Monday, July 28, 2014

God showing up at the red light

I've been a bit emotional about Caterpillar leaving.  Last night was his first overnight visit at the relative's home.  He decided to cut his first tooth at the same time.  There was lots of crying, and even though I know it was probably mostly about the tooth, that's so hard to hear about literally the most chill and happy baby I've ever parented.

I know I'm going to miss him.  Not seeing him grow up sucks.  I love that we're doing what we're doing, but sometimes I hate doing it.

Add to that, I was leaving for work at 5:30 when I realized I had totally forgotten to print something I needed.  I turned back around, scrambled to find the file on our computers, failed, headed to work in a ball of resigned stress.  I was waiting at a red light when I heard a voice from the lane to my right.

It was Pterodactyl's grandma.

Our conversation was shouted across the noise of the street and in Spanish, so I'll just summarize it that I tried to ask about Pterodactyl, she said she's getting so big.  I said something about calling, and she said she'd lost my number.  One of Pterodactyl's brothers was peering out the window at me.  The light turned green and she drove on.

For months I've been debating calling her.  I decided asking to meet up to see Pterodactyl is a perfectly reasonable thing, but I haven't made myself do it.  I'm held back by wondering if I can handle my emotions of how much I miss Pterodactyl.  I'm held back by my general phone phobia, which is multiplied when in Spanish.  I'm held back by second-guessing myself, wondering why I would inconvenience her just because I wanted to see her granddaughter again.

I let myself be held back with some things like this.  It really gets to me when it keeps me from encouraging others.  I've prayed about it, a weakness I want to surrender to God so He can use me more.

It was like God was in the background behind her at the red light, looking me in the eye and saying "no more excuses now."

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Quiet week

It's so strange not to be bringing Caterpillar to visits while his mom is in jail, to have three visits per week wiped off the calendar.  We even canceled his first overnight visit at the relative's home because he had a fever yesterday morning.

We still have a home visit tomorrow, and I have work, Dinosaur has baseball, B has softball, so it's not overall quiet.  But it's foster care quiet.

Still no daycare set up.  It's Pterodactyl all over again.  I am having the relative schedule doctors' appointments for August by her schedule, so hopefully that means it'll happen by then?

It's not that I want to say goodbye.  It's the opposite.  I've accepted he's moving, that I won't get to see him crawl, babble, walk, etc.  That I won't see the end of the case, however it goes.  Now I just want it to happen on my timeline because that makes it easier for me to handle.  Less out of my control.

Breathe.  Give up my timeline.  I think I don't have one, and then it sneaks in.  Give up my illusion of control.  Enjoy sweet Caterpillar while he's here.  Know he's doing well with the transition so far.  Breathe.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Date nights in foster parenting

To start with, getting babysitters is hard for us even without being foster parents.  Our only family nearby is my brother and sister-in-law, who live 45 minutes away.  They have been able to help at times, but the distance is a factor.  So, since we had Dinosaur, we've relied on swapping with friends and hiring sitters from friends' recommendations, or teen kids of people at church.

Enter foster care, and our agency requires babysitters to at least 18 years old and have a background check done.  There go all the less expensive teens as options.  It also makes it really difficult to have a sitter that sticks around for awhile.  We've cleared three in the 18-25 age range, and two have graduated moved on to other things.  If we could have a responsible 15-year-old babysit, he or she could stick around a few years.  The third babysitter has her own child now, but she is still willing to do child care sometimes, and she is awesome.  Unfortunately, she can't drive, so for evening dates, one of us has to drive her home, which is not the most romantic ending to a date.  We live with it, though.  I'd also like to continue swapping with friends, but they haven't swapped back much, so I feel like I'm taking advantage of them.

A woman who sings in the church choir with B had gotten on the topic of foster parenting with him once.  Later, she went up to him and said that she felt led to support us more, like providing babysitting and the use of her house on a lake for family.  He got the forms to her, and she spotted me in church today and emphasized all the ways she wants to help us out.  This is incredibly awesome.  I have to turn in her forms, and hopefully we'll be able to go on some more dates more easily.

In the meantime, we've tried off-and-on to do a weekly date night with lots of at-home dates, as inspired by 52 date nights.  We were pretty good through last summer and fall, but it slipped once we got to the holidays and then had Beetle with us.  At-home date nights are also tough because by the time we get kids in bed (especially in the summer) it's 8:30.  We're about ready for bed at 10:00, and sometimes it's hard not to just claim that time for what we each want to do on our own.  And this is the best-case scenario; when we've had a newborn in the house, watching a show together while one holds the baby and hopes the baby doesn't start screaming is as good as it gets.  I'm also bracing myself for when we're placed with an older baby or toddler that is used to staying up very late.  Plus, in general, the foster care life for us has switched up our routines so regularly it's hard to really commit to a weekly date.  But we'll keep trying.

We keep going back to our list of at-home date ideas we made, and that has been helpful.  At this point, I think we'll just keep repeating ones we enjoyed and throw in some new ideas now and then.   I'm trying to make it a point to enjoy our balcony during these summer evenings.  We have all winter (and most of summer and fall here) to huddle inside and watch TV.  So, we sat on the balcony and repeated one of last summer's date nights last night, playing a Would You Rather... game.  We used some questions we found online and added some our own.  We cracked each other up and got into ridiculous debates.  It was good fun, and I even learned a few new things about B.

More dates we may repeat soon:
  • Watch videos we've taken with our camera.  We often take them, but don't back and rewatch them.  Fun to see the kids younger and doing things we've forgotten they did.
  • Make an easy dinner for the kids, then enjoy a fancier dinner on our own after they go to bed with candles and such.
  • Play a board or card game (we still haven't found a 2-person game we both really enjoy, so maybe we'll borrow a couple from my brother and sister-in-law who have a ton and try them out one night)
Dates we haven't done that I hope to do soon:
  • Backyard picnic
  • Read the same book and have a two-person book club
  • Create new playlists for road trips
Dates that were hilarious but we probably won't repeat because they're outside our gifts and talents:
  • Paint each other's portraits
  • Find dance lessons on Youtube and learn together
Anyone have more ideas to share?  How do you manage couple time in the middle of foster parenting?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Disappointment and waiting

Caterpillar's mom is in jail.  I'm heartbroken and just so disappointed.  I know she had a long road ahead, but I really hoped she wouldn't mistakes like this along the way.  It feels strange not getting her texts via Google Voice, not hearing her stream of consciousness when I bring him to visits.  I knew I would lose our connection when Caterpillar moved, but I didn't expect it quite yet.

The relative who will be placed with Caterpillar is cleared, but she still needs to get daycare in place.  Sound familiar?  I'm putting some pressure on the caseworker to keep some sort of timeline and intentionality in this transition, after the drawn-out haphazard transition Pterodactyl had.  So far, he's has two visits at her home and done well, though he is a little clingier with me this week.  I had professional photos done of him (a bit challenging with a baby that's not a newborn but can't quite sit up independently yet), and he was constantly looking for where I was.  He's giving increasingly hesitant looks when someone other than me holds him.

He's been here less than three months, but I have a feeling this goodbye is going to rip my heart out nonetheless.  He is so easy to love.  I love this little guy, and I love him loving me.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Awkward moments in foster care: Secret pregnancy

Our church is large enough that we have many acquaintances or old college friends that we only bump into occasionally.  Not all of them know we're foster parents.  So, one guy saw me holding a foster baby that has our same skin color and I could see his face immediately flood with confusion.  "Oh hey!  Wow, I didn't know... I mean, I must not be paying attention.  I don't even remember you being pregnant..."  More awkward for him than us, but I feel bad causing panic moments for people, because I've totally had those moments when I worry I've forgotten some major life change of someone I only see occasionally.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Beetle update

I recently e-mailed Beetle's foster mom just to find out how he's doing.  I got a report that he was off methadone, through withdrawal, and much happier.  They were comforting words to read, but nothing compared to walking in the door at our agency recently and seeing his little chubby face!  Dinosaur and Rhinoceros were with me, and Dinosaur recognized him right away, though he has changed a ton.  I'm glad they got to see him, too.  I can't say what it was because he wasn't smiling or laughing at the time, but something about his expression and liveliness was so reassuring.  His big eyes were telling me, "I'm doing better.  The tough stuff in my life isn't over, but I really did make it through that part."

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Awkward moments in foster care: Waiting room surprise

I'm realizing that at least 90% of my awkward moments posts will probably take place in waiting rooms, like the last awkward moment I posted.  Maybe this is actually part three, as one of my post about Pterodactyl's first doctor's appointment was one big awkward moment.  I thought of renaming the series, but I'll just add an extra label "waiting rooms."  I'm confident I'll be using that label again, as so much goes down in waiting rooms in foster care.

I brought Caterpillar in to a specialist appointment.  His mom was already there, and we got right into talking about the paperwork and general chit-chat, as she is always very chatty with me.  This continued for maybe ten minutes before we were called back.  She stood up with Caterpillar, I stood up, and... some guy who had been sitting on the other side of the waiting room stood up, too.

Caterpillar's mom: "Oh, this is Stephen.*"

She later clarified (though I didn't really need her to) that this was Caterpillar's father.  He had left the state before Caterpillar was removed.  I don't think anyone involved in the case had met him.  What did I say?  "I'm glad you could come"?  Did I not say anything because we headed back to the exam room?  I was in too much shock for me to remember now.  He definitely didn't know what to say either, though eventually he did say a "nice to meet you."

Crazy times, crazy times.

*not his real name

Saturday, July 5, 2014

First Day July 2014 - A little hospital, a little summer

I did take these on July 1st, but had issues with the photos and just got around to making it work.

It wasn't anything major on the hospital front, just some tests for Caterpillar.

Dinosaur and Rhinoceros hung out at my friend's house with her kids and made the creation below.  I always, always regret going to medical appointments with more than one child.  When they were every couple months, okay.  Not when they average once per week.  I need to give my helpful friends gifts to let them know how much I appreciate when I can drop off the older one or two.  Maybe wine.

Somehow, I don't think my chore chart is going to make the rounds on Pinterest.

Rhinoceros eats this for lunch 95% of the time: toast and jam, cheese and ham, applesauce.  The cheese is usually the first to go.

I enjoyed coffee and this view from our balcony as the kids rested simultaneously for a short time.

Dinosaur is a big reader this past year.

 We always use the deep fryer in the garage to limit the fast food smell in the house.

I zipped over to the salon for a much-needed haircut.

And zipped back in time to give Caterpillar his bath.

 I love the summer late evening sky.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Birth parent notes from support group

I mentioned before that our next foster parent support group was on birth parent relationships, and I would share notes.  Well, it was better than just a chat about relationships; a birth mom with an open case came and shared her experiences!  As might be expected, she had a good relationship with her child's foster parents and seemed to be on track for reunification.  I was honored to hear what she had to say.  Some things that stood out:

The first time you meet birth parents, they may still be in shock.  Some may see it coming, some may not, but the trauma of losing your child causes emotional reactions sometimes out of one's control.

Seeing where the child lives is very important to them.  In this case, she has visits at the foster parents' home, which is unusual in our agency and area.  But if that isn't appropriate, we talked about how pictures of the child's room or where the child plays could be positive.

First impressions of how their child is cared for make an impact.  This mom instantly had a criticism that she later figured out was no big deal.  But she clearly remembers that worry, and how it made her legitimately fear for how her child was cared for.

Birth parents are in classes with other birth parents.  I never really thought about this, but she shared about how she realized she was lucky to have such a good relationship because she'd met other parents with kids in foster care that the relationship was non-existent or negative.  She acknowledged that she chose an attitude that helped that relationship.

Birth parents want to contribute to their child's needs.  She talked about bringing clothes and things for her child, which helped her stay in the mode of being a parent and prepare for reunification.  I asked how to balance involving birth parents in supplying a child's needs yet not wanting them to feel obligated, as we should be providing for them in our role as foster parents.  She suggested if birth parents ask if they can bring anything, suggest cheap items like pacifiers.  She couldn't think of many examples, but later I thought of books, even paperback books that then you could read at visits and at home.  I'm still thinking on this one.

Birth parents want to be consulted and informed about the little and big things.  This is where it gets tricky.  She said it was so important to her that they talked to her before lots of decisions in caring for her baby.  But what about parenting differences?  I gave her a scenario similar to Caterpillar's mom's requests for me: what if a birth parent tells me to use diaper cream for every single diaper change, rash or no rash?  She suggested exactly what I do: don't change my parenting completely especially when it would be really inconvenient or what I think is not best for the child, but acknowledge the parent by putting on diaper cream sometimes before visits, because it's clearly important to her.  I had to crack up at a birth parent telling me to put on a good show for birth parents.  It did make me think how I could ask more questions, though.  What fruit or vegetable should we try with Caterpillar next?  Do you have anything you would do as a part of bedtime routine?  These small choices could give a birth parent positive involvement.

So, as I've been working so hard on my relationship with Caterpillar's mom, it may be changing very soon.  I knew the agency was working through a list of potential relative caregivers.  They have settled on one, and while she hasn't been fully cleared yet, it's expected she will be cleared soon.  I really hope this relative is fully committed and responsive.  The caseworker is.  We'll see what happens.

It made me sad for a little more than losing Caterpillar.  I'm sad to lose his mom.  While it hasn't been easy, I know building our relationship has been a positive thing.  I'm wondering if I might be able to keep in touch with her.  She has talked about play groups that I bring my kids to, that she always wanted to bring her daughter (in a guardianship situation) but transportation is an issue.  I'm thinking about offering to pick her up and take them to the play group with me.  If I've put the pieces of information together, she lives near me, and we go there anyway.  The play groups are all about parents as teachers, and I think they'd be great for her as a parent.  I could help with this need, and still encourage her that she can do this parenting thing.  And of course, for myself, I would hear how Caterpillar is doing, and God willing, see him again sometime.  I'll be praying and considering.