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.