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.