Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy 2016!

Well, almost.

We're going on a kid-free trip so it will be a bit quiet around here.  Prayers appreciated for everything to stay as calm as possible on the home front, and that we can really have some peace and be recharged for more of this crazy journey.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Language and foster kids

I am a language nerd.  I've studied linguistics.  My career involves language.  So, naturally the language of my foster children interests me, and in some issues, I've found myself fairly opinionated and passionate.

On the level of just interesting, having a child join your home (if they're old enough to talk) involves finding a common vocabulary.  People often talk about what children call foster parents, but beyond that there are words for favorite movies and songs, words for parts of the body and bodily functions, words for favorite foods.  And sometimes there are words you didn't know toddlers could know, possibly shocking your friend who is babysitting for the night.  With any kids there are surprises of "where did you hear that?" but with foster kids, it's to another level.

Now onto the level of opinionated and passionate for me. If your foster or adopted child is from a minority racial background, having a child join your home might involve a new dialect at some point.  The tricky part is that many people don't recognize these dialects as dialects, but just incorrect ways of speaking English.  Children are corrected in school, and sometimes at home.  Well-meaning parents want to make sure they are learning the "right" way to speak.  However, African American Vernacular English (AAVE, also known as Ebonics), for example, is a systematic way of speaking.  It is not the standard in many parts of society, but it is not just wrong English.  AAVE achieves many things: passing on cultural traditions, strengthening relationships, creating unique art, telling stories, preaching the gospel, etc.

So, my discussion with B was about whether to correct AAVE or not, assuming we had a foster child who either brought AAVE with them from family or chose it as they made Black friends and identified with them.  Some would argue that even if AAVE is valuable, it could limit them in education and employment.  My response is that if their teachers are mostly white (and even in the diverse school our kids attend, they mostly are) and if their foster parents are white (and we are), they will have extensive exposure to "Standard English" or "General American English."  They may need to be explicitly taught when to use it to their advantage, but they will have a pretty good idea of what it is.  As a foster parent, I would want to be intentional about painting AAVE in a positive light, even if it's different than how I speak.

If you have never thought about this issue, I highly recommend this video.  The guy's voice grates on me a bit, but the explanations and thought-provoking questions are excellent.  When I learned this information about AAVE years ago, I listened to people who spoke it with completely new ears.

And then there are foster children who don't just speak or adopt another dialect but speak another language.  And very few foster parents available who speak multiple languages.  How can foster children maintain another language if the foster parent speaks the language, and if they don't?  I am fairly fluent in one other language, but I haven't raised my children to be bilingual.  We did have one infant placement who had family that spoke the language I know.  I did talk to the baby occasionally in that language, but I wasn't sure if that was enough.  Should I be speaking only in that language?  Did it matter if the placement was short-term or long-term?  I'm still pondering a lot of those questions.

What issues of language have you encountered?

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Maintaining relationships with former foster kids

We went into fostering knowing that we would have goodbyes.  We hoped they would not be forever goodbyes, but we couldn't really know for sure.  I think we knew it wasn't within our control, but some stories made me hopeful.  Before our first placement, I think I pictured that we would have some kids who would reunify, then depending on the relationship with the birth parents, we could possibly stay in their lives.  What I didn't picture is a move to a relative or another foster family, which has been every case we have had.  It's similar that the relationship is not ours to control, but also different.

So, who have we seen?  I saw Pterodactyl once and received pictures of her as a toddler.  We haven't seen Beetle again, though his foster family did send pictures once.  We have seen Caterpillar, but not in a planned sort of way.  I've posted some about how I've gotten to see Cricket for play dates after she moved from our home.  And though he was just here for respite, we've seen Tadpole, and I recently went to his adoption celebration.  Looking at this list, we have had contact after kids moved, and I am grateful, sometimes for our sake and sometimes for theirs.  However, it has not been simple and easy.

Sometimes new homes make promises that they don't keep.  This has been especially hard on me.  I really thought we were going to be a regular part of some of the kids' lives based on what new caregivers were telling me.  I have had to work on forgiveness.  I have had to put myself in their shoes, knowing they have a lot of their plate and are just busy.  I'm not a fan of the phone, so I sometimes let slip those phone calls I know I should make.  I'm not perfect either.  Or maybe there's just something I don't understand that's a factor.  I need to let those promises go, forgive and forget them.

Sometimes new homes do not even try for contact.  I don't know if it's because they're busy.  I don't know if it's because they have judged us in some way.  I have to forgive and let this go.

Sometimes new homes do try, and it's still a bit messy.  Every boundary has to be drawn differently for a former and new family of a child.  I read stories in blogs of families taking kids for weekends, picking them up to give the new family a break, all celebrating together.  This also set up high expectations in my mind, but in reality, the new family may decide that's not good for the child.  Or even the therapist may get involved and suggest boundaries.  I hoped we could have Cricket back at our house at some point, or take her for outings, but Gina and Cricket's therapists have been very cautious, as she is having a hard time understanding permanency and trust in Gina as a permanent caregiver.  Thankfully, they also recognize that a continued relationship with us is still a good thing, but it has been different than I imagined. 

It's hard to accept after all I've poured into a child that my eagerness to love and care for her could have a negative impact.  I want to get defensive.  I want to feel hurt.  But I am grateful that we are still connected, that I get the chance to tell Cricket how special she is, how happy I am to see her.  That Rhinoceros and Cricket can play together, with Cricket cheerfully barking orders at him, and Rhinoceros just thrilled to have his buddy.

I wonder if some of this is preparation.  Maybe we will be the new home drawing boundaries someday, and I can tell the foster parents this: "I know how you feel.  I know how wrong it feels to see someone else taking care of the child you have loved and poured into.  I know how wrong it feels not to be the one who gets to say what the child needs, when you've met her needs minute by minute.  We all love this child, and we should be gracious to each other, but mostly we need to just keep loving this child, even if loving this child looks different than it did before.  And thank you for loving him."

Saturday, December 12, 2015

First Day December 2015 - Just five

Okay, I swear I took more pictures on Dec. 1st as a part of my first day of the month posts of pictures from our lives.  I can't find them.  So, here's the five I can find: breakfast, a rainy drop-off of the school-age guy, and playing at a local gym with the little two.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Christmas gifts and foster kids

This is our third Christmas as foster parents, though our first year Pterodactyl moved right before Christmas.  I've been thinking about the complex issue of gifts and foster children.

We were asked back in September what the foster kids would like for Christmas.  An organization works with our agency to donate gifts for foster children to make sure they have a very special Christmas because they are going through so much.  It is a good idea, but it does have some unintended consequences at times.

To begin with, we feel the need to fight the way Christmas gifts seem to spiral out of control.  A grandparent was only going to get one thing, but then they saw something else, and then they wanted this for stocking gifts.  So, we simplify with only giving three gifts to our children, biological and foster.  But then that clearly is going to be off-balance when the foster child is receiving gifts from the donations, and possibly gifts from his or her biological family.  I don't really want to buy more just to balance the number.  Last year we opened them separately so the "balance" wasn't really noticed, but I'm wary of doing that as one biological child is having a very hard time understanding the giving is better than receiving concept.  Yes, he needs to learn, but he's young, and he is going through a lot as a foster sibling.  So, I think this year I'll pack up the donated gifts in one box and I think it might go under the radar.

Then there is planning for shared gifts.  If we buy this for all the kids, but it's for the foster child to open, will it go with the foster child?  The answer is yes, and that is completely how it should be, but it just adds a layer to planning things out.

Then there is the gift opening and how it can be overwhelming.  With Cricket, she shut down around too many people, too many presents.  She was awesome at telling me this and we got through it fine.  Crocodile is not as communicative about his feelings, but just tends to rev up the energy to be wilder and wilder.  I'm hoping for a mild Christmas so we can run outside.

But there are nice parts to opening gifts.  We get gifts for a foster child's biological siblings, and the foster child and our biological children pick out small gifts for each other (notebooks, toothbrushes, etc.)  Sometimes it's nice to have the excuse to buy a high-quality toy you know your foster child will love.  I'm not much of a shopper throughout the year, so we have some stipend money to spend on Christmas beyond our little $25 Christmas gift allowance.

How has fostering affected your gift giving around the holidays?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Thankful for spiritual growth

It is certainly not finished, but I look back at the past two and a half years, and I am thankful for how I have grown spiritually since starting to foster.  I just told someone tonight that there is no clearer time in my life when I was called by God to obey and knew what it really was to answer His call.

Songs of worship that were nice from my privileged life are now desperate cries over the future of my foster children, the future of their family members.  Tearful prayers over my own circumstances have gradually shifted to tearful prayers over devastating circumstances of others.

God has refocused my eyes on what is important, especially what is important in parenting.  I really think I drifted from God as a young parent with all the answers, or at least seeing that other parents had all the answers, and clearly I just needed to do it the right way and I'd be a good parent, too.  I needed to be re-educated.  I needed to learn the basics of living out God's love and compassion with my children.  I needed my pride chopped down and to be open.  And I need to keep learning that.

Foster care is not a spiritual science project of mixing in foster children to our lives and we become more holy.  But when God called us to do this, He knew what He was doing, and not just so children were safe and loved, as crucial as that is.  He also knew we would serve everyone better in love the rest of our lives if we obeyed Him in this way.  We are forever changed, and not because we are special people, but because we are ordinary people used by God by His grace.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Thankful for children

I shrugged off the idea of daily proclaiming what I'm thankful for on Facebook for a month, but as I read through these link-up posts, I was convicted.  I've been working on memorizing Psalm 34, and I've realized "His praise will always be on my lips" is not true in my life.  So, maybe it's not a month, but here are a few posts of thankfulness for different parts of foster care.  Today I'll focus on how I'm thankful for the children.

Oh how I've loved the baby time.  Sniffing their warm little heads, snuggling them in a carrier.  And that the door is not shut on possible future baby time.  And there is nothing like the joy on Dinosaur's face when we had a new baby to hold and love, even if it was just for a week.  They work so hard on the little things they do: holding their heads steady, grabbing that toy, rolling over.

And the toddlers.  The two we have had the privilege to foster have been bold, joyful personalities, amazing me in their strength, speed, and independence.  It honestly just makes me marvel at how quickly tiny humans learn and grow.  I am thankful for their affection, their determination, and their funny little ways.  They are the reason I have lengthy conversations about pee in the library and that just keeps me from taking life too seriously. 

You get to redo traditions over and over, and in different ways, and watch them find comfort or joy in those traditions.  I've sung the same songs to many different little ones, and I've sung a new song that is just for that child.  I get to witness the joy over the first snow of the year, the first mug of hot chocolate after playing in the snow.  I get to learn their strange little phrases and be their interpreters when no one else knows that "swim" actually means "swing."  I get to watch them learn what to expect here, to learn the routine, to learn that they are safe and cared for.

Lately Crocodile has especially touched my heart in the way that he comes across a toy that he knows is a favorite of a foster brother, then grabs it and runs it over to that foster brother, eager to give it to him.  He is a very loving little guy, and his sweetness inspires me to be more loving.

P.S. I'm sorry for my weird string of empty posts!  I intended to start this series and save drafts of potential topics, but apparently I published them all.  Oops.

Monday, November 2, 2015

First Day November 2015 - Sunny Sunday after Halloween

You don't see a lot of foster care in these pictures, but it's still there.  On this Sunday, it was there as I thought of parents of my present and former foster kids in the words of the preacher at church.  It was there as I wondered if future plans my parents were making would include Crocodile.  It was there as I posted pictures of my Halloween kiddos but had to find ways to avoid showing his face.  It was there in the baby bibs, blankets, etc., that could be stored because we currently don't have a baby.  And in the box those things were stored in, which has a Pampers baby that once reminded Dinosaur of one of our foster babies.

Overall, it was a nice family day, with some candy, some outside time, and some reorganizing.

And a bonus photo from the night before:

Sunday, October 25, 2015

This too shall pass?

I was lying down as Crocodile slowly fell asleep when I'm really tired of kids needing help to fall asleep (I empathize, I am compassionate in action, but on the inside, man, so tired).  I had a wish I could to think "this too shall pass" and we'll be on to a new stage after this eventually.  But I don't know that.  He's unlikely to be our last kid, and likely future kids will need help falling asleep.  Duh.  And how many?  Maybe dozens.

A strange part of fostering is that our parenting and family life doesn't have a linear path.  Most families grow out of stages step by step: infant parenting is done with the last kid, toddler parenting is done, etc.  Those little stages kids go through do not seem brief at the time, but at least 10% of you breathes with the relief that it will be over at some point.  Some of my friends are moving on to having all elementary-aged kids.  Some are wrapping up life with infants.  But fostering is different.  I don't know if I'm done with the infant stage.  Maybe we'll have ten more infants, maybe zero.  How many kids will I potty train?  I have no idea.  Or kids fighting bedtime?  I can't quite look ahead to when I can sleep in on Saturday morning as kids get themselves cereal and watch TV.  Is it a decade in our future?  I don't really know.

Now, we do have some control as we set our age ranges, so if we are done with newborns, we can say we will no longer take newborns.  But I know it's not that simple.  What if a newborn sibling of a foster child of ours comes into care?  I have a sense we are not done with babies, or toddlers.

Sometimes I have to think of fostering of having lots of surprise babies, with the vague awareness that the surprises are coming, but almost no details beyond that.  Life can throw curveballs.  With fostering, it's all curveballs, and it can be hard to accept that, even if it's the life we've chosen.

Family life is not in our control, but the illusion is strong.  Foster care strips away that illusion.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The bittersweetness of settling in

We had court for Crocodile's case, and it seems very unlikely he would move in the next few months.  So, I'm starting to picture holidays with him, playing in the snow, zooming down on a sled.  I have been bristling at statements of being a "house of boys," first because Cricket was quite the active girl and it's not like we had this calm environment with the presence of a female child, but also because I wasn't really accepting that as our identity, as I don't know how long it will last.  But it's starting to settle in as well that we are a house of three crazy silly boy kiddos.

Also, Rhinoceros is finally realizing that Crocodile will go along with his pretend play.  No, Crocodile is no Cricket, but they've been riding their bikes around the yard in races that have something to do with "the burr place."  Rhinoceros begs Crocodile to go along with his plan and gets so excited when it works out.  My heart melts, and then it cracks.  Because I know how hard it was for him to lose Cricket, and I can hardly bear imagining the potential future loss.

I have a terrible fear of a long case.  Eight months is our record so far, and in all cases, we knew somewhere the child was likely moving to by about three months.  Crocodile has been here for four months, and there is no planned move in sight.  I am terrified of years.  Of years, then intense heartbreak.  At the same time, I want his mom to succeed and overcome, and that may take time.  But for our family, it is already getting difficult, I can feel it.  And I don't have any transition plans to talk about with the kids.  Just that we keep on going on as we are, as the family we are right now.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Soundtrack to fostering toddlers

Cricket quickly latched onto our copy of Frozen when she moved in.  She already knew it before coming to our house and called both main characters "my Let It Go" rather than their names.  It was playing almost every time I worked on her hair because I would pretty much do anything to make her happy while I worked on her hair.  She and Rhinoceros turned chairs on their sides to pretend they were the bridges of Elsa's castle and belt the same half-accurate lines of Let It Go over and over.

When she moved, I had to say I had a few sighs of pure relief, and one was leaving Frozen to gather dust on a shelf for awhile.  Perfectly fine movie, but after listening to it 40 times while staring at hair, I was done.

Crocodile did not seem to like watching movies or shows.  In fact, he was really scared when he arrived, and we tried to get him to watch a show with us, and he was pretty reluctant.  He is Mr. Active, Mr. Go go go, so sitting and watching is not really his thing.  Occasionally he'll watch something with us and talk through the whole thing, like that annoying guy in my college dorm.  So, I thought I was pretty safe from Frozen.  2-year-old boy, not so interested in watching movies.  But then he spotted it and asked for it.   Of course, he has preschool-age biological sisters.  Of course he had caught the Frozen fever.  Now it's almost a daily request.  He doesn't sit through the whole thing, but he'll watch a part here and there (and talk through it about everything he sees).  But what he really wants is "watch Fwozen me" (watch Frozen with me).  He does this little hand gesture that means "come with me."  Oh, buddy, I just really... I mean... sigh.  So, I watch bits and pieces of it, again.  These little ones, they've lost so much.  At least I can give them something familiar that reminds them of happy times watching a happy movie with their families.

So, I will remember the special moments of watching them fall asleep, feeling them safe in my arms, crying over their sad stories... and I will always, always remember pretty much every word to Frozen.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Perfectionism and Bitterness

I had a great conversation with my dear foster mom friend about bitterness.  She thinks she has more trouble with bitterness toward birth parents, while I don't seem to have that problem.  I do, really, but in my difficulties with the system, I often come back to myself and feel I am falling short in some way.  I don't think this makes me more noble, because perfectionism does smack of pride: why do I think that I'm so special that the world revolves around what I do, not what God does with it?  I thought I'd unpack these struggles of perfectionism and bitterness a little, confessing my need to depend on God more every day as a foster parent.

One of my strengths is empathy, and in some ways this has helped me in foster parenting.  But with empathy comes a too-keen sense of how people react to my words and actions, or lack thereof.  I put myself in their shoes and run through in my mind the different emotional reactions they could be having.  This leads me to set an impossible standard for myself.  What does this mean for foster care?  With birth parents, I want to be that foster parent that reassures, encourages, and mentors birth parents, and I have very rarely succeeded in this.  I just don't have the personality that puts people at ease, or I just don't know the right things to say to open those doors.  I go over interactions over and over, wondering if I could have said something different that would have made all the difference (as training tells me that foster parent-birth parent relationships can make a huge difference in the outcome). 

Then there is the parenting of the foster kids.  I feel I can never be trained well enough or dedicated enough.  These little ones need me desperately in superhuman ways, and I can only be human.  I miss triggers.  I lose patience.  I let them get away with too little or too much.  And even when I tell myself that I'm doing necessary things, like self-care, I'm flooded with guilt when I see the impact of my absence in the eyes of a child that hasn't learned to trust that adults come back.

As my friend pointed out, I tend to judge less and become less bitter because of my empathy for birth parents.  But I'm still human.  The areas I struggle with the most are birth parent actions that have a direct impact on the child, as I'm feeling their emotions deeply.  How could they have neglected simple tasks that would have prevented the kids from coming into care?  How could they not show up for a visit, knowing the child would arrive, eager to see them?  I understand there are layers of reasons why birth parents fail their kids, but looking in the children's eyes, it's hard to understand it in my heart.  And sometimes there is a story so awful, you are at a loss to look at it with anything but anger.

God uses me in spite of my perfectionism and bitterness, and I pray he continues to transform me so that I can shine His light more and more.

Friday, October 16, 2015

I see her

One of my former foster little ones, in a jacket I bought for her, in a picture I've never seen before.  Smiling at the camera, just beautiful, nose crinkled up just a bit.

The person posting it on Facebook is longing for her.  "Thinking about my love."

I can't reply, but I am, too.  I am, too.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

I have another brother

I was flipping through papers in Dinosaur's backpack and I found a piece of writing by him about his house, saying great 7-year-old things like that our house is SO old, but still okay.  But I stopped when I read:

"I have another brother named (Crocodile's name)."

Sometimes when Dinosaur talks about his foster siblings, he says foster first.  Mostly he uses their names.  This is the first time I remember him just using brother.

And though he hasn't been here since birth and we don't know how long he'll stay, in so many ways, they are just brothers.  They take each others' stuff.  They give each other things to make each other smile.  Crocodile imitates Dinosaur and Dinosaur is annoyed.

Though I do know there is an initial shock and adjustment phase.  And I believe there is something about suddenly having a toddler in your family.  Let's face it: toddlers are irrational, crazy little people.  I think the gradual transformation from "cute baby sibling" to "crazy toddler sibling" may be easier on siblings.

It was nice to read without any qualifiers, like I often feel they are my children without any qualifiers.  I don't mean in the sense that they belong to me, but sometimes they are just my daughters, just my sons, in the way I feel in our family.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

First Day October 2015 - Packing up and on the road

So, I totally took these pictures on the first day of the month.  And just now got around to posting them.  We went out to the library and a play group in the morning, packed up in the afternoon, and after Dinosaur got out of school we drove 6 hours to my in-laws.  We don't do a lot of night driving, or taking trips in the car instead of the van (my father-in-law owns a garage and B wanted to do a bit of work on it there), but we made it there.  The little glow-in-the-dark cars I got at the dollar store were a hit.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A survival guide to Black hair for Day One

So, you're called for a placement of an African-American girl.  Maybe you've read up on caring for her type of hair, but there are so many types of hair and so many different pieces of advice and styles.  Now that precious girl is in front of you with her fabulous but unfamiliar-to-you head of hair and you need to leave the house in an hour.  What do you do?

Disclaimer: I am white.  I am still learning.  I haven't styled a wide variety of hair types.  You need to find your source of wisdom that is not this white woman.  Having someone "on call" is a fantastic idea.  Please, any women of color reading, comment and correct me.  But I have gleaned a great deal of advice from Black women about basic styles that will help your foster child look cared for.  I have thanked those women outside of this blog because of confidentiality issues; they have been incredible.

The main idea is to fall in line with what is in your Black community, however small or large it may be.  In my community, the majority of Black girls* do not have free hair or hair just held back with headbands.  Where I live, I see that style almost exclusively with daughters of white adoptive parents or biracial daughters with white moms.  With daughters with Black parents, hair is commonly parted in medium or large sections and in twists or puffs, it is in box braids with beads, or it is in cornrows, possibly with beads.  If you've never paid attention to your community, be very intentional and do so.  And if it's anything like mine, starting with large sections in puffs or twists will get you through your first day.  Then you can build on that and get hands-on help or have someone braid for you.

Step 1: Prepare before placement with some supplies.  I base these on keeping hair from getting too dry using the LOC method and on the simple, surrounding-community-appropriate styles I want to achieve.  I'll put pictures of my examples (click the image to read labels more easily) but of course there are many, many options.  Go for cheap and basic, and you can always get more fancy and all-natural later.

  1. leave-in conditioner
  2. olive oil (you already have some, right?)
  3. cream 
  4. grease
  5. gel
  6. fine-tooth comb
  7. wide-tooth comb
  8. boar brush
  9. clips for holding hair in sections
  10. small rubber bands
  11. "ballies"
  12. barrettes
Step 2: Put on a movie.  Get out the snacks.  Candy.  Whatever you need to do.  I have listened to Frozen approximately 80,000 times.

Step 3: Spray wet and detangle the hair in sections.  Use the clips to keep track of what you have detangled.  Comb the hair with a generous amount of the leave-in conditioner using the wide-tooth comb.  Rub a small amount of oil on your hands and run your fingers through the hair.  Then rub the cream on your hands and run that through the hair, with your fingers like a comb.  Later, you'll want to do an entire washing routine, but this is day one or two, so I would skip that unless the hair is visibly very dirty.  Cricket came with hair that was fairly clean but in need of re-styling.  I thought washing was a priority and she was very upset about having her hair washed, as I did it differently than she was used to.  I wish I would have just held off a few more days.

Step 4: Part the hair using the wide-tooth comb in one long swoop, then put some grease on your finger and cover the part with it.  Go over the part again with the fine tooth comb. 

Step 5: Apply the grease to the section you've created.  Brush through the hair with the boar brush.  Spray again as needed.  Apply gel at the base of the section, then comb into a ponytail.  Wrap the rubber band (or two or three if it's a large section) around the hair.

Step 6: Repeat until all hair is in sections.

Step 7: Put on "ballies."  I do it the second way.

Step 8: Now you can twist each section or leave them as puffs, depending on the length of hair and what you want to do.  A puff is just a ponytail left loose.  I saw a school-age girl with one puff on top and the back split into two puffs, which is incredibly simple if you can just detangle, part, and secure it.  This also works well for babies (and don't forget to look at your community for how babies' hair is styled!).  But twists are very popular in my area, which involves just dividing the hair into two sections and twisting them together.  It can get more involved than that, but this will work for Day 1. 
See the YouTube channel in the link above for some more examples.  You can secure those with ballies at the bottom, or I find barrettes better for the length of hair I was working with.

I know this sounds like a lot of steps, but it will get easier, and it is worth the time.  You don't have to be perfect, but you can't just randomly attack with ponytail holders and barrettes or leave it free if that's not common in your area.  Take it from someone who had to face "you don't know how to do her hair" as the first words from biological family.

*I have less experience with noticing hair of Black boys, but most have hair cropped short, though some have cornrows.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

More sibling time

It worked out for everyone to have some serious sibling time this afternoon.  We dropped off Crocodile with the foster mom who has his sisters.  Then we went to the park for a play date with Cricket, then headed back and picked up Crocodile when we were done. 

It's always very good, but always a bit bittersweet.  Things that bring a smile to my face bring a pang of loss in my heart.  She still acts like she's Rhinoceros's big sister, even though she's younger.  She still asks for me to pick her up.  She said she was sleepy and cuddled with me for awhile, and after she pinched her finger, she cried and cuddled some more.  She still wears an intense, serious face much of the time, but when she grins, it's so bright.  She asked if I could come to Granny's house and spend the night with her.

And I don't know why, but this conversation cracked me up:
"So what do you do at (pre)school?"
"I color and I glue."
"Oh, are you cutting up paper, too?  I know you're really good at that."
"No, the teacher don't let me have the scissors.  No no no."

Gina* told me they had just had a play date on Friday with Cricket's younger brother as well, who still lives in a separate home.  The case is moving toward adoption, and they are having more frequent sibling visits to make a case that adopting in separate homes is the best for these kids.  I can't say what's right or wrong.  Sometimes splitting sibling groups makes me wonder if we should even be fostering, knowing we're a part of the problem when we say, "No, we will only take one."  It has come up many times, and it will again.  I feel guilt, but we also know what we can provide, and what we are afraid we can't provide with more kids or older kids, at least at this point.  But if no one fostered besides families who could do the best for every single case, how few families would be available?  What we can do is better than nothing, at least I pray it is.

We can only do our part, nurture those sibling relationships, and leave it in God's hands.

*Cricket's half-sister's grandma, her foster mom as fictive kin

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Assorted items for fostering a toddler

Disclaimer: every toddler is different!  They toddle differently.  They may not toddle at all.  Our experience is with the 2- to 3-year-old age range, so these may not apply to younger toddlers.  Disclaimer 2: I am not an expert, and found these items from many attempts and mistakes.  I may learn better options in the future and hope to share those, too.  Not really a disclaimer, but just in case you're wondering: none of these companies paid me anything.

Will you be fostering a toddler in the future and wonder what may be helpful to have on hand besides clothes and shoes?  Here are a few things that fit Cricket and Crocodile's needs:

Multiple sturdy nightlights

Toddlers do not like the dark, and toddlers who are in a new home and have experience trauma especially do not like the dark.  Toddlers who are savvy enough to climb out of a crib and need a bed are also savvy enough to unplug or break cheap nightlights.  Our current configuration is to have one nightlight out of reach that turns off after 20 minutes, and one nightlight that the child can use. 

The out-of-reach nightlight has helped with building trust at nighttime and naps: I will come in the room to check on you when the light turns off.  Most requests are delayed with the refrain: "I'm right over there.  I'll come in when the light turns off."  Once again, every child is different, but after settling in, we were able to make this work (usually) so that naptime and bedtime were less dependent on adults being in the room, and it helped us be consistent with how much we went in the room.  We use an old Dream Light (which did not work as a personal nightlight as the plastic cover came off, exposing wires). 

The nightlight for the child gives the child control and comfort by having that control over the environment.  We went with the Munchkin Owl Nightlight, which is fabulously cheap and has an amazing battery life.  Over 2 months with nightly use and we have not changed the batteries.  Crocodile really loves it and operates it easily.  I have heard, though, that red light is better for kids falling asleep, so I may try the Kinderglo in the future, but Crocodile already loves his so much, I'm not going to mess with it.

I'm debating adding a third nightlight with future placements to have something that just stays on all night.  We haven't had luck with plug-in ones because they unplug them, and while the Owl is awesome, sometimes he may not be able to find it in the dark, or just waking up in the dark is too alarming.  So, maybe motion-sensing lights would be good?  Leaving the hall light on sort of works, but I think they find comfort having the light in their room.  Or maybe I can find something better than the Dream Light that can have a timer but also be switched to run all night, which can still be placed completely out of reach of the child.  Suggestions?

Sturdy photo album

Getting toddlers pictures of their biological family members is very important.  However, partly because they're toddlers and partly because the pictures bring up strong, mixed emotions, they may destroy them.  They also want to carry them everywhere, so precious pictures are lost quickly.  I tried a cheap small photo album, like a Grandma brag book, and the plastic on the pages was torn apart swiftly.  We never found a good solution for Cricket.  Now I'm trying the soft album pictured above that a friend suggested and passed on to me.  I may actually sew the photos in there, as Crocodile has already  managed to get them out.  And the next time around, I want to start out with this album, pictures sewn in, and we're good to go.

Water bottle

This may seems small, but if you have other young children and your house is like mine, everyone has "their" water bottle.  When a newly placed foster child notices they do not have a water bottle of his or her own, it's not cool.  So, I'm trying to keep one on hand ahead of time, even a few so the child can choose one, or to have a back-up in case they can't work the one I bought.


Little backpacks are adorable.  But besides that, I've found them to be great for visits.  I usually have a few pieces of artwork and notes for biological parents, plus they may give gifts to their child.  A backpack makes it easier to round up all that stuff, especially when holding multiple hands crossing parking lots.  They're also useful for the inevitable multiple appointments you'll have for a foster child, as I put waiting room activities in the backpack to bring along.

Duffle bag or suitcase

I hope this is pretty well-known by now, but foster children may move from your home, they may move suddenly, and they need something with more dignity than a trash bag or shopping bags.  I often find cheap kids' or small duffle bags at Aldi and stock up.  Some agencies may provide them when the child arrives, but be prepared in case they don't.  We also use them regularly for weekend trips, respite, and transition visits.

Comfort food

We always have a couple boxes of mac and cheese and frozen break-n-bake cookie dough on hand.

African-American hair basics

This will be its own post, and I'm really looking forward to sharing it.

What are your toddler essentials for foster care?

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

First Day September 2015 - Notes and water

I forgot it was the first until halfway through the day, but I did manage to capture some fostering notes I worked on and the kids at a splash pad.  Other events not pictured in this day of fostering: foster mom support group, visit with Crocodile's mom, and both younger kids crashing after getting home from the visit, which inspired the evening family splash pad trip since they weren't going to go to bed on time anyway.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Building foster sibling bonds with a toddler

While Crocodile doesn't quite have the intensely tumultuous relationship with Rhinoceros and Dinosaur as Cricket did, they are not always major Crocodile fans.  Part of it is because 2-year-olds do destroy most things you're trying to do when you're 4 and 7, and his social skills for cooperative play are limited to playing hide-and-seek poorly.  Can't help it, he's 2.  Part of it is that he needs a lot of my attention, and I'm sure they're jealous for it.  I also think it's hard to suddenly have a toddler sibling rather than knowing them as infants and watching them grow into the terrible twos.  I know it can be hard as a parent at times.

So it's nice when they have great sibling bonding moments. Tonight we had a blast playing together at a splash pad, no one really getting mad at each other for spraying or splashing each other. 
I just noticed Crocodile had been calling Dinosaur and Rhinoceros the same name (as he also does with his sisters), but now he's started clearly saying different names for them now. 

And Dinosaur and Crocodile had a sweet moment the other day.  Dinosaur has these stuffed "puffles" from Club Penguin that he adores, but all have been missing for who knows how long.  Crocodile found one and brought it straight to Dinosaur with a grin on his face.  Dinosaur was not only thrilled and thanked him several times, but keeps bringing it up.  "Do you remember how kind Crocodile was when he found my puffle and brought it to me?  That was so nice!"  It's very sweet.  I need to tie in that he is a part of that, that by being kind in our house, he is teaching his brothers to be kind by his example.

Sunday, August 23, 2015


Sometimes I sit back and wonder, what will my foster children remember?

I make life books.  In some cases, I think those will stay with them.  In others, I already am not sure who the child lives with and if the book made those transitions.  I'm also not sure if the person who ends up with permanency with the child will readily share those memories.

So, if they won't see the picture and hear the stories, will they know somehow?  I know they will have the trauma of separation and will carry that with them.  And maybe they'll have memories of our home in a negative way, that nothing felt like theirs, that everything seemed wrong.  Will they also carry the joyous moments?

Will Crocodile carry memories of his first s'more, totally confused why I was putting this marshmallow on a stick over a fire and not in his hand.  Will he remember camping, what it's like to fall asleep in a tent and eat your breakfast outside before a long day with the beach and dunes as a playground?

Will Cricket carry memories of dressing up with her best friend/number one fan Rhinoceros, running around the house talking about hotels?  Will she carry memories of leaping around hay bales at the orchard and cutting down a Christmas tree?  Of sledding down the hill, first loving in, then outraged at the snow flying in her face?

Will the babies carry memories of the doting foster brothers grinning in their faces, calling them crazy nicknames?  Will they remember their standard position of comfort: wrapped up in a carrier as I went about my day?

It's not about us and what a great impact we make on memories, or what a great family we are.  I'm sure there are many memories of me sounding like a robot that is totally fed up with all kids everywhere.  Or memories of their foster brothers screaming in their faces.  Plus, I already know not to hope for much as my 7-year-old can't remember the cabin we went to just two years ago.  But there's this little hope in me that they know somewhere deep inside that they have had some really good times with us, when they could just soak up all it is to be these tiny, precious people.  And I hope it comes to them in dreams and daydreams, especially if their days ahead are difficult and turbulent.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Chin up, sprinting

Crocodile is a ball of energy.  A friend of mine said he looks like he's just about to burst and he just can't stand it.  So while emotionally he seems to have weathered the trauma of separation from his family very well, he still wears me out because man, the energy.  He literally bounced like a pinball from wall to wall when the caseworker was here, and she just looked at me like "wow."

But oh, his spirit.  You can be tired, and there are moments of frustration.  But he flips around and hugs you or throws a ball higher above his head than you thought any toddler could, and says, "Whoa!!!" and you have to smile.  And while anytime I've had to say goodbye to him is sad, anytime he first sees my face when I pick him up from somewhere, he lights up, shouts my name, and runs for me.  And he does this for his mom, and his sisters, and all the people he considers family.  Every time it melts the whole room.

My favorite picture of him so far is at the beach.  Rhinoceros and two of his cousins were playing in the sand and the water and are facing the water in the picture.  Crocodile is facing away from the water, as he's running back toward me, chin up, sprinting, grinning from ear to ear.  The whole picture is overtaken by his joy.

I want to bottle it up and set up reserves for him.  I don't want it to ever fade, no matter what happens.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Awkward Moments in Foster Care: Courtroom Silence

I generally try to initiate conversations with birth parents.  Our relationship is inherently awkward, and I tend to be more awkward than the set-everyone-at-ease personality type, but I try.  At court, though, everything is even more weighty, even more awkward.  So, I've generally said hello politely but not started a conversation.  It's a tense day.  I don't know how they're feeling and if I start small talk, if they'll be silently wishing I would just leave them alone.  But one time I went to court it was extra silent and uncomfortable, though, so I've found it better to just bring along a new picture or something to have something brief and polite to say, then if the parents just want to say "thank you" and not talk, that's fine.  If they want to talk more, then we can.

But this one time, I didn't have a picture.  The mom was in the hallway and I asked if I could go in the court room.  She said yes.  I went in and sat silently.  A few others filtered in and discussed court business briefly.  The mom came and sat in her designated spot.  Someone said the judge needed to see everyone in his chambers (besides the mom and myself).  So, there we sat.  Deafening silence, not even sitting near each other so trying to talk then would be even more awkward.  Then something started happening on a screen in the courtroom, as the dad was attending remotely.  An employee at his location was trying to get it to work and she asked, "Is anyone in there?"

I knew I was supposed to say something, but I so prefer to slip through court silently as an observer.  Did I really have to speak up?

"...Yes." I called out.  "But not many.  They're mostly with the judge."

"Can you see us?"


"Okay, we can hear you, but we can't see you."

She fiddled around with it and suddenly it switched to an 80s geometric "technical difficulties" screen while blaring distorted elevator music.  Neon blue and purple rectangles slowly covering the image on the screen.  Eventually it switched back, and the deafening silence continued.

Eventually the hearing began and it wasn't silent, though the poor caseworker's testimony was interrupted in mid-sentence by the spectacularly awful blue and purple rectangles with accompanying music.  It was one of the first things I had to talk to B about when I got home from court.  His reply:

"Oh yeah, that happened the last time, and everyone looked at each other with weary, knowing glances."

Court: never boring, and so weird.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Home visits

I'm distracting myself from being 99% fed up with motherhood (not just the fostering aspects of it) by writing an informative post.

Home visits are done by caseworkers from our private agency.  We usually have one home visit per month.  Once per quarter, the caseworker is required to do an unscheduled home visit.  Different caseworkers have handled this differently.  Some have asked me my schedule for the next week, so they can semi-plan a time they're coming by.  Some have outright told me that they'll be coming by, which is probably not okay by agency policy.  Some have given me warning it's coming up the next month, but have fully surprised me with the visit.

But what do home visits usually involve?  For fostering young kids, we usually go over some of this list though not all every time:
  • upcoming appointments for the child
  • services needed for the child, like infant mental health programs or developmental programs
  • our family needs, like permission for travel
  • discussion of how parents are doing with their plans (can be specific or quite vague, sometimes not brought up)
  • questions and discussions about the child's behavior
  • discussion of sibling visits
  • discussion of upcoming transitions
  • seeing the child's room
  • talking to the child by him or herself (only with Cricket, because she has been the only child verbal enough to do so)
Initial visits at the beginning of a placement involve a lot more paperwork including a clothing inventory and a dozen policies we've signed several times.

Caseworkers have a very difficult job, and I am very patient with home visits not being a completely convenient and ideal part of my fostering life.  I only got a "bad vibe" from one caseworker so far, and while others have made mistakes, I accept that that caseworkers and home visits will not be perfect.  Most of the issues we've had are not monumental.  One rushed the visits.  One rescheduled too often.  One showed bias against the parents that made me uncomfortable.  I will say that we have had one caseworker that was a rockstar for home visits, and I'll tell you why:
  • She scheduled the visits well ahead of time.  One did need rescheduled, but she was flexible in rescheduling and did not wait until the end of the month, which leads me to:
  • She avoided scheduling visits for the end of the month, which would cause problems if rescheduling was needed, pressuring me to say yes to home visit times that were not ideal.
  • She arrived on time.
  • She asked more than once if there was anything we needed from her.
  • She took time to ask how things were going, how members of our family were adjusting, etc.
  • She took time to make sure she knew enough about how the child was doing emotionally to know if more services were needed or not.
I should probably bake her some cookies.

What are your best and worst home visits?

Monday, August 3, 2015

First Day August 2015 - Beach!

I admit, my First Day post this month doesn't capture as much of the day as I usually do.  We were with my in-laws and I was just too busy keeping up with Crocodile or appreciating the moment to take pictures.  But I did get a handful that are usable of our afternoon at the beach, so you can enjoy those at least!  Dinosaur learned a little boogie boarding, Rhinoceros made sand angels, and Crocodile was tentative at first then suddenly discovered the joy of running toward away from the waves.