Tuesday, March 31, 2015

I Met Mommy Day

Things keep bringing me back to the beginning of Cricket's placement with us.  I'm packing for a camping trip for B, Dinosaur, and Rhinoceros, very much like the one we took just days before Cricket arrived.  The weather is getting warmer again and I'm pulling out those same clothes we wore in September to see if they fit.

When I met Cricket, one of her few belongings was a toothbrush that played music.  We had a bit of lag time as paperwork was settled where I picked her up, and in the meantime, she was buzzing with overtired energy.  Making phone calls on an unplugged phone.  Drawing in a notebook and calling out any numbers she knew.  And she needed to brush her teeth and show me how she did it!  How could I say no, even though it was 3 pm?  And of course, in our early weeks of possessiveness over what Cricket claimed as hers (really everything she laid her eyes on, but especially anything from her mom or that first arrived with her), the toothbrush caused many a fight.

While I haven't thrown out that toothbrush, we did replace it with a newer one as one toothbrush shouldn't last seven months.  But I couldn't find the new one tonight and dug out the old musical toothbrush.  "It's my toothbrush from the day that I met you!"  I think she was repeating back something I'd said to her about the toothbrush, but still, wow, those moments slay me from such a little girl.

Of course, when she set down her toothbrush, Rhinoceros swooped in to take a look, which is generally a bad idea.


I pack up the clothes I received when she arrived, the ones mostly too small or too big.  I pile the toys in a laundry basket, carefully separating her play-doh accessories, her duplo blocks, etc. from the other kids'.  I organize the paperwork that has to go back to the caseworker. 

And I pack up her musical toothbrush from I Met Mommy Day.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Packing up

It was a tense week.  Cricket's recovery from surgery was not a fun experience for anyone, though it didn't have any complications or anything.  On top of that, the delay in sister's grandma's licensing went from a bit worrisome to a big concern.  What would we do if the license came through while we were gone?  How awful would it be for Cricket's trust in us if we said she was going for a visit then stayed there, even if it's a place she wants to be so she can be with her sister?  I felt like I was concerned, B was concerned, her therapist was concerned, but her caseworker and GAL were not as responsive.

It took a bit more prodding, but I did get a firm date of when her license was sent to the state and that it really should come through this week, maybe the first week of April at the latest.  So, with the caseworker we decided that when she went to sister's grandma's house Thursday, it would be a move, not respite.  There is still a part of me that does not like telling her she's moving when the license isn't 100% there, but it is probably the best decision we can make here.

So, after this transition coming up but being on hold for so long, I suddenly have less than a week to get everything ready.  I just finished her photo book besides two pictures I want to take and add tomorrow, but I've barely started packing.  She has so many toys and books and little things scattered around the house, all needing organized before going to someone else.  On top of that, we have packing for a weeklong spring break camping trip, which we have not started.  Yikes.  At least I think it'll keep me too busy to dwell too much on the goodbye.

Okay, who am I kidding, I'm still going to dwell as I'm packing.  Note to self: pray instead of dwelling.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Hospitals and foster parenting

Cricket had a minor surgery last week.  She's my first kid that I've experienced surgery with.  Heck, I've never even had surgery myself!  Having wisdom teeth out doesn't count, right?  My only overnight hospital stay was after Dinosaur was born.

Her mom had talked for months about being there for the surgery.  She signed the papers, had the info, but wasn't there.

There was something intimate about being there with her for the surgery.  Meeting the tons of people coming through her room.  Saying goodbye before I went to wait in the family waiting room.  Meeting her again in recovery, watching her sleepy eyes open to me, close again, then open a couple hours later.  B stayed with her overnight, then I came back to bring her home the next morning.  I made up a chart for her medications.  I have tended to her slow (but normal) recovery.

Sometimes fulfilling the parental role seems natural, like I'm just doing my parenting thing and she happens to be a foster kid.  Sometimes for me it has this other factor, like it brings us together in a unique relationship different from any I've had with another child, through a new and different experience.  This other factor sends my heart running full-force to love and nurture and comfort and feel needed by doing so.  At the same time, I feel an alarm going off.  This isn't supposed to be me here.  It's supposed to be her mom.  It almost feels like I'm stealing my nurturing role, even though I'm not.

It's how I felt leaving the hospital with Pterodactyl in my arms.

It's how I felt rocking Beetle in his room in the NICU.

Maybe it's hospitals, those places that the closest to you are supposed to be by your side in your vulnerable state.  They're a place I see at once how much I'm needed as a foster parent, and at the same time how much I wish I didn't have to be, that their families by birth could be providing this comfort, presence, and care.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Awkward moments in foster care - Religion question

Cricket recently had a medical procedure that involved getting her pre-registered over the phone with background information.  I was doing pretty well and shrugging off the questions that I didn't have answer to until we got to this one:

Person on phone: What is her religion?  It says Muslim.

Me: Oh!  Well, I think her dad is.  I mean Islam is the main religion in his country of origin.  But her mom talks about her Christian faith and wants me to teach her the Lord's Prayer, so...  And we pray with her a lot.  And we take her to a Christian church regularly, and her mom likes that we give her papers she's colored from there.  And-

Person on phone: Um, okay, I'm going to just write Christian.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Book reflections - My favorites for an African-American toddler

As Cricket joined our home, I gradually added to our library with more books that don't just include people with dark skin as a part of a diversity message (maybe I'll do a separate post on those), but feature them as main characters or families.  I thought I'd share a few that I've been very pleased with and that Cricket has enjoyed as a 2- or 3-year-old.

Image result for snowy day ezra jack keats

We already owned The Snowy Day, but she has really enjoyed it (likely because she's been here over the winter and our winters are SNOWY).  It is just a lovely simple story of wonder about snow.

Image result for he's got the whole world in his hands amazon

This was a Christmas present to Cricket after I caught her singing the song to herself a few times.  The artwork is absolutely gorgeous, featuring an African-American family doing activities together.  It also connects globally and multiculturally at some points.  She likes to switch between telling me to read it and telling me to sing it.

Image result for whose knees are these

Just a simple little book saying cute things about a kid's knees.  I find it nice and short to read on those days that we just need a quick way to connect, and she can see a body like hers talked about in a positive way.  She loves if I tickle her knees at the end of the book and say they belong to Cricket.

What are some of your favorites?

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Words of encouragement

I am coming out of my low days.  Thankfully, going into them I had some encouragement stocked up.  My love language is words and more words.  Probably because my inner critic is pretty fierce and it helps me drown it out.

At the end of a play date at a friend's house, my friend looked me in the eye and said, "You're a good mom."  Then she followed it up with a text saying how she really meant it, that she was watching how I responded to Cricket, and that I was doing a great job with her.  As usual, I wanted to explain how I'm much more polite in public, how I don't have it all together, but instead I told her I had the urge to argue but instead I would just thank her.

I was also talking with Cricket's in-home therapist, and she talked about getting Gina on board with a lot of the things I've been doing with Cricket because they're very good for her.  You know, a lot of what I do is just based on what I've read on attachment and trauma, so I know I'm no genius, but I think part of me wondered if none of it was really making a difference.  That I was doing all sorts of things by the books but they weren't really meeting her needs because she still hurts so much.  The therapist's words helped me snap out of that, knowing that her hurt is much deeper than I can fully reach, but that doesn't mean that what I'm doing isn't important.

And finally, later this week I participated in listening prayer with a group from church.  I shared my worries about being too overwhelmed and emotionally shutting down again like earlier this week, not being able to be enough for Cricket.  I'm especially worried as she has a minor surgery coming up, nothing very serious, but it's our first overnight hospital stay with a child, and surgery recovery with a child.  One woman in the group said this scripture came to mind:

2 Corinthians 1:3-4
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

It really left me speechless.  Who am I to comfort a hurting child with hurt deeper than I feel I can reach?  I have the God of all comfort with me, who will comfort me comforting her, and comfort her more than I possibly can on my own.  So that, that's how I'll keep on keeping on.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Low Days

I've always, without being clinically depressed, had low days.  Every so often, I feel like I'm made of hardening cement.  I'm forcing myself through the motions.  Choosing every easy and convenient option because I'm emotionally exhausted.  Talking to my kids but I'm pretty sure I sound like a robot.

When I explained that I'd been having a low day to Cricket's infant mental health therapist, she had already picked up on it, that I didn't seem like myself.  It was so strange to me, because besides my mom and sometimes B, I don't think anyone has ever really noticed I'm having a low day without me saying it.

I talked through what may have made it a low day.  Of course, the weather was gloomy.  Cricket is still not fully adjusted back to life at our house after spending part of last week at her sister's grandma's house.  Overall I've just been noticing how some of the parenting things I used to do have been left behind because so much of my energy is focused on what Cricket needs and self-care for me so I can keep providing it, not much room for much else.  Yesterday was full of sudden visit changes that were stressful to figure out.  But probably the big one is that the move to Gina's is stalled because of waiting on paperwork that Gina needs to submit.

It brings back a lot of emotions from waiting on Pterodactyl's grandma, waiting on Caterpillar's mom's cousin.  It brings back emotions that Caterpillar's mom's cousin backed out of the placement too late for us to have him in our home.  I know I'm not a particularly organized person and have slipped up on deadlines before, or procrastinated when there's no firm deadline.  Plus, relatives often do not see these changes in their lives coming, and I'm sure it's overwhelming.  I should be empathetic.  I'm praying for a softer heart.  But really, I want to growl and grumble because this should have been wrapped up by now!  The back and forth of the transition for Cricket is so hard on her and on us, and drawing it out is tough.  Extra-tough is that we have planned a trip over spring break in April, and it is not a trip planned around what Cricket needs.  Gina has been cleared for respite for that time, but to go there and come back here would be the difficulty of the transition we've experienced so far multiplied by ten.  So, I'm frustrated that this may happen when we were hoping to avoid it.

Then there's just the drawn-out aspect, the unavoidable wait of foster care.  As has been our experience, for most of the placement, we wait on her very likely moving somewhere else without knowing when.  Somehow that combination of "very likely" and "without knowing when" drives me a little insane over time.  In my mind, I write and rewrite the e-mail to close family when she has moved.  I consider the words I'll say to Dinosaur and Rhinoceros, I plan in my mind how I'll try to keep in touch.  Do that enough times, and you start going a little crazy.

There are so much bigger things that could be draining me emotionally, but this is where I'm at, and I'm putting it out there for anyone who may go through the same thing.  The special sort of low days you find in foster care are pretty sucky.  Keep on keeping on, and I promise I will, too.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Book Reflections - In Our Own Voices

I want to write up some reflections on books for adults that have influenced my foster parenting, and books for kids that address some needs of foster kids in our home.  First up:

In Their Own Voices: Transracial Adoptees Tell Their Stories

Now, we are not adopting at this point.  But two things inspired me to pick up this book: conversations with B back when we were first considering adoption or fostering about how parenting a child from a different race needs to be tread carefully, and being prompted to listen to stories of people of color when learning about race issues.

B was surprised when I brought up some hesitations about parenting kids who weren't white like us.  I was a high school teacher for a time, and taught some students who were black and had been adopted by white parents.  I saw these students struggle seriously with their identity in a way that wasn't just usual adolescence.  One mom told me how her daughter called her from school and was talking to her the same way she did at home, then suddenly she switched into a totally different voice, attitude, and slang.  Their communication started to shut down, and finally, the mom asked, "Who is there with you?  Who are you trying to impress?"  I saw students feeling torn between their parents and families and black culture they were learning more slowly than they would have with a black family.  These and other experiences made me want to tell B that it's complicated; becoming a multiracial family isn't a positive end in itself, all holding hands in our family pictures, overcoming racial divisions just by being a multiracial family.

The book lays out some of the history of transracial adoption in the first chapter, especially the National Association of Black Social Workers' position that black children should be placed with black families, and the research that finds that transracially adopted children have mostly positive racial identity and outcomes.  Then many transracial adoptees' interviews are presented in the book.

My main three take-aways:
1) The perspectives of transracial adoptees are diverse.  I really enjoyed reading the wide range of experiences of transracial adoptees, from those who did not find their black identity to be very important in their lives, to others that it was very important and shaped their social circles, community involvement, etc.  However, almost all adoptees were supportive of transracial adoption, some hoping that more black families would adopt but accepting transracial adoption as a good alternative, and some without qualification.  It helped me form a picture of the perspectives my foster or potential adoptive kids could grow up to have.  Some kids may stick close to our family culture, and some may not.

2) Audio/visuals at a young age can be memorable.  Some of the adoptees had clear memories about whether they had dolls with dark skin, if African-American art or music was a part of their home.  While this was not a big focus of the book, I noticed it because our foster kids are so young that most cultural events, mentoring relationships, etc. are over their heads.  But it just helped confirm that the dolls and books I have around are very important, and that I could do more with music and art.  I love black gospel music and live a gospel choir, but don't really play the music around the kids (mainly because it annoys me when kid noise drowns out music).  For Cricket, maybe her stay is probably too short-term for it to make a big difference, but for a placement that stayed a year or more, I think that cultural connection could be a really formative one.

3) Boys have particular challenges.  I was aware of this, but reading more stories made it clear to me what I could face as a parent.  Kids who are viewed as cute suddenly become people to be feared.  And while a child may be raised to be just like their parents and not be anything like the stereotypes that others are fearing, the people who are afraid will see their skin, not their years of upbringing.  Race matters.  One parent was an advocate against a racist teacher.  I pray I would be wise enough to do the same.
The book left me encouraged that transracial parenting is a challenge that I, with God's help, could be up for.  We have some things in place, like a diverse church and diverse school.  I have a lot of experience in cross-cultural understanding and have studied racism quite a bit.  My shortcomings?  Our circles of family and friends continue to be very white.  One adoptee had godparents who were black and they were a huge support for the child.  I have many acquaintances who are not white, but no one close.  And having studied racism and multiculturalism a lot, it leaves me with a lot of head knowledge but not a lot of really grappling with tough issues personally.  That's some white privilege right there.
I highly recommend this book for thinking over what children who may be adopted at a young age might deal with when they reach teenage years and adulthood.  I think it is easy to pat ourselves on the back for creating a multiracial family with young kids, and not really visualize what family life will be like in 10 or 20 years.  Though we are fostering now and I feel our impact is more short-term on these issues, I do think there are things we can do actively to prevent a "black hole" of culture for kids.  I do think the book is very limited to kids who are black or biracial with some African-American heritage with parents who are white.  I would like to learn more about Hispanic and Asian adoptees.  I would love to hear what you've read on the topic!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Easter dress

I didn't even realize until hours later it was the first little girl Easter dress I'd ever purchased.  I didn't find any outfits for the boys that I was thrilled with, so I have an Easter dress for Cricket though it's very unlikely we'll see her on Easter.  1) She is supposed to have moved by then and 2) if not, we may use respite because we are going on a very long road trip for Easter and the following week.  Unless we cancel the trip because respite would not be in her best interest, especially as if there are licensing problems with sister's grandma, she can't go there, her next most familiar place... sigh.  I hope it doesn't come to decisions like that.

I'm antsy, anxious, impatient.  I've adjusted somewhat to her leaving and wonder why it's taking so long for the state to approve sister's grandma's license.  I just want to end the "what ifs" and see her name listed under the licensed homes.  Because I've figured out how to look that up, and so I check way too often.

In this in-between, her visits there are followed by turmoil here.  It always feels a little like the first day she arrived: hyper and playful, then suddenly possessive, aggressive, and unable to shake off the big feelings her heart must feel.

On the bright side, visits with her mom have been much more consistent.  On the bright side, I'm going to dress her up in this dress no matter when she moves or what happens on Easter.

Monday, March 2, 2015

First Day March 2015 - Kid-free morning and low-key afternoon

Ahhh.  Foster parent friends of ours had our kids spend the night Saturday night.  They are awesome and insane, as they had six kids for a night, ages 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1.  So, this first day started out with sleeping in in our completely silent house with bits of glittery snow swirling outside, lounging around a bit, then having a great brunch date before picking them up.  The rest of the day was pretty nice, too: reading, playing in the snow, etc.  Not a perfect day, but a really good, happy day.  Here are my first day photos as I join with Journey to Josie and other bloggers giving glimpses of their lives on the first day of each month.