl and Beetle.
D: Happy sad-ish.
Me: What was the happy part?
D: By saying goodbye.
Me: What was the sad part?
D: I didn't see Pterodactyl again, but Beetle, he came here two times.
Me: What do you hope for the future in our family?
D: Well, taking care of Caterpillar.
Me: And what do you think about saying goodbye to him?
D: Well, he's so ready to go with his grandma.
Me: What do you want to teach Rhinoceros about taking care of babies?
D: Talk about the babies and talk which names they are.
Me: What do you want to do when you grow up?
D: Take care of babies and kids and have ten babies.
Me: What else do you want to say about being a foster family?
D: About the Caterpillar and he's so cute and they can ride away and ppppht.
Me: Do you like seeing me type your words and sounds?
D: Yes.
Me: Anything else you want to say today?
D: His butt.
Me: No, I'm not going to type that.
D: Well, his mouth.
Me: What about his mouth?
D: He smiles so much.  And that's it!
Me: Indeed.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Triggered by a onesie

Other foster parents told me that when a foster child moved, it could feel like the death of a child.  I don't know what a death of a child feels like, but I grieved quietly and without tears when Pterodactyl left.  I didn't always feel sad about her goodbye.  I figured it was because I always knew she would likely leave us.

But it settled in more deeply than I knew.  I cried months later.  I watched her birthday creep up.  I watched the anniversary of when she came to us creep up.  Now I'm starting to do the same activities as last summer, but without Pterodactyl.  That's the part that is like grieving a death: going through the first time that you're experiencing things you did last year without that person.  And it didn't kick in until we got to one year after she came to us.  Baseball practices with a baby in the wrap.  Splash pads while giving a baby a bottle.  Having another baby placed with us now is an even stronger reminder that she's not here, because I'm doing baby things, but with another baby.  It's all a bit surreal.

Tonight at a moms' group at church, a mom brought her sweet 2-week-old baby girl with her.  I had a baby girl around that age this time last year.  But it wasn't just that, it was that she was wearing one of the onesies I had for Pterodactyl, one of my favorites.  Striped in pink, red, and aqua, bright and cheery.

I couldn't stop looking at that sweet baby girl, and when I tried to throw in a quick comment about how I missed Pterodactyl lately, I lost it in tears.  These women are wonderful and it was a great place to have a good cry.

And you know what meant the world to me?  A friend who said how she remembered me carrying her around this time last year in a wrap, seeing her for the first time at church.  It means the world to me when others remember her.  Because otherwise, it really does feel like she's gone from this earth, even if that's not true.

I asked for prayer that either I would be able to see her, or that I would be able to accept not seeing her.

Also, tonight we watched this poem Esther Generation, and this is the part that gripped me:

And let's redefine comfort zone because wherever He takes you
You are with the comforter
Wherever He calls you
You are always in His comfort zone

It brought me back to our decision to foster, that we felt called to leave our comfort zones and complacent lives.  But this turns that idea on its head and shows me what it's really about.  It's not about leaving my comfort zone to love and care for these kids and help bring families back together.  It's about depending on the Comforter as I do so, and knowing He is with me wherever He takes me.  He is with me in this strange and lonely grief.  Our comfort zones as we imagine them are illusions built by the world.  He is our true comfort.

Awkward Moments in Foster Care - "Are you talking to me?"

Now that this blog post type has occurred to me, I'm sure I've got lots more to share from the past year.  But here is today's awkward moment in foster care:
I was sitting in the waiting room before an appointment for Caterpillar.  His mom was planning to come but hadn't shown up yet.  The receptionist had to ask the doctor a question about an insurance issue and come back to talk to me, so when a woman came in, there was no one at the desk, so she sat down across from me, made some small talk as Caterpillar charmed her.  The receptionist comes back and starts to tell me about what we're going to do, but the problem is, she makes eye contact with me and tells me something, then looks directly at the other woman in the waiting room and continues our conversation.  The woman looks startled and says, "Are you talking to me?"  The receptionist thought that she was Caterpillar's mom (they are a similar body type and skin tone, but nope).  I didn't have to tell her she was wrong, but neither of us knew how to explain it to the woman without confidentiality issues.  So the receptionist just finished the conversation with me, and I got out of there hastily.

Only in foster care.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Sibling sadness

Caterpillar's older sister came along for a doctor's appointment today.  Caterpillar's grandma has guardianship of the sister, but they live in town and Caterpillar's mom spends a lot of time with her.  She stares at me with big eyes.  She didn't want to answer my lighthearted question.  She plays and giggles some at Caterpillar, but there's an air of sadness.  My interactions with Pterodactyl's brothers, including my visit to her home with her grandma had a similar tone.  I wonder how they're doing with their new twin siblings, who will never live with them.  Caterpillar's sister isn't as direct as they were to ask if her baby sibling can come home, but I see it in her eyes.  I heard from Beetle's sister's parents and current foster parents that she had the same confused longing for her baby brother.

Recently Caterpillar's mom called and said his sister was upset about Caterpillar not being there, so she wanted to call and report that he was doing well.  I usually let her calls go to voice mail and text or call back when I get a chance, but for some reason I answered this one right away, and I'm glad I did.  I think of the sadness that Rhinoceros (and Dinosaur when he was younger) gets when he wakes up to find that B already left for work.  We don't call him at work, but we have B leave orange juice out for the boys if they're not awake as a sign that he thought of them and did something for them.

But Caterpillar is a baby and can't do much to reassure anyone.  I can give pictures that can be passed on, but that's about it.  It breaks my heart that these little ones who are so little themselves are worried about their younger siblings, unable to picture that they're all right if they can't see that they're all right.

Sometimes the weight of sadness of broken families just sits on my shoulders.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Foster care triangle

Now that I'm in a case with more birth parent communication, I'm feeling a little stuck in a foster care triangle.  I want Caterpillar's mom that she has my support for reunification.  I will do my best to care for Caterpillar, and I will do my best to support their bond and relationship.  At the same time, that comes with limits.  I can't wait around indefinitely when she shows up late.  Unlimited grace on lateness is not good for anyone in the end, except maybe Caterpillar, as he still benefits from time with his mom.  The caseworker and case aide are very firm with lateness and set up a system where she needs to be half an hour early for the visit or I won't bring Caterpillar.  His mom is having some trouble with this system and is frustrated.  She tells me she's frustrated and wants to know how it inconveniences me.  I pass the buck back to the agency and tell her it's their rules.  At the same time, I know they are rules to help me, so I'm not entirely being sincere or supportive of my agency's authority.  Yet, I'm not sure how to communicate that, and I'm not sure if it's a good idea to do so.  I mostly listen, empathize a little but not a lot, change the topic to how Caterpillar is doing and how I know she wants to see him, and tell her I hope to see her at the next visit. 

Recently, a medical concern became a hexagon or some other crazy mess of lines: birth parent, foster parent, caseworker, old doctor, new doctor, pharmacist.  I'm still not sure I navigated that perfectly, but I did the best I could.

I remind myself that it's better when all these people care, even though it makes it difficult.  I've been in cases already when one point of the triangle didn't seem to care, and it's very sad.

In a couple weeks we have a foster parent support group on birth parent relationships.  I'll take notes and share them, as I feel like I could never learn enough on this topic.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

First Day: Busy Sunday in the summer

It helps to notice a new month when Dinosaur is really, really excited that it's now his birthday month.  So here we go, starting fresh with pictures to show a bit of our lives the FIRST day of every month.

I'm not sure why my phone made this picture weird.  We're off to church.

Summer feet.

I finished mentoring sessions with a middle school girl today to do profession of faith at our church, and she gave me this sweet note.


Google voice with Caterpillar's mom (showing mostly my words).

We had a picnic at a park with our small group from church.

Caterpillar has had a bad cold; thankfully he seems to be getting over it.

This is the reality faced after a busy Sunday.

And sitting.  Ahh.